Hey everybody! Ben here. Right now the Kindle Scout campaign for Surreality is live, and I need your help! Nominate my book for publication and get a free copy if Kindle Press selects it! Vote and read the first two chapters at https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2VSHAGFXNJ50T. Thanks so much for your help 🙂
Every year I try to come up with some kind of writing goal, and during college I extended this to specific summer goals, most of which were never actually achieved.
One of the first of these was to write 10-12 short stories in 12 weeks, a story a week. Actually, that still sounds like a pretty good idea. Maybe someday. But I’m not the kind of guy who thinks in short stories. My story ideas tend to inflate into novels, and pretty soon into entire series, and “Murder in Second Life” as I was calling it at the time, started pretty much the same way.
This was around the time when Second Life was coming into its own. It was kind of a weird anomaly at the time, more of a community than a proper game (and it had the crappy graphics to match). Still, people were building relationships, communities, and virtual sci-fi museums or really whatever they wanted. This was more than just a game, it was in truth another world, and I was interested in what form crime would take in this sort of environment, particularly murder.
Death is a constant in video games, as is resurrection. But not Second Life. The game was designed to not have the objectives or weapons of a third-person shooter, or even the quests of an RPG. It was just a place to hang out, maybe design and sell some stuff, and interact in a more realistic way. Truthfully when I first started looking into this, I don’t think Second Life knew what it was going to be. Certainly the legacy of that space has been more community driven than creator influenced. It evolved, as my own world of Surreality continues to.
I like the mystery form, and I’m a guy who loves technology, but it was important to me to have the main character not be some kind of elite hacker or technology buff. This served both as a challenge to myself to make the material engaging to people who aren’t engineers, and a lot of narrative structures are told from the perspective of the “outsider” who acts as our reader surrogate for exploring our surroundings.
Actually, truthfully, this is a more sophisticated understanding of my main character than I had when I created him. I’m more of a “gut” writer. Keenan was largely born out of a love of classic detectives like Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” which still leaves a few fingerprints in the final version of the book. What if a technological crime could not be solved by people good with technology, but only by people good at getting to the truth?
As I’ve written about, everything really started coming together after a suggestion from my wife. Don’t set the story in San Francisco, a place I have only visited once. Instead, move the real-world action to Columbus. We’re a culturally, politically, socio-economically diverse Midwestern city. We’re a growing center for technology, and more importantly, Columbus is my home. Writing about this place has given me an excuse to get to know my city better, and to use my love to really shape the narrative in directions I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
There are a lot of other bumps and jigs along the way, as with any book, more than I probably even remember. Some scenes, particularly those with Garfunkel, were inspired by my first dog, Simon. I was looking through my old notes the other evening, and there are times I have no idea what was going through my head. I think if you work on something long enough, while you can have a narrative as to its origins, there is so much that is simply organic, or even magical.