Being a ‘Non-Conformist’ Author: You Don’t Always Have to ‘Follow the Script’

In the mid-1990s I joined a local far west Texas writer’s group called ‘Texas Mountain Trail Writers.’ While working on the first printed novel I would call Battle of the Band, I needed ‘tutoring’ so-to-speak on absolutely what had to go into the novel to make it a legitimate novel, to market and sell the thing–that is, get some literary agent to ‘sell’ it to a big time publisher. No literary agent came a-calling, so I had to do it myself.

And this was what I picked up in all of these discussions and even annual writer conferences, which I will now list:

  1. ‘Show, don’t tell.’ Anyone who writes novels or books knows what this means. And I believe in ‘show, don’t tell,’  but there are times the ‘tell’ part has to be used perhaps  more than some would find acceptable, as I discovered finishing up my first book.
  2. Your setting must be a setting one is familiar with. After all, aren’t most of Stephen King’s novels set in Maine, where he is from? (And why do I always use Stephen King as an example? Because other than literary genius Kurt Vonnegut–from Ithica, New York (quite a few of his books are set in that part of New York state)–no writer has influenced me to write than the best suspense-si-fi-horror novelist in US history.
  3. Your characters must be from the setting you use that must be one you are familiar with.  Not all, but many of King’s characters are from Maine, or at least New England.
  4. Your characters, because you must know your characters–especially the main ones–must be part of you and even as you are. (Characterization)
  5. Dialogue–your characters must speak in a way that characters from a particular setting would speak, thus you must know how these characters would speak, which is why they ought to come from a particular familiar setting. Further, you characters must speak in a way that it is obvious for that character and the reader knows that is how the character talks. Use catch-phrases as well.
  6. Genre–this is the item that has and will give me the most headache. My books are not genre specific, but a mix of spiritual/satire/adult-rated R not X/horror/suspense/fantasy, so that could be why no literary agent touched my books–literary agents tend to be genre specific, or at least that’s what I was told by the first published author I ever met, a romance novelist (with plenty of the required ‘sexual tension.’)
  7. Theme–The only way I can describe any theme in my books is this: good triumphing over evil. If it isn’t ‘good vs. evil’ in fiction, then I am not writing it-ultimately, good vs. evil is the only issue that matters to me.
  8. Plot–Within the realm of the physical and mental and real and spiritual worlds, the plot revolves around an 80s-90s rock and roll band that, upon achieving great success, must choose their good vs. evil path, with triumphs, trials and tribulations along the way. Because they are ‘rock stars,’ they are ‘gonna do what a rock star is gonna do.’ Which is why these novels are adult–sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll–and not young adult or Christian or rated G. Sorry about that, but if my characters are going to be real, they’re just gonna have to cuss every now and then, or engage in free sex–and one of my characters is bi-sexual, by the way.

Did I miss anything?

So, here is where I ‘go off the reservation’ so-to-speak. ‘Show, don’t tell’? Who gets to decide if you I don’t show enough and tell too much? Folks, I have NEVER read a novel without some ‘tell,’ okay? Read JRR Tolkein’s “Silmarillion’ some time…there is so much ‘telling’ in that book that one would think one of the greatest novelists ever couldn’t write a novel to save his life! But of course, he has to ‘tell’ about how the elves and what not came to be, from what heavenly spirits, and the rest. Then you have books loaded with dialogue–in fact, one friend-turned-book-critic once told me that my two printed books had too much dialogue! “Too much telling,” she told me. After all, dialogue is kind of like telling, right? In my opinion, however, nothing SHOWS a character like his or her dialogue, and how he or she says it!

Where I really go off the reservation though is setting, for actual setting and in terms of where the characters are from and how they speak. I intend to fully explain the whys and what-fors of this issue in posts I have already written and just need the right time to post (since I am busy re-typing/re-writing my two printed books for e-book formatting purpose for sale on Kindle, Nook, Lulu, etc). But for now I will sum it up–since my characters are in a rock band of the 80s and 90s, and since I grew up in the 60s and 70s when British rock reigned supreme for the most part (beginning with the Beatles), and since I spent about two months there in mostly the southeast (Brighton area) and also met three twenty-somethings from Tyneside (Newcastle, of course) and I just loved hearing that Geordie accent… Okay, you get the idea. But just to make it a bit easier for me to deal with creating these books, roughly half of the settings in all my novels are in the US, either New York City or California between LA and San Fran. I grew up on Long Island and lived in NYC. I have visited southern and central California and know several folks from there  (and my brother and his family used to live near Silicon Valley). A number of supporting characters are Americans. Finally, for the most part, my Brit rocker characters spend most of their time in the most affluent part of England, which just happens to be the part of England I am most familiar with–the southeast, including the affluent county called Surrey. Thus, one really cannot accuse me of not knowing the settings and the ways of speaking (though I do use slang words every now and then that are more American than Brit, and one big mistake I made originally in the printed books was listing the dates American style instead of Brit style: instead of writing ‘the 15th of July’ I wrote “July 15.’ Or used the term ‘called’ instead of ‘rang’ on occasion…any slang terms I screwed up in my first two books will be rectified, I hope, in the e-books.

Finally, as I will explain in my posts that will be posted as soon as possible, my entire life generally does not ‘follow the script,’ and I’ve been for the most part a non-conformist my entire life.

The Prodigal Band Trilogy: The Spiritual

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Moving on to the spiritual aspect of why I wrote these books…

In the fall of 1993, at night with the myriad of star-shine visions outside the house at night in the mountains, a view of the heavens, thinking some divine entity was hovering above, a thought came into my head, in my own voice, telling me that now was the time to begin to compile all the character and theme and setting and story and all the stuff I had carried in my head since the mid-60s. The time to write the novel was nigh.

The rough-rough-rough draft was written using an ancient Atari computer that used a very large floppy disk inserted into the hard drive to set up the system and then insert another floppy disk to write whatever. Don’t ask me the model of this Atari, I don’t remember. But computers in the old days didn’t have operating systems as we know them today…you had to insert a master floppy disk to get the computer to work, then insert another floppy disk for whatever you were typing on the keyboard, then copy the new work to the disk, which only had 48 KB in its “memory bank.”

Imagine! A floppy–and I mean floppy! These disks weren’t the plastic kind with metal parts that were 3.5 inches square, but 5 inch floppies without metal parts–could hold only one chapter at a time!

Since I was raising a toddler daughter at the time, I had limited time to do this work, but I managed to get the rough draft manuscript done by the summer of 1994 only to have to go back to work teaching secondary math–in El Paso, in what was then a ‘gang land high school’ and put up with not only gangster students but a principal that couldn’t handle gangster students (the ONLY time I noticed serious discipline in the hallways was the one week this so-called principal was at a conference in Washington, DC! During that week, the assistant principals and security guards were actually able to do their jobs, and not one student of mine tried sneaking out of class or wanted to roam the halls…the only time this happened!) After the kids went to bed at night, when I wasn’t grading tests or whatever, I edited the rough-rough-rough draft. I quit the teaching job in June, 1995.

That summer I began the actual rough draft on someone else’s Macintosh computer, from 6 am until 8 am, when I had to go back home to home school my kids. In fall of 1995 I bought my own Mac computer with System 7.5. When I had time, I finalized the first novel, Battle of the Band, which was completed in 1996–after a writer/retired teacher friend of mine Beta Edited the novel twice.

And what she told me through her proof-reading/editing caused me to think maybe divine intervention WAS at work in this first book:

  1. I did not know, first of all, that there was a direct shipping lane from Stavanger, Norway,  to the Tyne River in northeast England, where the band is from. The mother of the singer-character just happened to be from Stavanger, Norway! Coincidence?
  2. I did not know when I wrote the book that a “Laird McLeod” owned a castle on the Isle of Skye in northeast Scotland, so it seemed very strange to both of us that a “Laird McLeod” (correct spelling) in my book just happened to own a castle on that island! Coincidence?
  3. The fictitious city my band is from, Walltown, on that Tyne river, has an angelic statue of winged trumpeters, angels. I did not know in fact that a city across from my fictitious Walltown, called Gateshead, had as it’s main tourist feature an angelic statue! (but only one angel, not three angels, plus one could say it almost looks bird-like, but is definitely an angel.) Coincidence?
  4. The most important song in the book speaks of “…for my sweet love, to wear a golden crown.” This song came into my head in the early 70s. In the early 70s, tired of all the arguing by my parents over various Christian doctrines (my dad grew up Episcopalian; my mom grew up Catholic–they argued about the Pope’s ‘infallibility’ ad infinitum, among other things), I became agnostic. So I had no idea what that line in the song meant. When I became a committed Christian in the mid-90s, I finally figured the line out. That was when I knew that the ‘mission’ I was given had to be completed. Coincidence?
  5. In that same song is a part about Pleiades, a star system, Orion, another star system, and the Dragon, a constellation–which, by the way–coincidence?–contains not only Orion, whose belt ‘flays the fire’ of the dragon, but Pleiades as well! These three heavenly entities co-exist, which I had no idea about! The ‘dragon,’ of course, is mentioned in the biblical Book of Revelation as another name for Satan.  Pleiades, named for an ancient Greek warrior, ‘brandishes’ Orion’s belt to ‘flay the fire.’ How else could this happen unless all three heavenly entities were in the same constellation–and I had no idea of this when I wrote the words to the song–in the early 70s?

So let me sum this up:  I wrote a song about the ‘second coming’ of Christ as well as the coming so-called ‘great tribulation’ by Satan (and the ‘beast’ and the ‘false prophet’) prior to Christ’s second coming BEFORE I had any idea about such a Biblical event in the Book of Revelation I had NEVER read before writing the song! The same song which is the centerpiece of all three novels in The Prodigal Band Trilogy! Add to that the other ‘coincidental’ facts I had no clue about when writing the first book in the trilogy before my friend just happened to tell me were true fact I thought I had simply made up.

These things are just one reason why I believe a divine authority put it into me to write these novels. If it worked for the Blues Brothers

The Prodigal Band Trilogy: The Why, Part 5

In Part 1, I stated why I became a writer-story-teller. In Part 2, I stated why the characters I made up were a gang and then a rock band. In Part 3, I stated why the rock band morphed into one from England, and in Part 4, why they were from northeast England, where the initial setting would occur. Now is Part 5, discussing the various changes I made over the next twenty or so years from 1970 until the final version of the first novel in the series, Battle of the Band, was published, that set the stage for the next two books, including the FREE PDF of The Prodigal Band.

In the early 1970s I had planned to write the story of a 60s band, but that made no sense since no prime plot was set, and why write a story about a 60s band when the 60s were over with and in the mid-70s the music genre was changing? And, oh yeah, the mainline pop music at the time was a genre I hated—Disco! And then in 1975 another rocker I had no regard for, Peter Frampton—remember him?—was suddenly foisted on us rock fans at the same time the early 70s wonder-kind, Led Zeppelin, was stagnating? Just as with today and my feeling that rock is dying or died with Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell resting in peace, I felt that by the latter 70s rock was dying as well. What was around was milquetoast at best (with a few exceptions like the Eagles and one or two others). Thank God for punk—the Ramones, the Cars, the Police and others. As I said, a 60s or a 70s band made no sense to me, and again, what was the over-riding plot?

And, oh yeah, I was in my mid-20s and had to support myself and figure out my life, right? That meant working full time, and then later, attending college, which I thought would help me figure out just what I was going to do with my life. So, from 1972 or so until about 1981 I stopped writing (except for college term and research papers).

In 1981 I graduated from a state university in New York. I had been accepted for a master’s degree/PhD at the New School for Social Research in the midst of New York City, a very expensive college, with the goal of getting a PhD in Psychology. Well, President Reagan screwed that one up by signing into law a provision whereby graduate students could no longer apply for Pell Grants or other grants, which was how I was planning to pay for college (and then there was the issue of getting room and board in New York City besides). I was NOT going to force my parents to pay for all this; they had just retired and moved to snowbird central, the Tampa-St. Pete area of Florida (where my mother’s folks lived). So, thanks to Mr. President, I had to put off my college plans, so I moved in with my parents in a nice retirement HOA home in a very nice subdivision with swimming pool, golf course, etc. But in 1982 I was hoping to head back to New School after having worked a several jobs. In the meantime, I began working on the band story again for a month or two. Then, in early fall, an event happened that would put the story off for years—I met my future husband, who lived in far west Texas, a beekeeper and lifeguard near the Oasis of far west Texas, mostly mountain and desert country. We married in a small Catholic church in a town of 600 people, then a couple of years later bought property in a local POA, then built a house there. In the meantime, I returned to college, Sul Ross State U, and got a teaching certificate in secondary math and English, then taught math in local high schools. In 1993 after having two kids, I got a Master’s Degree in Counseling, but never got a counseling job—my Spanish wasn’t good enough! (Note: I lived within a hundred miles of Mexico…).

So there I was…being a wife and mother and beginning to home school my kids and such in the middle of nowhere in the mountains in the early 90s and was no longer teaching (getting the Counseling degree in the meantime, then teaching a year in El Paso since we badly needed the income for various reasons I’m not going to get into here…but might be explained later in a non-fiction book I plan to write about an event that really happened in my neck of the woods in the mid-90s). One night in the early 90s—I can’t remember the year, but it was in the middle of autumn—I prayed and prayed for Divine intervention because I was feeling as if I must get these characters out of my head if I was to be a proper mother/teacher/wife, as if these characters haunted me. And that is why over the next couple of years the stories I had in my head became my first book, written on someone else’s Mac computer and then finalized on my own Mac computer in early 1996. Because of praying for Divine intervention, this book morphed into the spiritual genre.

Of course, that was the plan all along. Up next is the “how” of all this.

***

Download the FREE PDF The Prodigal Band here.

 

The Prodigal Band Trilogy: The Why, Part 3

Continued from Part 2, I said my ‘boy diary’ characters became a gang, but not a drug gang or a violent gang. Just a close knit group of boys, and all these teen boys had girlfriends. Remember, this was fantasy stuff in my fake persona diary that I kept, basically, because I loved writing and writing about a persona that was very popular among boys literally kept me sane (even if it seems as though making up fantasy personas seems insane! I will say this: I am sure any friends I had did think I was a bit on the weird side because I was such a non-conformist. And love of rock music was almost the only way I knew I could fit in with ‘the crowd’).

But, as rock music went psychedelic beginning with the 1967 ‘summer of love’ in San Fran’s Haight-Ashbury district, hippie central, and the release of the landmark Beatles’ album, Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—you know, the one with Aleister Crowley on the cover—I suddenly found myself absorbed in this music and decided I wanted to learn guitar. For Christmas in 1967 I got an acoustic guitar and a chord chart and a lesson book. Then in 1968 I got lessons from a teen around my age (16) who had his band, a neighbor. It turned out I could play an electric guitar much better than an acoustic one—the frets were narrower and the strings were closer together, a benefit to one with shorter fingers and a wee bit spastic in the ring finger who had trouble with chords that required outstretched fingers such as B, B flat, A flat, etc. So that I got good enough to play in this band as well as sing. Well, this got my ‘boy diary’ characters out of ‘just a gang mode’ and into ‘gang and rock musician mode.’ While the band I played with some broke up shortly, at least I got a taste of what being in a rock band was all about. By 1969, I had my fantasy boy rock band made up, and I wrote ‘stories’ about how they made records and toured and stuff.

And then came 1970 when a boy—he was pimply as all get up and curly blond hair and not exactly ‘A-list’ either—asked me out on dates, and even the senior prom. I turned down the prom offer, but at least I got to ‘make out’ so-to-speak. By then, I was ‘B-list,’ and working at an afternoon job at a local supermarket. Near graduation time from high school my best friend showed me an ad in the New York Times about a ‘university lecture program’ for students interested in European affairs from a British point of view at Sussex University near Brighton, which is on the English Channel and a seaside resort of sorts, with the added bonus of ‘living’ with a local family, as part of what was called ‘Inter-Teach.’ My folks knew I was somewhat an ‘Anglophile’ (thanks to Brit rock bands mostly along with a fascination for British accents…heck even American accents are fascinating to a degree), so they decided to put up the money for me to partake in this program as a graduation gift.

The program began in mid-July, 1970 and my friend (who had just turned 16 and I was nearly 18) and I and three college students and one HS freshman (we almost never saw…he was there solely for the education) lived in houses of program patrons in a Brighton suburb and attended daily lectures at the university given by three professors, one of whom was Welsh. In addition to  lectures we all did the following: saw a Shakespeare play in his home-town of Stratford-on-Avon, got coffee at Oxford University, saw several museums in London including one honoring one of my fave authors, Charles Dickens, some folk music festival near Guilford in Surrey, and various trips to pubs (without the freshman…while my friend and I weren’t quite 18 yet and thus weren’t old enough to consume alcohol, no one noticed that and for the first time in my life I drank warm beer. My friend and I also made a special trip to the northern London Hackney district so she could see her aunt, her mother’s sister, and her cousin for the first time (they lived in a tower block…at the time, Hackney seemed okay; now, it is supposedly an ‘Asian’ (read Muslim) district and there were riots there several years ago!). And various car trips with the family I stayed with.

We were supposed to leave England around the 25th of August, but my friend and I and two college students stayed an extra week or so. To attend the second Isle of Wight Rock Festival, Britain’s Woodstock (the other two on this trip returned without us) we learned about when we met some young men at some youth hostel or something. And no way was I going to miss a chance to see the Who, Pink Floyd, Traffic, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and many others. (Note: the final day, Sunday, featured Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, but we had to leave during that day, or else we never would have been able to return to the States in time—it took days for everyone to leave Woodstock in August, 1969, and this was on an island!)

The festival was wonderful and interesting, but that really wasn’t the best part of this extra-week stay. The best part was a trip by van (driven by a male college student who quickly learned how to drive on the left side of the road in the right side of a vehicle!) into and around Wales, including the Cambrian Mountain area (spending a night at a bed and breakfast in said mountain area), then onto Bristol and Bath—named for ancient Roman hot baths—then onto Stonehenge, then onto South Hampton (or was it Portsmouth?) for the night to take the ferry to the Isle of Wight the following morning. So we spent the night ‘camping’ by the van, but before I went to sleep in the front seat of the van I had a very interesting conversation with three men in their twenties that spoke with that very strange accent I mentioned in my last post.

 

Ready to read the FREE PDF The Prodigal Band? Download it here at the download link.