"I just think it’s better to have ideas. I mean, you can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. People die for it, people kill for it."
- Rufus (Chris Rock), Dogma, 1999
"I have scars bigger than you."
- Male protagonist, c.2000-present, Project Oz
The first glimmer came in the summer of 1995, when I heard The Eagles' Hell Freezes Over album in my mom's car. From a song, I had a vision that would remain with me for the rest of my life to date and has influenced me in countless ways. But the real root -- the first images, even a few lines of dialogue -- of what would, years later, become Project: Oz took hold in 2000 or 2001 when I became aware of such a thing as the Model 61 Skorpion machine pistol and thought: "Holy shit, a machine gun that fits into a pistol holster! What if somebody -- a loner, a stranger, a mercenary and drifter and Man With No Name -- brought that to an Old West-style gunfight?"
Coupling that thesis with the idea of damaged souls partnered against a cold and uncaring world, I had the primary colors with which I would paint my masterpiece.
Dear reader, it is now the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Eleven. Do you think that what was true fifteen and a half years ago, is necessarily true now? Think about where you were back then. (Were some of you even born yet? God I feel old.) If you have the kind of consistency in your life where things are the same now as they were then, I'm not sure whether to congratulate or pity you.
The world is not the same now as it was in 1995 or 2000-2001. Neither am I, and neither are my ideas.
I don't listen to The Eagles anymore (not regularly, at any rate). As I type this, I'm listening to old-school Metallica. I'm not as fascinated now as I once was by automatic weapons (not as much, at any rate).
In approximately ten years, I've tried to write Project: Oz half a dozen times. I've gone from something strongly resembling the merger between a 1990s comic book (the sort with which I grew up) and a 2nd Ed. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign (the sort with which I was immersed at the time), to high fantasy, dark fantasy, steampunk fantasy, steampunk western, and some sort of unnamed hybrid thing that is all of the above and none.
The world-building process (and the research that has gone along with it) has been extreme and almost nightmarish. I've gone 'round and 'round with myself: Do I want magical, non-human races like dwarfs and elves? (The original idea with the Skorpion included dwarf merchant princes producing gunpowder in mass quantities.) What sort of technology and standard of living do the common people enjoy? Is magic common, rare, or nearly unheard-of? Do I want magic to be common or rare? Do I want fantasy, historical near-reality, steampunk, or even science fiction levels of strangeness? Is this book geared towards children, young adults/teenagers, or mature audiences?
I've contemplated such topics as dresses and dirigibles, tattoos and Tomes of Eldritch Horror.
There have been times when I've torn out my hair: what the hell is this thing I'm writing??!!
What's my point with all this?
That it's all fluid, to a certain extent.
As I grow, as I gain in experience, so does my work grow and gain. While I wonder sometimes just how different I really am, I know that I've seen things and done things that have fundamentally changed the outcome of my work. For the better, I hope.
"Hm. I think this ending I have planned needs to be a little more bittersweet."
"Perhaps my heroine ought to be younger and less worldly. Also, more of a masochist. That way, she can better serve as a foil for my hero, and the dynamic of her relationship with the antagonist is shifted towards the more intense."
"Speaking of my hero: I think he ought to be super-skinny. Jesus-skinny, '60s rock star-skinny. And also more of a prick to start out with while he's working through his own inner demons, so that he can change into more of a ... well, a hero. A skinny hero."
Over the years, my heroine has been based upon a number of models, both physically and spiritually. I based her upon a character from a movie, to start out with. Over the years, she's taken on the aspects of friends and lovers no longer in my life. As I think about her now, I think my girlfriend has rubbed off a bit on her, which leads to the possibility for even more depth and realism.
Every day that I work on this project, I think of something I hadn't thought of before. And that's really neat, folks.
But the roots that once planted themselves in my brain from their unlikely sources, are still there. The theme of two unlikely heroes saving the world while saving themselves and each other is very much alive, although I understand it now far better than I did at the age of ten. The idea of a powerful weapon in the hands of a stranger still finds itself at the center of my work, but the weapon has changed and so has its meaning.
But those kernels remain. Those are the belief system, around which the ideas of Project: Oz can grow and evolve, try and fail and try again.
Until I get them right.