Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Perils of Being a Writer (My Own Worst Enemy)

There are many things that I hope for and wish for in this world. Among them, there are of course, the usual suspects. An end to war, hunger, discrimination, things like that. There are also many other, less lofty, hopes and wishes that I have.  Like, for instance, for the Minnesota Gophers to field a competitive (much less winning) football team in 2010, or that Steve Jobs sees the error of his ways and decides to name the new Apple tablet after something other than a feminine hygiene product. Yet, high up on any list I might decide to make would be this: that someday, inshallah, I will be able to quit my frakking day job.

Now, bear with me a moment while I explain. I have had an extraordinarily horrible last couple of weeks at work. I won't go into all the details because it would just stress me out and bore all of you to death, so let's just say it was really icky and leave it at that. I would love to be able to blame all that horribleness on work and absolve myself of any responsibility in the matter, but if I'm really honest with myself I have to admit that I'm part of the problem. More specifically, Writer M e is part of the problem.

You see -- and those of you who are writers will get this right away -- I think about things. A lot. When somebody says something, I wonder why they said it. When somebody does something, I wonder why they did it. If it stopped there, you probably wouldn't be reading this, however, I have a problem. I think about things. A lot.


I don't just think about things, I ruminate. I think about what happened, and then I torture myself by extrapolating on it. What if I had said this in response? Or what about that? How does so-and-so feel about my reaction to the situation? Are they mad? How mad are they? What might they do? Who might they be telling? What would I do if they told so-and-so? (Let's think about that for a while.) And, oh my God, if they did that, would it mean they think this or that?

You get the drift, my friends, and oh yeah, it's sick. I'm sick. I can't turn it off. It runs all the time. It runs when I'm in the shower. When I'm eating. When I'm at work. When I'm in the car. When I'm in yoga. When I'm at church. When I'm in the can.

It -- is -- incessant.

I suppose, if I sit back and look at all this objectively, I could put on the glass half-full spin and say this sickness of mine is really a good thing. A strength. I, Shawn Enderlin, have an overactive imagination and that overactive imagination is going to lead me to great places. I'm going to write great stories and I'm going to do great things, and some day, by the Grace of God, I'm going to be able to quit my day frakking job and spend all of my time doing what I love, writing.

Or maybe not.


All I know, is that this overactive imagination of mine means one thing: I am, despite my best intentions, my own worst enemy.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Inspiration. It's such a slippery thing. What is it? Where does it come from? How do you find it and hold on to it and where can you get more when you need it?

I don't have an answer.

Well, ok, that's not true, I mean, I do sort of have an answer... but: "It's everywhere, if you just look!" sounds a little too much like the useless platitudes found in those up-with-people type of children's show, the kind where the aging hippy host wears brightly colored suspenders.

But then, I guess that's the rub, right? Inspiration is everywhere and if you keep your eyes open and put a little effort into keeping track of all of it, then you will find that you won't have any lack of ideas-- now, whether or not they're good or bad, of course, well, that is a whole other animal, but I digress...

I keep various file folders saved in a couple of different locations as insurance against some kind of catastrophic event. I have an e-mail folder full of e-mails that I've sent myself that contain nothing but links. I have scads of random, weird pictures. And some day, long after I'm dead and gone, some poor bastard will have to sift through all of my files and there they will find pages and pages of pictures and reams of cluttered and cryptic Word Docs that all say things like:

"Remember the Academy--long gone."

Or: "Great beasts lurking in the mist..."

Or: "He's not the first to step foot here..."

They're pages of disconnected short-hand, nothing but nonsense, a jumble of pictures and words quickly jotted down and cataloged and hopefully in such a way that when I stumble upon them again while idea-trolling, at some point in the unknown future, the stored combination of them will trigger a recall of the whole (or at least, the interesting parts of the) story idea.

So far, it's been pretty successful system for me. Upcoming pieces and potential storyline ideas for my first book were stored in such a way, and successfully retrieved when needed, as well. It's not a perfect system, of course. Every once in a while, I come across something like this:

"Bad Tinkerbell..."

Hmmmm... not sure where I was going with that...

Anyway, in general, those are just minor bumps in the road. Usually, the process works (again: for me). So, my point is: Watch, listen, and record. Keep an active and alive folder of ideas. Save all of those crazy pictures you stumble across. And always record those little snippets of conversations or random moments that occur to you on whatever scraps of paper are at hand, just don't forget to transcribe them to your file later. Remember.

The main idea for my first book came from three places.

1. A general feeling of dissatisfaction with the way my, at that time but currently cryogenically stored, work in progress was coming together. Lots of good pieces... I love some of the visuals... but it just wasn't quite right... I loved the zombies, though... and these two side characters...

2. A massive disappointment in George Romero's fourth zombie movie Land of the Dead. Sloppy. Half-baked. The world building made no sense. How can paper money have any value at all in a Post Zombie Apocalypse World? Zombie emoting? Horrible! The whole scavenging idea was good, but the idea of trying to live in a large population center while raiding small towns for supplies seemed somehow backwards to me...

3. A bus ride. It must have been almost four years ago now, maybe more, winter was ending, but it was still chilly out. Cold enough where you couldn't wear a light jacket, but warm enough that you would sweat in your big coat. The streets were nothing but a sloppy mess of mud and brown slush. The skies were overcast and dreary and everyone around me looked haggard and pale and worn out and for some reason, a lot of people riding the 17 line have luggage with them... and they're NOT going to or from the airport... it's weird...

So anyway, I'm on this bus, gazing listlessly out in the deepening twilight and thinking about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina and American Refugees (which is apparently an incorrect term, as foreign is an integral part of the definition... which is why they started calling them Katrina Victims, I guess...) and broken urban landscapes, etc, etc... (Note: I was percolating the book, ok... I don't just think about this stuff for fun... ok, maybe a little...)

and the bus is just packed full of tired, murmuring, and late-winter dirty people, clutching their backpacks and suitcases, all of them sunk down in their seats, or standing in the aisles and swaying with the bus's motion... When out of nowhere, some ragged moron suddenly dashes across the street, pell-mell and right in front of the bus, lit up and flailing for a split second in the bus's headlights. The Driver slams on the brakes, people cry out in shock and fear.

Nothing happens.

The idiot goes running off into the night where he, most likely, died in some ridiculous manner and then the bus just goes on and I eventually end up at the comic book store (Yay!). BUT... I wrote it all down, lines of quick scribbles, something about Refugees, crammed into a bus and driving through the desolate night and then running over some screaming madman (zombie) and the pieces of that and the other two reasons, the whole of it all... they just started to fit together.

And now I'm written a book.

So, long story short (too late), pay attention out there, folks, because you never know when you might see something awesome...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Character Origins – where do they come from?

Some authors base their characters on people they know. In general this method (so far) has not been my habit. I do get requests from acquaintances saying (usually jokingly) “Put me in your book!” with their reasons why this is a good idea. Not gonna happen. In general my characters tend to evolve over time, taking on a life of their own as I sit down and write about them.

Here is how a couple of my characters for BLACKHEART came into being:


Blackheart was born one day in the late 1990s as I was driving fast on a very crowded Interstate 35W in Minneapolis. I imagined (that’s what us writer-types do, don’tcha know) a horrible car wreck occurring complete with explosions and twisted metal that killed all involved—except for one dark, scarred man who climbed from the wreckage unscathed. I wanted to know—why, how, who was this dark figure that could walk from a fiery wreck untouched save for another series of scars added to his body? Thus Blackheart was born, the dark antihero who kept coming back time and time again in scene after scene as I wrote—whether I asked him to show up or not, who eventually became the engine that drives my book.

Clayton Jaeger, P.I.

I saw a documentary about an old surfer dude who went down to the California coast every morning and surfed to start his day. It made me think of a man, not an old surfer dude, but a sick, middle-aged private investigator, who had nothing left to live for—dying of cancer, twenty-something daughter recently killed, wife ready to leave him—who decides to go for one last surf and never come back. Instead of drowning he is saved by an angel—who gives him this decree, “Stop Blackheart.”

It is the meeting of these two stories that sets my book in motion.


At lunch with a friend discussing my book’s progress recently I was happy when she said, “Your book happens in Minnesota? Cool. I am so sick of every book I read and every movie I watch taking place in New York.” I couldn’t agree more. Setting my book in Minnesota makes perfect sense to me. It’s my primary example of “write what you know.” Having lived here for approximately 4 decades I’d like to believe I’ve noticed a thing or two about this state. For instance, it snows. In Blackheart there is blizzard that at times is only a backdrop for the story and at other times is one of the enemies my characters struggle against. The biggest challenge for me here is finding different ways to describe snow throughout the book. I understand the Inuit had 100 words for snow. My book contains at least 102. (

Noel August

Fifteen-year-old Noel August travels with Blackheart and leads him to what he believes is the key to his immortal curse. She is a beautiful and troubled girl—her family murdered, speaking with guardian angels that only she can see and hear. I’m not exactly sure where Noel came from—but I personally know a number of people who claim to have seen angels—and at least one who claims to have conversed with them. To me the concept of seeing and hearing spiritual beings is fascinating—and Noel adds a wonderful counterbalance (I hope) to Blackheart’s darker side.


As the member of the Scribblerati who wrote the last blog entry for 2009 and now is writing the first blog entry for 2010 I thought it appropriate I at least comment on New Year’s Resolutions. In 2009 I had hoped to complete the third draft of my book—which I did on New Year’s Eve day. It made me happy.

However, that being said I still have much work to do on BLACKHEART before I try to put my book in front of agents and editors—my goal for sometime in 2010. I’m hoping revision 4 (and maybe even 5) goes more quickly. There is a writing conference I have my eye on this spring that claims to have “writer/agent speed dating" on the agenda—and I hope to be in that dating pool. Other than that I also just hope to write as much as possible and maybe even get a good start on book number 2.

Happy New Year—and for you writer/author types—happy writing.