This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #71, on the subject of Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One.
This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One: The First Multiverser Novel, now posted to the web site in serialized form.
I began a series of posts on what might be called the “behind-the-writing” tidbits, what went into those decisions, what were the inspirations and the sources of the stories, the characters, the book as a whole. Some years after the first three books had been completed I went back through the first and created a collection of such thoughts, chapter by chapter, and started doing the same for the second book; I used that first document to do the web log posts that covered the events in question. Then, when I was two-thirds through and had published #53: Character Battles (the fourteenth of twenty-one installments covering six chapters each), I uncovered another document, a considerably older one that I had been writing concurrently with the fourth novel while the second was in editing. Thereafter, beginning with #55: Stories Winding Down, I integrated those earlier thoughts with the later ones (not always seamlessly, I would say, but I made the effort), and wondered about those materials from that earlier document that somehow did not make it into the later one.
I am here attempting to fill in the blanks, comparing what I wrote in that original history of the creation of the novels with what was published in the web log posts here, to provide the missing pieces. This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them. The link to the novel title will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the previous behind-the-writings web log posts, where there are links directly to the referenced chapters. There won’t be links back here in those posts, although I will endeavor to include a comment on each of them referencing this post.
I have made an effort to avoid excessive duplication, that is, including here only those insights which were not substantially covered in the previous posts. Some of these comments are inconsistent with or even contradictory to the earlier posts, proving that my memory of events changed in some ways over a very few years. I have not marked the contradictions as such, but preserved them simply here. Any duplication is hopefully the minimum necessary to be able to understand this article without jumping to the earlier ones, although some might have slipped through in the copying process. Where the memories behind a specific chapter were substantially identical in both documents, I noted that with the entry “Nothing different” rather than skipping the chapter.
This is a rather long post, and could have been divided into two or even several shorter ones. However, response to these behind-the-writings posts has been less than enthusiastic, and although those few who wrote to say they hoped to see the second novel Old Verses New and its accompanying behind-the-writings posts were very encouraging (and included at least one Patreon supporter, which also matters), they were indeed few in number, so I don’t want to belabor this if there is not more interest than that.
We began with:
#18: A Novel Comic Milestone, the first six chapters.
Chapter 1, Kondor 1: Jim Denaxas thought the name was a good strong name for a comic book hero. I made him black because I wanted to escape the all-white cast of so much fantasy, and my other two characters were going to be white for other reasons. Joseph was my middle name, and Wade just fit.
E. R. Jones had told snippets of stories about Richard Lutz, the moral atheist who had helped create the core ideas of Multiverser when they were in the army. I cannot now remember whether Lutz was a medic; I know he had ribbons for rifle skill. I knew that my second character was going to be blatantly Christian, and I wanted to offset that with someone we could admire who did not hold these beliefs. The thorough-going denial of all things supernatural offered a lot of opportunity, and the combination of combat and medicine in one man would make for a complexity of character I could use.
The army experiment gone wrong idea also came from Lutz; that was how most of the original test players started, as it was originally run on an army base, I think in Germany.
Since the first six chapters were all originally intended to be comic book stories, they are a bit longer than many of the others, all contain some kind of action, and end in some type of cliffhanger. I particularly liked the image of the character discovering it was a space ship, not a sailing ship–one that had happened in games more than once–and so I used that as the first ending.
Chapter 2, Hastings 1: I am not at all certain where I got the names for Lauren Elizabeth Meyers Hastings. I do know that none of her future nicknames came to mind. Hastings is the name of Hercule Poirot’s sidekick, and it gave her an English name. She was actually a less powerful character than I; I found my own adventures overly complicated and a bit incredible. This was my second world–the only world E. R. Jones ever ran me in besides NagaWorld, where he started everyone–and so I made it her second as well.
Her wagon is a rough copy of my rickshaw; I designed a cart in which I could carry my things, with two wheels and two handles. I didn’t want to copy it exactly, so I gave her a wagon with a pivoting front axle. Most of her things were from my equipment sheet.
My editor, Steve Darlington, thought I did not paint the vampires as sufficiently evil in the draft I sent him; he thought Lauren came off as prejudiced against them and seemed more the villain than they. Thus I tried to harden them a bit in the first confrontation and elsewhere so that the reader would not be sympathetic with them.
On the change of the word from “alchemist” to “psionicist” I remember asking several of my sons, including my eldest, for suggestions, but it ended up being my idea. It was often the case that I would talk to them and come up with my own solutions through the interaction; it was also often the case that they would give me ideas as well.
Mr. Jones had used Father Peter Holer of the State Street Mission, who had won the lottery and retired. Father Holer was the creation of one of his other players, and I changed the name. I also recognized that a Catholic priest would never win the lottery and retire–just one of the many things that he and his players did not understand about Catholicism–so I changed that. I picked the Saint George Mission rather absent-mindedly, but when my editor objected that the dragon slayer was hardly an apt icon for a charitable mission, I went back and played up the idea of spiritual combat within it.
Slobadan Milosevic was added to the list of respected world leaders in response to the editor’s complaint that the references were all unfamiliar to him. He was Australian, and I took that as significant.
Chapter 3, Slade 1: Robert Slade was in part an effort to get a good comic book hero name. I was never a fan of Elvis, but it fit well. Jim Denaxas made some other goofy suggestions, which did not ever make it into any of the stories (the one I recall is “mom died of failed diet”; this was shortly after the FDA recall of several diet drugs, but I don’t know if he had that in mind). Somehow, Slade evolved as the goofy character, the one who makes everyone laugh despite being completely serious about everything.
There was a lot about Slade that suggested he would have been a smoker. I didn’t want a hero who smoked, so I made him a former smoker. I had a lot of trouble with the match stick, and had to go back and put in a lot of references to it, because it was introduced as character color and then faded away.
I also decided that my third character would be strongly religious, but not Christian. I might have done Jewish, as I have some training in that, but thought it best to choose a faith which I could not easily mess up. I went for the Norse gods, influenced greatly by C. S. Lewis’ comments that it was the noblest religion.
The idea Slade expounds that he was a chosen warrior of Odin came from E. R. Jones’ Multiverser character, known as Roland of the Sar or Michael di Vars. Jones was a soldier, or at least a cook in the army. Giving this same idea to someone with no such background might have been part of the source of the humor, but then I did not want two characters with too similar a background so I could not have him be another soldier.
A lot of the look and feel of Slade comes from Christopher R. Jones and his manner of play. Chris is a bit crazy as a player, and I think that’s reflected in Slade. In appearance, I have often described Slade as “a blonde, bearded Chris”, and sometimes forget that Slade doesn’t wear Chris’ trademark cowboy hat.
Auto mechanic was chosen to connect to a certain level of society. Lauren was moderately college educated, Kondor in the military, and Slade was to be connected to the ordinary working people.
The editor said there were too many pagan references in the early pages, and in a sense he was right–as much because he used many here as because he used fewer as the story progressed. I stripped all that I felt I could, but some I needed.
Going up the chimney was put in to vary the journey. I began to realize that the dungeon might make a fun game, but it tended to make a dull story.
The three men were obviously the archetypal fighter, wizard, and thief. I knew at this point that they wanted to go in, but I don’t think I had yet figured out why.
Chapter 4, Kondor 2: Obviously it was necessary for Kondor to join the crew in order for the story to go forward, and security gave me good opportunities for action. This was still supposed to be combat.
When it was suggested that Kondor’s friend on the ship should also be black, this attuned me a bit more to the notion that the reverse prejudice Kondor would eventually display needed to have roots earlier in the book.
The gear and people and events all come very much from the game.
Being nearly killed by the grenade is a bit out of sorts for the game; it would be difficult for a character to end up in his condition (but not entirely impossible). I needed a good cliffhanger here, because I was still writing comic book episodes.
Chapter 5, Hastings 2: I must thank my wife for calling my attention to the anguish Lauren must have felt about losing her family. A lot of game characters ignore this; real people probably wouldn’t. The other characters also expressed this at times, but Lauren is the one who has lost the most. I added the thoughts about family to this section to capture that.
The fight scene is of course there to give action to the comic that never was; but there was a similar fight in my game version. No, I can’t do those things; but my imaginary self, like her, practiced and learned to do them in NagaWorld before coming here.
I had a problem with descriptions of the characters which came out strongly in Lauren’s case. The problem was that my perspective prevented me from ever describing how any main character was seen by any other character until near the end when the three main characters come together. Thus I had to find ways to describe them earlier, before the reader had formed too solid an image of them.
Again, the thing with Big Bill was created to be a cliffhanger. Originally it was laced with male chauvinism in the high steel, and set up as a contest, but my editor quite rightly observed that this was too much, and so Bill became the supervisor.
Jake Williams was based on a character named Luke Sparks, created by another player in the game; but his role was stripped down significantly here.
Chapter 6, Slade 2: The dropped tool chest crashing and the knight ordering Slade to keep his hands down seemed a good start. I’d not heard or read anything quite like it. I wound up with a stand-off, but the idea of asking for a beer to break the ice worked well.
It was at this point that I conceived the idea of the djinni search. It was also at this point that I started to realize that the Slade stories were always funny, and the others weren’t. Since it was still intended for comic book release, I let it stay that way.
I invented the names Torelle (from the name Dorelle, I think) and Filp (probably inspired by the thief Villa Reston of Blake’s 7 fame, who also inspired much of the character’s personality as I think Villa the ultimate template for a thief character).
#20: Becoming Novel, covering chapters seven through twelve.
Chapter 7, Kondor 3: Because this was the first section that was not written to be an episode in a comic book, that absolved me of the need to put an action scene in it.
It was at this point that I realized I was going to have to change my strategy. When I started, I had imagined three independent story lines in perpetuity; for this to be a novel, they would eventually have to come together, to do something that would make a unified climax. And, I realized, for that unified climax to have the feel I needed, these earlier stories would have to in some way be preparing them for that. I thus now knew that there would be a rescue of someone, in which Kondor, Slade, and Lauren would all participate, using the skills they learned and equipment they gathered along the way. This redefined a lot of what I was doing.
I made the decision to start moving Kondor toward medical because I didn’t think that the continued security story would stay interesting, and I no longer needed to have him constantly involved in fights.
Chapter 8, Hastings 3: I owe something to the game company White Wolf and their World of Darkness games, particularly Vampire: the Masquerade. Multiverser play allowed my character to become a character in that game, and much of my background material comes to me from that, filtered through the storytelling of E. R. Jones. The concept of faith may or may not be theirs; it is much like what I understood from play.
The idea of using scripture verses as the focus of faith came from the idea of priests using crucifixes and holy water the same way.
Chapter 9, Slade 3: Again, I was becoming more and more aware of the lack of story in the dungeon journey, so I tried to give the feel of a long trip to a single chapter.
The appearance of the efriit was a decision of the moment. I needed something to give tension to the scene, and since my backstory had already suggested that the djinn were enemies of the efriit, it was the obvious choice. I did not yet know how it would be resolved.
Chapter 10, Kondor 4: I had some vague notion that Kondor was teetotal; I don’t know quite where I got the notion, but I confirmed it at this point. I think in part it was because Slade needed to be a drinker to fit his image, and I didn’t want Lauren to be so prudish that she would not drink at all (although she winds up drinking perhaps slightly more than I), but I wanted one of my heroes to avoid alcohol. Kondor was the logical choice. It fit what I might term his severity. This was where it came into expression.
I knew he was going on with the ship; I needed to make it seem reasonable. The bit about being abducted by aliens was off the cuff.
Chapter 11: Hastings 4: The robe my character wore was royal blue with scarlet trim; hers is scarlet with gold. I had just heard the idea that men were stimulated by reds which were closer to the orange spectrum while women preferred those with more blue to them. My wife likes purple, and I borrowed that from her.
The Pit, in the original game, was called The Succubus Club. That seemed too evidently evil. I liked this better. It could easily be mistaken for what it pretended to be, an ordinary charcoal grill restaurant. The interior décor I invented at this point, as I decided it would be interesting to make it seem hellish in a way that was technically feasible. If anyone ever copies it in a real building, I would love to see it.
I’ve heard that Spumante is classed as dry, not sweet, but it always tasted sweet to me.
The title The Book of Journeys sounded less committed to evil than it might have been, and could easily be connected to Cain. As to connecting vampires to Cain, I know that White Wolf will take credit for the idea; however, Grendel and his mother were descendants of Cain according to Beowulf, so the idea of monsters coming from his curse is probably well within the public domain. I like the idea better than either the Dracula or the Judas stories for the origin of vampires.
Chapter 12, Slade 4: This was all created on the spot, pretty much as I wrote it. The CD player accident had already been established somewhere (at least in my notes) as the way he got started.
When he calls on Thor, in my mind that was the use of magic to enable him to strike the spirit; but I left it as vague in the story as I guessed it would be in Slade’s mind.
I realized that it was futile for Slade to try to defeat the efriit in physical combat, so I turned his attention to the bottles. This also gave me a good moment of tension on which to hold the story. Although I did not always use cliffhangers, I had recognized that a good part of what drives a story forward is that the reader wants to know what happens next. I first recognized it in Herbert’s Dune, but then realized I had seen it in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings–the use of characters on several stages, such that we continue reading in order to find out what is going to happen to the one we’re not reading about now. Of course, I knew that the djinni was going to come out of this bottle, and I’d guess the reader knows it too; but it’s still anticipated.
#22: Getting Into Characters, chapters thirteen through eighteen.
Chapter 13, Kondor 5: I’m not certain whether to credit Richard Lutz or myself for the idea of Kondor studying medicine. In our game version of him, he had earned several doctorates in various fields, including several in medicine, and so I was modeling Kondor on that. But I cannot be certain whether that was true of the original player character or whether I invented it when writing the rules to the game.
Chapter 14, Hastings 5: This was all recreating parts of the game, and so the background information is E. R. Jones and the character choices are mine. Even the botch was a game event.
Chapter 15, Slade 5: The wishes were mine; I had long thought of the idea of using three wishes by having the first one be for complete knowledge of wishes, and the other two for the wishes granted to someone else.
Chapter 16, Kondor 6: As I began this section, I realized that an emotional reaction to the pirates was very likely, and very useful. I was using the mechanics of the published world for background events, but the appearance of pirates gave me the idea for the reaction; and the appearance of pirates again at about the same point in the journey as before suggested the next step. I recognized by this point that just going around the loop with no particular objectives, while it was building his skills in ways I wished to build them, was not going to be a particularly interesting story in the long term. So it was time to move to something else.
My editor’s reaction was that it was too soon, that there should have been more to that story; but I was happy with it as it was.
Chapter 17, Hastings 6: This training session is very like one I played out in my game in a later session, including the gunnels and the landing in the lake. I, too, tossed Raiden in the lake. Oh, it was Ed’s idea to call him Raiden, and for the reason that eventually emerges in this story as well; that’s probably the main reason I did not change the name.
There had been no talk of payment that I recall in the game; but there had been the shrine and the pages, and so the knowledge of the vampires, so I thought it worked well to prefigure that knowledge here.
Chapter 18, Slade 6: I had once run a D&D game in which an amusement park was built inside a dungeon. The reactions of the characters to the terrors which were intended as rides was very helpful to me here. I realized that being swiftly carried what had been several days’ walk riding the winds would be a terrifying experience for the characters, whatever else they had done, save for the one to whom the analogy of roller coasters would be apparent.
As I got here, I realized that I didn’t know which way the story was going to go next; but it seemed a good line to suggest that Slade didn’t know this, and might hook the reader into wondering the same thing.
#25: Novel Changes, chapters 19 through 24.
Chapter 19, Kondor 7: Nothing different.
Chapter 20, Hastings 7: Nothing different.
Chapter 21, Slade7: I was not at all certain what to do with Slade at this point, but decided to take him back to Torelle and see what I could develop.
I have long noted that there is not necessarily less love in arranged marriages than in “falling in love” types; there is sometimes more, as the couple has clearer expectations initially. But I recognized that Slade would find the whole thing foreign, and this gave me the opportunity to play that theme.
It was quickly apparent that other than getting contacts for visiting the others, there was nothing to do at Torelle’s, and I moved on.
Chapter 22, Hastings 8: Up to this moment I had not even considered varying the sequence of character chapters, but I was not yet certain what I was doing with Kondor. I had dropped him in the woods thinking that it would be Sherwood, but had serious doubts as to what sort of story I could tell from that. I thought perhaps it would keep the reader guessing a bit longer to delay that, and also give me time to think about what I wanted to do there.
The name Raoul was my idea; it was just Raal in the game. Lauren may have been more articulate than I, but the events were much the same.
Chapter 23, Slade 8: The trip to Omigger was primarily to give Slade a smattering of magic; but I didn’t want him to become, like Lauren, a powerful generalist. He was to develop as a fighter who dabbled in other things. Thus his tie to Omigger should be one of polite interest in the wizard’s activities, tinged with a resistance to the study of magic. I also decided that Slade should get the primer; at this point, I guessed it would give him the foundation in magic I desired. And again, it was over quickly.
Chapter 24, Kondor 8: Obviously the gathering of gear was the first step; I wanted to make it interesting. I decided it would help to play out the story the way it unfolds in the Sherwood Forest game setting in The First Book of Worlds, building from bramble to road in steps.
The language problem comes from my study of linguistics. I’ve spoken a bit of thirteenth-century English, and it is barely intelligible; I thought it would add some realism to make their communication difficult, but did not have a way of settling the matter if they could not understand each other at all, so I devised that it was difficult but not impossible to understand. The particular sentence I chose as the first words would not be too different from the modern pronunciation, so I was comfortable with that. It became more of a fiction as the story progressed, but I knew that eventually he would learn what they meant and be better able to make himself understood, so I let that part slide.
Regarding the language barrier, I determined rather early in writing this material that no one in this era would use contractions. I had to go back over it a couple of times to fix those I’d inadvertently let through, but ultimately keeping the contractions out of their dialogue helped them sound a bit foreign, which is what I wanted.
#27: A Novel Continuation, chapters 25 through 30.
Chapter 25, Hastings 9: Making Lauren female changed this scene somewhat; I had to think of how she would react to a strong and very animal female. Otherwise, this is something of a recreation of game events. I’m not certain how Ed described the Lilith connection, but my version owes something to George MacDonald, a story I’ve not read but heard tell of on several occasions. The idea of the three curses was mine.
Chapter 26, Kondor 9: Having skipped Kondor because I didn’t know what to do with him, I now skipped Slade for much the same reason. Again, I didn’t want to bog things down with the language barrier, but merely suggest how different was their speech. This section was primarily to create an interaction between Kondor and the Merry Men without giving him too much information; their reaction to his futuristic gear seemed simple enough, and his impatience made more sense than trying to have him explain to people who could not possibly understand what the reader already knows.
I mentioned Robin as a clue. I didn’t know whether the reader could tell what was happening yet, but Kondor was going to need something else on which to base his conclusion when he reached Nottingham.
Chapter 27, Slade 9: I skipped the year’s trip because I couldn’t think what to do with it; but it was obvious that nothing else was going to happen to Slade until he made the journey to see Filp, so I started it with little notion of what would happen there.
Once I grasped that Filp was a thief trying to play the part of a nobleman, it was fairly easy to work out a story there. In Multiverser we’ve said that it’s only the modern person who can understand that some things are technology beyond our understanding and others really are magic; it is in a sense only the modern man who can understand the idea of learning to be something you are not. Filp was locked into being a peasant thief, and no amount of riches and power could change that without the help of someone who could change both the man and the role until they came together. This started that part of the story, and for the first time since the end of the djinni quest Slade’s story had direction.
I did not know when I introduced Wen that she would become Filp’s wife; but it did make sense that the barmaid would flirt with the customers, and perhaps that Filp would only notice that she flirted with him.
The sequence about coffee was originally longer, involving talk of grinding beans, boiling water, pouring the water over the grounds, adding sweetener and cream, and more; but my editor complained that readers know how coffee was made and I wasn’t really making it funny or interesting, so it was cut back.
When Slade said about getting a bit of fun back into Filp’s life, I was already planning to do the thieving bit; I had not yet worked out the details.
Chapter 28, Hastings 10: Most of this happened in play. The aspect of Horta trying to read her mind I added. Looking back, it’s obvious that he was trying to determine whether she was the same person as Laurelyn of Wandborough (whom he had seen die twice before), but I didn’t have that part in mind at this time.
Chapter 29, Kondor 10: I was by this time uncertain what I was doing in Sherwood Forest; but it seemed appropriate that Kondor would go back to find Robin’s men. I didn’t know yet how tough that was going to be, but I got him headed in the right direction.
Chapter 30, Slade 10: When Slade and Filp rode out to hunt–a spur of the moment excuse–I still had not decided whether they were going to rob someone else’s castle or just do Filp’s. This section and the last were shorter; I had now escaped the mental constraints of comic-book type chapters, and so could put in shorter vignettes as needed.
#30: Novel Directions, chapters 31 through 36.
Chapter 31, Hastings 11: The rain was my idea to get to the apartment; I don’t remember why I was there in the game. I also don’t recall what details of the shrine were mine. Much of the rest reconstructs game events a bit differently.
Chapter 32, Kondor 11: The solution to Kondor’s problem played itself out as I wrote. It was very like a game, with me figuring out what problems I would throw at the player and me figuring out how I would respond to those problems.
Chapter 33, Slade 11: Nothing different.
Chapter 34, Hastings 12: The idea of creating the fake pages of the Book of Journeys was one I’d had in the game, and decided to recreate here for much the same reasons.
The problem at the door was my own invention; it seemed to me that the referee in the game had let this slip past too easily, that the priest would not change the wording of his invitation and the pagan would not dishonor it by entering anyway.
I had not yet decided whether Raiden would be part of the attack on Jackson; he was not involved in the game version, but I liked him and I’d cut out a lot of extraneous characters that the game had included. In the end, I just forgot to include him.
Chapter 35, Kondor 12: This was all being created on the spot; there was no plan to use this scene to re-emphasize Kondor’s attitudes to killing, but it made perfect sense in the story.
Chapter 36, Slade 12: As mentioned, the decision to make this Filp’s castle gave me a good outcome for the events; it also gave me something to do with Slade, in terms of creating security. I had half a mind to have them go into business showing other nobles how vulnerable they were and how to correct that, but the more I considered it the less I liked it.
The modifications to the walls particularly had been much more involved, with quite a few options and the pros and cons of each, but the editor rightly said to cut it.
It was also good to for Slade to find a real friend in Filp; and I began to consider having Filp return. This was further encouraged by the fact that Slade was my son Adam’s favorite, and he particularly liked Filp. Bringing Filp forward as a friend made Slade’s stay here better, although I was not yet certain what I could do with it.
I kept looking for new vignettes for Slade, and didn’t really have anything long-term going here, as I did with the other two. But the short stories were fun, and the discontinuity not really that strong given the timeline aspect.
#33: Novel Struggles, chapters 37 through 42.
Chapter 37, Hastings 13: There was more shopping in the original draft; I wanted to have a positive statement of a number of objects she was to add to her equipment in the future. It didn’t work well, and the editor said to cut it.
The fight with Jackson was probably tougher in the game, but most of the essentials are there. I needed to beef up Jackson’s offensive abilities a bit and ignore some of the attacks he withstood, but it worked.
The use of oil and the James 5 passage was my idea in the game; I telepathically communicated it to Father James. However, that was a situation in which the players didn’t understand the Catholicism they were portraying. I also had suggested the use of the Requiem Mass. I thought Father James would be sharp enough to come up with these without Lauren’s suggestion, and that it made for much better story.
Chapter 38, Kondor 13: I was trying to keep the story from two problems. One was the possibility that it would seem too easy to find Robin’s people; the other was the problem of boring the reader with the details of what didn’t matter. I had not yet determined how to bring him to Robin, or what to do when he got there.
Chapter 39, Hastings 14: This was a drastic decision in the writing process: I let one of the characters get a chapter ahead, and another get a chapter behind. Part of it was to allow the two slow stories to be slow; part of it was to give urgency to Lauren’s fight. But I think part of it was that this was the one story for which at this moment I knew what to write.
The question that struck me initially about my recollections of play was that I couldn’t remember why I didn’t use the disintegrator on him immediately. The answer had to be that I didn’t have it–but that didn’t work for her, because she must already have picked it up. Thus a miss was the best response; Gavin was not so tough as Jackson, and would not have been able to withstand a serious hit.
The ending, where she smashes his limbs with the blaster, went down like my game, and for much the same reasons: I was very angry at this monster. The editor didn’t like it, and I had to rewrite it to try to bring the reader more into the evil of Gavin and the desire to see him dead. The flying was also from the game, and pointed toward the next event, which I wanted to preserve for several reasons.
Chapter 40, Slade 13: The wedding of Filp to Wen surprised me; I needed something for Slade to do, and this seemed a reasonable direction for that story to take.
Chapter 41, Hastings 15: There was a scene like this in the game; but it had to be changed drastically. I met a crazy young man named Henry, who insisted that I was Merlin; Lauren obviously couldn’t be Merlin, so I invented someone.
Bethany needed to come from somewhere in early Norman England, I thought, and she needed a name which might have been used during that time. I had no other thoughts concerning the name. I wanted her to be a bit loose around the edges, but not as bad as Henry had been.
Henry had been very pleased that I gave him my tattered robe; it seemed ridiculous to me then and still does. Lauren tossed hers in the trash.
I added Bethany’s telepathy. I couldn’t imagine that Lauren would teach her anything and not that.
Detecting magic was difficult. In the game, I just said I was going to try to do it psionically, and I succeeded. In the story, I needed to find a way to describe what she was doing.
Chapter 42, Kondor 14: It was time to move forward; I decided that Robin gave up waiting for Kondor to leave, and so made contact. I also needed a way to draw Kondor into the group, so the sick man was an obvious hook for that. The medical stuff was rather straightforward, and I invented the hillside camp when I got there, looking for a way for them to be hidden when they were obviously a fairly large group.
In the game version, Friar Tuck has a bit of divine magic; he wouldn’t call it that, but it is part of the world in which this is set. It didn’t make sense to involve Kondor with that, but it did make sense for Tuck to be concerned about witchcraft and such.
#35: Quiet on the Novel Front, chapters 43 through 48.
Chapter 43, Slade 14: Time had been passing slowly for Slade with nothing happening; I still didn’t know what was going to happen, but I thought if it passed more quickly I could find something. The vesting ceremony had a number of advantages, including that it pushed time forward to a definable point and brought everyone back together. That was about as far as I’d thought.
Chapter 44, Hastings 16: The scene at the store was a recreation of a game event, although in the original Raal was not present. I needed someone to inform Lauren of the significance of the Tezcatta; I had gotten it from the player who played the Father James character, but he wouldn’t be there.
The change in the martial arts training seemed worthwhile; I wasn’t sure how I would use it, but it was good to have it there.
The blood link connection between Gavin and Jackson had been in the game, but there hadn’t been a scene in which it was discussed–rather, the player, who was more familiar with the setting than I, gave me that information.
The discussion of the werewolf cab driver was my idea; I didn’t think the priest would accept the help of the wolves nearly as freely as he did in the game, and wanted to provide a foundation for that.
Chapter 45, Kondor 15: The choice to build the hospital was a sudden one. I had imagined originally that Kondor was going to learn to use the bow from Robin Hood; but now I couldn’t see him working as a bandit in Sherwood Forest. I could see him helping the sick, and doing so in ways that would have an impact. So I started the hospital thread, and let it have its head.
The problem with the flue came from one of James Burke’s excellent shows. I suspect it was Connections, although it may have been The Day the Universe Changed. He had pointed to the development of the chimney as a step in the social organization of England, and I knew that this had not yet happened as of Richard I. Thus I knew Kondor would have trouble getting his chimney, and rather than having him invent the thing I found an alternate solution.
Salicylates, antibiotics, and disinfectants were all things I knew were not in any significant use which would revolutionize medicine when they arrived and which were relatively easy to bring into being if you knew how. I didn’t entirely know how, but did know that the primary disinfectants were alcohol and salt, both of which were available in this age, that the first antibiotics were natural mold defenses, and that salicylates, of which aspirin is the most popular, were found in some plants (although I don’t know which). That meant I could stock a medicine cabinet for him, and that would make it a viable concept.
I puzzled over the roof for a while myself. The sod roof seemed a good choice, although I’m not at all certain how well it would have worked in actuality.
Chapter 46, Slade 15: I knew perfectly well what vesting meant, but it didn’t seem like Slade would know, and didn’t seem like something for the story.
Turning the attention to Torrence, the second son, was a spot decision; and bringing Shella into it was even more unexpected. But I think it was here that I first seriously began entertaining the notion of bringing Shella and Slade together.
Chapter 47, Hastings 17: My character learned moving through the twilight from Raal, just as Lauren was going to.
It was obvious to me that the wolf would not be cognizant of whatever native abilities he had that humans would consider superhuman; so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to list a few, and if it were necessary to create more later, they would simply be things Raal hadn’t considered.
Chapter 48, Kondor 16: The joke about “can’t take it with you” was a toss-in.
#37: Character Diversity, chapters 49 through 54.
Chapter 49, Slade 16: When I introduced the idea of Shella marrying Slade, I didn’t know whether I was going to do it. I brought up the idea primarily as a way of making something happen in this part of the story, and of giving Slade a reason to explain himself to Torrence. But as soon as I said it, I liked the idea, and started toying with whether or not to do it.
The death of Omigger similarly was a way of creating story events at this point. All I knew was that it would bring my characters together again.
Chapter 50, Hastings 18: I had done five years of Christian radio. I didn’t have the necessary foundation for that with Lauren–but there was a woman popular at the time (might still be, don’t know) who was a sort of call-in advice person, and I thought I could give that role to Lauren’s double, remove the marriage, and keep the parts that might matter.
Again, Lauren is most like me. Corn muffins with coffee, and eggs for breakfast are my preferences.
I ended the meeting mostly because I wasn’t sure where to go with it yet, but also because I thought it would keep the reader interested in where it was going.
Chapter 51, Kondor 17: I had thought about having the Sheriff’s men kill Kondor now; but as I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that it would be good to have one of them come for medical treatment. It would have to be something serious, something that would allow the soldier to overlook the fact that there were wanted men here. A sick child was the solution, and preferably a daughter.
The idea that it would be difficult to house her parents developed in the telling. The confrontation with Friar Tuck was another effort to keep people worried about what would happen next.
Chapter 52, Slade 17: Nearly everything in this chapter was a surprise to me. I had not really expected any of the companions to die while Slade was here, but the funeral moved the story forward. I had not considered the relationships between the characters, but there was value in giving the estate to Filp, given that he had the larger family and I was starting to play with the idea of Torrence becoming Slade’s designated heir. Giving Slade the books followed somewhat reasonably from Omigger’s perhaps incorrect assessment that Slade was actually interested in magic and led toward empowering him as a wizard–although it slowly came to mind that I did not want him to be a Norse clone of Lauren, so magic would always have to be a minor thing for him. Getting Shella interested in magic gave her more reason to be at Slade’s manor and brought them together more–although I was still undecided about her future.
The letter was always to suggest appointing Torrence as Slade’s heir. I decided on that as I wrote this chapter.
Chapter 53, Hastings 19: The idea of having children in this world was the hook I needed to bring the vampires into this discussion. I expected to put Lauren Meyers on the list of those who helped in the war against the vampires, particularly as something of a communications link, but that meant there had to be a reason to explain it to her.
The confrontation with Horta worked well. I think it built tension and gave me an excuse not to have her keep returning to The Pit where nothing was happening.
Chapter 54, Kondor 18: I had not considered how I was going to get out of the awkward situation I’d created with the introduction of Friar Tuck to the scene, but Kondor’s instincts worked. The suggestion of chicken soup is good, because for a very long time people believed chicken soup particularly good for sickness and it turns out they were right–it does help fight viral infections, to a small degree.
The thought of soup reminded me that liquids were important, and I remembered sassafras tea, which I made when I was eleven or twelve. The roots boiled in water provided a beverage that was flavorful. The same principle could be applied to drawing the salicylates out of these roots and getting them into the girl more palatably than by having her try to digest bits of ground root, and would at the same time restore fluid levels. I guess I was thinking a bit like a displaced doctor, but the idea worked.
The Ronald McDonald Houses came to mind as I tried to figure out where the soldier could stay. I didn’t think they’d go back to Nottingham and leave their daughter.
#39: Character Futures, chapters 55 through 60.
Chapter 55, Slade 18: The culture difference between Slade and Torelle was fun to play with. I brought Torrence into this position mostly to tie up Slade’s affairs neatly.
Chapter 56, Hastings 20: Nothing different.
Chapter 57, Kondor 19: The extension of one hospital to many was the logical next step in the process, although I had not imagined it until this point.
Chapter 58, Slade 19: If Slade and Shella were to get together, she would have to be more than a helpless little girl; and it would be fairly easy for her to be the magic-user he never would be.
Putting the time in with Filp meant that Slade’s future thieving efforts seemed more realistic, as if he had actually spent time practicing them.
Chapter 59, Hastings 21: This originally went too quickly. I grasped what it was Gavin was doing all too easily; but my editor did not. So I had to slow it down, giving Lauren and the reader time to understand why this “religion” could not be tolerated.
In the game, I had another player character with mine, a very powerful one; we left the scene in the cab, but were pursued and both leapt out and flew away to escape. That wasn’t really workable here; besides, I liked the idea of Lauren learning to use the twilight. I don’t remember the circumstances under which my character learned that, but this was a good time. I invented the idea of zombie dogs rather abruptly.
Chapter 60, Kondor 20: I was comfortable with Kondor’s story. Time had progressed to the point that Richard had probably died and John taken the throne; the charges were reasonable for the era; and Kondor had changed the world and really didn’t have much more he could do here. I picked someone from the story, and moved him on.
The Quest for the Vorgo was also published, although as part of a demonstration kit that I had never run nor seen run. It’s a lot of fun to do it with an atheist or agnostic character, so it was perfect for Kondor. It starts with the character arriving in the right place and time to be accepted as the answer to a prayer for a deliverer.
#43: Novel Worlds, chapters 61 through 66.
Chapter 61, Slade 20: Game adventures often end abruptly; Slade’s did, but not before everything was organized for him. I leave more worlds through making mistakes on skill learning attempts than any other way, and that’s what caught Slade this time.
Chapter 62, Hastings 22: The flat tire served two functions within the story. One was to create the expectation that an attack might be imminent, specifically so it would be disappointed. That is, if every time combat comes we see it coming, it loses an important element. Sometimes it has to come unexpected, and sometimes it has to not come when anticipated, or it is not surprising. The other function was to build the feeling that many of her psionic powers were becoming second nature to Lauren. She seems like a powerful sorceress not so much because she does powerful things but because she does the odd bit of magic routinely and without thinking about it. Magic is part of her ordinary approach to life.
Chapter 63, Kondor 21: The contrast between this world’s magical reality and Kondor’s persistent atheism was a lot of fun in many ways; but because we see all things through Kondor’s eyes it was not always easy to maintain. Anything that happened had to be explained with his bias, and so had to be magical enough that the reader would see what Kondor was denying. The easiest way to bring that in most of the time was by bringing forward his attitude about superstition.
The pun on the name was a sudden inspiration. Having them get his name wrong seemed a nice touch, given their expectations.
Chapter 64, Slade 21: The captain isn’t anyone in particular.
Chapter 65, Hastings 23: I managed to come up with the clues at this moment.
My own second encounter with the ghoul (his name was Bob the Ghoul in the game; I made it Arnie) was when he came after another verser player character. That character was at this point a superhero, and I knew that bringing in such a character at this point in this story would badly unbalance it. Besides, there were several other more dangerous enemies and a lot of crazy side stories that came with him that would have bogged down the book terribly. So I took advantage of Lauren Meyers’ existence to bring about the same situation. Oh, in game I caught Bob at the airport; Arnie launched his attack downtown.
Chapter 66, Kondor 22: Seeing the rather magical story through the eyes of a confirmed unbeliever gives it a lot of explanations that aren’t true. That’s part of the character, and part of why I wanted to bring him into this one.
I knew Kondor would insist on having full information before he began, so I had to think through what details should be included. There would be plenty of surprises that had nothing to do with Kondor’s side.
#47: Character Routines, chapters 67 through 72.
Chapter 67, Slade 22: Slade’s use of magic needed to feel like something he could do, but which wasn’t a big deal or a lot of power. The darkness spell felt like that.
I grabbed a few cultural historical references I thought Slade would know. I’ll confess that I had to ask my son Ryan about the video games that came out that year.
The idea of an evil earth-centered oppressive Federation is of course a Blake’s 7 notion.
Lewis Carroll deserves credit for the answer to “What did you say” questions. Slade recognizes the joke, I think, but doesn’t push it.
Chapter 68, Hastings 24: I realized that there were only two ways I could bring Lauren Meyers’ comments into my narrative without breaking my perspective. One was to have Lauren Hastings actually listen to the show, and the other was to have someone recount it to her. The former was impossibly difficult. Lauren slept days and worked nights. If the show was in the day, she couldn’t hear it until the next day, because she had to sleep. If it was at night, she would be at work and couldn’t listen, let alone respond. So I had Raal tell her what happened.
In some ways, Lauren was more powerful in this scene than my player character was. In the game, the other player character used an invisibility screen to vanish, and a gravity belt to fly, and so carried the ghoul through the air while I gave instructions; and the guns were handed to me, not dropped. I managed to save it without losing the important points, and in some ways to improve it, by using her capture rod.
I wanted her to have the guns; that’s how my character got them. The idea that she took the guns from an enemy would eliminate any arguments about whether she should have gotten better or different weapons. By the time she might be able to consider that, she would be good enough with these that it wouldn’t matter.
Chapter 69, Kondor 23: Kondor is still providing “realistic” explanations for everything that happens to him. I think it’s funny; I think it goes a long way to show how a lot of efforts to explain away miracles and magic are silly. The reader knows that the people of this world are right, that these are undead monsters. Only Kondor doesn’t know it, and won’t ever recognize it, because he’s already decided that it’s not a possibility.
The stalls were part of the tension here. It was at this moment that I created the idea that Kondor was not comfortable around cemeteries, in part because I needed his nervousness to build the story tension. Without that, it would have been a simple walk to the door; with it, the reader feels every step.
I think it was Ryan who originally suggested, back when I was writing this world for game use, that the Vorgo should be a bowling ball. I think originally it was green, but I went with marble and mica here to make it a bit more ordinary.
And of course the awakening undead is part of the scene in the world scenario.
Chapter 70, Slade 23: I have no idea who John Alexander is; he’s definitely a commanding personality, but I don’t think I’ve known anyone like him. Ann Parker reminds me of someone, but I can’t think who. Bert “Burly” Bently is Blake’s 7‘s Gan in many ways, including size and look and soft demeanor, but he’s got something of an engineer’s fix-it flavor to him. Ishara Takamura probably comes from one of the villains in one of those movies from a video game, like Mortal Kombat. I keep thinking of Toni Bently as very like Halle Berri, but that she’s not black (yet I keep forgetting that she isn’t). I’m still not entirely sure what Marilyn Wells did, but she’s got long hair and dark eyes and looks good in the costume.
Chapter 71, Hastings 25: The guns were the same as the ones I got in the game. Mine had something called Brimstone Rounds, but not knowing what those are I did not include them here.
In the game, there were three major vampire recruiting strongholds in the city. I took down The Succubus Club, which I’ve replaced fairly directly with The Pit (although the interior is my design), with the werewolf battle to come. The Presemium, a high arts theatre, involved an assault unlike anything in this story. The Coffee Shoppee in the college area, geared to appeal to young intellectuals through poetry and jazz, got the honor of the magical coin, which was sufficient to completely destroy its ambiance and drive off its clientele. Lauren didn’t have all those targets; she used the coin to reduce the number of humans in The Pit before the attack.
Once I knew the clues, I knew what the three things did; but unfolding the discovery within the story was an important part of it. The chapter ending cliffhanger seemed good to me; I had gotten away from cliffhangers, and needed to bring a few back to drive the story forward.
Chapter 72, Kondor 24: The idea that Kondor’s rational explanations could not keep his feet from running appealed to my wife when she read it. The dash for the gate was a given from the beginning; he was going to have to run this far. The idea that they would not cross that line in daylight both gave it a magical feeling and gave Kondor and company a chance to get back to the castle.
#50: Stories Progress, chapters 73 through 78.
Chapter 73, Slade 24: Translating Slade from medieval to futuristic would be a trick; but I thought probably I could make what he already knew sound useful.
I hadn’t really realized that the comment that Ishara had “trouble with intimacy” was funny, I think because Slade’s stories have that light humor most of the time.
Chapter 74, Hastings 26: Other than that I needed Lauren to wake up again, this chapter primarily is here to stall Kondor’s next step.
Chapter 75, Kondor 25: Preparations for the battle and exposition of the function of the Vorgo were both important, but also part of delaying the battle itself. The pyre actually is a good idea which Kondor would not be able to recognize.
Chapter 76, Slade 25: This settling in section asks a question that is usually not much part of a lot of stories: what is happening when nothing is happening?
FPM stood for something when I wrote it; I may have failed to record it anywhere, but I think it may have been Federal Planetary Militia.
Chapter 77, Hastings 27: I had by this time decided that Lauren wasn’t going to survive the raid on the Pit, although the exact details had not been decided. This section was preparatory for that, establishing that everything was wrapping up and filling in her equipment needs.
Chapter 78, Kondor 26: Having established the electronic eye in Kondor’s head, it was time to use it. It would work for him, and provide information to the reader about what was happening.
I did an in-game castle siege once; but the players relied more on sending troops into the field and using magic from the walls. This assault was to be a bit less magical and thus more historical, and that required some attention to what I knew of castle assault and defense tactics more generally.
The delay for the battering ram was in part reasonable to the scene and in part keeping the action from accelerating too rapidly. Constant battle would become dull quickly and exhaust the reasonable resources of the keep, so it had to be broken in spurts, with tactical changes used to explain the breaks.
#53: Character Battles, chapters 79 through 84.
Chapter 79, Slade 26 My application of matter transmission was to be limited as Blake’s 7‘s was, requiring that the individual wear something to be teleported. I don’t recall how that show handled teleporting objects, but devised something analogous for that.
Chapter 80, Hastings 28: The shopping was all stuff I’d wanted her to have for future use that I had not yet acquired; I knew she was leaving.
When I started, the guy playing the priest was buying holy water–he didn’t understand that as a priest he could make his own. Once he knew that, he was making bathtubs full, and took my advice on high-powered water guns.
Chapter 81, Kondor 27: Making Sowan fly and drop fire bombs was an abrupt and difficult choice. Those abilities are detailed in his description in the game world from which this is drawn, and I did not wish to ignore them; but then, Kondor would have to find a way to incorporate them into his philosophy. Once I had an idea of how he would do this, I did it.
Chapter 82, Slade 27: I took the opportunity to try to bring Tom’s character to the foreground here.
In this section, Slade moves from weapons practitioner to skilled warrior. One might say that all that practice finally pays off.
I liked the idea of not explaining the life pods to Slade. First, they saved me the trouble of figuring out the details. Second, they saved space in the book. Third, there was something very realistic about Tom Titus not taking time to do such exposition.
Chapter 83, Hastings 29: The in-game battle was longer, but went very like this. Henry, Bethany’s alter-ego in the game, complained that his Barbie doll with a hat pin didn’t become fifty feet tall as he expected, but it did run around stabbing vampire feet.
I don’t know why I brought Lauren Meyers here, except perhaps so that I could have all the indigs working together and create the idea that they would continue to work together in the future.
In game, Horta landed on the roof, made his venomous comment, and fled like a Roman candle rocket. I thought it necessary for him to die here, although I was not yet certain of how the fight was going to go.
Chapter 84, Kondor 28: Kondor’s explanation of Sowan’s magic as psionics was a reasonable solution for him. This also introduces the arrogance of Kondor’s position, that his rational explanations for magic powers are better than the superstitious explanations of the people who use them.
I had to give some thought to what he actually saw, given his untuned eye. When I realized that all visible light would be interpreted as green, it gave me something to explain.
From this point forward, the older version of the history had been found and incorporated into the articles. Maybe there would have been interest in which insights were from the older and which from the more recent memories, but I didn’t want too many articles or articles that were too complicated. Here are the rest of the behind-the-writings pieces:
- #55: Stories Winding Down, chapters 85 through 90.
- #57: Multiverse Variety, chapters 91 through 96.
- #59: Verser Lives and Deaths, chapters 97 through 102.
- #61: World Transitions, chapters 103 through 108.
- #64: Versers Gather, chapters 109 through 114.
- #66: Character Quest, chapters 115 through 120.
- #69: Novel Conclusion, chapters 121 through 126.
As mentioned, there has not been much feedback concerning whether to continue the stories; not many read #70: Writing Backwards and Forwards in which we asked for reader thoughts on what to write in the future. Much depends on your responses; I look forward to hearing from you.