Authors discuss their writing techniques.
Hi, I’m Mark O’Bannon. Welcome to this rare look into the secrets of storytelling from published authors. Today, I’m joined by, Jason Brock, the writer of the documentary film, Charles Beaumont: The Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man, as well as numerous anthologies, graphic novels and novellas.
Life as a Writer
How did you get into writing?
I was always a strong reader, even though I suffer from dyslexia. In fact, I completed reading at the 12th grade level in the 3rd grade! I remember writing stories as a kid, and poetry. My father, James Brock, was a professional writer, artist, and designer, and we would sometimes collaborate on little pieces.
I am an artist/designer, too, and I was drawing, painting, and sculpting from an even earlier age. There are many people that start as artists and go into writing – Ray Bradbury, Greg Bear, Clive Barker, Dan O’Bannon, William F. Nolan. . . Seems a natural progression and augmentation of the creative impulse, and the desire to reach others with your ideas, thoughts, and philosophies.
When did you first realize that you have what it takes to be a writer?
When one of my Junior High School teachers cried over something I wrote; later, another said that I would become a professional writer. Of course, one of my college art professors said the same thing about my artwork!
Another time was when a woman wrote to me about a poem I wrote (“Murder”) and said that it had helped her through a rough time, as she’d had a relative recently murdered. She thanked me for the poem, which was pretty stunning.
Where do you get your ideas from?
My ideas are usually psychological, complex, and character-driven. It’s hard to say. . . I suppose a lot of them are part of me, but also they come from current events, especially medicine and technology. I read very little fiction, and when I do, it’s usually classics, or older stuff, though I do have to read some fiction as an editor for various projects.
How do you develop your ideas into a story?
It takes me a long time to germinate my stories, and I do massive amounts of research when I write them. I am a chronic rewriter, and have literally done twenty or thirty drafts of some of them to get the correct tone, idea, and so on to my satisfaction. All writing is rewriting, and I am a ruthless editor. That stated, I have huge arsenal of story concepts and half-written ideas. Once I get to the actual execution of writing, I can pound it out very quickly, even if it’s rather involved, or has multiple layers.
I also like to stretch myself with regard to form; many of my stories have an experimental quality, and I have some peculiar things that are inherent to my style that I won’t list here, as it’s rather dull, but I have them to challenge myself and to keep things interesting for me. Probably a carryover from my poetry background. I like my stories to span a wide gamut, and I see no value in writing the same tale over and over without something to say or reveal. Subtext and ideology are important aspects of my work; I want to share my worldview, and communicate what is important to me, but never in a boring or gimmicky fashion. I also feel that riding trends or imitating other authors is debasing and valueless.
What kind of stories do you enjoy working with?
I enjoy all types, from horror, to science fiction, to fables, to poetry.
What genres would you like to explore in the future?
Any and all. I enjoy writing comics and screenplays, too, and have done so quite a bit.
Do you work from an outline?
In a way. I use more of an index card setup for novels, and extensive notes, scraps, and so on for short stories or poetry. It’s very loose, though, and more just for plotting. I approach my nonfiction exactly like I do stories. I usually start in longhand, then jump to computer – I think it’s a holdover from drawing; I like to feel that tactile, physical connection to the paper. Also, I doodle.
How do you build your story?
Painfully! I have to be invested, or it won’t be good. I let the tale dictate character, point-of-view, and setting. I do like to be surprised by what unfolds in a story, so I don’t like to over-think any one aspect, especially in the early stages. I don’t believe in having everything be too “beginning, middle, end” as it can be repetitive. I love to play with unreliable narrator, or cut up the linearity of a story.
I am a filmmaker, musician, and songwriter, so I like to bring certain things from other disciplines – whether art, music, or cinema – to bear when creating a story. My work can be intensely character-bound, but some stories have been described as “cinematic” and I feel that stems from my interest in other fields. It helps to bring a fresh viewpoint or working perspective to a piece. What I mean is that I might write something, then decide to use another character’s POV instead of the one I had been using, or do something unexpected to the character, sometimes even unpleasant. I like to confound a reader’s expectations to a degree, I suppose.
For you, what makes a great hero?
Conflict, and whether they are up to the task before them. Sometimes they aren’t and the “hero” dies, just like real life. I don’t like neat resolutions, and prefer to disturb a reader, or at least to get them thinking.
If one of your characters were to describe you, what would he/she say?
That I am fair and easygoing, but intense. And organized.
How much time do you spend researching the setting for your stories?
Vast amounts. It makes everything more real. I like world building to a limited degree.
What settings would you like to explore in the future?
“Off world” more, but realistically.
Do you like to know the purpose of your story before you sit down to write it?
Always. I am not a “it’s just a cool idea” type of writer. I have to have something to say.
Do you have any favorite lines from your stories?
Usually the openers, as I believe in setting the hook early and hard. Nothing pops to mind, but it would likely be an opening line.
Do you have a routine? A certain place to write? Do you listen to music?
I write every day for the most part. I have no “set” word count, but strive to at least knock out one or two thousand a day between other commitments. I write in my office at home, and on the road when travelling. I always listen to an enormous variety of music, am surrounded by my herps (three lizards and four tortoises), and sit right beside my wife, Sunni.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I approach that with the “who, how, when, where, what” mindset, but I add “why” to it. . . and I get stimulation from research, and sometimes word association. Or I go do something else. I dream stories on a regular basis, and keep a notepad on my nightstand. I also like this these self-questioning prompts: “What if?,” “If only. . .,” “If this goes on. . .”.
How do you go about fixing a story?
I work on keeping the characters real, and subtly enhancing the dialogue, engaging the senses more fully. I also double-check any plot flaws or dodgy motivations. It also needs to have emotion, and a certain rhythm, a certain amount of poetry in the actual verbiage. I try to kep excessive description to a minimum. I buy into the whole “unity of effect” idea, so a story sets the terms on how it will come out to a degree. Best to keep the mind open until the polishing stages.
How do you know when to stop?
When I detect that I’ve said all that there is to say. It’s a feel more than anything.
Words of Advice
What words of advice would you give to new writers?
Regarding horror, keep the supernatural elements vague, and limit unusual ideas to one per short story. Avoid clichés, stock characters, and excessive wordage. Drop the tropes and create something you like. If you like it, even if it’s unconventional, there’s a high likelihood that others will, too. Watch the gore and torture – it’s repellent, not frightening.
Regarding S-F, make your science believable and your characters sympathetic.
Regarding publishing in general, get a good editor, preferably several. Learn to appreciate the craft of writing, and develop a taste for the editing process, as well as the stomach for it. Read a lot, and widely. Read nonfiction, poetry, classics, scripts, and have a life. Use fewer words more effectively, and don’t venerate other creators. You are competing only with your own work. Do the very best you are capable of, and don’t rush things. Hold off on print-on-demand or e-book, and try to get published in as many markets – paying or not – as you can. Preferably print, but also online. Also, go to some conventions and network, but use caution with online networking – don’t over promote your stuff, as that gets tiresome rather quickly. Don’t chase the market. Edit at least one anthology, you’ll learn a lot.
Remember this axiom – A novel must hook the reader in the first paragraph, a short story in the first sentence, and a poem in the first word. In other words don’t take forever to build up, as editors will stop reading. It’s a fact. Deal with facts, not beliefs.
Show your readers something new, something interesting.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
Hard to pick a favorite. Many of my poems, a few stories, some nonfiction.
What are you working on now?
Finishing my first novel, and prepping for its follow up. The next anthology, called “A Darke Phantastique,” getting [NameL3ss] magazine off the ground, a few comic book things, getting our next film edited with my wife, and some music stuff. I have about eight books in the hopper, and many short fiction promises to complete. Lots coming out in 2013, including sundry anthology appearances, and my first short story collection from Hippocampus Press, titled Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities.
About the Author
Jason V Brock has been widely published in magazines, comics, and anthologies such as Butcher Knives & Body Counts; Calliope; The Weird Fiction Review; Black Wings II; Like Water for Quarks; Fangoria and other venues. He is currently finishing several novels.
Brock served as coeditor/contributor to the award-winning Cycatrix Press anthology The Bleeding Edge: Dark Barriers, Dark Frontiers with William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run). Brock and Nolan also teamed for the follow-up anthology, The Devil’s Coattails: More Dispatches from the Dark Frontier.
Brock’s films include the highly regarded documentaries Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man; The AckerMonster Chronicles! (about legendary agent and editor Forrest J Ackerman), and the forthcoming Image, Reflection, Shadow: Artists of the Fantastic.
A health nut and gadget freak, he lives in the Portland, OR area, and loves his wife Sunni, their family of reptiles/amphibians, and practicing vegan/vegetarianism. Visit his website at http://www.JaSunni.com
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