Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Dan Moren: Five Things I Learned Writing All Souls Lost

Say hello to Mike Lucifer, Spiritual Consultant. He’s back in town to take care of business. Unfortunately, when business is good, things must be very, very bad. After two years trying to run away from his past, Mike Lucifer’s back in his office less than ten minutes when a persistent young woman shows up asking for help: her boyfriend’s been possessed by a demon.

That’s exactly the kind of mess that drove him from his hometown of Boston to a sunny beach—and the bottom of a bottle—in the first place. But there are some problems that even booze can’t drown, and while Lucifer may be no hero, his dwindling bank account provides a thousand reasons to take the case.

No sooner is he back in the game then the complications and corpses start to add up. The boyfriend’s not possessed—he’s dead. The tech company where he worked is looking shadier by the second. And Lucifer’s client definitely knows more than she should…about everything. The deeper Lucifer digs, the more he wonders if whatever sinister entity lurks behind this case wants him to be the last to die…

In the immortal words of Whitesnake, here I go again. You might think that I, having already published a handful of books, have nothing left to learn, but I’m here to tell you that—surprise!—the world is just chock-a-block full of things that I haven’t learned yet. Or things I have learned but forgot because my brain has got a real unhelpful “last in first out” system going on.

Anyway, let’s learn some stuff. Together.

First things first

After four books written in third-person narration that jumps between protagonists, All Souls Lost is the first time I’ve written a novel focusing on a single protagonist, written entirely in first person. (Well, one that saw the light of day, anyway.)

What I learned from that is that I absolutely love it. So much so that I’m writing in first person RIGHT NOW.

Being inside a character’s head, finding their own unique voice, is a blast. And it gives me the freedom to do all sorts of things that I at times struggled do in even a close third-person narration, leveraging an almost stream-of-consciousness style. It doesn’t hurt that my protagonist, Mike Lucifer, is a bit of a smart-ass, and yes, before you ask, writing that does come rather naturally to me.

I also learned that first-person narration has its challenges: for example, your character can only ever know what your character knows. It’s like going from a big blockbuster to shooting an indie movie with a handheld camera. Plus every sentence, every paragraph, has to be infused with the character’s sensibility—you can’t really take a page off. Still, it’s the good type of challenge to have.

Terminate with extreme prejudice

Okay, I admit it: I have a tendency to the tangential. A predilection for digression. A whim for wandering. Basically, I like putting extra shit in my books. I’m not going to say that’s unequivocally bad; sometimes a little detail that seems unimportant adds color, or sometimes it’s just fun (never underestimate the value of fun). But when I set out to write a taut 80,000 word novel, all those extra bits can add up and detract from that nice, tight story.

The “good” thing about working on a book for many, many years is that you spend a lot of time revising. I mean, I hate revising (don’t believe any writer who tells you they like revising, they’re damn liars—we all prefer to write it correctly the first time), but all that time and repeated exposure does help you get some distance from a piece. You stop looking at it as your adorable little baby, cooing and gurgling in soft focus, and start seeing it as the toddler it is, screaming as it throws a bowl full of spaghetti onto the floor for the third time today.

Let me tell you, it gets a whole lot easier to start paring words, sentences, and even whole chapters out of your draft after you’ve read it six or seven times. Here’s the thing, though: I’m an inveterate hoarder when it comes to writing. I don’t delete things; I just shunt them off into a separate file because you never know when you might want to drop something back in. Or use it somewhere else. But I can honestly say this book got more trims than any I’ve written before: the novel ended up around 77,000 words while my file of cuts and trims clocked in at 69,000. That’s where you’ve got to be brutal: If it doesn’t fit, lose it. If only I could bring myself to apply the same principle to my sock drawer.

Write what you know

It may surprise readers of my space espionage novels to know that I have neither been to space nor ever been an intelligence operative. (That you can prove.) Did that make readers thrown down my books in disgust as the fabricated work of a charlatan? I don’t know, maybe! People are weird like that.

But one big thread in All Souls Lost involves some shady goings-on at a big tech company and, as it happens, that’s something I do know a thing or two about: I’ve covered the tech industry as a journalist for the better part of two decades. Might Paradigm, said company in the book, bear a surprising resemblance to a noted big tech company in our own world? I’ll never tell! (Unless you ask me.) Does that help infuse it with a real sense of vraisemblance, as the French say? Look, I don’t know what that means, but those folks invented the croissant, so they’re clearly onto something: let’s say yes.

I also chose to set this book in my own backyard of Somerville, Massachusetts. As a result, a lot of the locations are lifted directly from real life, which helps add both a bit of realism and some local flavor. Though I do have to cop to the fact that I idealized some elements of life in this city—specifically how fast you can get between any two places.

Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know

You can’t know everything. Believe me, I’ve tried.

But that’s okay. Every writer, sooner or later, is going to run into something that they don’t know. I’m here to tell you that not only is it okay not to know something, but it’s okay to make it up. I’m not talking “I don’t know what the capital of Oklahoma is”—if you can look it up, by all means, do so—but it’s okay if you don’t know exactly what thek interior of a 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit smelled like after baking in the sun all day, or exactly how many steps are at the entrance of the Boston Public Library. It’s cool, I’m giving you permission to fudge it. Because unless it’s absolutely critical to the story, you can just make it whatever you want—that is, hands down, the best part of being a fiction writer.

Besides, readers love to tell you when you got something wrong, so just look at it as giving them something to look forward to.

I just want to celebrate

This book’s path to publication didn’t go the way I expected. I started writing it nine years ago, and when it debuts next week it will be primarily as an ebook (though audiobook and print-on-demand versions will be available as well). I’d had dreams of a big publisher deal with a huge publicity campaign, maybe even my first hardcover release, but that simply wasn’t to be. While the book got close to acquisition several times, it never could quite make it over that last hurdle.

But my agent, Joshua Bilmes, believed in the book, and proposed that rather than simply shelving it on the island of misfit stories, the agency itself publish it as part of its ebook program. The support and enthusiasm for All Souls Lost from everyone at the agency who’s been involved in the process has been a bulwark against the sometimes unforgiving world of publishing, and given that writing is usually a pretty solitary occupation, it’s always nice to feel like you’ve got people in your corner.

So even though it’s not exactly the scenario I had expected and dreamed of, I’ve learned to be okay with that. I dearly love this book—I’m not afraid to say it, and my straight-shooting wife says it’s her favorite too, so take that for what it’s worth. But the important thing is that you get to read it. No matter how it sells, no matter how it’s received, I wrote a story that I love and put it out into the world; everything besides that is gravy.

But, uh, I would really appreciate if you’d buy it.

Dan Moren: Website

All Souls Lost: Books2Read