Now that my latest short story We Are Alive Tonight is out on Amazon Kindle I thought I’d share some background on how the story came together. Like most writers, influences come to me from a lot of places – dreams, pop culture, film, music, personal fears – and likely a lot of other really small things that help season a story until I get it just the way I want it. Sky Horns Growling, the first installment of this ongoing story, was initially inspired by a very vivid dream and grew out of that into what was originally intended to be a one-and-done tale of terror. While Sky Horns Growling was infused with some deep feelings about 9/11 and some truly out-of-this-world things, once I decided to extend the story with future installments to see where it naturally led me I had some new challenges to address.
I woke up one fine Saturday morning and picked up a Grande Flat White and Slow-Roasted Ham & Swiss from Starbucks. I was listening to Grace Potter’s album Midnight and the song Alive Tonight on the drive when the ideas struck. Back home I sipped warm coffee and hastily scribbled an outline on a small notepad about where the story should pick up and what threads I wanted to continue. That, as they say, was the easy part. From there, I began chunking the ideas into smaller pieces and I knew that this direction would require me to grow as a writer to pull it all off effectively.
For the main character I wanted an intelligent, confident female protagonist to structure this next section around. Where Ethan was patterned a bit after the 24 year old version of myself, Harriet would be an accomplished professional airline pilot nearer to my age today. She would need to be direct, able to lead others intuitively and without sugar-coating the situation to sway people to her point of view. She would be tough to rattle, but I’d also need to convey her humanity through her actions rather than her dialogue. I took to heart some reader feedback I’d received on the character Marie from my short Domataphobia with the critique that she wasn’t a fully-realized female character. While she was definitely a very different type of character than Harriet, I definitely wanted to take on the challenge of writing a female lead honestly and without compromising her or positioning her as a damsel in distress. This would be a little harder to fully realize in a short story that is part of a larger whole, but I wanted to at least set the foundation to continue to build upon.
I also needed to break down the big emergency landing sequence that opens this second chapter of the story. I really liked the challenge of laying out the action in a realistic and no-nonsense manner. That meant stripping away exposition and adapting the visceral nature of the event to the transcript-style approach I had in mind to emphasize the immediacy of what was happening minute-by-minute. To do that, though, I needed to do quite a bit of homework on commercial passenger jetliners; their size, crew, passenger capacity, and terminology. I’m not a pilot, but I studied flight paths, air speed, flight simulation videos – you name it – even transcripts from the famous ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ to tweak the dialogue for authenticity. I shared a rough draft with a longtime family friend and experienced pilot for feedback on protocol. Where I had the initial idea of the flight crew being quite terrified I found that the opposite would ring truer, and a strict need to follow procedure to land safely that stemmed from years of intensive training was much more likely. It also helped drive home Harriet’s character as a cool-under-pressure, capable pilot despite all sorts of craziness happening all around her! That said, given the situation some cursing and very curt updates to the passengers would probably be given by the pilot under the circumstances.
Continuing the structure of throwing the reader a curve ball with each mini-chapter was also important to have this feel like a natural progression from Sky Horns Growling. While I have a sense for where things are headed, I wanted to keep readers guessing. We pick up with a series of real world quotes on the “sky sounds” phenomena, but rather than drop right back into this world with Ethan and Mary I felt a change in perspective would help confirm that this was an event occurring on a scale only hinted at originally while also allowing me to expand the cast of characters and mystery much more quickly.
Eagle-eye readers will also see that some of the characters appearing here seem strikingly similar to those found in my other short stories, and that is no accident. For the modest few readers I have it’s hopefully a treat to see that there is a broader fictional world these stories share and one that this series will attempt to bridge, explain and payoff in ways that readers will enjoy. If you’re wondering how an otherwise self-contained “haunted house” story might have some very close ties to what appears to be a biblical Rapture or alien abduction-scale situation, well, just hold on to your hats!
We Are Alive Tonight is intended to reaffirm much of what started before while posing several other questions, particularly in it’s final chapter. I can guarantee you that nothing you’ve read so far is a cheap gimmick; the story structure, coincidences, characters and direction are all building towards something that I think you’ll find will be really thought-provoking. Every detail – from the cover art to the appearance of a gigantic serpent-like monstrosity (yes, you read that right!) are there for a reason.
I have become very interested in the nature of human consciousness, perception, how our actions change the world around us, and where we fit into a much larger universe in recent years. The more I learn about time, space and concepts ranging from multi-dimensional realities to thought forms the more I’m curious to explore these ideas in ways that will also entertain as pulse-pounding adventures.
Next up is prep for the follow-up, and the places I’m set to take readers are bigger, more outlandish and more challenging than anything up until now. I assure you there will not be a Patrick-Duffy-in-the-shower dream ending, either! Most importantly, writing this series has been fun for me. I never really thought about writing fiction, or even that I could enjoy it, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the process so far. In this case, the story is a bit of a puzzle that needs to be put together before I can put it to the page and half of the enjoyment is thinking through the possibilities, seeing it come to life after lots of work, and knowing there is still much left to be explored. I sincerely hope that if you’re reading this you’ll give this series a try, I think you’re in for a treat!
Well, back to the ol’ grindstone…until next time!