I…don’t know if I’ve ever done this before; written the back cover copy for a novel. If I did, it would have been for Picking Up the Ghost and that feels like ages ago.
Lotta stress here. There’s a lot of sales riding on how enticing I can make this sales pitch in under 250 words. Here’s the current draft. What do you think?
Welcome to the Strip. A world of spies and subtle, specialized, and sometimes sloppy psychic powers. Its existence kept secret, even from other secret agents.
Doctor Ken Park, Korean-American psychologist, leads six psychic agents called Cards. They handle esoteric threats the Department of Homeland Security cannot.
Sent to Africa to retrieve an old Soviet psychotronic device. One that turns prayers into suffering. The team finds the Faith Machine in the hands of a demented warlord. But fail to stop him from slaughtering hundreds of innocents while the machine burns. Park and his team return to the States in disgrace and under attack by the mysterious Casemen.
Cut off from command and each other, the scattered agents run west to their safe house. The FBI attempts to arrest them, and the Chinese try to interrogate them, with the Casemen always one step ahead. On the way, they discover the true threat. There’s another Faith Machine. One more powerful and destined to bring hell on earth.
The Faith Machine, an ESPionage novel written in the spirit of TV’s Legion and the MIND MGMT graphic novels.
Dr Ken Park, a Korean-American spy with a PhD in psychology finds himself in over his head when his team of agents with psychic powers is sent to Africa to recover the Faith Machine, a Soviet psychotronic device that turns prayers into suffering.
While I’m working with the editor, I’m building an audience for The Faith Machine and the ESPionage RPG for Fate Core. I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA for their files on Project Stargate and received a DVD with over 12,000 TIF files.
Some of these documents are hundreds of pages long.
That’ll keep me busy.
I intend to start scouring through these documents for interesting bits that I can serialize in blog posts, a podcast, or on YouTube. Maybe all three.
I tried and failed at NaNoWriMo last month. That’s fine, most experiments fail. I went in hoping for a kick start on the third novel, Alejandro’s Ocean a post time travel story about feeling unappreciated. 3100 words in and the problems were pretty clear:
The backstory was more interesting than the story itself.
The supporting cast was a collection of stick figures.
What little I had, was written toward a theme.
The consequences of rejecting the outlining process and of putting theme before character and plot. Lesson learned. It’s outlines from here on out, and actions will make the message. This book isn’t for me to write. On to the next one.
With The Faith Machine and the ESPionage property I draw a lot from the weird history of Cold War parapsychology. US agencies like Stargate Project, MKUltra, and the First Earth Battalion are the backbone of the setting and inspired my own creations; Project Dead Blind, MKIntra, and Task Force 21. And then there’s Russia; the land of literal and uninspired nomenclature. According to Parapsychology in the USSR, released by the CIA in 2000, there was The Russian Society for Experimental Psychology in 1870, the Institute for Brain Research in 1921, and the Special Laboratory for Parapsychology founded under the Soviets in 1961. Yawn. There’s an unposted appendix of 27 other Soviet institutes conducting paranormal research. I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for this list, but I don’t have high hopes that there’s any flair on that list. The only cool espionage name the Soviets ever came up with was SMERCH which stands for ‘Death to Spies.’
I’ve been busy working on a world book for the Fate Core role-playing game system. It’s turned into an interesting exercise in world-building. In the process, I accidentally created a series bible.
ESPionage is based on The Faith Machine, my psychic espionage thriller. This body of work consists of a novel, two novel outlines, half a dozen short stories in various stages of completion, and a comic book pitch, not to mention a notebook full of incomplete ideas. I had a lot to draw on. Spilling it out on the page was easy. Organizing and filling that information’s given me a new perspective in the material.
For example; early on I based the spy lingo for psychic phenomena on poker and card expressions. But I hadn’t got further than ‘Card’ means psychic. The glossary of a game book can’t stop at one word. That’s not even a sidebar. So then…a team of Cards, that’s a Hand, clearly. And an agency that operates multiple teams, that’s a Table. Many nations will have more than one Table, like a casino or House. Then the entire psychic espionage community at large, that’s the Strip.
Organization’s the bomb, yo.
And not just details. This goes for themes too. I received a piece of advice at the Writers’ Coffeehouse; At the beginning of a novel make a list of six things the story is, and six things it’s not. This isn’t for the audience. It’s for the author. But it made a good introduction for the game book:
ESPionage is stale beer with martini moments, more Jason Borne than James Bond. It takes its queues from John le Carré with an occasional nod to Ian Flemming. A secret world that’s less about good guys verses bad, and more about getting the job done whatever the cost.
ESPionage Cards are the most powerful individuals who ever lived, but still have to watch their backs. A bullet to the skull doesn’t care how powerful the brain inside was.
ESPionage is about characters with mental disorders living their lives and doing their jobs, without being defined by their conditions.
ESPionage is about characters getting their hands dirty in the field. It’s not about rooms full of servers crunching data.
ESPionage is about teamwork. A small group of talented agents who depend on each other to accomplish the mission and look out for each other. It’s not about calling Homeland Security for help with a threat. Sometimes, Homeland Security is the threat.
ESPionage is about a secret war with many sides. Nations, terrorists, gods, and ghosts pushing forward with their agendas at the cost of anyone who gets in their way. It’s not about safety or working toward retirement. Once you’ve played on the Strip you’re in the game for good.
I’m closing in on a first draft. If everything goes right, I’ll run it online and make a YouTube channel out of it.
My Picking Up the Ghost follow up story, The Ginger Jar is in the Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Volume 2. (Woo hoo! Validation!) I threw in with the promotional efforts and recorded and mastered a podcast of interviews with other authors from the collection:
For the best sound quality, each episode was recorded three ways: Once in Skype, and on each local machine using Audacity. I’d bring the three tracks together, using the Skype recording to sync the other two, then I’d throw it out. Skype compresses its calls and they sometimes cut out. The local recordings are pure and good, like little cherubs. A few editing passes to cut redundant dialog, “Um”s, “Uh”s, “You Knows”, and other stall words, and the time I accidentally asked the same question twice in a row.
This also served as a test run or the techniques and technology for my own podcast; a writers role-playing thing, maybe actors and game designers too. I’ll pick a genre, assemble three creators involved with that genre, and run a short, 3 hour game after brain storming the setting, plot and characters. I can see this steaming on Twitch, the video uploaded to YouTube, and the audio stripped and saved on a podcasting service, supported by Patreon. How’s that for multiple streams of income?
I’d be using the Fate Accelerated system because it’s very rules light and flexible enough to feel like writing a first draft. I’ve never played Fate, a problem but I plan to remedy this weekend at Kingdom Con.