Writing Rituals


This is the Penna bluetooth keyboard I used to write most of Smoke & Dagger in Scrivener on my phone. Weird collision of retro and modern tech, huh?

Some writers have rituals. They can only work at a certain time of day with a particular kind of tea in their special mug. Or only with their favorite pen and their lucky charm by their side. I’ve heard of these kinds of writers, but I don’t think I know many of them. Among my ever widening circle of working writer friends and acquaintances, most (even the very talented and successful) have day jobs and families and can’t afford to be too picky about where, when, and how they get the work done. I suspect this may be especially true for the ones who have a track record of actually getting the work done.

I write a fair amount of occult horror. I write about rituals, but I don’t really have any writing rituals. My mantra is: By Any Means Necessary.

I think writers like to talk about their tools and routines because it’s easier than trying to explain the real work, which is (even if you outline and analyze it) a largely intuitive thing built on personal instincts.

Some of my favorite tools include:

* Hardback large format notebooks (I wrote the first draft of The Devil of Echo Lake in three of these).

* Uniball Vision micro pens (I like a pen that digs into heavy paper when I deliberately want to write slow).

* Dragon dictation software that just barely runs on the old MacBook Air I bought with the advance for my first novel (for when I need to write fast).

* A Montblanc pen I received as a gift from a relative (also favored by Philip Pullman).

* A Logitech wireless keyboard paired with my phone (for writing on the go and in tight spaces, like finishing the SPECTRA Files trilogy on a plane).

I liked the bluetooth typewriter keyboard pictured above for Smoke & Dagger because it helped me get into the right mindset for a historical novella with a noir vibe set in the 1940s. I also listened to Dionysus by Dead Can Dance on permanent loop while writing, so maybe I’m not as ritual-free as I claimed. What can I say? Writers lie. We’ll tell you a ten-hour story about people who don’t exist, so… The music helped me to get into a hypnotic frame of mind evocative of cults and secret societies.

Smoke & Dagger is out today, on H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday. It’s a prequel to the SPECTRA Files trilogy that takes place seventy years before the Red Equinox, which by the way is finally coming around next month on 9/23/19. The book is about an intrepid anthropology student who gets caught in the crossfire between government spies and Starry Wisdom cultists while investigating a mad scientist on behalf of a secret society. The protagonist is Catherine Littlefield–a younger incarnation of Becca Philip’s grandmother–and the mad scientist is Jack Parsons, who pioneered solid rocket fuel engines in the 1940’s.

Parsons was into all kinds of weird rituals, but he also embraced the By Any Means Necessary credo. His visionary spirit and dogged perseverance resulted in the first jet assisted aircraft takeoffs from tight runways during WWII. But he had his heart set on the moon. Tragically, he died in a chemical explosion before he could see his dream realized. He may have even used magic to help us eventually get there, fifty years ago this month.

Anyway, it’s release day and there’s lots to do, so I’ll leave you with this hilarious video,  a crash course in the life and legacy of Jack Parsons from Comedy Central’s Drunk History.

And, oh yeah: Buy the book! I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. It’s chock full of cool artwork by Mat Fitzsimmons, and if you’re in New England, maybe you can catch me signing copies at one of these upcoming events.

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