Writing Poorly on Purpose

Writing Wrong on PurposeMost writers I know spend a lot of time worrying about the quality of their work. Will it resonate with readers? Does it get across the proper emotions? Is it as good as other writing I’ve read?

However, a possible new character in my current urban fantasy series has reminded me of a writing exercise that takes the complete opposite stance and allows writers to relax about their craft and breathe a little.

See, I’m toying with the idea of having a character who is both a prolific writer and a terrible one. They would be the author of many emails, or whatever passes for emails in my world of the undead, and yet be quite awful at composing said emails.

And if I put these emails in front of my characters, actually write them out onto the pages of my book, that means that I would get the opportunity to write poorly on purpose.

This, I can assure you, is a writing exercise that will turn your brain inside out. As I’ve mentioned, so much energy and worry gets put into whether or not you are writing well. But taking the opposite approach and trying to write poorly can provide a healthy change of pace, because you have to write poorly, but do it well.

Get it?

I mean you can’t just slap away at the keyboard and be done with it because the result would be a completely unbelievable string of writing. Oh no, you have to think about what you know concerning the art of writing and, more to the point, what this character doesn’t know about writing. You have to figure out where he or she is lacking because a complete lack of readability would just be dismissed as uninteresting or unbelievable. This writing has to be bad but think its good. It has to be read but not be loved. It has to get processed but still make you cringe.

You have to figure out where this character goes wrongs. Do they use clunky phrasing? Awful metaphors? Too too too many adverbs? Do they sound dumb? If so, in what way? Trouble getting to the point? Bad sense of humor? Inflated view of themselves? Over-reliance on one writing trick?

The exercise at once allows you to relax, after all the goal is to write poorly, while also requiring you to focus in on your strengths as a writer and what good writing means to you so that you can effectively subvert all of that and produce bad writing.

In the end, as a matter of fact, writing poorly can turn out to be one of the most challenging things a writer can do.

I told you it would turn your brain inside out.

The Trappings of Power and How to Write It

Power and IntriguePower. Its trappings ruin people, love of it corrupts them, attempts to seize it destroy them.

And yet I don’t seem capable of writing about it without sounding like a moron.

The undead characters in my current urban fantasy series have a ruling council of sorts. And it has come time for me to explore this idea more fully…which as me pretty flummoxed.

See, power has to come from somewhere. You have to have some way of holding sway over or influencing people: you can have a persuasive personality, you can have access to something that someone else needs, you can have the ability to threaten someone, you can be able to pay someone a sum large enough to make them do what you want, and so on.

The thing is, in my world of zombies and angels, there aren’t really any needs or wants. Testers don’t go hungry due to a resource being limited. People are their source of energy and there are plenty of people for all the testers to get by. Testers don’t get cold, they don’t get tired, they don’t have any use for jewelry or luxury. Yes, occasionally these things effect them, but it never becomes a problem that isn’t easily fixed. Hell, there are desk jobs on the top of Mount Everest in my world.

So the sorts of things that might be used to dictate power among my society of testers get a little muddy. No one is collecting taxes because there is no state. There are no roads to maintain, no lines of communication to keep up, no armies to raise. Well…at least not originally.

There is no need for law as nothing can be stolen and up until recently it was questionable if one tester could even injure another.

Without the need to dispense justice, without anything to fight over, without any way to actually enforce a ruling, it doesn’t seem like there would be much of a reason for a governing body to exist. Which, in fact, has been the case. So far in these books there have been hints about how, at the time the Council was formed, a brief display of power followed. But then it is strongly intimated that the Council’s power fizzled out, possibly due to actions taken by Epp, and since then it has been a lame duck.

Recently it has become important again, I actually credit Mary with that, but it is its formation that I am pondering today.

Would a society with no bodies and no needs have any need for a governing body?

The answer is yes…because I said it did back in book one.

Now I just have to piece together why.

What Makes a Zombie Book?

ZombiesWhat makes a book a zombie book?

What defines a zombie?

I find myself asking these questions the further I get into book three.

When I first started turning the Matthew and Epp stories into a book, I didn’t give much thought to how I might classify them. I never have any idea where a story is going to lead and trying to shove a book into a set category in the early stages has never resulted in a product I’m happy with. So I didn’t set out to write any particular genre.

It became obvious pretty quickly, though, that with an undead ronin and a two-thousand-year-old Roman slave interacting in present-day Manhattan, these books were going to land somewhere in the supernatural category. And once the framework of the testers started to fall into place, some part of me thought it would be fun to take various famous monsters and see how I could go about including them in this new world I was discovering.

I mean, who’s to say that every boogeyman the world over isn’t, in reality, a tester crossing paths with a human in some manner? The different ways that testers can show up in a human’s life are widely varied. On one end of things, the testers occupy a ghostly area. They are basically pure energy, and if a tester crosses a human’s path in this form it can result in that human having crazy thoughts or wildly volatile emotions. At other times it can result in the human seeing things as if their eyes were playing tricks on them. Such examples, were they to get more and more extreme, might very well get explained away using a notion like ghosts or vampires.

But testers aren’t confined to just being whispy things that humans must explain away. They can also pop into human form. And since all of the testers were alive at some point, maybe they’d be recognized while they were walking around. And if you’re seeing someone you know is dead, only they’re up and about and eating a cheeseburger, well your going to think that the dead have risen, right?

So it’s possible for the world of testers, and these books, to move more into the zombie side of things.

ghosts and zombiesAnd yet, just having the dead in motion doesn’t really classify something as a zombie book. At the very least that would push things into the world of monsters, but it feels like zombies require something more. They require a transformation of the person who once was alive. Zombies are the body of a person, only the essence of that person is gone and what is left is that body under new programming.

Also? Zombies seem to need a bit of rot about them. At some point a zombie ceased being alive for a time, and that time period of being just a corpse is central to the concept of a zombie. They have been exposed to the elements. They have been lying in dirt. They have begun to decay.

I sell the Matthew and Epp books as zombie books, but I always wonder how correct that is. I mean, the bad guys are rotted, undead creatures. That’s zombie enough for marketing purposes. I’m not going to pick nits when it comes to  bringing new readers in.

But I do like to pause and mull over what defines a zombie book at times. My books are not straight the-dead-start-walking-and-our-heroes-hide-in-a-bunker-type zombie books. Plus, the zombies in my books think. They are smart, well some of them, and articulate.

Yet the notion that something has passed out of them while they sat and rotted is still present. Even the one’s that side with our heroes feel estranged and distant from the world they once belonged too.

In the end, for the characters that are classified as zombies in these books, something was transformed as they lay in a graveyard…and that is very zombie sounding to me.

Writing Isn’t Always About Writing

Me too by alles-schlumpf from FlickrYesterday I started a new scene in Book 3. It wasn’t a natural continuation of any scene before it, it was an abrupt shift introducing a new character in a new setting who will, in a few more scenes, be engulfed by the main story line.

I managed to write this new character’s name down, then a sentence or two after that. Then I became completely and totally stuck. I knew nothing about this character. I knew nothing about her average day, or the color of her hair, or whether she likes to laugh or enjoys torturing puppies.

All I knew yesterday was that she existed.

That’s about as tiny an opening into a character’s world as you can get. You are aware of their presence, but that’s it. Usually you get a little more than that. You get flashes of what someone looks like, or you have an ear for their dialogue, or you know how their appearance effects the mood of a story. In those cases when you bring a character in for the first time it’s not too bad.

But every once and awhile you just know that a body with a conscious mind inside of it exists somewhere in the world of your story…and that’s all you get.

This is a terrifying situation to be in.

The amount of laboring that something like this presents is, I think, where the fear comes from. Every sentence has to be thought and rethought. Dialogue has to be held up to constant scrutiny (and generally during a first draft, anything held up to scrutiny gets pooped on). Since this character is appearing in a totally new setting that means that you’re going to have to come up with a bunch of new names and secondary characters, because odds are this character doesn’t sit around by herself until she enters into the main story line.

The entire life of a human has to be crafted out of nothing, and I mean nothing, simply because your brain tells you that it is time to switch to a new character.

Terrifying.

And so I wrote a few sentences and then I stopped, because I had absolutely no freaking idea where to go with this person.

But then I had a thought. A very simple one. I thought, “Meh, I’ll be going back over this plenty and I’ll be thinking about it constantly. In a week I’ll know more about this character’s world than I ever thought possible.”

It’s important to remember that all of the stories that you’ve written right up to this very moment have been exercises in a craft. Because writing isn’t really about typing. Not always. Typing is the edge of the forest. Writing is what you’ve trained your brain to do. Writing is constantly sucking up information, throwing it together, filing away what you think works, and then doing it again and again and again. Writing is knowing how to approach a subject you know nothing about, and in a day be able to act like an expert at it.

Writing is creating a world as an additive process, so that even if you are terrified as you lay it down brick by brick, you will still be able to look back after a period of time and see that a structure has formed. Maybe it will still need a lot more work, but it will be there.

Her hair. What she eats. Who lives with her. What she’s doing when we first meet her.

These simple things are what I worked out over the course of last night while I was watching TV. I wasn’t trying to think about them, but I was writing even though I wasn’t typing, my brain was at work, and some decisions were made. And as I made those choices, they stuck, and they combined, and when I sat down to write her today I had an opening scene.

Never forget that you are always doing two things while you write. You are, obviously, creating whatever your work in progress is.

But you are also honing a craft. You are strengthening a muscle. You are training your brain to do tricks that you’ll be able to pull on for your next work.

You are always growing.

What’s in a Flashback

Sneaky super moon by theqspeaks from FlickrI am currently writing the story of Gregor. This tale contains nothing about when he was a human; it focuses on the hinted-at-story of how he tried to strike out on his own in the world of testers. This is touched on here and there in the first two books, something about how his work became such an integral part of the world that people such as Bram Stoker were able to make use of it.

But whatever could that mean?

And, it is also mentioned that Gregor’s work brought down the only official punishment ever meted out by The Council.

But whatever could that mean?

I also have a large story-line taking place in the present day.

And I have Epp as a human, which seems like a large section. Plus I have brief hints of Matthew, Madeline, Mary, and Bartleby as humans, which seem like brief little flashes of sections.

The thing is I have no idea how to fit any of this together. I keep moving forward with Gregor, and I keep coming up with things that make me laugh like an insane person, and those usually translate into really good scenes. But I have no idea why I’m telling Gregor’s story. It doesn’t want to dovetail with the present-day story.

And the present-day story is also shaping up to be really good. But it doesn’t want to be tied to Gregor’s story.

And then I start thinking really weird thoughts. The Gregor section is getting to be as big as the rest of what I have written so far. That’s part of what has me worried, Gregor’s section seems to be taking over and I’m not even sure I understand the point of it. But, and here’s where it gets weird to me, isn’t the point of writing a good story just just to write a good story? Isn’t that why I do this? Can’t I just have a few disparate story lines that are all interesting on their own? If they’re good they’re good, right?

I don’t know, but I feel like for a third book that would sort of be crap. If this story has nothing to do with anything at all, then it isn’t really a part of the series. So I’m obsessed with finding a common thread through all of this. I have some decent ideas for tying Gregor in. But why on earth we’d go back to hear Epp’s story is a bit beyond me. Unless…again…don’t we just tell stories for the sake of telling stories?

Why am I telling any of this story?

I mean, there are tons of episodes of shows or movies in a series that are heavy on the past just because that’s the story they’re telling.

Maybe I just feel inadequate. Like who am I to tell you that these characters are so interesting that you’ll want to know their past? Or, maybe if it’s written well enough, and I find enough of my mojo in these stories, and I cackle like a madman enough times, I’ll be able to say to myself, “Yes. This is worth handing on to my readers simply because it’s worth handing on  to my readers.”

Or maybe there’s more than three books.

Ugh.

Highbrow Pulp

Breezy Stories pin-up by Enoch Bolles by bollesbiggestfan1from FlickrI’ve mentioned Albert Berg (@albert_berg)on this website before. He’s written some of my favorite reviews of Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions, and he won a flash fiction contest I hosted a while back.

He is also the co-host, along with Tony Southcotte (@tsouthcotte), of the Human Echoes Podcast. Their podcast discusses a new horror movie every week. But that’s not really what the podcast is about. The podcast is about the conversations that these two guys have and the wide array, some might say baffling array, of topics they get into and the different viewpoints they both bring to the table.

I’ve definitely become a fan and you should click that link up there and listen to some recent episodes as well.

Anyway, a few weeks ago my name came up in the podcast and Albert was trying to describe my work to Tony. Part of the fun of listening is hearing the buoyant enthusiasm that Albert exudes when discussing books and movies, and it was a thrill to hear that enthusiasm come out because of something I had written.

Then, while trying to sum up my books to Tony, Albert suggested that they might be described as “Highbrow Pulp.”

I joke a lot on here about how hard it is for me to classify what I write into a genre. This is partly because artists are finicky weirdos and we don’t like to be lumped into genres, partly because the genres I do fit into are more or less overrun by soft-core porn,  and partly because I have a book where an undead samurai helps a Roman slave push Isaac Newton to come up with his theory of gravity…and that’s sort of hard to classify.

But the term Highbrow Pulp has stuck with me since hearing it on the HEPodcast, and I think I rather like it.

On the one hand, my literary heroes include Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac and Salinger. I don’t know how well I’m doing in following in their footsteps, but there’s a desire in me to write poetic prose, to pay attention to the language, to write scenes where everything is about mood or tone, to have plot lines that are barely sketched in the background, to capture something true about the world and life itself. And in the Matthew and Epp stories I find I’ve written some of my truest and heartfelt passages while taking viewpoints from a wider array of characters than I ever have before.

On the other hand, I’m writing books where an undead samurai in a bad suit fights zombies.

And I’m proud of both of those facts.

I think the definition of what “pulp” writing is will vary a lot from person to person, but for me it has no negative connotations. Oh, I know, there are cheaply produced books filling shelves out there that contain awful writing and trite plots and they have sex scenes shoehorned in, and a lot of people would define those as pulp. Not me, though. I define those as crap.

For me, pulp writing means detectives who like bourbon and dames, it means shoot-outs and plot twists, it means femme fatales and exotic locations.

It means writing that doesn’t take itself too seriously and lets the reader have some freaking fun.

For some people, meaning and fun are never found together.

There’s a mindset out there that I always find annoying that meaningful books must be dry and hard to understand and have nothing take place and be about whichever pop sociology happens to be in the headlines at the moment.

I’ve never understood this way of thinking.

What is it that you think is being captured with writing like that? Because it isn’t life. People smile in life. They laugh. Not all the time, no, but quite often, even in trying times and in horrible situations. Sometimes people are overcome with the bad times and life seems devoid of fun, but then they overcome being overcome.

All of the funerals I’ve been to have had a few smiles at them.

A lot of the worst things I’ve faced have resulted in me resolving to take life a little less seriously and focus on the simpler joys more often.

And those writers I listed earlier as my heroes? They might not write slapstick, but their stories do contain drunken idiots and misunderstood dialogue and jokes and some actions scenes and laughable situations.

They just also contain something deeper.

I don’t know that I aim to write pulp, but with this current set of books I am aiming to fit in as many classic movie monsters as I can. That sounds sort of pulpy.

But I’m also aiming to break your heart if possible, and to make you ponder your life if I can.

I don’t know.

Highbrow pulp.

I’ve heard worse descriptions.

Translation Questions

I received an email from a reader, Olga from Poland, today. Olga and I were emailing a lot a few months ago when she first read my books.

She actually won a signed copy for spotting a typo and sent me this photo to let me know that Probability Angels had found a good home.

Probability Angels goes to Poland

During the course of those emails she asked if it would be okay if she were to translate Probability Angels into Polish for practice; translating books is what Olga wants to do for a living.

My response was to jump up and down with excitement like a cartoon because that’s freaking COOL and then reply to her email with a kind, “Yes. And please send me any questions you come across.”

So today she sent me a couple of questions. I found them interesting and I thought I would share.

First question:

“You know, it’s been twenty-two years”, Matthew said, “you think it might be time for you to give me a little credit?” – it sounds silly, but did you mean credit literally – as if he wanted Epp to give him some currency, or credit as trust? I would go for the trust one, but I’m a little confused by Epp’s answer (“The smile disappeared from Epp’s face. “Not a chance”). Sounds kinda harsh if it’s about trust…

I can’t imagine how much trouble synonyms and homonyms and puns and all of that must cause for translators. I guess the larger phrase would be idioms? Words and phrases that have taken on whole new meanings from their original intent are extremely common and they are often used with zero thought given to the phrase’s original meaning. So when someone who is unfamiliar with the phrase hears it…it must just sound bonkers.

This is not an extreme example, Olga understands the nuances of the word credit, but it still got me thinking about idiomatic language.

I constantly try to purge my writing of idioms. They are lazy and they are easily misunderstood and whenever I find one I erase it and say what it means in original and plain language. But it’s difficult. Like I said, many idioms are so fixed in our heads that they don’t even register as idioms anymore.

The one exception here is dialogue. There are no rules for what comes out of a character’s mouth. None. That has always been my philosophy because in the real world there are no rules for what comes out of peoples’ mouths. Spoken communication is a baffling, mysterious, fluid, and amazing thing. I try to respect that.

Anyway, in this case Matthew is not using the word “credit” literally. He just wants some recognition for his 22 years of work. Epp, who knows that Matthew has not even begun working yet (he is still a newbie and not a tester) and who has been working for over 2,000 years, does not opt to give Matthew a whole lot of respect.

Second question:

2. “Epp shrugged, cool eyes never leaving Matthew. “They keep me in Zegna.” Epp extended a hand with the clipboard in it”. I have no idea what’s this Zegna. Couldn’t find it on the net either. Some help, please? 🙂

I’m actually amazed how many people don’t ask about this. I think maybe that Epp is so mysterious at this point that readers gloss right over this, expecting him to talk about things they don’t quite get. Maybe?

That’s all good, too, because I didn’t really mean for most readers to understand this.

These sorts of things, slipping in little bits of dialogue that aren’t meant to be grasped instantly, are one of the ways I entertain myself while writing. I’ve usually read and written and reread and rewritten a book so many times while working on it that I will literally start adding inside jokes with myself.

And with Probability Angels? Well, the incredibly quick pace at which that book was written resulted in some passages that appear astoundingly stark to me when I look them over today. At times I would barely scatter enough clues into a line of dialogue to let the reader know what was being discussed, let alone understand it, and then move on with zero explanation or rehashing of the topic.

I can remember when Matthew first asks Epp about being a slave and Epp responds, “My slave name, which I kept, is Epictetus, not Chicken George.”

And that was all I said!

Chicken George (to the best of my memory) is the name given to Kubla Kinte from the book, Roots, when he is first kidnapped from Africa and enslaved by Americans.

My point in this line of dialogue from Epp was to explain to Matthew that he was not an American slave, but a slave from ancient Rome.

This is gone into more later on in the book, but it is not really touched on much again during that initial conversation.

Even the notion that slaves were often renamed by their owners was never explained.

Stark.

So, Zegna. Zegna is Epp referrering to Ermenegildo Zegna, an upscale men’s designer. When I was first creating Epp I wanted him dressed in an absolutely stunning suit. I asked around about who made the best suits in the world and was told about Zegna, and then once I looked at some of his stuff online I knew I had found Epp’s wardrobe.

If you want a sense of the man’s work, go here. Unfortunately it is hard to find photos of his stuff in the real world instead of on the runway. I can assure you, though, that Epp had zero trouble wearing Zegna’s clothes into Central Park and making them look good.

In that sentence Epp is telling Matthew that the work he puts in is enough to earn him very nice clothes. The connection between a tester’s work, their energy, how they can manipulate that energy, and their wardrobe, is gone into in much more detail later on in the books. Frankly, with Epp’s mastery of this world and the work he has put in as a tester, producing a nice suit is probably a trifling for him. But in this scene Epp is treating Matthew as the newbie he is and opts to gloss over the finer points of Matthew’s question and put it into material terms that Matthew will understand.

That was fun. And to think, I hated translating things in high-school…

Progress Without Milestones

ASDA Suede Notebooks - Stacked with Moleskine by pigpogm from FlickrWords continue to pile up for the first draft of book three. A title? That’s nowhere in sight. A notion of how all these stories come together? That’s…well that’s also murky. A clear idea of what happens next? Not so much.

And yet I continue to sit down every day, shut down all distractions, and write. The scene I’m working on unfolds, the next scene is hinted at, and the next day I continue this exercise. And the next. And the next. And, when all of these mysterious bouts of writing are strung together, definite progress is being made.

But it’s really freaking weird.

Every book I’ve written I’ve taken a different approach to. And every time, the approach I chose was a direct result of where I wanted to be with my writing.

I felt I was becoming far too constrained by outlines and planning, and so I started the 26 Stories in 52 Weeks project, which spawned Probability Angels.

I became nervous about my reliance on first-draft readers, so with Persistent Illusions I did not let anyone read anything until well after a first draft was finished.

For this book, though, my notions of how to write are much more informed by my notions of what I want writing to be.

Writing used to be stressful, painful, slave-labor with myself chained to my keyboard. I used to yell at myself for not hitting my word counts and have anxiety attacks that my story wasn’t good enough. I would sit down to write and a voice in my head would yell at me constantly. And if I wasn’t all keyed up then I would worry that I wasn’t “feeling things” enough and I would try to hype myself up with music or caffeine so that I could write dammit.

This book I’m not doing any of that. I do worry about the story, but I also constantly remind myself that my past five books all came together somehow, and that I actually had a proof copy of Persistent Illusions ordered before I knew what the ending was going to be. So I think about the story a lot, but I don’t let myself panic about it.

And I try for a word count every day, but I don’t beat myself up over it. I know that some days will be less and some days will be more. It’s far more important to chip away at it for many days over time than it is to stress one day in particular.

And I don’t need a loud voice in my head yelling at me; I actually aim for the opposite of being keyed up. I flip my phone over and and shut down all distractions on my computer and say to myself, “Okay. You can either write, or you can sit here, but you are not allowed to open any internet pages or look at your phone. There’s the Word document, and that’s it.” And when I say that, I’m calm. And when I hear that, I listen. And I sit and I relax and I do nothing for the first five minutes, and then sure enough I start typing.

Words appear and pages pile up but the hallmarks of progress, all the little goodies I used to savor, like reaching a big exciting scene I was looking forward to or finishing up a section, none of those exist.

It’s just me and my Word document.

And as I said, it’s pretty strange.

So progress? Progress is being made.

I just have no way of measuring it.

The Tester on My Train

Vintage Subway Train by rikomatic via FlickrI don’t know much about the subways of other cities, but in New York the station announcements are made both by the train’s conductor, and with pre-recorded messages. It depends on how new your train is whether or not your ride will favor the pre-recorded announcements or a human being.

So I was riding the A-line home yesterday from West 4th street and the speaker was making the normal announcements at each stop, where we were and what connections could be made. I was reading so I wasn’t paying too much attention.

But then I heard something weird and I looked up. I wasn’t entirely sure what I had heard, but it was off. That was all I knew.

As I looked around I saw, standing in the subway door, a little kid maybe ten years old. He had sandy blond hair and looked, to my eyes, about three feet tall and he was wearing a backpack that was bigger than his torso. He was standing with his feet in the subway, but was leaning out the door and looking down the platform.

This was odd. I mean, I see adults do this all the time, but for a little kid to be doing it was just strange. Then the kid shouted out, “We’re being held momentarily by the train dispatcher. We’ll be moving shortly. Please forgive the delay.”

Now this was getting really weird. And, I should point out, that when I say that this kid shouted these words out, I mean he shouted them out. He still had the voice of a ten year old but he put everything he had into it and knew how to belt out a phrase with some authority.

Okay.

Fine.

I was feeling a little disoriented but…so this boy likes to play conductor. I mean that’s not the strangest thing ever. I guess.

Then suddenly he shouted, “Please stand clear of the closing doors.” At which point he stepped back into the subway, the doors shut, and we started moving.

We were well past weird at this point. This kid was predicting when New York subway trains would leave the station. That’s just pure wizardry. Plus, I was looking around, and I didn’t see any parents keeping an eye on this boy. He seemed to be all alone.

Then, as we’re riding, he threw in a, “Ladies and gentlemen, please remember that large backpacks and other items are subject to search by the transit authority.”

This is the exact phrasing of the on-board announcements. Everything he had shouted up to that point had been a perfect imitation of train-speak.

My first thought was, “Well I’ve lost my mind. What fun.”

Except that, as we moved from stop to stop, other people in the car started looking up and catching each other’s eyes and laughing. At one point the lady sitting next to me leaned my way and whispered, “Did I miss something?”

“I have no idea what’s going on,” I replied.

“Oh good, I’m not the only one,” she answered.

For his grand finale, while we were pulling in to my stop, the kid shouted out the location and the connections and then called out, “There is a B local train arriving across the tracks. B local across the tracks.”

Sure enough a B train arrived across the tracks shortly after we had stopped.

I walked to my connecting train actually laughing out loud.

Having thought about this now for awhile, it makes more sense. Obviously the people driving the train have to get the information for their announcements somehow. I had always assumed they used a radio or something, but it’s just as likely that there’s a system of signals located along the routes that gives them a heads up about what’s going on and then they make the corresponding announcements. Someone probably taught this boy, or he figured it out himself, and he knows where to look when pulling into a station to tell if there’s a delay ahead or what other trains are arriving.

Plus, his mom was sitting right next to him, but she also had a little girl with her. She was reading to the girl and focusing more on that, so the first few times I tried to find the boy’s parents I missed her. As I searched more and more I noticed that there were plenty of times when she was glancing over at her son to make sure he was okay…although clearly he did this trick a lot.

And, while I’m glad to have made sense out of yesterday’s train ride, and always knew there was a sane explanation, I have to admit that it was so much more fun during those first few minutes when I was happy to believe that a very small, supernatural being was somehow interacting with my reality.

That’s always been part of the joy of writing the Matthew and Epp stories, trying to figure out ways to have these characters come into contact with human reality so that, well, maybe they explain some weird event in my readers’ past.

It was nice to have reminder of that in the form of a ten-year-old tester on my subway ride yesterday.

Madeline: The Most Powerful Being in the Universe

Last year for my fan art contest, Saher Imran submitted the following picture which made my heart explode with joy (technically this is from two years ago, the fan art contest was not held last year for various reasons).

Epp in the Cathedral by Saher Imran

Being utterly enamored with Saher’s work, when I contacted her to tell her that she had won the contest I also asked if she would be interested in doing any more paintings based on my book.

It turns out that she is a huge fan of my work as well and was very interested in working together on some more art. We chatted through some ideas and eventually I commissioned her to do an as-yet-undetermined-number of character portraits from the Matthew and Epp stories.

Who to work on first wasn’t even up for debate. She was dead-set on starting with Madeline. That was just fine with me.

A few days ago the final Madeline painting came in.

I have one major regret about this project. I regret that I don’t have a massive audience to share Saher’s amazing work with. It deserves more exposure than I can offer on my own. So please, if you know any other fans, possible fans, or anyone at all who loves stories told through paintings, pass the link along.

I just love this and I want as many eyes on it as possible.

And, of course, there will be more to come.

But for now I give you Madeline, the most powerful creature in the entire universe:

Madeline Artwork by Saher Imran