I hear voices…
I hear voices in my head
Of course, as a writer, many times voices are a good thing. They whisper lines to me, make bad jokes, tell me about their fears, complain, breathe secrets, and lead me forward to a story. Or more than one story.
I often get asked how I plan which book to write, how I come up with ideas, and whether story X will get a sequel. It’s a bit weird to say, “The voices tell me,” but it’s kind of the truth.
Now don’t worry; I’m not suggesting that I can’t tell real conversation with my brother from Zach nagging me that he wants to see Aaron in a tux. I’m not confused about who in my life wears flesh and blood and who doesn’t. But I’ve often wondered if non-writers’ brains are… quieter.
If you don’t write, can you sit in a calm place without your brain starting to fit it into a story? When you close a good book, do the characters stop talking?
I am in awe of the writers who seem to have wrestled order from their characters. They plan out series and releases, choosing the right sequence of books and dates for maximum impact. So very cool. So very not me.
Take “Life, Some Assembly Required”, and its upcoming release on June 9th … More than three years after the first book, “The Rebuilding Year.” That’s no one’s idea of perfect timing. But then I hadn’t planned on a sequel at all. I thought I would leave my characters there, with Ryan on the phone, standing beside John in their kitchen, after the events of the first book. Lots of scope for imagination, with the main issues sorted out. Happy for Now, which is all you can get from real life while you are still living it.
Torey is John’s twelve-year-old daughter. In the first book, she’s not given as much presence on page as her bother, Mark, or either of her parents. She’s a bit of a chess-piece, not overlooked, but subordinate to the needs of her unhappy brother, her difficult mother, the constraints of court custody decisions and so on. I don’t think it could have realistically gone differently for her in that book, but for two years, Torey had been letting me know she wasn’t happy. Ever more loudly. It wasn’t fair. Guys got all the luck and girls were afterthoughts. She’d been shunted aside.
But you can’t base an M/M book on the voice of a twelve-year-old girl, really, so I wasn’t paying full attention. Then Ryan chimed in. He wanted to know what his father had said, on the other end of that phone call that I dropped in mid-word with “The End.” He wondered what came next in building a family with John. And he was firmly in Torey’s corner. She deserved more.
He frankly wanted me to run over John’s ex-wife Cynthia with a steamroller, and send both the kids home to John forever. Ryan is not a fan of Cynthia’s. I had to remind him that trying to be a realistic author is not quite compatible with dropping a house out of the sky on the Wicked Witch. Even if it would be fun (which it would, because I’m not a big fan of Cynthia’s either, although I try to understand her.) He said, “Well, then what?”
And so, over two years after publishing “The Rebuilding Year”, and four years after I wrote it, I found myself typing…
Ryan felt an annoying trickle of sweat sliding down the side of his neck. He was
determined to ignore it. There were good reasons for him to be overheated, for the wetness
of his palm where he clutched the phone. The kitchen was too warm, and John was standing close behind him, a solid, heat-radiating bulk at his back. Plus he’d just given John one hell of a blowjob, which was vigorous exercise of a sort. Then he’d gotten up off the floor too fast and tweaked his bad leg, and that always made him sweat.
It wasn’t that he was scared to hear what his father was going to say. Wasn’t. He pressed the silent phone to his ear…
. . .
And… the story began to unfold. Not always in the ways I expected. I’d hoped to keep Cynthia at a distance. Not out of the book – unless I did steamroller her, she’d have to be there as the mother of John’s kids, especially with custody an ongoing issue. But I’d planned for her to be less central. Didn’t turn out that way.
The conflict I’d thought was going to be hardest for John and Ryan fizzled, when Ryan refused to do what I’d thought he would, logically, for his career. He said no. Flatly.
The fun of being a pantser, as a writer, is that I watch the story unfold as I write, sometimes with surprises. It’s like reading, in a way, but better. The downside is that I don’t feel as God-like. I can’t seem to steer the result if it goes against the grain of the characters. Somehow, planning too much instead of going with the flow flattens and dries out the story for me.
So this one wrote itself, with good times and bad, favorite characters, annoying ones, moments of fun, moments of frustration, moments of grace. It won’t please everyone who took John and Ryan to their hearts in the first book, but then nothing will. (I’m amused to see ARC reviews that say what John does is both the best, and the worst, part of this story. The joy of diversity of opinions.) I had fun writing it, and hearing all these characters’ voices in my head again, together.
I’m going to give you a little excerpt below. Forewarning – it may be spoilerish for Book One.
I hope you have fun seeing the guys again.
And if you made it this far, leave a comment below, to be entered in a drawing for a free ebook copy of Life, Some Assembly Required. I’ll draw one winner from each of my WordPress, and Goodreads posts. Entries will close at midnight CST on June 8th. Thanks for stopping by to read.
They made it home from campus by six thirty. Mark, sitting between them on the
truck’s bench seat, was gloomy and silent. John wanted to say something wise and fatherly
about the fire or the band or the friend who got shot, but he didn’t know which one Mark
was worrying about. Not to mention that acting wise was hard to pull off in the eyes of a
Ryan was just as quiet. Tired? Painful leg? Dreading the looming Skype with his dad?
John decided that telepathy would be good to have, if his guys were going to go all silent
on him. When they got home, Mark mumbled something about not being hungry and took
the stairs two at a time up to his room.
John called after him, “Dinner isn’t optional.”
Ryan said, “I need to check my email. Call me when it’s ready?” He disappeared into the
front parlor that had become his office, and shut the door.
John was left standing in the entryway. “Well, hell. What am I? Little Suzy Homemaker?
‘Call me when dinner’s ready?’ Really?”
He stomped upstairs and took a shower. The hot water and the noise soothed him,
keeping him from knowing if Mark was studying or just playing three chords over and over
on his guitar again, and from hearing if Ry was swearing at his computer screen. His cell
phone could ring with news that the biggest tree on campus was down, and he didn’t know
and couldn’t be expected to care as long as he was in the shower. It took the water getting
not just cool but cold to finally drive him out.
He dressed, checked his phone to make sure that biggest-tree-falling thing was only in
his head, and then went to the kitchen. It was his night to cook. Or to arrange dinner, since
the fridge was papered with fliers from every takeout place in town. Most weeknights, they
did that. But tonight he wanted to actually make something home-cooked for his guys.
He put frozen fries into the oven, frozen green beans into boiling water, pork chops in a
pan. See? Cooking isn’t that hard. He cleaned the counter while everything was cooking and
wiped down the fridge. Swept the floor. Ryan would like that. Put out real plates instead of
paper, thought about vacuuming, and then sat down hard at the table. What the hell? Maybe
he really was some kind of frustrated housewife.
A sudden memory hit him, the first time he met Cynthia’s father. Near the end of tenth grade, when he and Cynthia had already been dating for months. Her mother had been sick by
then with the cancer that eventually took her, and her dad was doing everything. He’d looked
at John, tired eyes locked on his. “You treat her right, you hear me?” And John had answered, “I
will. Always. I promise.”
They’d gone out with a bunch of friends on a boat on the lake. The boat was big enough
to have a cabin, and three of the other couples had taken turns in there, enjoying the private
space. But he and Cynthia had stayed on deck. He’d put an arm around her, watched the way
her sunshine hair blew across her face, and felt a love and protectiveness so deep in his bones
that it hurt. And then he’d taken her safely home with just a kiss…
Ryan came in limping with one crutch and looked at him. “Smells good. When will it
be ready? We’re supposed to Skype with Dad in twenty minutes.”
Ah hell, John realized, it’s meet-the-parents-night again.
Remember to comment below to enter the drawing through June 8th, for a free ebook copy.