The 4 W’s: What

Look…you know I’m a character-centric guy. You know anything I write starts (and ends) with the characters, and the plot is just the Charlie-Brown-pine on which I hang the lights and ornaments and decorations that make it an actual Christmas tree. You know because, well, I’ve talked about it often enough…

So, for me, the what of my stories isn’t some big plot point, some stand-alone crisis & climax & resolution…it’s the story of the protagonist(s), and how they deal with with those plot points. I know it sounds semantic, but I can assure you that it’s not. It most assuredly is not — it is a very real difference in emphasis, and in execution.

Let me put it like this: as much as I love Star Wars, why did I hate The Force Awakens? Because the characters — with the exception of Finn & BB8 — were forgettable, 2-dimensional cookie cutters that meant not one damned thing to me. There is no bigger Mary Sue in the damned universe than Rey…and don’t even get me started on the uselessness that is/was Kylo Ren. Quite simply, the characters in that movie were there simply to serve the plot; they had no meaning and no life in and of themselves.

Contrast that with Rogue One. I bought into Rogue One…I bought all the way in. The characters in that movie existed, they meant something. They had more depth, and more reality, than the entire cast of TFA put together. Jyn and Cassian were, quite simply, more believable — more important — than Rey and Poe.

And that makes all the difference.

So, when I plan and design the what of a story, it is not a plot into which I insert my characters. Nope. Quite the opposite, in fact: it comes from the characters themselves.

I’ve mentioned before the rather extensive background work I do before I ever start writing a story. Part of that is just to help me fill in holes and answer questions…but just part. No, the majority of that comes because I need to think and live — I need to experience — my characters’ reality before I truly know where things are going. I need, when you get right down to it, to let them talk to me.

A real world example:

The story that evolved and grew into Wrath & Tears and Silence (and the planned third story, tentatively titled The Flicker of Ghosts) started life simply as a planned series of short stories I nicknamed Project Dock Rat. It was anticipated to be nothing more than the serial adventures of a homeless kid, scraping by as a thief with the help of his best friend.

There was nothing in the original conception about society’s sins, nor the exploitation and violence and ruthlessness that are so a part of the real world. There was, equally, nothing about suicide, or suffering, or the despair of the hopeless.

Then I thought and worked through the two main characters (a third got axed/changed…long story, there), the two who became Connor and Oz.

I had no idea when I originally dreamed up the idea that the protagonist would come to be a reflection of my own survivor’s guilt, nor that his best friend would come to represent those I’ve lost to suicide. I had no idea the story would come to mean something very personal to me.

But it did.

It became not the “adventures of a homeless kid,” but rather the story of Connor’s attempt to save his own soul…and Oz’s failure to do the same thing.

THAT is the what of a story, to me: the reality and evolution of characters that matter.

What Are We Drinking Today?

Okay, so…food and booze.

Some day I want to write a story where those two are the main focus…

I am – to put it bluntly – a complete nerd (and whore) for good food and good booze. The good news is that I’m also a pretty good cook. The bad is that I couldn’t ferment, brew or distill if you held a gun to my head.

I have also travelled extensively, and know a decent bit about quite a few cultures/societies. In my world – and I am not alone in this – every society/culture is expressed best through its food and booze. A close second, I will add, is through a culture’s music.

I have had unforgettable meals with foods and peoples I never even imagined as a kid. In fact, I remember and know far more about those cultures where I ate and drank with regular folks than about those cultures I formally “studied” in college.

The good thing is that we have available almost anything you can imagine here in the US. The bad thing is that, unless you are in the right area, most of what we have is a pale imitation of the real thing.

Go buy yakisoba here in the US…if you are not in certain neighborhoods in LA or San Francisco, that dish will bear zero relationship to the yakisoba you get in Japan. God forbid we start talking about bibimbap or pho or even a real street taco.

Shit…this is why I love travel! And, yes, like pretty much everything else in my life, when I travel I turn the knob to eleven. There is no such thing as over-doing it, nor as going “too deep” into a culture…

Food and booze actually figure more heavily into my stories than the words themselves let on. Those two things are important factors in communicating the mood and temperament of my characters and the situations they face.

Beyond that, however, they also communicate a bit about me – communicate, even, what I am craving as I write. Connor once noted the smell of a yakisoba place as he walked through the crowded alleys of his res-hold. Yep, you guessed right – the writer was hungry as shit at that point.

Now, while the food might represent me to a degree, the booze is a bit more symbolic. Is it shitty shochu? Or decent beer? Or high-end scotch? Each of those carries a different connotation and meaning that communicates something about the character (and their circumstances) as they order/drink.

On a side-note: there is a standing inside-joke involving beer. I work into every single story I write the brewery my friends own (and, yes, the place where I do a lot of my writing). Every single story. It ain’t always easy to find, but it is always there.

That being said, my own personal prejudices also come into play. You could not, for instance, pay me to drink rum, so none of my characters do. You will know, in fact, if ever a character of mine does drink rum, that I hate and want to kill that particular person!

With the characters I care about, on the other hand, you see stuff closer to what I personally like. There’s a good reason why Oz is a whiskey drinker…

With all that in mind, I am going to make some changes to this blog over the next couple of weeks. This topic will gain a certain amount of space on the page: in addition to a small section for an “album/song of the week”, I am going to add a section for a “drink of the week”.

I did think about doing a “brewery of the week” as well (yes, I love beer!), but that would cut just a bit too close to a different sort of writing I do. So, while I will talk about individual beers, I nixed the idea of doing so for breweries themselves as I don’t want to cross the streams on this particular (pseudo-anonymous) blog.

What Does Mordor Smell Like?

Trying to get a blog post jotted down early. There is zero chance of me actually sitting down to write one on Friday morning, so if I don’t do it now it ain’t getting done. Plus, I have to do my Palahniuk-hour-of-writing today…I have no real intention of actually writing or working*, so the blog post will have to do for now.

*Saying that, of course, means I will probably spend four or five hours writing furiously…

I know I said I was doing all the character shit in order to get ready to actually, you know, write but I got sidetracked yesterday by working on the setting. That’s no bad thing, by the way. Your setting has to be real to you: you have to be able to see it, to smell it, to feel it. If you can’t do that inside your own mind, what do you think is going to happen with your readers?

If your story takes place somewhere in the real world, that means you have to go there. You have to walk the streets/paths, smell the air, feel the pulse… One of those ghosts I have fluttering around is a story set in Prague. Now, I’ve spent a lot of time in Prague – I know that city very well. But if and when I start writing that story, I will have to return to Czech so I can re-immerse myself in the setting.

That is how you feel what you write, how you see and smell what your character is experiencing. If your setting isn’t real to you, it will be immediately apparent in your words: I once read a book set in medieval Samarkhand and it was very apparent the author had never been anywhere near the place. Hell, it read like his experience of the setting came from reading books and looking at pictures. That ruined the story for me.

On the flip side, I highly recommend you go read Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. The city is very, very real in her books, and it is obvious just how much time she spent in Rome getting the feeling right.

Now, in my own stuff, I am not using “real” locations, I’m making shit up*. Hell, eight of the ten(ish) stories floating in the back of my mind involve making shit up. img_0019That doesn’t mean the setting can be cheap and pro forma. I refuse to write a story with a Star Trek setting of cardboard walls and styrofoam rocks. If it’s not real to me, it won’t be to anyone else either…

*One of the best comments ever on writing sci-fi came from John Scalzi: “They say write what you know. I write what no one knows.”

One trick I use is to base my characters’ surroundings on real world locales. Admittedly, that was kinda hard for dockside – how many places do you know where 60,000 people live crammed into cargo holds? – but that setting was very much influenced by the back alleys and tight spaces of certain real cities and countries.

For Silence I need a setting that emphasizes the tone and feeling I intend to carry through the story. Finding that right feeling is harder than you’d think*, but I finally have it nailed down. Cold, stark, desolate…an altogether uncomfortable world that exists only to make a small group of people very rich.

*In practical terms, by the time the prep work is done, I will have written something on the order of 10,000-12,000 words just on the physical details of the setting, and the same amount again on the cultural and linguistic side of things.

I love where this is leading me…mostly because Connor is gonna hate it. Hey, remember, it is his own fault: he made me write this damn story!

Different Languages, Different Visions

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela

Talking a bit (on Monday) about how I tried to keep the characters honest and likable, in spite of the dark themes, got me to thinking about setting and atmosphere. Especially the aspects of culture and language that are vital to how you illustrate your characters.

In Wrath I very intentionally chose a mix of languages and cultures for dockside that would create a sense of “other” and “alien” without resorting to, well, actual aliens. Using Japanese and Thai was a deliberate effort to distance the setting and characters from modern day America. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I actually speak Japanese (although I’m rusty as hell).

In Silence* things are more complicated. Considerably more complicated. This story is set on a planet, after all, not in the close confines of a dilapidated, aging station clinging to the very edge of a star system. And that planet, with its many, many times larger population (about 30 million), has three distinct cultural/linguistic groups with which I get to play. Did I forget to mention that I also have a passion and knack for languages and linguistics? Well, there, I just did. Oh yeah, and the slang glossary for this story is gonna be fucking huge.

*Screw it, I was gonna wait to reveal the new title until I was…you know…actually done, but I’ve mentioned it (in part) a few times now, so I might as well get it over with. The sequel is tentatively titled “The Silence That Never Comes”. The whats and whys of that title will have to wait, however, as I am just not in the mood to dive into all the symbolism and meaning behind it.

Now for the important question: why the hell am I making things so complicated? Wasn’t it hard enough to figure out what people were saying in Wrath, with just one (and a half, really) language for slang? Shou ga nai. That’s just the way it is, so deal with it.

I am a big believer that language and culture (and outlook) are inextricably linked. Language is fundamental to the human brain, and it helps to define everything. Oh yeah, and as a writer it is one hell of a tool to separate cultures/peoples in order to illustrate many of the things I want to emphasize and play up. Hey, at least I didn’t go full-Tolkien and make up my own damned languages. Never go full-Tolkien!img_0018

Silence is going to be very concerned with the differing “levels” of society, and the contrasts and similarities that define them. The language and culture that created each of those will play an important part in communicating their thought processes and cultural norms. As a small illustration: if you really want to understand the different dynamics of, say, France and Germany, you have to learn both French and German.  Trust me on that one; what each of those languages shows about how the cultures think and feel will open your eyes.

A final practical note: I speak a number of languages, but not nearly as many as I need to do what I want. Two of my new cultures I’ve got covered, but the third? Crap…now I have the added challenge of using (and “evolving”) the slang and cultural outlook of a language I don’t actually speak. And, no, Google Translate is not a legitimate option…

Dancing Ghosts and The Next Story

Remember when I talked about the ghosts of ideas fluttering around? Yeah, those keep fluttering…and talking and distracting. Not as bad, or as loud, as Connor and Oz were, but they do sometimes like to jump up and down, dance around and draw notice.

There are times a scene comes to you, one that connects and works. When that scene is part of the story you are currently working on, things work out quite nicely. You get it written down and then decide where it fits in the story. In my file for this story I already have half-a-dozen such snippets saved and ready.

But what happens when that scene is for something totally different? What if it’s for a story you haven’t prepped, haven’t worked on, haven’t even really thought about?

You write the scene…obviously!

Last night(ish) a scene like that came to mind. A scene helping to define two main characters, and a key moment they share, for a MG/YA fantasy story that’s been fluttering around with the other ghosts for a while now.

So, instead of working on finalizing my plot and pushing the process along for the current story, I just spent the morning writing a scene for a story I’m not sure I’m even going to write!


By the way, this is how Connor and Oz started…by intruding on other stuff I was supposed to be working on. And I’m starting to think these two new characters* might start to follow the same path and take on a life of their own…remember the next story is always better!

*Three MCs for the story, actually, but the third wasn’t part of this scene.



Can you guess what I’m working on?

The good thing about writing a sequel is that the protagonist is already pretty well set, both in outlook and in voice (there are changes in Connor, however…a lot of changes). There is, however, a whole new setting, a whole new dynamic, and a whole new set of conflicts and antagonists…and that makes it fun.

Taking all the ideas and subplots and subtexts swirling in my head and turning them into a plot both engaging and useable is, err, challenging. I’ve mentioned before, I am not one of those people who sees the entire plot for a story first, then fills in all the details. I see the characters and the details, then build the structure of a plot.

I know, I know…that’s a bit like buying a Christmas tree to support and fit all of the ornaments and lights in the basement, rather than buying a tree and just pulling out what will fit it. But, hey, that’s the way I do it…and I have a shit-ton of ornaments and lights that need somewhere to hang!

There is a great deal I want to cover in this new story. Wrath & Tears was intimate and personal to Connor and Oz. This next story will still be intimately about Connor, but will be taking him into a world and a society bigger and more far-reaching than just dockside. The plot has to reflect that while still following him on the personal journey he needs to, essentially, save him from himself.

It also has to let me develop and communicate the themes that are at the heart of the story…and that ain’t as easy as it sounds (at least not to me).

How do I do that? I explore. A lot. I write (handwrite, actually) several summaries and experiments on the major arcs I want to cover, each time incorporating more and more info from the previous versions until everything starts to hang together. It’s a very iterative process, one that evolves and changes a great deal as I pretty much continually adjust the crises and characters/entities involved.

To me, this method is kinda fun. I get to experiment with different ways of screwing over my characters, as well as different ways of them screwing themselves. I also start to see possibilities and convolutions in the characters that I hadn’t necessarily considered. That’s even more fun!

At any rate, after the last major plot summaries are written (one for the major, overall plot-arc and one for each of the major subplots), I finally get to breathe. The writing of the actual story starts to look much more real to me. When all I have is a semi-amorphous, undefined cloud of ideas and conflicts, that story looks awful far away. When that cloud resolves itself into something intelligible, it’s no longer pushing a Sisyphean boulder up the hill, it’s taking the last steps to hit the summit.

I’m at that point…sorta. I need a few days to nail down the subplot summaries, then I hit the top. Hopefully by the middle of next week. And after that? After that it is finalizing the characters (how I do that is a topic for another post) and creating the initial outline/scene-list.

If things go well, I should be out of the prep-work weeds and writing the story itself sometime around Christmas or New Years. Sooo…I’m right on schedule with my original three-month timeline for this process of planning and prep.

I know, I know…I said I wanted to do it quicker, start the writing sooner. Unfortunately, the administrative/logical/planning side of me knows the creative/slacker side all too damn well…

Lifting the Fog

As a note – I’m not touching the election results.  No sir, no way, not interested. I played poker with friends, ate chili and got drunk last Tuesday night…you know, the important things in life.

This is something of a continuation of Monday’s post…mostly because I left that thought (very) unfinished. Oh, not in concept – characters and people are still the genesis of pretty much every story I can picture – but rather in what follows immediately after.

Those writers/dreamers who have ideas that manifest in terms of plot are, in some ways, a step ahead. They already have an idea of what needs to happen, and of what dynamics are in play, and can “fill in the blanks” around that proto-plot {random edit thought – why the fuck does spellcheck deny “proto” as legitimate?! Gah!!}. Character folks – and those who see settings first – get to wrestle with making everything fit neatly together…or not-so-neatly, depending on who you like to read.

I’m hip-deep in background material for the next story (yes, there’s a probable title and no, I won’t share it yet…call it “DockRat 2” for now), so I’m thinking of all the little things I have to do before a story really starts to come together for me. I’m not talking about the level of detail I need to write a scene (or even plan one), but the background material that helps define the world the characters inhabit. To be honest, this process really helps me to finalize the story itself: as I take barebones thoughts and work through them to put some meat on those bones, the socio-economic and political dynamics that define the world in question begin to take on a life and depth of their own.

Those dynamics are important – those dynamics help create the details of the plot. As an example: it wasn’t until I worked through what dockside was really like that I understood the powerful role the Families played therein.

What I am defining right now for Connor’s “new” world (nope, not on dockside again…at least not yet) is how the various levels of society – from the rich elites to the bottom-of-the-barrel – interact and function, both in social terms and in terms of the economy. Throw in mega-corporations, government bureaucrats, criminal syndicates, and people just trying to get on with their lives and all of a sudden the fog starts to lift and I see opportunities I hadn’t thought much about before.

I can’t tell you how important it is to spend enough time (maybe not as much as I do…but at least a day or two) thinking about the unwritten dynamics of your world. How do the minor and background characters function? What drives them?  What are their everyday needs? Why are things the way you as the writer chose to make them? Doing this step correctly helps to see complexities and realities you might not  otherwise have considered…and to bring in elements you might not previously have so much as seen.

On a related note – that tone your idea had when you first dreamed it up? That’s vital to this part of the process. If I were going for optimistic and utopian in this story, the planet and its population would be vastly different. I am, however, going for a darker and more gritty feeling, and that colors everything I create as I work through the process. And that, in all honesty, is the way it needs to be.  Screw this part up and you end up with all of the ruthlessness and violence of Game of Thrones set in the innocence of Narnia…

And don’t even get me started on identifying the root society and language from which everything else descends.  For me – as a linguist and historian – identifying and defining that is huge…and also probably is a post in and of itself.

Assumptions, I Has ‘Em

And, no, don’t go all business-school on me and talk about “making an ass of you and me”. Just don’t. I can happily make an ass of myself without any assumptions whatsoever, thank you very much.

Anyway, I’m not talking about those kinds of assumptions. I’m talking about the kind of assumptions you have to have when you start writing a story. Call them predefined variables if you like, they amount to the same thing. X=whatever the story requires, and I don’t want to have to redefine that every single time.

Things like elves being immortal in Lord of the Rings, Jedis being space wizards (if you so much as whisper “midichlorians” I’ll have you destroyed!), stormtroopers not being able to hit shit in spite of years of training…you get the idea. These are all assumptions made before the stories were ever even created, and they quickly become clear to the audience.

As I’m working on the behind-the-scenes stuff for this next book, I have to make clear to myself the assumptions and rules that will hold sway throughout. Connor will drink a lot, yes, and cuss a lot more, also yes….but those aren’t assumptions, they’re just inherent to the character*.

*Note – I did once try an experiment with a “clean” version of Connor…it was an utter failure. He is who he is, and who he has to be.

What I’m talking about is key stuff that is implied, and is fundamental to a story’s true purpose, but is never really explicitly described (at least not in so many words). For Connor’s stories, those are:

1) Everyone is broken and fucked up in some way…anyone who says/thinks they’re perfect is either nuts, or deluding themselves
2) There are no good guys or bad guys, there are only shades of grey and the choices people make (yes, I know there’s nothing original about basic philosophy, but it’s important to remind myself anyway)
3) There is always a price to pay (okay, that one got laid out pretty damned explicitly in Wrath & Tears)

There are others, but you get the idea. These are things I have to keep in mind as I plan and as I write. Things that underlie everything I’m trying to create, and to say.

When you create a story, you have to understand what are your base assumptions. They don’t necessarily have to reflect who you are as a person in real life (although they often will), but they do have to be internally consistent throughout whatever it is you are trying to create.

Sometimes things like this will be clear in your mind long before the first word gets written, but other times your characters and world will demand something you hadn’t thought about before. The assumption about there being no good or bad guys was not something I had originally planned. Hell, it wasn’t something I had even thought about in this context. But Connor and Oz forced that assumption on me pretty early in the process, and it helped to clarify some of the truth and authenticity of their lives and their world.

So what assumptions are you making about your world and your characters? What happens if you change one of those? Are things better, or worse? Especially for stuff like this, I always keep in the back of my mind one of the Steven King’s bits of writing advice: “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, kill your darlings.”

Assumptions can be your darlings just as much as favored characters, plot devices, or even entire scenes…

The Ramblings of a Diseased Mind

I know I should probably be a bit on the sad side that I’m not writing the conspiracy story, but…well… Committing to writing Connor’s sequel feels good. It shouldn’t: this universe focuses on the darkest and most painful aspects of people and the universe. I shouldn’t enjoy writing that. But, God help me, I do.

Maybe I’ll add a new title to a business card: “Tormentor of Worlds”. Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

Besides, the conspiracy story has been waiting for better than fifteen years…what’s another year or so between friends?

Actually, I very much doubt that story is my friend. In fact, I think it probably hates me by now and would happily see me dead. It just happens to be far too much of a slacker to actually do anything about the problem.

Committing to this story is freaking satisfying. I didn’t expect that. I expected to waver and question. But nope, not a bit. I’ve been sitting at the coffee shop today working on background stuff and figuring out just how I’m going to torture Connor* and a thought for this post came into my head.

*Hey, it’s his own fault – he’s the one who demanded this story!

I started thinking about the underpinnings of the story itself, and the question of tone and intent. Now, Wrath & Tears was intentionally melancholy and sad. Not quietly bittersweet, but full-on, punch-you-in-the-face sad. If the reader doesn’t shed at least a tear or two at the end, I failed. Completely. But the sequel? The sequel can’t share that same dynamic. Oh, it will still be dark and bitter – it is IS Connor’s story, after all – but Connor has learned and grown, and his outlook and perceptions are different.

Plus…Wrath & Tears was written in great part from my own thoughts and memories of suicide, and I am not dipping into that particular well again. I have more than enough personal demons to fight, who needs to double-dip?

There will still be a sense of angry resentment, yes. Hell, the story starts with Connor in prison…of course anger and resentment are part of it! But there’s also a certain tone of bittersweet recovery on the agenda. And, yes, finally there will be an element of hope, and an answer to the question I wrote at the top of the page when I was first working through the details of Connor’s character…the question that kept him alive before he met Oz: yes, there IS more to life than this.

Dare I mention that Connor is growing up, and the wistful nostalgia of passing youth? Not that he had much of a youth…

Do I have to lock these things down just yet? Actually, no. Not yet. But once the background and basic structures are in place, then I DO have to know. How all that background material gets fleshed out into an outline of chapters and scenes is very, very dependent on the tone.

And the characters? They’re even more dependent because they have to be able to respond to that tone, and have their own opinions and reactions. They can’t just slavishly serve as foils for the plot, or for the protagonist’s perceptions and needs. They have to have their own reality, and their own needs.

Okay…enough rambling. That is the price of not planning (in any way) what I’m posting. If you haven’t noticed yet, pretty much everything is pure stream of consciousness. I should probably look at fixing that, but…

img_0011…I slack, therefore I am.

For now, I think I will try to use this space for its original purpose: namely tracking and posting about the process of writing a story as I actually go through that process. The original idea still has something resembling merit (I think). That idea was to create a space where someone just getting into writing long-form fiction could see someone else’s firsthand experiences and lessons without having to do all that inconvenient joining of writing groups and sitting around talking.

It might even work. Hey, you never know…”even a blind squirrel”, and all that!

Of course, this all may change…hell, probably will change. Boredom and the need for change tend to set in, uhh, somewhat quickly in my world. Shit, if you think I’m bad here, you should see my last few relationships…


Music is important to me. In a lot of ways music is important to me. It is key to my writing (more on that in a moment), but it also plays a role in every aspect of my life, and in who I am as a person. The more I learn about music, the more music I experience, the deeper my life becomes.

All art has power: a Pollock painting speaks with power about certain themes and realities…a walk through the Bargello Museum will teach you a shit-ton about the impact and communication of sculpture…but there is nothing to compare with a night of live music.

Everyone has their own tastes in music just as they do in any other art form. I have my own definite musical preferences, but I can see the attraction and emotional content in just about everything. I don’t care if you’re talking about death metal, punk, rap, jazz, or chamber music…every style has its worth and its own incomparable “must-listens”. I listen to a little of (almost) everything, but for me the trophy goes to good, old-school blues. Give me a small, dark blues bar and a good drink and I am the happiest guy on Earth. Throw in a cigar and I’ll…have a hangover.

Yep, I’m definitely getting older.

Now, to tie that love of music into writing. Err, that’s easy: I can’t write without music. Period. Fade to black. Exeunt omnes.

Every single thing I write has a “soundtrack”. In some cases that is simply music that sets a tone and mood for me, and for what I am working on. In other cases, however, it becomes (or defines) a key part of the story. Wrath & Tears is a good example of that – more specifically, the end of the book. In the last scene I wrote the final, painful image: one broken kid holding the body of another, far more broken, kid. That image ends the book, but in my mind the scene fades to black and the “credits” start to roll. There is, as we fade out, a song playing that sums up that final scene, sums up Connor & Oz’s relationship, sums up the entire story…

Note – yep, I’m going back to my marketing roots and “teasing” the end of the post. Hah! Take that!

What you listen to very much has an effect on what you write – and how you write it. Every book – hell, every scene – has a mood and tone, and the music has to reflect and support that. You don’t believe me? Go ahead, write a love scene while listening to Five Finger Death Punch…or write a huge, bloody battle while listening to Bob Marley…

See? I told you so.

You have to know what tone you are trying to set. More importantly, you have to know and understand (harder than it sounds) what subtext you are trying to communicate in your story. Just because a story is about Little Red Riding Hood in the woods doesn’t mean that story is ABOUT Little Red Riding Hood.

Okay…not gonna dive deeper into that particular pool. I could spend the next couple of weeks just trying to expound on subtext, symbolism, allegory, metaphor and meaning…and any of a dozen more ways for a writer to express what he or she really means.

That’s not today’s topic…for which, Thank God! I’m not even close to ready to tackle something like that today (or this week…or this month, for that matter).

The right soundtrack helps me to write and work and create things that are right where I need them to be. The wrong music? The wrong music makes things hard – very hard. Invariably, if I choose the wrong music, the tone and pace of the scene is wrong. Wrong means revising – heavy revising – or just plain starting that scene over. Starting over is generally easier.

Below is an example of what I’m talking about: the music I listened to as I wrote Wrath & Tears. I actually have a list of specific songs and albums, but I’ll spare you that detail. It really only matters to me, anyway (well, except a couple I’ll mention at the end of this post). The full list is longer, but the main artists are:
The Fray
Gaslight Anthem
Dave Hause
Mumford & Sons
Chuck Ragan
The Veer Union

And the occasional side trips into: Toad The Wet Sprocket, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Angels & Airwaves, Blink 182, J Mascis, and even the odd foray into Death Cab for Cutie.

Some songs have been important enough to the tone and resolution to deserve specific mention:
That song I described as playing during the “end credits”? “Be Still” by The Fray (honorable mentions here for “Break Your Heart” by Gaslight Anthem and “For All We Care” by Chuck Ragan).

And finally the song that kicked me in the ass and helped everything to start to come together? “Ghosts That We Knew” by Mumford & Sons.

As a final note, the conspiracy theory book does have its own soundtrack building…a very, very different soundtrack. To fit the mood of that book, I have been listening to stuff like the Pogues, DaVinci’s Notebook, Dropkick Murphys, etc… A vastly different feeling. Good. I want a different feeling – I need a different feeling. I do not need sad, intense, dark, bitter or any other of Connor’s failings…not yet, anyway.