Why did I write Necropolis PD?


Why did I write Necropolis PD, and how did Crunch Time almost destroy my writing debut?

Necropolis PD, my debut novel, will release in a few short weeks, and I’ve been thinking back a lot to how the book came about, and why I decided to write it. I’ve always wanted to write books. As far back as I can remember I was writing stories. After school I was drawing comics, playing role-playing games with friends, creating adventures in my mind and on paper, and I was reading voraciously, anything in the science fiction, horror and fantasy genres. In high school and college, I wrote in my spare time. I managed to write a single published issue of a comic. I submitted a few short stories to magazines. I started work on creating a role-playing game with some friends. I ran numerous role-playing campaigns, both around the table and with friends online. And in the back of my mind, I was putting together ideas for books I would someday write.

In the summer before my senior year of college, I was hired on by Acclaim as a game designer to help them make some video games. I began focusing my creative energy on creating and designing games. I was surrounded by creative and intelligent people, and the collaboration with those people was exciting. I began several creative endeavors with friends and co-workers during my early years of designing games, projects of various kinds that included video games, comics, narrative fiction, mobile apps, board games, card games, role-playing games and others.

What ever happened to all of those creative projects I started? What does any of this have to do with writing Necropolis PD?

Most of those projects crashed and burned because of one single reason: Crunch Time.

If any of you are familiar with the typical development cycle of video games, you’ll recognize those two words. Crunch Time happens when there is too much left to do to get a game completed and out the door by the time the deadline hits. This can happen for any number of reasons: too many features in the design, not enough development time, too many changes in the design during development, demands from the publisher, poor management, technological hurdles, sometimes just planning overtime into the schedule, to name a few. Whatever the cause, the end result is that the game’s developers have to work extended hours. Sometimes it’s 10-12 hour days, sometimes even more, working weekends and holidays. I'm not talking about working a few extra hours here or there. This can go on for months at a time without a break. My rant about the dangers and harm of Crunch Time deserves an entirely separate story all by itself.

Each and every time Crunch Time hit on a game, any side projects came to a screeching halt. Role-playing campaigns would come to an abrupt end. Collaborative projects were side-lined. Personal projects, educational classes and training, anything that wasn’t directly related to getting the video game done was shoved to the side. It was all I could do to keep enough time available to spend with my family. There simply wasn’t enough time in the day, enough creative energy left over to handle these other projects.

Once the game had shipped, we had some time to recover, refresh, get back into a normal routine. Some rare times we would pick up where we left off on projects, but many times after a game had shipped the studio would go through a round of layoffs or shut down, and people I’d been working with would move on to new jobs. Any projects we’d been working on together just fell apart. Sometimes I’d start working on new projects. And that would be great…

Until the next Crunch Time. And it always came.

I was working at Avalanche Software and after an especially brutal Crunch Time that had lasted several months, I looked at the piles of half-completed projects and stacks of great ideas that no one would ever know about. It was depressing. I vowed that instead of starting any new projects (no matter how cool they sounded), I was going to focus on finishing some projects instead. What project did I really want to concentrate on? What did I most want to do?

I didn’t want to do anything where I would have to rely on a partner or a team. I knew that any upcoming Crunch Time would derail us as it had every other time. I wanted to pick a project that I could do all by myself. And I decided, more than anything else, I wanted to write a book. I always thought of myself as an author, but I had yet to publish any books. 

That’s a big problem for a self-professed writer, as it turns out.

I joined a few friends in a writing club, something where we could encourage each other to work, but it didn’t rely on each other to get the work done. And I knew I needed to find time in my day that I could work on it, no matter how busy I got. At the beginning, I wrote every lunch time, every day. I found more time as I got going, but I stuck to it. Even if I only wrote a couple of sentences in a day, I wrote every day.

The big challenge after making the decision to write a book was deciding what story I wanted to write. I had notes for several different stories. An epic fantasy. A fantasy that was more aimed at young adult readers. I want to write those someday. But the story that really called to me was the one that had the least progress.

A city of the undead and a lone guy tasked with solving a murder there. The idea fascinated me. It just wouldn’t let go of my imagination. I love horror stories, anything weird and creepy, with unexplained mysteries, monsters, dangers in the shadows. It isn't enough to me to just write a zombie story, or write about the endless adventures of another vampire, or churn out an urban fantasy like everyone else's. If I'm going to spend the time and effort to write something, I want it to be something new and different. What is the hook to my story? Is my story something that can stand apart, on its own? I felt the story of Necropolis PD was unique enough that it was worth the energy and effort to create. I was sure I could contribute something to this space. I just needed to figure out where to start.

Now, you should know that I am an obsessive outliner. I start my story ideas noting the high points of the story, then I break it down into chapters, then fill out details for each chapter, and then I start writing. I always write this way.

Until Necropolis PD.

Jacob Green wanted me to help him solve this murder. But I had absolutely no idea how he was going to do it! I hadn’t started writing the story because I didn’t know how it was going to play out. I couldn’t outline the story if I didn’t know how it was resolved. And it wouldn’t leave me alone.

So I did something I hadn’t done before. I just started writing. I began typing away and as I wrote the story, the twists and turns started to reveal themselves. Motivations became clearer. Conversations happened and I had no idea where they were leading me. The city and setting came to life (so to speak). A city full of monsters, once human but with little of their humanity remaining. It was spooky, mysterious, dangerous, unforgiving, full of many unlikeable characters I couldn’t help rooting for.

Once I got going writing this story, I couldn’t stop. Crunch Times came again, but I found time to write whenever I could. I was determined that this time, this was an idea, a story that I was going to share and not relegate to my pile of half-finished projects. Crunch Time wouldn't end the project this time. I just kept at it. It may have started as a challenge to myself, but it became something I’m proud of and eager to have other people enjoy as well.

Comments

Unknown said…
Soooo.... I discovered Necropolis PD on Kindle and loved every word of it - and the question I can't stop asking is: What happens next? Any chance of a sequel?

Bravo for an unusual story perfectly executed
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