When writers hear the term “writer’s block,” many, if not all, will cringe. Writer’s block is an awful curse writers suffer from at least once in their writing careers; however, a small handful will escape the block’s evil clutches, never having to endure the extended amount of time it takes to overcome it. One such lucky writer, J-F. Dubeau, has just published his first novel, The Life Engineered, and has a plethora of other story ideas for future books to come. His next major work is a trilogy of horror and fantasy with the first book, A God in the Shed, in the heat of its campaign on Inkshares.
A God in the Shed was a story thought up and written before The Life Engineered and, with that novel finished and published, Dubeau is excited to now return his attention to a story that has been in the making for some time. “I’m super excited about the idea of potentially being able to get back to work on A God in the Shed. I’m very excited by the idea that I could be bouncing back between two very different and very interesting worlds that just fascinate me and I want to write for both,” Dubeau said. “Here is my dream plan: being able, in a year, to write a book for The Life Engineered and a book for A God in the Shed until I’m done with the trilogy for A God in the Shed and just be able to bounce back and forth between these two projects. Because they’re so different thematically and have different genres, it is so comforting to know that I won’t ever feel like I’m getting bogged down. I’m very hungry to get A God in the Shed funded because that would really open the door to getting into that sort of ping pong motion between the two worlds.”
The first of Dubeau’s new trilogy is much different than The Life Engineered. It is a story that will horrify and captivate. It is a story readers could consider as morbidly beautiful. It is a story of a perfect small town that has been plagued by a killer for over two decades. It is a story of a creature with such horrific powers it can only be viewed as a god. It is a story of teenage girl who, by accident, traps this creature in the shed of her parent’s backyard. It is a story of this teenage girl and the residents of the perfect small town trying to find a way to deal with the creature before it deals with them.
The original idea for A God in the Shed came to Dubeau roughly about five years ago, when the ever popular Harry Potter series was at its zenith, and he thought to perhaps make his trilogy a young adult series. “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to do something a la Harry Potter, but with a Cthulhu twist, but through rewriting, it went from something themed for a specific market and mutated more into something my style: a bit more mature and with a bit more complex themes,” Dubeau said.
For those who have read The Life Engineered and then read the sample chapters Dubeau has on his Inkshares campaign page for A God in the Shed, they will see how different his two stories really are. “It’s funny cause I’m very [aware] of the marketing mistakes that I make because I work in marketing and I know that, as a new writer, I should probably put my nose to the grindstone for one genre until I’ve established and built my reputation and name for that genre and then I can start exploring something else,” Dubeau said. “But I just write what I feel like writing and that’s also why I tend not to write for market. There are certain types of stories that are more popular these days, but I’m not interested in writing that. The reason I wrote two very different stories was because these are two different things I wanted to explore. One of them is very much the epic story of how I envision a very optimistic future and my love of technology and robotics, but the other one is darker and more how I like to explore the contrast and themes between horror and beauty.”
Certain traits remain the same between the two stories to show Dubeau’s writing style. One such trait is how he creates his characters. Very similar to how the Capeks in The Life Engineered modeled traits based on the mythological character they were named after, so too do the characters in A God in the Shed model traits based on real life people they are named after. For his main character, Venus McKenzy, Dubeau wanted a name that was very unique, that sounded like a name that would get a child pick on, and one that could potentially have a rich backstory as to why her parents gave her this name. “As for the other names, most of them I wanted to represent the fact that in the Eastern township, at least in Quebec, there’s a very bilingual culture. You have people that will have a lot of French and English names. Some of the names are meant to evoke specific characters from real life as sort of a hint as to the role of the characters in the story,” Dubeau said. “They’re kind of cheap easy references to things that relate to the character roles that I thought would make it interesting and also easier for me to remember what everyone’s role is in the story.”
This tactic for character personalities is a very clever trick for a writer, especially when the writer has as many characters as Dubeau has. A God in the Shed has a lot of characters and each one has his or her time in the spotlight (some having more time than others depending on whether the character plays a major or minor role). And yet, even with all of the characters, Dubeau introduces them and organizes them in a way that is easy for readers to remember each of them. It was not an easy task of organizing though. “There was a point in one of my rewrites where I did encounter a plethora of inconsistencies as far as what the characters were doing,” Dubeau said. “One of the things I did during one of the rewrites was I took a week off work to just work on [A God in the Shed] as a sort of personal test. Can I do this writing this full time? Would I be getting to day two and be annoyed, out of ideas, and getting writer’s block? I found it was the complete opposite, but during that week is when I ran into those inconsistencies and those continuity errors with the characters and [set about fixing them]. That’s half the fun, [though].”
The one character that did not go through the aforementioned tactic is the main villain of the trilogy: the god. Dubeau said that went through so many different versions and described it in so many different ways before finally settling on his god. “What I was aiming for, the keyword I kept coming back to for that character, was ‘alien.’ I wanted its entire psychology to be completely different from anything we would perceive as normal,” Dubeau said, “Because of its origin, because of its history, there is no reason why it would have the tools to relate to us or even care to try to relate to us. So having it have very different psychology was very important and fun to try to build.” Dubeau was very careful while writing how the god acted and spoke and, if it started expressing any behavior that felt too human to Dubeau, he would rewrite it.
Something that will catch the readers’ attention is how the god is able to be trapped by humans: as long as someone is watching it, it is unable to do anything. This is truly fascinating and Dubeau said that started out as a storytelling problem that needed a solution. “The idea with [the eyes] was that I needed something to trap it and trap it simply. The whole thing is: rules that apply to humans don’t apply to the god [and vice versa],” Dubeau said. “I wanted something to apply that specific rule to show this alien behavior and these alien rules that they have to follow, but at the same time, something that would have changed from when that initial promise was made to today where, back then, the idea of having cameras and things that could trap it more easily wouldn’t have been available and now it is more ubiquitous. A lot of things I try to do with the magic in the book is never have something just be, ‘Oh, I cast a spell.’ ‘What’s a spell?’ ‘It’s a superpower. You wave your hand and things happen.’ There need to be reasons why certain things work certain ways.”
One trait that is not found in The Life Engineered is the amount of detail Dubeau uses in A God in the Shed. He paints such a vivid and beautiful and, at times, horrific, image in the readers’ minds that will really put them into the story’s world. Writing much of the detail, especially the more gruesome detail, came fairly easily to Dubeau. “I read a lot of criminology and one of the things I wanted to do for a living for a while was being a pathological illustrator because it is a good mix of art and medicine and criminology,” Dubeau said. “What was harder to write for me and some of the parts I want to revise and make sure I get right are the interactions between the [younger] characters and their parents. Mainly because I feel the relationship between the various generations in the story are very key to making sure the story flows well and the characters are convincing.”
Even the mystery aspect of A God in the Shed was fairly easy for Dubeau. “One of the things I find really difficult is, when I have any kind of mystery and any kind of reveal or twist in the story, I want the reader to figure it out between one chapter and one paragraph before I reveal it in an obvious way,” Dubeau said. “I don’t want my reader to feel like it’s coming out of left field, so I want to put enough to hint that they can figure it out, but I don’t want them to figure it out too early and think that it’s predictable.” Granted, there are readers who are very knowledgeable of mystery stories and will figure out mysteries relatively quickly while others will be too enraptured in another detail that they won’t understand the mystery until it is revealed, but the hints are prepared for any kind of reader. Dubeau said it was easy to keep the mystery because he didn’t include too many clues and, with the help of revisions and beta readers, he has been able maintain the mystery.
Upon finishing the sample chapters that are on Inkshares, readers will want to know more about A God in the Shed and, with roughly about a month left of its campaign, readers can still preorder a copy to discover what happens next. One of the main reasons Dubeau wishes for his book to be funded through Inkshares is so that he can have the luxury of working with an editor to clean up the manuscript for his readers. “Funny thing is, if you ask me thematically which [of my stories] I prefer, I think I prefer The Life Engineered because it is more optimistic. If you ask me which one I like working on more, I would say A God in the Shed because I feel closer to the characters,” Dubeau said. “Many of people who have read The Life Engineered and beta read A God in the Shed will tell me A God in the Shed is a better book. Because of those comments, I’m really driven to get to the point where I can actually publish it.” Most writers will suffer from writer’s block at some point in their writing career. Writers like Dubeau won’t have to worry about that and have many wonderful stories to share with eager readers. “There is not enough of me and not enough time,” Dubeau said. “I keep wanting to work on the next project because I’m excited for the ideas I have for it. It’s the best problem to have.”