The Project Nemesis Series — Things That ALMOST Happened (But Didn’t)
by Brendan Reichs
When I was asked to write this article by the wonderful folks at Penguin Teen I was initially terrified, because it’s essentially asking me to open a Pandora’s box of ideas that I’d at one point seriously considered, but ultimately rejected. Would I now, after years of being at peace with my decisions, suddenly come to regret choices I’d made earlier in the series? The whole concept seemed absolutely fraught with danger. But the more I thought about it, the more I remembered funny things that I almost let happen, but realized would, in fact, be terrible ideas. So here are three major changes that were made as the series went along, and why I didn’t keep them.
Tack was a girl, and her name was Stacey. Okay, this is a big one right off the bat. Originally, I had planned for Min to have best friend named Stacey who lived in the trailer park just like she did, and was her best friend in all things. On the surface, Stacey’s personality was going to essentially be the same as Tack’s—crass and brash, but with a good heart—only she would be more pushy in her questions and more involved in the mystery. Basically, a confidante for all of Min’s concerns. Then, ultimately, Stacey was to be revealed as a government plant who betrayed Min.
I’m really, really, really really glad I didn’t go with this storyline. I had just finished my Virals series and that involved a girl with three best friends who were boys, so I initially was shying away from that type of relationship at the core of Nemesis. But as I put the story together, I realized that this was simply one betrayal too many for the plot, and Min needed at least one person in her life she could count on without reservation. Tack was born out of the desire to give Min at least one firm grip on the world around her. Tack is abrasive, crude, and touchy, but he’s also whip-smart, loyal, and indefatigable in his defense of Min. Plus he’s really funny. Min needed a true friend, and so did the story. Also, I wanted Min to be isolated in dealing with the unique problem of getting murdered all the time. I needed to take away the crutch of her sharing this insane situation with a close friend to reveal her inner strength. So, sorry Stacey, but you had to go. Maybe next series?
Noah was initially a confident baller. I initially thought Noah would be a strong as Min as he worked through the terrible reality of his repetitive murders, but then I decided, haven’t we read that guy before? That’s been done—and well—in other YA series. What would happen if, instead, I made Noah an emotionally mess? Like, practically a basket case? I freely admit that I haven’t read the entire depth and breadth of kid-lit—so I’m certain to have missed out on hundreds of wonderful books that touch on this idea—but I couldn’t recall a young adult thriller where the male protagonist was a shattered, terrified shell who was barely keeping it together basically all the time.
I immediately like Noah more. I liked that he looked to Min for support, and recognized the strength she possessed that he didn’t. I like that Noah was able, if only to himself, to acknowledge that he was suffering emotional trauma and needed the comfort of professional counseling. Noah is just a normal guy going through an impossible situation, and I wanted his character to reflect that. He was much more interesting as vulnerable, and it made the ending of Nemesis all the more exciting to write. And it made his transformation in Genesis that much more complex. Noah ends up taking perhaps the longest emotional journey in the series, and that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t started him in such a fragile state.
Genesis was going to be the end. I originally designed the series to take place over two books only, and the opening setting of Chrysalis was going to be the end of the story. Nemesis was the conspiracy, Genesis was the experiment, and that was going to be that. But … I just couldn’t say goodbye to these characters yet. Genesis was a terrible crucible that tested my protagonists’ belief systems. It challenged their definitions of what it meant to be alive, what it was to be human, and what “right and wrong” are inside a vacuum of consequences. It ground these poor kids down and spit them out. To simply end it at that point felt like a cheat to their emotional arcs. They needed a shot at showing what they’d learned and internalized.
How would they recover from what happened to them? Could anyone work together after what they’d experienced? Where the heck were they now, anyway? I just couldn’t walk away from those questions. Chrysalis was born from an intense desire to give these kids the ending they deserved, let them show how they’d grown, survived, and adapted, and to throw a last few diabolical curveballs at my readers. It was intensely fun to write. I got to use new tricks while dreaming up some—GASP—new characters, all while driving the story to a place I didn’t realize it could go. I enjoyed writing this final chapter so much, I can’t imagine having stopped short. I hope my readers agree!