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The Strange and Quirky Evolution of a Story

story, quill, ink and parchment scrollBeing as I’m basically finished with my debut in the fantasy-science-fiction-writing world, having essentially completed a six-book story series that began with After Earth: Journey To The Black City, it was time to move forward…or perhaps backward in time.

Years before I wrote Journey To The Black City, I’d written another novel. This would have been around 1991 or ’92. Back then we didn’t yet have a home computer, and so I printed the entire thing by hand on typing paper. It ran about 350 pages or so. Then something wonderful happened. My wife, a teacher in Phoenix at the time, got an educator’s deal on a brand new computer. It was an Apple IIGS.

Exit the paper, enter the computer

This computer required floppy disks to boot-up, and no memory or Internet capability. I immediately began rewriting my novel, printing it out in dot matrix on that accordion-fold, perforated- along-both-edges paper. The story progressed, and finally it was finished; but I had no clue what to do with it after that! So, as happens so many times, it went into a file cabinet, and became a ‘bingonna’ project. You know the kind, “I bingonna get back to it one of these days?”

The story was a supernatural horror story dealing with black magic, kidnapping and murder. I set the story in the year 1990 in an imaginary Arizona town named Hobbs, which was located a little north of Prescott. My protagonists were a couple of high school students, a police detective and his girlfriend, and an odd, older man named George Luedke. The antagonists were, of course, the evil magicians.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “What’s so odd and quirky about that?” One odd and quirky thing is what stimulated the story in the first place. Now back when I was writing about my Age of Ice, Into the Black City series, I’d explained that much of the imagery for that series had been in my imagination since the 1970’s!

If I would close my eyes while listening to music, I’d ‘see things’. My Black City of the West was there. The steam powered autos, and tribal folk riding horses and carrying swords and rifles, a black zeppelin back-lit by the Aurora Borealis. It was all there. In essence, it was akin to building the sets first, and then writing a play to fit them! Yep; quirky!

Writing then, writing now

The book set in Hobbs had a somewhat similar beginning, though not as detailed or drawn over a long time-line. But in this story an actual, physical item led me into it. That item is a gigantic 120 foot tall chimney or smokestack! Once it had been part of a smelter near Mayer, Arizona. Now, all that can be seen from the highway is that…thing pointing up into the sky. I’ve always found it very dramatic; a marvelous landmark. Also, since Mayer is near Prescott, and Hobbs is just a bit north of there, I moved the smelter chimney. I gave it a new, and rather sinister history, and it became in reality the first character in my first-ever novel! Once again, a set-piece or prop was found before the play was written…am I doing this backwards?

So now fast-forward to the present. I finally dug this old ‘bingonna’ project from the file. I hardly remembered it, but I’d even drawn a map of Hobbs so I could keep the travels of my characters ordered and logical. I decided to re-write this story again, only on my new Apple computer. By now I had two wonderful editors, someone to help with publicity, and the ability to put out E-books or paperbacks through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other reading venues.

To edit, or not to edit

The dot matrix print out had faded some over the years…in a couple of places I needed a magnifying glass to read it. Good thing I decided to rewrite it before it faded into oblivion! I copied it, moving along rapidly until I got to the last 40 pages or so. Gasp…I suddenly realized I didn’t like the story, the basic plot, or the outcomes for my characters! Back to page one, and one more rewrite.

I kept the location, the characters, and some of the original plot, but the black magic had to go, I decided. I wanted to do something else. And so I did. But, if you want to know what the new story line is, you’ll have to wait until its published; because I’m not tellin’!

What I will say, is that the book finally has a title! It took about 23 years, but it now has a title; The Devil’s Rifle. That title comes from the back-story of that iconic chimney, and it was in fact called that in the original version of the story—but it wasn’t the title of the book.

And so now I leave the decision up to you. ‘The strange and quirky evolution of a story’, or not?

Published inWriting Strategy