That was the working title of a high fantasy series that had harassed me for twenty-odd years. Ever since a few lyrics of a song had infected my imagination.
An unpleasant, denigrating title I knew, but I needed a name on which to hang ideas. Figured hardly anyone would ever hear it. Plus, the hero has the same kind of epilepsy I do. That should give me leeway.
Now, that series has the title The Gloss of Zhanac.
In the past five years, The Gloss gave birth to another series, the Book of Visions. And that, in turn, birthed a prequel novella, Walking the Darkmaker’s Way. The Novella is the closest to publication, going through beta reading and developmental editing as I write this.
A Song by Blues Image
Music has always played an outsized place in my imagination. One song, in particular, hooked me on long nights as a pizza delivery driver, paying for rent at the Ohio State University back in the early 80s. “Ride Captain Ride,” by Blues Image. Specifically, the lines:
Seventy-three men sailed off to history
Be amazed at the friends you have here on your trip
Ride captain ride upon your mystery ship
On your way to a world that others might have missed
I wanted to be on that mystery ship. I wanted those adventures.
Oh sure, over the next ten years, I moved to Chicago, then Mexico City, then New York City. Had adventures. But never like those Seventy-three men. Least not as I imagine them. And those possible adventures I imagined for them kept accumulating on scraps of paper and on lists in documents.
At CCNY, this idea morphed from me as the adventurer to an as yet unknown protagonist of a book I’d one day write. A man on a mystery ship would have all these shorter adventures I’d been collecting for the past two decades.
Perhaps he’d leave the ship to have them.
Perhaps he’d dream them all each night as he slept on the ship.
Possibly he’d become these other people and serially have many exploits.
I didn’t know, ‘cause it never got much past the conceptual level.
Too Long Yet Too Short
I broke my head trying to figure out a way to weave together a slew of ideas I had that all seemed too long for a short story, yet too short for a novel.
The idea of cranking out a bunch of novellas never jumped up in my mind, waving its hand, saying, “pick me, pick me!” Soon, the idea would sprout—it merely needed an application of the right fertilizer.
An abandoned AD&D Adventure
After graduating with my Master of Arts in English, I lived. Got married and had a son. Even published a novel: A Perfect Blindness.
All this time, I’d still been collecting ideas for this mystery ship adventure. The idea had matured into an adolescent of fifteen years old.
Then, my son and nephews got interested in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I’d started playing that game back when it was just plain Dungeons and Dragons and came in a Blue Box. I’d even dabbled with the precursor game Chainmail.
I missed playing.
Well, mostly, I missed hanging out with people and having fun together.
When the kids asked if I might DM†, about five years back, I said sure.
†(verb int. to Dungeon Master—run the adventure as a god-like figure/narrator/ultimate authority)
So, I whipped up a quick adventure with a bit of a story to it: about a prisoner in a crumbling, abandoned temple filled with Orc-like creatures, and a magical book everyone wants control over.
The kids would role-play characters and rescue the good guy, find the book, and defeat the bad guys. Along the way, the characters would discover the story behind the temple and reveal why everyone was there in the first place. Imaginative fun. Plus, junk food in the wee hours of the morning.
The night never happened—Christmas got too busy, of course, especially as it’s the only time we’re in Ohio anymore.
Hoping for another chance to DM the adventure, I filed it away, along with the story of The Cracked Mound—the abandoned temple of Ack Nur, the local river god. Suspecting it was yet another stillborn idea, I still held on to it. Most ideas, frankly. Just in case.
I had nary a clue that I’d just planted the idea of a novella —Walking the Darkmaker’s Way. And two series of books set in a fantasy land filled with magic, and fanatical followers of ancient heroes and living gods.
Never Left Me Alone
Time passed, and the idea germinated. Whenever I would remember the story of The Cracked Mound, my mind would wander over to that big concept idea of weaving together that slew of adventures. The tales that all seemed too long for a short story, yet too short for a novel.
Little did I know I had had the right fertilizer all along. Hidden in a note that I’d written about a year after 9/11.
Comes a Brain Tumor
Right after my son was born in 2015, I discovered I had grown a brain tumor.
Benign, yes. But still, a nuisance that had to be removed. It gave me tonic-clonic seizures, grand mal. That mess has a whole story totally of its own. Still, we’ll mind how the tumor leads directly to the writing of The Book of Visions, which in turn spawned Walking the Darkmaker’s Way.
You see, this tumor had grown right below my right temporal lobe. The doctors guess around the late 1990s, possibly earlier. When this as yet occulted tumor grew large enough, it started pressing on the right temporal lobe hard enough to cause TLSs.
What is a TLS—Temporal Lobe Seizure?
Trying to describe one is difficult because it has nothing to do with reality. Often invisible to those around—this storm in the Temporal Lobe sets off whole constellations of sensations, which sometimes show physically or go global, but usually don’t. Least for me.
After the storm starts, the Frontal Lobe (read command center of the I, the consciousness) becomes aware of the chaotic firing of neurons. This is an aura: the sense of the awareness realizing this is happening and saying, “wow, I hope it doesn’t spread, ‘cause I hate it when one of those goes global.”
At least, I’ve taken to using this to explain what an aura feels like—the sense of worry, fear, intense deja vu, and annoyance that washes over me before a full-on seizure might happen.
Some have speculated that Philip K Dick suffered from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, which inspired him to create such mind-bending stories.
True or not for him, when the TLSs first started, they freaked the hell out of me.
A bit of background—when I was a teen, I developed adolescent-onset Epilepsy (which I had outgrown in my 30s).
I’ve had my share of Tonic-Clonic seizures (grad mal in old nomenclature).
So I know what an aura feels like. I’ve passed out and seized up—biting my tongue (sometimes), waking up feeling like I’d just run an iron man marathon in-between taking the SATs and ACTs (always). It’s mentally and physically exhausting. Hours of sleep is the only cure.
But, these TLS were not like the seizures from my childhood.
Deja Vu and Warm Water
The two primary characteristics of this new seizure are visceral DeJa Vu and a sensation of warm water flowing through my body.
I mean Deja Vu NOTHING like what I had ever experienced. As in every detail is exactly like I’d seen before— the pigeon landing on the sidewalk; the cat crawling under a car; the unintelligible comment by the Chinese couple passing by; the step I was taking.
The second effect is a sensation of a ballon of warm water bursting at the back of my skull, and the water flowing down my body under my skin and collecting in my belly.
Then, I’d want to vomit and occasionally did.
This is the closest I’ve ever come capturing the sensation. It does little justice to the sheer intensity of the sensations, which exist entirely in that storm in the temporal lobe.
Though, I think the Deja Vu is the I saying, “Oh, damn. I’ve seen storms like this before. Look out!“
Wrote it Down: the Fertilizer
One afternoon about two years after 9-11, I had been walking home on Third Avenue in Spanish Harlem and had a TLS. Fierce one. The moment I got back, I wrote down the sensations:
I felt as if my consciousness had suddenly reappeared back in my own body step. Right as it had been plucked away from that exact moment, days, or perhaps years before. In between? I’d lived in another world.note to myself summer, 2003
As I said, it freaked me the hell out. It was not the same as the Epilepsy I’d outgrown. Yet it was familiar in ways I hated to remember. Yet, therein lay the key to letting my stories grow.
Take a moment to remember the threads: too many stories of the wrong length, involving a protagonist having these various adventures yet still as a part of his one novel. Then, Seizures that feels as though one is plucked from one life, and put into another, before being returned precisely where he left off in his actual life.
Yep, a man has seizures and simply appears inside another person’s mind, any place, any time in the world.
Or even in the multiverse.
One man with a single life living an infinitude of adventure stories.
Thus was Harold Hitchens born, a librarian at the Science and Industry Library in Manhattan. As the captain who would see all those worlds, others would miss, but without the boat and other 72 men. And it would embark from NYC, not San Fran.
So Many Stories for Only One Person
While working on the backstory for the Gloss of Zhanac, the Book of Visions was born of that same decades-old idea, a favorite song, and temporal lobe epilepsy. While searching for the Book of Visions, Harold sends his friend Gary to another world by accident. Then, as an enticement to enter this world and its adventures, Walking the Darkmaker’s Way is currently winding its way toward publication.
Want more like this, or a chance to snag a free ARC of Walking the Darkmaker’s Way, the Book of Visions or the Gloss of Zhanac?
Swing by wlancehunt.com from time to time and see what’s new.
The Excursions to all these exotic worlds and more start with “Two Phoenixes,” an excerpt from Solitude of the Knight read by the author. To stream or download it: Just click here.