Monday, March 28, 2011

"The Strange Man" Commentary (Part I)

Welcome to Part 1 (of 4) of the commentary for The Strange Man. I warn you now: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK! If you haven’t read The Strange Man...what are you reading the commentary for? You won’t have any idea what I’m talking about. Go buy the book then come back. I’ll still be here.

As you open the book, you’ll see a bunch of nice comments made by my fellow writers. I did not pay for any of these, so that’s nice. :p

Copyright page. My birth year is listed as 1979. It's actually 1978. That’ll be changed for reprints and for the sequel.

Title page. I was pretty anal in the beginning about keeping the font for “The Coming Evil” the same sort of “typewriter” effect as when I originally wrote this (see Xulon Edition cover). But, as it turns out, I like the Realms’ interpretation of it better. I especially like the design to The Strange Man logo. It reminds me of the I Know What You Did Last Summer movie titles and that brings me endless happiness. I came up with the title “The Coming Evil” after many days/weeks of indecision in 1999. I finally broke it down to the main point of the story: Dras is trying to warn Rosalyn of something. I looked up “warn” in the dictionary and it said something about “to tell someone of a coming evil”. Then, as Doc Brown from Back to the Future would say, I was struck by a revelation. A vision. I knew “The Coming Evil” was my title.

Page 1--This prologue is one of my proudest things that I’ve written. It was not originally in the Xulon Edition of the book, so you who have read that version are already treated to something new. There’s a lot of inspirations for this scene, but one that really sticks out is the beginning of The Fog, where John Houseman is telling a spooky story to a bunch of kids. I really love that scene--I thought it set a great mood and it also served as a fun twist on what is, essentially, a boring old exposition scene. The Eldon Granger stuff is fun, to me, because I set up the entire mythology of The Coming Evil Trilogy in this one scene, but I feel (re: hope) it’s in an atmospheric and engaging way.

Page 3--The story of Joe Hallerin. My wife and I drive up to the Ozarks every now and again to get away from things. A lot of the small shoppes carry small press/self-published books--local authors--and a lot of those books are about Ozark ghost stories and legends. One book in particular--Favorite Scary Stories of American Children by Richard and Judy Dockrey Young--was a huge influence. It spoke at great lengths about the oral traditions of those stories and the proper way to tell them. After reading, I came away with a lot of respect for oral storytellers and had a desire to write a story in the “Ozark oral tradition”. I wrote Joe Hallerin’s tale with the original intent of just putting it up on the blog or in an anthology one day, but I loved it so much that I worked it into the story. I love the language that Eldon Granger uses as he tells the story--and that’s all authentic Ozark flavor. “Lit a shuck outta there” and “practice moans and groans”. Of course, now, Eldon sounds like a hillbilly :p

Page 14--The prologue ends with violence. It was important for me to establish the threat of the monsters right up front, especially since we pull back and get involved in Dras’ day-to-day life and there’s nary a monster to be seen for awhile. I felt I needed something dramatic right out of the gate to let you know what kind of book this is going to be. What’s ironic is that, after I sent this in to Realms, I read some interview with agents and editors about their biggest pet peeves. One of them was killing a character in the prologue. Oh well.

Page 15--Chapter One. Another new scene, exclusive to this edition. Now we pull way, way back and cut to a domestic, quaint family dinner. So much of this story--the whole trilogy, in fact--is putting the Weldon family through as much hell as I can muster. In the original Xulon Edition, we begin the book with “it was a dark and stormy night” and the Strange Man is already making his move on Greensboro. It moved too fast. I wanted to turn the clock back and show how normal things were just hours before the storm blows through. I wanted an opportunity to show these characters as a family--together--before I spent the next three books tearing them apart.

It’s no coincidence that Jeff is the first of our main cast to be introduced. He was the first to be introduced in the Xulon Edition, too, albeit under different circumstances. Jeff is a “hero type”. He’s good-looking, he’s a man of convictions, he’s all about duty and responsibility--he’s even a preacher. A preacher in a Christian book! Of course he’s the hero! Only, he’s not. This book is about God choosing the unlikely to become heroes. So, while Jeff certainly has the pedigree, he’s not God’s man for the job. Not this time.

Note: Yes, I have a brother named Jeff. No, this Jeff is not based on or is anything like the other Jeff. It was sheer coincidence that the two share the same name.

Jeff and Isabella really suffered in the Xulon Edition--Isabella especially. They were always sort of background characters, but starting with Book Two (Enemies of the Cross, due out February 2012), they will become just as important to the trilogy as Dras and Rosalyn, so this dinner scene was a chance to show them off, to let them have the spotlight for a bit before Dras comes in and steals the show with his cheese puff shenanigans.

Page 19--Dras' introduction. If you don’t know who this guy is after this intro and the bit at the dinner scene, then I’ve failed as a writer and he’s failed as a character. This is the point where people always ask me “Where in the world did you come up with a name like Dras?” Honestly, I can’t remember. That was over ten years ago and I don’t know. I remember watching a movie on TV around that time--PCU with Jeremy Piven. He was named “Droz” in that movie and was a laid back, silly kind of guy, so who knows. Maybe that’s where it comes from. I recall liking that movie and it fits around the same timeframe, so there. Maybe it’s all Jeremy Piven’s fault. As for the spelling, it just looked natural to me to spell it the way I did, though now I deal with everyone calling him “Drass” as in rhymes with “grass”. It’s supposed to rhyme with “Oz”. I ended up just making the mispronunciation something that Dras has had to live with all his life :p As for the in-universe story about where Dras got his name, this was a last minute addition. I had never thought about it, really, until my editor was finally like “Look. It’s a weird name. You need an explanation.” My wife Meghan and I cooked up the origins of Dras’ name late one night as my deadline loomed closer. I really liked the idea of Jeff naming him. Among many things, this is a story about brothers and, given what these brothers go through, I thought it was a touching foundation to their relationship.

Page 25--The family scene with Rosalyn and Dras. I’ve been writing this story for ten years, and I’ve worked hard to understand who these people are and how they relate to each other. They’ve grown a lot and I’ve grown a lot. Having written this scene pretty late in the process, I feel like I had ten years of getting to know these guys to play off of. Also, having written this scene after the trilogy was more or less complete, it was kind of a way of traveling back in time with them and enjoying the calm before the storm.

Page 26--“The same thing we do every night, Pinky,” is a reference to the cartoon Pinky and the Brain. Probably just zipped right over a lot of people’s heads, but there you have it.

Page 27--Jeff’s nightmare becomes a major plot point of Book Two. I decided to plant a little seed here. New to the Realms Edition.

Page 27--The storm. This is actually where the Xulon Edition began! See how much you would have missed? I’m thankful for the changes. These scenes here, with Jeff and the storm, Millie and the window, and Dras and Rosalyn at the Rave Scene are among the oldest written material in this book. I literally wrote this stuff back in 1999. I’ve edited it a lot--added a lot to it--but some of it is the very same sentences I wrote when I was but a young lad, clacking away at my story in my parent’s house. It probably shows. I still cringe when I read these passages and I never entirely feel like I pulled it up to the standard of the newest material. But, at the same time, I’ve come to accept it. It’s a snapshot of who I was when I started the journey. Humble beginnings.

Page 32--“Mommy?” For everything in me I wanted this to be the opening line of the book. In a book about monsters and bogeymen and frightened children (or, more accurately in Dras’ case, a man-child) finding their voice, this seemed so powerful to me. A little girl, looking for motherly protection. But, no matter how hard I tried, it just wasn’t feasible for this to be the opening scene. I think Eldon’s scene is a better opening scene, but this moment with Millie and the man at her window is an iconic image. I’m petrified of people looking in on me through my bedroom window (had it happen to me as a child once while I was undressing for bed, and it traumatized me), so this scene is extra-creepy for me.

The Millie bedroom scene is probably the most iconic scene in this book for me. It’s also the scene that gets the most scares out of readers. Most people tell me that, as they’re reading this scene, they swear they hear someone scratching on their window. Little do they know, they do. It’s actually me. I come to all of your houses and wait for you to get to this part, then I scratch on your window.

Page 39--Dras and Rosalyn at the Rave Scene. This scene benefits from the Realms Edition expansions. This used to be a pretty wordy scene as this was, originally, your introduction to our duo. I really crammed a lot of exposition in the Xulon version, so afraid you wouldn’t “get” these guys. But, once I was able to back the truck up a bit and introduce them in a more natural way at the dinner scene, this scene lost the exposition and just became free. This is THE oldest written material in the whole book.

Funny story on how I came up with the name “The Rave Scene”: As you may or may not know, this story started out as a small independent movie I wanted to get produced. Well, yeah, that didn’t work so I decided to adapt it to a novel. In the script, for the scene headers, I always described these dance hall scenes as “The Rave Scene”. You know, like, “the scene at the rave”. When writing the novel, I tried out a couple more legitimate names (I think “The Golden Viper” was one--yikes), but finally decided that the Rave Scene just sounded kinda cool. So I made that the club’s name. The exact same thing happened with the Good Church of the Faithful.

Page 45--I added more motivation to the Strange Man during this introduction. In the Xulon Edish, it was all vague and he was “just nasty”. I’ve always had all kinds of motivations and depth to him lined up for the sequels, and when I started adding to this for the Realms version, I thought “Why hold back?” Some stuff, for plot’s sake, you can’t know about yet, but I let down the guard a little and showed more of what makes him tick. He really is attracted to Rosalyn. She arouses him and that makes him hate her all the more. He’s really messed up. I wonder what made him that way. Hm...

Head over to Part II of our exclusive commentary for The Strange Man as we get into one of the more controversial aspects of the story!

1 comment:

The Gill-Man said...

Some great insights here! Really enjoyed reading this!

It's a credit to your strength as a writer that I never was able to tell what was older material. You blended it seemlessly.