Chronicles of the Sentinels Book 3 Reveal!

Hi everyone!

Today’s the day – I’m excited to finally announce and reveal the next (and final) book in the Chronicles of the Sentinels trilogy!  Those with a keen eye will have noticed that I let slip the title over a month ago in this blog website’s “My Novels” section ;)  But today, you get to see it all!

Without further ado, I present Champions!

I love the new cover!  Working with the same artist as I had from books 1 and 2, this cover in particular was a challenge to formulate.  As I’d done for books 1 and 2, I knew I wanted to display another power for Chris.  Book 1’s cover featured the plasma ball, and  book 2 showcased his lightning ability.  For 3, I went back to the first power Chris learned on accident, the beam.  (There was another I wished to showcase, brand new for in Champions, but that would be spoilers ;) )

I also had a slew of iconic background locations to choose from, since Chris and the Sentinels bounce around a bit while on the run, but in the end, I chose Trafalgar Square in London.

And a mysterious new character hides in the shadows behind Chris ;)  That was an element I was adamant about getting in.  The artist wasn’t sure he could do it, but then he pulled it, and the entire cover off, beautifully!

Here’s a view of the full print cover for good measure :D

Now onto the really good bits!

Pre-order and Release Dates!

I’m happy to announce that the pre-order for both Kindle and Print editions are available right now!  But when will they actually become available for your reading pleasure?

August 27th, 2022!

It’s….been a journey, hasn’t it?  Lots of peaks and valleys.  But despite setbacks and criticisms and self-doubts, I believe in this trilogy, in the story that was told, and the characters that inhabit it.  It’s not for everyone, that’s very clear, but for those who have enjoyed the trilogy so far, you’re in for a treat with this final installment.  Lots of great character moments, great action, and a climactic battle that’ll shake the foundations of the Earth.

Here’s all the places you can pre-order!

Both Legacy and Retribution have performed far better in the Kindle Unlimited store, so for the time being, the entire trilogy’s eBook version will only be available via Amazon’s Kindle Store.

But in other fantastic news – Book 1, Legacy, is now permanently discounted!  You can get the Kindle edition for $1.99, and you can buy the print edition from Amazon for $9.99!  (Other sellers could be as low as $11.99, but the least expensive brand-new version can be found on Amazon!)

If you’ve been hesitant to get into the Chronicles of the Sentinels trilogy, there’s never been a better time to start your journey!

Thank you all for reading!

-Jon Wasik

25 Years of Final Fantasy 7 Part 3 – Prequels to Sequels to Remake

Welcome back, readers!  This is the third and final part of a series of posts celebrating 25 years of Final Fantasy 7, and the impact it has had upon me throughout my life.

Click here to read Part 1.

Click here to read Part 2.

A Franchise is Born

I always wanted more Final Fantasy 7.  I played it so much throughout the years, especially every summer break, and it seemed like every time I played through the game, I made a new discovery.

But what happened after the game?  What happened to Midgar after Meteor nearly destroyed it?  Did the world finally stop using Mako energy?  Did Cloud and Tifa stay together?

At the time, I didn’t think I’d ever get to see more.  Despite some cameos here and there, the future (and past) of these characters and their world was relegated to fan fiction.  I also found myself disappointed by the next game, Final Fantasy 8.  I didn’t even try 9 or 10.

Then something strange happened.  In fact, two-fold.  First was when I heard the announcement that Final Fantasy X was about to get a direct sequel, Final Fantasy X-2.  What little I’d seen and read of X didn’t impress me, so my initial reaction was, “Why is that one getting a sequel???”

Then…Advent Children was announced.

Screen capture from Final Fantasy 7 Advent Children of Cloud standing next to a rusted Buster swordA fully-rendered CGI movie that would act as a direct sequel to Final Fantasy 7!  I was in college when I first heard the announcement, and I was beyond excited!  At the time, I’d heard that there would be other content produced alongside of it, such as video games focusing on side characters (I think this is when Dirge of Cerberus was announced,) but nothing caught my attention like Advent Children did.  It would be two more years before it actually released, and I eagerly awaited every scrap of news about it.

When it finally came out, I had moved to a bigger city for college, where I’d met and befriended a fellow gaming enthusiast, Sean.  I honestly don’t remember where we bought it, maybe at Best Buy?  But we rushed to his house (each of us with our own copy in-hand,) snacks and soda at the ready, and plopped down with a couple other friends to watch it.

Screen capture from Final Fantasy 7 Advent Children of Cloud SmilingIt did not disappoint.  Whereas Square’s original attempt at a CGI full-length movie was…okay (Spirits Within, I liked it better than most people seemed to,) this was something incredible and superior.  It hit all the notes, had fantastic pacing, was most definitely written to appeal to those who knew the game, and had a very satisfying ending.

In short, it was a worthy successor to the original game.  Superbly edited, perfectly voiced, and stunningly rendered (and at the time, one of my hobbies was 3D Graphic Design, so I was in awe of the technology behind it!)

It definitely didn’t end there.

Prequels and Sequels

Advent Children was part of a planned series of content additions to the Final Fantasy 7 story called Compilation of Final Fantasy 7.  At the time, however, the only one I cared about was Advent Children.

Screen Capture from Final Fantasy 7 Crisis Core of Zack in battleFor starters, Crisis Core was on the Playstation Portable (PSP) only.  I had zero inclination to buy one (especially as a poor college student,) and it was a prequel featuring Zack, a character that is not heavily featured in 7 and whom, at the time, I didn’t really have any interest in.  Plus, the PSP had inferior graphics compared to the then-contemporary PS2, and I was a bit of a snob about graphics back then (and perhaps still am.)

Dirge of Cerberus was on the PS2, but was not an RPG and focused on Vincent.  When I watched Sean play a little bit of it, I found myself uninterested in the gameplay and story.

Fast forward several years, and my obsession over Final Fantasy 7 surged again.  After playing through the original game yet again, and watching Advent Children again, I wanted to learn more about Zack and his connection to Aerith and Cloud.  But I still was unwilling to buy a PSP.  So I turned to the internet, during a time when Youtube wasn’t clogged with commercials every few minutes.

I was able to watch every cutscene and major moment in Crisis Core, and found that I’d grossly misjudged it.  The story was intriguing, featured Sephiroth a lot more than I anticipated, and gave some back story to elements of 7 that really helped me understand and appreciate the characters and plot a lot more.

IE: it did what prequels were supposed to do (and a lot of prequels often fail to do.)

I was content never having played it – I considered emulators for the PSP to try it, but ended up not bothering.

I never did go back and give Dirge of Cerberus another chance.  Maybe in honor of the 25th anniversary, now is the time to try it.

Rumors of a Remake

For the most part, after Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 concluded, there was a dearth of FF7 content.  Mostly satisfied with the conclusion we saw in Advent Children, I was okay with that.  I felt like the story had been told, and the rest could live on in our imaginations.

Screen Capture from the PS3 Technical Demo of Final Fantasy 7Then Sony and Square/Enix did something unexpected.  As a technology demo for the Playstation 3, and to create buzz and excitement for the PS3, they released a tech demo of the opening sequence of Final Fantasy 7.  Those precious couple of minutes showing Aerith in front of a surging power conduit, the pull-out to show all of Midgar, the dramatic music, and then Cloud’s arrival by train at the Number 1 Mako Reactor.

I don’t know if they expected it or not, but the reaction across the internet spread faster than wildfire – were they remaking Final Fantasy 7 for the PS3?!??!?!?!

Fans wanted it.  Fans began to demand it.  Fans went crazy!  But I…was a bit skeptical.  I wanted it, though, and I hoped – a remake for an RPG into a modern-day platform, could you imagine just how beautiful the world of FF7 could be?!

But…it was not to be.  At least, at that time.  Based on everything I’ve read over the years, as much as the creators of FF7 wanted to refresh the game onto a modern platform, they felt that they could never do it justice.  It would be impossible to create the open world of 7 with the amount of detail expected from modern games.

I was sad.  But damn did that video stick with me.  Later when they refreshed Advent Children into Advent Children Complete, I wondered if that meant there was still hope for a 7 remaster or remake.

Still, rumors persisted.  Most often the rumors were false.  But then, one day…

Remake and Beyond

In 2015, Square/Enix made it official – they were going to remake Final Fantasy 7!  They had finally found a way.

What was the way?  Split it into multiple parts.  This announcement was met mostly with excitement, and some trepidation – this was on the heels of The Hobbit Trilogy, derided for dragging out a single novel’s worth of stories into a trilogy of movies, and including characters who shouldn’t have even been in it (personally I liked The Hobbit, but agree that it pales in comparison to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.)

Still, I was hopeful.  The way the announcement was presented gave me hope, and the fact that they were bringing back as much of the original development crew as they could excited me.  I knew they would treat the remake with the love and attention it deserved.

Screen capture from Final Fantasy 7 Remake of Cloud looking up at Mako Reactor 1They did not disappoint.  When the demo of the first bombing mission was released (reminiscent of how the demo of the original game was the first bombing mission,) I immediately downloaded and played it.

The first thing that struck me was the music, oh god the music was just incredible!  I’ve always loved the music from the original, and the refresh it got for Advent Children was gorgeous, but they took it up another level or 10 in FF7R, and it never leaves my playlist now.

And playing through that first mission, with the new combat system, the new voices, and the incredible expansion of characters in just that little bit of time?  I was sold.

Screen capture from Final Fantasy 7 of Jessie Raspberry flirtingWhen FF7R was fully released, I started playing it immediately, and, well. let’s just say that whereas the original Final Fantasy 7 is still my all-time favorite game, Remake comes in at a close, close 2nd.  It made me love side characters even more (Biggs, Wedge and Jessie!!!!) and it expanded upon the world, made Midgar actually feel like a big city, and felt like it upped the stakes more than they already were in the original.

TL;DR, I’m a fan ;)

Screen Capture from Final Fantasy 7 Remake of Cloud in a dressMost notable, they took existing content, and updated to be even more relevant and respectful to today’s society.  For instance, Cloud’s cross-dressing sequence, while important for representation in the original, felt a bit like a gag.  In Remake, it was treated with much more respect to the LGBT community.

Additionally, it feels like they deepened the backstory of the war between Shinra and Wutai (Yuffie’s home.)  It created more intrigue, and even helped fix some plot holes.  Characters that were previously inept or gag characters were turned into something much more interesting and worthwhile (Mayor Domino being the best example I can think of.)

The combat system and gameplay in general was updated as well, and it feels far less monotonous (which, since the original RPG-based combat system from 7 was ahead of its time and was interesting, that’s a big compliment!)

Screen capture of Aerith and Tifa chatting with Cloud in the backgroundOh and, I’ve never been one to ‘ship’ character pairings that didn’t exist in canon before, but thanks to FF7 Remake, I totally ‘ship’ Aerith and Tifa, especially after their friendship blossomed in the sewers and train yard of Sector 7 :)  They’d make a cute couple!  Sorry Cloud and Zack.

The Future is Bright

Screen capture of the preview footage from Final Fantasy 7 RebirthMost recently, in celebration of the 25th anniversary, Square/Enix released footage and the title of the next game in the Remake saga, titled Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, and have confirmed that the entire remake saga will be a trilogy.  While I’m a bit…hesitant about the overall direction they are taking (namely, they appear to be changing the timeline,) I know how much the creators love this, and they know how much we love it.  I am mostly confident that the next two games will be as wonderfully and masterfully crafted as Remake was.

Better still, I’ll finally get my chance to play Crisis Core – they officially announced a remaster of Crisis Core, to be released on the PS4 and PS5!  (Thank goodness for the PS4 release, I still haven’t gotten my hands on a PS5!)

As it was when Compilation came out, there are a lot of other titles out there that I’m not so interested in.  The First Soldier is supposedly a battle-royale style game akin to Player Unknown Battleground, and is mobile-only, so I have zero interest in it.  But we’ll see what other titles come out.

Mostly, I’m excited for the Remake trilogy and Crisis Core.

Conclusion

First of all, if you’ve read this entire series, kudos to you!  This was originally supposed to be a single post, but then blossomed into something much too long to be contained in a single post.

That’s just how much this game has meant to me, and how much it continues to mean to me.  It has inspired me as a writer, it has captured my imagination, and I am so happy to be alive today to experience the resurgence of the Remake trilogy.

Thank you for reading!  I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight and this break from my usual writing-related posts.  Until next time!

-Jon Wasik

25 Years of Final Fantasy 7 Part 2 – Why It Matters So Much

Welcome back, readers!  This is part 2 of a series of posts celebrating 25 years of Final Fantasy 7, and the impact it has had upon me throughout my life.

Click here to read Part 1.

Why Does Final Fantasy 7 Mean So Much to So Many People?

I know I’m not alone in feeling such a close connection with 7. As a franchise (because let’s face it, FF7 has become a franchise in and of itself,) it remains to this day the most popular Final Fantasy iteration.  Its legacy endures.  The themes were relevant back in 1997, and have only become more relevant.

Big corpo killing our planet just to make a profit?  Yup, that’s bigger today than ever.

Governments carelessly throwing away citizens’ lives for their own benefit? Yup, we’ve seen that across the globe (PS: We stand with Ukraine!)

Even a mission to save Tifa that requires the protagonist, Cloud Strife, to cross-dress has become more relevant to today and the LGBT community.  Cloud isn’t trans, but for many reasons, not just that one mission, I have come to believe that he’s at least a little gender queer.  (This entire mission was handled even better in the Remake, but I’ll save that for the next post.)

Screen capture from Final Fantasy 7 of the overworld map
The Overworld Map

And since the game takes place across the fictional world, we got to see a wide range of people of color and multiple cultures represented.  Despite the simplistic character designs, it wasn’t as white-washed as most games were of the time.

Plus with the diverse and sometimes unusual ensemble cast of characters, gamers can usually find at least one character they can relate to.  They were all written so well, so nuanced.  Even characters that weren’t necessary to ‘collect’ as part of the main mission left an impact (a friend of mine absolutely adores Yuffie, yet in the original game, you could beat the entire game without ever meeting her, let alone adding her to your party.)

For me, the characters are a big, big part of it.

Cloud in particular.

Searching For Identity

Screen capture from Final Fantasy 7 teen Cloud and Tifa under a starry skyOne of the biggest character and story elements in Final Fantasy 7 is the fact that Cloud’s identity comes into question.  Tifa and Aerith in particular suspect he’s not what or whom he claims to be, but most importantly is that Cloud questions his own identity throughout the game.

In fact, it might be safe to say that Final Fantasy 7‘s primary character-driven conflict revolves around questioning one’s identity.  In the flashback in Kalm, when Cloud tells the (partially true) story of how Sephiroth became a villain, even Sephiroth discovers that his own past was a lie.  This identity crisis breaks him.

Which is perhaps another place where Final Fantasy 7 has a strong story – both the protagonist and the antagonist parallel one another, and the choices they make, what they do when they find out they aren’t who they thought they are, is what defines them, what makes one the bad guy, and the other the good guy, so to speak.

In any case, Cloud’s struggle is nuanced and, in many ways, groundbreaking for its time.  He thinks he knows who he is, but even in the beginning, he gets flashes that things might not be what he thinks they are.  Subtle, layered, difficult to recognize what they are until you know the truth much later.

It felt like I knew his struggle.

Remember, Final Fantasy 7 came out when I was a young teenager.  So maybe it seems like a natural thing that a teenager would identify with such a struggle.  What teenager has never questioned who they are, what they believed, etc?

Plus, let’s face it, often times Cloud is socially awkward.  Compound that with the fact that dialogue in the original game was written, not acted out by voice actors, so I could put my own inflections into his voice, I could read his dialogue in my head in such a way that I identified with him even more.

Believe you me, there are awkward teenagers, and then were was me.  I mentioned it in the previous article, I’ve always had a hard time making friends.  I was always uncomfortable around people, didn’t know how to make a joke, and all of my passions were apparently ‘dumb’ or ‘too geeky’ or what have you.

I saw myself in Cloud.  I was awkward, but trying to figure out who I was.  And many times throughout my teen years, I had vivid memories of just…standing in my bedroom, looking around and realizing that I really didn’t know who I was.

Granted I never had a full-on meltdown like Cloud did.  But in a way…I grew into who I was while replaying FF7 over and over.  I found comfort in that game in a way that no other game has ever provided.

An Ensemble of Memorable Characters

Artwork depicting the main characters of Final Fantasy 7Beyond Cloud are the other characters in your team, all of whom have a story of their own, nuanced and complete.  That in and of itself is cause for praise – how many games, how many stories have throw-away characters?  Ones created to serve a single purpose, then just sort of exist in the background.

Likewise, there are character moments that are easy to miss in the game, but if you seek out every moment, you learn more and more about the characters.

Barret isn’t just a hell-crazed maniac bent on revenge against Shinra.  But that certainly was the beginning of his journey.  Even then, his little daughter kept him grounded, and his primary goal by the end was to save the planet.

Tifa is the heart of Avalanche, of the Sector 7 Slums, and a fierce fighter and friend.  Her concern for her friends is central to her character, and she would do anything to protect them.  And she can make a helluva drink to boot.

And then there’s Aerith…  The soul, the healer.  The one destined to perish.  I felt a particularly strong attachment to her character in my youth, and because of how many times I had to restart the game in the beginning, I was able to spend more time with her than if I had a straight playthrough, so perhaps that partially strengthened my attachment to her, and made her death even more heart wrenching.  And yet, even when faced with death, she still did what she could to protect and heal the planet, and those she loved.

I always viewed those three as the core supporting characters, no doubt because we spent more time with them than any others.  But that is not to say that the others made any less of an impression.

Artwork of Red XIII from Final Fantasy 7Red XIII, Nanaki, whose mysterious past comes back to haunt him (almost literally,) and whose wisdom and intellect are quite unexpected, considering his animal form.

Cid Highwind.  Definitely an ass, especially to Shera, but his love of space and exploration was definitely something I connected with.

Yuffie’s unusual antics and childlike behavior seem annoying, but beneath the surface, she yearns only to provide for her home and prove herself to her family.

Vincent’s strange, Castlevania-esque appearance and mannerisms are symptoms of a deep pain, a difficult past, and a monster within that he struggles to control.

And…well, Cait Sith was definitely memorable ;)  Yet the man behind the controls is the insider within the enemy ranks, a man disenfranchised by those he served, and now wishes to make amends to the world.

I’ve barely scratched the surface on these characters.  I’ve probably not come close to doing them justice.  They are so unique, so memorable.  Compared to some of the later Final Fantasy games’ supporting characters, they all stand out, unique and interesting and, for most of them, loveable (really, Cid, do you have to be such an ass??)

Yet for all of their differences, these characters come together for a common cause, and together they save the world.

What’s not to love?

It is therefore unsurprising that so many people yearned to see more of them.  And in breaking with the usual Final Fantasy tradition, the creators delivered exactly that, and for the next twenty five years, we got to see more of these wonderful characters.  We got to learn more not just about what happened to them after Final Fantasy 7, but also what led them to be the persons they were in the game.

But that, dear readers, is best left for another time.  Come back next time for the conclusion to this series, in which I take a look at the franchise that has been built upon this incredible foundation.

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

25 Years of Final Fantasy 7 Part 1 – First Experiences

The video game Final Fantasy 7 has had an incredible and indelible impact upon the world in general, and upon gamers specifically and the industry built around them.  And much to my surprise, this year marks the 25th anniversary of a game that has touched my soul more than any other video game ever has.  That is no exaggeration, either – FF7 remains my favorite video game of all-time.

25 years.  Wow.  As Sony and Square/Enix (Squeenix!) continues to celebrate the anniversary throughout 2022, I thought I’d share my own journey – how I was introduced to FF7, the impact it had on me, and how I feel about it and the many spinoffs it has generated.  Come with me on this journey through time and space…

What is Final Fantasy 7?

On January 31st, 1997, the seventh in a long series of Japanese RPG’s came out.  The Final Fantasy series had a long and storied history even before 7 came out, with only 3 of the 6 originals making it to the United States, and the series defined the video game RPG genre for years to come.  Having said that, I’d never touched nor heard of the Final Fantasy series, despite how much I loved video games throughout my life, until early 1997.

Final Fantasy 7 was the first of the RPG’s to go 3D, or at least partially 3D, rather than characters made of low-detailed sprites.  It also was one of the first, if not the first, to have full-motion cinematics for important story moments.

Screen capture of a battle in Final Fantasy 7Like its predecessors, combat in FF7 was largely turn-based, but utilized a mechanic introduced somewhere midway between games 1 and 7, and that is the Active Timed Battle, or ATB.  Perhaps most notable, however, was the materia system of magic, utilizing crystals (a common trope in Final Fantasy games) to allow characters to cast magic.

Most important to note is that while this was the seventh game in the series, none of the main numbered games connect to one another, they do not share universes.  Mostly the series is connected by themes and tropes.  That means that Final Fantasy 7 was not bound to continuity from previous games, and this allowed the makers to depart from the typical high fantasy setting, and make 7 a more technological, perhaps even steampunk-esque setting.

My introduction to Final Fantasy 7

Before I heard about Final Fantasy 7, most of the games I played were not exactly centered around any complex story or characters. Super Mario Brothers, Sonic the Hedgehog, Battletoads – basically platformers and such were the games I was most familiar with, along with early Atari games before that (Pacman, Galaga, etc.)

Back then, I lived in Wisconsin, but my family was getting ready to move out west, to the deserts of New Mexico. One of the last times I got to hang out with my best friend at the time, Devin, he showed me this new game on the Sony Playstation, a roleplaying game called Final Fantasy 7.

Screen capture from Final Fantasy 7 of Cloud Strife looking up Mako Reactor 1.It seemed like a…weird concept. A video game that focused on character development and story, rather than something that was just a challenge to play.

The combat system seemed kinda cool, and I liked the characters in that first chapter, but that was all we played. My memory is a little fuzzy about that evening, and it may have only been the demo of the game, which allowed a complete playthrough of the Reactor 1 Bombing mission. It was neat, but I didn’t have a Playstation at home, and I doubted my parents would buy one for me at that time.  I never expected to see or play the game again.

When we moved, I said goodbye to everyone I knew in Wisconsin. I’d always had trouble making new friends, so I could only count maybe 4 people as friends. But since this was before the internet was ubiquitous, I had little hope of keeping in touch with them for any length of time.

Road sign that says "Welcome to New Mexico: Land of Enchantment"And when we moved to New Mexico, well…there was a bit of a culture shock. And whatever troubles I had fitting in at Wisconsin schools, it was even worse in New Mexico. That first year of Junior High (for the younguns around here, that’s what we used to call Middle School) was a depressing time for me. I had made a few acquaintances, but at the end of the school year, I didn’t think I’d made any real friends (turns out I was wrong about that, and that summer, one acquaintance became my best friend for life, Nick.)

Screen Capture from Final Fantasy 7 of Cloud holding Aerith in water
A scene in the preview that stuck with me and made me ever-more curious about FF7

But one day during our first year in New Mexico, we went to the movies, and the weirdest thing happened – during the previews, usually reserved for upcoming movies, there was a video game preview for Final Fantasy 7. I was in awe. The cinematics, the music, the graphics, it was incredible, and the creators spent money on getting a commercial for it into movie theaters?!? What????  Perhaps even more important was that I felt a connection to the scenes shown on-screen (little did I know it included the funeral of an important character…)  I felt an emotional connection.

Some weeks later, my parents, seeing how depressed and lonely I was, decided they would offer to buy a new console for the family (mostly for me, since my parents didn’t play video games as much by this point.) I immediately asked for a Playstation, and when we went into the tiny little town’s only Wal-mart, we asked the clerk if we could switch out which video game came with the console. The store clerk said yes, and I chose Final Fantasy 7 – I had to find out more about this game!

The only downside? The Playstation had no built-in storage for save games, and so my folks would have had to spend money on a memory card. But the store clerk also mentioned this intriguing little thing called a Gameshark, basically a way to cheat on video games. It was an add-on dongle you plugged into the back of the Playstation, which would allow you to enter cheat codes before launching a game. My parents gave me a choice – the Gameshark or a memory card. I don’t remember what I was thinking or why I chose it, but I chose the Gameshark. This became very important soon after.

The Beginning – Again and Again and Again

I had no idea just how long of a game Final Fantasy 7 was. I’d never played anything quite like it (the closest was the original Zelda, but I only ever got to see that game when I visited a friend’s house, so I didn’t know how long the game was.) So we got home that first night, I plugged in the Playstation, found that the Gameshark had some pre-coded FF7 codes in it that I activated (infinite Gil, or money, as well as super fast leveling up) and I started playing.

Screen capture from Final Fantasy 7 of Cloud at the very beginning of the gameTo say that I was in awe is…an understatement. I got through that first reactor bombing. I played on. Learned more about Barret and Tifa, saw some cool cinematics, learned more about the big city, Midgar, and why we had just attacked the reactor. Turns out the protagonists were eco terrorists, bent on saving the planet from being sucked dry of life by greedy corporations. (Hmmm, I wonder what that could be an allegory to….) Then there was Aerith…or Aeris, as it was mistranslated in the original version. Meeting her briefly, and then spending time with her after the second bombing mission was something I felt was rather magical. I liked her, a lot.

Screen capture from Final Fantasy 7 after the Sector 7 Upper Plate was dropped on the slums
This was the moment I came to truly despise Shinra and its leaders

The game drew on. And on. And on.  I loved every moment of it, but I was wondering when it would end. And then…Shinra dropped one of Midgar’s plates, killing thousands. This was done in such a dramatic way that it left my jaw on the floor. I couldn’t believe they’d done that in a game. The emotions I felt, the hatred for Shinra and its president, the sympathy I felt for Barret and Tifa when they lost friends, including poor Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie.

That’s when I realized it, I think. This wasn’t a short game. This wasn’t a short story.

Not getting that memory card was a mistake.

And as much as I wanted to keep the Playstation turned on at all times so I didn’t lose my progress, I also didn’t want to overheat and kill the brand-new Playstation. So that night, cringing as I did so, I turned it off. Erasing all of my progress on the game.

But that was okay. I loved the game so much that the idea of going through that beginning again didn’t seem like a drawback to me. I gleefully powered it back up the next day, and spent more time exploring every location, every scene, trying to get every nuance out of every bit of the game.

Screen capture from Final Fantasy 7 of Cloud and party at the edge of Midgar
“Into the Unknown” ;)

The more I played, the more I wanted to play. A guy I met on the school bus during the school year, Nick, came over out of the blue one day, and when I told him about the game, he wanted to see it too. I played more of the beginning, risked leaving the Playstation on overnight at least once, and got all the way to the part where the characters leave Midgar for the world…and the scope of this incredible, nuanced world just captured my imagination.

I had to see it all.

My First Full Playthrough

After a few weeks, I’d saved up enough allowance money to get a memory card myself.

Finally, I was no longer stuck in the first 6 to 12 hours of the game. And soon after…well, that was when I got to the first heart-breaking moment of the story – when a video game killed off a major character, and it was the one character I had fallen in love with. I was devastated. Heartbroken. Reviewers today often state that Final Fantasy 7 taught gamers how to cry, and it definitely had that affect on me.  Aerith’s death affected the rest of my playthrough, and every subsequent playthrough. To this day, when Aerith’s theme plays, on the radio, in a game, in a movie, I get a little choked up.  Every single time.

Screen capture of Final Fantasy 7 from the final battle of the game
The One-Winged Angel

I think my first complete playthrough took me about 60 hours. I thought I’d explored every nook and cranny of the world of Final Fantasy 7.  Until I got to the end battle, and lost.  Despite the Gameshark cheats I used, Sephiroth defeated me.

Around this time, my parents got dial-up internet. I started finding online guides and info bits. I realized then that I’d barely scratched the surface, that there was still so much to uncover and explore. I hadn’t even bothered with Chocobo breeding, for starters, and that turned out to be a big, big mistake.

Screen capture from Final Fantasy 7 of the Knights of the Round summon materia in use
One of the Knights of the Round

So I played through the entire game again, looking for every secret, every easter egg, every last thread of character development and story development.  And I obsessed over chocobo breeding, so that I could get a fabled golden chocobo and find a secret island containing the most powerful summon materia of all – Knights of the Round.  My love of Arthurian mythology made me love that materia (not to mention it was what allowed me to finally beat Sephiroth.)

I found out that dialogue choices and how much time you spent with characters determined who would go with you on a ‘date’ at the Golden Saucer, and I was determined to see every single version of that date, so that meant multiple playthroughs.

And once, just once, I played through without the Gameshark to challenge myself and “do it right.” I didn’t feel like it changed my enjoyment of the game one way or another, because the story, oh the story and the characters were what drew me in, made me obsessed.

I have no real way of knowing for sure, but as of today, if I had to guess, I’d say I’ve completed at least twenty complete playthroughs of the original game, including once last year when the game was re-released on the PS4, so that my wife could see the original game (after we completed FF7 Remake.) Including all of the ‘false starts’ from my first experiences, I’d guess I’ve logged at least 1,500 hours of game play over the last 25 years.

Maybe I’m obsessed.

But no other video game has inspired me, touched me, or left an impression on my soul like this game has. Some have come close. The Elder Scrolls series, especially Skyrim, certainly has. And the recent FF7 Remake is right up there with it, but that’s for another post to discuss.

Speaking of which, this concludes part 1.  In part 2, I’ll discuss more of why FF7 had such a huge impact on me, and in part 3, I’ll talk more about the additional games that have featured characters from FF7, as well as the resurgence that has come in the shape of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake Trilogy.

If you have a story of your own first experience with Final Fantasy 7, or your favorite game, share with us in the comments section!  I’d love to read all of your stories :)

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

ADHD, Imagination, and Neurodivergence

Image of Ms. MarvelLast week was the premier of Ms. Marvel on Disney+, and as a long-time fan of the MCU, I was excited to watch a new chapter!  Especially about a character that I had practically no knowledge of – Kamala Khan.

Before hitting even the halfway mark through the episode, something remarkable happened – I related to Kamala on a level that I have never, ever felt with an on-screen character before.

Specifically, traits and attributes of her character that screamed ADHD.  And lo-and-behold, my wife looked it up, and Kamala does indeed canonically have ADHD in the comics.

It struck me as interesting that I related so deeply to a character who, on almost every other level, was someone whose life was wholly unfamiliar to me.  As a white male, who lived in a fairly open household with parents who trusted me and let me do what I wanted (most of the time,) I could never relate to Kamala’s struggles as a woman of color in a strict household with an overbearing mother.

But her ADHD.  Oh, her ADHD and how it presented itself, and even more importantly, how it was depicted in the episode took me back to my childhood and teen years.

Imagination and ADHD

The director and producers of Ms. Marvel did something rather clever and unique with Ms. Marvel (and if you’re wondering, no I’m not going to spoil the episode’s plot for you.)  Watch Kamala’s surroundings throughout the episode.  Especially when she’s talking to one of her friends about her ideas and plans.  Her surroundings come alive!  What she’s imagining, what she’s picturing in her head comes alive around her, and everyday signs, pictures, shapes, they all become the tapestry of her thoughts and feelings.

Some might see this as an homage to how comics are drawn, and not having read Ms. Marvel’s comics, I don’t know if that’s how they portrayed it in the comics or not.  But beyond just a clever and fun way to make dialogue scenes more interesting, it reminded me exactly of how I was, and to an extent, how I still am.

When I was a kid, I got in trouble a lot for being distracted.  I have a very vivid memory of imagining a No. 2 pencil as a spaceship in class (this was pre-teen years,) and in my imagination, it was under attack by who knows what (I don’t remember that part so well.)  What I do remember is the ‘ship’ took a bad hit, an explosion ensued…and then the whole class was laughing at me.

I’d made the explosion sounds out-loud.  It had become so real in my imagination that I just made the sound without thinking about it.  This was perhaps when teachers and maybe even my parents began to suspect I ‘suffered’ from ADHD.

Art of everyday objects as spaceshipsThis was how my life was.  Everywhere I looked, everything I saw, there was a potential story.  There was something beyond the mundane, beyond the ‘real.’  In another “Holy crap, I can relate to that!” moment in the show, at one point Kamala begins to imagine Captain Marvel flying around the buildings they were passing by in a vehicle, and I immediately remembered doing the same thing (with other fictional characters, or even imagining myself) throughout my life.  Anytime I was a passenger on a super-long journey, someone or something was flying along next to us, weaving in and out of power poles, soaring above farm crops, and overall just having a lot more fun than I was sitting in the car.

Unfortunately, this active imagination was a distraction to ‘normal’ work, and my schoolwork suffered horribly.  Medicine helped, and I won’t ever say that I am against medication to help with ADHD – it is unfortunate that, at least for the moment, ADHD creates additional struggles to ‘fit in’ to the mold of the neurotypical world we live in.  Medicine for ADHD helped me control and focus my imagination, and allowed me to excel in school.  Later, it became integral to functioning in a day job.

But this connection to Kamala, this realization of seeing someone go through the exact same issues related to ADHD that I did at her age started something inside of me.  Because I noticed how her teachers and other school staff treated her and berated her imagination.  I saw how her parents, particularly her mother, thought of it.  And I started to realize something.

Neurodivergence and ADHD

Grogu Starfest 2022 LogoLet me rewind a bit.  (Sorry, but welcome to my ADHD mind.)  Several weeks ago, Beck and I attended Starfest 2022 (which sadly was the final Starfest.)  While there, Beck got to briefly meet Michelle Hurd, most recently known in her role as Raffi from Star Trek Picard.  Their interaction was incredible, and both Beck and I found that we were interested to learn more about Michelle Hurd.

So we made sure to attend the actress’s Q&A session later that day.  Many interesting topics came up, and by the end, I thought that Michelle was just a beautiful, lovely human being.

Michelle Hurd at Starfest 2022
Michelle Hurd at Starfest 2022

But one thing in particular struck me – when she spoke about neurodivergence, and her experiences as a neurodivergent, and her support of neurodivergent persons in the world.  While I cannot recall word-for-word what Michelle said, I remember her saying something along the lines of, “we may not get to where you are as fast as you did, but we’ll still get there, and we’ll get to go on this incredible journey along the way!”

Somewhere in there, either by Michelle or by one of the questions asked, ADHD was linked to neurodivergence.  It sparked something in me that was later ignited by Ms. Marvel.  It made me realize that there’s not actually anything wrong with me.  Because while I may not think or even act like a neurotypical person, I still have value, and I bring something unique and beautiful and wondrous to this world.

Just like Kamala, whose active imagination is precisely what she needs to conjure physical manifestations with her newfound powers.  It is her ADHD that becomes perhaps her greatest strength.

I came to realize that it, too, gives me strength.  I may not have a super power, but I am a writer.  A storyteller.  My imagination gives me the power to conjure new worlds, new characters, and bring them all to life.  Those ships I saw clashing in school were just the beginning.

…if only the world saw the benefit in it.

Neurodivergence Is Rejected By The World

It seems only fate or destiny…that after all of these realizations and understandings, a friend of mine posted a Twitter thread on Facebook that immediately brought it all home, and helped me understand something about myself that has eluded my comprehension for so very long.

To read the entire Tweet thread, click here – it was written by a person named Josh Weed, whom I’ve never heard of before this weekend, but whose words have had a resounding impact upon me.  Basically, he states that by pushing ADHD kids the same way you push neurotypical kids, you are harming them.

That is such a watered down oversimplification of the entire thread, and I encourage you to read it, because as I read through the entire thread, the pieces clicked in my life.  The same way I saw how Kamala’s teachers and parents treated her, pushed her away from her gifts and towards what they considered normal and successful…

It was the same as my life.  I would wager every person with ADHD could relate to it.  I was pushed by absolutely everyone around me, some more harshly (some of my grade school teachers in particular) than others, to work towards a ‘normal’ education, a ‘normal’ career.  It was ingrained in my head that flights of fancy, imagination, etc, were of little value, or were just a funky quirk.  So many times was I told that “You’ll never make a lot of money on writing, so why are you bothering with it?”

To be fair, the stability offered by a ‘neurotypical’ life is a nice-to-have…but it became so much more than a nice-to-have for me.  It became the only real goal that was worth anything.

Oh I never stopped imagining.  I never stopped wanting to be a writer.  I knew I would always be a storyteller, and throughout my life, I’ve put considerable effort towards that goal.

But I’ve always stopped short of total commitment to it.  I’ve always diverted my attention to ‘real’ work.  At least as best as I could.  Sometimes having to fall back on medicine to help keep me from wandering too far off course.

So what has this done to me?  What have the words “You have so much potential” as noted in Josh Weed’s post done to me over the course of decades?

It’s made me doubt myself.  No, that’s a light way of putting it.  It’s made me hypercritical of myself.

“I have so much potential, and I’m not realizing it, so I must be a failure.”

“I can do better, so I must be lazy for not doing better.”

“I must be stupid.  I must just be bad.”

A lifetime of insecurities that never, ever made sense to me.  The kinds of insecurities, the kinds of terror and self-flagellation I induced upon myself made NO sense to me or my friends and family.  It was so bad that one would have thought I’d grown up abused, and that absolutely was not the case.  My parents were loving, caring, and never once abused me.

So what was the cause of this?  Why did I hate myself and doubt myself so very, very much?

And now…I think maybe I’m starting to understand.  It was something far more insidious than actual abuse.  Something systemic, and has been there through every moment of my existence.

Society rejected my gifts.  Society told me I was different, and different was bad, so I needed to conform to neurotypical ideals, no matter what it did to me on an emotional and psychological level.

Where This Has All Led To

I currently have a very stable job.  It makes a fair amount of money that means not only is my life relatively stable, but we live rather comfortable lives (sudden inflation this year not withstanding.)  In my off times, when I’m not recharging my imagination with other stories (movies, books, video games,) I’m working on my own stories.

In fact, on top of my day job, I’ve published 6 books (with 2 more coming,) and, well…there’s one other storytelling objective I’m about to complete, but that’s a story for another time.

My point is…I should be happy.  I should be relatively satisfied with my life.  That’s what society tells me.  Stable job, stable marriage, a consistent hobby – how could I ever want for more?

But anyone who has known me recently knows that I am increasingly dissatisfied with my career.  Hell, more than that, in the past decade I’ve felt increasingly trapped.

Artwork of business man cagedCan you imagine it?  You’re in a cage just big enough to sit up in.  You’re given scraps to keep you alive, but that’s it.  Not enough to thrive, only survive, leaving you with a persistent, unquenchable hunger and thirst.  But out there, beyond your prison cell, is all of the food and drink you could ever want.  Enough to sate you forever.

But every time you’ve ever even thought about escaping your prison, you’ve been beaten.  Whipped.  Cut.  So much so that when the cage door is opened…the idea of leaving it terrifies you, and you stay hidden in your cage, where it’s safe.  You’re not happy, but you’re safe.

That’s how I feel.  I…can’t break away.  I can’t quit my day job, not until/unless my writing somehow becomes a stable source of income.  Except, ask any writer who does this full-time, and they’ll tell you that it is never a stable source of income.  Ask any creative and they’ll tell you that.  There are exceptions of course – the very famous ones that the media fawns over adoringly.  They make more than enough money on their gigs that, usually, in between publications/gigs/etc, they don’t have to worry.  But they’re the exception.

Writing will never be a stable source of income.  Neither will my other creative endeavor (that I’ll talk about more in a later post, when I’m ready to announce it to the world.)  So when, if ever, can I leave my cage behind and do what I was always born to do?

I don’t know the answer to that.  Maybe never.  Goodness knows I’ve felt helpless about it.  I’ve written about it before after hearing Peter Dinklage’s commencement speech, but I didn’t quite understand myself or my situation back then like I do now.

So maybe…maybe understanding why I am the way I am, and how I got to where I am, will be enough to get the ball rolling.

But even still…I have a lot of work ahead of me.

The road is long and hard.  My journey is just beginning.

The Return of COVID

Hi everyone,

First and foremost, I want to assure everyone that, at least as of right now, my wife and I are fine, and the release schedule for Sentinels 3 and Sword of Dragons 4 are still on-schedule, if barely.

But as the title suggests, Beck and I both tested positive for COVID-19 recently.  And it kicked our asses something fierce.  That is despite us being vaccinated, so I don’t even want to imagine what it would have been like without that.

This was also my second time (we think) getting it.  I originally was suspected of having COVID in early to mid 2020, before tests were widely available to confirm.  And just as I’d been reading about from the CDC and other sources, the new variants definitely had some variations in symptoms.  Especially regarding sore throats, coughing, and nausea.  Thankfully the new variant is less likely to cause loss of taste or smell, so if we had that symptom at all, it was very minor (hard to tell – was it that, or were we just plugged up so much from congestion?)

How did we get it?  Unfortunately we think we got it at Starfest 2022, the first convention we’d been to this year (and possibly the only one we’ll go to.)  No mask mandate was in effect, which wasn’t a surprise, and incubation timeline-wise, it lines up.

In any case, that’s all the time I’m going to spend on this, except to encourage all of you – get your vaccines and boosters!  Social distancing, masking – these are becoming measures that the population at large is unwilling to ‘endure,’ and the government (local, state, and federal) are unwilling to enforce, so your best defense against severe illness is vaccination!

Thanks for reading, and be sure to keep an eye out here for news about Sentinels 3 in the near future!  Not to mention some other, less expected, ever-more-exciting news.  I’ve been working on a project that I’ve kept out of the public eye, but the time to reveal it is soon at hand :D

-Jon Wasik

Can Side Characters Make It As Main Characters?

It might go without saying that characters can make or break a story.  In fact, for many of us, it’s why we read a book, watch a movie, or play a video game – the characters in it.

Surprisingly (or at this point, perhaps not surprisingly,) often it’s a side character or a villain who becomes a fan-favorite.  The Minions in Despicable Me, Puss-in-Boots in Shrek 2, or K2SO in Rogue One.  In my own Sword of Dragons series, Kailar was an instant fan-favorite!

In fact, there are plenty of cases out there where a side character ‘steals the show.’  But does that mean they should get their own standalone story?  Can supporting characters carry their own narrative?

Ultimately, the answer may be “It depends on the character,” or perhaps even, “It depends on the writer.”  But for the fun of it, let’s take a look at a couple of examples of both failures and successes.  Be warned – these are mostly subjective, and what I think of as success or failure might not be the same as what you do, and that’s okay.  Feel free to express your thoughts and opinions in the comments!

Those Who Fell Short

I’ll be the first to admit, when Shrek 2 came out and I first heard Antonio Banderas voicing Puss-in-Boots, I thought it was perfect!  I saw it with a friend, and we instantly turned to one another and at the same time said his name in his accent, and then cackled in the theater (which earned us a few curious looks from other patrons.)

Naturally, when it was announced that Puss was getting his own movie, I was excited!  And while I never saw it in theaters, I immediately bought the DVD, went home, watched it…and wished I’d rented it first.

I have no doubt there are many out there who are screaming, “Are you crazy??  That was a great movie!”  And the box office and Rotten Tomatoes score would agree with you.  But for me, it was…shallow.  Uninteresting.  The story was unengaging to me, and while the cliches that Puss played to in Shrek 2 worked for a side character, the writers did little to expand the character beyond cliches in the standalone.

Honestly I remember very little of the movie, mostly because of this.  I have only watched it once, and based on reviews and fan ratings, maybe it’s worthy of a re-watch (I mean, I own it, so why not?)  But for me, this is a side character who didn’t work on his own.

The Minions are another example of something that fell short, in my opinion.  While Box Office tickets say one thing, reviews tend towards agreeing with me (with a 55% on Rotten Tomatoes.)  These were hilarious characters, and for a while, I was honestly obsessed with them!  I thought they were the best part of the Despicable Me movies (not to say those movies were bad without them, I really enjoy them!) and, again, was excited for their standalone.

Thankfully, I didn’t buy this one, and ended up watching it on Netflix.  It suffered from a different syndrome – gag syndrome.  Not gag as in sick, but gag as in one innane joke after another.  And while those slapstick-esque jokes worked for side characters in Despicable Me….not so much in a movie that is nothing but that.

And for an honorable mention – Ghost Facers, of Supernatural fame.  Just…no.  Why anyone thought that would make a good show is beyond me…

Those That Worked

A slightly different source, Deadpool started as a villain in the Marvel comics, though he eventually grew to be a beloved antihero.  It was, therefore, a massive disappointment when his character was horribly written in the Wolverine Origins live-action movie (though let’s face it, out of all of the X-Men movies, that one was just all around bad.)

Thankfully, Ryan Reynolds believed there was something to be had for the Merc with a Mouth, and DP got his standalone debut.  Deadpool was such a popular movie that it inspired studios to try more rated R super hero movies (and thankfully, did Wolverine justice in Logan.)

Why did Deadpool work in a standalone?  Because he was more than just a cliche (though he certainly uses those to great effect.)  While the gags that DP employs are fantastic, and his breaking of the fourth wall is sometimes derided by viewers, the character himself has a deep and interesting backstory that takes everything beyond the apparent shallowness of the surface story.

There’s a slew of other Marvel-based IP recently where MCU side characters were given their own shows, and at least in my opinion, every single one of them has worked well so far.  I chalk that up to superior writing – those running the show of the MCU certainly know their stuff.  (Argue with me if you like, MCU has proven themselves through reviews and box office numbers.)

Another wildly popular spin-off is Torchwood, in which the side character Jack Harkness joins an ensemble cast ‘stuck’ on Earth in the same universe as Doctor Who.  The show certainly had its bad episodes, but overall I enjoyed it, and to this day, there are many loyal fans (just go to any Doctor Who or Sci-Fi convention to see!)

What Do You Think?

What are your thoughts, readers?  Do you agree or disagree?  Are there other examples of ones that worked or didn’t work you’d like to share?  I’ve no doubt I missed a lot!

And do you think Kailar from the Sword of Dragons should get her own story someday?  (Not that I’m planning one, but I am curious what you all think.)

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

Toss A Rating To Your Writer

If I had an advocate like Jaskier to sing my praises, I’d hope he’d sing, “Toss a rating to your writer, oh readers a’plenty, oh readers a’plenty!”  And now congratulations, if you’ve seen Netflix’s Witcher, you probably have a certain song stuck in your head ;)  What can I say, except you’re welcome!  :D

Today marks the launch of Chronicles of the Sentinels 2, Retribution, and I’m so excited to present this newest chapter of Sentinels to the world!

But as a writer, there’s one thing I often struggle with – ratings.  The struggle is real ;) and except for the most famous of them all, just about every writer out there knows the struggle.

I mean, sure, there’s all sorts of purported hacks and tricks out there to being a successful writer (one of which is to write and publish a new novel every month.  That’s ludicrous and unsustainable!)  But the one thing that everyone can agree upon, including statistics, is that ratings and reviews make or break a writer.

That is to say, no ratings breaks a writer, dozens or hundreds makes a writer.

I wrote about it before, but an analysis shows that a reader that has to choose between one book with ten 5-star ratings, or a book with one hundred or one thousand 3- or 4-star ratings, will choose the latter almost every time.  There’s a bias involved, but as someone who doesn’t study statistics and behavior, I don’t know what that bias is called.  Even though the latter book has worse ratings, it has more of them, and that makes a reader more likely to try it.

As this article I read not long ago points out, there’s an even greater reason ratings have become more important than ever.  “…the slush pile (unfortunately) has been dumped into the reader’s lap.  There are a lot of bad books out there.”  The author goes on to say, “Want to know the bigger problem?  There are a lot of good books out there.”

Ratings help readers find the good ones.

So to all of you avid readers out there, but especially to my fellow writers out there, your ratings are important.  Your reviews even more-so.  Do your writers a favor and toss a rating to your writer.

We’ll love you for it :)

Retribution Available Everywhere!

Don’t forget to snag your copy of Retribution, available today!

Why Do You Pursue Your Dream?

For most of my life, I’ve dreamt of becoming a full-time writer.  It’s one of many dreams I’ve pursued – some I’ve achieved, some I’m working on, and some I fear will never be fulfilled.

But a recent article I read started me thinking about what it is, particularly in regards to my writing, that I dream of.  What it is I want and why.  What do I want out of my dream?  And after 27 years of writing, has it been worth it?

Before the question even finished forming in my mind, I already knew the answer – yes.  It has been.  I may not be where I want to be at this point in my life and career, but that doesn’t negate the journey that has led me this far.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it.

Reading that article (which, by the way, has some…interesting examples cited,) helped me think critically about it, and as is pointed out in the article, if you’re in love with only the end goal…you might not end up being happy working towards it, or maintaining it once you achieve it.

Would I love to someday be so famous as a writer, my books so beloved and purchased by so many, that I never have to worry about money again?  Absolutely.

However, that isn’t what I dream of.

I dream of writing.  I desire to write, pure and simple.  Because when I write, I come alive.  I feel alive!  I feel like I have a purpose, and that by writing, I’m fulfilling it.

Maybe that’s why I retreated into writing so much during the height of the pandemic.  The world was falling apart around me (and sometimes still feels like it is.)  But if I’m writing, I feel…in control and purposeful and wonderful and giddy and complete!  So I wrote.

Reading that strange but somehow insightful article, I realized that pursuing my dream, even now after so many setbacks and hardships in my career, has been the right thing to do.  It always was.  From the moment I wrote that first horribly-written story in grammar school, all the way through to now, publishing my 6th novel in just a few days.

To be sure, I’m frustrated with my recent setbacks.  I thought last fall would be a major step forward, that my goal would finally draw near, or at least be visible on the horizon.

I’m frustrated that I can’t write every day.  I’m frustrated that, in some ways, I’ve actually fallen backwards a little in my pursuit – with my work life having ‘normalized,’ I have less time to write.  That I won’t get 3 novels written in a single year (I’ll be lucky to finish one.)  And that my sales did not drastically increase.

But I still love writing.  Every moment I get to steal away from life and write even a handful of pages in my next book (it’s a YA Sci-Fi, by the way,) feels like a victory, a triumph, and for those brief, fleeting moments, the tension in my shoulders melt, and I feel whole again.

So, is there a moral to this story?  Perhaps.  But instead I’ll just give my unsolicited advice and say that if you’re in love not only with your dream, but with the process of getting there and maintaining it, stay the course.

Steal those little moments.

Savor them.

And never, ever give up.

Middle Story Conundrum – Sentinels and Star Wars

In 2020, thanks to all of the lock downs and days off from work, I was able to do what I’d never done before – write three novels in one year!

When it came time to write the second novel in the Chronicles of the Sentinels trilogy, I knew I had to do it right.  Too often, I’ve read or watched trilogies in which the middle story was just filler, and did little to advance the story or characters.  I’ve also heard people say they hate when all middle stories do is focus on inter-character relationships and don’t give enough action, adventure, or plot development.

So I looked to one of the most famous, and well-liked middle stories of all for inspiration – The Empire Strikes Back.

Except, back then, when I started analyzing Empire to try to figure out what made it work so well, I was a bit confounded.

What Makes A Great Story?

So what makes a great story?  Honestly if you can find a Universal answer to that question, you’ll be rich for life ;)  But one of the things that is drilled into a writer’s head from the moment they take any creative writing classes or go to any peer events like writer critique meetings is that of a character achieving a major goal.

When it comes to genre fiction like fantasy, this can come in many forms, but often is through action-packed sequences of daring adventure and trying battles against the forces of evil.

But in the end, the good guys win, and get what they were striving for in that story…right?

Except, that didn’t happen in Empire Strikes Back.

The good guys didn’t win.  At all.  The best they did was survive.

I mean, yeah that’s an accomplishment, given the forces that were arrayed against them.  But they didn’t defeat the Empire.  They didn’t destroy any weapons or win a strategic victory or gain ground.  In fact, they lost ground.  They lost an important ally.  They lost far more than they won.

So what made it work?  What makes it so popular compared to the other Star Wars movies?  (And yes, I know it isn’t everyone’s favorite, but it is definitely super popular.)

The Right Combination – Action, Character, Plot

Luke learns the ways of the Force.  Han and Leia fall in love.  Luke learns about his father.  There’s a healthy dose of sci-fi action, fantastic music, amazing set pieces.  And the fact that our heroes are never safe until the very end (and even then, one of them isn’t safe,) leaves the audience on the edge of their seats throughout.

Empire was the right combo of all of that and more.

It also expertly built upon the fact that these characters were already established.  Other than introducing one new protagonist more than halfway through, it didn’t have to focus on establishing new characters like A New Hope did.  It also didn’t act like the protagonists hadn’t changed or hadn’t gone through more adventures between the first and second movie.  They were already different at the beginning of Empire, and they all changed again by the end of the movie.

It also didn’t rehash the story from A New Hope, something far too many sequels do (I’m looking at you, Ready Player Two.)

In short, Empire Strikes Back made all the right moves, hit all the right beats, and not only satisfied the audience with quality story telling, it left them wanting more (what happens to Han?  Do they rescue him?)

Retribution – Striking the Right Chord

Legacy introduced the characters for Sentinels, the Universe, the stakes.  So when it came time to write Retribution, I knew that I would try to hit all those same beats that Empire Strikes Back did.  I didn’t have to introduce the characters, and this allowed me to hit the ground running (literally….page one, Chris is running) and allowed me to give the characters more room to develop and grow.

And while I didn’t intentionally mean to make it so much like Empire as I did, in the end of the book, the characters survive.  That is their biggest accomplishment.

But not their only one.  Of course, what victory they do celebrate, I’ll not spoil ;)  But it was a link to Legacy, integrating the first book while setting the stage for the third, all while telling its own story.

Plus the villain has their own victory to celebrate in the end.

If I did my job right, Retribution will be even more popular than Legacy.  And it definitely will leave you wanting more!

Don’t Forget to Pre-Order!

Thanks for reading, and if you’re ready to continue the journey with Chris and the Sentinels, don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Retribution today!  Retribution comes out on February 19th, 2022.

Kindle Edition
Amazon Print
Barnes & Noble Print

-Jon Wasik

 

Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.

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A fan-based blog for Disney news and opinions!

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Writing Through the Brain Fog

C. R. Pigg

ASPIRING NOVELIST

Et in arcaedia, ego.

Saving the world, one book sale at a time.

The Writing Process

All about books! Reviews, discussions, promotions and, of course, my writing progress!

Fantasy Author's Handbook

Advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, and horror

Elin's Era

Life under the thinking tree

T. M. White

Former Home of Dieselpunk Fantasy Writer T. M. White

Miracle Movies

If it's a Good Movie, it's a Miracle.

The Little Mermaid

MAKING A DIFFERENCE, ONE STEP AT A TIME

Treeshallow Musings

writer, book reviewer, daydreamer

Arcadia's Roost

the art of the vernacular

The Cat's Write

Milly Schmidt

Kim Harrison

The View From My Office

ankitab

Space to share your thoughts with 'The Reader's View'