Fuck Having Rules: The Influences for My Novel An Augmented Fourth Part 4 / by Tony McMillen

PART IV

In previous posts I spoke on how gigantic an influence the band Black Sabbath was on my upcoming heavy metal horror book, you can read about that here and here; and how horror films helped shape my new book too (read that here) now here's the last part of this series. 

I’ve only published one novel and one huge comic book (saying graphic novel is pretentious as shit) so far but I’ve already amassed a large amount of rules or at the very least plans for my writing and what I think it should be. Working on An Augmented Fourth was a gas and a big part of that was me saying nuts to all these dorky and uptight rules I’ve fenced myself in with.  I have no idea how most other writers work but I tend to make stories out of everything and that includes my imaginary and now real writing career. Which means even before I finished my first novel I had a plan for the next 5 books after that. Like, book 1 is the debut and it has to have this, this and this. Then book 2 has got to build on that by adding this and this. Book 3; nobody is going to like at first, it’s the experimental one, the Led Zep 3, the Pearl Jam’s No Code but boom; when book 4 comes through and it’s my breakthrough everyone is going to see how important book 3 was to my development. And so on and so on.

It’s fucking hilarious to me how I much I still think I can plan any of this.

Not that I’ve totally given up on this shape the arc of my career thing; but I’ve learned planning is fine and dandy but don’t bank on 88% of it turning out the way you thought. And guess what? That’s far-fucking-out, man.

An Augmented Fourth was not part of the plan is what I’m telling you. And it’s maybe better for it.

I was in the middle of writing a massive rock and roll/sci-fi/western/dark fantasy genre shucking tome that I’m still working on now (it’s finally coming along…I think) when an author and editor I’m friendly with asked if I had anything shorter and weird I could submit to them?

What I had was a skeleton of an idea I thought up for a heavy metal anthology that I never submitted to. But what I was writing then, my big epic that was supposed to be my book 2 after Nefarious Twit (which now that I think about it was originally supposed to be book 2 itself. Needless to say its predecessor sucked shit and died on impact so Twit took its spot!) and this current book 2 was not working. So, always up for a chance to dutyshirk,  I said yes to the author/editor and started dreaming up An Augmented Fourth.

And it flowed, the story came together relatively easy (for me at least) and it was awesome. I even assuaged my tightassed sense of order by saying that this was a novella and that I could count it apart from my proper novels. But eventually the book swelled up to its current girth as a slim but respectably sized novel and now it’s my book 2 and the big epic sci-fi thingamajig will be book 3.

Or maybe it won’t.

Maybe I’ll finish this draft and start writing my book 4 (yep, already have it planned, book 5 too) and when I finish that I’ll realize that it’s more ready and closer to being finished than the other project?

I don’t know and that’s cool. I’m not gonna lie and add, “and that’s great” because I wouldn’t say I’m that comfortable with not knowing – at least not yet – but I am cool with it. Which is a start.

Also writing Augmented has given me some ideas and insights into what I do well and what I need to work on with my writing in general that I’m using on the next book the artist formally known as this joke is a well-trodden cultural cul de sac that I’m as guilty as any hack for using beyond the year 1996.

The biggest insight is of course stop thinking I know enough about my own writing to know what my style is yet. I’ve been writing for a while now but only published a few works and even if that wasn’t the case; and I’d published a dozen books why be so married to one style? I love auteur directors but the doubled edged sword of that is that you like that they deliver similar work but you also criticize them if all their work is too similar, right?

It’s hard to find the line between Wes Andersoning your stuff (his last few have been pretty good again, it’s his middle shit that takes a real dip for me) and John Carpentering what you do. The difference between those two directors to me is that Anderson makes the same film the same way over and over again and Carpenter makes different films the same way. Sort of the difference between The Doors and Led Zeppelin. Doors albums are like Wes Anderson movies. You set the template early on and then you just keep making that album until you hit diminishing returns and you have to do something different. In both cases ironically the something different is return to your roots; but not the roots of your first work but the stuff that inspired that first work. For The Doors it was the blues and it gave them Morrison Hotel and L.A. Women which are great. For Anderson it’s old French movies and Harold and Maude and Ronald Dahl books which helped him make Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Budapest Hotel, all of which are good.

The Led Carpenter approach is you set up how you do things early on and then you take that and try to apply it to different genres and see what the results are. How far can you push and pull a thing and still make it what it is and yet still feel like one of your works and retain your distinct voice?

I think that’s the more interesting approach. But, again, I can try and plan to do that or I can be open to letting nature run its course.

That’s the second big take away from making this book. When I get out of my own way and put my dick in the wind and hope that the breeze doesn’t come back my way the results are usually what I hoped for (zero face pee) or better. I write like me, the things I write about are the things that I’m passionate about, the way I write about them even when I do something different is always shaped by my point of view because what the hell else do I have?

And that point of view is always in flux, so why fight that? I can map out a plan for my next 6 books but it’s going to take years and years for me to write them and by the time I get them finished they’ll either have changed so much from my original plan that they’re unrecognizable or what I want to write about will have changed so much that the old ideas just aren’t relevant to me anymore.

In fact, usually that’s how I can tell an idea is ready to become a book. It’s something I’ve thought about for years, and even though it’s changed, mutated -become augmented – I still want to write it so much it hurts. It’s like knowing the name for something, the secret name, and knowing only you have it on your tongue but it’s hard to pronounce so you gotta practice for years and years and do tongue pushups and shit until you’re ready to utter it for the first time. And I’m shit at enunciation -ask my wife- so it takes me even longer.

Writing this book, reaffirmed that everything I learn finishing something I’ve written teaches me a lot but also doesn’t necessarily teach me anything applicable to the next thing I write. Because they’re all so different. But this book did - in general - teach me to stop worrying so goddamn much about controlling every damn thing because I have no control over most of it really. This book is about change, maybe every book is; because change is conflict. Whether you accept it or fight it either choice will ultimately change you. Because when the world changes and you resist it you get left behind. Sometimes that can be a noble thing, sometimes stupid. But things will be different not matter your defiance.

An Augmented Fourth, my second novel, inspired me not to lie down and blindly accept change but to grow up, realize it is inevitable but it is also just as malleable; and if I accept it I can have my say in which direction it goes.

P.S.

The third rule I broke with this book was having numbers in the title! I fucking can’t stand numbers being in titles. No reason why, totally arbitrary and irrational but it’s wrong and stupid and some of my favorite stuff (Slaughter House Five, The Crying of Lot 49, 2 Chainz; just kidding, I’m too old to know a single song by 2-Chainz) has it but I pretend it doesn’t.

But An Augmented Fourth just sounds so tasty so I said nuts to that rule too. In fact, without that name there would be no An Augmented Fourth, the name itself inspired a lot of the story. Which is not a rule of mine per say but it is a method; and not one I’d ever recommend to any other writer but it has been serving me for some time now.