The first question I get asked when I say I’m working on a new story is, “What’s it about?”
Sounds simple, right?
I’m pretty sure every writer out there has their own way of coming up with a story…whether it’s a specific character, a plot, or a new setting, each book and each writer has their own drive and their own “instigating moment”.
For me it’s different with every story, every idea. At any given time I keep a list of the top ten or so of these ideas—there are, to be sure, far more floating around the back of my mind, but only that handful are anything close to ready or well-defined. Some of the ideas on that list will eventually get written, while others will never see the light of day. Regardless of their eventual fates, however, those ideas all lurk in the background fluttering around like quiet ghosts.
This story grew out of one very basic idea, a desire to look at the fucked-up side of life. It wasn’t terribly well developed, nor even all that interesting when I first added it to the “list”. It just sat in the background, fermenting.
The whiskey-drinker in me would say that, like all good beverages, it got better with age. The reality is that the idea itself didn’t have all that much going for it. Then came a weekend with nothing much to do, a weekend I decided to spend thinking about just who this story might be about, and why they might be interesting.
The two characters who emerged were anything but quiet and timid. They weren’t little Casper-type ghosts, but were full-on poltergeists. They rattled their chains, they battered at the windows and they pounded on the walls. They demanded to be heard. I couldn’t resist; even while working on something else, I began to really dive into those characters.
That may have been a mistake.
What do you do when a couple of only semi-realized characters take over your life? You pay attention to them. You write them.
The last stuff I wrote was, in all honesty, bland and nondescript. Intentionally inoffensive and “easy”, it was remarkably like drowning in a bucket of wallpaper paste. It was time, I decided, to do something challenging, something with more of an edge.
My original plan had been to start work on a modern adventure story with a good bit of humor and satire to it. I needed to laugh just then, just as I needed to let more of my own personality emerge in my writing.
Connor and Oz wouldn’t let me.
Two street kids fucked over by everyone, two boys with no hope and no future. Two boys who tell me more, and force me to write more, about the bonds of friendship and love, and about pain and tragedy, then all of the other ghosts combined.
How could I ignore them?
The short answer is I couldn’t, no matter how much I wanted to. Connor and Oz overwhelmed every other thought and idea.
So, instead of something funny, I started to work on the planning and background material for a book that is dark, raw and personally painful. Their story is sad as hell, but there are no happy endings for two kids so used and abused by the world around them. It is a story of love and triumph nonetheless, even if some of the scenes do leave me crying in my beer when that day’s writing is done…