Sunday, April 17, 2011

Where Ideas Come From/Coercion Update

I get asked this a lot (as I'm sure a great many writers do): Where do you get those crazy ideas? And for the most part they just come to me.

Many of the ideas that come to me that I end up formulating into books or the occasional short story tend to come out of the ether. The idea will start with something I've seen, heard, read, or just come straight out of that spot where the subconscious works. I'll let the idea fester and grow and I'll start to see possibilities of what is to come and who might be involved and why. Much of this is vague and sort of like a bunch of figures coming out of the fog during a battle.

Ideas come along all the time. Many of them are bad, but they still come all the same. Some are good, but not good enough for me to throw down everything that I'm working on to start work on that. I try to resist the temptation for a couple of days and wait to see if the idea in my head formulates into something cogent and tangible before moving forward. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.

Coercion, which started in July of 2010 as a different kind of story altogether, was originally a first-person narrative. I started with a nameless, faceless cop investigating a murder that he himself committed and sort of working damage control. The idea was there, but it felt incomplete and awkward and then I found the answer, which was in the dead body itself. For some reason, the victim seemed interesting on his own even though I only had a few sketchy details about him. So I took the basic genesis of my idea, which by mid-August was around 120 pages, threw out the old pages, and started over with a structure and a formula in mind. The basic building blocks of the story: The chapters, the themes, the narrative arc, and the characters were all in place and fused together faster than normal. It took nine weeks of writing and another two or so of editing (final post-production edits are in the process right now, but it's mostly minor detail work at this point) to complete the manuscript, which is what I plan to release.

As for Coercion, I planned to release the book on April 25 via smashwords, but my determination to get a decent cover has me thinking the first week of May might be more reasonable. So I'm going to wait and get the basic details correct before moving forward.

Coming up with ideas happens for a lot of people, I think. Most of them don't know what to do with them or they just dismiss them as ridiculous flights of fancy. Maybe they are, but for writers they tend to fascinate and compel us to move forward. It's hard, grueling work, but the real writers already know that when they decided to play the game in the first place.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

To Outline or Not to Outline...

...That is one of the constant questions writers (including yours truly) am constantly peppered with. I have done both in my time and have found, without question, the results to be more satisfying when I don't plan ahead and write copious amounts of notes about what might happen.

My reasons for this stem from the idea that since I write stories that are fueled by some kind of mystery or a MacGuffin somewhere in the novel it's much more fun if even I don't know what's going to happen. If I'm not sure what'll happen 20, 30 pages down the road, then it is a safe bet that the reader will have an equally hard time. The situation isn't perfect and it can lead the writer down unnecessary and irrelevant tangents, particularly early in the book, but at least the act is spontaneous and fun.

I also don't like outlines because I end up doing something different in the end anyways. Writing is more of a subconscious thing and when I tell the story I download the images and words I hear and see in that part of my head and put them on the page. In my experience, I get the feeling that I'm "trying too hard" to stick to some arbitrary idea instead of letting the story take me for a ride. I love that feeling when I'm reading a great book and I want to replicate the experience whenever possible.

Can you be a good writer and outline? Sure. James Ellroy, one of my favorite crime novelists, writes outlines that are hundreds of pages long for some of his books. He's made it work. In general, though, the authors I read and admire are ones who work from instinct and from the gut rather than some outline that's "supposed" to give them a great story. If you have faith in your skills as a writer and communicator, then the story you really want to tell will come out naturally without the need for something like an outline.

Friday, April 8, 2011

First Post


I am C.R. Jakes. I am a crime novelist and I will be publishing my first book before May 1. My book is called Coercion and it is, in short, about a corrupt homicide detective and a low-rent Russian gangster trying to keep their heads above water when a double homicide and an upcoming heist threaten to blow both of them out of the water. The story takes place in a fictional Illinois suburb called Oak Villa. Figured creating my own little world was easier than dealing with the so-called "real" world, though many of the surrounding neighborhoods and communities around Oak Villa are very real.

I might publish the first chapter for everyone to read here, but I'm sure that won't be necessary as most of the big-time e-publishers allow you to read a small sample to try and entice you to buy. I will likely be using Smashwords as my publisher since they have connections to the Nook, Kindle, Sony E-reader, and most everything else that people will likely be using for their reading pleasure.

Coercion itself is 99.5% finished. It does need a final polish in a few spots and it also needs a cover. The latter is harder than the former since I am incapable of drawing a straight line. Sad, I know. Nonetheless, it will be ready before May Day and further details will follow.

My blog will not just focus on updates, but on general things in the literary world and sometimes out of it.