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Monday, 22 March 2010

Enter the wonderful world of Wintercraft...

For the latest thing in fantastic fantasy fiction, we have one word for you: WINTERCRAFT. Check out this brilliant trailer for a taste of what's to come in May...


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Mr. Monster: Time for More Demons

Last week I talked about my overall philosophy of sequels—that they must have more of what the readers liked in the first work, while adding something new and exciting and unique, while extending the main character in a fresh and logical new direction, all while being better written and more awesome than anything you’ve done before. In other words, they’re very hard.

With all of that in mind, I sat down to plan out some sequels to I Am Not a Serial Killer. Lurking in my notes from that book was a single line about series potential: “A serial killer who hunts serial killers, except they’re actually supernatural monsters whose methods mirror standard serial killer behaviors.” In the first book, of course, I’d used souvenirs: many serial killers take pieces of the bodies they kill, as souvenirs or trophies or even for food. I built the first book demon around that idea, coming up with a spooky supernatural reason to explain why he would so many body parts. It worked pretty well, so I figured it was a good place to start in planning the sequels, and I sat down to list some other standard serial killer behaviors.

Cannibalism? That’s a cool one, but probably too similar to the “steals body parts” idea. Rape? Definitely typical to the majority of serial killers, but not really something I wanted to deal with. I could technically have gotten away with it, even in YA, because the YA horror market is far, far darker than most people expect, but I really just didn’t feel comfortable with it, personally, so I discarded it.

How about kidnapping? That really piqued my interest, as I’d just read a couple of really fascinating articles on the subject. Kidnappers are not all serial killers, of course, but those who are have a really interesting subset of quirks: they often have self-constructed dungeons to keep their victims, they choose their victims based on very specific concepts, and they tend to have strange, almost ritualized ways of communicating with their victims. Another great benefit to this idea was that it would shake up the formula from the first book, by focusing so much of John’s investigation on one location instead of following a killer through the streets; it might even be fun to have John himself get kidnapped. What I really liked about the idea was the tiny hint of pathos buried behind it; one of the more famous serial kidnappers was a man named Gary Heidnik, who kidnapped women because he wanted a family. I loved how the demon in the first book had an element of sadness, a sort of yearning for humanity buried inside of a horrifying evil, and the kidnapper idea seemed open to similar possibilities.

So I liked the idea, but I needed a supernatural backstory to explain it. Maybe he kidnaps people because he…I couldn’t think of anything. I hopped on the Internet and hunted around for ideas, looking at famous serial kidnappers to see what they did, and why, and after some reading I hit on the idea of torture: many kidnappers, especially those who eventually kill their victims, will often torture them first. Best of all, I came up with a cool supernatural basis for the torture almost instantly, though obviously I can’t tell you what it is.

I folded the torture together with the kidnapping and I had a pretty cool bad guy, but there was still one piece missing: why were there two demons in such a small town? Isn’t that kind of a stupid coincidence? My first thought was the Hellmouth idea, but not only did Buffy already do that, I really didn’t want these things to come from Hell. They’re only demons because John calls them that—they’re actual origins should be far different. I switched gears at this point and started coming up with ideas for their background, and while I jotted them down a solution presented itself: if these things were an ancient group, and if the demon from the first book had spent so much time trying to be human, it made sense that the others would lose track of him—and it made even more sense, given that, that this ancient group would be looking for him. So, why are there two demons in Clayton? Because the first one got some national attention when his disguise started to slip, and the other has coming looking for him.

The ideas were coming together. I had a cool idea for a bad guy, and a good reason or him to be there, and neat (and terrifying) supernatural background to pull it all together. I had my first sequel.

That same night I sketched out plans for the third book, as well, but you’ll have to wait a while to learn about it. For now I’ll give you just a few hints: first, the serial killer traits I use in book three are stalking and ritualization. Second, the basic outline for book three really, really creeped me out. I didn’t realize I had it in me.

Tune in next week for the second half of the sequel planning: where should John go next?

Dan Wells


Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Mr. Monster: The Sequel Begins.

Long, long ago, having written a novel called I Am Not a Serial Killer and shopping it around for publication, I got a phone call from Moshe Feder, an editor at Tor, saying that he loved it and wanted to buy it. I was, of course, ecstatic, though I’d like to think that I kept my cool somewhat during the conversation. I told him I’d find an agent to help work out a contract, and he said something completely awesome and completely frightening:

“I’d like to do a contract for multiple books. This one and at least two sequels.”

Well. My level of excitement was, shall we say, somewhat boosted by this announcement. It was quickly tempered, however, by the fact that I didn’t really have any idea of what the sequels would be about. I said yes, of course, because one does not say no when an editor tells you they want to buy three times as many books as you expected, but I was a little nervous. The story in I Am Not a Serial Killer was fairly self-contained, at the time, and while I had thought about a series I had never really done any work on it; I just wrote the book and called it done. Where could I go from here?

I sat down that night and wrote out two quick ideas, about a page each, that would eventually become the two sequels: Mr. Monster and Full of Holes. In my opinion they are both better than the first book. I’ll talk more about those ideas later, but first let me talk a little about sequels in general. The first thing you should know is: they’re hard. For every Empire Strikes Back or Dark Knight, in which the sequel is better than the original, there’s a hundred Daddy Day Camps and Back to the Future IIs, in which the sequel is far, far worse. I see sequels as having three major obstacles to success:

1) The audience wants more of the same, but they also want something new. This is an enormous paradox that a LOT of writers are never really able to solve. One of my favorite examples is the American TV show Heroes, about normal people trying to deal with strange new powers they couldn’t understand. The first season showed them discovering their powers and trying to solve a larger mystery, slowly building up to a climax where they all finally met each other and worked together to defeat a scary villain. Everyone was excited for season two, and then it arrived and we saw…the same people, discovering the same powers and trying to solve a big mystery about the same, not-actually-defeated villain. The writers knew season one worked, and they were right to try to provide more of the same, but they neglected the “something new” aspect and basically just told the same story over again. I almost killed the show.

2) It’s very easy to mis-identify what the audience loved about your first work. Identifying this correctly is incredibly important, because it will let you know what elements need to be the same and what elements can be expanded or altered or improved. A great example here is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In the first movie, the creators were trying to reproduce the feel of the classic adventure serials they’d seen as kids, and they did a very good job and people loved it. What they didn’t realize is that the audience wasn’t responding solely to the concept, but to that specific execution of it: they loved the globe-trotting pulpiness, the 1930s period stuff, the nazi-bashing wish-fulfillment, and most importantly the perfectly tuned love/hate relationship between Indy and Marian. When the time came to make a sequel, they identified the wrong success (“Audiences loved having a movie based on old adventure serials”) and thus moved in the wrong direction (“Let’s make a movie based on other serials, like the jungle-stomping wilderness stories”). The movie they made was great, but it was missing most of the stuff people loved from the first one, and thus had a very poor reception. Go back and watch it today and I think you’ll agree that it’s a great adventure movie, but most of us remember it as "the crappy one" because, at the time, the audience felt a that it went in such an unexpected direction.

2) Your character has already had a strong arc in the first work, and now needs a completely new, unrelated arc that’s even better. Of course your sequel needs to be better than your first—if it’s not, people will feel like they got a bad deal. But how can you tell an even better story about the same character, when the first book already dealt with (presumably) their main personal issue? What do you do with Luke when he’s already learned how to use the Force? What do you do with Bruce Wayne when he’s already become Batman? There are plenty of stories to tell with those characters, but how do you give them the same emotional weight as the first installment after that central character hook has already been dealt with? The answer, of course, is to find a new hook. The first Spider-man movie showed a young, goofy teenager, slightly directionless and rebellious, grow up and learn responsibility. They hit those themes really solidly in the first one, and they told that story really well, and they couldn’t just tell it again; if they’d tried to rehash the same themes in Spider-man 2, it would have tanked. Instead they took it in a new direction, showing Peter Parker growing in other ways as he tries to cope with that responsibility and teach it to others.

These were the thoughts that rolled through my head as I sat down to plan out my series. Next week I’ll talk more about how these ideas helped create the story of Mr. Monster.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Everybody loves Lex!

Check out this great review for Lex Trent Versus the Gods. http://solittletimeforbooks.blogspot.com/2010/02/lex-trent-versus-gods-alex-bell.html