A Recipe for Deadly Drinks

So this is what daylight looks outside of the dreaded Editing Mines! It’s a different kind of bright from a computer screen, isn’t it? Unlike the east coast, we’re getting some sun in between the bouts of rain, so it actually feels like spring, as April should.

Speaking of April, know what releases in less than three weeks? That’s right, “Bones and Bourbon” releases April 23rd, available in both print and ebook formats wherever books can be acquired online (and, if all works out, at certain bookstores and conventions)! Right now, we’re busy with copyediting, finalizing the cover art (it is GORGEOUS and I cannot wait to share it with you), and preparing to promote the book with everything from events like the Author Facebook Takeover to some top-secret projects.

It’s been a long, strange journey to get “Bones and Bourbon” to where it is now. Ever wonder how a novel comes to be? Here’s the story on how this one happened.

The journey started one Xmas morning when I was still in high school. Though I had been writing fanfiction for years at that point (some stories with enough “fan characters” and alternate settings that they were almost completely original works), it had never occurred to me to become an author; my goal was actually to write for video games, inspired by JRPGs such as Final Fantasy X and Chrono Cross. Then I opened one particular book: the writer’s digest Plot and Structure by J. Scott Campbell.

I had a revelation: instead of being beholden to the constraints of graphics and commercial deadlines in video games, I could just write the stories on my own! I could be an author! I read this book on writing as if it were the holy grail of inspiration, and as soon as I shut the cover, I closed my eyes to brainstorm a novel (as if it were so easy). What popped into my head was a man standing aloft on a ship made entirely of bones as it bore him over a churning ocean in a storm. I decided the man’s name was Retz Gallows.

He was not the protagonist.

Originally, Retz was a straight-up necromancer who used his powers to keep his deceased girlfriend alive, and was the call to action for a mild-mannered metal-bender named Samson. That story wasn’t developed enough to last beyond the first chapter, and I soon moved on to an X-Man-esque story called “Arcanum,” where certain individuals developed superpowers as a reaction to traumatic incidents. This was where Retz’s powers shifted into controlling just bones instead of the undead in general, though he was also a cowardly romantic, as much comic relief as he was a friendly rival to the protagonist. I kept adding characters into the story as I designed it; my plan was to make a long webcomic with a diverse ensemble cast, with Retz just being one cog in a complicated machine.

Cue a friend telling me about a tabletop game known as Changeling: the Lost and asking me to make a character for it. Without knowing much about the setting, I created Jarrod, a gun-wielding, hard-drinking investigator trying to clear the name of his disgraced father. When I drew him, he looked vaguely like Retz—more a testament to my art style at the time than anything—but I decided that they could be brothers. Jarrod joined the “Arcanum” cast and became the serious, non-supernatural counterpoint to Retz. As I built the plot, I decided he was a spy against his will for one antagonist, due to cursed roses planted in his skin—and if he didn’t comply, he’d turn into a plant completely, a fate his father had already suffered.

They were still not the protagonists. With how much screentime they stole in the story before they were even introduced, however, they might as well have been the stars. Individually, they each had more artwork than even the protagonist of the series! So instead of burying them in a giant ensemble cast, I decided to give them their own story to run amok in. I wrote about them in my college writing workshops and played them in tabletop RPG campaigns, which led to me spending my school breaks trying to write the first books in the “Deadly Drinks” series. Which were…only around 50k words each, the same length as a NaNoWriMo entry, and read more like bizarre episodes of Supernatural with the serial codes filed off. Eww.

Even though these early attempts will never see the light of day, they did serve the purpose of sharpening my skills and helping me figure out what I wanted “Deadly Drinks” to be about. I brainstormed a new start to the Gallows brothers’s adventures, pulling in concepts from my college classes and characters I hadn’t used in years. Giving Jarrod a steady romantic relationship from the start was inspired by my medieval romance professor’s comment on the rarity of such things in romances, though it took time before I settled on Farris, who was a surprisingly popular non-player character I’d made for a Changeling: the Lost game I’d run. Nalem was originally a god I’d created for a fantasy series in high school, and making him share Retz’s body stemmed from wanting to explore a deeper connection between protagonist and antagonist that I hadn’t seen much in fiction. Orphaned heroes too common? I made sure the Gallows brothers had BOTH parents alive…or at least undead and sentient enough to influence their lives.

Along came November 6th of 2012, a date I can only concretely recall because it was also the night Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term. During my science fiction analysis class in college, I was struck by a flash of inspiration, and a scene in the back of my mind’s eye: Retz and Jarrod fighting a multi-headed snake, leaping across gilded cages suspended from chains in a castle as they tried not to be devoured. There were creatures in these cages, including two fire spirits that the brothers had to rescue. I had to know why.

I could not tell you what that day’s class was about; I instead wrote the entire initial outline of what is now “Bones and Bourbon” in that class period. I fleshed out the opening chapters, one for each brother, during my writing workshops over the next few terms, while I wrote the novel in whatever spare time I had. I had to rewrite it as I went and the story continued to change, particularly as I realized that the brothers weren’t entirely human—instead being half huldra, which explained how they could survive in their dangerous urban fantasy world—and that Jarrod was transgender like some of my close friends. I wrangled the story together, finished the first draft on a friend’s couch at the start of my senior year of college, and immediately wrangled a few of my constant classmates to beta-read for me so I could prepare draft two.

Flash forward to last year. “Bones and Bourbon” was polished enough to send to agents and publishing presses, with the first draft of its sequel finished and the third book in the series underway. No surprise, it garnered a few rejections at first—I even rewrote most of Retz’s introduction to make it more engaging, since most submission requirements only reached partway through his first chapter. Between querying agents and participating in Twitter pitchfests, all I’d hoped for was a bite of interest. #SFFPit rolled around in June, and after crafting a slew of pitches (a different one for each hour, some of them crafted on the spot during breaks at work), I sent off this tweet:

 

It wasn’t the most popular or exciting of the pitches…but it did garner the attention of NineStar Press. I ran to my computer after work to research this publishing press. Deciding it sounded like a legitimate press that would respect my work and wasn’t in danger of folding, I submitted my manuscript—almost five years old if its ‘birth’ was the creation of its outline—and kept writing while I waited. The website FAQ told me to expect a 12 week response time. I heard back in 2—and it was a resounding YES.

Now, here we are. Less than three weeks until release date, when this story that was once scribbled on in-class notebook paper is unleashed upon the world, and those boys I imagined on a whim will finally get to share their adventures with all of you.

Dear readers, I hope you’re as excited as I am.

~Dorian

In the Presence of Other Worlds

If there’s one writing technique I’m fond of, it’s imagining alternate universes. To consider how differently events would turn out if one key concept were changed, be it one small event (Bruce Wayne was shot instead of his parents, as per one comic series) or a larger idea (what if Hollywood, but in a fantasy setting?). And if I can ever get to Stephan King levels of fame and be able to publish a story and then publish a literal AU of that same story, believe you me, I will feel like a god. Expect maniacal laughter.

Now, you may wonder why I referred to this specifically as a writing technique. I do so because imagining AUs can be useful for a variety of purposes, be it developing characters or practicing new genres without flinging oneself completely into the unknown. Imagining an alternate universe can even lead to entirely new stories, such as how the Temeraire series and the Fifty Shades of Gray books were originally AU fanfics of Master and Servant and Twilight respectively. But how exactly can imagining AUs help?

Karmonis Lineart

Karmonis is also an occasional pincushion.

From a character perspective, I’ll use a fantasy character I’m developing as an example. Karmonis Mordai is a tiefling (i.e. looks like a satanic demon without actually being one) who was unfairly exiled from home, forced to become a ranger for hire in his travels. I ended up playing him in two different games, so one version of him found a small band of adventurers to travel with on a quest, while the other settled into a city and is now fighting to protect a larger populace of people in his new home. One setting helps me develop his faith and small-scale interactions, and another puts him in a position of power as a rebel force and weighing his impulses against the needs of his people. Developing him across two worlds with one key difference—did Karmonis overcome his guilt and allow himself to find a home—has helped me develop his character immensely.

For AUs as a method of trying different genres, I’m going to consider fanfiction for a moment. Fanfiction is where I first started writing, and instead of rehashing the familiar, I took to writing AUs as a way to contribute something new. One of my first forays into original fiction was to take the mechanical trappings of my favorite fandom (a popular video game series I will not name, out of sheer embarrassment) and put them into a gritty dystopia. The characters and world were new, but with the same basic rules in place, I still had fellow fans who were interested in reading and providing me feedback. A later example was taking the characters from an urban fantasy tale and putting them in a more high-fantasy setting, allowing me to practice the trappings of fantasy rules through a familiar modern lens and characters I already knew how to write.

In these cases, both techniques can be applied to our own original fiction. Have a character you’re having difficulties figuring out? Imagine them in a fresh setting, how they would react with a different role in the story, or even if a key aspect of their identity was shifted. Interested in a different genre? Take characters you’re familiar with and write them in such a setting, so you can focus on what’s new instead of having to build it all from the ground up. Don’t have time to write it all down? Even just daydreaming can help get the creative juices flowing.

(I myself have a tendency to put my characters in different games, be it a dice-rolling tabletop game or a video game. They can lead you surprising places—imagine my terror when I realized that a character of mine would totally side for the main antagonist of Fallout 4 because of the importance he places on family.)

Amusingly enough, most of my upcoming novel “Bones and Bourbon” can be attributed to me imagining AUs in one way or another. Retz and Jarrod Gallows were originally characters in a webcomic I was writing, but they kept stealing the spotlight from the main characters, so I considered giving them their own story. Around this same time, a friend sat me down to watch Supernatural for the first time, so I started to imagine what the Gallows brothers would do if they were in the Winchester brothers’ shoes. (And yes, those early drafts of the series did read a lot like a Supernatural fanfic, and thus are horribly cursed.)

Other characters joined the cast as they were given the AU treatment; what if this manipulative vampire was instead a lamia, and what if this girl and her monster friend from a Monsters and Other Childish Things game were monstrous siblings and on the run in a setting where they weren’t the only paranormal beings running amok? Even antagonist Nalem started as a benevolent god in an earlier story of mine, stripped of the mundane upbringing that had taught him kindness in his original series as he was tossed into Retz’s head for “Bones and Bourbon.”

Feel free to change things up, even just for sake of daydreaming. And if the changes you make actually stick? Don’t be afraid to run with them. The multiverse is the limit, dearests.

~Dorian