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Writing Tip: Motivation


Lugh

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Motivation. What makes a writer start writing and keep at it day after day? I asked Mark to write something for the blog, and that was the topic he chose. So, let's all take a peek inside Mark's head and see what he thinks...

Chronicles of Chronicles: How I wrote “Chronicles of An Academic Predator”

I’ve learned that when someone really hot, really charming, really bitchy, and/or really sinister asks you to do something, it’s usually a good idea to agree, especially if they have all of those traits. That’s why when Lugh asked me to write something for the newsletter, I agreed rather quickly. The big question on my mind was what to write about. I think that writing is a very personal thing, and that everyone has their own method and style. All I can really do is talk about how I got started, and what prompted me to start writing fiction.

My first fictional story was “Chronicles of an Academic Predator,” which was published here in e-fiction back in September of 2008. I was thinking back to how that story started, and it really did entail quite a few coincidental events.

The first and most important thing in the development of “Chronicles” was having a good support network. In those early days, there were two people who really coached me along. The first was Sharon. I’d known Sharon for quite a while, since we all made the big pilgrimage to GA back in 2005, following that gay writing genius, Domluka, to his new home. I was lucky to have the premiere editor as a friend, so I could impose upon her to read my efforts. Anyway, I had this idea for a story, knocked out a few chapters, and sent them to her for her feedback. She told me they didn’t suck, fixed my grammar and spelling errors, gave me some pointed advice, and suggested that I post them on e-fiction.

The other player here was Adam Phillips. Adam and I have been e-friends for an e-ternity, having first met at John Walsh’s Fraternity Memoirs group. Adam is one of the smartest guys I know, and I knew that I couldn’t post a story until I got his feedback. He wasn’t nearly as pleasant as Sharon; he didn’t pull any punches, because, as he said it, we’d been friends too long. He pointed out that my characters weren’t resonating, that I wasn’t making them live, that they weren’t really all that likable. It was wonderful advice, and I learned something about myself as a writer. I learned that if I was going to write realistic characters, I had to find them attractive in some way, and I had to really be willing to dive into their brains. Without his candid feedback, “Chronicles” would have been crap.

While I was lucky to have that kind of support to start out with, as I started writing I got a lot more feedback, and developed a team of people to help me out. How did that happen? It was actually pretty easy. I’d be writing about a place, or an era, that was interesting to someone, and if I needed their help and they were willing to volunteer the time, I pulled them into the team. So in addition to Sharon and Adam, I’ve got a guy on the team that’s a medical doctor (for all those soap-opera illnesses I use), a guy who’s great at details and keeps my stories consistent, a guy who knows about damn near every kind of kinky sex trick out there (no, that’s not Jeremy), a guy who handles the music and makes sure my language isn’t anachronistic (that’s Jeremy), and a man of the cloth, among others. There are also other people who are willing to devote some time and energy to helping me with specific topics. For example, there’s one lady who’s a figure skating expert, and has been helping me timeline a career for one of my characters, and another young man who recently graduated from the private school I sent some of my characters to. I’ve even got a couple of guys who are Hollywood insiders who can give me pointers on that world. It’s been an awesome experience!

While it’s vital to have those kinds of people around, before I gave them anything to do, I had to have an idea, an inspiration, and I actually had to write something. When I think about my inspiration for “Chronicles”, I just about laugh my ass off. It was the movie “Hairspray”. A gay/bi story inspired by a musical: how cliché is that? Maybe it is, but I watched that movie a few times, and was really stunned at how far the United States had come as a nation regarding race relations. It wasn’t so long ago that African-Americans were being referred to as “Negroes” or “Coloreds” (or worse), and segregation was the norm. I liked the era, especially the cars and the music, so it seemed like an ideal setting for a story.

Then I had to decide on a main character, and that’s when I started to develop JP Crampton. My inspiration for JP was actually at GA. I loved Quinn in Domluka’s “The Ordinary Us”, and decided that I wanted someone who was more introverted and quirky. I don’t think JP ended up being much like Quinn, but he is definitely quirky. Where did I get the last name: Crampton? I got that from a type of railroad engine (The Crampton locomotive). Any of you who have ever played Sid Meier’s Railroad games on the computer should recognize that one. Another big question was what kind of background he should come from, and more specifically, should he be rich or poor? That was actually pretty easy for me to decide. I needed to have a point of reference with him, so I tapped into a line on my family tree for a model, and decided that he should come from an upstanding family in a small Midwestern city. There were several advantages for me to take that approach. First of all, while I didn’t live that life I was close enough to it to be able to accurately describe it. More importantly, though, by having him be a wealthy man, it gave me a lot more flexibility to bring in historical references, especially fashions, trends, and cars. I mean, it’s hard to write a story about a poor guy and talk about the engine options for a ’63 Corvette Stingray. And finally, I wanted to be able to write more about him and his internal struggles with his homosexuality, and less about his external struggles, trying to make ends meet.

Another consideration was point of view: I had to decide on whether to write the story in first or third person. Some people advocate third person as really the only real format, and that first person is somehow of a lower quality. I disagree with them. I think that if you really want to dive into a mind, and to try to effectively show how a character is thinking and feeling, then first person is a great way to go. And since that’s what I was planning to do, that’s what I went with.

The final piece of the puzzle was the story itself. That actually turned out to be the easiest part of all. I started writing the story, and after the first few chapters, it really wrote itself. It was originally supposed to be this rather twisted story of a college professor who uses his position to seduce unsuspecting but subsequently willing college guys. That idea lasted for about two chapters. After that, the character (JP) took over. I found that I just had to jump into his mind and let him take me for a ride in his world. The challenge for me was finding and throwing interesting challenges at him, and then figuring out how he’d handle them. Since I was writing an historical story, that dovetailed perfectly with my strategy. I could pick period events and tailor them to happen to JP, and thus bring them into the story. Civil rights, the Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassination, all of those historical events make for a great story line.

From that ill-planned beginning, the story spawned sequels, and has become GA’s longest serial, and currently comprises 11 completed and one current story with a total of almost 2,500,000 words.

Thank you Mark!

So, as usual, if you have an idea for a writing tip please feel free to send it in and we will see what comes up.

Happy reading, writing, and reviewing!

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Really enjoyed the piece. I especially liked the bits about the character-driven story and the first person view; they make for more intimate affairs. Two thumbs up!

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I enjoyed this a lot. I concur completely about first person narrative. thats why i love to use it when i can :) great piece !

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I joined Mark's Yahoo group in February 2009 and read through all of CAP that was posted at that time and from there learned of GA which led me to join here. Thank heavens! While Mark makes it look easy, I will attest that his characters do sometimes write themselves and take him places from which he has to figure out what and where to go next. So far, they have only slowed him down on ocassion. He is truly a 'manic poster' and my favorite author here.

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Thanks for the nice comments everyone! It was more of a stream of consciousness thing, but cleaned up considerably by Sharon.

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I got involved with Mark's writing team when I was but a wee lad of 22, in August of 2008. Mark had posted the second chapter of CAP, and in it, JP had plans to take Peter Gordon to run from the law, and hit the Delaware beaches. The only problem was, the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 would have just passed through the area, and it completely tore up the Northeast Coast. I emailed Mark about that, he decided to incorporate the storm into the story, and it's been a blast ever since.

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herm... I've suggested in the past that this saga end with a nuclear explosion... I guess that wouldn't be historically accurate either. Guess I'll have to think of something just as fatal but not as inaccurate. SARS? Swine Flu? Mass hallucination and suicide Jones style? sighs... write something new? I'm soo going to get stoned for this.

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herm... I've suggested in the past that this saga end with a nuclear explosion... I guess that wouldn't be historically accurate either. Guess I'll have to think of something just as fatal but not as inaccurate. SARS? Swine Flu? Mass hallucination and suicide Jones style? sighs... write something new? I'm soo going to get stoned for this.

Bah, you and arbour have this love-hate relationship, that really doesnt fool anyone - we all realise its more of a "lets-go-out-to-the-woods-and-rut" relationship :rolleyes:
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I found CAP in Nifty so far back I can't remember. At first I was drawn to the story because of the kinky title and it was based in Ohio in which I lived for 8 years. The title bothered me because I didn't really see JP as a predator. I think one of the things that draws the reader to the saga is that almost all the characters are damaged,. They are not perfect. Maybe the only one who isn't damaged is Jack. Rape, abuse, death, rejection, AIDS and more all have made them stronger, better, more human. Even if you don't like Brad or JP you can't help but feel their pain and hopefully share in their joy. I like what Mark said about getting into the head of the character and letting them write the story. It has served him well, very well.

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This was a great "tip", because it made me think. This will probably make me more aware of my characters and what I find in them that makes me want to write about them. It's great to hear how others work and the fact that they have a support team.

 

It also made me want to read CAP (shame on me for not having read it, but then I haven't read much in here. It's now going on top of my list of things to do).

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herm... I've suggested in the past that this saga end with a nuclear explosion... I guess that wouldn't be historically accurate either. Guess I'll have to think of something just as fatal but not as inaccurate. SARS? Swine Flu? Mass hallucination and suicide Jones style? sighs... write something new? I'm soo going to get stoned for this.

 

Bah, you and arbour have this love-hate relationship, that really doesnt fool anyone - we all realise its more of a "lets-go-out-to-the-woods-and-rut" relationship :rolleyes:

 

Yep.

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