Keeping the Story Plot Invigorated and Surprising.
Cooking the sequel in a pressure cooker.
We’re all familiar with sophomoric sequels. The author makes a great start in the first book, but then the story just coasts along with no inspiration or energy in the second book. While we all hope that the second book will be at least as good as the first, we know it must cover new territory, and there is always a risk the author will lose his or her way. The challenge is to not just keep the story alive, but to keep it growing in surprising, unanticipated, and even exciting ways.
Pitch Green and Mojave Green are the first two books in the Dimensions in Death young-adult horror series. Based on a scary story we told as kids to siblings and friends, these books combine horror, suspense and mystery in a fast-paced battle with a monstrous evil presence, hiding in an old, deserted mansion in a small mining town, located in a desolate part of the Mojave Desert near Death Valley.
The mansion was built almost a hundred years ago by an eccentric genius, who got funding and structural specifications from a clandestine source of ancient knowledge and wealth. One night the genius was mysteriously slaughtered, and ever after, children and other defenseless animals in Trona and the surrounding desert have been disappearing without a trace on a regular basis.
In the first book, Pitch Green, we meet two teenagers, Camm and Cal, who are destined by wit, pluck and luck (not always good) to become the balancing force against the unearthly predator, who came to call the mansion home. Our heroes are hurled from one scene of horror to the next. Though their intentions are good, they don’t understand what they are facing, and by the end of the first book, a door has been left open to predations on an even grander scale.
In the second book, Mojave Green, a call from her best friend, Cal, brings news Camm had hoped never to hear. Children are again disappearing from Trona. Has the unnatural creature they killed last year returned to life or has the ancient Searles Mansion spawned a new menace? Ignoring dire warnings from federal agents, the pair take a road trip home with unsuspecting school friends in tow and discover the situation has gotten worse. With monstrous predators seemingly coming out of nowhere, enigmatic forces tear the friends apart, pulling Cal into another world, where his chances of survival are slim.
Finally coming to terms with her feelings for Cal, Camm desperately seeks help where she can, even from the dead, but can a rogue agent and other wary misfits help her uncover the long-lost secrets that she needs to rescue Cal and stop the inter-dimensional attacks?
The government will be no help. Most of the federal agents on the case are doing everything they can to catch Camm and stop her. The destiny of her own world may lie solely in Camm’s young hands.
Writing the second book was a completely different experience for us as co-authors than was the first. The first book was based on a childhood story that we had been telling for years, and the basic plot elements already existed. The second book is a brand new story that has never existed before. It was created from scratch in the last couple years. As co-authors, we had to agree on a whole new plot.
In both books, we were under pressure to make the story as thrilling as possible. We didn’t think in terms of one story being better than the other, just different, but we are definitely excited with the new direction taken by the Mojave Green story. Our fans can expect a faster moving, broader ranging story in the second book, which introduces new characters and covers more territory, both in terms of the desert geography as well as in the depth of the character emotions.
In addition to the careful research of applicable desert geography, which we try to describe as accurately as possible, we had to do in-depth research of basic principles of astro-physics and relativity theory since Mojave Green answers many of the questions of seemingly supernatural happenings raised in the first book, while at the same time raising new questions of its own. But remember, this is not a science fiction series. It is horror based on scientific principles, rather than on magic and mysticism.
Some of our favorite scenes in book two take place as Camm and Cal confront the new predators spawned by the collapse of the guardian systems that were originally built into the Searles Mansion to protect the residents of planet Earth. In solving life-and-death mysteries, our heroes find that mundane pieces of furniture, like an old grandfather’s clock, take on roles of life-saving significance.
Some of our favorite moments in writing and selling the Dimensions in Death books have come as we are able to interact with a few of our fans at book signings and other author events. Initially, we thought that writing a cohesive, compelling story would be the hardest part of the book-selling business. But, when we started trying to find an agent or publisher, who would take our manuscript, we decided that getting published was the hardest part of the business.
After sending out more than 150 query letters, we found a great publisher, Jolly Fish Press, and began the process of trying to sell our books. Now, we’re sure that building a fan base is the hardest part of the business. It’s a good thing it is also the most rewarding part.
As we get ready for the third book, Fatal Green, to come out in 2015, we’re excited not just for the saga to continue, but also for the opportunity to continue learning and growing in a new business, in a dynamically changing industry, in a world with disappearing boundaries and in a universe limited only by one’s own imagination. It doesn’t get better than this!
Why is thrilling and spooky better without graphic blood and gore?
The best kind of scary is not explicit, but is left to the imagination.
Achieving scary is more of an art, than a science, especially since what is scary to one may be just dumb to another. In the author’s book of fright, broad rules with general applications are few and far between. While most formulas for fear quickly lose potency with age and use, there is an old proverb that is always sound advice: There is more scare in the anticipation, than in the revelation.
When a threat is left to the imagination, we all tend to imagine the worst, meaning our own personal version of the worst, and scary is a personal affair. Very early in childhood, we are all introduced to scary. We know so little about the world in general, but we don’t lack for imagination. It is actually a miracle that we don’t scare ourselves to death before we grow up.
We grow up by learning the rules that govern the real world. Whether those rules are actually correct is not relevant. What’s important is that the rules define the world, giving us a false sense of stability and certainty. As adults, we don’t need to use our imaginations. We know the rules of reality. But, when our imaginations wander, we find that scary is still there. Nothing has changed, not really.
Scary is child’s play—it has always been child’s play. Some of the scariest games are the ones we played as children. In telling scary stories, we just have to remember how to play those games again.
Slowly, I pushed the door open, straining to see into the bedroom without actually stepping in. The door opened wide, all the way to the sliding closet doors behind it. I could see that both closet doors were closed, so I knew there was nothing immediately behind the door I was pushing, but I had no idea what was waiting in the closet. The hallway lights were off, but there was still enough light behind me to cast a black pillar across the room and onto the far wall. Nervously, I crouched to minimize my dark shadow, knowing there were hidden eyes watching me, waiting for my next move.
I could feel those eyes heavy upon me, drilling holes through me. I couldn’t see the watchers, but I knew they could see me. Each one waited for me to carelessly stray too close, where I would be easy prey. It was mandatory that I see or hear each one first, before I came within reach. The sense of doom was palpable. So many times, I had tried. So many times, I had failed.
Reaching carefully around the corner into the room, I flipped the light switch, hoping a light might come on, but nothing happened. Though it was hopeless, I flipped the switch a couple more times, thinking it might elicit a reaction from someone in the room--still nothing. Except for a dim lamp, stuffed under a red sheet in a far corner, the room was dark and hidden in heavy shadows--nothing moved. A blanket hung across the outside window, blocking all daylight. Another blanket hung from the non-working ceiling light across to one end of the window blind, completely hiding one corner of the room.
This was a new configuration. I didn’t know what to expect. Dropping down to hands and knees, I tried to see under the beds, but blankets on both beds hung all the way to the floor. Hoping to see underneath, I flipped up a corner of the blanket on the bed by the door, but it was too dark to see anything. Holding my breath, I listened for any sound that might betray a nearby watcher, but heard nothing.
The first move had to be mine. Standing, I leaned into the room. Piles of blankets and pillows covered the bed to my right. I decided not to go that way--who knew what was under those piles.
Sliding into the room with my back against the closet door, I kept a hand on its handle to prevent anyone from sliding it open from inside. I stepped quickly to the middle of the wall on the other side. Back to the wall, facing out, I watched for any movement, listened for any noise. I was now close enough to the second bed that with a quick step, I could hop on top. This bed had no blankets or pillows on it that might be hiding someone--it looked safe. I stepped forward, getting ready to jump, but a hand suddenly shot out from under the bed, grabbing my ankle. I yelped in surprise as I stumbled and fell. Already, they had me, and I hadn’t seen it coming.
In a sudden rush, the tension was released. I was safe once more. Of course, I had never really been in danger--it had just felt that way. And that was the fun of our small haunted house.
This was a game invented by our cousins, Sandra and Steven, fraternal twins. When they came to our house, there was usually something scary going on, and one of our favorite games was “Haunted House.” Because the grownups didn’t want us ransacking the entire house, it was really just a haunted bedroom, but that was all we needed to create some serious haunting.
The rules of the game were simple. One kid was sent away to wait in the front room while all the other kids turned a bedroom into a haunted house. When someone in the haunted house yelled, “Ready,” the designated victim would try to find (see or hear) all the monsters hidden around the room before one of them could grab the victim by surprise. Everyone enjoyed the mystery and suspense of being the victim. It was a challenge trying to anticipate where all the monsters would be hidden. Sometimes a monster would be put in an obvious place to distract the victim from another monster carefully hidden nearby.
We all enjoyed being monsters too. It took a lot of creativity to not do the same thing every time--there was no mystery or suspense in repeatedly doing the same thing. In addition, a good haunted house required more than just mystery and suspense. In order to be really scary, a good haunted house, or a good horror story, needs one or both of the following: (1) a grave threat from a hidden source of danger, and/or (2) a warping or distortion of something that is normally familiar and friendly.
The victim in a haunted house (or the reader of a horror story) must feel a personal threat (either to him or herself directly or to a significant other, like the story’s main character). The more significant the danger, the scarier the threat, with life and death threats being among the scariest. A good horror story creates a bond between the reader and the character at risk, so the threat will hang heavy over the reader as it hangs heavy over the character in the story.
One way to make a hidden danger feel eminent, or to increase the sense of alarm, is to create a sense of revulsion through a warping or distortion of the familiar. Few things are more fascinating, and at the same time more scary, than something familiar, even mundane, that has been horribly warped or distorted to the point of being painfully repulsive. Even without feeling a direct personal threat to oneself, or a significant other, an encounter with a repulsive distortion of the familiar can elicit gut wrenching feelings of disgust and fear. This has been done successfully with clowns, birds and even mothers.
When it comes to scary, a subtle presentation of a hidden danger coupled with a distortion of the familiar will beat a stream of blood and gore every time and will keep your readers (victims) coming back again and again. Though you will need to be creative in building the mystery and suspense anew in each new story (even each new chapter), your readers will love you for it. Good haunting! Good horror!
Are Two Storytellers Better Than One? A Co-Writer Can Help You Tell Your Story
. Please don’t get me wrong. My brother doesn’t need a keeper, though sometimes my wife says that I do, but if he did need a keeper, he has a bunch of sisters who would be happy to take the job. We grew up in the Mojave Desert near Death Valley. Our father was a dentist, who had a practice in Trona, California, a small mining town. He was the only dentist in town. As the good citizens of Trona mined the minerals of Searles Valley, Dad mined their teeth. When Andy and I went off to college, we left the desert, thinking never to look back. We thought we were done with Trona, but couldn’t have been more wrong. For 35 years, I was a business lawyer for international commercial finance companies in Ohio, Michigan and Colorado. For 25 years, Andy was a trial practice lawyer, working in Southern California. We have kept our law licenses current, but are now writing fiction full time. Though some say that’s what we did as lawyers, this is different. As lawyers, we were always solving other people’s problems. After we each moved to Colorado, we talked about starting a business together where we only had to solve our own problems. We both have many years of formal writing experience, and we have always been storytellers, first to siblings and friends, then to our children, and now to our grandkids, so writing fiction made sense. A few years ago, I started writing a young-adult science fiction series, so when Andy also tried his hand at writing fiction, it didn’t take long for us to come together as The Brothers Washburn on a young-adult horror series. Scary stories are a family specialty. The tale is of course set in Trona, California, which is a perfect setting for a horror series. Growing up, Andy loved A Collection of Short Stories, by O. Henry. Later, Stories Your Mother Never Told You, by Alfred Hitchcock, was a favorite. As a teenager, he was fascinated with The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury. For my part, I was always on the lookout for anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs and always searching for new sci-fi authors. It is no surprise, then, that we are currently writing both a YA horror series as well as a separate YA sci-fi series. We find that once we start telling a horror or sci-fi story, the bounds of the story are limited only by our own imaginations. As brothers, we get along well and have healthy levels of mutual self-respect. We can freely share ideas and challenge each other without worrying about egos. We are more creative when bouncing ideas off each other and discussing a general storyline, but we actually write separately, and then confer later on what we have been doing. Sometimes we disagree on specific wording, and there is some friendly give and take as we consider alternatives, but then we agree quickly on the final wording. We both appreciate the different perspective and skills the other brings to the joint process. In key ways, we are different in how we approach a story. Andy was a planner (a habit from writing like an lawyer), but in fiction, he no longer plans ahead. He likes to develop his characters, and let them take the story wherever it is going. On the other hand, I am still a planner. I make lists and outlines, not only for the current story, but for future stories as well. Andy doesn’t like having people around him when he is writing, especially when he is creating new material. Sometimes people just bug him. When I’m writing, I have to organize my surrounding environment. Once everything is in order, I can detach from the world and write. If Andy hits a tough spot in the story development, it is usually because of outside distractions. If he can get rid of distractions, he can keep writing. If I hit a tough spot, I don’t try to force it. I stop, leave the house, and pick up some fast food where I watch people. I come back refreshed and ready to move the story forward. I find that fresh ideas come naturally when I’m eating--Chipotle is always good. Background research is important to us both in two areas: theoretical science and local Trona geography. First, the Dimensions in Death series is an ongoing horror story based on principals of science rather than on demons, devils or magical creatures. An understanding of extremes in scientific theory is necessary and fun. But, this series is not science fiction with a few scary scenes. It is horror and suspense in a fast-pace narrative with a little science, by way of explanation, sprinkled on for spice, as the truth is gradually discovered by our heroes in the story. Second, the local geography in the story plays a critical role in setting the mood of the tale. Trona, California is a real place in this world located in a desolate region of the Mojave Desert by Death Valley, and we try to keep the scene settings as real and correct as possible. The general outline for the first book, Pitch Green, came together one evening in November of 2010. We were attending a writer’s seminar in Manhattan, listening to panel discussions by top literary agents. As we rode the subway from one end-of-the-line stop across town to the opposite end-of-the-line stop, and then back again, we mapped out the basic elements we needed to expand a favorite childhood, scary story into a full-length novel. Andy wrote a first rough draft, and then I took it over to edit and expand the tale. In writing the first book, the ground work was laid for both the sequels and prequels in that series. In Pitch Green, we meet two teenagers, Camm and Cal, who are destined by their wit, pluck and luck (not always good) to become the balancing force in this world against predators that keep showing up around an old mansion, which is something more than just a mansion. Our heroes must make a stand against the mansion’s guardian, any unearthly visitors who might want to come through the mansion in search of easy prey, and the forces of the U.S. Federal Government, who are using the mansion to access unlimited natural resources. Camm is the brains; Cal is the muscle, and together they make a formidable team when they decide to work together. They are joined by an FBI agent, Special Agent Linda Allen, who is smart, resourceful and not intimidated by either those who are using or those who are protecting the mansion and its secrets. Hurled from one scene of horror to the next, the protagonists barely have time to catch their breaths, let alone to comprehend what is really happening. They do not understand the nature of what they are facing. Though their intentions are good, by the end of the first book, they have left a dimensional doorway wide open and unguarded. Pitch Green is the opening act in a long and complex tale in which Camm, Cal and Agent Allen will be intrepid explorers in the dimensions in death. The Brothers Washburn Author links: Website: www.thebrotherswashburn.com Social Media: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBrothersWashburn Blog: http://www.thebrotherswashburn.blogspot.com Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrosWashburn Book Dealers: see: Pitch Green or Mojave Green Goodreads: https://www.Goodreads.com/thebrotherswashburn Amazon: https://www.Amazon.com/author/thebrotherswashburn Kindle Editions & paperbacks available on Amazon.com Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ Nook Books & paperbacks available on Barnesandnoble.com Miscellaneous Dealers: see: Pitch Green or Mojave Green http://www.booksamillion.com/ http://www.indiebound.org/ http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/ http://www.schulerbooks.com/ http://www.powells.com/