Thursday, November 08, 2012

Guest Author Paul Anthony Shortt: First Steps

By Paul Anthony Shortt, @PAShortt

Join me in welcoming Paul Anthony Shortt to the blog today. One of the fun this about this guest author column is that I get to talk to a lot of authors launching their very first novel. Debut novels are magical things, and a lot of energy goes into writing them. But with every first book, there also has to be a first page, a first sentence, and a first word. Paul's here to share that story with us. His debut novel, Locked Within releases today, so go check it out.

A child at heart who turned to writing and roleplaying games when there simply weren't enough action figures to play out the stories he wanted, Paul Anthony Shortt has been writing all his life.

Growing up surrounded by music, film and theatre gave him a deep love of all forms of storytelling, each teaching him something new he could use. When not playing with the people in his head, he enjoys cooking and regular meet-ups with his gaming group.

He lives in Ireland with his wife Jen and their dogs, Pepper and Jasper. Their first child, Conor William Henry Shortt, was born on July 11th, 2011. He passed away three days later, but brought love and joy into their lives and those of their friends. Jen is pregnant again and is expecting twins.

Take it away Paul...

Today’s the day of my book launch. After three years of work, Locked Within is out there in the world. My first novel. First book launch. First blog tour. Since this is a day of firsts, I thought I’d talk about first steps. That stage where you haven’t even written a word. You might just have an idea growing in your mind, or the story may have been cooking away for months or years and now is the time to start. Every book is a new journey and you never know where it’ll take you.

Like every journey, you need to prepare for the trip. It was autumn 2009 when I opened a new file and typed “Chapter One.”

And I sat there staring at a blank screen for about an hour. I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t prepared enough. I just knew that the time was right to start this book, but I hadn’t realized that there was more to it than charging straight in. I needed to take my first steps before I could hit my stride.

All I had was a few scattered ideas. Reincarnation. That had to be in there. It was the basis for my entire plot. A man remembering past lives and learning that the world is not as mundane as it seems. I knew there would be people living in secret, hiding from supernatural predators with no-one to protect them. I knew the wise advisor Nathan Shepherd would meet looked like Steve Buscemi and smoked constantly. I knew one of the antagonists would be a sort of supernatural lord who controlled the city. And I knew that I would put everything Nathan held dear at risk over the course of the novel.

That was it. Just some rough ideas. I left the file closed and spent a few days just thinking. Thinking and listening to music. I’m a semi-planner when it comes to writing, though I rarely commit my plans to paper because they often change so much in execution. I let music be my guide. I picked out certain tracks to imagine as the soundtrack to the scenes as I imagined them, and thought up events to match the beat.

As things went on, I figured out things about Nathan and the people in his life. I realized that some ideas just wouldn’t work, while others would become defining moments in the story.

Of course, I had long known that the book would be set in New York. I had visited the city on my honeymoon the previous year, but while I have a habit of taking in details and wondering how I can use them in a book, I hadn’t done any serious research on the city, particularly the locations I wanted to use.

I hit the Internet, starting with two tools that are still invaluable to me. Wikipedia and Google Maps. Wikipedia is perhaps the best starting point on any topic I’ve had to research. A well-maintained article will have all kinds of links to follow to gather accurate information. I read everything I could about New York. Weather trends, traffic reports, population density, ethnic diversity, religion, which neighborhoods are known for what kinds of businesses. I studied photographs of buildings, found descriptions of layout and interiors. I took all of this information and combined it with my own experiences to add the sensory element, from the haze over the skyline as you drive to Manhattan from Queens, to the thick smell from hot nut vendors.

Finally, I needed my opening. I broke the rules and started by first draft with two big no-nos. A prologue and a dream sequence. Worse, my prologue was in 1st-person present-tense, while the rest of the book was in 3rd-person past-tense. But it served its purpose. It gave me a strong emotive point on which to start, something that would pull me into Nathan Shepherd’s world. The opening line didn’t make it to the final version, but that day, after several days of pure planning and research which would continue throughout the process, I sat down, turned on my music, opened a new file titled “Prologue,” and typed my first words: “I know the dreams are real.”

With that, my journey had begun.

I’d like to thank Janice for having me on her blog today. I’ve been a fan for years and hers was one of the first blogs I followed when I got into blogging. Her advice has been a huge help, and it doesn’t hurt that her books are awesome. I hope you’ll all check out the rest of my blog tour!

About Locked Within

The supernatural realm and the mundane world have existed side by side since the dawn of time. Predators walk the streets, hidden by our own ignorance. Once, the city of New York was protected, but that was another age.

Now a creature emerges from the city's past to kill again, with no one to hear the screams of its victims. The lost and the weak, crushed under the heels of the city's supernatural masters, have given up hope.

But one man finds himself drawn to these deaths. Plagued by dreams of past lives, his obsession may cost him friends, loved ones, even his life. To stop this monster, he must unlock the strength he once had. He must remember the warrior he was, to become the hero he was born to be.

His name is Nathan Shepherd, and he remembers.


  1. Thank you so much for having me, Janice. I've been reading your blog since I first got into blogging and talking about my journey to publication, so it's great to be here!

  2. You write the same way I do! Looooots of thinking! Congratulations on your first publication, and on the twins!

    Did either prologue or dream sequence stay in the finished book?

  3. The dream sequence got moved to later in the book, and the format underwent major changes to keep it in line with the style of the rest of the book.

    I'm afraid the prologue hasn't survived at all.

  4. Congratulations on the twins, and the book! I think one of the hardest parts of writing is knowing what to research.

  5. Congrats on your book launch (and the twins... so exciting)! Woot! I love hearing about how books morph from an original vision to their final product and your blurb is AMAZING! Best wishes, Deb :)

  6. Chicory, it can be tough, all right. :-)

    Deb, thanks!

  7. Congratulations. I wish you the best with all the new and wonderful coming your way.

  8. Thank you, Amelia! This really has been a great year for my wife and I.