Tag Archives: Writing

#27: A Novel Continuation

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #27, on the subject of A Novel Continuation.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also four similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts:

  1. #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters),
  2. #20:  Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve),
  3. #22:  Getting Into Characters (for chapters thirteen through eighteen), and
  4. #25:  Novel Changes (chapters 19 through 24).

This picks up from there.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.

Chapter 25, Hastings 9

I do not recall whether Annuda was my name for the pack mother of the werewolves or Ed’s, but I conveyed the same flavor of who she was that he had conveyed to me.  The use of the telepathy as a way to read character was a new one, but I wanted to establish both what this character was like internally and that Lauren was becoming more comfortable using her skills.

Among animals, showing your teeth is a sign of aggression; this is why cats tend not to like people who smile at them, but prefer people who scowl.  I’m not sure why we do it, but it seemed to me that a people who were part wolf would consider such an act aggressive.

What I knew of Lilith came mostly from the fact that George MacDonald had written a book featuring such a story, which I had seen in the possession of fellow students years ago and gotten some brief information about from a few sources.  It is my impression that she is part of the mythology of the World of Darkness games, but I was mostly filling in details on this here.

The comment about Lilith being considered history in this world, myth or fantasy in ours, had two intentions.  One was to underscore that fiction in one world might be fact in another; the other was to raise the possibility that what the reader considered fantasy or fiction might be truth.

Chapter 26, Kondor 9

I had done a lot of historical research in writing the Sherwood Forest world for The First Book of Worlds, and thought I might use it for this.  I didn’t, though—only a passing recognition of it late in the adventure.  As the initial encounter played out, it seemed that Kondor was not likely to recognize who these people were, or connect them with reality, so I let it play that way.

The one who appears is Will Scarlet; I wanted to keep Robin and Little John out of the initial encounter.

I don’t know whether they make ultrapasturized milk in those foil packs they use for some juices, but it seemed plausible enough at the time.

Chapter 27, Slade 9

I realized that I needed Slade to become a brilliant swordsman, so I made a point of mentioning time spent practicing.

There are probably two inspirations behind the toothpicks.  The second involves my brother Roy.  When he was in perhaps eighth grade a fad went through his class of buying toothpicks and cinnamon oil, soaking the toothpicks in the oil, and sucking on them in school.  He learned the secret and went to buy some of the oil, but the local pharmacists, fearing that the rush on cinnamon oil among kids was somehow connected to drug use, had pulled it from the shelves, so he bought clove oil instead.  He had no idea what cloves were or how they tasted, but was not entirely dissatisfied with the result.  As far as I know, he never acquired cinnamon oil.

The first, though, was a bragging rights sort of thing in Boy Scouts, where we would sharpen our hatchets sufficiently that we could split a log repeatedly down to slivers perhaps a sixteenth of an inch in diameter, which sufficed as toothpicks.  It was that image that gave me the woodcutter providing these.

I was trying to figure out how to give Slade some magic without making him a serious wizard or magician’s apprentice, and to have him dabbling with a primer on the subject seemed as good a start as I was likely to find.  That he always regards his spells as “tricks” is important to his attitude about the studies.

I delayed this chapter and the trip to Filp in part because I was not certain what I was going to do with it.  Obviously I started to figure it out fairly quickly, since I began it at the end of the chapter, but I was at this point winging it.

My editor was confused by the reference to the three year old being a “terror on wheels”, given that he was not on wheels.  I did not change it, though, because I think the expression is used in America (or was when I was a kid) to speak of any kind of race-like running around.

Slade realized that he should learn their names at about the same time I realized they should have names, so I invented them at this point.  Torrence obviously was derived from his father’s name.  The other two I grabbed out of the air, really.  The fact that Shella was a darling baby was the beginning of a romantic sideline I did not expect would go anywhere, and at the time I thought of it more as the way that babies are so adorable than anything else.

I was again playing with the complication that Slade seems to know more about his situation than I can justify.  Any verser who has been instructed knows he can’t have children, but Slade has not had exposure to other versers, and at this point his assumption that he is not aging is based primarily on the fact that he died twice and still seems to be the same age.  It concerned me that I might be giving more in this than I should—although Highlander-type immortals could not have children once they were immortal, that’s a point not strongly emphasized in those stories and Slade did not come across as a big fantasy fan.

The reference to having a girl he wanted is dropped, because I did not want to answer the question of what kind of life Slade had led before he was a verser.  I tend to think of my characters as either virgins or married, and I did not want to state otherwise with certainty.

Originally the last line read “never enjoyed a cup of cappuccino more”, and my editor balked, asking how he got cappuccino here.  I revised it to “even a cup of cappuccino”, hoping that this would convey the point, that it was not cappuccino, but Slade enjoyed it as if it were some expensive product.

Chapter 28, Hastings 10

The notion that Lauren is a fraud touches on something I have often explored in game ideas, that wizardry is as much a matter of projecting an image as it is of performing magic.  Somewhere I had published a piece on a fighter invading a wizard’s castle and the difference between what happened to him and what he thought happened to him.  Originally in this chapter I made reference to the movie Willow and the way he used the disappearing pig trick to trick the witch into believing he had done some powerful wizardry, but the editor objected to including that reference, so I replaced it with the discussion of stage magicians even though I liked the Willow reference better.

I probably should have started using a different way to distinguish telepathic communication from speech, but I had not yet given it enough thought.

Writing the passage about Lauren contacting Gavin telepathically was tricky.  I had to explain first that she could not contact just anyone, but could contact him because reading a mind gave you the same sense as communicating with it.  Then I had to make it seem to Gavin as if this contact meant Lauren knew where he was, while at the same time not confusing the reader into thinking she actually did.

The Bible study time was important because I was going to have Lauren use those verses in combat, and it needed to be credible that she knew them.

I had already worked out how Raal got places, but had not yet revealed it in the story.  Thus he could get to Lauren’s quickly because of his ability, but she would not know that it was not merely because he was nearby.

The clairvoyance is different, because it is targeted at a location known to the user; thus it would be plausible for Lauren to check Gavin’s table to see if he was there, because she is not targeting Gavin wherever he is but Gavin’s table which she has visited in the club.  It then enables her to pretend she found him.

The resistance to the clairvoyance is the first hint that The Pit has magical protections around it; Lauren manages to overcome those in this instance, but she will face them again.

Lauren thinks of her question about The Book of Journeys on her way to Gavin’s table from the car; I similarly thought of the question between writing the part about her needing to ask or tell him something and writing the part where she does.  It was a weak question, but that was fine, because it captures the feeling that she’s grabbing for something to ask, which she was.

Horta is introduced, and he immediately reveals skills of a wizard.  I don’t say how Lauren knows he is trying to read her, and she has no particular skill to detect such a thing, but I wrote it off to the way he stared, and then the idea that he was projecting thoughts into her head to attempt to get her to think about things he wanted to know.

Although I already knew that Lauren’s future would take her into at least two times in the past in this world, it had not yet occurred to me that either Horta or Jackson would be part of those; nor had I yet conceived Tubrok, who would be their master.  Had I done so, I probably would have included references to Merlin and Bethany and Wandborough, which would have worked better in the long term; but since I was being vague here and Lauren was trying not to think about what he projected, it was fine that she did not remember the things that were entirely meaningless to her at that point.

There is something of a power struggle between Gavin and Horta, reflected in the fact that Horta specifically identifies himself as the “senior partner” while Gavin reduces it to a “partner” “running the club”.

Chapter 29, Kondor 10

The notion of versers living in all the fiction ever told was introduced into early games (before I was involved) by Sean Daniels, whom I met once.  It might have been inspired by The Never-Ending Story, but I do not know that, and I took it from him.

My editor and I struggled a bit over the metaphors related to illusion versus reality.  Originally I had written something about being run over by a bus, which he thought was entirely out of place in the medieval setting, so I changed it by removing the bus.

Chapter 30, Slade 10

This was primarily a way for Slade to get Filp to teach him those thieving skills I thought he was going to need in the future.  I had not yet worked out how they would matter, but in the same way that Lauren was turning into my fighter/wizard/priest, Filp was going to turn into my fighter/thief/wizard.  I was not sure how I was going to do it, but it began with the idea of Filp teaching Slade a few things.

Interest in these “behind the writings” continues, so I’m still thinking they’re worth producing.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.  Your Patreon support is also needed to maintain this.

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#25: Novel Changes

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #25, on the subject of Novel Changes.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also three similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts, #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters), #20:  Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve), and #22:  Getting Into Characters (for chapters thirteen through eighteen).  This picks up from there.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.

Chapter 19, Kondor 7

I knew when I reached this point that I had kept Kondor in this world long enough.  In some ways it’s a dull world, a routine in which you develop skills and have occasional interruptions but overall just keep doing the same thing from day to day.  It never really creates a story, only character development.  So I had decided it was time to move him elsewhere.  My editor was surprised, though.  He reacted, asking whether that was the whole story.  On the other hand, it seemed important, too, to put the reader in mind of the fact that the characters would die and having died would continue in another universe, and this was a good time for that.

I wanted Kondor to take some high-tech equipment with him, specifically a medical kit and a kinetic blaster.  He wouldn’t have had the latter as a medic, but he had trained on it as a security guard in the first trip, so it would be natural for him to take it if his own gun jammed, and not unreasonable for the jam to happen.  Once the blaster was in his hand, it would not be at all surprising that he took it with him to the next world.

At this point Kondor first considers the view (attributed to Richard Lutz) that his own life, being immortal, is worth less than the mortal lives of others around him, and that particularly for those whom he counts as friends he should sacrifice himself to save them.  I put Walters here because they had begun building a friendship earlier in the story, and it would be the person for whom Kondor would most likely make this decision.

My editor thought Kondor was quite arrogant in his attitude that he didn’t care whether Walters believed in an afterlife, because since he himself was certain there was no such thing Walters’ death would be the end for Walters.  I made only minor changes.  I think that attitude is arrogant myself, but people do hold it.

My recollection is a bit weak, but I don’t think I knew where Kondor was when I started talking about the forest.  I just knew that I had Slade occupied with castles and wizards, and Lauren in an urban war against undead, and Kondor coming out of a space world, and I needed something different from all of those, so a forest seemed the place to be.

Chapter 20, Hastings 7

I wanted Lauren to have the parka because I was not certain where I would be sending her at this point, and I did not want cold to be a problem.  Besides, I like parkas, and wore one for years; and a parka would cover a cowl, so she could wear the armor under it unseen.

C. J. Henderson and I used to debate on convention panels whether it was worthwhile to keep what in the trade is called a “writing journal”, that is, a notebook in which you write something (every day is recommended) just to keep writing.  He says you should never write anything you can’t sell, and no one is going to buy those notebooks; I say that there is value in having them, and writing them, as long as you remember to look back at them.  The line about “automobiles giving their body parts that others might continue” came from one of my journals, thoughts on a junkyard I had observed from a train, if memory serves.

I did the exploding car trick in play; at the time neither I nor Ed realized that there would not be gasoline in the tanks of cars in junkyards.  By the time I wrote this I’d discovered that detail, so I had to add the notion of Lauren using her clairsentient skills to locate a car that would suffice.

I don’t know whether gasoline really would ignite if heated in a flameless environment, or whether it would merely boil.  I do know that it is highly volatile, and if it did ignite it would go very fast and create a lot of pressure in a tank quickly.

I have no idea how the ghoul—his name was Bob in Ed’s game, but I changed it to Arnie—found my character, but this was how it went in-game.

Given that Lauren was flying and therefore not secured to anything, and that the plastic steel armor she wore would resist being penetrated, it made sense that the impact would transfer the force of the bullet into the motion of her body, and that if it were off-center (as is more likely) it would spin the body around.  Anyway, that’s the way it went in game, and that’s the way I thought it would go here.

I have no idea whether the smoke was poisonous.  My character avoided it because asthma was an issue for me (a weakness I neglected to give her), but it made sense for her to avoid it given that she did not know what it was.

Chapter 21, Slade 7

In the previous Slade chapter I had Torelle run the basic organizational orders to set up a working household, primarily so that Slade would take note and be able to do something of the same when he reached his own castle.  I wasn’t interested at that point in trying to talk about what would happen if you didn’t know how to run a castle, and since most of it runs itself if properly delegated, I just needed Slade to be able to set up the basic operation and then let it run itself.

Oddly, Slade immediately establishes a kitchen staff, despite the fact that he does not have guests for quite a few years.  However, eventually he does.  I had not yet thought that far ahead.

I stepped into a problem with Slade, in that he thought in terms of unaging immortality.  He would have concluded immortality from the fact that he had twice died and come back to life, but the concept of not aging does not necessarily follow from that (as Swift showed in Gulliver’s Travels, in the less well known section about those who never died but kept getting older indefinitely).  It still bothers me; but then, Slade might have extrapolated it simply from the notion that if he were immortal he must be unaging, since old age would otherwise kill him eventually.  Besides, the immortals of Highlander either did not age or aged very slowly after their first death, and that would have been the best analogy he could find to his own condition.

The tiered society of a feudal world is rarely considered, and since Slade has no family and knows only the Corlander nobles at this point, it was unlikely that he would have friends unless he found a way to make them.  I had not explored the notion of the people under his protection, but they would have been peasants, and uncomfortable with a nobleman, and despite what he later does for Filp he probably can’t so easily do that for himself.

Deciding the distances between the castles was a bit of a problem.  It was already established that Torelle’s was across the valley from another that belonged to Count Tork, and you wouldn’t have castles crowded against each other, as they would each be defending a defined territory.  Also, Slade, Filp, and Ommiger got castles that did not previously belong to someone else, so they had to be in territories that were near the borders, while Torelle’s had belonged to the family seven generations earlier and so was if not in the middle at least surrounded by others as the kingdom expanded.  I thought three days travel by horseback would be between twenty-five and fifty miles, and that would be at least reasonable without being boring.

As a footnote, I counted the nights because the nights were when he was more uncomfortable, and I wanted to convey that.

The phone number gag is not the first out-of-time reference in the book, but the suggestion is made that Slade had made others during his time with them.  The chimney and the roller coaster, the Boy Scouts, maybe a few others were already there, but they set a flavor that this statement implies had continued in his conversation otherwise.

Torelle ought to have dispatched a courier to Slade sooner, so Slade could prepare for the wedding; but the fighter is pushing to put everything in order and establish himself, so he wouldn’t delay the wedding simply to invite the guests.

Torelle’s attitude about love for his bride fits with the world of arranged marriages in which he lives:  love is something you choose to do toward the person selected for you to marry.  He finds Slade’s notion that you marry the one you love strange because he was taught that you love the one you marry.

I never give the bride a name.  She is identified as a later child of a higher ranking noble, which cements Torelle’s claim to his title and forms an important alliance for him.  That matters to him, along with the fact that she is young and healthy enough to bear children.  She would be too young by modern standards, but the right age by medieval ones.

It is also part of Torelle’s character that he is rather shallow and does not grasp the concept of relationships.  To him, relationships are matters of status and authority—he has the relationship with his soldiers that they are under his command, and with his wife that she bears his children, and with his companions that they validate his title and position.  The notion of spending time with friends is foreign to him; his life is about doing what he must to be whom he perceives himself to be.

It was also important that Slade see what Torelle did as lord, holding court and managing the land, so he could add that to what he was doing at home.

Chapter 22, Hastings 8

It had been with me for a while that this was not going to be the comic book series for which it was originally intended.  That had had several impacts on the writing already, including that I paid less attention to the lengths of chapters and that I did not worry so much about cliffhangers.  At this point, for the first time I skipped a story, moving Kondor behind the other two.  I was not entirely certain how I was going to proceed with his story, and figured that it was enough of a cliffhanger that he awoke in a forest to hold the reader a bit longer.

I don’t remember what Ed had called the book the vampires wanted, but it sounded to me like it might have been borrowed from some published source.  I created the name Book of Journeys to avoid that, thinking that it might be taken to describe paths one could take.

Gavin’s backstory is Ed’s work.  Jackson he had sketched considerably less fully for me.  The age I picked worked well later, when I was able to place him in Bethany’s time, but at this point I wanted him to be old enough to be powerful but not so old as some of the others.

There was in the game an encounter with a vampire called Lucien, who was apparently more powerful than Horta, but who left the city with nothing more than a polite visit to announce his departure.  There were also two other strongholds (besides the Succubus Club that I turned into The Pit), one a coffee shop with jazz poetry readings, the other a live theater.  I had not yet realized I would not be including any of that.

I do not now remember what name the werewolf cabby used, but it was something even less like a name.  I went with Raoul Wolfe to capture the growl but make it seem like a real name.  My editor thought that a werewolf named “Wolfe” was a poor choice, so I backwrote that it was not his name but the name he used for the cab license.

I think that I learned the name of Bob the Ghoul out of character, that is, as player information; injecting Arnie’s name into this conversation gave me the ability to convey it to the reader and to Lauren without difficulty.

The White Wolf vampire game often devolves to a game of politicking, and perhaps that was why I moved in the direction of internal power struggles as their weakness.  Setting the vams against each other would prevent them from joining against attackers, or at least hinder their ability to do so.

Chapter 23, Slade 8

I’m not sure it was intentional, but I set up Torelle’s wife as the nameless nonentity who existed to decorate her lord’s home and mother his children.  I had not yet conceived the romantic plotlines for Filp and Slade, but these were going to emerge in contrast to the “norm” of the world, which Torelle’s family was establishing.

This was consistent with the personality I was envisioning in Torelle, who was entirely self-absorbed.  It occurs to me that it was very similar to a cavalier I played in a game once, a good person who did not really see the world beyond himself.  There were some justifications for this, given the difficulties of communication even from the next fief; but it was also Torelle’s nature to be focused on himself.

Slade’s assessment that Omigger would not care about what Torelle had accomplished was also correct, because Omigger was also absorbed in his own world, although in a different way than Torelle.  That is, Torelle thought that everyone ought to be interested in Torelle and what Torelle was doing; Omigger thought that everyone ought to be interested in the same kinds of things that interested Omigger, that were not about Omigger but were still narrowly connected to his own world.

Some of Omigger’s self-absorption is seen in his comments about using magic to learn about his friends; it’s not important enough to him to go to the trouble.

Omigger’s home is motte-and-bailey styled, a style I studied for the creation of the Vorgo world which comes up later.

Originally I had contrasted Omigger’s study against a “bookstore or library”, but while Americans tend to use the word “library” to refer to something institutional, a public library or a school or university library, other English speakers, including my Australian editor, would call the room where Omigger kept his books a “library”, and so the reference confused him.  I lost something, I think, because when I say “library” I have more images of school libraries than anything else, but when I say “public library” I lose those in favor of something different; but hopefully it clarified the meaning for non-American readers.

The kind of arcane magic suggested by fantasy games, at least, tends to suggest something very technical, difficult to learn and involving careful techniques and correct understanding.  This is not surprising when we realize that this type of magic was really invented at the same time science was invented, both as means of controlling the world around us, and only the latter actually worked.  Omigger does that kind of magic, so the books he reads are more like technical journals than like religious texts.

I’m starting to draw Slade into being the reluctant magician.  He’s very blue-collar in his thinking, and magic is too much like higher education for him.  He’s only looking at it at this point because Omigger assumes everyone would want to know this stuff if they could learn it, and so he hasn’t really been offered anything else to do.

The comments about the value of the book (paperweight, doorstop, insomnia cure) were culled from comments made by my own Professor Immendorf at Luther College concerning a commentary volume on the prophets we had to acquire for one of his classes.  I added tinder to the list, because it’s a joke made about traveling between universes that paper money becomes firestarter when you leave the world in which it was issued.

Chapter 24, Kondor 8

I had spent a lot of effort developing the Sherwood Forest setting for The First Book of Worlds, and it made a solid contrast against everything else currently in play in the book.  I thought at the time that I was going to have Kondor learn the ambush skills and medieval weapons, coming out something like a medieval special forces soldier.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see how to make multiple ambush scenarios interesting, and Kondor’s character pushed me in a different direction.

The technical data on guns and ammo matters in play, and players will know not only how much power is left on their weapons but how much damage that is likely to do.  Trying to work that into a character’s perspective was more of a challenge.

The earliest English with which I am familiar is that of Wycliff, still over a century in the future; but it is comprehensible, barely, to an intelligent modern ear if you take your time with it.  It might have been stretching things to suggest that Kondor and the merry men could understand each other with effort, but I wanted to include the language difficulty without belaboring it.

Interest in these “behind the writings” picked up a bit, so I’m still thinking they’re worth producing.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.

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#22: Getting Into Characters

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #22, on the subject of Getting Into Characters.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also two similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts, the first entitled #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters) and Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve); this picks up from there.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.

Chapter 13, Kondor 5

The tales I heard of Richard Lutz, my primary model for Kondor, said that he had been an army medic, and I wanted to follow that and expand on it by giving him high-tech medical training.  I did not know where it would take me, but I did know that this was something neither Slade nor Lauren would pursue, and that by giving them different skills I would both create different story options for their futures and give them reason to need each other if I brought them together.

It was around this point that I realized I was going to have to work to bring them together, and I began thinking about how the story was going to end.  Before now they had been seen as three separate characters in separate story arcs that might involve each other at some point, but now I realized that as a novel it had to work toward a “gather”, a time when they would work together.  I also started thinking in terms of what they would do and how they would do it, so that I could introduce them to skills they would need to learn now and use then.

My black friend had a younger sister named Zakiya.  I wanted Kondor to think about his family, for reasons similar to why Lauren was doing so, and I needed names for some of the family members because he would think of them that way.  I wanted them to be credible, to some degree ethnic but not overly so.  Zakiya was a name I had heard before, and didn’t seem like it was one of those made-up-recently names, and I’d heard Whitney as a man’s name before it was a girl’s name, and Ty as popular in the generation before mine, and of course Mary is fairly universal in the English-speaking world.  They were used as labels to give some concept of family.

I also realized that I couldn’t keep Kondor on this repetitive routine for long enough for him to learn everything he would need to know in medicine, so I needed to give him a high-tech sourcebook.  “Hexadecimal” is a high-tech word, and it’s actually rather probable that other societies would develop computer code in that form (although it would be different code), so I created databooks.  I’ll note that I-Pads did not yet exist.

There is a casual mention of exercise and weapons practice, because I wanted a foundation for the suggestion that he was getting better at these things.

Chapter 14, Hastings 5

Jackson following Lauren and Lauren escaping by levitating to the roof in a blind alley came from my game.  When I think back, I can remember being very nervous about what was going to happen and whether I was going to be able to escape.

The pyrogenesis sequence is also based on what my character did in-game.

The throwaway where she calls herself by her maiden name was a flash of inspiration.  I knew that mothers often called their children by first-and-last name when chiding, and that mothers of married daughters sometimes reverted to the maiden names in such situations, and that saying “I’m married now” was a way of responding that “I’m all grown up.”  But we do sometimes hear our parents’ voices chiding us when we do something for which they chided us in the past, and that seemed a good moment to do that, and bring some feeling of Lauren as a person into the mix.

There is a “skill improvement” system in Multiverser which says if you want to get better at something you either practice it over a period of months or you find a way to do something new with it–a “new use” that shows you’ve learned something by doing something different with it.  In-game I wanted to get good at this fast, and so I tried to think of creative ways to do different things with it.  I wanted those who knew the game, too, to recognize that Lauren was improving her ability by expanding what she had done.

The battle with the beast is another event from play.  I never knew what the beast was, although I guessed in retrospect that it was a kind of werewolf that was more vicious than those I would later meet.

Raiden was mostly Ed’s invention–a librarian who found pages from an ancient book and fled for his life.  I added the Internet connection to his research, which both updated the story (we played in the early nineties) and explained how his discovery became known.

Raiden’s perception that she was wearing armor was supposed to show that he understood combat and was highly observant.

Gavin’s church is modeled largely on Dianetics, and particularly the idea that you join to make money.

One of my pre-publication readers commented that he really hated Lauren because everything always worked for her, up until the moment she flash-froze the kitchen.  After that he warmed to her.

Chapter 15, Slade 5

I felt as if I were in familiar territory with the wishes, having run a great number of Dungeons & Dragons™ games in which characters were offered wishes.  To some degree, Slade benefits from my experience in this.

The idea of being able to delay the wishes long enough to give them thought probably owes something to Darby O’Gil and the Little People, where he uses the first wish to get a guarantee on the other two.  If you are offered wishes by a being that has a life of its own, it probably is not interested in waiting for you to make them.

One of the traps into which wishers often fall is trying to combine several wishes into one.  If you cannot make the wish without including a conjunction, you probably have made more than one wish.  On the other hand, what Slade did was to find a way to wish in a single wish for everything that was done for someone else who needed three wishes to get it all, simply by wishing for all of what he got.

I knew when Slade wished for the alliance that at some point in the future I would use it as a plot device to launch another adventure; I did not know either that it would involve any of the other characters, or when or what it would be.

Chapter 16, Kondor 6

Kondor’s attitude about pirates was going to be my ticket to removing him from this world, so a pirate encounter at this point gave me the “shotgun over the mantel” I was going to need.

One point that often distinguishes different types of players is whether they manage to carry food and water.  Kondor is the prepared type who does; the other two always think they ought to have thought of that.  But it also meant that I needed to mention restocking his supplies from time to time, and New Haven, an agricultural world in a future tech society, seemed the right place for it.

The natives of Emerald were a problem for me when I created the world originally.  In the version that was an early gunpowder sailing vessel, it made sense for them to be human cannibals and did not make sense for them to be semi-sentient monsters, because the world could easily contain uncivilized tribes that could not be reached by civilization.  In the space version, though, the idea of humans or creatures as intelligent as humans being uncivilized cannibals would not work easily, as players would insist on finding ways to bring civilization to them, and it was likely that the governments and corporate interests would want to do this.  Thus I had to find a way to sell a pre-intelligent creature that used simple tools and weapons and attacked ships, that could not easily be civilized.

Chapter 17, Hastings 6

The “form and balance” training I used for Lauren was Ed’s idea for my game, but he did it on park equipment.  I thought it better to do on the gunnels of a rowboat, partly because my scouting days had made me intimately familiar with the vagaries of balancing a boat while standing, and partly because tossing her in the water would be both safer and more colorful.  I used the park equipment later.

It is probably difficult, at least in one generation, to present a fictional martial arts training program without conjuring comparisons to The Karate Kid.  I do not know whether I succeeded, but the form-and-balance training seemed to me to be rather different from the strength and response training of the movie.

In the geek world, oriental martial arts weapons are popular, but the names are so heavily anglicized that it is sometimes difficult to recognize the same words spoken by native speakers.  I have heard someone pronounce the name “kau sin ke” in what might be an original language pronunciation, but I doubt I could now duplicate it.

My editor was bothered by the open-ended nature of “You will know what you owe me when the time comes.”  I can see that.  Of course, I knew that Raiden knew about the vampires, and was training people to fight them, but he wasn’t going to speak of them to someone who did not know.

The discussion of the difficulties of having a regular eating schedule attached to a forty-eight hour wake/sleep cycle was longer in the original draft, and the editor did not like it.  I agreed and shortened it, but it was the kind of thing Lauren would have thought about more.  I’m not sure I have a solution for it, but I’m no longer young enough that I could do a schedule like that.

Chapter 18, Slade 6

The second sentence of this chapter was added after my editor questioned why Slade would bother to keep the empty bottle.  I myself am something of a pack rat, saving mementos which clutter my world, so it made perfect sense to me that having released a djinni from a bottle someone would want to keep the bottle, but apparently some people need that explained.

My Australian editor had never heard of Six Flags, which runs amusement parks in many areas of the United States; but it did not seem important to me.  I could have said the Clementon Park roller coasters and people would have gotten the concept without knowing that there is such a park.

The specific reactions of the four companions to the roller-coaster-like trip at high speed to the surface were carefully considered.  For Slade, of course, it was familiar, a combination between amusement park ride and hot rod racing.  Torelle was relatively young, healthy, and fit, and practiced in courage, so it would have made him feel a bit queasy but not so much as Omigger, who is the older bookworm who would almost certainly have lost his stomach contents on such a trip.  As to Filp, he is usually frightened of anything that seems dangerous, and just as when he faced the efriit so now again he is curled up in a ball on the floor.

Filp is thus torn between his covetous desire to see his own wealth and his fear of traveling by means of djinni transport, and agrees to postpone the next part of the journey for a short time.

The alliteration of Torelle-tower, Omigger-enclave, and Filp-fortune was intentional, but not pre-considered.  That is, the words were chosen to fit names which had been established; the characters were not named for those words.

There has been less interest in these “behind the writings” pages than there was originally, but for the moment I’m still thinking they’re worth producing, so we’ll see how things go with this one.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.

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#20: Becoming Novel

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #20, on the subject of The Novel Moves Forward.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There was also a previous mark Joseph “young” web log post entitled #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone, which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters; this picks up from there.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that previous post, which I will not repeat here other than to say that these were the first chapters I wrote directly for use as a novel, not as the script of a comic book.

Chapter 7, Kondor 3

This was the first chapter I wrote directly for use as a novel, not as the script of a comic book.

Having just come off a Slade chapter, I let Kondor make an out-of-place cultural reference to his medical coverage.  The characters were still coalescing in my mind, and this seemed an appropriate comment under the circumstances.

It is one of the questions Multiverser raises sometimes for its players:  how much can you change and still be human, and does that matter?  I wanted to start exploring it here, but I didn’t want to go too far with it.  An eye is a small thing, and it would be helpful in future adventures, but I wanted Kondor to think about the long-term consequences of replacing your body parts with machine parts.

Kondor’s reference concerning what he would see is of course recalling Geordi LaForge of Star Trek:  The Next Generation, whose views of the world are sometimes given to us as distorted multicolored visions.  Kondor’s artificial vision isn’t like that at all, but he could not at this point know what to expect and he would have been familiar with that character, and possibly some others.  Geordi is not a cyborg, of course; it’s a mix of concerns from different directions.

I realized even as I wrote the description of the vision control panel that it was going to be difficult to convey the image I had of five half-centimeter diameter wheels with roughened edges jutting perpendicular from his forearm that he would adjust with the fingertips of his opposite hand.  I’d seen them on fine tuners on a lot of equipment, but the VCR was the last I’d seen so I went with that.

I was beginning to develop Kondor’s “reverse prejudice” of favoring blacks over whites.  I began to see that there was a character development angle in this that I was going to have to address eventually, and so I should keep it in place.

Again we have the “worlds away” phrase this time coupled with “in another life”, both figurative phrases that Kondor means quite literally but knows he can say without much danger of anyone taking him literally.

I had always intended for Kondor to stay with the ship, because the world as I created it really doesn’t go much deeper than the dock areas; but I needed to find a way to induce him to do so, so I had him visit the city.

Chapter 8, Hastings 3

There are, I think, two kinds of cliffhangers–those which an author creates because he knows what he wants his character to do, and those which he creates because he does not know.  This was the former type:  I wanted to introduce the idea that Lauren had this telekinetic skill, and having her use it to save Bill was the simplest way to do so.  In a sense it makes Bill’s rescue an incidental–which really it is, something Lauren had to do to show the reader she could.

That is, Chekov’s gun over the mantel rule tells us two things.  One is what he intends, that if you introduce a detail people are likely to notice, you must use it later in the story.  The other, though, is that if you are going to use something later in the story, you must introduce it early when it is not so important.

In that sense, it would have been better for Lauren to use her telekinesis for something simple, like retrieving her coffee mug.  However, this cliffhanger was supposed to be the end of a comic book episode, and so to some degree the serious danger Bill faces is an incidental of plot, driving the story forward, and not a major plot point.  Bill never plays any significant role after this; I pretty much forgot him.

I should mention that Bill is many people, but that his name comes from one of my players whom we lovingly called The Friendly Giant, and the soft-spoken personality we barely see is also his.

The movie reference is Star Wars V:  The Empire Strikes Back, when Yoda suggests that telekinetically lifting a space ship is not harder than telekinetically lifting a pebble.

This is the first time Lauren attempts to make it appear that she has done something difficult but ordinary when she has done something paranormal.

My editor complained that it was foolish to say that Lauren was tired after work, but I could not figure out another way to transition to the fact that she was not going to go to bed because of her forty-eight hour schedule.

I should mention that that editor, Steve Darlington (whom I met online through his position as editor of Places to Go, People to Be), contributed greatly to this work.  He sent easily over a thousand comments which I addressed in the rewrite, most of which I have by now lost and forgotten.  That I mostly remember those points on which there was tension or disagreement is quite reasonable, since they were the ones that I did not simply fix but actually thought about, but it reflects unfairly poorly on him, as most of what he said was spot on and addressed directly.

The description of focusing faith through objects fits a lot of approaches to the idea without being overly committed to any one of them.  It fits the Multiverser concept of supernatural magic working by expectation, but also other views of the matter.

I sometimes joke about “offensive driving” as the counter to “defensive driving”, and I found a place for the joke here, but did not expect laughter.

The idea of using the words of scripture as the focus of faith was something my character developed in-game.  I used Koine Greek from the Greek New Testament, but I saw several pitfalls to doing so with Lauren.  It would be difficult to deal with the fonts.  I would have to translate every time for readers to understand what the words meant.  I would be limited to the New Testament unless I acquired a copy of the Septuagint and explained how Lauren got one.  So I stayed with English for her.

The statement “Lord I believe.  Help my unbelief” is the first time Lauren uses scripture in the way she is thinking of using it–a certain irony, since she does what she wants to have the faith to do.

Chapter 9, Slade 3

When I started this chapter, I envisioned a long dungeon crawl with many fights with monsters in the dark.  As it developed, I realized that this did not make all that interesting a story–or at least, I lacked the skills to make it so–and I needed to truncate it and get to the goal.

Torelle starts showing a keen intellect, something from which Slade will learn even though he does not yet realize it.

The idea that Slade does not recognize, going this direction, what he originally saw from the other is one that I learned in Scouts, periodically to look behind you on the trail so that if you return this way you will know the look of the land in the opposite direction.  Since Slade did not do that, he does not know the look of the tunnels going the opposite way.

I had mentioned the chimney in passing on Slade’s exit, and realized they would have to pass through it on the return, but also that I would have to explain why they had to pass through it.  That’s when I invented the collapsed corridor.

I never explained how Omigger knew the time.  I later did the same with Shella (in For Better or Verse, which if I live so long and support comes I expect will eventually appear on this site), and have always left it that it’s something wizards can do.

Chapter 10, Kondor 4

I faced an odd problem in describing a futuristic city:  I knew that most predictions of what the world would be like in the future were wrong, partly because they could not predict the right technological advances, but partly because they could not predict the aesthetics of their descendants.  Thus I had to give the feeling that this was a futuristic world without decaying to the tropes of the genre.  Here I was saved by the fact that this was one of the first stories I was not writing for a comic, so I could describe much of it in the negative, telling the reader what it was not like.

There are half a dozen ports of all on “this side of the loop” before returning to the home port in Sardic, but I had managed to duck describing them all by having Kondor confined to medical for the duration.  It was probably an unreasonably long confinement, but it would not have felt so to the reader who was not counting the days and the ports.  On the other hand, Kondor needed to make what felt like an informed decision to stay with the ship, and I needed to expand both his military and his medical training to reach some of the vision for this character.  A stop in Sardic and the obtaining of the medical texts there would move me in that direction.

I’m reaching back further.  The name “Sardic” in the novel comes from the fact that for several years it had been the name used for the home port of the Mary Piper in the game world, published in 1997.  That name in turn came from the name “Sardis”, which besides being an ancient city in Turkey was a small town in Mississippi where my father’s family lived, home of Starflight Luggage, if I have my story straight.

It was at this point that I decided Kondor would be teetotal–not exactly so, but as a general principle.  In this he is more like me, and for one of the reasons I give, that I don’t like anything to mess with my ability to think.  Thus he stays away from alcoholic beverages, starting here, the first time it mattered.

Kondor’s commitment to telling the truth because it was usually easier also began here.

I found the notion of explaining to the aliens that you were abducted by aliens humorous.

Chapter 11, Hastings 4

I had recently read that women have a preference for purple clothes, but men are more attracted to women wearing red.  I decided that this might be something Lauren would know, and so put her in red robes.  I always liked red with dark blue best, but red with gold was a close second, and gold trim on a red robe sounded like a good wizardly choice.

I’ve wanted to see The Pit built ever since I designed it in my mind.  The idea of a maze under a floor with translucent Plexiglas in places and red light below, enhanced by red spotlights in a random on/off pattern reflecting off white walls to create a feeling of fire (dimmer amber and blue lights might be needed to make the effect realistic, but I didn’t think of that then), mixed with the grill smell of flame grilled meats that some steak places capture along with a high dark ceiling to give the feeling of being at the bottom of an oubliette or similar chasm just has a fascinating atmosphere in my mind, and I have long wondered whether it would work in application.

The Goth movement was still around when I wrote.  People really did wear pale foundation and dark lipstick and eyeliner.  A Goth club would be a perfect place for undead to hide, and at the same time an unwary Goth might easily be fooled into believing that the undead were others of his ideology.

Lauren’s preference in wine is mine.  I never found any alcoholic beverage whose taste I could tolerate until friends served a Martini & Rossi Asti Spumanti at a New Year’s party.  I was pleasantly surprised, although I have since been less impressed by it.  It is what I buy when I must choose a wine for a celebratory toast.

The line about wine being good for the stomach is of course remembered from I Timothy, and would be something Bible student Lauren would recall.

The idea of an ancient book that Gavin and other vampires wanted was from Ed’s game.  I don’t recall the name of the book, but thought Book of Journeys had a good ring to it.  Most of the pieces of that story thread came from our interactions in play, although I added some details.  I don’t know that it ever mattered to me whether it was actually written by Cain, son of Adam and Eve, or by someone who attributed it to him; it only mattered that it was his name on it and the vampires believed it was his.  On the other hand, I believe it is part of the World of Darkness vampire mythology that Cain was the first vampire.

Having Jackson follow Lauren was again part of the cliffhanger technique to keep people reading.

Chapter 12, Slade 4

I wanted to put Slade into combat, to begin making him a warrior.  I also wanted him to use a bit of magic, the magic of his battle cry that calls on the gods.  At the same time, I needed to get the djinni released, and I figured the entire fight was about maneuvering Slade to the place where he could do that.

Having the match flare seemed a nice touch, given that he was battling a creature of elemental fire.

It was a weak point in my mind that Slade chose these particular bottles.  My reasoning was that this was the direction Omigger appeared to be going from the guidance of his spell, and when he went this way the efriit tried to stop him, so there was some reason to think this was where the djinni bottle was.  On the other hand, I didn’t like to make Slade that sharp that he would draw a conclusion I was not certain would be obvious to the reader, so I wasn’t really comfortable with this.  I did have him pull several bottles before finding the right one, as I figured he didn’t know how to tell what bottle it was.

It’s a simple probabilities trick that every time Slade pulls a stopper his odds of getting the right one rises.  Given twenty bottles, the chance that the first one is right is only one in twenty, 5%; but the chance that the second is right is one in nineteen, about 5 1/4%, and by the time he’s gotten to the sixth bottle he’s looking at one in fifteen, 6 2/3%.  Seen in the broader view, though, if he starts with twenty bottles and opens six, not including the fact that he opens them in sequence, there’s a 30% chance that the right bottle is one of those.  So I figured that was a good enough chance that a generally lucky guy could hit it when needed.

There was interest in the first “behind the writings” page, and if it appears again for this one I’ll produce another after a few more pages of the novel have been published to the web site.  (The problem of coming up with unique images for each such post, so that PInterest will accept the new page as a new image, will continue to get more challenging, but so far I’ve managed.)  Feedback is always welcome, of course.

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#18: A Novel Comic Milestone

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #18, on the subject of A Novel Comic Milestone.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the first few chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.


From time to time I pick up my old books and read them again.  I don’t think this is conceit.  For one thing, I pick up and reread books by quite a few authors–Tolkien’s trilogy, Moon’s Paksenarrion series, the Teddy London Books by Henderson, anything by C. S. Lewis, and many books that are of no particular interest but that someone gave them to me and I have them here.  For another, writing an ongoing series requires that I maintain continuity, and thus that I remember the histories of my characters, including the negatives.  It is relatively easy to remember all the things they have done; it is much more difficult to remember the things they could not do, such as that Bob Slade was never a Boy Scout.  So I read them.

Why that matters is that when I read them, I remember things few others would know.  That is, I remember what I was thinking when I wrote them, and why I wrote what I did, and what I changed and what it was originally.  I remember conversations with editors, conversations with friends, discussions, decisions, ideas.  Perhaps they are worthless; but perhaps someone might be interested in how the writing process developed over time.  That seemed worth sharing, and so periodically, if traffic to these pages shows interest (I get specific page traffic reports on the blog; for the web site otherwise I only get total traffic and have to guess at what’s popular by the e-mail and comments) I’ll keep it going.

Originally, Ed Frost, briefly President of Valdron Inc, wanted to launch a Multiverser comic book.  It fell to me to write the stories, which were originally sketched in a panel-by-panel format.  The plan was that the first issue would introduce Kondor and Lauren, then the second issue would continue Lauren and introduce Slade, and then the third issue would continue Slade and Kondor, and from there we would rotate the stories so that each issue contained stories from two characters, each character vanishing every third issue.  For better or worse, after I had written six installments, what became the first six chapters, the artists said it could not be done without significantly more staff, and the comic was dropped.  I later picked up the stories and began restructuring them into novel form.  That makes these first six chapters something different from the rest, because while they were being written this was envisioned as the beginning of a comic book series running three separate characters, and with the seventh chapter it was being re-thought as a unified novel.

One aspect of the original comic book plan was that each section had to end on something like a cliffhanger; that is, because it would be sold serialized, you had to want to read the next part of the story so you would buy the next comic to see what happened.  Thus there is a fair amount of action in the early chapters to create that kind of tension.  Apart from that, though, I had long ago observed, reading Lord of the Rings and Dune, that having stories set on multiple stages with unanswered questions in each pushed the reader forward, wanting to know what would happen next to Frodo or Paul Atriedes, and so I tended to retain that concept of ending chapters at a point at which the reader wants to know what happens next, and then jumping to a different character.  Had I stuck with the comic book concept, of course, it would have been possible to follow the chapters of one specific character; it is not impossible to do so, and some who have read the book and then returned to it have followed one particular character through all his (usually Slade’s) chapters, but since they eventually come together it becomes necessary to read the intervening chapters to know what the character does between his own story entries.  The character by which each chapter is identified is in essence the viewpoint character, the one whose perceptions, thoughts, and feelings give us the events.

Chapter 1, Kondor 1

My recollection is that Jim Denaxas gave me the Kondor name, although I am uncertain of that.  I wanted a name that would convey strength; this character was from the beginning envisioned as what might be called disciplined, having a structured life and approach to reality and a strong moral core.

At the time I started writing this, all Multiverser player characters started in NagaWorld, which was a world created by E. R. “Ed” Jones.  It is a world with many secrets, and I did not wish to reveal them in the novels, but I did not at that point wish to suggest that these characters had not been to the one world which, in my mind at the time, all characters knew.  (That changed in the early years of play, first because I did not wish to post the secrets about NagaWorld to online sources, then later because we learned that for the purpose of demo games it was better to begin players in worlds that did not have the potential for long-term play.)  Thus all three characters make allusions to different parts of NagaWorld.  For Kondor, it is suggested that he began in or near the Glass City, and was killed by one of the “giant robot spiders” that patrol its streets.  The first paragraph briefly references that fight, and the story continues from there.

Kondor draws largely from a character renamed Peter Adams in the game books, originated by Richard Lutz, whom I never met nor saw.  The concept that he was military arose partly from the fact that Ed Jones had been military and had playtested the earliest Multiverser games with military players on bases around the world, including Lutz.  It was fairly standard in those days that player characters took their standard duffel bags, and were killed by some army experiment, so Kondor’s start recalls that.

The Mary Piper was a world I had created for Multiverser:  The First Book of Worlds (which also contains NagaWorld).  It had in some ways been a demonstration of a principle, that you could use the same ideas to create very different worlds by changing setting or genre elements.  In this case, the world book presented side-by-side two trading vessels, one in a post-medieval early gunpowder world, the other as an interstellar spaceship.  I wanted Kondor to start on the spaceship, because I wanted one of my three stories to begin in a science fiction setting, and this was a setting I had already designed and could write fairly easily.

I made First Officer Jamison black because it gave me an easy way to describe Kondor:  with twenty-seven crewmen there was a reasonable chance that one of them would look generally like him, and given that I wanted Kondor to convey an air of discipline, making it the first officer gave me that.  Jamison has been black in every game version I have run since, although prior to that it was never mentioned.

When I run the space version (called Mary Piper Beta) it is always supposed to be a surprise to the player character that he is on a spaceship.  I wanted to capture that, too.

Chapter 2, Hastings 1

I created Lauren Hastings so I could tell some of the stories from the games in which I was a player.  Because in that sense she would be me, I wanted to make her different, although I long wondered whether I made her a woman because she was so like me and I needed her to be different, or whether I made her so like me because she was a woman and I needed that point of contact.

Her first world (after NagaWorld) was also mine, except that when Ed Jones ran me in this vampire-filled world (a variant of the World of Darkness published by White Wolf) it was set in Chicago.  I have never been a city boy, and do not know my way around even those cities I have visited; but my real-life exposure to Chicago amounted to having ridden in my father’s car a few miles along the beltway as boy and hearing some years after that that they built the Sears Tower, which gave it the tallest building in the world at that time taking the title away from New York City.  I moved my character to Philadelphia because I had been at that point living in its New Jersey suburbs for a while and knew I could make at least a few real geographical references with accuracy.

The blast mentioned was also the way my character left Nagaworld, trying to create a kau sin ke that was a psionic device and getting caught in the explosion that came from my botch.  I actually had some problems at this point, because I was giving Lauren the backstory of having stayed at Umak Tek, the city that “I” built in Nagaworld, and conducting at least that one of the same experiments I had conducted, but was not making her the architect of the city, so I was always a bit uncertain exactly what she actually did while there, other than learn a lot from what I had left behind.

My wife’s comments on the first draft included that she did not find Lauren credible because a young mother who had been separated from her children would have thought about them more.  I integrated a lot more of that before it went to the editor, but I do not now remember which comments were part of the original effort to define her and which were added later.

I had a kau sin ke, a gift from my players for a game prop, but a real weapon nonetheless.  Like Lauren, I played with it a bit, but never had any training; still, I could flick the end out threateningly and flip it back to my hand, spin it in a figure eight in front of me, and snap it like a whip without hurting myself; and I had a character in another game, a D&D variant, who was expert in it, so I’d spent some time thinking about how it could be used.

Gavin and Jackson were very much Ed’s inventions originally; I’m not certain whether I even changed their names.  I had come to realize that Ed not only plagiarized most of what he used, he encouraged the practice for gaming, so I was always careful about what I took from his games–not because I was worried about stealing from him but because I was worried that I would take something he had stolen from someone else.  However, he expressed confidence that Gavin was an original of his, and Jackson was never developed beyond sidekick muscle, so they were safe choices.

I had a bit of trouble when Lauren says she is not a scientist.  I had played that scene, and said that I was an alchemist, by which I meant that I had dabbled in the chemistry of another world to create some of the materials I was using (which Lauren also uses, but never claims to have created herself).  Yet the “Alchemist” title was to some degree associated with that character, and I did not want to connect it to her.  My eldest had become “the Psientist”, but I realized that were she to use that word it would not sound to the ear different from “scientist” and it would be foolish to suppose Gavin to have heard something different.  Thus I fell back on “psionicist” as the best available choice.  Since most of Lauren’s powers to that point were psionic, it fit.

The Pit was inspired by a place Ed presented called the Succubus Club, but I changed it.  For one thing, I wasn’t certain he hadn’t lifted that from some other source.  For another, it was too blatant.  There are a lot of restaurants that use the word “pit” in their names, and I thought that one called simply “The Pit” would be able to slip under the radar as a hellish reference most would take as simply a name for a place that flame-grilled steaks and chops.

Father Matthew James was taken from a player character belonging to one of Ed’s players, who had been playing as a human vampire hunter in that universe for quite a while and, along with the other player character, was running scared.  Ed injected my character into their game to give them a boost, someone to help them and get them moving in a positive direction instead of playing defense.  I changed the name and am not certain I remember the original.  He was a priest, though, and many of the details here are from that character.  The mission, too, was part of his background, but it had a different name.  I gave the priest two Bible names, partly because I knew I could remember them.

I liked Saint George as the name of the mission; my editor Steve Darlington did not, saying that it was rather militant (George was a knight and dragon slayer, according to the legends).  However, his criticism only strengthened my resolve, and I addressed it by having Lauren recognize the peculiarity of the name.

I knew that Lauren in her future was going to visit this world in its past, but although I made Jackson wary I had not yet decided she was going to have encountered him in that past.

When I picked the date for the paper, it was for me the near-term future.  As problems delayed events it loomed closer, and I worried that I should push it back; but the eclipse–well, that should be mentioned when it arises.

My Australian editor did not know the names of the people I placed in significant positions in the United States, and I had to tweak some of the headlines, too, to make them a bit more depraved.  His rational tolerance saw no problems with pagan religions having more visibility and he had never heard of Ashtoreth.  I swithered on the subject of how to get the impact I wanted.

Chapter 3, Slade 1

I wanted a middle name for Robert Slade, and it was again Jim Denaxas who suggested “Elvis”.  He said to trust him.  The name has never mattered yet, but I always remember that he said it would be useful.  It does to some degree give him a rough date–obviously his mother was an Elvis fan.

From the beginning, Slade was very much a cross between the characters of Ed Jones and Chris Jones.  He was tall and lanky, like Chris, and was never entirely serious about anything; but the Nordic religion and the justification for it came from Ed’s character.  Both of them are dark-haired, but I wanted Slade to be blonde partly for contrast against the other characters (I always envisioned Lauren as a brunette) and partly because a blonde Norse warrior is more appropriate.  Yet I wanted him to be a bit awkward and humorous.  Since this was originally intended as a comic, I suppose that some of the influence came from DC Comic’s Super-Elastic Plastic Man, a superhero who seemed to joke his way through his adventures.  I wanted Slade’s antics to bring smiles to faces, and so set a different tone from the other two.  It seems to have worked–he is usually the one readers mention liking most.

I had started Kondor in a science fiction setting that was space-based, and Lauren in a modern horror setting (although not so much a horror story), and since part of the point was to show that Multiverser could handle all kinds of worlds I wanted something on the swords-and-sorcery medieval fantasy line for Slade.  I thus went for a D&D style dungeon crawl, and rather than worry about how I would induce Bob to go on such a quest, I simply dropped him in the dungeon and gave him the task of finding his way out.

A lot more of Bob’s story was for the eye, and I had more trouble converting it to text than the others.  Right up front, I had envisioned mostly black panels with partial illumination when the torch lit, but only sketchy images of the attacking beast.  I thought of him as less disciplined than Kondor, less educated than Lauren, definitely blue collar, working in an auto repair shop of some sort.  This also gave him tools, which I wanted to have because it would let me do some of the Gamma World game stuff about using tools as weapons.

His reference to pirating parts places him at what is perceived in NagaWorld as some kind of industrial complex spanning the northern horizon but is known to be a fully automated battlefield in which machines fight each other.  This meant that my three characters were all in the same world, but far enough from each other that there was no chance they would have encountered each other prior to this.

I wanted to pepper his speech with a lot of references both Norse and modern cultural, and started immediately, with the name of Loki and the Wizard of Oz quote about fire for the scarecrow.

I have never used a self-lighting blowtorch, but I would think they exist.  I can see easily enough how to make one.

I’ll credit Telly Savalas with the stick match idea.  I’d read about different ways people attempt to quit smoking based on different stimuli causing them to smoke, and Kojak’s lollipops are a replacement therapy for the constant hand-to-mouth contact smoking offers.  I went with stick matches, because a lot of boy scouts carry a match in their mouth around camp just to have it convenient (I think I may have done so at one time).

The Cerebus-model three-headed dog or wolf is a popular dungeon game monster, and it let me bring in the gaming reference and set the tone of a monster-filled tunnel complex.

Ed and I both flipped invisible coins; there’s an article entitled Game Ideas Unlimited:  Invisible Coins that talks about them.  Thus I borrowed the coin flipping from Ed, but made it real and gave it power by incorporating the prayer to the fates.

I think the original function of the room was to give Slade a magic torch, so that the farce of the perpetual flashlight would not become a problem.  However, by the time I was writing this I realized two things–one, that dungeon crawls and brief combats were not all that interesting, and two, that if I were going to make this story interesting I was going to have to turn something into a quest and add some characters.  Thus rather early realized that he was going to emerge to discover his three future companions; and I also knew that they would need a reason to return that would include bringing Slade with them.  The story of the djinni in the bottle began to take form, and I listed “bottles” among the junk.

My imagery of the tunnels is formed probably from three sources, one the caves of the Smokey Mountains I visited on family vacations as a child, the second years of running D&D games, and the third some glimpses of eighteenth and nineteenth century forts, particularly Fort Mott which guarded the mouth of the Delaware River and had a tunnel leading under the river to a companion fort on the other shore.  That tunnel has never been open for my exploration, but it can be seen from the New Jersey side.

My three companions were designed as typical fantasy characters, the fighter, wizard, and thief, and were fleshed out significantly only later.

Chapter 4, Kondor 2

Again, I never had given any thought to the race or color of any member of the Mary Piper crew until I had Kondor aboard.  I was at that time sharing the draft with a fan who happened to be black, who felt that color would be a natural connection for a black man out of place, and would make him feel more comfortable (and after all, if there were no non-white humans in this universe, would they not wonder what he was?).  So I made Walters black to create a point of connection, that Kondor related well to one of his crewmates.

Looking back, this may have been the beginning of Kondor’s incipient racism.  I had not planned it, but it emerged from this.

The sound of the impacts of kinetic blaster fire was my guess at what a weapon would do that hit you with a ball of force; I thus envisioned the invisible missiles as golf-ball sized spheres of forcefield, and assumed that they would bounce off walls with a thud.  This had the advantage that they would be likely to do serious blunt trauma to living targets but unlikely to put holes in spaceship walls.  The M-16 was more problematic, but here I just assumed that the walls had a built-in resilience that would deflect bullets if they were not too direct.

It is rare in Multiverser for characters to receive crippling injuries, but it happens.  Ed Jones’ character is noted for having a robotic arm.  I wanted Kondor to have some kind of mechanical prosthetic, and this seemed the best way and the best place to get it.  More on that when we get there.

Chapter 5, Hastings 2

I avoided using the name “plastic steel” for the polymer-like material of which many of Lauren’s things are made, partly because it struck me as cliché despite the fact that it’s the term I use for that material in play.  Her armor is again like the armor my character made for himself.

Again there was originally a visual expected here, of Lauren sitting in the chair and gradually slouching away into a doze; but that would not work quite so well in text, and since my wife had suggested giving more attention to missing her family I put some of that here on the rewrite.

My character spent a long time in NagaWorld getting in shape and working on acrobatics, and I wanted to introduce that in Lauren early so it would not be a surprise later.  She’s not really combat-trained at this point, but has been working with jumps and flips and other acrobatics and gymnastics moves as well as with what she might do with the weapon.

In the game, the priest did a number of things which I knew priests would never do–put holy water in a drinking glass and communion wafers in a sandwich, for example.  I wanted to create a similar but credible layer of defense.  I began with the assumption that vampires had to be invited onto holy ground, and Father James’ house was a church rectory and therefore consecrated.  His invitation is carefully worded to invite Lauren inside but not to invite a vampire.

The mirrored tiles on the walls were a later addition.  In the original first draft Lauren was never described until Joe Kondor saw her in chapter 105 (I had, of course, assumed initially that there would be pictures of her in the comic, so a description for the artists would be separate), and when I described what he saw my wife had her immersion snapped because she had always envisioned Lauren as a blonde.  I nearly always envision my female characters as brunettes, but I’d never said so; thus I had to find a way to get her description in earlier in the story, and this gave me the opportunity to do so.  It also helped that vampires are said to have no reflection, and therefore a mirrored front hall would tend to reveal trouble while looking stylish.

Whenever I have one character explain something to another, I always remember Diana Rigg’s Lady Holiday saying to Miss Piggy, “It’s plot exposition, it has to go somewhere.”  Even though it makes perfect sense for Father James to explain the world to Lauren, I tried to make things happen around it that so it wouldn’t be all talk.  Had it been a comic, these would have been done in flashback panels; but dialogue doesn’t work that way.

Jake Williams was also the translation of another player’s character to the book, again with the character name changed.

The backstory in the game had the parishioner leaving his money to Father James and the priest retiring; I recognized immediately that that was entirely unlike anything that was likely to happen in the Roman Catholic Church, and so changed it to a trust fund with the priest as named trustee.  That’s still a bit iffy, but I think that the church might allow something like that.  (I’m a bit touchy about stories that have clergy do things inconsistent with their own faith.  Part of that stems from the movie From Dusk Till Dawn, in which a lapsed Baptist pastor creates holy water to use against vampires–a deal breaker for me, because holy water is a sacramental concept used mostly by Catholics and similar “high church” denominations, and does not exist at all in the non-sacramental Baptist tradition.  I also seem to recall a mystery in which the detective recognized that a supposed minister was a fraud because the appointments in his office were inconsistent with his claimed denomination, and if you want to use details like that you have to get them right when they don’t matter.)

The explanation of her telepathic abilities was needed because the editor didn’t understand how it worked when I tossed it in unexplained.  It is pretty much the standard rule for Multiverser, but I’m also fairly sure it was the standard rule for the psionics in the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ psionics rules, so it seemed natural to me.

The reference to her sleep schedule in NagaWorld is because one of the “alien” aspects of that world is the forty-hour day, twenty of daylight and twenty of moonlight.  Players struggle to adjust to it in some way, and the longer a character is in that world the more likely it is that he will fall into some kind of long-day sleep schedule.  Twenty-seven awake and thirteen asleep seems to be plausible, and then to stretch it an extra four hours somewhere would not be that difficult if you were already accustomed to that kind of schedule.

Again we have a cliffhanger ending that was supposed to push the reader toward the next issue.

Chapter 6, Slade 2

It was a thought I had pretty much at this moment, that in our world a person raises his hands to show that he is unarmed and not going to attack, but that if a wizard would attack by raising his hands and releasing energy from them in such a world that move would be seen as aggressive.  Thus I had Torelle warn Slade not to raise his hands.

Omigger’s reaction to the phrase “auto mechanic” was perhaps the beginning of my games with Slade’s use of modern references his companions would not understand; this one, though, was innocent–it did not occur to him that they would not know.  On the other hand, it probably inspired his attitude of using modern references specifically because his friends would not understand them and he would find them humorous in the context.  He is essentially telling jokes only he would get, but the reader also gets them (I hope).

My image of Torelle at this point was tall, handsome, probably similar to Slade but not quite as tall and more evenly built.  He has something of a commanding voice, not quite Brian Blessed but strong and confident and proper–oh, and an American accent.

Omigger always has a refined British accent in my mind.  The name is itself a British joke.  Some years before we saw a Peter Davison Dr. Who episode in which they kept making reference to a great ancient Timelord, which was pronounced OH-mih-guh, and we took it to be “Omigger”; then we saw the title, which was “Omega”, a word which Americans pronounce oh-MEG-ah.  My wife missed the joke at first, not realizing how the name I wrote was pronounced, until she heard me reading the story to our sons.  I think she said, “You didn’t,” in that inflection that means “I can’t believe you did that.”

Filp is modeled very much on Vila Reston of Blake’s 7.  All my thieves owe something to him.  The mealy-mouth voice is part of it, although I’m less clear on the accent–he sounds more southern U.S. than British particularly in his old age in the third book, and I’m not so particular on his voice here other than that it always has that mousy frightened sound to it.

The three are classic D&D in their dress and equipment.

There was a “MacDonald’s Tavern” in I think Montvale, New Jersey, at which I ate maybe twice or thrice, but it had a rustic atmosphere that inspired my conception of the tavern here, with wooden tables and simple chairs, a lot of visible rafters and plain wood paneling, and a cluttered and busy feeling.

The idea of stew containing “some kind of meat” recurs particularly in my medieval settings.  Usually no one asks.

Originally the family name was “Coriander”, which I probably knew was a spice but I lifted from the bookstore in The Never-Ending Story.  The editor did not like a fief named for a spice, so I changed it to “Corlander”, grateful for the ability to do a global replace with word processing.  I only more recently learned that “Coriander” is called “Cilantro” in the United States, which is probably why an Australian editor thought first of spices.

Filp becomes the character who expresses confusion over the things Slade mentions, beginning here with the chimney.  Torelle, meanwhile, becomes the one who is confused by Slade’s view of the world, the questions he asks, the things he expects people to take for granted.  It begins here with Slade’s interest in who started the war, when Torelle’s view is that wars are a normal part of feudal life.

The phrase “worlds away” was picked up here by Slade and later by Kondor, the sort of phrase people use figuratively which they could use literally and not be noticed for it.

The Caliph of the West Wind is, I think, a character one of my D&D characters met in Ed’s D&D world, a djinni in a bottle which my character released.  I thought the notion of a middle eastern style hierarchy quite appropriate to the world of the djinn, so I took the concept.  I’m not sure whether efriit are as well known as djinn, but then most people would have called the D-J-I-N-N-I a G-E-N-I-E, so I was probably aimed at an audience with some fantasy education at this point.  I figured eventually they’d figure out what an efriiti was.

Those who were aware of the original comic book panels, including particularly my eldest son, were disappointed by the text section describing Slade’s training.  It was originally supposed to show Torelle teaching and criticizing and saying, “You’re using that sword like a mace,” and then saying that he would instead teach Slade to use a mace.

If there is interest in this page, I’ll produce another after a few more pages of the novel have been published to the web site.  (The hardest part, actually, will be coming up with unique images for each such post, so that PInterest will accept the new page as a new image, but that’s my problem.)  Feedback is always welcome, of course.

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#8: Open Letter to the Editors of The Examiner

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #8, on the subject of Open Letter to the Editors of The Examiner.

I have not actually told the editors of The Examiner that I am not writing for them anymore.  I am not certain that they care; I am not certain that they will ever even notice.  However, I have some hope that as I explain it to you, my readers, they might hear about it and learn something from it.  In my defense, part of the reason I have not told them is that it has become incredibly difficult to converse with them–communication in their direction seems never to reach anyone, or at least not to get anything like a suitable reply.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.


Let’s start by saying that I have worked with quite a few editors over the years, on my books and on articles submitted to various websites.  Some of them have treated my work in a perfunctory way, that is, glancing over it and publishing it.  Some have made what they thought were corrections and then published without checking with me–I have tried to make a point of informing editors that I expect final approval of anything that bears my name, because I have had some change grammatically correct text they did not understand to grammatically incorrect text that did not say what I meant.  The best editors, honestly, are those who tear apart what I write and give me detailed feedback, then explain and interact until we agree on a final text.

I started at The Examiner in the middle of 2009.  Animator and illustrator Jim Denaxas pointed me that direction, suggesting that the popular Temporal Anomalies materials might earn a paycheck there, so I contacted them and was almost immediately given the title Time Travel Films Examiner.  At that time, it seemed that the editorial system amounted to a writer wrote, published, and promoted his articles, and if the editors got around to reading them they would sometimes push an article to the front page for extra attention, sometimes pull an article and send a message to the writer.  I never had the latter happen; I only recall the former occurring once.  In any case, it was evident that our remuneration was dependent upon readership, and our readership was dependent upon self-promotion; but the turnaround was fast, as one could post an article and promote it immediately.

At some point the process got a bit more complicated, because it was strongly recommended that we begin using Pinterest to promote our articles.  I was already using Facebook and MySpace, but Pinterest meant having images in the articles.  They provided access to Getty Images, but this was only good for national and international news and major entertainment events.  For a writer covering time travel movies, there was nothing there.  I also was given the title New Jersey Political Buzz Examiner in 2012, so I could publish some work on the “Birther” issue, and the Getty images were a bit more useful for that as long as the coverage was national–but there were never available photos of, for example, the candidates running against the incumbent governor and senator.  The writing process just got more difficult, because I had to hunt for pictures.  I was largely dependent on promotional photos for a lot of my material.  (It got a bit more complicated when they changed the Getty Image system:  originally it was possible to search for photos in advance of publication at my leisure, but the altered system made finding the image part of the publishing process, an added complication.)

It should be noted that this effort was bringing me pennies a day.  It should also be noted that I was alway in the top quarter in both of my categories, and frequently in the top ten percent, so it wasn’t as if most writers were making more than I.  I put in a lot of time for a very little money, and it was not increasing significantly.  Of course, I had written many things for no money, so this was better.

The problem occurred this year, 2015, because someone at The Examiner thought they ought to tighten the editorial process.  That’s fine; they have the right to improve quality that way.  I think they recognized the inconvenience, because they promised quick turnaround–the inconvenience, obviously, was that now when an author published an article, he had to wait perhaps half an hour to an hour to learn whether it had been approved, and he could not promote it before that.  Previously when an article was submitted, it appeared immediately, and the author was provided with automated systems to push it onto Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn.  Now, for that few cents a day, he had to waste time waiting for approval.

That might not have been too egregious, but the editorial process itself was a shambles.

The first glitch I hit arose because I had begun republishing articles from M. J. Young Net to The Examiner.  To do this, I had to serialize them, and I ran them as weekly posts on different days of the week from my regular posts.  Abruptly I was notified that the third article in a series (for which the first two had posted and their were two more to come) could not be published because I was not permitted to publish material from some other web site.  Of course, I could not well publish the fourth part without the third, and since I was doing both law and time travel materials it put both in question, but my original agreement with The Examiner stated that I owned the articles and could publish them elsewhere, so there was no logic to an objection that I could not publish articles at The Examiner that I owned but had previously published elsewhere.  I sent a message to attempt to get an answer, and the only answer I got was that someone apparently had changed his mind and restored the article before the person I contacted looked at it–but it took over a week to get that answer.

A few days later I published another “republished” article.  I had been putting an opening paragraph in italics introducing the articles and the fact that they had been previously published but were now being edited for serialization.  I had done this with every such article to this point–but this time I got blocked with a note that said I overused italics.  I could not help wondering whether the editor had even read the article, but with some grumbling to myself that it was going to create an inconsistent appearance I removed the italics from the opening paragraphs and resubmitted it.  A few hours later I received a notice that said they were not certain I had permission to use the image.

I don’t know whether I had permission to use the image; it was a movie poster, published for promotional purposes, so I’m assuming the movie producers wanted it circulated.  I can understand blocking the use of an image if it might not be a legitimate use (after all, that Image A.S.C.A.P. proposal has not been adopted).  My objection is that they should have said that on the first submission–I’ve already put several hours into what should be a ten minute publishing process, and they want me to put several more hours into it.  It is one thing if in fixing one part of an article you break something else; it is entirely different if the editor is going to raise one objection at a time, over the course of what can turn into hours or even days.  This is supposed to be published at the speed of Internet News.  It is not supposed to take me all day to earn those few pennies.

So I wish The Examiner and its editors and its remaining writers well, but am removing my articles from their publication.  After all, after having refused to publish one of my articles they had the nerve to remind me that if I don’t publish them often enough I don’t get paid for traffic to the old ones, and I don’t see any equity in allowing them to profit from my old work when they put up such obstacles to the new and failed to provide a means for two-way communication between the writers and the editors.

The Examiner materials have now all been relocated to Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies and to the law section of M. J. Young Net.

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