Tomorrow’s Shepherd is Book 2 of my fantasy trilogy, The Verdant Revival — my Weird West love letter to JRPGs and their memorable characters and epic stories — but you shouldn’t be too lost if you want to start with this one.
It’s about Fritz Reinhardt
A smart, quiet intuitive who is the only person able to fix the chipware planet Verde lost in the Blackout two hundred years prior, Fritz was a secondary character in Book 1, Yesterday’s Demons, but he takes center stage in Tomorrow’s Shepherd. (If you’re a fan of Siv and Cassie from Yesterday’s Demons, don’t worry. They’re still very much around, too!)
It’s about Lady Verde
The spirit of the planet remembers the environmental damage chipware did to her, and she’s pleased it’s been gone for 200 years. She’s not happy about its return, and she’s powerful enough to do something about it.
It’s about the future
While Yesterday’s Demons focused on how the past shapes us into who we are today, Tomorrow’s Shepherd is about how we build the future. This is such an important message for our world which has forgotten how to dream about the future.
It’s about hope
Each book in The Verdant Revival focuses on a different main character (Siv, Fritz, or Cassie), a different perspective on time (past, future, or present), and a different one of the theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. Yesterday’s Demons focused on love, and how it is the opposite of fear. Tomorrow’s Shepherd is about hope. Tomorrow will be better than today. Our problems can be overcome. We can make it happen together.
I’m so excited about this book, and I’m so excited I can now share it with the world. Enjoy!
One of my writing quirks is that I put together a soundtrack for pretty much every story I write, be it short or novel-length. A short story might have a single song, but for my novels, I eventually put together a full-length playlist. Music helps me visualize my characters and coalesce the story’s scenes into a resonant whole. It has long been my most generous muse.
Here is the list of songs I put together for my latest novel, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, Book 2 of The Verdant Revival. I’d like to give details of why I chose each song, but some of those reasons will contain spoilers. So, for now, I have to be a bit coy, but I hope the songs and the snippets of lyrics presented below form a sort of “tone poem” about the book.
“Learn to Fly” by Foo Fighters (Fritz’s theme)
I’m looking to the sky to save me / Looking for a sign of life
Looking for something to help me burn out bright
Fly along with me / I can’t quite make it alone
“Petroleum Distillation” by Fifteen (Lady Verde’s theme)
The ground is my body, it’s been poisoned with lead and junk food and toxic waste
The sky is my mind, it’s been clouded with cigarettes and fluorocarbons and petroleum distillates
The water’s my heart, it’s been broken with booze and drugs and shooting up paste
The sun is my spirit, it belongs to all of us, I guess we’re all just one sick race
“New” by No Doubt (Annalie’s theme)
Who sent this maniac? / You’re so new
Like a fresh battery, I’m energized by you
Don’t let it go away / This feeling has got to stay
“Breakable” by Ingrid Michaelson
Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts?
Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts
So it’s fairly simple to cut right through the mess
And to stop the muscle that makes us confess
We are so fragile / And our cracking bones make noise
And we are just breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys
“Every Night” by Even in Blackouts (Screeching Weasel cover)
Each night I document the things I’ve done
The pointless points I’ve made for stupid reasons
Tonight and every night / I will analyze everything
And make myself count the ways / I fucked up today
“Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game
It’s time to trust my instincts
It’s time to try defying gravity
“The Pretender” by Foo Fighters
What if I say I’m not like the others?
What if I say I’m not just another one of your plays?
What if I say that I’ll never surrender?
“Forever Now” by Green Day Standing at the edge of the world / It’s giving me the chills
Lost in a tangle, it’s freaking me out
Burning lights and blackouts
“Still Breathing” by Green Day (“closing credits” song 1)
I’m still breathing on my own
My head’s above the rain and roses
Making my way / My way to you
“Glory (Let There Be Peace)” by Matt Maher (“closing credits” song 2)
Let there be peace / Let it start in me
Let there be peace / Let it start in me
This article is the second in a series introducing the characters in my forthcoming novel, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, Book 2 of The Verdant Revival trilogy. The main characters from the first book, Yesterday’s Demons, are back, but we also meet some new faces. One of those is the book’s primary villain, Lady Verde.
The Verdant Revival takes place on planet Verde, and Lady Verde is the spirit of the planet, much like Mother Nature here on Earth. And she’s not the villain of Tomorrow’s Shepherd because I’m some kind of planet-hating, non-recycling ne’er-do-well. Not at all. I’ve written previously (see here and here) about the JRPG tropes I love, but this is a case where I thought it would be fun to subvert a trope.
What if, instead of being a benevolent mother, the spirit of the planet was vengeful? What if she was sick of her soil being filled with our garbage? What if she was tired of our pollutants filling her skies? And what if she had the power to do something about it?
Though she’s the spirit of the planet, Lady Verde can form a body for herself out of anything natural: soil, water, or air. She possesses complete control of the weather. Plants can rapidly grow or instantly die at her command.
Thus, Fritz Reinhardt and his friends are faced with quite the challenge when Lady Verde demands an end to their technological restoration. She was relieved when all of Verde’s technology was lost in the Blackout two hundred years earlier, and she isn’t happy to see its return. She knows first-hand the environmental damage that will come with it.
A while back, I sneakily mentioned that Tomorrow’s Shepherd‘s villains were mentioned by name in Yesterday’s Demons. That includes Lady Verde!
“Our father is a farmer,” she said, “and while his son couldn’t be dragged outside, he had to pick me up and carry me inside against my will every night. He taught me everything he knew about hunting, horse riding, and farming, which means I know a lot about the weather. How to tell when it’s going to rain, or freeze, that sort of thing. Lady Verde is what proves the conventional wisdom about Terrascorcha wrong.”
When they weren’t battling the monsters, they were battling the heat. Lady Verde was harsh in early June. Siv estimated the daytime high temperatures to be in the low nineties.
There’s another one in Chapter 22, but no more sneaky Easter Eggs. You’ll meet Lady Verde proper in Tomorrow’s Shepherd.
“You call it the Blackout. I call it the day my oppressors died. Forgive me if that sounds overly dramatic, but I don’t want to be set on fire again. I don’t want my forests eliminated. I don’t want verloid gas pumped into my skies.”
“I will not remain the silent observer I have been for centuries. I will make sure the people understand this from my perspective. I’ll see to it they’re fully informed about all chipware is capable of, including the destruction it has wrought. I’ll educate the very people you claim to want to help. And trust me: my knowledge of this issue comes from personal memory, and it goes back far longer than yours.”
“Yes, [the first Mantissa] rendered the Steelterrors inoperable and interred them deep in the ground. But I am the ground. And I know where the bodies are buried.”
This article is the first in a series introducing the characters in my forthcoming novel, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, Book 2 of The Verdant Revival trilogy. The main characters from the first book, Yesterday’s Demons, are back, but we also meet some new faces.
Allow me to introduce you to Annalie Krieger. Annalie had the misfortune to be born in Verde’s ancient capital, Mondorf, which is now controlled by the white demons. Every human who lives there is either a slave or a collaborator, and Annalie is no collaborator. Six years ago, when she was 18 years old, the demons killed her parents, leaving her to raise her five younger siblings alone.
But you’d never know she’s lived such a hard life because she’s so pleasant, bright, bubbly and talkative, especially if you get her on the subject of chipware. Working in the demons’ Maintenance Duty, she’s spent her entire life cataloging and preserving the demons’ extensive stores of broken, blacked-out chipware. And if you read Yesterday’s Demons, you know the demons now can repair it all, thanks to descramblers they forced Fritz Reinhardt to make for them. Thus, the previous two months have been some of Annalie’s busiest ever.
As one of the demons’ slaves, her clothes aren’t exactly fashionable or new. Her jeans are third- or fourth-hand. Her boots have been repaired more than once. The elbows of her shirt sleeves are a little threadbare. But her green eyes still shine behind her spectacles, and her red hair is as bright as her personality.
You’d think Annalie and Fritz would hit it off right away, what with them both being fascinated by ancient chipware. But they don’t, because when they meet, Fritz is in Mondorf as part of an assault against the demons. As interested as she is in restored chipware, Annalie doesn’t want anything to do with revolution. Over her twenty-four years, she’s seen a lot of humans try to rise up against the demons, but they’ve all had more courage than strategy, and they never have any idea about what happens after Mondorf’s humanity is liberated. If Annalie is going to help — if she’s going to risk her life and the well-being of her five siblings — she’s going to need to know what happens after the revolution.
Well, there’s something else that might motivate her. She’ll help if you have cake. And punch. And cobbler. Fried chicken would be nice, too. And bread! Oh, fresh baked, still warm bread. With butter. And jam. And cheese!
“My dad and I used to read notes left behind by past maintenance duty folks. For two centuries, there’s been a grist of ideas about what happened to chipware and how to fix it, but no one’s ever been able to make that dog hunt. How’d you do it?”
“My siblings haven’t had anyone but me since our folks died. But my friend Ramona said she’d look after them. As long as they’re taken care of, helping out is as big a no-brainer as mashed potatoes and gravy.”
You know what the future used to be? Back when there were still areas of the map filled with question marks and shruggies, it was all about new frontiers. New places. The future, in other words, was somewhere else. After we eliminated the blank spots on the map and turned our maps into globes (sorry, flat-earthers), we still felt the future was somewhere else. Space. The final frontier.
When I was a child, the future looked like rocket ships. The Jetsons. Star Trek. Gadgets for everything. Vacations on the moon. So much chrome. (You have to admit, mid-century futurists did accurately predict the early 21st Century stainless steel appliances craze.)
Walt Disney — a genius, a visionary, a futurist — even went and built the future as part of Disneyland. He called it Tomorrowland. Check out what it looked like back when Walt was alive. Rockets flying through the air! Transport cars zipping along a motorized track! There were missions to Mars. There were adventures through inner space, exploring the sub-atomic world. There were houses of the future filled with fabulous new technology. There was a great big beautiful tomorrow, just a dream away!
Have you seen Tomorrowland lately? Oh, there are still rocket ships, and Space Mountain is still awesome. But there’s also Star Tours — fictional rocket ships in a galaxy far, far away. There are adventures with Buzz Lightyear. There’s Autopia (a go-kart ride) and the Finding Nemo Submarine Adventure. And all of those attractions are fantastic and fun, and I love them to death, but… go-karts and submarines don’t really scream tomorrow, do they?
And I submit to you this is not because Disneyland’s Imagineers are lazy, and it’s not because Disney’s sharp pencil boys think a park loaded with intellectual properties makes more cents. I think the problem is bigger than that.
The problem is: we don’t know what the future looks like anymore.
We used to, of course, but then we made that future come true. The future is now! We have self-driving cars, and you can summon them with the push of an Uber button. We can cook food in a fraction of the time it used to take, thanks to microwave ovens. Captain Kirk’s communicator? We have that now. Actually, we’re past that now. Flip phones like Kirk’s are already anachronistic.
Sure, there are a few big-ticket items we’re still waiting on, like warp drive, teleportation, and that vacation on Mars. But we’re not exactly eager for any of that anymore, are we? NASA has seen budget cuts, and I haven’t heard any politicians channeling JFK and challenging us to go past the moon. (No, the “Space Force” doesn’t count. Just stop.)
We dreamed it, we did it, and then we stopped dreaming.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. This was basically the premise of Brad Bird’s thought-provoking, fun, and highly underrated film Tomorrowland. (No relation to the area of Disneyland. Well, not really much of one, anyway.) Produced by Damon Lindelof, Bird said, “When Damon and I were first talking about the project, we were wondering why people’s once-bright notions about the future gradually seemed to disappear.”
“When [Damon and I] were little, people had a very positive idea about the future, even though there were bad things going on in the world. Even the 1964 World’s Fair happened during the Cold War. But there was a sense we could overcome them. And yet now we act like we’re passengers on a bus with no say in where it’s going, with no realization that we collectively write the future every day and can make it so much better than it otherwise would be.” –Brad Bird
I’ve been thinking a lot about the future ever since I started writing my fantasy trilogy, The Verdant Revival. The first book in the trilogy, Yesterday’s Demons, focuses on how the past shapes us into the people we are today. The second book, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, is about building a better future. But what does that look like for us here on Earth in 2018?
It can’t be a dystopia. No, we need to dream again. It’s time for a new great, big beautiful tomorrow. But let’s not start dreaming about where we can go next or about the next new gadget. I don’t think that’s the kind of future we need. We need to think bigger.
But maybe we should start with some old ideas about the future that still haven’t been fully realized. Thinking about Star Trek again, it’s true we don’t yet have photon torpedoes and phasers. But we don’t have that whole “human hunger is a relic of the past” thing either, do we?
On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared with us a pretty darn good dream of a future, a dream that “one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”
How about a future without war? A future in which we build bridges instead of barriers. How about a future in which we seek to heal, not to harm? What would the world look like if no one was naked, no one was homeless, and no one was uneducated?
What if, in the future, we showed mercy, not malice? What if we replaced hate with peace? What if we chose to include instead of to divide? What if we chose to be generous with forgiveness instead of grasping onto grudges?
By definition, the future will never be now, but it can be something that happens here, and not on some distant frontier. And by here I mean inside our hearts. Let’s reclaim the future. Let’s dream again. And let’s do it together.
(Theme song — sung to the tune of “The Daves I Know” by Kids in the Hall): These are the tropes I love, I love
These are the tropes I love
These are the tropes I love, I love
These are the tropes I love
Welcome to another installment of The JRPG Tropes I Love, a series in which I celebrate my favorite recurring themes, elements, and outright cliches from Japanese role-playing games. Today’s trope:
Themed Enemy Groups
They’re the JRPG version of running the gauntlet. They’re not a mini-boss or a Big Bad. They’re a group of boss-level enemies that must be defeated either one right after another, or as a recurring element throughout the game.
The Final Fantasy series, for example, features Weapons. In some Final Fantasy games they’re biological monsters, and sometimes they’re technological terrors, but they almost always appear as a group. In Final Fantasy VII, there are five, each of them an instrument of destruction built to defeat the alien menace Jenova: Sapphire Weapon, Diamond Weapon, Ruby Weapon, Emerald Weapon, and Ultimate Weapon. Of course, the fact that you fight them should be the tip-off that although the Weapons were created to defend the planet, they go a bit nuts and end up attacking it. This, too, is a common trait of Themed Enemy Groups.
Another common element of this trope is color as the distinguishing trait among group members. The Lunar series features the Four Dragons. These powerful, ancient creatures are not always enemies; sometimes they’re friends or even members of the player’s party. But what’s consistent is that they’re named by colors: White Dragon, Black Dragon, Ruby Dragon, and Blue Dragon.
Color is also the distinguishing trait of the Gigas in Skies of Arcadia. There are six of them in that game, one for each of the planet’s moons: Recumen the Red Gigas, Grendel the Green Gigas, Bluheim the Blue Gigas, Yeligar the Yellow Gigas, Zelos the Silver Gigas, and Piergoth the Purple Gigas, which is a giant sky whale — a sky whale, y’all! Like so many other Themed Enemy Groups, the Gigas are enormous weapons of mass destruction built by the ancient peoples of Arcadia.
Wild Arms features the Golems, which are:
Built for good
Now used for evil
Phantasy Star II turns this trope on its side a bit; it features a Themed Dungeon Group rather than a themed group of enemies. At one point in that game, artificially-created rainwater floods the planet’s giant lake, threatening many towns and lots of people. Rolf and his friends must open all four dams to end the flooding: Red Dam, Yellow Dam, Blue Dam, and Green Dam. At least they kept the color-coding!
Pokemon gets in on this trope with the Legendary Birds — Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, and later, Lugia. Going beyond JRPGs, Disney’s Hercules features the Titans, a group of giant monsters that ravaged the ancient land until Zeus stopped them.
I’ve made no secret that my fantasy novel series, The Verdant Revival, is my love letter to JRPGs and their epic, unforgettable stories and characters. In book two of the trilogy, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, Fritz Reinhardt and his friends must face the Steelterrors, ancient mechanical monsters — the worst chipware planet Verde has ever seen, resurrected and back on the warpath. There are four of them, one for each of the elements of the ancient world:
Samson, Verdant Warden of Soil
Leviathan, Verdant Warden of Water
Banshee, Verdant Warden of the Sky
Teufel, Verdant Warden of Fire
Yeah, I went all-in on this one for Tomorrow’s Shepherd, sticking very close to the trope, because giant robots, guys. The world just can’t have enough giant robots. Ever.
What Themed Enemy Groups did I miss? Let me know in the comments.
“Representation matters.” Google it, and you’ll find it’s a hashtag. It’s a movement. It’s a message. It’s the idea that all people have a place at the table. These two simple words have numerous applications. People of all races, nationalities, and income levels should be represented in democratic government. There shouldn’t be a gender gap in (to use my day job as an example) software development. And our stories should reflect the diverse world we live in, too. No, that doesn’t mean the characters of everystory must check off as many demographic boxes as possible. But nor does every hero in every story need to be Caucasian.
I’m a white, privileged male, so admittedly, this was a problem not immediately apparent to me. But who can forget this Tumblr user’s post about seeing Star Wars: Rogue One with her Mexican father?
When the film was over and we were walking to the car, he turns to me and says, “did you notice that [Cassian Andor, portrayed by Diego Luna] had an accent?” And I said, “Yeah dad, just like yours.” Then my dad asked me if the film had made a lot of money. I told him it was the second highest grossing film of 2016 despite it only being out for 18 days in 2016 (since new year just came around). He then asked me if people liked the film, I told him that it had a huge following online and great reviews. He then asked me why Diego Luna hadn’t changed his accent and I told him that Diego has openly talked about keeping his accent and how proud he is of it. And my dad was silent for a while and then he said, “And he was a main character.” And I said, “He was.” And my dad was so happy. As we drove home he started telling me about other Mexican actors that he thinks should be in movies in America. Representation matters.
The issue became much more personal for me when I had a conversation with a co-worker, Sarah, in which we got on the subject of Ghostbusters (2016). We talked about how we felt the film was underrated and about how many of its critics didn’t seem to critique the film itself but rather the fact that it starred women. And of course, we talked about how Kate McKinnon’s completely bonkers Jillian Holtzmann is one of the greatest Ghostbusters of all time. Of all time!
And then Sarah told me something that this father of three little girls will never forget.
She told me how, when she was young, she had all the Ghostbusters toys — the figures, the car, the fire station playset. “But,” she said, “it never even occurred to me that I could be a Ghostbuster since the Ghostbusters were all boys.”
Now I get it that no one, male or female, can wield an unlicensed nuclear accelerator and capture a ghost in ecto-containment. But that’s not the point. The point is: Sarah never even pretended to be a Ghostbuster because she’d never seen a female being one.
Now imagine if a young girl never sees a woman perform a particular real-life profession. Do you think that girl will say to herself, “Well, I’ve only ever seen men do that job, but I suppose I could do it, too”? Some do, for sure, but not all. Not even most. After all, there’s a reason women like Amelia Earhart and Elizabeth Blackwell are heroes.
And then it got personal But even after all of that, I’d only learned how much representation mattered to others. I still hadn’t personalized how affirming representation feels.
Then I came upon a particular paragraph buried deep in Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbriger. It’s a 1000+ page book, the third in an epic fantasy series that so far tips the scales at 3000+ pages, but this passage is the only one in the entire saga I’ve so far highlighted. This passage is written from the perspective of a relatively minor character, Renarin Kholin.
Renarin wears glasses. He’s soft-spoken and doesn’t like conflict. He’s curious. He takes his time before speaking. And this is how he sees himself:
Indeed, he still saw the world differently from everyone else. He was still nervous talking to people, and didn’t like being touched. Everyone else saw in each other things he never could understand. So much noise and destruction and people talking and cries for help and sniffles and muttering and whispering all like buzzing, buzzings.
And I felt it: the warm glow of representation. Because the person that was just described? That’s me. That’s totally me. Renarin Kholin represents me.
Another example: I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell because I was intrigued by the idea of a story about a fan fiction writer. I don’t read many “chick lit” books — and by not many, I mean zero — but nevertheless, I adoredFangirl. It’s been a year-and-a-half since I read it, and I still think about it all the time. And the main reason why is the book’s main character, Cather Avery. She’s obsessed with the Simon Snow books (a thinly-veiled Harry Potter-like series). She loves to write. She’s shy. She stays home every Friday night. And she nearly starves at the start of her freshman year of college because she doesn’t know where the cafeteria is, and she’s too self-conscious to wander around looking for it, or worse, to — gasp — ask someone for help.
I feel so represented by Cather Avery. And it feels magnificent.
And that’s how I learned representation matters. Renarin Kholin is an introvert like me, but he’s also a Knight Radiant. If Renarin can do great, heroic things, maybe I can, too.
Cather is as withdrawn and as hard to get out of her shell as I am, yet she wins a prestigious award for her writing. So maybe my writing can find an appreciative audience, too.
The main character in my new book, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, also represents me in many ways. Fritz Reinhardt is quiet, a reluctant leader, and a lover of all things breakfast-related. His introspection and intuition make him something of an odd stick to most folks, but they also help him both change and save the world. My sincere hope is that real-life people like Fritz — people like me — can find in him a character they can relate to. A character they feel represents them.
Because for the love of St. Pete, this is important. Everyone deserves to have some stories in which they see themselves. Stories should show our beautifully diverse world as it is — and, where our world is lacking, they should show what it could be.
Stories can teach little girls that only boys can be Ghostbusters, or they can show those young women that they can be anything.