Inkshares, the online publishing company, continues to share intriguing new stories from talented new writers. One such writer submitted the idea for his work to the first Nerdist contest Inkshares hosted in 2015 and, unfortunately, did not make it to the leaderboard. However, just because he did not win the contest did not mean he wanted to give up on his story idea. Stephen Carignan is now, once again, campaigning his story The Sleeping Man for future publication. “After the contest was over, the CEO of Inkshares actually called me and pointed out some things that I could do differently,” Carignan said. “So, I spent the next six to eight months just going online, reviewing books, reading, pre-ordering when I could, and just building my follower base so that, now that I’m [campaigning] my book, if every single one of my followers orders one copy, I’ll be published, no problem.”
Carignan has a Bachelor’s degree in theater and a Master’s degree in creative writing. He is currently serving his country as an information systems technician in the United States Navy and has served in the Navy for three years thus far. He will be off on a ship in November and hopes The Sleeping Man will be funded before he departs. The actual idea for his story came to him when he was sixteen-years-old. “When I was 16, I actually had the first sentence of the book in my head and nothing else. I tried writing it a bunch of times and I could see the guy and I could see there was something about this twilight blade and there was this desert that had no features and was completely gray, but it was alive to him and how he was navigating it, but I just couldn’t [write it]. So I left it and wrote other stuff and did theater. It just never clicked,” Carignan said.
Reading and writing have been important to Carignan even before the first sentence for The Sleeping Man came into being. He began to write at a young age as a way to combat dyslexia and ADHD. “I couldn’t read all the way through second grade and my mom, who passed away when I was 19, she would actually read and re-read sections of Stuart Little until I could understand the words because they weren’t making sense to me,” Carignan said. “From there on, it was book after book and then, she invited me to write as a way to understand language better because I had a huge stutter [and] I was very awkward. Something about it just finally clicked and then I was doing my homework before the class was over and annoying the teacher because I was too fast at that point.”
“Recently, I’ve gotten my Master’s in creative writing and that has really helped me write even if I’m not necessarily feeling it. Before then, I would write when I was inspired, but the formal education gave me more discipline to actually meet writing goals,” Carignan said. This proved useful while writing the first draft of The Sleeping Man. Though he still had moments of writer’s block, he would also encounter the, so-called, lightbulb moments. That moment when a writer zones out and is then struck by a thought (usually followed by an “Oh… Oh, oh!” on the writer’s part) that must be written down. “The neat thing about it is, when I look back over my first draft, which I finished, I don’t remember the parts that I was struggling on. I remember enjoying all of it and never being frustrated, but I know I was frustrated a lot,” Carignan said.
Though he was influenced by his mother to read and write, other writers also helped to influence Carignan’s storytelling and writing style. “I remember points in my life just being electrified by what I was reading,” Carignan said. “I remember doing a bunch of school reading and then I read ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’ by H.P. Lovecraft and I just remember going, ‘What happened? What is going on?’ And then Stephen King was really electrifying for me. Somebody in the comments of my work said [The Sleeping Man] is slightly hinting at The Dark Tower series. It’s a world that exists nowhere, but it has its own laws.” Other influences included Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, J.R.R. Tolkien and Mercedes Lackey, Stephen Donaldson’s Illearth saga and China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station.
All of these influences have similarities in common: these writers have broken the mold of what readers expect from the stories writers tell and this act inspires new writers, making them believe they can write down anything they can imagine. “It’s like what CGI has done to movies because now, you can CGI anything, so all of these comic book movies that we couldn’t really do justice to, we now can. So, where do books go from there? Well, with something like Inkshares, you can get these authors who have these unique visions that don’t hit mainstream. I like the people on Inkshares a lot [and] I like the authors that take that extra step to just be out there and then write well on top of it,” Carignan said.
The aforementioned writers were not the only influences on Carignan’s writing. Following the theme of his story, Carignan was also influenced by his own dreams. He said that he has really crazy dreams and will often times become aware that he is dreaming within his dream and begin messing with the events taking place there. “I’ve [also] had dreams that are just colors at times,” Carignan said. “I will just remember blue: I was either in blue or I was blue and then there was no form, but I was and I [thought], how neat. Then I tried to look for different shades of blue, but I couldn’t look at anything because I didn’t have eyes and it was so weird. I woke up and tried to put toothpaste in my hair because I was just fixated on this dream, going, ‘What was that?!’”
Another strange dream Carignan had that he remembers was when he was twenty-three-years-old. “I was sitting at a crossroads. There was a paved road going one way and a dirt road going the other. I was just sitting at the crossroads and powerlines followed the paved road off into nowhere and I just remember sitting there the whole time, not thinking about anything, not looking at anything. Then I turned to my right and there was [the giant turtle from The Neverending Story] and I thought, ‘Why not?’ Then I just looked forward and that was the end of the dream, but when I woke up, all of my blankets were upside down on top of me,” Carignan said.
When it comes to campaigning his story, Carignan has the first four chapters of The Sleeping Man, but nothing else. He wishes to keep a veil of mystery on his story, sharing just enough with his readers to grab their attention while also making them curious and wanting more. “[My book] is set up in the beginning that the Sleeping Man is trying to cross this featureless desert just through memorized instructions. He has to memorize how many steps in what direction and follow it exactly because there’s no landmark. So, if you’re off by a little, you’re dead. On top of that, there are creatures that evolved in this place that are perfectly fine running around,” Carignan said. “So, he’s going through this really hard thing to get to the elusive Compendium and the part that I put online is all the way up until where he gets to the Compendium. It really takes off from there. It’s exciting enough to start with, but you really get a sense of what the Compendium is, what he has to do, where he’s going, and stuff like that, but I kind of want to leave a lot of the mystery there.”
One of the challenges Carignan has had to face while writing are the creatures he created for his world and how to best describe them to his readers. “One of the things I wanted to do with this neo-fantasy or whatever sub-genre you want to put it in, is there are no elves, no dwarves, no orcs. I love stories with elves, dwarves, and orcs, but for some reason, I just created different [creatures]. It is mentioned that elves and dwarves used to exist, but now they don’t anymore and to have this person who can anchor his body and step into a world that is completely projected by his mind and everybody else’s mind, a world that is completely influenced by everybody else’s dreams, you almost have to take the time to describe it and make sure the reader is with you and seeing what the guy sees,” Carignan said.
Along with describing the creatures to his readers, Carignan said it was also difficult figuring out what to name his creations. “What is interesting is the hardest part for me [while writing] is naming things,” Carignan said. “So, what I’ll do, is I’ll put in just a literal description of what the word is and just put it through Google translate into a bunch of different languages and be like, ‘Oh, that sounds weird. Let’s use that.’ Or [the name] might be close to [another word] and I’ll just change it.” My daughter is half Vietnamese and I try to use both with her to keep her fluent in English and Vietnamese, so some of the words are variations of the Vietnamese of saying ‘gray desert.’”
Carignan is off to a wonderful start with The Sleeping Man campaign and has many wonderful goals in mind. He wishes to be published, he wishes to have The Sleeping Man funded before November, and he also wishes to donate half of his book’s proceeds to the Children’s Literacy Initiative. “The idea for raising money is I’m not asking for myself. I am asking for myself because I want to be published, but some other good can come of it, so I wanted to maybe have a kid have an experience like I did,” Carignan said. “If I didn’t have the parents that I did, I might be illiterate right now. My school wasn’t teaching me, they didn’t have time for me, I was too hyper. All one person had to do, in this case, my mom, was sit there and read and re-read books with me until I got it. And even now, if I ever see one of those tests where all the letters in every word are jumbled up, I can read that as fast as I can read normal. That is because someone took the time to do that [for me]. If you can read well, so much opens up. I just wanted to do what I could.”
Carignan’s goals are looking really good for The Sleeping Man’s campaign still has over 100 days left and his book already has over 100 pre-orders. When it comes to marketing his book, Carignan has no problem talking to friends, family, and fellow writers and asking for their support. “When you write, you write in a vacuum and it’s not like performing where you perform in front of somebody and you create the art with the audience. Without anybody else seeing it, you have to write it and then you have to hand it to somebody and say, ‘Read this,’ which, if you’re not confident in your own voice, can be very intimidating. Then to ask, on top of that, people for money and then it’s people you know for money, I’m pretty sure it’s harder than talking to girls. I’ve been slowly messaging every person I have saying, ‘Hey, I would sincerely appreciate it if you preordered my work,’” Carignan said. “[It is time consuming], but that’s the positive thing. Inkshares is letting you take it into your own hands. If you put in the time, you [can] get ten orders a day.”
Originally published at www.examiner.com on June 1, 2016.