Greetings and salutations readers! I’m hard at work trying to wrap up Jungle‘s first draft (it is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a jungle), but that doesn’t mean I can’t keep you guys in the know. And today, I’ll be doing that with a recap of the creation of One Drink!
Yes, this post was a Patreon reward. Supporters got to see this all the way back in May. Now that Halloween is almost upon us, however, I feel that the time is right for a revisiting of One Drink with its ghosts and its necromancers and—of course—its straightforward protagonist. Where it all came from, how the first book came to pass, and naturally, what came next.
If you’ve not read One Drink, then be forewarned that this post contains spoilers. Seriously. For a 99-cent book that’s been out for almost five years now. Nudge nudge, why-haven’t-you-just-read-this-already? There’s a link to it right here!
But yes, spoiler warning.
And now? Let’s take a look at the history of One Drink …
Where it All Began …
So … the start of things. Where did the genesis of the idea for what would become the Unusuals universe come from? What sort of thought process kicked it off?
Believe it or not, it was a trip to a graveyard in Hawaii, of all places. See, in 2010 I was starting my last year of college (out of many years), and had transferred out to BYU Hawaii for said final year. The story behind the reason for the transfer is a long one which I won’t relate here.
Anyway, while I was there, I of course continued to take English courses, creative writing among these, and ended up in a class where we did the following brainstorming activity: We went to a Hawaiian graveyard, walked around for a while taking notes, and then were asked to come up with a story that utilized the setting.
Those of you that have read the short story The Graveyard from inside the pages of Unusual Events: A “Short” Story Collection might have already guessed what came of that brainstorming. I wandered through this graveyard taking all sorts of little notes on things I saw, things I noticed, and walked away with one very key observation: The graveyard we’d gone to was very well-lit, sunny, clean, and most of all, cheery. No joke, it was a very happy place.
So, I had to come up with a story to fit this happy place. So I started thinking about different ways to go about things. I knew right away that I didn’t want to do the standard thing, which was turn in a standard ghost story—I don’t remember what percentage of the class did, but it was a significant percentage. I also didn’t want to do the classic funeral story—and if I recall things correctly, this was also a common appearance.
So I went further back to the drawing board. I starting thinking about what sort of person would want to spend time in a graveyard … And then it just sort of clicked: What about a vampire hunter? Or some sort of hunter of the occult. The last place a vampire would want to be would be Hawaii—there’s just too much sun, too much water … they’d hate it.
Of course, I couldn’t just have vampires be all the character was after. Yes, it made sense that a vampire hunter, of all people, an individual who skulks around dark, gothic locales chasing dark things, would want to vacation somewhere sunny and warm. But the story had to involve the graveyard, ergo he was spending his vacation there. So why?
I don’t remember how long it took me to hit upon an idea, but once it did, the story practically wrote itself. What if he didn’t just hunt vampires, but anything related to death because he was very sensitive to it? What if he could see the recently departed, the ghosts and shadows of the world, and dealt with them on a daily basis. It would make something like a graveyard a pretty solemn, perhaps downright grim and depressing place.
Which would make the graveyard we’d gone to in Hawaii stand out all the more. Being such a cheery place, it would be a location someone who dealt with ghosts on a day-in-day-out basis could actually relax and sit back.
And just like that, Jacob Rocke was born.
Okay, maybe not quite. He never actually gave his name during The Graveyard, nor did he have one. He was simply the guy who could speak with ghosts. No name given. It was a unique idea, but at the time I fully expected it to be a one-off unique idea. Just something cool for the story. Man who deals with ghosts and vampires and the like for a living hangs out in a Hawaiian graveyard when he’s on vacation. I got my grade and that was it. The character was forgotten.
The Birth of One Drink and Jacob Rocke …
Until about … oh, a year-and-a-half or more later. Maybe two years. I’m fuzzy on the dates. Things were … less than well with my attempts at creating a fledgling game studio, and I’d found myself turning back to writing more and more, once again attempting to resurrect an old writing project that would later become Colony (only after massive changes, and it’s worth noting that this particular attempt was the one I’ve infamously spoken about being a recognized death spiral that ended with me killing everyone and calling it quits for years). When that project folded on me (see the aforementioned death spiral), I found myself sitting with little to do and suddenly thought to myself “You know, I’ve never really written much in first-person perspective.”
And it was true! I really hadn’t! Most of what I’d written before—well, almost all, really—was third-person. I’d never sat down and made a dedicated writing project that was first person primarily before. And, at the same time, I’d never really written anything like a Noir … though I loved some of the ones I’d read growing up. So as I was sitting there thinking of a new writing project, I decided to challenge myself a little: It would have to be first-person, and it would have to be a noir mystery. Of course, that meant I needed a mystery to solve. And here’s where the final piece came into play.
I honestly don’t remember when or how I’d come up with the idea, but some time before I’d realized that it would be a good twist in a fantasy story if two very different ghosts—say a ghostly human and a ghostly wolf—turned out to be the same being—a ghost werewolf. After all, we can have ghosts of normal people, or of elves, or of dragons … but I’d never read a story about a werewolf ghost before! Why not make one?
Of course, that still left me with some puzzle pieces to put together and to figure out on my own. I had the beginnings of a mystery with the ghost werewolf. That would get me the noir-ish mystery feel I wanted. I would write in a first-person perspective.
But I didn’t have a protagonist. Someone who would get tangled up with a ghostly werewolf. And they had to be someone who was already familiar with ghosts. Because if they weren’t, then the ghostly human and ghostly wolf would be just as shocking as the reveal that they were one and the same, and that wouldn’t do. The protagonist needed to be familiar with ghosts so that the twist was genuinely unexpected for them. That way, it would stand out.
And that’s when it hit me. I’d written a character some time before who was familiar with ghosts and other unusual things, who dealt with them on a frequent basis, too, which meant he’d make the conclusion I wanted him to make and hopefully take the audience along for the ride.
I remembered the character. I remembered his voice, too. And I knew he was exactly who I wanted. He would be perfect for the story. Except … there was still one tiny, teeny little problem.
He didn’t have a name. Well, okay, he didn’t have a lot of things. He was the product of a single page story. What sort of character was he?
So I sat down and started thinking, and before long I had it. I won’t tell you whether I came up with his name or his history first, because to be honest, I don’t really remember, and they kind of happened around the same time. But I figured it out. The protagonist was going to be someone who worked for the government—which also set off a bit of a cascade as this meant that the paranormal, at least in this book, was going to be something recognized, unlike other stories in the genre where it’s all hidden somehow. In retrospect, this was a very, very wise decision on my part.
Anyway, so that decision came with some sweet baggage that really fleshed out the world. This wasn’t some skulking drifter who tried to stay off the radar of the world, this was someone who, despite skulking and drifting, was very much with the law in what he did. He was above the table (yet another difference I’m glad I went with). He was legit. He was official. He had authority backing him for some of the things he did.
Then there was the name: Jacob Rocke. I don’t recall how I came up with Jacob. It probably had something to do with being straightforward and to-the-point as a name, which I wanted to reflect his character. Rocke was similar—simple, basic, and speaking a bit descriptively of his character.
Taken together, though, there was one more thing I like about it. It was simple. Forgettable, even. And I wanted that. I wanted this character to be the kind who kept his head down and did their job with a nearly single-minded obsession.
The obsession with his work, by the way, was what led to the working title, which was a bit of a gag, really. I didn’t come up with it until near the end of the story. Things had opened with Rocke being offered a drink from his new client, and I wanted to bookend things a little—as well as get a little character growth in—by having him be offered a drink by his buddy (Hawke Decroux; more on him later). So when I finished the story up (still not intending to sell it), I gave it a title based on some of Rocke’s final words. One Drink. Looking back, not the best title, but hey, it was my first book.
Anyway, getting back on top of things, I had done it. I had my protagonist. And so I sat down and started writing, honestly making up a good portion of it as I went along (at the time, much of my planning was involved in other things). There were a few highlights I’d figured out, like the ghost werewolf, Rocke, etc, but a lot of it was simply created by thinking ahead and going “Okay, what would make sense.” The title of “spook,” for example. Or Unusuals. That one was easy enough of a jump to make. The unusual is real, so … Unusuals. Or The Pack, which has been mentioned a few other times in the universe. With werewolves being a real thing in universe, it was only natural that there would be “gatherings” of them that treated it a bit like Alcoholics Anonymous.
—As a side note, one of my works where The Pack gets the most attention and is far more fleshed out is the still unreleased The Phoenix, which is pending a rewrite for insertion into the Unusuals timeline somewhere further along. You will see it someday, especially as it gives some great looks into other aspects of the Unusual Universe, such as the magic mob.—
Anyway, a lot of neat brainstorming came up as I worked things out, and eventually the story came to be as I typed away, working things out and putting the pieces together. I don’t think I actually put everything into place myself until the story was about a third of the way together. And even then, I was still making stuff up, stuff that would go on to bring lasting repercussions later down the road … such as an amiable, Native-American-French-Canadian Shaman friend of Rocke’s named Hawke Decroux.
So Rocke Has This Friend …
I’ll admit, when I set out to create Rocke’s buddy and local contact, Hawke Decroux, I had no idea that he’d end up nearly stealing the story for a lot of readers. I just needed someone that Rocke could work with, a counterpart really, who could give some answers,
Of course, he needed to be different than Rocke—which was what drove quite a bit of his character and personality, really. Rocke was, well, like his namesake. Rough and rocky. His friend, I decided, would be amiable and friendly. I went with the shaman angle because it gave Rocke answers he needed, as well as adding more unusual stuff, and then gave him the background he had because it fit the area (well, a little north, into Canada, anway). The cabin was based off of a similar cabin I had stumbled across during my time as a missionary deep in the woods of southern Connecticut. His size was simply to bring the whole “Friendly, large man” trope to life, though Hawke quickly made it his own.
—Another side note here, quite a bit of the setting was based on my experiences out in more rural regions of the American Northeast. Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, really. So no, I’ve not actually been to Vermont, but the states there are so small and so alike, I figured I was safe using some of the same designs and layouts the three I’d stayed in shared.—
And make it his own, Hawke did. Hawke changed the story drastically, going from “Buddy who is an informant” to “Good friend you can count on to help you slay necromantic horrors” almost instantly. There were reasons for it. I mean, it made sense that his shamanistic talents, dealing with life, would be opposed to and react negatively around death energies. And it helped that Hawke was a genuinely good-natured guy. A character that began as a source of information almost immediately cemented himself as a secondary character along for the adventure—as well as a great source of counterpart commentary to Rocke, and the occasional Watson as well.
It worked. So well, in fact, that Hawke actually split the readerbase after release, which is why he ended up spinning off into his own sequel, Dead Silver (which you’ll get to read more about the creation of some other day). I never would have imagined when I dreamed him up that Hawke would go on to be as big a hit with readers as he was, but it happened anyway. And the story (and fledgling universe) was so much richer for it.
Entering the Real World
And so it went. I finished the story, slapped a title on it, and sat back, pretty pleased with myself.
I had no intentions of selling it. Not at that point. In the time that I’d worked on it (over several months, which in hindsight is hilarious because I can pound out a story of that length in a well-motivated week now), but it wasn’t something I’d actually really considered selling, I mean, it was an experiment … and then I started letting friends and family read it.
I mean, I was proud of it. I’d churned out a decent little story, and I liked it. But as I shared it with friends and family, quite a lot of them started suggesting that maybe I should think about selling it.
Now, to be clear, at the time, I was thinking about getting into selling books. I just wasn’t planning on One Drink to be one of them. I wasn’t actually sure what it was going to be that I sold, but I was looking into it.
But meanwhile, people I was giving copies of One Drink to were really liking it and reacting quite positively, several pointing out that it was worth buying if cleaned up a little, and I thought … why not? And with that, my side experiment took a very different direction.
Prepping and Selling …
And now comes the part of the story where I eat some humble pie. I made a lot of mistakes with One Drink. To be fair, who doesn’t with their first work, but I made more than usual.
The biggest one was that I skimped out on editing. Yeah, some of you may have noticed that, lol. It certainly wasn’t as bad as some early reviewers thought—I actually contacted one asking for examples and learned then and there that the average person doesn’t know nearly as much about English as they think they do; about half of their “fixes” were wrong, the originals correct—but even so, it wasn’t the cleanest release. It was … a mistake, but one I learned from—later releases got a much better fine-toothed comb, as well as a much larger number of eyes checking things over.
I made other mistakes as well … most of them good-natured. I had no idea how to market the thing. I just assumed it would sell if it sold. Despite all my English training, I had to do a lot of learning on publishing, rights, the works. I contracted a local art student through Craigslist, of all places, for the cover (which will need to be replaced one day).
And then … I released it into the world. My first book. Not the one I’d expected, nor anything close to my current best … but still a good little story, and to my great surprise, the genesis of a lot of things to come.
The Road Ahead …
One Drink is by no means a fantastic story. At least, not by my margins (though it was once pretty grand). It’s … average. Which is probably what most authors say about their first release. Thankfully, it was nowhere close to the first thing I’d ever written, and I’d at least had the foresight to have spent years doing English classes as part of my college experience, so it wasn’t horrible. But, even now, I look at it, read back through it, and it’s okay. It’s not bad … but it’s not great either.
But … it was a step. And an important one. Because people still did enjoy it. To this day, it still sells, still gets new reviews from people who, despite its flaws, enjoy it for what it is, and then step onwards and upwards, as I once did, to the next thing. Without One Drink, there would have been no Dead Silver, no Unusual Events, probably no Colony even. Oh, and no Unusual Universe.
Speaking of which … what sort of legacy has One Drink left? Or rather, what legacy is yet to come?
Well, I can say this much: You will see Jacob Rocke again. His story isn’t over. In fact, I have been brainstorming his next adventure for a little while now. You probably won’t see it for some time yet, but despite the humble beginnings, I enjoy working with the Unusual Universe and its inhabitants.
So there you have it. The story of One Drink, and how it came to be. I hope you’ve enjoyed this retrospective, and remember, if you don’t have a copy of Jacob Rocke’s first adventure in all its average-but-clever glory … .
I hope you enjoyed this look back, readers!