Thursday, April 17, 2014

From the Magister's Notebook: Under the Hood of a Novel

What happens when you take a vague reference to a movie, a germ of an idea for a piece of fan fiction, a love of history, a dark role playing game, and sequel to a popular computer role playing game?

Magister: The String

I will admit, it truly was a weird confluence of events. I'd heard vaguely of the movie Frequency and the high concept, being father and son talking to each other between past and future. Intriguing in and of itself, but I started turning it around in my head, looking at it kind of like one would look at the different facets of a gemstone. Then the idea came, instead of talking to each other, what if they were sharing experiences over time? Not memories, but actually being in the other person's head as events took place? Weird, but I needed a reason as to why this was happening, and since my obsession.. er interest of the time was one Wesley Windham-Pryce of the television series Angel, I had my guinea pig. And since the show had a supernatural bent, it was easy to come up with a villain. A demon, caught between two time periods, committing murders to gain enough power to break free.

Great, wonderful, and since I'd spent most of my life studying the Second World War, Wesley's partner in all of this would be a young RAF pilot, injured during a raid at the time of the Battle of Britain: Thomas Whitehall. Again, amazing, since I could even write in a dog fight scene for Wesley to experience. Very cool!

Then I made the mistake, or had the good fortune, depending on your point of view, to discuss this with my circle of fellow writers. One suggested I "file the serial numbers off" and actually write it as a stand alone short in my own universe. And since one of the reasons I got into fan fiction was to hone my skills as a writer (and satisfy my addictive need to be a storyteller), I decided to give it a shot. Resetting it in the suburbs of my hometown was easy. Explaining how the protagonist had a connection with the pilot (a great uncle who'd just passed) worked well, but the story just didn't feel right somehow. So I played with it once and a while, trying to find the angle that would bring the story to life.

At the same time, my overheated imagination had always been fascinated with the mythology of the World of Darkness, created by White Wolf Publishing. Of special interest to me was the creation story of the vampires, and how they all descended from the first murderer: Cain. Again, I began to play with this story, turning it into a redemption myth of Cain seeking one pure soul out of all the vampires who had descended from his line, and when he had found that one, that soul would be the key to his redemption. Again, I began to strip away the trappings of the World of Darkness, and Cain became someone else looking for similar redemption. I won't say whom, that would spoil the story.

The pure soul went through many iterations, finally becoming Ariella Goldstein, a Jewish survivor of Ravensbrück concentration camp. She was rescued by a vampire who, at the time, went by the name of Martin Drake. As a vampire, she fought back against the Nazis and their supernatural allies. But what set her apart from her kin was she had kept her faith, and it had been rewarded. Holy symbols wielded by true believers (the only way such things would work) did little to deter her. And Ariella, herself, could call upon divine grace for aid. It was something she rarely did, but it marked her as other.

Now I had two stories which were partially set in World War Two, but that nephew, the protagonist who was supposed to bring them all together still had no voice, until Atton Rand. I had begun playing the sequel to the popular game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The second installment, called The Sith Lords, featured a character by the name of Atton Rand, who was a Han Solo-like character, with a much darker past. But as much as I liked his story, it was the voice that sealed the deal. And suddenly my protagonist became this smart mouthed patrol officer from the Chicago Police Department, who had inherited his late great uncle's estate and fortune. In honor of the voice artist who'd inspired me, I gave my protagonist his first name: Nick. And the bones of the Magister finally fit into place. Flesh, the form of the shape of the prose came soon after, and Magister became a mostly reality.

As of this writing (April 16, 2014) Magister: the String is at 40,000 words, give or take, which feels to be about two thirds done. There have been a lot of surprises along the way, things that I'd planned far in advance that changed radically, and I hope, for the better.

Even as I'm rereading this, I realize I sound a bit pretentious, but I figure that's okay. I've only told this story to a few people before, and mostly in pieces. So being able to share the whole thing is almost as exciting as the idea I may able to share Magister someday. I'm hoping though, if there's anything anyone takes away from my little tale is that inspiration strikes in the strangest places, and never discount anything. Creativity never exists in a vacuum.

Okay, done being pretentious now.

Art Copyright: Richard Price 2014
Written Content Copyright: Penny Horwitz 2014