On The Endworld Series, Music and the Creative Process

As of 10:00 AM today, Children of Endworld is 194 pages “to the good.” After countless days revising, re-revising and tweaking the last 40 pages (roughly two weeks worth to be approximate) I am ready to write what is arguably one of, if not the biggest scene in the series. It’s already “dialogued,” I just need to fill in the blanks. I don’t want to give anything away. I’ll simply say to those of you that finished the first book and are awaiting the second that the motivation of one of the main “baddies” is about to be revealed. That’s it, though. No spoilers. Sorry.

I’m not going to lie: I’m pumped up. I’ve got a three day weekend coming up (Happy Labor Day, BTW) and while I don’t envision having ample time to write–my wife is working so I will be alone with the kiddies much of the time–I don’t have to worry about pesky things like my own job, et al. I can stay up late; I can write during naps. Save for a trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods to pick up shin pads and knee socks for my oldest who is starting “petite soccer” in two weeks, a date with my Alma mater (“we are… PENN STATE!”), a bag of Tostitos and queso dip tomorrow afternoon at High Noon and a Phillies game on Monday night, my schedule is wide open. I figure I’ve got about 25-30 pages in me over the next three days. That’ll get me to the end of “la gran escena.” Can I do it? Only if I stop writing this blog entry, which I will do shortly. But before I do…

I’ve written about inspiration a lot here and over on “Random Musings,” but amazingly? I’ve never written a word about music, and how it inspires my creative process. Save for personal experience which has been, and always will be the most crucial aspect of writing “por mi,” music is the most important. When I write, I generally envision the scene that I am writing transpiring with a soundtrack. Often, that soundtrack is instrumental: I wrote most of ENDWORLD – A Novel while listening to the “Tron: Legacy” soundtrack and I’ve written much of Children while listening to the “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises” soundtracks (Hans Zimmer, Chris Nolan’s “go to” guy is my favorite theatrical composer; sorry, John Williams). But occasionally the process… my muse requires something more, i.e. something with words. The scene that I am about to write is no exception.

Do you know that I have a Spotify account? Do you? Do you know what Spotify is? Spotify is a relatively new, streaming music service like Pandora and Slacker Radio that allows the user–in this case, me–to create playlists, filled with songs so long as those songs are available, or “shared” by the artists that wrote them. I have many playlists but only two that are public. Those playlists are aptly named “If ENDWORLD Had A Soundtrack” and “If CHILDREN Had A Soundtrack.” If you have a Spotify account–and if you don’t, I highly suggest it–you can view them both. Just look me up and you’ll see them on my profile. They are filled with songs that have inspired the writing of certain scenes in both books both now, and over the course of the last almost 20 years. Some are relatively obvious–“Machinehead” by Bush, “Welcome To The Machine” by Pink Floyd and “Heroes” by David Bowie–but others are not. Have you ever heard of the band Stabbing Westward? Their song “The Thing I Hate” could be the theme song for the entire Endworld Series. It’s not–the series doesn’t exactly have an overarching theme song–but it could be.

Believe it or not (and if you know me, you likely believe it), both books have a theme song, at least in my mind. Heaven and Endworld does, too, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. ENDWORLD – A Novel has two: “Kiss From A Rose” by Seal for the original version and “Victory Dance” by My Morning Jacket for the rewritten, now published version. You’ve likely heard the former (“Batman Forever,” anyone?), but have you ever heard the latter? For those of you that haven’t, here it is in all it’s glory:

I can envision it playing over the closing credits if ENDWORLD – A Novel ever becomes a movie, hopefully scored by Hans Zimmer and produced by Chris Nolan (I’d never want him to direct it; it’s not cerebral enough a project for him). The lyrics (viewable HERE if you couldn’t gauge them from the video) fit the story perfectly. By comparison, Children also has two theme songs but they’re relatively new additions. The original never had one. Those songs? Well, here’s the first one:

Mind you, you can’t see inside my head but trust me when I tell you that the lyrics to “Fix You,” viewable HERE are poignant, and God awful relevant to Children and what happens in it. And I’m not even a Coldplay fan. I promise that you’ll understand soon enough, hopefully some time next year if I can follow through on my promise to publish it by then, but I’d argue that the book’s other theme song, “From Yesterday” by 30 Seconds to Mars is even more relevant. For your viewing pleasure:

Believe it or not, that’s the short video for “From Yesterday.” The extended video is almost 30 minutes long and I wouldn’t dare subject you to that. If you can’t make them out, HERE ARE the lyrics. I love 30 Seconds to Mars. Many of their songs appear on my Spotify playlists, both public and private.

A quick parenthetical aside: As a writer who draws heavily upon music as inspiration, having a good, go to website like http://www.lyricsfreak.com is a must. Often I hear a song, and I love the tune/think it would fit perfectly with a scene I am writing or planning to write. But pre-acknowledging it as inspirational I always check out the lyrics. Case in point: I first heard the new Bruno Mars tune, “Gorilla” on the VMAs the other night and I thought the tune perfectly fit the mood of Children. Upon looking up the lyrics I realized how incredibly wrong I was. Incidentally, “Gorilla” is not on the “If CHILDREN Had A Soundtrack” playlist. And if you’re curious about the lyrics, HERE you go. You can now laugh along with me. End parenthetical aside.

Back to the scene I am about to write: It’s intense. It had better be if I’m calling it “arguably one of, if not the biggest scene in the series.” And an intense scene requires an intense song. I’ve thought long and hard about the soundtrack to “la gran escena por Children” and have come up with a dozen possibilities, ranging from “Silverf*ck” by the Smashing Pumpkins to “Master Of Puppets” by Metallica. If I could merge the above, two songs/bands with Rage Against the Machine, The Prodigy and Hans Zimmer I’d be golden. But I can’t. So I needed something that embodied both the tone, and the theme of the scene. And finally, after weeks upon weeks of searching, I found it. And here it is:

Lyrics HERE. Incidentally, I never knew much about Fall Out Boy pre-hearing this song for the first time. I knew that one of their members had once been married to the lesser Simpson sister, but that was about it. Since, I have discovered that their music–specifically “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark”–is very apropos to the world of the Endworld Series. They are now, at least in my mind, most certainly greater than the backdrop against which the failed marriage of Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz played out. I could even envision them writing a song or two for it if the series ever attains movie or television adaption status.

Getting ahead of myself a bit? Maybe. I have no idea if the Endworld Series will or will not one day play out on the big, or even the small screen. But there’s nothing wrong with speculating a little bit. it’s healthy. And it motivates me the way music and my personal life inspires me. When I think about the future and I consider the possibility that the Endworld Series could, one day, be up on the big or down on the small screen I get even more pumped up. I write like a man possessed and describe it in words they way I’d “block” it, IRL. Producers beware: If this thing that I’m doing takes off one day, I’m going to want to be involved in it the same way that George R R Martin is involved in “Game of Thrones” on HBO. You have been warned.

I could write more on this topic… a heck of a lot more but that would be me, stalling and I do not want to stall any longer. “La gran escena por Children” needs my attention and I hate making my muse wait. Those of you that know the story, what do you think of my theme song choices? Do you know of any others that would “fit” the Endworld Series better? And fellow writers (I know that there are a lot of you out there): Do you utilize music in the same fashion that I do? If so, what kinds of music inspire you? And are you on Spotify? If so, look me up. I’d love to see.

In closing, I’ve decided to share one more song with you. I mentioned it earlier and it deserves it’s place in this blog entry. Please, listen and hopefully enjoy. I give you “The Thing I Hate” by Stabbing Westward:

I guess they never made a video for it. Oh well. I kinda’ like it better this way.

Everyone have a great holiday weekend.

F.

On Being Stuck

So I’m stuck. Not physically stuck in anything, but mentally and proverbially stuck. CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD is 58 pages to the good as of this AM. That’s the good news. The bad? It was 58 pages to the good last Thursday, as well. Why? Because I’m stuck.

It’s not Writer’s Block. I know all about that. I went through a prolonged period of it in the early to mid-2000s. It was my choice to begin blogging in 2008 that actually broke it. The ideas are there but for some reason, I’m having difficulty writing them down. Under normal circumstances, I’d simply write. And rewrite. And rewrite again until I got it right. But now? Now, I can’t do it. Thankfully, I think I know why.

Those of you reading this that know me know how involved I get in the things I undertake. Example: Writing a novel. If you’ve never done it or never tried to do it let me clue you in on a little secret: It’s tough. Damn tough. As my soon-to-be four year old daughter Cara said upon paging through ENDWORLD – A Novel, “that’s a lot of words, Daddy.” And it is. It’s the creative equivalent of training for a 5K. It’s not just the sheer volume of words that you have to string together, though. It’s holding your readers captive, i.e. keeping them interested. It’s stringing your words together in a way that makes sense not just grammatically, but contextually, as well. But potentially more than anything else, writing a novel takes something that doesn’t exist in William MacNuff’s world and something that oft times is at a premium in mine. That “something?”

Time. 

I’m stuck because I know that as soon as I begin the next chapter I am “pot committed,” i.e. CHILDREN will become the same center of my universe that ENDWORLD was for over a year. Slow afternoons at work when I’m not fulfilling my obligations as both an Inside Salesman and an Office Manager. Nights and weekends when I’m not fulfilling my obligations as both a husband and a father. It will become more than a passing distraction that I can pick up and drop on a dime. The process of creating, or in this case recreating William and Maria’s world has always been an overriding factor in both my professional and personal life. And once I go “all in” like I’m about to? Well, I can’t be 100% sure but per the giddiness that I’m feeling in my stomach, right now, this time > Last time. That’s how psyched I am about what’s already transpired, and what’s about to.

It happened during the rewriting of ENDWORLD, as well, I just wasn’t incredibly vocal about it, i.e. I never blogged about it. It occurred, ironically enough, near the end of Part One in a scene that those of you that have read the book likely know very well and those of you that don’t? Well, if you ever do get around to reading it I promise you that you will. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s a game changer. It involves the early and unexpected exit of one character and the introduction of another.

The scene that I’m stuck on? It doesn’t involve anything that crucial. I don’t George R R Martin one of my primaries, though I can’t say that one or two supplemental characters won’t feel the proverbial headman’s ax on the nape of their neck by it’s end. Honestly? I only plan big deaths when I write, i.e. deaths that involve main characters. I never plan the demises of the lesser ones. I let the process of writing tell me when someone’s time is up and then I find the most meaningful, and occasionally gruesome way of doing it. Yep. That’s me. I never said that I was perfectly balanced as an author, though I pride myself on being so as a husband, father, friend and family member.

No. The scene that I am poised to write is an action sequence. I’ve written multiple ones pre-this moment in my brief career as a published, albeit self-published author (I’ve got to say, I never get tired of writing “published”) but said sequence? It’s the line in the sand. Once I cross it, it’s “game on.” There will be occasional breaks in the action. There always are, but as anyone that does this knows there comes a point where you simply can’t turn back. Apparently, said point is proportionately the same for me regardless of what I’m writing. Or so it seems after two novels, one completed and one not. Fifty eight-60 pages appears to be my creative Point of No Return.

It was easier “back in the day.” Back in the day, I was an oft times single college student working full-time in my spare time for CVSStress Pharmacy. Outside of that my obligations were few and far between. Plus, I was a lot more… capable of “burning the candle at both ends” than I am now. I’ll let you in on another little secret: There’s a big difference between 20 and 37 going on 38 (in case you didn’t know it) much less 37 going on 38 with a younger child–Natalie–that is just now getting her Toddler Molars in. I’m not going to ruminate on sleepless nights, herein. If you want to read about them, you can check out In Which I Blog Backwards, an entry written over at “Random Musings” by that Madchronicler guy, AKA me yesterday.

What I am going to ruminate on is how different things are now. That’s not a bad thing. I prefer that which inspires me now to that which inspired me then. But I’m not going to lie: Sometimes, I miss being able to just go. Get home, retire to my domicile, turn on my old 286 HP with the monochrome screen, light a cigarette, crack a beer, maybe take a couple of hits off a joint and start writing. That’s part of being a writer. It’s what we all want: To be alone with our characters as we “find” their story. I’d write most nights until I passed out at my computer. The original version of CHILDREN–version 1.0–was written in six months. Let me repeat that: Six months. That’s nothing if you’re talking about a 150 page novella or even a short, 200-225 page novel. But a 400+ page one? That’s impressive. Borderline insane, actually. But that was me, back then.

Now? Now, I’m as much a product of my situation as I was then. The only thing that’s changed about me other than the amount of gray in my hair and my beard and the extra sag to my midsection is… well? My situation and my tolerance for “burning the candle at both ends,” i.e. unless I get between six and seven hours of sleep on a given night I can’t remotely function the following day without a lot of caffeine.

Most nights presently I leave work, pick up my girls, go home, make dinner, get them ready for bed, get them in bed, clean up, and maybe get the chance to sit down in front of my Samsung I5 Laptop with the LED screen for an hour or two before I pass out. I still have no idea how I managed to write ENDWORLD in a little over a year, considering I took a six week long break in the middle because of health issues (bloody migraines; thank God they’re gone, now). But I did it. Hopefully CHILDREN will follow a similar path of evolution. I’m still shooting for May, 2014. I’ve even got a cover in mind. But that = Putting the proverbial cart before the horse. First the story. Thereafter I’ll make it look pretty.

You’re probably reading this and thinking to yourselves Christ, Frank. Get on with it already. You’ve spend the last X-amount of time “ruminating” on something you should just do. You’re probably right. And something tells me that tonight, or maybe tomorrow night I’ll pick up where I left off and write the aforementioned scene. And then it’ll be “game on.” I probably could have written it and not this but do you know what? I need to be true to myself. True to the process. And some days? Some days you just can’t. Call it creative erectile dysfunction or something less graphic. Some days the words elude you, despite how vivid your ideas are.

In short? Some days you’re just stuck. That’s the curse of the part time author. You’re not suffering from Writer’s Block or a deteriorating grasp of the English Language. You’re suffering from something much less malignant than even time, or an absence thereof. That “something?”

Life. 

Happy reading, all.

F.