A Further Update on The Broken

I did it – I finally did it! After several years of effort, I wrote the final words to The Broken last week, and I breathed a deep sigh of relief; the writing process is over.

The publishing process is just beginning.

But before that, I wanted to take a moment to review the history of The Broken, how it came to be, and where it is going to go from here.

The Origins of The Broken

When I published 22 Scars in late 2017, over three years ago, it was the culmination of over a decade of thought, work, and procrastination. It was a book that told a deeply personal story – in many ways, my story. It was the story I knew I had to tell.

I never really intended to write more; my fantasy work under the pen name Satis was more predominant to me at the time, and I was looking forward to getting back to writing that kind of book. (I did, in fact; I published the third book in the Redemption of Erâth series in 2018).

However, as time went on, I started sitting back and thinking about 22 Scars, and it occurred to me that there were a lot of veiled pop culture references in the story – descriptions of books, songs, and movies that were never actually mentioned by name. In particular, the book’s main character, Amy, listens to a lot of the same music I listened to at her age, but I never really delved into just how meaningful that music was to her. It was glossed over, mentioned in passing, as the story brought depression to the forefront.

That was when I realized that I might just have another story in me: one that dealt specifically with music, and told a different side to the story of depression – namely, how deeply music can affect those of us who suffer.

Verse and Chorus

The first attempt at writing this new story was initially going to be called Verse and Chorus, and was meant to be about a depressed teenage boy, having grown up listening only to classical music (as did I), and being slowly introduced to the cathartic world of rock and metal. I even wrote a few chapters of this story, with each one starting with lyrics from a relatable song, a la Stephen King.

Very quickly, however, I came to realize that this story was lacking interest; not just to the potential reader, but to me as the writer. I just didn’t really care. I also realized that there were other aspects of growing up and being a young adult that I wanted to explore, beyond my own privileged, white, upper-middle class life. When I wrote 22 Scars, I was exceptionally careful not to describe any of the characters to any significant degree, meaning that the reader could ascribe their own appearance, ethnicity, or even sexuality as they saw fit.

I wanted to tackle some of that more head-on, and Verse and Chorus wasn’t going to do it for me.

Race and Sexuality

One of the things I received a fair amount of praise for with 22 Scars was my ability to write from a female perspective; friends, colleagues and reviewers have all commented that I was able to get in the mindset of a depressed teenage girl, despite being an adult male myself. I can’t say whether I really was successful at this myself, but it gave me courage to wonder if I couldn’t tackle some other aspects of humanity that were also outside my personal experience.

Early on, this led to me realize that one of the primary characters of this new story was black. And to give some perspective on this, I don’t usually go about ‘deciding’ to make characters black, or white, latino, or what-have-you; as the infant story plays out in my mind, these things appear to me without conscious deliberation. So when I say that one of the characters was black, I mean genuinely that’s how he always ways in my mind.

I also realized that several of the main characters were also not straight. To me this was a little more straightforward (at least to begin with), but also something I realized I had somewhat touched on in 22 Scars, but wanted to explore in more depth.

It also became a question of representation, too; I felt I had represented depression and mental illness as well as I knew I could in 22 Scars, which meant that this new story had to tackle some other societal issues more head-on. I realize there are probably plenty of non-straight, non-white stories out there, but I didn’t want mine to just be another white-washed example for the majorities to feel good about.

I realize there could be some contention here, given that a straight, white author is writing black, hispanic and gay perspectives, but … without making it seem like I think I’m god’s gift to writers, I don’t hold with the idea that you can only write your own perspective. My perspective is severely limited, and frankly, of little interest to anyone. I would much rather write something new, something I haven’t experienced personally, and in doing so, learn about those perspectives as I go about it.

Ideas, Old and New

As I started to gather my thoughts around this new story, I started thinking about what music is really all about; the messages it contains, the impact it can have, I began to think that I wanted the story to start with more of a shock, an immediate impact, than 22 Scars. At first I wasn’t certain how to do it, but then I realized that the people in my story needed to be impacted by something deep, something traumatic, and it occurred to me: a suicide pact between teenagers, purportedly after listening to a specific band’s music.

I knew this was hardly a novel idea – all the way back in the 80s with Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest this was a thing – but it made me wonder if it could be the triggering event that would shatter people’s lives. And that’s where I knew I had to start the story.

I also wanted the story to have different timelines, similar to 22 Scars, but one of the biggest criticisms levied against my first book was that the timelines were difficult to follow. In this instance, I figured I would make it a little easier, and settled on primary events happening in the early 90s, the late 90s, and present-day.

Slowly, other ideas began to build, and I started active writing on a new project, now called The Broken, around August of 2018.

The Music

Now that I knew I was writing a story about a band that would rise to fame and eventually fall from grace, I realized I needed to know what their music sounded like. I mean yes, I could make up lyrics all I wanted, but without an actual sound to go with it, it would be hard to describe that music accurately in the book itself.

In the beginning of 2019, I dusted off my old composition skills from college, fired up my recording software, and started making music. This took away from time writing, of course (which was already few and far between due to depression), but I managed to create, by the autumn of 2019, not one but two complete albums – the first two of three albums by the band from my book.

I’ve started working on the third album, by the way – even though the book is done, I have an inkling of an idea to release the book with accompanying music!

Lockdown, and the End of the Story

When the world shut down in early 2020, I thought I would have plenty of time to finish the story. As it turns out, being at home day after day is really bad for my mental health, and progress was slow. Still, toward the end of the summer I entered something of a manic phase, and managed to knock out all but 6-7 remaining chapters … which I finished off in the last two weeks.

I’m taking a slight break from it, as all writers are wont to do after they finish a manuscript, but there remains a lot left to do.

The Publishing Process

First up, beta readers. In particular, I need people to read for content sensitivity surrounding the minority characters. I did this with 22 Scars by asking several female colleagues to read the book to judge the accuracy of my female perspectives, and I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t do the same thing for my black and gay characters. I’ve already provided copies to two friends, but I’d be more than willing to send out beta copies to anyone else willing to read for feedback.

After that, edits. First, of course, I would need to do a few rounds of self-edits, including plot holes, typos, characters acting out-of-character, etc. But then, I need to send a copy of the manuscript to my editor for a professional review of the book, making sure that it’s as polished as can be before I unleash it on the world.

Finally, once the book is in a finished (or close-to-finished) state, I would start sending out copies (often called galleys) to pre-release reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc., before finally making the book available to the world for purchase, both digitally and in print.

So that’s where I’m at, and where I need to go; I’m glad of what’s behind, and looking forward to what’s ahead. Here’s to a successful 2021, and the launch of my second book!

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