I did. In 6th grade I was introduced to Goldeneye 64, which introduced me to James Bond. I recorded all the 007 films during a TV marathon and became so obsessed I began writing my own spy novel.
It was called 8 Ball. By the end of 7th Grade I had written it, and my plan was to have 25 of them total in a series. This never happened. Neither did the publication of 8 Ball.
The story centered around five characters:
- Gerard Dashwood (because, you know, a brave hero dashes into the woods)— a wise-cracking US Marshall too good for his job, who gets recruited to a small, multi-national agency committed to neutrally saving the world from threats. His parents died when he was young, which made him cynical, and he begins his story with a somewhat self-absorbed, brash sense of duty. He could be summed up as a a secret agent version of Chandler Bing, a personality that would never actually make it in the professional secret agent world.
- Jack Casey—The stereotypical “black partner” for Gerard; an ex-marine demolitions expert turned FBI terrorist squad leader. A “black and sassy” side-kick. And in retrospect Terry Crews is perfect for the role. Jack has a metal plate in his head, so head-butting is a specialty of his. As is demolishing things by driving big trucks and tanks into them, and calling people a “big-head.” Half-jokingly claims he can smell some explosives, because a dog taught him. He also sleepwalks when he gets indigestion, and his shoulder dislocates on the job a lot (eerily, I thought this up years before my shoulder dislocation).
- Alex Tischinger—A mousy, German computer hacktivist with a helicopter license. Very shy, but very dangerous when backed into a corner (carries a taser and knows Judo!). Because she has trust issues. In retrospect her backstory involves a man too closely resembling Julian Assange taking advantage of her and ditching her to be caught by INTERPOL. She is also a wiz at anything remote controlled, and likes to dye her hair in different colors. Yep, that’s Carey Mulligan playing her in our post today.
- Sergei Smyrnov—The wildcard, and my favorite. A gaunt, yet quirky Russian who had joined the circus as a child as an escape artist. Became a professional thief, kidnapped by the KGB and trained to be a spy until he was tortured for protecting an innocent family, then escaped and became a self-employed treasure hunter on the run. His PTSD causes him to act like an anxious child at times, and acts pretty much Beni the Hungarian thief from The Mummy, except with a heart. He dresses like a peasant with finger-gloves and had all kinds of tricks up his sleeve, from lockpicks to tripwires to smoke screens to firecrackers to ninja stars to a grappling hook. He was trained in in Kung Fu, but often resorts to flailing his arms about in a fight. Speaks 8 languages too.
- Claire Morrigan—The professional spy who wants nothing to do with Gerard, but we all know where this relationship is eventually going. British, beautiful, takes her job seriously. Primarily an assassin who prefers rifles and knives, but also a skilled pilot and martial arts master. Was left in a basket with a locket on the steps of a church as a child, rasied by nuns, rebelled, then straightened back out to join the military, and later MI6. I later decided she would look like Claudia Black because I had recently become a Farscape fan.
These characters all get recruited to an organization that believes governments are too powerful to solve their own problems without being corrupted, and borrows agents from around the world to step in and cooperate. I had an elaborate a joke that Gerard was told to report to their base, the International Headquarters for Operations and Personnel, but gets confused and spends two hours at an IHOP scanning the room for his secret contact. Again, my novel didn’t know if it was an immature satire or an immature action/spy thriller.
8-Ball: The Plot
The curtains raise. We are at an opera. The villain, Cherdyakov, is a fat, lisping black market stolen-USSR-relics dealer who occasionally deals arms too. He was like Valentin Zukovsky from Goldenye meets Baron Harkonnen from Dune. He owns the theater as a front for smuggling arms. He makes a deal backstage to acquire a nuclear bomb that he will sell to the highest bidder.
Enter the agency. The 5 agents are recruited—Gerard after rescuing a girl tied to the Statue of Liberty; Jack after releasing a shark to stop a drug bust; Sergei after a goofy version of the Indiana Jones “anything goes” Hong Kong chase, Alex after a boring data stealing scene, and Claire after shooting somebody from a helicopter or something.
They can’t get along. Their new boss—Harold—is an annoying tool under the authority of the uptight agency leader, a French high court judge who happens to be that principal lady from Kingergarten Cop: short and bossy, but sweet on the inside and sporting coke-bottle glasses. A gag begins that Gerard chews gum around her just to tick her off, and she makes him put it in her hand like she’s his mom. Since his parents died, he needs a mom figure.
The crew attend a casino in Prague to try and apprehend the bomb before Cherdyakov gets it. They find out that the bomb is a special design: It is so small, it is somehow the size of a billiards ball. Gerard somehow just knows that the deal is going down by disguising the bomb as an 8 Ball and switching it out in plain sight. The necessity for doing this made perfect sense to me at the time, and I was a huge pool fan, and I needed something instead of stupid baccarat games that 007 always played. So Gerard challenges Cherdy to a game of 8 Ball and wagers the 8 Ball itself, as if the guy would just let him walk away with it. He wins, but then is taken to a back room to get beat up. His friends help him escape, and they regroup to try again.
The team drives to the house of a general who they saw at the casino and think might have bought the 8 Ball. Sergei sneaks into steal info on the 8 Ball, but is captured by Dr. Stukov, a pale, thin, humorless man (a Zelko Ivanek type) who wants to torture him. Sergei flips out, breaks free, and throws a firework in the man’s fireplace, which explodes and allegedly kills Stukov. Jack decides to steal a jeep run it through the general’s house, driving up his front steps, running over him, and driving off his back veranda and into the pool, killing the renegade general. However, no 8 Ball. Turns out Stukov had been sent to torture and kill the general, who had actually given the 8 Ball to Cherdyakov, not bought it from him, so they accomplish nothing.
With no leads, they backtrack team follows a tracking device that Alex planted on Cherdy at the casino. He’s at a hospital. They sneak in as patients and doctors. Sergei hides in the basement to recover from PTSD. Alex hacks in and finds where Cherdy’s heart surgery is at, because it takes a computer genius to find out where a heart surgery is taking place. Gerard creates a distraction while Claire sneaks in to interrogate and assassinate Cherdy. Jack faces off against a hulking, nameless, mute brute who they nickname Tiny and who will be subsequently appear in every future novel afterwards. Like the henchman Jaws but without the jaws. Gerard meets up with Claire, who cannot kill Cherdy because his surgery is to actually plant a bomb in his heart that goes off if he dies, and if she tries anything he might die. And somehow his henchmen are ok with this heart bomb thing. It’s also rigged to make the 8 ball go off near a public place.
So they track Cherdyakov down to a mansion where he is holding an antique Soviet era furniture auction, when in reality he’s auctioning the 8 Ball off to the highest bidder (isn’t every auction to the highest bidder?). Gerard and Jack create a diversion by driving around the mansion in circles until Gerard surrenders himself and Jack leads a bunch of henchmen on a car chase away from the mansion. Sergei and Alex sneak in as auction attendees. Sergei gets paranoid so Alex has to break out of her shy shell and improvise a reason why they weren’t on the list, showing she has more than hacker skills. Once inside, Sergei keeps pick-pocketing everyone, and Alex plants bugs on people so later they’ll find out a secret location. Claire sneaks in the back gate alone by killing guards, but gets stuck in a corner alone because she didn’t work with someone else as a team.
Gerard is brought to Cherdyakov’s dining table, where Cherdy wines and dines while gloating, setting Gerard’s gun on his end of the table as he eats. Harold, Gerard’s boss, enters and reveals that he actually double-crossed his agency and is working with the enemy. He assembled them as an inept team on purpose to further ensure that Cherdyakov would be successful and fool the agency into thinking he could be stopped. Gerard then brags that actually they learned to work as a team and his plan will backfire (Tony Stark style). They laugh, so Gerard yanks the table cloth, dramatically spilling Cherdy’s food and wine all over him, and sending the pistol flying off the table and across the room back in Gerard’s hands (he dives for it in slo mo while dishware flies across the room), where he then fires a shot at both a guard and Harold while Cherdyakov stumbles out of the room. Gerard asks Harold if he has any last words, to which he replies, “How did you…?” To which Gerard then replies, “Seriously? You want your last words to be ‘how did you’?”
Sergei and Alex are spotted by guards during the auction, but then an old tank busts through the mansion walls, interrupting the auction. Jack emerges from inside and aims the cannon at everyone, telling them to scram, and saving his friends (the tank was being auctioned and had been parked outside, you see).
Meanwhile, Claire is fending off guards while Gerard leaps onto the helicopter Cherdy climbs on to. He almost makes it in when he is shot and falls to the ground. Luckily, he was wearing a vest. He later realizes that Claire shot him, and suspects her of being a double agent. She explains that he needed to let Cherdy escape so that they could trace him to his secret base, that she knew he had a vest, and that if she wanted him dead she would have hit him in the head. And I don’t explain how she knew he wouldn’t die falling from the helicopter.
The Epic Conclusion…Revisited
The last chapter in the book went through major revisions. In the first version, the team finds that Cherdyakov is going to launch a rocket into space for some reason, and they defeat him, and Gerard locks him into the rocket until it climbs so high Cherdy’s heart stops from asphyxiation and he explodes in the atmosphere, the team somehow unharmed by any fallout raining down from above.
The following year, I changed it so that the 8 Ball was actually a key to a locked Soviet vault of secrets, and Cherdy wants access to it. This version was more drawn out, with more side characters involved in an elaborate showdown (including Cherdy’s innocent nephew who weeps over his uncle as he listens to an opera vinyl at the end). We learn that Dr. Stukov did not die from Sergei’s firework, but survives with a chunk of flesh missing in his scalp in a grotesque scab. I also reveal that he works for an unstable, mysterious terrorist named Mondafus, a Brad Dourif character type, who needs regular injections of a dark red venomous substance to keep from going completely insane, although he kind of already was. He also has a dagger that inflicts torturous pain with one cut, and uses it to control people.
In the vault, Cherdyakov is killed by Mondafus, who confronts Gerard, who is about to destroy the 8 Ball and lock everyone in the vault forever, though he’s only bluffing. A lot of the elaborate showdown is fuzzy, but Gerard and Mondafus are exposed to a radioactive particle that is split between them, forming a psyhic link between them, and Gerard leaves Mondafus for dead.
This sets off a long feud between Gerard and Mondafus, like Harry and Voldermort (I came up with this before I read Harry Potter), so that Mondafus is a recurring arch-villain, with Dr. Stukov and the mute giant Tiny being his two major henchmen. Later, I add that Stukov is actually undead, as he performed an experiment on himself that killed him and made him “immortal,” and that’s why his giant scab never heals. Also, I later added that Tiny the giant is told what to do by a dwarf that rides on his shoulders and whispers in his ear. Mondafus is also emotionally unstable and acts like Gollum, and was supposed to be a pivotal character with a desire for vengeance against those who committed genocide against his village, so Gerard would struggle to sympathize with him and yet stop his schemes in the future, all the while dealing with sharing a psychic link with Mondafus that wanes and waxes and evolves throughout the series. Mondafus continually pursues Gerard, but needs him alive to preserve the other half of the particle thingy he absorbed, with the goal of acquiring both halves of the particle, which he believes will allow him to obtain the power of full revenge.
So I really felt like this novel was my calling for a couple years. I sometimes wish I hadn’t deleted it, but it shamed me as I grew older. It reflected my view of the world and of justice at the time. The stereotypes were offensive but I thought nothing of it. Neither the political schemes, nor the maturity of characters, nor the physics of the action made sense. Characters would pursue peaceful resolutions one minute and the next erupt in random, senseless killing followed by pithy one-liners. I remember a scene in which Alex is struggling with the idea of ever having to kill anyone one day, and Gerard just pulls a Bible off a shelf and quotes “whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed”, and she nods her head as if that proved to her that killing was okay in any number of contexts they would get into in the future.
Even so, I remember growing bored with the plot and over the next year adding more and more “complexity” and mature understandings of reality, (hence switching from an 8-Ball sized bomb in space for no reason to a special key to a secret vault and added a more complex web of characters and plot twists to resolve) as well as a foundational mythology for an entire series.
Still, it was bad. Horrendous. So I thought I’d give you the digest of it. In the next post, I lay out what my basic plan was for the entire series, which I dreamed would be a total of 25 full complete novels featuring our team of characters, their allies and enemies, their journeys, their mythology. Because you have to know.