I wrote a thing, and now you can read that thing. That’s right, the thing I’ve been jabbering about on the blog and Twitter is available now for your reading pleasure. I posted it Saturday night, and it has been flying off the shelves! Okay, that was a lie, it was never on any shelves.
What’s the book called? It’s called Absent Hero, the first episode in a series called Gone To Wonder. For a brief description, here’s the blurb:
In the middle of Denver lies the most extraordinary building on Earth: Finnegan’s Wonder. Inside, a theme park unlike any other, full of mechanical men, pirates, airplanes, and monsters. It’s a place that seventeen-year-old Wendy and her friends have dedicated their lives to experiencing and documenting. But when the visionary creator of the Wonder, Clayton Ferris, is usurped, the place Wendy loves so much is in jeopardy. It’s up to her and her friends to unravel secrets, brave out-of-control robots, and face down the richest man on the planet to save Finnegan’s Wonder.
Suspenseful, swashbuckling, and dramatic, Gone to Wonder is a journey that chronicles what happens when make-believe becomes real.
Wow! Sounds fun, right? …right?
Well, for a less brief description, I’ll tell you a bit more about the book, and the rest of the series, and it’s origins. Gone To Wonder features a theme park. If you know me well, that should not surprise you. (If you don’t know me, you probably aren’t surprised either, but for different reasons). Theme parks have been important to me for most of my life. Like many kids, my parents took me to various parks when I was young, but unlike most people, they’ve become lodged in my psyche. They are a form of art, blending many disciplines, with the aim to take you out of the normal world and give you an experience. And that experience is a narrative one, whether it is directly or indirectly.
In GtW, the theme park is called Finnegan’s Wonder. It’s an indoor theme park (inside a massive building), of which there aren’t many in the world, but besides that it’s a bit different from parks you might experience in the real world. The Wonder, as it is called for short, is based around a single property, a series of video games and other media, originated by a mysterious, reclusive genius named Clayton Ferris (think Walt Disney meets Howard Hughes). Ferris has taken the narrative form seriously—it’s the core of the Wonder, the thing that he decided to make the park for.
The best way to describe it is it’s as if you were inside a video game, only without the more game-like components. Imagine if you could step into the world of The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, and not just watch it happen around you, but interact with it, be part of the story, and even be the hero of the story. In this case, every day inside the Wonder, a Hero is selected (and yes, for simplicity’s sake, the masculine is default—more on this in future episodes). That Hero is a normal guest who, because some narrative choices throughout their day, is singled out for having the best story of the day, and
That’s the idea that caught me, that made me want to write this series. In fact, it has so captured my imagination that the core concept, a narrative-based park, a “story park” if you will, has ballooned outward. Gone To Wonder is just the start, and Absent Hero is just the start of that.
What is Absent Hero itself about? It’s about a girl named Wendy, and a single day at the Wonder. Wendy is seventeen, and she is a huge fan of the Wonder. How big? Well, for about a year, she has visited every day. She likes it, obviously, but that’s not the only reason she’s been every day. Wendy is a young woman who never had the best time in social situations, like school, but she’s had an even greater struggle since her mother died.
One night, though, something happens that will change the Wonder forever. Clayton Ferris, the semi-mythic creator of the Finnegan World, is forced out of his own company by his partner, Charles DeWitt. DeWitt, citing flagging attendance and profit, rallies the board of directors against Ferris.
Wendy and her friends struggle with what this means to them and to the place they love. How much say do fans have in these creations? That’s something I’ve pondered myself. On the one hand, the creators of a thing own that thing, in a legal sense. On the other, I do believe that, once a story has become part of the cultural zeitgeist, it should not be changed lightly. Profit motive notwithstanding, narratives are cultural objects, whether they are religious myths or Star Wars.
Over the course of one day, Wendy becomes embroiled in the story like she never has before—like no one has before. Something is happening, beyond the control of the employees, maybe beyond the control of DeWitt. It may even be the work of Clayton Ferris. Wendy and her friends aren’t sure, but what becomes apparent is that Wendy may have the opportunity to change the fate of a story, to take control of the property.
Gone To Wonder, as a whole, is about an evolution of entertainment. If we have the capacity to surround ourselves completely with a story, where does myth end and life begin? There’s an excellent book that came out this year, called Every Guest Is A Hero by former Imagineer Adam Berger, that discusses how Campbellian monomyth structure is applied in a theme park setting. In Gone To Wonder, that’s a theme I aim to explore, and far beyond.
I’ve begun working on Episode Two, but in the meantime, pick up a copy of Episode One, available exclusively on the Kindle store (as well as Kindle Unlimited, which I recently signed up for—my review of that service coming soon). I’d really love to hear what you think. Leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads, hit me up on Twitter, or comment on the blog.