Aside from my plans to start blogging again, the upcoming Pitch Wars makes this a good time to reintroduce myself! Pitch Wars is an online contest hosted by Brenda Drake where published authors/editors each choose a writer to mentor in order to help them polish & prep their novel for querying agents. Now that I’ve got Into The Black in a good place, I’ve decided to throw my hat in the ring! This post is part of the #PimpMyBio blog hop, an unofficial way for contestants to get to know each other.

Hello all! My name is Brian Work, and this is my first Pitch Wars. I finally have a finished manuscript that’s gone through a few drafts, and I’m looking forward to taking part, getting feedback, and meeting some cool people!

About My Book

Into The Black (YA Fantasy)

Blurb:
Sydney grew up idolizing his mother, a former bandit turned sheriff. Unfortunately, he didn’t inherit her fighting skills, and his magic is only useful as a nightlight. After bombing his evaluation for the Petrichor Martial Academy, Sydney lands a coveted spot because an old family friend needs a student on the inside he can trust. He tasks Sydney with a secret mission to unravel a conspiracy to eradicate non-humans. Sydney may be ill-equipped for the job, but he’s not going to pass up the chance to follow in his mother’s footsteps.

At Petrichor, Sydney befriends Lanei, an aspiring knight running from a life she never wanted. Lanei has spent her life watching knights turn their backs on anyone who isn’t human. She’s also witnessed firsthand just how dangerous magic and unchecked power can be. While Sydney struggles to survive his classes, Lanei conducts her own investigation into the anti-magic cult. But the deeper Lanei gets, the more her past becomes a liability.

When a fellow student is murdered, all signs point to Lanei. Now she and Sydney must work together to prove her innocence before someone else is killed.

Themes:
Into The Black deals with equality, and the notion that nobody should be discriminated against because of how they look or how they were born. It’s about standing up for what’s right, even when you know it’s going to end badly for you. And it’s about family, specifically the family you choose that may not be related by blood.

I’ve made an effort to assemble a diverse cast of characters, in large part to reflect the diversity that I see in my classrooms. From speaking to my students, I know how much representation matters to teenagers, and I want to create characters they can see themselves as.

Origin:
Into The Black started as a webcomic back when I was fresh out of high school. My artist (Marissa Trudel) and I only posted 10 pages before life got in the way and it fell apart. Over a decade later, the characters of Sydney and Lanei called out to me again. I scrapped everything except the most basic ideas about who they were and started from scratch, creating a new world for them to inhabit. I’m incredibly fortunate to still have Marissa as one of my biggest supporters and most enthusiastic beta readers, supplying me with incredible concept artwork (as seen above.)

Playlist:
Music is a huge part of my inspiration. My playlist for Into The Black has over 400 songs on it, but here are the top 10 tracks that get me in the mood for this story:
– Art of Dying – “Best I Can”
– Butch Walker – “Into The Black” (the inspiration for the title and one of the main themes)
– Butch Walker – “Take Tomorrow (One Day at a Time)”
– Fozzy – “Unstoppable”
– Halestorm – “I Am The Fire”
– Imagine Dragons – “Warriors”
– Jack’s Mannequin – “The Resolution”
– Lindsey Stirling feat. Lzzy Hale – “Shatter Me”
– Sixx:A.M. – “Life Is Beautiful”
– We Are The In Crowd – “Long Live The Kids”

About Me

I’ve been writing as long as I can remember (starting with stories about Snoopy or Mario on my mom’s old typewriter.) After discovering Suikoden and Final Fantasy VII in eighth grade, I made a video game website dedicated to them. Over the next five years, IcyBrian’s RPG Page grew to be the largest website on the internet for RPG fanfiction and fan art. It’s long since been abandoned, and now remains as a testament to my poor naming decisions.

My background is in theatre and film. I’ve been performing for 15 years at theatres in Atlanta, Chicago, Florida, & North Carolina. I spent three years in Chicago doing improv and sketch comedy. I’m back in Atlanta now, but absolutely loved my time in Chicago. Despite the freezing winters, I find myself in a constant state of wanting to move back.

I’ve always had a soft spot for romantic comedies. A play I wrote, Once Upon a RomCom: The Bill Pullman Story, was produced at a theatre in Chicago. In it, Bill Pullman falls into a deep depression after playing the “other guy” in numerous 90s romcoms, believing he’ll never find true love. It takes the help of his fairy godfather, Jeff Goldblum, to pull him out of his funk. The coolest part of the experience was when Bill Pullman mentioned the play on NPR and even sent us flowers!

For years my dream was to make a feature film, but I kept talking myself out of it. I finally decided that if I didn’t do it now, I never would, so I threw caution to the wind and wrote, directed, and produced Uncommon Law, a romantic comedy about two best friends and longtime roommates who, after years of bailing each other out of bad dates by pretending to be married, get a notice from the government that they are now common law married. It took me four grueling years to complete, but it’s finally out there for people to see on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Amazon Prime.

Since moving back to Atlanta, my creative efforts have shifted to writing fiction and teaching high school theatre. I love working with students who are passionate about theatre, helping them believe in themselves and accomplish feats they didn’t realize they were capable of. Out of everything I’ve done, teaching is without a doubt the most rewarding. The students I’ve worked with are truly remarkable and continue to inspire me. I push myself to succeed every day so I can show them that, with hard work and dedication, anything is possible.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read this! I look forward to connecting with you all throughout Pitch Wars. I love talking to people, so don’t hesitate to hit me up on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Cheers!

For the last decade or so, I’ve been doing all my writing on a computer. Before then, I wrote everything by hand and then transcribed it, but as I discovered writing programs like Final Draft, Celtx, & Scrivener, I started doing all my writing on the computer. And that worked fine for a while.

Lately, however, I’ve been finding myself way too easily distracted when at the computer. I fall into the black hole of Facebook & Twitter, & the next thing I know it’s an hour later & I haven’t written anything. Such is the result of having the willpower of a blueberry scone.

When I was creating the outline for Into The Black, I did the whole thing by hand. It was freeing and helped me to just get words down on the page without feeling like they were set in stone. I wrote the first draft in Scrivener, but I definitely spent more time procrastinating & being distracted than actually writing. And a big part of that has to do with the damn computer itself and the stupid internet.

As I looked at the middling progress I’ve made on my found footage horror novel over the last month, I knew I wanted to try something new with it. So rather than writing on the computer, I’m disconnecting and doing the writing by hand. Less distractions means less excuses I can make for myself.

I have stories to tell, and nobody’s going to give a damn about them if they never get written. And that’s on me. That’s something I can control.

I mean, shit, I wrote, directed, & produced a feature film. I can look at the Uncommon Law blu-ray shelved right next to Underworld in my movie collection & see proof that I can make things happen. I’ve got a completed draft of Into The Black as a constant reminder that I can get things done if I stick to them.

So no more excuses. No more avoiding writing due to a fear of failure. Time to kick fear’s ass and send it packing. I don’t have time for that shit. I’ve got work to do.

2016 In Review

Despite the eternal struggle that was 2016, it was an extremely productive year for me professionally.
– After 5 years, my first feature film, Uncommon Law, is officially complete & available on digital, DVD, & Blu-Ray!
– Completed the first draft of my debut novel, “Into The Black.”
– Directed two plays: “Much Ado About Nothing” at Parkview High School and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” at Collins Hill High School.
– Taught high school drama for three months at Collins Hill.
– Shot the video portion of a found footage YA horror novel I’m working on.

All in all, a successful year! No time to slow down, because my goals for 2017 include:
– Editing “Into The Black” and querying agents.
– Writing & editing the found footage novel.
– Finishing the three screenplays I’ve got in various stages of completion.
– Resuming work on my urban fantasy novel.
– Making more regular blog posts on here.

Time to get at it!

Today is National Book Lovers Day, so it seemed like a good time to share my Ideal Bookshelf! I got the idea from IdealBookshelf.com, and thought I’d take a photo of my own. Narrowing it down to 20 books was hard, and several of my favorites I only have in ebook or audiobook form (which is why there’s no Jonathan Maberry on here.) I tried to cover most of my bases: novels, graphic novels, plays, and books on writing, film, and acting.
  • The World of King Arthur by Christopher Snyder: I’ve been doing a lot of research on Arthurian mythology, and this is one of the best resources I’ve found thus far.
  • Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee: This is the book that got me into reading comics. My roommate at the time handed me the first issue, and I got hooked pretty quick.
  • Nightwing Vol. 1: A Knight in Bludhaven by Chuck Dixon/Scott McDaniel: Nightwing’s my favorite comic book character, and this is the beginning of Dixon’s great run on the title.
  • Kingdom Come by Mark Waid/Alex Ross: This whole graphic novel is a work of art. Fascinating storyline with amazing artwork.
  • You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day: I’m a big fan of Felicia Day. Her “just do it” attitude is inspiring and uplifting for creative types looking for the push they need to make something big happen for themselves. But most importantly, this book was important to me for helping me come to terms with some of my own struggles with anxiety and depression.
  • Timeline by Michael Crichton: My favorite Michael Crichton book. I vividly remember being engrossed in this book during high school, and then being extremely let down when I saw the movie.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) by J.K. Rowling: I didn’t read the Harry Potter books until last year (I know, I missed the boat there),
  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin: Throughout high school, I didn’t read a whole lot. The vast majority of my reading during that time was fanfiction. A Game of Thrones is what got me back into reading, and ever since then Martin has been one of my biggest influences as a writer.
  • Paper Towns by John Green: I’ve started getting into YA lit over the last couple years as I’ve been wanting to write something for that audience, and John Green’s books have really struck a chord with me.
  • The High King by Lloyd Alexander: I loved The Prydain Chronicles growing up. The High King struck me with how epic it was, and with how ruthless Alexander was with his characters.
  • Changes by Jim Butcher: The Dresden Files books have passed A Song of Ice & Fire as my favorite series, and Changes is my favorite book in that series. You want to talk about a book that changes the entire complexion of a series, this is it. The whole second half is just a non-stop, edge of your seat thrill ride.
  • William Shakespeare: The Complete Works: Originally I was going to include Macbeth and Much Ado on this list, but rather than cut something else I just went with Shakespeare’s complete works instead. I’ve always been a fan of Shakespeare, but somehow in the last year I’ve found an affinity for analyzing and directing his work.
  • The Collected Plays of Neil Simon, Vol. 1: I did a study on Neil Simon in college, reading and analyzing 20 of his plays and then writing a play in his style. Helped me gain a whole new appreciation for his work.
  • The Lion in Winter by James Goldman: My favorite play. Even though I’ve mostly transitioned to writing and directing, this is one play that I’d still love to perform in.
  • Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out by Mick Napier: A must read for anyone involved in improv, sketch comedy, or acting in general.
  • Directing Actors by Judith Weston: I love the way Weston talks about working with actors, communicating with them on their level and using playable direction. That’s guided me as a director since I first read this book back in 2003.
  • Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez: This book helped inspire me to say to hell with the odds and try making my own movie. Granted, my first attempt in 2004 failed… as did my second attempt in 2005. But years later I would finally succeed with Uncommon Law!
  • Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder: I’ve used elements of Save the Cat in every screenplay I’ve written in the last ten years. Although I’ve begun deviating from the structure he defines, it’s a wonderful starting point for anyone getting into screenwriting. And I still swear by his breakdown of genres as the best way to think about story.
  • Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland: After years of writing by the seat of my pants, I picked up Outlining Your Novel and used the system within to outline Into The Black. Thanks to that, I’ve written more on ITB than on any of my previous writing projects that fizzled out partway through. 102k words and still going strong!
  • On Writing by Stephen King: Part memoir, part book on writing craft, tons of valuable information for writers.

I had a great time talking with the Atlanta Film Chat podcast this week! We had a really fun conversation talking about Uncommon Law, writing, the struggles of making a film without a budget, my love for romantic comedies & Japanese RPGs, and more. Please download & give it a listen!

When you think of an “indie film” you don’t typically think of a romantic comedy. The genre gets derided as being formulaic and unimaginative. However, filmmakers like this week’s guest Brian Work disagree and only want to make the films they want to make.

Link: http://www.cinematlmagazine.com/cinematl-reel-ga/2015/11/15/atlanta-film-chat-episode-78-writer-director-brian-work-uncommon-law

I’m currently taking a class on Teaching Young Adult Literature, and one of my first assignments was to write my Reading Autobiography, which was a detailed description of the sort of reading I did when I was young (focusing on middle school and high school.) I enjoyed going back down memory lane for the assignment, and so I wanted to share it here.

——–

Reading has been a big part of my life from a young age. Some of my earliest memories are of me getting in trouble for staying up late reading beside a tiny nightlight. In that sense, I was always a little ahead of the game. When my siblings and I were elementary school kids growing up in Ohio, I would always look forward to the Saturdays when we’d go to the Bexley Library to hunt for new books. I would always pick up one or two Peanuts or Garfield books, and then go straight to the kids section for the Matt Christopher baseball books. From there, I graduated to baseball players’ autobiographies. I remember reading Orel Hershiser’s and Hank Aaron’s autobiographies when I was in the third grade, and I guess I just assumed at the time that they were written for kids my age (because why else would I be allowed to read them), although looking at their lexile level now I see that they’re at a high school reading level. I think that just goes back to the whole notion that if a student is interested in the subject matter, they’ll read above their normal level. Oh, and I read a lot of the Encyclopedia Brown books, which taught me that if you ever see someone filing their nails after they’ve gotten out of the shower, it means they’re a dirty, dirty liar and shouldn’t be trusted.

We moved to Georgia when I was in fourth grade, and our primary source of books became the B. Dalton bookstore at Gwinnett Place Mall. There was also a Waldenbooks there, but for some reason that always struck me as the “fancy” bookstore. I still remember the locations of all the shelves I would venture toward in B. Dalton: The humor section where I’d get the latest Fox Trot or Garfield collection (the far back wall on the left), the juvenile book shelves (halfway back on the right), and the sports section (along the wall on the right side, just past the magazine rack.)

I read a lot of series books from fourth to sixth grade. The first ones I remember getting into were the Boxcar Children books. We probably had forty or fifty of those, and once I finished them I started reading my sister’s Babysitters Club books. Sure, I wasn’t the target audience for those, but they were still engaging reads (even if I did have to hide them inside a Sports Illustrated when I was reading them at school.) After that was Goosebumps, a series I thoroughly loved and devoured every time a new book came out. I also got into a lot of Choose Your Own Adventure books. We had a number of those that I’d read a lot, although now that I’m older I can admit with only some shame that I would cheat and sneak a peek ahead to make sure I wasn’t walking into a trap with every choice I made.

The_Black_CauldronAs I got further into middle school, I read more classic series books. I got sucked into the Chronicles of Narnia in sixth grade and burned through all of those pretty quick. In seventh grade, I discovered the Prydain Chronicles and made short order of that series as well. It was also my first experience with a series where multiple characters were killed off. I recall making a chart showing how and when characters were killed during The High King. It was also in seventh grade that I first got into Michael Crichton and read Jurassic Park. Crichton was my favorite author for the next several years, during which time I also read The Lost World, Sphere, Congo, Rising Sun, and Timeline (my favorite Crichton book, which also became the worst Crichton movie.) Pretty much anytime we went on vacation, I’d take a Crichton book with me to read on the plane or while lounging beside the pool.

Starting in eighth grade, my reading habits would change drastically for the next several years, not because of a book but because of a video game. It was in eighth grade that I discovered the Playstation game Suikoden. Before Suikoden, the games that I played were all fairly simple in their approach to story, as few had a plot more complex than “rescue the princess” or “stop the bad guys.” Suikoden was a whole new ballgame. It was an RPG, or Role Playing Game, where the story and character development were just as crucial to the experience as the gameplay itself (even moreso, in point of fact.) I was sucked in by the story of Tir McDohl, the son of one of the Five Great Generals of the Scarlet Moon Empire, whose best friend is killed by the consort to the corrupt Emperor and must go on the run. While in hiding he meets Odessa, the leader of the Liberation Army, a group dedicated to freeing the Empire from the Emperor’s tyranny. After Odessa is assassinated, Tir is thrust into the role of leader of the Liberation Army and must assemble the 108 Stars of Destiny to combat the Empire. It was a life changing experience for me, as the story had brilliant plot twists, moments of great triumph, and heart wrenching turns as favorite characters were killed or sacrificed themselves for the greater good. Almost twenty years later I now find myself playing through Suikoden again, and the story is still as good as I remember it. Additionally, the young adult book that I’m currently writing, Into the Black, is heavily influenced by the Suikoden series and other Japanese RPGs.

Suikoden_packaging01From that point on, I couldn’t get enough RPGs. I lost myself in Chrono Trigger, the Final Fantasy series, Xenogears, Vandal Hearts, and anything else I could get my hands on. Anyone who says that video games aren’t a legitimate storytelling medium is an uninformed fool who’s been playing the wrong games (I’m looking at you, Roger Ebert.) And so, on April 27th, 1997, I created my first webpage: IcyBrian’s Suikoden Page. It started out as a resource for information on the game itself: Walkthroughs, secrets, character lists, things like that. The internet was still in its infancy at this stage, and as people found my site they asked me to expand it and make pages for other games, and as I did the site became IcyBrian’s RPG Page.

And then a curious thing happened. Someone sent me a Chrono Trigger story they had written and asked if I would post it on the site. I shrugged and said, “hey, why not. Original content!” I had written little Mario stories when I was younger, so I was already familiar with fanfiction (even if I didn’t know what it was at the time.) Pretty soon, more and more people started sending me their stories to post. From there, the site became less of a resource and more of a community. I met a lot of fellow RPG fans and writers, many of whom are still friends of mine to this day.

For the next five years, IcyBrian.com was the go-to place for RPG fanfiction and fan art on the internet. My site had the largest collection of RPG fanfics anywhere (at least until the advent of fanfiction.net, an automated site where people could post literally anything they wanted without any sort of moderation or quality control, something I totally wasn’t the least bit bitter about in any way.) Throughout high school, the vast majority of my reading was fanfiction. Every day when I came home from school, I’d have a fresh batch of emails waiting for me in my inbox, containing new chapters to stories that were already posted on the site or new stories looking to be approved for posting. I would still read other books, namely the aforementioned Michael Crichton books and a number of plays, but most of what I read in high school was fanfiction. I’d print out chapters and put them in my binders with the rest of my school work so I could read them in class without arousing too much suspicion. I remember that Math class in particular was my designated fanfic reading time. I was good at math but really didn’t care about it, so I was able to get by only paying a little bit of attention in class, while dedicating the rest of my focus to the more important task of reading new stories about the RPG characters I loved.

The RPG site is still up, although a recent backend update on my server broke the script I used for the fanfic section, so I need to get that repaired so it’ll be back up as an archive. I haven’t read fanfiction in over ten years, and I now subscribe to the belief that writing in someone else’s world isn’t the best way to craft your own stories, but I still credit fanfiction with getting me back into writing and with shaping a large part of who I was in high school and in the years beyond.

I’ve made a number of attempts at writing a novel over the years. While I’ve succeeded at writing and producing plays and screenplays, a finished novel has eluded me. There’s one series in particular that I’ve been working on in one form or another for about five years now. On the first draft I got seven chapters in before restarting, writing another seven chapters, restarting again, writing another two chapters, and then starting over again.

The fourth draft has been more successful. I had a few of the main plot points figured out, but I was still flying by the seat of my pants for the most part. This time around, I got twenty five chapters in and just… hit a wall. It’s not that what I had was bad. I actually like most of it. But I felt like the last few chapters had the characters spinning their wheels, venturing off on this mission, and then that one. Something was missing, and I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

It was around that time that I had to focus on finishing post-production for Uncommon Law, so I set the book aside for a while as I completed the movie. When I was finished with that and went back to the book, I realized I still didn’t know where I was going with it.

And that’s when I knew I had a fundamental flaw in my writing process.

Whenever I’ve written a play or a screenplay (you know, those things I’ve actually completed and put out in the world,) I’ve had an outline that I worked from. However, anytime I’ve written fiction, I’ve been a pantser, someone who just writes as it comes, without any outlining or significant planning. Which, I realized, may be why I’ve never actually finished a book. Some of this probably goes back to the times I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, which has traditionally been the domain of pantsers. Now, don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing wrong with pantsing (unless you’re in public, in which case nobody wants to see that.) It’s great for some people, but it just wasn’t working for me. I had to try something else.

Outlining Your NovelI searched online for different outlining methods, but none really struck my fancy. In my search, though, I saw a number of people on Writer Unboxed and the NaNoWriMo forums recommend K.M. Weiland‘s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success. Enough people seemed to swear by it that I decided to give it a look. Reading through it, I felt like it had some good info in it, but I wasn’t certain how much of it would really be helpful. But hey, the old method wasn’t working, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to take a shot at putting Weiland’s lessons into practice.

I set aside my in-progress novel and pulled out an old idea from over a decade ago (that longtime readers may remember as my short-lived fantasy web comic “Into The Black.”) I had jotted down various ideas or thoughts that had came to mind over the years, but I’d never actually written it. I believed it had a lot of potential, though, so I knew it would be a good candidate to try out the lessons from Outlining Your Novel.

I’m not even a third of the way into the steps listed in the book, and I’m already a believer. Not just in a “hey, this kinda works” way, but in an “I’ve got to obnoxiously tell all my writer friends about this book” sorta way.

Right off the bat, what I love about the method in this book is how it replicates the part of my previous process that actually worked, only it allows me to do it on my own. Previously, one of my best friends acted as a sounding board for my ideas, and we’d have hours-long phone conversations going through all the various “what if” scenarios that could pop up in the book. But, as it does, life happens, and she suddenly had law school, a full time job, and a wedding to plan, so our conversations became shorter and more focused on the personal side of our lives (because as great as it is to have a sounding board, I still prioritize her friendship over all else.)

Outlining Your NovelOne of the first things the book has you do is list all the potential “What If” scenarios that could occur, and it encourages you to write down everything, even if it seems ridiculously silly. Following that, you pick out the ones that have the most legs or that give you a visceral reaction, and you extrapolate like crazy on those. Just from doing that exercise, I not only learned things about my characters that worked so much better than the notes I’d already written down, but I’d also figured out what the story should be about and the right angle to take to introduce this world. Some people say they don’t like outlining because it takes away the exhilarating sense of discovery that comes from writing, but damn, I was getting that exact same feeling from brainstorming these ideas up front.

Another recommendation the book made which has been extremely helpful to me has been to do the brainstorming/outlining process by hand. Way back in the day, I used to write all my notes out on notebook paper in three-ring-binders, but when I was in college I switched to doing everything on a computer. In doing so, I found that I’d fallen into one of the traps Weiland mentions: When you’re writing on the computer, it feels so permanent. I had a lot of ideas that would come to mind, but I wouldn’t type them up because I didn’t know if they were worthy of going into my Scrivener file. So instead, they just sat in my mind until I found the right way to incorporate them, or else until I forgot all about them before I could figure out how to make them work. By returning to my old three-ring-binders, I’ve given myself permission to write down every single idea that comes to mind, no matter how implausible, and then when I reach the end of the outlining process and am ready to write, I can transfer all the ideas I’m keeping into the notes on my computer. Also, it means that when I’m outlining, I don’t have all of the distractions of the internet at my fingertips (a big problem of mine.) I still plan to do all the actual writing on my computer in Scrivener, but so far this is working wonders for the outlining/brainstorming process. Boom. Best of both worlds.

I’m looking forward to my daily writing sessions each day as I get further along in this outline and continue to make discoveries about this story, the characters, and the world it’s set in. I can’t wait to start writing the actual story, and feel the relief that comes from knowing where I’m going every step of the way.

The TL;DR version: I was having crazy trouble writing as a pantser, and K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success has completely changed the way I write and reinvigorated my creativity. If you’ve been struggling with writing by the seat of your pants, I highly suggest checking out this book. Hopefully it’ll do for you the same as it’s done for me.