Plague Doctor: Patient Zero

The first work I took into my own hands was a sequel to one of my favourite books. From what I understood, the original author, E.F. Curry, had died and, rather than give his surviving works the Terry Pratchett treatment, a cousin or other such distant relative had taken it upon himself to wrap things up based on a half-baked draft and a handful of both written and oral notes from the man himself.

It doesn’t exactly take a genius to figure out why I decided to give it a go myself.

The biggest problem the book had was that it was as committed as a world leader claiming to “strongly condemn” another country’s questionable acts. The previous book had sprinkled several hints about the return of the original villain: a cthuloid horror introduced at the suggestion of one of the author’s friends. The only reason I can come up with for as to why he dropped off the face of the plot is that things turned sour and the author decided to diminish his story out of personal spite.

Is that what an auteur’s creative process is like? Cause it sounds more like just being a tool.

More importantly, the payoff to all that buildup was just leading up to some generic flaming demon. There was some rumbling about it being a shameless plug for the villain of the relative’s own book, but I was too busy with disgust, rage, and disappointment having a royal rumble for my emotional dominance to investigate further.

I set to the nearest word processor and hammered out in how many ways the idiot had failed and, rather than take the normal approach and just post that on the internet, set into motion the outline for how it should have gone.

As surprising as it may seem, there’s only a narrow margin of works that are truly beyond redemption. These are the pieces that you can only salvage so much before you get something about as faithful to the original idea as those flabby malcontents in Guy Fawkes masks. With that in mind, it’s pretty easy to see how even someone as easily discouraged as myself didn’t hesitate to take my own stab at remaking this stale blob of wasted potential.

Unlike my later works, there was no intention from the start of rebranding this story. It was fan fiction, as dirty of a term that is in general circles. No new setting, no twisted character names or personalities, just the same seven kids from Isabel Fields, Indiana, tracking down a psychopath being lead by an unnamed horror from beyond.

With that description, it almost brings a tear to my eye to see how far they’d come.

By the end of the project, I must have read through the outline and drafts at least forty times each. Whether it was due to thoroughness or my glacial work pace is better off lost to history.

Being a good fanfic writer isn’t all that different from being Canadian. You’ve got plenty of examples on how NOT to do something. All things considered, it’s not that hard to just avoid falling into the artistic spike pits of “bad shit”: Don’t leave any dialog standing unless it fits character voice (especially no sounding too wordy, mystical, or casual), no gratuitous sexual or violent content like some virgin with rage, no self inserts (from cameo to the plot devouring Black Hole Sue, it only leads to trouble), and – something every other hack seems to forget – don’t turn a character you hate into a punching bag. I would gladly piss in the coffee of every Annie Wilkes-ass fangirl who threw the entire cast out of balance just to get their digs in at the “wrong” love interest or whatever.

I mean, the temptation’s still there, but it’s like killing your darlings. You’ve got to spare your…

Sinners?

(note: come up with better alternative later)

What’s important is to keep a level of detachment, and in doing so, earn a level of legitimacy. The less you convince readers it’s your baby, the more it feels like the original creator’s baby.

The same philosophy still follows me, even as I spend today writing about the goings-on in Hudson Hills instead of Isabel Fields.

With my trusty aide, caffeine, I’ve taken this world to places most mainstream creators feel they can only tease. I’ve gone through entire arcs of mind-shattering villains, trials by fire, even slowed things down to let the characters develop and get older.

Now that it’s in writing, I wonder if this truly does count as derivative anymore? More like a distant cousin with whatever continuation of Curry’s work that may exist now. Once in a blue moon, I get paranoid or self-important enough to wonder what he would think of my work and its origin, but I take some comfort in the fact that he at least wasn’t as openly against the concept as that George Martin fellow. The worry is swept away for the night and I go back to more important things.

… Like stressing over the possibility of having bedbugs. Maybe the tension will be enough for a thriller.

As long as it makes enough to cover a new mattress…

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