A couple of weeks ago, I attended a WGF (Writers Guild Foundation) event here in Los Angeles. It was a live sit-down interview with writer-producer Frank Spotnitz. He produced/executive produced eight of the nine seasons of THE X-FILES, including writing more than 40 episodes and oversaw the writer’s room. He worked on multiple series, but of particular interest to me was the amazing Amazon Prime series THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, which he wrote, executive produced, and developed. It is Amazon’s most viewed series ever. Look how the tables have turned within 50 years; in my opinion, the best film is not in the movie theaters, but on today’s television.
It was great to hear the behind-the-scenes of this writer’s life and the shows he’s been involved in. THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is such a great series that at times I felt I was dreaming and kept asking myself, “how did a show so powerful get by Hollywood execs and I’m streaming it on Amazon Prime.” At the event, Mr. Spotnitz was introduced as The World Builder, creating complex series TV series. As a published author of several books now, one of the rewarding and challenging things of bringing a new story to life is creating that new world for the events to unfold and the characters to inhabit. Done well and your audience is immediately sucked in. Done badly and they will never engage with your characters, plot, or themes and simply walk away.
Liquid Cool is my third series, but a needed respite from my first—The After Eden Series. Both are extremely important to me, but while my first series is tragic (it is the events leading to World War III after all), Liquid Cool is just action-packed, funny, and…cool.
There is a state of affairs that afflicts many writers which I’ve never suffered from—writers’ block. My burden is the opposite—the ideas are always flowing. I simply have to set my mind to the new challenge and off it goes, consciously and subconsciously. Two years ago it was to create a new series to incorporate my other favorite genre besides sci-fi, the mystery detective thriller.
However, I didn’t want to do just any sci-fi, detective thriller. I wanted to do something unique. So how about the cyberpunk sub-genre that would allow me to relive and merge the ‘80s with the future? But I went a step further and “reimagined” the cyberpunk sub-genre, which some say died out in the early ‘90s. Great! Resurrect a “dead” sci-fi sub-genre. I’m up to the challenge.
How did I do with my debut novel? Here are some early 5-star reviews:
- “Lots of shooting, lots of crazy maniacs, lots of action and fun!”
- “I loved this book. It takes place in the future, and what a weird future.”
- “A funny, intelligent (and sometimes crazy) main character…playing detective.”
- “Cool and Smooth.”
- “I had a hard time putting this book down to do things like sleeping and eating.”
Main Character / Cruz, Private Eye
One of the conventions in old cyberpunk was to make the main character an anti-hero, a not-so-good good guy, troubled, and anti-establishment. With notable exception of the character Walter White (played brilliantly by actor Bryan Cranston) in the BREAKING BAD TV series, I usually don’t like anti-heroes. Maybe, it’s fine for others, but I don’t root for bad guys, even the anti-hero kind. No, I was not going to do the anti-hero, but I wasn’t going to write a conventional hero either. Cruz was going to be a contrarian.
Main characters have to be interesting. I think of books, television, and movies as taking a trip to a new world, an interesting place, or a different time. It must be able to positively answer the following question for me, “Was this time well-spent?” The protagonist has to be interesting, otherwise, why is the reader wasting their time with him or her. There are a million other books out there for them to choose from.
Cruz is a classic hover-car restorer, ex-amateur street racer, and owner of his own self-built classic red hover-car—a Ford Pony (Think Steve McQueen in BULLITT). He’s a germophobe living in the grimy, 50-million plus super-city of Metropolis. He’s a contrarian—everyone wears dark colors; he wears a tan fedora and coat. Other cyberpunk stories would have the anti-hero as anti-police, but Cruz, back in the day, did his high school internship at Metropolis Police Central. If anything, he’s anti-people, though everyone likes Cruz. Then he gets flung into the world of private investigation and the fun really begins.
The Supporting Cast / Secondary Characters
“My dear Watson.”
I have no doubt that hundreds of years in the future, there will still be adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, originally created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and first published in 1887. I was a fan of Basil Rathbone portrayal of the movies of the30’s and 40s, then it was bested by the Jeremy Brett version of the ‘80s, and then surpassed again by the contemporary Benedict Cumberbatch UK version. Sherlock Holmes is unforgettable and eternal, but we will also always remember his loyal and trusted companion, Dr. John Watson.
Good supporting characters make good protagonists even better. Not mere side-kicks or simple background characters, but have significance separate from the hero or heroine, add to the story, and we are as happy to spend time with them as we are with our hero.
Liquid Cool is such an ensemble work. What an array of diverse and interesting characters we have in Cruz’s world.
China Doll/Dot – Cruz’s girlfriend and fiancée. She’s the consummate fashionista and businesswoman. Do you know what tragic, childhood event technically made her a cyborg?
Run-Time – Cruz’s lifelong best friend and self-made, multi-millionaire businessman. He’s politically-connected and even the Mayor of Metropolis will take his call. Run-Time was the one who indirectly started Cruz on his new private investigator career. Do you know who was murdered in the case?
Punch Judy/PJ – Cruz’s secretary. If you ever have to go into a back-alley fight, this ex-French gangmember and cyborg is who you want watching your back. Do you know the name of her old posh-gang in Paris?
Phishy – Cruz’s associate and former “frenemy”. This “slider” (you’ll get used to Liquid Cool’s vocabulary) is involved in all kinds of street deals, scams, and schemes. Did you know it’s Phishy who outfits Cruz with the tools of the private detective trade? Guns!
These are the supporting characters in Cruz’s world. As the series continues, we’ll meet more.
Interestingly, the Liquid Cool novel starts in the third person and vividly introduces all of the above—after opening up with the main crime of the book, of course. After that, the novel becomes first person Cruz all the way.
#ManIntheHighCastle #PhilipKDick #Cyberpunk #SciFi
Austin Dragon is the author of over 30 books in science fiction, fantasy, and classic horror. His works include the sci-fi detective LIQUID COOL series, the epic fantasy FABLED QUEST CHRONICLES, the international futuristic epic AFTER EDEN Series, the classic SLEEPY HOLLOW HORRORS, and new military sci-fi PLANET TAMERS series. He is a native New Yorker but has called Los Angeles, California home for more than twenty years. Words to describe him, in no particular order: U.S. Army, English teacher, one-time resident of Paris, ex-political junkie, movie buff, Fortune 500 corporate recruiter, renaissance man, futurist, and dreamer.