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Monday, January 14, 2008

When is a book ready to be written?

This is my first, introductory post I should have written over a month ago.

Let’s just say, I am late. Very late. Sorry about that. Part of the reason I’m late has to do with a much bigger and much less forgiving deadline: the one for my book LORD OF BONES, the sequel to my first novel BLOODANGEL. BONES comes out July 1, and was a true bitch to write, mostly because I sold it on the basis of a proposal and fifty pages when the rest of it just wasn’t ready to be born yet. Before I could write the story, I had to find the story, and finding the damn thing took me two drafts and many months before I scrapped it all and had to start over again. So what was supposed to be a ‘revision’ basically became ‘writing a whole new book’ and…I got it in late. Way late. But at least I got it in, and, well, lessons were learned.

So when is a book ready to be written? Part of becoming a published novelist isn’t just learning how to write a publishable novel – a difficult enough feat in itself – but also about how you work as a writer; how the writing process works for you. With BONES – and also with UNINVITED, my supernatural thriller with MTV Books – I learned that so much of writing takes place in my head away from the keyboard. I need the time and space to mull things over, let them steep, find their own ways of relating to each other, to deepen and grow. The ideas, images, stories and characters that knit up into a particular novel live with me for years.

For example: UNINVITED. The basic premise came to me over ten years ago, when I was still in high school. I wanted to write about a runaway teen who unexpectedly returns home one day, completely out of the blue, after an absence of at least a year or more. No one really knows why he left, and no one really knows why he came back.

But he’s not the same. And maybe he’s brought something else with him – some kind of menace, some threat. Because I read stuff like Stephen King and Dean Koontz and Clive Barker and Anne Rice and Christopher Pike, I knew that that ‘menace’ would be darkly supernatural in nature. And because my favorite movie at the time – one of my favorite movies – was LOST BOYS, partly because its theme song ‘Cry Little Sister’ kicks such ass (and was also a big inspiration for my novel) -- I thought maybe that menace would be vampires. (This turned out not to be the case.) And I figured that the story would be more interesting told not from that runaway’s point of view, but a younger sibling, someone who could see those strange changes in a way no one else could.

So that was the idea at the center of the book. But that was all I had – just that idea – nothing else around it, no reason that compelled me to write it. Not yet. Years passed, and more years passed, and I came back to that idea from time to time and still never did anything with it. I got deep into the writing of what would be my first published novel, BLOODANGEL. (By the way, even though BLOODANGEL is not an MTV Book, it was acquired by the same editor who would later change publishers and buy UNINVITED for MTV.)

And then…well, BLOODANGEL is written for adults, but part of the story is told from a supernaturally gifted teenager named Ramsey, who turned out to be the most popular character in the novel, judging by reader emails (most of them from adults). And I realized that I really like writing younger characters, and wanted to write a novel solely in that teenage perspective. Which made me think again of my mysterious runaway, and the threat that follows him back to his hometown. This time, though, images and characters began to weave themselves into that central premise. A moonlight rave in a valley that ends in tragedy. Lean, glittering-eyed, wraith-like figures who form a motorcycle tribe like no other. A beautiful blond man standing in the mist below your window….unfurling wings dark and lush as midnight. An intricate tattoo that wards off evil. There was even a ‘talking’ coyote. In fact, it was the coyote who kicked things off, who got me writing the novel that had finally decided to be written.

Justine Musk


Kelly Parra said...

Justine, I love LOST BOYS and the theme became a favorite to me and my brother for years. I have to say, I need to read UNINVITED!!

jennifer echols said...

In a few weeks I'll start writing one of those novels that's been stewing for years, and I'm really looking forward to it--in part because it's been stewing so long, I've got all the plot twists worked out. ;) I have a really hard time writing a proposal before I've written the whole book.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

I'm working on the novel that has taken years to come out right now and I'm still struggling with it a bit. I think after you've envisioned it for so long you really need it to be perfect, more than usual. Maybe that's just me.
Anyway, wanted to say that I loved UNINVITED and as a huge fan of LOST BOYS (and the Cry Little Sister song), it was very cool to hear it was a inspiration of sorts!