Back in ninth grade, my language arts teacher had us write a scary short story for Halloween. I sat and watched kids scribble down two paragraphs in five minutes, blowing it off and handing it in. That odd duck of a teacher just gushed over it, thrilled that they wrote anything at all. (she’s another story in and of herself) And I thought, I can do better than that – I know how to brainstorm ideas and had taken a “writing lab” in fourth grade and had pages of “cheat/help” pages. Plus, I deemed myself a good reader so I had lots of ideas.(mostly borrowed of course at that stage) So I decided that I would really show off. Armed with paper and pencil, I started weaving and mapping ideas to create or find a tale to dazzle.
I never was one for “horror” anyways, so that element lasted all of one page, resulting more in a “dark and stormy night” opening and a haunted inn that was quickly made obsolete and edited out. However, I found something far more suited to me – fantasy. Just like with the puppy that you see the kid offering at Kmart, it was cute, fun and cuddly. The idea of it anyway. And just like that puppy…it was only the beginning…
That crazy teacher gave me full points, just as thrilled as she could be that anything at all had come of the assignment, but she never saw any complete draft. Nor did she see what happened next.
It took me six months to write out eighteen chapters and by then I had not only moved to a new grade, but a new school and state. I dubbed it “Untold Secrets”, thoroughly enthralled with my pet. And like any good addict, I had plot ideas spiraling out in both directions.
Heck with school and homework! I never liked that stuff anyway. Heck with reading! Instead of a book, I hauled paper, notebooks and binders dedicated to my stories everywhere I went. Another six months and I had book II “Starborn” done and was thoroughly hooked on writing.
My friends thought it was cute too. It’s that first moment of novelty (pun intended) when they find out for the first time that you’re writing a book! Ah, the admiration, the “you’re gonna be famous one day”. However, I think my family, especially my very practical mother, was praying that I would grow up. Writing? And writing fantasy no less,… good grief, that’s a kids’ thing – there’s no future in that. She tried many times talking to me about priorities. I felt so much frustration from them – that they thought that I was a bit too obsessed – the same as I had done with my art. I spent so much of my waking hours on it. My chores suffered, homework abandoned, mediocre grades(not that they had been any better before I started writing), non-social hiding in my room all the time and even on trips and family reunions, I just ignored “everything” and wrote. It got old fast.
On many summer trips she tried limiting my luggage so as to exclude binders, but I simply condensed down smaller and smaller and sneaking in at least part of my current manuscript. It was like a game, but I don’t think she found it nearly as entertaining, as I – of course, I always won. She tied banning me from writing, tried taking my binders (unlike taking a book I’m reading, I just found another blank piece of paper and kept going), and even trying to persuade me to read something else besides fantasy.
Novelty Runs Dry As Reality Dawns
I also started noticing something. As the dogs got bigger, what I once thought cute prize winning stars were actually nothing more than mutts.
I took a few creative writing classes here and there, eager to improve them, but instead found that mutts weren’t allowed. They wanted me to write short stories or poems and I often felt a hushed disapproval of speculative fiction, let alone fantasy. I learned a bunch about writing, but my original series and obsession was like the stray dog that would follow me everywhere I went but wasn’t allowed at school and at home couldn’t come inside the house. So instead it would sit at the door and whimper.
I guess the best way to describe that first storyline as a cheap imitation mix of Lady Hawk and Dragonlance. I had an Indian princess, a wolf, an evil elven mage (complete with black cloak and staff), black tower, and a dragon frozen in magic ice. Trust me, it was a lousy rip-off.
In a level akin to despair, I fell away for a time. Though I never “gave up” writing, I went months without adding so much as a page, or maybe even a paragraph. And still I feared losing it. Actually there were times when I was terrified that it would feel so neglected that it would leave and find someone else. As mangy as it might be, a part of me needed that stray, especially through those somber days of working at the nursing home and my Mother’s battle with cancer.
When I moved away to college I snuck the dog into my suitcase. That was also when I finally found the courage to give the mutt a bath. I also started feeding the scrawny thing, but it was mostly junk food when I’d steal away from class or when I was supposed to be studying. That complete rewrite took years in and of itself! Oh, I so hated re-writing and revision! Progress crawled. I finished more than four years of college and got married but was still struggling through that single re-write!
Actually, by that time I think it resembled a fat lazy cat more than a dog of any sort.
It hung around the house, scarfing up my discretionary free time, regularly sprawled out on the couch for days at a time and shed notes all over our apartment. I’m sure it drove my efficency-prone husband crazy, as it was consuming resources, not providing equal benefit and not going anywhere fast. However, he vowed to put up with it because of his love for me and so more often suffered in silence.
I decided that at the rate I was going I would never get published and probably never finish the majority of the original series, let alone anything else. I was still in the stage of “maybe it will get published someday”, wouldn’t it be neat. But the publishing arena is competitive enough and life gets busy enough that such really doesn’t cut it. If I wanted it, I had to go for it. So I buckled down and finished the total rewrite of book I, and gave it a new title, Cursed Child.
Even groomed and fresh out of the bath, it still resembled a melodramatic soap-opera mutt that had earned the glazed look from my husband on our honeymoon.
Forget the Mutt – Quest for the Perfect Pedigree!
As I was finishing Cursed Child, a friend recommended starting with the backstory. She took hold of the short glossy summary I’d written for my own reference and declared, “the real story starts here!”
I took hold of it with new heart. Besides, my husband confided in me that my backstory was the one thing he had actually gotten interested in. So I gathered all the mutts infesting the house and banished them to the backyard. Then I headed back over fifteen hundred – if not two thousand – years to cultures I didn’t know, the Damon race and the beginnings of the Blade of Dreams. It turned out vastly different from anything else I had written in the series. While other stuff in the series had maintained a general feel of Tolkien and the middle ages, the Damon culture had nothing to do with either. I discovered the hero in Sagon, his friends, and lots of other things that I had no clue about.
By then I had discovered the digital world of writers, joined writing.com and started to befriend others like me. It was wonderful and amazing. One thing that I managed to do with the help of NoWriMo mentality, is that I returned to the cycle of one book in roughly 6 months. Finished Forger of Dreams at 105,000 words and then added about 25k through 2 years of revisions. I got better at action sequences and plot tension. Eventually I moved on to Of Ice and Flames, Book II of the backstory aka Sagon’s tale. I also mapped out and made lots of notes on Book III and planned a Book IV as Lulani’s story.
I spent a couple years of submitting Forger to mainstream fantasy publishers, but no go. I went through several rounds of revisions and made some drastic changes, but the real problem I found was actually in book III. Because it was a backstory, I couldn’t figure out a satisfactory end and I knew it.
Full Circle and Starting Over… Again
By that time, my original book I, that little mutt felt truly abandoned and penitent. He’d look at me with those sad eyes, begging for my love and attention. So in early 2008, after much thought, feedback and discussions, I shelved Sagon’s tale for the time being and in late spring I returned to the middle part of the series – Diana, Cat and all the familiar faces.
However, because of my experiences writing the backstory and my own growth, I decided to turn everything into “spare parts” persae and return to the drafting board. I “pulled no punches” and revered nothing as “sacred” – everything was up for debate and questioning. I put the entire group on diets and a strict exercise program. I reworked my entire magic system, my cultures, my world history. I junked the plotline and realigned all the elements in a way that I hoped would maintain higher action, urgent progress and “never a dull moment”. If I couldn’t justify characters, they were axed – like Ethan, Daven, Estelle, Jade and many others.
It’s been 15 years since that fateful October, when my mutt was just a tiny puppy. After so long, is it any wonder when I tell family and friends about how I’m submitting my book and that I’m getting close, some of them seem to sigh and shake their heads. Especially when after a year of “haven’t heard back from the publisher” evolves to a “he has the full book now but will probably be another year before he gets to it”. They probably think I’m crazy.
But for me and my dear friend, it is more important to me to find the right home for him. He’s worth it.
So how about you? How long has it been since writing took up residence in your life? And what about current WIP?