So currently I am working on four different projects, which is actually down from the usual five things I always try to have going. Usually I like working on five different pieces of writing, with four of them being centered around fueling the creativity for my main work, Out of the Dark: The First Book of Jishnu, which is a Vedic-inspired Sword & Sorcery novel. Currently it is in the last editing stage before the final clean-up, which will hopefully be done before Dragon*Con at the end of August. While that is going on, I am also working on three different S&S shorts and a high fantasy, one for a ongoing anthology and two that I am near finishing but don't know what to do with yet, and the final one I just started. More on that one for another time.
But today I wanted to talk about the S&S short I am working on for an ongoing anthology, which is a follow-up to my story The Chase in Dark Oak Press' "The Big Bad: An Anthology of Evil." Cheap plug here! From what I know, there will be a Big Bad II, so I decided to write something for submission. I actually think it is a cool thing that the authors who got in the first time did not get an automatic buy into the second, because it requires us to put something out that was better than the stories that got in. This is an opportunity to work at getting better.
So let me give you a brief synopsis of my story, The Chase:
Created to collect the souls of the damned, Conjer the Revenant terrorizes the desert to fuel his father, the god of all evil. When a miner arrives at the door of his tomb looking to part with his soul in exchange for the kidnapping of his estranged daughter, the undead mercenary charges across the desert believing the job will be quick and easy. Yet as he is set against vampires, unwilling captives, and a corrupt city of mortals, Conjer will come face to face with a far more dangerous enemy: Mortality.
I loved this first entry into this character, who is combination of Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter, Darth Vader, and West African magic. Originally I wanted the story to combine both the thrilling action that I love reading in Sword & Sorcery with the existential question of "Am I what I want to be?" Conjer is a character who both relishes his role as a villain yet doubts it at the same time, as it was something he was created for instead of choosing it. The prompt behind the anthology was really simple for a story like this: take a character who is usually the villain in the story and make them the protagonist while still keeping them evil. I was reading a lot of Elmore Leonard and Howard's El Borak at the time, so I kinda wanted a undead desperado who swung an iron machete at people who needed to die. That was successful, as I sold the story.
I can't thank Emily Leverett, who edited my manuscript, enough for helping me get it to a place where I am proud of it being published. She helped me not only turn out something great, but she also taught me things that made me a better writer.
But that story has some real flaws, all of which are of my own doing. The story in the end was too existential, very light on meaningful dialogue, and if I am to be honest with myself, I shouldn't have written in first-person point of view. I am just not good at it, primarily because I think so spatially and I can construct things better from behind the camera, so to speak. There were impacts I wanted to make with that story that I didn't achieve because of that. The reader didn't really get to know Conjer. Don't get me wrong, it is a damned good story, but I can do better. I have written better dialogue and I have established themes in a better manner before. But there I hadn't.
So I set about writing the sequel with some very clear goals in mind, and getting to the point, I thought I would share those goals are, because writing follow-ups can be really hard. In some ways, it is not only a continuation, but it is a challenge to rise above the previous entry. But a sequel is also easy, as you know where you have come from to get to where you are now. As long as you are honest with what was wrong in the opening entry, you can construct a set of goals to achieve in constructing the sequel. We might talk about writing the third part of a trilogy one day, but for now let's stick with sequels. Since I am able to be honest, i.e. kill my darlings, it was pretty simple to come up with a list of goals I want to achieve in the next Conjer story:
- Develop more of Conjer's nastiness. Conjer is a bad guy in the first story by the fact that he is trying to kidnap the typical lovely girl from her dashing prince of a boyfriend, but it didn't go beyond that. Conjer needs to do more in the second-- he needs to knowingly plan and engage in villainy, not just say "oh, I am doing this because I'm here." He was too cold, too introspective to where I can see him being perceived as a flunky for The Big Bad, not the Big Bad itself.
- I will write in third-person limited point of view, with tinges of cinematic third thrown in. It is just what I think I am good at. That doesn't mean I won't try first-person ever again (I already have a story idea using that sort of POV with my favorite character, Jishnu the Srijati,) but the next Conjer story will be in third-person limited with the goal of anchoring that character in a mindset where things that affect him matter more in a physical way. It one thing to conceive and explosion--it is an entirely different thing to feel the force behind it.
- Finally, I need more than two primary characters and two secondary characters. The enemy that Conjer appeared was cool, but he could have been more as well. The enemies Conjer goes up against need to be as badass as him, or different in their way of evil than Conjer. I wrote a shiny hero, so the next one will be a dirty villain.
Now, some of you are probably reading this and going "Jay, why the hell are you running down your own story? Don't you have to sell copies of the anthology?"
First answer, no, I am not running it down, and yeah, I need to sell copies. But I also need to be honest as a writer as well, and the only way I can do that is being fully honest about my own faults as a writer. If you take something you love, and believe me I love that story, and willingly rip it apart for the sake of getting better, you will get better. The Chase is a great entry point, but the sequel needs to be more. And it will be more.
And it will be worth it.
Speaking of "The Big Bad: An Anthology of Evil", there will be a signing coming up in Charlotte, North Carolina at The Last Word, the city's best used and new book-store! Here are the details of the event, and if you are in the area, it would be awesome to see you there:
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