My writing has always covered a wide gamut. I’ve written everything from opera-centric family dramas with a dash of magical realism to supernatural horror to dystopian sci-fi to ludicrous comedy.
What I’ve never done is fan fic. I was never tempted to write a Star Trek or Doctor Who fan film or story, not even as a kid, despite loving both franchises; the idea quite literally never crossed my mind. My logic has always been that you don’t get the things we love by copying existing stuff. Yes, you in the back, I hear you; I know a lot of popular and beloved creations were created exactly that way. Heck, one of my favourite book series of all times, The Belgariad/Mallorean by David Eddings was, by his own admission, a deliberate money-maker based on Lord of the Rings. But still, I felt my goal was to be original. Not necessarily James Joyce/Alejandro Jodorowsky original, but speaking with my own voice, not a version of me stuck in Gene Roddenberry’s imagination.
But I loved H.P. Lovecraft. I had always been fascinated, not by the horror stories like Herbert West, Re-Animator, but by the utter alien quality of stories like The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Call of Cthulhu, At the Mountains of Madness. As I wrote more and more, I found my stories gravitating to the intersection between the normal world and the unfathomably-strange. I knew at some point I wanted to write a Lovecraftian story. Not just the themes, which I already worked with in some ways, but a story steeped in the Mythos, with Arkham and Miskatonic University and Armitage.
Similarly, I love science and had long been fascinated with Nikola Tesla. When a person predicts a smartphone and the Internet in 1926, that’s an individual worthy of respect. Oh, and he invented robotics, A/C power, and the radio. Jinkees. I had played around with a few different approaches to doing a Tesla story, and at this point in my life I was working in film and a period piece was a tough sell.
Crowdfunding was also just taking off and I wanted to explore its potential for a short film project to test the waters. However, my social media reach wasn’t what it needed to be to fund anything significant so I needed a project that had a certain viral quality to it. I debated doing a Tesla project or a Lovecraftian project. Then it just popped into my head:
“Tesla vs Cthulhu”.
I stood there for a few minutes. My first thought was, “Oh, that would be FUN!” My next that was “Oooo, that would be tricky…” Then I thought someone else must have done it already. You don’t put together two of the greatest icons of geekdom without someone having done it before. I tried to think if I had seen or heard of any similar project. Then I ran to Google and spent an hour punching in any combos of Tesla, Lovecraft, Cthulhu, and anything else I could think of on those topics.
Zero. No one had done it before. I had that most terrifying and rare of all things in this Internet age: an original idea. And it was an original idea with serious potential geek traction. As a lifelong geek, I know these things.
So I wrote a script, ran a Kickstarter, and it did really well. Our Kickstarter was covered in four different languages, and I received the highest of all geek compliments.
Yes, people were actually posting that in the comments. But on the first day of the Kickstarter, I thought, “It’d be great to give them an in-universe story that unfolds as we go.” Yeah, great idea, Richards. Maybe plan that out in advance? But I hadn’t, so I flew by the seat of my pants, and wrote entries just about every day in what was called “The Diary of Elaine West”, which would go out in each project update and give a prequel of sorts to the film. We shot the film, distributed the rewards, attended some film festivals, but the story had grown. People really loved this idea of the greatest inventor of our age and the most alien of horror literature’s invention. People wanted more stories, and honestly, I wanted to tell them. Bigger stories. Much bigger, bigger than crowdfunded film could handle. And with that in mind, I wrote “The Siege of Arkham”, the first book of two (as of now) in the adventures of West and Tesla against the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos.
Had I written fan fic? It had started that way, definitely. But it hadn’t ended that way; no one would mistake a page of “The Siege of Arkham” for Lovecraft. The protagonists are stronger, more dynamic, less adrift. Now, they are by no means Marvel heroes, vanquishing the horrors of Lovecraft with superpunches and death rays. Instead, they are human beings in the dawn of the technological age, using every tool they have to keep monstrous beings at bay, from West’s iron will to Tesla’s brilliant inventions. There are horrific moments, no question, and some that are quite disturbing. But it is more supernatural adventure thriller than straight horror story. There’s more humour, too; Lovecraft can be a bit relentless, and personally if I’m going to confront the infinite indifference of the Universe to humanity’s existence, I would probably make a smart-ass remark at some point. Will Lovecraft purists love it? Maybe, as long as they aren’t expecting someone in lockstep to Himself. Maybe not. It’s okay either way.
Because I do. And that’s the best reason to create anything, fan fic or not. Because it’s different enough from what’s out there that it doesn’t exist yet, and you want it to. Write the book you want to read. Or, as an old screenplay character of mine once said, “Create what you love. And if you love it enough, so will someone else.”