The Influences and Back Pages of Ink Calls to Ink

Ink coverIt all started with Mary Poppins.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

Put a pin in that. We’ll be back around.

My dad was a librarian. More than that, he was librarian whose real passion (other than books) was Existentialism, notably Jean Paul Sartre. But it’s hard to pay the bills with philosophy so he got his library science degree and got a job at a college in a small Colorado town when I was three years old.

So it’s really not a surprise that I grew up loving books. I had this unpainted chipboard bookcase, five shelves, just packed with whatever books suited my fancy. Does anyone remember the Harvard Classics? I had the Harvard Classics “Shelf of Fiction,” all twenty volumes, black hardcover volumes packed with more stuff than I realized until I looked it up on Wikipedia just now. I think ours were originally published in the fifties if I remember right, but they were in great shape. And I’ll be honest. I loved books, but I didn’t have the most general of tastes. I consumed some volumes while others went untouched.

The only drawback of being a well read kid is encountering teachers who want you to read at the district’s level rather than your own. Our district’s 8th Grade reading list was boring as dirt and I refused to read it on principle. By that point I was already reading Catch-22 off my dad’s bookshelf. I really didn’t feel the need to revisit Huckleberry Finn yet again. My clashes with that teacher were the stuff of legend, and I expect to meet her on the field of battle in Valhalla some day. But that’s the story for another day.

Point is, man did I ever love me some old books.

Flash forward to the summer of 2002. I was gearing up to run a Role Playing Game (RPG for the cool kids) over the summer, something I visualized as a three-part epic summer blockbuster. To that end, I asked my players to envision a favorite movie hero to join in this crossover to end all crossovers.

My friend Susan picked Mary Poppins.

That’s when things truly went delightfully Meta. It forced me to confront the structure of the world we were playing in. If these fictional characters were, in fact fictional yet still able to function in a shared space, what did that mean? How would that work and what implications would that have? Beside the obvious being that Mary Poppins would make a kick ass spy, of course.

So I ran the game, but the world that had started taking shape because of those questions continued to bubble in the background. I figured these fictional characters, these shipwrecked Fictional Personae, would have a difficult time adjusting. That even with whatever skills they possessed, it was a tough transition. They didn’t exactly have references you could call. There were already a ton of people out of work. Real people. Resources to deal with the situation wouldn’t be available forever. And after a while, the novelty would wear off. Yeah, life for a Fictional Personae must be rough.

Oh, and naming them Fictional Personae? That was kind of an in-joke. I always do extensive outlining before I write any novel, and at the front of the outline I list all the essential characters with notes about them. I’ve been calling all my characters Fictional Personae for over a decade at that point.

A few years later I wrote a short story about the Steadfast Tin Soldier, Goldilocks, and the Three Bears. I quite liked it. It got published on the Wily Writers Podcast in 2009 (and republished in Night Mantled: The Best of Wily Writers in 2011). In reading the story for that initial recording, Editor Angel Leigh McCoy insisted that there was a novel in there. I didn’t see it. It was just a story. One little story about how there aren’t always happy endings for fictional characters.

Not a novel.

That was crazy.

I had a full outline written in less than a week.

Because she was right. There was a novel there. But maybe not the one she thought. The novel of Ink Calls to Ink gave me the chance to rectify a few raw deals. Removed from the context of their story but fully aware of the text, were these characters necessarily the heroes or villains that the texts made them out to be? If given a second chance, what would characters like the murderous scorned wife Medea do with it? How much blame does Judas deserve for the events of his story, and what would he do for a chance at redemption? What would Don Quixote do without a horse, windmills, or his Dulcinea? Would Juliet embrace life or, with Romeo nowhere to be found, become a suicidal junkie? With the memory of building and losing Camelot fresh in mind, what kind of leader would King Arthur really be?

More to the point, did they have the free will to find out for themselves, or were they slave to their texts and the ink in their blood?

I’ve always seen myself as a bit of an outcast, an underdog, a misfit. I identify with those kinds of characters. And I’ve always loved the characters who stand up for a belief bigger than themselves even if it destroys them. So to play with some of literature’s misfits and see if they could find the hero inside themselves was a dream come true. Of all the novels I’ve written, Ink Calls to Ink is my very favorite.

Ink Calls to Ink comes out in July from CHBB Publishing and will be available in print and ebook wherever you buy books, online or in your neighborhood–though you may have to have your bookseller order it. In fact, I’d sincerely love if you ordered it from your local bookstore, but you do whatever works for you.

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