The Next Big Thing … Bla-Bla-Blog

My good friend and fellow writer T.G. Arsenault (Tim-ay!) tagged me in his The Next Big Thing blog, a kind of viral round robin thingy where we get to talk about a current work in progress.  I, in turn, was to tag another five writers to keep it going next Wednesday.  I was only able to dig up three who were interested, had a blog, and haven’t already participated.  Seems this thing is a bit like the flu, it’s making the rounds very quickly, and it seems everyone already got it.

The three suckers who allowed me to tag them are listed below, so be sure to check them out!

Here are my answers to the ten questions.

Q: What is the working title of your book?

A: I have a few irons on the fire right now, but the one that’s closest to being finished is the second book in my new YA Fantasy series, The Phoenix Girls, Book 2 – The Crimson Brand.  That is only a working title.  As I get through the second draft a better one might occur to me.

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?

A: This book is only a smaller part of a larger idea which came to me about half-formed in a moment of epiphany so strong it almost stunned me.  I remember exactly where I was when I had it, a passenger in my wife’s suv, instead of a driver which was usually the case.  Probably a good thing too.  I might have driven us straight off the road.

Where it came from … that’s a question I can’t really answer.  I have no idea where it came from.  I had toyed with the idea of writing something I could let my daughters read, they were younger back then, 14 and 11, and thought YA Fantasy would be a lot of fun.   I wasn’t looking for that kind of story idea though.  It found me, and I was happy to take ownership when it did, but that moment of epiphany wasn’t where the idea was born, just when it presented itself.  I think ideas like that one either come from a lifetime of accumulated experiences, from everything that made me who I am and how I am, or from nowhere at all.

Q: What genre does your book fall under?

A: Young Adult Fantasy, though it has hints of other genres in the story to spice it up.  There’s mystery, adventure, and just a dash of horror.  I also want to point out that I don’t think a good YA story needs to be written down to a certain level or age group.  I certainly wrote it with younger readers in mind, but I won’t insult them by suggesting in either word or deed that a story has to be simplistic or unchallenging for young readers to grasp it.  A good YA story, and I do think my Phoenix Girls stories are good or I wouldn’t be writing them, and certainly not committing myself to an entire series, is just as complex and challenging as its adult oriented counterpart.  Good YA stories are certainly capable of supporting complex characters, relationships, emotions, and ideas, and very capable of engaging adult readers.

Q: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

A: Unfortunately, all of the actors and actresses I can see playing the lead rolls are already too old.  If I could go back a few years and recruit some of my favorites … Bonnie Write as Penny, Saoirse Ronan or Dakota Fanning as Katie, and well, can’t really think of anyone for Zoe.

Q: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A: A young orphaned girls loses everything she has, family, friends, home, and finds them all again in a most extraordinary, and magical, way.

Q: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

A: I will not self-publish.  I flatly refuse to self-publish.  I wouldn’t be able to do it properly for one, and more importantly, if no one is willing to take a chance on it, then maybe it’s not worth taking a chance on.  Luckily that is not the case with The Phoenix Girls.

No agency though.  Agents … just don’t get me started.

Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A: Around a year, though a majority of the 90,000 words were done in a few month of marathon writing.  It was simply the most fun I’ve ever had.  Ever!

Q: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

A: The Harry Potter books (yeah, I flatter myself) and the Narnia books (more flattery) come first to mind.  It’s really not like either of them.  I think The Phoenix Girls is pretty unique.  Or I like to think it is.  You read it and let me know.

Q: Who or What inspired you to write this book?

A: My daughters, and the idea itself.  Once the idea hit me, it was too good not to write.

Q: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

A: Magic, monsters, bullies, and bad guys, and most importantly, I think anyway, sympathetic young protagonists who any young reader, or every reader who remembers some of the difficulties of being young, can relate to and love.

Well, that’s it I suppose.  There’s a lot more I’d like to say about this book, and series, but if I ramble too long, I’m likely to start throwing out spoilers.

Here are the writerly people I suckered into participating.

Trent Zelazny
Mark Allan Gunnells
Tim Marquitz

Adults Should Read Whatever the Hell They Want

“The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading The Hunger Games.”

Joel Stein, a columnist for Time magazine, started a recent article in the New York Times Opinion Page with the above line.  I stopped reading there and spent a few minutes trying to wrap my brain around that statement, trying to find a way to relate to Stein’s point of view.  When I couldn’t, I read on, thinking that perhaps he was engaging in a bit of satire, expressing a personal prejudice against a certain kind of fiction in a manner meant to elicit chuckles.  The next 269 words in his article, Adults Should Read Adult Books, disabused me of that notion.  He was dead serious.

Stein goes on to equate reading primers like Hornton Hatches the Egg with works like Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games, while admitting to not having read them.  I’ve dipped into Twilight, just to see what all the excitement was about and found it wasn’t my cup of tea.  Same with The Hunger Games.  I enjoyed Harry Potter quite a lot and feel no shame.  Stephen King, recipient of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and about a thousand other awards, an accomplished wordsmith in his own right one might say, said of the Harry Potter novels “Jo Rowling set out a sumptuous seven-course meal, carefully prepared, beautifully cooked, and lovingly served out.”  I couldn’t have said it any better, so I won’t try.

Mr. Stein is undoubtedly an accomplished writer and all-around smart guy.  Very well educated as well, I would venture to say.  Probably well-respected to boot, Time Magazine and The New York Times don’t publish morons.  His snide and simplistic characterizations in Adults Should Read Adult Books make him sound like a pretentious and narrow-minded jackass.

Adults should read whatever the hell they want.  As long as they read.  Read Charles Grant, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, Jeff Lindsay, Charles Dickens or John Steinbeck.  Read modern fiction, genre fiction, classics, or even Hornton Hatches the Egg, if that’s what floats your boat.

Stein says that the only time he’s okay with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads, and that’s just fine, just as long as he doesn’t expect the reading public to base their choices on his good opinion.  It’s not going to happen.

Enjoy your Dochevsky, Mr. Stein.  I’ve got some J.K. Rowling to catch up on.

Brian Knight

Holy Crap!  Regarding Religious Freedom and the Upcoming Elections

I generally don’t like to talk about politics or religion – “Damnit, Jim, I’m a writer, not a political pundit!” – but it seems like we’ve backslid about sixty years in the past few months, especially regarding women’s rights and the idea that the United States of America is not now, nor has ever been, a Christian Nation.  I imagine the 1950s were a wonderful time in some regards.  In others, however, it was not.  Widely accepted and protected racism and sexism are only a few of the social evils we have mostly left behind.

It seems lately that a lot of these old notions have been pulled out of the trash-heap and dusted off.  It seems insane to me, how many people seem eager to erase sixty years of social progress.  When I heard a man who I once liked and respected refer to The President of the United States as – and I apologize for this – “The Niger ‘N’ Chief,” it felt like someone slugged me in the stomach.  I guess I always knew there were people who thought and behaved that way, but it’s a shock to find out how many there are, and how close I am, or in this case used to be, to some of them.

So, here are my two cents, for what they’re worth.

Regarding Religious Freedom and the Upcoming Elections.

National elections have always been a messy business, lots of name calling, finger pointing, and hate of contrary ideas and beliefs manifesting as hate toward the people who hold those contrary ideas and beliefs.  The upcoming election seems, to me at least, to be an especially rancorous one, and most of that ugliness seems centered around political figures presenting themselves as religious leaders to a constituency of THE FAITHFULL.  They betray a sense of entitlement, a GOD GIVEN imperative for THE FAITHFUL to spread THE TRUTH as far and wide as possible, and to turn THE TRUTH into THE LAW whenever they can.

I come from a family of Jehovah’s Witness, and say what you will about that particular sect, they refused to get involved in politics in any way.  All of the ones I knew at least believed they had no business at all getting involved with the political process, which they considered too worldly to participate in, and I was led to believe that was the official position of the JWs.  Maybe that is why the idea of mixing religion and politics seems so ridiculous to me.  Or maybe the notion of turning religious belief into law is just a ridiculous one.

Most religious sects see it as their job to make everyone else behave and think the way they do, and since good old fashioned conversion is plainly not doing the job for them anymore, they have decided they must write their beliefs into law and force us to behave and think as they do.  Kind of like The Taliban did in this little Middle Eastern country some of you may have heard of.  If you think The Taliban is an unfair example, then you need to start paying attention to how some of the Christian extremists behave.  It’s frightening.  If the Hard Religious Right was given free reign in the USA, we would be burning witches and demon worshipers (ie, anyone who doesn’t agree with them) at the stake, and stoning homosexuals, liberals, and atheists to death in town squares for the entertainment of THE FAITHFUL.

They are not fighting for religious freedom.  They already have religious freedom.  They are fighting to create a GOD CENTERED AMERICA, also known as a theocracy.  Google theocracy if you don’t know what it is.  I am referring to the extremists, not the sane majority of religious people, but unfortunately it is the extremists who are making the most noise and putting forth a huge effort to recreate America in their demented image.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

I found the line above in a curious old document called The United States Constitution.  Evidently the fellows who wrote The United States Constitution were so serious about the idea that they included it in The First Amendment.  They didn’t waste any time putting it down on paper.  They wanted it right out front.  And just in case the Founding Fathers didn’t make their opinion of religion mixing with politics clear enough in The First Amendment, I’ll offer the following historical quotes.

“The United States in is no sense founded upon the Christian religion.” – George Washington

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.” – Thomas Jefferson

“In no instance have churches been the guardians of the liberties of the people.” – James Madison

“This could be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it.” – John Adams

“I disbelieve all holy men and holy books.” – Thomas Paine

I know these last two aren’t Founding Fathers, but the quotes are excellent.

“The Bible is not my book, nor Christianity my profession.” – Abraham Lincoln

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” – Susan B. Anthony

We live in a nation, in a world, full of conflicting opinions and ideas, and here in the good old USA you are allowed to hold and express any opinion you want.  That right, granted to you by The First Amendment, extends to your religion.  Worship Yaweh, Allah, Odin, Zeus, the sun, Mother Nature, Justin Beiber, or even The Flying Spaghetti Monster, whatever floats your boat.  You can even – and here’s a radical notion indeed – worship nothing at all!

What The First Amendment does not grant is the power for some backward thinking politician to write his religious beliefs into law.  If said politician feels strongly about a topic, then he/she must find a way to promote his or her position without falling back on the Bible or God.  If they can’t, then he or she is not worthy to promote that idea, or the idea itself is not a worthy one.

Separation of Church and State is not a radical idea, or even a new one.  It’s what will prevent this nation from becoming a theocracy, and if you think a theocratic nation would be a good thing, just imagine what life would be like if it wasn’t your faith or sect in the seat of power.  Then you might discover what religious persecution is all about.

Brian Knight

Maybe Someday I’ll Write a Nice Western

This is a very old blog post I’m recycling, and which is kind of apt now that I’m branching out a bit with crime and YA Fantasy fiction.

I hope you enjoy it.

Brian Knight

Greetings from Lewiston, Idaho, which, despite popular belief, is not the “Potato State,” but the “Gem State.” Have you ever seen a Star Garnet? Most likely not, because the only two places on Earth they are found in India, and the state of Idaho.

Fascinating, no?

The few of you who know a little about me are probably saying “What? I thought he lived in Washington.”

I do live in Washington, in a small city called Clarkston, right on the border with Idaho. In almost all respects, Lewiston and Clarkston are one city, but it’s a divided city, split down the middle by the Snake River, which happens to be the Idaho/Washington border. Clarkston is the poor first half of the city, Lewiston the slightly less poor second half.

Lewiston and Clarkston are named after the explorers Lewis and Clark, and at one time, Lewiston was the capitol of Idaho. Before that though, when the state of Idaho was still part of a huge chunk of land called the Washington Territory, this place’s name was Jawbone Flats.

Fascinating, no?

Well, it is to me. I love local history. There isn’t much of it here, we’ve only been around for a few hundred years, but what history we do have here is colorful.

About a half block from where my mother, a paralegal, works, there is a small city park. There used to be a Boys & Girls Club there, and for at least a few summers, a kick-ass water slide. There also used to be a city swimming pool there. Those are all gone now, the buildings that housed them empty for all I know. The Hanging Tree is still there though.

I discovered The Hanging Tree when I was fourteen or fifteen, after a half day of summer school classes on the Lewis Clark State Collage campus not too far away. A few friends and I had just been chased out of the administration building after we were caught riding on the top of the building’s single elevator. With nothing else to do, we decided to go make some trouble in the nicely shaded park.

The tree had a plaque on it, telling its history, who all had been hanged there.

There’s another hanging tree not too far from where my grandparents live near Pierce, Idaho. Five Chinese men were on there way to trial for the murder of a local merchant who was found hacked into pieces after an argument with them, when a lynch mob liberated them from the Sheriff’s Posse and strung them up.

Lynching used to be all the rage in these parts. Lynching and Indian Massacres.

History is always bloody, and the history of the American West is no exception.

I’ve learned much of the local history I find so fascinating, including the story about a crazy mountain man known as Ridgerunner, from my grandpa and grandma Cole, who are in their own way as much a part of local history as The Hanging Tree only a few miles from their home. We’re even related to the famous old west outlaws Frank and Jesse James.

They are prospectors, loggers, and mill owners from a family of the same. They lived the original American Dream; independence, ownership, and family. Their dream is dead now, or at the very least it’s evolved into a New American Dream; wealth, big houses and fast cars, overindulgence, instant gratification, all served with a sloppy, steaming heap of sex.

The only respect that belongs to the hardworking family man/woman these days is self-respect, and the New American Dream is doing its damndest to kill that too.

Sorry, I strayed a little.

Or did I?

When my grandpa found out I was a writer, a thing I didn’t advertise to most of my family because of what I write, he asked me what I was working on. At that time, I was working on a novel called Feral, so I told him about it.

Have you ever been on a crowded elevator with one of those folks who only baths on February 29th, and who missed their last date with the bar of soap because they forgot to change their calendar? You know the faces the other people make as he cozies up to them, introduces himself, and begins a long, complex story about how the CIA, Forest Service, and Bill Gates are out to get us all?

That was the face my grandpa made when I told him about Feral.

My mom, who has been making that face about my writing since I was in High School, hid a smile behind a hand. My grandma continued to look politely interested, but I could tell it was a struggle.

Finally, grandpa said, “Well, maybe someday you’ll write a nice western.”

It’s a reasonable expectation, I guess. With so much interesting regional history around here to base a story on, and so much interesting family history to tie in with it, it’s probably what he expected I’d write.

I swallowed the first response that came to mind (not bloody likely) and gave him the synopsis for a weird western/horror story that’s been sitting unfinished on my hard drive for a few years now. It included a fictional member of the Cole family and a crazy Frenchman who looks like Alice Cooper and behaves like the Marque De’Sade.

Grandpa was not amused.

These days not bloody likely seems like a foolish attitude to take. Tom Piccirilli and Ed Gorman both write westerns, and Charles Grant writes romance under a pen name (or so I hear). Who am I to argue with them, especially when the mainstream has little or no interest in horror these days? I’ll mention no names, but a well-known author who’s familiar with my work once told me that if I wrote mysteries or thrillers instead of horror, I’d probably have a big fat multi-book deal by now.

I should probably be content with what I do have; a decent paying day job, some small press book deals that help me get through some of the tighter times, and just a modicum of self-respect.

I’m not content with that though. I want a bigger audience, better deals, and to be able to answer the question what do you write? without everyone looking at me like I’m a circus geek. I want to be able to quit my day job, buy a big house, and drive a fast car, instead of an old mini-van with broken door handles, broken power windows, broken air conditioner, broken heater, bad fuel injectors … oh hell, you get the picture.

And sometimes I do get other, non-horror, ideas.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll experiment and try something different, something without maniacs, monsters, or ghosts. Everyone is doing it these days. Genre bending and crossing is all the rage. I certainly have to try something different if I’m ever going to find the New American Dream.

Maybe I’ll write a thriller next, or a romance (what my dad used to call crotch rippers), or a mystery.

Maybe even a nice western.

Brian Knight