The Writing of Martin Brennan


Now: March 2019

First of all, this month I have a special announcement to make. I’ve had a piece accepted into the TL;DR Press Family anthology, called Kindred! This is my first ever published work and I’m extremely excited about it. The piece serves as backstory for the primary antagonist of my current manuscript, The Thaw, though it can be read without any knowledge of the novel. You can read more about the anthology at the TL;DR press Kindred lineup announcement. I’ve added a fancy new Published Works section on my works page to celebrate as well!

TL;DR Kindred Anthology

Manuscripts

So, I mainly want to talk about how work on The Thaw has been going since the start of the year. I guess since the start of the year I’ve written about 5,000 words, which isn’t too much compared to someone who would be writing full time. I’ve had a bit of difficulty just getting the colonists OFF their island and out onto their journey to Colorado. I fear I’ve drawn out the start of the book too much, as I’m twenty-five thousand words in. Though in some ways I’m beginning to see this whole segment as Act I, and I foresee this book getting over 80k words easily. I even wonder whether this will do better as two books because of the length of the journey, but I won’t know until I finish it!

Heading into Act II, the weather is getting colder. Snow is coming. A crucial part of my story relies on the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers freezing up at the junction where the island lays in a cruel winter. I researched whether this has happened before in the past, and it turns out it did! In both 1905 and 1936 the Mississippi froze over in St. Louis. Now, St. Louis is several hundred miles from the junction of the rivers where my story is set, and there is a dam in Alton, Illinois that prevents larger chunks of ice from floating far downriver. But this is fiction, and we can suspend our disbelief enough in this age of climate change to belief with a harsh enough winter in a world where infrastructure has been deteriorating for five years that the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers may freeze over at their junction. That’s what fiction is all about, and why I love it so much. You take two and two and stretch it out to five and hope your reader goes along with it!

Frozen Missisipi River, 1905

Some other things I had to find out had to do with survival of my characters. First of all was how can one make homemade antibiotics? From there I found out that a phenomenon in the USA where people who cannot afford the price of regular prescribed antibiotics and are purchasing fish antibiotics instead. One of my characters is a former veterinarian…2 + 2 = 4. Another thing I found out is how corn is schucked and dried for preservation, to make cornmeal and grits. It’s all very interesting stuff, and I love to research new things. From here I’m going to plot out the next steps of my characters. My secondary antagonist is about to float down the river, and I really want those heading out on their journey to get a kick in the pants, to find out the world there is nowhere near as safe as their little island bubble, on their way to the Pine Bluff Arsenal. Pine Bluff is an important destination, as it makes incendiary and white phosphorous ammunition for the U.S. military.

Bottom Feeders is still plodding along in editing mode. I haven’t worked on it as much recently because of the other short stories I’ve been working on for submissions. What I’ve been working on is an idea I found from a book called Modern Library Writer’s Workshop by Stephen Koch. I started editing my novel at first by diving into line edits, plodding through chapter by chapter, but that wasn’t really working. I wasn’t getting a high-level overview of my whole novel at once. In Koch’s book, which had a lot of great writing advice by the way, he talks about writing a summary of your whole novel to understand it before you begin really editing. And it worked! I’m still writing the summary and I’ve found it to be such a helpful tool. I’ve been able to rearrange my chapters into a more logical flow, it has helped me find inconsistencies, given me ideas about character backstories and motivations. I would definitely recommend doing this when you are ready to edit your own novel, it is so crucial to understanding the story you are telling.

Modern Library Writer's Workshop

Submissions

Back in January I said I would submit to two anthologies in the first couple of months of the year:

I submitted to the Hidden Histories anthology by Third Flatiron publishing, and I’m still working on my submission to the “Letters from the Grave” anthology, because its submission period has been extended by a month. Truth be told I struggled a little with the Hidden Histories theme. Though I love history, most of the stories I could think of were alternate histories rather than hidden histories. So they were different timelines, rather than things that had been covered up.

Unfortunately this time I got rejected. I didn’t think I made my best effort, but I submitted anyway! It’s better to get something in than to just throw your story in the trash. You can read the story here.

I’m a lot happier with my epistolary horror story and I’m excited to submit it at the end of the month. I got some great feedback from my partner reading it and I was able to improve it and make it flow better. I also got another amazing beta read and critique via the TL;DR writers Slack group which should make the story a whole lot better. It’s been a lot of fun to write; I really enjoy writing horror.

What I’m Reading

I finally finished The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. It took me ages to read, but I have no idea why. I was just in a reading slump I suppose. The character of Philip Marlowe was intriguing, like a hard-boiled Don Draper mixed with Harvey Bullock from Batman, a smooth talking private eye who is always a step ahead of the bad guys. Chandler’s writing was really engaging and I loved the style, and I could see how it influenced other media, The Big Lebowski for one.

I’ve started reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and I feel as though it will live up to the grand expectations of John Steinbeck that East of Eden left for me. You may also have noticed that I’ve now enabled comments for this blog below, I encourage you to tell me what you think. I want to hear from some fellow readers and writers out there! Until next time…

Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form inself on the edge of consciousness.

— Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
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Martin Brennan, the Author

I’m Martin Brennan. I'm a software developer by day, and I like to think I know how to write. Like how a hobo thinks he knows the recipe to Coca-Cola.

You can read about my major projects on my works page.

The authors that inspire me are Cormac McCarthy (my God), Stephen King (my Prophet), J. R. R. Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, Hunter S. Thompson, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Find me on twitter @mjrbrennan or email me.