Genesis of an obsession…
By Ulff Lehmann
The Mighty Overlord, hallowed by thy name, Mike, tasked me to write a little piece on how Shattered Dreams came to be. The Mighty Overlord tasks, and since I don’t have anything better to do, at this time, I obey. So this is me enjoying to talk about my favorite topic for the last 23 years. Or was it 24 years? 25? I dunno, bloody long time anyway.
It all began with a two of my friends telling young impressionable Ulff, aka me, about how much fun they were having at this thing called Follow. Follow is an acronym, it stands for Fellowship of the lords of the lands of wonder. Technically it should read Fotlotlow, but that sounds far less cool than Follow. And besides, it’s USA and not USoA, isn’t it? So… back to the topic at hand.
(What? Still griping about the acronym? Get a life!)
Anyway, it sounded like a lot of fun. This was pre-LARP, the club had been around for some 20ish years by that time, and the conventions were essentially events to meet friends and, most important for the young Ulff, aka me, party. With beer, and more beer. So after a long time of pleading to take me along to one of these cons, the duo finally relented. I was decked out in rather meek pseudo-medieval clothes, and was slightly shy, but that shyness disappeared after the fifth bottle of beer, I think. My memory gets kind of hazy at this point. I remember not sleeping from Saturday to Sunday, drinking lots of bad beer… we (one of my friends and I, the other friend drove) made it our personal mission to destroy as much of that vile brew as we possibly could… truly horrid stuff… and when it became time to leave we hit the first gas station and bought two cans of beer each to get the taste out of our mouths. Apparently we consumed both cans with gusto and fell asleep.
The young and still very impressionable Ulff, aka me, wanted more, so I hung out with more Fellows, Followers? Folks? Anyway, push came to shove and I was told I needed to pick a name, so to speak. A name for the character I was going to portray at cons, when I was not off drinking somewhere. I picked a “Clan” based on the Irish Celts, and needed a somewhat cool sounding name. By rule every name was supposed to end on the syllable “or”… we had a Sonor, a Cenor, a Pendror, a whole slew of ors, but I didn’t like or… Ofenror would have been too much of a pun (Ofenrohr is German for the pipe/vent leading out of an oven into the chimney) and only later did I find out someone had actually taken the name Tza Tza Gabor. So, all in all, we took things really seriously.
At the time I was reading the German translated versions of the Sprague de Camp edited/mutilated Conan stories, and so I wanted a similarly strong name like the Cimmerian’s. After a while Drangar Ralgon was born. A shepherd with a dark past.
Really, there wasn’t more. A name, that was it.
Then, after a few more cons, I finally decided I wanted to do a bit more. Follow wasn’t only wild parties but there’s also a quarterly publication with Clan news, tales, songs, whatever the creative minds (and we were legion, still are) came up with were printed. All this was before affordable internet and other such things. In fact, a 386 processor was at the time top of the line. Jurassic. And I didn’t have one either, my Commodore 64 had bit the dust in the late 80s. Everything we did was analog.
So, I had a name, and knew he was a shepherd with a dark past. What was that past? I ain’t gonna tell you that because that’d be spoiling shit. I tailored a story according to the ramifications of my Clan… what was possible etc. Creating stories in general had always come easy to me, and while my forays into writing were basically limited to a “fairy tale” I wrote in 5th grade, a few pages of a thankfully now lost Indiana Jones story, now it would be fan fiction, and a rather morose and inept tale written for a competition when I was 15, I had never really sat down and worked out a story. There were RPG adventures, sure, but a cohesive story? Nah.
I shit you not, my prose writing days began when I was 21 or 22 or so.
Anyway, I wrote several connected short stories. Short for me. Went to a whole bunch more cons, got wasted several times, and never got to finish the tale. My ambitions were too big in scope and my motivation was tied to my self esteem… I get back to that.
Stories there were, but I always felt unable to say what I wanted to say. I was desperate. Why couldn’t I express myself in German? The solution lay in that question. German. I hadn’t read a single German book (other than the stuff for school) in half a decade. Writers must read, and read I did, but not in German.
Things converged. My realization that I maybe should try to write in English, and that being in Follow was detrimental to my health. (I drank a lot.) While I was still struggling with the latter, the former was an easier fix. I just wrote a story in English. I read the story to my writing group back then, also Fellows, and had them in stitches. (In retrospect, it wasn’t such a good story, but I get to that in a bit.)
My decision to leave Follow followed.
Part of me was relieved; drinking to excess was really fucking me up. Another part of me was glad to be rid of the constraints that writing in a shared world forced upon me. (“Can I do this?” “No, because this and that happened there, so this is impossible.” “Where can find info about that?” “It is known.”)
Being free of that, I decided to put hand to keyboard (we finally owned computers, yay) and write down the story my way, without those pesky constraints of a shared world.
This is how Drangar: Awakening was born. And its sequel, Drangar: Reborn. The conclusion, Drangar: At War, never saw its finish. Yeah, I had titles, typical of what I was reading at the time. Mostly Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels, with a bit Ravenloft thrown in the mix, but you get the drift.
My life at the time was rather tumultuous as well. I had dropped out of college, tried to emigrate to the US, returned to Germany after that particular disaster, moved back in with my parents, got a job, found an apartment, moved out of my parents’ again… at that time I got heavily addicted to EverQuest, so I got to work, worked, drove home (scratch 12 hours at the worst of times), had some food, and online I went. Not healthy to say the least. I basically traded one excessive behavior for the next. With so much pressure, and the fact that the last temp job I was working at had a salesman bullying me to a point I couldn’t handle shit anymore, brought me to a nervous breakdown. Go me. Lost my job, tried to figure shit out, but couldn’t.
By that time I had pretty much dismissed the two novels I had written, and focused on DMing a D&D campaign. Enter the next obsession… do I detect a pattern here? I got a new job, got severely bullied by my boss and his wife, enter the second breakdown. This one was major.
My best friend was relentless; she pushed me until I found a therapist who I was comfortable with. Behavior therapy it was. Long story short, I figured out that I had to write. And write I did. A year or so before therapy I had read GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and it was a revelation for me. If I ever wrote again, I wanted this, honest, brutal, not the Disneyfied version of fantasy but something with a bit more oomph.
When I realized I had to write to be happy, I wanted to do it right. And that meant writing the entire story again. Grittier, more real, more oomph, and most of all, honest. It took me three months to write the first draft. Six days a week, with a ritual surrounding the process. Revising was different, but I was quite proud to actually have completed the story. The wife of a friend, as my luck would have it, had just broken her arm and was looking for something to read, by the time I had gone through the third revision. My luck, hers not so much. Who enjoys having their arm broken, right? She and I spent two or three days going over the novel in minute detail. We discussed, brainstormed, and I went back home with my notes, and the printout, and did a fourth revision. Printed it out again, and did one more pass on the editing front. I think I cut some 10,000 words from the novel.
Well, in the end, some years and failed queries later, I decided to self-publish, caught my friend Charles Phipps’s eye, signed with Crossroad Press, and the rest, as they say, is history in the making.
The ritual has served me well, but needed to be altered during the writing of what is now Shattered Hopes and Shattered Fears, as it became far too costly to have a cappuccino per day for as long as I was writing, and multiple cappuccinos while editing in my favorite café. It was too much money spent on coffee. Then I stopped smoking, and had to adjust again. But when I write, I write fast. (this was written on the same day I did the Hero Tropes piece)
Maybe you’ll be kind enough to take a look into the story that has occupied my life since 1992. It would be an honor.
Ulff, aka me