| There is a well-known pitfall in writing known as
the Man In Black. This is the individual who shows up part way through
the book, sitting in the darkened
corner of the bar quietly drawing all the reader's attention; the
mysterious individual with a dark past you just know is ever so much more interesting than your
There are only a handful of options for the writer
who has discovered the MIB...shoot 'im, shoo 'im away, or give
in and give him the book and forget the main character you've so carefully
Of course, in order to shoo him away, you'll have
to promise to write his book...someday.
Wesley, aka Jonathan Wesley Smith, aka the wesser,
was my first MIB, I just didn't realize it at the time. Groundties was moving along nicely, but I needed someone to write the paper to instigate the plotline, walk
on to discredit Our Hero, then quietly exit stage right to
his fiery death aboard the e-vile starship Cetacean.
Well...when the time came for Dr (so-named on
a temporary basis because
I needed a holding name for this throwaway fellow) John Smith's
page and a half outline was already in jeopardy...there was no way Cantrell and
the Cetacean were going to go up in a ball of flame. But
that was okay...the faceless Dr Smith would still be making the trip
back with them. Maybe we could plan to have him arrested, or something.
Then...Wesley walked on, and I knew I was in serious
trouble...I just didn't know how serious.
You see, I didn't know then about the man in black
and I didn't have sense enough to ask CJ, my one reality-check
in this writing endeavor. I simply plunged ahead---and Wesley became
more and more a part of the story. Fortunately, Stephen
was a strong and mysterious enough character in his own
right that he held his own, but the book definitely took a dramatically
more complex turn at that instant.
author doth miss
the point! The
wesser is not,
and never has been, a MIB.>--->TW
That much is true. For one thing,
he never sits quietly anywhere. For another, he doesn't wear
black. Ever. Lime green, turquoise and magenta...all at once...maybe.
Socks with holes in the toes, definitely. Black...never.
Once Groundties came out, reactions to Wesley
were rarely neutral: readers either loved him or hated him...and
even those who loved him wanted periodically to throttle him.
This was cool by both me and Wesley. We both kind
of like to shake up people's expectations. What surprised me was
the number of people who wanted Wesley's story...prior to Groundties.
This was a story I didn't really think I wanted
to write...I mean, we're talking about a brilliant, rich, self-indulgent,
but basically idealistic young man who's had those ideals shot off
in the war, and whose response to that painful war injury was to tell the Powers That Be just
where they could put their powers, then opt out on his dreams.
How could I make that a heroic, let alone positive
So, I didn't think much about it, and since the
Warner Books imprint shakeup of the early nineties had effectively consigned
the series to infant death, I thought the point
moot: I was too busy entangling myself with the Bros Rhomandi to
waste time on wesserish thoughts. Then one day after I'd told yet one more person
that I didn't think I'd ever write Wesley's story, I got this feeling
the lad was sitting over in the corner glaring at me, saying something
to the effect of: "Whaddaya mean you can't write my story?
Are you a writer or a plumber?"
Ah, the power of an insult. By this
time I had begun entertaining the hope of getting the rights to
the series back
and somehow, someway resurrecting
the story so integral to my future history. To that end, I let Wesley loose in his own little pocket
of my hindbrain, figuring by the time I finished Ring of Intrigue
and Ring of Destiny, he'd be ready to fess up to what really
happened during those infamous academy days.
And indeed, he was.
The writing of 'NetWalkers proved to be a fascinating experience. The young man I
discovered, while utterly consistent with the Wesley of the Groundties
books will, I think, in fact, I hope, surprise a few people. He certainly surprised
As with the Man In Black syndrome, I didn't have the
sense to realize when I started this venture that smart authors
also avoid closely related prequels. A) there are too many
elements left purposely undefined in the extant series. Exploring
the "facts" of those elements and allowing the story (and
especially the characters) a natural flow might swerve those elements
and characters too far away from where they need to
end up to set up for the extant series. B) There are too many ways
to disrupt the "surprise" elements in the extant series.
Fortunately, my lad on his backburner seemed to
be doing his job. 'NetWalkers does, in fact, set up the Groundties books
better than I could have imagined. Far from swerving, there were some surprising elements
that not only provided extremely rich fodder for the rewrites of the original series,
but which give
fascinating ramifications to future stories in the universe.
Leave it to the Wesser to both have his MIB cake
and eat it, too.
But the best thing for me about 'NetWalkers
is that I'm excited about it in its own right. For all it necessarily sets
up the Groundties series, it is the most complete in itself
novel I've written yet. The relationships were fascinating to explore
and quite different from anything I've done so far, the techno-toys
were were fun to play with, the plot, involved and multi-faceted,
the politics machieavellian, and the educational theme is both
near and dear to my heart and properly grey enough to avoid those
nasty little easy answers.