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M. Patrick Beller, Author Posts

Writing “Who Mourns for St. Nicholas?” (Part 2)

Part 2 of an irregular and infrequent column on how I wrote my latest novella. Again, to properly absorb this post, you must enter the alternate reality where I am a fabulously successful and world-renowned author….

As Part 1 described, the major mythical characters fell into place fairly quickly. Nick was a cynical, tired, and reclusive version of St. Nicholas. I didn’t want to recreate the 1950’s version of Mrs. Claus (“Eat, Santa, Eat!”), so I rebranded her as Claudia, and made her the embodiment of “Christmas cheer”, while Nick was more about winter and the atmospherics of Christmas. That opened the possibility that both were being impacted differently by the modern world — Nick by climate change, and Claudia by increasing polarization and hatred of the other.

E.B., the Easter bunny, came quickly as well. as it seemed natural to me to make Nick and he rivals, and gave Nick some snobbery to round out his personality. A little farther along, the concept of a Halloween character came up, and I saw a good opportunity to satirize the growing popularity of Halloween at Christmas’ expense (witness the massive number of pop-up Halloween stores that magically appear every September). This character went through a couple of uninspiring names (Jack, Hal) before a lifetime of putting up with my dad’s puns kicked in and I came up with Sam Haines.

But for all the ease with which the mythical characters were developing, I felt they needed to interact with a plot in the “real” world. And this stymied me for a long time. I came up with the idea of Seamus’ Ride’s right-wing pundit early on, and thought that had potential, but I couldn’t figure out what to do with him. I also had the concept of walls in mind, thanks to the ongoing “build the wall” insanity, and I wrote some scenes involving a family trying to sneak around/through a border wall to get to a safer area, with the big reveal being that the border was now in the northern US. As bad as it sounds now, it was even worse when I was trying to write it.

So, for the first couple of weeks in October I spun in place, having a set of mythical characters I liked, headed to a general endpoint, but with no idea how to drive them there through interaction with regular humans. The resolution? Stay tuned for the next post…

Writing “Who Mourns for St. Nicholas?” (Part 1)

So I’m going to overlook the fact that my self-published literary empire consists of two short works that collectively total about 25,000 words, and pretend that I am a world-famous author, and thus that I have legions of fans who are dying to know more about how I wrote my new novella. This is part one of a few posts indulging this delusion. Note: There may be <<MILD SPOILERS>> below.

Near the end of 2018, shortly after sending out my still-unpublished novel to collect rejection letters, I was contemplating the likelihood of another brown Christmas in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis has had an inch or less of snow on the ground at Christmas for 6 of the past 8 years). Brown Christmases are by far the most trivial and meaningless impact of climate change, for the planet and for Minnesota, but for whatever reason that’s what was stuck in my mind, day after day. In the general insanity of the holiday season, this train of thought crossed paths with others, and produced a spark of an idea, that global warming was particularly dramatic in the Arctic, and likely to have a dramatic effect on the Arctic’s most famous mythical denizen.

I scribbled out a few paragraphs about this on paper, and briefly considered trying to crank something out by Christmas, but quickly realized that all I had was a scene — no plot, no sense of where to take the characters. My main focus was still on (unsuccessfully) marketing my novel, so I dropped it and let the idea go.

Flash forward to September 2019. I had just self-published my short story “A Brief History of the Tangini Colony,” and I wanted to write another shorter work. The general strategy was (and remains) to build a base with shorter works that will hopefully produce enough followers to make my novel more appealing to agents. My “Santa confronts climate change” idea popped back to the surface. I should have enough time to write something and get it published before the holiday season, where perhaps interest might be greater.

I have a very dry and somewhat warped sense of what is commonly called “humor”, and I thought that I could write this situation better in that style. This led me very quickly to consider St. Nick’s interactions with other mythical characters, like Mrs. Claus (Claudia) and the Easter Bunny (E.B.). I saw these as good fits with my sense of humor.

I had a sense early on that I wanted to write something that was ultimately tragic. In this I am undoubtedly influenced by my perception of the world around me, a polarized, fractious mess where people are so consumed with short-term gain that they are unable or unwilling to grasp the seriousness of longer-term threats. Thus, from the beginning I had a rough sense of how I wanted the story to end, and it was not necessarily a happy one.

The last early piece of the story that fell into place early on was the title. I find titles very difficult to come by, as evidenced by “Tangini” and by my-unpublished “Firebreak” novel, which still bears the name of its universe since three years of thought have not produced a better one. In this case, however, a title came to me quickly. I’m a big Star Trek fan, and as a child saw reruns of the Original Series more times than I can count. There’s one particular episode, “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, that has always struck a chord with me. It’s not the best episode (there’s at least ten I’d put in front of it), and it has its fair share of cheesiness and gender stereotypes, but I always found the ending, where the being who was the Greek god Apollo fades away because humanity has rejected him, extremely sad. Thus it was, while brainstorming titles, “Who Mourns for St. Nicholas?” popped into my head. I liked the resonance, both as a parody/pun and as a tragic ending.

Of course, my novella is a very different story, with different settings, characters, and themes. It should in no way be interpreted as a parody or homage to the original. However, there was one other concept from it that influenced me — the concept of fading.

More to come, another time…

New Novella Published!

After publishing my first short story on Kindle in September, and watching it soar into the tens of units sold, I decided to write a novella. That novella, “Who Mourns for St. Nicholas?”, is now available on Amazon here. It’s about 19,000 words, so it’s priced a little higher, but still a bargain at $2.99.

Right now, it’s only available as an Ebook, but I am getting a Print-on-Demand option set up, so watch for that.

This novella is not set in my Firebreak universe, and is very different from most of my other work. If I’m feeling particularly motivated, I’ll post some more here about how I came up with this particular idea.

An update

So it’s been eight months since my last post. I’m not sure I can keep up this blistering two-post-per-year pace. I’ve tallied another couple dozen rejections for my novel, which was fun. In early June I decided that perhaps a factor in these rejections was my complete lack of published works of any kind, so I decided to review a short story I originally wrote back in 2017 and self-publish it on Amazon. A combination of repeated cycles of editing with diminishing returns, procrastination, laziness, and life delayed this somewhat. Nevertheless, as of September 6 “A Brief History of the Tangani Colony” is available on Amazon (link). Check it out,.

I’m writing another short story right now, unrelated to the Firebreak universe. My goal is to get these two out, see how they sell, then resubmit the novel for consideration.

Who am I, anyways?

I’m Mike Beller, aka M. Patrick Beller, aspiring science fiction writer. Here’s some more basic information about my embryonic writing career, in mock-interview form.

Aspiring? As in, non-published? That’s right. In late 2016 I started writing my first novel, tentatively titled Firebreak. It’s actually the first in a planned series. Firebreak is a better name for the overall series than the book itself, but I haven’t come up with a better name for the book, so it’s Firebreak for now. It took me two years of writing/editing/revising/etc. to get Firebreak and its 115,000 words to something I feel is good enough to send to prospective agents. I have yet to find an agent who is interested. So, if you are an agent who came across this site, I’d love to talk to you…

So you spent two years writing a novel and haven’t written anything else. Good plan. I did take a break in the middle of writing Firebreak to pen a short story, which I desultorily shopped around before going back to the novel. Now that the novel is complete for now, I plan to write some additional short stories and sell or self-publish them.

Why do you write science fiction? Because I like to ponder the future of humanity through character-driven stories. Yes, I spent too much time drafting corporate mission statements in my past life.