#My5: The Verdant Revival

my5logo_blackWhen you become a Goodreads author, a few “Ask the Author” questions are automatically placed in your queue. Two of them are “How do you get inspired to write?” and “Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?” I think this is because people are fascinated with writers’ imaginations. Everyone wants to know if that character is based on a real person, or what prompted the author to make the story take place in the 1700s, or OMG how in the world could you have let that happen to my hero?!

You can read my answers to the questions above on Goodreads.com, but I’d like to go more in-depth on this topic because I love talking about it… and because a friend and writing group colleague of mine, KM Alexander, has started #My5 — a familiar format for authors to share their inspirations.

So without further ado, here are five influences on my first novel, book 1 of The Verdant RevivalYesterday’s Demons.


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Phantasy Star

Before Phantasy Star, I liked fantasy, and I liked science fiction, but there was a line between the two. To my 13 or 14-year-old self, fantasy was about swords and sorcery and medieval times, while science fiction was about laser guns and spaceships and the future.

Phantasy Star destroyed that line. It featured heroes who wielded both swords and laser guns. In it, I traveled to castles in the sky and to distant planets. Some obstacles were overcome with magic keys; others with high-powered, high-tech ice diggers.

It might not have been the first story to blend these worlds. It might not have even been the first console RPG to do it. But Phantasy Star was the first time I experienced this kind of mash-up. That innovative mix didn’t just hook me from the start, it became my favorite kind of world to escape into. It is no mistake at all that Yesterday’s Demons takes place in a world with a similar mix of genres.


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Wild Arms

Final Fantasy VII is rightfully remembered as the most popular RPG of the late 1990s, and I liked it a lot. It probably would have been the sixth item on this list if this were My6 instead of My5. But it wasn’t my favorite RPG of that era. That honor goes to Wild Arms.

Ahh, Wild Arms… how I love thee!

In the late 1990s, my beloved Phantasy Star series had come to an apparent close and I was in search of new games to fill the void. From the first day I saw it on the Vidpro wall at Toys “R” Us, Wild Arms filled that void, built a home, and tunneled its way into a very special place in my world. It has all the heart and soul, and fantasy and science fiction, that I loved about Phantasy Star. But it also added a new element: an Old West-style world, complete with gunslingers and ten-gallon hats. I can directly attribute the Western-like setting of Yesterday’s Demons to my love of Wild Arms and its planet, Filgaia.


JRR Tolkien
JRR Tolkien

Yeah, yeah, a fantasy novel was inspired by Tolkien — how shocking. But it’s actually not what you might think. Tolkien’s influence on Yesterday’s Demons does come from his status as the godfather of fantasy, of course. But Yesterday’s Demons was also influenced by the one-two punch of Tolkien’s dislike of allegory and his Catholic worldview.

It is well known that Tolkien wasn’t a big fan of the Narnia books by his friend, CS Lewis. Among other objections, Tolkien didn’t care for allegory. He felt Aslan was a too-on-the-nose stand-in for Christ. I suspect he’d be amused that in modern times I’ve heard Aslan described on the Internet as “the Jesus lion.”

But while no one would call Frodo Baggins “the Jesus Hobbit,” Frodo’s role as the Ring-bearer parallels Christ’s role as the sin-bearer. There are shades of Simon of Cyrene in Samwise Gamgee, especially when Samwise helps a beaten and exhausted Frodo bear his burden for a short time. And the OneRing was destroyed, and evil thoroughly conquered in Middle-Earth, on March 25, the day on which Christians celebrate the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary — the day on which Christ was conceived in His mother’s womb.

Tolkien’s Catholic faith was deeply important to him, and it was impossible for him to separate it from his work. He didn’t use allegory, yet his stories were inevitably and undeniably infused with Catholic morals and a Catholic worldview. And that’s pretty much exactly what I hope people will say about my own work.


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Unsolved Mysteries and other true crime TV shows

How in the world do old “true crime” TV shows from the 1980s like Unsolved Mysteries and Rescue 911 influence a fantasy, SF, Western novel?

Some of my grandmother’s favorite shows were what we’d now call “true crime TV.” I watched many of them with her, even though they often scared the pants off of me. I was afraid to visit the restroom during an Unsolved Mysteries  commercial break for fear that a criminal or alien would be standing at the window watching me. Rescue 911 gave me recurring nightmares that someone had broken into my garage. And when the annual Unsolved Mysteries Halloween episode aired featuring ghost stories? Whoa no! I didn’t sleep for days.

Fast forward to my earliest thoughts about the story that would become Yesterday’s Demons. I knew I wanted to write a fantasy, SF, Western novel. But I also knew I wanted it to be about fear — how fear controls us in ways both good and bad, how it can be both healthy and maddening. And you know what they say: write what you know! Thanks to all those paranoid fears and nightmares brought on by my grandmother’s true crime TV shows, I knew old friend fear far too well.


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Every Texan I know

I moved to Texas in 2007 and I’ve never looked back and I never will. I love it in God’s country. Since Yesterday’s Demons was published, friends have told me they saw some of our mutual friends in the book’s protagonist, Siv McCaig. And they’re right… all of them, no matter which mutual friend they mentioned by name. In many ways, Siv is an amalgamation of every Texan I’ve met since living in the Lone Star State.

I have a good friend who laughs the loudest at his own jokes. I have a pair of mentors who are brothers who always refer to their father as “our father”… except when they’re talking to each other, in which case he’s always “Daddy” — and these are big, tough, barbecuing Texans. Siv wears boots and jeans and when he’s planning to do something, he says he’s “fixing” to do it… just like every native Texan I know.


Yesterdays Demons Cover Final (Small)So that’s it… or rather, that’s the big five that came to mind the fastest. If you like any of the items listed above and you haven’t yet given Yesterday’s Demons a try, I think you’re missing out.

And if you liked this, check out #My5 from other authors:

Yesterday’s Demons is on sale now!

Yesterdays Demons Cover Final (Small)Today’s the day! Yesterday’s Demons is available for immediate download from your favorite ebook retailer. If print books are your thing, bear with me a little longer. The print edition will be here I hope (crosses fingers) by the end of the month. And my fingers were crossed in a good luck way, not in an “I’m lying but it’s OK because I crossed my fingers” way.

Here’s a quick round-up of some of the articles I’ve written leading up to this day:

After you read it, please write an honest review of it on your preferred platform. Amazon and Goodreads are great places for that. If you didn’t like it, tell me why. If you did like it, well I know for a fact the Internet needs that information.

But don’t worry, you’re going to love it.

Yesterday’s Demons on sale tomorrow

Yesterdays Demons Cover Final (Small)I admit it: the day I was first able to search Amazon for my name or my book title and have an actual honest-to-goodness product come up in the search results, available for pre-order, was pretty cool. Tomorrow it’s not a pre-order anymore. It’s live!

Langston Hughes famously asked what happens to a dream deferred? My dream of being a published writer was deferred for a long time, mostly because I thought the odds were against me. I thought no one would be interested in my work. I thought I’d end up a starving artist, unable or barely able to provide for myself, let alone a wife and family. I let other interests take over my attention and my heart.

To answer Hughes’s question, my deferred dream waited patiently and kept reminding me it was there. One day I finally listened. The first fruit of that decision goes on sale tomorrow.

I’ve spent the last month chattering about this book’s pending release. I’ve let you know every spoiler-free thing I could. (And believe me, that has not always been easy because this book has a lot of spoilers.) There’s probably only one thing left to say.

I think Yesterday’s Demons is such a cool story, and I think you’re going to love it, and I hope you’ll stick around for more of my stories.

April 2016 Status Update

Just a quick update this month, since I already mentioned my biggest news – Yesterday’s Demons is done and will be released in ebook on April 12 – in my previous update. I spent the rest of March making sure it will be available from lots of ebook vendors, writing the various articles posted here about the book, and working on the print edition. I don’t have a firm release date for the print edition yet but if it is not available by the end of April, it will be available in early May.

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It’s just about time for me to get to serious work on Book 2 of The Verdant Revival and I can’t wait. There is so much that excites me about that story and I really want to get it out of my brain and into the world. That effort starts in earnest very soon!

By the way, Book 2’s title is revealed on the final page of Yesterday’s Demons. I’m going to leave it there for now as a treat you get for finishing the book – or for scrolling ahead to the last page. I think maybe next month’s status update will be a good time to reveal it here.

In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be back in Verde writing about the continued adventures of Siv, Cassie, and Fritz.

Deus vobiscum.

Meet Fritz Reinhardt

This article is the third in a series about the main characters from Yesterday’s Demons. The planet Verde is yearning for revival, and although these men and women don’t realize it yet, they’re the ones who are going to make it happen. Today’s article focuses on Fritz Reinhardt.

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If Yesterday’s Demons were a movie, Joey Bragg would play Fritz. I’d make the casting part of the deal. (Source)

Fritz is 24-years-old and is the older brother of Cassie. Remember how Cassie is highly intelligent and fiercely determined, so much so that she holds a bachelor’s degree from the university though she’s only 20? And how next she’s going to medical school?

Fritz is just like that in some ways. For example, he’s so smart he can do something no one on Verde has been able to do for two hundred years. Two centuries ago, Verde was rocked by an event called the Blackout. Overnight, three things happened: the planet’s magic-wielding defenders, the Mantissa, disappeared; monsters took their place; and every piece of chipware on the planet broke.

As a result, parts of Verde are littered with junk. Hunks of steel that were once cars sit where they crashed or fell out of the sky the moment the Blackout occurred. Old cities like Harbrucken have sparks lines strung between the buildings, but now they’re just used to hang banners or drying laundry.

But Fritz knows how to repair chipware. He knows, from a technical perspective, what happened and how to reverse it. When Fritz starts traveling from town to town repairing chipware and spreading knowledge about how to fix it, daily life on Verde is going to change very rapidly. Mobiles will replace the post, parking garages will replace stables, sparks-powered bulbs will replace candles. Food won’t spoil as quickly. Heating and air conditioning will be possible again!

But remember how I said Fritz is like his sister in some ways, but not others? Where Cassie is fiercely determined, Fritz is… not. He realizes that restoring Verde’s chipware would bring about amazing changes and that he’d become the most sought-after man in the occupied territories. But that’s precisely why he won’t do it on a scale beyond personal tinkering.

At one point, considering he still lives on his parents’ farm and has no job, Cassie calls him a shiftless layabout. (“I mean that with nothing but love, of course, Big Brother,” she adds.) But Fritz isn’t lazy. He just doesn’t have time for anything except working on ancient chipware. Also, he’s just a little shy and a whole lot introverted. He rarely looks people in the eye. Considering he’s 24, he’s definitely a late bloomer. It’s not that he doesn’t want to share his abilities with the world. It’s just that the world would then want to talk to him about it. And that sounds tiring. He’d really rather not.

He does have one friend: Siv McCaig. When Fritz needs custom casings and parts for his repaired chipware and other inventions, he makes the journey from Hondo to Gorman to visit McCaig and Son’s because he feels Siv’s products are superior to those made by Hondo’s smith. And one day, he hires Siv not for his smithing skills but for his muscle. There’s a cave out in the unoccupied territories where Fritz found his weapon: a pre-Blackout laser gun. But a side passage is blocked by rocks and Fritz needs help getting past it to find what treasures might lay beyond. Siv agrees to go with him.

What Fritz finds in that cave sets off a series of events that will change Verde forever.

Finally, one meta note about Fritz. Not all of the book’s beta readers had a single character they called their favorite. But among those who did, every single one of them chose Fritz.

Fritz

Meet Cassie Reinhardt

This article is the second in a series about the main characters from Yesterday’s Demons. The planet Verde is yearning for revival, and although these men and women don’t realize it yet, they’re the ones who are going to make it happen. Today’s article focuses on Cassandra “Cassie” Reinhardt.

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If Yesterday’s Demons were a movie, Melissa Benoist would be a pretty good choice to play Cassie. Photo copyright Red Carpet Report on Mingle Media TV / CC-BY-SA-2.0. (Source)

Cassie is 20-years-old and lives in Harbrucken, the town that is home to Verde’s last remaining university. That’s where she just obtained a degree in biology. She’s not done with her education, though. She’s going to medical school. See, Cassie has a plan. And in her case, it might be better to capitalize that: she has a Plan.

She is quick to clarify that it is not a checklist. “It’s a plan,” she says. “There’s a timetable associated with it and that schedule must be maintained.” The Plan includes becoming a doctor at the age of 24. Working as a village doc for a few years. And then curing cancer.

You know, no big whoop.

But the thing is, Cassie is determined.  She’s serious. And she’s smart enough that she just might do it. (Meta note: the Germanic surname Reinhardt means “wise and strong.”)

Her intelligence and passion have some side effects. She doesn’t suffer fools. She can be very impatient with people who aren’t smart enough to keep up with her, or who she perceives as being in her way. It’s frustrating, but her biggest frustration is that since she was a teenager, she’s had a suspicion that a truth about Verdant society is a lie. Now, thanks to her university studies, she can prove she’s right. But getting anyone to listen is another story…

It can be hard for Cassie to take the time to focus on anything but her studies, but when she does, she enjoys any kind of outdoor activity. Since she was a little girl, she’s enjoyed hunting with her father. It’s how she became proficient with bow and arrow. And she loves horse riding. She owns a six-year-old mare named Mandolin whom she considers God’s equestrian gift to the world.

That’s pretty much it about Cassie. Except I feel like I’m forgetting one thing. Something important. Oh! That’s right.

She has a really big secret.

Cassie

What is Yesterday’s Demons?

I have been writing a lot about Yesterday’s Demons, book 1 of The Verdant Revival, which goes on sale in ebook on April 12. You can pre-order it now. If you follow this blog you probably already know all that, you’ve seen the cover, you’ve read the first chapter…  but today I’d like to tell you about it from perspectives other than plot.

Yesterdays Demons Cover Final (Small)

Audience
Yesterday’s Demons is a young adult novel, but its main characters aren’t teens, they’re 20-24. That makes it more “new adult” than young adult, but I still call it young adult because it’s definitely the kind of book I would’ve wanted to read when I was a young adult. And content/rating-wise, it lines up with that group as well.

Genre
Yesterday’s Demons is an epic fantasy. But it has Western elements, too — horses and six-shooters and such. It also has a healthy dose of science fiction. One of the characters carries not a revolver but a laser gun, for example.

Theme
Yesterday’s Demons is a story about fear. Fear has so much control over us in ways both healthy and not. We save money out of fear for a “rainy day” when we have none. We wear seat belts when we’re in a car for fear of reckless drivers. We set two alarm clocks for fear of not waking up for work on time. But we also push people out of our lives out of fear they might hurt us. Politicians make careers by exploiting our fears of people who are different than we are. We do stupid things to prove we’re not afraid when deep down, we’re really afraid. Fear can cripple us and render us unable to leave the house, or it can drive us to change everything and make the world a better place.

Tribute
Yesterday’s Demons is my love letter to the Japanese role-playing game genre. My love of fantasy was born by playing video RPGs, and many of them remain my favorite fantasy stories. The Phantasy Star series, Wild ARMs, Final Fantasy VII. Skies of Arcadia! By design, Yesterday’s Demons celebrates many of the tropes that make this genre beloved. Here’s a few spoiler-free ones:

  • It’s an epic story about heroes who rise from obscurity to save the world
  • Along the way, these heroes make new friends,  unlock old secrets, and awaken ancient enemies
  • Both magic and technology play a part
  • Saving the world requires a long journey across it
  • That travel is interrupted by encounters with monsters
  • The group starts with two members and new members are picked up along the journey
  • High-tech weapons like laser guns exist side-by-side with low-tech weapons like swords and bows and arrows.
  • But no two members of the group use the same weapon type
  • One member of the group is physically strong but possesses no magic
  • Another member wields incredible magic but not much physical combat ability
  • The way the ending… oh, wait, spoilers

The Start of a Series
Finally, Yesterday’s Demons is the first book in a trilogy called The Verdant Revival. But it is also a self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end. I love series of books, but I feel each installment also has to be its own story — no “overgrown prologues” as my editor would call them. Yesterday’s Demons gives you a complete story but also will leave you wanting to read more about planet Verde and the young heroes who live there.

You’re going to love it.