“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”
“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
As I’m wont to do, I’ve been talking with friends about writing. Lately, a lot of our talk has been around the whole work vs. passion and how it plays into success and failure. Writing what we think we should be writing versus writing what we want to write. Today I stumbled across this Toni Morrison quote which hits at the center of it all.
Write your story. The only way to fail in writing is to not write.
Welcome to #My5, a project that I’ve started, with a few of my fellow authors, across the internet. In this and other posts, we’re going to delve into five things that had influenced our current projects: it could be five people, five books, five songs, five comics or a mixture of some or all—you never know. Why five? It’s an arbitrary limitation, but it’s digestible and prevents these posts from running away from us. If you’re an author and you’re interested in joining us, you can read the introduction post or check out the info at the bottom of this post. So, without further ado, here’s #My 5: The Bell Forging Cycle.
Inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere, and it’s different for each writer. For me, there are key instances that trigger something in my mind that inspired me to create the world of the Territories.
I tend to pitch The Bell Forging Cycle as “Lovecraftian Urban Fantasy,” which is a relatively narrow descriptive. In my article for Fantasy Book Critic, I described the series as a “dark cyberpunk post-post-apocalyptic dystopian weird western cosmic horror urban fantasy adventure,” which, yeah, was a mouthful. Instead of explaining how all that works, I figured it’d be fun to use #My5 in a way that lets me share how all of those pieces come together.
1. The Lovecraft Mythos
This is the obvious one, but it’s important enough that I need to mention it first. I didn’t start reading H.P. Lovecraft until I was in my early twenties and attending college. While Cthulhu, Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth were on my mind, it wasn’t until a conversation in 2007 with my friend, Josh Montreuil, that I had the idea of mixing the mythos with a story like the one I wanted to write.
Longtime readers of the Lovecraftian mythos can see the signs in the world. The books are set in a world rebuilt after Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones returned, caused an apocalypse, and once again faded into myth. Their influence has a fundamental impact on the world. Landmasses have been reshaped, and humanity is no longer alone; exotic species lifted from the mythos now inhabit the world alongside us. Dark cults from stories like The Call of Cthulhu, The Haunter of the Dark, and The Shadow Over Innsmouth have risen to become large organized religions. While a knowledge of the mythos isn’t necessary to enjoy the books, there’s no denying that Lovecraft’s influence is scattered through everything.
It’s probably no secret that I’m a cyberpunk fan. Books like William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Neil Stephenson’s Snowcrash, and movies like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner are seminal works in my life. Cities of cement and chrome, coupled with the compression of humanity, were a draw for me. In each of those worlds were millions of stories. So, when I discovered a real world example of those strange, stacked cyberpunk cities, I was fascinated.
Kowloon was a densely populated neighborhood that existed in Hong Kong during the middle of the 20th-century. Thirty-three thousand people lived within 6.4 acres of space stacked atop each other up to a height of 140 ft. The result of this mass was an isolated, multileveled community, filled with all manner of individuals, organizations, businesses, schools, and unique cultures. (Check out this fascinating cross section map or this detailed illustration to see how dense it was.) Kowloon’s existence became the spark that eventually became Lovat. It was the real-life example that triggered my concept of the vast megalopolis by the sea.
3. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower
Stephen King’s opus is an early forerunner of genre mixing; an intense blend of western tropes, fantasy locations, and science-fiction problems, mixed with a post-apocalyptic road story starring gunslingers. I started reading the series in high school and quickly devoured what I could until it finally ended in 2004. Up until The Dark Tower series, most of the sci-fi and fantasy I read was fairly conventional.
Seeing this strange new world presented in such a way opened my eyes to what fiction could become. I can still picture walking with the Ka-Tet of Nineteen throughout Mid and Endworld. There is so much to love. The Lobstrosities, Shardik, Blaine the Mono, the city of Lud, the plains of Mejis, the Wolves of Thunderclap, and Devar-Toi are all vivid in my mind, and I continually find myself revisiting the series to this day.
And, if you’re wondering, I absolutely remember the face of my father.
4. China Miéville’s Bas-Lag
I love worldbuilding; I love seeding the potential of new locations and stories throughout prose. If it was King who showed me my first glimpses of weird fiction, China Miéville refined it. Perdido Street Station constructed a world that proved to me that fantasy didn’t have to be elves and dwarves, hobbits and men, orcs and dragons.
His Bas-Lag series—my favorite of which is The Scar—takes those ideas to a whole new level. Strange species crawl through Mieville’s books: bug-headed women, vampires, half-machine hybrids, sentient cacti, tiny gargoyles, disembodied hand-shaped parasites, scabmettlers—the human-like creatures who’s blood congeals to the point that it can become a sort of armor—and that’s just the start. That same approach is applied to everything from governmental structure to economics. Each book opens up new lands and strange new species, and throughout it all, Mieville does it right. He mixes and blends and creates a profound concoction that still stick with me.
5. HellBlazer (In particular M. R. Carey’s run)
One of the granddaddies of urban fantasy, the Vertigo comic series, follows the magician for hire, John Constantine as he drinks and smokes his way through England, America, Hell, and all parts in between. There is something about his wisecracking ways and indifferent attitude that I love. Constantine is relatable; he isn’t some all-powerful superhero; he isn’t some wealthy playboy; he is a working class stiff who is more clever than good and more determined than heroic.
Constantine is relatable. He is Walter White, a man doing bad things for good reasons. While Waldo Bell isn’t Constantine, there is a similarity between the characters. Both are dogged and driven men who would stop at nothing and go to any lengths to defeat what they see as evil. Heroes don’t always need to be golden paragons of humanity. They can and should be flawed.
So those are #My5, my collection of properties that influenced The Bell Forging Cycle. Each has had a profound impact on me creatively. You can check out my series at bellforgingcycle.com or hit up any of the specific books at the links below to read excerpts and learn more about the world of the Territories.
I’m not alone in collecting #My5! Other authors have joined me and written their #My5. You can find their articles by following the links below. Make sure to look for links at the bottom of their posts as well.
- Michael Ripplinger’s #My5: The Verdant Revival
- Laurie Tom’s #My5: My Five Influences
- Eric Lange’s #My5: 30 Second Fantasy
Are you a published (indie or traditional) author who is interested in joining in the #My5 fun? Write your article following the format above (remember, the limit is five), link to your work and others’ posts, and shoot me an email at hello at kmalexander.com, and I’ll add you to the list above and the official #My5 page! You can download the #My5 logo at any of the links below.
Attend any convention, sit in on a reading, or visit panel and during open Q&A, and you’ll hear a common question asked by someone in attendance. It’s a query every author gets. I’ve seen Neil Gaiman blog about it, Stephen King speak about it, and Ursula K. Le Guin write about it. It comes down to this:
“Where do you get your ideas?”
I think people assume that there is some hidden mystery or a big secret in being a writer. However, the truth is that inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere; the smallest thing can spark a multitude of ideas, and it’s different for every author. For me, I can imagine several key instances that have triggered something in my mind, ideas that have taken root and helped construct the world of The Bell Forging Cycle. I want to share those ideas, and I know others do as well, so I am introducing #My5, a new project I’m starting, focusing on inspiration and ideas. The goal is to create a familiar and straightforward format allowing published authors (indie or traditional) from any and all genres to share some of their inspirations for specific projects with their fans and peers. In these posts, writers will list five sources that influenced one of their projects and they’ll link to the blogs of others authors who are doing the same thing. There’s no rule on what you can find inspiring, be it music, television, books, speeches, landscapes, travel, or whatever; it’s all open. The key is that you can only pick five, no more, no less.
So, if you’re a published author who regularly blogs, you’re invited to participate! Just shoot me an email at hello at kmalexander.com and let me know you’re participating. Write your post, publish it, and link to others who have done the same. The goal is to create a network of ideas so we can share our inspirations together. You can download the #My5 Logo using any of the links below.
The first round of #My5 entries are coming really soon. So watch this space and follow me on Twitter! I’ll be posting my own and linking to others. Even the simplest thing can often spark amazing stories and complex worlds; inspiration abounds, let’s explore it.
“Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.”
It has been a while since I posted a quote. Figured this tidbit from Madeleine L’Engle was pertinent for most authors. So… yeah, what are you doing reading the internet? As much as I like you coming here and hanging out, you should really get back to writing.
“But life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.”
Prince passed away yesterday; he was fifty-seven. Between the fan tributes, listening to the nonstop playlists on KEXP, and watching buildings lit in purple as tribute around the world, I’ve found myself musing over his loss and how I handle the death of someone like Prince.
2016 has been a rough year for music already; we have lost some incredible titans: Maurice White, Merle Haggard, Phife Dogg, the indomitable David Bowie, and more. The internet as a whole allows all of us to share in moments together, and following each loss comes an outpouring of love, respect, and sadness. It’s beautiful to see how many people are touched by the creations of a single individual.
I was talking with a friend of mine this morning about how I handle moments like this differently. I didn’t know Prince personally, so I don’t cry, and I don’t generally get emotional. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care. My emotions just go in a different direction. As I reflect on Prince’s life, I find myself inspired.
The quote I pulled from the lyrics of 1999, really resonated with me this morning—like a party, life doesn’t last. We are here on this earth for a finite time, and we’re lucky enough to live in an age where we can pursue whatever we wish. Often people squander this. I know I have. I can’t begin to calculate how many hours in the past I’ve wasted.
For me, the death of a titan like Prince doesn’t depress me. Sure, I will miss seeing performances like the halftime show from Super Bowl XLI, but looking back on his life and seeing what he was able to do in only fifty-seven years leaves me in awe. Prince’s life shows us what can happen when you are willing to put aside distractions and pour 100% of yourself into your creations. Look at his impact on music. Look at his influence in songwriting. Look at how he inspired so many generations of performers. A skinny kid from Minneapolis, Minnesota profoundly changed music forever. We won’t forget that, and that’s incredible. That energizes me, motivates me, and it makes me want to put aside all distractions and do the same.
The party of life may not last, but if you throw a good one, the memory will never fade. Rest in peace, Prince. Thanks.