1) Where did you get the idea for the series of Lazarus, Covenant, & Epiphany?
2) Did it all come to you in one big idea? Or a little bit at a time, and that’s how it became 3 books. — Rico W.
The story of the Lazarus Trilogy began with a question: What would happen if the star basketball player got into a relationship with the most popular young man on campus?
That idea became a play that I wrote in 2000 called Behind Closed Doors, and later named Discretion. It was the story of a slightly different (yet familiar) Adrian Collins who was living with a basketball player named Isaiah, while dealing with mild Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from having been hazed and literally beaten off line from Beta Chi Phi. (Although he was still initiated into the fraternity, he was viewed as an outcast for being gay.)
In the midst of this story, he falls in love with Isaiah and deals with his ex-boyfriend Carlos, who he lost while pledging.
When the play was finished, I tried to stage a reading, but only my friends Maya (RIP) and Amerie showed up to help out. On top of that, my mentor at the time, Dennis Williams, said the play was good, but he wanted to know more about Carlos the ex-boyfriend and about the pledging process.
So I made the decision in 2000 to rework this story as a novel, beginning with the fraternity story and saving the love story for a subsequent novel if I still felt like it. I also decided to postpone writing it until after I finished undergrad. Incidentally, it was also during this time that my “black vampire” idea was born.
In fall 2001, I began writing the novel called Lazarus. President’s Day Weekend 2002, it was complete. I published it in 2005.
Of course, Carlos became Savion and Isaiah only made cameo appearances in Lazarus, so Covenant still had to be written. It was completed in 2007 and published in 2011. That novel was quick and easy to write because I already knew how it would turn out.
While writing Covenant, I had ideas for two more novels. In the end, there were to be four novels, more or less mirroring the four years of college. If you have read Epiphany, imagine the first two-thirds being novel #3, and the last third being novel #4, plus a story line about Adrian becoming the Dean of the line during his senior year. But I decided that I was done writing about the fraternity experience. While interesting to me, I don’t think most people would care about Sigma Chapter anymore after one novel about Adrian’s experience on Uprising and another about his experiences bringing in the Phantoms.
Oh hell, while we’re here, I might as well tell you about what was going to happen on the next line. So Calen was going to get elected Dean of Pledges, then he was going to have a terrible car accident and have to take a semester off school to recover. The chapter was going to recruit six guys:
Morris Jordan from Potomac was going to be the Ace. As you know, he had a previous history with Adrian. As the Dean, Adrian felt it might not be appropriate for Morris to make the line, given their past, but the chapter liked him so Adrian was outvoted. After he gets a little….shall we say “sassy” with Adrian, he is given the line name “Cruel Intentions.”
Kyle Sykes, a business student from Rock Creek, was the deuce. All I know about him is that his personal motto was “greed is good” which landed him the line name “Monopoly.”
Justin Wilson and Jason Wilson were twins attending Potomac. My notes on them indicate that they were always nervous so the chapter named them “Paralysis” and “Aphasia.”
The number five was Leon Rogers, a theology student from Rock Creek who is named “Holy Terror” because he turns out to be a homophobe that can’t seem to respect his Dean.
Finally, the number six is Shane O’Neil from Potomac. Everyone seems to think he a guitar-playing, stoner white boy, but he is actually biracial and struggling to find himself through the fraternity. Because he is so unique, and some would say strange, he is given the line name “Xenogenesis,” which is not only the prior name of Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood series, but it literally means “the supposed generation of offspring completely and permanently different from the parent.”
Needless to say, a lot was going on with this line, which Adrian named “Crucial Conflicts.” But in the end, I decided to make Mohammed their Dean to allow Adrian the chance to focus on his national position that he gained at the end of Epiphany and to provide a way for Mohammed to gain the respect of the chapter. And I didn’t think those things needed to happen “on-page” for them to be believable.
So that’s how Epiphany was written the way it was, with that “extra third” at the end which seemed like a separate story altogether. At the end, three college novels was enough, and if I was going to continue to write about these beloved characters, they’d have to be young adults removed from the college campus.