I enjoy behind the scenes information, so I thought I’d write up how Ascension came to be. And I figured, why not do it while I’m rocking 3.5 hours of sleep?
For those who haven’t read it yet, there may be some spoilers, but I’ll keep them mild.
I first started work on Ascension in 1998. I had just finished my first full novel, a Fantasy called The Spirits of Man (I still plan on getting around to rewriting someday, especially now I feel confident I can shake the Robert Jordan influence out of it) and had started work on the sequel The Eternal Flame, when I decided to do something different.
I’m not exactly sure where the inspiration came from, but an early scene that still sticks in my mind was Kharma finding a seam in reality, a place where parallel worlds came together like a corner. In a crazed frenzy, she tore at the seam, peeling away layers until she found herself in the true reality. The scene manifested itself in the final manuscript in Chapter 14, when Kharma finds the hole left in reality due to her mother being taken by Rex. She works at the hole until she’s able to step through and get the answers she’s been seeking.
The man-beast hybrids were also an early addition. Again, I’m not quite sure why I had my heart set on them, but it’s a motif I brought up again (without realizing it at first) in the Only Human on the Block series. Originally, the Beasts were in a more futuristic environment and were militaristic, marching in line and annihilating any human in their path. The Beasts in the final version are the dominant species of their world, but it’s set in the jungle and they’re keeping humans as slaves.
The original overall arc was reality is nothing but a simulation, designed to train humans to fight an alien presence that had invaded Earth. The Rites of Ascension were a means to establish who was in charge. Rex was someone who had learned how to manipulate the simulation to give himself abilities, and the powers-that-be wanted Kharma to take him out. I remember having some elaborate scheme they used so she could become the leader instead of Rex, but I don’t recall the details.
I wrote three chapters at first. I was pretty pleased with them overall, even if they needed a lot of work. I was in that happy place, when an idea first comes to me and I have a lot of the major details in place, but haven’t quite worked out how the puzzle will piece together.
Then I saw the Matrix.
At the time, I’d been going through a string of half-finished projects, ideas I saw come to fruition in one way or the other in popular media; a commercial for the X-Files ruined a short story I was working on, I scrapped another SF book after seeing a movie trailer (can’t remember which one at this point), etc. It wasn’t an exact copy, but there were some definite similarities. And, worse, The Matrix did it all better than I could have ever hoped.
So, as much as I didn’t want to, I scrapped it. I started a few other stories, but nothing really took off. I had a couple of garbage short stories, a half-finished SF/Fantasy mash-up called Otherworlds, a horror novel I started, but went nowhere with. Ascension remained untouched until one night in 2004, I had nothing for writer’s group. I hate to show up empty-handed, so I rooted around in my old files and, lo and behold, there were the three chapters I’d written six years before. I really hadn’t given it much though since I’d abandoned it, but everyone at group said they were eager to see where it was going. Suddenly, so was I. Again.
By luck, I happened upon an article on black holes. It piqued my curiosity, and got me started doing some research. The more I read, the more I realized I could adapt our knowledge of the phenomenon into my book.
Once that was established, a lot of the other pieces fell into place fairly quickly. Jack was originally added so Kharma would have something to do when she traveled to the Beast world the second time. When I finished the chapter, I thought, ooh, what if she somehow takes him with her? I had no idea he’d become a central character (even moreso in the sequel, should I ever get around to writing it). I don’t recall how the powers came about, but they almost served another stumbling point for me. As I wrote, The 4400 and Heroes came on air and I saw several of my powers being used by their characters. It’s a tough thing when dealing with people who have abilities. Comics have been around for so long, it’s difficult to come up with new powers. So, I resisted the urge to purge and forged on, telling myself that even if Tess on The 4400 can manipulate people into doing against their will, she’s not the same as Swae, not really. And I still haven’t seen a power like convergence, the ability to bring together everyone’s alternate selves so they can move beyond the fractured reality. I think that one may be a little more specific to my story.
Unlike most of my books up to that point, I kept on until I finished, finally writing “The End” in 2006. After some edits, I posted it on Authonomy.com, where I received some excellent feed-back. I reworked it and reworked it and reworked it and it eventually became the beast it is. I’m actually very happy with how it turned out. It’s what I call a kitchen-sink novel; it’s got a bit of everything. It has super powers, SF elements, Fantasy elements, action, romance, even a few scenes of horror. It’s a great big ball of craziness, but, most importantly to me, I’ve been told by those who’ve read it that it makes sense. It’s messed up and weird, and I’ve had to endure disgusted looks from friends and family, to the point I’ve considered changing my name and moving abroad, but it works. She’s my baby and I’m proud of her.