I have recently undertaken the task of revitalizing a series of novels that have been out of print for several years. It’s proving to be a challenge, for several distinct reasons. First, the material is among my earliest published work and I’ve had lots of time to rethink what I wrote. More important, though, is the fact that both my writing style and my view of the world have changed significantly in the time since I wrote the original.
Throughout 2006, I crafted an extensive story about a group of people who lived extremely long lives, up to thousands of years. I called the work Eternal and saw it as a single volume which ended up being well in excess of six hundred pages. The idea for it sprang from a single image I had been carrying around in my mind since I was in college in the eighties. A woman walks into a museum and locates a painting of herself from hundreds of years before. A man is there, looking at the painting and remarks on it, “Absolutely stunning.” The woman faces him and says, “Why, thank you.” The man turns to her to clarify that he meant the painting, sees her face, looks again at the painting, then says to her, “Excuse me” and moves away from her. She laughs. A moment later, a man behind her says, “Still turning heads, I see.”
That was it. I had a very clear vision of both the woman and the man who addresses her at the end because I based both on actors with whom I was familiar from soap operas I had been watching while I was in college. The woman was based on Mary Kay Adams, who had been featured on both As the World Turns and Guiding Light and the man was based on William Fichtner, who I had seen on As the World Turns. Sci-fi fans will recognize Adams also as Grilka, the Klingon who marries Quark in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and from the series Babylon 5. Viewers will know Fichtner from a number of onscreen roles, including Invasion, Prison Break, and Crossing Lines. I did not base the characters on the actors themselves, rather, I cast them in the roles of the characters in the narrative that was playing in my head.
When I sat down to try writing my first novel sometime in 2006, the very first scene I put on paper was the encounter with the man and woman, which I set at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. My plan was to center the narrative around the two characters, who I called Charles and Renee Fox. Both had been alive for more than a thousand years but neither were vampires or other supernatural entities. The only vision I had for the characters was that some genetic quirk gave them extremely long lives and the ability to resist illness and recover from injuries faster than regular humans. Otherwise, they were just regular people.
Along the way, I crafted an antagonist who I named Bergeron, named after the Kurt Vonnegut short story “Harrison Bergeron”. I envisioned a scene introducing him where he murders a young prostitute in an alley in Whitechapel, London, using the Ripper killings as a cover. The scene ends with the woman rising from the dead, saying, “What happened? Where am I?” Without realizing it, I had created a character who would come to dominate Eternal, Vickie Seely, who reinvents herself as prominent philanthropist, Victoria Wells.
I dubbed the characters “long-timers”.