This isn’t Hamilton fanfic. This is what happens when there is Hamilton fanfic in a world where ghosts gain or lose power based solely on “how well and widely they are remembered”, and takes place in that oddly physical limbo between life and whatever comes next as seen in A Girl and Her Fed.
Write a blog post.
Quiet, brain, I’m working.
Write a blog post!
Working. Hush. I’ll give you cookies.
Write a blog post or I’ll remind you about this thing you did when you were eight.
Fine. Okay. Right. Let’s organize the work schedule for the next few months, shall we?
I’m cleaning up GREEK KEY and…well…
I’m worried about the voice in it, okay?
It’s told from first-person perspective, with Hope Blackwell as the narrator. Hope has severe attention deficit hyperacticity disorder. Keep in mind she’s not just bouncing from one topic to another, as she’s got the variant of ADHD with hyperfocus–when she’s locked on target, she will chase that target until it’s dead.
A brief post on worldbuilding.
STATE MACHINE has been out for five days and is doing quite well (thank you for making this happen!). The post I put up on Monday had several good comments about the structure of the Rachel Peng novels, and questions about the upcoming Hope Blackwell novel. Lemme try and answer these in the time-honored fell swoop:
A GIRL AND HER FED should be considered the original source material. Thus far, the only thing I’ve abandoned is aligning the comic and novels to “real world” time, mostly because I’m a stupid-slow artist and the Rachel novels would take place back in 2007 or so. Nope, our world moves too fast for that continuity nonsense.
(…she sighed, wistfully remembering how she really enjoys that continuity nonsense…)
I’ve also placed one red herring in the comic. It’s in Chapter 8 if you want to start guessing, but that’s all I’ll say about that.
The Josh Glassman Novellas
Short pulp novellas, between 35k and 50k words. Wacky sex comedies featuring our favorite Pornomancer, and told as a retrospective fantasy to Mare. Josh has been married eight times, to seven different women (and Mare twice), and this is how he bedded and wedded each of them. Josh loves who he is and what he can do, and he revels in the collective. Josh and Mare know about the ghosts, so ghosts are permitted, but will only show up if it makes sense within a given story. THE RUSSIANS CAME KNOCKING is the only one out so far.
The Rachel Peng Novels
Full-length novels, between 110k and 120k words. Mystery-thriller format, with a central crime that sets off the action and must be solved over the course of the book. Over the seven books in the series, Rachel Peng takes down Richard Hanlon, the villain who tortured and manipulated the 500 young kids who would grow up to become OACET. These novels take place in the five-year break between Parts 1 and 2 of the comic. Hints of ghosts here and there, but no koalas whatsoever! DIGITAL DIVIDE, MAKER SPACE, and STATE MACHINE are the three books in the series that have been published.
The Hope Blackwell Novels
There might just be one of these? I need to see how it performs before I commit to another series. I’m expecting GREEK KEY to come in around 80k to 90k words. Yes, Speedy will definitely be in this/these. The ghosts will be there, too. Not sure how to categorize this book…the draft is reading like Percy Jackson forgot his Adderall and decided to put on a modern-day reenactment of the ODYSSEY, but it’s only half-done and might take a Turn. Due out near Halloween.
(…screaming sounds forever…) Now that STATE MACHINE is done, getting the audio edits done on the books is my new full-time job. Again. Whee.
Hopefully this gives some general non-spoilery answers to any questions you might have had about the different overlapping series. Now, I’m gonna fall down for, like, six days and maybe twitch a little when Brown pokes me in the eye to check if I’m still alive.
Haven’t written anything over here for a few days, so here. Have some thoughts on George Washington. No, not that one.
Whenever I include a historical figure in the comic, I’ve tried to read as much of their own personal writings as possible. (Amelia Earhart was fantastic, by the way. I know I’ve said this before, but if she were alive today in the era of social media, she’d be killing it. Yeah yeah, she flew a plane. Whee. But did you know she addressed women’s social roles so thoroughly that she decided to start her own clothing line focused on practicality and wearability first, and appearance second, because she knew women needed to Get Shit Done? And that’s just one example and… and… Right. This is about Washington.)
Writing George Washington is so much fun. In the comic, his character is completely out of fucks to give. He has seen and done everything. In life, he survived betrayal, extraordinary loss, and hardships that we in this modern era can’t even imagine. Once the war was over, all he wanted to do was go sit on his farm and grow old, but no, there was this whole new country and he felt responsible for it. So he governs until he was sure it wouldn’t fall apart without him, and then he went to sit on his farm, with brief and much-resented interludes where he had to come out and make an appearance.
Can you imagine how pissed George the Ghost must have been when he died and found that the other ghosts thought he was still responsible for the country? Not only that, but he was so romanticized and heroized within society that he finds himself a super-powered ghost… an American god?
Man, he must have been pissed.
When I was first writing the ghosts into the story, I knew he’d show up. It’s a comic with the Founding Fathers in it, after all, and you cannot exclude Washington from that lineup. I had two options, and both of them would have been perfectly in character with George Washington’s in-life actions: George the Ghost could have stayed on his otherworld farm and removed himself from politics completely; or, George the Ghost could have rolled up his sleeves and started cracking heads.
I decided to go with the second option because Lincoln was the ghost who had banished himself to the afterlife. And because it was more fun. George the Ghost is great. He only looks like George Washington when he’s drawn as half-drunk and bitterly sarcastic. He only sounds like George Washington when he’s stating facts. Yeah, they’re just his opinions, but in his mind, they’re Facts.
Spoilers ahead. Have you read the comic? It’s free!
It’s hard to be a supervillain. Clarice had this brilliant master plan to set herself up as a new god.
But the ghosts who support her decided: Whoa, lady? Worldwide death and destruction? That’s a bit over the top!
Which is me wiggling out on the story I had planned to tell.
I wanted to follow through on Clarice’s master plan. It’d be great! It’d be entirely in keeping with her character, and within the rules of the universe. Essentially, it’s drawing on the premise that fame is a form of energy. Fame is remarkably similar to belief. It’s an investment of thought and attention, and if it is sustained over enough time, its target can draw upon this energy.
But fame is fleeting. Even U.S. presidents fall out of active memory. Benjamin Franklin and George Washington are among the most powerful ghosts in American history because everybody knows who they were, but Calvin Coolidge? The poor guy is relegated to “Worst President” lists and the occasional bad joke. If he’s lucky.
If Clarice spent the rest of her natural life setting herself up as a highly controversial figure who broke the modern world, she’d never be forgotten. (Or at least, not within the span of modern civilization, because Ozymandias, but she’ll take what she can get and then orchestrate her legacy from the grave.) This is what Clarice should have done.
But she couldn’t, because while she’s vicious and amoral and would think nothing of worldwide genocide to further her own ends, she’s also a character in a webcomic that updates twice a week. The medium through which her story is told cannot sustain that type of decades-long plot. It’d take sixty years of machinations to get Clarice to a point where she’d be poised at the brink of winning, and then-spoiler!-our heroes would finally pull their last-minute save out of their collective butts and send her to Hell.
Our very, very old heroes. As drawn by a very tired, and probably as equally old, me.
Couldn’t be done. Just in terms of audience attrition alone, I’d be ending a story followed by maybe sixteen hardcore readers (hi guys!). The characters themselves would have aged significantly, and their traits changed accordingly. It’d be sort of neat to carry a story through the length of their lives, and get into the nuts and bolts of political and religious plotting, the outcome of major plagues and nuclear fallout, the societal and cultural issues raised by coping with a reduced population… Well.
Writers tell similar long-term story arcs all of the time, but they don’t have to draw it out on a per-update basis. I can (and often do) spend three weeks on a brief interaction between two characters. A webcomic is not the right format for this type of story. Judge Dredd might be able to pull it off, but me? Not so much.
I’ve known about this problem for ages, and wrote myself a series of outs, just in case I decided to abandon one storyline and jump to another. There’ve been some hints that the ghosts who allied with Clarice weren’t cool with the whole global chaos/genocide thing. Now, it seems they’ve asked her to tone it down a notch or they’ll pull their support.
So, Clarice isn’t getting her long-running Master Plan. She’s forced to make do with something fast and dirty. Something also in keeping with her character but better suited to a comic format.
I’m sad I don’t get to play with mass murder, but there’ll be other opportunities.
Note: Someday soon I’ll put up a companion piece to this one about Rachel being blind. It’ll be very similar in content, but will cover the year after publishing Digital Divide where I went from, “Hey, I’ve got a book out” to “Hey, there’s a need for representation of persons with disabilities in science fiction and Rachel is blind so I’m doing something good!” to “Um… Rachel can still see so I’m going to put this banner down and quietly back away before I get myself into trouble.” I will definitely be exploring a comparison between Rachel and her brain implant, and deaf persons and cochlear implants, in an upcoming book.
I’ve got the plot for the comic planned out, but I do a lot of last-minute tinkering with scripts. The strip for October 2 was supposed to be quite different, with Hope offering Mike to Lincoln as a possible therapist.
I backed away at the last minute. I’m glad I did: I’m trying to get through the entire story without mentioning the characters’ preferences in sex partners. (I was also trying to do this with race, but I think I blew that in one of the earliest strips.) I’ll explain why, but I’ll ask you to do a little light reading before we get to that:
Don’t be fooled by the first couple of questions. Once you get past the normal Ask:Response section, the interview goes batshit. You can almost pinpoint the exact second when the interviewer realizes that this was no longer a fluff piece, and the pleasant stroll down Memory Lane has careened into Racism Road.
Yes, diversity matters. Yes, representation matters. No, we don’t have to hang spotlights off of every single difference to show that these matter. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Jedi more than anything else in the entire world. I wanted the lightsaber and the mindpowers and the… the everything! But I couldn’t, because girls weren’t Jedi. They weren’t anything, really.
If the Star Wars expanded universe had existed back when I was a kid-if I had seen just one female Jedi way off to the side!-the games I played with my friends would have been different. The stories I wrote in my head would have been different. When you’re a very young child, you don’t realize you’ve got options. You learn from example and context. Role models can be something as stupidly simple as a background character. The fact that they exist can open entire worlds within a kid’s head.
So I don’t talk about race or preferences in sex partners in the comic. They exist. Hell, they exist in the main characters: Mako is Black, Rachel is Chinese-American, Mike and Rachel are gay, Josh is so straight the Kinsey scale needed to be pushed into negative numbers, and Pat’s bisexual. (I’ve got a side story in the works that addresses this, where Pat wasn’t entirely comfortable with this aspect of himself until the collective kicked in, and then came the mental rush of everybody doing everything with everybody else. Sharing a hivemind shatters a lot of mental walls.) But they exist in the background, to inform the characters’ choices and actions. They don’t take the spotlight from the actual story.
That Pete and Pete article? It’s lovely. I mean that. It’s a wonderful example of why it’s critical for creators to use characters that don’t conform to a standard template of traits. And yes, there is the threat of tokenism if a single person uses a wheelchair, or if a single person is Black or female within an entire cast of White males. But I think a lot of young girls would have played different games on the playground if they had seen one female Jedi.
Now, if Yoda had been female…
I’m roughing out the structure of a Hope Blackwell novel. The Rachel Peng series will have neither ghosts nor koalas; this Hope Blackwell novel will have both. Here’s Speedy’s introduction. As always, this is a draft and will be fine-tuned for phrasing and punctuation if I decide to take it through publication.
For readers of the novels who aren’t also readers of the comic, I’ll also note that Hope has ADD and swears like a sailor on fire.
There was too much sun when I woke up.
The curtains are open, my subconscious informed the rest of me. You closed them when you went to bed, and Sparky wouldn’t have opened them, not when you went to sleep at dawn…
My body didn’t want to be awake, and it told my subconscious to shut up and deal with it. The cunning application of pillow to eyeballs would solve this problem. The pillow didn’t even have to be moved. No, I could just turn over, and—
My subconscious had me up and rolling into a zenpo kaiten before I could drop back into sleep. I was halfway across the bedroom before the crowbar crashed into the exact spot on the pillow where my head had been.
Let me tell you about sugar.
My high school history teacher used to say that sugar was the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution. I checked his dates and he was off by a few decades, but sugar plus coffee did hit Great Britain right around the time that steam engines finally got their act together. Imagine that for a second: the British and stimulants, together at last!
Shit got done.
Now, let me tell you about koalas.
Cute? Yes. Cuddly? Definitely. Stupider than rocks? Fuck yes. They have some of the least-developed brains in the mammalian kingdom. Their brains are so tiny that they’re basically bobbing around in the koala’s skull. When a koala does manage to process a thought, it’s almost always focused on one of three basic drives. They eat, sleep, and procreate, and they do this with the literal single-mindedness of a brain capable of holding one thought at a time.
They are fairly durable, though. If you were a mad scientist who wanted to poke at a blank slate of a brain and see if you could enhance intelligence, you couldn’t pick a better test subject than a koala.
Except, around your third koala, you’d realize that the animal’s metabolism is causing problems. The creatures only eat eucalyptus, and when they’re not eating or fucking, they’re asleep. So you start to tinker with the koala genome so they can live on a variety of plants, and don’t need to sleep twenty-two hours a day.
At Koala No. 4, you decide to see if you can also get them to metabolize grains. Fresh vegetation is hard to find, but every supermarket has a cereal aisle.
By Koala No. 17, you’ve gotten the process nailed down. Brains, guts, everything works. You start to test the limits on what can be done to a koala’s brain. Under the right conditions, can a koala become as intelligent as a dog? A monkey? A great ape?
These experiments go great. So great, you run into communication problem. It’s harder to test the intelligence of animals that can’t vocalize or mimic sign language. You decide to tinker with their vocal cords.
Finally, you get to Koala No. 26. This one’s a total dud. Every single modification went right—better than on any previous test subject, really!—but the animal is a lump of stupid squeaking fur. You decide to euthanize and start from scratch.
Except Koala No. 26 beats you to it. The little bugger has been playing dumb all along. You’re proud of him, probably, in the instant before he shoots you between the eyes with your own gun.
Young Koala No. 26 then spent a rough couple of days running scared in suburban Missouri before he was captured. And escaped. And captured, and escaped, and captured, and escaped, and captured… and finally, a certain government agency got news of this “speedy devil” that could find a way out of any cage. They took him away to one of those subterranean buildings that form the stuff of nightmares, and performed unspeakable tests to discover he had about 200 IQ points more than the average Harvard graduate.
Koala No. 26 sat in a cage and broke codes for years. Sparky rescued him. This… um. Yeah. This probably wasn’t the best decision Sparky’s ever made. It’s not like he could release this koala into the wild, or even put him in a zoo. For a while, he made sure the koala had his own apartment. These days, the koala lives with us.
I love the little fucker, I do, but let’s face facts. If the entire Industrial Revolution was the outcome of moderately caffeinated cultural sugar high, a superintelligent animal with three all-encompassing drives and regular access to Cap’n Crunch becomes its own force of nature.
And he is an asshole.
Long-time readers of the comic may remember that I’ve been working on the Rachel Peng series for years. I’ve got giant files full of scraps of notes and stray paragraphs, and each time I found a new news item that could fit in her world, I’d open these files and slide that tidbit into its appropriate place.
Maker Space closed with Rachel coming to terms with her blindness. The next book in the series has her relearning how to read. She’s one of those people who has a stack of favorite books, and she can pick one at random, flip to any page, and plunge herself into a familiar world. In that respect, she’s probably like every one of you reading this. Now, imagine if that was taken away from you. All of those worlds you loved? Gone. Rachel can still read, but it takes her a lot of effort: ever since she woke up and found her eyes no longer worked, the only way she can visit these favorite worlds of hers is on brief business trips.
Semi-tangent: Audiobooks are often held up as a viable substitute for reading for persons with visual impairment, or just used as a substitute for reading in general. They aren’t. Listening to a book is passive. You are an audience to a performance. Reading a book makes you an active participant in a world that is only partially described, and you fill in the rest with your own ideas. What did the birds sound like the first time you entered the Shire, what did the sewers smell like under Derry… A good audiobook gives us some limited opportunity to fill in these blanks, but the rises and falls within characters and plot? Those are carried along with the performer, and tend to dominate the experience.*
It’s been my intention that Rachel will relearn to read with her fingers instead of her eyes. A few years ago, Yanko Design went into my plot note files. This is a South Korean company that’s been working on innovative technologies to translate printed text into Braille. They’ve developed a portable Braille tablet, as well as some other (ridiculously cool) product concepts. Fast-forward to this week, when I’m working on the part of the new novel where Rachel is relearning how to read, and I decide to revisit Yanko Design to fact-check their progress on these products.
As far as I can tell, none of them have gone into production. This seems kind of messed up to me, so I started looking around and found that no low-cost portable Braille e-readers exist.
For me, this is an opportunity. It’s a handwave where smart people do things with wires and poof! Rachel has her magic device:
“The Braille e-reader was slightly thicker than a tablet, its back and edges sealed in some sort of silicone to make it waterproof. Calling it a first-generation device would have been generous: the thing was so far removed from the production line that it might as well have come from the technological equivalent of a farmer’s market. The silicone was lumpy, the metal shell beneath covered in deep scratches where a Dremel tool had kicked sideways, but the reader’s face was as smooth as glass. Mako and Santino had made it for her, and it had quickly become one of her favorite things in the world.”
In real life, tho’…
Guys, this is truly messed up. I’m going to do a little more searching to check if there’s a different barrier besides “the economics don’t make it worthwhile.” Maybe the prototypes worked for about three days and then caught fire, I don’t know. I do know that we are at a time and a place in our civilization in which these types of products should exist.
*Not bagging on audiobooks, by the way. We got the recording and editing of Digital Divide all wrapped up just this past Friday. Just saying that listening to a book is a different experience than reading it.
As I sit here, watching the pool we uncovered this weekend slowly turn through multiple shades of green, it occurs to me that the year is already slipping away and I should post a project update.
Big success. Huge. On many different levels. Most of the rewards have been ordered, or are being processed in some way. The release of the bonus story, League Night, has been held up, but for a very good reason that I can’t talk about until it’s confirmed. However, once all this is over, I will be writing up a post about how difficult it’s been to interact with many organizations which work with seeing-impaired persons. Not all organizations, mind! Just almost all.
The JoshSmut series has been indefinitely postponed. Sales of The Russians Came Knocking weren’t nearly as strong as I needed them to be, and it hasn’t earned out its costs, This is sniffles-sad for me, as sex comedies are too much fun to write. I’ll see if it’s feasible to return to the other seven wives of Josh Glassman at a later time.
The Rachel Peng Series
The third book is taking shape. I’m much more hopeful about this one than Maker Space; by this third book, the world’s nicely established and now there’s some adventures to be had. As for when this is supposed to come out? Well. Last night, I realized there was potential for a spinoff novel from this book, but told from Hope Blackwell’s perspective because it involved the ghosts. Since there won’t be any ghosts in the Rachel books (or talking koalas. sorry), this spinoff novel would get shifted back to Hope. So what is essentially a series of books spun off from the comic is now spinning back to the comic’s characters… and now I’m so dizzy I’m going to throw up. The question is, do I write two books and publish them simultaneously? I would love to do this to make sure consistency between events carries over between them. Downside? These novels are now my primary source of income and I will be hella broke by then. Mull, mull, mull…
As of this weekend, Intelligence has been cancelled. We behaved like sensible adults and let the show do what it was going to do, and now we can move on with our lives. I’d love to see OACET on the small screen one day, Scandal-style. Maybe we should see their version of the straight-up cyborg procedural as testing the television waters for what would need to happen with full-on OACET conspiracy theory sexytime weirdness.
Now, have a baby possum.