This is the fourth post in a series I am calling "The story behind the story" where I talk about what made me want to write about what I wrote, and what was happening at that time in my life. Today, I will be talking about my first published book, "The Initiate's Crucible."
The year was 2012. I was in grad school, and although I had wanted to publish novels my entire life, up until the Spring of 2012, it hadn't been at the forefront of what I had been trying to do. I was pursuing an MBA in Technology & Innovation Management at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Although my time in Colorado Springs was mostly horrible, my time at UCCS was actually pretty great. UCCS was really good to me. I learned a lot, met a lot of great people. and enjoyed my time there. It was just the surrounding city that was... disappointing and kind of gross. I had been working with a few other students to possibly start a new business, a game company that would focus on MMO video games. If I knew then what I knew now, that the MMO market would stagnate, and the majority of the games that seemed very profitable in 2012 would fail and be closed down, I would have walked away from MMO games as fast as I could, but I didn't have the benefit of hindsight then like I do now.
At any rate, I had two potential partners and things seemed to be moving forward. One was pursuing a Master of Computer Science degree, the other was a Tech & Innovation undergrad who worked for campus IT. But the undergrad pulled out, and my other partner and I felt like this pulled the rug out from under us. I needed some outlet for my creativity, and I needed one where I could fail or succeed on my own merits without having to worry about other people disengaging, and tanking all our plans. I took out my old dream of publishing novels, dusted it off, and took another look.
Writing didn't come easily to me initially. When I started writing, I was 19, fresh out of High School, and my stories were awful. I had a lot to learn about grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and just how to tell a story that flows and draws the reader in. But I didn't let the fact that what I was writing was horrible dissuade me. I actually had a couple of people who looked past my complete lack of craft, and offered me encouragement anyway. One was my mom, who never failed to believe in me or whatever I was trying to do... another was a professor I took for a few semesters at Pasadena City College when I was just starting out writing. His name was Justus Richards. They both helped build up my confidence and encouraged me to keep getting better. I think both of them really made me the writer I am today. So, fast forward now back to 2012, and I was sitting down again to write. At this point, although I hadn't actively written anything in a few years, I still had decades of writing experience behind me, and my craft had grown by leaps and bounds. I was confident I could tell any story I wanted to tell, but that statement revealed the question that was burning within me. What story did I want to tell?
I found my inspiration in Anime. No particular series, but in the genre in general. You see, I had hovered around the Anime world for pretty much all my life with varying degrees of interest. It started out when I was 5 and would watch Speed Racer weekday mornings on TV. Later it was Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, and then Robotech. When I was in my late teens, I was blown away by Akira, and in my early 20s, I watched Evangelion. In my mid-20s, it was the OG Ghost in the Shell movie and Ninja Scroll. I wouldn't say at this point I was an Anime fanboy, but there was definitely interest there. Then in my early 30s, I became a person of faith, and they told me Anime was bad so I kept my distance from it. By 2012, I was sensing the inherent bullshit that was ingrained with the type of faith I had been pursuing, and some friends were getting me back into Anime. I was a big fan of some great series like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and the Fate series. It was the voice of my protagonist that came first: an insecure teen filled to the brim with good intentions. I named her Abby Ashford. I made her extraordinarily talented, and fully aware of her talents. But Abby is not beyond taking her talents for granted and using them to coast to what she believes would be an easy life. Truth be told, I still see a bit of Abby in my younger self in that regard.
The idea for Psionicists hopping the galaxy looking for adventure came from a mish-mosh of differnt things. At one point, I had wanted to do comic books, and had toyed with doing a sort-of Legion of Super Heroes/Guardians of the Galaxy type of thing. Of course, doing comics by yourself is a laborious process, and with my style of art it just took far too long to do a single issue, so eventually, I realized that wasn't the way for me to go. But I was able to cannibalize my ideas for that series, which was where the United Freeworlds and the Ilmorian Empire came from. If I was going to have immature teen psychics in space, then they needed to be part of an organization, so that was how the Psi-Corps (which I shamelessly stole from Babylon 5) came to be. Of course, my Psi-Corps couldn't be a shady organization bent on conspiracies and domination. They needed to offer hope to the people of the galaxy, so I drew my inspiration from the Jedi for the feel of the Psi-Corps. So now, I had a protagonist, and I had an organization for my protagonist to belong to, but I needed more. I needed a Mentor. Jax Idor plays the part of Abby's mentor, and honestly, I have no idea where I found the inspiration for him from. He seemed to just randomly spawn from my imagination, this blue-skinned, long-suffering but impatient Master Psion who curses that he is stuck having to try to teach this impertinent teen girl. But his interactions with Abby really enriched, and drove the story. I knew there would also be a need for a tech expert. I drew inspiration from Tsugumi in the anime series "Guilty Crown" for Qaeli, the Menton teen who would become Abby's sidekick.
And finally, I needed an antagonist. I knew I wanted somebody ruthless. Somebody whose inherent cruelty could terrify. I looked to Asajj Ventress in the Clone Wars, and that was what gave me the inspiration for Teia. In the story, Abby is revealed to be a reincarnation of an ancient Menton religious figure called the Oracle of Anai. The revelation allowed me to create some history between Abby and Teia, so Teia had actually been dead for thousands of years, but was resurrected by her order, the Doomsayers. And now that she walks the face of her world again, Teia is determined to wreak as much havoc as she can. Really, I think throughout the story, Teia is just having the time of her resurrected life.
The revelation that Abby is the Oracle reborn actually drives the trilogy of books that followed this one. the Oracle is sort of like the Avatar from the Last Airbender series. It's a legacy passed down from generation to generation, only all past Oracles have all been Menton, and there hasn't been an Oracle in 10,000 years. All of a sudden, this human apprenticed to the Psi-Corps appears and it turns out she is the new incarnation of the Oracle. In retrospect, I should have written people's reactions to this very differently, and used this as an opportunity to visit and explore issues like xenohpobia and racial and nationalistic pride and exceptionalism through people's reactions to her. But this was 2012, and I didn't fully realize just how alive and well and ingrained into our society things like racism and white nationalism were then. I was also still clinging onto my conservative Christian faith at this time, and although I didn't intend to write these as Christian books, I did have a very much more sympathetic view of people of faith than I do now. It's not that I am anti-religious now, I have just learned to be wary of other people of faith, because thanks to our political climate here in the United States, I have been taught the hard lesson that person of faith does not necessarily mean good person. At any rate, most Menton supporting characters in the book accept and go along with the revelation that Abby is the Oracle without question. Call it a missed opportunity for tension and some good storytelling.
This book, and the trilogy that followed it also taught me a lot about editing and publishing. The original first edition of the book was published with lots of typos and some ham-fisted storytelling in parts. That is all on me. I did have a friend by the name of Jessi Manthis who proofed these books for me, but I should have proofed them several more times before publishing. This led to me going back in 2016, proofing, rewriting, and reworking the covers to put out a second edition, which I am much prouder of. I think I must have proofed this book about 30 times before publishing. It took me about 8 months to get it perfect. But I realized that if you're going to publish a lot of books, you have to sacrifice some perfect in exchange for being able to publish more prolifically. I know a few other authors who barely proof at all; they just write and publish, write and publish, lather, rinse, repeat. So now, I don't go for perfection. I go for minimal errors. I go for good enough. In a perfect world, where I could write full-time and didn't have to hold down a day job it would be a different story, but that's not the world I live in.
So, that is the story of how "The Initiate's Crucible" came to be. If you are interested in giving it a read, you can find the eBook version here, and the print version here.
Until next time, fair readers!
Story behind the story: The Initiate's Crucible
- Written by Brett J. Baker