Because there’s always a WIP. People like you and I, we live for the WIP. We die for the WIP. Without the WIP, there would be no reason to get up in the morning, or eat nachos, or own a computer. At least, that has been my experience. I’m well aware there are people for whom writing is not a compulsion. They wake and sleep every day without the slightest inclination to write a story. While that is tragic, there is something you and I can do to help them: we can make up the difference.
Write, Discard, Repeat.
Earlier this year, when I was finishing the final edits on Brigham Plaza, I was also psyching myself up about a new story idea that would jump back into the distant future of the Vinestead Universe, to a little girl living with her mom and dad on a small island somewhere in the Caribbean maybe (See: Flashes from the Verse: Island Girl). It was one of those ideas like Por Vida where the twist came first, and it was up to me to fill in the rest. Unfortunately, I’m physically and mentally incapable of writing single POV stories, so I had to abandon it.
Thus began The Great Churn of 2020, driven by this uncontrollable desire to have something in the works. I needed a WIP. Had to have a WIP.
But before you can have a WIP, you need the right IDEA, and before you can have the right IDEA, you need the right MOOD.
Don’t Write Angry
Twenty years ago, most of my stories came from a place of sadness, longing, and/or pain. They were desperate attempts to communicate emotion, to have a stranger feel what I was feeling so that we might have a connection. I needed that emotional foundation to write; I couldn’t just make it up out of thin air. And while I can do that now, some of those early habits have carried over. I still listen to forlorn Classical music when I write, and often I’ll have the sounds of a thunderstorm looping in the background.
Those kinds of auditory cues help get me in the mood.
But then I would get on Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter, and the mood would be shattered. Instead of being in a mindset where I could imagine literally anything, I found myself boiling with anger.
Angry that people still think COVID is a hoax.
Angry that people were making pictures of Trump appear in my timeline.
Angry that I would read yet another story about the crumbling of America only to have it followed by an ad for an insignificant product, then another ad, then another.
It all became too much. So it had to go.
Since deleting my Facebook / Instagram accounts and cutting down on my Twitter time, I’ve started to feel better. Less angry. Less doomy. Closer to the right mood.
Yes, but is it interesting?
I ask that question a lot, usually after putting down a few chapters in a new story. I think about some of the books I’ve read in the last year, and I’m struck by their immediacy, how quickly they convince me that yes, this story is worth reading. My patience for beating around the bush or wasting entire chapters on character introductions is pretty much gone. I want something that’s exciting from the first word, or failing that, within the first 500 words or so.
For months, I spun my wheels. I thought about writing my first true sequel. Or a story that took place at the same time as Hybrid Mechanics. Or something completely random.
Everything felt like a rehash, concepts I’d already explored before.
Worse, none of it was “interesting” to me. And when it came down to it, I realized that I didn’t want to write any of those stories. Their construction was too serious, too rote, and too much like work.
Work makes me angry, so any idea that felt like work had to go.
Flames… on the side of my face…
It’s mid-October, and the despite the world literally going to hell, the Halloween season is still in full swing. Hocus Pocus is playing on TV like people wouldn’t welcome a trio of witches over a pandemic and aspiring white nationalist president. Dom has decorated the house with cartoonishly large spiders, of which Matador was initially wary but now seems at peace with.
Since I’ve been avoiding writing, I decided to fall back on my own Halloween custom: watching scary movies by myself in the dark. I began this year with The Haunting of Bly Manor, which was not scary but more like a puzzle that needed solving, so it kept me watching. I like haunted house stories, the idea that characters are put into a place where they cannot escape, where the rules of the outside world no longer apply.
When that was done, I started rewatching The Haunting of Hill House, followed by House on Haunted Hill, which has a star-studded cast list that reminds me a lot Clue and Murder By Death. Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, peter Gallagher, Chris Kattan, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson… there’s not a bad one in the bunch.
Burning through these movies, I realized I really like this idea of a bunch of people brought to a sprawling home on the promise of a good time only to be put through the wringer. Obviously, the idea has been done to death, but that doesn’t stop people from writing more stories with the same setup.
So why not me? Why not take a handful of important Vinestead Universe characters and put them in a house together for one fateful night? Why not kill them off one-by-one like in House on Haunted Hill? Or have them work together to solve a mystery like in Clue?
Why not, Mom? Why not?!
Your Host for the Evening
That’s all I want to say about the WIP, except to add that none of the chapters I’ve written so far feel like work. They were fun to write. Whether I had a glass of wine or a bowl of candy corns or no chemical stimulant at all, I enjoyed writing them. There’s so much you can do with the dinner and a murder premise.
At the moment, my guests are receiving their invitations and deciding whether they want to attend based on what they know about the host. That’s something that always got me about House on Haunted Hill, *SPOILERS*, that all of the guests, with no prior connection to Stephen Price, would just blindly accept his invitation. You could argue they wanted the money, but I mean, come on… everyone thought it was a good idea?
Make no mistake. This isn’t a horror novel. I don’t think I could write a horror novel to save my life. But make no second mistake either: a robot can kill just as many people as a ghost.
A Final Note…
As part of my research, I picked up a copy of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and boy, talk about multi-POV madness. Moving between characters is a whirlwind, and I like the frenetic pacing. Try out a sample on Amazon if you haven’t before. No 500 words of introduction there… just straight into the story.