In the Red – Selah Janel

I haven’t had the chance to read this yet, but I have been asked to host a guest post.  Selah shares with us how she got into the mindset to write the book and the hurdles she overcame. Before that, here’s the ‘blurb’:

Blurb:

What kind of a rock star lives in a small town in the middle of nowhere and plays at weddings and funerals? Then Jack Scratch comes into his life, ready to represent him and launch him to stardom. Jack can give him everything: a new band, a new name, a new life, a new look, and new boots…although they aren’t exactly new. They once belonged to The One, a rocker so legendary and so mysterious that it’s urban legend that he used black magic to gain success. But what does Jeremiah care about urban legend? And it’s probably just coincidence that the shoes make him dance better than anyone, even if it doesn’t always feel like he’s controlling his movements. It’s no big deal that he plunges into a world of excess and decadence as soon as he puts the shoes on his feet, right?

But what happens when they refuse to come off?

Selah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination since she was little and convinced that fairies lived in the nearby state park or vampires hid in the abandoned barns outside of town. Her appreciation for a good story was enhanced by a love of reading, the many talented storytellers that surrounded her, and a healthy curiosity for everything. A talent for warping everything she learned didn’t hurt, either. She gravitates to writing fantasy and horror, but can be convinced to pursue any genre if the idea is good enough. Often her stories feature the unknown creeping into the “real” world and she loves to find the magical in the mundane.

Now, here’s Selah’s guest post:

I came across a lot of challenges while writing In the Red. I chose to expand an eight-thousand- word short story into a hundred-thousand-word novel…and do the bulk of it in a short period of time. I went through massive and repeated edits. I had a lot of research to do for the second half of the book. Still, there were two issues that were challenges I didn’t really see coming.

The first part of the book deals with Jeremiah Kensington’s adventure into the world of rock n’ roll. He starts off a little bit childish, a little bit selfish, but his manager and band mates are more than happy to help him fall the rest of the way. He encounters drugs, groupies, fans willing to do a lot to be in his presence, and all manner of extracurricular activities. I’ve long been a fan of rock urban legends and tell-all bios, so while I didn’t base any of the Sons of Pandemonium’s antics on anyone in particular, I was confident I could come up with activities that would match the decadence and debauchery of the greats.

And then I remembered that people I know would probably be reading the book.

That brought about a whole other set of nerves. Was I okay with people knowing I could think things like that up? What if I cleaned everything up and sanitized the entire first half? Wouldn’t that compromise the world I was trying to build and make the second half of the book not as strong by default? After all, I wasn’t trying to write an allegory. I don’t see fame or a certain genre or lifestyle as evil…it just so happened that Jeremiah is drawn into some choices that don’t agree with him. Besides, if he didn’t fall or turn somewhat more dislikable than he’d started out, then I really didn’t have much of a plot or anything to resolve.

In the end, it was the demons that were the deciding factor. I didn’t want to show them as the “booga-booga” style demon that rules strict horror titles. These were characters that would adapt to the world they lived in, and it’s strongly hinted that they started out as rock musicians in the first place. So, to emphasize that they weren’t stand-up dudes, and to keep with the theme, I had to take the risk that those who think I’m a stellar, stand-up citizen can just deal and appreciate the book for what it is: a good story with some sleazy tid-bits (that hopefully help build the story).

The second section of the book posed the other big challenge. I had done the research I needed, but I was scared of portraying something inaccurately or having things read as too technical. My comfort zone will probably always lie in character development and emotional reactions to the problems they go through. For better or worse, though, this meant that the second section of the book was going to deal with Jeremiah coming to grips with the sticky situation he’d gotten himself into. Not only that, but he was going to have to learn about all the people he’d affected, and eventually have to come to face the darker parts of himself, too…not to mention the creatures that were coming to get revenge on him.

             I chose to deal with some pretty dark emotional territory; that meant I had to let my mind and heart wander to times when I felt similar things so I could try to portray them realistically. When I was in college I’d studied theatre and was into acting for a long time, and I tend to approach writing a little bit like a sense memory exercise in acting. I obviously haven’t gone through the same things my characters have, but I try to remember times in my life that I’ve felt something even remotely close to what they could be feeling, and then write from that place. It isn’t always easy, and it can sometimes be reminiscent of my own moments of stupidity that I’m not proud of. Let’s face it: as people, we can be selfish, an acknowledging that part of ourselves is never easy. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, who’s heart you’ve broken, what missteps you’ve made…if you’re a feeling person, there are times when you’re brought to your knees. Getting up and moving forward is never an easy process, and it was this process that I was trying to portray with Jeremiah, plus he had the extra conundrum of trying to extricate himself from a devilish deal.

            I’ve mentioned on my own blog that I’ve had my own moments in the past few years where I was slowly working through some weird health issues that thankfully weren’t serious and are resolved now. Going through them, though, brought up a lot of emotional drama that I hadn’t expected. I’ve also mentioned that it’s impossible to run from the skeletons in your closet or the demons you’ve accumulated through the years. At some point you have to stop to catch your breath, and they’re going to be waiting.

Instead, I try to take mine to lunch every so often. I sit down and try to focus on what’s bothering me, and if something comes up then I try to have a mental conversation about what that is and what to do about it. Granted, this is probably a little new-age for most people, but it’s fabulous for writing. I’ve been able to use a lot of this kind of thing to flesh out character arcs like this, even if the subject matter is entirely unrelated. In a lot of ways, this also made me quite like the character of Jeremiah, when before I definitely butted heads with him. A lot of this also went into the character of his sister, Daniella, who I loved writing almost immediately.

They deal with far more serious things that I’ve had to, but I can’t help but think that gathering my nerve and trying to insert myself into their places emotionally helped a lot. Even if readers don’t agree with my characters or feel like they’re their best friends, I want them to feel for them, to feel something towards them. Sometimes, as a writer, it’s my job to make the hard choice to make things like that happen.

So did I succeed? Did I get a fair balance of sleazy and meaningful? Does Jeremiah go through a believable transformation? I’d like to think so, but there’s only one way for anyone else to know for sure, and that’s to pick up a copy of the book and see for yourself.

Interested? Just to whet your whistle a little more, here’s an except from the book:

They’re mine. I’m really holding them, Jeremiah realized. I’m holding history that isn’t supposed to exist. When The One took the stage, any competition turned tail and ran. It was said that the one time the singer revealed what he looked like the crowds were moved to tears by his beauty and sophistication, and tore each other apart because they couldn’t get to him. Some said it was a conspiracy that complete copies of his songs didn’t exist because the music was too potent to release to the public. There were people who still worshipped the mystery, the music, the outfits, and the boots.

 And now those people would come to him.

 “Go on. Try them on,” Jack encouraged. Jeremiah nodded and carefully put the platforms on the floor. Shaking with nerves, the youth sat and guided his feet into the cherry red sheaths. Electricity crackled along his instep and through his toes. He tugged the vinyl up over his calf and gasped. Jeremiah was overtaken by a sudden burn, a sudden ant-crawling of power that worked its way through his skin and into his very soul.

 “What the—” he choked. The plastic spasmed, tightened around his foot, and then relaxed. The left boot stretched itself a little higher up his calf and extended its sole and heel a little more to adapt to his needs. Jeremiah thought he had imagined it, but the right boot immediately followed suit. The matching sets of the laces squirmed and rippled, settling into a slightly different pattern than when they were taken out of their box. A quick look around proved that while everyone in the room was looking, Jack was the only other person that actually saw. “Did they just…?” Jeremiah couldn’t bring himself to say something so bizarre. He barely managed to hold back a cry when a thousand tiny needle teeth nibbled his skin from toes to knees. A tingling sensation spread under his skin and Jeremiah was filled with a rush of violent confidence that almost made him swoon.

 “Good. They fit,” Jack said. Only his tiny, mysteriously cruel little smile hinted that he was aware of the boots’ strange behavior.

The longer Jeremiah looked at himself the more he realized that he could do no wrong. My life just changed. With these on my feet, my past is gone. I’m going to be better than I ever thought possible.

 All around him the yes-men and hangers-on gaped.

 “You look so good!” the store footman practically swooned. His vinyl and lace frock coat danced under the fluttering movements of his hands. His sharp, pale face flushed with excitement underneath the stylized Victorian wig.

 “I’m gonna cry you look so good!” the blonde assistant squealed, gripping Jack’s knee as if she’d keel over if she didn’t have it there to support her. “It’s like I’m witnessing history!”

 The faces that surround him were positively thunderstruck and at his mercy. The camera kept right on clicking. Jeremiah got to his feet and struck a few more ambitious poses, dropping into a low crouch before kicking a leg up in an insane bastardization of a round kick.  It didn’t matter that he’d grown up looking like every other average guy in Middle America. It didn’t matter that he’d been more accustomed to cotton T-shirts and washed-out blue jeans than the clothes Jack had him wearing. The overall look wasn’t complete, but the boots pulled everything together. The added height evened out his lanky proportions. In some unlikely way the platforms made his stubble-sporting, angular face look downright exotic. His eyes blazed liquid brown heat and his dishwater hair almost glowed under the dressing room lights.

 Jeremiah sashayed around the tiny space and leapt onto the low podium at the room’s center, full of a burning drive to do something. He wanted to sing. He wanted to rock. He wanted to dance, and he’d never had that sort of urge before in his life. Every school dance he’d ever gone to had involved him either playing in the band or drinking contraband beverages with his friends outside the building. “Guess I’m a natural!” he laughed. He knew he was lying, Jack knew he was lying, but there was no reason for anyone else to know the truth. Why bother with the truth when the image in the mirror was so much better?

 He had expected his balance to be shaky in the tall platforms, but it was like the boots were built for him. He hadn’t thought to check the size. Maybe The One wasn’t the original owner; maybe they conformed to whoever wore them. Jeremiah’s face glowed when he looked at his mirror image. His reflection looked as giddy and ecstatic as he felt. Why do I care what they are? If they work, they work! His eyes dropped to the new footwear. He was just able to see the tiny, warped image of his face in the shiny toes. Everything’s going to be amazing from now on. As he admired his distorted image via his feet,  all of his hang-ups and personality drained out of him. Who needs a personality with boots like these?

 Jack Scratch watched his protégé glided round the room, that same tiny, dangerous smile just barely curling his full mouth. “Just think. What you have on represents everything that you want to be,” he coached. His words drilled through the rocker’s ears and hardwired themselves into the deepest parts of Jeremiah’s heart and soul. “They’re everything you want on your side. These boots are temptation and chaos, just like you. I’ve got it,” he declared. “I’ve got your name.”

“Give it to me,” a raspy voice in front of the mirror breathed.

 “Forget Jeremiah Kensington: folk singer, blue jean rocker, country boy, small town loser,” Jack breathed, his giant hands fervently patting down his front until he found which jacket pocket his cigarettes were hidden in. It was amazing that he didn’t gouge himself in the chest given the sharpened tip of the massive silver ring that enveloped his right forefinger. The manager leaned back against the sofa and lit up, never once taking his eyes off his new golden boy and meal ticket. “From now on you are J.K. Asmodeus, rock star and corrupter of the masses.” A thin plume of smoke stretched up to frame his intense expression.

 J.K. looked from Jack to the man in the mirror, saw how the red glitter of the boots was echoed in his eyes. “Yes.”

 The two ignored the gasps and commentary around them as everyone texted photos and alerted the necessary paparazzi. The pair shared a slow smile as Jack inhaled another draw of nicotine. “It’s time to sign,” he murmured. The smoke crept in front of his face and turned his pleased expression into something that bordered on animalistic. He removed the top sheet of the stack he’d been examining and held it out to the younger man.

 I should wait and consult a lawyer. I should take my time. These things need to be done with care, a distant echo of a Midwestern conscience chided. J.K. ignored it, grinned back at his manager, and reached for the fountain pen the manager handed him. His expression was almost as malevolent as Jack’s, though there were still traces of wholesomeness that had yet to drain away. “Let’s do it.”  – Buy the book here

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