Today I got the last pieces of artwork from my Sister-in-Crime, Carol Phillips for LoE Book V: The Temple of the Exploding Head.

Book V is done, now just to get it formatted and on the shelves and its history.

Looking back on it–what an undertaking TOTEH was. It is, by far, the biggest and most complex story I’ve ever attempted to write, and, prior to The Shadow tech Goddess, was the most grueling, most time-consuming manuscript I’ve ever written. It began, literally, with nothing but a title and underwent massive changes several times during its maturation to the point that I was ready to pull my hair out in frustration and delete it altogether.

So, what follows is a commentary and revelation on many aspects of the story as they came and went and you’ll bear witness to the story and characters from its tentative genesis to its current incarnation.

GENESIS:
I began working on TOTEH in early 2008. Usually as I get to the last quarter of a manuscript, I begin wondering about the next book; what is it? What will it be? Will there even be a next book? I normally find myself bereft of new ideas as I end a manuscript–it’s like the gas tank is totally empty. As I finished up Sygillis of Metatron, I fretted over The Hazards. Likewise, as I finished The Hazards, I wondered what was next. Surely Carahil’s saving of Xandarr wasn’t the end of the LoE universe–was it??

Little things I encounter cause big inspiration and my mind turned to a tale I called “The Shadow tech Goddess“. I liked the title, but was having issues formulating a story for TStG so I set her aside (I would set her aside two more times before finally settling in and writing her story).

I remembered loving an AD&D adventure called “The Temple of Elemental Evil” that I played in college. I never forgot the name, it stuck with me through the years. Eventually the “Temple of the Exploding Head” entered my mind. I had no idea what the name meant, I just liked it. So, with nothing but a title, I opened a new file one day and began what would eventually become a 450,000 word manuscript taking a little over a year to form into a first draft.

INITIAL PLOT:

The Cursed Captain Plotline: I started the manuscript having no plot. I knew I wanted to move on from Captain Davage and Syg a little, so I decided upon centering the story on their son, Lord Kabyl who was first mentioned in Book II. I floundered about for months. One of the issues I had was something I’d never encountered before: publication. As Sygillis of Metatron was going through publication I found the process was swallowing up much of my time. In fact, I often went months without even looking at TOTEH. I found myself growing distant from the story and disinterested. The initial plot I came up with was that an unknown group seeking revenge placed Captain Davage into a Death Curse, and it was up to Kay and his cousins to uncover the perpetrators and save Captain D. This “Cursed Captain” plot-line was how I initially structured the story.

"The Machine" plotline was a late-comer

The Machine Plotline: “The Machine” plotline eventually won out and drove the story. However, the Machine itself was very late in coming and didn’t exist as a concept until many drafts into the story. The Machine plot-line felt right and I cast aside the “Cursed Captain” in favor of it.

THE ANTAGONISTS:
It took me forever to figure out who the bad guys were.

Bethrael of Moane: My first thought was to make good-guy Bethrael of Moane the main bad guy of the tale. My thought was that Beth had secretly been in love with Captain Davage for years but never could make any headway with him as he was with Syg. She then decided to court Captain Davage’s son, Kay, and when he rejected her for Sam, she lost her mind a little. The oiled, feathered High Priestess seen in the Temple at the beginning of the story was originally Beth. But, I couldn’t do that to Beth, so I discarded that idea and let her remain a good guy. The one remaining vestige of her sexual connection to Kay is the touching of her Silver tech which drove her into a frenzy.

The Horned God: The Horned God started out life as a benevolent elemental spirit of lightning who had been summoned by the Kestral Oligarchy and forced to do bad things. In the first drafts Carahil and the Horned Gods were friends, though they served differing factions. I found the Horned God to be unbearably boring, so I eventually “upped” the voltage and made him one of the main bad guys of the story soaked in evil.

Killanjo: The skinless and gross henchmen of the Kestrals, the Killanjo started out as mere apparitions. A Killanjo was spell cast upon a person by a practitioner skilled at focusing their mental energy. The Killanjo once cast, would sit invisibly on the shoulder of the victim and attack later in their dreams. Sam, in the first draft, was skilled at creating Killanjo and she was to place a Killanjo on the shoulder of Captain Davage. As I abandoned the original incarnation of the story, I kept the concept of the Killanjo, transforming them into grotesque, skinless monsters.

The Kestral Oligarchy: The Kestrals have been around since the beginning as rabid, golden-skinned inhabitants of the Temple. At some point I turned them into aliens with unknowable logic and an undecipherable language. As I settled on the Horned God as the Main Bad Guy, they sort of fell by the wayside, but then I had a moment of clarity and added the Kestral’s horrid City of Many Forms and they peaked my interest at just the right time.

The Spectres: “Punks” from Xaphan space and Black Hat underlings, the Spectres once played a much more active role in the story being a usual antagonist of Kay and his cousins. Sam herself was a Spectre at one point. But, as the story evolved away from the “Cursed Captain” plot-line, the Spectres were mostly cut out.

The Circle of Five: The what???? The Who???? The Circle of Five was to be the main bad guys of Book IV. A criminal element pervasive through the League the Circle was the mysterious group responsible for the “Cursed Captain” plot-line. When Sam led Kay into Grove, she was originally leading him out to meet the Circle of Five. I could never get a good feeling for the Circle and I discarded them in favor of “The Machine” plot which eventually drove the story to its conclusion. I did reuse the names of the Five for the various Black Hats seen in the city of Waam in Book IV. So, for a long time, Book IV was known as “The Trials of the Circle of Five”.

The Monamas: The Monamas were initially minor bad guys doing the Circle of Five’s bidding. They weren’t black-eyed and clawed at the time–they looked like anybody else. However, as I transformed Sam into a Monama, I also added their unusual appearance and attributes.

The Bersekacides: Berserkacides started life as typical zombies. As I modified the Monamas into alien creatures, I also added to the concept of the Berserkacide.

THE CHARACTERS AND THEIR SECRETS:

Kay: A storyline that cropped up in The Hazards of the Old Ones” was Syg’s pregnancy with a boy they would one day name Kabyl. I decided to focus the story on Kay and make it a coming of age story. I wanted to make Kay flawed and imperfect, an odd counter-point to his formidable parents.

Lt. Verlin: I initially planned to make the Marine Lt. Verlin Kay’s love interest. With that in mind, I decided to add a chapter to Book II discussing Lt. Verlin and some of her history in detail (Lt. Verlin’s Hero). The problem was I couldn’t make Kay and “V” gel–it was like a bad date you want to be over. I tried and tried and eventually gave up. I wrote V out and never looked back.

Thanks to Sarah of Blanchefort, I continued on and finished the MS.

Sarah: I came up with the idea for the feisty but loyal Sarah after watching actress Sarah Bolger in “The Spiderwick Chronicles”. Oddly, it the was insertion of Sarah into the book that really reignited my interest for this storyline. I’d become rather put off by the MS and it was the addition of Sarah that got me going again.

Phillip: I modeled Phillip after San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. Don’t ask me why, I just did, end of story.

Lt. Kilos: The presence of Lt Kilos was a big comfort for me, like wearing a comfy pair of shoes. In the Cursed Captain plotline, she was sort of a background character and stayed with the dying Captain Davage. As I made the change to The Machine plotline, I decided I wanted Ki standing at Kay’s side, and hence the big fight at the bar that will be seen in Book V.

Captain Davage/Syg: Captain Davage originally spent most of the story flat on his back, dying from a mysterious curse. Syg, seeing her husband dying, lost her mind. I restored his health in The Machine plotline and he and Syg conduct a parallel investigation in the background.

Thomasina the 19th: Thomasina existed in the story for a long time, especially during the “Cursed Captain” days. After I abandoned that plotline, I had no idea what to do with her–I even considered cutting her for a while. Eventually, it occurred to me to take the demure church-going woman from Saga and change her into a slightly crazed, green-haired Xaphan woman.

"Joy" inherited Sam's original look

Sam: Of all characters, it was Sam who underwent the most radical and all-encompassing changes from beginning to end, such that she is unrecognizable from when I started. Sam did not begin life as a powerful Monama princess, quite the opposite–Sam was a lowly servant in a Calvert laundry room with bad eyesight. I actually liked Sam as she was and I was heartbroken to cut away her best scenes hauling laundry and transform her into a clawed, black-eyed Monama. (I resurrected Sam’s original look with Joy–the Black Hat staying at Aunt Pardock’s castle. Joy looks exactly as Sam once did). Her shy nature also resembles Sam’s.

Sam was adept at creating Killanjo, little mental automatons that could cause misfortune. Sam was recruited into the Spectres and was tasked with placing a Death Killanjo on the shoulder of Captain Davage. Sam couldn’t go through with it and the Killanjo she created was full of goodness. Countess Sygillis detected Sam’s Killanjo and imprisoned it in a jar kept in a hidden room in the castle. When Kay first heard Sam’s voice in the chapel, he was hearing the voice of her Killanjo–in fact the first part of the story was originally called “The Lady in the Bottle.”

I’ve added a selection with Sam in her original incarnation in the FREE SECTION, so, if you want to see Sam as she was, give it a read.

Book V, The Temple of the Exploding Head, will be released in early 2012 by Loconeal Publishing.

Bowl Naked
RG
copyright 2011, Ren Garcia

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A fair portion of Book V: “The Temple of the Exploding Head” deals with locating the legendary Temple itself. The place could be literally anywhere on Kana, and, throughout history it has remained rather anonymous. It has defied the few attempts made over the years to uncover it.

Map of Kana

Not much is known regarding the Pre-History of Kana (pronounced: kay-na) prior to the arrival of the Elders at the beginning of the EX Time Epoch. Kana was found to be a bountiful world while the nearby star Codis was ideal to support the 25 Elders themselves. Kana was rather depleted of life, with only the Monama peoples living to the south. There were hints of a pre-cursor civilization scattered about the planet, but no serious effort was made to investigate as the Seven Tribes spread out over the planet and claimed it theirs.

The first mention in Elder lore of the Temple of the Exploding head was in the writings of the berserker Remnath hero Atrajak of Want. Atrajak had fallen in love with an Anuian Monama princess, Tiverlan of Nebulon. Through his dealings with the Monamas, Atrajak discovered Kana was under the eye of a mysterious group of beings who could come and go at will and were hidden sight and sound. The Monamas knew all about them, and when they accepted him as their Sar-Gra-Ma, they told him all they knew. These beings whom Atrajak called The Kestral Oligarchy appeared to be quite hostile and he went on a long series of campaigns called the Hidden Wars where the Kestrals were driven away for a time. However, given their ability to step out of thin air, the Kestrals always returned. Tiverlan of Nebulon told Atrajak about a temple hidden deep in the ground where the Kestrals worshipped a terrible Horned God, and that it was the temple where they gained much of their power over Kana. After the death of his wife, Atrajak sought this temple but was unable to locate it. Eventually, broken and raving mad, he himself was killed when he stormed the Sisterhood stronghold of Twilight 4.

The Cylinder of Ugly Faces--the Entrance to the Temple of the Exploding Head (Carol Phillips)

The Temple is a plague and a curse upon Kana and has caused the Elders living near it no end of misery, however nobody, not the old heroes or the scholars or heads of the Science Ministry or even the wise Sisterhood of Light themselves ever suspected its existence. The Sisters never bothered much with Pre-Elder or Non-Elder lore.

They had warning, though. All the signs were there and the symptoms were a matter of public record. The occasional scribe wrote of “Bad Dreams” and a pervasive “Taint”, but nobody ever made the connection that the cause of this taint was an actual place hidden from sight.

(Ren Speaks–Though I make a big deal about the “Hidden Location” of the Temple, I pretty much say exactly where it is in one of the previous League of Elder books. There’s really nothing hidden or left to chance about it, it’s there in plain text. If you can tell me what part of what book “spills the beans” I’ll send you the entire LoE series, signed and remarked by the artist Carol Phillips. Done Deal, totally free.)

Bowl Naked
RG

copyright 2011, Ren Garcia and Carol Phillips

The Horned God

December 12, 2011

The Main bad Guy of the Temple of the Exploding Head trilogy is the diabolical Horned God. Although his role in the story has changed much since the first draft, his appearance has always been firm in my mind: A gigantic half man/half deer monster full of lust and fury.

"Kay Faces the Horned God" by Carol Phillips

I always remember being somewhat frightened by deer as a kid. My folks used to leave me at a sitter every morning. The Sitter, in turn, would throw me into her child-proof rec room and turn on the TV (the ultimate baby-sitter). Mounted on the wall over the TV was a stag’s head, antlers and all. In my child’s mind, I remember the head talking to me, looking at me as I watched “Romper Room”.

And then, came 1977 (I think). There was this book at the Hallmark store of all places, sitting on the spinner that I wanted desperately but my folks wouldn’t buy me. I washed cars, mowed lawns, did dishes until I had enough to buy it. The book was the first edition AD&D Monster Manual. I swear I read it cover to cover a dozen times (it’s still sitting in my bookcase to this day).

The scariest monster in the book for me, was the Peryton, a harpy-like monster sporting a stag’s head with a particular taste for human flesh. An amazing thing: though it was a winged, deer-headed monster, it cast the shadow of a man. I thought that was really cool and creepy.

Peryton

Another powerful image for me was a crumpled-up comic book I read at a friend’s house. It was an issue of The Defenders, an eclectic ensemble of heroes in the Marvel Universe. The bad guys in the comic were a bizarre group of thugs called The Headmen, each member having a funky, disjointed head of some sort. As I recall (or possibly not) one of the Headmen was a mad scientist who transferred his mind into that of an innocent fawn. The fawn, controlled by the baddie, had a very angry expression, one that I never forgot.

When I began the process of envisioning the Horned God, he came together in my mind in two basic forms, one a stag with a towering set of antlers and as a Pan-like hoofed man with an angry deer’s head.

I’m not sure which one give me more shivers.

copyright 2011, Ren Garcia and Carol Phillips

The City of Many Forms

December 2, 2011

I discovered as I went through the various drafts of The Temple of the Exploding Head trilogy that I had an issue with some of the bad guys.

"The City of Many Forms" by Carol Phillips

I had originally intended the Kestral Oligarchy to be the main bad guys of the story–the fair, golden-skinned, shape-shifting evildoers from far away. It was the Kestrals who once inhabited Kana with vast, unsmiling cities and tormented the Monamas and built into them the horrid “Heart-Trigger” which reverts them into Berserkacides. The Kestrals also “invented” the Killanjo and worshipped an obscure Elemental Spirit of Lightning who granted them mastery of time and space, allowing them to simply step out of thin air. When the League arrived on Kana at the beginning of the EX Time Epoch, the Kestrals fled, ostensibly fearing the Fleet and waited in the wings silently fanning the flames between the League and the Xaphans.

One of the hallmarks of the Kestrals–they were strange and unknowable. As they are aliens, I wanted them to be just that: alien. Alien thought processes, alien logic and methodology, I wanted them to be odd and inscrutable. I believe I accomplished that, however, the end result was rather lackluster. The Kestrals were weird, but in a very flat, boring sort of way. Plain and simple: they weren’t very interesting bad guys.

The drafts continued and it was the Elemental Spirit they worshipped who became the true villain of the story: the horrid Horned God who lived in a temple deep in the ground. As the Horned God’s role increased, the Kestrals got pushed to the side and forgotten, turned into mere henchmen in the Horned God’s evil schemes.

Eventually, I added the plot device of the Secret-Talker, a god’s dictaphone recording for all time everything they have done, good or bad. It was the addition of the pursuit of the Horned God’s Secret-Talker where our old friends, the Kestrals, came back into prominence.

Stellar map of Atrajak of Want detailing the location of the City of Many Forms (Eve Ventrue)

I dreamed up a City of Many Forms where the Kestrals held sway. It was intended to be an insane city of strange proportions and mind-bending intent with an unguarded pathway leading to the Horned God’s Secret-Talker. I made it as strange and confusing as I could dream up. It was supposed to be a window-dressing getting the reader from points A to B, a carnival ride through the Fun House to the Secret-Talker, nothing more.

But then I wondered …

With the City of Many Forms, I could have my cake and eat it too. I could keep the Kestrals weird and creepy, but I could also use the city to demonstrate their purpose and intent and make it plain without ever actually having to say what it is. Walking its streets, I could transform the Kestrals from mere henchmen to pretty cool villains with a clear agenda. With that, I dove headfirst into developing the City and exploring its secrets. It grew into a place of mis-matched architecture and deep-water canals that I based off of an old map of Atlantis I’d once seen with skies full of golden monsters.

After you visit the City of Many Forms, you might wish I’d left the Kestrals alone.

Book V: “The Temple of the Exploding Head” will be published by Loconeal Publications in late December, early Januray 2012

copyright 2011, Ren Garcia, Carol Phillips and Eve Ventrue