This past week I had a discussion with a friend of mine and soon the topic of my writing career came up. (I swear, she brought it up. Not me.) My friend told me that she had been enjoying my blog and found the pieces on my writing habits very interesting. Then she suggested to me, “perhaps you do a behind-the-scenes look on Curse Breaker. Most writers tend to focus on how they went from unpublished authors to published authors. You should try writing a piece about how Curse Breaker came to be. Where you got all your ideas and so on.” And then I replied, “Well, I know a good idea when I hear one.” So this week it is my honor to present to you, The Why of Curse Breaker…
For those of you who have watched the movie Inception, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character (Arthur) says, “The mind can always trace the genesis of an idea.” So when I took a look back on all the past failed novels I’ve written as well as the movies I’ve seen, video games I’ve played and books I’ve read, the earliest known point where the idea for the Curse Breaker universe itself came to be actually came from a very unlikely source. Believe it or not it came from Super Mario Bros 3
I was a huge fan of the video game when I was a kid and not much has changed since. While I can go on and on about the game play, the power ups and all that jazz, what I really loved about this game were the different worlds. Desert World, Water World, and my personal favorite, Giant World. What intrigued me about the worlds were just how different they were and most importantly, how Mario and Luigi got to them. Whether it be a warp zone or a warp whistle, one second you’re in one place and then, in the blink of an eye, you’re somewhere else. Such a concept has always sparked my imagination.
In 1994 I was 11 year old and I was introduced to a little movie called Stargate. My second favorite Kurt Russell movie after Deathproof. As a kid I loved everything about this movie. The special effects, the action, the score and even the story. While I still love all those things, the one thing that always stood out the most were the titular stargate itself. People traveling millions of miles, from one star to another in the blink of an eye. Which begs to asked the question, what if the human race had this technology? Or better yet, what if the human race had this technology commercially available? I wouldn’t get some form of an answer to that question until high school.
In 1996 I was introduced to a little video game called Final Fantasy 6 (which was released in the US as Final Fantasy 3.) It was a lot different from Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat or Super Mario or Contra where you beat the level, move onto the next level, rinse and repeat. When I first played it, it was those differences that kept it on my shelf for a whole year. Then one rainy day, out of complete boredom I took it out and started playing it. Ten minutes into it and I was hooked. I couldn’t believe it. This game had an actual story. A COMPLEX story with COMPLEX characters. It was like reading my favorite fantasy novel except I could control the characters and makes decisions that could actually affect the story. And the fact that the world was Industrial as opposed to Medieval like previous Final Fantasy games, made it more interesting. This was the first time I was officially introduced to Steampunk.
When I was a freshman in high school I had to read this book for my Genre Literature class:
Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky was an answer to a question I asked a long time ago. Rather than using spaceships like in Star Trek, Star Wars and more than few other science fiction novels, Robert Heinlein used technological gates to connect Earth to distant planets. In the novel the human race can travel to distant stars instantly thanks to the gates. Not that I didn’t like spaceships but there was something about using gates that offered a much different appeal as well as different challenges than what having starships could give.
In high school I wasn’t much of a reader. At least a novel reader. Sure I read what was required in school (believe it or not 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Frankenstein were part of the books I was required to read). For leisure I read the Hobbit, and the Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter and the Wheel of Time Series as well as the Shannara series and the Sword of Truth series but that reading was limited to two or three novels a year. And that depended on how many rainy days there were that year. I mostly read comic books. I went through a hundred or more a year. One of my favorites was this:
Battle Chasers was absolutely one of my favorite comics. And frustrating as all hell to follow because the issues came out every couple of months. It was my second official reintroduction to Steampunk but I still didn’t know the name of it yet. I’ve always called it Industrial Sci-Fi-Fantasy.
During high school, Dr. James, my creative writing teacher, recommended two books to me. The first was Frank Herbert’s Dune and the second was David Gerrold’s Worlds of Wonder:
I’ll admit, Dune was hard to get into at first. There aren’t any regular chapter breaks and I had mostly read fantasy up to that point, not sci-fi. But after starting from the beginning for the fourth time I finally got through it and I actually loved the adventure it took me on. As for World’s of Wonder, it was a nonfiction book. It’s one of the few books that I’ve read cover to cover the very first time I picked it up. And I’ve been reading it cover to cover ever since. David Gerrold gives you real insight into your story and your characters rather than give you a bunch of generic assignments you learned in your high school English class. In the book he discusses first lines and last lines, E-prime, creating wonder, developing your characters, sentence structure and so many other things. I carried the book with me wherever I went for at least a year.
My college years were some of the roughest years of my life. I had two jobs, one I love and other I hate, Because of my lack of access to TV, and my free time was few and far between, I started reading a lot more in college. I read novels by Orson Scott Card, Jacqueline Carey, David Gerrold of course, Brandon Sanderson, Sara Douglass, Patricia Briggs and a few others. I had been into high-fantasy for a while, it was relaxing to branch out and try different genres. Eventually I switched my major from Computer Science to English and a few years later, I earned my B.A. from California State University, Northridge.
During college, because of my reading habits, my writing reflected it. I wrote mostly high fantasy (dungeons, dragons, wizards, rangers, elves, magic swords, etc) I was a regular run-of-the-mill Tolkien clone. Looking back on it, it was no wonder every one of those novels were rejected.
Then in 2008 something cool happened. I was just channel surfing at home one day and I came across G4’s Underground. The title of the episode was ‘Urban Spelunking and Steampunk.’ I had heard of the term Cyberpunk but Steampunk was something very new to me. In the Steampunk segment they introduced the band Abney Park and the Steampunk mad scientist Jake Von Slatt, Abney Park’s music brought me in but it had to be that damn Steampunk computer by Jake Von Slatt that clinched it! 😉
It was beautiful. It wasn’t some boring, gray, generic, plastic thing that inspires yawns wherever it goes. It actually LOOKED good! When you compare the two there is no comparison. (My sincerest apologies to any and all P.C. fans. I didn’t mean to offend)
It wasn’t until after my latest novel received it’s last rejection letter that I began to limp my way back to the drawing board. My last novel had been a cyberpunk opus full of myth and future technology and oh yeah; gates. I couldn’t quite get the concept out of my mind and thoughts. It wasn’t until after a certain incident at my college book store that I went home and began writing the rough draft of what will later become Curse Breaker: Guild Assassin.
Before the G4 episode I had planned to write another cyberpunk novel. But with my last novel still getting ‘no’s’ in the mail, I knew that I would need to change my angle or risk writing another novel from scratch. So rather than ask one question, which was what I usually did, I asked several:
What if, the human race had access to wormhole technology during the Victorian Era?
What if the human race could use wormhole technology to travel to other planets, just like in Dune or Tunnel in the Sky or Stargate?
How much would society change thanks to wormhole technology?
How would it affect history if had been invented during the Victorian Era?
How different would my universe be from the universe of the novel?
How can I make this alternate universe and everything in it, Steampunk? Airship pirates, mad scientists, lost continents, loud contraptions, action, adventure, aristocracy, gloves, goggles, and everything else in between.
And last but not least…
What if all the myths are true?
I attempted to answer as many of these questions as I could but I wanted to desperately to keep my freedom. That was one of the reasons why I stuck to fantasy for so long. I wasn’t limited by things like science or logic. Just the rules I had set for myself with some logic mixed in. I didn’t want to be limited by such things like science, or technology or historical accuracy or time period. Harder still, I needed the world to completely change and at the same time, stay the same. And that was when I realized, wormhole technology was made for Steampunk.
Usually most authors would take a single concept and wrap a novel around it rather than several like I had done. I figured if I was going to write a Steampunk novel and possibly a series, I was going to make it as interesting and as unique as humanly possible. Besides, it wasn’t like my cyberpunk and high fantasy stories were turning many heads in the publishing world.
As I wrote the novel I reread Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, rewatched the movies, I also rewatched Wild Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Sherlock Holmes, Atlantis, and a A LOT of Anime. I also read books recommended by people in the Steampunk community. Those books include the Difference Engine, Soulless, and The Etched City. If I was going to write a Steampunk novel I was going to learn as much as I could from both past and present Steampunk authors.
By 2009 I had bought pretty much every Abney Park album they had on sale, on iTunes, and would listen to them daily (still do). In September of 2009 I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Abney Park at Pyrate Dazes in Long Beach, CA.
Hearing them play live was such a thrill and meeting them in person was just awesome! One of the best nights of my life! After meeting them I must written at least 5,000 words a day just so I could finish the book faster.
So after finishing the novel, editing it, rewriting it again, editing it again, and again and again, I started submitting it and collecting rejection letters. A year later in November of 2010, Sharon Belcastro and Ella Marie Shupe offered to represent me and they’ve been my agents ever since. As it turned out, they rather enjoyed the assassin/conspiracy/alternate universe/steampunk concept. Thank God. If Guild Assassin didn’t make it, I was going to start writing horror novels. A year later Sharon and Ella Marie found me a publisher and Guild Assassin was released a year after that. So, here I am. After ten years, and a couple of failed novels later, I’ve finally managed to leave the ocean of billions of unpublished authors and finally entered the sea of hundreds of millions of published authors. Oh well. So far it’s been a hell of a ride and I’m looking forward to what the future brings. So far the feed back for Curse Breaker has been positive and that always puts a smile on my face 😀 I just hope that trend keeps up. In next week’s blog I hope to have more good news to share with you fine people. Don’t worry about the paperback. It’s on it’s way.
Take care. Have a good week. And like before, like always, thanks for reading. I’ll see you next week.