Saturday, February 22, 2020

Year 5 of the Indie Writer: Week 8 AKA Greg Rolie and Steve Perry

Scott D. Parker

I've been listening to the first three Journey albums recently, and it got me to thinking if I'm in the Greg Rolie stage of my writing career or have I reached Steve Perry.

Original Journey

If you're like me, if you think about the band Journey, you most likely hear Steve Perry high soaring vocals in your mind. But he was not the original singer. Greg Rolie was.

I think I've mentioned my son has been discovering old classic rock records I've never heard. About a month ago, he picked up Journey, the 1975 self-titled debut of the band. Made up of members of Santana's original band, Journey produced three albums that captured the mid 70s vibe of prog rock and fusion, all performed by guys incredibly proficient on their instruments.

Boy, is that original album good. Sure, it's 45 years old, but I'm really digging it. In fact, I'm loving it so much I went out and purchased Look Into the Future (1976) and Next (1977) straight away. I've been jamming to them this past week. You can hear them trying to get to a place of stardom and land songs on the charts, but they didn't quite get there. This despite how well they play, the intricacies of their songs, and their incredible musicianship.

The more I listened to original Journey, the more I wondered how and why Steve Perry joined the band. Turns out the band's manager wanted to take them to the next level and he knew they needed a different singer and a different producer. Props to Rolie who stayed in the band a couple more albums even when Perry joined and took the spotlight.

I did a fun thing yesterday. I listened to album three and then went right into the the fourth, Perry's debut. I wanted to hear the change. Infinity opens with the famous song "Lights" and it takes no time at all to realize the band has taken everything up a notch. They leveled up and never looked back.

How Does This Relate to Writing?

This week, my indie writing hit the five year mark. Unbeknownst to me back in 2014, my debut shares the same date as the debut album by KISS in 1974. It was neat thing when I realized it.

I'm proud of what I've accomplished in five years. Seven novels and eleven short stories for a total of 18 stories. I've got more on the way in 2020, but 18 is where I stand on the fifth anniversary of my company.

Some writers know who they are from the start: Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, Clive Cussler, John Grisham, Alan Dean Foster, and more that you can think of. Others took a little time to discover themselves: Erle Stanley Gardner, James Patterson, Dan Brown, and who knows how many more.

In essence, the writers in the latter group had their own Greg Rolie Era before the Steve Perry Era began.

So, this week, I've been ruminating about my career. Am I in my own Greg Rolie period or did I emerge out of the gate already in the Steve Perry Era?

If I'm honest, it's the Rolie Era. If that's true, then I wonder what book will take me to the next level?

I already know that answer, too. It's always the next one. It'll always be the next one because I'm constantly learning. But as I'm re-reading an unfinished book I started in late 2019 (so I can restart it again), I'm realizing the book's pretty good. I can actually see the progress I've made over five years right there on the page. It's exciting, and I can't wait to start it up again.

Maybe it'll be like Journey's Infinity. Maybe it'll end up being in my Rolie Period. Who knows? But I can certainly see progress.

Here's to the next five years.

For your writing careers, what era are you in?

Friday, February 21, 2020

Beau, Wounds, and Love

Today, Beau takes a look at Jordan Harper's excellent LOVE AND OTHER WOUNDS.
A man runs away from his grave and into a maelstrom of bullets and fire. A Hollywood fixer finds love over the corpse of a dead celebrity. A morbidly obese woman imagines a new life with the jewel thief who is scheming to rob the store where she works. A man earns the name “Mad Dog” and lives to regret it.
Denizens of the shadows who live outside the law—from the desolate meth labs of the Ozark Mountains to the dog-fighting rings of Detroit to the lavish Los Angeles mansions of the rich and famous—the characters in Love and Other Wounds all thirst for something seemingly just beyond their reach. Some are on the run, pursued by the law or propelled relentlessly forward by a dangerous past that is disturbingly close. Others are searching for a semblance of peace and stability, and even love, in a fractured world defined by seething violence and ruthless desperation. All are bruised, pushed to their breaking point and beyond, driven to extremes they never imagined. More>>

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Until the Absolute End

The other day online, in The Guardian, I read an article about the great filmmaker John Boorman. He is, of course, the man who directed Point Blank, Deliverance, Hope and Glory, and Excalibur -- favorites all of mine -- not to mention oddities like Zardoz and one of the worst big-budget horror films ever made, Exorcist II: The Heretic. Of Boorman, one thing at least cannot be said: that he ever shied away from venturing into unchartered territory.  The Guardian mentions fellow British filmmakers Nicholas Roeg and Ken Russell as his closest contemporaries, a statement accurate enough, and like them, he can be hit or miss with his films.  When they work, his films can be great; when they fail, they can be disasters, but not for lack of ambition or inventiveness. I've seen most, not all, of Boorman's films, and I can say I've never found any of his movies that worst of things -- dull.

Anyway, if you'd like to read the article, it's a good read.  It's a nice portrait of the artist in old age.  Boorman is 87, living alone in a huge house in Ireland, but in nothing like what you would call his dotage. 

Here's the article, if you want to read it: You Think the Holy Grail is Lost. No, I Have It On My Piano.

He makes one particular point that struck a chord with me.  Of old age he says, with a measure of humor, that it's "a series of giving things up.  I can't swim, I can't run, I can't drive a car or ride horses."

Now I'm 30 years younger than Boorman, but what he says got me thinking.  Already, there are activities I used to do and don't anymore because they are tough on the body.  I used to run for two or three miles on a regular basis, for example, on the streets wherever I was living, but I don't do that anymore because it leaves my knees feeling sore.  If I keep doing that, I fear, I'll wind up damaging those knees and since I've never, through all my years of running and playing tennis, had the slightest problem with my knees, I don't want to bring anything on now. 

And so it goes.  Everyone has their list of physical problem areas that limit what they can do.  I've never had to worry much about anything like that, so now that age is putting up specific barriers - nothing major but nagging little things - I think about them fairly often.  

Which brings me to writing.  What's one of the greatest things about it?  Simple: if you have your mind and even reasonable physical health, it's not something that, because of age, you have to say, "I can't do it."  I assume nearly everything is harder to do at 87 than at 57 just like a lot of things at 57 are harder to do than at 27, but even so, it's good to know that writing is there for you to do until the absolute end. Hell, Boorman himself, as the article says, has just finished a book, something that's "part memoir, part instruction manual".

I was recently having a talk with a friend who's a writer and much younger than me, twenty-four years younger to be exact.  He said how at his age, his main priority is doing the work, writing the books, enjoying the process of writing the books, and what comes will come.  Keep doing what he's doing and build up his body of "stuff".  At his age, he's got time, and who knows what can happen?  He's in it for the long haul, and that means twenty, thirty, forty years.

Though much older, I feel pretty much the same as my friend.  I said as much.  I told my friend that at 57, I don't feel cramped for time.  With fiction, I write slowly, so I do my best to make sure I write the books or the stories I really really want to write, but beyond that, I'm good.  It's basically this: as age continues to make its mark, I do what I can to stay fit and maintain energy, and I know (and hope) that writing isn't something I should have to give up because of age. It's unusual like that, writing is, say whatever else you want to say about it.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Inside the mind of Beau Johnson

It's always interesting to catch a glimpse inside the process of one of your favorite authors.  My friend and writer Beau Johnson has a new book coming out.  ALL OF THEM TO BURN takes us back into the dark and violent world of  Bishop Rider. He takes this opportunity to let us in on what goes through that noggin of his. Buckle up.


So, we meet again. You look good. I mean, I’m not a stylist or anything, but I really like what you’ve done with your hair. Anyway, when last I wrote, Bishop Rider was just about ready to “eat”, my second collection mere weeks from release. And eat he did. So much so that I somehow ended up taking parts from the man in an attempt to slow him down. Which leads me to the question: how much can a character endure?

If you’re Bishop Rider, the answer seems to be quite a lot.

I’d already taken his sister and mother from him in A BETTER KIND OF HATE, you see, and this is what I call his “birth.” Then, within the pages of THE BIG MACHINE EATS, Bishop is not only betrayed by one of his own---leading to him losing what I’ve come to call his kicking foot---but begin hinting that his partner in crime, Detective John Batista, will one day soon begin to lose parts of his face.

Lots to keep track of indeed.

And to be honest, I never set out to write Bishop’s story this way. Out of sequence, as it were. It just sort of happened. Each adventure having the power to spawn a prequel or sequel in equal measure, and in the rarest of moments, a throwaway line from years ago creating a whole new character. This character being Jeramiah Abrum, the son of the man who killed Rider's sister and mother in the first place.

This revelation here, as you might infer, has kept me on my toes as well.

Which leads me to what I really wanted to discuss. How one writes. Or goes about writing. There are three ways I know of. Plotter, or outliner if you prefer. Pantser, which is what I have always been, a writer who writes by the seat of his or her pants and going where the story takes them. The third is a combination of the two, which, if I’m honest again, is what I’ve morphed into the longer I’ve been writing Bishop's tale. i.e., his story becoming far too large for me to contain in my head as I had been.

There is hope, however, and it’s something I also wished to discuss---how part of any journey, fiction or otherwise, will always include the end. This didn’t happen by choice either. Well, it sort of did, as it was me who wrote it, but it felt right the more I pondered it. The only question that nagged at me was whether I’d allow Bishop to go out in a blaze of glory in ALL OF THEM TO BURN or if I’d let him continue to do what he has since he saw that video of his sister.  

This, of course, is where you come in.

Pull up a chair, click that link---let me show you how it ends.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

At the Starting Line

I’m beginning a new novel, which means that in addition to brainstorming plot ideas, I’m pulling out my starting-line resources.
These are a few things that I’ve found over the years that help me get fired up about the long writing road ahead. One is On Writing, by Stephen King. It’s one of my favorite books of all time, but now I limit myself to opening it only when I’m about to start a new project. It’s useful for many reasons. You hear from a master how he does it. And you hear that a writing career is hard and long. Which is a big boost psychologically as I confront a blank page. And then there are the little jewels throughout. One I came to as I was preparing to write this blog post:
King stopped for gas at a station with an attendant. While the guy was filling up his car, he wandered around the building and found a fast-moving stream. There were still patches of snow on the ground and he slipped, barely catching himself before sliding into the water and getting swept away. He thought about how long it would’ve taken anybody to notice he was missing and then how long before rescue personnel would find him. That morphed into an idea about a mysterious man who parks an old Buick in front of a rural gas station. That eventually became From a Buick 8. And that tells me that falling on your ass isn’t necessary a bad thing.
My other favorite reference is a list of points from a former Pixar storyboard artist. Emma Coats wrote a column about it for The Wall Street Journal a long time ago, and I cut it out immediately. A few of my favorites:
- “Give your characters opinions. Discount the first thing that comes to mind. And the second, third and fourth—get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
- “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.”
- And the one I always strive for and never manage to accomplish: “Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.”
Maybe I’ll be able to do it for this book—but don’t hold me to it.