Storytellers: Community Service

So, with Community Service coming out on Tuesday, I figured I’d give you guys a few tidbits of info on the writing of it to whet your appetite. By the way, it’s still on sale at Samhain Publishing at a cheaper price than Amazon, plus I get more money when you buy direct from the publisher! (Since I’ve been asked that a few times.)

So, without further ado…

1. 90% of the Book Was Written At Work

I know that sounds terrible, and lazy, but let me set the scene. When I’m not writing novels, I try to get work substituting for the local school district, and more often than not I’m relegated to the lirbary. In the spring of 2012, I was about five thousand words into Community Service and was generally stuck on what direction to take it. I’d been working off and on another project that had been shelved and generally I felt burnt out, so I decided to read through the Dresden Files again in order to get a little inspiration.
I got a part time gig at the high school where I’d be overseeing a survey, and as a result would be spending time in one of the computer labs for 3 hours a day for three weeks. The kicker was that the surveys were voluntary, and involved a student giving up a lunch bell. Imagine yourself back in high school, would you have done it? Me neither.
So after spending the first day getting paid to read Jim Butcher, I figured I’d bring my laptop along. Considering that I wasn’t to leave the computer lab at all during my three hours there, I cleared it with my supervisor, who was cool with my laptop so long as I didn’t access the school network and didn’t do anything improper with it. (I’m sure people will realize that this will explain the lack of sexual content this time around. 🙂 ) As a result, I spent three hours in a quiet well-lit room with nothing to do but drink tea and write. By the end of the three weeks I went from five thousand words to fifty-five thousand. The rest was written during a two week stint in another computer lab that saw almost no student traffic as well. As a result, Community Service, which is over ninety thousand words, was written in about three months, the fastest I’ve ever churned out a novel.

2. Ozzie Was Inspired By a WoW Character… That I Put In a Golf Game

Of all of the fantasy races, Dwarves are likely my favorite, and I used to be an avid WoW player, though I didn’t play a lot of Dwarves, I’ll admit. I don’t know if you’ve ever played WoW, but outside of a few dedicated pockets, us gays aren’t really treated well there (though at least the trash talking isn’t as bad as Call of Duty). One of the downsides to being a writer is that we tend to give backstories even when they aren’t needed, or even make sense. A character I didn’t get to play much on one RP server ended up sticking around in my head as a character concept, and for some reason, I put him in a golf game.
Y’see, I grew into more of a console gamer, and one of the sports games I got hooked on was the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series. So, on a lark, I decided to play with the character creator and discovered that yes, you can indeed make one of Ironforge’s finest if you tweak the sliders right… so I joined the Penny Arcade Country Club and rolled a Dwarf, and for a while Oswald Firebeard was one of the best golfers they had. 🙂
Eventually, I percolated a backstory to explain why the Hell a Dwarf was out on the links, and Ozzie was formed, and written into the story. Incidentally, this is also the reason that Hades is quite the golfer himself.

3. It Originally Had a Reference To Another Series

While I’d never dream to take another author’s work and insert my own stories into it, I’ve been tweeting back and forth with Sierra Dean, author of the acclaimed Secret McQueen series for a while now, and occasionally we joke or make suggestions about what to put in each other’s books. So, one day I practically demanded that her titular character rock a black fedora in one of her upcoming stories. In exchange, I would make Secret McQueen a TV show in the Broken Mirrors universe, with Spencer being one of its biggest fans (even referring to fans of the series as “Queenies”, which Sierra apparently dug). While I was going to work in a reference in Community Service, it ended up being pushed to the next book in the series, where I posted a screenshot of the scene to prove that I did in fact make it canon. I’m still waiting for Sierra to post a screenshot of the passage where Secret rocks that fedora. 😉

4. It Made Realize My Actual Influences

Given that I’m an urban fantasy writer, I’d like to tell myself that my primary influence is someone like Jim Butcher, or Terry Pratchett, or Neil Gaiman, but while I was editing and reviewing the relationship dynamics regarding both romance and friendship, and how to course the metaplot to the end of the series and how it’ll effect other books I’ll write in the setting…
I realized that most of my plot ideas come from watching Ugly Betty.
You read that right.
To be sure, there’s plenty of Butcher and Whedon, but all of my questions regarding my characters always drift toward the interpersonal, between friends and lovers and family, which is likely from getting my start on the romance side of the fence, but Ugly Betty, for me at least, was a decent example of how extreme situations can influence people in the long term. James may be a magical badass, but he’s still human, and has to deal with personal situations that can easily seem out of a telenovela. It can be difficult to answer those questions in a believable fashion, because most of us would either curl into a ball or just act like nothing’s happening. When you watch the series, you see all too quickly that Betty’s the sort of character who sees more drama in four years than a room full of people normally see in their entire lives.
It’s one of the reason that people in my setting who suddenly discover their supernatural heritage aren’t as traumatized as a normal person should be, even though they know they should be. In a sense, it’s the same defense mechanism of blase that you see in most supernatural TV shows. (I’ve always been curious about the immediate aftermath of the vampires “coming out of the coffin” on True Blood, it can’t really have been as simple as saying they got by on synthetic blood, right?) For everyone else, they scramble for a frame of reference, a box that all these new and strange things fit into (which I’m sure makes James’s obsession with Dungeons and Dragons make a lot more sense 😉 ).

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