My photo
(pronounced Ko-Hane)
Dan is the Bram Stoker-nominated author of Plague of Darkness, Solomon’s Grave, and the critically-acclaimed Margaret's Ark. Writing as G. Daniel Gunn, he released Destroyer of Worlds and the novella (written with L.L.Soares) Nightmare in Greasepaint (Samhain Publishing),. His short stories have appeared in Cemetery Dance, Shroud Magazine, Apex Digest and many more. He and his family live in New England.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Annual Wheels And Heels Against MS - a Win-Win Year

From my sister Anne Murphy:

This September 11th – 13th, 2009 is the MS Challenge Walk, a 50 mile walk through Cape Cod that raises money to fight the effects of Multiple Sclerosis. It is the 5th time I’ve joined my brother Paul Keohane and his team, “Wheels and Heels Against MS’.

This year everyone who donates will have an opportunity to win a prize! What would be better than that? How about a whole month of prizes?!

What do you win?

Up to $25 donated earns 1 chance. $100 earns 4 chances….and so on.

This October we will draw a name every day from the names of generous supporters and that person wins the prize for that day. Prizes include free haircuts, beautiful necklaces and earrings, and gift certificates.

Visit our website http://www.wheelsandheelsagainstms.com/ to make a pledge or mail your check to:

Anne Murphy
16 Kenneth Lane
Tewksbury, Ma 01876
or
Paul Keohane, (Team Captain)
2 Jillian Rose Dr
Oxford, MA 01540

We know that this is still a tough economic time, but this letter is asking for your help once again. Please join me and our team in our fight. If there is anything you can spare, it is greatly appreciated. And you might win a prize!!.... It’s WIN-Win!

Thank you so much!!
Anne

Monday, July 13, 2009

Naming Names

On the topic of characters, I've been asked a few times where I come up with names. Sometimes it's whatever pops in my head as I write the first draft of a story or novel. At other times it's a feeling that the name should have a meaning of some sort, a specific sound, begin with a certain consonant. Rarely (but not never) do I think - hey, I'll name a character after Person I Know #47. If you've read the Harry Potter novels, it's obvious (I hope) that J.K. Rowling almost always works under the Names With Meaning school of thought. Almost all of her side characters have a moniker pertinent to their role in the story. Snape, Lupin, Sirius are three of the more obvious. Sometimes just a sound or feeling they inspire. Dumbledore, McGonagall.

Sometimes it's random. The main character in Solomon's Grave is Nathan Dinneck. Dinneck: because I'd just finished a zombie story before I'd begun the book, and the character's name was Dinneck (no first name). I decided it was original enough I wanted to use it again. His first name was originally Marcus in early drafts, partly because I wanted a name beginning with a consonant, and I wanted it two syllables. I have no idea why, but I don't question my thought process - plenty of others do that for me. I changed Marcus to Nathan because there was another character with an "M" name and it caused confusion to one of my proof-readers.

In my as-yet-unpublished novel, Margaret's Ark, the main character's first name came about when I began the original short story, thirteen years ago, on which the novel was based. We were in the process of buying property (on which our house now stands), and dealing with a very nice woman named Margaret who would later become our neighbor. I used her first name for the character. Come novel-writing time, I needed a last name. That evening I happened to visit my friend Fran Bellerive who lives near a store called Charboneau Shoes. I liked the look of the name, so dropped the 'H' and Margaret Carboneau was born... or at least named.

As I began writing Plague of Darkness, I needed a better concept of the main character, a teenage girl with an attitude - my own teenage-daughter-with-an-attitude was too young back then to serve as a role model . I used to teach a high school CCD class ("Sunday School" held on Mondays, for teens), and pegged one particular student as being the embodiment of my character. Good kid, mind of her own and funny (and a little belligerent, which made the class interesting). In order to associate the character with her as I began writing, I reversed her first name and called the character Gem. As Gem's character developed and became her own "person", the name had become too strongly associated (in my mind) with this character so rather than change it, I came up with a goofy but effective reason for the name and kept it.

Sometimes it's just a random - I might use any old name as long as it doesn't start with the letters M, Q or T (because it's never a good idea to have main characters begin with the same letter, too visually confusing for the reader). I don't care what name I use. Or an interesting name occurs to me as I write and it drops into the story and I think very little as to why I used it.

There are some names which I have never used, because they are too strongly associated with people in my life. I've tried a couple of times to use the my wife Janet's name, but it's hard to disassociate it from the real person - and you have to be able to do that (unless you're writing a memoir). I've used my kids names now and then, mostly because they keep asking me but only for minor characters because let's face it, I write horror. Sometimes this comes in handy - I might give specific names to victims in my writing, especially ones that get smeared under a slow moving steamroller or something equally as enthralling. I'd planned on mentioning some sample names here, but decided against it - you know who you are. Some names, even of those closest to me, are common enough I can probably manage it, like Joe (my Dad's and brother's name), but not Marilyn (Mom's name, and too unique..).

In the end, whichever name I use, once the book / story is finished they've become so ingrained in my mind with the character that I can't imagine using any other.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Post Protagonist Life

For a book or story to work, we authors try to create realistic characters. We need to know what they look like, what motivates them. If we know them well enough, we're able to write their responses and reactions to whatever thrown at them almost automatically - as if the character is controlling the words you type. Do it right, and the reader feels and sees what they do, is frightened or happy or whatever alongside them.

And we, as authors of horror, mystery, suspense, throw a lot at these people. Put them through the ringer as the expression goes. No one should have to suffer the way some of these make-believe characters do. In real life, they do, sometimes, sometimes not.

But what about when the last page is written and the book is closed? How do these people pick up the pieces of their lives and move on? King is pretty good in this regard. He tends to tie up loose ends, implies either implicitly or explicitly how the survivors of his plot will fare later. Koontz, of whom I've always been a fan, not so much. He ends with his characters, and readers, exhausted.

How do they cope, move on from the events of the story? If it’s a disaster-type scenario, some natural scourge against which the people have struggled, it's implied they move on with their lives, in a world that may or may not be the same. They'd fought, and survived, and are better for it. But let's take a murder mystery. Or better yet, a thriller. The hero of the story has defeated the bad guy(s), but not before "learning the truth" about her trusted butler, or great Aunt who's really an axe murderer, or employer who's secretly been working as a slave trader. She survives, makes it through, is safe again.

Then what? The next job she takes (because her office building burned down in the climax), the next man she meets (since her late husband tried to poison her with Playdoh or something equally diabolic).. does she wonder whom she can trust? How long will she relive the events covered between page 1 and page 423? If her best friend is revealed on page 397 as being a flesh-eating alien, how will she act towards friend B or C? What if they're also flesh-eating aliens but are hiding this fact because the good guys will find them and melt their wax like they did to A?

I can imagine our former protagonist sitting in a therapist's office, nodding enthusiastically when the doctor says she needs to move forward, focus on the present. Maybe she could, given time with no more tentacles jumping out of her pudding - but will she wonder if she's safe because it hasn't happened again, or because she stopped eating pudding without first donning a neck brace?

Habits have been born into her psyche, from solving the mystery and surviving the attack in the latter half of the book. She survived by seeing the clues chapter after chapter, denying what she was seeing at first, then having no choice but to accept something was amiss. Only then could she discover the plot before being eaten like so many others before her. But... long after THE END, she tries to surround herself with people and occupy her mind because when she's alone she thinks too much, finds herself seeing things that might not be there, or having suspicions that might not be warranted. She tries to look away because it might mean being dragged back through the same nightmare but she cannot ignore that trusting her instincts defeated the bad guy the first time, saved her from certain death. Is it real or some post-traumatic paranoia?
This could lead to a sequel, Jamie Lee Curtis crawling along the hospital floor because, finally, she acknowledges that Michael Myers is not dead.

If our beleaguered survivor was real enough, she would be plagued by worries that she missed something important - had her oldest friend with whom she defeated the evil alien boss been a part of it, implicit in the planned invasion in some way? She doesn't want to think this, but there had been signs, especially around pages 112 and 175 - she simply hadn't enough facts then to see it clearly. Even now, things feel... wrong (cue soft dramatic music). But it's over. She's safe now. She needs a friend, someone to go to the movies with to forget all the craziness that transpired. Besides, he couldn't have been that involved in such a despicable plot since the Great Author never gave him his come-uppance.... Could he? (cue louder dramatic music). Part of her doesn't want to know, but after five hundred pages filled with deception, truth is an important commodity. She shrugs, acknowledges that she would probably never completely know and because of that, never complete trust anyone again. Either way, the Great Author isn't going to write a sequel; has left her on her own to cope however she can. Authors are like that - they move on to the next story and try not to think much more about the characters they created. After all, these people aren't real.