On March 23, 2013 I received the following email from J Edward Neill:
“My final round scooped. Weak. But seriously, if you want to try your hand at the serial story blog thing, I’m all in.”
The first part of that line refers to Magic the Gathering, so not really important to our discussion right now. The second refers to a conversation I had with J about a podcast I’d been listening to “The Self-Publishing Podcast” and how two of those guys had been on a tear with serialized fiction (which if you are at all interested in independent writing, you should check out the podcast). The format basically was about 15,000 words per episode (which equals about 60 pages), six episodes make a season (apparently we are on an English schedule)… leaving you with 90,000 words for the book (360 pages). They released them on a weekly basis, cliffhangers at the end of episodes (just like some of your favorite tv shows).
And I thought it could be duplicated.
So a couple of days later I got that email. And I replied on March 25, 2013:
“Serial – I’d be down.”
There was tons more included. Talk about potential schedules, the idea that this book could help not only cross-pollinate our works, but also generate content for our virtual book shelves. The one thing I am sure of in this writing thing is that if I only have one book, then it is much harder for anyone to find me. But if I have another book, I’ve increased my odds. And by co-writing it, I only have to do 1/2 as much work to get to the full novel.
Anyway. At that point we had no idea what this was going to be besides the barest of formats. Genre? Who knows. I only knew that we probably wanted to avoid vampires and zombies since they seemed to be running rampant throughout fiction and tv and movies.
J mentioned “a superhero theme, but waaaay back in time… fighting against ancient evils in a fantasy dark ages setting.”
I took that and wrote the following:
“125 years ago the last of the Great Wars were fought and the beginning of King XXX began. And the Age of Peace spread throughout the lands that he had conquered. Much like Alexander in our own world, this King spread his kingdom to the far reaches of the known world, but unlike Alexander, he lived to a ripe old age. Long enough to ensure that his heir would be ready to rule after him, long enough to make sure that the new lands remained within the kingdom. Trade increase, prosperity increased, etc.
20 years ago marked the beginning of the Outbreak in YYY. hey stacked the dead along the walls until they reached the top, and then they began a new corpse wall. The spread like wildfire throughout the world; the downside to having increased contact with the far reaches meant that no one could outrun it. The population of the world decreased over the next 10 years by 50%. Small villages now are ghost towns, empty of all life, as those who survived journeyed to the cities for protection, cure, help.
Now we deal with a medieval world which has begun to pull itself out of the apocalypse. They are trying to figure out where they stand. But there are peasant revolts, coups, kingdoms which quarantined themselves and have not been heard from in the last dozen years.
<Insert Project Name> – Dark Fantasy – Not saving the world, not saving the day… just saving yourself.”
That’s all it took and we were off to the races. We began to flesh out the pieces of the world and the people who survived the end of the world. We came up with our four Points of View, each choosing to write two of them. We’d be each other’s first editor. And when it was done we’d have something greater than the one could possibly do.
I must admit, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. I’ve collaborated plenty on the comic book side of things. Heck, the whole format is about that very thing. Writers and artists working together to achieve something they could not have done alone. But this was something else.
And it worked (at least I think it did, you’ll have to read it and be the judge). I think we’ve not only managed to flesh out a world, but we’ve done it by using the characters as our vehicles to get there. They determine so much of what the world is going to look like.
The best part, though, was getting that new chapter from J. There would always be something new one of us would include in a chapter that the other one would want to add to their own story. So many emails and conversations seemed to begin with “X thing is cool… how exactly does it work so that I can use it.” Those surprises made it fresh in a way that working by yourself sometimes can’t be.
I’m excited to release this new creation into the world. I can’t wait to have people give it a read and let us know what they think.
And by the way, Mr. Neill also has given a little bit of teaser for Hollow Empire here.
John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.