Monday, May 6, 2013

MMGM -- Blog Tour + Guest Post

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Shannon Whitney Messenger decided it was time to give middle grade stories the attention they deserve, and "Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays" was born. 

Back in March I reviewed a great book, DEADWEATHER AND SUNRISE, here.  Today, I am thrilled to share the sequel, NEW LANDS, as part of Geoff's blog tour, and I'm doubly thrilled that Geoff agreed to share the story of his writing journey with us!  Thanks, Geoff!



by Geoff Rodkey


After a narrow escape from Deadweather Island, Egg and his slightly deranged partner Guts head for the remote New Lands. They’re in search of the lost Okalu tribe, who hold the key to the mysterious treasure map that Egg can't decipher. But the ruthless Roger Pembroke is hard on Egg's trail, and the New Lands are full of new enemies—against which our heroes' only weapons are their brains, their courage...and the two dozen swear words Guts just memorized in the local tongue.
They're going to need help. But who can they trust? Is Kira, the beautiful and heavily armed Okalu refugee, their ally…or their enemy? Is Pembroke's daughter Millicent on Egg's side…or her father's? Why on earth is the notorious pirate Burn Healy being so nice to them? And the biggest question of all: what shocking secret is Egg about to discover in the shadow of an ancient Okalu temple?  


*** GUEST POST ***

Digging Up a Story

In his indispensable book On Writing, Stephen King describes writing a novel as a kind of archaeology: you don't invent the story so much as dig it up from somewhere in your subconscious, then chip away at the dirt and muck until you find out what it is you've got. 

When I first read that metaphor, I had no clue what Stephen King was talking about. I'd spent most of my career writing screenplays, which are structurally rigorous enough that it seemed as crazy to start a script without a clear idea of the story than it would be to start building a house without a blueprint for the second floor.

It wasn't until I actually wrote a novel myself--the middle grade comedy-adventure Deadweather and Sunrise--that I realized books aren't screenplays, and Stephen King was exactly right. In the three years that passed from my initial idea to the completed manuscript, the final story turned out to be something completely different from the one I thought I was digging up when I began. 

It all started with a character who popped into my head one day. His name was Crooked Pete, and he was a pirate--but all the other pirates thought he was cursed, so they wouldn't let him on their ships, and the only job he could get was working as a waiter in a pirate-themed restaurant. 

That seemed funny to me, so I started thinking about what kind of a world might have both working pirate ships and a pirate-themed restaurant. From there, I came up with an island inhabited entirely by pirates (and which, for weather-related reasons, I initially named Sweatbath).

Then I started thinking about what kind of trouble I could get Crooked Pete into, so I sent a lawyer into the pirate-themed restaurant with a business proposition on behalf of a shadowy, unnamed client. 

The shadowy client turns out to be a very obnoxious twelve-year-old rich kid, whose family has just disappeared under mysterious circumstances, leaving him in control of their island plantation. His sudden and rather large inheritance has made him very grandiose, and he tells Crooked Pete he wants to hire him as muscle because there are some people he'd like to have killed. Eventually, the kid encounters a very pretty girl on the island next door, and he orders Crooked Pete to kidnap her, but she's a real handful in a Ransom-of-Red-Chief sort of way, so she winds up bossing both Crooked Pete and the kid around.

As I thought about it, though, the obnoxious rich kid started to grate on me. He was funny, but I wasn't sure I wanted to follow him around for a whole book, let alone root for him. So I got rid of his money. Then I got rid of his bad attitude. But somebody needed a bad attitude, so I gave it to the rest of his family, who I decided should hate his guts. 

Then I had to figure out why, if he was a fundamentally decent kid, his own family would hate him. That led to a lot of thinking about the history of both the family and the world they lived in. 

And the more I thought about that world--a slightly dark and dangerous one, full of actual pirates capable of committing actual violence--the more I began to realize the pirate-themed restaurant didn't have any place in it. 

And with no pirate-themed restaurant to work at, there wasn't much point in keeping Crooked Pete around. 

Suddenly, it was three years later, and I had a finished manuscript in my hands. While a few of my early ideas remained in some form--there's still a kid on a pirate-infested island, and his family disappears under mysterious circumstances, and he falls for a pretty girl who's a real handful--most of it didn't look anything like what I'd started with. 

Crooked Pete and the pirate-themed restaurant, who were the first things I dug up, and who seemed initially like the most interesting part of the story, turned out to be the dirt and the muck that I had to scrape off in order to get to the really good stuff underneath. 

And there was a LOT of good stuff buried under there--Deadweather and Sunrise became the first in a trilogy, with a breadth and depth I can't imagine a pirate-themed restaurant story could have sustained. 

Its sequel, New Lands, comes out in May, and I just finished a first draft of the final book in the series, Blue Sea Burning. Now that the story's nearly complete, it's time to dig something else up.

I'm tempted to start over again, back with Crooked Pete at the pirate-themed restaurant, just to see if I can dig up a completely different story from the same source. 

But somehow, I suspect it doesn't work that way. 

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