Aboard the Ark: An Author’s Voyage through Fantasy Storytelling

The Adventure Begins 

     I owe my first time reader an explanation about a few things. I know it’s not the norm with all writers, but I get to the point after some research, a skeletal outline, and some expanded thoughts when my fingers start to tingle. The core ideas start to shake my sleeves and nudge my fingers toward the keyboard. It’s time for me to ‘go’. I have a need to trust what comes to me. Here’s the short story how I got here: 

     I became a writer at the corner of Bayard and George Streets. If you went to Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, you know where that is. No, I didn’t whip out a pen and pad. Later, hindsight realized that was the moment. Before then, I had dabbled at blogging, which wasn’t enough to count for me just as warm up exercises don’t compare to a cardio workout. I have nothing against blogging. Some are terrific, but a novel was my goal before saying to myself, ‘I’m a writer’. 

     So on that corner in the Spring of 2011, I remember standing on the corner of Bayard and George Streets in downtown New Brunswick, NJ, talking to a big guy named Calvin about basketball, blogging, and then writing a novel. Suddenly an epiphanous wind blew through me, leaving an idea: ‘Hoosiers Meets Field of Dreams’. The main idea of the book got my attention like a splattering bucket of rainwater. It wasn’t raining, but the idea of a story about ghosts who weren’t really dead, i.e., their personas still alive today, occurred at that moment. 

     Just like THAT was how it hit me. The angle, the pitch, whatever you want to call it, the unique premise of the book is what grabbed me first. The rest of the story hit me more like a bucket of nuts and bolts or a bucket of loose change dumped into a coin counter, which I had to process and order in my head before I fingered the keyboard. 

     I reference Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect, a few times in the book out of deference to this same practice he employed. Before searing the pencil lead onto paper, before one stroke of genius after another, all the major elements of the project were already in his head. His brain was a tuning fork with the same pitch as Nature, and he couldn’t proceed until keyed into the latter.

     I started to write when I organized the beginning and the ending, and I had a “feel” for the middle ground. I decided to proceed with a few notes I had jotted down as to structure and pace. I was excited to start testing my creativity, to maneuver through the forest of the middle pages of Ark. It would become my very first supernatural fantasy sports novel. 

     Its second edition, Ark Book IV: Ghosts, is necessary because Ark was the pebble thrown into the pond whose ripples gave me ideas for a much larger story or saga, to be sure. Also, a rewrite was needed to sow some seeds which would sprout in later books. 

     Guess what? Ark turned out to be a light, fast (and many said good) read, which got me to my second book: Ark Book V: Beneath. Telling a ghost story allowed me to realize the Ark had its own special character: it’s a paranormal portal linking a mysterious Native American tribe that vanished before the Europeans arrived and a Doomsday which can be averted if the tribe’s secret is found. 

     This second book ends in a cliffhanger as the main characters gain entrance through the portal. I found it wasn’t much of a leap between the paranormal and the spiritual. These few have been chosen by ‘Higher Authorities’, and ‘He’ and ‘She’ have been guiding their quest. 

     On a roll pounding the keyboard, I finished Ark Book VI: Above. It gives these chosen few a glimpse of Doomsday, which is near and tough to avoid unless the World returns to a matrilineal way of life. Can these chosen few sell this simple, best idea to the ‘engineers’ who are driving the ‘train’ off its rails? I think yes since there was a David and Goliath. 

     From one idea, Ark became a trilogy–actually, the middle trilogy of nine books in all, God willing. 

     Here is where I think we all need help, looking at the messy World we live in. The end of Ark Book VI: Above asks: Would we be in a better place if wars were up to women? 

     I’ve run the question past quite a few women, and their answers fall into two camps: 

     Yes, we would be in a better place. 

     No, Power would corrupt them also. 

     It should be pointed out that nearly all ancient tribes were matrilineal, where the mother’s brother was trusted more with the mother’s children than the children’s father(s). Over time, with brute force and herds of domestic animals to trade for a wife, the men took over. 

     How should my question above be answered? 

     You, the reader, are now up to date with my voyage through storytelling. I will tell you the middle of my story after which I’ll tell you the beginning then the end. Present, Past, Future, over billions of years. 

Truth in Fiction 

     How many times have you said or heard someone say, “You can’t make this stuff up,” or “Truth is stranger than fiction”? More times than you can remember, no doubt.

     People at book signings often ask me why I became a fiction as opposed to a nonfiction writer. I answer by telling them two short stories. Both of them seem reasonable, but, I say, there’s a catch. Only one of them is true; which do you think is? So far I haven’t had a unanimous vote. Fiction gives me the ability to use an actual event in the story, and most readers probably think I made it up. 

     Here’s an example. In reality, Cal, my real life friend and character in the book, were driving to a Summer League basketball game. My cell phone kept ringing, but I don’t like to answer the phone in the car. In New Jersey, it’s against the law. Finally, I thought, this may be important; I should take the call anyway. As I reached into my pocket for the phone, it slipped out of my hand. As I tried to grab it, I swerved the car, which startled Cal, enough to give him the shakes. I pulled the car over like the law suggests and made the call, which turned out to be nothing. 

     The incident found its way into the book. Again, I’m driving in the car with Cal, and I’m toying with the idea of letting him know what’s going on between me and the ghosts.

From the book: 

     “We were almost at the end of Route 20. A couple of minor roads and side streets and we’d be at St Mary’s High School gym where the games were played. I was about to change the subject, but before I could speak, ‘Tell No One else!’, I swerved the car slightly, but enough to give Cal a start. He looked over at me and fidgeted in the seat. It was a good thing the top was down, for his head’s sake. I’m OK. I thought I saw a piece of glass on the road (fib). Sorry, Cal.” 

     There are quite a number of events in the book, which if aren’t outright truths, are heavily based on it. 

Title and Characters of Ark

      I can’t count how many times I have received inquiries about the origin of the title “Ark” since my first publication. As I’ve gone out onto the marketing trails of bookdom, it keeps up with me, almost like I’ve just stepped on the claw part of a rake, and I have to grab it before it smacks my nose. 

     As I said in the book, an ark can be defined as “a place of refuge or asylum.” The ghostly characters inside are allowed to exist and cavort at a time in their prime. However, I was really intrigued by the range of meaning of the two words, refuge and asylum. Either word could connote a good situation, or a bad one. For example:

     He sought and gained refuge from the storm in the old building. 

     The asylum protected him from coping with the real world until he could regain his health and well being. 

     As I began thinking of the possibilities for the second and third books in the middle Ark Trilogy, the range of meaning of just these two words presented many ways to go, not to mention the more common associations that come to mind when the word “ark” is mentioned. 

     Still, I’ve been approached by alums from my Alma mater, Rutgers, asking, “You’re talking about the old Barn here, aren’t you?” 

     Yes and No. 

     Was I inspired by the old gym nicknamed after a farming structure? 

     Yes. 

     Was that enough to allow me to tell a story larger and more significant than the mostly mundane chronicle of an average guy? 

     No. 

     I’m happy for my fellow alums if they want to inject themselves into the story and their time “on the Banks.” In fact, for the careful reader, I’ve paid homage in the book, much the way a mapmaker puts a fictitious street onto his work to protect his copyright (look for a word out of place, that’s all I’m going to say). 

     However, I was reaching, while writing, for a wider appeal and more applicability to a greater number, but that doesn’t mean I’m not willing to die for dear old Rutgers. 

     Speaking of Rutgers, since Ark was published, quite a few readers, especially Rutgers alums, have come running up to me at RU basketball games and said this or that character was this or that player. 

     My response has always been if you want to interpret the character that way, go right ahead; it’s your enjoyment and money at stake here. However, I have to repeatedly insist, all of the characters are composites of college and pro players I’ve admired over the years of my watching, enjoying, and paying to see games. 

     I’ll just throw some character names out there. If you’re a Rutgers fan, more of the names will stick with you since that was my experience also. Here goes. 

     “Sampson”, “Bird”, “Quincy”, “Barrett”. These samples reflect my experience within the professional and collegiate ranks. Also, mannerisms and ethnicity stand for certain players and certain teams. 

     I guess I could explain ’til I’m blue in the face, but that’s really the way I structured the book. It’s my homage to the game as I’ve watched it over the years, and that’s the truth.

By John Heldon

Ark IV: Ghosts: A Fantasy Novel by John Heldon can be purchased one Amazon.com 

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