The Writing of Martin Brennan

Evolution

The process of writing and my art feels different these days. I no longer feel like I am an imposter, and I am picking up new methods which improve and refine my work. It’s an exciting time, and I have a lot of projects to tell you about!

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Now that I have a couple of short stories published, and The Thaw is steaming along quite nicely, I feel as though now my creative process has really started to solidify, and I am coming into my own style. I no longer have any real trouble with writing a great amount – though I still have the same old problem of “just starting”. Over the past eight months I have written around 25 thousand words for The Thaw, and inbetween that I have written a 5,500 and a 3,500 word short story. When I sit down to write I feel confident in the direction my story is taking and also in my ability to do the work. It is a welcome feeling.

A side effect of this new feeling is an evolution in my writing process. I started out as a Gardener, and now I have started adopting habits of the Architect. For those not aware, this quote from G.R.R.M should help explain things:

I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they're going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there's going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don't know how many branches it's going to have, they find out as it grows. And I'm much more a gardener than an architect.

— George R. R. Martin

Stephen King is a notorious Gardener, and G.R.R.M is a notorious Architect. I always have enjoyed the Gardener method because it feels a lot more natural, and events can be as surprising to the author as they can be to the reader. Events appear to follow on from one another, as long as you have some sort of end goal in mind. However, for the next few chapters of The Thaw I found myself avoiding working on them because I wasn’t quite sure what those chapters involved. Sure, I had a vague idea, but vague ideas often mean a lot of work that you don’t know about yet, a lot of “unknown unknowns” in the words of Donald Rumsfeld.

So I sat down, at the end of one of the longest chapters I had written, and outlined the next four chapters in quite some depth, though not so much that I know absolutely everything about each chapter, and something happened in that planning session – I came up with new ideas for the direction of Sarah, my protagonist Sam’s daughter’s storyline, in her fight against The King on their little island. Ideas that I am sure I would not have come up with using a pure Gardener method, or at least ideas that are more refined than they would be had I reached them naturally after writing several thousand words. I suppose this conjures up an image of Gromit speeding along on a toy train and laying a track in front of himself, hoping against hope he does not run out of pieces and he does not go over a cliff, and in a way it is like that. But I am finding this combined Architect/Gardener method much more helpful in getting me to actually write and fill in the gaps.

In The Thaw since my last update the Gardeners have moved on from the Golden Lions stadium, dodging the column of Rochester and his men on their doomed march back to the stadium, made their way through a burned quarantine zone, and through the Pine Bluff Arsenal, picking up a few useful items along the way. We learned much more of Cortland’s past in Vietnam, Sam laid out his doubts about Cortland and Patterson to an unconvinced Gloria, and Eric and Gloria led the way into Little Rock to the northwest, giving the city a wide berth, only to find the bridge across the great Arkansas River destroyed. Their detour has now led them to the Pinnacle Mountain Community, which turned Patterson away over a year ago, and a familiar face to Sam and Pat thought long dead.

Back at the island, Sarah escaped the scenes of wanton destruction to make her way onto the great barge that landed there and delivered the pirates. Creeping through the bowels of the dread ship, she found slaves in the hold and talked to Edie, who screamed at her to help, before Sarah could get away and make her way up high passing Jackson’s quarters to her first meeting with the eccentric leader of the raiders, The King. Seemingly an Elvis fan but making no mention of the man, there is something not quite right about The King. He is unstable, though kind enough to Sarah, who he mistakes as someone called Lisa several times. Carson asks about where Sam and the others have gone, and gives Sarah her knife back, which she will surely need soon.

Autumn Oaks, by George Inness Autumn Oaks, by George Inness

Over the next few chapters Sam and his group of Gardeners will parley with the people of the Pinnacle Mountain community, taking Easton and another of their own with them on the journey to Fort Collins. Both Fort Smith and the crossing to Oklahoma await, and the dangerous lands around Tulsa and Oklahoma City barring their way to Kansas. Sarah on the island must start to think of a way to defeat the pirates, while overcoming cold, hunger, and an oppressed and scared population of islanders. Always under the watchful eye of Jackson, The King’s right-hand-man. A trip to the mainland, to the undead infested town of Greenville, will be in order before the end.

One of the ideas that came out of my outlining was to include a character called Easton Porter in The Thaw. Easton is the main character of my story Swamp Lullaby, featured in the Nope 2 Horror Anthology by TL;DR Press. In that story, he is a young boy kidnapped by a terrifying swamp-dweller called Big Billy Claret, who escapes only thanks to the dedication of his father Fred and the power of an old Cajun lullaby that his grandmere taught him. Over ten years later he will appear at the Pinnacle Mountain Community, northwest of Little Rock, AK. Out of the frying pan and into the fire of a zombie apocalypse. That’s right folks, I am starting a shared universe, and it won’t stop there. I am trying to think of a way to feature the Crabs Motorcycle Club from Bottom Feeders in some way, even as a simple nod. The potential of Easton’s character is too tempting to resist and last weekend I went on a nice little tangent.

That tangent is a complete standalone novel starring Easton in his teenage years, as he and his mother Christie deal with the fallout and grief after losing their father and husband Fred and grandmere at the hands of Big Billy Claret, and the evolution of Easton’s latent psychic powers. My current thought is that this will be a YA horror novel that finds Easton pitted against a new threat, the master of Big Billy, while fighting in dreams the memory of that demon who took his father. The setting will be the area around Little Rock, where Christie’s sister lives. That afternoon last weekend was one of those rare moments indeed where the story grabs you and won’t let go, and before I knew it I had outlined the entire novel (save a few details), something I have never done before. I am so excited to get started on this work, as it’s in a genre I’ve never worked with before, and extending a character and a setting I have already developed. It was an indescribable feeling to have this idea of Easton as a feature of The Thaw and his own standalone novel to come out of nowhere, and I am so happy I have a new idea to work on and a new way to test out my hybrid Gardener/Architect method.

Another project I have worked on some more is The Marrow King, specifically a backstory and geography of the world that the characters of this story will inhabit. I am taking this slow, as it will be a Fantasy setting and requires a fair bit of worldbuilding. I read The Silmarillion and absolutely loved it, possibly moreso than the Lord of the Rings, with its epic battles and many tragedies that befell the elves. While I do not want something quite so heavy and epic as that, it did inspire me a lot tracking the origins of the various nations and peoples in the story. It is a little hard to explain in depth in one blog post, but I have an extremely rough map drawn up now with a loose backstory, and I have six distinct peoples – two with a shared origin in the west, and four with a shared origin in the southeast, one of which are the people of Alorn Torgond, the first Marrow King, who break away fleeing religious persecution to found the land of Altor and come into conflict with the descendents of Al-Gailun who originate in Lun.

Finally the last thing I have worked on recently were two short stories. The first of these was for an anthology called Good Southern Witches which was to write a 5,000 word story featuring a witch or witches from any southern U.S. state. I had a lot of fun writing this, which was a story about a witch coming to a Texas ranch and demanding a meal each night, with terrible consequences for the rancher and his family. I wrote almost the entire thing in one afternoon on my typewriter, yet again another one of those rare “channeling the muse” moments. Unfortunately before the end of the submission period the submissions were closed because they received too many entries! So now I am looking for a new home for the story, and I must edit it some more before that too. The other short story was written for the 3 Elements Review, which in my case were Nightshade, Confetti, and Chamber. Unfortunately that story was rejected, so I may try to find a new place for it or just move on.

So, that’s everything for this update! I now feel as though I have such a great many projects to work on that I have occupied the next ten years or more of my writing time, which is a very good thing. Surely at least one of those novels will be the one I am first published with!

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