Truth be known, book six of the Beta-Earth Chronicles, Return to Alpha, is a book I never intended to write. Truth be known, the same is the story for book five, The Third Earth.
So what inspired their creations?
To set the stage for these tales, we've got to go back just about twenty years when most of my writing energies were focused on researching and writing my first four non-fiction books, Spy Television (2003), Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film (2005), Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage (2006), and The Encyclopedia of TV Spies (2009). Along the way, I generated so many articles, essays, reviews, and interviews that my first website, www.spywise.net, contains enough material for several books as well. I’m still proud of that website and encourage all spy buffs—whether of literary spies, historical spies, or spies on TV or film to check it out.
At the same time, I had a job where I had too many empty hours to burn in my office at Harrisburg Area Community College. I don’t remember exactly when, but one afternoon, I began to daydream and let my mind drift to stories set on an alternate earth. To be honest, I thought I was just entertaining myself. I thought I had no gift for writing fiction. I had no intention of writing down my fantasies.
Still, the Chronicles began when I posed two questions to myself. What, I wondered, would happen to an ordinary man who suddenly finds himself captive on an alternate earth after his captors have blinded him? How could a blind man adapt and survive when he understands nothing he hears, feels, or experiences after losing his sight?
My imagination expanded from this starting point when I started thinking about what the blind alien might go through on this new planet. I wondered what might make him so valuable that scientists and world leaders might want to forever ensure his captivity? It couldn’t be anything he brought with him from our planet. His captors could simply take any object from him. Could he have special knowledge? Perhaps, although I admit I couldn’t think of anything.
Then it struck me—the Plague-With-No-Name, an ancient disease that kills three out of every four babies their first year on Beta-Earth. This might mean my character’s DNA could be of special interest. Might his body contain the cure to a plague that defined a world?
Then the idea came to me to start spinning out a tale that ultimately filled out a 20-year arc over four books. I knew I needed more than the plague to keep keeping my main character, Malcolm Renbourn, off balance. From the disaster at crater Bergarten in book 1, to conflicts with international leaders in books 2, 3, and 4, not to mention conflicts within the polygamous Renbourn tribe throughout, as well as inner turmoils within a man who slowly, very slowly came to accept new customs and ways of being, I threw everything I could think of at Malcolm and his family. After all, I wanted to blunt accusations that a man with so many wives was little more than an elaborate male fantasy. Considering what happens to Malcolm over the years, I suspect many male readers would think very long and very hard before deciding they’d like to trade places with Malcolm Renbourn of Alpha-Earth.
Of course, converting a long, elaborate daydream into stories that would hopefully interest readers took quite a few other levels of creativity to make it happen. I’ll get into that in part two of this blog’s anatomy of the Beta-Earth Chronicles.