FULL BLEED: FEAR IS A MAN'S BEST FRIEND
I really was better off in this business when I didn't think about things and instead just figured I could write. It's weird to bodily, wholly understand that, on a level best described as physical, if not anxiety-inducing.
So, yeah, I'm Having a Time working on this second book. Even though it's not my second book, closer to what the tenth that I've started (have several ones I gave a college try on before giving up on them, years ago.) Shocked that it doesn't get any easier. But I suppose I'm just a weirdo. I've known that for a long, long time.
But fear? Yeah, that's new. Suppose it comes from what, six years of being in a near-perpetual state of alert. I'm not just talking about living through the Current Situation, but life even before 2016 was draining and fearful and largely dread-driven, and while those events resolved themselves as good as can be expected, I barrelled into writing QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS while I was on my last nerve.
And I never really realized it at the time. Took awhile. Never addressed it after, either. That whole period is sitting like a benign tumor, fine so long as I don't poke at it.
Still the fact is that I was able to get past it and pull out something from nothing more than nerve and ego and frustrated output. So I told my editor I could do it without thinking about it. Sure. Why not?
The problem now is that I've been allowed to think about it. Enough to completely change the branding/name and scope of my next set of projects. I've generated a huge bible that nobody but me will ever read. I've managed to overthink the place of magic in the world and what genre I'm even writing (ah, but that's a trap of its own making, right?) I've spent too much time thinking about things and outlining, and that's a good way to kill a book dead.
But I did get to explore a couple different looks for what was once SMOKETOWN and is now NEON ABYSSAL. Let's take a quick look.
Neither of these have been approved. Hell, the name hasn't been approved. Oh well. I can come up with others. It only took... uh... a little while...
So the other thing I'm doing now is going back through my process on writing QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS. And I suppose as close as I can get to the inception of that project is this, the short outline/pitch. This is what I sent to my editor after he asked if I wanted to write a longer piece, maybe or maybe not set in the same universe as the story "Chunked" that I'd written for the anthology TOMORROW'S CTHULHU and submitted blind. I'm still shocked that I managed to slip in with that one, honestly.
I don't have the one sentence pitch around, or the original original idea. QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS was a synthesis of a bunch of different ideas I'd had, some straight cosmic horror/fantasy and some in critique of the whole affair (protip: "Chunked" is a savage assault on the Chulhu fiction thing, sort of an OG cyberpunk - in ethos, not aesthetic - take on the subgenre.) I suppose THE DROWNING CHORUS is no different. Part celebratory and part yeah I'm gonna do something different and you're not my dad.
But I had to remember how I started with nothing and turned it into 40k words (originally slated at 30k, and I believe, a serial, which is why it was broken up into chunks -- I'm glad it wasn't, because the below structure would not work out in reality.) So here's the notes that started me on that path.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS FOLLOW. So do typos and other garbage. I'm not going to fix them.
Note that some of this stuff did not come to pass and some of it never will. The story changes in the writing.
QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS
Late 1980s, in a Los Angeles that is feeling the slow seep of unimagined powers and alien gods making themselves manifest.
Cait MacReady is an artist, writer and (secretly a) forger, primarily of occult texts and other lost books. She's previously sold to professors, collectors and criminals, but her latest sale is different. This work, THE SMOKING CODEX, has attracted the attention of No Tomorrows, criminal adherents of a god that doesn't yet exist (but wants to.) It has somehow spoken to their cult Queen, Ariella Gutierrez, and needs the Codex so that it can be willed into existence.
When one of Cait's long-time fences (and one-time romance) Rico goes missing, Cait realizes that No Tomorrows used him to find her in an effort to push her into selling the Codex to them. Cait is tracked down by the cult, and invited later to meet with their Queen, Ariella. No Tomorrows is both an occult and ordinary crime organization, though the cult trappings make it easier to intimidate any competition. Cait refuses and is given a clue that she can't, but maybe she should ask Rico what she should do.
TURN - Rico turns up murdered in his home, eyes removed and ritual suggested in his death and murder scene.
The police who are investigating the messy death of Rico check into Cait's connection with him, leaving her a suspect. The cult makes plans to take the Codex, but only after it has been finished (Cait's cover being that it is making it way through sources to her.) They don't care whether or not Cait is alive in this, but the cult leader, Ariella, recognizes that Cait has a special connection with the book, though she is unclear what it is.
TURN - Reveal that the Smoking Codex is a forged text, one that Cait herself is writing. It can't be real, or shouldn't.
Cait is stuck between the cult and the police. She has no choice but to meet with Ariella and see what, if anything can be salvaged of her life and freedom. Ariella shows Cait the power of her belief and after this, Cait is left questioning not only the book, but the nature of reality itself. The gang after her worships a god that only exists in a book that she herself is writing. How can this be? Is this something that can be controlled and turned to her own escape?
TURN - What she is writing may be coming true and what does this mean about reality?
Before she can answer, Cait is attacked by the cult (including a thing out of nightmare and the pages of the Codex). Only by threatening to destroy the Codex does she escape, along with a sacrificial knife made of white obsidian. Suggestion that this is another branch of the cult, but at the moment, nothing is important other than keeping herself alive.
TURN - She is confronted with actual evidence of a monster out of the pages of the Codex itself. If this is real then what else is?
With the police and the cult after her, she tries to slip out Los Angeles. She knows she should destroy the Codex (but she finds it offers its own attraction to her, especially since she doesn't fully understand her power over it.) Cait realizes that she can't escape the power that her own imagination has unleashed and has to see this through, has to see if this is all real or not. She takes the Codex to No Tomorrows themselves to see this through one way or another.
TURN - Cait is in the hands of the cult and maybe she's beginning to believe herself.
With the Codex, they plan on conjuring their god, the Veil of Countless Eyes into being. Ariella is using this opportunity to just to raise a god, but to use its power against the true head of the organization so she can ascend in both her imagined celestial throne and that of the No Tomorrows organization. Cait struggles through the shock of this experience and her own attempted sacrifice to turn the tables and instead feed Ariella to the Veil.
Cait can't bring herself to peer under Ariella's veils to see the truth of her transformation. The manifestation of the Veil could be explained away, perhaps, but not this.
The King of No Tomorrows (until now unseen, but responsible for the attempt on Cait's life in order to stop Ariella's plan) surveys the wreckage and Ariella's fall, noting that he owes Cait a debt that he perhaps doesn't fully understand, but will honor. He disappears before
The cops, including the murder investigators, come to mop up. Cait is badly, perhaps fundamentally shaken, but still whole. What can't be fully explained is swept away, but if nothing else, Cait is responsible for this arm of No Tomorrows being cut off, which gets her at least some leeway.
But we're in a world that is left in uncertain shadow now.
All in all less than 900 words, but still, there was enough there there to keep rolling. I can't lay claim as to it being perfectly paced. I tend to write stuff as it makes sense to me, and while I like narrative ficiton (I know, so basic) I'm not a master of the tight plot.
I'm sure that I have a lot more than that in the outline for THE DROWNING CHORUS as it stands right now. That may not be a good thing. But it's probably enough to start running with, even if I don't have all the answers or even most of them other than a sense of direction and vibe that I'm reaching for in the book. It's just time to sit down and start the train rolling downhill and then to jump the tracks, powering through the industrial suburbs as it gains speed like the Chicxulub meteor hitting the atmosphere before pulling into the station.
It's just a matter of hitting that unconscious voice, and the only way to do that is to sit down and start working.
Fine if you can keep the fear out of your mind.
And yeah, I didn't even mention what, exactly, I was afraid of, did I? If you've written a thing, you probably know. That you're gonna reach for it and there won't be anything there. That what you said you could do, you simply can't. That the world was right to have kicked your career to the curb for the better part of a lifetime. You know. The usual stuff. And none of which, I'll add, is necessarily without basis in reality. Especially that last part. Which is why I can't allow the dubious pleasures of thinking about it. Pleasure? You bet. You get to shirk responsibility. The world won't care so why should you? Just give it up. There's a freedom in that powerlessness, isn't there? I mean, from a certain perspective there is.