Last week, the delightful and talented Kristina Martin participated in a fun blog hop, and as part of it she invited me to hop along as well. I’ve known Kristina for a few years now. We met on the Twitters, but when it turned out we lived just a few miles away from each other, we decided to meet in person. My wife and I have seen her perform stand-up a couple of times, and we’ve met for drinks and gelato. Kristina is good people. In fact, I even named a character for her in a novel.

So before you read my contribution to the blog hop, head on over to Kristina’s blog and read hers (if you haven’t already). Then hop on back to see what I have to say for myself.

What am I working on?

exitI have a couple projects in the works. A Skin Kadash short story and a new mystery—possibly book one of a new series. I’ve also completed a young adult mystery which my agent, the Shark, has out on submission. The Kadash tale takes place after the events of County Line, with flashbacks to Skin’s time as a patrol officer in the 80s and 90s. I don’t want to say too much about the new (possible) series, except that it is set in a fictional county in the Oregon High Desert.

But about setting in general

The Skin Kadash novels (and the YA mystery) are set primarily in Portland, with real world locations and mentions of real life events and people. My goal with Kadash was to root it solidly in the city where I lived. Even when he journeyed outside of Portland, it was always to places which were personally familiar to me, which were personally important to me. The YA is set in the same world (and even features an unnamed cameo by Skin).

With this new novel, I want to go a completely different direction. I am creating the landscape from the ground up, plunking down mountains and streams and towns and villages in the interstitial space between the molecules which separate one real world Oregon county from another. I want to control the structure of county and town government and law enforcement, I want to shape the ski runs at the local resort and the range land where cattle graze. Though the novel isn’t a fantasy, I’m tackling many of the world-building issues fantasy and SF authors must tackle. It’s fun.

Also, my main character is a mortician. That’s fun too.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

May I be glib and say the difference is it’s written by me?

Lost Dog was born out of a writing prompt. In late 1994 I took a mystery writing workshop at Portland State University led by Gordon DeMarco. Up to that point, I’d written primarily science fiction and fantasy, and dabbled in “literary” (scare quotes intentional), but while I’d loved and read mystery all my life, I’d never attempted my own mystery tale.

In the first meeting, Gordon gave us a writing prompt: write a scene with an elephant in it. No other requirements, aside from the fact it needed to be a scene from a mystery. I wrote what would eventually become chapter one of Lost Dog. (The elephant, a toy, would morph into a plushie dog in subsequent drafts.)

One thing which struck me in that second class, when we shared our scenes, was how different they all were. One prompt, ten tales. Yes, they were all mysteries, yes, they all had elephants. But from there, the tales diverged.

Up to that point in my life, I fell into the “what if someone steals my idea” camp. But suddenly I realized how important our own particular approach is to the way a story unfolds. One prompt, ten tales. I’ve since led writing workshops myself and seen this over and over again. One prompt, ten tales. One idea, dozens of stories1.

So how does my work different from others? It’s stories told in the way I tell them.

Why do I write what I do?

I tell the stories I have in me. That is perhaps not too illuminating, but in the end, you can tell a lot about me by what I’ve chosen to write. Certain themes crop up again and again in my work, and for good reason: it’s stuff I have personal experience with.

How does my writing process work?

Lately, in fits and starts. At my best, I’m focused and consistent. I haven’t been at my best for a couple of years now. I’ve been … oh, how do you says it? … flaky as hell. Part of it was just the way life sometimes goes. Family priorities called for me to focus on other things for a while, and I was good with that. We also moved last year, which is pretty disruptive.

Only in the last couple of months have I seriously gotten back to writing again after a long hiatus, and it’s still more fits than starts. But things are settling down. The new mystery is advancing, if at a crawl, and as is the Skin Kadash story. I believe focused and consistent will define my process soon enough.

My Invitees

Theresa Snyder is a friend and fellow author I’ve known for many years. She has written a series of middle grade fantasies about Farloft the Dragon, and a series of young adult science fiction called the Star Travelers Series. She also wrote a newspaper column for many years about her experience caring for her parents. These have been collected into a single volume titled We 3.

Christine Finlayson is an author, editor, and erstwhile water scientist. Her first mystery novel, an Oregon coast tale called Tip of a Bone, was published in 2013 — and she’s now writing two suspense novels, both mysteriously featuring the Columbia River.  In her spare time, Christine loves to photograph all things weird or wild in nature and explore the Northwest’s beaches and bike trails.

Here’s the point where I have to diverge from the rules. I invited three authors, but one, Lisa Alber, had already participated in this blog hop. So I asked another, but didn’t hear back. Then another, but also didn’t hear back from them either. I thought about asking yet one more, but decided I’d hold off, lest the others suddenly agree to participate.

So if it turns out they do, I’ll add them to this post. But if not, there’s always Lisa’s post, and next week you can hear from Theresa and Christine as well.

I will note that sometimes a story premise is so unusual that it stands out as its own thing. But this, I submit, is not as common as you might think. And even when an unusual premise is tackled by different writers, the way the tales are told, the choices the authors make, result in different stories. Battle Royale is not The Hunger Games, and The Hunger Games is not Battle Royale, even if they share a basic premise. I’m not particularly interested in the spittle-flecked interweb fight about which was better or about whether Suzanne Collins “ripped off” Koushun Takami, but if you are, the Google will help you track down those arguments.