Our Writers’ Journey from Popcorn Space Opera to Twilight Zone
As I mentioned in concluding Part 1 of this series, Evan and I were confronted with several narrative challenges to completing The Tinker and The Fold trilogy due mainly to the evolution of his sci-fi interests between ages nine and fifteen. Of course, this is natural, and to be expected, as what is considered interesting and important to a pre-teen is quite different from that which engages a teen.
The younger we are, the more black and white the world appears to be. There are good guys and bad guys and everyone else in the story falls neatly beneath these opposite extremes. The protagonist has his or her team stacked squarely against the forces of the antagonist and its gang of evil doers. Yet, as adults, we come to understand that the world is far more nuanced, and it isn’t always clear who the good and bad guys are. As Evan matured, he began questioning the motivations of The Fold and created a counterpoint to their stated mission in the meddlesome Traveler.
For fans of the series, The Fold is introduced as a force of good charged with keeping peace in our galaxy and beyond, yet the ambiguous finale of The Problem with Solaris 3 (spoiler alert!) leaves the reader questioning this assumption. Initially, this ambiguity was vaguely explored in the first edition of the sequel, which was written during Evan’s Marvel/DC Comics phase, but never fully examined. Rather, our emphasis in Part 2 was on action and quick story pacing which resulted in a loose narrative where Jett, the protagonist, is granted a set of “powers” through an unfortunate accident where he spends an extended period of time in Quantum Entanglement. He then uses those ‘superpowers’ to complete a quest and further grow as a character, blah, blah, blah.
Upon revisiting The Rise of The Boe in light of the work we had completed on The Javelin Divide, it became abundantly clear that we had lost our way and fallen into the traps of multiple clichés that might very well end with our protagonist waking up in Kansas and wondering if it was ‘all just a dream’.
Popcorn space operas and superhero movies will get you only so far and engage your readers only so much, and, we must admit, are way overdone. While good and evil are very much alive and well in both fiction and reality, most of the universe we live in is overwhelmingly gray, muddy, and complex. As a freshly minted teen, Evan had come to realize this, and wanted to delve deeper into these vast murky gray regions – enter The Traveler.
The Traveler happened quite by accident. His appearance, in keeping with the genesis of the Tinkerverse, was inspired by Rogue One. Evan, on his own, began work in earnest on a book (yet to be completed) that he simply called ‘Two and a Half’. He wanted to answer the question of what happened to Jett after (spoiler alert) he and Hazbog disappeared into the bloodmist at the end of part 2.
Evan saw ‘Two and a Half’ as a prequel to the yet to be completed Part 3 since he was having a difficult time reconciling the storyline in his own mind. The result, as you will discover in Part 3 of this series, was The Javelin Divide, a meshing of his interceding narrative and the influence of Black Mirror, the culmination of which resulted in a dramatic departure from the early Star Wars space western plot devices that we had come to depend on early in the series.
OUR WRITERS’ JOURNEY FROM POPCORN SPACE OPERA TO TWILIGHT ZONE
When my son Evan and I began writing what would become The Tinker and The Fold series, we could have never anticipated the gradual but dramatic metamorphosis of our collective writing style over our seven plus year writing journey.
If you are unfamiliar with our story, perhaps a little background is in order. The Tinkerverse was conceived accidentally as a way for a busy corporate executive (aka, me) to carve out creative playtime on the weekends with my then nine-year-old son. It was born of Lego spaceships and crayon sketches of faraway worlds that were inspired by Star Wars and its ilk. This is the primary reason there are over three dozen Star Wars anagrams hidden through the series (BTW, very few readers have found them all! One that has is my nephew Benjamin. Of course, he can also solve a Rubik’s Cube in under 60 seconds!).
As Evan turned from nine to ten to eleven years old, his taste in science fiction naturally evolved and entirely new fictions and franchises opened up before us and enraptured him. Star Wars turned to Doctor Who and Firefly and the original Star Trek series. During this phase, we attended local comic cons as family cosplayers. Evan as the 12th Doctor, my daughter Alyssa as the fez wearing 11th, and me as Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor.
While attending these regional events, we discovered an entirely new universe of extremely talented writers and illustrators marketing their own ingenious works. The Tinkerverse, which loomed so very large in our own minds, suddenly seemed very small, lost in an endless sea of creative talent, but we took inspiration from their good works and continued our exploration, making it a point to buy a few ‘independent’ comics and novels anytime we attended a Con.
Because of classic Doctor Who serials, Evan was introduced to Douglas Adams and it was around this time he read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the iconic number 42 began working its way into our narrative. This would soon be followed by the darker influences of 1984 and Black Mirror which would be woven into our writing following deep discussions concerning the risk/reward scenarios of technology run amok.
While it was fantastically exciting to be bobbing around on an endless sea of inspiration, oft competing narratives added significant complexity to our ever-evolving story arc and we began running into headwinds halfway through the story outline for The Javelin Divide.
In retrospect, book 2 – The Rise of the Boe, now seemed too Marvel superheroey, popcorney, and formulaic compared to the much darker aspects of The Javelin Divide and suddenly the whole trilogy arc felt disjointed and saccharin. We agreed that the best avenue available to us was to revisit the entire series and conduct a heavy rewrite, starting with The Problem with Solaris 3.
We knew that pursuing this option would delay, possibly significantly, the completion of The Javelin Divide, but that seemed to us a minor sacrifice worthy of getting the narrative right, so we went back to the drawing board, this time with a professional editor in tow.
Revisiting the first two installments of the series in preparation for completing the third, opened up a whole new realm of possibility and took the whole story in an entirely new direction as a new character, dreamed up after Rise of the Boe, known only as The Traveler, snatched the role of antagonist from the clutches of Hazbog and introduced the possibility of what would become a truly Black Mirror finish.
More on that in Part 2.
Evan and I are often asked how we got started with The Tinker and The Fold and how we continue to progress with the project four years and 500 pages later.
I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not easy or fluid. Yes, we schedule time to sit down every week to work on various elements of the story, website, marketing, etc, but as in most families with three kids and myriad commitments, there’s almost always something else competing for our attention.
Sometimes the material (especially at the beginning of a new book) needs to sit and percolate for a week or two before it resumes a natural creative flow. We are currently experiencing this phenomenon with the third and final installment of The Tinker trilogy.
Whilst the foundation of The Tinkerverse is firmly laid, each installment need to:
Evan and I are particularly enamored with the finale of Part 1 – The Problem with Solaris 3. No spoilers here, but if you’ve read it, you understand why we like it so much (and many of our fans agree). The book’s ending intentionally leaves the reader on the razors edge, eager for the next installment.
In part one we were looking for something impactful, you know, in the vein of The Empire Strikes Back, and while it may not be “Luke, I am your father” good, it serves the purpose of both surprising the reader and engaging him in the rest of the series.
The ending of book one presented us with a conundrum as we wrapped book 2 – The Rise of The Boe: how in the heck were we going to do that again? Honestly, we got quite hung up on the ending of book 2. In fact, The Rise of Boe has an alternate ending in one of the early proofs. During the editing phase of the first print run, the original ending left us flat. It was missing the oomph of the first book.
So we ruminated on this for several weeks until we had that ever evasive ‘ah-ha’ moment and rewrote the ending. So far reader feedback has been positive, so we’re glad we didn’t settle for the original ending. In today’s ebook and on-demand printing world, it’s never too late to tweak your book.
Another issue we experienced with book 2 was the length. When we finished the book, the story (other than the ending) felt complete, but we had a major problem: it was much shorter than book 1 – like 60 pages shorter!
You might be thinking ‘so what’, but I can tell you, this was a big problem because a thinner book can suffer from the following challenges:
In the end, we did a little of both.
Evan and I discussed lengthening The Rise of The Boe, but the story flow felt very natural to us, so we knew we needed to proceed with caution. After some discussion, we added a background chapter on Jett’s (The Tinker’s) mother, an interview with his father, a backgrounder chapter on the female protagonist – Cyd.
Still, we lacked sufficient material, so we looked to solve a common complaint about The Tinker and The Fold – how does one pronounce all of those crazy names (many of which are actually Star Wars anagrams). The solution? We added a glossary of definitions and phonetic pronunciations.
In other words, we added useful fluff.
Yet, the book was still a dozen or so pages too short. One last tweak fixed that. We increased the font size by half a point and shazaam we now had the perfect sized book!
Keep in mind, every time we made one of these tweaks, we had to reformat the entire book. Depending on the intensity of the change, reformatting can be a 15 minute exercise or a 3 hour one. Even the smallest tweaks should be accompanied by a complete scan of the book, because something as small as a single word can set off a chain reaction many chapters downstream that throws everything off just enough to look horrible.
Now with book 3 outlined, Evan and I are on to character briefs (updates and backstory for a new character – Maria). As we look ahead, we will be challenged with crafting an ending that both wraps up the series yet leaves an opening should fans demand future installments, origin stories, and the like.
We also need a title (which is often the very last element of creation we tackle), so stay tuned for that.
We are excited to continue on our journey of self-discovery and learning. Check back for our next installment – getting professional book covers done on the cheap.
We’ll even feature some of the covers that didn’t make the cut!
Thanks for reading.
Download Book 1 for FREE January 7, 2017!
MY Top 5 Book & Series RECOMMENDATIONS for The Tinker and The Fold fans (Foldies)
By Evan Gordon
#5. The Maze Runner series by James Dashner:
This trilogy follows teenager Thomas who wakes up in a maze one day with no memory other than that of his first name. Consisting of three books (The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure), two prequels (The Kill Order and The Fever Code), and two movies, The Maze Runner is a great science fiction series to start.
#4. The Giver by Lois Lowry:
If you haven’t read The Giver, it explores some of the same ideas as The Tinker, such as everyone being equal and having the same as everyone else. However, the society in this novel takes it a little too far, banning everything that separates one person from another, including color, music, and even having your own children.
#3. The Lorien Legacies by Pittacus Lore:
This book series (I Am Number Four, The Power of Six, The Rise of Nine, The Fall of Five, The Revenge of Seven, The Fate of Ten, and United as One) is about a group of aliens hiding out on Earth as they slowly develop special abilities beyond our wildest imagination.
#2. The Reckoners by Brandon Sanderson:
Imagine that one day a new star appeared in the sky. But not just an everyday normal star, this star grants incredible powers to people on Earth at random, but with a catch. Those who are endowed become greedy, evil, and self-serving, sending the world into chaos. With three books (Steelheart, Firefight, and Calamity), this book falls right into many of the same categories as The Tinker and The Fold.
#1. The Fifth Wave Trilogy by Rick Yancey: The Fifth Wave Trilogy (The Fifth Wave, The Infinite Sea, and The Last Star) is number 1 on this list because it is literally the exact opposite of The Tinker and The Fold. In the Fifth Wave, teen girl Cassie does everything that she can to survive the oncoming waves of natural disasters and disease sent by The Others (The exact opposite of The Aaptuuans).
How My Middle School Son and I Created a Science Fiction Franchise
Searching for a deeper connection with your middle or high schooler? Wish you could create something together and build a stronger parent/child bond in the process? Perhaps you could write a story together, self-publish it, and sell it on Amazon.
Nearly four years after we first discussed the idea of writing a science fiction story, I never could have foreseen that my middle school son and I would be publishing our second book in The Tinker and The Fold series, and in the process create a young adult sci-fi franchise with thousands of books sold and an international following.
I remember the day well. It was January 20, 2013. We were driving to my daughter’s seventh birthday party when my son Evan, then nine, and I began discussing an idea for a science fiction story. I’m not even sure how the topic came up as we were winding down the spruce lined road. It just kinda came up as so many random conversations do.
I began sharing an idea I had for a sci-fi story when I was in college, but never got around to writing, for one reason or another such is life. Evan latched on to the concept. Before long, he and I were spending several hours every weekend building Lego models of aliens, spacecraft, and flying saucers. These creations lined the shelves of his room and led to discussions of the various alien civilizations that created such intricate machines.
We started jotting these ideas down on copy paper. First we worked on character descriptions and later drew pictures of the various aliens that would come to populate the story. We found inspiration for their names in the science fiction we both loved: Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Star Trek; and subsequently hid dozens of names from our all-time favorites throughout the books.
Before long we had piles of copy paper. So in order to keep it all straight, we three hole punched the piles and organized them in a three ring binder. At this point, the story no longer resembled my original idea. It had evolved substantially as we worked out the details over many months. I had simply provided the spark.
Looking back, I marvel at all of the hundreds of conversations we’ve had creating The Tinker and The Fold. I realize now as a forty something executive and father of three, my imagination isn’t quite as sharp as it once was. Yet that is precisely what Evan has in spades, an unencumbered imagination full of incredible ideas searching for an outlet.
Evan’s imagination is not governed by experience, nor is it limited by convention. It is free in ways I, as a middle aged male, can no longer be, but in ways I can truly appreciate through the lens of experience and time.
So what do I bring to the equation? Well, as a professional manager, I know how to see projects through to completion and I understand the power of deadlines. I also understand how to organize plots and storylines so that we can turn free flowing ideas into a cohesive journey for our readers.
Yet, though I make it sound as though we planned it all, it rather happened organically as we both embraced the process of creation together. The book series just kinda happened.
Nothing engages a child as imagination does. For so brief a time, our children live imaginary lives. They replicate the adventures of their heroes: Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Luke Skywalker, The Avengers, Iron Man, Doc McStuffins (funny example I know, but this is currently my youngest child’s fleeting hero). Then, in an instant, it’s all over. They’re grown up. Gone by in the blink of an eye.
One of my favorite childhood photos of Evan, he couldn’t have been four years old, is him dressed as Clark Kent pulling his shirt apart to reveal Superman’s iconic ‘S’. He was such an imaginary child, and was dressed in costume every day.
I’ll never forget shopping for a maternity bra for my wife at Kohls the day my first daughter was born. Evan was dressed as Captain Hook from Peter Pan. We sword fought our way through the entire store until we finally accomplished our mission and dispatched to the maternity ward to deliver our bounty.
Spiderman, Iron Man, The Flash, Batman, Indiana Jones, every Jedi under the sun (and even a couple Sith) and all of their myriad devices, weapons, and accoutrements littered the floor of our house.
Like I said before. There are no limits on a child’s imagination. I was reminded of this every weekend when we worked on the story. I’d have writer’s block and Evan would bust out with, “What if Tii-Eldii was a fugitive hiding from The Fold and used giant worms to get around?”
I could cite hundreds of examples like this. In writing The Rise of The Boe (book #2), it was Evan’s idea to cut the plot short and use the last five chapters to kick off book #3. This left us with a really enigmatic ending that we hope readers will enjoy that we feel complements book one’s cliff hanger.
Most interesting is how Evan’s friends at school have reacted to the books. We’ve had middle school parents approach us and say things like: ‘my son refuses to read, but he couldn’t put your book down. He read it in a weekend. He’s never read anything that fast. I got curious so I read it, too, and to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it, and I don’t like science fiction.’
What a compliment! Now if just one parent of a middle schooler who hates reading shared this sentiment with us, it would be statistically irrelevant, but we’ve heard it now from dozens of parents.
It’s gratifying to see how the synergy of our voices has created a story that is truly multi-generational, transcending labels like young adult fiction, yet that is where it squarely belongs.
We hope that The Rise of The Boe will be as well received as The Problem with Solaris 3, and continue to speak to both middle school readers and their parents alike. If we can encourage more kids to read and write creatively, we will have accomplished much.
This is the first in a series of blogs that will reveal the process through which Evan and I created The Tinker and The Fold. We will go beyond the creative process and cover topics such as setting up an Amazon page, finding a great artist to design your cover, editing, formatting and layout, and getting your book into Barnes and Noble and Walmart (yes we are in both of these), and much more.
We hope to see you again!
"As you might imagine, the denizens of those planets we colonized didn't always surrender easily. The most determined were exterminated, wiped from the galactic records," Tii-Eldii paused for a moment before continuing, "it was for these crimes, The Fold, as we would come to know them later, held us to account." - Tii-Eldii to Jett in Chapter 15 - 'Tii-Eldii's Tale'
“You require more nourishment than I calculated. I have made note of it, Dweller Jett.”
“Excellent, ummm, what’s your name?” Jett asked as he dug into the delectable dish.
“What would you like it to be?”
“Let’s see. Alfred’s taken. Jeeves is too obvious. How about Bob?”
“Bob it is, Dweller Jett.”
-Chapter 7, Something About Bob
“We do not feel guilt as you understand it. The Great White Light demands peace, but your species is not ready for the kind of peace It demands. That peace requires your species to lay down all of its weapons, forsake monetary exchange, cease consumption of animals for food, and provide equally for all. There are a few among you who understand these requirements at a deep level: Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da’Vinci, Buddha, and Jesus Christ are some names you will recognize, but millions more toil in anonymity. They struggle against a system that is rigged by a powerful ruling class. The system is rotten and it gnaws at the collective consciousness of your species. Yours is a house divided..." - Dr. VaaCaam-a speaking on behalf of The Fold to Jett on Aaptuu 4 in Chapter 28.