The Really Big Idea: Thomas Marinich
Humor. It’s all about.
Timing. Or so I’ve been told. Though I love the dark, serious style – Lord of the Rings, Dune, and thousands of others – comedy has often gotten a bit of the shaft. Because it isn’t serious, it isn’t taken seriously. But I know that my life would be immeasurably poorer had I not read, say, Good Omens by Gaiman and Pratchett, or lesser known works like The Greks Bring Gifts by Leinster or Martians, Go Home by Brown. What I like about this big idea is that while poking fun at George Lucas and what his creations are and have become is in some senses easy, that is only the backdrop for a story that has a life of its own – in this case literally. I will leave you with the immortal words of Mel Brooks, who said, “Comedy is when you fall in a sewer and die. Tragedy is when I get a papercut.”
I’ve always dreamed of being a writer, but never really gave writing any serious thought. Growing up, I wrote stories in my notebook all the time for the amusement of friends. Space stories. Inspired by Star Wars. More accurately, they were spoofs of Star Wars. I was an avid reader of Mad magazine at the time as well. But when it came time to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, I never considered writing as an option.
I studied computer engineering in college, though well into my career in that field, writing never left my mind. I had ideas for stories and developed characters, but I never committed them to paper. What it really came down to was a lack of confidence. Something eventually changed that, however.
It started with the release of The Phantom Menace. The release of a new Star Wars movie brought out the little boy in me. And that drove me to the Internet. At first, to the official Star Wars Web site. After many Web searches, I eventually stumbled upon a Star Wars-themed message board. Here, I was in contact with fellow sci-fi fans from all over the world. We initially discussed and debated Episode I but eventually went on conversing about politics, world events, personal affairs, you name it. So naturally, over time, these strangers became friends.
This community became a second home—an online home—for a number of us. Not only did friendships form, but relationships sprouted as well. Online friendships and relationships soon transcended the Internet, mostly those not separated by the oceans. For me, I was mostly an observer; I was too busy with work to get that involved, but the community was a nice little escape from the dreaded real world.
One of the attractions to this community, for me anyway, was the entertainment. At first, that entertainment came from the talent of some of its more creative members. They wrote stories using the most popular members of the message board as characters. I thought this was nothing less than brilliant. And it got my creative juices flowing. However, I didn’t jump into the fray with my own story—not right away anyway. I wasn’t exactly one of those popular members. I never made it into any of the members’ stories, so I had serious doubts that anything that I wrote and posted would receive the same level of praise and accolades as those from the popular members.
During that time, I traveled a lot for work, driving back and forth between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Those long four hour drives gave way to a lot of thinking. One idea that worked its way into my head was to incorporate some of these netizens (as I like to refer to them) as minor characters in one of the sci-fi stories that I was trying to develop. I reasoned that they could be fighter pilots—much like Wedge was in Star Wars.
Another hour into that particular drive and I threw that idea out. These netizens were too interesting to be relegated to the role of “minor” characters—they needed their own story. After observing and interacting with these folks for over two years, I decided that the plot would come directly from their online postings. Yes, I finally decided to take my plunge into posting my first online story—Binge Wars.
Binge Wars loosely spoofed Star Wars as that was the common interest of the online community. It told the story of the two most famous (or infamous depending on point of view) community members—a couple who met at this message board. Through a sci-fi adventure that depicted Earth in a futuristic war, the couple’s unfolding romance took center stage.
I took the community’s most popular members and divvied them up between Earth soldiers, space pirates and the bad guys. Role playing games were one form of entertainment on the message board. One particular RPG was a group of Britons posting about binging on alcohol. Since all the Imperial officers in Star Wars were British actors, I knew who my bad guys were, and thus Binge Wars was born.
I posted a chapter each night after work and my story was an instant success. It was such a hit that when it concluded, the message board pleaded for a sequel. I did them one better, so in the spirit of Star Wars, I provided a trilogy. And yet, that wasn’t enough for them. I continued the adventure with a second trilogy. A third was then demanded—the community simply could not get enough.
I stopped at this point. Although I enjoyed my online “celebrity” that came from Binge Wars, my life had changed. Shortly after the conclusion of the sixth and final episode of the series, 911 happened and I was soon unemployed. Writing an online series was the last thing on my mind at this point. Given the depth of the recession that followed that horrific day, I was out of work for over a year. During this dark time in my life, I kept in touch with my online friends from that community. After sharing my depressing story with them, some of them pointed out the obvious that seemed to have escaped me: publish Binge Wars.
I thought it a silly idea at first, easily dismissed by my lack of confidence that had plagued me all along. But I mulled the idea over for the next week. Was it really that silly? After all, the stories proved themselves already. Although to a specific audience, the stories already had a small fan base. But would a story told about a specific online community, using the board’s own postings as plots and subplots, play to the outside world?
The episodes would need an overhaul, that much was for sure. The inside jokes needed removed. The characters would need to be developed. I could no longer rely on the familiarity that my target audience (the message board) had with each character. With some work though, I was confident that I could make this happen.
The stories needed another change. I held back in the online versions. There was plenty of material that never made that cut, but was prime for a release to the general public—the juicy bits. These were the parts that would entice an outside audience to the stories. These were the second form of entertainment that I alluded to earlier. The drama. Some of it spewed on the Web pages of the message board, but most of it played out in other forms: private messages, instant messaging, emails, in person meetings between members, and so on.
I decided that Binge Wars was to tell the true drama that unfolded at the message board: the behind-the-scenes power struggles, the romances and breakups, the backstabbing, the gossip, the shattered friendships, and all the untold drama that didn’t make it to surface in online postings.
How did I become privy to such information? Let’s just say that “celebrity” had its advantages. Many of the community members in Binge Wars tried to use my stories as another form to either hurt or attack other members. Many reached out to me privately. Although I listened (I prefer the term “research” instead), those tidbits failed to make the cut in the online versions. I was not to be used for anyone’s propaganda or agenda. The novelization of Binge Wars, however, would be different.
The war between Earth and the drunken race known as the Binge is still the backdrop. The book not only tells of Earth’s struggle to win a galactic war, but the personal struggles that plague its armed forces that fight that war. The novel is told through the original six episodes. Each individual episode focuses on a specific community member and tells their story as a subplot but also moves the main plot of the novel along, which is still about that couple. They are the central theme of the entire novel. And through the different point-of-views of the online community members, or characters in the book, their story is told.
The spirit of Binge Wars—the novel—is the same as the online version. It is a comedy. Nothing more. Nothing less. It doesn’t have a message. It’s not a coming-of-age tale. It simply sets out to make you laugh—and you will.
That’s Binge Wars in a nutshell. It all started as a short story posted on the Internet for a bunch of obsessed Star Wars fans. It quickly blossomed into three short stories, then six, and is now a complete novel.
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