November 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
About a year ago, as I was working through the revisions of Axon, Inc., I got into an intense discussion with my brilliant and beautiful wife Ali about the Chronicles of Narnia. It’s a series I adored when I was younger, but when I read it again to my kids when they were very young, I began to notice some serious issues with it. Then Ali and I read Dr Michael Ward‘s excellent book Planet Narnia, about the medieval inspirations for the seven books and their symbolism, and it inspired us to read the series again together.
What we found was, frankly, kind of horrifying. It wasn’t that the books had a strong Christian message; Harry Potter also has a strong Christian message, as does the Lord of the Rings, and they’re awesome. It also wasn’t the glorification of violence, or even bullying (which is tacitly accepted in some places, even while it is explicitly denounced in others). It was the sexism. Ye gods, the sexism!
We both considered writing in-depth blog posts on the subject, but we found that other people had done much more in-depth studies. (A quick google will show you a bunch of them, as well as a taste of the huge controversy about the topic.) And in any case, what we wanted, really, was not for Narnia to be taken down, destroyed, and shamed. We wanted a Narnia that we could proudly read to our children; a Narnia that fully explored the amazing potential of a world where women could be both queens and witches, where animals could talk and be treated as citizens equal to humans, where the intersection of Christian redemption and the wild beauty of naturalistic deities was explored properly. We wanted a Narnia we could believe in again. We wanted Narnia as it should have been.
I wanted to write a special kind of fan fiction. I would leave the original seven novels untouched — there was no point in going back and trying to ‘fix’ them; that would be boring for everyone. No, I wanted a new Narnia story, a story that would (a) explain, in some way, why the original stories were ‘wrong’, and (b) redeem Narnia, make it whole. And the most natural person to perform this redemption was, of course, Susan — the lone character in the original books who is not redeemed, who rejects Narnia, and who, ironically enough, actually survives past the last chapter.
I made a start on this, but it quickly grew into a rather complex project and I decided to set it aside while I finished Axon. Now that Axon, Inc. is out for beta readers, it’s a good time for me to take a break and work on something completely different. Plus, it’s National Novel Writing Month!
Here, then, is the first paragraph of this fanfic:
Sarah Patrick was her name, although that was not how she was known to most of the world. In fact, if you told most people the basic facts of her life — aged 22, from London but spent most of her summers in the countryside during the War, lost her two brothers and sister in a tragic train accident six years ago, now graduated Oxford and engaged to be married to Mark Weybridge next month —none of this would trigger any recognition of her identity. If you mentioned that she’d spent those summers sequestered in a lonely rambling house, full of secret rooms and passages, looked after by a strange professorial man and a strict housekeeper, still, no one would know who she was. Oddly enough, though, the mention of one piece of furniture in that rambling old house — a completely ordinary piece of furniture, to be sure, although an excellent example of its type, and handcrafted from a maple that once grew on the property, used primarily for storing fluffy winter coats — one mention of this piece of furniture, and almost everyone in the world would know exactly who she was. For it was, of course, a wardrobe.
November 7, 2015 § Leave a comment
Just a quick update here:
- I finished the final revisions to the beta version at 1 AM on Nov. 4.
- First sentence: Walden hefted the SCAR to his shoulder and gently switched the safety off.
- Last sentence: The other man, unhurt, knelt beside him, crying.
- Total words: 104,730
- Total chapters: 14
- Total scenes: 58
- Pages (if the book were a paperback): 280
- Chapter Titles:
- After Lubumbashi
- The Opposite of Secret
- Honey’s Master
- Fallout from Argus
- Stay in the Tree
- Ghosts in the Machine
- My Turn to Go Mad
- Fiery Dreamer
- Ten most common words (that aren’t closed-class, or character names):
- I sent the draft out to my beta readers last night. Many thanks to them all!
- The fifth sample chapter, “Mt. Si”, is now available for preview on Wattpad.
- And here’s the cover!
October 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
I have to admit, I’m pretty excited. It’s been a little over two years since I had the initial idea for Axon, Inc., and at last, the revisions are very, very close to being finished. I have twelve scenes to review and rewrite, and I should be done with these by Halloween night. Then it’ll be ready…
Ready for my beta readers! In software, the “beta” version is the version that you release to a limited audience, to work out the final bugs. I think Axon, Inc. is ready for that. I have four people who have kindly offered to enter my strange near-future, and travel alongside Walden Reathall and Logan Byrnes as they try to surf the wave of the new technology, telepathic computing. Many thanks and gratitude to them!
If you’re curious and want to join their select number, drop me a line and let me know! In the meantime, there are now three sample chapters available on Wattpad (“Lubumbashi“, “Pwinter“, and “SIGNAL FOUND“), and a fourth (“I Won’t Let You”) coming up on Wednesday.
I’m thrilled to finally share this quixotic project with everyone. Enjoy!
October 8, 2015 § Leave a comment
First, an announcement: the first chapter of Axon, Inc., “Lubumbashi“, is now available on Wattpad. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting four more chapters, a total of almost 10,000 words. In the meantime revisions will continue.
As an experiment, I’ll be over on Wattpad a lot more in the future. In addition to the sample chapters, for NaNoWriMo this year I’m going to do a complete Narnia-based fanfic (you can see the initial outlines and summaries on Wattpad already: Return to Sagaia) and after that I may put up some of my short stories.
Revisions of Axon, Inc. are going very well — I’m pleased with the writing and there’s a good chance it’ll be done by the end of October, ready for the beta readers to devour. (Speaking of that, I have exactly one beta reader lined up. I need at least one more. Any takers?) I’m working through the Road of Trials, moving well. The first draft was about 85K words; with revisions I’m up over 95K already.
June 19, 2015 § Leave a comment
This is a sample from the Refusal of the Call section of Axon, Inc. See the post on mapping story structure to get a sense of where this appears in the novel.
He didn’t know the fastest way to a road or a house, so he simply headed back the way he’d come: straight through the clearing. He had to use his flashlight to keep from stumbling. That might make it easier for the drones to find him, but they’d find him soon anyway. His only hope was speed, and he could run a lot faster without a broken ankle…
Too late. There was the hum of the drones, flying invisibly in the dark above him, behind him. As he crashed through the fern, horsetail, and Scotch broom, he thought he heard Emir shouting. The drones whined as they changed course, circling, closing in on their target. Then a thunder of bullets and a sharp blast as the accelerant exploded. Emir was gone.
He’d barely covered a hundred yards through the clearing. There was no way he could outrun them.
The humming rose and fell, dipped and arched around behind him. They were triangulating on his heat signal. His military training kicked in, and his feet found their way almost noiselessly through the brush, heart pounding, lungs gasping. His body hurtled forward on automatic while his mind raced. He had to disguise his heat signature. Either find something else warm — an animal, a heated building, a car… Or cover up his signal? Dig a hole? —
His feet splashed in the stream. That was it.
It was about two feet deep in the center. Plenty deep. But how long would he have to be underwater before the drones gave up? And if —
The drone hum surged and circled around him in the dark, and then the bullets came, hailing around him. Pain seared in his shoulder and his leg. He lunged into the water, throwing himself onto the stream bed, spread-eagled to make sure he was completely submerged.
Damn, it was cold. But the current was fast. All his heat was dissipating, carried away downstream…
And he was losing blood. He began to shiver violently. He’d have to get warm fast, when — and if — the drones gave up and flew away. Else he’d go into shock. If he wasn’t already.
At least the cold was deadening the pain of the bullets.
He waited. No more bullets came.
He felt dizzy. It occurred to him he must not, must not pass out, or he would drown. He focused on holding his breath.
When his lungs were burning, and he could stay under no longer, he raised his head and gulped for air. No bullets. He froze, listening. All he could hear was the rushing stream bubbling past his ears.
Was that a distant hum? No point in taking any chances. He went under again.
Now his body was going numb from the cold and shock. Stay awake, stay awake. Hold the breath. He tried wiggling his fingers and twitching his feet, to bring some life back to his body, but he couldn’t feel them. Hold the breath. Just a little longer. Just a little longer…
His body shook violently as freezing water came in his nose. He must have passed out for a microsecond. He jerked up out of the water, gasping. Breathing. Listening.
Completely numb, he lurched to his feet and staggered out of the water. He would call someone —
No. The phone in his pocket was ruined, of course.
And Emir’s memory stick.
After sitting for a few minutes feeling sick, gasping for breath, and trying to get himself together, he bound his wounds with strips of clothing, and got moving. The motion eventually warmed him up, stopped his shivering and shaking, brought him out of shock. Of course, the pain came back. But he’d make it.
He’d make it. And he had to do something. He had to stop the “therapy” somehow, or at least keep the military from —
That was it, of course. He had to keep the military from getting Logan’s telepathic computers. And there was only one way to do that.
After half an hour of climbing, he was spotted by the park service’s EMT drones. They dropped off water, a blanket, a spare phone, and some packets of energy gel, and let him know that an emergency team was on its way. Gratefully he sat down to wait.
And he called Logan.
May 20, 2015 § 2 Comments
This is the second of a series of posts on the status of my revisions to Axon, Inc. The first one is here. As before, instead of giving spoilers or arbitrary word counts, I’m going to reference my Story Map here. The Story Map reveals the basic shape of the novel, without being specific about what actually happens. So this is what remains to be done for each of the main chunks of the novel:
The Call to Adventure.
- The Opening Image. Finished.
- Setup of Home, Work, and Play. Finished.
- Catalyst. Finished.
Refusal of the Call.
- Debate, Break Into Two. In progress, and going really well.
This section needs extensive revision, but I’ll be able to reuse and repurpose a lot of existing draft materials.
Crossing the First Threshold
This section just requires minor revisions.
Belly of the Whale
This section just requires minor revisions.
Road of Trials.
This is by far the longest part of the book. But it needs to be even longer, in order to beef up some of the primary themes, and explore the character relationships in more depth.
Meeting with the Goddess
This is in pretty good shape: just needs minor revisions.
Woman as Temptress
- All Is Lost. Minor revisions.
- Dark Night of the Soul. A fair bit of work is needed here — several pages of additions, but pretty straightforward ones.
Atonement with Father
This section needs minor revisions.
This section just needs some small revisions, and is combined with the Ultimate Boon in the final scene.
I don’t think it’s spoilers, if you’ve read this far, to say that the book doesn’t spend much time on the ‘Return’ section of Campbell’s story arc. After all, these are characters based on the Norse gods. They had no happily ever after… but their end was spectacular.
Progress hasn’t been as quick as I’d hoped (primarily because of work commitments), so I’m pushing the expected finish date to Aug 1.
May 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
Axon, Inc. is a tightly-focused novel, concentrating on the lives of just a few characters. Following up on the in-depth discussion of the protagonist, Walden Reathall, and the antagonist (?) Logan Byrnes, this post discusses two other essential characters: Walden’s sister, Tori, and good friend, Paula Amaranto. There are no spoilers here, just notes about character inspiration and background.
Tori Reathall, Walden’s younger sister, is based on the god Thor. Although Walden felt responsible for her and protective of her, Tori’s brilliance and lack of impulse control made for a difficult childhood. She is perhaps the character most profoundly changed by the events in the book.
Thor is the child of Odin and the Earth itself. He is known for his tremendous strength, his mastery of lightning, and his mighty hammer, Mjölnir (roughly, “Pulverizer”). Loki won it for him by wagering his own head — one of many wagers that Loki lost fairly, and refused to pay honestly. Possibly the greatest of all warriors, and patron deity of farmers and free men, Thor also had a short, powerful temper, and was often outwitted, teased, and insulted by the giants, Loki, and even Odin himself.
Thor is perhaps best remembered for two things: first, his incredible feats of strength (which include wrestling the World Serpent and drinking a significant portion of the sea), and second, that one time Loki convinced him to dress up as a blushing bride to get his hammer back.
Tori doesn’t have supernatural muscles or power over lightning and storm, but she combines a wild genius-level intelligence with moral strength and a certain amount of innocence. It’s a volatile mix, and it gives her a unique strength of her own. Also, like Thor, she has trouble with impulse control. As a child she frequently bolted from her parents, heading off into the park, the forest, the mall, or the street, drawn irresistibly towards whatever grabbed her interest. She and Walden were fairly close as children, falling easily into a protector / protected relationship. At school her attention wandered easily, but her natural brilliance made it easy for her to get good grades (much better than her older brother). Her school performance started to drop off in high school (not coincidentally after Walden left to go into the military, and she joined up with a completely different set of friends) and instead of going Ivy League, she ended up at Rochester, NY.
Things did not go well for her there. After one year, her grades were just barely passing, and she’d spent most of her time immersed in drugs, alcohol, and the party scene. She also had multiple pregnancy scares, although her family only found out about them years later. After her second year, she dropped out, and continued living in Rochester, spiraling further into poverty and substance abuse.
Finally, in the summer of 2028, Walden (who had just graduated from UW himself) offered to pay her rent if she’d come back to Seattle, get cleaned up, and work with him on his business ventures. She agreed, and joined him for his first couple of companies. However, the pressure of consistent performance and the stress of the volatile computer industry proved to be too much for her, and she dropped out of rehab and returned to her drugs. Walden felt he could do nothing for her; he continued to pay her rent, but otherwise kept his distance, helplessly.
Paula is a composite of various Norse gods and goddesses, most notably Freya and Frigg. She has a complex love/hate relationship with Walden, and has a stronger moral compass than most of the other characters.
Born in Texas in 2005, Paula was the youngest of five siblings. Spanish was spoken in her home, and she only learned English in school. Her staunchly Catholic family had been deeply involved in the Mexican military for generations, and moved only recently to the United States; and she was raised with strongly conservative social values. The family had very little money — in fact, she grew up in a trailer — and she continues to feel deeply connected to issues of poverty and homelessness.
Paula’s religion is extremely important to her, and she believes in living cleanly and simply. She has had some strange experiences with spirits, angels, and the afterlife. While she does think that abortion and excessive promiscuity are sinful, she knows she doesn’t have all the answers, and tries not be judgmental.
Like Logan, she loved to dabble with machines and experiment on her own, but she prioritized her studies and did well in school, and — partly because of family and cultural pressure — kept most of her private projects to herself. In 2024 she left her family in Texas and went to UW to study computer science. She met Walden in an introductory computer systems class, and they hit it off immediately. He was a strong, driven, brilliant person, with an open mind that was rigorous and intuitive. She saw a lot to admire in him, and their relationship quickly grew intense. However, after about six months, Paula found she’d reached a locked door in Walden’s psyche, one he would not let her enter. That effectively ended that phase of the relationship.
Nevertheless they remained friends, and went into business together after college. It was while working with Walden and Logan on their first venture, Gardenshare, that she met Walden’s special forces buddy Max. Unlike Walden, Max was emotionally open and forthright, and their shared military background and mutual attraction made them a good match. In 2029, when their third company, Customdrug, started veering into unethical territory, Paula and Max left and joined Google’s subsidiary FXML (a provider of machine learning approaches to financial investment). When the book begins, the two of them are still there, and Paula and Walden have not spoken for a year.