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Writing Update Fall 2015

Last weekend marked the end of a very busy year for me. No, the year’s not over yet. But I’m feeling like I can finally breathe a little. And concentrate on my next big writing project. That project is Book Two of my Reagan Moon novels. For reasons I’ll explain, I was unable to devote a lot of attention to Book Two the first part of this year. On the lighter side, my wife and I were blessed to do a little travelling this year, spending a week in Lake Tahoe and two weeks in Maui (where my mother lives). On the business side of things, I completed Christian Horror in Spring, which started as a silarge_dark_angel_lowde project between Reagan Moon novels and became my first self-published non-fic title. Meanwhile, I signed on to teach two workshops at this years’ Realm Makers speculative fiction conference. I’ve taught at some smaller conferences, but this was my first big opportunity to teach other spec writers. For that reason, I put my novel writing on hold and devoted a lot of time to preparing for those classes. (My presentation, A Theology of Horror, is available free at Google Slides, if you’re interested.) The classes were a big success. As was the conference in general. More recently, our pastor went on a sabbatical and asked if I could teach a three-part series during his time off, which I did. Again, this forced me into limited novel writing time. On top of all this, I work 40 hours a week outside the home. Last Sunday was the final part of my sermon series and marked the last of all the “big” responsibilities for this year.

Which means I can kinda, sorta, breathe.

It’s frustrating knowing that cranking out novels (often 2-3 a year!) has become the default “advice” for indie authors. I say it’s “frustrating” because unless I’m willing to quit my day job and/or put all these other things on hold, there’s no option other than this weird, stressful, herky-jerky schedule. The Ghost Box released November 2014. My hope was to have Book Two released within a year of that. Alas, that goal quickly became unreachable. Since I started writing professionally, I’ve really learned the importance of letting things fall off my plate. I just can’t live under the constant stress of deadlines. The downside is, I won’t publish novels as frequently as I’d like. The upside is, I can stay sane.

So Book Two is tentatively slated for Spring 2016 release. Wish it could be sooner. I’m excited to see what Kirk DouPonce of Dog-Eared Design can conjure for Moon’s latest incarnation. And I think fans of the first book will have fun following the paranormal PI’s latest adventures. But my mental health is still a priority. So I must give myself a little room. Okay?

Anyway, I’ve spent the last week getting reacquainted with the novel. I’m nearing 60K words and, at this rate, the book will probably be in the 90K range. The working title is “Saint Death.” The “back-up” title is “The Tenth Plague.” (The pictures I’ve posted here are ideas for the kind of vibe I’m drawing on; the link is to the picture’s original source file.) Mexican-tradition-of-Santa-Muerte-1Let me explain the idea behind the story and then I’d love to hear your opinion about which of those titles you think is the most compelling and what you think of the basic idea. Let’s start with a brief, back cover blurb for Book Two:

The name’s Moon—Reagan Moon. I didn’t plan on being an earth guardian, I sort of got zapped into it. One thousand volts of raw electricity to be exact. I simply call it the Accident, but it’s more like Fate reached down and punched me in the gut. The Accident left an ancient relic fused into my sternum and gave me “gifts” that I’m supposed to use to help humanity. Apparently, earth has been going down the toilet for a while, partly due to the Summu Nura, ancient gods from a parallel dimension who think our planet is their sandbox. Somewhere along the way, Heaven made a pact with us normal folk to assist in battling these bad guys. I guess it helps that Saint George is in my bloodline, because the “bad guys” seem to keep getting badder. This time, they’re not using dragons; they’re using death angels and planning on wiping out Los Angeles with the Tenth Plague. I’ve never fought angels before, much less the kinds that have serpentine tongues to extract the souls out of the living. But that’s what sucks about being an earth guardian–being outnumbered, out-gunned, and pitted against the most powerful monstrosities of the universe is par for the course.

A more straightforward summary for the book would look something like this:

The discovery of an ancient altar in L.A.’s downtown subway project has left people raving mad and awakened a unknown subterranean evil. The haunted subway has been abandoned and become the source of numerous urban legends. A cult of Neuros (smart drug users who have super-enhanced paranormal powers) named the Shroud learn this altar is the fabled Table of Summoning, a powerful artifact used by bygone necromancers and enchantresses to invoke all manner of inhuman evil. Behind Etherea (who looks kinda like this nice lady onpre_sylvia3 the right), the Shroud hopes to use the Mexican occult folk religion, Santa Muerte, and the Table of Summoning, to invoke Azrael, the legendary angel of death. With the assistance of  her Summu Nuran overlords, Etherea seeks to enact the Tenth Plague, the slaying of every firstborn in Los Angeles.

When the ragged team of earth guardians assemble to confront the Shroud and stop the ritual summoning, Reagan Moon is forced into a crash course of supernormal power training. He called them “the storm gifts” but Moon learns that his new-found abilities have a huge downside. Not only are the other members of the Imperia fractured in their loyalties and slowly dying, Reagan is believed to be the long-awaited Seventh Guardian, the greatest of all Imperia who would return the earth guardians to glory.  Until they discover that no manner of superpower can compete against the cold, merciless Angel of Death and her “children.” 

Every gift has a cost. And in Reagan Moon’s case, that cost is nothing short of life itself.

So that’s it. It’s a little rough. But I’m happy with the direction the story’s been going. I feel like I’m in Moon’s head and enjoy his voice. For some reason, his humor and self-deprecation make him more enjoyable to write. Along the way, I’ve been doing lots of research into Santa Muerte, which is a real religion that has migrated from Mexico and can be found in many backwater areas of Los Angeles, especially its prison system. I’ve also spent time researching angelology, a fascinating subject that I’ve visited before in my writing research. Of course, I’m developing an entire mythology along the way. I’ve started a glossary which I’m calling the Moon-i-Verse (corny, huh?), and will catalog the names, places, spells, creatures, and strange physics of this alternate L.A. (For example, materials from two alternate dimensions play a part in this story. From earth’s higher dimension comes Ndocron, part of the dimensional membrane or skin that separates multi-verses and can be used to block dimensional apertures and portals. From earth’s “lower dimension” comes another material (name pending / source pending) from which the Table of Summoning has been forged making it indestructible in our dimension.) Point being, the number of elements and characters with abilities demands I develop a legend.

Anyway, I’d love to get some feedback on 1.) The story idea and 2.) The two possible titles (which one jumps out at you — Saint Death or The Tenth Plague?). Thanks for reading!

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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • D.M. Dutcher October 19, 2015, 9:28 AM

    It sounds pretty good. I like Saint Death as a name, but The Tenth Plague is not bad either. The story idea is great, with the clash of cyberpunk and pagan/Christian myth.

    I thought of this when you mentioned the material:

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Orichalcum

    I hope the writing goes quickly and smoothly. I really need to get back to writing myself.

  • Teddi Deppner October 19, 2015, 9:55 AM

    Of the two currently titles, I like Saith Death better. I’ve seen it used less (plagues and playing off the 10 plagues has been done a lot). I recommend doing some research on Amazon.com when thinking up titles, to avoid duplicating where possible.

    I like the story idea, overall. Really like that you’re treating some of the magical items as inter-dimensional elements. Magic-as-science always appeals to me more than vague magical / supernatural weirdness without any guiding rationale (even if you don’t spell out the details in the book, approaching it the way you are will still make the magic come across better).

    One thing that always bugs me about these sorts of plots, though, where paranormal baddies are trying to destroy earth or whatever, is that it rarely seems to make sense. Why is Earth “going down the toilet”? Why is any-paranormal-body bothering to protect Earth? What are the motivations?

    The first Reagan Moon novel made sense, because it was based (as I recall, I don’t always have a head for details) on one man’s greed and his desire to create something that gave him power. That’s kinda typical but it’s also reasonable — humans are like that. I assume that you’ll have similar good reasons for why somebody is stealing souls or killing off all the first-borns. 🙂

    • Mike Duran October 20, 2015, 5:41 AM

      Thanks, Teddi. One reason I’m veering away from “The Tenth Plague” is because the concept of nth something-or-other does seem to pop up a lot. And you’re right about the motivations issue. In “The Ghost Box,” the motivations for the Summu Nura is the embodiment of their species. (Remember, they are astral entities who seek to farm humanity.) The origins of the Imperia, of which Reagan is now a member, is to prevent such an advance, in the many forms it could take. The Tenth Plague is another attempt to destabilize earth and fill the vacuum (in this case with a savior / world leader who — allegedly — can stop the plague).

  • Teddi Deppner October 19, 2015, 9:58 AM

    Ha! “Currently titles”? I meant “current titles”.

  • Kat Heckenbach October 19, 2015, 10:06 AM

    Can’t wait to read this!!!

    And I vote for The Tenth Plague. It fits the format (The Ghost Box) which makes it more obviously a series. Saint Death just doesn’t have a ring to it, either. Too hard, both one-syllable words. Alternately, though, if you really like having those in the title, you could use The Death Saint.

    • Teddi Deppner October 19, 2015, 3:38 PM

      Oh, good point, Kat!

    • JB October 27, 2015, 4:51 PM

      I too like series titles that “match,” which is why I gravitate toward “The Tenth Plague” as continuing “The (Adjective) (Noun).”

      Use the title that appeals to you the most, in the end, really. “Saint Death” is very cool too.

      • Mirtika October 27, 2015, 7:02 PM

        Oh, yeah. That is a good point.

        If he wanted to keep to The Ghost Box’s pattern, it could become The Death Saint.

  • Grace Bridges October 19, 2015, 11:03 AM

    I’m with Kat, I like The Death Saint! That has a great ring to it. The Tenth Plague sounds kinda boring to me because there’s any number of books called “The Tenth” something-or-other.

  • Kessie October 19, 2015, 1:35 PM

    Sweet! I’ve been hoping the next Moon book would make an appearance!

    1. Story concept is fine, but will the angel be flummoxed by the symbolic blood on the door posts? Seems like an awfully big loophole, if you’re using that particular plague. I can’t really comment more on the rest of the plot, not having read it. From your summaries, it seems pretty well planned so far. Likely you have answers to our little nitpicks that are too spoilery to answer, anyway. I’m interested to see Reagan’s development as he learns about his powers, the other magic people on his team, and what will happen with that warehouse of weird junk.

    2. Did you ever notice that all the Dresden books have two-word titles (except Changes), and usually the same number of letters? Apparently this is done on purpose.

    Saint Death
    The Tenth Plague
    The Angel Altar
    The Saint and the Angel
    The Spirit Killers/Leeches
    Death Moon
    Plague Moon

    You know your book better than I do. Write a ton of titles before you pick one.

  • Tim Ward October 19, 2015, 3:54 PM

    Hey Mike,
    Glad to hear how things are going. I’m in the same boat of not doing more than what fits with my life and family, even if it still requires me to write in the evenings.

    Saint Death is my vote. I’m weary of reading the blurbs because I haven’t read The Ghost Box yet, so I don’t know if they would be spoilers.

  • Khai October 19, 2015, 4:26 PM

    The Tenth Plague is my preference.

    “Saint Death” is a literal translation from Spanish, but I want to say there is something lost in translation (My Spanish is not that good – ask a native speaker who is familiar with Santa Muerte?). I am GUESSING it is more like “Patron of Death” or “Death my Guardian” – but that decay itself is so revered into something “holy” makes it even more ghastly.

    So, if you can get the translation of “Santa Muerte” down, and make it less cumbersome and more nuanced, that’s the best title. But if you can’t, then the Tenth Plague is it.

    Which reminds me….why is the “Master plan” just to kill every firstborn in LA? There’s alot worse she can do. It’s really not that horrifying. Kinda abstract actually. Doesn’t kick me in the gut. Is there a bigger REASON killing the firstborns of LA is in her strategy?

  • Jay DiNItto October 19, 2015, 5:11 PM

    Why not “Saint Death of the Tenth Plague”?

  • Mirtika October 20, 2015, 4:47 AM

    I vote Saint Death .

    I love that cloaked woman with the sugar skull markings.

  • Mirtika October 20, 2015, 4:49 AM

    Santa Muerte means “holy death” unless it’s personified. Santa, as in Santa Teresa, is then St. Teresa. But death is not a person, so it would be “holy” death. Sanctified death.

    If you’re personifying death, Santa Muerte then would be Saint Death.

    • Khai October 20, 2015, 3:05 PM

      I like “Holy Death” better then.

      • Christian J October 21, 2015, 5:32 PM

        I prefer “Saint Death” to “The Tenth Plague”, but if Mike really wanted to go the “Holy Death” route, it would be better to use the Latin “Sancti Mortem”. Just sounds a whole lot cooler and more memorable. Or “Sanctus Mortem” if he wanted to go with the Latin for “Saint Death”. But really, Mike has the final say.

  • Mirtika October 20, 2015, 4:52 AM

    Unless you’re using the native usage–where as the other commenter mentioned, it’s the patron of death. Goddess of death. A person who gives you a good death.

    Title possibles to carry that:

    Death Matron
    Mother Death
    Death’s Saint
    Mother Death

    But I like Saint Death. I don’t see any reason you can’t use it.

    • Mirtika October 20, 2015, 4:54 AM

      Oops, I wrote Mother Death twice.

      Also, Lady Death. (Nuestra Senora de la santa muerte includes Our Lady)

  • Avily jerome October 20, 2015, 11:43 AM

    I like The Tenth Plague, but I also like The Death Saint.
    Story concept sounds cool. I’m about halfway through The Ghost Box, so it seems to fit pretty well with what you’ve done already, while expanding the scope and opening up new opportunities for the series.

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