This, from what I understand, is one of the most common questions that people ask authors. Many authors I know of have a pat, often sarcastic answer, such as The Idea Store or the Dwarves Under My Bed. I have no such answer, perhaps because I’ve not yet become sick of such a question. So here, then, I shall endeavor to share at least some of what went into the creation of Misty Johnson and her world.
First of all, the Misty Johnson idea began not as a novel, but as a screenplay. I wanted to write a movie, or, more accurately, a telemovie that could be considered the pilot for an ongoing series. At the time, I was engrossed in watching a couple of different television shows and films that starred characters who were long-lived, primarily vampires who had lived for centuries. And what I found, as I watched these characters, was that they were awfully well-adjusted and well-adapted to modern society. I tried to picture myself living hundreds of years, and I imagined that I would not be so acclimated to the world. I thought that I would be irascible, cranky, anti-social and difficult (not much different than the way I am now, come to think of it).
So I wanted to create a character that would reflect this belief. Someone who had spent centuries of watching mortals die, watching connections to other human beings wither and fall by the wayside. Someone who had, as a matter of survival, cut off connections to other humans, becoming a solitary person. This person would not be quick to change and adapt to the modern world and would be forced to live a lie, changing identities, jobs and locations over and over again in order to keep up the charade of mortality. I liked the premise. This was someone I’d want to read about.
But I didn’t want to create a vampire. That was a character type that had been explored in great detail in other works. I decided, then, that the idea of immortality would be appealing to many, but, frankly, it would turn out to be a curse rather than a blessing. So my character would be someone who had sought immortality and was now stuck with it, wandering the world in search of the truth about the curse and perhaps even a way to lift it.
I decided to make my protagonist a woman, then, for several reasons. First of all, I liked reading about and watching strong women who were also vulnerable. And this would be a woman who, through the centuries, would have seen society change in its view toward women, and her world travels would have shown her various societal attitudes toward her gender as well. She would be tough, decisive, dangerous and independent. These traits would not have been valued in a woman who lived hundreds of years ago, but would be seen as assets now. I liked that idea plus, I liked the idea of writing a woman who can kick butt and take names.
So, I had a character, or at least the beginnings of one. But what was her name? Her story? What did she want? Who did she know? All of that would come soon, to flesh out the world of this character who I was already beginning to love…
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The firs thing I did was take the darkness I was feeling (did I mention I was going through a lot of personal turmoil at the time. No? Well, I was) and poured that into a short story. It thought it was pretty decent, so I submitted it to a few small literary magazines and, miracle of miracles, it was accepted for publication. It can be found online here, and you can order a print version, too. Warning, though, it is dark.
After that, I decided to take out my favorite short story from the intro to creative writing class I took in college. It was a character-based piece about a slightly senile old man who worked in a hardware store (not based in reality in the slightest). I revised the heck out of it and submitted that to a few literary mags, too. It was published online here. I'm pretty proud of this one, and it was accepted in their Best Of collection that year.
Over the months, I churned out a few more short stories, some of which never went anywhere, but two more that were accepted by my good friends at Foliate Oak. Those stories can be found here and here. Both of these stories are a touch dark, too, but I am proud of them. Did I mention that I used to work out my personal issues writing short stories?
Anyhow, after a few months of writing short stories, I decided I wanted to write a screenplay. I had a great idea for a supernatural detective story, and I wanted to create a TV pilot. But, flush with the success of my short story work, I decided to take the idea and rework it as a novel, the novel that would eventually become Misty Johnson, Supernatural Dick in... Capitol Hell. Now, finally, that story can be shared with the world... Next time...
I didn't write much over the next decade or so. Sure, there was one half-hearted attempt to write a Young Adult Novel (called No Child Left Behind, which was a reaction to the stresses of teaching middle school for many years. I do plan on taking it out of mothballs one of these days, so stay tuned...) But, for the most part, the writing field remained fallow for quite a long time...
Then, one day, I was talking to a therapist. He wasn't my therapist, really. I saw him a couple of times, but his methods were anathema to me, and I didn't find his style very helpful, except for one very significant exception.
One day, I was talking about my dissatisfaction with my job. I was mulling a career change, but I didn't have a clear ideas as to what I wanted to do with my life. He asked me what my ideal job would be, and I answered that question the way I always did.
"I want to be a writer."
He then asked "So, what are you writing?"
My answer, of course, was a stream of excuses. I am too busy. Work is crazy. My personal life is too full. I have too many obligations, too many responsibilities, not enough time.
Then he said something that would change my life forever. "Well," he said, "I don't know a lot about writing, but it seems to me that a writer should write."
And you know what? He was right.
If I wanted to be a writer, the one thing that I had to do, the one thing I wasn't doing, was write. Forget all the excuses, all the reasons and rationalizations- I had to make time to write and then just do it. So I did.
I made it a point to write every day. Sometimes I wrote in the morning, sometimes at lunch, sometimes before I went to bed. Sometimes it was drafting, or brainstorming or revising, but I wrote every single day. If, for some reason, like travel or severe illness, I didn't write on a particular day, I made sure to write the next day. And the next one after that.
And you know what? That is my secret origin. That is how I became a writer. It wasn't a transformation, like getting a magic ring from an alien or learning the word of power from an ancient wizard. It was more a change in mindset. I wanted to be a writer, so I decided to write. I didn't care who read it, or what I wrote about or how good it was- all of that would come later. I just wrote.
Want to know what I wrote? Well, stay tuned...
When I was in high school I was a bit of a smart alec. I remember grilling my English teachers about the topic of theme. We would discuss a writer's work, digging to find the theme hiding just below the surface, and I would often wonder- if we had the author right there in the room, would s/he say we were right on the money, or would we be accused of reading too much into it? Sometimes I wonder if writers are aware of the layers they put into their own writing when they are merely trying to cook up something they themselves enjoy.
Case in point? College Daze. I just wanted to write a funny, slightly whacky, story about a group of odd duck characters dealing with strange situations on a college campus and a TV show. What I ended up with, somehow, was a meditation about the nature of family. I had a group of characters from diverse, if somewhat broken, family backgrounds:
Schultzy- had no father figure, and a mother who was clearly insane, yet crazy like a fox, wealthy and wise in her own way.
Barry- had rejected his father figure, for fear of becoming just like him, and had stuck out on his own, however foolishly, to make his own way in the world, consequences be damned.
Vanessa- had no parents, having lost them in an accident as a child, and was being raised by a father figure who had little time for her, save to placate her obvious needs by throwing money and influence around to make her smile.
Farkas- ah, Farkas. Who knew what her family was like (though we did get a peek into her tragic romantic history in the season 2 finale, which, I hope, framed her entire character in a different light in hindsight)? All we knew is that she was trying to form her own little family unit here on campus, perhaps trying to replace what she never had.
Then there's Lisa- from a solid traditional family, once again thrown into the mix as the litmus stick, the one normal person in a sea of insanity, the measuring piece for all the dysfunctional family drama around her. She had the toughest, most thankless job of all. Thankfully, we made her a little more interesting as time went on.
So this group of misfits was forming their own family, in a twisted way. They didn't all get along, just like a real family, but they were bizarrely co-dependent on each other anyway. Did I intend for this when I started? Heck, no. But, in the end, I created a group of characters that wrote their own stories, presented their own themes and conflicts and, ultimately, that's what I think made the show work, at least in my head (where it truly lives on). And that, then, is what I've tried to recreate in my writing since then. Will I be successful with Misty Johnson and her band of supporting characters? Only time and, in this case perhaps, readers will tell. Stay tuned to this space, then, as I move out of college, into a writing drought, and on through a brief short story career into the bizarre world of the one and only Supernatural Dick...
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