Ancient Enemy Series Book 1
by Mark Lukens Genre: Horror
Ancient Enemy - it wants things . . . you have to give it what it wants.
Seven hundred years ago the Anasazi people built massive cities in what is now the southwestern United States . . . and then they vanished.
Stella, an archaeologist specializing in Anasazi culture, and David, a mysterious Navajo boy, are on the run from something terrifying. As they flee up into the snowy mountains of Colorado, they are carjacked by criminals escaping a botched bank robbery. Caught in a blizzard, they must take refuge in what they believe is an abandoned cabin. It's at this cabin where they will face horrors beyond their imagination.
After a rancher finds ten mutilated bodies at a dig site on the Navajo Reservation, both Captain Begay of the Navajo Tribal Police and Special Agent Palmer of the FBI become involved ... but the case leads Palmer back up to Colorado where five more mutilated bodies and Stella's vehicle have been discovered at a burning cabin.
Cole, Stella, and David escape the cabin on a snowmobile, heading south to get David back down to the Navajo lands. Now that Stella believes that David is a natural-born shaman, she knows that their only hope of David ever defeating the Ancient Enemy is to find a reclusive shaman named Joe Blackhorn who can help train David.
But with Agent Palmer and Captain Begay hot on their trail, Cole and Stella must find Joe Blackhorn and the secrets he possesses before the Ancient Enemy destroys them all.
In 1891, in the badlands of northern Arizona, Jed Cartwright, a bounty hunter and U.S. Marshal, transports a dangerous prisoner back to the town of Smith Junction. As they travel through the woods, they are attacked by what they believe are skinwalkers.
As Jed flees the woods, he finds a house where a family has been slaughtered - the only survivor is an eight-year-old Navajo boy, a boy traumatized by the horrors he has seen.
As Jed and the Navajo boy make their way north to Smith Junction, a sudden sandstorm diverts them to the small town of Hope's End. They take refuge from the storm in the saloon with some of the townspeople. But hours later, when the storm is over, they discover what has happened to the rest of the people in Hope's End . . . and the terror is only beginning, everything leading up to a shocking twist at the end.
It has been seven years since David sent the Ancient Enemy back to its world in the ghost town that was once the town of Hope's End.
Cole and Stella have lived in Costa Rica for the last seven years. They wanted to believe that it was really over . . . but there were always doubts. And when Stella sees a horrifying vision in the jungle, she's certain that the Ancient Enemy has returned.
David, living at his aunt's house in New Mexico, knows the Ancient Enemy is back; he can feel it. And now nightmares about a serial killer possessed by the Ancient Enemy plague him, a killer who will stop at nothing, a killer who is coming for David. With Joe Blackhorn dead now, the only person David can turn to is Begay, the former captain of the Navajo Tribal Police.
Former FBI agent Palmer's nightmares have returned, and when he's called in as a consultant on the recent copycat murders - re-creations of the massacre at the archaeological dig site seven years ago - he knows that the ancient evil is back.
Together, they are drawn into one last stand against the Ancient Enemy . . . but this time the battle will be fought in the Ancient Enemy's world.
Mark Lukens has been writing since the second grade when his teacher called his parents in for a conference because the ghost story he'd written had her a little concerned.
Since then he's had several stories published and four screenplays optioned by producers in Hollywood. One script is in development to be produced. He is the author of many bestselling books including: Ancient Enemy, Darkwind: Ancient Enemy 2, Descendants of Magic, The Summoning, Night Terrors, Sightings, The Exorcist's Apprentice, What Lies Below, Devil's Island, The Darwin Effect, Ghost Town: a novella, and A Dark Collection: 12 Scary Stories. He is a member of The Horror Writers Association.
He grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida. But after many travels and adventures, he settled down near Tampa, Florida with his wonderful wife and son ... and a stray cat they adopted.
WHERE WERE YOU BORN/GREW UP AT?
I was born in New Jersey, but I was only there for six months. We traveled the world when I was young because my dad was in the military. When I was six years old my dad left the military and we moved to Daytona Beach, Florida. I grew up there in a huge trailer park. We didn’t have a lot of money (no cable TV, no VCR, only an old Atari with a handful of games) so there wasn’t a lot to do inside; we were outside with our friends a lot. But we always had books; my parents were both avid readers. I left home when I turned eighteen and moved to Orlando to work construction. I traveled around quite a bit, backpacking across northern Europe when I was nineteen years old, working in mid-town Manhattan hanging wallpaper in the Marriott when I was twenty years old, and working construction jobs in Connecticut and Boston. But no matter where I traveled, I always came back to Florida. Now I live near Tampa with my wonderful and very supportive wife.
HOW DO YOU FIND TIME TO WRITE AS A PARENT?
Finding time to write can be tough enough, but when you’re a parent it can be even tougher. You want to pursue your passion for writing (or do your job if writing is what you do for a living), but you don’t want to take too much time away from your kids—you can’t ever get those years back. Our son is an adult now, married, and lives in his own apartment with his wife, but when he was younger I still tried to find time to write in the evenings and on the weekends. I would even bring a notebook with me in the car, and if my wife had to run into the store I would use those few minutes to jot some things down. With the apps on cell phones now, you could even dictate things you want to write and print them out later. I’ve heard of some authors getting up an hour earlier just to get some writing done before the rest of the family wakes up, or writing an hour or two before bed after everyone else goes to sleep. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and there are always distractions, but it’s a good idea to take an honest look at how you spend your time. How much time do you really spend watching TV or scrolling through social media? If writing is truly your passion, perhaps you can squeeze an hour or two in a day todevote to it. Even two hours is enough time to get a few thousand words done. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s possible. I used to work a sixty hours a week when my son was younger and still living at home, but I still managed to find the time to write on Sundays and an hour here and there. I didn’t get the amount of work done a week then as I do now, but I got something done.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST CONSIDER YOURSELF A WRITER?
I’ve always been a writer because I’ve always loved to write, but I guess I first considered myself a professional writer when I optioned my first screenplay. Even though none of my scripts were ever made into movies (at least not yet), it still gave me a thrill that complete strangers in Hollywood felt that my writing was good enough to be made into a film, and production companies were considering investing huge sums of money on stories that had just popped into my head. After a few years of pursuing my screenwriting dream, my dad and my best friend both told me I should look into self-publishing on Amazon/Kindle. So I did. I’d been working a regular job for years, and by that time my wife and I had saved up some money. I told her that I wanted to quit my job and really pursue writing one hundred percent for the first time in my life. I told her I would give it six months, and if it didn’t work out I could always find another job. Up until that point I felt that I had only been giving my writing part of my time and not taking it seriously, treating it more like a hobby, hoping for a lucky break. It was scary to quit my job and pour everything into my passion, but my wife agreed immediately that I should try it—she knew how much writing meant to me. I turned one of my screenplays, Ancient Enemy, into a novel and put it on Amazon near the end of 2013, and to my surprise it took off in a few months. Complete strangers were buying and reading my book. I felt that same thrill I had when I had optioned those four screenplays, but this was even better—it was finally a dream come true for me.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE MOVIE?
It’s difficult to select a favorite movie without breaking them down into genres: favorite horror movies, or sci-fi movies, or comedies, etc. But if I had to pick only one movie as my favorite, it would be Lonesome Dove (which was actually a mini-series on TV in the late eighties, so I hope that counts). I watched Lonesome Dove when it first came on TV (I believe in 1989). I was mesmerized, and I immediately bought and read the book written by LarryMcMurtry. I’d never been a huge fan of westerns at that time, but Lonesome Dove seemed to be different than a typical western; it was an epic journey and the characters seemed familiar yet larger-than-life at the same time. I’ve seen many great movies over the years, but that one is still my favorite.
WHICH OF YOUR NOVELS CAN YOU IMAGINE BEING MADE INTO A MOVIE?
I can imagine most of my novels being made into movies, and I would be thrilled if any of them ever made it to the screen. I always thought Ancient Enemy would be a really scary movie on the screen, if the special effects were good enough. That novel started out as a screenplay originally and had some interest for a little while, but nothing came of it. Sightings also started out as a screenplay and it was optioned for years, so I think it would transfer well into film. The Exorcist’s Apprentice started out as a treatment (but the studio passed on it at the last moment), and I could still see that as a movie, or even a limited series. I would love to see Devil’s Island made into a movie.
WHAT LITERARY PILGRAMAGES HAVE YOU GONE ON?
I haven’t gone on any literary pilgrimages, but I would love to. I went to Europe when I was nineteen years old, backpacking through Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, France, England, and Scotland. I had a great time, and even though I had spent all of the money I had made up until that time, I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. But if I were to go back now, I would love to add some literary destinations into my travels, especially through England and Scotland (and I would definitely go to Ireland this time). And there are still some fascinating places to see in America. I’ve heard of other authors who have visited famous sites from horror movies (like areas of Georgetown filmed in The Exorcist), and I think that would be really cool.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE ANCIENT ENEMY?
Ancient Enemy was a screenplay at first. I wrote it years ago when I was just beginning to try my hand at screenwriting. I had a drywall business at the time, but I had this idea for a horror movie that I couldn’t get out of my mind. I saw criminals abducting a woman and a mysterious boy during a snowstorm. I could see them taking refuge in what they thought was an abandoned
cabin, not knowing that something terrible had been chasing the woman and the boy. The idea was in my mind for a while, and I might have jotted down a quick outline. I remember that it only took me about two or three days to write the screenplay by hand on notebook paper. I can still see myself writing at the dining room table off of the kitchen. But even though I wrote the first draft quickly, it has gone through years of rewrites and edits into the novel it is now.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM YOU IN THE FUTURE?
I’ve been working on a post-apocalyptic series throughout the year, and I hope to have the first four books available in early 2019. I based this series on a novel I wrote about twenty years ago, but never submitted anywhere or tried to publish. I had always loved the characters in the novel, but not the story. This year (well, really last year), I began to rethink the story, wondering how the characters would react as society collapses and a plague sweeps the planet. That changed the story dramatically, but for the better. I really love working on this series, and although I have set it aside to finish the fourth (and last) book in my Ancient Enemy series, and to complete the second book in The Exorcist’s Apprentice series, I can’t wait to get back to it.
And hopefully I’ll have that second book in The Exorcist’s Apprentice series available somewhere around February or March. I’m working right now on the fifth and sixth book in the post-apocalyptic series, and I’ve got two standalone thrillers that I want to write. Hopefully 2019 will be a very busy publishing year for me.
I’ve also got another series I want to start working on soon; it’s about a woman who is a consultant to the FBI, but she’s no ordinary consultant . . . that’s all I’ll say for now.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE CHARACTERS FROM ANCIENT ENEMY – WHAT MAKE THEM TICK?
I really like Stella, the main character throughout the series. I think she’s a strong woman, but also compassionate. When she meets David, the young Navajo boy, and she realizes that something terrible is after him, she doesn’t hesitate to protect him.
I think Cole, the other main character, is really a good guy at heart even though he’s just robbed a bank with Frank’s crew. But as we find out later, he was only there to help his younger brother (Trevor) pay off a debt to Frank. Of course things don’t go as planned. The bank robber
is botched and they are forced to flee into a snowstorm, carjacking Stella and David for a ride on a lonely mountain road. David is more of a mystery in the first two books, but we find out so much more about him in books three and four.
I also loved how the characters of Begay and Palmer developed throughout the second book, and I loved revisiting them in the last book.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK ANCIENT ENEMY?
When Ancient Enemy was a screenplay, I had a few different titles for it at first. I wasn’t ever truly satisfied with the titles, and later on during a rewrite of the script, I knew I needed a new title. Ancient Enemy deals in part with the disappearance of the Anasazi, a people who lived in the southwestern area of the United States hundreds of years ago. They had built massive cities in those areas, and then, much like the Maya, they seemed to have walked away from those cities, seeming to vanish. The name Anasazi comes from Navajo, and it is usually translated as the Ancient Ones, but a more correct translation would be Ancient Enemy. I always found that fascinating. Were the Anasazi the enemy of the Navajo? Or could it mean that an ancient enemy wiped out that group of people, or drove them away from their cities—some of those cities were built right into the sides of rock cliffs.
Titles can be either easy or difficult for me. Some titles come to me right away. Other times I struggle with a title right up until the end of writing the book. Some of the titles of my books that came easily and right away were: Followed, Sightings, Ghost Town, The Exorcist’s Apprentice, The Darwin Effect, The Vampire Game, Night Terrors, and Devil’s Island. Others, like the above mentioned Ancient Enemy (and the rest of the series), I had a little more trouble with, including my short story collections, What Lies Below, The Summoning, and Descendants of Magic.
WHO DESIGNED YOUR BOOK COVERS?
Half of my book covers were designed by Damonza.com (including the Ancient Enemy series). They do a great job and I highly recommend them. The other covers were pre-designed covers. I bought the artwork and did any enhancements and the lettering myself.
ARE YOUR CHARACTERS BASED ON REAL LIFE PEOPLE OR DID THEY ALL COME ENTIRELY FROM YOUR IMAGINATION?
My characters are almost always figments of my imagination—I can’t think of any that weren’t. I’m sure characteristics from people I’ve known have gone into those characters here and there, but the characters in my books, even the minor ones, are totally fictional, even though they seem alive to me in my mind.
When I start writing a novel or series, I do a quick bio for each main character, just a few paragraphs listing the basics: name, physical description, age, education, religious faith (if applicable), where they’re from, and some of the experiences that have shaped their personalities. I like to keep the bios somewhat malleable, like my outlines, because those characters will change as soon as the writing begins; they will begin taking on a life of their own.
I like to believe I have the reins of my story, and because I do outline before writing, I have a pretty good idea where the story is going, if not exactly how it’s going to get there. But the characters, and the story itself, begins to change as I write the first draft, the characters coming alive and doing things that sometimes surprise me. And sometimes, because of choices characters make, the story can have twists and turns that I didn’t expect. My ultimate goal and wish is that the reader gets lost in my stories and books.
HAVE YOU WRITTEN ANY BOOKS THAT AREN’T PUBLISHED?
I’ve got four books (and a fifth that I’m halfway finished with) in my upcoming post-apocalyptic series that I’m working on. The first four are pretty much waiting for a final read-through from me and the beta readers before I publish them. The reason I’ve waited to release them is because this series will be a continuing epic that would really have to be read in order, and I wanted to make sure details in the fourth and fifth book were consistent with the first three books. I’m really excited about this series, but I’ve put it on hold to finish the fourth book in my Ancient Enemy series and the next book in The Exorcist’s Apprentice series. But I can’t wait to get back to it.
I’ve also written the first book in a trilogy with a good friend of mine. This is a sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel, so it’s a deviation for me from the horror and thrillers that I usually write. But I’m still proud of that first book and I’m really happy with it. But I don’t want to
release it until we have finished the second book and started the third. My friend is extremely busy and we just haven’t gotten around to working on the second book yet.
I also have some screenplays that I wrote years ago, and I would love to turn three of the dramas into novels. Again, this is a deviation from the horror and thrillers that I usually write, so I may release those novels (whenever I get to them) under a pen name.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TEN FAVORITE AUTHORS AND BOOKS?
I love top 10 lists, and I put out a list on my blog every Halloween. But to narrow down my favorite authors and books to just the top ten is really difficult. But I’ll give it a try.
First, I must say that even though I write primarily horrors and thrillers, I read a wide variety of genres, so these lists below will be somewhat eclectic. Also, I’m not saying that my list of books are the greatest books ever written (that would be an entirely different list), but books that are favorites of mine. Also, the list of books would probably constitute books that have been really influential to me and my writing.
So, in no particular order:
MY TOP TEN FAVORITE AUTHORS:
Arthur C. Clarke
MY TOP TEN FAVORITE BOOKS:
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Christine by Stephen King
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Swan Song by Robert McCammon
Travels by Michael Crichton
Strangers by Dean Koontz
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
A Treasury of American Horror Stories (an anthology)
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING?
As my bio states: I’ve been writing since the second grade. But I may have tried to write stories even before that. But I remember the first time I knew I really wanted to be a writer. I was about ten or eleven years old, and I read a book of sci-fi stories from the bookshelf in the living room (both my mom and dad always loved reading sci-fi fiction). It was called 18 Greatest Science Fiction Stories. The stories were mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, but I discovered authors in that collection like Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. I tried to find everything by Ray Bradbury, and soon I was writing stories that were poor imitations of Bradbury’s stories.
When I was fourteen years old, a friend told me about a book he was reading called The Stand by some guy named Stephen King. I went to the small public library across the street from our trailer park (the library has since moved and is now huge) to look for the book. I didn’t find The Stand, but I found a few other books by Stephen King. I looked over the few books they had, trying to decide which one I wanted to read. I read the description of Christine; it was about a haunted car. I loved muscle cars, so a haunted muscle car—how cool was that? I checked the book out and took it home. I was hooked. I couldn’t stop reading it. I hadn’t really read much horror up until then, but I knew at that moment that this was the kind of stories I wanted to write. I checked out every Stephen King book at that small library that they had. I read ‘Salem’s Lot next. Then The Dead Zone. Then Different Seasons. Then Pet Sematary. Eventually I bought a paperback copy of The Stand.
I left home right before I turned eighteen years old to work construction in Orlando. I mostly worked construction, and I traveled around a lot in my younger years. When I got older and my son was born, I ran my own drywall business for years. Over the next two decades I was
working a lot, but I was always reading and always writing. I didn’t take my writing too seriously, sending a story out here and there, sending query letters off to publishers and agents every so often. It wasn’t until I was in my late thirties that I decided to get serious about my writing and I began studying the craft of screenwriting. I found some success right away with my screenplays; producers and managers in Hollywood (some of them not so famous then but famous now) requested to read my scripts. A few years later I had a few options and two really close calls with major studios. But the stars didn’t quite align and things fell apart. I was devastated, but then I heard about Amazon/Kindle publishing. I decided to quit my job and turn one of my scripts, Ancient Enemy, into a novel. And I’ve been writing ever since.
WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DO YOU DO BEFORE YOU BEGIN WRITING A BOOK?
Research can be important, and it has been important in some of my books, more for some than others. With the internet, research is so much easier. I did a lot of research for my books Ancient Enemy, The Exorcist’s Apprentice, and Devil’s Island.
Before I begin a first draft of a book, I usually start with a six to ten page outline. If I know I’m going to need to do some research before I even begin writing, then I’ll do it. But often, as I’m writing the first draft, I’ll come across areas and details that I need to research. Sometimes I’ll do a little research then, but usually I just leave myself a note right in the first draft to research something in the subsequent drafts and edits so I don’t slow down the momentum of completing the first draft.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CURRENT PUBLISHING MARKET?
I think self-publishing, or indie publishing as it’s sometimes called (and Amazon/Kindle specifically), has opened a lot of doors for writers. I know some people may still look down on anything self-published, but people should remember that self-publishing is not new, and there have been many success stories from self-publishing recently (Wool, The Martian, and The Shack come to mind immediately). Just because someone wasn’t traditionally published doesn’t mean that their writing or their stories aren’t any good. Traditional publishing is a numbers game, and often luck is involved—the right publisher or agent at the right time. I’m sure publishers and agents have turned down a lot of great works because they can only publish or
represent so many authors at a time. Also, I believe that publishers may be concentrating on the stable of authors they have now rather than taking on a lot of new authors.
I think traditional publishing and printed books will always be around. People have been declaring the death of the book for a long time: First, movies were going to kill the book, then TV, then DVDs, and now self-published e-books. But books and traditional publishing have survived, and I think they will continue to survive. But I think publishing has changed drastically in the last ten to fifteen years. I don’t believe a lot of readers look at who published the e-book before buying or borrowing it. Also, I think many independent authors have chosen to be self-published, and I’ve heard of many authors who used to be traditionally published who are self-published now. I know of some self-published authors who are so successful that they would most likely turn down a publishing deal unless it was a multimillion dollar deal from a large publisher.
DO YOU READ AND IF SO WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE GENRE?
Yes, I still love to read. I think reading, along with a consistent writing schedule, is one of the most important things a writer can do. I still have authors that I love to read, but I’ve also discovered so many new authors on Amazon/Kindle in the last five years. I still read a lot of horror and thrillers, but not as much science fiction as I used to. But what it really comes down to for me is that I love a good story.
DO YOU PREFER TO WRITE IN SILENCE OF WITH NOISE? WHY?
When I’m writing the first draft, I like to have some music on. I mostly write in my office (but sometimes in the living room—I can write just about anywhere) and I’ll listen to the radio, some CDs, or my playlist on Amazon. My taste in music is as eclectic as my tastes in reading, so I listen to all kinds of music.
When I’m editing or rereading drafts, I like to have the music off.
DO YOU WRITE ONE BOOK AT A TIME OR DO YOU HAVE SEVERAL GOING AT A TIME?
I’m always working on several projects at the same time in various stages of development; I’ve always done that. I guess it’s good that I can multitask, but one of the downfalls is that if I get a new idea for another story or a book, I’ll abandon the one I’m working on to start the new one. Also, if I get stuck in a novel I’m working on, it’s too tempting to go work on something else.
In the last few years I’ve learned to be a little more disciplined about keeping to one project at a time and finishing that one up before moving on to something else. Of course if I get an idea for a story or book, or a breakthrough on something else, I’ll jot those notes down or even work on it for that day, but then I like to get back to the main project I’m working on at that time. These days, even if I get stuck on part of the book, or things aren’t coming out exactly like I want them to, I’ve learned to just power through those drafts.
I still find myself going back and forth between projects. It’s a hard habit to break, but I’m getting better about it. But I guess I’ll always work on several projects at a time. I have more ideas than time to write them, but I guess that’s a good thing.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN AUTHOR?
This would be a typical day for me:
I write for a living now so I don’t have a set time to wake up (I had too many years of that), but I try to get up before nine o’clock. The earlier I can get started, the more I seem to get done. I can write at night (or anytime), but I really like writing first thing in the morning. I get out of bed, make some tea, and maybe have a small breakfast, then I go into my office. I do a quick check of my emails to make sure there isn’t something important that I need to respond to, and then I get started on the day’s work. I like to get in at least three to five hours of writing (or rereading, editing, or whatever stage the writing project is in). I don’t really have an actual page count or word count that I adhere to, but I know if I’ve gotten enough work done that day.
I’ll take a break in the afternoon and run any errands I need to run or do a quick workout. I’ll eat a late lunch or early dinner, then I like to go back to work for at least an hour or two in the late afternoon or the evening. If I’m not writing then, I’ll at least work on some marketing or social media stuff. Then I’ll watch some TV with my wife and read a little before going to bed.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR NEW AUTHORS?
I like Stephen King’s advice the best in his book On Writing: Read a lot and write a lot. I think those two things are the foundation for any writer. I think any writer needs to love to read
before he or she can really think about writing their own stories, and if you want to write in a certain genre, then I think it’s important to know and love that genre; I think the readers can tell if you don’t. As for writing a lot, I think every writer should have some kind of consistent writing schedule. It doesn’t have to be every day, or so many hours or pages a day, but I think it’s important not to let too much time slip by without writing. I don’t always write every day; I tend to write more in spurts, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that I’ll get back to writing if I take a day or two off. But it’s also important to remember that writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly so it doesn’t become weak and waste away. A writer writes.
A few other things to keep in mind:
Don’t expect your early stuff to be great (although it may be). You need to get the early books, stories, screenplays, etc. out of you and hone your craft as you go. As you write, year after year, you will get better and better. But the important thing is to keep writing.
Don’t expect your first draft to be perfect—it rarely is. Just get that first draft down on paper so you have something to improve. I get caught in this trap even to this day; I will procrastinate or go back and begin editing the first draft I’m working on if I get stuck on something because I want the first draft to be perfect. But I have to remind myself that it’s not going to be perfect and that I can always go back and change minor things here and there in the subsequent drafts.
Whether you outline or fly by the seat-of-your-pants, you should try to power through your first draft as quickly as possible. If you’re stuck on a word or phrase, just use a placeholder there, anything to keep moving on. I’ll often write notes to myself in my first drafts such as: Look this up, or Research this, or add more detail here, or explain how she got this job, etc. As you go through the second, third, or even tenth draft, you’ll keep improving the story, tweaking it, making it better and better.
Keep learning the craft. I think it’s important for writers, new ones especially, to learn everything they can about the craft of writing. Read books on it, watch videos, read articles, listen to podcasts. And, of course, keep practicing.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD STORY?
I think all good stories are mysteries. We read all stories, no matter what the genre is, to find answers to mysteries or questions. Will the hero survive? Will the main characters fall in
love? Will they save the world? Will her mother discover the secret she’s been hiding? I think a good story sets the reader up with questions that need to be answered and mysteries that need to be solved, compelling them to keep reading.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE?
This is my writing process, but it could be very different with other authors.
For me, it all starts with the idea. An idea will pop into my head and begin to form there, just the glimpse of a story at that moment. Where do ideas come from? That’s hard to say. They can come from a TV show I’m watching, or something I’m reading, or something I see while driving, from dreams (or nightmares), or sometimes they just seem to pop into my mind fully-formed.
I don’t like to act on an idea right away, I like to let it kind of grow a little in my mind until it gets too big to ignore. I’ll jot down some notes about it, maybe a page or two, not really an outline or even a synopsis yet, just the bare essence of the story that’s forming.
If I’m still excited about the idea, then I’ll begin to outline it. My outlines can run anywhere from five to twelve pages. Sometimes they start out simple and grow more complex as I work on them. In my outlines, I just hit the major beats of the story: the beginning or setup, the introduction of the main characters, an inciting incident(s), the characters working towards goals or away from dangers, twists and turns, the ending, and then an epilogue if there is one.
I like to have an outline because it helps me write the first draft faster, and it gives me a rough framework, a trail through the woods to go by. But that doesn’t mean that my outlines are set in stone, and twists and turns, characters, and scenes can all change as I write the first draft. There is something magical that happens when you begin writing, the story just seems to unfold and sometimes it moves in a different direction on its own, and ideas kind of pop into your mind as you write. Even though my outline isn’t set in stone, I still like to have a pretty good idea of the beginning, middle, and end of my story. I know there are writers who can just start writing and see where the story takes them. I wish I could write like that, but I can’t. I’ve written myself into too many corners in the past. So I think my writing is a combination of the two: an outline and seeing where the story takes me.
I like to try to get through the first draft as quickly as possible. I usually try to write my first drafts by hand on notebook paper or in spiral notebooks, but often, about halfway through, I’ll begin typing the first draft as I finish it.
After the first draft is done, I like to set the project aside for a while, usually a few weeks, and work on something else. Then I can come back to the first draft with fresh eyes, and look at some of the things objectively. I’ll find some things in the draft that I loved and I’ll find things I don’t love. So, for me, taking a break between the first and second draft helps a lot.
Now the real work begins: Editing, revising, rereading, writing the next drafts, whatever you want to call it. I’ll usually go over my book at least five to ten times, re-reading and editing, tweaking here and there. When I get to the point that I’m reading it through without changing too much, then I know I’m almost ready.
It’s at this point I like to send the book off to any editors I’m working with and beta readers. I like to have the manuscript as close to publishable at that point. I get their feedback, make any necessary changes, read through it once more, and then I’m ready to publish.
And then it’s on to the next book.
HOW LONG ON AVERAGE DOES IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE A BOOK?
Every book is different. Since I’ve been doing this as a job for the last five years, I’ve discovered that each book is taking less and less time to write. Some books took me longer than others to write. Devil’s Island took me three years to write, and I worked on and published quite a few other books while working on it. Other books like Ancient Enemy and Sightings were quick, but they were also based on my screenplays, so it was like having a very detailed outline to work from. Neither book changed that much from the script.
I would say at this time, that I try to shoot for two to four months to write a book, but I’m always trying to get them done quicker. One way is to work more hours in a day. I try to get anywhere from three to six hours of work done in a day, but it can depend on other things I need to do that day or how I’m feeling. There are days where I just can’t concentrate, or I’m just not feeling it. If I have one of those days, I allow myself a day off or I work on marketing and social media stuff, or work on another project I have in the beginning stages. But I don’t take too much time off, and I’ve been writing long enough that I can trust myself to get back to work in the next few days. One thing I’ve learned over the last five years is that even if I’m stuck or not feelinglike writing, if I just tell myself that I’ll write a few lines or just one page, I’ll find that those few sentences may turn into pages as inspiration comes. Sometimes all it takes is to sit down in the chair and start writing.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN WRITER’S BLOCK?
The dreaded writer’s block. I believe it’s real, and it can happen in some form or another to all writers. I call it getting stuck at some point in the book or story I’m writing. I’ll get stuck at a point, not sure where to go, or how to get from this scene to the next one.
Here are some ways I deal with writer’s block or what I call getting stuck:
I try to just power right through it. Even if what I’m writing doesn’t sound good to me or it isn’t perfect, I’ll just keep powering through it and getting those words down on paper because I know I can go back and make changes later. And, like I’ve said before, sometimes magic happens as you begin writing, and ideas just seem to appear like magic; you get those “ah-ha” moments as you write, and sometimes the problems in the story just seem to work themselves out.
I’ll take some time off and either take a break or work on something else. Sometimes if the block or the part in the story I’m stuck on isn’t working itself out, I’ll just walk away for a little bit. Sometimes I’ll just take that day or the next day off and watch a movie or read a book or exercise, anything to take my mind off of it. But sometimes taking my mind off of it for a while causes an answer to kind of just pop into my consciousness from my subconscious. Or, after I’m rested mentally from the problem, I can go back to it with a fresh pair of eyes.
Talking out the problem with someone else can help sometimes. My favorite sounding board is my wife. I’ll be stuck in a part of the story, or frustrated with something, so I’ll talk it out, and sometimes just talking it out helps organize things in my mind. Also, my wife will offer suggestions.
One trick I’ve learned if I can’t seem to get into writing or I’m stuck, is that I’ll take out some notebook paper and write down what I want to write about. I’ll write something like: In this scene, Billy and Jenny are going to the store when the criminals barge in to rob the place. And then I’ll write down what might happen next and then next, and before I know it I’ve written a page. What I’ve written won’t be perfect, but at least the skeleton of the story is there to work from. I think it’s that magic thing that happens again when you start writing something
down, the creative forces in the mind seem to work differently (to me anyway) when something is written down rather than just thinking about it or daydreaming.
Writer’s block used to plague me more when I was younger, but I use the above techniques now, and they really seem to help.
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