Tough Love and Terry Brooks

Let me start by saying I am a one of the most stubborn, hard-headed idiots I know. And I’m aware that I would be corrected on the idiot part by not only my editors, but my friends as well. Sorry everyone, the truth is I can be, but I appreciate the support anyway.

I have read several “how to write” books. If You Can Talk, You Can Write by Joel SaltzmanThe Writer’s Handbook that’s published every year, etc. Most have stuck with me in one way or another, but Terry Brooks‘ Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life contains the one chapter that I credit with saving my fledgling writing career. In the chapter, “Tough Love”, he tells the story of his second book attempt, and just how he felt when his editor bluntly told him it was a mess. Mr. Books’ stubborn opinion that the editor had to be wrong only for him to find Lester del Rey was exactly right stuck in my head. Which was a good thing, as I found myself right where Mr. Brooks had been in 2015.

The back story here is that in 2010, I wrote a story that eventually became titled The Windwater Pack on the WolfQuest forum. It did modestly well, readers enjoyed it. TWP was never meant to be more than a fun what-if story. I have… really I can’t count how many stories and ideas I have in my head. TWP borrowed characters from one of them and played with a different set up. It was fun (if hard work sticking to the site’s guidelines) and I wrote 40k words by the time I was done.

The only problem was I got attached to the new characters and some of the events. I wanted to keep them, even though TWP had 0 to do with what I called the “true” story. So I did my best to shoe-horn the two unrelated stories together, connecting them like a kid with two wooden crates, old boards, a can of nails and a hammer. The end result was just as unstable, but like the kid I saw a masterpiece. I had kept the scenes the readers loved (I thought) and built on what I had previously with the “true” story too. It was better that the original even!

About this point is where I got the super-bright idea to make an animated film out of it. With zero animation experience. How hard could it be? Lemme tell you, hard. I ended up looking for animators to help with the project, one of which who stuck with it from that point on. We were making progress, right? I even found a couple more people to help with things like backgrounds, etc.

It was the background artist that pointed out the character designs just… sorta lacked any life or way to really tell the characters apart. This was due to two things: I suck at character design, and 2. I was dead-set on keeping a realistic style. One of the animators at the time even agreed we needed to simplify etc at least a little. So the background artist did a mock-up sketch of two of the characters, the animator did a concept sheet and ref for another, and basically I was out-voted. I’m not stupid, I’m a team player. I get that you have to work with what people’s skill levels are etc. (No offense to anyone) So I accepted that and we moved on.

I don’t quite remember how the background artist (now one of the character designers) and I got into discussing TWP’s story. However it happened, we did, and I showed it to her. And got a reality check I refused to cash for almost a month or more. I was legit a brick wall. No, this wasn’t a problem, yes it all made sense if you took into consideration the rest of the series, etc etc. I just wouldn’t budge. I wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.

It was at that point that I remembered the chapter I mentioned earlier. I remembered Mr. Brooks saying he’d have to read Mr. del Rey’s comments if he had any hope of disputing them. I told myself, how can I argue if I don’t let her finish? How could I decide I was right and she was wrong if I didn’t even know what she thought? If I wouldn’t listen to what she had to say?

So I shut up. I said “here, have at it, I’ll wait until you’re done.” And when she was, I was right where Mr. Brooks had been, facing the reality that I was wrong, and my “masterpiece” was a near-complete mess. It just as salvageable, as he later used concepts and characters, but I was too close to the material to do anything with it. I was stuck with my version of “canon” and couldn’t fix it.

Enter same artist/writer, who took over as scriptwriter to save the sinking ship of a story. As of yet, I’ve only seen snippets and have only a vague idea of the direction the new story’s going. Even so, I have seen she writes my characters better than I do myself. No matter what happens, I know the new version will be a 100 times better than either the original or my revamp.

In closing, I want to say thank you Mr. Brooks for sharing your story. Because without it I might still be impersonating a brick wall and we wouldn’t be where we are today with production. Nor would the rest of my stories be improving, because most were just as tangled. And I want to thank my scriptwriter for her tough love.

Lesson learned: Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes, you’re wrong.

Ashleigh D.J. Cutler (AshWolf Forever)

Ashleigh D.J. Cutler, better known online as “AshWolf Forever”, is an author and artist from Ohio in the U.S.A. She began building the Realm of Crystal Prism at the tender age of three. Since then, she has fought to bring it to life in a fashion that can be shared with the world.

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