This book made me feel both dirty and kind of excited. I’ll get to the why, but it’s important to start with that statement. For the majority of this rant I’ll start talking about side characters, how they were established and details that may not have come to light in the book text.
When I first started writing the second book, I hadn’t separated out ‘Book 1’ to have a stopping point. My writing continued past the end of William Carver onward into the first leg of Grant’s journey and I started frantically making up stuff on the spot. [The Ooze], [Barricobbler], Elane, Edward and TinkerHell, all of them were pretty much vague characters that didn’t exist and weren’t fleshed out. In a lot of ways they’re still two dimensional.
For those interested in backstory, Elane works as a sponsor to a support group for drug abuse cases. She’s been one for a number of years, and as such deals with a far dirtier side of humanity that many might expect. She’s not a consular, isn’t wise or all knowing, and should come off as a ‘not willing to take bullshit’ sort of woman. I love writing her – but at the same time people may not like the character because she has past issues with Grant, IE a few poor dates. Really there’s no way it could have gone well given their personalities and places in life. Grant – at that stage – was very flitchy and in a terrible mental location.
TinkerHell I enjoy. I imagine her as a single mother who’s trying to get her life on straight and care of a young child. Hence why SheHulk is her sponsor. It’s one of the reasons she logs off early, or cares about the time. TinkerHell’s not reunited with her as of yet unnamed child – but she needs to make meetings and such. She doesn’t have a ‘real’ name yet that I recall setting up.
Edward, well I assume he’s playing the game to get laid and is attracted to single damaged women. He’s carefree in a lot of ways, over the top because it amuses him, and so on. Edward is his name too, because he wants the ladies to call out the right name when he’s performing. He’s very much an egotistic male – but also dedicated to making sure all his ladies enjoy themselves at the time – even if they regret it later. He has a mustache in real life that’s nowhere near as suave and looks a bit more white trash.
So these are what I consider ‘normal players’ of Continue Online. They have a life, they play to blow off steam and interact with each other in a tight knit group. They trust each other and have drama like any people do. We see them pop back up in book 5 because I liked the trio too much.
Then we have two ‘lifers’ which comprise major roles in this book. Shazam, and Requiem.
I’ll talk about Shazam first – because she’s got a lot of aspects to her that aren’t apparent at this stage.
I allude to ‘real world’ future science problems a few times in this book. Shazam is the result of genetic tampering at a young age which went wrong. In my mind her mother (Nona Kingsley, the blonde scientist we see in the prologue of book 1) – found a sperm donor and wanted to enhance her child to perfection. This backfired, as genetic tampering had long term effects no one expected. The real Shazam has almost no physical control over her body anymore from a degenerative disorder that will eventually rob her of her life. She plays Continue all the time, because it lets her be alive, move, and interact with a world. She has an Ultimate Edition because Lia Kingsley got one for he -as a scientist who created the ARC, she’s got pull to do that. So this player is first in the game as a ‘warrior’ (A very broad label), knows all sorts of secrets to getting powerful, and is tasked by the Voices to train Grant / Hermes.
Shazam’s name is her most key feature. She longs to talk to people but is mentally hung up on being unable to do so. The truest moment of insight we have to her is the recording played by a Voice – where Lia (Shazam) Kingsley picks a ‘legendary’ super hero name. For those that don’t know, Shazam is a work of power where each letter stands for a Greek god the hero gets his power from. Awesomely enough – the H is for Hermes (If I recall)
So, Requim is my other character that plays a huge role. To be clear, most of this character is modeled after players like ‘Weed’ or ‘Ark’ from the long running translated works. Both are ‘VRMMORPG / LitRPG’ series that involve main characters who are greedy, don’t work well with others, and abuse their pets until the creatures fear / respect / do what they’re told.
The idea of these characters drives me so insane – as if that’s a socially accepted way to handle anything with its own level of intelligence – so insane that I had to show it from another point of view. I wanted to show these clever / hardcore / leading edge content players from the outside, but needed a vehicle and reason to get Grant there. So we came around to the [Red Imp].
Now to be clear, this wasn’t purely about my desire to show things from another point of view. To go with that was a challenge to Grant, what would he do? Could he reach out and kill another person over what is generally considered a ‘really intense game’? The Voices are constantly testing Grant to see what kind of person he is. How far will he go to complete a task? What is his real personality like under pressure? If he has to choose between X and Y, which will he struggle to attain? All of it matters. All of it assists in the measure of a man. Really, to the Voices – measuring who this person is to the utmost degree is their prime directive.
To provide everyone a bit more detail – the Voices jobs are basically this…
- Test out all Ultimate Edition Users
- See who they are under pressure
- Maintain the world of Continue Online
Everything else falls under other duties as assigned. They have their own drives and desires, wants and needs, but in the end they’re still operating with those three goals in mind. Even the Jester (Perhaps especially the Jester, for someone has to play a villain)
Jean and Vlad were invented on the spot. I wanted a power couple and designed the pair of them. Jean is the Voice of Blood – not craving, but how it acts and moves. Which is why her clothes flow and don’t stick in solid shapes. As such demons, which are constantly being killed or fighting humans (Since they’re game NPCs) are very, very attractive to her. She works with them most, and as a result works with Vlad. It helps that he’s essentially Terry Crews with redder skin and a chip’n’dales stripper outfit. What’s a southern woman to do in the face of such a stud? Get a room? Hah!
At this stage the Voices were still vague in my head. They had roles and purposes but personalities and perspectives felt a bit lacking. I experimented a lot with adding new ones to the mix, but also needed to keep myself controlled or face too many characters to manage. I still pushed it a lot with various players from different scenes. Each one needed a little bit of distinct personality to stand out but many don’t have depth or backgrounds put into them yet. If and when I get around to side novellas, more will be done with some people. However I dare not touch the extra material until I’ve finished the world impacting nonsense of the main storyline.
From a technical standpoint, my wife started ‘editing’ as I was writing book 2. That meant while trying to publish new content, find a steady release schedule, and move forward with the plot – I was also getting violently beat around the head for creating a hydra out of my writing. We both learned a ton during this book in terms of pacing (Because book 1 was good in mind my, but had no solid action to speak of until the end), writing style, my own voice as an author, and so on. The interludes being done was a huge portion of this – I tried to figure out (style wise) how to get these straight so they were valuable but not jarring to the Grant adventure.
Which brings me to my last and final point for this – The Life of Xin – which was easily the most fun and frustrating portion of the entire book to me. I had so many ideas that never came into play – and a lot that were added on. Part of me imagined this ‘Tron written by Neil Giamen’ moment. Where everything is digital, wondrous, scary and with purpose.
It took me a long time to get it right (in my mind). To balance between the life of a new born AI trying to piece itself together, a reconstructed ghost that had to feel human, and showing how new NPCs are basically assembled by using fragments of real people’s lives. It should hint at greater possibilities, digital transfers of consciousness, life after death, and still be new enough that it’s an outlier rather than standard practice.
Yet at the same time I wanted to show the woman who would be a focal point to the story. Grant’s missing half – the portion of his life that mattered so much had to be both relatable, reliable, stubborn, and lovable. We got to see Grant from the outside as well – why does this person care for him? Why would anyone love such a sad and wounded man?
I’ll let you decide how all the characters came out – but I felt Xin’s reconstruction moment was hands down the best part of this book.