Well, it’s been two weeks since I said I’d make a new post tomorrow so, yeah…right on time.
The Land of the Beautiful Dead is finally into the editing phase and I immediately hit a major continuity problem which is involving massive rewrites in addition to the usual last-minute research crap, which will take extra time because the book is not set in a familiar location. It’s times like these I have to laugh at the popular misconception that writers make stuff up. Okay, so maybe some do, but I don’t. Some time ago, I remarked on the fact that the number one thing my readers ask me is where I get my ideas (closely followed by “Why do you get your ideas, dear God, why?”), and I don’t offhand recall my song-and-dance answer, but it occurs to me as I grind away on these edits that a far better question is, “How do you get your ideas?” because I think that’s a better look inside the writer’s head.
My head is mostly full of horror and porn and dinosaurs (and frequently, sexy killer dinosaurs)…
…and now and then, one of them crawls out of the sea and flops around in the sand until it loses its gills and grows lungs and stands up on all fours and lets out its mighty yawp and I have really efffed up this metaphor. My point is, I get an idea, but I rarely sit down and write it out. I watch it first. I’m a very visual writer; I tend not to think in words, but rather, see pictures and attempt to describe them on paper. This is worth mentioning solely to illustrate that it does no good at all asking me how a new project of mine is going to end, because most of the time, I don’t know. Seriously. No clue. Haven’t seen that part yet. In fact, several extremely vital plot points of various books whooshed right over my head for weeks if not months before plopping out on the page in front of me, and I was just as shocked as I hope you were.
Example: In The Last Hour of Gann (spoiler incoming), the hateful human S’kot attempts to bump Amber off with an overdose of some heavy-duty synthetic opiate. I had no idea this was going to happen. Hilariously, because I write whatever scene is clearest and therefore jump around the timeline (hence my current situation with editing LoBD), I had written several extremely obvious clues that this was indeed what happened. Amber had gone from a fairly tough little cookie in her early scenes to someone who was clearly physically weakened (Meoraq even had a line where he directly referred to her illness: “You have suffered severe illness which makes you tire more easily. You may improve in that regard with rest and time, I don’t know, but for now, you do tire easily, which makes you weak.”); I spent a ridiculous amount of time listing the various items in the medikit, which I then never used, all but shining a spotlight on the drug I ultimately used to bump Amber off, and made a point of saying an overdose would be lethal; I had even written the scene wherein Scott and the other surviving humans are rediscovered and wrote Scott’s extremely weird reaction to hearing that Amber was still alive, but I still thought, like Amber, that she’d been bit by a snake or something, right up until I actually wrote the confrontation scene between Meoraq and Scott and watched as the weaselly little bastard snuck out of his tent and plugged Amber in the arm. I mean, my mind was blown. It’s like I knew it all along, except I didn’t.
I tell you all that to tell you this: I had no idea when I first sat down to write The Land of the Beautiful Dead that it would be set in England. I’m an American. I write books that are at least marginally set in America, not because I’m all flag-waving and crazy patriotic as much as I’m just really, really lazy. I know what America looks like and I know how Americans think and eat and talk. America’s awesome and if I were writing a book about the zombie apocalypse in its purest form, with survivors all surviving and stuff, shooting zombies and driving brand new Ford Focuses (Foci?) through the wasted landscape four flipping years after all the Ford factory workers were, you know, eaten by zombies (it’s nice to know Ford hires the walking dead), then I would definitely set the book in America. But that isn’t the story. The story is about Azrael and it’s entirely possible that Azrael didn’t even know America existed. Sure, we got hit by the zombie-wave too, but it wasn’t personal. Okay, it was very personal, but it was personal on a global scale. When Azrael finally lost it and hulked out, he didn’t pick and choose. He had it in him to scrag the whole human race and he popped his Frozen soundtrack on and let that shit go.
Now, Azrael is old. It’s possible he could have walked to America back when everyone else was doing it, but he didn’t. It’s also possible he could have just, you know, walked. The ocean bottom is a peaceful place and drowning for a few years while he made the trip couldn’t be any worse than all the other horrible ways he passed his time. But again, he didn’t. He went underground somewhere in Eastern Europe (my guess is Romania, probably not too far from the Scholomance, and wouldn’t that be a kick in the ass if only he’d known, because I’m sure they’d have let him in) and when it all went down, he went to England. He had his reasons. And because that was where he was, that was where the story happened, and thusly, that was where Lan had to be too.
Now here’s the funny thing. Lan was born in what was left of England after Azrael moved in, but Lan’s mother was American. Why? Again, not deliberate. It’s just one of those things that came out when I was writing. Lan’s mother was American and she did her best to keep her culture alive in her daughter (and, as with so many things our parents do, it was not always appreciated). And that served me fairly well, because, no offense, but Brits can be cliquish around foreigners at the best of times and a zombie apocalypse is far, far from the best of times. Lan’s mother was ultimately taken in, because despite the impression some people have of me from reading my books, I actually think people are mostly good and will do the right thing given the opportunity, but she was never really assimilated and as a result, neither did Lan. Some people may think this is because I am a lazy writer and would rather stick with what I know, to wit, ‘Murica, and they would have a valid point. But honestly, it’s just where the story happened and who happened to show up in it. Likewise, some will want to point out various landmarks and so forth that I’ve omitted, to which I preemptively reply, there was a war. Even in peacetime, cities can change a lot in thirty years and after a war, places can be almost unrecognizable. Also, some will correctly point out that Azrael’s court is nothing like a real British court of any era, and they are absolutely right. Azrael is not emulating any particular fashion or tradition, he’s just made himself comfortable, adopting certain styles and habits that appealed to him and ignoring others. Which is pretty much my same attitude when writing.
So you’ve all been very patient while I blathered on. Would you like to read a snippet? This one went over really well with my British betas. (I love England, I swear I do.):
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“Do you know why I came here?” Azrael asked suddenly. “Here, of all places on this Earth I might have taken.”
Lan looked around the room.
“Not to this palace,” he said with a dismissive wave. “What is it to me but a stack of brick and a dry roof? No, to this land. This…island.”
“Well, if I had to guess, I’d say you liked it here.”
“Mark the tone in which you suggest it,” he said with a humorless smile. “It is the very voice of doubt. I put it to you: Do you like it here? Did you like the life you had in Norwood? Do you miss it?”
Lan bristled, but could not think of any answer that was both affirmative and honest.
“No. You don’t,” he said for her. “This land is shaped from bitter clay. It is cold. Hard. Men have long since stripped it of whatever natural life it held and then buried it under the choking sprawl of their own cities, which have since fallen. Its watery veins are toxic. Its enclosing seas are always angry. It has the most desolate soil, the most miserable weather, the most loveless and unfriendly landscape. It is a wretched place,” he concluded, thumping a finger on the table to emphasize each word. “Of all my wanderings, it is the most wretched place one can live. Oh, there are lands more barren,” he said as she opened her mouth to protest. “Frozen lands, sere lands, lands infected with more virulent disease and lands teeming with more noisome and lethal beasts…but these are lands that kill. And I am weary unto death, so to speak, of dying, Lan, forever dying. When I ascended, when I had the king’s cut of all Earth had to offer, I thought, ‘I will take this land and set myself within it, for who would ever stay where the Devil dens?’”
“But it was their home!”
“Home? Home is a word, child. Your mother could have told you of a time when humans changed their home simply because they did not like the view from the windows. No, this is not their home. This is a forsaken grey Hell of stony soil set down in the very shadow of the greatest Evil humankind has ever known, and the only reason to root themselves to it is to harry me.”
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