Origins: Jamie Schultz on Premonitions

premonitions cover

A member of my writer’s group, the North Texas Speculative Fiction Workshop, Jamie Schultz has published his first novel, Premonitions. It’s a fast-paced urban fantasy and crime novel that blends modern-day thieves with magic, dark gods and cults. What could go wrong? Here’s Jamie to tell you a little bit about how he came up with this book:

She drove west, foot to the floor, trying not to look at the thing in the passenger seat.

That was the original first line of Premonitions, my new urban fantasy novel about a group of occult thieves that gets in way over their collective head. The line didn’t survive to see the finished first draft, and neither did the scene containing it, but the damage had been done, and the whole book fell out of there. You can almost see it between the words of the sentence: she’s got something terrible in the passenger seat, and she’s driving like hell to get away from something even worse.

I should back up. Premonitions is an odd sort of genre mix—a heist novel dressed up in its very finest urban fantasy gear, and probably wearing horror underwear. It’s loaded with well-meaning crooks, terrible demons, nefarious crime lords, and the very nastiest of black magic. The horror and fantasy elements were things I’d already been working with for awhile, but for the crime stuff, you can blame Charlie Huston, and Don Winslow, and Tom Piccirilli, and Elmore Leonard, and—well, let’s just say I’d been reading a lot of crime fiction at the time I started writing. I had been reading so much of the stuff, in fact, that I never actually made a conscious decision to mash that type of thing into my work. It seemed completely natural, and it was only after I’d finished that I stepped back and thought, “Dear God, what have I wrought?”

In retrospect, it seems like a good fit. Urban fantasy tends to draw lightly from each of noir and horror to begin with, lifting tropes with gleeful abandon and putting them to its own evil uses. I think I might just have cranked that dial up more than is typical, especially from the noir side. The bad guys aren’t all-powerful, and the good guys are crooks, and while the characters spread out quite a bit along the good-evil spectrum, nobody’s hat is exactly white. The characters are flawed, often frightened or desperate, and sometimes they make bad decisions.

Anyway, having steeped myself in that type of reading, that first sentence rattled loose from my keyboard. She drove west, foot to the floor, trying not to look at the thing in the passenger seat.

What next? Well, I knew that I wanted to work with a larger cast than I had in the past. There would be a central character, but instead of a lone figure, she’d be part of a group. The heist setup practically wrote itself. It just needed one more thing—motivation. Why should a reader be sympathetic to a bunch of thieves?

There are lots of ways to make this work in typical crime fiction, but with fantasy, I had a broader palette to work from. Make the main character see the future, I thought. Just glimpses. Hallucinations, really, superimposed on and indistinguishable from her regular perceptions of reality. Then make them get wildly, horribly out of control if she doesn’t keep them in check with a grotesquely expensive black market concoction. Poof, there it was: A great reason for her to need stupid amounts of money, combined with a plausible reason for her success at a difficult, illegal, and typically unhealthy occupation.

Of course, everybody knows that the heist at the center of a good heist story is doomed to go wrong… but now I’m veering off origins and on to spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.

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The book is available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon or at local booksellers. Check it out.

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*Editor’s note: Origins is a semi-regular feature where writers can tell my audience about how they came up with their books. I try to largely concentrate on science fiction and fantasy writers, but, if you are interested in writing a piece on your book, let me know.

 

A Passionate, Accurate Story

Picking through The Passionate, Accurate Story by Carol Bly, which interested me because it sounded like a good book about adding depth to characters. I’m finding it a disappointing period piece (1990) with all the worst aspects of ‘90s political correctness.

Fiction, in her view, is only accurate emotionally if it follows a set of prescribed values: anti-corporate, anti-violence, etc. She wants writers to raise their consciences to produce propagandistic art.

She also attacks SF as shallow, producing, ironically, the sort of fiction she is prescribing, simply a literature of ideas.

She has a section on encouraging imagination in children, which I’m all for. At the same time, those moments when my imagination was discouraged pushed me to write to explore it.

 

ConDFW: Escape from the Slush Pile

banner-1200x2881This post will be brief. I’ve been busy with a move that has interrupted writing (excuses, excuses) but wanted to post some helpful advice I received at ConDFW this past weekend from western romance writer Sabine Starr during the panel Escape from the Slush Pile:

  1. Polish
  2. Polish
  3. Polish

One way to get out of the slush, she said, was to send editors your highest quality product.

Will try to get more posts on the convention up later this week. Went to some great panels on developing your career as a writer and met some great people. Stuff I want to share with you.

Writing short

If you’ve read my story collection, The Arc of the Cosmos, you know I’m capable of writing short short fiction. And yet, I have a hard time writing short, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, although stylistically I tend toward writing lean. I just seem to have a lot of story to tell.

I am currently in the process of revising a longish short story, “Earl,” the original draft of which runs just a little over 6,800 words. As I revise, that count keeps moving up. And as I revise, I wonder if the story will end longer than it started. Which makes me wonder if my original idea is too expansive for a short story.

I love short stories, love learning how to write them. I like the “window of the world” stories present, as much as I like the expansiveness of novels.

I’m not averse to stories like Joan Didion seems to be in  this essay from Brain Pickings.  Like Didion, I like having “room in which to play.” But am I playing with too much room?

I think about this too after a recent interview—due out next month—with science-fiction writer Lou Antonelli, who is known for writing lean, swiftly moving prose. He told me his revisions tend to shorten his stories.

How much expansion is too much expansion? How much tightening is too much?

—Todd

Let the Tale Tell the Tale

Sodiviner's script, like many of my scribbler friends, in November I started a story-a-week project that resulted in me finishing two stories and getting them into slush piles (and one rejection; sent that story right back out.) I finished a third story the third week that is in the hands of my beta reader.

I started a fourth story in the fourth week. That story is still being written. It’s moving past story length into the territory of novelette or possibly novella. In some way this is discouraging because it doesn’t fit at all into the goal of writing a story a week, much less a story a month.

Still, I am determined to finish it, whatever its length, and found encouragement to carry on after reading an essay by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who wrote “But most of all these writers [referring to writers such as George R.R. Martin, Connie Willis and Robert Reed] are spectacular storytellers. They tell long stories and short stories and medium length stories and short punchy stories. They let the tale determine its own length, and they continually add to an already rich field.”

Not to say I am a spectacular storyteller by any means, but I am determined to finish this story and let the tale determine its length. Is it a good story. I hope so. I know I’m enjoying writing it. And I look forward to its outcome, whenever that comes.

Origins: Jonathan Walburgh on Cannibals and Vixens on the River Styx: A Journey Into ’80s Music

Cannibals 2

I know Jonathan Walburgh from my newspaper days. Besides that experience, we both shared the experience of growing up in the 1980s, and getting our ears filled with everything from Madonna to Michael, but also Metallica and Men Without Hats (and you know what you can do with friends who don’t dance.) Paging through Jonathan’s book makes me nostalgic for ear-splitting Quiet Riot concerts (1984, Reunion Arena, Dallas, Texas was my first) and girls in Chic jeans doing their best to look like Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon.

Here’s Jonathan to tell us more about rock and/or roll ’80s style:

There’s the cliche “Write what you know.” Well, there’s also the saying “Write the book you want to read.” With Cannibals and Vixens on the River Styx: A Journey Into ’80s Music, I did both. There have been many good books about the music and pop culture of the 1970s but very few about the 1980s, so I felt I needed to fill that void.

Having experienced that decade firsthand (I’m 38) I’ve always been annoyed at how Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen get all the credit for the decade’s musical innovation. While all of them certainly contributed some quality work, there were some other acts that were pretty creative as well. The 1980s saw Neil Young take a total left hand turn and incorporate synthesizers into his music on his album Trans, while Lindsey Buckingham collided sound effects with songs on his album Go Insane to create new musical textures and soundscapes. Acts like Huey Lewis & the News and the Bangles updated the styles of the 1950s and ’60s by incorporating synthesizers into the mix to create music that sounded both retro and new at the same time. I also wanted to include other acts such as The Cars, Men at Work and Def Leppard whom I feel have never gotten the credit they deserved for creating some great music.

Being a major music buff, the biggest temptation was to focus on every obscure act that I loved, but I realized that would make pretty boring reading, so I narrowed my subjects down to the ones that whose music I felt the most passionate about and had the most interesting stories to tell. I spent three years researching the book, combing both through libraries and my own personal collection of musical memorabilia. I hope anyone with an interest in 1980s pop music reads Cannibals and Vixens on the River Styx and finds it enjoyable and informative.

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