Dealing With Ghosts

I recently finished Claire Legrand’s The Year of Shadows, and it got me thinking about ghosts.

yearofshadows

The book deals with a little girl who meets a bunch of ghosts (obviously) who live in an old symphony hall. There’s quite a bit more to it than that, of course, and I recommend the book for MG readers looking for a nice, moody, atmospheric chill.

Legrand’s ghosts are very interesting. They don’t really have shape, but sort of form themselves into shape when they concentrate. They have a smattering of their memories from life, but not much. They are individual characters, with individual personalities.

As opposed to the Shades, which are sort of Legrand’s boogie-men and behave more like what some would call a poltergeist.

The ghost story is one of the foundations of horror, of course, and ghosts have been depicted as all sorts of things from creepy forms lurking in the night to foppish, jovial, nearly-headless buffoons (I’m looking at you, Nick). Sometimes they can speak, sometimes they can’t. Sometimes they can move physical objects, sometimes they can’t. Sometimes they are full characters, other times a ghastly prop.

Yet they’re all ghosts.

Authors use ghosts all the time, but whenever they use them as more than a brief mention, there’s this need too explain the rules. “Sure, you know what ghosts are, but this is what MY ghosts are like.”

It’s fascinating. Authors don’t generally need to do that with other creatures. You see a vampire walking down the street, you know it’s going to suck blood, shy away from the sun, and have very pale eyes. There can be minor variations, such as if they fly or not or… well.. they sparkle (whatever), but by and large a vampire is a vampire is a vampire. It became a vampire by getting bit by another vampire, and they make fresh new vampires by biting non-vampires.

Not ghosts. Why is that? At the heart of it all, ghosts are supposedly spirits of people who used to be alive. But how they became ghosts is always up in the air. As I have mentioned before, one of my current favorite MG ghost series of Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. (I recently devoured the fourth and latest volume, The Creeping ShadowIn the Lockwood books, ghosts are the danger, but generally without personality or character. They are the symptom of the evil for the most part, and much of the series is being spent trying to uncover the true evil. But one touch from a ghost and you die. Not so in The Year of Shadows, in which the little girl is touched by ghosts all the time, or in Harry Potter, where the ghosts tend to walk through Harry when he’s not looking.

All of this is to say that if you’re planning on using ghosts, be prepared to explain them. Readers have been inundated with all sort of different ghostly rules that no two people will have the same idea of what and who your ghost is unless you tell them. So be warned.

Just don’t make them all sparkly.

Feeling Loopy

Time travel is tricky.

Writing a story that allows characters to move through time opens up all sorts of nasty paradox doors and ‘what ifs?’ and plot holes and it can be a bear to get it right.

This week, I saw the film Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. I read the book when it was first released, but I will be honest and say I don’t really remember much about it. What I do remember was thinking that it was an interesting world created by the author but that there didn’t seem to be much story in there.

People who have read the book much more recently than I and have sen the movie have said that the movie takes a massive left turn away from the book about half-way through. From what I remember, I can almost understand that, because you’d want the cool set-up of the world, but you’d need to shoe-horn a stronger narrative into a 2-hour film.

If you have not yet seen the movie or read the book and plan to do either, I suggest you stop reading, because I’m so totally going to do SPOILERS because of what I want to discuss. I know this means both of my readers will now stop reading and I’ll be left talking to myself, but so be it. This has been gnawing at me and I want to get it out.

SPOILER ALERT

You’ve been warned.

I have issues with how the movie dealt with time. I do not recall if the book did this in a similar way, so the book may well not have these problems. But the movie does.

The basic story involves a kid in 2016 who finds a ‘Loop’ of repeating time from 1943 on an island in which live Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children. He travels from 2016 to 1943 through a cave, hangs out, then travels back through the cave and back into 2016. Simple enough. I can buy that there’s this magic portal that lets you into The Loop and that when you leave, the portal spits you back out into the time period from which you originally entered. Like it has a psychic memory of when you went in to refer to when it lets you out. Fair enough.

But let’s examine this a bit more. At one point, we are told that Miss Peregrine frown on her children discussing the outside world. For them, it is always one particular day in 1943. Their bodies do not age.

But they remember.

They know they’re in a loop. They know what happened yesterday in the loop, even though it’s now the same day. It’s a bit like Groundhog Day, if you will. So they know that they have been living in 1943 for over 70 years and are still children. Add to that, the fact that at one point some of the kids leave 1943 to enter 2016 to get the boy. So we know they can leave the loop if they want. However, we learn that if they remain in the future, their bodies will quickly age the intervening years. So If they stay in 2016, they will age 73 years in a matter of days (it’s not made clear how long the process would take).

Right now, this still sort of works. Their Loop is on an island. Self-contained. But then…

Their Loop isn’t reset. Time moves forward. But they are still in 1943. It is just the next day in 1943. So they leave the island. They are now in the rest of the world, but in 1943. OK. This opens up the possibility that one of the kids could go through the cave and pop up in 2016, get some sort of technology or important information or something, then go back through the cave into 1943, then sail off the island in the rest of the 1943 world and ‘invent’ the technology 50 years early. They can change the trajectory of history. This is the first thing that popped into my head, yet it is never even mentioned in the film.

Fine. That’s not actually my biggest issue.

The kids need to save someone who has been captured and taken into another Loop somewhere else. This Loop is new, created in 2016, so it loops a day from 2016. In order to rescue their friend, the kids in 1943 sail to the entrance of the 2016 Loop and enter the 2016 Loop from 1943.

This shouldn’t be possible.

The new Loop was created in 2016. The kids arrive in 1943. The Loop didn’t exist then. The portal to the Loop didn’t exist in 1943. They shouldn’t be able to rescue their friend. I don’t know if this is in the book or not, but it was a huge hole for me, and nearly took me out of the story.

Later, they return through the new portal from Loop 2016 to Real World 1943. But Boy remains in Loop 2016, which closes and becomes Real World 2016. Then he decides to rejoin the kids, but doesn’t know where they might be now. However, he knows where they were on that day in 1943, so he starts travelling backwards through Loops until he can enter real time at a date and time before 1943 and live his life in the past until it is naturally 1943, when he then goes to where he knows they will be and rejoins them. An instant for them, a year or so for him.

That bit is complicated, but it can be made to work without breaking any rules. What he needs to do is first find a Loop that has been in continual existence from creation up to now (2016). Let’s say it’s a 1970 Loop. He enters the 1970 Loop, then instead of going back through the portal, he travels 1970 until he finds a Loop created earlier that is still in existence in 1970. Let’s say 1950. So he travels into the 1950 Loop. Again he travels the world, this time in 1950, until he finds an even earlier Loop. He finds a 1942 Loop. Enters 1942 from 1950. Then travels the world and waits. Eventually, 1942 become 1943 (years have a way of doing that) and he can rush back and rejoin the kids who have just reentered 1943 from 2016.

So in theory, the Boy’s journey to rejoin the kids is doable by the rules of the world. But you still come up against the biggest issue, the 2016 Loop should not have existed in 1943.

Also, not to go all Inception on this, but Boy is now living in a Loop in a Loop in a Loop. Or something like that. We are left to assume that the kids go somewhere and a new 1943 Loop is created. So let’s say they’re there for 5 years. 1943 in Loop time, 1948 in real time. When he leaves the Loop, is he in 1948, or does the act of leaving any Loop restart him and he pops up in 2016?

And can he step out of his new 1943 Loop into real time and alter the course of history? He knows what’s going to happen for the next 70+ years. Can he lay down a series of Vegas sports bets and become a multi-millionaire? Can he go to Florida in 2000 and explain how butterfly ballots work to the 3,000+ people who meant to vote for Gore but ended up voting for Buchanan because they got confused, thereby flipping that state and the 2000 election to Gore?

A super villain could do some serious damage with access to Loops.

What do you think? Did I miss something?

Win Free Copies of Dr. Fell!

Did you know you had not one, but TWO chances to win a free copy of my book, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom? It’s true!

Fandom Monthly Magazine  and YA Books Central are each hosting giveaways on their sites–literally giving my book away!

My advice to you is to take advantage of their foolishness before they realize what they’re doing. Hurry! They’re bound to find out eventually.

In other news, I’m trying to decide what to write next. Do I write something new or go back into one of my preexisting worlds? I sway back and forth in my mind, with a number of different projects vying for attention. There are pros and cons to each approach.

Something New

Pro: I love new things. Exploring a new universe. Meeting new characters. Creating new adventures.

Con: I’ve put a lot of work into the worlds of Dr. Fell, Beyond the Doors, and Book Three. Now I’m gonna go and do it all over again?

Pro: My imagination gets to run wild. What interests me today? A forest of rotting trees? Schools filled with slime? THE Dr. Edward Virgil Ignatius Lance?

Con: Each new book is one more book between a current title and its sequel. What if people lose interest in Dr. Fell or one of my other titles before I get around to a sequel?

Return to One of My Preexisting Worlds

Pro: A return to an old friend. I love my characters, I’m excited to play with them again.

Con: What if I write a sequel, then learn the publisher isn’t interested in a sequel? Is that time and work wasted?

Pro: Dr. Fell has more adventures in him. Book Three is specifically set up for sequels. Strike while the iron is hot!

Con: The danger of unconsciously writing the same book over again. It worked once, what if I end up creating the same thing and fooling myself into thinking it’s different?

Not the world’s biggest dilemma, I know. But it’s where my mind’s at.

Thought you’d want to know.

What Makes a Book Middle Grade?

In less than 3 months (August 9, to be exact), my debut novel, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (currently the number 3,603,655th best-selling book on Amazon.com!) will be published. It will be published as a Middle Grade novel, or MG as they say in the industry.

Next year, my follow up book, Doors, will be released. Also as an MG title.

So that makes me an MG author. Wooo!!!

Who are the MG readers? Well, supposedly, they are children ages 8-12 or grades 3-6 who are beyond simple chapter books but aren’t yet ready to read about how the world has come to an end because the sparkly vampire and the innocent teenage girl can’t find love during the zombie apocalypse.

Does that mean that if you’re not between the ages of 8-12 you can’t read an MG novel? No, of course not. Anyone can read them. The first few Harry Potter books are considered MG titles. But then he grows up and likes girls and the books turn into 900-page YA novels.

Over time, I have unearthed what I thought were some of the unwritten rules on what makes an MG novel.

  1. The main characters are generally between 10-12 years old.
  2. There is no love story. No girlfriends or boyfriends. Basically, no puberty.
  3. No swearing. That should be obvious.
  4. If there is any sort of violence it is not graphic or gratuitous in any way.
  5. Good guys should win, or at least not lose (bad guys can survive/get away to help set-up sequels).

There are other rules for the basic sub-genres, but these have long guided my steps into the MG world. But now I have a dilemma.

I have a book. It is a good book. It was my first novel and it got me my Awesome Agent. Awesome Agent loved it and sent it around and got positive feedback. But nobody bought it. We couldn’t exactly figure out why until one publisher clued us in, saying in essence:

“We don’t know if this is Middle Grade or YA and we’re not sure how we’d market it.”

I took a look back at my list of five rules, and yeah, the book does break two of them. Specifically, the main characters were more like 14 years old and there is a minor love interest, though nothing that is ever truly explored.

So OK, maybe the book is meant to be YA. Except, well, no. Here are, near as I can tell, some rules for YA novels.

  1. Characters should be in High School.
  2. There should be unrequited love stirring the heart strings and quite possibly results in inappropriate behavior.
  3. Bad things can happen to everyone, including having important characters die.
  4. You can swear a little bit. The minor stuff. Not the biggies.
  5. The book should be set in a dystopian future where animals have evolved to feed on human flesh.

Aside from the evolving animals (which I think is more of a guideline than a rule), my book sort of fits. Except I don’t really swear. And my book doesn’t have a teenage girl pining over either a vampire, werewolf, or zombie. So it’s not really, YA.

It’s in between.

Now realize that the entire MG category was created to give publishers somewhere to stash the books that landed in between Children’s and YA. So where do you put the books that squeeze in between YA and MG?

As it so happens, there is an excellent example of exactly this sort of book. The Percy Jackson series. He starts out in High School. There is no real love interest. There is no swearing. There is no graphic or gratuitous violence. To be honest, the entire Rick Riorden cannon is made up of Middle Grade books starring High School kids. Which shouldn’t be possible.

So where do you stick him? Because wherever you stick him, that’s where my beloved first book resides. See, I tried to re-write it for Middle Grade, but when the characters get that young, the events of the story just don’t make sense. It is not believable that a 10 year-old would have the adventure my main character enjoys. So if the characters need to be in high school, does that mean I need to adjust the book to make it YA? By adding a stronger love story? More violence? More angst? If I do that, the book loses a lot of what makes it fun in the first place.

You see my dilemma. If anyone out there has any ideas, I’m all ears.

 

 

Dr. Fell Art Preview!

In addition to the sweet cover drawing seen here-

drfellcovercredit

-the amazing artist Will Terry is supplying Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom with a number of full-page, black & white illustrations, one for every other chapter. Below is a sneak peek at the illustration for Chapter 1.

drfell-1 Chapter

In all, there are 14 or 15 illustrations (I forget the exact number), each one bringing a specific moment of the story to life. I love Mr. Terry’s work, and think he has done a fantastic job capturing the chilling joy of the story.

Seeing someone else interpret my work in this way has been an absolute thrill. When I saw the first pencil sketch of the Dr. Fell cover, I nearly cried. It was perfect. It was obvious at first glance that the artist had not only taken the time to read the book, but that he got it, that he understood it, and that he was ready to play in the same world. There are background elements on the cover that you don’t even notice but that are directly taken from the story. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Last week, I was shown an early pencil sketch of a cover design for Doors and had a similar reaction. Sort of like ‘Wow, this is real!’ Again, the artist (a different artist, and one whose identity I will disclose at a later date when I know I’m allowed) captured the feel of the story and brought a pivotal moment to life. I’m equally excited to see what the artist does with the remainder of the story (although truth be told, I have not specifically been told that Doors will feature internal illustrations the way Dr. Fell does. I’m only assuming because I’ve also not been told it won’t. Does that make any sense?).

I’m not an artist, at least not in the ‘I draw things that look good’ sort of way. My drawings are generally stick figures. And space ships, I always tend to draw space ships for some reason. But people? Living things? Forget it. I can’t even make a tree look good. My blades of grass leave a lot to be desired, as well. So when I see characters I created depicted on the page in two-dimensions (haven’t yet gotten anyone to make hologram of one) I am in awe.

Drowning in Red, Green, and Purple Ink

I have received Book 2 back from Copyediting! Wooo!

This means it’s time for me to re-read my work and see just how much I did wrong.

It is a humbling experience. Even when everyone likes the book (which they tell me they do), there are still a hundred or more errors sprinkled throughout. Getting the manuscript back from Copyediting is always a nervous experience (I say having had the experience all of two times). I have a relationship with Excellent Editor. We work together on ideas, I get suggestions and comments and critical thoughts from someone who is (or at least does a great job making think they are) invested in my book.

But Copyediting is something altogether different. It is a faceless, anonymous arm of The Man. A layer of evil every book must venture through before being reborn on the other side a creation of purity and goodness. Copyediting has RULES and GUIDELINES and stuff. There is no thought of massaging a writer’s ego, no care taken to remain gentle and nurturing. It is the harsh world, and their job is to toughen our skins.

Upon receiving the file from Copyediting, I downloaded and opened it and stared at the mass of red ink. And blue ink. And purple ink. And green ink. Everything is done through the Track Changes function, and everyone’s comments and edits are included. In an attempt to be helpful. everyone’s comments are different colors. And then there are all the colors slapped on that aren’t notes, but highlights for formatting. One color for italics, another color for bold, etc. It’s actually quite pretty if I ignore the fact that much of it is based on tearing apart my baby.

The truly soul-sucking notes are the ones I get over and over on a given manuscript. For Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (coming out August 9, 2016! Pre-order your copy today!) this note manifested with the word “toward.” I had written it as “towards” throughout the entire book. So they made a note to change it each and every time. If I had 200 edits in the entire book, easily 30 of them were that single error.

This time is the word “OK.” I have used that work as written for forty years. I’m pretty sure I used it in Dr. Fell. However, at this time Copyediting does not like OK. It wants me to spell it out. Okay. So every time a character says OK, there’s a note to change it. Every. Single. Time.

It is a learning process. I must slowly but surely learn proper grammar. Eventually it will be ingrained within me and come naturally, but until then, it will be corrected. Over and over and over and over.

It is a slow process, but in the end my brain will be washed and all will be well.

The Sequel of Doom!

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom officially launches in less than four months! August 9, to be exact!

drfellcovercredit

I am, of course, ridiculously excited for the launch of the book, but there really and truly isn’t very much for me to do with regards to Dr. Fell between now and then. Except wait. And wait. And wait some more.

There seems to be a lot of waiting in the literary world. Maybe that’s why everyone likes to drink nice, soothing tea all the time.

Anyway.

So while I wait for Dr. Fell to jump into stores and off of shelves (and computer screens, remember, you can pre-order at Amazon today!), I instead concentrate on Book 2!

Except that I’ve already turned in Book 2 (which is not a sequel, but is, instead, the second book in my 2-book deal) and right now I’m waiting (there’s that word again) to get it back from Copyediting. This can take a while, as they often need to replenish the ink in their red pens in order to better underline everything I’ve done wrong.

So I turned my attentions to Book 3 (which is not a sequel to either Dr. Fell or Book 2, but a separate story that is totally awesome and which Awesome Agent will have the task of selling eventually). And finished the first draft. And sent it off to my early readers. And am now… you guessed it… WAITING to hear back from them.

So that’s three books all in the pipeline of being written and/or published, none of which I can actually work on at this point in time. What’s a writer to do?

Write something else.

Now I love new and original ideas. All three of these books are completely different works. My fourth book (which was actually the first one I wrote) is also its own beast. So that’s four books, four worlds. It can get lonely.

So I decided to revisit. I decided to begin work on a sequel.

Of course, the most likely book in need of a sequel at this time is the first one, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom. I say this simply because it is being published first, and I wanted to revisit Dr. Fell’s world.

It’s a lot of fun.

The thing about writing a sequel is… trying not to make it the same thing. It needs to take the story someplace else. Build on what has come before. Take the reader by surprise while still feeling familiar. A tall order. Made taller still by the fact that the first Dr. Fell wasn’t necessarily written to have sequels. Mind you, I do keep the door open at the end. But this isn’t part one of a three-part trilogy like Lord of the Rings. Neither is this like “The continuing adventures of…” whomever you want. It’s like… you know how Stephen King wrote Dr. Sleep, a sequel to The Shining? The Shining didn’t need a sequel. It was a complete story. But eventually, King wanted to revisit that world and so he wrote a sequel. And it works.

That’s what I need to create. Something that works.

I have LOTS of fun ideas, and am already crafting a lovely, demented little tale. It is just the matter of finding the right way to tease the legion of fans of the first book (oh yes, there will be legions) while also being open to those who, for whatever reason, have not read Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (they were probably in a coma).

Fingers crossed, but I think I’m on to something. I wanted to start familiar, let old readers think they know where this is going, but then slowly but surely pull the rug out from under them as the true story takes hold, shakes them up, and spits them out.

Yum!

If nothing else, it’s something to do while I wait for August 9…