A note on the origins of 'NetWalkers: The Man in Black
There is a well-known pitfall in writing known as the Man In Black. This is the individual who shows up part way through the book, sitting in the darkened corner of the bar quietly drawing all the reader's attention; the mysterious individual with a dark past you just know is ever so much more interesting than your main character....
There are only a handful of options for the writer who has discovered the MIB...shoot 'im, shoo 'im away, or give in and give him the book and forget the main character you've so carefully nurtured.
Of course, in order to shoo him away, you'll have to promise to write his book...someday.
Wesley, aka Jonathan Wesley Smith, aka the wesser, was my first MIB, I just didn't realize it at the time. Groundties was moving along nicely, but I needed someone to write the paper to instigate the plotline, walk on to discredit Our Hero, then quietly exit stage right to his fiery death aboard the e-vile starship Cetacean.
Well...when the time came for Dr (so-named on a temporary basis because I needed a holding name for this throwaway fellow) John Smith's entrance, my page and a half outline was already in jeopardy...there was no way Cantrell and the Cetacean were going to go up in a ball of flame. But that was okay...the faceless Dr Smith would still be making the trip back with them. Maybe we could plan to have him arrested, or something.
Then...Wesley walked on, and I knew I was in serious trouble...I just didn't know how serious.
You see, I didn't know then about the man in black and I didn't have sense enough to ask CJ, my one reality-check in this writing endeavor. I simply plunged ahead---and Wesley became more and more a part of the story. Fortunately, Stephen was a strong and mysterious enough character in his own right that he held his own, but the book definitely took a dramatically more complex turn at that instant.
<Methinks the author doth miss the point! The wesser is not, and never has been, a MIB.>--->TW
That much is true. For one thing, he never sits quietly anywhere. For another, he doesn't wear black. Ever. Lime green, turquoise and magenta...all at once...maybe. Socks with holes in the toes, definitely. Black...never.
Once Groundties came out, reactions to Wesley were rarely neutral: readers either loved him or hated him...and even those who loved him wanted periodically to throttle him. This was cool by both me and Wesley. We both kind of like to shake up people's expectations. What surprised me was the number of people who wanted Wesley's story...prior to Groundties.
This was a story I didn't really think I wanted to write...I mean, we're talking about a brilliant, rich, self-indulgent, but basically idealistic young man who's had those ideals shot off in the war, and whose response to that painful war injury was to tell the Powers That Be just where they could put their powers, then opt out on his dreams.
How could I make that a heroic, let alone positive story?
So, I didn't think much about it, and since the Warner Books imprint shakeup of the early nineties had effectively consigned the series to infant death, I thought the point moot: I was too busy entangling myself with the Bros Rhomandi to waste time on wesserish thoughts. Then one day after I'd told yet one more person that I didn't think I'd ever write Wesley's story, I got this feeling the lad was sitting over in the corner glaring at me, saying something to the effect of: "Whaddaya mean you can't write my story? Are you a writer or a plumber?"
Ah, the power of an insult. By this time I had begun entertaining the hope of getting the rights to the series back and somehow, someway resurrecting the story so integral to my future history. To that end, I let Wesley loose in his own little pocket of my hindbrain, figuring by the time I finished Ring of Intrigue and Ring of Destiny, he'd be ready to fess up to what really happened during those infamous academy days.
And indeed, he was.
The writing of 'NetWalkers proved to be a fascinating experience. The young man I discovered, while utterly consistent with the Wesley of the Groundties books will, I think, in fact, I hope, surprise a few people. He certainly surprised me.
As with the Man In Black syndrome, I didn't have the sense to realize when I started this venture that smart authors also avoid closely related prequels. A) there are too many elements left purposely undefined in the extant series. Exploring the "facts" of those elements and allowing the story (and especially the characters) a natural flow might swerve those elements and characters too far away from where they need to end up to set up for the extant series. B) There are too many ways to disrupt the "surprise" elements in the extant series.
Fortunately, my lad on his backburner seemed to be doing his job. 'NetWalkers does, in fact, set up the Groundties books better than I could have imagined. Far from swerving, there were some surprising elements that not only provided extremely rich fodder for the rewrites of the original series, but which give fascinating ramifications to future stories in the universe.
Leave it to the Wesser to both have his MIB cake and eat it, too.
But the best thing for me about 'NetWalkers is that I'm excited about it in its own right. For all it necessarily sets up the Groundties series, it is the most complete in itself novel I've written yet. The relationships were fascinating to explore and quite different from anything I've done so far, the techno-toys were were fun to play with, the plot, involved and multi-faceted, the politics machieavellian, and the educational theme is both near and dear to my heart and properly grey enough to avoid those nasty little easy answers.