Revenant: Helljumper is one of my favorite projects.
I first started writing it while I was still in college, back in 2012 or 2013. It started out as a fanfiction of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and then grew into its own thing from there. If I wanted to get more specific, I could honestly say that it actually started when I became obsessed with Captain America after Captain America: The First Avenger was released in 2011. I saw that movie twice in theaters.
Cap’s origins in the 1940s fascinated me. After having grown up on stories from my grandfather about what it was like to grow up during the Great Depression, then live through World War II, and then hearing his stories about serving in the Navy during Korea, watching one of my favorite superheroes serving in the Army was a breath of fresh air, especially since it seems like so many publications make superheroes out to be anti-Military, anti-War fanatics who look down on the real heroes who serve and save us every day. A hero who had served- who respected the servicemen and women who have sacrificed so much for civilians like myself- was something to which I could relate.
I wanted more.
I started off with reading as many of the Captain America comics as I could get my hands on with my limited college-age budget. That progressed to devouring history books, skimming fanfiction, and consuming articles that interviewed veterans.
Then I remembered Band of Brothers, which had first come out about 11 years prior, while I was still a self-absorbed 11-year-old whose only concerns in the world were video games, fantasy novels, and trying to keep my grades up- in that order, haha. I had hardly paid it any attention at the time. Now, with my fascination blooming into an obsession, I had to watch that series.
So, on my next trip home, I did a little investigation. Obviously, it was no longer airing on television, and although Amazon Prime had it, I did not yet have an Amazon Prime account, and anyway, I was leery of the company’s ability to take down the content at any time. I resigned myself to being unable to watch it, and got ready to buckle down and do some more research. Then, miracle of miracles. I went up to the local Barnes and Noble one day in search of a history book, and they had a copy of Band of Brothers on Blu-Ray for sale in their video section. It was one of those steelbook special editions that had all the behind-the-scenes making-of footage and the interviews with the veterans themselves on a separate disk.
I snapped it up without a second thought, and to this day, I have no regrets.
Since then, I have been working on Revenant: Helljumper off and on. Full disclosure: I have had a love-hate relationship with this book since I first conceived it in 2012. When I started writing that terrible Captain America fanfiction in 2011, I developed an original character, Kora Russell. At the time, she was a perfect Mary-Sue who could do no wrong and had no conflict with anyone she came across, despite being a seasoned time-traveling soldier from the future who had been a war machine all her life and SHOULD have had some flaws. (Those came later, by the way.) Then I started thinking about her background, and her twin sister, Quinn Russell, was born.
You probably see where I’m going with this.
The problem with Revenant: Helljumper was not that I did not know what I wanted to write- I wanted to write all of it!- but that I had no idea where to start, with whom to start, with which timeline to start, or any of those things. Added to that, my story shifted and changed and evolved over the years until it no longer resembled anything with which I had begun. I added an entire new cast of characters, shifted the story almost entirely to Quinn’s perspective, and expanded Quinn’s story to include not only her original, far-flung-future timeline, but also both World Wars, Nazi Germany, and the Great Depression between them.
But where to start?
It was not until recently, when I saw a job posting for a local science fiction ghostwriting gig, that I finally developed an introductory chapter with which I was almost wholly satisfied. The posting required a sample of my work. This sample had to showcase my ability to write gritty science-fiction scenes and, preferably, had to include some humorous interactions. I looked at that and thought, “I have the perfect scene to submit.” But then I looked at the scene I had written and realized that, not only was it only half-written on the figurative paper, but it also did not showcase my sci-fi skills very well.
Needless to say, I buckled down and finished that scene within a day and a half. It introduced Quinn and hinted at her time-traveling origins, and then it promptly threw her into a warzone at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 Belgium. She took out some machine-gun nests with her overpowered science fiction rifle, demonstrated her biosuit’s bulletproof qualities, and promptly ended with her stripping a corpse of its clothing, meeting Tam, who would become her only close ally in that war, and then describing her mission to him: finding her twin sister, Kora, before the serum that gave them their superpowers destroyed their minds and unleashed Hell upon the world.
I was feeling very accomplished as I went back to the job posting, intending to send in the sample- only to find that the posting had expired, and was no longer available.
I was furious. I had put in all that work trying to get that sample ready for submission, and I had missed the deadline without even knowing it. To make matters worse, the scene still felt stunted and underdeveloped, like it was missing something crucial that I could not pinpoint.
I set it aside and started writing other scenes.
I spent the next several days writing scenes that showed Quinn evolving as a person, growing from machine to woman to mother. Revenant: Helljumper is meant to follow Quinn Russell through her life. She is a surprisingly simple woman. She has wants and needs just like everyone else, but it was not until she met and married Tam that she began realizing those needs, so I focused on scenes featuring the two of them, and then expanded the character roster and wrote friendship scenes, familial scenes, scenes of loss and grief and pain.
And still, that scene sat in the back of my mind like a toad, croaking at me and spitting out its tongue to capture my attention- and annoyance- at the most inopportune times, like a toad catching a fly. It was infuriating.
A week and a half later, I was working on a scene that goes near the end of the story. In it, Quinn returns to the United States after the war ends and has to begin picking up the pieces of her life. She and one of her friends meet her kids at the train station, and she unexpectedly runs into her eldest remaining son, back from the war in the Pacific, who is accompanied by Kora, Quinn’s own twin sister.
And that was when I realized what the reason was that that one scene- the one I had written and loved and hated and set aside- was bugging me, even though it felt like it should have been a perfect introduction to Revenant: Helljumper.
It was incomplete.
Just like I had neglected facets of the story itself when I neglected to write out Kora’s half of the tale, as an introduction, that scene was incomplete because it had only introduced the reader to a single facet of Quinn’s life. Her story was meant to be set during World War II. While her experiences in World War I and falling in love and raising a family were formative events for her (they taught her how to be human), they were too much to cover in the span of one book, especially when the main bulk of her story was supposed to be told alongside the soldiers in the European Theater of Operations during the 1940s.
The introduction to Revenant: Helljumper was incomplete because it only covered her arrival in 1917. It did not establish her World War II mission at all.
So, I went in and added onto that scene. The second half of the chapter now shows her arrival at Camp Toombs in May of 1942. She meets Colonel Robert Sink and, armed with a recommendation from Major General William Lee, she convinces him to give her a chance to prove herself to him, and that is the launching-off point for her storyline in World War II. That is now the perfect introduction to Revenant: Helljumper, one of my favorite personal projects in my entire life.
Starting a story is sometimes the easiest thing in the world. You get an idea, you start writing, and sometimes it takes you in unexpected directions. Writing a satisfying introduction, however, is an entirely different story. (Pun fully intended.)
You can read my recommendations for how to write a killer intro here.