Why Collaborate?

Every day that I keep at this – the writing, the editing, the story-telling – I’m hopefully getting a little better. But much like an athlete who trains by themselves, eventually they must turn to others in order to truly gauge how good they are, where their deficiencies might lie, and what things they can do to simply improve overall. They say you can never improve unless you are playing with people who are better than you are.

It’s not that much different on the writing side. Except that writing lends itself more to the solo aspect. You could go days or weeks or months without any feedback on the next project you’re writing. The only comfort you gain is knowing the story is progressing. That, too, can be just as maddening.

I think it is why I not only like to collaborate, but I seem to seek out such opportunities whenever I can.

During the earliest days of Terminus Media, when it was just a group of 5-6 guys trying to figure the whole “writing” thing out. Times where we might not even know what we did not know. Every week was a new potential project, every week was a new idea presented by someone at the table, and we did our best to foster that sharing. You could see where other people were having problems, and hopefully, not make the same mistakes on your own work (you inevitably did, of course).

I started to learn how to accept (constructive) criticism by sharing my words with others. I learned that the best way to learn was to DO the work. If there was a project that needed something written, the following week was spent figuring out how to actually write a short film script, or a TV script, or a comic script.

One week I had no idea and the next, knowledge replaced the nothingness.

Years later, Mr. Neill and I were talking about a serialized possibility. Here we both were trying to finish novels or start new ones, but there was something about getting our heads together and seeing what could happen.

Hollow Empire happened.

The biggest benefit, unseen by me (and probably cursed by Jeremy later) was editing. You effectively add a partner in this realm as well. Hopefully their strengths can fix your weaknesses and vice versa. Perhaps you are a little too sparse in your descriptions and your partner too sparse on the dialogue – now’s the perfect opportunity to learn from each other.

In those first drafts, which Jeremy edited to the bone, my prose got a little tighter. When I got new chapters in from him, it forced me to push to get better. I wanted him to be excited when my emails came rolling in. We all need to be pushed. Having a partner, someone you are accountable to, means that when you aren’t hitting your deadlines then you’re letting someone else down. Building the world through these characters in a way that makes the whole work really about those characters more than about the “Big Events” which may be going on around them.

Getting better with every keystroke.

In the last couple of years, I’ve worked with Robert Jeffrey on a pair of projects. Each of us bringing some ideas to the table and we settled on one idea from each list: The Crossing & Entropy.

The thing is that with another head there, you obviously have double the potential ideas. However, you are really forced to push your own ego aside… for the betterment of the story. When it is only you, it means a singular vision, but it also means you’re pretty much confined to whatever the old brain comes up with. With another person contributing ideas, you have more opportunities to find the best idea. You’re no longer insular… BUT you have to be willing to allow the other person to have that idea. If you are the type of writer who can’t deal with writing “someone else’s story” then you might as well stay a solo act.

To live in someone else’s world where much of the original idea was someone else’s, but you could still be a cog in the machine and help it get further than it could have done on their own. The ability to make something better than one person simply through the ideas being shared and passed back.

But the best part is being able to lean on someone else to help carry a bit of the workload. And when Writer’s Block threatens to show up, you simply give your co-writer a call or email. That way they can talk you off the ledge, getting you back to work all the sooner.

The dirty secret about all of this, whether it is short stories, novels, comics, film, or whatever… it doesn’t have to be such a lonely pursuit. You DON’T HAVE to go it alone. You can help your fellow creators, and they can help you as well.

Hopefully each learning a little bit more through the experience.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Agonizing Art of Writing Book Blurbs – Challenge Accepted

In the late moments of the day, when the wife and the cats have settled into sleep, I sometimes find myself struggling to come up with the next week’s blog (in between editing one novel and trying to finish up a novella at the moment).

Leave it to Mr. Neill to help a Guildmate out. He wrote a bunch of 1-sentence blurbs for each of his books, and then challenged anyone who happened to read his post to do the same for their own works. As this is a skill I certainly could use work on…

Well, Challenge Accepted…

The Dark That Follows by John R McGuire

 The Dark That Follows – A fortune teller comes to realize that his latest customer no longer has any future left.

HollowEmpireEP1

Hollow Empire – Twenty years after the Great Lichy Plague wiped out fifty percent of the population, the next generation struggles to find their way in this dark and desolate land.

BeyondtheGate

Beyond the Gate – A country surrounded by an oppressive Fog, where nightmares and monsters live, these are the stories of the Ruddermouths, the Sky Captains, and of the children of the festivals.

Machina Obscurum

Machina Obscurum – Dark tales of death, betrayal, and the end of all things.

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There’s Something About Mac – When Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie’s younger biological sister goes missing, it is up to Mac to track down the missing teen.

PIECE-BY-PIECE-COVER

Piece by Piece – Jason Mill’s fortune reading becomes an exercise in the Butterfly Effect as he examines a myriad of possible futures for his latest client.

The Guilded Age

Gilded Age #1 – Hannah Lancaster leaps at the opportunity to help the Branning Troupe’s Stage Magician, only to discover that his latest trick might be played on her.

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Gilded Age #2 – When you are known as the Fastest Gun, there will always be those who want to challenge for the crown.

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Tiger Style #1 – A kid with a Robin Hood complex discovers that he’s targeted the wrong “Rich” men, and these are willing to do anything in their power to reclaim a mystical artifact.

Terminus Team-up #2 – Amber Fox’s journey to the Gilded Age takes a detour through time as her companion seeks to understand how era’s end.

That definitely used a few different writing muscles. If you like any of these, click the pic and head to Amazon to pick up your copy today!

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Hollow Empire – Lessons Learned

My second novel-length project made its first real steps this past weekend. Hollow Empire’s first Episode came out on Friday night to a Kindle reader near you for a whole $0.99. For that you get to meet the characters, get immersed in the world, and get left on one heck of a cliffhanger for… another 2 days. Because that’s when Episode 2 comes out. And then a week later Episode 3 comes out. And so on for 6 straight weeks.

HollowEmpireEP1

Check it out on Amazon here!

Last month I talked about how the project began (in the various emails sent back and forth between Mr. Neill and myself). You can find that here.

The thing about this project was that while we had a bit of a road map, this was different than the way I normally write. Typically I’m working in solitude, late into the night, trying to hit my goals for the night. But even before that I have an outline of some sort set out. It might not have all the twists and turns laid out, but it gives me enough road signs that I know where I’m heading.

It’ll be months working on that 1st draft. A draft that no one else can see (not even Courtney). It is in this draft that I become unafraid to suck. Unafraid to write down everything that my brain might only be tangentially trying to tell me. It all goes in… because I know that when I sit down for Draft 2, I can easily cut the chaff from the wheat.

Or something.

Hollow Empire worked a little differently. Initially we set up goals of turning around the episodes every 3 weeks. At that point I’d send J my 3 chapters and he’d send me his 3 chapters and I’d spend a night or two on edits (and he’d do the same).

Let me say right now that J got the short end of that stick. Especially at the beginning. His chapters were pretty clean overall. A few grammar things, a misspelling or three, and maybe a tweak of some plot (mostly that was me asking questions like this: “Wow, this thing you introduced was cool, how does that work?”).

Editing

Mine were a little rougher. Mostly because, while I did give them a writer edit before sending them on, they were probably closer to 1st draft form than 2nd or 3rd draft form. I can only imagine what J thought when he read that first chapter.

Hopefully it wasn’t a “what have I gotten myself into” situation. 🙂

I believe that by the 5th and 6th episodes I’d cleaned up some of the bigger mistakes, crutches, etc. that I was using (or he’d given up by then).

I’m fairly new at this, but I have to believe that even the JK Rowlings and Steven Kings still learn things with each project they write. Maybe they aren’t the HUGE things anymore, but I have to hope that there are still techniques to figure out… an envelope to push.

And I’m still at the point where everything is HUGE realizations. Writing Hollow Empire, getting that instant feedback, and then doing the edits immediately showed me a different perspective on how my work… worked.

I wasn’t expecting that when I agreed to the project.

The other big thing I learned was that 3 weeks isn’t as long as you think when you have a day job. You see, I was under the assumption that since my nightly goal is 1250 words and our portion of each episode was about 7000 words… well, you do the math. That should be only 6 days. Figure 2 more for any edits. Even if I only write 5 days a week, that’s only half the time.

time slipping away

Well to mis-quote Top Gun: My brain was writing checks that my body couldn’t cash.

I hit the first deadline, no problem. Heck, I had a whole spreadsheet set up with due dates and how long edits would take and so on. By Episode 2 I only barely hit the date, and I’m pretty sure by Episode 3 I was a little late. And so on.

That being said, I would set up the same schedule the next time (3 weeks). Some of the delays were from not knowing the characters quite yet. Some of it was trying to  make sure that I hit the goal posts I’d set up in our initial story meeting. And some of it was vacations and work. At 3 weeks per episode we’d still be done in 4 months. Which leads me to the 3rd thing I learned.

The speed of the project made me a faster writer. More pure. I wrote my characters into corners in one episode and then had to figure out how in the world they were going to get out of that situation. And while that made for some longer nights than I would have liked, I’m hopeful that the end result of not agonizing over every last sentence captures a feeling with the readers.

What I’d like to know now is whether this experiment worked. How do the readers react to those moments and cliffhangers and everything else? Can we make it so they are hyped for a new episode to come out on Friday night?

I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is currently in week one of its 6-part release. Each episode is only $0.99.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

Painting a Hollow Empire

You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!

Okay. That might be an exaggeration, but you’re still about to see raw sketches and studies that until now only a few have been privy. Last November I met up with John R McGuire and J Edward Neill to discuss a project they were writing together, post-apocalypse fiction set in medieval times, aptly named Hollow Empire. This was to be a big project and it began like all projects do with a lot of brainstorming, sketches, and research. I read small portions from story, explored images of medieval town and cities, and began envisioning the world they had created. One aspect key to the cover was a city in partial ruins. Here are three sketches from the early stages, click through to see larger images.

From there we ended up going with the first sketch after we discussed the need for graves. Many graves.

Hollow Empire SketchI still like this sketch quite a lot, but as I began painting I realized it just didn’t work. Sometimes that happens. Thankfully, I felt comfortable enough to approach John and J Edward with my concerns. Before doing so, I began reworking the idea and incorporating elements from those early first designs. I also took inspiration from the medieval ghost town of Craco. If it looks familiar you’ve probably seen it in a film or documentary. Craco was abandoned after an earthquake in 1980, but it had already been on the decline due to poor agriculture, landslides and flooding. When I approached the author duo again, I presented them with two quick studies, the original idea and my Craco study.

Lucky for my muse and I, we were all on the same page. They too went for my Craco idea and I spent the next four weeks developing that world. One feature I was happy to see return was the gravestone from one of the original sketches. Sometimes things stick with you and for whatever reason I couldn’t shake that gravestone from my mind. This is the final painting without the extra bits.

Hollow Empire Painting by Amanda MakepeaceHollow Empire by John R McGuire and J Edward Neill will be available in the coming weeks! Subscribe to our blog in the sidebar to stay in the loop.

 amandamakepeace.com

Hollow Empire – Those Initial Steps

On March 23, 2013 I received the following email from J Edward Neill:

“My final round scooped. Weak. But seriously, if you want to try your hand at the serial story blog thing, I’m all in.”

The first part of that line refers to Magic the Gathering, so not really important to our discussion right now. The second refers to a conversation I had with J about a podcast I’d been listening to “The Self-Publishing Podcast” and how two of those guys had been on a tear with serialized fiction (which if you are at all interested in independent writing, you should check out the podcast). The format basically was about 15,000 words per episode (which equals about 60 pages), six episodes make a season (apparently we are on an English schedule)… leaving you with 90,000 words for the book (360 pages). They released them on a weekly basis, cliffhangers at the end of episodes (just like some of your favorite tv shows).

breakfast_serial_forum_183

No, not this kind of serial!

And I thought it could be duplicated.

So a couple of days later I got that email. And I replied on March 25, 2013:

“Serial – I’d be down.”

There was tons more included. Talk about potential schedules, the idea that this book could help not only cross-pollinate our works, but also generate content for our virtual book shelves. The one thing I am sure of in this writing thing is that if I only have one book, then it is much harder for anyone to find me. But if I have another book, I’ve increased my odds. And by co-writing it, I only have to do 1/2 as much work to get to the full novel.

Right?

Anyway. At that point we had no idea what this was going to be besides the barest of formats. Genre? Who knows. I only knew that we probably wanted to avoid vampires and zombies since they seemed to be running rampant throughout fiction and tv and movies.

J mentioned “a superhero theme, but waaaay back in time… fighting against ancient evils in a fantasy dark ages setting.”

I took that and wrote the following:

“125 years ago the last of the Great Wars were fought and the beginning of King XXX began. And the Age of Peace spread throughout the lands that he had conquered. Much like Alexander in our own world, this King spread his kingdom to the far reaches of the known world, but unlike Alexander, he lived to a ripe old age. Long enough to ensure that his heir would be ready to rule after him, long enough to make sure that the new lands remained within the kingdom. Trade increase, prosperity increased, etc.

10442Jollain_The_Plague_of_Frogs

20 years ago marked the beginning of the Outbreak in YYY. hey stacked the dead along the walls until they reached the top, and then they began a new corpse wall. The spread like wildfire throughout the world; the downside to having increased contact with the far reaches meant that no one could outrun it. The population of the world decreased over the next 10 years by 50%. Small villages now are ghost towns, empty of all life, as those who survived journeyed to the cities for protection, cure, help.

Now we deal with a medieval world which has begun to pull itself out of the apocalypse. They are trying to figure out where they stand. But there are peasant revolts, coups, kingdoms which quarantined themselves and have not been heard from in the last dozen years.

Plague_doctors'_beak_shaped_mask

<Insert Project Name> – Dark Fantasy – Not saving the world, not saving the day… just saving yourself.”

That’s all it took and we were off to the races. We began to flesh out the pieces of the world and the people who survived the end of the world. We came up with our four Points of View, each choosing to write two of them. We’d be each other’s first editor. And when it was done we’d have something greater than the one could possibly do.

I must admit, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. I’ve collaborated plenty on the comic book side of things. Heck, the whole format is about that very thing. Writers and artists working together to achieve something they could not have done alone. But this was something else.

And it worked (at least I think it did, you’ll have to read it and be the judge). I think we’ve not only managed to flesh out a world, but we’ve done it by using the characters as our vehicles to get there. They determine so much of what the world is going to look like.

The best part, though, was getting that new chapter from J. There would always be something new one of us would include in a chapter that the other one would want to add to their own story. So many emails and conversations seemed to begin with “X thing is cool… how exactly does it work so that I can use it.” Those surprises made it fresh in a way that working by yourself sometimes can’t be.

I’m excited to release this new creation into the world. I can’t wait to have people give it a read and let us know what they think.

And by the way, Mr. Neill also has given a little bit of teaser for Hollow Empire here.

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!