Hell Is a Company Town

You know how it is with world-building: One damn thing leads to another.

So the swearing question led me back to a world I’d sketched in as different parts of it rose up in the story: Hell is a company town.  That is, everybody there works for the Afterlife and the CEO is Satan.  They see themselves almost as zookeepers: there’s this huge preserve called Earth full of animals left to their own devices in their natural habitat  until they die, and then Hell sorts out what happens next.  If things go wrong, they send in agents to clean up the problem and then leave the humans to their lives again.  Demons aren’t intrinsically evil, they’re just like humans.  Some are terrible, some are great, most are just trying to lead full lives and have a good time after a good day’s work.   Continue reading

Writing an Alpha Hero in the Age of the Dickhead

I have a problem with the Alpha hero and it just got a lot worse.

You may not have noticed this, but there are a lot of powerful creeps out there–Weinstein, Rose, Moore, Franken (break my heart, you bastard)–and a lot of people pointing out that “good-old-boy” does not mean “molests women and children” (and men, just ask Terry Crews).  So of course  now is when I wander into Alpha hero territory, and I’m trying to figure out how to do this because “Alpha hero” often means “Dickhead,” especially the ones from seventies who did a lot of “Whoops, sorry, I though you were a whore and that’s why I raped you” stuff.   Sarah Wendell, quoted here, says of Alpha heroes, “Not only are they super powerful, controlling, authoritative — and also often shirtless — they take care of everything.”   I can go with that definition, it’s the “let me force myself upon you because your body is something I deserve” that makes me want to kill them all.   Yeah, if you touched her without a go-ahead, you’re a Dickhead.

And now I’ve written myself into a situation where I have to write  a Dickhead an Alpha hero. Continue reading

Nita’s Soundtrack, Revised Nov. 2017

One good thing about finally knowing the whole book, I also know the soundtrack, not just the songs that sound like they belong, but the songs that actually inform the different acts and plot moments.   Taken together, they make an odd playlist, but as background music for the book, they’re a help to me for  mood and character. They’re basically the aural version of collage, a tool that helps me stay on track with the world and the people in it that I’ve created, not meant to be a work of art. Continue reading

Nita Research: The Lemmon McMansion

Pictures can help me write a thousand words, so I do a lot of google-search.  This time it lead me to Kate Wagner’s McMansion Hell, an outstanding blog about the infernal large builder-designed houses that are too big, too ugly, and too poorly built to deserve anything but Wagner’s biting criticism (Zillow once tried to shut down the blog because it was too truthful. They failed.)

I started my search because I had this line in the book: Continue reading

Visual Discovery Drafting

Krissie and Toni and I talked about the future and the Monday Street books last weekend, and that sent me back to the VooDooPad wiki we’d set up for the entire world of that series.  I hadn’t been back there for three years, so a lot of it was out of date, including the diagrams.  And since in my story, Cat lives in the church, I went back in and redid the church diagram I’d done to show Toni the layout since her Keely was going to be moving through the different levels, too.   And just like that, I was back in the story and I remembered how important those visuals are to me.

Continue reading

Listening to Nita

Or in this case, Nita’s soundtrack.

I do soundtracks for my books for the same reason I do collages: to look at the story in a different way.  I start by making a playlist of any song that seems right–Chesney’s and Imagine Dragons’ “Demons” songs were a no-brainer–and trying to find new things–that would be Lenka’s “Trouble is a Friend” recommended by CateM here–and then putting them in a rough order.  Then the soundtrack usually sits for awhile as I write.  

(Image/Poster is by James Gulliver Hancock.) Continue reading

Questionable: How Do You Do Brainstorming on the Computer?

Michelle asked:
“Tech geek question, but what program did you use to make the schematic?”

Zengobi’s Curio.  HUGE fan of Curio, I use it constantly.  Unfortunately only for Mac and not yet on the iPad.  Must go harass them about that.  Curio does ten thousand things, and the website does a good job of telling you all about them.  I use it for about as many things, but when it comes to writing, I have two Curio files for each book: Notes and Collage (aka Visual Notes).   Continue reading


Many years ago, I was an art teacher, first at the elementary level and then at the junior high. At the elementary level, kids loved art, At the junior high level, tension set in. They came in afraid because it was a required class and they didn’t have talent. They were going to fail. They didn’t know how to be an artist. That first day, they’d look at me with varying degrees of terror and anger. We didn’t want this, I could hear them thinking. It sucks that you’re making us do this.

So I’d start out with, “Suppose this was a Spanish class. Would you feel awful because you couldn’t speak Spanish? Of course not, you’d be taking the class to learn that. And you’re taking this class to learn art. I don’t care if you’re talented or not, I just want you to learn the basics of design.”

But I could still see the tension, so I’d get to the part that was really worrying them: the grading.

“Every assignment I give you will get three grades: one on design, one on originality, one on craftsmanship.”

“For design, I’ll tell you exactly what I need you to do: repeat shapes to make a pattern, choose a color scheme, vary texture, whatever. As long as you use the design element as assigned, you’ll get an A in design. I don’t care how awful your work is, if you used the design element as assigned, you get the A.

“For originality, I’ll look for how different your approach is. Did you do a picture of a tree by a lake or did you draw flying hamburgers? Did you do orange pumpkins or purple pumpkins with red ribbon stems? How did you make the assignment new, different, yours. If you used your imagination, you’ll get an A, even if the project is a mess and you screwed up the design part.

“And finally, for craftsmanship, if you used your tools well and executed your design cleanly, if you respected what you were doing enough to do it carefully, you’ll get an A. Even if your design is all wrong and you drew Mickey Mouse, you’ll get an A in craftmanship.”

“Nothing there requires talent. I don’t care if you can draw. I just want you to learn the basics of design while using your imagination and treating your artist’s tools with respect.”

At that point, I could always feel a collective sigh in the room, thirty kids finally breathing again. And as we did one project after another, they didn’t just learn the basics of design, they learned that they really were artists, that they all had talents in different areas which meant that the fact that their work didn’t look like the kid’s next to them was a good thing, that creativity was expression, and that they could be even more expressive once they had the safety of a framework: Design/Originality/Craftsmanship.

I was thinking of that tonight, thinking of the Nita story evolving and the Gaiman Snow White story I read earlier this week and of how difficult it is to write a story, to juggle all the different aspects of writing and storytelling and I realized that it all goes back to Design/Originality/Craftsmanship. Know your structure and the theme that pulls it all together; swing wide and high within the structure, no limits to your creativity; and then revise it to be tight and strong with beautifully clear syntax, no unnecessary words to clog up the works, no grammatical or punctuation errors to spoil a reader’s attachment to the narrative.

So discovery drafting is about originality, but it’s also about discovering the structure you need, not to limit yourself but to support you as aim for the moon. It doesn’t matter that I look at this book and think, “It’s not even close.” Of course, it’s not even close. I’m still learning this story, but every step I take that brings me closer to the structure I need, every step I take farther outside the box labeled “Crusie,” every word I cut and phrase I polish, brings me closer. It’s not about talent. It’s about creativity and craft.

And design, originality, and craftsmanship.

(How long ago was this?  The kids with me in my art classroom below are all in their forties now.  I’m old.)