A while back, I did a postmortem piece about my novel Nocturne. Well, it’s been awhile, and now I’ve got another book out. This one is The Shape of Things, and it’s another story that I feel needs a bit of explanation. Or venting, if you prefer. Either way, here are my thoughts, and beware of spoilers.
Every good story grows from a seed. So do the bad ones, like mine. In this case, the idea that spawned The Shape of Things came from my aunt. She’s a loyal reader, and she’s been there pretty much since the beginning of my writing not-quite-career. Most of all, she listens, and she responds with positive feedback and constructive criticism. (When she can get past “when’s the next one coming out?” and “what happens next?”, at least.) While I’m writing, I’m mostly in my own little world, insulated from everything around me. Great for focus, not so good for creating stories that appeal to, you know, other people.
Anyway, I was talking with my aunt one day, and she said something to the effect of, “Hey, I’ve got an idea for your next book.” Now, I’m not usually one for submissions, but there is nothing in this world more important to me than my family, so I’ll always give them a shot. And that’s what I did. She pitched the idea: What if all those monsters like Bigfoot are really people, but they change into the monsters?
At the time, I was thinking that, yeah, it might work. I put it in the queue along with a few of my own ideas, but I kept it in the back of my head. As I said, this is family we’re talking about here. And I did think it had potential. Couldn’t be much worse than some of the things I come up with, right?
The more I considered it, the bigger it became in my mind. I’ll gladly admit that the Dresden Files books are a huge influence on this one, and that series was very prominent in my thoughts as I ran through a few scenarios that might work out for my own paranormal story. I didn’t want exactly that, of course. No, mine has more in common with Sanctuary or Warehouse 13 or shows like those. We’re not dealing with actual magic, just the paranormal.
On a lighter note, since my aunt was the one who gave me the inspiration for The Shape of Things, she got a kind of cameo role. In fact, she’s basically the one who keeps the main story moving. And I made sure to give her character some of the same mannerisms and quirks. (She hates even the mention of zombies, for example. You wouldn’t believe the grumbling when I had her read Either Side of Night!)
I didn’t want this to be fantasy. I wanted a story firmly grounded in the real world, but with the knowledge that our world might not be quite as real as we want to believe. Thus, the setting is here and now. Not so much a “mythic” America, but modern America, just with extra monsters.
The key here is the nature of the monster. In The Shape of Things (and the series that has spawned from it), the creatures themselves don’t exist per se. Oh, they’re there, but it’s much more of a Jekyll and Hyde thing. Some people have this…thing inside them. They don’t necessarily know it until something draws it out. Usually, that’s a traumatic, life-changing, and possibly humiliating experience. In general, the idea is that something challenges their notion of their own humanity, which becomes the cause of their transformation into a being other than human. The forms they take are varied, and they don’t always align perfectly with our familiar monsters of legend, but there can be some similarities. (As for why this is happening, and why it’s happening so much in the present, I’m getting to that in the sequel, The Beast Within, which I’m currently writing.)
The novel itself is about 94,000 words, so not all that long. Call it tight, because there’s not much extraneous information in there. I started it at the beginning of May 2017, and the first draft was done on June 13. But here’s where it gets interesting. Writing Chapter 7 (of 16, plus a prologue and epilogue), I got bored. Seriously bored, and just plain tired of writing. So I stopped for about a week, long enough to switch over to another story I’d been working on. That was the first time in about 4 years that I’ve ever felt that way about a book. I won’t say it was my proudest moment. (It happened again in November, when I was working on The Soulstone Sorcerer, but I pushed through that. And I still hate myself for it.)
Despite that hiccup, I do think the book turned out good. Better than I thought when I finished it, definitely. I hope you’ll feel the same, but I’ve got more to say before I go.
As I mentioned above, The Shape of Things is set in our world. It’s not a fantasy version of it, but the real thing, just slightly dramatized. The protagonist, Cam, lives in Georgia, because I wanted him to be Southern, though far enough away from where I live that I could plausibly say he isn’t supposed to be me. He’s a little younger, maybe a bit smarter, and definitely a lot more successful, but he’s still a good old Southern boy at heart. And he’s mostly normal, apart from his odd hobby of hunting the paranormal for hire.
Cam is a skeptic, though. Not necessarily in the religious sense, but when it comes to the things he’s searching for. His default assumption is that whoever called him must be mistaken, because he knows these things aren’t real. Everybody sees ghosts, and every one of them, he believes, has some other explanation. And he feels the same about aliens, crop circles, demons, Sasquatch, and whatever else you can think of.
When the monsters really do show up, that puts him out of his league, and suddenly I found myself writing a horror thriller. Not at all what I expected, but I had some fun with it. A lot of his “backstory” sightings are based on things that actually happened to me, my family, or people I know. Others are references, but also from my personal experience. A group of “demons” in Marietta are actually Smite cosplayers, because my brother played that game constantly while I was writing. My mother really was scared by a hanger rattling from the air coming out of the vent under it. As this series progresses, I plan on adding in more of these, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m doing it.
Cam doesn’t really have to fight his monsters. He barely even chases them. Instead, this book is about the hunt. It’s about him learning the truth of the world, then conquering the fears that knowledge creates. And it’s about solving problems. He absolutely has to run from some of the creatures he finds, but there aren’t opposing forces trying to stop him. (Maybe not yet…)
In that sense, the monsters fill the role of villain, such as it is, but in the same way they would in a horror movie. I don’t mind that. I’m not great at writing fight scenes or cloak-and-dagger trickery. The Shape of Things is more about a man against a force of nature, that’s all. Sometimes, that even comes out literally, but it’s more often the nature of the beast.
I wrapped up the novel fairly neatly. There aren’t a lot of loose ends left to pick up. Instead, the biggest question remaining is what happens next. Where do we go from here? Cam solves the case. He saves a man from a monster—the monster that man had become.
This was never going to be a standalone work. I knew that from the start. So the future of the series hinges on that part of the ending. The world is stranger than we think, and Cam now knows this. He’s seen it with his own eyes. Now, he has to learn just how strange it can be, and that is where we go. Future installments are going to look into that core mystery, even as they continue to follow our humble hunter on his investigations. Some of those close to him may be affected, but one thing is certain: his life will never be the same.