March 28th, 2011. 11:47 PM. (“A red letter date”, as Dr. Emmit Brown would call it, but just for me, not science.) It’ll be a moment in time forever etched into the stone of my memory. The last one awake in an house that finds quiet only in the rarest moments, I finished the first draft of the novel I have been working on for more than ten years. As it stands at this time, the draft sports 90,023 words spread over 409 pages. While the novel isn’t “done”, after years of a rather tepid incubation, the first incarnation of the story has finally been born.
I can trace the origins of the story to a character I’d doodle during Sister Emy’s geometry class, sophomore year at LaSalle. We’re talking 1996, people. (Aside: Math wasn’t my best subject.) Throughout my high school years and well into college, I was into comic books. (X-Men titles were prominent among my collection, but sadly the hobby grew too expensive to maintain.) My friend Greg and I would regularly plan our own comics, even attempting a short-lived Transformers revival circa 1998. (We got about as far as penciling a cover for issue #1, but to this day, I’m convinced we could’ve done a better job with the franchise than Michael Bay.) It was this love for visual storytelling that drew me to comics (no pun intended) and the influence of my father that brought me to science fiction and fantasy.
When you think about it, writing is as much a visual medium as drawing, painting, or film. Joseph Conrad famously said: “Make the Reader See.” That might be the highest commandment for a writer. If you can’t paint the picture of your story in the reader’s mind, then you are failing as a writer. So for me, the stories that evolve in my mind always start as a day-dream or a drawing. It’s the image that sparks the ember for me, and the flame of the novel I’ve been drafting for so long, while nearly dying on occasion, never quite extinguished. I guess the fact that the story refused to die for me might be a good thing, but it also kept me from truly developing any other works.
The story evolved from more of a comic book into a straight fiction piece. I felt more comfortable crafting my story that way, and I began building different characters. Originally, the story was far more sci-fi than it is at present. It was set on another, earth-like world, with (because of my affinity for X-Men and Dramatis Personae of that ilk) the characters all had special powers. It wasn’t until I began taking courses in the creative writing department at FIU that I truly learned what it took to build a well-crafted story. (My ability to write a well-crafted story is as yet to be judged. We’ll see.) While my positive experiences at FIU were few and far between, two teachers in the creative writing department, John Dufrense and Les Staniford, and their classes, Narrative Techniques and Writing Fiction, were integral in my development as a writer.
After a still-born disaster I titled “Guardians” (a medieval fantasy replete with cliché and dragons), John Dufrense pointed me toward Joseph Campbell and his work The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Dufrense told me if I wanted to successfully write a story like that, I needed to read Campbell and use his ideas on plot. I had first heard of Campbell in high school, in my unforgettable 8-person senior English class with Ms. Ana Garcia. Once I was able to digest Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”, I moved closer seizing the
sword pen that would help me be a great story-crafter. During my time taking creative writing classes, I tried to turn away from clichéd concepts and it wasn’t until I landed in a World Religions class at FIU that the story idea evolved again.
I have always been fascinated with angels, and, at present, I have a short story in the works where the main character’s guardian angel happens to be an angel of death. That idea branched from the novel I’ve managed to finally draft. The novel idea evolved from sci-fi, special-powered characters in made-up world X, to a present-day modern fantasy, set on Earth, where angels, demons and mythological deities were a hidden but major part of human life. The main characters (there was a whole throng of characters originally, all based on friends and co-workers) were descendants of angels and, as such, had more power than plain ol’ humans (I couldn’t leave the special abilities out completely). As I learned more about different world religions, and continued research into different mythologies beyond the classic Greco-Roman and Egyptian pantheons, I struggled to marry the concepts together. The opening scene of that novella (called a novella because a draft managed to reach 90-plus pages) involved Michael the Archangel sitting in a church discussing the story’s main character (at that point named Trey Kinkade) with a god from the Hindu pantheon. (The main character’s name has been Trey Kinkade, Jason something, Michael something, then, and currently, Adam Anderson.)
|My journal for the novel.|
If I finally grasped the concept of Plot in John Dufrense’s Narrative Technique class, then it was during Les Staniford’s Writing Fiction classes that Character became clear. Once a pair of short story-versions of my novel idea fell resoundingly flat in the writers’ workshops, I realized I had too many characters. Everyone was on the chopping block, including the main character’s brother, best friend, and the angels. I axed the connection to Christian religion, and focused completely on Mythology. I still wanted to have the characters sport some special abilities, so they became bastard children of the gods (and goddesses). I spent far more time developing character back story and motivation, then restarted the process of building the plot using Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as a foundation.
|The receipt. If you look hard,
you can see the purchase date is 8/01/2001.
|Random page from the journal. All sorts
of scribbles and notes.