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Courtney’s Work-In-Progress Update

The notorious fanged demon bunny

The notorious fanged demon bunny

A Sucker Born Every Minute

When Aaron and I were discussing in what way I would be contributing to this blog, I told him he was allowed to give me one (1) assignment. He acknowledged this, seemed to agree to my terms–and then proceeded to give me assignments numbering two. That’s (2), if you were wondering. If I weren’t a sucker for invitations to (a) share openly about my work and (b) talk up books I enjoy reading, I would have stuck to my guns and picked only one of the two.

But I’m a reader and a writer. I love books, and I derive great satisfaction from acquainting others with these rectangular worlds I so adore. If my recommendation sparks someone’s interest in a certain book, it’s like introducing a new friend to an old friend and seeing them hit it off. And I also love writing. We writers don’t often get the chance to ramble on and on about the people and worlds that exist nowhere but in our own heads. Generally, our fellow writers are the only ones who’re interested…and even they tend to get the glazed-donut-look in their eyes after we’ve monologued for half an hour. Or less. So when Aaron informed me that one of my assignments was to update the world at large about how my current novel is going…you’d better believe I jumped at that chance like a kangaroo at a sock hop.*

But no worries, Gentle Reader. Though I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to tell you about my work-in-progress, I promise not to push you to the donut point. Prudence, thy name is brevity; I shall endeavor to abide by that.

I also promise to keep the ( ) and the … and the — to a minimum. Onward!

The Working Title

Until several days ago, the working title of the work-in-progress was the grammatically incorrect SHADOWS BURNING DARK. Thanks to a Facebook status update, in which I invited friends to compare several titles and vote on their favorites, the working title changed to THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT, which in turn changed to SHADOWS AFTER MIDNIGHT. Working titles are funny things: They can feel rather set-in-stone; they are, in fact, quite susceptible to weather (i.e. the writer’s mood); and, as far as editors are concerned, they are frequently moot. No matter how attached we writers might become to our working titles, we must bow to the authority of marketing departments and editors, who can predict the salability of a particular title far better than we can. ‘Tis a sad state of affairs, but ’tis the reality with which we must deal.

The Work-In-Progress

So, as of now, my working title is SHADOWS AFTER MIDNIGHT (henceforth, SHADOWS, in this post). SHADOWS is a paranormal (young?) adult novel about a demon-hunting college student named Peter. Peter belongs to a supernaturally gifted family that has spent millennia protecting humanity from–you guessed it–demons. His girlfriend, Holly, had a run-in with a demon last year, and now that same demon is back. Peter’s not sure if the demon is after Holly again, or if there’s a new target; either way, he has to get Holly and her friends out of reach as quickly as possible. There’s jealousy drama with his older brother, there’s a cousin who holds a grudge because Peter was responsible for her twin’s death ten years ago, and there’s a demon that manifests both as a horde of zombies and as a cartoon bunny with stiletto fangs. Great fun.

As of this posting, SHADOWS consists of approximately 58,000 words. My guess is that I’ll wrap up the first draft somewhere in the neighborhood of 80k. I’m working from an outline that tells me I’ll have fifteen chapters when I’m finished. So far, eight chapters are complete, four chapters are partially complete, and three chapters consist of nothing more than summary headings. Of the eight completed chapters, three are at the beginning, and two reside somewhere toward the middle. The other three, Chapters 12, 13, and 14, lead up to and contain the novel’s climax. Currently, I’m trying to finish Chapter 14, which involves extricating Our Hero from zombie clutches. And he has to rescue the girl and his brother and his friends. Or maybe the brother rescues him. I’m really not clear on that point yet. Furthermore, I suspect that one of the main players is about to die, but I don’t know who. Will it be the damsel in distress? The heavy metal drummer? The snarky kid sister? Or the Tragic Representative Of Redemption from Book One? (Ah, yes, there’s a Book One. SHADOWS, Gentle Reader, happens to be Book Two. Have I not mentioned that?) And what if I don’t want them to die, but they do anyway?

The Confusion

Such is the beauty of the work-in-progress. You get it all worked out in the outline. You know exactly who’s going to do what, and when, and where, and especially why. And then you start writing the first draft…and if you’re doing your job as a writer, you won’t “keep your feet” (thank you, Bilbo), and your characters will take over your story without so much as a by-your-leave. This is the reason I must doubt the prognosticative powers of my outline. Peter and Holly, the demons and their friends–their ideas are often different from mine. Their voices don’t always sound like what I imagined. They often say things I didn’t expect them to say, and they react to each other in ways I didn’t predict. In this, my first draft, I’m trying to listen to their voices, sort out who’s who, and follow where they lead me.

The most fun is when they take me where I never thought I could go. Where am I bound next? I haven’t a clue…but I’ll keep you posted!

*Kangaroo at a sock hop? Did I actually say that? Oy vey.

(But wait! There’s more! If you click on the link above–and here it is again for good measure–and if you buy a product, This Starving Artist will get a few bucks. Consider it your small contribution to The Arts. ;o)

Photo credit Courtney Cantrell.

10 Responses to “Courtney’s Work-In-Progress Update”

  1. Julie says:

    3 things:

    1. Welcome!

    2. The () and the – are my favorite parts! Limiting them is no fun!

    3. I vote for not killing off the snarky kid sister unless she is annoying like Dawn in Season 6 of Buffy.

  2. Courtney Cantrell says:

    1. Thanks, Julie!

    2. I agree…but in the interest of promoting good writing (which I suspect is the point of this blog), I figured I’d at least make a token attempt to rein in my delight in ( ) and –.

    3. I couldn’t stand Dawn. If a character like her ever ends up in any of my books, you can bet the zombie bunnies will have my full permission–nay, even my *blessing*–to eat her brains at will.

  3. Carlos Velez says:

    Have you ever read John Irving? He redirects and tangents (using that as a verb just cause I wanna) so much that I don’t think the guy has ever had a complete thought in his life. It is almost to the point that his books are unreadable, but it isn’t to that point. His books are amazing. holla!

  4. I meant to comment earlier, but got interrupted. I really only have two things to say: #1) I enjoyed your post and #2) I admire that you are so easilly able to let your characters roam at will and to let their voices speak. I feel for me personally, I am often caught between what my characters WOULD do and forcing them to do what I WANT them to do. It is a weakness I need to work on!

  5. Aaron Pogue says:

    @Rebecca Campbell: I wouldn’t worry about that too much, Becca. It will come with time and practice. I think a fairly regular progression for storytellers is from moral-driven stories to plot-driven stories to character-driven stories. I’m not saying the latter is better than the former, but you sort of need to learn the lessons of the earlier ones before you can do a great job with the later ones.

    I’m interested in Courtney’s response, too, but from the all writers I’ve talked to, I’d say you’re probably right where you ought to be, at this stage in your writing.

  6. Courtney Cantrell says:

    Carlos, I had to check, but it turns out I *have* read Irving: “The Cider House Rules.” Although I enjoyed the story, I don’t remember enough about his style to comment on it. However, I do recall thinking that the movie told the plot in a much more straightforward fashion than the book did. I’m guessing that’s due to Irving’s tangents. Would you recommend a specific work of his?

    Becca, I would dearly love to say that I *am* able to let my characters roam freely…but alas and alack, I am not. At least not in the first draft. In the first draft, it’s a constant battle to let them do as they would. Most of the time, I find myself forcing them into WWCD* mode, which completely ruins them. That’s why God gave us second drafts…and third ones…and, oh the horror, fourth and fifth and until it’s done. ;o)

    Aaron’s right in saying it gets better with time and practice. I’m getting better at recognizing when I’m putting limitations on characters. My first couple of novels, I didn’t even know about the concept of letting their voices speak for themselves. They were all me!

  7. Courtney Cantrell says:

    *What Would Courtney Do? ;oD

  8. Courtney, I’d never guess that from the way you speak of your characters. 🙂

    I think that in a way I started thinking that way from day one, mainly because I am so unlike my protagonist in many ways. That doesn’t mean I succeed at finding their voices. But I am trying. I’ve had a few comments from a friend on things that were “out of character,” which has made me think about the issue more.

  9. Carlos Velez says:


    I’ve read two books of John Irving’s. A Widow For One Year is an amazing book with lots of tangents, which might be overwhelming. He tends to be on the brink of losing me, but then pulls it right back in and I end up loving it (hundreds of times throughout the book). I really loved the book (read it twice), and the movie A Door In The Floor is possibly the best book to movie adaptation I’ve ever seen. If the written word is too much, I’d definitely recommend the movie…a focus film, by the way.

    The other book I read is Until I Find You…maybe more amazing than A Widow…with even heavier tangents. Both books have sexual themes that are non-traditional, and very interesting. He definitely knows how to make weird sex stuff a very legitimately interesting story.

    so consider yourself warned…tangents and weird sex…proceed at your own risk, though I recommend it.

  10. Courtney Cantrell says:

    I remember some weird sex stuff in “Cider House”; seems to be one of Irving preferred themes. So that probably wouldn’t scare me off, though I will consider myself forewarned, even as I add both titles to my list of books to keep an eye out for. 😉 (I can’t add them to my To-Read list yet, because I’ve run out of room on the To-Read Shelf. Lol)