Better To Pretend

Experience: Metal Rock Opera, Part 1

… A somewhat long-winded introduction to my love of Avantasia and the once-in-a-lifetime concert experience of the first leg of my NYC 2016 #writinginspirationvacation…

 


 

When I found out that Avantasia was going to be in New York City the weekend that I would potentially be in New York, I could barely contain my excitement. It is also the one thing that made me seriously consider making the trip if I didn’t get the writing residency I had applied for. I have been following the band for about 8 years, and knowing that they originate in Germany and have very little following in America, I assumed (and resigned myself to the fact) that I would NEVER see them live. When you make a list of bucket list bands, there are just some that will always remain on that bucket list.

Eight years ago I stumbled across the video “Dying for an Angel” by a group I had never heard of featuring the lead singer of The Scorpions. I love The Scorpions and moreso the uniqueness of  Klaus Meine’s voice, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong.

The video blew my mind. It had a solid rock vibe, a good beat, harmony – I couldn’t help but tap my foot and try to sing along. Avantasia became my new obsession. After listening to a few more videos, I realized that this band, founded by Tobias Sammet in 1999 encompassed essentially everything I loved about music from the epic soundtrack type orchestrations to 80’s hard rock. They had ballads, rock epics, radio tunes. I couldn’t find a song I didn’t like.

I am pretty sure I have subconsciously decided they have to be played enough to make up for the time lost the first 21 years of my life not knowing them, to have them so engrained that they were to me another Beatles or Eagles. My husband can attest to that amount of obsessive listening.

Avantasia is a project band, meaning the majority of the songs are collaborations with other artists. Even Tobias Sammet has his own band Edguy (who I also love), so when Avantasia comes together for a new album, it is quite a feat, and you can guarantee it is going to be epic. Tobias Sammet is a musical genius. He writes all of the music for Avantasia (by the way, the Avantasia playlist on my phone is nearing the 8 hour mark). He sings, orchestrates, organizes – he is by far the mastermind of this incredible project. Songs have included guest artists Klaus Meine, Dee Snider, Alice Cooper, members of Warrant, KISS, Twisted Sister, Queensryque, Within Temptation, Nightwish, and many many others. From early on, Helloween front runner Michael Kiske has been a regular as well as Ronnie Atkins and Jorn Lande.

Just the list of guest artists is impressive. Then you start listening to the music. I still find myself closing my eyes when certain songs start to play and sinking myself into the melodies. The music pulls me in, sparks my imagination, warms my soul.

When I started expanding Better to Pretend from a short story to a full length novel, the addition of music to the story surprised me. I didn’t realize until I started working on that piece how much of myself could translate into a character. Jenna is not me, by any means, but parts of my own life and personality definitely shine through her character. When the idea of creating this connection of music I between her and the male lead transpired, I pictured her similar to me – classic rock roots and a stubborn aversion to new and modern bands and genres. I decided she would have a band obsession, straight down to the giddiness of being close to the stage and making eye contact with the lead singer. I created a band called Love and Lace, and they became my creative interpretation of Avantasia and Edguy mixed with my favorite 80’s hair metal.

At first, I thought it was a fun, minor detail of the story that I would enjoy because I knew the secret. Then Jenna’s love of music became her solace, the thing she could turn to when the world came crashing down. Certain songs could keep her afloat in a sea of desolation, disappointment and misery. My connection to the music of Avantasia seeped from my soul onto the page and into my characters.

I believe things happen for a reason (see Inspiration: Fate) and it was undeniably a crazy, fateful, serendipitous string of events that led me to New York City last Thursday, not only on my first solo travel endeavor, but my first solo concert and first trip (hopefully of many)  geared towards research and working on my novels so long postponed by irrelevant excuses.

After a whirlwind 36-ish hours in NYC, I hopped a train down to Marlyand to visit a dear friend of mine for a couple of days. As I settled in for the 3 hour train ride, I put my headphones in and shuffled my Avantasia playlist, the previous night’s concert still so fresh in my mind that I could have been there all over again. Now, two days later, I still feel the buzz of the experience (and I’m still listening to the playlist on repeat). But after two days of good company, good food and good booze, I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on the experience adjusting my mindset into creative mode for the remainder of the trip.  Now, as I sit on the return train to NYC, I can’t wait to share in more detail the concert experience. Look for it in the next post (since this one is already over 900 words….).

 

The Process: 10 Years vs 9 Months

The creative process is a funny thing. Before college, the only piece I worked on was a medieval fantasy that I started as a sophomore in high school. Because it was medieval and a fantasy, there was little in the world around me that I could pull into the story. It came from the depths of my imagination influenced by movies and other stories that I have seen or read in the same genre. I loved that story – I still do – but I haven’t picked it up in a long time. I kept hitting wall after wall, not sure how to describe a scene or interaction, how to define the magic system, how to lose myself into the political turmoil that is the basis for the story. As much as I love the story, there was very little in it that I could relate to, aside from wanting to run around in castles and wilderness with a bow or sword wearing practical dresses with a cloak – definitely a cloak. If nothing else, at least a cloak. I am not even ashamed to say I have a cloak hanging in my closet. Right. Now.

But, that is besides the point. I have been working on this story, Kingdom Burning, for somewhere around 10 years. Right now it sits around 20,000 words, which equals somewhere around 60 pages – in 10 years. Granted, the amount actually written is much more than that if you count the innumerable rewrites that have taken place along the way. In comparison, Better To Pretend, which I started this last January sits at just under 40,000 words or 120 pages – in less than a year. It is probably more than half done.

So, what is the difference? Why has it only taken 9 months to double the amount of work accomplished compared to a piece in progress for 10 years?

Two things come to mind:

  1.  Better to Pretend began as a short story written in college. I KNOW the story. It has already once come full circle, even to the point of publication. I know where the relationships go, what parts of the plot are essential to the story, the climax, and particularly the ending. Everything was already laid out in short form. The original piece relied heavily on narrative, skipping gaps of time and dropping into current events only when essential. I had already laid the groundwork.
  2. Better to Pretend is all around me. It is in the music I listen to, the people I see walking down the street, the stores I visit. If Elbin were not a made up town, I could literally get in my car and drive there. It takes place today. The main characters read Harry Potter, drink espresso, listen to modern music. They go to high school: cliques, bullies, crappy classes and all. Most importantly, they are a part of me. Each character, the main three in particular, are influenced by experiences in my life.

Kingdom Burning is a world I dream of living in. Better to Pretend is the world I live in now.

As I started building the world around Better to Pretend, filling in the missing details that would give the characters and setting depth, I realized how easily these details appeared. The Merc, The Bookshelf, Jenna’s attic bedroom: all came from something I had seen or experienced in my life. And for the first time since I started writing seriously I was okay with it. At some point I transitioned from wanting to only write in a fantasy world that nobody could judge or compare to something real to writing what I know. Which is really no different, if you really think about. Someone can always look at a piece of writing regardless of the where it is set and find something wrong with it or compare it to another work of the same genre. But for some reason it was a hang up for me.

In regards to writing I have always heard the phrase, “Write what you know. If you don’t know it research it until you do.” Maybe it is the whole write what you know bit that held me up. I felt like I knew my fantasy world because I created it. I names the kingdom, the villages, the mountains, the forests. It was completely mine and people could not know that world until they stepped into my story. Of course it could be compared to any other medieval work out there, but you would most likely not find another far off town by the name of Glynn in the kingdom of Reseda ruled by the evil king Roen. In working on Kingdom Burning, I found that I had to research everything. How long does it take for a horse to travel 50 miles? What kind of food would you find in a wayward tavern? What type of clothes would a woman wear? Was it strange for a young woman who works in a tavern to trade her busty dress for a tunic and breeches? I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted things to look, but I also wanted to make it realistic. It seems far more likely that it might take two days for a rider to travel 50 miles at a decent speed that make it that far in a couple of hours. You have to account for that.

The strange thing is, writing in the modern world really isn’t that different. Elbin doesn’t exist. I made it up. The instructor of the class I wrote the original piece for actually looked it up because he wanted to know, both if it was real and also if that name held any significance. It doesn’t really, just something that popped into my head. I have heard of a town called Elgin, which is probably as close to Elbin you could get, but I have never even looked Elgin up to see what it is like. I don’t care because Elbin is it’s own special brand of town. If I want to to say that Elbin is 200 miles from Jenna’s hometown, Gainsburg, I can justify that by car, driving around 70 miles an hour, it would take almost three hours to drive the distance. We are all familiar with traveling by car, so it isn’t as hard to determine that bit of information. On the other hand, the attic room that Jenna stays in at her aunt’s house is almost a direct interpretation of a room I stayed in for a while at my own grandmother’s house when I was in middle school. Right down to the magazines and random junk piled along one side of the stairs. There were only two windows and the eves had been converted into storage. There was a couch and a bed and a shelf filled with old Reader’s digest novels. Each of those details was placed directly into Jenna’s story. It just seemed to work for her character, which the further I have progressed, the more I realized she is a lot like me.

Obviously I can’t write every character that ever comes to mind from my memories. My life really isn’t exciting enough to build entire novels about. But it is a good place to start. It has allowed me to get back into writing in a way I wasn’t sure would ever happen after I stepped away from Kingdom Burning for so long. Every time I would sit down to work on that piece and would start writing and become immediately discouraged because I felt out of practice. That is actually a thing, by the way, being out of practice at writing. It is amazing how you have to readjust your brain to sit down and write a story when you haven’t done it for a while. The more you do it the better you get at it and the easier it comes.

The point is, by allowing myself to get lost in this modern world, it has launched my imagination into overdrive. Everywhere I go I see things that draw images in my mind. I wonder if that person walking the other direction down the sidewalk might be someone my character would run into. Is that store somewhere they would spend a lot of there time? Even something as ridiculous as doodling a line in beat to a song can spark an idea for a character (which totally happened this week by the way). I have even started a notebook just for observations I make during the day.

This week:

~a girl walking into the grocery store in sweats and a ratty t-shirt with perfectly styled hair and flawless makeup, a strange combination for going to town (I was on my way into the store – just going about my day)

~a couple at the bar in a breakfast restaurant-heads together, ear to ear looking at something on a phone. oblivious to the world around them. subtle touches and body language of being in tune with one another. they forgot to look at their menus. (I was picking up lunch for the office)

~a girl waiting to cross the road on her bicycle – the classic cruiser style, blue with wire baskets on the handlebars and back fender. girl wearing yoga pants and a sweater with blue sneakers sucking on a blue sucker. (I was waiting at the stoplight on my way home)

~ bearded man with dark glasses sitting in his convertible parked on main street. recognize him as the one who sits on the benches downtown almost daily strumming his guitar through a battery powered amp in a plucky style, visiting with anyone who wants to chat while still playing his music. totally content to just hang out and play music for the passers-by. always has a cross attached to his guitar case, open just in case someone wants to drop a buck. (On my way to the hardware store.)

Inspiration is everywhere. I know that I will return to Kingdom Burning. I still think about the story pretty regularly. But right now, I want to write Jenna’s story. I want to write about these people that I see walking down the street, these characters that walk in my shadow every day, co-pilots to my life. For the first time I feel like the end to a piece I have started to write is actually in sight. Not that I don’t have challenges to face in finishing it – difficult scenes that I know have to happen but will also be very hard to write. Better to Pretend is the first piece that has ever had me so emotionally charged by a scene that my insides get all fuzzy and I feel anger or sadness at what is going on. It is the most amazing feeling in the world. It really doesn’t matter if it takes 10 years of 1 to finish a story. The process is half the fun.

~Katie

 

Casting a Novel: Better to Pretend

Writing a story or novel doesn’t immediately suggest a visual process. The images we see in our minds are brought to life by the words on a page, hopefully enough so that a reader can create in their own imaginations who they see as they read the story.

When I write, the process is very visual. I see the story progressing in my mind almost as if it were a movie. Things move along quickly and I can imagine scenes like I am standing next to the characters in them. However, certain details often lack in definition: faces for example. In my work in progress, Better to Pretend, I have known since the beginning that Cory has shocking blue eyes, something the main character Jenna is very attracted to. He also has messy dark hair. but what about the rest of his face? What does he really look like? As the story has progressed, it also came out that he has a crooked smile. Bits and pieces have filled themselves in. Still, in my mind, that face lacks definition.

One of the first things I think about when I start working on a piece is what would this be like as a movie? Right away, some pieces are more suited to film than others (I’m not going to lie, one of my biggest dreams since I was a kid was to have one of my stories made into a movie). However, I still try to imagine them that way. One such piece is Solidity. I think it would be a great movie, but could it be pulled off in a way that doesn’t make the ghostly main character too gimicky? Not that I have to worry about that, as I haven’t written the story yet…. but back to the point.

Over the course of the last year, especially as I have started writing seriously again, I have also opened up to different forms of online media, particularly Pinterest. It takes the story boards that I would love to put up on my walls into a portable medium. If I see something I like or that draws me in, I can simply pin it and move on, able to return later for reference.

The idea of seeing more stories in movie form offers a fun strategy: If my novel was made into a movie tomorrow, who would star in it? I could just do simple searches for blue eyed boys with dark hair… but why not put someone in there who could literally bring that character to life? Better To Pretend is the first story I have ever done this with, and it provided the finer details to some of the faces. I you want to check out the Pinterest boards I have created for my current works in progress, go HERE.

So, if Better to Pretend were made into a movie tomorrow, these are the faces I could see cast as major characters. A girl can dream, right?

 

 

Cory Andersen (Nicholas Hoult)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jenna Raynes (Saoirse Ronan)

Mrs. Stokely (Susan Sarandon)

 

Sandra Raynes (Rachel McAdams)

Evelynn Everett (Amy Adams)

 

Inspiration: Music

I wrote a short story in college titled, Better To Pretend. To this day, I am not sure where the idea came from, but up until that point, everything I had actively written had been mostly fantasy based in a medieval type world. Regardless of where the idea came from, the story has resonated with me for years, trapped as it was in short form. I knew that it was a story that I had to write, and eventually expand. Earlier this year, I picked the piece up again, having not looked at it for a couple or years, and after rereading it, I decided it was time to tackle the expansion that the story needed.

I started writing, and before I knew it, I had taken a piece that was a few pages long and expanded it into more than a hundred, with much of the story left to tell. Characters developed into real people who I could relate to and understand and became entirely immersed in.

When I write, I ALWAYS listen to music. It started out as whatever fit my mood at the time – often instrumental with a lot of piano. And then something happened: the characters in this story developed their own soundtracks. In fact, music became something that they bonded over. I found myself listening to specific tracks over and over again, imagining what the character would be thinking as they listened. Music became an integral part of the story. I was okay with this, because I myself love music. Playlists that I developed on Pandora to accompany my writing led me to specific songs that would stop my writing mid-sentence so I could search them up on YouTube and really analyze what they meant to the story. Now I have a playlist on my iPod of over 50 songs that are completely relevant to Better to Pretend.

When I write, I imagine every piece of work having a soundtrack, just like a movie would have. I know what song would play during the end credits, that one song that encompasses so much of what the story means to me. For Better to Pretend, that song is The Home We Made Pt. II, by Crywolf. I have probably listened to it a hundred times at this point, and it still gives me goosebumps.

Many of the things I have written over the years were inspired at least in part by some piece of music I heard. Music is a powerful tool, and for me one of the biggest sources of inspiration. I am always listening and waiting for something to spark an image in my imagination. It is a great adventure.

~Katie

 

Check out Crywolf’s The Home We Made Pt. II featuring Dylan Owen below.