Time for a new weekly writer’s roundup of my works-in-progress and those ready to read!
Cretaceous Queen –my epic tale of magical girls, superheroes, dinosaurs and giant alien robots– is just shy of six thousand words as of today. I hadn’t expected the short story to get this long, figuring that it’d top-out at around five thousand last week. However, it’s been a lot of fun to write!
Putting this together has been satisfying on multiple levels. For my inner-child, it’s like I flipped over my toy box, picked up my favorite playthings, built a set piece with the other stuff, and started telling this wild story with it all. Conceptually, there are many disparate elements going into the piece… So as an adult writer I’ve had a nifty challenge weaving all of it together. It’s allowed me to get pretty creative with the unseen foundations, and with the actual characters of the piece.
And then there’s my inner teenage superhero fan.
There’s a couple ideas in Cretaceous Queen that are directly based off of superhero concepts I came up with way back when. Or ideas I was influenced by at that time and always wanted to see better developed or combined in different ways.
I created a lot of superheroes back in those days, mostly within the frameworks of role-playing games like the Marvel Super Heroes Advanced Set that was a favorite of mine throughout the late 1980s and early 90s. That game was also popular in my circle of friends, so –as geeky teen boys that love superheroes are prone to do– we created many heroes and teams for tons of adventures.
There were other games, but none ever topped the good-old MSHAS. One of these was Palladium Books’s Heroes Unlimited that claimed to be a “thinking man’s” superhero game. Its focus was seemingly more grounded in street-level heroics with an absence of the demigods that dominate mainstream comics.
This appealed to me because, then as now, I enjoy the flavor of a Spider-Man-ish setup where the hero needs to make do with a limited budget and resources. It helps to make them relatable: Wondering how they’ll pay the rent next week, or having anxiety about work, relationships or… science exams.
But the rules of this game… oh boy! They were wildly unbalanced and over-complicated, and character generation was so uneven and random that that every other player would end up with a character hard to do anything with but die. I never actually played or ran a game of Heroes Unlimited; the book only ever served me as a source of idea fodder.
This was actually a running theme with the Palladium games I owned: I used them as references and points of creative inspiration, but I very rarely if ever played them. I enjoyed many of their settings much more than Unlimited, for example Beyond the Supernatural and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness… which I still adore and smile acknowledging their influence on my work.
But MSHAS was still king. It was the gateway that exposed me to a vast amount of comic book lore and knowledge of the superhero genre. To this day my trivial knowledge of the Marvel Comics Universe of the 1980s remains pretty sharp thanks to all that exposure.
In my role-playing circle, I was particularly well known… or um, infamous… for my “weird” character ideas. Some of these were indeed downright unplayable after I tried them out, but as we tended to cycle though heroes and teams frequently that never was a particularly longstanding issue. However, a lot were perfectly fine characters that the other boys thought were “dumb” because I wasn’t trying to create supremely powerful heroes like they were. I was trying to make cool ones, and cool stories.
This was me playing with concepts I thought were interesting and that I wanted to explore story-wise. The trouble was that I really needed to be exploring them by writing stories and/or making my own comic books rather than trying to do this in the context of a game: Particularly so in games that were running plots and had backgrounds entirely different from what I wanted to do.
The result of all that was frustration for all. Eventually we moved on to other RPGs, but I never stopped making superheroes and plotting stories. And I pursued this in the worst possible way by continuing to create them within the frameworks of the games I loved, but was so discouraged by actually playing.
This would be the beginnings of my Nowhere Man years of 1994-2001 after high school, and the start of my stay in the Worldbuilding Dungeon as well that would last for many years longer. What I needed to do was write. Instead, just I kept using the games to create my characters and find worlds for them. Over and over again I did this, and the stories never left my head and notebooks. They never grew or developed. I never gave them a chance to live in anybody else, because I kept trying to refine them into that unattainable prize that is “perfection” before I dared write a story about them.
Why? Because of the simple but pervasive nemesis all creatives fear: Rejection.
Because I didn’t want my ideas and creations called “dumb” again as they were so often in the heyday of my teens.
It took me twenty years to fight my way out of the Worldbuilding Dungeon and finally start writing. Now it’s my passion like nothing else ever has been. I’ve used it to heal and make peace with the young man I was. And with Cretaceous Queen, I’ve been able to sit down and talk to that creative kid and tell him with experience and hindsight that his superheroic ideas were cool… and not “dumb”.
I told him he’d inspired me to write about a couple of heroes his own age, using some ideas of his, and some of mine. He’s been checking out the early drafts, and so far he thinks it’s pretty awesome. :-)
Alright, time for me to stop blogging and get back to writing some more fiction! Take care!