I suppose I should probably start by setting the scene…
(ahem… cough… cough… mi-mi-mi-mi…)
Okay, here goes…
This is the city of Saint Louis. I work here. There are a million potential stories in this city. Crime. Romance. Late fees at the video rental store… Even rotten produce at the supermarket. Somebody has to make up all of these tales. That’s where I come in. My name’s Sellars; I carry a pencil.
Now that we have THAT out of the way… You may or may not have heard of me. If you have, then this is a good thing (I hope.) If you haven’t, well that just makes me “have a sad,” so let’s see if we can change that.
The long and short: My name is M. R. Sellars and I write. Some of what I write actually makes it to bookstore shelves, and that’s how I afford beer. However, taking that side road would just lead us into the LONG, and I should really stick to the SHORT…
The SHORT being this: I have been writing a long running series of paranormal thrillers called THE ROWAN GANT INVESTIGATIONS since the late 90’s. At present, there are 10 books in the series with more on the way. However, most recently I took a left turn at Albuquerque, so to speak, and ended up writing a spin-off novel featuring one of the supporting characters from the RGI Series, and that has, in effect, launched a second series.
Yeah, I know. I’m a glutton for punishment. Just ask my wife; she’ll be happy to verify that fact.
And so, this latest novel, the first in the Special Agent Constance Mandalay Series has just been released, and that’s the topic of the day. The question put to me was, “What is the nature of the story and from where did the idea originate?”
Well… You might want to hit the restroom, then grab a snack and get comfortable. This could take a few minutes.
The novel in question, IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER actually had a humble, and very tongue-in-cheek beginning. To be perfectly honest, it started literary life as a pun looking for a place to happen, even though it didn’t end up that way. Seriously… I’m not kidding.
So there you go: pun, book, the rest is history… ‘nuff said.
What? Not enough info? Umm, okay… You’re correct. I suppose I should explain a bit more.
The short answer is that I blog. However, I’m sort of the odd-man-out as far as writers who blog are concerned, because I don’t write about “writing.” If I do it is generally a bit of satire, because that’s how I decompress from the business of word slinging for fun and paycheck. In short, I write satire for the purpose of amusement – even if I am the only person it amuses.
So, to make a long story even longer (we writers call that padding for word count) I was thinking up silliness about which to blog and came up with the idea that I could write a satirical holiday blog series for the Christmas season about an ax murderer named Merrie Axemas – sort of horror/thriller/pun-filled comedy serialized story. I made some notes about the idea, and then managed to lose them on my desk, which in itself isn’t surprising since my desk is sort of an unregulated landfill of notes and scribbled upon cocktail napkins. However, since Christmas was still several months away the whole thing completely slipped my mind.
Until several months later…
I had myself another idea… That happens sometimes. Actually it happens more often than not, and some of the ideas should never see the light of day because they’re just plain silly, but we won’t go there. So, anyway, the idea was this: After writing a mess of novels that folks had to buy I thought, “Hey, why not write a quick novelette and give it away as a Christmas gift to readers as a thank you for buying all those other novels?”
Little did I know where such a thing would lead, especially when I ran the idea past my editor and she liked it… A lot…
So, that’s what I did. As it turned out, the holiday ax murderer idea popped back into my head, so I quickly penned a short novella titled – MERRIE AXEMAS: A KILLER HOLIDAY TALE. It featured Special Agent Constance Mandalay – a supporting character from the RGI series – out on her own as the protagonist with no “Rowan Gant Safety Net” to help her deal with paranormal. However, instead of being satire, it was dark, twisted, and a bit gut wrenching – no big surprise given the way my mind works and the serial killer / thriller aspect of the other books I write.
And now, to make a long story just a little longer, my publisher loved it as well, as the idea of giving it away worked not only as a gift, but as a bit of good will marketing, too. It was released in e-format in time for Christmas 2010, and the response from my readership was great, but with one caveat. Well, two actually. One, they wanted more of the story. Two, they wanted more of Constance out on her own.
Since the e-novella was open ended, and had plenty of room to fill in details about the back-story as well, IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER was born – as was a whole new series built around SA Mandalay. And now, the rest is history for real this time…
Except that I should probably explain that whole gut-wrenching aspect, eh?
Okay, so here’s the thing…
The crime that starts – and drives – the whole story is a child abduction and molestation. In all honesty this is a subject about which I had told myself I would NEVER write. Child abuse, and any of its associated aspects such as molestation – are the epitome of evil in my mind. Always have been, always will be. When I became a father, well let’s just say my view on it became even more intense. I think the “Special Hell” is too good for such people. However, as writers we need to push our own boundaries, because that is when we do our best work. So I gave in to the idea for the story, even thought to write about those subjects was more than just pushing my boundaries – it actually went several steps further outside my comfort zone than anything else I had penned.
With IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER being a full-length novel, the back-story became a big part of the overall arc and had to be expanded. I was not about to write graphic details of the abuse, so I elected to approach it from the standpoint of the young victim. Because of that I had to do a huge amount of textual research on abuse, and even more importantly, spend time interviewing a member of the Children’s Advocacy Centers who trains child abuse investigators. One of the ways they do that is to have actors play the part of abused children for mock interviews. Believe me, I gained some rare insights that I will never forget.
When my source with the Children’s Advocacy Centers read the draft, she sent me an email and the comment that stood out was that the story was “disturbing,” in that it seemed real. She went on to explain that she felt as if she was actually listening to a real ten-year-old victim internalizing the horror. That meant that I had accomplished my mission, which was to portray a believable character without actually getting into sickening details of the abuse. I was, of course, elated that I had been able to evoke the sought after response with prose, but at the same time I was disturbed as well – for that very reason. Because I succeeded in writing such a convincing character, I found myself mourning for her loss of innocence, and I had to remind myself that she was, in fact, a character on the page and not real. I know that sounds a little crazy, but hey, I write fiction. I have to be a little crazy.
As to the rest of the story, almost all of my writing contains an aspect of the paranormal or the occult. Such things have always held a fascination for me, probably because they are an embodiment of the unknown. Anything that keeps us tense, on the edges of our seats, gets our hearts racing, and/or has us waiting for the next shoe to drop is enough to scare us – as it very often has that “U Word” inextricably attached to it; and that is something that frightens – and, in effect, thrills – me personally. Sort of like a roller coaster in the dark, I suppose.
And I have now written way more than I probably should have, and Shana is never going to invite me back… So, if there are any questions feel free to ask. I’ll be more than happy to swing by, check the comments, and give you an answer. If I don’t have one handy, I’ll make one up.
Don’t worry… Making stuff up is what I do.
–M. R. Sellars