The Deathlandesque elements the executive editor wanted me to include in Aftermath were superficial trappings. In Deathlands, the characters traveled around via a so-called “mat-trans”, a very obvious imitation of Star Trek’s transporter. These mat-trans machines were almost always located in abandoned government facilities known as redoubts, so the devices allowed only redoubt-to-redoubt travel.
I had come up with a method for the Aftermath characters to travel around Earth (first conceived for the Major Arcana prospectus) called the Interphaser–a small portable device that interacted with junction points of the Earth’s geomagnetic grid, also known as “ley lines.”
But the Gold Eagle copy editors had never heard of “ley lines” and apparently hadn’t learned how to work internet search engines…although to be fair, in early 1996, Google had yet to become accepted as a research tool. As it was, I had introduced the concept of ley lines into one of my Deathlands novels (Demons of Eden) only to see the name changed to “lea” lines…whatever the hell those are.
Also in the Deathlands series, the very loose power structure of the country was controlled by “barons”…they were unaffiliated scumbags who were usually characterized as sexual deviates or just outright insane. Why a Medieval title of European nobility would take root in a post-apocalyptic America was never explained, but then very little of the backstory of Deathlands ever made much sense.
It was a hodgepodge, composed of snippets randomly taken from spaghetti westerns and Grade D 1950s SF movies with no real rhyme nor reason. Biologically impossible giant mosquitoes, giant ticks and giant crabs ran rancid over the landscape.
At any rate, in Aftermath, I named the group who held the reins of power the “Imperators”, but the executive editor thought it was too high-falutin’ a word for a James Axler book and wanted me to change it to the good old tried-and-true barons…even though in Aftermath, the nine Imperators were brilliant, genetically-engineered hybrids, not pedophiles or psychotics.
I suggested Aftermath be set a century after Deathlands but not craft it as a “Next Generation” type of sequel but just placed in the same fictional universe. My suggestion to link the two series was greenlit once I pointed out that we could build a franchise, much like the Executioner/Mack Bolan/Stony Man linked series.
Although I had already begun writing the first book in the Aftermath series, I went back and did a little judicious rewriting and tweaking of the earlier chapters, changing interphaser to mat-trans and Imperators to barons and so forth and so on.
I think I was about halfway through the first book (tentatively titled Nightmare Alley) when Eva, the Gold Eagle editor called to tell me that the title of the series had been changed to Outlanders.
I was never crazy about Aftermath but I was less so about Outlanders. Not only did I think it was a “soft” title, I also objected on the grounds that it had been used before—specifically the long-running manga series of the same name as well as Diana Gabaldon’s popular Outlander time-travel romance series.
I suggested Outrunners (which at least hinted at action) and even Outworlders but I was overruled. Due to my journalism background, I knew it was futile to spend time battling with editors when deadlines loomed, so after lodging my protests and alternate titles, I concentrated on completing the inaugural novel.
Because it was the first novel in a new series, the story was very long and complex. I think the first draft came in at something like 130,000 words, but I was basically creating a new world, even if it was now retro-hooked in with the Deathlands series.
That became a tedious juggling act—trying to balance the more ridiculous aspects of Deathlands with the more reasoned approach I was taking with Outlanders. My approach was simple—if you’re writing science-fiction, you need to have some real science mixed in with the fiction, just like if you’re writing historical fiction, you need to have some real history scattered among the fiction.
I had also decided to return an earlier tradition of action-adventure writing by showcasing heroes who actually were heroic…as well as intelligent and thoughtful and who even had senses of humor.
With the two leads, Kane and Grant, I was inspired by Bob Culp and Bill Cosby’s relationship on a favorite childhood TV show, I Spy and Lonesome Dove’s Gus and Call—seasoned and genuinely tough men who had no need to posture with their 50 caliber penis extenders or model their fake chest hair.
I also flew astray from the Gold Eagle nest to an extent with the creation of Brigid Baptiste…a brilliant, beautiful and capable woman with an eidetic memory.
She didn’t stay behind pushing buttons on a computer console, nor was she the sexual plaything of either of the two male leads but the full, respected partner of Kane and Grant. With Brigid’s addition (her character was inspired by X-Files’ Dana Scully and of course, my brilliant and beautiful wife, Melissa), the core triad of characters was complete.
I whittled the word count of the first manuscript down to more manageable length, turned it in and then focused on my third Deathlands novel, Nightmare Passage.
I was still working on that book when Eva informed me that the title of the first Outlanders novel had been changed to Exile to Hell, apparently to echo the title of the first Deathlands novel, Pilgrimage to Hell. I was okay with that…I was particularly pleased with the cover proof she sent me shortly thereafter, featuring the beautiful artwork of Mike Herring.
Then Eva told me something that not only perplexed me but foreshadowed the editorial attitude I had to deal with over the next couple of years.
Eva informed me that a copy editor—she didn’t name names but I’m 99 percent positive I knew who it was—opined that Exile to Hell was too complicated with too many science-fiction elements, Brigid Baptiste was too strong for a female character in a men’s adventure series and that overall, it wasn’t written in “the Axler style.”
Such a superficial assessment did more than annoy me…it enraged me.
I’d worked exceptionally hard on Exile to Hell. In retrospect, I worked harder on that one book than any of the other 49. I busted my ass on it and for the major criticism to be contained within a casual “not in the Axler style” was ignorant, insensitive, inconsiderate and downright insulting (hey, how’s that for an exercise in alliteration?).
So, I climbed on my high horse and wrote a short response that went thusly: “Inasmuch as the writer who created the alleged “Axler style” is no longer writing as James Axler and inasmuch as I have written four books as James Axler and am currently contracted out for four more, if there is such a thing as an “Axler style” I’m the writer who will establish said style.”
Melissa talked me out of signing off with a “So, kiss my ass.”
Now I wish she hadn’t.
Part Three of this Exciting Saga Coming Soon!
(yes, I’m still being arch)