What a long trip in so few chapters. "Sentenced to Life" started out like everything else I started online. Lots of enthusiasm, little to no plan. It was however, silently intended to show a darker side of my own existence that I was having difficulty coping with. Danny was supposed to have outlived everything worth living for and after telling his story, he was supposed to finally end an unnaturally long existence. It's how I felt about my own life at the time of the story's conception. I felt like a broken mess that had outlived his usefulness so I created Danny, a broken mess that had outlived his usefulness. He was able to emphasize my feelings by having everything he had ever cared about simply being gone, making himself feel as if he had no further purpose and giving my inner voice a way to vent. Once that was established, he was supposed to finally find peace in a merciful end. After plenty of direction changes at the time, I settled on the fact that Marc was supposed to be a simple cameo and, the Clan wasn't even a thought...
Inclusion in the CSU changed absolutely everything about this story. Danny found family and in doing so, the story, and its main character found a new purpose... before I did for myself. So I guess it's safe to say I needed to catch up with my characters to be able to continue to write them. I am sorry it took so long and that the road was so rocky along the way. Once I got myself to the point that I could write again, I figured it was time to write some happy endings. Starting with a character I actually was hesitant to bring to life; so we saw very little of him in the story except for the very beginning and very end. (Yes, I mean Kevin Perry.)
When I first brought the concept of Kevin into the story, the real person he was based on was still a fresh emptiness in my daily life. A young man who was making his place in the world and hoping to build a family and a career... Years before that, he was literally my favorite shadow and as he got older and needed me less, I learned how much I actually relied on him to continue to "feel like me" still. I mean, I was and am so proud of who he became but, because I felt as if I needed to step aside to let new people into his life, I felt like the broken and forgotten toy. This regretfully would be the reason I would lose touch with him over the years and why I would end out looking backward instead of forward for so long. So, in the story, I wanted to bring Kevin in as an active character. In doing so, I wanted to hold on to a piece of the real "Shadow" but it created a problem I wasn't prepared to face yet, I either needed to be able to admit that it hurt to let go or, write Kevin as someone who was less than an angel and possibly may not be liked by all because he let Danny down; regardless of the reasons. So in the story, we simply had issues activating him (which ended out being the base of plenty of jokes). In the end, it played well but, the story of "Dan's Past" almost didn't get told at all. Writing chapter 17E was actually a gamble for me and thankfully, was well received by readers based on tons of emails I received on that one chapter alone (thank you all again for that! I have never been so humbled and grateful).
Marc Furst: "Not supposed to be in the story at all, period." When I originally outlined the story (God I wish I still had a copy of that), Jim Strafford was supposed to find Danny's lifeless body in a salvage yard. He was the one who was supposed to bring Danny back, hear that the poor soul had been through hell and just wanted to find peace. He was supposed to sympathize with the little android and then assist him in ending his life by shutting him down and destroying the brain. Hence the title "Sentenced to Life" as the ending was intended to be freeing. Finding similarities between my android and one in a story I had once read and admired, I realized that after Danny, more must exist so I would loosely create others based on the common conception of what an android should become. In doing so, I decided to Cameo Marc as another android who would be the one to do the restoration, hear the story and then pull the proverbial plug. I'd keep the Jim character because he was my link to the original creator. Deciding to involve a real android with one that was formerly human created the fatal flaw that would involve the very first outside involvement and a severe shift in the story's intended path.
"Danny decided this android boy is more than just programming. He's caring and unselfish and deserves to be happy." If I had left the cameo out of the idea, there would have been no need for me to go complaining to ACFan because I would have never gotten myself stuck. Danny decided to go out of his way to get Marc to begin to enjoy life. He was the reason we went over and met Jerry, the kid next door who wanted the android boy to come out to play and would finally get his wish. I was supposed to have Danny sit down and tell the story that we finally got to see in chapter 17E. Instead, I couldn't find a reason to have that conversation because Danny wasn't focused on himself and miserable anymore. That's what I needed him to be. What do I do now? I have him out on the beach, convincing this new "brother" that he should be living his life with this kid who wasn't even supposed to be in the story... but I liked the work that had been done and wanted to keep it. So while Danny was relearning how to enjoy life on his own, I called ACFan and whined. My story had become derailed and I didn't know how to fix it without wiping out this really cool scene on the beach and everything that led up to it; that I really didn't want to part with. His answer started by throwing away the outline and my deeper inner meaning. Find them a new purpose and give them a reason to want to exist. This led to the decision to bring real people into the mix, more androids and build a family where there once was none. It's commonly believed that the phone call from "Clan Short" began the merge with the CSU but, if you go scene for scene, when Jerry came back and complained that his parent's plans had changed is really where we had shifted gears. Anyone who I've told that too went back and read that section and came back to me with an: "Ohhh... Yea, it's obvious now." which I find a little funny.
The Logic War: ACFan and I learned that we really could rif well off of one another. Hence the scene in chapter 7 where Danny would be informed that he was to become the new Division's leader. To this day, my absolute favorite co-authored scene and one that actually is referred to by other authors within the CSU simply as "The Logic War". It was not planned ahead of time. Wasn't even thought of until communicators got distributed. Then I responded as I felt Danny would, with concern for Marc and the argument was off and running. Text responses back and forth between myself and ACFan as if this conversation was going on between the two of us. Commentary from onlookers peppered in there for comedic value because, that's how we both think. "Androids and Gentlemen; that's the game!" It was after we finished that scene and posted it that I realized that we were creating something that was taking on a life of its own. It wasn't my story anymore and that made it better and bigger. Maybe even a little frightening for an amateur author. Now there were expectations that I might not meet. It was developing a fan base, which was hoped for but not with any real confidence at first. It wasn't until I got my first hate mail that I realized what I had done.
Hate Mail: Not long after chapter 5 had been posted I received an email that was a plea on behalf of Marc and Danny. It was from a loyal reader that once reaching the end of the chapter (which ends with the cliffhanger of a call from "Clan Short") was upset that I was turning my main characters into clones of the main characters of ACFan's story "Memories" and my mention of the "Clan" directly confirmed his suspicions. He pleaded with me to reconsider the inevitable destruction of the story and these characters who obviously needed an advocate now. It was at this point I realized that I had created likable characters that people other than myself valued. Sure this one person was unhappy with what he saw coming but, he cared about Marc and Danny and stepped up and confronted me on their behalf. As dumb as this may sound, that was a validating moment for me and one I won't soon forget. Of course, I did move forward with the tie-in regardless. I'm sure if I told that fan that without the tie-in, Danny was destined to commit suicide again and Marc would probably follow his lead this time because "What's the point of it all?" anyway? He never did complain again. Maybe he figured it out.
Noah and Caleb: I was a fan of ACFan's "Memories" well before the start of "Sentenced to Life" so when he saw that I was really enjoying "borrowing" the Barnes boys and offered to leave them in my care, I almost fell out of my chair. Noah and Caleb to me were much more than souvenirs from a favorite story though. ACFan's creations helped me bridge the shyness between my two main characters. Noah became a trusted friend to Marc very early on as he stumbled into Marc's hidden truth regarding Danny. Likewise, Caleb's technical abilities turned up the geek factor which Danny (modeled after me, don't forget) quickly adopted and ran with. They became the right arms that I didn't even think Marc and Danny would need and made the world I had created so much larger than I had anticipated. With Noah becoming Danny's assistant director, the team was literally able to cope with anything that was thrown at it in a believable way. Being a gift from an author who became my big brother in real life as well as being able to write Noah's proposal to Caleb and the inclusion of their son Hunter made them treasures in my eyes that I am thankful to have been able to write. Thanks again ACFan.
Sneaking around in the background: I got a decent amount of feedback from readers when it was learned that characters from Akeentia's story "Ark" were manipulating situations in the story line. For me, this was an added bonus. Akeentia was brought into our family as a hosted author on another of our family sites. I previewed some of his work as he was being moved in and got hooked on his writing really quickly. I've always been a sucker for a good fantasy/sci-fi story and his drew me in. When he first began his CSU story "Ark", I got excited to work with another author who had become an idol of mine in such a short time, and was floored to learn he was a fan of my writing. It was definitely a first for me as I was still getting used to the idea of actually having actual fans in my readers. He became a brother over the years and even though he keeps threatening to rewrite one of my absolute favorites (The Operant Unconscious Project, which you should read if you like darker Sci-Fi and haven't already. I'm just saying...), tying in "Ark" was some of the most fun I've ever had. His ideas within the CSU added so much depth to the universe in general that it's impossible to imagine the CSU without the Ark compound watching over it all. I can't even watch vampire movies anymore without thinking "Moroi", which makes me smile. To top it all off, Akeentia is responsible for upgrading the entire Fort Family by custom designing a Content Management System that allows us all to focus more on our writing and less on-site maintenance. "Sentenced to Life" got a reboot partially because I actually found free time once the upgrade was completed.
Loose Ends: I'm sure people will find things within the story that weren't nicely wrapped up by the end of the final chapter. It took quite a few read-throughs before I was confident that I had selected all of the final items that needed to be answered before the story was ready to put to bed. Overall, I believe other authors have done a great job integrating The A.I. Division's existence into the universe we all live in so even the small things will begin to be answered as others bring the A.I. Division into their active works. They've done such a good job so far that often when I see my characters in scenes that other people have written, even I have difficulty believing it is someone else's work. Eventually, they will grow beyond what I intended but, they will do it maintaining the personalities that I created. It's a little like watching your children grow up and move on in life without you. Heh, isn't that what started the story in the first place? A bit of irony as a bonus.
In the end, "Sentenced to Life" is a child that was raised by a village. Over the years, 11 people have been credited with creating content that would be included in chapters of the story. 12 in all (not including myself) would be involved in shaping the events that got us through 18 chapters in the end. Some co-written works, some content was written to be included, and some creating events that weren't directly seen but would change the world that had been created. In the order of involvement, those people are:
Boi From Aus
D & B
...and the reason it was all readable was because of its editors:
Ghost & Dakota - (TwoHyperPups)
*The Story Lover
*Darryl, aka The Radio Rancher
*TSL and RR were STL's final editing and continuity team. Without their expertise and inspiration, what would have been posted may at some point simply no longer filled the role it was intended to fill. We owe them a huge thanks and unending gratitude.
Not really the end: The cool thing about the CSU is the fact that this story's ending is not really the end. During the writing of chapter 18, I got to co-write on another project that includes some of the A.I. guys. There are also situations I want to flesh out from earlier ideas to be included in the CSU's future. Otherwise, many of the other authors have proven that they are able to channel our characters when needed. TheEggman has gotten so good at writing "Joey Speak" that we text back and forth in the juvenile androids tongue and I can tell you that he has really mastered the little variations of "KidSpeak" mixed with the little details that make Joey, Joey. Soon I may be able to play games with the scenes: "Who wrote it?" or "Guess the author." and have it be a challenge even for myself. "Bud id's oday no maddew if id's Jeff ow Uncah Eggy dhad dypes dhe wowds on dhe compudew. Dhey'ww be dhe same!" ("But it's otay no matter if it's Jeff or Uncah Eggy that types the words on the computer. They'll be the same!")
From myself, Danny, Marc, Noah, Caleb, Hunter, Jerry, Davie, Joey, KC, Jim, Mary, Jon, Dr, Herron, Nurse Patty, Alex Fraser (Rest in peace Eddie), Scott, Benny, Alex, Billy, Judge and Margaret Legette, JR, Gramps, Rich and John Murphy, Sam, Will, and Kevin: It's been lots of fun and we all look forward to the next adventure!
Let me say that Sentenced to Life has been one of my favorite stories since I was first told that I needed to read it. It was love at first sight for me.
I became friends with AC fan through an IRC chat that I had found which was hosted by Comicality. AC and I basically got acquainted and became friends before I even knew he was a writer. We just clicked and found we had a lot in common. I wish I could remember for sure who tipped me off about STL, because it was actually the crossover chapter involving the Clan that lead me to actually read Memories, I got hooked and never looked back. AC was looked at as the star of the show, but since I got to know him before I read his work, I hadn't become star struck, and he was just this really cool guy that I enjoyed chatting with. So I just want to thank you for writing Sentenced To Life, because it opened up a whole new universe to me, and my life has been enriched beyond my wildest dreams, up to and including being given the opportunity to edit a story I really love.
Thank You very much!
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Clan Short Archivist's Notes:
It is always a sad day when a wonderful story ends and it is time to get off the rollercoaster ride that the story became. I wasn't there for the beginning, however, I was there for a lot of the creation of this story. Thanks to Jeff P's portrayal of his characters I often forgot that they were Androids, and then they would mention their data port and I would go ahh.
I have to admit that I wasn't sure that Sentenced to Life (I can't write STL as it cornfuses the heck out of Me.) joining the CSU was a good idea in the beginning. In hindsight, though it turned out to be a very good thing. The Sentenced to Life characters now had a chance to grow in ways that were never anticipated. We got to meet Zeke and Emperor that we would never have known about otherwise.
I am not going to mention what the mean author did to lovable Joey as I don't have a leg to stand on.
Now that Sentenced to Life is over, I can't wait to see what comes out of Jeff P's fertile imagination next time.