I met North Carolina author Tonia Brown at ConTemporal last summer, mostly by accident as she was on a panel with Cherie Priest and Phil and Kaja Foglio. But she was funny, she had a clear idea of how to tell her stories, her way, and when she handed me a copy of Railroad!, the print version of her (ongoing!) web serial, it was an easy thing to have on hand to remember to look up her other work later. That led me to find out about this strange book she published earlier this year, Gnomageddon. As the title implies, it’s a little… quirky. So is Tonia, and so is her entry in “The Hardest Part” guest column series. Enjoy!
“Dancing with Myself”
By Tonia Brown
Gnomageddon was a pain in my tail pouch before I even started working on it. The trouble came from the onset of the idea—an idea that would not leave me alone until it saw completion. You see, for me writing has always been less like crafting a story, and more like taking dictation while my imagination runs amok. In this case, my imagination had chosen to manifest itself the form of a mouthy, bossy, merciless gnome. I was already working on a novel, as well as trying to update my web serial, when the gnome first nudged me.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey yourself,” I said, not surprised to see the little guy. It wasn’t unusual for ideas to crop up now and again, introduce themselves, explain their plot and purpose, and then take a backseat to wait their turn.
Only this one wasn’t interested in waiting. He watched over my shoulder as I typed for a few moments before he asked, “Whatcha working on?”
“A novel about a serial killer that is bitten by a werewolf.”
“Yeah. It’s going to not only challenge the genre but change the entire idea of good versus evil. It’ll blur the line between man and beast, between hunger and appetite, between sin and salvation.” What could I say? I had pretty lofty hopes for that werewolf.
Unimpressed by my hopes, lofty or otherwise, the gnome yawned. “Sounds boring. You should write a story about a bunch of undead gnomes.”
“Lawn gnomes or fantasy gnomes?”
“Fantasy, of course. It’ll be great. It’ll be funny and sexy and I’ll be the star. Write it. I command you.”
“Okay, okay. I will, but not right now. I’m busy with this serial killer werewolf.”
“Blech! No one likes that kind of stuff. Everyone loves a laugh, sweet cheeks. Write me instead.”
“I’m busy. And besides, if I am going to write anything else, I have to finish the next volume of Railroad. I’m already behind schedule and my editor is going to kill-”
“Pffft,” he said over me. “Railroad schmailroad. No one reads that trash. Write me. Write me now!”
“It’s not trash and people do so read it.” I stopped arguing here because I realized I was exchanging angry words with a figment of my imagination.
Sometimes you have to draw a line when it comes to your inner narrative.
I pushed the gnome away for several weeks, refusing to give the idea voice, or rather listen to the voice the idea had given itself. Instead, I cracked down on volume six of Railroad, hoping to get it in before the deadline. There is a certain rhythm to running a web serial, and I was dangerously close to disrupting it by dragging my heels on the latest update. I also kept my mind on the werewolf novel, assuming I could work on each a bit at a time. But the gnome was persistent, as well as heavy handed.
“Whatcha working on?” he asked. “And you better say me, or I’ll break both your legs.”
“I don’t see how you plan on …” I started, but paused when I saw the war hammer he was carrying.
“What was it you were working on?” he asked.
“Your story,” I said as I closed the serial killer werewolf novel and opened a blank document. “I was working on your story.”
He grinned as he leaned on the handle of the hammer. “Damn right you are.”
I wished that was the only trouble the gnome gave me, but no, there was more. There was always more. The next problem to arise dealt with the length of the story. The gnome was always meant to be short. A quick read filled with cheap laughs. A few dirty jokes wrapped in a parody. But again, when it came time to write him, he had ideas of his own.
He looked over my shoulder as I wrote him. “You haven’t built enough world. Build more.”
“I’ve built plenty of world,” I said, pushing him away. “You don’t need any more world. You’re only a novella.”
“I don’t want to be a novella. I wanna be an epic series.”
“Too bad, because that’s not how I plotted you.”
“I’ll fix that.” The gnome tossed something at my manuscript. It landed between two very different characters.
“What was that?”
“An unexpected love story.”
“Oh, man. Now I have to work that out.”
He lobbed a few more things. “Have a moral dilemma or two. Some betrayal. A touch of intrigue.”
“Good grief! That’ll triple the story.”
“And to top it all off,” he said as he took a potshot at my document, “a couple of reoccurring jokes.”
I glanced down at his ammo and found myself giggling uncontrollably. “Actually, that is funny. Thanks.”
“My pleasure. Now, more world building. Chop! Chop!”
With a sigh, I did as asked, and without my consent a thirty thousand word novella evolved into a ninety five thousand word novel; an epic parody with loads of gore, tons of humor, plenty of filth, great sequel potential and every word of it written under duress. Thus, Gnomageddon was born.
Of course that isn’t how it really happened, yet when I look back on it, I can’t help but remember it just that way. Sometimes an idea gets stuck in your craw, and you have no choice but to drop everything else and work on it, lest it go crazy on you with a war hammer. Seriously, have you seen those things?
By the way, volume six of Railroad came in just under the wire, and at long last the serial killer werewolf had his chance to tell his hairy, scary tale—which, funny enough, ended up as a novella instead of a novel. Turns out he had less bark and much more bite.
Tonia Brown is a southern author with a penchant for Victorian dead things. She lives in the backwoods of North Carolina with her genius husband and an ever fluctuating number of cats. She likes fudgesicles and coffee, though not always together. Her current novel, Gnomageddon, is a horrible fantasy with just enough gore and filth to make you want to wash your hands when you’re done reading it. When not writing, or talking to herself, she raises unicorns and fights crime with her husband under the code names Dr. Weird and his sexy sidekick Butternut. You can learn more about her at: www.thebackseatwriter.com