Writing the Chorus

Chorus of Dust is a book I never really meant to write.

That might sound like a strange thing to say, as the first part of writing anything comes from first sitting down and deciding what story you want to tell. Even if that story is a technical procedure on how to install a light fixture, there must be a starting point. Though the finished product is rarely what you have in mind when starting out, there’s usually at least a decent portion of your original intention still laced throughout your story. With Chorus of Dust, this wasn’t the case at all.

It began out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico back in March of 2011. I had traveled out to one of our company’s offshore production platforms for work. It wasn’t the first time I’d been offshore, but it still wasn’t something I’d done enough yet that I was totally comfortable with the idea. While lying in bed one night at 8:00 PM (the days start early, so you have to hit the sack early as well if you want any decent amount of sleep), I was thinking about just how isolated we were from everything. It was true that we had phones, internet access, plenty of food, and most of the other creature comforts from home. Physically though, I’ve never felt as isolated as I do when I’m out there.  You’re literally surrounded on all sides by at least 100 miles of ocean, and at night when you look out into the darkness over the waves, it becomes impossible to see where the water ends and the black sky begins. It almost feels like you’re sitting out in the middle of outer space. Naturally, this gave me the idea for a story.

I won’t go into all the details or else this post will take you all day to read, but the long and short of it is that my thoughts on isolation eventually turned to my Grandfather’s cotton farm. We used to visit him and my grandmother (we called them Nana and Grandaddy) about twice a year. He had owned the farm since my dad was little, a sprawling plot of land that seemed to go on forever. It struck me how, in many ways, that farm was just as isolated as we were out in the middle of the gulf. If something happened there, something terrible, who would know? What secrets could be held in that place for years, or even decades?

This is where the eventual story of Chorus of Dust took root, and though it was nothing like I originally intended, I’m glad it developed the way it did. It was not an easy book to write. I started the first draft in April of 2011, and didn’t truly complete it until July. After that I went back and worked it over again, then sent it out to a couple of people I occasionally chatted with on a writing forum who agreed to beta-read it for me. When their comments came back, I went back for another round of edits, and then another. Eventually, I finally finished the book as it is now in December of 2011, a full nine months after I started it. Great for creating a baby, but for a 25,000 word novella, this isn’t a real good turnaround time. Still, despite the difficulties in writing it, I’m proud of what eventually turned out. What difficulties you ask? There were two main areas that really hung me up.

(1) Thematic Elements

Religion plays a large part in this book. My faith is a big part of my life, and so I find it hard not to bring it up in my writing. Here, I wanted to ask the hard questions.

The first question was, what is the absolute most frightening thing I could imagine? For me, the answer was simple: the concept of atheism. The idea of there being nothing after death is terrifying to me. So, my way of addressing this was to make the main character, Adem Comeaux, a die-hard atheist who feels the same way. What if the belief you held closest to you was also the one thing you were the most frightened of? That’s the essential conflict Adem must face in the story.

After that, the second question became, what hope can you possibly have when you have nothing to believe in? I won’t go into too much detail on this theme (you’ll have to read the book!), but the story deals with a number of issues in addressing it. The corruption of the church, the abandonment of faith in our society, and secrets that we all pass on from one generation to the next, to name a few. It was difficult to examine my own viewpoint with a critical eye, but in doing so, I believe my own faith has grown because of it.

(2) Swearing

Following from the first issue, this one was particularly difficult for me. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not swear, period. It’s just one of those things I don’t do. So when I sat down to write about this character Adem, and he naturally progressed into this rough-around-the-edges guy with the mouth of a sailor, I was genuinely concerned. How was I going to do this? I could take the easy way out and simply replace the bad words with words that were less-bad, or remove them altogether, but when I tried doing so it simply felt wrong. It didn’t feel true to the story or the character.

So in the end, the bad words stayed in, every last one of them. I’ll be honest, I’m concerned about what people are going to think of me when they read this book, especially people who know me well. I hope they’ll understand that this is a fictional story and the characters in it are not a reflection of me as a person or what I believe. Instead, they reflect a narrative that was begging to be released, and I had no choice but to tell it in exactly the way that I did.

I hope that they’ll understand, but if they don’t, there’s nothing I can do about it now. It’s brutal, it’s harsh, and it can be hard to read. It is by far the darkest thing I have ever written. It’s also beautiful in its own way, and I won’t apologize for it. That will have to be enough.

That’s all for now.  Chorus of Dust will be released soon in eBook format, so keep checking back. As soon as it goes live you’ll find out about it here first!

Literal Daze #3 – Horror Edition

As promised, to celebrate the release of my first short story in print, today marks a very special edition of Literal Daze.  As usual, we’re going to look at a print book and an audiobook (sorry folks, no movie review today), and this time they both fall under the horror genre.  Are you ready to be horrified, terrorized, dread-taculated?  Then let us forge ahead into the great unknown…

 

Book:

Midnight (Dean Koontz)

 

Believe it or not, I have never read a single Dean Koontz novel before this one.  I know, right?  What kind of person calls himself a horror fan but somehow misses Dean Koontz?  I think part of it was the fact that, for a long time (especially after high school), I only wanted to read the best of the best – the books with the highest literary acclaim, the best reviews, etc.  Book snobbery, if you will.  It’s not a bad plan in theory.  After all, there are so many book out there, a person has to use some sort of filtering method to decide which ones to read.  Dean Koontz has always had a stigma attached to him, this idea that his books, though wildly popular, are the mental equivalent of junk food.  Something to pick up when you’re bored or getting ready for a long airplane ride.

In recent years, however, my thoughts on this matter have changed somewhat.  I still look into reviews and everything, but I’ve found that critics don’t, and shouldn’t, account for personal taste.  Filet Mignon is wonderful, but sometimes I just want a good old fashioned cheeseburger.  And sometimes, I just want a pulpy horror read, and I finally decided that it was time to stuff my face with Koontz.  Or rather… eh, you know what I mean.

As it turns out, in small bites, Koontz is pretty tasty.

Midnight starts off as many horror stories do; somebody gets killed.  In this case, the killers are a ravenous group of monsters who seem to be infesting the sleepy coastal town of Moonlight Cove.  When a hardened FBI agent pays a visit to investigate this and other shady murders that have taken place, he walks into a bit more than he bargained for.  Through the eyes of several different characters, some more nefarious than others, we see a plot unfold involving technology run amok, societal devolution, and fighting the internal forces in us all.

I’m hesitant to say that Koontz writing is bad exactly, because… well, he’s published like fifty novels and I’ve published one short story, so I’m in no way qualified to critique him.  However, I will say that I wasn’t a huge fan of everything in the book.  Many of the characters were one-dimensional, never changing throughout the novel (which admittedly takes place in about 24 hours, but still, a lot happens in those 24 hours).  In addition, there were several threads brought up that just kind of didn’t go anywhere, or ended in an unsatisfying way.

Still, overall, it was an enjoyable read.  A straightforward horror story that doesn’t pull any punches, and for that I have to give it some credit.  Will it make me a Koontz fan for life?  I don’t know, probably not yet, but it does at least make me want to pick up more of his stuff in the future.

 

Audiobook:

The Ruins (Scott Smith)

 

This one was written by another somewhat well-known author who was new to me, Scott Smith, who also wrote the novel and screenplay for A Simple Plan.  Reviews for this one were wildly split online, which piqued my curiosity.  Many loved it, many hated it, but there were few middle-of-the-roaders.  Still, the premise looked interesting, so I took the plunge.

If nothing else, I now understand the split.  I think my own opinion of the book is split, so it’s no wonder that the critical response is so polar on this one.

The Ruins begins with a simple premise.  Two young couples take a trip to Cancun as a final fling before they all move onto new stages in their lives.  While there, they meet up with an athletic German fellow and some fun-loving Greeks who don’t speak a word of english.  When the German’s brother runs off with some girl he just met to investigate an archeological site of some ancient ruins, the German convinces the two couples and one of the Greek fellows to go after him.  They eventually find the site, and after some Mayan villagers round them up onto the ruins at gunpoint and don’t let them leave, the story really gets moving.

Of course, as you would expect, there are horrors at the ruins worse and more deadly than the mayan villagers.  What’s interesting though is that, almost from the very beginning, we know what these horrors are.  There is no dark secret they all have to eventually uncover – the deadly beings stalking them are known right from the start.  The horror here comes in this overwhelming sense of dread that covers the story like a blanket, a sense that their doom is inevitable and we’re simply along for the ride as it happens.  Like watching a forty-car pileup in slow motion.  By the end of the story, you feel that catharsis, the knowledge that at least it’s over now and you have nothing more to invest.  And of course, that’s when the gut-punch comes.

Frankly, I thought it was great.  However, I can understand where some of the hate comes from.  Many of the negative comments I’ve read about the book are related to the characters themselves.  Specifically, that they are too much alike and that they act in some stupid ways throughout the story.  I don’t agree that they’re too much alike, personally.  Some of them have similar personalities, especially the two girls, but there are important differences between them which are subtly exploited as the plot moves along.  As for their actions… yeah, sometimes they act like idiots, both individually and as a group.  But isn’t that true in real life too?  People act in differently based on their personalities, and not always in a good way.  I don’t think the characters are stupid as much as they are simply true to real life.

So yes, I fall solidly in the “liked it” camp.  I can’t say I would always recommend it, though.  Some of the scenes here require a strong stomach and a stronger will to keep reading to find out what happens next.  But, for horror fans such as myself who can appreciate it for what it is, it might worth picking up.

 

Next Time:

As promised, The Hobbit radioplay and The Wise Man’s Fear are still forthcoming, but they have been pushed down the road a bit.  Otherwise, look for Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and the audiobook for Iain M. Banks’ newest Culture novel, Surface Detail, to appear in the coming weeks.  Until then!

Shock Totem #4 Is Here!

That’s right folks.  Nearly eight months after being accepted, my short story Lobo is now in print in the latest issue of Shock Totem Magazine!

 

 

You can purchase this issue from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly through Shock Totem’s Website.  I personally recommend this latter method, as it ensures that more money goes directly to the publisher, but that’s up to you of course.

In celebration, I officially declare this horror-week!  Stay tuned in the next few days for an all new horror-themed entry of Literal Daze, as well as an original horror piece from me that has never appeared anywhere else.

So, thanks to K. Allen Wood and the rest of the crew over at Shock Totem for bringing this issue together, and especially for making me a part of it.  They will always hold a special place in my heart for being the first publication to accept my work, so best wishes of continued success to their top-notch magazine!

Coming Soon

 

Issue #4 of Shock Totem, featuring work by your’s truly, should be showing up for purchase any day now.  When it does, make sure to first go buy a copy, and then come back here for a full week of horror-themed fun!