This weeks post is about my writing for once, specifically the "Rangers of Walden" series (*Yes, it did used to be called the "Kingdom of Walden" series) and where the idea came from in the first place.
First, a little bit of recent history because people are curious:
Why did I change the name from the Kingdom of Walden to the Rangers of Walden?
The first answer is from a marketing standpoint. People weren't responding to the old series name, and if they were, it wasn't in the planned way we thought they would. In short, it was confusing. Readers kept stumbling on my books and thinking they were a romance series set in a time of knights on horseback, kings, and queens.
We all know that romance isn't the primary genre (or secondary) of this series.
And while there are knights, kings, and a queen these came about as a way to rebuild and give people purpose. The backdrop was of a ruined, post-apocalyptic world where despots, raiders, and self-proclaimed queens, road kings, and leaders try to keep pockets of survivors alive by clawing out of the wreckage.
Also, the main character wasn't a king, or even Sheridan who ended up a queen.
It's a ranger.
The entire series follows Derek Moss, and other rangers, more than it follows or even stays in the actual Manor where Sheridan tries to keep things together.
So, after a marketing campaign, we changed the name of the first novel from After Oil to Ashes in Winter, and the entire umbrella to The Rangers of Walden Series.
But where did all this come from?
To answer than question, we have to back a few years and to when I first wrote the first draft of what would form the series.
And then a little further.
Back then, my then husband (now very ex) and I were in a group that played Dungeons and Dragons, Rifts, and Palladium Fantasy. The group then moved to another Palladium based game called Dead Reign, which was a modern type game (characters were able to use computers, well... if they could find one that worked) with basically everything you would expect to have in a modern setting but in a zombie apocalypse... so basically it was the Walking Dead only in pen & paper roleplaying format.
The only thing that game had going for it was the modern setting.
Other than that, we all know how I feel about zombies.
The other players and game master were on a modern setting kick (after awhile the Skyrim like setting or even ultra futuristic gets old and you feel like playing something more familiar) and I kind of always found something else to do because zombies... not my thing... and one of the players asked, "What if it wasn't zombies or nukes like in Fallout?"
The begged the question; what else could we use as the backdrop? The problem, as it were, that caused the players to find themselves in a world where it all ended?
The problem would actually bug me for awhile. There was always the face eating viruses (overdone), weather pattern change like in the Day After Tomorrow, sudden explosion of magical rifts creating a new world out of the old (Rifts, basically) or alien crash landing and changing things (Defiance)... but what could we use?
A few weeks later, while watching my favourite channel, a docu-drama came on Discovery called, "The End of Oil." It was a drama based on what would happen if all the fossil fuel resources in the world just dried up. Ended. Kaput.
Needless to say, what they showed was exactly what I was looking for.
So, at the next game, I proposed the idea and we watched the The End of Oil as a group.
The Early Days of the Rangers of Walden... weren't even Walden.
They were in Valley East, specifically on a stretch of road and a farm just in the shadow of the old radar base (yes, I did revisit that farm with Derek in Ghostwalker!) between Hanmer and Garson, and just outside of Skead.
This was a logistical choice more than anything else because it was actually very close to where we always got to together to play (in Garson, actually... yep, the "birthplace" of this series is actually in Garson... and it's not the only link there as you'll find out) so it was easy, and close enough, to double check that Google Maps wasn't leading us wrong by driving there.
As Sheridan's influence, and the "Kingdom" grew, we began to joke as we drove past the Valley East signs that we were either entering or leaving our own area.
Most of the characters in the series are either direct versions of the character a player created, more than one character merged into one as we created numerous generations as characters leveled up past what was feasible to play. We made those characters Non-Player Characters we could eventually interact with, and then created new ones placed in another area and started the timeline over... and over... and over again.
Until finally that world had seen its purpose and we set the entire thing aside to go on to other campaigns and settings.
From setting to book
It was in 2011 that I pulled out the notes and wrote the first draft of what I called "The End of Oil", which was basically just a narrated version of all the stories, crazy adventures, and backgrounds of the characters we had made. At that point, I had no plan to actually make things into a book. Writing things down and creating stories and backgrounds from character notes was my method of remembering one of the best games I had ever been part of.
The real plan was to work on Karasa and eventually get that published.
But, in November 2011, during NaNoWriMo my plan to finally hammer out Karasa was waylaid when, out of desperation because I just couldn't make Karasa work... I started writing a common timeline for After Oil. While the first draft was not perfect (it was a whole lot of telling instead of showing) by the end of November I was sitting on over 160,000 words.
That I had written in the dark.
Because my power had been cut off because both my ex and I couldn't find work to replace what we lost, and his usual way of making money over the summer was more famine than feast.
So, there I was... living the very world I was writing. Barely any food. No lights, no way to charge my phone, and in the middle of a very cold Sudbury winter.
I wrote this b*tch long hand because I couldn't run my computer and had to type it out when I went to the NaNo meet-ups because then I could plug in the computer, or, while my then husband tried to make a living his really nice employer and his wife half supported us... and even let me hang out during meetings at their house in Garson (I did mention the Garson connection?) or at the office with my laptop.
I won't get into details, but the famine finally ended - although it meant moving to Toronto for a few years. But sometimes you have to move to get a few years of experience where the jobs are for people without experience before you can come back and start over again.
Which characters are from the game, or hybrids, or entirely new?
When you read the series, the obvious ones that were characters - either in the very first game or in subsequent ones - are very obvious.
Sheridan Wither (originally played by me, but very quickly... for obvious reasons... became an non-player character that I had to replace), Terrence Scapael (although he dies in the first few chapters, but he was created by my then husband), and Kaine (created and played by Rob Symons) were absolutely the first three directly based on full player characters with very little alternation made to them. Back in the first book, Abigail Lightbourne (Valerie Credger) was another one as was David Radzinsky (Noah), the police officer found at the Fire Hall in the first book.
Starting in the second book, you are introduced to Aidan Kwan, who was created by my friend, Allan Tom in Toronto.
Others were hybrids, or two player characters mushed together to create one well rounded one as it became obvious I had far too many characters, and too many stories, to possibly fit them all into. Characters like Shiloh Wither, who actually while personality wise was based off my cousin was also the character that Terrence was supposed to be but because there were too many characters, I had to merge the two. Since it was critical plot wise that Shiloh live to raise her son, Nathan (based off her son, Stephen), as well as for other reasons later revealed at the beginning of Ghostwalker, and in the upcoming Whispers on the Wind, but Terrence wasn't necessary... well... guess which one lived and which one didn't? Terrence, by dying, served a better purpose since as a diabetic he drove home the point of resources running out when his death came by complications from the disease. Gina Egivand and the two sisters employed by Kaine are also examples of this.
And then were those who never had existed before, but were there to fill in gaps and holes for the characters to interact with, but still had to have life breathed into them. People who, while it wasn't critical for readers to remember each and every name (so it is in real life - the people you meet all have names and lives, but you can't possibly remember them all) they were still given life and names to make it feel that much more realistic. The fictional mayor of Sudbury, Victoria Piacentini, was neither a player character or anyone I knew or met. Lescelle, the police officer she and Daniel Wither meet in the basement of City Hall, was another.
And, since most of the other characters were supposed to be family and friends plunked into the middle of this familiar but not world, all others are fictional counterparts to people who actually exist... such as the most famous one in this series, Derek Moss, who came into the series after everyone else (outside of Aidan, because I didn't meet Alan until well after the first draft was written) and his wife, Marissa Moss... if, you remember, were the employers of Terrence and from Garson...
Yes, I said there was a Garson connection. Derek and Marissa are based directly off of my then husband's employer and his wife. You could say, in more ways than one, that the series and books wouldn't even exist if not for being allowed to plug in and charge my laptop at their house and the office on Bancroft once and awhile.
David Radzinsky's counterpart at the Fire Hall, Emilie, is based off a friend's daughter by the same name.
I'm sad to say, unfortunately, we even lost one. Garrett Wither was based off of my Uncle, Steve Cannon, who passed away in March of 2017. He lives on as his character who is still running around the Kingdom of Walden keeping our lights on.
And, yes, we all still miss him.
Why did I change the location from Valley East to Walden?
As I wrote the series, and double checked facts, geography, and other things it became painfully obvious that the best place to give the Kingdom of Walden a chance was to place it on a bigger river than the creek and swamp it originally sat on. While there is a sizable river up by Capreol, our characters didn't start off there.
Also, it rolled off the tongue better.
As I wrote the books and spent more time in Walden I also began to fall in love with the area. From the slow moving and wide Vermillion, to the rolling fields and wild forests. The Spanish River and High Falls to the north... and the sleepy town that isn't so sleepy once you get to know it.
Everything the characters needed to thrive, and what they needed to defend, was right there.
Was Ghostwalker really supposed to be the last book?
When I first wrote the first draft of After Oil, the story line went only as far as the closing scenes of Ghostwalker. When I tore that apart, and then rewrote it, and then tore it all apart again... and rewrote it... it became obvious that the series was closer to a trilogy. I wrote the first book with a new draft that didn't even resemble the orginals (maybe only 10% of what happened in the games actually made it into the books), not even intending to publish it outside of printing off a few copies for friends and family so we could have a good laugh about it. As I said, my intent was to shop around Karasa and get that published. This was just an exercise in free writing in between writing Karasa.
So, you have to remember that I never intended to make these books.
This was a surprise... and because of it I still haven't finished Karasa.