Be strong and Courageous.
Back Story: The Canaanshade Journeys
For this one time only, I’m going to give the background of multiple books in one single article. Why? Because The Canaanshade Journeys began as a single book. My original thought was to take my experiences (positive and negative) playing Dungeons & Dragons and weave both fact and fiction into one cathartic blanket of closure. I needed closure…and I needed enough distance from the trauma to treat it properly.
A story with such a personal history is difficult to tell. Because of that, the book went through many changes. In fact, I actually threw away the first few chapters multiple times…never happy with the direction the story was going. Then it happened. The movie began to play out in my head…my imagination played with it, morphed it, remolded it…and I began to type. I could tell early on that this was going to either be an epic or a trilogy. And, as each part of the story took on a life and theme of its own, I realized that The Canaanshade Journeys were three phases of the same tale…of the redemption of Scott Addison in the ultimate battle of good vs. evil.
The Dragon’s Pawn nearly wrote itself. I imagined myself and my gaming buddies, who left on poor terms, would need a reason to have one last reunion game. So, it would be with my characters. Cancer! One of the men would be dying of cancer and request one last game. I mean, who could refuse that? Little did I know, one year later I would be diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma…the first of my two battles with cancer. Anyway, the characters could not refuse and make the trek to play one last game…for old time’s sake.
This game, however, would be different. They would be able to travel into the game (not just through VR) and become their characters of old. And thus was born the tagline of the trilogy: “Getting into the game was a dream of a lifetime; getting out was the nightmare no one anticipated.” I played on the trauma: the fine line between fantasy and reality. I’ve seen too many players cross the line and lose the ability to separate themselves from their characters. That would be the ultimate conflict of the series…that and the line between good and evil.
After The Dragon’s Pawn, when one of the characters realized he was being played by an evil entity, my characters needed a way back out of the game. What better than a device protected by the red and black dragon? And so, The Treasure of L’lor Rac Siwel was born. Before you ask how to pronounce or what L’lor Rac Siwel is, I’ll tell you that is the question for that book. Discover the treasure and its meaning and you find the path back to reality. As the story darkened, it took a path I wasn’t expecting but needed to take. It went really, really dark.
Instead of looking at others in my past to blame for what happened, I had to take a good look in the mirror. I had to face my own desires and failures. I had to face the times I had opportunities to act but didn’t for fear…mostly of failure. And so, I made my main character do the same. He had to face his own fault in the past’s turn of events. He had to face his own inadequacies. He had to be strong and courageous, even if that meant asking for forgiveness.
The third and final book of the series, Canaanshade Resurrection, was the hardest to write. Reconciliation isn’t easy. Forgiving yourself and others is difficult. Choosing the right thing rather than the easy thing takes courage. Heroes aren’t superpowered beings. Heroes are real people facing their fears head-on. That’s what Scott Addison had to do…even if it meant his own demise. At each and every turn, Scott had to make the conscious choice to be “strong and courageous.” If he could, he would become the story’s hero, and he would find his own redemption. He could find a reset button, so to speak.
The three books were written, edited, and pitched. I pitched them over and over. I received some generic rejections, and I received some very encouraging rejections. Finally, an editor told me the stories were too gruesome, but if I would tone it down and write it for Young Adult (middle to early high school) audiences, he would consider it. I went through the arduous task of doing exactly that and repatched the books.
He liked them, but asked, why should I care about these characters? What makes them worthy of my investment? I need to know more about what happened to see why this reunion was so important and so difficult. What started as a one-to-two-chapter prologue ended as a Prequel to the series called, The Pact. The story of their middle and high school friendships and gaming days developed into a story about bullying.
I wrote The Pact and pitched it a third time to the publisher who asked for so many changes. Believe it or not, he said, “I like it, but I don’t think it’s right for us.” Rejected and dejected, I started the pitching process all over again. And on a Wednesday night in the fall of 2014, Black Rose Writing, an independent publishing company out of Texas, said, “Yes. We’ll publish all four books.”
So, the words I quoted for the protagonist of the series came to life for me. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your god will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
When Nothing Else Matters
It was the spring of 1983, my sophomore year at Southern Illinois University, and I had a short story assignment hanging over my head. In those days, you had to type (yes…type on a typewriter) the story using mimeograph paper. For those under the age of fifty, a mimeograph was a heavy piece of paper with thick blue impressionable ink on the back side of the top sheet. So, everything you typed, copied through the mimeograph paper. If you made a mistake, you had to scrape it off with a razor blade and put a replacement sheet of blue paper under the mistake and type it correctly. It was a long and arduous job. I had to have the master sheets of my story to the English office at eight the next morning so they could run the copies (print them in faded blue ink) for the class.
I did as any other half-committed artist would do. I played a pickup game of basketball with my friends. My roommate was tired of my complaining about a lack of inspiration for my story. That one-hour game turned into a long night. I hyperextended my right knee when someone stepped in front of me as I drove for a layup. Emergency room visit (low on the triage list) and finally back to my dorm late that night.
Lying on my bed with my leg propped up and complaining about my deadline first thing in the morning, I jokingly said, “Here I am twenty years old and my days as a superhero are over.” My roommate looked at me. I looked back at him, and the story was born. I started with that line and composed a story about a senior in high school who collected comics and wanted to become a superhero. He did the next best thing… Oh, well, you’ll have to read the story found in the Short Story section of the “Works” tab. I hope you enjoy it.