It’s (a)Live!

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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.

Cover Art for Gone To Wonder Episode One

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I shared this on Twitter last week, but dammit I’m so excited about it I wanted to post it here, too. Below, in glorious high definition, is the cover art for the first part of my Gone To Wonder series. It will be out soon. How soon? Maybe this weekend! That’s pretty darn soon, you guys.

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I’ll also be launching a page with more information on the series soon. In the meantime, check out this post for a preview. Stick around for more updates!

Music To Write To: Gone To Wonder Edition 2

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I’ve been a bit post-deficit lately. I’m sure you’ve all been very disappointed. To make it up to you, today I’d like to share a bit of whimsy.

Gone To Wonder is about, among other things, a steampunk theme park. The closest living analogue is Discoveryland in Disneyland Paris, and this incredible dragon which premiered this year.

In order to get the feel, I read a few books, but there’s nothing like a bit of music to get in the mood. Below is a song from Abney Park. If you fancy it, they’ve got a few albums out. I’d also recommend checking out Steam Powered Giraffe (the video for their song “Brass Goggles” is a lot of fun). Enjoy.

Gone To Wonder

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“Is that…?”

“No way,” said Gavin, pulling down his goggles to peer through the jungle growth.

“It’s them!” He whooped loudly, hopping up and down. Wendy couldn’t believe she was friends with this 19-year-old boy who was bouncing and giggling like a five-year-old at Christmas.

But she was excited, too. Down the road, surrounded and followed by a crowd of adventurers, were the two great mountains of metal, Tank and Tonk, lumbering down the path, blocking its entire width. Gavin shouted at her as he jogged to catch up to them.

Tank and Tonk hadn’t been seen outside of Ganton in Wendy’s recent memory. The closest they came was the day-ending parade, where they marched with all the others, stopping short of the Coast Way. But here they were, on the way to the Rogue’s Gallery.

Something was amiss, however. The crowd following them was excited but confused. And the two roving animatronics didn’t look right. Wendy couldn’t place it, but something about them was abnormal. It wasn’t till they had caught up that it dawned on her.

“Gavin,” she said, tugging him down so she could speak in his ear. “Look at them.”

“Yeah I’m looking. How could I not?”

“No. Look. Inside.”

Within the arcs of bronzed metal, churning pistons and spinning gears, something was missing.

“Holy crap. No operators,” said Gavin, his excited turning to puzzlement.

Wendy nodded. And what was more, she could see their heartgears, the source of an automan’s energy, buried within their frame, which normally glowed white or blue. Both Tank and Tonk’s heartgears were bright red. That meant one thing for an automan: Torque, the berzerker state that meant bad news for anyone in the way of their mission.

“They’re torquing,” said Gavin, only he wasn’t looking at the gears. He had walked to the side and was looking at their faces, at their glowing red eyes. He shared a look with Wendy, one that she needed no words to understand.

Something was very wrong in the Wonder today.

 

Above is an excerpt from an early chapter of Absent Hero, the first episode of my series Gone To Wonder. I’m not usually one for excerpts, since a lot of the time they’re rubbish out of context, but I can’t help myself. The first draft of Episode One was finished up just over a week ago – just in time, in fact, for me not to have to pony up on the Steak Bet. And I’m itching to get this thing out into the world.

Gone To Wonder is about a young woman named Wendy Danek. Wendy is a superfan of a revolutionary theme park called Finnegan’s Wonder. It’s a place where augmented reality, vivid video projections and holograms, hundreds of animatronics, and thousands of actors combine to create storyscapes: landscapes where stories come to life around the visitor. But it is more than that, because the visitors themselves become characters, adventurers in a brand new world of steampunk behemoths, pirates who command the wind, a mysterious mystic, woodland warrior poets, sprites, whisps, airplanes, vicious mechanized plants, and more. There are no rides in this park, only experiences that challenge the divide between real and make believe.

But the Wonder is in trouble. Attendance and enthusiasm are waning. Maintenance is lackluster. Whole lands are closed. And worst of all, it’s legendary creator and leader, Clayton Ferris, has been ousted by the majority shareholder, a man named Charles DeWitt. The day after the hammer falls, Wendy and her crew of faithful friends are thrust into the story in ways none of them had known before. Animatronics are coming to life, characters are attacked, and a war against a mysterious new race of automatons is brewing. At the center of it all is Wendy, chosen against her will by someone — or something — to push the story to stranger heights than it has ever gone.

In the coming months we plan to bring you five thrilling episodes of Gone To Wonder. It’s a story that has quickly become my favorite project to date. It combines my love of theme parks and armchair imagineering with a healthy dose of fantasy, steampunk, and science fiction. It blends a near-future setting with an impossible, fantastical world, and comments on the power of story on our lives.

We’ve got a ways to go yet. The first episode is in revision mode now, but keep watch over the next few weeks for news on a release date, as well as where and how you can get a copy. I look forward to bringing this project in front of readers soon. Until then, I’ll be gone to wonder.