To Do or Not To Do: That’s How I Do What I Do - JCM Berne

7 Nov 2023

Different people are motivated by different things (yes, I like to begin discussions by stating obvious things that everyone will agree with, just to get you started on the right foot). I haven’t done any studies or even twitter polls to figure out whether I’m alone or actually very typical, but my motivation to write almost always comes from wanting to do a story that DOESN’T do certain things.

Let me explain.

If I’m reading (or watching) a story in some medium, if I LOVE that story, I’ll usually come to some point where there is some element that I wish were different. Conan? Cool. But what if he had a lightsaber? Wouldn’t that be EVEN COOLER? (There’s a reason you don’t want to read my fanfic from the fourth grade).

This is never about criticizing the original property. If I hadn’t loved Conan, I wouldn’t have wanted him to have a lightsaber. It’s a testament to Bob Howard (yes, I call him Bob, and no, you can’t) that I loved his stuff so much I wanted to add laser swords to it. Or karate. Conan doing karate was actually more my thing. Never mind, not the point.

Wistful Ascending, my debut release (not the first novel I’ve written; that’s safely stored in a trunk), was all about NOT DOING things that people said I had to do to write a book.

Wistful Ascending is the debut novel of JCM Berne

It’s a superhero novel without an origin story or a supervillain. It’s an action novel without a main storyline. It has a protagonist who doesn’t really want anything (other than being left alone, and that’s a negative, not a positive), even to stay alive. There’s are some low moments, but no rock-bottom all-is-lost point at the end of the second act where it’s supposed to be. There are threats, but nothing too serious – you almost never really fear that the hero will lose.

The result of all that was a book that some people enjoyed, but that is hard to market and very hard to explain (read the reviews – especially the positive ones – and count how many start with, “this isn’t what I expected” or “this was such a surprise.”).

But this isn’t about Wistful Ascending, this is about Partial Function, my unrelated fantasy novel that comes out November 7, 2023. If you’re reading this in the future, let me know how it’s doing, I’m super curious.

After years of trying to market the Hybrid Helix to mixed success I started to wonder – what if, instead of going against the conventional wisdom about storytelling, I embraced it? What if I wrote a book my imaginary novel-writing teachers would actually endorse?

So I tried.

Genre? I picked something popular! Epic fantasy. With an Asian flavor, because Europe’s been done to death and who doesn’t love Asian culture (also, to be fair, I have more knowledge of Asian historical culture than European, as a lifelong student of it).

Plot? Instead of a hero who doesn’t want anything, why not a hero who very specifically DOES want something (her kids!) And who can’t relate to a mother whose kids have been kidnapped? It’s even better than John Wick getting revenge for his dog. We all loved Taken, right? Right?

And for a plot? Let’s have that mom . . . wait for it . . . get her kids back! Super straightforward and easy to understand! And easier to write, to be honest. Every chapter I just had to have her take one more step toward retrieving her girls. Simple.

What else, what else . . . I trolled discord forums and YouTube reviews to see what people liked. Animal companions? Check. A little gay representation? Check.

Partial Function is the result of these efforts

Instead of avoiding the desired things, I tried to embrace them and write a book that people would actually want. A book I could summarize in a sentence. Something that would excite people. Something with a plot. A hook. A pitch. Something that would look more like the books people already love.

You’d think, after all that, I’d have something really marketable, right? The next Fourth Wing. Tell Netflix to get ready, Joe’s coming to town and the checkbooks better be open.

Sadly, for my pocketbook at least, I failed miserably.

Did I make my heroine a retired dragonrider? No (I should have). Did I make the monsters orcs or hobgoblins or demons? No, I made them undead dinosaurs (don’t bother checking for the scores of fantasy books about undead dinosaurs, there aren’t any). Then, did I even use the word ‘dinosaur’ once in the book? Nope. Weapons? Maybe a cool sword? Nope, I want my heroine to use her hands. The big dude who fights by her side? Rope darts. Who the hell has even heard of rope darts?

My weird eclectic tastes infected every oddball corner of the manuscript. I played Bruce Lee shouting, “Dragon Whips its Tail” in Return of the Dragon over and over in my mind as I wrote scenes where my characters call out their moves as they execute them. I based my magic system on a very real, and not-very-popular, Chinese martial art. I based all the moves on mathematical functions just because.

I stuck puns and Easter eggs in every corner. A guy who uses bat-based martial arts? I called him Bru Wei. Say it slowly if you don’t get it. The dog is named Dog, just so I could use an old Steven Wright joke when describing him.

In the end, I tried to write a marketable book, and in the end, I failed, as always, to do so. Instead I wrote a book that works perfectly for me. I’m the intended audience. And I’m not even buying a copy, because I already have it on my hard drive.

Will YOU enjoy Partial Function? I have no idea. To the extent that you appreciate the same things I do, you’ll love it. But I don’t know you (wouldn’t it be creepy if I did?) so I can’t say what your tastes are.

If over-the-top high magic martial arts sounds like fun, maybe you’ll like Partial Function. If you appreciate a good math pun, even better. If you’re looking for infodumps or made-up languages or standard fantasy races, look elsewhere, because that’s not the game I play.

If you’re interested, the first chapter is free, no strings attached. If you like it, you’ll probably like the book (the contrapositive is also true). What have you got to lose? Only time and whatever physiological reaction you suffer when reading a bad pun.

Like what you are reading? You can order Partial Function from this link. 

About the author


JCM Berne has reached middle age without outgrowing the notion that superheroes are cool. Code monkey by day, by night he slaves over a hot keyboard to prove that superhero stories can be engaging and funny without being dark or silly.