Behind the Pages of The Armageddon Factor

Usually religious arguments don’t include a clown on stilts, but this one did. At least, that’s what I was told. My wife called me on a pleasant October afternoon to tell me about it. At that time, she was finishing her second master’s degree and walking to class when she saw it: a group of people bobbing signs up and down about how the world was about to end, and how everyone needs to repent and be saved. They were in a shouting match with a large group of students who had stopped to watch their parade. And if that wasn’t strange enough, a clown on stilts marched and swayed right through the middle of it.

                The imagery made me smile and tickled my imagination. Somehow, I felt it was some kind of metaphor for my life up to that point. At one time, I had been a Christian fundamentalist, so I was able to sympathize with those holding the signs. Had they marched on campus when I had been there for my undergraduate degree several years earlier, I may have at least supported their side of the argument, even if I would have thought their methods were a bit ridiculous.

But at the point in time my wife had called, I was a different person. I had since gotten a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, read countless books, went seeking the truth, and discovered that there was so much more to life than any one religion could even begin to account for.

                But the clown is what really made things interesting. In fact, my wife had no idea why there was a clown on campus at the time, but a couple of years later I found out. I acquired a job teaching writing at that same campus and had a student in class who was there that day. He had taken pictures, which he shared, and gave me details that my wife hadn’t noticed. First, the clown was there to promote a circus that was coming to town. Second, that the group holding up the end-of-the world signs were all wearing cowboy costumes.

But when I first wrote the story down, I didn’t know that. In fact, after I got off the phone with my wife, I sat down at my laptop and began writing. I had written plenty of research papers and essays, and all those things that you expect to write while in school, and I had kept notebooks full of story ideas, but up until I heard the Apocalypse-clown story, I had never really tried writing fiction.

                And I loved it.

Over the next year, I spent all my free time behind a computer screen, my fingers bouncing wildly over the keys, writing, rewriting, and obsessing about every detail. The story of the clown sparked a satire that kept growing and gaining in complexity as I wrote. I understood both sides very clearly, and I wanted to take on the rather touchy subject of faith in all of its incarnations. So I began reading everything I could on mythology, religion, the different ideas on the function of prophesy, spirituality, psychic phenomenon, and UFOs. My thinking was that all of these things require a certain level of faith in order to believe them.

                In all, I read over 40 books on all these topics, but what I didn’t know, being a new writer at the time, was that unlike a research paper, you don’t have to use everything you read in a story. Unfortunately, I tried to, and the end result was too big and complex to be enjoyable.

                It was at this point I got that job teaching writing and met the student who had been there the day of the clown. So with the new details he gave me, I decided to re-write the story again. This time, I cut down the vast amount of research and instead began to focus more on the characters. It was just what the book needed.

                Another year passed and I had a new version of the book. My wife, who by now had graduated with her second master’s degree, this time in English Composition, helped me edit and revise it and soon we had a book we were both proud of. And since her first master’s degree was a Master’s of Divinity, the subject matter of the book was something we talked about extensively for fun. So the new version of the story became a collection of our conversations in story form, coupled with the best of my research, as well as stronger, better developed characters.

                Then it was time to try and get it published. I sent it out to only about 20 or 30 literary agents over the course of the next year. And as all authors experience, I got plenty of rejection letters, but several of them were personalized and said many good things, but for one reason or another they simply either couldn’t or didn’t want to pick it up. (Keep in mind most rejection letters are form letters that essentially say “thanks, but no thanks.” So to have gotten several personalized letters was encouraging.)

                Then, my wife, Amy Joy, decided she wanted to write fiction too. So she did. Two years later, when she was finished, she sent her book to exactly one agent. But before getting her rejection letter, she decided to take her chances with self-publishing. Within 6 months, her YA (Young Adult) novel, The Academie was on an Amazon best-seller list. (And has continued to make that list off and on since its debut two years ago).

While she was writing The Academie, I decided to put my first novel away and finally write a new one. I stopped sending the old novel out to agents, and instead focused all my time on writing Bone Machine. Eventually, it was published as my first novel and received much critical praise. 

With the success of Bone Machine and The Academie, I was ready to chalk my first novel up to experience and write new stories. So I moved on. And somewhere on my hard drive, my old story slept, ready to be forever forgotten.

                But soon, according to popular culture and the Mayans, the end of the world was coming: 2012. I already had plans to write a new novel, but my wife loved the basic idea of my first book and thought an Armageddon themed book might sell well in 2012. So I reinvented my original characters, kept many of the settings and themes and began re-writing. This time I saw the story for what it really was: not a satire as I originally intended or a collection of our conversations and research, but as an exciting dystopian novel.

                However, several other commitments (teaching, for example), projects (starting our website and publishing a guitar method book), and obstacles (having our laptop stolen followed by a very stressful fall semester teaching) kept the book from being released in 2012 as planned. 

Then early in 2013, with all that behind us, we began revising and editing again. But the fragments of the old story that I did try to keep were clashing with the new, requiring a great deal more work than either of us imagined. And so, over the months of May, June, and July we revised it one final time. And finally, in late July of 2013 The Armageddon Factor was finished!

 In total, The Armageddon Factor has taken about seven years of writing, learning, researching, and rewriting, to produce. It started off as a kind of sarcastic satire, then transformed into a bizarre sci-fi mystery, finally becoming a focused, lean, well-developed dystopian novel that we are both very excited about and proud of.

Armageddon Factor Facts:

In the seven years it took to write, not only has The Armageddon Factor undergone several plot and character changes, its title has also changed names many, many times. It started out as Burn this Book, then became Pedestrians of the Apocalypse, then The True Story of Armageddon, then Late for Armageddon, then The Unveiling, (which was the title for a long, long time), then The New Apocalypse, then finally The Armageddon Factor. And each title corresponded with at least 4-5 separate drafts. (Estimated 25-30 total drafts).

From the first version of the novel, only 2 or 3 sentences still remain.

The first version of the book was over 500 pages, and 150,000 plus words. The published version is about 95,000 words and only about 350 pages.


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