March, 2003 – “Agents”, a Matrix fanfic is uploaded.
December, 2007 – MF1.0, chapter 1 is uploaded
June, 2008 – MF1.0, last chapter is uploaded.
September, 2018 – MF4.0, chapter 1 is uploaded.
June, 2020 – MF4.0, last chapter is uploaded.
In that time, I’ve gone from 17 to 35. I’ve grown up, found the love of my life, confronted my mental health issues, had a couple of major breakdowns and a lot of little ones, moved states and continue to find some kind of balance in myself, and some definition of happy that works.
Well, I’m adulting, I’m not sure I’ll ever really grow up.
The world knows about the four major rewrites that have consumed the last ten years of my life, before that, there were fifteen more – the process of going from fanfic to original fic wasn’t an easy or straight path – I did multiple different worldbuilds, some closer to Matrix, some almost closer to something that might belong in a Final Fantasy game.
Fantasy or sci-fi, fantasy or sci-fi, I couldn’t decide, so I had to find my balance of both.
Somewhere at the end of those fifteen drafts, I hated everything so much, I hated Stef so much I never wanted to see her again, write her again, or do…anything with her again. I had regurgitated everything so much that it never felt like it was going to work.
I had a full year when I didn’t write anything.
When I came out of that, I wrote three things in fairly short succession:
The start of a NaNoWriMo novel that was definitely on the Final Fantasy end of the spectrum – it involved “smoke” which was a kind of magic remnant that could be mined and used to power various devices. This smoke leaked from the core of the world, where a dead god was buried – and this became the genesis for the mirrors.
Bastion, a graphic novel script that was basically a 20-something guy revisiting the magic land he visited as a child – this is something I’d like to revisit and rewrite eventually, though it would take a lot of work as the worldbuild has changed significantly since then. Ryan and Stef had a background cameo in this, just one line of description talking about two people in suits at a cafe that the protagonist walked past. I still didn’t want to do anything with the Agency – at least consciously – but I guess part of me was already thinking about the wider worldbuild. And part of me was missing Stef, and this cameo was kind of a…”well, in some world, she’s okay, even if she’s not a toy I’m ever going to play with again”.
Dorian – his origin story, and what had been initially planned to be one a series of shorts I was going to do for each sin and virtue, anthology style, darker and grimmer, something that could be a pretender to the throne of Sandman.
It was in Dorian that the Agency was properly first mentioned, and I had planned on having them as a running background element, though never focusing on them as major players.
But the more distance I got from my writer’s block, and the more time passed, I started to really miss Stef. I felt like she was – even then – such a big part of my life that it didn’t feel right not to have…closure.
So working within the basic framework of the world I had loosely developed over the above three stories, I started toying with either a single novel or a limited series that would basically let me tell a Stef story, leave her in a good spot, and finally allow me to put her to rest, and then move on with my writing career.
This, ah, was met with limited success.
Even at this point, I had built up a backlog of half-formed ideas of stories I wanted to tell – and although some could be split off and done as individual stories like the planned Sin & Virtues series, more and more, things were building themselves back up around the Agency.
I missed fancy people in suits. I wanted to write an ongoing series with a bunch of characters I could develop and love.
But there was so much baggage from all the rewrites and worldbuilding and history and drama and…everything that it felt too enormous, too…much to do.
So I tried to have a frank conversation with myself – which is harder to do when you don’t have someone sensible helping you along, and tried to figure out what I really wanted, what story I wanted to tell, what…what I wanted to be known for.
Even then, the idea of being one of those writers who dedicated their life to one series appealed to me. I liked – and love – the idea of just building and building something for a lifetime. Making something so big and rich that you can explore a dozen different parts of it and still have hundreds more stories you could do.
Shade jokes that we’re building the Marvel universe, but I mean, kinda?
But when faced with all enough straws to break a herd of camels…I just threw everything away.
For the last fifteen drafts I had, in one degree or another, basically been iterating and reiterating the same story. I’d change why a thing happened, but not that it happened. The framing would be different, but the pace wouldn’t be.
Solstice might hide in extra-dimensional pockets or skip into a different simulation, but it was still always fundamentally the same.
Stef would get involved for different reasons, but she’d always end up dead at the end – oh, this is probably wild, even for the old guard – there used to be a ticking clock element to her story whereby she was dying for…some reason. In the original fanfic, it was that she’d come from a poor crop (someone fucked up in the baby fields), in others, the way she got recruited lead to issues that couldn’t be sorted (there was one version where she hacked into an Agency server and basically…downloaded a virus that corrupted her software).[You would think the new “poison pizza” scene is an homage to this old plot point, but you would be WRONG, I am not that clever – hell, I had forgotten about this whole subplot until I was writing this out.]
The same beats over and over, the same lines recycled a hundred times, stagnant, stagnant, stagnant. (Oh, and Curt dying every time because he was an active traitor, not a reformed Solstice.)
I started clean. Decided to serialise to keep myself pushing forward, writing without a net or time to stop and wallow in angst.
I brought Dorian in because he’d been fundamental to creating this new worldbuild, and because I thought, along with the scene with Death, it would definitely help to separate it, to show that there’s a lot more going on in the world than is touched on in the first book.
And 1.0 was a glorious fucking mess. There’s way too many characters, there’s stuff that doesn’t make sense, subplots that get abandoned, and so many spinning plates that it was impossible to control.
So while I soldiered on, I knew it wasn’t something that would be able to stay that way forever.
2.0 ran through the time when I had my most creative periods and my worst emotional periods. A breakdown where I didn’t put on pants for a month and kept threatening to walk into traffic; and weeks where I’d put out a chapter every day. The best of times and the worst of times.
But there was still a lot of baggage from 1.0 that just meant I could continue on and just…sort of retcon everything as we went, and have inconsistent canon for the first five/six books, or do a rewrite.
3.0 exists, so you know what I chose.
MF3.0 wasn’t bad, but everything else that came after that was. It just started to get mired down in misery and shit and…it was awful to write and just as bad to read, I would imagine. There’s way, way too much time spent torturing Stef in various ways.
It wasn’t what I wanted to write. It wasn’t what I wanted. I wasn’t proud of it.
Now, I’m not saying there’s not going to be dark moments in 4.0, that there’s not going to be angst or people getting hurt. What I am saying is…there’s not going to be as many. It’s not going to be pointless. (Hell, I’ve come up with a way to redo the limit tests in a way that isn’t awful).
The world is bad enough without my fiction being just another firehose filled with sewer water.
I hate that I write and rewrite and rewrite again. It’s Sisiphyian and the albatross around my neck. But every time, it has felt justified. Every time it has been because the story hasn’t felt…right.
I’ve been done with Mirrofall before, I’ve never been happy with Mirrorfall before.
Recruits, I’m happy.
It took a while to figure out what I wanted from the series – in the beginning, I wanted it to be this sort of fantasy world for people like Stef, who grew up without getting to escape into adventure. People who never found a wardrobe, a portal or truck-kun. A more relatable fantasy world, because you still got to keep your smartphone, but also got to interact with fairies.
The more I wrote, the more I understand myself, the more I know the people around me…you know what I figured out our fantasy is, what A&B really caters to?
We want family, we want friends, we want stability.
The fantasy isn’t being able to fly, it’s getting headpats from Ryan and being told you’re good enough. It’s imagining hanging out with the techs, in a space where you don’t have to worry about how you’re dressed, what pronouns you’re using or if you’re wearing Pride merch, so long as you’re on the right side of the debate in Trek vs. Wars.
It’s like, for Raz, the fantasy of escaping a one-room bedsit, because that’s all you can afford on a disability pension.
I want to create a world that’s fun, magical and exciting, but also one that feels safe, feels like home.
Sorry if that’s too soppy.
Stef and Ryan are the heart of the story, and I really, really feel like I got it right this time. It’s a found family speedrun because they’re both broken idiots who really need each other.
I’m happy with 4.0, and I don’t really feel the need to rewrite it ever again.
There’s one or two scenes I’m kind of “eh” about, and one or two lines I need to go back in and put in (like, Stef references Mags being a bird without anyone ever telling her), but that’s minor editorial stuff.
For the story, for the character work, for the feels, I’m happy.
I think I showed off the best possible version of these characters, people I’ve now known for ten years, if we start from 1.0. I know much hesitation goes into every one of Ryan’s actions, how Curt switches personalities depending on who he’s talking to, how Jonesy is absolutely normal, nothing to see here, and how terrifying and amazing Magnolia is.
And I have so many more stories I want to tell with these characters, and I’m looking forward to finally getting a chance to do so.