Spies everywhere

I hate it when someone steals my idea.

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I thought it happened again when I first saw a coming attraction trailer for the new movie Seventh Son, with Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes and Julianne Moore. It looked very similar to my first book, The Bones of the Earth, which I published in 2011.

I should be used to this. Back in 1980, when I was young and probably just as foolish as I am today, I decided to try running as a sport. I would run in the evenings in my neighbourhood, and realized that it was really quite boring. I thought how nice it would be to be able to listen to music while I ran.

I considered my Sony hand-held tape recorder, the one that was supposed to be used to record university lectures. I never actually used it for that, but did play music cassette tapes. The sound quality was … tolerable, and it was better than having no music at all.

Now, this tape recorder-player was designed to be held in one hand, but it was still pretty bulky for running. Heavy, too. I looked it over and realized that the speaker accounted for much of its bulk. “If it just had an earphone instead, it would be a lot more portable,” I remember thinking. “No—headphones! Stereo headphones! That would be awesome.”

Six months later, Sony released the Walkman.

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My first fantasy novel, The Bones of the Earth, in many ways follows the classic high fantasy quest genre. It’s set at a time before guns and gunpowder, when horses were the main means of travel, when civilization was still a tenuous bet and when magical beasts roamed the earth. It has a number of element that fantasy readers will find familiar: a wise old man, a young boy with a unique destiny, a damsel in distress and lots of monsters, witches, vampires and dragons.

In writing it, I determined to break as many of the tropes and conventions of the fantasy genre as I could. For starters, it’s not set in a made-up world, but in a real time and place, and some of the events in the story actually took place in history. But that’s a subject for another post. Suffice it to say, it’s not a conventional quest story, and the characters are not like those you’ll find in other quest stories.
But the main character, Javor, is the seventh son of a seventh son. In fact, I had recently decided to title the third volume of the planned trilogy (I have the outline already) Seventh Son.

Then Universal Studios brought out Seventh Son.

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And it features a wise old man and a boy with a unique destiny, who has to fight monsters, dragons and witches.

Damn.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I don’t know whether I ever will, but a little research showed that the movie is based on Joseph Delaney’s 2004 novel, The Spook’s Apprentice. There are other similarities, such as the main villain being a centuries-old, powerful woman. But there are also a lot of differences, enough to allay my misgivings.

I guess that the author of The Spook’s Apprentice and I were both tapping into the same energy and some of the same ancient mythologies. And let’s face it, the trope of the ancient master passing on his knowledge to a talented apprentice crosses many genre boundaries.

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Burning Stars: An Ode to Indie Artists

Artists are crazy. You need to be, in order to stoke the fires of humanity.

Wait.  Allow me to elaborate.

I’m an artist, and Indie author. As usual, I have a bunch of projects on my plate. Too many, without a doubt, and this is really nothing new.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to stay focused. Sometimes I find myself wanting to drop one project in favor of some new and shiny idea that comes bouncing along and dares me to try it out. Like a Golden Retriever with ADD I scurry off after this squirrel of a project, completely forgetting what the hell it was I was doing until…

OH CRAP I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT IN 2 WEEKS!!!!

Me, when I think about writing.

Me, when I think about writing.

So I swing back, desperate to throw together promotional posts, understanding how little time I actually have to work on writing with a demanding 50-hour per week accounting job (though, to be fair, having a house account at  two bars is kinda cool…). I realize I still need to send out covers for the reveal and book blurbs, that I need to give out free copies to people helping me out and finish formatting the paperback version of the novel, that I need to get the draft of the next book onto the editing table…

…oh, yeah, and I need to write. There’s that.

****

Writers are a little insane. I don’t think there’s any denying it (and, to be fair, I haven’t met many writers who’d dare to try). We spend many (if not most) of our hours away from our tedious day jobs writing and editing novels; we have trouble reading a book or watching a show or even stepping outdoors without trying to find some way to blend all of that sensory input into our next story; we plan our free time, our weekends, and sometimes even our jobs around when we’ll get to work on our next book; we pour our hearts and souls and energy and minds into producing these piddly assemblies of a few thousand words knowing damn well that this will only ever be a hobby, that we’re not in this to try and get rich or become Stephen King but because we love it, because we’re addicted to it, because if we weren’t putting all of those explosive mental energies into our stories we’d probably be coming up with a plan to conquer Wisconsin or break the barrier to the 8th dimension or invent the better bowling sock.

Welcome to the world of writers. We’re all crazy here.

Have no illusions: being a self-published author is a lot of work. If you break down how much time you spend brainstorming, writing, editing, coming up with cover concepts, proofreading, social marketing, re-reading, formatting, publishing, and panicking over whether or not people will like your book or not, you end up making about 4 cents an hour. Underage factory workers in third-world countries are laughing at you.

My brain on deadlines.

My brain on deadlines.

It takes a special sort of insane to be an artist, and I use the broader term here because illustrators, musicians, comedians, dancers, and every other creative wacko out there suffers from this same malaise, this drive to expression that becomes an obsession. We all ride the pendulum, swinging back and forth.  We want that crazy, the highs and lows, the rush and fears, the anxieties and the satisfactions.

Because those energies have to go somewhere. I honestly believe artists have a special spark in them, a boiling presence deep in their soul, a tortured and explosive star that’s either in the midst of a supernova or about to burst into one, except it does it all the time. Every new project, every late night spent bent in front of the keyboard or scribbling things down by hand or walking back and forth in the coffee shop talking to people who don’t exist but who happen to be half-elf strippers named Raul, every time you slap your hands together when a new idea bursts through your otherwise debilitating consciousness, every time you get that dangerous sparkle in your eyes that means you either a) have the MOST BRILLIANT IDEA EVAR!!!! or b) are about to fly into a homicidal rampage…every time that happens it’s a new star, a new supernova, a new explosion of life.

For many, that star does eventually fade. It’s fading for me even now – I don’t believe it will ever go out, not really, but as I get older and the time I spend at work and trying to take care of my family expands and my energy level at night gets less and less, I know I can’t keep up the same hectic schedule I’m used to, and while I’m still capable of being terribly productive in short bursts it takes a little more for me to want to sit down and write that blog post or work on that new project, to hit that editing goal or to organize that blog tour after I’ve already been organizing and reconciling and counting and working for ten hours, only to come home to an Autistic boy who had a bad day and a pair of beautiful ladies who for some reason like to spend time with me. There’s only so much of me to go around.

But that fire still burns. With any luck it always will.

The fires of creativity.  (Also, I want marshmallows.)

The fires of creativity. (Also, I want marshmallows.)

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Around this time you’re probably wondering to yourself: “Does this blog post have a point?”

It does, and it’s this: Indie artists, whether you be writers or musicians or mimes or sword swallowers or any of the other countless souls with the fires burning in you, who work ridiculous hours and pour your heart and soul into your craft, who know deep down you might never “make it” but who carry on anyways because that fire drives you, because your passion drives you, because you live and need to create, to express, to craft, know this: I admire the hell out of you. I understand what it takes, I understand what you give up, I’ve worked those hours and burned that oil and battled those demons, and still do.

We may not be job creators, but we change the world in our own way. We stoke the fires that burn in humanity’s soul. They’ve burned for a very long time, and thanks to people like us they’ll keep on burning for a long time after this.

Come with me and stare into the flames. We’ll get lost there together.

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Steven Montano has been stoking the fires for over 20 years. He gets burned quite often. Check out http://steven-montano.com/ to find out more.

Spring Cleaning of the Writerly Kind

I started my spring cleaning in April. I’m not talking the housecleaning and elimination of clutter you might expect. That doesn’t happen in a household of borderline hoarders with their imaginative heads in the clouds. As they say, an untidy home is the sign of a creative mind, and we have oodles of creativity here.

No, my spring cleaning was of the writerly variety. I started in April by taking everything I had yet to be published and ready for submission that was sitting on the shelf gathering dust and sent every single one of those stories out to an appropriate venue. I even finished two older stories that were kicking around incomplete and sent them out too. It was liberating in a strange way, like I had unburdened myself in the process. I’ve already had some success from the venture too, a couple of acceptances along with a handful of rejections (about a 40/60 success rate so far.)

Now that I’ve cleaned away the writing clutter, I’m working on the edits I’ve been putting off for a while, prepping things for submission at some point in the near future, readying query letters and just organizing what I have on the go. I want everything tidied up for the summer, when I’ll be working on the next Fervor novel followed by my NaNo project late fall. This isn’t the most productive year for me for an assortment of reasons. I’m hoping a round of solid clean-up will help change that.

To finish this up, I’ll give you a little taste at what I’ve been editing, a fantasy novel based on Sami mythology, called The Trading of Skin:

Ignoring any protests Dáidu and Jaská might have, Oaván turned to meet the oncoming spirit-hunters. Jaská had once described them as looking like men but having something essentially wrong with them. Oaván felt she was partially right. They did have the shape of men, but nothing beyond that suggested they were anything like the Sami people. Oaván could now detect the odour his mother had complained of. They smelled of anger, fear and death, of broken promises and sullied souls. Just being in their presence carried with it a strong sense of foreboding and a bone-piercing chill, things Oaván had not noticed before because of the distraction of other discomforts. He felt trapped by their stares, their eyes burning embers beneath creased brows as they leered at Lieđđi hungrily. Oaván refused to succumb to their intimidation, holding steady.