Writing is a process. A deeply personal process. As artists who weave words, we all have our own variation of this process. I write in pieces. I used to think I was insane for writing the way I do, taking fragments of a whole, that come to me out of order most of the time, and sticking them in a document to sort out as I go, but now I’ve made peace with it.
My books start as an idea, a conflict, and a couple of characters involved. I jot down a few notes on the concept and then I dive into researching the topic. Research is irreplaceable. It turns tiny seeds of function into concrete ideas, solidifying not only plot, but also the little details that will drive the story and characters. For Follow Me Into Darkness, I couldn’t get the idea of taking Carnival to one of its sources, buried in the Latin culture, out of my head. The mingling of Christian religion and the Lenten season brought by Europe with the pagan religions of Trinidad and Tobago. To prepare for Lent, the Catholics indulge themselves before the forty day fast, whereas for the pagan religions, it was a festival to drive out the dark spirits of winter to make room for the light and summer.
I wanted Masked (my story in the anthology) to be the merging of an old relationship with a new one. Memories and a deep friendship abandoned long ago, resurfacing, and the bubbling potential to build off these old feelings with a new spark. I had my starting place, but it was the research which gave the story context. Today, Carnival in Brazil is seen as gay friendly, but fifteen years ago it was only gay friendly on the surface, and the country suffered with a problem of hate crimes against the LGBT community. In 1996 and 2003, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission rated Brazil as one of the countries where the most members of the LGBT community were killed per year. There were government parties who were anti-equal rights, and I felt like this could be the heart of my conflict. I had my jumping off point, a fight. Homophobia. Javier was outnumbered and as good as dead when an old friend stumbles on him. The story poured out of me over a few days.
Even writing as fast as I wrote Masked, I can’t write in order. I usually start when the characters first see each other (and Masked was no different) then I skip around from emotional moment to emotional moment. I see my novels in scattered segments, almost like a puzzle of highlights in my mind. My endings usually come to me long before I’m finished, and I have a point to build to as well as the general plot, but the rest needs to be picked from the fragments of a story and pieced together. I often surprise myself with the direction a piece takes. As I continue my research I find different pieces of the puzzle. I write what I see and then grab another piece.
I arrange the pieces in a semblance of order as I go on, but there are times I have to tear a story apart and reorder everything before I’m done. With Clouded Hell (an book I finished in December) I had to rewrite the entire second half, because it wasn’t fitting the way it needed to and the pace of the second half didn’t match the pace of the first. I cut some scenes and I added new ones. For Masked I got the order right the first time, and it only required tiny tweaks throughout, guided by my betas and editor. A lot of work goes into my rewriting and I’ve wondered if I could eliminate this vast chore, or a good portion of it, by writing in order. One day I’m going to try to write in order. I get annoyed with the process, but it’s mine, and I’m not sure I’d want to do it any other way, because I can’t imagine not chasing the intensity of a scene I’m feeling.
While researching Clouded Hell I didn’t explore facts and statistics like I did for Masked. Clouded Hell is romance in a forbidden world of underground fight club and mafia. I read books on boxing, and MFA, as well as the histories of organized crime, but I wasn’t looking at facts to base my story around, because I didn’t want it to have a historical feel, I wanted to emulate the emotions of a modern day. The pace of Clouded Hell is intense because I wanted my readers to feel like they were existing between punches, never quite getting their feet under them before the next hit. I learned that in crime families, people kept their secrets close to home, and I wanted the reader to carry the feeling of not knowing the full story even though the book is first person. Everyone has secrets. This book explores two damaged people looking for a happily ever after in a world that might not exist.
Fiction is a balancing act of truth and fantasy woven together and in the end, every author takes liberties to weave their own tale. My process is in sparks of emotional pieces, seen through the eyes of damaged characters. If I changed it, I might lose the emotions my readers love, so I continue to write in pieces even if it makes me want to commit mass homicide after a few weeks of editing.
The publisher of Follow Me Into Darkness, Open Ink Press, is giving away two ebook of the anthology to two lucky readers. To be entered in this drawing, leave a comment below.
When not staying up all night writing, J.R Gray can be found at the gym where it’s half assumed he is a permanent resident to fulfill his self-inflicted masochism. A dominant and a pilot, Gray finds it hard to be in the passenger seat of any car. He frequently interrupts real life, including normal sleep patterns and conversations, to jot down notes or plot bunnies. Commas are the bane of his existence even though it’s been fully acknowledged they are necessary, they continue to baffle and bewilder. If Gray wasn’t writing…well, that’s not possible. The buildup of untold stories would haunt Gray into an early grave, insanity or both. The idea of haunting has always appealed to him. J.R. Gray is genderqueer and prefers he/him pronouns.