So the webcomic has now made it into chapter two, where Dexter becomes a wealthy land owner in the new world. When I first started writing The Lives of Dexter Peterson, I wasn’t exactly starting with zero research. As I’ve said before, the entire story was the product of NaNoWriMo in 2005, so I hadn’t outlined or prepared too much in advance… except for this section.
I love pirates.
As far back as 1999 I’ve been fascinated by pirates. You could say I was into pirates before they were ruined by Disney, but let’s just say I was into it before it was cool, man. Actually, it started during my first tour when I started playing churches around the Pacific Northwest. One of the first places I played was a tiny town called Port Townsend, WA, a place so gorgeous I really want to retire there. I found a little book called Under The Black Flag by David Cordingly, initially thinking it was a work of fiction like Wilbur Smith’s Birds of Prey. Nope… it was a thorough exploration of real pirates from the swashbuckling era we’ve all come to know and love.
And, apparently, grossly misunderstand.
Proving That I Can Read
There are a lot of details throughout the book that are really only there to prove I’ve done some research. I don’t expect people to think I’m an historian, but I do want enough credibility to help cement the reality in people’s minds. I initially set Dexter’s property in Port Royal, Jamaica. Again, thank you Disney, I had to change that between the first draft and the recent rewrites.
Another detail that remained was the pirate being hanged… John Teach. The name was used as an homage to the notorious Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard. The first name was chosen for John Fanning, co-founder of formerly-pirate-haven site Napster. Sean Teach and Shawn Teach just didn’t sound as sinister.
Proving That I Hadn’t Read A Damn Thing
And then there was coffee. To be honest, as I was hastily writing this section I didn’t realize just how central a role that coffee would ultimately play. I just loved the stuff and figured Dexter would as well. Unfortunately, I hadn’t done any research about its origins in 2005, so I assumed that coffee came from South America. After all, Juan Valdez and all that, right?
BZZZZZZZZZZT. Wrong, thank you for playing.
It wasn’t until after researching the hidden liner notes for Beer & Coffee that I learned of the bean’s origins in Mesopotamia. Some say Ethiopia, some say the Ottoman Empire, but still… Coffee would not have hit the new world until well after Dexter landed there. Oops! Instead of a blunder, though, I saw this as an opportunity during the next rewrite.
Rather than eliminating that thread or sending Dexter’s men to Africa, I realized that a coffee plantation in South America might be the perfect anachronism. Somewhere out there is a reader who’s seen Good Eats or Modern Marvels episodes about coffee and knows that something is amiss when they find beans in the jungles of Colombia. When Dexter makes it back to the discovery site later, the anachronism hopefully makes more sense.
Shifting Reality Without A Clutch
Along with research issues, I had another challenge for this chapter: Dexter’s first shift. Yeah, he’s been snapping from one reality to the next for seven years, but this is the first time it’s happened for the readers. I had a lot of questions to answer that really didn’t matter back in 2005.
- Would Dexter’s personality change, or would he remain the same kid from New York City?
- Would Dexter change physically? Age? Race? Species?
- What would Dexter remember from one life to the next, and would he inherit new memories from the life he’d jumped into?
Ultimately I decided that Dexter’s personality would largely remain the same; trying to create an entirely new character every chapter would only confuse the readers (and myself). The approach I decided to stick with was something like being a tourist on an extended stay in a foreign land: After a month in Brisbane, you’ll pick up a slight Australian accent without realizing it. Dexter would be Dexter, but gradually the memories and personality of his echo-self would seep into his being.
The other big question I had to answer was what kind of book this would be. After all, in this chapter I’d be killing a man on public display. I could Disney-fy the experience and sanitize it for a sensitive audience, or I could attempt an authenticity that might squick some.
You know I’m perfectly fine squicking the masses, so the decision was made fairly quickly. The initial assault on the senses with the hanging of John Teach would hopefully stand as a beacon of harsh reality to contrast with Dexter’s science-fiction story line. If it took a horrifying scene to really cement that kind of reality, then let there be feces.
The side consequence of this, of course, was that I could showcase Dexter’s indifference to public executions. After all, he mentioned being on both sides of wars throughout history. He’s seen worse. With plans to write the next chapter about World War II, I needed to make sure the audience was aware of his desensitization.
So the body dropped, the smell came with it, and now you get to read about it as the story is slowly released.
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