Today is one of those days when it hits hard for some reason. The pain. The heartache. That desire to go through and delete everything you’ve ever scribbled down, rip up the papers, and set up a bonfire. With any luck that fire will burn high and hot enough to roast all your future desire to write. Maybe it will free you of that literary albatross around your neck and you can continue your life as a normal human, without being consumed by the urge to set down words and pass them along to be read and (hopefully) enjoyed.
I got a little too close to that fire once before. It’s hard as Hell to come back from it. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be completely returned. I mean, if I really was, wouldn’t this be one of those 2500-word days? When I sit down and thunder away on the keys, spewing content and building yet another chapter in some monumental epic series of books that would make all the other monumental epic series on the market look like a bound sequence of Mad Libs filled in by drunken giraffes. That kind of day?
But it isn’t. This is the day when my heart and my head can’t communicate well with one another. All I can do is look at everything I’ve written and think to myself what a steaming pile of orcshit it is. Even my stuff for Camp NaNoWriMo looks like shit to me today. So I sit here at the comp, and I flit from one WIP to the next, glaring at them as if they were unwanted religious seekers knocking at my door. Each one is trying to hand me some piece of tripe I don’t want to read, and yet I have to if I’m going to continue the tale.
So I pick one and I drop ten or fifteen words in it. Just a couple of sentences. Hit ‘SAVE’ and move on to another. A couple more sentences there. Nothing of substance anywhere, just a few words here and a few there. Those words might well disappear when I edit the work, but for now, they represent one step on the journey away from the bonfire.
I may never fully recover from the self-loathing and the pain that cut me off from my muse, but I’m going to keep trying. She would want that. (Yes. I am referencing mythical creatures, and gladly claiming that one of them thought I was important enough that she would devote herself to letting me write her words. Why not? Dumber shit happens on this planet every day and no one thinks twice.)
This blog post, you’ll notice if you take the time to look through the rest of my site, is one of very few that isn’t some form of fiction or interview. I don’t write from the heart (cue sappy music here) very often. Most of what I do is purely for fun, and with the devout hope that someone somewhere will read it and say, “Dude, that was cool. Thanks for sharing it with us.” I have no illusions about being the next Burroughs, or King, or Lovecraft, or Tolkien, or a host of other names. I’m just a mook who likes telling stories. If you like reading them, then hey! Welcome! Look at some of the other stuff on here. Maybe something will make you smile.
So there you have it. A rambling, probably nonsensical, look at how I felt today, and the fact that I still fought through it. Tomorrow is another day, and it could go either way. I hope, though, that I will take the time to set pen to paper/fingers to keys/ etc., and tell at least some part of a story…or nine.
Hello again, Cats and Kittens! Peel your eyes and check out what I managed today – an interview with Nick Piers, the one and only author of the Armadillo Mysteries.
Nick! Welcome to the place. Digging the outfit, man! Make yourself at home. Avoid the recliner with the cat on it, though. She’s in a mood. Tell ya what, just sit over here at the table and we’ll get this started. Got you a nice cold Keith’s Pale Ale waiting.
Now then, the mic is all yours, sir. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Well, “yourself” is a pronoun used to refer to the person addressed as the object of a verb or preposition. And my desktop background regularly shifts between pictures of armadillos, Superman, Order of the Stick, and various Darwyn Cooke DC pictures.
Ummm… Say what?
Oh! Wait, no. I heard that question wrong. Round 2!
So hi! I’m Nick Piers: Canadian writer, comic book guru, urban cyclist, and DDP yoga enthusiast. My name to fame – what little fame there I have – is The Armadillo Mysteries: a series of hard-boiled superhero novels. I like to describe it as Mickey Spillane meets Ninja Turtles.
So, you know. It’s high, hoity-toity literary stuff.
Well with a combination like Spillane and TMNT, I’ve gotta know: Which writers inspire you?
Oh geez, how many can I list? As many as I want? All right, it’s your funeral.
Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Daniel Keyes, Jim Butcher, Robert J. Sawyer, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Chuck Palahniuk, Mary Shelley, and of course, Mickey Spillane.
My biggest inspirations – certainly for Dill – are Simon R Green and John Zakour. Green, especially, for his fantasy-detective Nightside series. After reading those, I dreamed of writing my own series in a similar vein.
Oh, and Jim Henson’s “DOG CITY”.
I remember “Dog City”! With the crime lord bulldog dude. Fun stuff right there! So, tell us about your books. The things near and dear to you. Come on. Put ’em up on the table and I’ll take a quick pic of them while you talk about them and what other writing you’ve got floating around out there.
The two biggies are THE CITY OF SMOKE & MIRRORS and THE DAME WAS A TAD POLISH, published by Pro Se Press. Pro Se also published some of my short stories, which can be found in RAT-A-TAT: SHORT BLASTS OF PULP and WRITE TO THE COVER VOLUME 1. I’ve also been published in the quarterly, A THOUSAND FACES, as well as magazines such as OPEN MINDS QUARTERLY and THE COUNTRY CONNECTION.
Oh! And a first for me: I wrote the script for Gaming Wildlife’s IF WWE WERE 100% HONEST YouTube video.
Speaking of The Dame was a Tad Polish, give us an insight into your main character. What does he do that is so special?
Dilbert Pinkerton a five-foot-nothing mutant armadillo private detective. He’s the shoot-first-ask-questions-while-shooting type. He’s a chain smoker, a booze hound, and enjoys leaving take-out go bad in his Hovel Office so he can have a buffet of cockroaches. He’s kind of a dick and kinda trigger happy, but he also gives a crap about people wronged or injustices. Especially with this new case involving Lily Pad. She’s a fellow homoanthropomorphic (aka: mutant animal). And Dill can’t help but empathize with her struggles to fit in with society.
Hollywood seems to love characters like this, especially lately. If it came up and you could choose, which actor would you like to see playing Dill?
Actually, I think the best way to portray Dill is like the live action Ninja Turtles movies: animatronic puppetry! That’s the only way I picture Dill being done. I couldn’t imagine him properly done as a computer-generated character.
Awwww, yeah! That’s what I’m talking about!
As for actors, this will sound strange but there’s a relatively unknown actor, Ed Lieberman. He made a small appearance on “Big Bang Theory” as a man Sheldon meets on the bus. Except Sheldon is hallucinating, seeing Isaac Newton as an armadillo. Don’t ask, I don’t really get it, either. And for a moment, the man is shown as a walking, talking armadillo in a trench coat and fedora. Lieberman only says the line of “Yeah well, women. What’re ya gonna do?”
But what’s funny is that THE CITY OF SMOKE & MIRRORS had been out for two years when that episode aired and I was already starting to hype THE DAME WAS A TAD POLISH. I tweeted a joke about it, that I’d already cornered the market on armadillos in trench coats and fedoras. I don’t know if someone on the show has read Dill. I highly doubt it, but it’d be amazing if they had and threw him in there like this.
Anyway, the more I obsessively watched that clip, I started really digging Lieberman’s voice behind that badly rendered Dill. So if I could get an animatronic Dill, voiced by Lieberman? That’d be perfect for me.
And while we’re at it, I’d do the same with Lily Pad (animatronic) and have her voiced by Anna Akana.
You’re writing about anthro characters, and I know sometimes folks can get mighty picky about details. How much research do you do?
For a silly, pulp adventure starring a mutant armadillo? Oddly more than I expected.
I talk about this more in my Joys of Writing blog entry, Research, but for one thing, I basically become an armchair expert on armadillos. I picked up this great book, The Nine-Banded Armadillo: A Natural History, by WJ Loughry and Colleen McDonough. It’s become a constant companion while writing anything involving Dill.
Usually, I’ll do research on the fly, in the middle of writing a scene or just before writing it. I’ve picked up many books on crime scene investigations, forensics, criminology, mythologies, and even some science-related books. I talk about this in more detail in my Joys of Writing blog entry called Research (http://nickpiers.com/2013/11/22/the-joys-of-writing-research/).
When I try to research on the fly, I end up watching cat videos, so you’re doing good there! When did you decide to become a writer?
After Grade 2, if you can believe that. I don’t know when I wanted to be a published writer, but as far as just being a writer and storyteller? After Grade 2. I started writing stories in crayon about Gizmo from the film, Gremlins. Over time, my writing improved and my stories became more complicated. I don’t know when I wanted to actually publish. I’ve dreamed of walking into a bookstore – any bookstore – and see my work on the shelves.
Why do you write?
Boy, that’s the quintessential question, isn’t it? Do I do it for potential fame? The (preferably positive) feedback? The money? The money would be nice, I suppose. Make a living off it.
But really, my answer is simple: I write because I need to. Ideas, stories, characters, and moments constantly enter my head. The only way I stay sane is to write it out, to put them on the page, and get them out of my head. Otherwise, I’ll go absolutely batty.
I can dig that. So do you have a special time to write? How is your day structured?
I wish. To be honest, I’m horribly inconsistent with my writing. I’ll putter on down to Starbucks for a spell, hoping that I’ll bang out around 1,000 words, which is my average for a writing session. Sometimes, I’ll crack out less. Sometimes, I’ll be on a role and crank out two, three, even four thousand words in one sitting. I think my record is around 8,000 words in one session.
That’s a decent session. So when it comes to being on track, do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
Usually, I’ll have a rough roadmap in my head. This usually includes some rough notes I’ve either written down or typed out. For Dill, I try not to plan too much, especially on what he’ll do. I’ll try to weave the mystery as best as I can and then throw Dill into the pot and see how he deals with it.
Really, for me, my writing process is very free-writing. I don’t think much about what I’m writing while writing. There’s a broad roadmap, but I let my characters do most of the work; especially with Dill. Growing up, I’d hear other authors talk about how a character took over, doing things they didn’t expect. I never understood that until I started writing Dill. I wrote the first two chapters of The City of Smoke & Mirrors on a whim, to see if I could feel comfortable writing that kind of book. And Dill just took over. I’d throw him into a situation without a clue of how he’d get himself out of it. I’d end chapters on cliffhangers and a friend of mine would ask, “How’s he gonna get out of that?!” I’d say, “I dunno, I’ll let Dill figure it out.”
There’s a moment late into The Dame was a Tad Polish where I needed to get Dill from Point A to Point B. Except I didn’t know how to get him there. As I was writing the scene, Dill suddenly did something totally unexpected. I sat there in Starbucks, stared at the screen, and suddenly said to him, “What the hell are you doing, Dill!?” Then I stopped and thought, “No, wait. You’re a dick. This works.” And I wrote the rest of the scene (and subsequent chapters) accordingly.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
The mystery. It was my first time writing a murder mystery, so I was reading articles from other writers on how they concocted a murder mystery. Eventually, I got so frustrated, I took a little notebook and started writing question after question after question about the mystery. Who did it? Why them? Why did they do it? Why did they leave or set up the body like that? What’s their end goal for all this? What will they do if this plan falls through? What happens when Dill gets involved? What if they get caught?
Some answers created more questions, so I kept answering those until finally, I had what I thought was a pretty solid mystery. But good lord, it was a slog to get there. I don’t know how the best mystery writers do it on a regular basis.
Well, since we covered the difficult part, what was the easiest thing about writing it?
I guess writing Dill himself. I became very comfortable with him after the first book and I really got a grasp on him. As I mentioned before, I basically free-write, so Dill taking over makes things easy.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
Absolutely, though like my writing (and other things), it’s not very consistent. This year, I’m trying to finally clear out some of my backlog. Any book lover knows what it’s like to have a backlog of unread books. It’s like gamers who have a backlog on Steam. So far this year, I’ve read Robert J Sawyer’s Rollback, Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Restaurant at the End of the Universe (first time reading those, I’m ashamed to say), and Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. I’ve just started reading Quiet by Susan Cain. I’m trying to switch between fiction and non-fiction for each book.
As far as favorites? Too many to list them all, but here are some: Greg Rucka, Neil Gaiman, Robert J Sawyer, Simon R Green, and John Zakour. Green and Zakour, I’ve mentioned before.
You have unique covers for your books. Who designed them?
The City of Smoke & Mirrors’ cover was done by Chris Sheehan, who I found on the Digital Webbing forums. The cover was designed by Sean Ali.
The Dame was a Tad Polish’s cover was drawn by Larry Nadolsky. Its design is actually a parody of the cover for Mickey Spillane’s The Killing Man. The book was designed by Percival Constantine.
It’s been a busy day, and you’ve been hard at work. How do you relax?
Lately, it’s been either spending time with my girlfriend or playing video games. I recently finished The Witcher 3. I also greatly enjoy urban cycling and DDP Yoga. BANG!
Let’s take a look at some of your favorites. What is your favorite book and why?
I think it’d be Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. Its writing is absolutely brilliant how it shows Charlie’s intelligence gradually increasing. And it’s just a really solid story, overall.
A close second is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I remember reading it in high school, which helped me think more about race within society. When I re-read it only a few years ago, I fell in love with the book all over again.
Same basic question: Favorite film and why?
The Shawshank Redemption. I can’t really put my finger on why it’s my favorite, though. The acting is phenomenal, the story is deceptively simple on the surface, and it has one of the best payoffs in film. I never get tired of the big “ah ha!” moment. It has probably my favorite example of poetic justice.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
The same advice one of my oldest and best friends gave me: write. Just write. Don’t think about it. Just write. Even if you think it’s crap, write. Writing crap is better than not writing at all. Don’t be that person that has a great idea, points to their head, and says, “I have it all up here.” Stop thinking about it and WRITE IT.
Ok, so nobody gets out of one of my interviews without a lemur question. It’s traditional, man! With that in mind, if you could see any one of your characters as a lemur, which one would you choose and why?
Screw one of my characters! Why don’t I create a whole new character that’s a mutant lemur? Hell, I just google image searched lemurs and my first thought was making some kind of seedy informant that Dill rustles up sometimes.
Don’t expect him to show up any time, but the idea is my head now and it won’t go away any time soon. Thanks a ton for that. Jerk.
Ha! My pleasure. Giving people incomplete characters is even better than singing a part of a song and haviing it haunt them all day long.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
1) I think I’ll know I’ve made it when someone in a Dilbert Pinkerton cosplay comes up to my table at a convention.
2) If there’s one thing I fear more than anything else, it’s discovering that someone has written Dill slash fanfic. Especially once they start getting weird. You have the obvious ones like Dill/Tony or Dill/Komodo. But some sick bastard will inevitably include Mickey (Tony’s dog) in one of those. Whoever you are, you future sick bastard, I hate you already.
Yeah, I can imagine that would…what? No, I’m not writing that idea in my notebook! That would be wrong.
Nick, thanks for dropping by, man. We gotta do this more often. Next time, we’ll make it a party!
So there you have it, folks! Dig on Nick’s stuff. I’ve added the links below. Just click ’em and enjoy the magic computer linky thing taking you to the cool places.