Creation Evolution

Often people want to know how I get my ideas for books, or how I put them together with a few rough ideas. For this blog, I’ll tell you how my latest book came together.

I was listening to a true crime podcast and they were investigating a crime that happened 30 years prior. They hired cadaver dogs to search a forest in order to smell for human remains. On the way home I was thinking about the person who trains the dogs and if you were a serial killer, would you want those bodies to be found? I knew from other podcasts that sometimes the killers return to the bodies. If this person and their dog kept finding your bodies, would you be angry? I then thought, what if this person receives a letter in the mail, no stamp, no return address and it just says: “Stop finding my bodies.”

This was the initial start of a book idea.

In my last book I had created a detective I called Merlin Drake. He wasn’t a nice guy, but I liked his character. I thought I could explore his background more and make him a main character. I liked the fact that in the TV show Mr Mercedes, you got to know who the killer was in the first episode, rather than have to guess and it be revealed at the end. So, I figured I would introduce the killer very early on. Although this isn’t enough to write a book, there was a lot there to work with. I researched cadaver dogs and I wanted the trainer to be a woman who no longer did it, but still had the dogs. I skipped chapter one, and just left the heading, and moved to chapter two and introduced the dog trainer. I named her Bernadette Lawson, and her dog’s name was Breeze. Bernadette, or Ernie, lives out on her own and has a troubled past like Merlin.

So, what now? I figured she would say no to helping with her dog, as she had retired, but she likes helping others and giving families closure, so she agrees. I’ve written gore before, but I mostly write young adult fiction, so this would be a chance to really stretch my writing legs. I planned on bringing the reader in a few chapters with characters and introduce the small town; then, I would write a very graphic, detailed chapter that would make your stomach turn, then back to the nice chapters. I wanted to lure the reader in, then when they could barely stand it, bring them back.

A lot of the initial writing will start if I have a good name for the book. So, I was at the Ekka this year when we went and watched the wood choppers. I really like the book name ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and the meaning behind it, so I was looking for a name similar. After the woodchopping competition the announcer said something about the last generation of woodchoppers, and I remember thinking ‘The Last of the Woodchoppers.’ It’s a book name that’s interesting and not really related to anything until you read the book. I tried to keep it in my memory bank all day until I got home. Then I was lying in bed trying to remember it. I woke up mumbling ‘woodcutters,’ and went back to sleep. In the morning I woke thinking, what was the name again? Last of the Woodcutters? So that became the name of the book. I made the town have an old wood mill and that would be the place of the first murder.

I got excited about writing the serial killer. Mostly because I’d never done it and as a writer, it was something that would be challenging and fun (in a weird way). It wasn’t the book I intended to write next, but the chapters just started flowing out. I looked at all the side characters that had to be there to move the story along, for example other police officers, and thought I could examine those more. The Sheriff, who didn’t have a huge role, suddenly became very interesting. His father, I had decided, used to work at the mill and has a few secrets that he has kept his whole life.

I normally think of how a book will end and make that the flag I am heading for. For this one, without giving too much away, I thought of it straight away. Then, as the book started to take shape, I thought of an epilogue that may open it up for a sequel. I had been reading an address somewhere and misread it as ‘The Letterbox Fields.’ I thought that would be a perfect name for the second book. It’s now about 25,000 words. I have the next five chapters planned out and I’m aiming to have it done by early next year. If this all sounds weird, it probably is. The more you write, the more that muscle expands and opens up, allowing ideas to form and connect. Scary place.

~Mitchell

Mitchell is the author of Skellington Key, Heather Cassidy and the Magnificent Mr Harlow, and the Everdark Realms Trilogy

Visit Mitchell’s bio here

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The Calling

I hate when books annoy me.

I don’t know if it happens to other writers, I’m sure it does, but books have a way of annoying the shit out of me. It’s like a cat meowing at you constantly until you feed it. I got asked recently how I write books. They didn’t understand how it comes out of your brain, through your fingers and into a full book. I didn’t really have an answer. It just does. It might be years of training, looking at the screen, plotting out points and chapters, and now it finally flows, or it might be something else. When I write, it’s like watching a movie that I’m in control of. Each second the character walks through the spooky, abandoned building, I’m right behind them, where the camera would be. I can picture what I’m writing, so I just describe what I see.

Where it gets a little weird is when something surprises even myself. I’ve often said, ‘wow, I didn’t see that coming.’ I don’t start a book unless I have vague idea of the ending. The beginning’s the easy part; the middle is hard, but important, and the end is scary. Scary, because finishing a book means the end of all those characters that you love and hate, the years of turmoil and sludging through the hard wall of writing, and then it finally comes to an end.

I used to plot in my head what the upcoming chapter was going to be about, and when I got time to write, I would think of a good opening line and then write until the chapter was complete. With the novella I’m currently writing, I’m trying to put words down every day. There isn’t really any time to pre-plot a lot of it, so I just wing it. That can be equally enthralling and nerve-wracking. There is a chapter where I wanted my main character to meet another character, who will appear later and be of significant help. I just needed to introduce him first. So, I thought, why not meet at a cemetery? I made her ‘stumble’ upon the graveyard, let her walk around reading some of the tombstones, then they meet, and he scares her, then they get talking and it’s all fine. There was something about this kid that I knew I wanted to keep from the reader until the last chapter or so. All this chapter really was, was getting the two to meet. I could have set it anywhere; the shops, a car yard, at school, at the mall, on the street… you get the picture. A cemetery gives it a good scene. How many conversations have you had with a stranger in a graveyard? Not many (I hope). So, it puts the reader somewhere different, then you can let the reader go on this introduction between the two. What are they gonna say? Are they gonna get along? Are we gonna see him again? These questions make the writing easier, as you have a lot of ground to cover in, hopefully, not many pages. It’s also a set up for later, so you know you’re going into the chapter hiding something up your sleeve that you will reveal, and it will hopefully pay off. Where do you start? Okay, what brings Main Character to the graveyard? She’s exploring the new house. Okay, good. Why is the kid there? He’s bored at home and can see it from his window. Okay, plausible. What’s the point of him coming back later in the book? He wants to see her again… done to death, something else… he wants to save her from something but doesn’t, that’s sorta useless then. Maybe he has some information that she needs to defeat something and comes in at the last minute to supply said information and helps save the ‘moment’. Okay, done. Everything else should flow from there.

Hey, whoa, you scared me half to death.’

‘Sorry, I just saw you walking and thought I’d come over and say hi.’

‘Do you often hang around in graveyards by yourself?’

‘I was gonna ask you the same questions.’

Mix dialogue with scenery description. What I do is add something at the end of each line, for example: ‘Do you know witches used to live in this area?’ he said, picking up a piece of broken tombstone and examining it. You shouldn’t use it every time, just now and again. ‘What time do you want to go?’ she asked, fitting the whole piece of cake in her mouth. Now you should have the plan for the chapter, what you want to accomplish, some tricks to writing and a general aim to your story. Once these things are done solid, you can’t help but want to get back to the keyboard. I often think of chapters while on the train and can’t wait to write them. They will generally remind me throughout the day, or week that they are there waiting. Over time this muscle becomes stronger and writing becomes easier and you become better. When the books call, I hope you answer.

~Mitchell

Mitchell is the author of Skellington Key, Heather Cassidy and the Magnificent Mr Harlow, and the Everdark Realms Trilogy

Visit Mitchell’s bio here

Death of a Scene

When I opened up my laptop, my word document was gone.

‘Okay,’ I thought. ‘Don’t panic.’ I went into Word and could see my novel I’ve been working on for about 4 years. Beside it, it said ‘recovered’. Recovered? Recovered from what? Was there a power surge? I went all the way down to the bottom of the text, where I had been working, and began to read.

There was about 10,000 words missing…

Not one part of me thought, ‘That’s okay, I can write it again and this time I’ll write it better!’ Nope. My only thought was bailing on the whole book. 20,000 words shy of the 80,000 target and I was giving up. I just could not fathom rewriting 10,000 words. What I lay down on the page, normally stays. I’ll fix up grammar and spelling, but I won’t re-write whole chunks. No way. I’ve done that before, when I was learning to write. I’m not doing it now. And not with this book.

I sat blankly looking at it. I was remembering all the great pages I had written. Should I re-write them now? Quickly, to fix this issue? I remember most things that were written, just not detail. I was about to quickly scramble and write the 10,000 words so I wouldn’t give up. Not long ago I had written a great death scene. It was perfect. The mood was just right. I was very proud of it. I cut it from where it was, to move it, and must have got distracted and never pasted it anywhere. The next day, I couldn’t find it. I knew the computer had shut down and said something about ‘large text still on the clipboard’ or something, but I ignored it.

I re-wrote the death scene, and it just wasn’t the same. I knew most of the details, but when I went to write it, it lost some of its initial glory. I was crestfallen. It’s still in my mind, like a tack, waiting for me to re-write it (again) and try to inject some of the mood it had the first time around. It does feel like killing the same person twice though (sorry character you had to go through that again). I’ve often gone back and read chapters that have been published and thought ‘My god, what was I thinking, that’s horrible…’ but it also works the other way around too. I’ve read paragraphs and thought, ‘Okay, that’s pretty good’. I literally impressed myself.

Minutes ago, I resigned to the fact that this weekend writing session will be the full re-write. Just get it down, go over it on second draft and make it work. I sighed so loudly my neighbours heard it. Then I thought… I’ll check to see if I have a saved copy elsewhere. It was a long shot, but worth looking into. I found an older version, saved for backup. If that was the only copy I had, I would definitely have given up. From the bottom of my screen I saw the title of my book. The date last opened was last weekend. I thought I had already opened it. As I double clicked it, I began watching the page counter rise. Expecting it to stop around the 70,000-word count mark, but it didn’t. It kept going.

It stopped at 77,000. I scrolled down and could see the entire story was there. No re-writes required.

Please, back up your work.

~Mitchell

Mitchell is the author of Skellington Key, Heather Cassidy and the Magnificent Mr Harlow, and the Everdark Realms Trilogy

Visit Mitchell’s bio here

Long in the Tooth

Every few years I make a list of the books I need to write. And I say need, because for us writers, it is just that. I hadn’t done it for a while, and coming up to the end of two books, I decided I should probably figure out what I need to write in the next year or so.

I started writing down the books that are half written and sitting in my brain covered in cobwebs and I came to the realisation that, maybe, I don’t want to write some anymore. Some of them, like the one I titled ‘Generation Rat’, had a very interesting topic and dynamic, and I couldn’t wait to write it. But now, years later, I would struggle to finish it. My heart and energy just aren’t in the old books anymore. Which is sad. I have a fear one day the writing tube will just run out and I’ll have no more ideas; I’ll sit down to write and that will be it – it’s empty.

Most of these books are either half written or have chapters all over the place and some I still want to write, but ‘I’ll write it later’ when I run out of other things to write. Coming to the end of a book is equally exciting and depressing. If you’ve ever seen those marathon runners that are stick-thin, their knees are wobbly, they don’t know where they are, they’re sweating and falling over – that’s how it feels. You’ve made it to the end of a book, it’s done. Well, sort of. Editing and rewrites come next, but the hard part’s done. The exciting thing is, you get to start another book. Some people find it daunting, but I find it exciting. The first few chapters are vital. Even I don’t know the characters properly, or the environments.

I’ve got two chapters to go on ‘The Skellington Key,’ then I’ll edit it and send it to the publisher. Then I’ll work on ‘Children of the Locomotive,’ which is pretty much all written, but needs another run through. This will take up the next few weeks at least, if I get my arse into gear and knuckle down. After that, I’ll have to choose what to work on next. Do I dig the old books out and dust them off and see what can be salvaged? Has time and experience made them obsolete? Maybe. I really don’t have time to panel beat a book into shape and force myself to write these books that are long in the tooth and I’ve somewhat gotten bored of.

My next adult book ‘Homeless Astronaut,’ excites me. It has a few subject matters that I’m keen to write about. There’s only two characters so far and I’m constantly thinking of what I can do with it. It’s something of a challenge and I like it. Last week I had an idea about writing a period piece called ‘The Wandmaker’s Apprentice’. That started me down a road of exploration and note-writing that lasted nearly five days straight. Although those old books are still in my head, patiently waiting, I’m sure there will be a time where the final story arc will fall in my lap and I’ll sit there and bash it out. I do want to write ‘Generation Rat,’ I like the characters I have. I like the story line. But I also want to rewrite ‘The Devil and The Wall,’ and the other books I’ve wanted to write forever: ‘Dark Water.’ But time and ideas restrict these books. I also can’t write five books at once, I’ll never get anything done. So, I try to only write about two books at once. One adult book, and one Young Adult book.

Don’t let books die, if they are meant to be in print, you’ll get it done.

~ Mitchell

Mitchell is the author of Skellington Key, Heather Cassidy and the Magnificent Mr Harlow, and the Everdark Realms Trilogy

Visit Mitchell’s bio here

The Power of Words

Recently, I attended my friend’s birthday party. There were people going to be there that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I got chatting to someone I hadn’t seen in over twelve years. She said to me, ‘Are you still writing?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’ve got three books out and I’ve submitted my fourth.’ She was surprised. She reminded me that I had given my early work to her to read all those years ago. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t remember it, or what I had given her. She said it was a short story, and at the end the wife lays her head on her husband’s chest and listens to his heart beating. She said she remembered that since she had read it and it really resonated with her. Now that she’s married with several kids, she does that – listens to her husband’s heartbeat.

I have no idea what book that was from; I have a vague idea, but I’ve written so much in twelve years it may be on my old computer that died a few years ago and I lost a few short stories. It got me thinking of the power of words. A scene I wrote was remembered twelve years later and really struck a chord with someone. It meant a lot. I started to think of all the books I had read and which ones I remembered. Which scenes were the most memorable for me? Stephen King’s The Shinning didn’t stick with me as much as the movie did, however his other book Gerald’s Game has remained me for nearly fifteen years due to the very end scene. I remember being scared out of my wits at night trying to finish it. Graphic novels like Essex County by Jeff Lamire have had an unexpected impact. Its powerful, heart-wrenching storyline has affected me in ways that no other comic book has.

When writing, I’m not looking for scenes to write that will be memorable, I’m looking to write a whole book that has a feeling of accomplishment, not only for me, but for the reader as well. What’s the use in reading a whole book if it didn’t entertain you for a few hours, or days? I’ve read far too many books where the writer was floundering for the first half of the book till the storyline kicked in and then it was wrapped up in a hundred pages. To me, that’s not good story writing. I don’t want to read about nothing until you’ve come up with the plot. Give it to me from the very start.

The book I’m writing at the moment, Elephant Stone, has scenes of dreams in it that won’t appear till book 3. The very opening sequence won’t be explained till book 2. Reading it, the reader won’t ask questions because I’ve tucked it away nicely so that it is forgotten until they read book 2 and then they’ll remember ‘Oh, that was the start of book one.’ I like hidden treasures like that; it makes the reader think that I’ve actually put thought and process into my plot development. Hopefully they will read it and say it’s a good book and the payout will be linking scenes together through the four books series.

The power of words comes from the reader relating to scenes, relating to characters and falling in love with people that don’t actually exist. The reader is with them, beside them and they feel attached enough to believe they know them. When writers abuse that power, the reader reacts in a way that would indicate that character was real, and in a way, they are.

~ Mitchell

Mitchell is the author of Skellington Key, Heather Cassidy and the Magnificent Mr Harlow, and the Everdark Realms Trilogy

Visit Mitchell’s bio here