Behind the scenes of Deathstorm
Several years ago, I entered a writing contest for an indie publisher. At the time I had a friend named Vance who was interested in learning how to develop a plot. We sat down and we created the bones of the story in a fun and very memorable jam session. Vance, being 20 something, moved on but I decided to write the story without her.
The contest had asked to, in less than 5000 words, write a story about superheroes and zombies. I had early on decided that it was going to be set in the era of the original 1930’s costumed detectives. I was always fascinated by the millionaire turned crime fighter concept from that time. Out of the great depression, there was this notion that money could solve all problems. Bruce Wayne, with his free time and millions, could, literally, afford to fight crime pro bono. A hero of the people, fighting for the people and taking nothing from them.
I wrote my tale and the end result wasn’t amazing. It had some teeth, but it wasn’t biting like the zombies it was written about. I reworked it a few times and by the time I had a final draft I was informed that the company that I wrote it for had closed.
Self-publishing was a thing back then and so I put it up on Amazon as a 99 cent PDF. I made an ad for it with some buddies named Ronnie and Robin. We made the script on the spot in a ramshackle recording studio and did our best voice-over imitations. Robin cranked out the video in a few hours and you can judge for yourself how well he did.
And the Oscar goes to…
I sold about sixteen copies.
I refocused on webcomics after that and without much success there either. All things art and writing fell to the wayside. Unlike the Batman, I couldn’t afford to fight the good fight. For a few years, it just sat there as a kindle short story collecting digital dust. Every year I’d get a few bucks, but my writing career had fizzled. I turned to webcomics and spit out a pretty cool yarn about weird alien worlds, but Deathstorm didn’t move.
Just before COVID-19 hit, I decided to jump back in. I got this and a few other stories ready to rewrite and then the social apocalypse happened. The time of COVID had a lot of personal challenges. Writing and art took me away from that very frustrating time. I reworked the story again, this time with a few years of life under my belt, and a better understanding of how to tell a story.
There was a lot of research that went into this, but because I wrote it nearly 8 years ago, I had lost all my notes. I had to reacquaint myself with that world. I spent hours reading Wikipedia, watching YouTube, and reading old magazine and newspaper articles, to get the feel of it. There are some nerd easter eggs in there if you’re a history buff.
There was an Egyptian display at the Chicago Museum in 1938. I had written about the sarcophagi before I knew that and so it turned out serendipitous. There is some slang left in the story, but I dialed it back when people who test read it had a hard time understanding it.
I love writing retro because I get to do all the research. I love getting into the past and trying to see that world as if I were living in it but writing a period piece has challenges. Language shifts more than one would think and in a shorter time than expected.
With a short story, you must be concise. There is this desire to be accurate, but to get a modern reader to understand the context of “getting ossified with a Sheba and having a few Mazuma’s leftover…” might take some setup. Is there room in the word count? Will the reader get it? Does it matter if they do? Will it slow the story or confuse the reader? Does it just sound cool?
As an author, you pick and choose how to answer those questions. I left in some slang, but for the most part, I kept it in a modern tone. I hope someday to write a more comprehensive story about the late ’30s. The world was literally moving up as cities reached to the sky, and we were at the very shores of science, wading into the waters of relativity.
Deathstorm was a passion project and I hope that all the energies that I put into were felt by the reader. Thank you for reading it, and remember if you liked it, I still am not Bruce Wayne.
So, thank you to a girl named Vance, a deep-voiced buddy named Ronnie, and a video editor that didn’t charge much but gave a lot.