Inspiration for stories comes from all over the place. But what happens when a story is commanded rather than inspired? How do writers find inspiration to do things on command or for a contracted story or a shared world, rather than something the muse just handed them? Our podcast guest this week, David Mack, touched upon this a bit as a tie-in writer for Star Trek: Discovery, but here we have another experience from multi-award winning and nominee poet and novelist Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Here is a guest article from her talking about her experience writing a story for Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters II, currently on Kickstarter!
It always feels strange when someone asks me to write on command. “Write something with me,” someone will say, and I find myself having to decline. One, because I don’t know what “something” means for them and two, because I’m usually pretty busy writing my own kind of “something.” Then there was the guy who leaned over, made googly eyes at me, and said, “Write a poem for me.” That was just creepy, so I declined that one too.
Occasionally, though, there are requests that are intriguing enough to make me look up from my laptop and say, “Really?” Like when Alana Joli Abbott asked if I would write a Kaiju story. A Kaiju story—now that’s never been on my radar. But I like writing things that challenge me, things that take me completely out of my comfort zone.
So, I said yes and spent the next few months worried that I wouldn’t be able to deliver because I had no earthly idea where to begin. You see, I write about people who wear chanclas and eat chicharrones. I write about the love of mothers, the bond of hermanitas, and our past struggles in this country. I write about familia, not giant monsters stomping on things.
I perused the stories in Kaiju Rising and watched Pacific Rim. After that adrenaline rush, I came up with something I could write about. I sat at the computer the first week of Christmas break and started outlining a story about a giant-prehistoric-looking-baby-creature that somehow ends up in the clutches of an evil man (insert strange professor with an eye patch here). Yes. Yes. I was on a roll.
Then because I still had another week to write, I went to see a movie with The Man. As I was sucked into the gorgeousness of The Shape of Water, I thought, “That’s how I should be writing this. I just need to believe it could happen.”
After the movie, I was standing in the hallway waiting for The Man to refill our drinks when the Anti-muse popped into my head and grinned at me. "Yes, but is your story-line believable? Are your characters solid? I mean, who wears an eye patch anymore? A one-eyed professor walking around with a deep dark secret? Really?” my soul-crushing, overly-critical Anti-muse asked.
I was in the midst of complete and utter writerly despair when the doors of a nearby theater opened and a crowd of movie-goers walked out. And who should be leading the crowd but an older, professor-ish looking man with an eye patch. Yes! In your face, Anti-muse! The universe said yes, and I went home to write my short story.
Although I like it when the Anti-muse packs her bags and my zany, overzealous, dramatic, overachieving Real Muse shows up, the truth is my Real Muse is kind of a tyrant. She puts vats of Diet Coke on the counter, banishes my dear husband, and makes me write like the house is on fire and we have to finish and submit the story because we can’t take the laptop with us when we run outside.
Four days and forty-five pages into the project, I realized the Real Muse was out of control. “I can cut it back later,” I told myself. “I can still trim this down.”
Five days, several more characters’ points of view, and sixty-four pages later, and it was official—I was writing another young adult novel. However, as shiny and bright as the whole thing was (writing different points of view is new and thrilling for me), I was in deep trouble here. It was Friday of the second week of Christmas break and I only had two more days to write the Kaiju short story for Alana.
I messaged my buddy, David Bowles (the master of all things Sci-Fi) and he gave me some good writerly advice. “Write a short story in the same universe,” he said. That night, I went back to my laptop. “What if there were other creatures?” I asked the Real Muse. “Who would find them? And how would he/she get rid of them?”
In the end, I wrote a short story called, “Rancho Nido” for Kaiju Rising, Age of Monsters II and submitted it on time. “Rancho Nido” is a little morsel, a prequel to my bigger project, a young adult book which I am labelling my “Borderlands Kaiju Novel.”
“Rancho Nido” is different from anything else I’ve ever written before, but it’s coming from a fun place, a place where families sit around a fire pit and tell crazy historias de monstros. So, wait ’til dark, kick your feet up, and enjoy it with a taquito.
Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low Books), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist, received the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Literacy Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Review’s Best Teen Books of 2011, among many other accolades. Her second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books), won a Westchester Young Adult Fiction award, was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, was included in the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the 2012 School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year. Her poems for children have appeared in The Poetry Friday Anthology, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Ms. Garcia McCall was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems). She is currently a high school English teacher in San Antonio.
About Kaiju Rising II: A few years ago, Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters smashed onto the book scene, collecting stories from some of the best writers of monsters in the business. Now, the age of monsters continues on with the follow up anthology, Kaiju Rising II, featuring stories from authors like Jeremy Robinson, Marie Brennan, Dan Wells, ML Brennan, Jonathan Green, Lee Murray, Cullen Bunn, and more! If you love movies like Pacific Rim, Godzilla, and Kong, you won't want to miss it. Support this anthology from Outland Publications on Kickstarter now, keywords Kaiju Rising.