An Unexpected Novel and the Influences that Birthed it

I’ve talked elsewhere about the dare between me, my wife and Jay Lake that turned into Lamentation. And I think by now, most folks know that it started out as a short story, “Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise” (available in my collection Long Walks, Last Flights and Other Strange Journeys from Fairwood Press). I’d envisioned four short stories but half way through the cycle, it became obvious (to Jay and Jen at least) that I was really writing a novel. Wait, scratch that: A series of novels.

I’ve talked about most of that in interviews that have popped up in various places over the last few months.

I’ve not talked as much about the influences that fed me both before and during the writing of it.

When I first considered the prospect of writing a novel two books became really helpful to me. First, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. This book helped me form Lamentation‘s structure; I was primarily interested in it because I wanted to dabble in screenplays but what I found was a solid book on storytelling that is applicable beyond the screen. And the second book? Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Certainly, your mileage may vary but I found it to be a useful book in thinking about the kind of story I wanted to write. For me, it was the most useful book on writing novels that I read.

I’ve mentioned in my earlier post the importance of television along with books in my love affair with Story. In the weeks and months leading up to Lamentation I was also learning a good deal from Ron Moore, Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams as I watched their own storytelling unfold in Battlestar Galactica, Firefly and Lost. Abram’s use of backstory in character development and his suspense-building impressed me. Whedon’s dialogue and character interaction kept me glued to the screen. And Moore’s use of science fiction to explore current events and his unfolding survival drama in the face of apocalypse and potential extinction really wowed me—and I was one of those skeptics who wasn’t quite sure what they were going to do with that classic show from my childhood.

Add to the mix some tips and tricks I picked up reading outside the genre in writers like Elmore Leonard, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Ken Follett and Greg Iles.

Then, stir that into a life-long blended diet of science fiction and fantasy—especially an abiding appetite for post-apocalyptic, epic fantasy and sword and sorcery tales. Influences like Moorcock, Burroughs, Howard, King, Silverberg, Herbert, Tad Williams. Lanier, Norton and many, many others.

This formed the pre-writing soup base. Then, music kept my fingers flying.

During the writing, it was Matchbox 20, Alanis Morisette, Live, the Goo Goo Dolls, Paul Simon, Five for Fighting, Howie Day, David Gray, Josh Ritter, Tori Amos and more. I do my best work to music and these folks sang me through a grueling six and a half week drafting process. I was writing more and faster than I had ever written before, filling all of my gaps of time with words, words, words. Their music and lyrics ran beside me. Because like the song says, “When my mind is free you know a melody can move me.”

At the end of it, I emerged hollow-eyed and in wrist braces to see that a novel had indeed occurred out of all that soup and little bit of spark. I, of course, was stunned by how well it was received. And I continue to be pleasantly surprised.

Once again, happy to tackle topics or questions in the comments. Thanks for reading along.

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