Storytellers: Lightning Rod

And here’s the next addition to my Storytellers series, where I discuss various behind the scenes stuff about the next book in the Broken Mirrors series, Lightning Rod. Unlike my other works, Lightning Rod has a lot of personal significance to me in that it’s the first City story, it got me my MFA,  took me several years to write, and some other issues I’ve discussed previously on the blog.
Next will be House of Stone, which I’m hoping to have finished by the end of the week, or beginning of next week. So, without further ado, enjoy some spoiler-free tidbits about the writing of Lightning Rod.

1. The protagonist was, at first, a vampire. And then a Goth.

James Black, the protagonist of “Lightning Rod”, was originally Gandalf James McKellan.

Yeah. I cringe to look at it too, now.

I used to be big into tabletop roleplaying, particularly the White Wolf system, so I’d rolled a Tremere vampire, and gave him that… ugh, THAT name. He lasted maybe one session, but I liked the core concept of a sorcerer since to be honest I prefer charming rogues to spellslingers. (Like a certain Coyote…) I eventually got into Mage: the Ascension, and decided to recycle the concept for White Wolf’s official moderated chat: New Bremen. I rolled James as a Hollow One, but his name wouldn’t fly because, well, trademarked name and the last name was a little too on-the-nose. I could get away with one or the other. So, to be spiteful, his full name became Gandalf James Eric Carlos Miles Coltrane Tarrant Canmore, my explanation being that he was Catholic, and his parents were into jazz and classic rock, all traits that still for the most part survived in some form, though his name was cut down. Eventually, I stopped playing there, and changed the name to G. James Black, figuring I could try my hand at writing a longer work for him. That was in 2003. I didn’t even write the first paragraph until 2006.

2. It was supposed to be the very first City novel

For those of you who’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you’ll know that the very *first* City book was The Last Paladin, which I sold through Torquere as a 3-part serial. It introduced the City, took place primarily in Allora, and established satyrs, Pan, the Palace of Wisdom, and the pantheon of gods that were dominant in the City itself. A lot of things that are alluded to in Last Paladin are actually the events of Lightning Rod, which was first completed in 2008. Originally, I had written a story in undergraduate school called “A City Dweller’s Guide to the Supernatural, or How to Date People That Shouldn’t Exist”, a paranormal romance about a street poet that falls for a drummer in a punk band that turns out to be a satyr. It’ll never see the light of day, primarily because I cannibalized chunks of it for my City novels and it wasn’t as strong as I was hoping. The protagonist of the story was G. James Black. When I got into graduate school, we were required to produce a creative thesis, and I chose to scrap City Dwellers and write a new story using G. James as the protagonist.

3. It was originally much longer, and had a higher body count.

I won’t comment on what the body count is now, or if there even is one, honestly, but the first draft of “Lightning Rod” that I turned in at grad school was 131,457 words. Truthfully, in the fiction program, this was one of the shorter works. (There were at least 2 projects that I knew of that were well over 1500 pages. One guy had been writing it since junior high and my God did it show…) Now it’s about 40,000 words shorter with a LOT of fat trimmed out, but even now, looking at that old draft, I can’t believe that they gave me a degree for that thing. I also killed off a fair share of characters, innocents, probably thinking it would give more emotional weight, but I more think I was just following the lead of Joss Whedon to kill people off for shock value and prove that “no one was safe”. Seriously, I know I’m sparking a flame war, but did he REALLY have to kill those two in Serenity?

4. It has been completely rewritten from scratch twice.

I’m not ashamed to say that “Lightning Rod” is a redux of “City Dwellers” with a shift toward Urban Fantasy instead of Paranormal Romance. When I was whittling down the 131,000 words monstrosity, I still had to explain this and that, patch up sections with massive cuts, lift out side plots that didn’t work and remove any mention, it was exhausting, honestly. What I ended up with was a Frankensteinian… thing that got me my degree but had such weird stop and start plot speed I’m not really surprised I couldn’t get many publishers to look at it. Instead, I concentrated on other projects, such as “House of Stone”, which got me in at Samhain and with an amazing editor. I told her about “Lightning Rod” after selling “Coyote’s Creed”, and she agreed to look at it. After a couple months I got a “good rejection”, in that it was a no, but here’s a lot of feedback to fix it, and she agreed to look at it again if I addressed the issues. Once I actually, y’know, got over myself, I realized that all of the concerns were valid, and that there was a surefire way to fix the problem: Completely rewrite “Lightning Rod”. And God, I have no idea what I was thinking, but I did it, despite quite a few author friends questioning my sanity, and sent it off.

And it got rejected, but with more feedback.

I fixed it, sent it off again, and decided if it got the thumbs down, I was going to just write it off and go Emo. Instead it got picked up, and became the second part of my Broken Mirrors series, and now instead of it being a stand alone, I have ideas for James and Spence for at least three more books.

5. I was going to write a dystopian sci-fi, but a housemate told me I had to follow Rule 35.

To be honest, I didn’t even want to write urban fantasy because I’d been reading Jim Butcher and Richelle Mead and Ilona Andrews and Rob Thurman and I was convinced I would never be able to write as well as them. What I was hoping to find was a gay urban fantasy hero, because I’m gay and I wouldn’t mind having some “family” to cheer for. I really only saw one gay character in my favorite authors, and I’m pretty sure he was bisexual anyway. I know if I searched long enough I’d eventually find something buried in an indie bookstore, but I couldn’t find anything. Rule 34, as we all know is: If you can think of it, you can find porn of it. Rule 35? “If you cannot find it, it is your solemn duty to put it out there.”

I know that there are dozens upon hundreds of M/M books out there with gay protagonists that are vampires or werewolves or sorcerers or shifters (sooooo many shifters), but for the most part, they’re romance. That’s all well and good, but that’s not what I’m looking for. I want a gay guy to save the world. I want a gay guy who has a life like Harry Dresden’s (well, not EXACTLY like Harry Dresden’s, that guy’s approaching 30 kinds of fucked up now). When people pick up a copy of the latest Dresden Files, they wonder how Harry’s going to get further screwed by Fate, not who he’s going to screw. Sure, there’s an Inevitable Couple there, but that’s not the focus of the story, or the series. When that’s what you’re looking for, a gay protagonist becomes a whole hell of a lot harder to find.

So… going by Rule 35, it was my job to put it out there.
Random Tidbits

– Lightning Rod, the final version, that is, was written mostly to Tool, Rise Against, The Offspring and Muse, who I thank in my acknowledgments.

– The title is actually taken from the Offspring song “Lightning Rod”, off their Splinter album.

– The name of the series was inspired by Rise Against.

– A supporting character was originally slated to be killed in the story, but was so beloved by my betas that I decided against it.

– Lightning Rod originally featured cameos by characters from The Last Paladin, but most of the cameos were cut. The cameos lived on though in Coyote’s Creed when Spencer visits the Palace of Wisdom.  One cameo survived, and turned into a full-fledged guest spot for the remainder of the series.

Lightning Rod will be released on October 9th. Pre-order direct from Samhain, or pre-order from Amazon here.

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