I did not actively sit down to trigger every single thing I could at once in conceiving and writing my first stories for Ophite, but considering that I didn’t, it’s a fair list:
- American black man, about 40
- felon, convict; death row is involved but [deleted for spoilers]
- religious sect leader, subset heretic
- founder of an intentional community; in combination with the above, that means “cult leader”
- super-powered criminal (the latter term is in-setting, i.e., how he’s designated, and not entirely off-the-mark)
- prison abolitionist
- bevy of snake-women lieutenants whose romantic/sexual interaction with him and one another is part of the story
Now for the fun parts … he’s not a psycho, not a gang member (former or otherwise), not an assimilationist, not a grunting thug, not a regular guy trying to make good, not gay and/or funny, not in some soap-opera good brother/bad brother/father-crisis, and not a beleaguered but affectionate father. And not, not, not a Magical Negro. In other words, not a Hollywood character.
His name is Jerrod Towns. I’m merely writing him as I would anyone else, thinking a bit about people I know and remember, without directly shifting real person to a page, and without much artifice. I’m drawing a lot on my west-coast upbringing, a culture that’s almost invisible to mass media, especially for black people, who in Hollywood, apparently, all come from Brooklyn. Victor von Doom is both Slavic and political – this guy is both California coast black and political, and he’s his own guy just like von Doom is. I’ll either do it well or I won’t – we’ll see.
So how about the cult leader part? A lot of it comes from what I wrote about in No one joins a “cult” but mainly in the negative sense, for what I’m not going to do. No mind control. No “haven of losers” or “herd of victims,” in fact, the main characters are going to be working hard toward precisely the opposite ends. No intrinsic downward spiral into isolation and immolation. Still … there are things that are going to smart.
I made up a religion. Some readers will recognize parts from experimental game-design from a few years ago, but it’s retooled here – basically revolutionary-activist gnosticism. “God” is a mad being, a usurper of Creation, whose reign has made all of existence into a prison. According to the creed, the prisons of America are little re-creations of Creation in its most explicit form, up to and including torture and execution as the essence of power. “God’s” imposition of death onto Creation is His/Its most significant interaction with humanity, and therefore the manifold ways we imprison and kill one another as a form of power are the most “divine” things we do. The creed urges recognition thereof and the intentional community is all about activism on behalf of those faced with prison, in prison, and released from prison, in explicit defiance of the usurper “God.”
Going by those old writings, the hero-figure of the Biblical stories is the serpent, or Ophis, hence Ophitic Temple and the Ophite. See, I am forced, forced I tell you, to include a serpent-women supervillain squad. With super-powers and wearing slinky outfits.
Considering the sensuous, hermaphroditic, and explicit features of the classical gnostics … that’s gonna bring up some polyamory, and what’s right vs. what actually works for people, or at least, for these people.
What sort of stories might be involved? All I can tell you is the touchpoint – the fundamental conflicts among people who try to do a thing together, especially when that thing is not validated in casual contact with everything else … and yet, when the thing genuinely reaches others. And not broken, helpless, grasp-for-anything, others either, but perfectly understandable people. And when the thing might have a point.
It’s not too easy. Writing – for instance – Kobra and Doctor Doom as actual villain protagonists seems clearly to have been on the minds of several authors who’ve tried, and it never quite works out well in practice. I find myself stalled on plots, much more so than for One Plus One or Sword of God, and then, wham, I turn around and pound out a script which isn’t the one I was working on. It’s extremely visceral and I can only guess at the arc, if any. I’m not writing any of these titles with a grand arc in mind, but I definitely feel as if I know what it would be like for the other two. Definitely not for this one.
Wish us luck.
Next: 70s and 80s ladies