Hank Buckley Gets a Chapter

Meet Hank.

In my horror novel, Hello Darkness, Hank is a mild-mannered, God-fearing hardware store owner in the small town of Falling Rock. Hank is not one of the book’s main characters and is only mentioned a few times (and seen once) before his moment in the spotlight.

So why does he get even a little bit of the story? The reason is because there’s a lot going on in Falling Rock—evil is nesting in the woods just outside town, and most of the main characters are still unaware of its existence. However, the reader needs that little peek behind the curtain so they aren’t asking the same question for a hundred pages. Asking questions is good (essential, even) but a question that evolves over the course of a novel is even better.

Enter Hank Buckley.

He stumbles into a little bit of bad luck that provides a great opportunity to widen the view about what’s going on in the book. Through Hank’s eyes I am able to give the reader one more piece of the puzzle that everyone else in the story is still trying to figure out. It’s not exactly a spoiler, but it’s enough of a reveal to let the reader know there is something huge going on—something deadly. Hopefully, it creates a little bit of suspense throughout the rest of the book. The reader knows what lies in wait for the good people of Falling Rock even if the characters don’t.

I don’t think there should be any hard and fast rules when it comes to Point-Of-View (POV) in a story. As long as you aren’t head-hopping and ripping people out of the moment, do whatever you need to further the narrative. That’s why the characters exist in the first place—to help tell your story. Use ’em. Toss ’em. Make new ones. Whatever enhances the reader’s experience should be a writer’s first priority.

On Revising

When I initially set out to write my first novel, I was expecting to hit a brick wall of tedium when it came time to revise the first draft. Who wants to edit what they’ve already written? I thought nothing could be more empowering than pulling words from the ether and mashing them together to form sentences. It turns out that making those sentences even better is just as gratifying.

There are two different ways a writing session can go: either you feel the flow and the words mostly write themselves, or you have to force yourself to hammer out a chapter so you can meet your word count for the day (if that’s how you set your goal). For me, the first draft of ASHES was about 60/40, respectively. At the time I was hoping it would have been more like 80/20 (or even higher), but it turns out that when you’re just trying to get into the habit of writing every single day, keeping the flow going can be difficult.

What happened as a result is that I ended up with a book of which 60% I was really pleased and 40% I vehemently denied ever writing. So, fearing the worst, I sat down to work on my second draft. It was magical. Stubby, blunt little sentences transformed into descriptive paragraphs that not only painted a better picture of what my characters were going through physically, but also emotionally. The revision process helped fortify a flimsy world into a solid entity that (I hope) is much easier to imagine. My characters are more genuine, the dialogue is more realistic, and the world as a whole is more believable.

I guess the bottom line is that no one should be afraid to revisit their work, even if they believe it to be of the highest quality. Every time I look at a passage from ASHES I see something I can adjust to make it better. To me, this is the essence of writing: not the initial creation stage as it stands alone, but the process as a whole, revisions and all. It is both extremely fascinating and satisfying, and I hope others have experienced it as well.

The Last Thing Ray Bradbury Wrote

Ray Bradbury dictated this short essay to his official biographer, Sam Weller, who confirms it is the last thing the science fiction author wrote. It is entitled “The Book and The Butterfly”, and it is about Bradbury’s great love of books and his discovery of the worlds they opened.

Here is the first part:

“When I was seven years old, I started going to the library and I took out ten books a week. The librarian looked at me and asked, “What are you doing?”

I said, “What do you mean?”

And she said, “You can’t possibly read all of those before they are due back.”

I said, “Yes, I can.”

And I came back the next week for ten more books.

In doing so, I told that librarian, politely, to get out of my way and let me happen. That’s what books do. They are the building blocks, the DNA, if you will, of you.

Think of everything you have ever read, everything you have ever learned from holding a book in your hands and how that knowledge shaped you and made you who you are today.

Looking back now on all those years, to when I first discovered books at the library, I see that I was simply falling in love. Day, after day, after glorious day, I was falling in love with books.”

The rest can be found here, and it’s definitely worth a read.

Discovery Through Story Research

They say to write what you know, but if all of us only ever wrote what we knew, there would only be about seven interesting books on the planet.

If I only wrote what I knew, instead of what I thought was interesting, I would never have learned about two awesome little creatures called the tardigrade and the Pompeii worm.

These two little guys are extremophiles, which means they have unusually high tolerances for temperature.

In the case of the tardigrade, it can survive just about anything you throw at it, including a decade of dehydration, freezing to one degree above absolute zero, and the vacuum of space. Oh, and they can also survive direct, unfiltered radiation from the sun — a radiation that would cook a human alive.

One of the characters in my book Genesis Plague is an evolutionary microbiologist. It’s my job as a writer to create a passable facsimile of a person in said profession, or at least one that doesn’t ring abnormally false, even after a bit of scrutiny.

If I wrote what I knew, that character would have been a risk-averse claustrophobe with a four year associates degree instead of a globetrotting evolutionary microbiologist. Which of these sounds more fun?

Enter the internet, that vast trove of everything that could either accelerate one’s destruction or open up a world of possibilities that before could only be uncovered with laborious trips to the local library or university. And to get to those places, we actually had to go…outside (dun dun DUNNNNN!).

Well, no longer. Now I can wear pajamas and read about extremophiles like the uber-resilient tardigrade with peanut butter smeared on my face without suffering the disapproving looks of a librarian.

I also think writing is more enjoyable when it’s a process of discovery, because a lot of that enjoyment will (should) transfer to the reader.

However, using what you know to influence your writing can certainly imbue your story with authenticity. It comes from a place of true knowledge that pure narrative invention can’t touch.

Story research can also guide the plot in new directions.

What a writer thinks should happen and what real-life nature makes happen are two entirely different things. Certain facts and details about the way plants and animals behave (for example) can have a tangible impact on how a scene plays out in a book.

While writing Mission One, I did plenty of research about space travel. It turns out I had very different (read: uninformed) ideas about how the crew would get to Titan compared with what could actually happen.

Discovering the limitations and possibilities of space flight sculpted that portion of my book, and made it a little more authentic.

I still took some liberties, sure. If I was ever faced with a scenario where I could have been technically accurate or I could have written a crowd-pleasing scene, I appealed to the crowd.

That’s just good policy, and it’s also a whole lot more fun.