Sorry I’ve been away for a bit. Crunch time with the book launch date six weeks away and all. Anyway, what I thought I’d talk about over the next few posts is how Year Zero came to exist, and where the characters came from. Some of it may be information I’ve divulged elsewhere, and I’m sorry if I repeat myself. But this way all, or at least most, of it is in one place.
When I started writing Year Zero, I knew nothing about my protagonist. I was writing a different book at the time. A book which was, frankly, kicking my ass. One day I thought maybe I’d try a different voice and switch it up from third to first. I sat down and quickly typed it out. Sorry for the poor grammar and what not, but it looked like this:
“When I felt the cop’s hand on my shoulder, I knew I was screwed. I thought about running until I got a good look at him. He was big. Not the Mr. Universe kind of big, but the he probably runs ten miles a day kind. And me, well, I’m just a scrawny fourteen-year-old kid that’s never done a lick of exercise in his life. Sure, I can run when I must, but mostly I try not to have to. I’ve been alone on the streets since I was seven. That’s when the figments came and took everything, said they were tired of living and dying at the whims of humankind and that maybe it’d be nice if we lived and died at their pleasure for a change. Most people were stunned at first, as you can image. I mean, who would’ve ever thought that all the Tom Sawyers and monsters and stuff were real? And even if someone thought they were real, who’d of thought they were pissed? After the surprise wore off, some tried to resist, but when the other guy has dragons, Martian war machines, and gods on their side, what chance do you really stand? The resistance, and a few billion people, died in about an hour. Two of those billions were people I called mom and dad.”
“The first few months were the hardest. I was cold a lot, hungry even more, and yeah, I cried, so what. Then I discovered I was good with my hands. I could make things disappear faster than Merlin evaporated whole armies. That’s not to say I was never unlucky and ended up getting pinched cuz I did. Twice. Which is why feeling that hand on my shoulder was such a problem. Three strikes and you’re out. Out meaning a trip to The Academy. No one really knew what went on there, only that no one ever came back.”
I didn’t like it. Not for that book anyway, but I saved it because that’s what we writers do, save every scrap, or half-baked idea.
Then shit happened. You all lived through it, too. I watched as we all started to hate each other. I mean really deep down, spit in the face hate. It had been baking since at least the eighties, but now it was finally done. The toothpick came out clean. You know. So, I asked myself what things would look like if we took it all to its extreme end. And I pulled out that old scrap of electronic paper and started writing again.
For the first page or so, I had a rough idea that Joey was a boy, but as I wrote more, I started thinking he was she. Joey didn’t have a name at this point. I just wrote X wherever I needed a name. After some time, I decided I had to choose a name because the name means a lot, it can really inform the character. I mean, you’re going to write Melvin completely differently than you’d write Chad, if you follow.
The first thing I did was start with the last name. I knew he/she was a character meant to warn people about the consequences of being uninvolved, but also one that had to explain a bit of backstory, the news of the day. I thought of the idea of a town crier, sometimes called a bellman. As far back as medieval times, they were guys whose job was to ring a bell and read official proclamations.
I also know this character was anxious, maybe even had an anxiety disorder. This I pulled from memory. As a child, I was kind of anxious all the way through high school. The whole clique, judgey thing kids do scared the crap out of me. And I was bullied. Almost every day. And no one did anything about. Not teacher’s, not administrators. It’s probably why I identify with this song so much.
I pulled all these experiences together and understood that whoever Crier, physically cried a lot from all the pain he/she/they experienced daily. It’s what made up their ‘normal’ day. Hence, Cryer was born.
I still hadn’t decided if this character identified as male or female. Thus, I needed a name that fit whatever I decided. Spoiler Alert: I never did. There really aren’t a lot of choices. I went with Joey. Short for Joseph or Josephine. Joey Cryer. Truth be told, sometimes I thought of the character a little like Duckie Dale from Pretty in Pink, played by Jon Cryer, and at others like Joey Potter (Katie Holmes) from Dawson’s Creek. I can point you to exact paragraphs, especially in the earlier parts of Year Zero, which are written as a particular gender. For example, the opening slowly morphed into being a male perspective, but the first day of high school was always written from a female one.
Well, I think we’ll pick it up from here next time before this post gets waaaay too long. I know too late. Anyway, until next time, as Bill and Ted would say, “be excellent to each other.”