Some Thoughts with ... JCM Berne

29 Nov 2022

The Author/s

JCM Berne

JCM Berne

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.

The Interview

Welcome to one of my favourite sections of the blog, and one of the most pleasant to write, talking with authors. Today we are accompanied by JCM Berne, code monkey and author of the Hybrid Helix series.

Let's dive in!

1.- How did you start writing?
I am the type of person who makes up fanfic in my head the moment I put down a book or finish a show. Since I was a child I've always re-made stories I loved to contain some other ideas I liked, often just things I stole from another story! (Imagine if Conan has a lightsaber!) I started writing them down in my late 20's - I'm sure I was just bored at some desk job I worked and decided to do it. I wrote a novel in 1998, another in 2006, and in 2020 I started Wistful Ascending because I felt a need to do something creative.

2.- From where did you draw the inspiration to write Rohan? Also, is there any reason you chose yellow and purple as the colours for the Wistful station uniform?
Many places! I've always liked the retired gunslinger archetype - John Wick, Rurouni Kenshin, Man from Nowhere, and the guy from Taken. There's something very appealing to me about the "dangerous person who just wants to be left alone to live a peaceful life until the wrong people mess with him" storyline. His banter is probably inspired mostly by Spider-Man, though a lot of superheroes do it. His humor is really just my own, to be honest. Every joke he tells is something I would say myself. His powers are very standard - tough, strong, flight. It's basically a subset of Superman, though the imagery to me comes more from Nova or the Griffin (a short-lived comic published by DC in the early 90's). It's also almost identical to the power set of Invincible (another comic, more recent from Image Comics), who was a huge inspiration to the setting and the worldbuilding. His telekinesis is just a side effect of the magic system - his 'super strength' is basically telekinesis, and while it's strongest when he uses it through his own body there's nothing preventing him from using it on inanimate objects at a distance.

3.- When you decided that Toth 3 should be a planet full of kaiju?
I really don't remember! I liked the idea of Rohan fighting large monsters right from the start. Giving him a variety of types of enemies - another Hybrid, a group of Hybrids, a bunch of gunslinging Ursans, a large ship, and a small ship - gave me the opportunity for a diverse set of action scenes. If he only fought one type of enemy the fights would have become very repetitive. Also, I love giant monsters, and I promised early on to put everything I love into these books! I also liked the idea of more mysteries. Where did the kaiju come from? Why are they there? Why is Wistful above Toth 3, in an otherwise uninhabited system, instead of somewhere useful? All of these questions will be answered eventually, and I hope readers are curious enough to keep reading my books to find out.

4.- Why bears?
To be honest, I needed an alien race, and it could have been almost anything. I think I picked bears because I remembered an image from an old manga called Outlanders of a shocked-looking humanoid bear. I don't even remember where it was from, but I thought it was funny. With that image stuck in my head, I just made them bears.

5.- Which challenges have appeared from trying to write a superhero story with all these small touches of humour?
I don't think there were any. I mean, writing a good story in any genre is really difficult. You have to manage pacing, character development, action, description, romantic subplot events, asking and answering questions about worldbuilding, tone (humor vs. tension), down time for relaxing and breathing, all woven together. Too many jokes in a row, or too much action, or events out of order, and the character development feels squeezed or things seem too sudden. It's really hard! Having said that, the humor is the easy part. I literally can't write any other way. I couldn't write a serious book about serious people (I've tried; I failed). As for a superhero story, the difficulty there is only in trying to describe in words the kind of cool imagery that is usually drawn or filmed. Iconic moments in superhero literature are very visual, and I just tried to describe them as best as I could.

6.- (This question contains spoilers of Book 2, Return of the Griffin)  Could you explain more about the Il'Drach Empire? Also, Hyperion, is that a mimic of Superman in your universe?
Here's the answer: the most powerful military asset in the galaxy is an il'Drach Hybrid - meaning, a person with one il'Drach parent and one parent of another species. The il'Drach disguise themselves and live in secret on other worlds, raising families in secret, until their children are old enough to be brought into the military. With this power, they completely control all of the known space. The il'Drach leave many planets to their own devices, but sometimes engage in cruel practices, ranging from demanding an end to certain religious practices, all the way to wiping out entire populations. Non-il'Drach don't really understand why they do what they do.
More spoilers: Yes, Hyperion is basically a Superman analog. He's a Hybrid who was Earth's greatest hero for many years. About 10 years before the start of Wistful Ascending he agreed to join the il'Drach Fleet, along with a group of powerful Earth Hybrids, in return for a treaty by which the Empire agreed not to interfere with Earth. He is believed killed in action before the events of Wistful Ascending; Rohan claims to have been with him at the time. We find out more about Hyperion and what he did for Earth in Return of The Griffin.

7.- From where comes all that love for Bollywood/Tollywood films?
Netflix! I was watching all the superhero shows on Netflix, and at some point, they recommended Krrish (a well-known Bollywood superhero movie starring Hrithik Roshan). I enjoyed it (it's good, not great), but the way Netflix suggests things to watch, it's based on what you've finished recently, so they recommended something from Sha Rukh Khan. I watched it and got hooked! Since then I've watched probably a couple of hundred Indian movies and ten or so shows (maybe more). I find that South Asian aesthetics really appeal to me - I like the fashion, the dancing, the music, the movies, all of it.

8.- Let's imagine you have all the budget in the world for a Wistful Ascending film, who will be your ideal cast?
Rohan would be Ram Charan. Tamaralinth would be Rani Mukherji. I don't know that I have ideas other than those two... I think the Ursans would be CGI. Ideally, I'd pick Michelle Yeoh to be Wei Li, either she or Ming Na Wen. I feel both pull off the sarcastic woman voice so well, and in my head, I see Wei Li as slightly Asian in feature (which is why she has her name). I don't have favorite actors for the Stones, I'd have to think more!

9.- Which one is your favourite tequila?
If money is not an issue? Don Julio 1492 (I know, it's so popular, but I love it). Otherwise? Riazul anejo. That's hard to find, though. If you want something less expensive and easy to find, I actually really enjoyed Teremana anejo (that's the Rock's company). I'm sure there are many others I haven't tried that are just as good or better!

10.- What can we expect from JCM Berne in the future? 
Lots more of the Hybrid Helix! I have a BIG story planned for Rohan and friends. I want this series to be similar to the Dresden Files, 20+ books that people read over a decade. I also have a side project I'm working on, a wuxia thriller about a woman doing whatever it takes to rescue her kidnapped daughters, but honestly, I'm not sure how good that's going to be or whether it will be worth releasing. Hopefully, I'll finish that soon and get back to writing book 4 of the Hybrid Helix!

That's all by my side, folks! I want to thank JCM for taking the time to answer all these questions, and for writing such a fun and marvelous story as Rohan's one.