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All stories have a genesis, a birthing into the world from writers’ minds, through their fingertips and into their computer (or onto paper for those who still write first drafts longhand). In part one of this essay I wrote about how I came up with the idea for my novel People of the Ethereal Realm and a bit about the writing process. If you haven’t done so already, you can read part one at Craig Saunders’ blog. I’ll be here waiting for you when you’re finished.
People of the Ethereal Realm was published as my second novel, however it was the first novel I’d written. That’s not to say that I didn’t have opportunities for the book to be published before Post Mortem Press released it in July. Bringing this book into the world began with several years of false alarms and disappointments that taught me a lot about the small press in the process.
So, after selling a number of short stories, I’d written my first novel, and I couldn’t have been more proud of myself. I hit the Web and searched for viable publishers to send my manuscript. This was before Post Mortem Press had opened for business, so they weren’t yet on my radar. I’d sent the manuscript to a number of publishers, some of whom I had short stories published with, others with a sparkling clean reputation, and yet others I had little knowledge of. The first thing I learned (something I should have learned from submitting short stories) was that research, particularly concerning unknown publishers, is a must. I also learned to go with my gut, to listen to my heart. To ignore intuition is a fool’s game.
So I had several poles in the water and I got a bite from a publisher—whose name will remain concealed—that I had no prior experience with. They emailed a contract that could have been an offer on a new house it was so big. I read every word of it, mostly the same jargon typical of a publishing contract. They offered a twenty-five dollar advance, and then later in the contract I was given the option to have my advance applied to the cost of the twenty books I was required to purchase at full price within a certain number of days after publication.
Let that sink in for a second. How much is the average price for a trade paperback? Somewhere around fifteen dollars give or take a buck.
I was shocked, so I ran a Google search (yep, should have done that first!), and found a great deal of bitching and complaining about this publisher. They were a pay-to-play gig, and from what I read, they didn’t put much force behind their horror titles, as evidenced on their website where there were plenty of thriller and romance but no horror novels to be seen. This is what I mean about following intuition. That had struck me as strange from the get go.
Needless to say, I politely rejected the contract and waited for bites from the other poles I had in the great pond of small press publishing.
Soon enough another publisher emailed me with an acceptance letter, contract to follow. The contract never showed up and they were unresponsive to my emails. As of this writing, they seemed to have fallen off the face of the planet. Dodged a bullet there, I suppose.
I was beginning to think that this book was destined for disaster.
Next I sent the manuscript to Twisted Library Press. I’d had many a story published in their anthologies and even edited two of them (was taking submissions for a third anthology at the time). I could see the signs on the wall, beginning with so many anthology submission calls that there would be no way for a publisher to possibly follow through with each one. I also saw that there was what seemed like an equal number of novels to be published by an ever-growing list of imprints. But still I submitted my novel when I should have taken a moment to realize what was very clear.
The book sat in limbo for a year. The cover had been designed, it had gone through an editing process, and I had even started promoting it. The contract expired and soon after Twisted Library Press became defunct.
So People of the Ethereal Realm was destined for disaster … or maybe not.
During the period of time that I had edited anthologies for Twisted Library, I discovered a brand new publisher: Post Mortem Press. I sent Eric Beebe a story and it was published in their debut anthology Uncanny Allegories. My novella “Cemetery Tour” was included in the PMP release The Road to Hell, as well as a few more shorts in other anthologies.
Having been with PMP from the beginning, I’d watched them grow. It was all the research I needed. In Eric Beebe I found a trusting publisher and a man of determination and dedication. I submitted my manuscript, and when I received the acceptance letter, I knew that People of the Ethereal Realm was finally destined for something good.
I learned a lot during the process of getting this book published, but I am no fool and realize that there is so much more to be learned in the strange and sometimes discouraging world of publishing.
On a final note, I would like to thank Ken Cain for being gracious enough to allow me the use of his blog. I appreciate it, man!
Fresh Cut Tales tagline:
Fans of classic TV series like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, One Step Beyond, or any similar dark fiction or paranormal series will enjoy this collection of psychological speculative fiction where not everything is always what it seems.
Where to read this book:
“Solid combination from a writer to watch.” — Mort Castle, Bram Stoker Award winning author of New Moon on the Water
“Enthralling, eclectic collection of unputdownable speculative fiction.” — Benjamin Kane Ethridge, Bram Stoker Award winning author of Black & Orange and Bottled Abyss
“Expect the unexpected in this macabre and thoroughly entertaining collection.” — Mike Davis, The Lovecraft Ezine
“Twisted tales that are guaranteed to keep you up at night.” — Michael McCarty, author of I Kissed a Ghoul
“I truly enjoyed this wonderful collection of dark fantasy/horror stories. Each have their own unique storyline and the outcome is always surprising, and some will make you think. I will be on the hunt for more from this author.” — The Holleman Household
“The author has a vivid imagination and some of his plots are quite good…” — Don D’Ammassa
“A solid collection for horror aficionados with plenty of variety.” — Trent Walters
Generally, that depends on the character, but every solid character must have a few basic things in common.
First and foremost, a solid character needs mass.
For example, ghosts, while they can certainly be well-rounded, entertaining, scary, or sympathetic, just aren’t solid. They walk through walls, fall through floors, disappear in sunlight. It makes them very hard to grab on to, you know, very hard to pin down for anything necessary. As a matter of fact, I don’t think you could put a pin in a ghost because there’s nothing solid to stick!
Actual mass will depend on a variety of factors, but mainly the size of your character. Large characters take up more physical space than, say, small characters. Be sure you remain consistent when writing kids, too. Smaller = less space, but if you’re writing about a juvenile bigfoot, for instance, its mass will be more than a juvenile human of the same age. Cuz, you know, it’s a BIGFOOT.
So, after adding the proper mass, you’ve got a pretty solid character on your hands. But solid doesn’t just mean owning a physical space, having some sort of cosmic address where a body is parked. No, it’s also about the correct bits & pieces being in place. So that means if you’re writing about an alien with three eyes and a tail, you need to make sure those are present and accounted for, always. Tails swish, they flick, people trip over them. While some people trip over nothing, or their own feet, it’s much more likely they’re going to trip over something solid. Everyone knows this.
This same rules apply for writing humans. The women and men characters need to have the proper parts. If needed, switch these parts around, of course, but they need still be present. And switched around means women can have male parts and vice versa, just tucked away where they should be, not, say, sprouting from their foreheads like a unicorn’s horn or reminiscent of a porcupine joke I once heard.
So we’ve covered mass and each character having the proper pieces for what they are. We’ve also seen that you’re allowed to shuffle them around when needed. Think of each character like a Potato Head doll: holes in the arms, legs, head, face, eyes. Put things where they need to go to fit your story.
Seriously, folks, it’s that easy to have proper anatomy on a solid character.
My serious answer to this question, which certainly includes all of the above, is that the anatomy of a solid character is quite simple.
It boils down to duality.
I’ve never known a single person who is all good or all bad (and I use those terms relatively) and that’s what you have to bring to the table when you write characters. You have to recognize that while this character is certainly the baddie, there’s a reason for that. Just like every super hero has an origin story, so does every villain. The villain may very well like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain, which aren’t very villainous things at all. But if the villain is nothing but mean and vile, then some of the mass is lost, some of those solid bits you want to stick a pin in.
Conversely, your good guy may shoot a kid in the face and then go home and hug his own.
If you know the goals, motivations, and loves of both your antagonist and protagonist, you essentially have a story tree with two thick, healthy, branches. You can use the leaves from either branch to tell a damn good story. Now, apply the goals, motivations, and loves to your secondary players, give them the same treatment. Now your story tree grows more branches that produce more and more leaves until you have a natural, beautiful canopy through which to stream the sunlight of your story.
***You can pick up Chris’ books through AMAZON.
(Want to take part in a single question interview? Contact me for your question.)
It’s certainly very tricky. As an adult—and especially as an author—I do believe that it’s important not to emotionally separate myself from the personal issues of people who happen to be younger than me; when a person does that, it puts up a kind of barrier, a barrier that blocks the adult from empathizing with younger generations. It’s a terrible trap, but it’s an exceedingly easy one to get ensnared in. As an adult, it can be challenging to remember that the terrible struggles that one went through as a child or teenager weren’t laughable. No, back at the time, these struggles were very important and often very painful. This is why many teenagers tend to get angry at adults, I believe. They feel like adults don’t understand them – and the truth is, they often don’t.
Adults tend to glamorize childhood. Why? Because back then, we didn’t have to worry so much about finances, relationships, jobs, et cetera. As a result, it’s incredibly tempting for one to say that childhood was a blissful, happy time of wild abandon. But I’ve found that for most people, that perception is not really true to life. Children and teenagers don’t have the freedom that we adults take for granted. Most children struggle through their early years; they struggle with loneliness, bullying, rebellious tendencies and so on. Teenagers have to contend with a heightened awareness of their impending adult responsibilities, as well as the sudden onset of messy relationship drama, intensely sexual situations, peer pressure, alcohol and drug use.
When it came to writing Ethan Cage, the protagonist of The Cage Legacy, I made a point to step away from my (at the time) 22-year-old adult self and remember who I really was as a teenager. I asked myself; what kind of personal issues did I struggle with? What was important to me at the time?
Of course, since Ethan Cage is the 17-year-old son of a serial killer, his problems are greatly magnified. Ethan is constantly in a battle to retain control over his emotional impulses; he’s angry at the world, stubborn, frustrated. He wants to control who he is—his adolescence is like a prison cell to him—and every time another bit of control slips out of his grasp, he panics. His id grows stronger than his ego with every failure, with every harsh judgment passed upon him. Though very intelligent, Ethan is a self-conscious introvert who struggles to properly communicate with his loved ones, especially when it comes to his girlfriend, Whitney. He constantly feels underestimated. He’s torn between the urge to disappear into the background and the desire for some degree of recognition and/or acclaim.
As adults, it’s easy to look down on a teenager’s problems and say that we “know better.” But if we do know better, it’s only due to the fact that we went through the trial by fire ourselves, got burned, and came out the other side alive. Instead of diminishing the importance of teenage tribulations, I think it’s important to really understand where a teenager is coming from. An adolescent’s pain is no less real than an adult’s suffering, it’s just different.
***You can pick up Nicholas’ books through AMAZON.
(Want to take part in a single question interview? Contact me for your question.)