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!

…and a Happy New Year

So, it looks like 2012 is finally upon us. This last year hasn’t been everything I hoped it would be in some ways, and more than I hoped in others. Perhaps it’s time for… an accounting!

Positives in 2011:

  • Was finally published
  • Won NaNoWriMo for the first time
  • Started this website
  • Lost a lot of weight
  • Found out I’m going to be a Daddy again!
Negatives in 2011:
  • Got way more rejections than I hoped
  • Did not actually finish said novel
  • Failed to update site as often as I wanted
  • Have become fairly jaded with my day job
  • Should have written more than I did
Is it a wash? Maybe, maybe not. I generally try to focus more on the positives than the negatives, so all in all I’d call 2011 a decent year. Still, I’d like to think I could do better. I’m not exactly the type of person to make resolutions every year, but we do like to set goals for ourselves. Here are the things I would like to accomplish in 2012.
  1. Finish My Novel – I’ve never written a complete novel, but right now I’m as close as I’ve ever been. I don’t want another year to go by without being able to cross this one off my bucket list. Hopefully I won’t stop with one, but it would be a good start if nothing else.
  2. Establish a Second Source of Income – I’m a little fuzzy on this one, but I want to figure out a way to bring in some kind of income other than my primary job. Even if that income is only a fraction of what I normally make, it’s still something I need to do. I don’t know if that will come from another job, from opening a business, or (by some miracle) from my writing, but it needs to happen.
  3. Sell More Stories – And when I say “sell” I mean that I want to get paid for my work to be published. I’m shooting for a minimum of three.
Naturally, I do have other goals in my personal life, but professionally, that’s where I’d like to be at the end of this year. At the end of 2012, I’d like to look back at this post, nod my head knowingly, and congratulate myself on a job well done. Either that or I will curse my past self for setting myself up for failure.
So, future Justin, if you’re reading this, please don’t hold it against me. I only wanted the best for you.

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!

Shocked

I’m pretty excited.  Why?  Because the official Table of Contents was just posted for Issue #4 of Shock Totem, which will feature the first published work by yours truly!

Go here to check it out, or read on as I repost it below:

Miracles Out of Nowhere: An Editorial, by Nick Contor
Beneath the Weeping Willow, by Lee Thompson
Full Dental, by Tom Bordonaro
Tragic and Gorgeous: A Conversation with Rennie Sparks, by Mercedes M. Yardley
Web of Gold, by Rennie Sparks
Weird Tales, by David Busboom
Playlist at the End, by Weston Ochse
Lobo, by Justin Paul Walters
Strange Goods and Other Oddities (Reviews)
Living Dead: A Personal Apocalypse: An Essay, by K. Allen Wood
Dead Baby Day, by Michael Penkas
Long Live the Word: A Conversation with Kathe Koja, by Nick Contor
Fade to Black, by Jaelithe Ingold (2010 Café Doom Competition Winner)
Bloodstains & Blue Suede Shoes, Part 2, by John Boden and Simon Marshall-Jones
The Many Ghosts of Annie Orens, by A.C. Wise
Howling Through the Keyhole (Authors’ Notes)

Yeah, that’s my name in print up there!  Or at least, it will be when the issue comes out sometime in July.  The great thing is, it’s not only the fact that I have a story appearing in this issue that’s exciting.  The thing I’m most looking forward to is reading the other stories.  The first three issues of ST were pretty much excellent all around, and I can’t wait to see what the editors have put together for this one.

Once the issue is available, I’ll post a link up here in case anyone wants to check out a fantastic collection of horror stories (along with my own drivel).  Until then!

We Have Lift Off

Hi, and welcome to the inaugural post of my new site!  However you found your way here, thanks for checking it out.  Why The Wilderness?  Mainly because I used that as the name of my last blog, but also because I just kind of like the implication that anything can happen here.

For those who know me, I’ve tried this a few times in the past without much success.  What makes this one different?  I don’t really know, except to say that if I keep trying enough times eventually I’ll get it right.  Also, I think I have a few extra things in my favor this time:

  1. I now have my own domain name, as well as a dedicated host.  This means much more control over what I want to do with the site.
  2. I’m not limiting myself here to one topic like I have in the past.  Whatever I feel like writing about, that’s what you’ll see.  That’s right, get ready for some tedious, uninteresting content at times.  But at least it will be content.
  3. … I had something else here, but it’s escaped me.  I’m sure I’ll remember later.

In short, it’s time to treat this site like a project at work, and that means deadlines.  The plan is to update a minimum of three times a week.  Whether that means a full-on essay or a video of a cat playing basketball, it will be something.

On top of this being a blog, I will be continually updating the site with other content as well.  What kind of content?  You’ll have to stick around and find out.  Again, thanks for visiting, and remember to bookmark!