–Retroactive! I confess, when I got to this part in the outline, I needed an excuse for Edsel not to be available—one Calvin would accept. That would mean going back and establishing something. A pox seemed like the way to go, so I had Shantewa Goodall talk about it. Then came the discussion on quarantines and the like. Combined with the abrupt nature of his dispatch, Calvin would just go with it and follow orders.
-And that’s how the McCrackens got rid of him.
–Misfortune. When his muffler blew, that was just bad luck. Or perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, it was an act of divine intervention? Imagine how different this book—and its sequels—would be if Calvin hadn’t attracted the attention of the mages down below?
–A million uses. Yes. Calvin used duct tape on his muffler. ‘Merica.
–Centerpiece! The two-page spread of Calvin flying away is easily the best drawing of the book. When we first scanned them in, most of the drawings looked like crap, and this one made me the saddest. Fortunately a Sharpie treatment and a re-shoot solved the problem, and it looks better than ever.
–Authenticity. Finding the right balance for writing British dialogue took a few tries. You don’t want to overdo it with apostrophes and words misspelled for the sake of dialect; one thing that helped was I found a website with tons of old British slang, which I worked in when I could, just so the mages didn’t talk like the duffers they so despised. I only played up the dialect when they were drunk (which for Fitz and Birty means pretty much all the time.)
–Light values. The drawing with the grenade going off was one of the harder pieces of this book. Keep in mind that I illustrated the whole thing with mechanical pencils and a crappy No. 2 for heavier shading. I foolishly thought it would be enough from the outset, and learned otherwise by the end. Still, even with a good set of graphites or charcoals, this would have proven difficult for my skill level, as I had never given so much attention to a light source in a piece before. I really had to think in layers and shadows, as I was considering Calvin in the foreground (behind a tree), Birty and Godfrey in the clearing, and the depths of the forest beyond them. The grenade blast would yield a slight, rapid burst of light, and would cast sudden shadows outward in all directions. I’m pleased with the overall effect, even if I had to lighten Calvin a little bit for him to show.
–FINALLY. Also, this is the chase scene that originated in the web serial that I wrote in 2011. The scene with the grenade was there too, except Leon (Calvin) killed two mages with the grenade and shot the third with his blunderbuss. That made, Troy (Godfrey) had wrapped himself in his flying carpet and fortified it with an armor spell, so he survived. Leon knew Troy survived, but fled anyway. Like I said, I wrote those scenes in a flash to get them on the site; flaws like this were why I stopped writing it.
-But, as with the grenade drawing, I’m pleased now with the result. It was all grist for the mill.
–A villain is born. The infamous Godfrey chapter. In so many ways, this was just like writing a first chapter. It demanded the most revision, I think. First, I had to make sure it kept Godfrey’s tone. It was okay if he mirrored some of Calvin’s anger and bitterness, but he couldn’t maintain Calvin’s quiet competitiveness. Godfrey could be quiet, after a fashion, but he wasn’t there to compete. He had his place in his mind. He was better than everyone around him. He was too good for this job, for this continent, for this banishment. Too good for his own family. And he was only fourteen. All of these things had to inform his narration, so I had to go over it at different intervals and make sure that Calvin wasn’t leaking through (since I’d been writing him this whole time.)
-Dialect and vocab were important too; Calvin was a working-class bumpkin with a narrow education, while Godfrey was just posh enough to expect better things out of life than what he had.
–So begins the hunt. Because Godfrey’s purpose in the story is directly connected to Calvin, it was easy to paint his ambition, his motivation, with such energy. He is a villain truly defined by the hero. As we learn that Baltimore has changed since Calvin stood up to Fitz and Birty, Calvin becomes more than just another technomancer recruit. There’s a price on his head, so capturing him would be symbolic. And Godfrey needs a symbolic win. Thus, their rivalry is born.
–Yet another antagonist. Edsel wasn’t a malicious antagonist for Calvin. Godfrey was, but he wasn’t an immediate threat. This is where Hamilton comes in, someone malicious and immediate, to give Calvin a new challenge. Most of that challenge comes to a head in SUICIDE RUN. The reader is meant to truly hate this man, the insane captain of the TechMan army. He’s not at the top of the food chain, he’s just in very good graces with the people who run the show, so that gives him leeway. You’ll also learn in book two that Hamilton was essentially a child soldier, having joined up at age 9. No matter your army’s cause, putting a kid into a war is only going to wrap his brain in layers of psychosis. The army doesn’t have psychological practitioners; figures who have endured the life that Hamilton has lived, well, they just become what they become. He’s functional, even rational, he’s just not moral.
–How can I kick you in the groin today? The plot twist that comes about in this chapter was a very seat-of-the-pants decision that I made when writing the web serial. Like I said, I had the vision of a guy flying on a dragon-machine through the midnight woods. He’s cornered by wizards. He fights them off and keeps going. For a while you see some Godfrey chapters (including scenes from what became book two). Then Calvin reaches Camp Liberty (then it was League City in Texas; I had to change it to Ohio for the reboot, because in this story Texas is still a contested space belonging to Spain.) It’s only at Camp Liberty that he realizes he was duped by Old Man McCracken, without immediately knowing why. In the original, the reason was still Amelia, but the conflict with the McCracken boys hadn’t come up yet.
–Foreshadow…The chase scene with the emergent gryphon mimics was also a holdover from the serial, but they weren’t manned by the recruiters who had brought Calvin in. That just hadn’t been established. When drafting this version, I wanted Calvin to cross paths with them for a moment, to keep them relevant. It won’t be the last time they run through the ruins of Youngstown..
-Major Tyler? Jodie Foster.
-Hank Duncan? T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver, Indianapolis Colts.
-Hank’s character was originally named Paul. I thought it was too generic, so I changed it.
–Be careful what you drop. The emotional imprint spell that Godfrey uses was another holdover. However, it only put him on Calvin’s trail in the beginning. Then he lost the trail, so he took the dregs of the spell to a blood magician, who was able to put a stronger trace on him. That character appears in book two, and with a much, much more intense role.
–Serendipity. As to the nickname of the 7th Mimic Brigade, I seriously didn’t come up with that until I outlined this chapter. I had already decided to title the book “Rebel Heart”, but until this moment it was only descriptive of Calvin. As I introduced him to the brigade, this clicked in my head, and it felt too perfect to ignore. So I eased the reader into it, showing other brigades with other nicknames, only to have Calvin miss the name of the brigade to which he’d been assigned. That way I could end with Hank officially bringing him aboard, with the closing line, “Welcome to the Rebel Hearts.”
So there you have it: a deconstruction/behind-the-scenes look at the Engines world and the characters in it. Once I’ve annotated SUICIDE RUN, I’ll post those notes here.