Thanks for that. Now, here’s a bit of news: I’ve decided to make Nerd World free again. The offer’s only good for May 1st-3rd, so don’t tarry. Meanwhile, The Sunshine Crew has just passed the 30k mark, so I suppose I owe you another writing post. Expect it in a few days, once I figure out what still needs to be said.
Jameson Labs is the heart of The Sunshine Crew. The secured facility is where the potential doomsday device is being built, and many important characters will end up there sooner or later. In the original version of the story, the lab sat quietly in the background, mentioned by the characters but never really seen. But in the novel, it’s a much stronger presence, a secretive place that exerts massive influence over Patmos. It falls to a handful of employees to give the reader a glimpse into this place.
Zoe Mulroney - Zoe is another character with origins in the original story idea. She served the same role there – informing the leads about the goings-on in the lab and therefore setting off the whole story. Zoe’s defining trait in that early version was her nervousness – unlike the main characters, she’s scared to death about Rudra and what it might do.
Now, Zoe really didn’t need any more fear, but in the novel she’s found some. She’s already in trouble for talking to Sara about her work, but as the story opens, there’s been a much more serious security breach. All eyes immediately fall on Zoe, who can’t help but act tense in the presence of authority. As a lab tech with access to the guts of the facility, she knows full well the powers of the administrators.
Zack Finn – Boyish and innocent, Zack may seem out of place on the intimidating Jameson Labs security force. These aren’t your typical rent-a-cops, they’re an armed paramilitary force – and there’s sweetheart Zack, trying to get a handle on his role.
Though he’s not a major character, Zack manages to land two little subplots. The first involves Sara Mills, with whom Zack has a bit of a crush. It’s like Paul and Jane, all grown up but no more mature. Zack does manage to be a bit more forward, but I’m not going to reveal too much about how that ends.
Zack’s second subplot focuses on his role in the lab. As a security guard at a shadowy, government-supported research facility, he’s occasionally called upon to do things he’d rather not. Over the course of the story, Zack is going to be asked to do some things that seriously conflict with his own ethics. And if you’re curious as to how ugly it’s going to get, you may wish to keep Zack’s boss in mind…
Aaron Bellamy – He’s back! Aaron is the first of our returning characters. Thanks to his father’s influence, Aaron has managed to land a position as chief of security at the lab. He has actual authority now – access to an extensive surveillance apparatus, command of an armed security force, and the ability to tap into Joshua Jameson’s nigh-limitless resources if all that isn’t enough. All of this has turned Aaron into a bit of a zealot, driven to protect Rudra (and what it stands for) at all costs.
And I do mean all costs. Over the course of the story, Aaron is going to have the opportunity to do some truly awful things. He has virtually no restraints and his bosses will back his play as long as what he does protects the company from harm. We’re going to see if Aaron even has a line to cross.
Sophia Jameson – The second returning character is, in many ways, Aaron’s opposite. While she could have used her father’s influence to land a high-tier position, Sophia has elected to start close to the bottom and work her way up. After what her brother went through, Sophia has no interest in putting herself in debt to her father.
That’s not the only way the two differ. While Aaron has an almost religious devotion to the research, Sophia has her doubts. She’s trying to find a way to put the brakes on Joshua’s plans, but being the consummate neutral party, she’s not going to do anything overt. More than anything, she’d like to arrange one last family reunion with the hopes that Ben can talk some sense into their father. It’s a long shot, but Sophia is nothing if not hopeful.
Now for the rest of the leads. As you may recall, each of these three gets a healthy chunk of the story to him/herself – less than the returning characters, more than pretty much everyone else.
Sara Mills - This is a name you may recognize. Sara has shown up on this very blog, as well as in the conclusion of Paradise Gardens. She’s one of the in-universe chroniclers, though this part of her personality doesn’t come across too much in the novel.
Sara was another candidate for main character, owing in large part to her personality. She has a real acid tongue, with a love for sarcasm and wit; however, she’s also a natural diplomat, and generally knows enough to dial it back in tense situations. In a sense, Sara is the real leader of the group, being the only one who’s reasonably good with people. She often finds herself having to defuse tense situations that Will has created (you may notice that he gets into a lot more trouble when Sara isn’t around). I’ve experimented with characters like this before, but I feel that Sara is more relatable than some of them – not as icy as Lidia or as cynical as Diana.
Aside from that, Sara is arguably the most important of the main characters to the central plot. She’s the one who learns about Rudra first, and she’s the one with all the friends on the inside. We’ll get to them a little later.
Derek Brawney – Like Sara, Derek made his premiere right here. He’s the foster brother of Joanna Brawney, something he doesn’t really care for – but then, that’s hardly the biggest of his problems.
Derek is another character who hasn’t changed all that much from his initial sketch – a quiet, stoic artist who lives inside his head. He’s by far the most understated of the four – not prone to grand gestures and generally more interested in his work than anything else. Of all the characters I’ve created, Derek is probably the one who’s most like me, which makes him very easy to write. All I have to do is flash back to high school, keeping company with unpredictable people with little shame. Ah, memories.
Derek is the only character who really doesn’t have a subplot of his own. He does have one-on-0ne scenes with Will, Sara and Aya, all meant to showcase his personality in contrast to theirs. Derek’s scenes with Will are probably the most evocative – Will thinks of himself as a mentor to Derek, a sentiment he doesn’t share at all.
Aya Garrett - Aya is basically a new character. Originally, the crew was a band of creatives – Sara the writer, Derek the artist, and a third character who was a musician. The musical element never quite worked out, so a new character was born.
Aya is a bit of an outsider. She’s the only one of the four who grew up outside of Patmos, so she has no direct connection to any of them. As a result, she’s also a lot more bemused about the whole thing. She basically thinks that Will is crazy and doesn’t seriously believe his apocalypse talk. Aya is along for the ride to have a little fun – Patmos isn’t quite as exciting as Chicago, as it turns out.
The Garrett family has its own set of problems – problems which Aya often has to handle herself. We’ll get into that a bit more when we get to Darrell, but suffice it to say that Derek is not the only person around with family issues.
It’s time for the obligatory character posts!
Due to the large cast of The Sunshine Crew, I’ll be doing three or four characters in each post. However, Will is the unofficial main character. He opens and closes the story, he appears in close to a quarter of the text – and he was just so damn fun to write that he deserves a little extra attention. Will is easily the most over-the-top character I’ve ever written. He’s hyperbolic, he tends to use really big gestures, and his impulsiveness gets him into a lot of trouble. Any scene that features Will quickly becomes his scene.
To explain why Will is the way he is, it might help to explain the roots of the story. The Sunshine Crew started off as a much more experimental novel. It had no real plot to speak of – pretty much every chapter consisted of tw0 or three characters having a discussion about the end of the world. I was halfway through Paradise Gardens when I realized that this wasn’t going to work. I love writing dialogue, but dialogue-centered stories really require a visual component – as a play or film.
Nevertheless, I tinkered with that original concept enough to create a set of characters. Because the story was character-driven rather than plot-driven, I needed those characters to be really memorable. Some of those early sketches later found their way into the story proper – including Sara, Derek and Zoe – but Will was the first. Over time, the others became much more subtle as the story became more plot focused, but Will really hasn’t changed much. Ultimately, I decided that I only wanted one colorful, nutty character – the better to stand out against his drab, safe little world.
Now we come to the part where I have to explain Will’s behavior, and this is not going to be easy. Yes, I created him; yes, I’ve written thousands of words of dialogue for him. In spite of this, I don’t fully understand him, which is part of his charm. Still, here goes nothing:
Will is, to be perfectly blunt, a loser. He’s never accomplished anything of note in his entire life. Everyone in his hometown thinks he’s crazy, including his mother. The problem is not a lack of drive; if anything, it’s too much drive. Will is a man of big ideas, but without the skill or direction to follow through. He latches on to every dream and hangs on until it crashes and burns.
That probably would have continued for the rest of his life, were it not for something he overheard – a rumor that doomsday was right around the corner. A normal person would be terrified by this prospect, but Will is not a normal person. In a certain sense, the apocalypse is right up Will’s alley. It’s another big dream – a chance to be part of something big, bigger than anything he’d ever considered. But beyond that, it means that all of Will’s past failures are going to be burned away. He gets to go out in a blaze of glory.
Despite how this sounds, Will is no nihilist. If anything, he may be the ultimate optimist, a man who can see the bright side in absolutely anything. Of course, most people don’t draw that distinction. To most people, he’s a crazy bastard, drooling in anticipation at the prospect of seven billions deaths. But that’s not the way Will sees it. As far as he’s concerned, everyone alive has the privilege of bearing witness to something truly unique. He’s not scared, he’s thrilled, and he doesn’t understand why more people don’t share his view.
One final note: In the original version of the story, each character in the crew shared Will’s gleefully destructive view. In the current version, most of them are more ambivalent about the situation. Again, leaving Will alone in his ecstasy makes him stand out a lot more. No one’s forgetting this guy.
The Sunshine Crew is finished.
…Which is to say that it still has to be proofed and edited. And I have to finish the cover. And format it for paper and digital editions.
In any case, this means I can get back to the blog. I’ll get to that soon, but first, here’s something that should interest at least some of you. I keep copious stats on all of my projects, and I’ve spent the morning compiling them for my own edification. Stick around for a few weeks, and you’ll learn plenty about these characters and their little universe.
Significance of Each Major Character, As Measured by Word Count
- Will Scarbrough (Blue Group)
- Aaron Bellamy (Red Group)
- Diana Liston (Yellow Group)
- Paul Liston (Yellow Group)
- Ben Jameson (Yellow Group)
- Aya Garrett (Blue Group)
- Derek Brawney (Blue Group)
- Sara Mills (Blue Group)
- Jack Burlew (Red Group)
- Zack Finn (Red Group)
- Ted Parsons (Red Group)
- Darrell Garrett (Red Group)
- Sophia Jameson (Red Group)
- Sondra Peterson (Red Group)
- Sam Scarbrough (Red Group)
- Jedediah DuFresne (Red Group)
- Martin Frye (Red Group)
- Zoe Mulroney (Red Group)
- John Bellamy (Red Group)
- Micah Edwards (Red Group)
Kind of what I expected. De facto lead Will is the most significant character, followed by recurring antagonist Aaron and the rest of the Illinois Trilogy main cast. A few of the characters near the bottom are actually more important than their sparse appearances suggest (namely Sophia, Zoe and Jed) and I’ll certainly have plenty to say about them.
Portion of the Book Dedicated to Each Major Plot Thread
The Blue Group is the titular crew, who set a lot of the story in motion. The Red Group covers the town and lab and comprises about six subplots. The Yellow Group involves characters from the previous novels and ties up some plot threads. All things considered, it’s actually pretty big.
An Analysis of the Plot Structure
So I devised my own little plot structure for Paradise Gardens. How does The Sunshine Crew fit in?
- I: Introduction
- II: Elevation
- III: Advancement
- IV: Climax
- V: Aftermath
…Not a great fit, though not as far off as I thought it would be.
So I’ve accumulated three days’ worth of responses. Here’s a quick and dirty illustration of what people voted for:
The Fabulist got the most votes. I’m not too surprised by that – it’s one of my favorite ideas, it’s just sort of tricky to actually write. From the comments, a lot of the interest in that story was due to the setting and the protagonist. I find the remarks about the setting a little odd, as I think it’s a fairly standard post-apocalyptic universe (Fallout was definitely a major influence). What sets the story apart – at least in my opinion – is Storyteller, who is definitely not your typical post-apocalyptic hero. He’s an artist in an age of ugliness and a pacifist in an age of chaos, a meek man surviving on his wit and charm. I’m glad to see that people respond to that.
Next is Dirty Pictures. I wasn’t entirely sure how people would respond to this one – crime novels really aren’t my forte, and I’m never sure how popular they are at any given time. It’s kind of a silly thought, though, as the thriller is one of the quintessential genre novel categories. One person wondered if the story wouldn’t work in a different time period. I really never pictured this as anything but a contemporary story, and period pieces really aren’t my bag (with a few exceptions), but it’s an interesting thought.
Some of you might remember that I mentioned Geeks on the Road a few months back and specifically said that I would never write it. I decided to include it in the list anyway, as I received a much better response to Nerd World than Paradise Gardens and I’ve been wondering if I shouldn’t revisit the story anyway - Nerd World was my first stab at a novel, and I’ve certainly wondered if I couldn’t do a better job. Apparently, there are a few of you out there who agree with me. It’s something to keep in mind, at least.
Finally is Rite of Retribution, which received but a single vote. Kind of a shame, since that was part of what inspired this. I’ve been thinking about serialized novels, which have been making a serious comeback in recent years. Most of the stories about would work as serial novels (maybe not Geeks on the Road so much, although who knows, really?), but Rite was actually designed to fit the format. It would probably be the hardest of the four to write, and I’ll admit that there’s a part of me that’s glad it finished last.
One of the reasons I chose to pursue this particular challenge is that I’m really interested in knowing what actual people want to see. The freedom to do whatever you want is nice, and the artist’s opinion always has to come first, but any writer who blocks out the audience entirely is an idiot. If you have a good audience, listening to them can only help. I plan to keep taking input as the next project develops.
(Written for the WP Weekly Writing Challenge)
Good evening. As I draw near the end of The Sunshine Crew, my thoughts are increasingly turning towards my next project. That was never a problem before – this series has been over two years in the making, and now that it’s over, I’m a bit adrift. So, working off this week’s writing challenge, I’ve decided to seek some advice from my readers.
Below, I’ve included the titles, genres, and pitches for four potential novels. Some of these are taken from this post, others are new. Based solely on the descriptions listed here, I’d like you to tell me which one sounds the most promising. And if one of the concepts from the previous post sounds promising, feel free to mention it.
THE FABULIST (Science Fiction)
Twenty years ago, the world changed. No one knows exactly what happened – one day, the sky burned and civilization fell. A generation later, the children of the last age have begun to restore order. Some seek to accrue wealth and build new nations; others mine the ruins for lost secrets; and still others bring order by the sword.
There is one who is different, a man who has chosen to pursue his own path. In an age where names have little meaning, he is known as the Storyteller. He is a poet and an artist, a dreamer in a world of cold practicality. Most people think he is a fool – until they sit by the fire and listen to his tales of the places that once existed.
Storyteller is not a powerful man, but he is soon to become an important one. He has drawn the attention of the new powers of the region. Every warlord and trader has designs on Storyteller, a desire to claim him and his stories for their own. But no one knows of Storyteller’s true quest, or his greatest secret – he alone remembers the day that everything changed.
RITE OF RETRIBUTION (Supernatural Mystery)
It was a boring day when it appeared in Daniel’s apartment – an unnatural creature, wreathed in flame and wielding a great sword. Suddenly, Daniel found himself locked in a life-or-death struggle against a demon, a monster of legend and myth.
Narrowly escaping with his head, Daniel soon found himself drawn into a world he never knew existed. The demon was an agent of the heretical god of revenge, summoned specifically to hunt Daniel down and kill him. The demon never tires, can walk through walls, and cannot easily be killed. The only hope to stop it is to undo the original summoning spell – and that requires the person who originally called the beast, who forged a pact with its dark master.
This leads Daniel on a journey into his past, to confront anyone who may have nursed a grudge against him. As he tracks down each potential contractor, he is drawn further and further into a world of arcane forces that has existed just below the surface of his nice, normal life. But there is little time to reflect, as his executioner is never more than a step behind.
DIRTY PICTURES (Thriller)
Frank Lamont is one of the most hated men in the country – a badge he wears with pride. As the last of the die-hard paparazzi photographers, he has devoted his life to digging up sleaze on whoever happens to be in the public eye that week.
That’s what led him to the Rondo estate. Frank had broken into the mansion on the night of a party in hopes of catching the industrialist indulging in one of his predilections. Instead, he got a clear shot of Rondo’s brutal murder at the hands of an unknown assassin. It was only by an act of sheer luck that Frank escaped with his own life.
That luck would not last. Rondo had shady associates that no one ever imagined – associates that took an interest in his death. Suddenly, Frank finds himself in the company of extremely dangerous men. The police suspect him of being the murderer. The actual murderer wants him dead. And the only person he can trust is a sociopathic gangster out for a major payday.
All Frank wants to do is run – but where does one of the most hated men in the country hide?
GEEKS ON THE ROAD (AKA Nerd World II) (YA Humor/Satire)
Once upon a time, a game was played at Northwest High School. Things still aren’t back to normal.
That’s certainly the case for Paul Liston. He’s spent the past month being ferried around the state with his two worst enemies and the object of his affection. It seems like everyone he meets already knows him – the legend killer, the lord of trivia, the king nerd. All eyes are on the unstoppable Northwest trivia team as it heads towards the state finals in Paradise Gardens, Illinois.
Unfortunately, that’s where things are going to get complicated. With the Northwest team being the one to beat, everyone is hellbent on taking them out. The game will get dirty, old vendettas will reawaken, and local dramas will play out in very inappropriate ways. And that’s not even counting the internal power struggles or the machinations of Paul’s victory-obsessed friend.
It’s going to be a busy weekend.
This is a short post just to let everyone know that I’m not dead yet. Work on The Sunshine Crew continues – it’s closing on 35k words, and I’m accelerating my pace in the hopes that I can wrap this thing up in a week or so. In the meantime, I’d like to address a few things regarding this series.
First things first: While I’m not normally in the habit of telling people not to buy my books, I would like to inform everyone that a compiled edition containing all current novels will be released some time after The Sunshine Crew. The Illinois Trilogy will contain re-edited versions of Nerd World, Paradise Gardens and The Sunshine Crew, plus bonus material, and will retail for at least 35% less than the three of them separately. If you’re interested in the series as a whole, you may want to wait for that one. Expect a paperback edition to be released first, followed by a hardcover and digital.
That leads to what comes next. This trilogy has been in the works for more than two years, and I’m really not sure what’s going to come next. Part of me would like to turn back the clock and continue within this universe, but I’m not if that’s what anyone wants. I’d like to direct your attention back to this post – if any of these ideas are of interest to you, I’d love to hear about it.
It’s a bit of a pipe dream, but what I’d really like to see is a graphic novel version of Nerd World. Graphical editions of YA literature are very popular now, and this is something I think I could sell. However, I have zero artistic talent, so this would require me to contract that part out to a comic artist. There’s actually someone I had in mind, but I have no clue if she’d be willing or able to tackle a project of this scope (it would be short, but “short” in this case would still amount to 80-90 pages). So this is just something I’m throwing out there to see if there’s any interest.
I’d actually love to do some collaborative work, even if I wasn’t head of the project. In particular, I would love to try my hand at screenwriting again – it’s really better suited to my style than long-form novels. There are a lot of small, independent outfits that I would be pleased to work with, doing my materials or theirs.
Anyway, that’s the situation as it stands. Relevant material to follow.
I’d like to get personal for a moment. This may come across as self-indulgent, but the way I see it, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want with it.
I’ve tried to keep the details of this between me and a few other people for a while now, but since I’m trying to make a clean start here I feel like I should put it out in the open. Some of this you may be familiar with the basics – I just realized while I was writing this that it’s been one year since I first wrote on this topic (and about half a year since the follow-up), which is also around the point where everything started to go to hell. I’ve certainly touched upon it before, but now that some time has passed I’d like to delve into the details. Bear with me.
As many of you know, I was in a relationship with a woman who went by Audrey Huang. She was unlike anyone I’ve ever been with, and I was ready to marry her. I was going through the steps to bring her over here so we could be together. It was a slow process, but I was working my way through it.
And then, one day, she was gone. There was one terse message telling me that she was strong enough without me, and that was it. I never heard from her again. One day we had a future, the next day it was vapor.
It’s funny what something like this will do to you. For the first few weeks after she cut me off, I was fine with it. I moved on with my life just like normal. But something was missing. Those people who go on about how it hurts less with time? It’s a lie. Little by little, day by day, it crept back. By the following month, I was losing sleep over it. Some days I was angry, and I’d rage at Audrey and myself and anyone else that I thought was responsible. Other days, I’d see something that reminded me of Audrey and I’d just break out into tears, sometimes for hours.
What you have to realize is that while I was unemployed, I felt terrible most days. Audrey was really the one ray of sunshine I had. She was such a sunny, positive person, and I felt infinitely better any day she contacted me, even if she had nothing in particular to say. When she stopped talking, that light went out. I never realized how much I depended on that.
It was stupid to put that much weight in her. I acknowledge this freely. Really, I don’t know if it would have worked out if I’d stayed over there longer. There were certainly things I didn’t care for – she could be clingy, and she was actually rather secretive. I don’t know if she could have or would have come back with me. Maybe it was destined to be a fling. But what haunts me is that I’ll never know. What haunts me is the image of her crying the last time I saw her, when I promised her that we’d be together again. More than anything, what haunts me is how abruptly it ended.
So I’ve spent the last two months trying to find her, and there’s not much I haven’t tried in pursuit of that goal. I reached out to her friends and family, but either they didn’t know anything or wouldn’t tell me. I started reaching out to anyone I thought might have some connection to her – people who worked for the same companies, people who came from her hometown or who were there presently (she had spoken about going back there). When that didn’t work, I went to QQ and started posting everything I knew about her in the hopes that someone I hadn’t thought of might have seen her. I dug through old pictures and emails (opening a few wounds in the process) for any information I might have missed. I paid for international calls to her number and the numbers of several people who might have known her. I searched for people with similar names, finding dozens of others and feeling my heart leap every single time. In a moment of desperation, I even sent a letter to her last workplace in the vain hopes that someone there might have something to tell me.
Every effort failed. After two months, I’ve tried everything I can imagine, save a few options that would be going much too far. She’s gone.
Except…she’s not gone. I keep close tabs on the traffic that leads here – the subscription spam has made it difficult to track my legit traffic, so I watch this thing carefully. Shortly after Audrey cut me off, I started getting views through a VPN – the kind of thing used by people in the PRC to get around government censorship. Ever since then, I’ve been receiving regular hits from that same person at least once a month, sometimes more. Now, I don’t have definitive proof that those hits are from Audrey, but no one else from that part of the world has ever taken any interest in what I write. Audrey did. I can’t help but feel that she’s been watching me this whole time (Incidentally, I hope that whomever is watching will consider contacting me, if only to clear things up).
So that’s the situation I’m in, the one I’ve been dodging around for half a year. Everyone tells me I should move on, and I agree. I have no illusions about us ever being together again, and I’m seeing other women. But the thing is, I can’t move on – at least, not entirely – until I hear from her again, even if it’s just one more time. Until then, I can’t be entirely free.
Anyway, thanks for putting up with my crap again. It’s just the kind of thing you have to deal with when you read my commentary. I’ve been taking my time with the novel due to recent life changes, but I should be back with relevant posts within the next few days.
The manuscript is now at the 25k mark, and everything is shaping up nicely, so it’s time for another post.
Today, I’d like to talk about Will Scarbrough, introduced in one of the sample chapters. Will was originally meant to be the main character before I decided that I didn’t really want the book to have a singular main character. However, he’s become so prevalent in the narrative that I guess he’s back to being the lead man.
Anyway, Will is a bit of an extreme character. His behavior is bombastic and over-the-top, but nothing defines him quite as much as his perversely gleeful desire to watch the world explode. None of the other three central characters have quite that same level of unbridled joy. It’s sick, it’s crazy, and I’m constantly worried that it’s unrealistic.
But it’s not unrealistic. In fact, there are millions of people just like Will right now, anticipating the end of all things.
It’s actually a very interesting time to be writing about this. The Seventh-day Adventist Church – a religious sect based around apocalypticism – will be 150 years old next month. When the church was founded in the mid-19th century, they really didn’t believe that Earth would still be here. Their teachings held that the world was in an “investigative” phase, after which would come a “time of troubles” (analogous to the Tribulation in the end times belief of many evangelical Christians) and finally the construction of the kingdom of God. While they didn’t know exactly when the investigative phase would end, they certainly weren’t expecting it to take a century and a half. And many of those early followers were used to this – the Adventist churches all grew out of the teaching of William Miller, whose prediction that the world would end in 1844 would become infamous as the Great Disappointment.
My point is that there are ample real world precedents for this kind of apocalyptic fervor. There are groups ranging from evangelicals to survivalists to deep greens to zombie-obsessed nerds who harbor fantasies of doomsday. Yes, Will’s own reasons are very small – he really just wants to see it first-hand, to witness the event up close and personal. But there’s nothing at all unrealistic about that glee, that happy nihilism that he exhibits at every turn. It’s just another very strange part of our very strange human society.