2020 in Writing

As most people are, I am harder on myself than is necessary. It’s probably what people do to drive themselves to work harder. If I’m disappointed in a little progress, perhaps I’ll push myself toward larger progress.

When it comes to my writing career, I tend to aim for the a goal and then land about a hundred yards short. This isn’t some big revelation, so much as it makes me think I’m just a normal guy. To put this into perspective, my usual annual goal is to write two novels. I tend to fall short, by at least one, and probably average out at 1.5 novels. Starting about 2 years ago, I started doing more anthology series, and that really throws off the “goal” because I start accusing myself of cheating. I ask myself if that even counts as one of my “novels.”

I decided to combat that type of negative thinking two ways. The first was to say yes, that counts. Why wouldn’t it? The goal of two novels really means two sellable products sent off to my Publisher. Stop beating yourself up, Davenport, you were successful this year!

The second way is to look at word count. This way makes me a little happier in that it feels more honest and still succeeds. My average novel length is around 55k. That makes my annual goal around 110,000 words. With my short stories and whatever novel was this year’s big push, that means I’m usually over my goal novel length for the year. While the previous way sounds like success, this thought-process actually feels like success.

Other things to remember (for you as well as me):

  • 1.5 books a year is still great. A lot of people only ever put out one book or less per year. If you’re George R. R. Martin you put out even less than that. (And he’s got a tv show!)
  • You set your own pace and any measure of success is pretty darn good!
  • While number of novels published (or short stories) is a fun metric, it’s not an accurate for how much writing you have done this year. On a personal note, I spend a lot of my time starting new projects, world building, writing fan-fictions, reading and writing reviews, and collaborating with other authors on ideas. If I publish two novels, it still doesn’t illustrate how much other effort went into the year.
  • It was 2020, you might have been stuck at home for a lot of it but that doesn’t mean you were writing. You still have a day job!
  • A personal one: I’ve successfully (as of this writing) have written and/or published 10 novels and 6 anthologies. That’s pretty cool.

So, under the “don’t give yourself such a hard time” idea, here’s this year’s accomplishments.

  1. Time Troopers, by myself, David Hambling, Byron Craft, and John DeLaughter. – This one was a mythos anthology with each of the stories connected by Art, a time traveling individual fighting one of the great Time Wars against the evils of the universe. While Art wasn’t the main character, him and the time travel mechanism were an integral part of each story, connecting this vast universe of time lines and alternate futures.
  2. Andrew Doran and the Scroll of Nightmares by me. The third complete novel in the Andrew Doran series and long overdue. In this story, Andrew and Nancy discover the the coveted original manuscript of the Book of Eibon is actually a scroll held in place between universes. By moving it to Arkham and the Miskatonic University, they release an ancient Demi-God who plunges them into horrific scenarios from the recesses of their own minds. This story was a two year effort in world-building, as I wanted to do something a little less survivable for our adventurer. It originally started as an entirely different story, Andrew Doran and the Tomb of the Pharaoh. In that story, I was going to have Andrew accidentally ferried to ancient Egypt to locate the original Tomb of Ulthar. The story was going to be divided between then and “now” with Nancy trying to follow clues that Andrew left throughout time to help her bring him home. That one might still happen, but because of Scroll of Nightmares, it definitely is going to need some draft revisions. Besides, as I already mentioned in #1, I’ve already done a time travel story this year.
  3. The Book of Yig: Revelations of the Serpent, by Me, Mark Howard Jones, Peter Rawlik, and David Hambling. This book is completed and in pre-order status on Amazon. It comes out in April and follows a similar formula as my other Mythos related anthologies. Four stories all tied together by a common plot device. In this one, the Children of Yig are eternal, and are taking generations to attempt a coup over mankind. My story, Andrew Doran and the Journey to the Serpent Temple is in this one.
  4. Tales of Yog-Sothoth, by C.T. Phipps, David Niall Wilson, David Hambling, David J. West, and myself, the same team that brought you the Tales of the Al-Azif. This is obviously the mythos sequel to Tales of the Al-Azif, following the same formula and characters as we tackle the entity called Yog-Sothoth. Being a beast of time and space, we have a lot of fun crossover stuff in this one. Also, a bunch of parallel worlds, time travel, and mythos aliens! Andrew Doran and the Forever Gate is in this one.
  5. Not finished, but honorable mention, Satan’s Salesman 2: The Devil is in the Details, had a lot of work done this year as well. Thanks to some motivational plot work from C.T. Phipps and my need for NaNoWriMo fodder, I was able to add about 25k words to it before the year ended and got work started on the cover art with Putnam Finch.

Three Anthologies, one novel, and half of a novel brings this year’s word count to: about 135,000 words this year, not counting the first chapter of my upcoming weird western, The Esoteric Cavalry, or any of my fan-fics or book reviews. I’m calling it a successful 2020!

Upcoming projects that are at least started, include: The Esoteric Cavalry, Satan’s Salesman 2, Broken Nights 3, Coven Spinoff Novel, and a still-in-talks anthology. Esoteric Cavalry, Coven Spinoff, and Broken Nights 3 each have less than 10k written. Satan’s Salesman 2 is almost done. 2021 could easily have 3 novels published if I focus and don’t let myself get distracted…

But hey, even if I do get distracted, that’s ok. We’re all human. Do the best you can. After the 2020 we all went through, as long as you can say you did the best you could with what you had, that’s all you can ask for.

Moana, Lovecraft, and Me.

Before I dive into this, I should give the uninitiated of you a little background of myself. I was an Archaeologist for a few years, and studied for just about as long. My favorite cultures of study were the Mayan and Aztec. This led me to learning about the Popol Vuh.

The Popol Vuh was a set of stories that included their creation myths and, my favorite, the story of the twins (I could read the Wiki article, but doing this from memory is more fun for me). In it, the Twins go through a series of adventures that drag them through the land of the dead and back to the land of the living after a series of adventures and pranks against the various gods. (One of those stories has one of the brothers getting his head removed and they replace it with a cabbage and the cabbage transforms into the twin’s head. No issues. So, either magic cabbage or the kids were magic. I think it was the kids being magic.)

Anyway, I have a point to all of this. To succeed in their quest, they had to die, travel through the underworld, succeed, and escape the underworld. A lot of other cultures have similar stories of passing through the underworld to accomplish a goal. And I have a theory that this happened in Moana.

Yes. Moana, the Disney movie. With the Rock.

I have a 2 year old who is in love with, what she calls the movie, “Maui Time!” So, I have seen this movie more times that I have watched any movie I ever had to do an essay on in college (looking at you “The 6th Day”).

Moana’s goal is to leave the island with the Heart of Tafiti. If you watch it like any 2 year old or person with a passing interest, you will watch as Moana leaves the island, gets swept up by the ocean, wakes up on a tropical island where she finds the demigod, Maui. Other stuff happens that I’ll get to later.

Ok, so this theory of mine is that she doesn’t find any of the gods and underworld stuff, and she wouldn’t have ever found them, until after her ship gets capsized, exactly like happened to her father and his DIED DURING THE CAPSIZING friend. Then she mysteriously wakes up on the correct island and the demigod that she was looking for is there.

So, here’s my story. When Maui lost the Heart of Tafiti, the ocean brought it to the world of the living. Moana found it, and she was quested with returning it to him. Except he is in what I will henceforth refer to as Level 1 of the Spiritual Realm. Her boat capsizes because she has no idea what she’s doing on a canoe. She drowns and is spirited away to Level 1 of the Spiritual Realm where the spirit of the ocean has more power and can help guide her unconscious spirit to the right spot. Great, part one is done. She has found Maui. There’s arguments and then they meet a few things that she’s never seen in the land of the living, like the coconut critters. They fight them and then he takes her to the gateway that leads to the Realm of Monsters, or as I will refer to it, Level 2 of the Spiritual Realm. They literally have to dive into this deeper level of the spirit world in order to get his Hook, which disappeared along with the Heart. In other words, this is evidence that when Maui lost them they both ended up in different worlds.

Alright, the rest of the movie happens and they end up fighting the firey goddess and lose because of, in my opinion, a lack of communication. Maui ducks out and Moana is set adrift in the middle of the ocean, where we get a third level of the Spiritual Realm. This one is the “land” of the dead. It’s more “ocean” of the dead, but that’s kind of the theme of the movie. Anyway, she gets spiritual guidance from a lot of ghosts, but mostly her grandmother.

The grandmother is a little bit of a conundrum for my version of this story. When she dies, you see her spiritual manta ray surge under the wave as Moana pushes past the reef. This doesn’t mean that everything else doesn’t happen, but it shows more of a spiritual presence in the living world than I am normally comfortable with in this theory, as Moana needs to leave her world to enter the world of magic…but there is magic when her grandma does that. It works, vaguely.

Anyway, grandma and a bunch of old dead guys give her the confidence she needs to succeed. She fights the evil god, gets her friend back, and restores the Heart. Watch the movie for detailed spoilers on that part. After she meets the god, she gets a boat that, essentially is identical to the one she left on. I don’t know if that’s important. She takes the boat and sails back home. We don’t know how long that takes.

When she gets home, her family rejoices that she’s still alive and she takes the time to share her Wayfinding mastery with her people and help them explore again.

In this last bit, I feel the movie glazes over her return because we’re past the climax. Obviously, the ocean spirit and Tafiti are responsible for her return to the land of the living. No small feat, but I think the ocean is the only medium that could have returned her and her knowledge from the gods.

If you’ve seen the movie, you can see that my interpretation is a little darker than Disney would have wanted to portray. Moana dies, travels through multiple levels of the underworld to retrieve the knowledge to save her people (sailing), and saved two gods to return the world to balance, before returning to the land of the living.

Her head was never replaced by a cabbage, but a giant crab with a New Zealander accent tried to eat her, so to each their own.

Where am I going with this? That’s a great question, and I am glad you have stayed with me this long to ask.

Wouldn’t it be cool if this kind of journey through the underworld was mirrored or told through the eyes of a New Englander and Lovecraft?

“But Matt,” I can hear you say, “isn’t that The Statement of Randolph Carter? Or The Silver Key? Or literally any story with Randolph Carter in it?”

To which I answer, Shut up! Yes, that is something that Lovecraft more or less already did, but his wasn’t nearly as fun, gory, or written by me, as mine would be. The Carter story was also something more personal to the main protagonist, as it should be, but my idea is that the story would have more world ramifications.

Think about it. Random book nerd learns of the coming cosmic apocalypse. He knows that he needs to stop it and he thinks he’s found the item, a black shard of something that seems to shift shapes. He discovers a crypt under the local library. Breaking in at night, he makes his way into the crypt and finds the remnants of a ceremony that has already happened. The clock is ticking and the dominoes have been tipped. He sees a carving in the stone wall and runs his fingers over it, reading the R’lyehian text out loud. Nothing seems to happen, but he hadn’t expected it to anyway. Then he hears a growl, turns, and is attacked by an alien monstrosity with teeth everywhere. He’s knocked unconscious in the struggle.

He wakes up deeper in the caverns but has no idea where. He swears he thought he was going to be as good as dead. The monster surely wanted his throat, but he seems fine. Then he sees a marking on the wall and realizes that he’s actually closer to his destination than he thought he would be. That’s when he meets an old professor he thought had passed years ago. Obviously not. Together they work toward solving the mystery and come across horrors that our hero never imagined coming across before.

Yeah, that could be fun. I think I might try fleshing something out in that regard. Maybe a novella.

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me through this lengthy explanation for a fun idea. If you know of anyone else who has already done something similar to this, or other ancient stories that follow a similar structure, please share them in the comments.