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.
April 10, 2015 § 1 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, this post discusses another agonist: Logan Byrnes. Like that post, there are no ‘spoilers’ here, just notes about character inspiration and background.
In the summer of 2017, Walden went to summer church camp and met Logan Byrnes. Their friendship was immediate and intense. Logan, who was born in Scotland but grew up in a poor part of Seattle, was another quiet, serious child. For him, though, it wasn’t enough to just read about things. He hurled his whole being into everything that interested him. He built telescopes and engines from parts scrounged from the neighborhood; he experimented on plants and insects, and his room sometimes crawled with lizards, snakes, and worms; and he was often found by the police wandering miles from home, exploring. The third of six siblings, his parents rarely had time to watch him carefully. His father was a computer programmer, but not a great one, and his salary was spread thin over six children. So Logan would often shoplift gifts or food for his brother and sisters. He learned judo (he refused to tell anyone how) and then taught it in turn to his family and friends, and they would fearlessly wander the most dangerous streets in the evenings. He taught himself various computer languages from a young age, and by the time he met Walden, he’d already built three of his own machines, and worked part time doing contract programming — illegally, because he was a minor.
The intimate relationship between Logan and Walden eventually cooled. For Walden, Logan was simply too intense, too wild and unpredictable. They always remained close, always better able to understand each other than anyone else in their lives, but Walden needed a lot of emotional distance. Logan understood, and gave it to him. They maintained their friendship online after high school. Neither of them entered college — Walden’s grades were too poor, and Logan was simply too poor, period. While Walden entered the military, Logan worked a few low-paying contract programming jobs, apparently spending most of his time doing drugs and playing games.
But when Walden left the military, Logan already had hatched a scheme to get them both into a good college. All it required was Walden’s money and Logan’s hacking skills, which he’d quietly honed to an amazing degree. Logan and Walden applied to and entered the University of Washington in the fall of 2024, with no irregularities in their records at all.
At school, Logan experimented a lot — with machines, with software, with cheating, with his social and sexual partners, with drugs, and with himself. But he did extremely well at UW, graduating with highest honors.
After college, Logan and Walden went into business, founding a rapid series of start-ups with their other school friends. At first things went well, and they made a lot of money very quickly. But within a few years things began to go sour: business deals led inevitably to riskier ventures, morally ambiguous enterprises, and distasteful compromises. Logan’s take-no-prisoners approach to entrepreneurship, apparently having no qualms about using any kind of secrecy or treachery for business advantage, alienated all of his partners one by one. His last venture with Walden was an organ-sharing clearing house, illegal in most countries but extremely profitable. Eventually, when that grew too abhorrent even for Walden, Logan dropped out of Walden’s life and disappeared for most of a year — before reappearing suddenly with a revolutionary technology.
Logan is based on Loki, a being of uncertain origin who was something between a god and a giant. He was a shapeshifter and a mischievous trickster, but it’s clear that, in the beginning at least, he cared deeply for the other gods and was firmly on their side in their struggles against the giants. With cunning and guile, he orchestrated the raising of the wall around Asgard, and gained almost all the great treasures of the gods — Thor’s hammer, Odin’s spear, Sif’s necklace, Freyr’s chariot and boar, and so on. But he compromised his honor and broke many promises, creating enemies inside Asgard and out.
If Odin was effeminate, Loki was downright gender-ambiguous. As a shape-shifter and trickster, his identity as ‘male’ was far from firmly established. For example, he turned himself into a mare in order to trick a giant, and in that form he gave birth to Odin’s six-legged horse Sleipnir, a steed that could carry Odin to the realm of the Dead and back.
Nevertheless he had many female lovers, including his Aesir wife Sigyn and his jotun wife Angrboda. Angrboda bore him three monstrous children — the mighty wolf Fenrir, the world-serpent Jormungandr, and Hel, the monarch of the dead. They were so dangerous that the gods bound and banished them all.
Loki, increasingly embittered by his ill-treatment by both gods and giants and the loss of his children, became more spiteful and vengeful. Eventually he tricked the blind god, Honir, into killing Odin’s son Balder. After this, Loki was hunted down and imprisoned until the end of the world. At Ragnarök, Loki will lead an army of ghosts against Asgard, and his three monstrous children will defeat and kill Odin and Thor.
April 1, 2015 § 2 Comments
Axon, Inc. is a tightly-focused novel, concentrating on the lives of just a few characters. Stories like this one explore the ramifications of transformative technologies, unraveling the world we know and weaving a new one from its ruins. Focusing on one or two characters allows the reader to become more immersed in the novel, to intimately experience the changes the world is undergoing — to follow a single vivid narrative thread through the chaos of collapsing social structures.
The book follows four main characters, and this page discusses one in detail: the protagonist, Walden Reathall. There are a few things that might be called ‘spoilers’ here, but for the most part this is just notes about what inspired the character, and background that’s revealed in the first few chapters.
Based on Odin, Walden is the viewpoint character and primary protagonist of the novel.
Odin was born from the primeval frost (along with his brothers, one of whom may have been Loki), and led the warriors that defeated the giants. He then tore apart the body of the greatest giant, Ymir, and created the world from it. It’s possible that this myth is connected to an ancient Proto-Indo-European myth about two brothers, twins, one of whom kills the other as a sacrifice to create the world. In that ancient story, the living one becomes the lord of the sky, and the dead one the lord of the underworld.
Odin is a god of contradictions. Most people know he is a god of warriors, and lord of Valhalla, the hall where valorous warriors spent eternity in fighting and feasting, preparing for Ragnarök. But he is also a king and shaman. For the Norse, it was odd for a shamanistic individual to be male; so in some ways Odin was seen as effeminate. Some saw this as an imperfection in his character — one of his moral failings. He is, after all, not a moral paragon. In many myths, he was willing to make unsavory compromises to protect his kin. And those compromises often come back to betray him. For example, in order to construct the wall around Asgard, he and Loki lied, swindled, and stole. This led to enmity between the gods and giants, and, eventually, to Ragnarök.
Walden Reathall was born in December of 2001 in western Washington state. His mother, a teacher who grew up in South Africa, was an environmentalist and activist. She named him “Walden” after her favorite book. His father, whose family was originally Canadian, was also an environmentalist; he worked in real estate and eventually became a local politician. Walden has one younger sister, Tori.
Walden was a quiet, serious child, although he developed a wry sense of humor as he got older. He was always fascinated by mathematics and literature, and spent hours in his room or in the yard under a tree, reading piles of books. But his attention wandered easily, and he often did poorly in school. His mother died when he was 15, of heart disease. When the book begins (2030), Walden’s father is still alive, but succumbed to dementia a few years ago.
In the summer of 2017, Walden went to summer church camp and met Logan Byrnes. Their friendship was immediate and intense, and is best described in the post about Logan, coming up next.
February 7, 2015 § 2 Comments
Ever since George Lucas introduced Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces to screenwriting, it’s had a profound influence — not just on the movie industry, but on fiction in general. A quick Google search will bring up thousands of pages about applying Joseph Campbell’s work to novels, short stories, and even television commercials. I love Campbell’s work and think its popularity is well-deserved, but for myself, I need a guide that’s a little more detailed.
I recently read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! and its sequels, and they’re certainly more formulaic — even algorithmic. You can start with nothing but a vague idea, a hook or a character; and by following his recipe, you’ll end up with a three-act movie, with every detail mapped out, and every minute charted and plotted. He practically hands you an invoice for the sandwiches for the extras.
But more importantly, Snyder tells you exactly why each act, scene, and minute is there, and how it serves the story. So if you decide you don’t want to tell a story exactly according to his formula, that’s fine — you’ll be able to break the rules responsibly. And you’ll know why movies and novels that don’t follow his formula usually fail, and sometimes succeed spectacularly.
A third book I found extremely useful was Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots. This monstrous tome, Booker’s labor of love and masterwork, is brilliant in most places, and not-at-all-brilliant in others. The first half (which I found most helpful) is a crash course in the greatest works of European literature, as he reviews everything from Shakespeare’s plays to Grimm’s folktales, Greek myths to Cervantes, and weaves from them a coherent tapestry of human experience. I think the title is somewhat misleading, because more insightful, I felt, was his identification of the great drivers of plot — the Monster vs. the Hero, the Light and Dark family members, and the characteristics of other non-protagonist characters.
I sat down a year or so ago and wrote up a ‘map’ that combined the insights of these books into a single framework, for my own reference. The major headings are Campbell’s framework, and under each I’ve noted the terms used by Snyder and Booker, and any further elaborations they’ve added. References to Family members (Dark Father, etc.) are archetypes used by both Jung and Booker, and I’ll lay out their details, and how they relate to each other, in another post.