Franchise Mindset 4/13/21

It’s occurred to me recently that I could probably write the Gods of the Dark Web books forever. If you’re a Richard Laymon fan or you remember my blog about his memoir A Writer’s Tale, you may know that one of his biggest pieces of advice was to find ideas that are “infinitely expandable.” This was a strategy he employed to turn his short, sharp thrillers into sprawling 600-page doorstoppers. While I don’t suspect you’ll be getting any doorstoppers from me, I do think the idea of infinitely expandable stories can be helpful even for a minimalist like me.

Written like a creepypasta for adults, the first Gods book had an intimate, small-scale narrative, but it also had hints of a larger world around it. With the writing of the second book, I wanted to show some of those bigger implications on the page. It led to what I’ll call James Herbert chapters. Herbert was a British author mainly famous for his nature-run-amok Rats books. He had a great knack for introducing characters and showing what’s interesting about them before killing them in spectacular fashion. This approach initially made me think I had a story collection instead of a new novella on my hands. Only when I figured out Dana’s story did the main narrative emerge.

At the same time I was writing book 2, I read a ton of comic books, specifically tie-in stuff. Think Aliens, Dungeons and Dragons, Robotech, Magic: The Gathering, stuff like that. While these franchises have established rules, they also have a ton of wiggle room. It’s not mandatory to reuse characters or continue storylines from previous books (though the occasional Easter egg doesn’t hurt). It’s more about exploring the established world, less about the sweeping arcs typically found in series like The Hunger Games or Outlander.

These observations over the last year have helped me develop what I call a FRANCHISE MINDSET.

So, what is the FRANCHISE MINDSET, how can you use it to build your writing career and how is it different than writing a proper series?

  1. A FRANCHISE MINDSET is a larger way of viewing your content, seeing all your stories as interconnected and how they interconnect, recognizing reoccurring themes, and remembering that because all these stories originated within you the connections are not as tenuous as you may initially suspect. A strategy that helped me was opening the corkboard feature on Scrivener and putting each of my stories (written, published, unwritten, unfinished, etc) onto a notecard. I don’t use Scrivener for writing, but I plot with it often. It helps me see big picture stuff. Having all this information laid out in front of me did something to me. I was able to see how each of my pieces could connect to each other. Admittedly, not all of them worked. Some of them were even pieces I would rather forget. Gods of the Dark Web jumped out at me as having its fingers embedded in a lot of other ideas I had. From there, it was into the Mangum-verse.
  2. How a FRANCHISE MINDSET can build your writing career is obvious. It gives your readers reasons to return. It makes your work recognizable. Because you’re not married to any plot threads from previous books, however, people can dip into your world at any given time. People like what’s familiar. If you’re a new-ish writer like me, though, you’re not a household name, so you have to build that familiarity. Finding a world or universe in which you can set stories linked only by themes and rules can be an effective way to get a good amount of somewhat related content out there, especially if you’re like me and you have reservations about writing the same type of book over and over.
  3. FRANCHISE MINDSET is different from writing a proper series because it doesn’t obligate the author to continue stories that already wrapped up in earlier books or stick with the same characters. Sure, C or D story threads can move to the forefront (as is the case with Dana who’s a minor character in Gods of the Dark Web but a major player in Darkness Digital). Characters and settings can even pop back up as a way to reward your fans. This is something Stephen King and Brian Keene do often and well. But you don’t have to finagle them into the new book’s story just because they starred in the previous book. It’s a lot looser and a lot more interesting.

Richard Laymon Lessons

A friend was kind enough to gift me with the ever-elusive A WRITER’S TALE, Richard Laymon’s nonfiction book about the writing life. I’ve been trying to make a go at this writing stuff for 10 years now, but I’m a big proponent of continuing to learn, and boy, oh boy, A WRITER’S TALE has been incredibly eye-opening. Lots has changed in the biz since the writing of this book, but you can learn a lot from history, and while I’m a big fan of innovation and moving forward, sometimes things really were better back then. Even when they weren’t, I think they still present teachable moments. So, what are the big takeaways from this long out-of-print holy grail for Richard Laymon fans?

First, write what you love to write. Be willing to learn and always be honing your craft, but ultimately, write the sort of stuff you want to read. Seriously. Hack work shows. Love Laymon or hate him, he always wrote his truth. That uncompromising approach earned him a huge following and eventually a successful career.

Second, hold onto your day job as long as you can. I won’t go into the chapter where he explained the financials of publishing, but I will point out that, according to his notes, ten/fifteen books into his career, he still had to hold down a regular job to make ends meet. Most writers do. Don’t let the success stories of King, Koontz, and Patterson color your judgment. First, they aren’t the overnight successes they appear to be. No one is. Even Patterson wasn’t able to write full-time until 1996. By then, he’d been at it twenty years. Second, their huge successes are exceptions. They achieved financial reward and levels of fame most writers don’t. Seriously, hold onto day job until it makes financial sense to quit.

Third, novels. Fucking novels. Yeah, I know. Those short stories may be fun little dopamine boosts because it’s nice to finish things quickly. They can also be a way to make fast money (depending on the market). Novellas are cool, too. They’re lean and mean and if you’re okay with haunting the small press, you can get quite a few books in print by writing them. But we’re in a bubble, gang. While we may enjoy reading and writing novellas and short stories, it’s simply not feasible to build a career on them. Novels simply sell better. This is why you (I) should …

Try new things. If you’re familiar with Richard Laymon’s body of work, you know that his first few books were short novels. They were fast-paced chillers with characters that were not one-dimensional but certainly less fleshed-out than in his later works. After he got a few of those under his belt and gained some confidence (and after some career advice from his buddy Dean Koontz), he tried his hand at writing something more immersive. The result was a book known as DARK MOUNTAIN (which I’m re-reading now). The horror elements are great, sure, but my favorite parts are his lush descriptions of nature (it’s a book about camping) and moments where the characters are just hanging out together being characters. If you’re like me and you’ve mostly only written stuff that’s 20-40,000 words, it may be worth trying to let your characters breathe and find concepts Laymon describes as “infinitely expandable.”

Lastly, learn to love the word “rump.”


My newest book, EXTINCTION PEAK, is currently available. It has no rumps, but it’s got plenty of dinosaurs and badass women. You can order it here.

Long Nights and Cruel Summers

It’s been a wild few weeks, gang. Hope y’all have been keeping up with the newest episodes of The Mangum Show. If not, you can subscribe here. I’ve recorded almost half a year’s worth of episodes and have been airing them a week at a time. That intensive period of recording is mainly to blame for the relative silence here as of late. But things will pick up again soon. I want to do more videos, as they seem to draw more traffic.

I’ve got two new books out. They’re novelettes, technically, but a good bit of fun, at least I think so.

The first of these is Long Night at Jade’s Diner.

It’s available wherever e-books are sold.
Click here to see the list of stores.

Here’s the back cover description: The patrons and employees of a 24-hour diner face the wrath of an unnamed woman with a gun in this story of pain and the human beings behind the statistics.

Long Night at Jade’s Diner came from multiple places. First, I’ve wanted to address mass shootings in my work for a while, but it wasn’t until I came upon this idea that I found what I thought was the best approach. Second, I read After Dark by Haruki Murakami, and really loved the faux screenplay style of the prose. I loved it so much, I wanted to try it for myself. Lastly, the story is another example of what seems to be a running theme in my work: women in trouble who have to rely on themselves or each other.

I think Long Night at Jade’s Diner contains some of my strongest writing. That’s not entirely thanks to me. I owe great debts to Dr. John Blair, Rae Glassford, and Shelby Guthrie. The former is an author and professor at Texas State. The latter two are great up-and-comers themselves.

The other story is Cruel Summer.

Cruel Summer is currently on Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and Scribd. More stores are to follow. You can choose your store here.

Here’s the back cover description: A compulsive voyeur named Willow films a couple making love on an empty beach. When the masked killer comes for the couple, she keeps the camera rolling, but before she can escape, the killer sees her. When Willow stumbles into the yard of Sarah, an exhibitionist swimming in the nude, the killer isn’t far behind. Now, the women must fight for survival against a desperate, powerful and dangerous man. A man who’ll soon find out he’s in for more than he bargained for.

As you may be able to tell, Cruel Summer is a bit more playful than Long Night. It’s also very sexual. My starting point was imagining what sort of work would result if James Patterson had hired Richard Laymon to write a piece with him. I kind of just ran with it from there.

You hear a lot about beach reads. Cruel Summer is a beach read for horror fans.

These two pieces represent the poles of my work. The two types of stories I enjoy telling. Long Night is experimental, ambiguous, and emotionally driven. Cruel Summer is pulpy and fun. A lot of times, I end up weaving these approaches together. With these two works, I separated them. Watched them try to stand on their own.

I’ll let you decide whether or not I was successful.

As always, love ya, Mangumaniacs. Thanks for reading.