Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chapter 2 - Sandra Casey

Out of all of the chapters in "Lives", this one required the least amount of effort. Sandra's character filled the pages so quickly that before I even realized it, I was done. Not only that, but she was so completely different from Freddy that it made me think a lot harder about how far I could take the format. Eight chapters with eight distinct voices... It raised the bar because at that time, I still had six more characters to write!
For what it's worth, I still believe that her voice is one of the strongest.
However, Chapter Two stands out mostly because several readers have thought it to be the most controversial. In my opinion, the violence in other chapters is much more concerning, but that's America for you. We prefer violence to sex. Sandra is a "lot lizard" (a prostitute that works truck stops) and she goes into great detail as to what she does to be the best.
When my mother read this chapter, she begged me to take it out. I listened carefully to her concerns, and as any son would in this situation, I began to doubt myself a little bit. For a couple of weeks, I did nothing but read that chapter over and over again, searching for another, less graphic way of telling her story.
Sandra tells it like she does because she's hiding behind her work ethic. In other words, she focusses on being really good at a job that degrades her in order to shield herself from that degradation. Being a sucker for good irony, I had to leave it all in. Not only that, but when she stepped back from the job at hand, and compared it to working for a corporation somewhere ("where your boss is now your pimp"), I felt the detail was necessary to bring the metaphor home with realism and power. Combine that with her love for Billy Cobb, and her humanity breaks through very nicely.
For those of you who have held a job that drained your soul... or who have held a torch for the most undeserving person in the world...
Or who have punished yourself for hurting someone who is no longer alive to apologize to... I introduce you to Sandra Casey.
Thanks for reading!
-JJ McMoon

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Making Amends With Music

Many writers use music as a means to get where the words are. Stephen King is reputed to listen to AC/DC at full blast, for example.
For me, instrumental music is usually best. And depending on the genre or scene I'm working on, I will change the energy of the music. Sometimes industrial (Chemical Brothers is best for violence), Sade (for love scenes), and other artists for general mood. For example, I found Brian Fechino's "Painting in a Dream" good for nostalgia and that insecure feeling of rejection in high school.
However, the artist I listened to the most when writing "Lives" by far was Coldplay. I liked Coldplay before starting the book, but once I got into the draft, I found that the central theme of Lives simply wouldn't come out unless I had Coldplay's mix on my iPod.
After a while, I began to hate Coldplay. I hated having to listen to it in order to get what I needed and if I heard Coldplay on the radio, or in any other setting other than at my writing desk, I immediately changed the station or left the room. It was that bad.
Having finished the book a couple of months ago has given me some good distance, though. Just now, I had on a Pandora mix of U2 and Coldplay came on (Trouble). My instinct was to change the station... but then I realized that I liked it again. Kind of like "Stairway to Heaven", the music will always hold a special place in my heart, only in this case, Coldplay will bring me back to that wondrous feeling I had when I was discovering the "Lives" characters for the first time.
Yeah, I can live with that:-)
-JJ McMoon 2/16/10

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chapter 1 - Freddy McDaniel

In the final draft, Freddy is a broken man. However, I didn't set out to write about a broken man. I wanted to write about someone who didn't know who they were because their identity was locked in their idolization of another.
Freddy (aka, "Shirt") rose out of the ashes of my grandfather's death. For my entire life, I had looked at Daddy Gayle as my mentor, my example of who and what a man should be. He fought behind German lines in WWII... Liberated concentration camps... Fought in Korea... Taught in Kentucky when they instituted bussing...
And a lot of other things.
When in the presence of Daddy Gayle, I always felt humbled. And when he passed away, though I was well into my 30's, a part of me felt lost. Who would I look up to now? Who would I ask for advice from now? He died in a nursing home, at the ripe old age of 90 with his body failing... How could this happen to this man of such greatness? Doesn't he deserve better?
When I last saw him alive, I couldn't help but think, would it be better for him to go a little sooner and with a little more dignity? It's the kind of regret that pollutes everything, because there is no right answer. In the end, I didn't act on it, and I know that I was right not to do so. But still, a part of me will always wonder if I should have helped him out. Did I owe him that?
All of these thoughts rose out of me like a stench when I sat down to figure out who Freddy was and how he would deal with his own tragic idolization of his brother, Kyle. In general, I'm not emotional when I write, but I let a few tears go when discovering Freddy because I was also re-discovering the little boy inside me that went camping and fishing with his grandfather... who sat by the river and heard so many stories about people and places... who learned to appreciate life from a man who bragged about having once held a job with a life expectancy of 40 seconds...
For anyone who has felt lost... For anyone who has felt in awe of someone else...
For anyone who has felt the weight of a horrible decision for which there was no clear right answer... I introduce you to Freddy McDaniel.

-JJ McMoon
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Friday, February 5, 2010

What Is Lives About?

"Lives" has eight stories, each told in 1st person, that all add up to a larger whole. All of them feel, in one form or another, a higher power intervening in their lives. Some call it "God", others call it "Fate"… But what if it were something else entirely? Something beyond our current understanding of science? What if it were instead our budding evolution into telepathy, something that, like electricity, was unexplainable five hundred years ago, but is now commonplace?

And what if the person that discovered how to harness this power was insane? Could a doctor treat a patient who was privy to all of the doctor's thoughts? And more importantly, if that patient thought of himself as God, could anyone stop him from taking over the world?

-JJ McMoon
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Notchless Number Five

I started writing this short story just before my son was born in December of 2008. I was filled with wonder and anticipation of what his life would be like, how I would be as a new parent, and then... where he had come from.
Science tells us that people are created at conception, just as it tells us that we cease to exist after death. But just as I find it hard to believe that there is absolutely nothing after death, I found myself wondering if there had been something before life. What if, as a soul, my son was wandering around the infinite trying to decide what he should do with his eternity? What if, having found nothing of interest on his own, he went to a soul's trade show and was taken in by the pitch of a soul that had lived a life? How would that pitch sound?

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

9 Lives - Chapter 9, "Let's All Give the Doc A Mighty Hand"

I have always loved psychiatry, especially criminal psychiatry. I'm not sure why. But serial killers have always fascinated me, most notably the ones that I believe really were sick. In the interest of political correctness, I won't name any names, but I really would like to know what compels a man to eat another man when he's not starving to death; or to chop up a fair-skinned woman and save pieces of her in his freezer. It's this kind of abhorrent behavior that completely escapes my level of understanding, and I find myself asking the same question over and over again whenever I read about it:
In this chapter, I thought of a psychiatrist who's bored with his life. He follows the same exact routine every day, and wonders what the point of it all is. In an effort to relieve his boredom, he takes a post in a hospital for the criminally insane and meets a truly fascinating patient. In an effort to "cure" the patient, he makes the mistake of getting emotionally involved...
Obviously, since this is the last chapter, I can't give too much away. But I will say that it will probably require the most rewriting of any of the chapters because so many details are joining the plot every day that need to be accounted for in the final act. I like that it has a nice rhythm, and is told mostly through dialogue.
-JJ McMoon

9 Lives - Chapter 4, A Goth Hero's Tragic Fall

This guy, called TX, was supposed to represent the turning point in the story. At the time I wrote it (it's the first of the 9 chapters that I wrote), I had a different idea for the ending than I have now. However, with a few word changes here and there, I wound up with a humorous tale of rock star cliche. A guy shows up to perform at a concert, and suddenly the concert is cancelled and the police are after him.
What I like about TX is that nothing rattles him. Whether it's the bouncers not recognizing him without makeup and refusing to give him entry to his own show, spending the night in a coffin, getting accused of being a serial killer, having a groupie go nuts on him and trashing his dressing room, or getting kidnapped by the real serial killer and facing certain doom, TX handles it all matter of factly, as if it's all in a day's work. In his final encounter with Murphy's Law, he's presented with a delicious irony that only a character with as strong of a sense of self as TX has can answer:
Is it better to die a horribly painful death, or to live and spend the rest of your days in prison with the world knowing you are guilty of horrible crimes?
-JJ McMoon