Imagine a circuitboard. Now imagine two imaginative fifth graders. Mix them. That is the essential beginning of not one, but two stories running parallel to each other – one in life, the other on paper.

I met Brandon Peat in kindergarten and spent much of elementary school living three houses down from him. We shared a mutual love of stars – both the Wars and Trek varieties – as well as all things fantasy. Many of our weekends and summers growing up were spent in basements or outdoors, playing with Micro Machines and Lego starships. The turning point came when I stole a junked-out circuitboard from Brandon’s brother, set it on a cardboard box, and claimed it as my “city.” Brandon, not to be left by the wayside, stole his brother’s other circuitboard, set it on a trampoline (of all things), and made a similar declaration.

Simple, childish entertainment – at least, that’s how it started.

These “cities” soon sprawled to massive dimensions, including any junk objects that we could cram onto available table space. They had amusement parks, docks, roads, monuments, and even working lights. It was all very crude, really, but our imaginations made up for it. During the second incarnation of the cities – the era of their “full glory” – a rough storyline began to evolve. While seventh grade proved to be the third and last physical incarnation of the cities, it was also the birth of a new era. The foundations of major races and empires had been laid down, though we had no idea they would spawn a complete novel a decade later.

A short period of stagnation developed. We individually pursued written “accounts” of the city stories, but neither of us were ever wholly satisfied. Eighth grade was the turning point. Until then, I was very much into art rather than writing – and, as Brandon would be quick to point out, my poor grammar and spelling would reflect this for years to come. But my art teacher at this time simply disliked everything I did. Contrary to my normal “try harder” attitude, I decided to ignore the assignments and channel my creative energies into writing instead. I began bringing a notebook with me, and while my art class was busy with their projects, I scribed tales about my city characters – the only survivor from those days is Magnus Laren.

I continued to hone my writing from that point on. I became something of a fascination for some of my classmates, as I was the first to write long stories that didn’t deal with talking animals or the baking of bread. My first two topped out around 30 and 50 pages, respectively. Brandon was even impressed with my endeavor (though he never read much of it for years) and gave me leave to incorporate his own city material. The third of this city “trilogy” was to be 100 pages, but it never materialized. Instead I took on other fantasy stories independent of the cities, then stopped progress entirely as martial arts and girls took greater priority.

Midway through my freshman year of high school, I returned to writing and the city saga. This time I worked to graft my fantasy trilogy into the cities, laying the foundations of the backstory and mythology of what would become the Aesgar universe in the process. This story, more mature than those prior, hit 150 handwritten notebook pages. My pride swelled. None of my peers had written anything to match it, in length or depth. Prodded by a few friends to continue, I scrapped that storyline and started anew – though elements would be retained, I was determined to write something better.

The two stories spawned thereafter eclipsed any of the previous efforts, filling three college-rule five-subject notebooks. The cast was enormous – two pages’ worth of characters, with a timeline and the beginnings of family trees. The cities returned in force as focal points. The old races and storylines that Brandon and I had laid out years before were back – and they were growing.

It was toward the end of our sophomore years that we decided to team up for the story. Brandon was impressed with what I had started, and we both had a bit of that childhood mentality remaining, that sentimental thought of working on a project together again, and having a blast doing it. Brandon took the reigns of his material from me again and added an enormous amount to it. The character list swelled to an enormous size (probably over 100) and the storyline became a convoluted mess.

Then came that fateful summer.

On the eve of our junior year of high school, I decided the story needed an expanded background, a cleanup and update of my middle school fantasy trilogy. This was probably because Brandon had just introduced me to The Lord of the Rings, and I had fallen in love with Tolkien’s words and style instantly. So I went over to Brandon’s house with a proposal to sell: to put on hold the city-themed tale we’d worked so hard to expand upon, and instead start a completely new book, one that would take place thousands of years prior to the city timeframe. He was somewhat apprehensive, but I assured him that I was only looking at 200 pages max.

How fateful a sell.

This was the first major work to be typed instead of scrawled in notebooks, with myself writing and Brandon editing. Our imaginations ran wild, connections were made, idle notes expanded, and soon the modest estimate of 200 pages became 300, then 400 – then two books, then three. We finished the first two novels (the first 438 pages, the second 630) when we realized how unwieldy this “brief history” was becoming. We needed yet another prequel to supplement our larger trilogy – a “Hobbit” to our “Lord of the Rings,” so to speak. But we were simply too far afield of our original intentions now, and I was largely dissatisfied with efforts to that end. Progress hit an all-time low.

It was then that Prelude was born.

Once more I went to Brandon’s house to sell him an idea. We were in college by this point, the end of our freshman year. What I brought to the table was this: we would go back to the roots of the entire arc – the cities – rewriting the old stories entirely, using the enormous wealth of history that we had now established, if not entirely fleshed out yet. And so, after difficult negotiation, I convinced Brandon that this was the best way, and work on Prelude began in the summer of 2005.

My workplace became the Indiana University South Bend computer labs, where I was able to maintain progress of around two chapters a week. I completed the first draft in the spring of 2006, mid-April. It was a triumphant moment for me as a writer: I’d not only completed my first book in several years, but I’d written one that was suitably concise. While outwardly it lacked the same depth of history and mythology of the prior installments, Prelude had stronger characters, better dialogue, and a far more epic long-term plot – not to mention an original language.

But this was not the end of the labor. It was only a first draft, after all, and like raw meat, it required a great deal of processing before completion. This is where Brandon moved from planning and basic plot critiques to co-writing.