When Ron Heimbecher looked around a few months ago and "saw the world coming apart a little bit," he did what any good fiction writer would do. He started creating his own world.
"First, I created the town of Solace Creek, Colorado, and then the town of Boulder-Springs," says Heimbecher, who uses the pseudonym Ron Chalice. "The idea of Boulder and Colorado Springs together as one political entity was too much for a guy like me to resist."
The fictional cities make up just a portion of an online universe that Heimbecher is using to launch The Flyover War, an "Internet fiction project" that takes storytelling beyond the printed page to make use of the capabilities of the Web.
Citi and country
In the story he's building one blog post at a time, the "flyover people" live in the heart of the country and control resources like food, while the people who fly between the coasts control the financial capital, the political clout and the media. The conflict between these two groups has the country headed for civil war.
In addition to a blog that contains the main storyline for the project, Heimbecher has linked more than 50 Web sites that he's been building to enrich his storytelling.
"I've got two newspapers the Boulder-Springs Journal and the Solace Creek Statesman that are going to be carrying new events related to the storyline. Then I've got a broadcast network called York Broadcasting that will have YouTube videos.
"My bank is called Banco de Puerco, which is basically Spanish for 'piggy bank.' And I've got a large retailer called SeemsFree, which obviously is based on the Bentonville, Arkansas people [i.e., Wal-Mart], but it's headquartered in a town I created called Gonads, Oklahoma," he says.
Then he laughs, and adds, "Gonads is also the largest producer of breaded bull testicles in the United States."
Heimbecher, a recently unemployed technology worker, says he put light-hearted twists throughout his world as "a way of dealing with very serious situations."
"As the economy started going south, I realized the story could be really heavy and scare people or depress people," explains Heimbecher, "so I decided to take a different vein."
Though the world he created reflects his sense of humor, the trigger for the project was a comment by Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit that irritated him.
"He was on the Charlie Rose Show," Heimbecher recalls, "and he said something about how 'the flyover people' just don't understand how the game is played."
To bring people, "flyover" and otherwise, into the story, Heimbecher is placing "rabbit holes" in a variety of places on the Internet.
"The term comes from Lewis Carroll, where Alice fell down the rabbit hole and it started her whole journey," he says. "For example, I've created this search engine called jeezelaweeze.com and you can type anything you want into it, but the only place it's going to take you is The Flyover War."
His newest rabbit hole, created just last week, is a site for the fictional Government Intelligence Agency (gvmtintel.us).
"It's got links across the top to government secrets, but every time you mouse over a link it disappears," he says. "Except for one link at the end, which is for The Flyover War, of course."
Though the 50-something Heimbecher lives in Thornton, he's president of the locally based Pikes Peak Writers organization. He has self-published a couple of traditional ink-on-paper books under his Chalice moniker, including 2006's Batting Practice, a "whydunit" set in Colorado. But he notes that the industry is changing rapidly, and says he believes Internet fiction projects like his will begin to become more common.
This past week, in fact, Philadelphia-based Running Press announced it signed two new interactive book series that send readers off the page to Web sites, phone recordings and even handheld game devices. Heimbecher sees similar possibilities for his story as he develops it further.
"The idea," he says, "is that it will be something that you could download and read in your PDA while you're sitting having a cup of coffee or something.
"I think that the industry is really going to change over the next few years, and I'd much rather be the forefront of that change than be the guy that follows behind the elephant in the parade."