I did a guest post on writing and technology over on Rob Cornell’s blog. Check it out, and while you’re there, have a look at Rob’s novels. The man can tell a great tale.
Rob Cornell is the author of DARKER THINGS, an urban fantasy thriller. An accidental nomad, Rob grew up in suburban Detroit, then spent five years living in Los Angeles before moving to Chicago to receive a BA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College. He has traveled full circle, now living in rural southeast Michigan with his wife, two kids, and dog, Kinsey—named after Sue Grafton’s famous detective. In between moving and writing, he’s worked all manner of odd jobs, including a three-day stint as assistant to a movie producer before he quit because the producer was a nut job.
Here’s a teaser for DARKER THINGS –
Craig Lockman—no one had called him that in fifteen years.
Not since his days at the Agency. Not since he was trained to kill creatures that were supposed to exist only in nightmares.
Yet the teenage girl on his doorstep not only knows his real name, she claims she’s his daughter.
Before Lockman can learn how the girl found him, he’s attacked by a black-ops team of assassins. But these aren’t ordinary killers—they’re heavily armed vampires sent by his most hated enemy.
Forced on the run, Lockman protects his daughter from an onslaught of horrors while searching for who betrayed him and why. The investigation leads him to Detroit, where he unwittingly sets a plan into motion that could trigger a paranormal apocalypse and cost him his soul.
Rob was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
Previously, you’ve written traditional crime stories. What made you want to change to urban fantasy?
I’ll call it my chocolate and peanut butter moment. If you remember (and I might be dating myself here) the old commercials for peanut butter cups, you had two people—one eating chocolate, the other peanut butter—and by some crazy accident their snacks would meet. “You put your chocolate in my peanut butter,” one would say. The other says, “You got peanut butter on my chocolate.” Something like that. Oh, here’s an idea. With the power of Google I take you back in time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJLDF6qZUX0
And, yeah, looks like I dated myself. Anyway, I’m a huge fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers. Hard-core action. Strong, sometimes remorseless hero. Plot twists galore. I’m also full out in man-love with Jim Butcher and his Harry Dresden series. This is urban fantasy done right. Emotionally engaging main character. Quirky supporting characters. Cool magic. Scary creatures. Lots of spectacle in the most Aristotelian sense of the word. (Ha, I just threw some Aristotle at ya.)
I got to thinking. What if someone like Jack Reacher landed in a world like Harry Dresden’s. That spawned the idea for DARKER THINGS. Basically, it’s action-thriller meets urban fantasy. And dang, was it fun to write.
Tell us a little bit about Craig Lockman, the protagonist of DARKER THINGS.
Lockman is a pretty messed up individual. So messed up, he doesn’t even know how messed up he is, and that’s all I’ll say to avoid spoilers. But he’s a strong-willed man who starts the story a lonely and living under a fake name because fifteen years before, while working as a government agent, his ID was compromised and his worst enemy nearly killed him. He became a security risk, so he had to go into hiding. But worst of all, he had to leave behind his fiancée without a word.
When Jessie shows up at his door, claiming she’s his daughter, Lockman has to reconcile two big parts of his personality—his sense of duty and cool professionalism with the passionate, caring man that had to abandon the woman he loved. He spends a good portion of the novel struggling to balance those sides and, therefore, create a new sense of self-identity.
He’s also a badass who isn’t afraid to face down a team of black-ops vampires sporting fangs and fully-automatic weapons.
What was the hardest part of writing DARKER THINGS?
The hardest part, for me, about writing any novel is keeping my self-doubts at bay. I have plenty of them. With DARKER THINGS I had the added worry about writing a novel length contemporary fantasy—something far different from my usual novel-writing exploits. I often questioned if I wasn’t wasting my time. But what got me through answers your next question.
What was your favorite part of writing DARKER THINGS?
The whole book was just plain fun. The action, the magic, my take on the standard paranormal tropes. I had more fun writing this book than anything before. Which actually added to some of the self-doubt. I thought, “This can’t possibly be any good if I’m having so much fun. This doesn’t feel like work at all.” I decided those were pretty stupid self-doubts to have. Besides, if I was having fun, who cared what happened to the book afterwards?
As it turns out, I’m happy with the result. And thus far, so are my readers.
Briefly describe your writing process. Are there any “writing rituals” that you stick to?
I’m pretty strict with my writing time. I have set hours during the day, depending on my schedule, and I only write during that time, and I write only during that time. I find it important to separate this time out of my day, otherwise I spend too much time obsessing about the book, or too little time writing. I also make sure to have a sketchy outline before I start. This used to go on index cards, but I’m now saving the environment by using a program called SuperNotecard. Just a couple lines per scene. Sometimes those scenes expand into several during the writing. Sometimes they get tossed out. But I always have that roadmap to keep me on track, which allows me to focus on telling the story.
How do you cope with writer’s block?
Doesn’t exist. That’s the short answer. The slightly longer answer is I have a secret weapon who goes by the name Jerrold Mundis. He wrote a book entitled Break Writer’s Block Now. Sadly, the book is out of print. His system is simply the best way to create a comfortable and productive working schedule, free of block. Luckily, he has an audio version of his seminar on his website. So I don’t sound like a complete commercial, Google him and you’ll find his site. Whenever someone asks me about writer’s block, I tell them about Jerrold Mundis. It sounds like I get a cut of his sales, but I don’t. I just really believe in his system.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Read. Watch movies. Play video games. Play with my kids. Eat. Drink beer. Might explain the gut.
You’ve found a magic lamp. The genie inside agrees to grant you one wish (and ixnay on wishing for more wishes). What do you ask for and why?
Easy! More readers. The number one thing that makes my day outside of hearing my kids tell me they love me is hearing from a reader who liked one of my stories. The main reason I write is to entertain people with my stories. I want to give readers the same kind of experience I get from reading my favorite writers. I get no better satisfaction than taking people out of this world for a little while and sending them on an emotional and thrilling adventure.
Thanks for stopping by, Rob.
Thanks a lot for the interview, Nick. I had a lot of fun. I’m all about the fun.
I just got the cover art back for my upcoming urban fantasy novel, IMPERIUM. The cover was done by the amazingly talented Ronnell Porter. He’s a great guy to work with, so if you’re looking for a cover artist, check him out.
Vincent Corinthos leads a triple life. As a secret agent, he handles paranormal threats; as a god, he protects his followers from evil forces; as a stock clerk, he keeps the back room of an antique store tidy. When one of his fellow agents goes missing, Vincent begins with the usual suspects. His investigation takes him to vampire lairs, golem laboratories, and the realm of the fae. Along the way he squares off against genetically modified gremlins, virus-spawned zombies and a horseman of the Apocalypse. But it’s only when he infiltrates a private medical lab that he realizes just how big of a threat he’s facing, and even being a god might not be enough of an edge…
Coming Summer 2011!
I love comic books. I started reading them back when I was in my early teens and faithfully collected for several years until I went to college. I still liked comics, I just didn’t have the time or money for them anymore.
Fast forward some fifteen years or so and I’ve started reading them again, thanks to my iPad. The iPad has an app from each major comic publisher that allows you to download and read their titles. The first thing I did was grab as many issues of The Flash as I could, and have since moved on to Batman and Green Lantern, which were my favorites back when I was younger.
But there are a couple of publishers that are new to me as well. Dark Horse Comics and Boom Studios, in particular. (I should note here that I remember seeing Dark Horse back when I was collecting, but I didn’t read any of their titles.) When Free Comic Book day hit this year I pulled down an issue of Doctor Solar from Dark Horse. It was a great read. I typically have two requirements for my comic heroes – they need to either be smart, clever or both. Doctor Solar is smart. Like nuclear physicist smart. After being exposed to a nuclear accident, he can now control all forms of energy, as well as his own physical makeup. He can holographically project his memories to those around him, can travel via phone lines, and doesn’t need a cell phone to make a call. Solar explains the science around this just enough to give the reader an understanding of how and why he can do what he does, but it doesn’t bog the story down. You can check that issue out for free from here.
The Traveler from Boom Studios is another title I’ve started reading. It’s billed as “Stan Lee’s The Traveler,” but I’m not sure what Stan’s involvement really is with the book. He’s listed as Grand Poobah in the credits, and while that’s absolutely true, it doesn’t tell me if the Traveler was his idea or if he’s just the executive producer of the thing. Regardless, The Traveler is clever. He’s a mystery man who has the ability to control time. He can freeze time long enough to allow people to escape danger, he can briefly stop time so he can recover from serious injuries, and he can rewind time to send projectiles back at the people who launched them. This title is especially fun because the Traveler is snarky on top of being clever. Snark + Clever = winning combination. You can learn more about The Traveler here.
What comics have you recently discovered? Sound off in the comments.
When Fall hits New England, you can usually find a ton of caterpillars crawling around. Some of them are covered in soft, brown and black fur, earning them the nickname ‘wooly bear caterpillars.’ However, I found this link, which shows that the affable caterpillar that I’ve grown up with has some downright evil cousins.
So here’s a writing prompt for you. Take something that you’d normally think of as happy, cute or cuddly, and make it as deadly and vicious as possible. For inspiration, think of Monty Python’s Killer Rabbit, or Mr. Spock’s pet Sehlat (a teddy bear with 6-inch fangs).
So I’ve been dark for a couple of weeks. I’d love to say this was because I was locked up in my Writing Cave, pounding out thousands upon thousands of words in the WIP. Or I’d love to say that it was because the Justice League had recruited me for a secret mission in an alternate dimension and I’ve been out saving the world. The truth of it though, is that I was horrifically sick. I had to be hospitalized twice due to a very high fever and the fact that I couldn’t keep fluids down. So it was an unpleasant experience in every possible way. It’s mostly over now though, and I’m slowly getting things back to normal.
So let’s celebrate my return with a writing prompt. Invent a sickness that does terrible things, but also provides one positive effect to someone who survives it. Maybe it’s a flu that destroys 90% of your lung tissue but gives you psychic powers, or something like that.
Happy writing, and everyone stay healthy!
Sometimes, you’ll write a scene, make changes to it, and then later decide that the original scene was better. When I was writing in Word and this happened, I used to copy the scene and paste it into a separate document. Then I could make changes in the original doc and if I later decided my first scene was better, I could re-copy the scene back in. This got to be a pain, especially when a scene went through multiple incarnations; I’d end up with four or five different files that all corresponded to slightly different flavors of the same scene. I wound up with a folder with files named things like Chapter2Version1CharactersGoForIceCream,Chapter2Version2CharactersGoForDonuts, Chapter2Version3CharactersGoForThaiFood, you get the idea.
Luckily, Scrivener has a built-in feature called Snapshots that manages this process for you. Let’s say you’ve got a scene that you want to tweak, but you want to be able to go back to the original version. Just press Ctrl+D, and you’ll hear a camera shutter sound effect. Then, click on the Snapshots button on the lower right toolbar to see a list of Snapshots associated with the current scene. You can create as many Snapshots as you want for a particular scene, and then restore a scene to a previous version by clicking the Roll Back button.
This short video shows Snapshots in action. Enjoy!
When I’m creating my characters, I spend a lot of time trying to find a name that fits them. I want something that suits their nature, says something about them, conveys a bit of them to the world. However, there are other times when you just need to name the guy who’s selling sausage sandwiches on the sidewalk, and you don’t want to agonize over what to name him. For those moments, there are a bunch of name generators online. Here are a couple that I’ve found helpful.
The Seventh Sanctum has a whole collection of name generators. Just click on a link on their site to randomly generate the type of name you’re looking for. You can get regular names, elf-sounding names, Lovecraft-sounding names and more. For example, when I clicked on their Pirate Ship Name, I got The Dirty Raider.
FakeNameGenerator can generate regular-sounding names, but will also make up phone numbers, addresses & email addresses. If you ever need to quickly whip up an obituary or a want ad for your characters to read, this is the place to do it. It’s also a good place to just randomly generate stock characters. When you generate a fake name, here’s what you get:
Behind the Name gives you some flexibility in choosing the ethnicity of the name that’s generated. So if you want your sausage vendor to have a Greek name, you can check the Greek name box and get Alexandros Iosif.
Also, if you’re using Scrivener, you have a random name generator built in. Just go to Edit>Writing Tools>Name Generator… and you’ll be presented with this screen.
The nice thing about this is you can generate lists of names, and you can also view their meanings by clicking on the Name Meanings tab.
So now the next time you need to name a sausage vendor, you’ve got a bunch of resources to tap. Enjoy!
One of the things I love about urban fantasy is how it can be used to explain conspiracy theories and other unexplained phenomenon. For example, Chris Farnsworth’s The President’s Vampire does a nice job of telling what happened both to JFK and John Wilkes Booth. But stories don’t have to deal with a national threat to be interesting. I came across this article about rare minerals on Wired.com, and found it to be a goldmine of writerly potential (yes, pun intended). It’s not because the article has any earth-shattering info; instead the article tosses out some interesting factoids about each mineral’s discovery (or disappearance). There are almost no properties listed for these minerals, or what they could be used for. That means it’s open season for someone with a little imagination.
So, here’s a little writing exercise for you – pick one of the minerals listed and use it as the focal point of a short story. It can be something like “Wawayandaite is 300% more deadly to fae than iron, and a group of renegade Druids is about to turn on their former fae allies” or “Tugtupite is the most powerful aphrodisiac for Chupacabras, and someone’s been dumping it in large quantities, causing the Chupacabra population to increase and they’re now openly attacking humans.”
Have fun, and if you’d like, feel free to throw your idea out in the comments to inspire others!
When I was writing the first novel in my series, I wanted to track how much progress I’d made toward my target word count. As mentioned in a previous post, I was shooting for 80,000 words. Each time I finished a writing session, I’d jot down how many words I’d written, add that to the total number of words I’d written so far, and then divide that number by 80,000. While this worked well, it was a manual and tedious process. Then I found Scrivener, which can calculate that for you.
(Note: I’m using Scrivener for Windows, so things may be in slightly different places or have different keystroke combos if you’re on another OS.)
There are three Project menu items that can give you more information about your WIP: Project Statistics, Text Statistics, and Project Targets.
Project>Project Statistics (or Ctrl-Shift-T) – This gives you the total word and page count of your draft in Scrivener, and provides some options for configuring how those values are calculated.
Project>Text Statistics (or Ctrl-Alt-T) – This gives you the total word and page count of the currently selected Text item in Scrivener.
Project>Project Targets (or Ctrl-T) – This is the big one. This allows you to specify how many words your WIP should be. As you write more, Scrivener updates both a numerical value and a progress bar so you can see exactly how far along you are. It also provides a Session Target, which allows you to say “I want to write 500 words this sitting” and then Scrivener will track how much you’ve done. Warning – don’t press the Reset button until you’ve finished your session! Pressing Reset wipes out any progress you’ve made toward today’s Session Target. So if you start out thinking you’ll write 500 words, and then decide you want to increase it to 750, just change the number, don’t press Reset. The Session Target will be recalculated for you automatically.
All in all, this is a great way to measure your progress, and it sure beats doing the calculations by hand.