The Genesis of “Double Lives”

I’ve always wanted to produce a comic book, but several hurdles have prevented that from happening:

1.) I’m not employed by a comic company, and it’s extremely unlikely I will ever be so employed.

2.) I can’t draw, ink, letter, or color, which means I’d have to hire folks to do that, or convince them to work collaboratively. I don’t have enough money to pay those wages, and I couldn’t convince a starving man to eat a porterhouse steak.

3.) How do you even write a comic book script?

Luckily, being an indie author, my dreams will not lay dormant until I’m dust. I may not be able to produce a comic book exactly, but I’ve done the next best thing: I’ve written a novel with comic book/superhero elements.

In this post, I’ll detail how some of the awesome ideas found in Double Lives (my new novel, which is available on Amazon, of course!) germinated. There will be plenty of excerpts, so you can decide if this novel’s right for you – or if you’re someone who doesn’t like high-quality-yet-incredibly-readable fiction. Don’t be that person.

I Desire Destruction

Double Lives stars Johnny Wagner, the self-styled Godlike PI. Why is he Godlike? Well, he has a literal god attached to his arm: Dakroth’gannith’formaz, the God of Destruction, or Dak for short. Johnny lost his real arm in an accident, and, not wanting to be considered a charity case, he tried to get an “enhanced” replacement arm. He ended up with Dak, and whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is one of the themes the novel explores.

Dak is a very powerful weapon (sometimes), so Johnny decided to try out the superhero lifestyle. He fought crime as the Daring Destroyer, and eventually joined a superteam called Alpha Guard.

But that lifestyle wasn’t for him. As he thinks when he encounters Netmaster, an old teammate:

Superhero work burned you out quickly, unless you were one of those valedictorian/prom king/Eagle Scout types. We weren’t.

Johnny “retired” from superheroing, and became a private investigator. With a God Arm, and a healthy disdain for authority, he’s an effective PI – but Dak sometimes destroys things, despite Johnny’s best efforts to keep him under control, which makes Johnny liable for plenty of property damage. The thing that gives him an edge in the PI business also hinders him.

Where did I come up with such a crazy name as Dakroth’gannith’formaz? Fantasy authors love their “original” names and their apostrophes, so I decided to go all out and really parody the genre. I won’t go into how Dak came into being in this post, but the fantasy novel genre is a clue to his origins.

Dak speaks in a parody of super-serious fantasy characters, which was incredibly fun to write. Sample:

“He is the epitome of weakness,” Dak rumbled. “His very presence caused my godhood to bristle and snarl. I see why he wanted to meet in this putrid alley: it mirrors his begrimed, oleaginous existence.”

His speaking style contrasts with Johnny’s everyday, usually straightforward speech. Also, many human concepts perplex or infuriate Dak, which leads to lots of entertaining tension between the God of Destruction and the “puny human” he’s attached to.

My primary influence for Dak was, strangely, Destruction from The Sandman saga. Destruction is one of the Endless, beings that are beyond gods. There are seven of them, and all have different responsibilities; one of the major themes in the series is whether the Endless are truly possessed of incredible power, or if they’re slaves to their responsibilities, forced to complete tasks to maintain a “stable” reality.

Destruction, however, is no slave. Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

Destruction abandoned his realm and his responsibilities some time around the turn of the seventeenth century. The reason for this was the onset of the human Age of Reason, which would eventually culminate in the invention of the atomic bomb. Destruction was unwilling to be responsible for the destruction this would cause, and therefore left the family. He did not cease to exist as the active aspect of Destruction, he simply stopped directing the affairs over which he has control. As he says, destruction did not stop, it was merely no longer his fault.

What an incredible fucking idea. Rather than have some armor-wearing, flame-spewing, rapier-wielding badass, have a character who, despite being called Destruction, is arguably the most pacifistic Endless in the story.

I wanted to do something like this, but, in the way of fiction-writing, Dakroth’gannith’formaz took on a life of his own.

Dak wants to destroy. He bellows out his yearning for annihilation constantly. But he’s also attached to Johnny, and they’re connected on a mental as well as a physical level – they could even be connected on a spiritual level. While Johnny is no pacifist, he doesn’t want to blow up half a city for no reason. Johnny’s personality influences Dak, pulling the god towards a more peaceful mindset – but Dak also influences Johnny, pulling him towards a more warlike mindset. This struggle, and where the line is drawn between the personalities of the two, keeps the story sizzling.

Many fictional characters struggle with their inner demons. Johnny has an outer demon, one that, apparently, he can’t escape from – or would he even want to?

And besides Johnny’s influence, Dak himself may not be as chaos-craving as he claims. Does he really want to destroy everything, or is he just a blustering bully? And what happens when he falls in love? That’s a perfect segue to….

The Cat and the Assassin

There has to be a love interest for our Godlike PI. Who wants to read about some celibate monk in a superhero story? In Double Lives, Johnny Wagner is mainly attracted to two female characters. He contemplates shagging others, but you’ll have to read the novel to find out more.

The two main female love interests are polar opposites – much like Johnny and Dak. But wait – I just said Johnny and Dak may not be so opposing after all….

The “good girl” is Felicia Kennicott, also known as the Felicitous Feline. She’s actually an ex-girlfriend of Johnny’s, and an ex-teammate from the Alpha Guard days. But, unlike Johnny, Felicia hasn’t given up on superheroing. Johnny is jaded, more concerned with paying rent than stopping an alien invasion; Felicia remains idealistic, and struggles to balance a normal civilian life with the dangerous life of a superhero. This disparity led to their breakup, but there’s still a spark between them….

The “bad girl” is Deathrain, real name unknown. As her name suggests, she rains death down on the unsuspecting – specifically, she’s an assassin. When Johnny first meets her, he’s torn – Deathrain is sexy, but her violent nature chills him.

Dak, however, is smitten:

“Yes, we very much want to hear your husky voice, Rain of Death,” Dak rumbled.

Deathrain’s eyes jerked to my God Arm and her fingers twitched on the trigger guards of her pistols. Then she relaxed, but only slightly.

“Ah, your God Arm,” she said. “So it speaks, too.” She tilted her head towards Dak. “And what do they call you?”

“I am Dakroth’gannith’formaz, the God of Destruction,” Dak rumbled imperiously, “but you can call me Dak.”

“Dak it is, then.”

“You have one of the most destructive natures I’ve ever encountered,” Dak said. “I sensed you from afar, and I felt something stir within my god-breast. I wish to know from whence you came, and to whence you are going.”

Deathrain is also attracted to Dak – but what about Johnny? Does she like him too, or just his god? And how do you have sex with a god? Does she just have to use Johnny as a proxy? Tension!

The People’s Protector

Since Johnny is a PI, it’s almost required that he has to have a nemesis within some official law enforcement bureaucracy. This nemesis is Damien Woodruff, the chief prosecutor for the Division of Superhuman Crime (DSC), the organization that handles all crime of that nature in Z City, where our story takes place.

Here’s our introduction to Woodruff:

The front door opened, and out stepped the boss in question, like a ray of sunlight bursting through a cloud. Damien Woodruff had on a pinstriped suit, a robin’s-egg-blue tie, and a smile that 87% of the mothers in Z City trusted, according to a recent poll I saw in the newspaper. His arms were spread wide, as if he wanted to hug all the world.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen,” he warbled. “I heard sharp words from inside. What’s going on out here?”

The first goon motioned to me. “This…gentleman threatened us, Mr. Woodruff. We told him you were meeting with Mrs. Anderson, but he was belligerent. He said, and I quote: ‘Move out of the way before I rip off your steroid-shriveled dick and feed it to you.’”

Woodruff looked at me, his expression somehow conveying shock and dismay as well as the shining possibility of forgiveness.

“Such vile language,” Woodruff said. “You’re John Wagner, the so-called Godlike PI, aren’t you?” He wagged a finger at me. “Does Julia know the man she’s hired is so crass and violent?”

“How do you know she’s hired me?” I asked.

“Oh please.” His finger-wagging intensified. “You came running here as soon as you got off the phone with Julia. Not that I needed that evidence. I’m the chief prosecutor for the DSC – I can find out anything I want to find out.”

I wanted to chop off that wagging finger and jab it into his admittedly handsome hazel eyes. “Does Julia know you’re a slimy, conniving jackass?”

Woodruff chuckled. It sounded like champagne glasses tinkling. “I’m not that at all, Mr. Wagner. But why don’t you come in? Our discussion is germane to the Gray Squirrel case. I have many enlightening things to tell you – and perhaps you have many enlightening things to tell me.”

Woodruff is pure slimeball – but he knows how to manipulate and charm, which has allowed him to achieve his current powerful position. He’s an expert in the political arena, and he knows how to turn a bad situation to his advantage. Johnny fights plenty of super-powered enemies in Double Lives, but none are more dangerous than the suave, self-centered, eleven-dimensional-chess-playing chief prosecutor.

The Fights

Many fight scenes in novels underwhelm me. It’s punch, kick, dodge (or, if they’re swordfighting, it’s slash, stab, parry) until someone wins. But a battle is more than a battle – it should also advance the plot, and reveal something about the characters.

In Double Lives, I’ve worked hard to make each battle unique. Dak makes this easy – he’s the God of Destruction. His powers aren’t set to some narrow range; he can do anything that meets his “destructive criteria.”

But sometimes Johnny pisses him off by not being destructive enough:

Alright, another order of super-strength, Dak,” I thought-spoke.

No.

No?

You have manipulated me heinously,” Dak said. “I will not aid you any more. While I would enjoy destroying these oafs, you need to be taught a lesson.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the interplay between Johnny and Dak means nothing is simple – no conversation, no fight, no interrogation, not even a trip to the supermarket. Every fight is a challenge. Johnny can’t just assume his god will shoot out some blast and KO an enemy; he has to always be on his toes. If he can’t convince Dak to do what’s necessary to win, he has to come up with a solution himself. If Dak is loaded for bear, Johnny has the opposite problem: he has to curtail Dak’s destructive excesses, so no one gets killed and no buildings are leveled.

Like Johnny, I hope my readers also stay on their toes, as each fight is dynamic, and there are plenty of unexpected moments.

And now the post ends. Sadness, I know. I hope this has given you a taste of what Double Lives is all about, and how all that wackiness and high-octane awesomeness got on the page. Of course, I could go on at great length, but I’ve gotta leave some things alone so you can discover them on your own.

Oh, did I mention this is the first book in a trilogy? Two more tales are in the works! So if you didn’t get enough of Johnny and Dak in Double Lives, just wait – there’s more to come.

Comments? Type them!

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