Strange Brew, or How Zak Corbin Came About

It was last year around this time and I was stumped.
Stumped for a very good reason. In the past. my writing endeavors had come to tiny fruition. During the 90s (I’m loathe to bring up the 90s, of all things) I actually had a good run at getting in print and being consistent about it. I had submitted materials for a journal that covered the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Star Wars itself had recently gotten a new lease on life thanks to the Timothy Zahn books (you remember THOSE, right? Of course you do!) and there was all kinds of publicity going on about the re-release of the original films.(The Special Editions).
Well, I was riding quite a wave back then. I had the attention of a great editor and almost every proposal I sent got a green light. Naturally, it became more and more difficult to get paid as the company began to dry up and wither like a dead Jawa in a sandstorm on Tatooine.The whole thing came to an end when the gaming license was sold to Wizards of the Coast and all of us freelancer writers suddenly realized the obvious: we had been writing in a bubble.
Switch the way-back machine to last year. I was stumped, remember? I had been writing for a known, high-powered universe that had oodles of money and legions of fans crafting their own stormtrooper armor (and not to mention their own Princess Leia slave girl bikini costumes.) Now I was back on my own and facing the writing and selling hurdle once again. What to do?
What I had was a slush pile of short stories, mostly centered around the same private detective character. (The one who is currently haunting this very blog in short, chapter-driven posts) I wanted to go in a new direction. Try something different. I had queried plenty of agents for science fiction, but found no interest there.
I had in my old stories a sympathetic character. He only had a brief part at best: a mad scientist who made robots and caused havoc even when behind bars. Talk about cliches! A mad scientist who makes robots dates back to the original Max Fleisher Superman cartoons of the 1930s.
So what did the mad scientist’s family think of this black sheep? Good question. Were they embarrassed? Did they change their names or move away? What if they were respected members of the community? Better still, what if the mad scientist had a nephew? A young kid just getting into high school. Just like that, everything clicked. I had a story about everything that sucked about high school and multiplied it. This poor kid had to grow up with a last name that everyone knew and hated, all because of his uncle. And because the kid loved robots too, because he admired his uncle’s work, everyone was that much more afraid of him.
So that’s how Zak Corbin was born out of a slush pile character.

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