Natalie Rambles About Verde's Doohickey

Because it’s been 4.5 years, which is long enough for a post-mortem.  

Over the past three months, I’ve been gradually releasing chapters from my 2015 novel, Verde’s Doohickey, re-edited and with accompanying visual headers to denote each chapter.  It’s part of a prolonged process I’ve taken on to revise and republish novels that I’d previously written on Nigma Box.  Now that the novel in its entirety has been published, I wanted to discuss it in detail, going over its origins, my inspirations, my intentions, and my overall thoughts on what was my first full-fledged novel after having revisited it in its entirety.  So without further ado, let’s dive into Verde’s Doohickey.

Part 1: Birthing Novus

…Or at least that’s what I would say, if not for the fact that Verde’s Doohickey very much was not my first attempt at writing fiction, let alone long-form fiction, and that it was created as a direct response to my earlier work.  Now, discussions and explanations about my ‘earlier work’ are robust enough to warrant their own Ramble, so I’ll instead regale you with an abridged version.

A few months after I started Nigma Box back in 2012, I began to write web novels by the name of Intertoids and Nari’s Log, two genuinely bizarre strings of consciousness that barely made any goldarn sense, but served as the ground for myself as a writer of creative fiction.  This eventually caused my ambitions to boil in order to give way to a number of novellas that I wrote throughout 2013 and 2014. Raiyne’s Whimsy, My Life as Abigale Quinlan, Punky’s Post-Apocalyptic Adventure, Terrance & Urabe’s Alien Assassination Adventure, Return of Mighty Terra 2052 – The DNApocalypse, Psycho Shatter (95YcH0_Sh4πeR), and A Vile Doohickey.  

All of these novellas served as a major leap for me creatively, with the production of each one imparting on me a number of lessons as a creator, and while I have made it a point to never re-release these works in their original format, due to the low-quality of their writing, I still cherish them in their own special way, as they’re the reason I’m where I am today as a writer.  However, there are two titles that are of particular importance when discussing Verde’s Doohickey, as they directly influenced its premise and objective.  Psycho Shatter (95YcH0_Sh4πeR) and the similarly named A Vile Doohickey.  

Psycho Shatter (95YcH0_Sh4πeR) was a crass, vulgar tale that was a means of venting out the frustrations I was going through back in 2014, both personally and as a creator.  It was me taking every nasty, cruel, and mean spirited idea I could muster and funneling them into a story about a cannibal rapist who was given divine powers.  It’s a story that I genuinely love in spite of its problems, as evidenced by the fact that, back in 2019, I wrote an expanded remake of the novella dubbed Psycho Shatter 1985: Black Vice Re;Birth

After I finished writing Psycho Shatter (95YcH0_Sh4πeR), I thirsty to quench my palette with something completely different, an antithesis if you will, and one that drew heavy inspiration from the visual novel Press-Switch.  A title that I have discussed at length on Nigma Box in the past, and one of my favorite pieces of fiction of all time.  I discovered it back in the summer of 2014, fell in love with it, and found its core premise of a gaggle of teenagers getting up to mischief and bad tidings with a remote that can swap bodies among other things to be too infectious for me to pass by.  So, in fall of 2014, I created A Vile Doohickey, a story mostly about a group of four friends, Jad Spencer, Maxxie Flare, Zoe Xing, and Shiaka Kurosawa who find a body swap remote and use it to have some chill body swapping funsies that last for the first half of the novella.

The second half of the novella was an indicator that I had no idea what the hell I was doing with this story, as it veered into this domestic abuse revenge story that involved body swap-based framing, and concluded in an erotic shower scene where Jad and Maxxie swapped bodies and had wet, hot, steamy intercourse… because I wanted to try my hand at writing a sex scene.  It was a rough impulsively written novella and one that I began having second thoughts about almost immediately after I released it on December 21st, 2014.  

At the time, I was happy with what I came up with, but I felt that I was not maximizing the potential of what I thought was a captivating story concept.  So, before the end of 2014, I was already penning the outline, ideas, and concept that would make up a remake so expanded, revised and disconnected that I consider it to be its own unique and distinct entity.  An entity that originally went by the title of Project VDR before being dubbed Verde’s Doohickey.  

I spent over two months on preproduction for this story, refining the characters, revising the plotline, creating supplemental information regarding every character, creating family trees, assigning heights, weights, birthdates, and school schedules for these characters— everything I could think of to create a solid foundation for a story.  I went through at least 4 major rewrites of the overall outline before finally beginning production in earnest in March 2015. At that point, I was convinced that the bushel of ideas I revised and reiterated upon was solid gold. So solid, so thick, and so precious, that this story could be the introductory point for a series that I dubbed The Novus Logs.  A series of what I envisioned being 10 novels— a full decalogy— that all played a part in this grandiose narrative about self-discovery, friendship, and human determination.  

I aimed for the stars, channeled every idea I could into the story, and pushed my writing to a new level in order to bring Verde’s Doohickey to life in the best way I possibly could.  Though, looking back on it, I don’t think it’s very good.  I don’t think it’s bad either, but it has a lot of problems that I became painfully aware of as I re-experienced everything this story had to offer.

Part 2: Plentiful Problems in the Plump Pulsating Plot

The modus operandi of Verde’s Doohickey was to create a story about a group of close friends who swap bodies with each other that did not have any core central conflict.  There would be no body theft, no malicious intents, and no issues involving a missing or stolen body swapping device. It was meant to be a more mellow and chill story laced with awkward encounters, momentary shenanigans, and interpersonal reflections from the cast as they get to know each other on the most intimate level imaginable.  

It was, at the end of the day, a story about a bunch of teenagers hanging out and having a good time.  And in that respect, I’d say that I succeeded, as there is a lot of casual conversation between the main four, a lot of mostly aimless banter, and a good amount of discussions about each other’s bodies, thanks to regular meet-ups that populate the second half.

However, there is a reason why narrative structure is so often built around a central conflict with an ensuing climax, and that’s because it is difficult to make a long-form narrative compelling or endearing without having a problem that the central characters are attempting to resolve.  It is why A Vile Doohickey wildly changed its story focus during its latter chapters— because I felt that I needed to push things forward, something to spice up the established ebb and flow of the narrative, and some way to raise the metaphorical stakes near the end.  And in order to do so, I decided to give the protagonist, Jad Novus, a hefty dose of interpersonal conflicts.

Conflicts that in many ways were reflective of my own feelings at the time of writing him— a sense of internalized hatred born from feelings of inferiority, unrest, and relentless comparisons to those around them.  The climax of the story is ultimately about Jad coming to terms with these things, realizing that he, at least to some extent, loathes himself, before being reminded that he does matter, he is important, he is loved, he deserves to be loved, and he should not wallow alone in his pool of self-pity.

This was meant to be a major theme of The Novus Logs, this 10-part series, where Jad would come to terms with themselves, learn to love who they are, and grow up from a teenager to an adult with an ample amount of experience under their belt.  Or in other words, this was meant to be an exceptionally long journey for this unexpecting protagonist, and in order to accommodate the length of this journey, I opted to treat much of this story as an establishing chapter, setting up the core characters, themes, ideas, and setting.  The problem with this approach is that, while set-up is all well and good, it is only worthwhile if it leads to something. Which, due to its status as the first volume of a prolonged saga, doesn’t happen in Verde’s Doohickey.

It is obsessed with laying out a foundation, introducing dribs and drabs, namedropping and affording single scenes to characters like Babs Pequot, Caroline Steticks, Bryce Novus, Haruki Kurokawa, Vivi Gaimz, Anita Neukar, Gem Stone, and Yuccot Kikansky.  But it does not do anything meaningful with these characters, and most of them are just… there. I tried to give them some working personalities, and make them distinct from one another, but they ultimately exist as vague mechanisms in the machine that is the underlying narrative, never developing, expanding, or feeling like fully defined people.  

Why did I even include these characters then?  Because I had plans. I had this grandiose keikaku that I was desperate to make into a reality.  I was going to give each of these characters their moment to shine in a later novel, where they would serve as main characters and be afforded a greater level of depth and complexity.  However, that is no excuse for including this many ancillary characters in a story this brief and light.  

This is a grievance that I have with this story, but not a major detractor, especially not when in the midst of reading the story.  Instead, I think the biggest problem with the story is the fact that the story runs out of steam during its final fourth, devolving into a series of bitching and moaning from Jad Novus as they go on and on about how unhappy they are.  Their self-loathing is justified, at least somewhat, by their demeanor and the events they are thrust into, but it is not very entertaining to read, and is only even remotely ‘worth it’ for the climatic spiel that Maxxie goes on, concluding the story on a positive note of self-love… before indulging in more backstory regarding Verde as a character.  A backstory that, itself, was more set-up and had little if any bearing on the actual events of the story at hand.

Everything about this novel made sense to me while writing it and when viewing my ideas on an outline.  But, re-reading it now so many years divorced from the actual script, it comes across as a clunky story written without a clear and concise purpose beyond featuring characters and vague concepts.  It has a lot of ideas, has a lot of heart put into it, but as a novel, and as a story, I do not think that Verde’s Doohickey is particularly good.  But I also do not think it is bad.  It has shortcomings aplenty, is not especially well-written even after my latest string of edits, but aside from being boring or aimless at points, nothing about it hit me as being genuinely bad or terrible— just underdeveloped and a tad weak.

This is actually a considerable improvement for me, as I would consider just about everything I wrote before Verde’s Doohickey to be genuinely bad.  From bad plots, bad pacing, bad characters with, or a deluge of nonsense that is so impenetrable that even I, the writer of these works, struggle to understand what the hell I was thinking when I first wrote these stories.  Verde’s Doohickey was me calming down, mellowing out, and trying to tell a fairly serious story for once, with planning and foresight.  And it still remains a story that I am proud of. Precisely because I know the effort I put into it. I have the working documents, the outlines, the discarded chapters.  I remember being thrilled by the story once I finished it, and… I put so much of myself into this story that, from a certain perspective, it’s just a mirror.

Part 3: My Characters;Myself

This will sound disgustingly egotistical, but every major character in Verde’s Doohickey was envisioned as an exaggerated extension of one of my personality traits, or sides of my personality, blown up to an extreme until they began resembling their own distinct entity.  I did this because I had, and still have, difficulties writing characters who are wildly different from me. I found the end product to be disingenuous, the dialogue to be blase, and the concepts behind them to be… underdeveloped, as I struggled to get into their head and really imagine what their thought process would be.  So I figured it would be best to play things safe, and develop each character off of something I could relate to on some deeper level.

Or in the case of Jad Novus, I did not even bother creating a new and original character.  Instead, I just made him a self-insert. He’s a teenager with asexual quirks, anxieties, autism, limited social skills, a fondness for video games and weeb trash, and a distinctly un-subtle case of gender dysphoria that they themselves are not even aware of, despite being constantly prodded with hints and clues.  All of which were apt descriptions of me around the time I was writing Verde’s Doohickey, and most of them still apply   If you read both Verde’s Doohickey and Natalie Rambles About Being Trans, Autistic, and Weird, the overlap between Jad Novus and myself is excessive, obvious, and blatant.  

Now, I did not do this as some sort of deeply seated wish-fulfillment, I did it to give me as good a basis as possible in writing this character, and a way for me to give him depth and details without breaking away at his core identity, as I knew his identity on an intimate level.  However, this also begs the question of which of my traits are not part of Jad Novus, and which of his traits are not part of myself. That is a very complicated question for me to answer, though the short answer is that he is a simplified and vanilla rendition of myself, gender dysphoria and all, with my spicier personality traits having been given to Maxxie, Zoe, and Shiaka.  

Now, because Jad has gender dysphoria, and my goodness is that blatant throughout the course of the novel, you might be wondering whether or not Jad is trans.  The answer to that query is yes, Jad Novus is indeed a transwoman. However, in Verde’s Doohickey, and its sequel, The Malice of Abigale Quinlan, Jad does not consciously identify as female, they identify as male, and they consider themselves to be a man.  They have not yet come to terms with their dysphoria and accepted it, and in the context of these two stories, they would be confused if anybody were to refer to them using female pronouns or terminology. 

This is something of a phase that a lot of trans people go through, where they, on some deeper level, know they are trans, but do not admit it or acknowledge their dysphoria until it becomes overbearing and starts negatively impacting their mental wellbeing.  And while it is typically best to refer to trans people as their preferred gender retroactively, I do believe that it is appropriate to refer to a transwoman character as male when referring to them in past contexts.  Because, in the context and confines of these stories, Jad is what they identify as, and they identify as male.  They will identify as female in a latter story that I have not yet written, and when they happen, I will obviously begin referring to them using female pronouns.  But because those stories do not exist yet, and there is no work wherein Jad identifies as female, Jad is currently a boy/man/male.

Trans-tangent aside, Jad Novus was originally known as Jad Spencer, a sort of blank-slate cis-white-male light-novel-ass protagonist who was introduced in My Life as Abigale Quinlan as an everyman who the reader could relate to as he is thrust into bizarre otherworldly situations.  He was, again, based partially off of myself at the time, being a bit awkward and reluctant to indulge in sexual activities, despite swapping bodies with a female character, but his personality was chiefly driven by a sense of panic and a love for his friends above all else.  

This character later went on to play a minor role in both Terrance & Urabe’s Alien Assassination Adventure and Return of Mighty Terra 2052 – The DNApocalypse, but would later be revised for A Vile Doohickey, where he served as the protagonist.  In this rendition, Jad Spencer was not autistic, asexual, or trans, and was not as awkward as his successor would be.  He still had reservations about lewd activities, but that didn’t stop him from ending the story with some good old steamy body swapped shower sex.  

While he served his role well in the stories I placed him in, I felt that Jad Spencer was lacking overall, and in order to give him more depth I drew from within and wound up turning him into something of a reflection of myself.  I felt this approach would make for a more compelling and well-rounded protagonist who would have the personality and depth to warrant his role throughout what I originally envisioned to be a 10-part series. A less detailed protagonist would feel hollow at the end of such a saga, and a protagonist whom I personally could not relate to would lack the emotional depth demanded by a story like this.  Also, it’s easier to write a character whose default voice is your default voice. Because then it is not even character writing. It’s just role-playing as yourself.

Oh, and I probably should explain the name Jad Novus while I’m discussing the origins of his character.  The original name, Jad Spencer, was based on the name of the protagonist from the NES game Bionic Commando, Rad Spencer, and a prolific anime voice actress named Jad Saxton.  When devising names back in 2013, I mingled these two factoids into a single moniker, Jad Spencer, because I thought it sounded ‘neat’.  For the record, my naming conventions were utterly bizarre back then, so this was nothing out of the ordinary for me.

Now, you could be asking why I decided to name a male character Jad, and the answer is simple.  I thought it was a unisex name. I thought that Jad and Jade were different names. I assumed that Jad was supposed to be pronounced like bad, dad, lad, rad, or sad.  In actuality, Jad can be a male name in certain cultures, but as it stands, it is an odd relic that I lumped in with this character and kept with it because even if it is based on a misunderstanding, I do like the name Jad quite a bit.  It’s different, distinct, but easy to wrap one’s head around, as it is monosyllabic and easy to pronounce.

As for why I went with the full name Jad Novus, the answer is also simple.  I wanted him to have a last name that began with an N, and the surname that spoke out to me the most was the Latin word for new, Novus.  This means that Jad Novus is, quite literally, the new Jad. Similarly, The Novus Logs are The New Logs.  Also, it’s pronounced as No-vus, not No-voose or any other permutation.  I know that No-voose is the proper Latin pronunciation, but I’m a midwestern American, and I pronounce most things like a midwestern American.  Even with my last name, Neumann, I pronounce it as New-man, and not the proper Germanic Noy-man or Noy-min.

Going through the rest of the cast, Maxxisaurus Omega Flare is actually one of the first characters I ever created on Nigma Box, having gotten her start back in Nari’s Logs.  There, she served as a hyperactive and zany partner to the protagonist, often rambling about nothing, getting distracted by stray thoughts bouncing throughout her mind, and having very overt sexual urges.  She was a fun character to write given the fact that I could make her say or do just about anything silly and it would be in-character. However, her character was a bit too extreme in its original rendition, so I wound up toning down her crazy levels significantly when I later repurposed her for My Life as Abigale Quinlan, Punky’s Post-Apocalyptic Adventure, Terrance & Urabe’s Alien Assassination Adventure, and Return of Mighty Terra 2052 – The DNApocalypse.  

Needless to say, I was rather fond of this little oddball, but in those aforementioned four novellas, she only ever adopted the role of a supportive friend and one who was seldom given the opportunity to flesh herself out more than the paltry status of ‘friend’.  It was not until A Vile Doohickey that I revisited her original characterization in earnest, drawing inspiration from my creative tendencies, admiration of the modern breed of internet fetish artists, particularly TG artists, and the character Misaki Kamiigusa from The Pet Girl of Sakurasou.  

The version of her in A Vile Doohickey could generally be described as a rough draft of the character she evolved into when it came time to write Verde’s Doohickey.  I envisioned her as being a sort of idealized friend for Jad Novus, somebody outgoing, upbeat, and bursting with energy.  Somebody to light his heart up.  Somebody to be his friend and be his side.  Somebody who represented a sense of kindness, goodness, and affection that would never falter, and would shout valiantly against any opposition, for her body resonates with the burning determination of a star.  

My internal inspirations came from my own sillier side, the tangents I went in from time to time, the creative tendencies I established after having written 7 novellas.  But more than anything else, she was a character born from my desires and preferences. She is the sort of person who I personally always wanted as a friend, always wanted to know, and always wanted to be a sort of companion of mine.  She was, in cynical terms, a wish-fulfillment waifu whose every detail was catered to my personal desires and preferences. And it is precise because of that, because of all these things, that I love her so much. I love the design I made for her, I love her personality, I love her dialogue, I love everything about her, and while I will openly admit that I screwed up a lot of things in this novel, the character of Maxxie is solid gold in my book.  

Her name comes from the insanely long-running podcast, The Comedy Button, which I have been an avid listener of since it debuted in 2011.  In the first episode, one of the main cast members, Max Scoville, made a joke that his name was short for Maxxisaurus.  That name stuck with me, I repurposed it for Nari’s Logs for the character Max and his female counterpart Maxxi, whose names I expanded with the surname Flare as a means of reflecting their fiery and bombastic personality.  In the following permutations, I changed their name to Maxxie because… I felt like it, and when it came time to repurpose the character again for A Vile Doohickey, I gave her the middle name of Omega because… it sounded cool.  Which, as a side note, is the best reason to do anything ever. Because it sounded cool.

Zoe Xing is a character whose role was less prominent than I recalled it being in Verde’s Doohickey.  He’s regularly a component of key scenes, but he contributes little to the ensuing storyline, and mostly serves a supportive role to the more vibrant and emotional members of the cast.  In a sense, that’s because that’s what he was envisioned as. A calm, mature, and determined young man who approaches matters academically and professionally, placing school as his top priority, and being largely divorced from his overly emotional peers.  He is a character who was meant to reflect off of Maxxie’s bombastic charisma, Jad’s self-doubt, and Shiaka’s lacking confidence by being somebody who at least appears to have everything under control.

Much like Maxxie, Zoe was featured as a supporting character in My Life as Abigale Quinlan, Punky’s Post-Apocalyptic Adventure, Terrance & Urabe’s Alien Assassination Adventure, and Return of Mighty Terra 2052 – The DNApocalypse.  But his most defined characterization was his role as a controlling businessman who lost his way in Return of Mighty Terra 2052 – The DNApocalypse which… I don’t even want to talk about right now, because that novella was some wet hot shit.  Instead, it would be best to say that the basis of his character was first actualized in A Vile Doohickey, where he was a model student type character who approached problems more analytically, had a strong moral compass, and had some curious tendencies, as seen by how willing he was to beat a woman in order to frame somebody… for justice.  

He was always meant to be a clean-cut character with a darker layer to him.  However, the full extent of his character and character flaws were not explored in Verde’s Doohickey.  Instead, his character functions similarly to zucchini in vegetable soup, adding volume and substance to conversations and the proceedings, but providing little in the way of flavor that is not derived from other characters.  A role that he served at least decently well, never pushing his limitations, and remaining consistent through and through. While more detail could have been afforded to him, the story is not really about him or his development, as demonstrated by the fact that he does not appear until the second half.

His characterization originates partially as a foil to Maxxie’s charisma and juvenile nature by being a stoic and mature figure, but the core conceit and idea behind his character come from my time in middle school and high school.  Back then I was a very diligent student who would often project a very cold and off-putting demeanor while in the classroom. I positioned myself as somebody above all of the tomfoolery, horsing around, and miscellaneous lollygagging that my peers indulged in.  Zoe Xing is based on the character I was projecting at the time, and based on what I internalized as an idealized student, somebody who treated school like a job and did not indulge in the social ongoings that serve as highlights for certain people.

Zoe’s name, not unlike Jad’s, comes from my assumption that a female name was a unisex name, and that it was pronounced differently than it actually was.  The name Zoe comes from Zoe Crockett, a prolific TG artist who I egregiously thought was male for several years.  I assumed it was a male variant of Zoey that was pronounced similarly to doe, Joe, Moe, no, or so.  I paired this with the surname Xing because… I thought the name Zoe Xing sounded cool.  

Shiaka Kurokawa was a character introduced in A Vile Doohickey primarily as a means of balancing the cast of Jad, Maxxie, and Zoe with another female character, to facilitate two sets of male/female body swaps.  What I came up with was a character who was very underdeveloped in her initial appearance, being a young woman who was reluctant to the idea of being inside a male body due to unspecified anxieties.  She was quiet, demure, but ultimately a bit of a flat character who in turn was revised in Verde’s Doohickey, where I doubled down on her traits and gave her a backstory rife with abuse and neglect.

Shiaka is a character whose life was defined by tragedy, from being ignored by her parents, being bullied at school, and eventually being horribly assaulted, with her body still being drenched in unseen scars.  She was broken physically and mentally, but through time, love, and determination, she was able to get to a state where she can re-enter society and is bordering on being a fully-functional person again. Her story is meant to be one of optimism, perseverance, and the fact that no matter the tragedy, things can get better, hope should never be discarded, and despair should be rejected.  

Her demeanor and central theme were heavily inspired by the Danganronpa characters Chiaki Nanami and Chihiro Fujisaki.  Both of whom are very sweet and loving young people who would never harm a fly but were placed in unenviable situations where they were subjected to horrific abuse and tragedy.  I took assorted traits from these characters and colored them with my own social anxieties, making Shiaka the sort of person who struggles with new experiences, new people, and conversations in general.  I envisioned her as the character that many people, outside of school and family members, saw me as. Somebody fragile, scared, and unable to exist in society by themselves. Most of which still remains true, but I’ve gotten significantly better at social interactions as I’ve gotten older.  

Because I was taking my existing traits, and making them more extreme, I felt the need to justify why she would be this way.  So I decided to repurpose a memorable daydream I had when walking home from school one day in middle school, where I imagined some kids knocking me in the head with a brick, tying me up in a school restroom after hours, and mutilating me before freeing and leaving me to die.  What can I say? I was a pretty morbid 13-year-old.

Now, this is all well and good, except for one teensy little detail.  Shiaka barely does anything in Verde’s Doohickey.  She talks about her anxieties, Jad talks about her backstory, but right when she is about to blossom into more of a character, she is removed from the story during the final stretch, where her role of as the fragile little flower of the group is fulfilled by Terra.  I did not carve out enough space for Shiaka to undergo any significant development, or for her to serve as a true supporting figure in the story. Instead, she mostly functions as a body for Jad to occupy during the first day of school, and a figure for him to admire while doing so.

That explains her character and role in the story, but I also feel the need to address her… unusual appearance.  Shiaka is a short blonde-haired, blue-eyed, half-Hispanic, and half-Japanese young woman with large breasts. This is because there were a lot of visual quirks I wanted to see represented in the original cast of A Vile Doohickey, and because Shiaka was the newest character whose appearance I had only vaguely defined initially, I decided to lump all of these unattributed physical attributes onto her.  I know her description makes her appearance unusual, turns her into a statistical anomaly, and is generally just unrealistic when you stop and view the actual statistics of the world.  But it was used to help me refine and develop her character, and as wild as her appearance may be, it is now an inseparable part of her character in my mind.

As for her namesake, Shiaka is just a modification of the name Chiaki Nanami from Danganpa 2, ditching the C for an S because I have a speech impediment that makes it difficult for me to say the Ch sound and trading in the “aki” for “aka” because I liked how it sounded.  I then went with the surname Kurokawa because it sounded cool and had a nice cadence to it. Shi-a-ka Ku-ro-ka-wa!  

Terra Flare is a character who only exists in Verde’s Doohickey because I wanted there to be another trans character in the story, and found the idea of a young child with gender dysphoria to be a novel concept.  She exists to reflect my own burgeoning sense of gender dysphoria that I was dealing with as I wrote this novel and symbolically serves as inspiration for Jad to eventually realize that they are transgender.  Throughout the entire story, there is very little characterization for her aside from being trans and being anxious because she is trans. She starts as a character who comes out as trans and ends as a character who confirms to herself that she is really trans.  There is a sort of arc there, and some drama about her second-guessing herself after being in Shiaka’s body for a while, but her entire character is a touch unnecessary and… empty.

I do think that she does capture the anxieties and nebulous feelings of somebody who was early on in their gender transition rather well.  Beyond that? Well, if I were to rewrite this story, I would consider cutting her out of the story entirely to lend more credence and attention to the rest of the already limited cast.  Oh, and as one could probably put together, her name is repurposed from the protagonist of Return of Mighty Terra 2052 – The DNApocalypse, because despite not liking that novella, at all, I am especially fond of the name Terra.

Verde Dusk… is such a complicated and convoluted character that I am not even going to try and discuss her entire characterization here, as it would take several paragraphs to explain her backstory, origins, or anything of the sort.  What I will explain is how she fits into the theme of characters being extensions of myself. Jad is me in its purest and most direct form. Maxxie is my creative and quirky self. Zoe is my cold and stoic self. Shiaka is my timid and reclusive self.  And Terra is my… dysphoric self, if that makes any sense. But what does that make Verde?  

Verde is the central god figure of the wild and sprawling universe that is The Saga of Dawn and Dusk.  She is the one who created and initiated Verde’s Doohickey.  She is a pastiche for the author, for me.  She is not a self-insert, she is an author surrogate, trying to take characters, concepts, and settings in order to create compelling Scenarios.  She is indirectly writing and initiating the events of Verde’s Doohickey and using them to send Jad Novus on an adventure because she likes doing that.  Because it is fulfilling to her. Just like how I am writing these stories for my own self-fulfillment.  Jad is Natalie Neumann as a person, and Verde is Natalie Neumann as a writer. And I’m not sure if that’s some sort of brilliant avant-garde concept that I accidentally stumbled onto or a new incestuous low of self-insertion.  But I did it! I fucking did it!

…Okay, but why did I decide to even include Verde as a character?  I mean, the entire framing device with her interviewing Jad… what the hell was that about?  Well, the answer is both complicated and incredibly simple. And to start with the simple answer first, it’s because I needed somebody to hit me upside the head with a newspaper and tell me to stop during the conceptual stage of this project.

Part 4: My Ethereal Fiefdom for an Editor/Audience

So, one of my most deplorable quirks as a writer back when I first started was my obsession with framing devices.  If I was telling a story, I needed some mechanism to explain how the story was being told in-universe, I needed the story to be told by a narrator.  Whether it be the protagonist recollecting the events they underwent between each chapter, an unseen narrator who is only acknowledged at the very end of the story, or a persistent narrator who does not shut the fuck up about anything, ever.  

With Verde’s Doohickey, I found myself fascinated with the idea of alternate reality therapy as a framing device.  Where one character is sent into an alternate reality where they undergo some wild experience and then discuss this experience with another person, describing what happened and their thought process, while the person the protagonist is speaking to interjects or asks for clarification at points.  I thought this idea was bloody brilliant, and while I will admit it is an intriguing concept, I really do not like how it is applied in Verde’s Doohickey.

I think I did a genuinely good job with the dialogue between Jad and Verde, that I delivered conversations that were rich with characterization and exposition while still flowing quite well, but it is another layer in a story that already lacks the room to develop or explore all of its characters in detail.  And furthermore, for whatever benefits and boons the framing device adds, it loses a lot by being discarded 75% of the way through. Now, I justified this at the time by saying that, if Jad is going through this instance of self-loathing, then he should be alone. That, at this point in the story, as he remembers the terrible headspace he was in at the time, he would become cold, irritable, and generally hostile to Verde.  When exposed to this hostility, I imagined that Verde would become frightened, overwhelmed, and choose to eject herself from this conversation because she is kind of incompetent at the whole therapy thing due to… various reasons that I detailed in my 2019 novel, The Saga of Vincent Dawn, which I will re-release later on in 2020.

What I have learned more than anything in my re-reading and re-editing or Verde’s Doohickey is that just because something made sense to me as a person at one point in time does not mean that it was a good idea, or even a sensible one, and that… that is something I hate more than anything about being a creator.  Not knowing if what I am making or working on is actually good. If I missed something obvious. If I became too obsessed with certain concepts that it proved detrimental to the overall product.

This is something that I know a lot of individual creators deal with, but just about every one of them that I know has some degree of reassurance that their work is of a certain quality.  They have an audience who will let them know if they made something good or bad, who will criticize and allow the creator to grow. And I don’t have that on Nigma Box.  

I don’t have an editor looking over my work.  I don’t have commentators pointing out my numerous mistakes.  And I hate that. I hate that I do not have somebody telling me if what I’m doing is good or bad, because I know my opinion is not reliable.  I know my thoughts on my own work change over time. I look back at things that I did that I thought were great and consider them to be absolute shit now.  And I would not be doing that if I had 5 people in the comments talking about my posts, telling me when I fucked up. Because I have fucked up, I will fuck up, and I don’t catch myself when I do fuck up.

Now, this is my fault for creating my own website, not delivering my content through an established ecosystem, and choosing to write stuff instead of writing stuff and making videos based on it.  I get that. But unless I wanted to start making video essays or something— which I do not want to do because screw video editing and screw my shitty voice— I don’t have a solution to that problem, or know of a place where my stuff can be criticized by people whose opinions I can trust.  And if I did, if I did have somebody looking over my shoulder, then maybe Verde’s Doohickey, this novel I devoted myself to writing over the span of nearly 8 months, would have turned out better than this.

I will talk more about The Novus Logs, my original plans for them, and my current plans for them, at a later time when I do my inevitable Ramble about my second novel, The Malice of Abigale Quinlan.  A title that has recently begun publication on Nigma Box, and will continue to do so until August 2020.  So, until next time, see ya.

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