For a lot of different reasons, I’ve been thinking about inspiration, and where it mashes up with motivation. Like…why do some ideas sit in the back of our heads for years before we start working on them, and why do others just flow out the moment they occur?
I’ve been thinking a lot about my uncle recently, and about Moonset. Moonset comes out in about four months, and I just started working on promo materials and stuff for it, so it’s been on the forefront of my mind. But whenever I think of Moonset, I end up thinking about my uncle. Let me explain.
There was a time, back in 2009 when I had accepted that Witch Eyes wasn’t going to sell. Or at least it wouldn’t sell right then – maybe in a few years or something. I don’t even remember what had spurred on that realization – it was still on submission and hadn’t even been seen by THAT many people. Maybe it was just a moment of weakness or whatever. I don’t know. But the idea stuck. I came to terms with it. I was preparing myself to Move On. This is a thing you have to do sometimes, and I was determined that I was going to be a big boy and start on a new project or something, and life would be good.
In the midst of all this, a line of dialogue popped into my head and latched onto something, the way that ideas sometimes do. It was that way with Witch Eyes when I wrote about Braden being chased through the cemetery by a group of Homecoming Queens, and its still that way with a WIP I haven’t finished, about a girl who steals dreams and hunts Muses.
But anyway, this line of dialogue popped into my head, and it encapsulated everything about a character in a moment for me. A boy was giving a speech, or engaged in some kind of debate, and the words were a struggle. Frustrated, he said, “When they were sixteen, my parents were Romeo and Juliet. In their twenties, they were Bonnie and Clyde. And then they became Rasputin and Elizabeth Bathory. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that.” It was this idea that he was reciting a list of well-known truths, but he didn’t have any way to put them into context as far as what that meant to him. How it affected him. Who that made him.
That was my first moment in Justin’s world. Obviously on some level I was inspired by the Runaways comic – a group of kids come together because their parents are supervillains. It’s not a new idea, for sure, and it’s not even a new idea for me. The characters in Witch Eyes all have to deal with parental issues. But for me, the context was different. These parents were…more. Worse. Darker. They weren’t small town villains or supervillains. They were mass murderers. Terrorists. And they were clearly dead, and their kids were left to pick up the pieces.
I got all that out of one line of dialogue.
Fast forward six months. Witch Eyes sold to Flux, but I still couldn’t get Justin and his evil parents out of my head. So a few weeks before Christmas, I gave myself permission to just sit down and…tell as much of the story as I could. I didn’t really have a plot, I knew a few points I wanted to hit, but all I really had was the characters. Right from the start, I knew exactly who the five kids were, how they fit together and how they clashed.
I started a few hours before midnight on December 10th, 2009. I wrote 5,000 words before bed. And another 5,000 over the course of the 11th. All about these five messed up kids, and the situation they’d gotten themselves into. Literally 10,000 words, in just a little less than 24 hours. At the time, their story was only beginning.
And then I got a phone call. My uncle had died that day. He’d been going through some stuff, but I hadn’t really just how bad it had gotten. That’s how it is sometimes, you know someone is struggling, but you never really UNDERSTAND it. Until it’s too late.
For me, it was almost…fake. I mean, he’d been at Thanksgiving a few weeks before, and he’d helped me pick up and unload a new computer desk to my apartment only a week before. He’d never been in my apartment, so I got to give him the nickle tour, he asked me a lot of questions about my book deal and how I liked my life, just random stuff like that. My book deal was only a few months old at the time, so I basically jumped at any chance to talk about it. And then when he left, he said we’d see each other at Christmas. The usual sort of thing.
There were still two weeks until Christmas, and so my mom had to be wrong, didn’t she? Because he said he’d be there at Christmas. So he couldn’t be dead.
Actually, thinking back to that night, my mom never actually used to the word “dead.” This became a problem a few hours later, but for the time it took me to leave my apartment and head the ten minutes over to my parents’ house, it was the only thing I grabbed onto. Because it’s what you do in a situation like that: you rationalize when you can, for as long as you can. Because it’s easier than the alternative.
One of my sisters had gone out of town for something – either visiting college friends or had gone to a concert or something, I can’t remember. And my mom didn’t want my other sister to be alone while she was gone. So I went to house sit and keep my youngest sister company while my mom drove out to my aunt’s…and did whatever you do in the aftermath of something like this. I spent hours trying to rationalize that since no one had said “he’s dead” that it wasn’t true. That she hadn’t meant to freak me out, and everything was going to be okay.
Only it wasn’t.
I remember being mad at myself. Like…furious. It’s an instinctive response, I think, when you lose someone you love. You blame yourself. At least, I think most people do that, right? “I could have done something/said something/tried something.” But for me, it always felt like it was MORE personal. MORE damaging. Because back in my senior year of high school, my best friend committed suicide. I’d been through this before. There had been warning signs I should have seen then, and now too. Especially now. If anyone should have noticed something, it should have been me, right?
But that’s the thing. I saw what I wanted to see, and didn’t see what I didn’t want to. And I saw what my uncle wanted me to see, which was nothing at all.
The aftermath was particularly horrific, and I think I just spent two weeks in shock. My birthday is four days before Christmas, and it’s one of the first times that it’s ever gone completely unmentioned. There was no Christmas, but there was a family dinner. Everything just…drew to a stop. I helped my parents pack up my uncle’s house and basically his life, and one of the only things I can tell you for sure about the weekend after he died is that when you’re knee-deep in papers and pans, and your dead uncle’s cell phone rings for the first time in days – in a completely silent house when you’re all alone….well yeah, tell me you wouldn’t pee your pants, too. Hands down probably one of the most traumatic things that has ever happened to me.
And then it was January, and the holidays were over and I…had nothing to distract me. And I turned to Moonset. What had started for me as this book about a bunch of kids from a messed up family became the only thing I did for six weeks. I wrote 120k thousand words about Justin’s struggle. Cut half. At one point, the “first day of school” section of the book approached 40 or 50 thousand words. Seriously. It was insane.
I cut it down to 60k, then turned around and added another 40. I did all this in 6 weeks. I even took a week away where I did nothing but play video games just so I could decompress for a few days. I was obsessed, and probably a little unhinged, and I don’t even know where half of it all came from.
It became this book about a family struggle, about how far a makeshift family will go to keep themselves together. It became therapy, because if I could write about these kids trying to keep their family together, while mine was busy falling apart, maybe it would be okay. It was weird, too, because Moonset was actually the first novel I finished after Witch Eyes. I wrote the second book in that series, Demon Eyes, after Moonset. Somewhere along the line after Moonset, I felt like I “got it” a little more, and Demon Eyes was a far, far easier thing to draft. It’s been the easiest book I’ve ever written, and I think that probably had something to do with just how rough Moonset was on me.
So needless to say, Moonset is a book that I have…issues with. But I don’t think the book would have been even a fraction of what it became if I hadn’t gone through some stuff. Every time I’ve gone to edit it, it has become this herculean project that seems like it will never be finished. I am the Greek dude pushing a boulder up a hill, knowing I will never make it to the top.
Every time has been like pulling teeth, because for me the book is wrapped up in all this weird headspace. I had a friend edit like…fifty pages, and I seriously think I was in tears (which…crying? I don’t typically cry) because of it, because every critique was just so personal. And this is my super warm, super supportive friend. But she now gets major warnings ahead of time just in case she decides to rip out my heart and stomp on it in her bright green Wellies.
And yet when my editor came in with some big ideas, it almost became clinical. Because it was a real book, and this was a real process, and there was no time for emotions. Even though there was a breakdown or two behind the scenes (and many, MANY panicked emails about deadlines). Seriously. I still have deadline nightmares.
Still, I can look at it and even ten or twenty years down the road, I will know exactly what I was thinking and feeling when I wrote that first draft. Even though the final version has whole sections that are brand, spanking new and were never even a glimmer in my eye until my editor very wisely made some points about the direction.
I’m writing this post out at the desk my uncle helped me carry into my apartment three years ago. It’s a little dented, there are a lot of scuff marks, but it’s still my desk, and I wouldn’t change that for anything.
I started Moonset three years ago today. That’s so weird.