Month: August 2012

Leaving the City

It’s spring of 2006. I’m living on my own for the first time in two decades, a divorce pending, struggling to remember how to be single and live alone. I have a job, but lots of bills, and virtually no social outlets. My depression is kicking into high gear.

I need an escape… an outlet… something in which I can invest my time to take my mind off things.

Seriously? Who picks these pics?

I know what you’re thinking. I should be working on that next novel. And that’s true. I should be. But I’m just not inspired. I know that inspiration isn’t particularly necessary, but it would be nice, I think. I do try to write. I work a little bit on the sequel to Wish You Were Here, but my heart isn’t in it. I try, once again, to pull my first novel back from the dead… but it keeps falling back into the same ruts that doomed it before. I have other pieces of books in the works, but none are speaking to me.

No, my escape needs to be something different. Something social. But I have few friends here. And it should be something I can do at all hours, not dependent upon others. And it should be fun. Lots of fun. So that meant…

I said SOCIAL!

Video games.

The ex (fittingly) kept the Xbox. That’s fine, since she also kept the TV. But I had a computer. We don’t need no stinking console.

World of Warcraft? Highly recommended by some friends. Everquest 2? Highly recommended by other friends. But no… My brain reminded me of one I’d seen on a shelf some time ago. A superhero game. What was it called?

City of Heroes.

See… it’s a city… of… Oh, you get the idea.

Yeah, gimme superheroes over sword and sorcery any day. I bought the game. I created a character. Just one, to start, though many more would follow over the next six years. And none of those would ever come close to matching that first character.

For six years, I developed her, with the help of plenty of great (and some not-so-great) role-players online, many of whom I have since met in person and consider dear friends. This character… easily the most complex character I’ve ever created… has a life of her own. She’s on Facebook. She has a Twitter account. Her MySpace page is probably still there, too. For a while, she had a personal website, but I took it down recently in preparation for a major remodel.

Why? Because this character is the protagonist of my next novel.

Oh, I removed her from the game world and planted her firmly in “our” universe. I wasn’t about to steal any intellectual property of the game company. Not that I had any inclination to stop playing the character in the game. In fact, I looked forward to the book becoming popular and readers coming to City of Heroes to “meet” her.

Sadly, that will now never happen.

Today, it was announced that City of Heroes will be defunct by the end of November.

I learned this perhaps two hours ago. And it’s a surreal feeling. Yes, it’s a game. But it’s far more than that. It’s a community in which I made some great friends. It’s a creative milieu in which I created an amazing character. And even after six years, it was still a welcome relief from the daily grind. In fact, ninety percent of my time in the game for the past few years has been role-playing, not really playing “the game” part of it.

And in three months, that will all be history.

Of course, it already is, really. The past six years are history for this character. The book is her memoir, you see. And while it will not be about the world of that game, the stories I came up with for her on the screen certainly served as inspiration for her story on the page.

The next three months will be bittersweet. They will hold the final days of her life in the game, but usher in the first days of her life in a new form. I expect the final chapters to be done by the end of the year, with the book making its appearance almost exactly seven years after its protagonist first took form on my computer.

I’m excited as heck about that. But today, my heart is heavy.

Posted by vmwales in Inspiration, 0 comments

He’s a Real Character

This entry is in two related parts.  The first part is in the “cool” category, the second in the “embarrassing” category.

The Cool Part

Back in college at Penn State, I was a regular at Ye Olde College Diner.

Ah, the memories…

It was a fun place to meet people and I would often write there, too.  One day, my roommate Brian and I were there, probably for grilled stickies with ice cream.

Ah, the calories…

Our friend Don, who worked there, came over to our table and introduced us to Michael, one of the managers. He was a nice enough guy. I would get to know him better in the year that followed, but that first meeting left me feeling… familiar.

On our walk back to our apartment, I said to Brian, “I can’t help but think I’ve met Michael before, but I know I haven’t.”  To my surprise, Brian echoed the same sentiment. “I was thinking the same thing!”

Days later, as I was working on my first novel (still in the unpublished list), it struck me.  I turned to Brian and said, “Holy crap… Michael is Steve!”  (Steve being the protagonist of said novel.)  Michael looked just like the physical description I’d written of Steve, right down to the style of beard.  His mannerisms were similar, his age was about the same.  Lots of similarities.

Brian was one of the readers of my work and his reaction, again, was the same.  “He is!

It’s a very strange, but cool, feeling to “meet” one of your characters in real life.  For me, it was confirmation  that I was able to create authentic, believable characters on the page.  The characters of that story were quite real to me.  And that’s where we get to…

The Embarrassing Part

That same year, one of my English classes was taking a trip to New York City.  It was by bus, and I had to catch it at some ridiculous hour of the morning… four a.m., I think.  I was a college student.  Four a.m. was a weekend bedtime, not an hour at which you should be catching a bus.

So I got up in the middle of the night, took my shower and got dressed.  But I had a good bit of time, still, before I had to leave for campus to catch the bus. So I put a record on the stereo and plugged in the headphones, so as not to disturb Brian.  (The album was Tales from Topographic Oceans, by Yes.  Don’t ask me why I remember that, more than 25 years later.)

Ah, the melodies…

As I sat there on the floor, listening to the music with a brain clouded by sleepiness, I began to imagine my trip to NYC. I’d never been there, so I was looking forward to seeing all the famous landmarks, going to Central Park, having some real NY pizza, and best of all, getting to hang out with my friends: Lucy, Lorrie, the above-mentioned Steve…

Yeah, that woke me up. To this day, I remember that feeling of realization and embarrassment, having thought my creations were not just real people, but old friends that I was going to go hang out with.  I don’t know whether to laugh at myself or think I was losing my mind. I don’t often tell this story, since most people who hear it probably would think the latter.

Ah, the maladies…

For any budding authors out there, I do hope you get to meet your characters, someday.  And I won’t think less of you if you think they’re real.

Posted by vmwales in Characters, 0 comments