This may come as a surprise, but when I first conceived of the book that became Failstate, I didn’t see it as a series of any sort. Failstate was going to be a standalone book, a single outing in that universe. When I pitched it to people at the ACFW Conference, that was how I had put it together. Just one book. That’s it. A story in and of itself.
And yet, if you look up at that little “John’s books” tab, you’ll notice that there isn’t one Failstate book but three, along with two shorter novellas. So how did that happen?
Well, shortly after Failstate was published, Jeff Gerke, the publisher for Marcher Lord Press, sent me an email and asked me if I wanted to do any more Failstate stories. And I said, “Sure.”
Maybe it was a little more complicated than that, but not by much. It’s not that I never wanted to do more Failstate stories. I just knew it would be easier to sell a stand-alone novel for my debut rather than trying to pitch a series. I knew there could always be more stories. Superheroes always have crimes to thwart, enemies to defeat. Failstate would be no different. So when Jeff offered the chance to do more stories in that world, I jumped at the chance.
The only problem was, I had nothing. No ideas. Not even a hint.
So one day, I sat down and jotted down some notes. I came up with three book ideas:
Failstate: Nemesis – After spending a summer on a “victory tour,” Failstate begins his career as a licensed superhero. But things are not nearly as easy as he thought they’d be. The VOC demands that he work with a mentor. While Failstate is glad that his mentor is Meridian, he soon learns how complicated his life has become. Constant paperwork, an intense training regimen, and a schedule that keeps him constantly on the go. As a result, his schoolwork is suffering, he can’t make it to church, and he’s losing his friends. Worst of all, Failstate has a nemesis now, a former contestant from America’s Next Superhero named the Dallas Dillo.
The Dillo is determined to destroy Failstate and prove that he doesn’t deserve his license. And given how off-kilter his life is, there’s a good chance the villain may succeed. Every time the Dillo strikes, he manages to get the best of the fledgling hero. To make matters worse, the Dillo is obviously up to some sort of scheme, one that Failstate can’t decipher. Can Failstate get his life back in balance and bring the Dillo to justice? Or will Failstate’s nemesis end his career before it’s truly begun?
Failstate: Fallen Idols – Someone is stealing the powers of licensed heroes. At first, the evidence suggests that Failstate is somehow involved. Even after he manages to exonerate himself, Failstate still feels responsible and is determined to bring whoever is truly responsible to justice. But who could it be? Is it Mind Master, recently pardoned from his multiple life sentences? Meridian’s former arch-nemesis claims to have repented of his evil ways and Failstate believes him, but he’s the only one. Or could Etzal’el, one of Failstate’s inspirations, be responsible? The dark hero has never gotten along with the de-powered victims.
Does Failstate have what it takes to walk in the shadow of giants? Or will he fail his colleagues completely?
Failstate: Dark Reflections – Lux has seemingly returned from the dead and she bears a chilling warning: “Abaddon is coming and he will destroy you all.” While Failstate has hit his stride as a licensed hero, he’s not certain he can take on a foe as powerful as Lux describes. Complicating matters are the odd clones of Failstate popping up in New Chayton. Each one seems to have come from a “road not taken.” Failstate must organize them and the other licensed heroes to take on Abaddon, an enemy that not only threatens to destroy the world but reveal dark secrets Failstate never wanted to learn about himself and his family.
In that second book, Failstate would also meet a young lady named Charlene, who he would be crazy for, but because of his problems with keeping his life in balance, he decides not to pursue her. In the potential third book, Failstate and Charlene would get together, only there’d be a further complication: Failstate would meet a young heroine named Kynetic who would be interested in him.
So I worked on these ideas, got some synopses written, and sent them off to Jeff.
His response? He wasn’t interested in the second or third book ideas, but he liked the fourth. He even went so far as to suggest that we turn the fourth book into the second book in the series and come up with a different idea for a third book.
I wrote back and let him know that wouldn’t work; there was some set up that had to be done to get the fourth book ready. Jeff agreed to keep it at the end, but that meant we’d have to come up with a new idea for the second book. And I had no idea what it should be about.
Thankfully, this is where my intrepid agent stepped in. She suggested I do something with zombies. I knocked the idea around for a while and eventually came up with a story about a zombie apocalypse coupled with a famous hero coming back from the dead (a fairly common trope in the comic world; there are tons of heroes and villains who have died and come back). I added the stories about Charlene and Kynetic into the mix, and Failstate: Legends was born:
So that left the third book, the working title of which was Failstate: Dark Reflections. But that was also the time that Marcher Lord Press was sold to Steve Laube, who rechristened the company Enclave Publishing. But we kept going with the third book idea. The only thing Steve didn’t like was the title. He pointed out that it kind of sounded like an Amish novel, and I realized he was right. Since I wasn’t about to put a bonnet on my hero, I went back to the drawing board for a new title. I remembered the title for the defunct second book, and that’s what we went with. Failstate: Nemesis eventually came out:
So what about the novellas? Where did they come from? Well, between the first and second books, I realized a plot hole had developed. A major character from the first book had vanished and I never really explained what happened to her. So I decided to fill the gap with a short novella as a way to bridge the two stories and prime the pump for the sequel. Thus Gauntlet Goes to Prom was born.
The same thing happened with Kynetic: On Target. Kyn’s attitude and personality had shifted between the second and third books. I decided to put together another novella to explain why.
So that’s it. That’s where the rest of Failstate’s series came from. Will there ever be any others? At the point, probably not. While there have been glimmers of ideas that come and go, I’ve never had anything that I really wanted to sink my teeth into. I’ve got other stories I want to tell.
Speaking of which, you may be wondering where my other two books came from. Well, next time, we’ll get into what happened with Numb. Until then, stay geeky.