Today’s ramble will focus on Lawless Ink – the series, the name of it, the contents of book one, everything I can remember thinking during the process. It’ll wander a lot – but if you like random gifs, a few suggestions on books or whatever, then take a scan!
As always, rambles are not designed as a theses. I just write where it goes.
Let’s start with the obvious – westerns are hard. They’re not a genre I’m mired in it all. The closest I’d ever come to a western setting is pretty much everything John Wayne – even the NASA one which is still a western, and The Dark Tower. The Dark Tower is only like 50% cowboys and gunslingers, and 50% every other genre possible.
It isn’t even what I wanted to do. Originally I wanted a series where I could dabble in topics I’d never touched on. Young Adult (Chase), gun focused (but not modern), fantasy (but not sword and sorcery). I also wanted something a bit darker, or at the least, grittier. Not Grim Dark (which is dark for the sake of being dark) but grungier.
I didn’t wake up and go “Let’s do a western”. I didn’t even wake up and go “Let’s make it set around the 1800s”. Though, at some point I realized I needed to do research on things like “when was the lightbulb invented” because whatever history class taught me I’d never actually known.
Those bits came together slowly as I thought more about more about the setting and my goals to write something different – but still with magic. I don’t like regular fiction. Fantasy, science fiction (in limited doses, like Firefly, a space western) and so on.
So, I think writers would wonder, what did I start with? What was the first solid element to the entire series?
No, that’s not a joke. Catgirls?
I’ve mentioned this book was meant to be about topics I hadn’t touched – and fantasy novels have this weird element of attraction between different races. People like elves. Elves are really like 80 years old but look 17. So it’s totally legal – and some fictions take this way, way too far.
I didn’t want that – but I did want a fantasy world where other races are built into the storyline. I wanted a sort of dungeon diving feel from the perspective of a person trying to get money. I wanted a lot of stuff and had to put in a ton of planning before even drafting the story.
Lawless Ink – what’s now “Book 1” was actually plotted as 6 episodes, 20k long – because I wanted to see if I could build a format that lent itself to television conversion easily – not that I had reams of a TV series, but it gave me a “practice goal.” So I plotted out six episodes, wrote down the names, plotted out the next six for book 2, lost track of half of it in planning, and wrote out 60k during Nov 2017 – I think. Then inched out more, and more, until I reached the end of episode 6.
I’ll talk about why I added 3 more chapters later, but let’s wrap up the western crap.
Now, it’s sort of a lie that I’d never tried to write such a tone. I’d tried for a Royal Road contest, never finished it in, then wrote out the rest and bundled it as a one off. It was an interesting project in 3rd person, short powerful punchy scenes, and loud characters. I think I pulled that off, so if you wanna try something not on my Royal Road listing ATM – check out Ember of War – be warned, it’s got a pretty obvious sex scene, since I was also playing around with not fading to black.
That and my wife tells me I need to write her a smut book just for her. Using Jay from Royal Scales, I guess. Which says something about my writing, or that character. So it goes. Also, if you’re not familiar with the “So it goes” ear worm – check out Slaughterhouse Five – a fun story about possibly time travel and aliens, or possibly about dementia.
So on I go.
Guns. Gritty frontier. Magic. Where did I want to put it? At the base of the Rocky Mountains – a natural land barrier if anyone paid attention to western expansion in US history. Which I sort of did. Notice there’s no real native Americas mentioned at all in my story? Fantasy land, not there – which ruins one of the classic elements to western.
The best western I’ve ever seen, is probably still Little Big Man – an older movie about a guy who keeps shifting between the “cowboys” and “Indians” – showing both. It’s a great movie.
Buy why did I not include them?
A few reasons – one, fantasy monsters spawn from The Mountain – natives would be few and far between because they’re being eaten. Nom nom. Those that might still be alive are used to being super defensive, and well away from where the monsters might roam – which is any land up to the Mississippi. Also Chase hasn’t gone that far east – so he doesn’t know if there are natives somewhere over near fantasy Plymouth rock.
Instead, I had to look up the Oregon Country British claims – and the Mexican Cession – which were both land masses the US took over on the other side of the Rockys.
Add in magical spawning pits and the mountain ranges – and getting over the Rockys is even harder. Add in a war to the south with what we see as Mexico now – and our army can’t afford to push west like we did in proper history.
I swear, when anyone had told me I’d give two shits about history later in life, I laughed hard. Now I sigh heavily and thank god for the internet so I don’t have to memorize facts.
There wer a lot of little considerations added in the story setting – but those were the ones which shaped book 1. Chandler’s Field is on the edge of American territory, “recently discovered” in the last two generations, and growing rapidly. The army is there. The tattooists have already established their worth, taking knowledge gleaned from old world fonts, applied it to this new place, figured out flavors, experiment constantly.
Chase however, is young. He doesn’t know all those troubles. I had to make him kind of ignorant, so the readers would learn with Chase, because I’m sort of obsessed with a “natural info dump” rather than some up front wall of meaningless crap that makes me feel like I’m in history class again.
This could easily veer into a ton of workshop talk about how to with writing. I could go on about attaching a character flaw through a single driving trauma (Chase loosing his dad) – explain how that would ripple out to others (Connie shutting down) – go on about how that gives him a clear motivation (make money, period) – and how that becomes a defining trait.
All of it comes together eventually. The characters grow as I have to flesh out the world through research, tone, and so on – but talking about these characters leaves out another huge factor to the story.
Why does the mountain exist at all?
Okay, that’s not directly the point I want to make next – why isn’t as important as how that question adds to flavor.
Chase doesn’t need to know or care. Really, no characters do. I could simply plow onward saying “It is what it is” – but as the author I have to figure out a reason. And I chose to do this by adding in the one element every western really, really can benefit from – God. Religion was huge, hugeeeeeeeeee during the western expansion. People prayed. They lived on the edge. They lived in small groups. The bible belt still exists because of the sheer overwhelming part region played – which comes back to some of the original US immigrants, seeking freedom of religion to practice their 31 flavors of God.
Let me be clear before anyone’s hackles get up – as a person, I do not care about religion. Not because I don’t believe in God – but because as long as other people are stabbing kids because God said so – then they’re free to do whatever makes them act like a better person.
Patton Oswald does an entire skit on this. Here’s a link. It’s funny. There’s another one – here’s a clip. The part I’m talking about is about 3 minutes in. Please do not stop believing in the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Please, I beg you. But religion as a fiction topic is almost worse. It can turn off readers. It can sucker in others.
Yet, I needed it. I needed a higher power tot explain how these fonts came into being. And I needed the book to wrap up the novel into a better ending than what I’d left it at. For reference, the original ended when Chase came home after his rebirth from The Mountain. That wasn’t closure. It didn’t answer anything. It simply ended on a note of wonder that might not bring people back or explain enough for anyone to care.
It’d make them mad. It made me made. Plus, post Continue Online, I felt out of sorts about everything I wrote. So, I sat on it. Tinkered. Rewrote bits. Then put pencil to paper and explore the religion and mountain’s origins. I did it through visions that Chase got to see – which is ironic because I set him up as a character who didn’t want to care.
To be clear, Chase is still mercenary. Young. Quiet, but he measures what happens but how it could help him take care of those close by. By the end of book 1 we see him shift from “I need money” to “I need to take care of two people now, and money is the clearest way”. As book two moves forward, we’ll go from “Money is how to I take care of people” to “I need to remove threats to them and let them be free from this curse” – which is still the same motivation he started with.
Chase worked the mines for money to take care of himself and his mom. He did this because that’s what he thinks a man should do – take care of their family. That’s what his dad did, up until the day he died. He wants to be a man. He has to be one. He needs to be that in the eyes of everyone out there, including himself.
Okay, I’ve meandered over to god knows where from my original point, so I’ll back up and write this before I go too far.
Religion can add a lot to a western. I needed something to make up for the loss of the classic cowboys and Indians. Cowboys and monsters isn’t quite the same.
So, without spoiling a ton of the book – religion let me create the bigger picture in a way that should make sense to the readers – at least, enough to accept that it’s magic.
Before I got that far though, I stole one more vibe to make it gritty and fantasy – that was the sort of vibe that come from the Deep Roads in Dragon Age 1. The deep roads, especially where you first walking down the hall and one of the dwarves is sort of singing to herself, was a huge inspiration for the Delvers as a race. That whole creepy vibe of needing to go where all the monsters spawn, getting loot, unrevealing some of the secrets of the deeps, was skin crawlingly fun.
I added that into the other elements I wanted, magic, fantasy races, religion, western, guns, and let the story grow from there. Of course, most of this was vague until I actually started typing away at the keyboard.
If you’re an aspiring writer seeking to take away something from this – then know I started with a vibe for the book, a few elements, and a few characters. People like Ducky, Poss, Obsidian, and others weren’t fleshed out until I ran into them during the story. I had to start writing to finish writing.
If you’re a reader looking to take away some insider knowledge, then here it is – world building, designing characters, all of that stuff is stupidly complex. Half the story didn’t exist until I started writing. I had to run into the situation to know how to get out of it.
Anyway. I’ve rambled a bit. Maybe it won’t matter to anyone but me, but I enjoy writing these out. It helps me figure out what the heck I was thinking years later.
Thanks for reading!