Influences Behind “The Thirteenth Hour” Part 3: Video Games

In the last few entries, I talked about literature and film influences that went into the making of The Thirteenth Hour.   I could say that I was similarly influenced by video games … but, with a few notable exceptions, I’d actually be lying.

See, I had a rather conflicted relationship with video games when I was a kid.  I always wanted to like them, and there were a few that I did enjoy, but my experiences with them were sort of like my experiences trying to read fantasy books, as detailed in my previous book post.  In other words, frustrating.   There were a couple of reasons that make more sense now as an adult.

First, my parents felt I shouldn’t spend too much time in front of a TV or computer (and now that I’m a parent myself, I have to agree with them), so my success with these electronic bits of interactive story telling was limited just by the nature of less overall time with them.  (The 286 computer we had took forever to boot up, and sometimes it didn’t boot at all, so when that happened, that was the end of that.)  Foreshortened time did create a sort of pressure to maximize the amount that I could do, but really, that was a small issue.

The real problem was that I was pretty lousy at most of the games I had, and to be honest, looking back, most of them weren’t very good to begin with.  And some were insanely hard.  (It seems that some super hard games are seen more favorably these days out of nostalgia for their retro pixelation and/or their so-called “challenging gameplay” … but try telling that to a ten year old who can’t get past the first level).  People like the Angry Video Game Nerd have created whole careers out of ripping these old games new assholes, but they’re mostly right – a lot of these games just plain blew goats!

Let’s backtrack for a second.  This was the 1980s.  There was no internet (at least none that I was aware of), and aside from word of mouth, I think people basically just hoped for the best when they bought a game.  It was basically a hail Mary whether your (or, probably more likely if you were a kid, you parents’) hard earned 40-50 bucks would end up yielding a winner or a stinking turd polished with good box art.  Though I had no experience with them, there were rental places for the console games, so you could try before you bought a game.  I think nothing like that existed for computer games, though.  And regardless of the platform, if you got stuck, you were pretty much on your own unless you had friends who knew what to do or you managed to find a magazine or book that had tips.

Later, I found out about cheat and level codes for NES games, which helped somewhat, but in the beginning, without the ability to save a game, I basically ended up having to play from the beginning each time.  So, I got great at the first few levels, but seldom got much practice at the later ones simply because it was such a process to get there.  I can distinctly recall my hands sweaty and trembling in anticipation around the controller the further and further I progressed, knowing that not only was I on my last life, but if I messed up, I’d have to go all the way back to the beginning (which happened a lot).  So, I think out of the small collection of Nintendo and PC games that I owned, I finished a grand total of … wait for it … zero games.  Yup, zero!

Now, my brother had quite a different experience with all this.  He was born a number of years later, so when he got interested in video games, it was already the age of the internet, strategy guides, and emulators with save states.  He was (and still is) a better natural video game player and had the patience for things like reading manuals and learning the actual gameplay mechanics.  He still plays and writes about video games in the blog pixelgrotto.  If you enjoy reading well written reflections on a wide variety of games and related topics, I’d highly recommend checking out his blog.  Unlike me, he actually was successful at finishing games when he was a kid, so, at least in my book, that should count for something.

However, this wasn’t meant to be a diatribe against video games.  Quite the contrary.  Aside from the above, their overall experience was frustrating mainly because the potential for greatness was so high.  Here was an interactive world with moving pictures and sound and a story you controlled – all in one nifty package!  What more could you ask for?  Well, a lot, actually, but there were a few games that stood out, even to me, at the time.  And these are two that influenced the world of The Thirteenth Hour.

Wizards and Warriors II: Ironswordthis was a Nintendo game that I’d seen in an issue of that great advertisement for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo Power.  It was, in fact, probably the only game I owned where I had the benefit of tips from that magazine.  Probably for that reason, I progressed the farthest in it of all the games I owned, right until the next to last level, which I never did beat.

But on to the story.  It had this little bug eyed hero, Kuros, depicted by Fabio on the box:


Ironsword Kuros


Umm, I never did see the resemblance, but … whatever!  It’s your job to guide Kuros on a quest to find the lost pieces of the Ironsword, and to do so he must travel to the ends of the Earth (wind, earth, water, and fire).  The four element idea is very prevalent in myth and legend, which probably explains its use here, but this may have been an influence for Logan traveling to the wind, water, fire, and earth palaces during his journey in The Thirteenth Hour.

Ultima V – the cover pretty much says it all.  I mean, check this shiznit out:


That is some pretty good box art right there.  You really feel for the guy in red.  His buddy in on the ground with a dayglo arrow in him, and all he has to defend himself against the three cloaked giants is that measly sword.  Talk about intense .. and some epic fantasy stuff there.  What the game itself came with was epic as well – a cloth map, a little metal coin thing (never figured out what that was for, but it looked cool), a book of background on the land the game takes place in … they sure knew how to package games in those days:


My great aunt bought me this game, I think for my birthday.  When it came in the mail, I took one look at the box, and it was like the scene from A Christmas Story when Ralphie finally gets his red Ryder bb gun.  I immediately read everything it came with, unfolded and studied the map, and treated the little metal coin thing like it was the Hope diamond or something.  For hours.

And after all that … I proceeded to have absolutely zero clue what the hell I was supposed to do in the game.  To be fair, I was like eight, so I was probably too young to really understand or devote the necessary focus to get into a complicated game like this.  Though I got nowhere in it (don’t think I ever figured out how to make it to any of the other disks – as you can see in the picture, it came with a bunch), I had fun playing it anyway.

But it was the box art that provided one of my first introductions to fantasy art (this was also about the time I was making equally poor progress trying to get into fantasy novels and proceeded to find the covers more satisfying than the books), which I still appreciate to this day and influenced me to include illustrations in The Thirteenth Hour. 

So, that’s a wrap for video games.  Next, we’ll look at music, and then finally, a miscellaneous collection of works that didn’t directly influence the writing of the book (but could have).




-Book Trailer:

-Free itunes podcast of the book:

Read free excerpts at and the book’s amazon site.

Influences Behind the Thirteenth Hour Part 1: Books

There are no new ideas, really.  But we do take things in our experience and make them our own by changing or tweaking a little here or there.

In the process of editing The Thirteenth Hour, I tried to reverse engineer where the various ideas making up the book came from (or contributed in some way, served as inspiration, or broadened my horizons).  This first in a series of several posts will look at what I came up with so far.  I’ve included links to goodreads and other sites where appropriate:


I read a lot as a kid, and while I always wanted to like fantasy books became they had cool covers, I always had trouble getting into them – the obscure name with a zillion consonants, the fact they they often just plopped you in the middle with little to no explanation of the backstory, the fact that it was usually impossible to find the first book in the series, leading you to have to to figure it out on your own, etc).  Some of those gripes are a thing of the past given you can find pretty much anything on the internet, but at the time, it was frustrating.  So I found myself gravitating to the ones that weren’t necessarily pure fantasy, were a little more user-friendly, and ideally, didn’t necessarily take themselves too seriously.  I’ve also listed some picture books, non-fantasy novels, and comics that I grew up reading that influenced the art and writing style in The Thirteenth Hour.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende – probably the first fantasy style novel that I was able to successfully read.  The hardcover edition I read was printed in red and green text depending on which character’s story it was, which influenced me to do something similar with the text of The Thirteenth Hour.  I was about nine when I read it, and remember feeling very proud after finishing it – not only was it over 400 pages long, it was housed in the adult part of the library.  But it was also a book for grown ups that had pictures (the beginning of each chapter was adorned with a montage-style picture of the chapter’s contents), which blew my mind at the time, and has forever biased me to novels that also have illustrations.  It was also one of the many stories of the time that used the guise of a young protagonist getting sucked into the world of a story to advance the plot).

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – my mother started reading this story to my brother and I when I was about twelve or so.  I ended up finishing the rest of the series on my own and always enjoyed the irreverent, dry humor of the book, which probably influenced the narrative of The Thirteenth Hour in some underlying ways).

Lost in Place by Mark Salzman – a memoir, actually, of author Mark Salzman’s childhood.  Probably one of my favorite books of all time because of the irreverent, honest writing style.  I read it as a teenager and particularly delighted at his descriptions of his martial arts training and his youthful obsessions to be an astronaut and kung fu monk, all of which I could relate to.  The writing style probably influenced me giving Logan from The Thirteenth Hour a similar voice).

The Teddy Bear Habit by James Lincoln Collier – I think I had to read this book in the sixth? grade.  I remember it being hilarious, and although it’s a product of the times (written in the 60s with lots of period slang throughout), that didn’t really seem to matter.  It’s a funny story, and the part I recall most fondly is the narrator, who’s a twelve year old but has the perspective of an adult.  Like the proceeding books on this list, the style influenced the first-person narrated sections of The Thirteenth Hour.

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien – I think this was another one we had to read for school, but like The Teddy Bear Habit, it was a good choice.  This book also used the premise of a parallel world operating right under our noses (in this case, one of animals), which was (apparently) a common theme of a lot of stuff I liked then.  Like all those works, that idea probably influenced the creation of the world of dreams in The Thirteenth Hour.

Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman – a wonderfully illustrated and written version of the St. George tale.  We had a bunch of books illustrated by Ms. Hyman (see below for another example) when I was growing up, and the artwork probably influenced how I drew some of the scenes in The Thirteenth Hour.

Swan Lake by Margot Fonteyn/Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman – see above.

Bone comics by Jeff Smith – my brother had a few magazines when he was a kid (I think they were called Disney Adventures) that had a serialized version of the first few parts of this comic.  I later checked out a few volumes from the local library but never actually got around to finishing the rest of the story (it’s on my to do list).  But I really enjoyed the inked black and white art, probably one of the influencing factors behind the stylized, semi-cartoony look I gave the characters in The Thirteenth Hour.  Plus, this was the probably first time I’d seem a fantasy comic done in a graphic novel form.  I flirted with the idea of making The Thirteenth Hour into a comic, and even had some comic-esque scenes that I drew, but in the end shelved those for another day.  I think the only one that made it into the book was a frame where Logan is telling Aurora to run (and you can see the word bubble).

Logan with beardWM

Archie comics – my brother also had a ton of Archie comics which I’d occasionally read.  I don’t recall the stories being terribly engaging (except for one where Archie meets the Punisher – see the link!), but I did like the stylized way the characters were drawn.  I even tried tracing, then copying, a few to get the hang of drawing cartoons.  (I remember having a lot of trouble with eyes and noses and found it easier to make them look acceptable the way they were drawn in these comics rather than in a more photo-realistic way).  So, like Bone above, it influenced the art in The Thirteenth Hour.

Logan pushupsWM

Speaking of art, it took years, but I finally figured out that although fantasy novels were always a kind of plus minus experience for me, with a few key exceptions, what I really liked were the covers.  In other words – fantasy art.  There, it was all spelled out, so to speak – the entire story in one picture.  If you, too, enjoy pictures of surreal landscapes, dragons, and the like, check out the great fantasy art on deviantart.  The Thirteenth Hour has its own page there.

In the next post, I’ll transition entirely to visual media with movies and television programs that influenced The Thirteenth Hour.





-Book Trailer:

-Free itunes podcast of the book:

-Read free excerpts at and the book’s amazon site.

Writing the Main Characters

My brother once asked me if the characters in The Thirteenth Hour were based on myself. I don’t think so, at least not on purpose. I suppose every writer injects some of himself in the characters that he creates, but I didn’t set out to do this consciously, although I no doubt suspect that there were plenty of unconscious contributions.

The character of Logan was somebody I envisioned as being unassuming and initially kind of naive, not yet possessing the confidence that comes from having more experience in life. Despite losing his parents at a young age, I want to portray the rest of his childhood in as secure a way as possible. I think there’s sometimes a stereotype to portray institutions like orphanages as evil, bureaucratic places that are understaffed, underfunded, and poorly run. And while there are no doubt some places like that, I wanted to paint a better picture for Logan’s childhood environment in order to give him the kind of consistent, safe, caring support that I thought he’d need to equip him for the challenges that he would face in the story. I also wanted him to be someone that spoke to the reader in an honest, sometimes irreverent way, kind of like an adult who’s looking back on his life but has a good idea what it still is like to be a kid (although I didn’t specifically think of it at the time, the narrators from The Wonder Years, Stand By Me, and The Christmas Story do this quite well). I thought it important that he not take himself too seriously, because let’s face it, there are a lot of lousy, humiliating things that happen to everyone when they’re kids that seem a lot funnier years later.

If you’ve read the book, you know that the Logan narrates the majority of the story interspersed by sections told by Aurora. She was not based on anyone in particular, but rather a compilation of characteristics that I thought would make her an interesting independent character yet a good friend and partner to Logan. The creation of young adult female characters has always seemed a bit more loaded than the creation of their male counterparts. I’ve often gotten the impression that some authors write their female characters with some kind of agenda in mind; instead of it just being a story about a human that happens to be female, it’s a story about a woman who is strong, or a woman who is not strong, or a woman who is not strong and becomes strong, or … whatever! While I wanted her to be able to stand on her own two feet, I didn’t want it to be for some kind of feminist or politically correct agenda; I just thought that would be the most realistic way of depicting her given what she has to go through in the story.

Like Logan, Aurora spends much of the book trying to figure out the world around her while navigating the challenges of young adulthood – namely figuring oneself out and finding love. This is, of course, something that all teenagers go through. It was this awkward mix of yearning, anticipation, and reckless abandon that I hoped to capture. Unfortunately, it took me about sixteen years to finally get it to where I was satisfied with it, but that, to me, was more important than any of the adventure parts of the story.

There are a few writers out there I’m aware of that have captured the world of the adolescent well – novelist Cynthia Voigt (Homecoming, A Solitary Blue, Jackaroo) and screenwriter John Hughes (Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful) come to mind – and it strikes me now that one of the most critical things you can do for a teenager is let him or her know that – hey, you know what, there’s someone out there who gets you, who remembers how lousy it can be, and despite all the eye rolling and grunts you might give, is going to hold you to a higher standard and isn’t going to talk to you like you’re a three year old while doing it. Of course, I didn’t understand or care about any of that then; I wrote the first draft of The Thirteenth Hour when I was a teenager. But the nice thing about having written the story when I did was that it gave both me and the characters time and space to grow. It often seemed that as got older, I got to know them better and better. I might even go so far as to say that we all kind of grew up together. So in many ways, The Thirteenth Hour is less about the physical journey that the characters take and more about the journey they take from children to adults.





-Book Trailer:

-Free itunes podcast of the book:

-Read free excerpts at and the book’s amazon site.