July 23rd, 2011.
I wish I could say that it was a dark and stormy night, but hell no. It was a typical summer night in Madison, WI, and I was right at the end of the first draft of my novel, “Ghosts of Koa”. It was an exciting time! In the spirit of taking the rare break from my workaholism, a friend and I decided to go see the new Captain America movie. That was when I saw the poster: an advertisement for The “Hunger Games” movie. It was my first time ever having heard of the series, but my friend was a fan and gave me the run down.
Some of the key elements sounded so similar to the one in my book that I did some web searching and found out…
::Insert me fainting onto the ground::
It had a few of the same core premises as my work! (Dun, dun, DUNNN!)
“Worse”, Hunger Games was a smash hit. And I mean SMASH. Thousands of reviews on Amazon, millions of copies sold, and movie deals out the wazoo (and later, I’d hear of The Hunger Games destroying box office records too!).
I was devastated. While there was no gladiator-esque storyline to my work at all, all my other “original ideas” (lol, by the way), kids vs kids, a female protagonist protecting a younger sister and trying to keep her family afloat, oppressive regimes trying to kill people… it all had been “wrenched away” from me, and “worse still” were successful!!! MASSIVELY SUCCESSFUL!! I thought to myself: how dare someone steal MY brilliance?!
Oh, brother. Lol. Today I laugh thinking about this, but let’s continue on.
While I was a little encouraged that my creative instincts were so spot on, I was also super discouraged. I thought that because some of my core ideas had already been expressed, my work was completely useless and redundant. I considered giving up The Books of Ezekiel series altogether.
I was also just angry! Angry at myself for taking so long to finish and publish my work, angry at the Hunger Games for existing, and just plain ole hateration angry. Smdh. I hated feeling this way because I strive to define myself by the love and support I put out into the world, into creative media, and especially, into creators themselves. But alas, the discovery of Suzanne Collins’ brilliant work put me to an emotional challenge that I didn’t want to meet at the time. It wasn’t until I realized that all of this was meant to be that I began to accept the challenge of growth.
The Hunger Games, by virtue of its existence, was an important moment for me in terms of learning the difference between who I was and the person I could become, both as a creative professional and as a person. I had what we call a “come to Jesus” moment, wherein I sat down and took a true account of the situation.
What was the Books of Ezekiel really about? Why did I feel compelled to write it? What did my characters truly want, and how are their desires unique? How did my characters come to be who they are, and who will they ultimately become? And most importantly, what elements of my novel series were underplayed or under-developed, and how could I flush them out to create a richer narrative experience? What makes my novel DIFFERENT?
You see, a novel, novel series, or any creative work, really, is not merely the sum of individual parts. It is the infusion of elements such as character flaws, motivations, desires, conflict, context, dialogue, emotional resonance, and more. This infusion, the execution, is what counts in the end.
You could have two female protagonists providing for their families, but one of them is a huntress who goes to compete in gladiator-esque games. The other is a would-be ballerina who runs guns, smiths metal, and is a pawn-broker.
You could have two younger sisters, innocent and doting, but one of them supports the family with her cute little goat and goat cheese (which I’ve always loved about Prim). The other, is a self-proclaimed Queen and brilliant mechanic who is obsessed with trucks, cars, and anything metallic.
You could have a poignant perspective of a girl struggling to survive, and you definitely get that from Katniss as she fights for her own life and for that of her family. Katniss’ POV is rendered beautifully, almost like siren’s song from her inner voice. Then, you have Ezekiel, wry, strong, sensitive, and conflicted in how she views the world… but her voice is not the only one that we follow. We also get the inner perspective of a ruthless mercenary, hungry for blood and yet redeemingly loyal to his principles. We feel the inner conflicts of a police officer, torn between his duty as a man of the law and his status as a high-ranking Azure. And more.
None of these ideas is better than the other. They just are what they are: different. They use similar concepts and execute them differently, and we haven’t even gotten to the character motivations or external conflicts yet.
And this is what I had to learn about my own work and about myself. I loved my idea so much that I was willing to fight for it. Though I had no clue about the existence of the Hunger Games before I started writing BOE, I had tapped into the creative consciousness and settled on issues of poverty, war, terrorism, drug addiction, sexual exploitation, and family dysfunction. I tapped into these ideas because they are not only important to me as a sociological writer, but a few of these issues are pulled directly from my personal experience. As a line in the Animatrix said, “There is a lot truth in my fiction, and a lot of fiction in my truth.”
So you see, The Books of Ezekiel NEEDED to happen. I owed it to my work, to myself, and to my life experience. And once I realized that, my story and I grew exponentially. I realized that I was strong, emotionally and creatively. I realized that I could get back on the horse, move forward, and use what the Hunger Games had already exhausted to make my work better and richer. And ultimately, the Hunger Games turned out to be the BEST “worst” thing that I ever stumbled upon in my creative career.
And this is NOT an insult to Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games is a great series, nicely-executed, and I think she is a fabulous writer. I completely laud and respect the business franchise that she has built for herself as well!
I realized though, that The Books of Ezekiel was already more different and more interesting than I had given it credit for. I wasn’t being fair to it, its world, or its characters, all of whom were already working so hard on my behalf. Zeika, Caleb, Xakiah, Burke… they all have their voices and convictions, and because I didn’t know my characters as well as I do now, I (like a fool) kept shushing them. So, after I’d made the discovery of the Hunger Games on July 23rd and had my “come to Jesus” moment, I got back on the horse four days later, finished the first draft of my novel, and then got ready to do a serious revamp.
As I spent more time with my series over the next two years, it turned out that in its original form, the Books of Ezekiel series was very little like the Hunger Games anyway. And now, it was becoming even more different! It had an entire life, an incredibly rich world of its own that I hadn’t appreciated until I was really forced to look at it. And from here, it was only going to get better. It did only get better. And so did I. 🙂
So, wanna find out how The Books of Ezekiel is so unique? Check it out for free at Kobo and for .99 cents at Amazon & Barnes and Noble! I’d love to hear your thoughts!
GHOSTS OF KOA, VOLUME I of II
Ghosts of Koa, VOLUME I of II – PRINT COMING SOON!
GHOSTS OF KOA, VOLUME II of II
Ghosts of Koa, VOLUME II of II – PRINT COMING SOON!
GHOSTS OF KOA, ALL VOLUMES
Ghosts of Koa, ALL VOLUMES – PRINT COMING SOON!
In the meantime…
Keep it indie,