“Boom!” “Whee!” “Poof!” Corey LaBissoniere’s first novel resounds with mayhem, mirth and magic. He’s currently shopping for a publisher, but the fledgling author isn’t letting the arduous process wear him down. He feels like he’s already crossed the finishing line victorious. His 85,000-word Young Adult Fantasy, “The Well,” is completed. And he’s well on the way into the second book of a planned trilogy that transports readers to The Land of Enchantas.
“I’ve never written in first person,” Corey says, sipping a Jim Beam and Coke at the trendy Continental Fire Company club in his Houghton, Michigan hometown “I have too many conflicts going on with too many characters.”
The interview setting is fitting: “The Well” revolves around the lives of four high school students living in rugged mining country. Here, in a building that was once a city fire station and before that the first site of the Michigan College of Mining (now Michigan Technological University and Corey’s alma mater), a couple of Corey’s Houghton High School classmates paired with other area developers to create an industrial-chic space. The club caters to the 40-and-up crowd during early evening Happy Hour, pumping up the volume for after-nine dance-driven young collegiates partying into the wee hours of morning.
Corey sees similar cross-over potential in his Enchantas series. The themes of free will vs. fate, dysfunctional family dynamics (specifically those present in a family affected by alcoholism) and bullying – a definite hot-button in these modern times – resonate across generations.
From the club’s sky lounge the crumbling symbols of mining’s glory days are apparent across the landscape, in poor-rock piles, abandoned shafts and dormant stacks. It’s a place with plenty of holes for characters to fall into.
In his novel, four teenagers hit rock bottom: Mel, Sally, John and Ryan. From the get-go Corey wanted the action to pop; he’s a self-described “dialect” guy who always finds colloquial conversation more engaging than long-winded descriptions or interior monologues.
“I like to go into a scene and let the dialogue nail the characters,” says Corey, who chose four classic archetypes in an alcoholic family to bring Mel, Sally, John and Ryan to life. The clown, the lost child, the scapegoat and the hero are vivid familiars to this soft-spoken yet intense 30-something. “I’ve played each role,” he says.
Readers won’t find themselves slogging through a heavy-handed morality tale, however, especially when it comes to the off-the-wall creatures that inhabit Enchantas. The lisping Foxes of (where else?) Foxtown are a case in point. Here Corey found one of his greatest dialogue-writing challenges. He also played with poetic verse throughout the novel. “I like rhyming. It makes it more fun to read or say,” he notes. “And since my characters are casting or being affected by spells, it worked.”
In Foxtown Corey encountered that dreaded bugaboo of loosely grouped afflictions known as Writer’s Block.
“I was in the same spot, going around and around in a circle. It would have a climax, but I wasn’t happy. I even complained to my mom ‘I can’t get out of Foxtown’,” he recalls.
My mom said, “Well, why don’t you start writing another book?”
The diversion method worked for the Adoption Specialist, who takes a quiet, abiding satisfaction in his five “placements” to date. He focused on his day job and in his spare time began a new, gritty book.
Eventually Corey escaped Foxtown. Years later, when he returned to the troublesome passages he was able to delete hundreds of words without severe trauma.
But when it came to inflicting pain on his characters, a classic quartet of misfits that would probably bond with the motley crew of “The Breakfast Club,” Corey bit the bullet, leaving a trail of broken things.
He wants to know which death hit me the hardest: (spoiler alert) it was Gusto the Magic Carpet. “My mom said that, too,” Corey smiles. “You killed Gus!”
After graduating Houghton High in 1999, Corey dabbled. He worked for a mortgage company, a gas station, Taco Bell. He enrolled at Michigan Tech, a selective, fiendishly challenging university perversely proud of its classic slogan: “Michigan Tech, the best five years you’ll ever love.” He wrote steadily during the winter of 2001-2002. In class he picked up the sticky note habit, jotting down ideas whenever they occurred to him. At Taco Bell, he favored the manager notepads, quickly scrawling the character, scene and plot ideas that popped up randomly as he rolled burritos. “I’d just get this idea while doing mindless work,” he remembers. “And I don’t like to lose my ideas.”
He also texted himself notes on his cell phone. “I lost the phone once, I was like ‘oh no!’ And when I got a new phone I was afraid I would lose them!”
The demands of college and odd jobs sidetracked Corey for several years. “I just got away from it,” he says. “In May 2011, right before June graduation, I began again.”
He bought a cheap, portable IBM ThinkPad, for the most part writing in bed with the TV muted unless something on the screen caught his attention. “It made me feel comfortable,” he says, “not like I was at work. I did it for fun. A lot of people say ‘I would write a book if I just had the time.’ I said that, too. You have to make the time.”
He also reminded himself that he had recently earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, minoring in social and behavioral studies, which meant he was fully capable of completing important things.
“I had no deadline. I just always wanted to write a Fantasy Adventure book, modernized, fresher than something like “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
As much if not more influenced by what he didn’t like about certain writing styles in his genre, Corey notes “Tolkien taught me what I am not as a writer.” He first delved into dialect reading “Huckleberry Finn.” “I didn’t like it (the dialogue), but I got used to it.”
Mom Tammy was his first editor, and while he fully understands that publishers don’t care if your mother likes the book, he did. The summer she grounded him for smoking cigarettes turned him into a reader.
“I had nothing to do but read. I didn’t want to look in the dictionary every five seconds,” he said. He found a series of “Star Wars” books by Kevin J. Anderson that made the time go by and made the idea of writing books grow strong.
He chose fantasy over science fiction because he wanted to incorporate mystic elements into his story of neglect, death, abuse and ignorance where strangers in a strange land embark on a forced journey through a colorful land of Rabbit guides, screaming kamikaze Vegetables, counselor Gnomes, pouncing Snuffballs and the aforementioned lisping Foxes.
“As I got toward the end, I was really excited. Two chapters away I knew I was close to finishing. I tied up some loose ends; I was hoping I didn’t have anything that would piss off the readers.”
Corey has queried 45 publishers so far, garnering “five denials and no feedback.” While he admits to “obsessively checking my e-mails,” he finds that finding adoptive homes for orphans takes the stress out of the waiting game. He also finds the Writer’s Market on-line version super-convenient for winnowing down the field of publishers pursuing manuscripts in his genre. To track it all, “I made a spreadsheet for myself,” he says.
“If I don’t get any snags, I’ll polish more and self-publish, soft cover and electronic,” he says. “It takes three to six months for most publishing houses to get back to you. So I figure no news for now is good news.
“You know what my dream is? To go into a bookstore, pick out my book and write my name in it.”
Potential pen name: “Would be Michael Bridge. Like the game, ‘what’s your porn name?’ You know, you take your middle name and the street you live on, and that’s your name.”
His two greatest fears: “Not being accepted – or having the book accepted by two publishers and then I have to make that choice.”
Cutting with less pain: “What I should have done (while stuck in Foxtown) was delete everything. I could not do it at the time. It was easier to delete in retrospect. I was glad to go back; old words are easier to cut.”
Favorite writing prompt: “Open an empty Word doc and just start typing the idea.”