A very good morning to one and all, and I hope it finds you well! After one full day on this new blog, I have gotten my mission statement out, established pages for Brass & Coal and The Nexus Chronicles, and welcomed my first follower, William J. Jackson of The Rail Legacy fame. Not bad for a day’s work, but I have much more to do, not least of which is getting the Beyond the Rails samples paged and available for readers to peruse; can’t sell books if they aren’t on display!
An author also has to stay fresh for his audience, and one way to do that is to communicate freely. You may take that to mean that I’ll be on this blog a lot discussing the activities that go into the life of a writer, doing my best to answer any questions you may have, and inviting comments and discussion from anyone with an interest in any aspect.
I thought a good topic for Day Two might be how Beyond the Rails came to be. Some of you have heard it before, but I’m hoping for a lot of new readers who haven’t, so let’s bring them up to speed.
Though I learned to read at an early age, it never occurred to me that I could write things for others to read until my fifth grade teacher made me aware of the joy to be found in that particular endeavor. Due to a combination of circumstances, I entered fifth grade at the age of nine. I turned ten the following month, but I’m going with nine because that means I have been writing for sixty years, which if nothing else, gives me a huge store of experience.
While I have enjoyed writing tremendously, it took me forty of those years to learn the structure of a novel, the management of plot twists, the sub-plots, the red herrings, and all those things. I finished the first novel that I completed, Temple of Exile, early in 1998, and went out shopping for publishers and agents. I had a lot to learn, and while I was learning, I wrote four more. They were contemporary fantasy, action/adventure, sword and sorcery, detective, and cozy fantasy, and none of them found a home. But in the meantime, my friends were beginning to see me as an author, and when one had an idea, he looked me up.
I had that one life-long friend who I sadly lost to his unrelenting Trump rhetoric early last year, but that isn’t the story. We were primarily gaming buddies, introduced by my sister who was his coworker, and we spent over thirty years meeting across a table playing games of every description as we watched each other’s children grow up.
Some years back, he put together the broad strokes of a joint writing project for us based on Dystopian Wars, a naval miniatures game he was taken with. This steampunk-flavored game postulates an 1840s alternate world based on technology discovered in a vault in Antarctica. The first line of backstory in the manual is, “After Ireland was conquered by Britain…” Well, being a good and proper Irishman, this didn’t set too well with him, so his project was to have a crusading journalist, one Mr. Shackleford Banks, working to uncover and publicize the real story behind that bit of history, while all the might of Queen Victoria’s Secret Service labored tirelessly to stop him.
Alas, events conspired to rob us of that collaboration, but, having gotten the bug from him, I found myself unable to leave the world of goggles & gears so easily behind, and rather than commandeer his story, I invented my own. To ensure no toes were trod upon, I moved mine 40 years in time, and 4,000 miles in space, and ditched the story line of Dystopian Wars for one of my own design. The result was Beyond the Rails. Now, if in his retirement he should want to pass the time by writing his own stories, they will be waiting there untouched for him to pick up at his leisure.
One of the early reviewers of Beyond the Rails described the stories as “Jules Verne meets Firefly,” and that, I think, has given rise to an insidious rumor that that’s what I was aiming for. The comparison is almost unavoidable, and I do not object to it, indeed, I embrace it; there are a lot worse things to have your work compared to than a Joss Whedon masterpiece! But Beyond the Rails is mine. If I was subconsciously emulating anything, it would have been Hatari!, a 1962 John Wayne movie about a mismatched group of expats in Africa who catch animals for zoos. It is easy to find, and I highly recommend it, not only for the action, romance, comedy, and the stunning backdrops, but for the family dynamic of the cast. I’ve only come to realize lately that the reason that movie was so huge to me in 1962 was that as a moderately abused child, I desperately wanted to be one of these people who came together to support each other, rain or shine, no matter what in this highly dangerous profession because, beneath all the highjinx, sarcasm, teasing, and pranks, they genuinely loved each other. I found that to some extent in the Navy, and later in the loving family I am blessed with now, but that fourteen-year old outcast spent an agonizing childhood searching for that, and it’s no surprise that it’s at the heart of my first successful literary endeavor.
And, wow, what a digression that was! But I’ll leave it in, because part of the reason for this is to tell you in a complete and honest fashion what goes into making a writer, and I’m pretty sure that was a huge factor. Anyway, that’s the story behind the story, and in the days to come, I’ll be talking about the characters and situations, getting the sample stories up, and working out new surprises to keep things fresh and upbeat.
I can’t wrap this up without mentioning that, as I was writing this post, my second follower signed up, one David Lee Summers, a professional astronomer whose scientific knowledge often creeps into his fiction. I cannot recommend too strongly a visit to both of their links!
And now I’m going to wrap this up and get busy on the Beyond the Rails page. My philosophy here is that it’s a good idea to post frequently, and keep to a single topic as much as possible. My scatterbrain blog is Jack’s Hideout, where I range far afield and do most of my whining. Big downer, probably best to avoid it, but please yourself. Anyway, watch for those new pages, and I’ll be around to post something new in the next day or two. Read well, write better, and may all your excitement fall between the covers!