Nathalie and Gideon.

I envy people who use outlines to write, I really do.   It confuses me, and I want to know where they get such well mannered characters from.    Mine would not follow such directions, they go where they want to, when they want to.

About six weeks ago, I sat down and put fingers to keyboard and started “Clearing of the Way” with a pretty vague idea in my head.   Nathalie, my protagonist, started as a nebulously defined soul, claimed by what she labels as the ‘Dark Man’, the entity who has guided her life as long as long as she can remember.   She came as a rather antisocial type, content in solace, a creature of deeply ingrained habits.   While not fat, I pictured her as well rounded, zaftig, Rubenesque, with a wild mop of dark, wavy hair and wide dark eyes.  Undaunted by ‘fashion’, she dresses as a single phrase in my mind… “a demented kindergarten teacher.”   I see her as wearing a lot of cardigans, striped socks, turtlenecks, all in bright primary colors.   She has the kind of job she doesn’t have to commute for, which allows her to stay at home and avoid people most of the time.  (This settled into research editor).

Gideon, her other half, came as a contradiction.   Crazy.  Homeless.    Tall, thin,graceful, with long dark blond hair.   He doesn’t have a ‘style’, because he wears whatever Nathalie buys him at the local thrift stores.   Although Nathalie is well aware that her relationship with her ‘Dark Man’ is not natural, she views Gideon’s blatant insanity of  talking to God in a less than thrilled light, unwilling to draw the correlation that she also does the same.  Giddy came into being in my mind with a love of oatmeal, and an odd obsession with birthdays.  I didn’t realize then just how much of a foundation that seemingly random snippet would actually turn out to be in the book.   It’s one of those things that really makes me wonder about these, because at the beginning, it seemed like that was just a foible, character color. One more clear symptom that Giddy was not wrapped too tightly.  But now, that obsession is completely integral to the storyline.  Did I know it then?  No.  Or at least I don’t really think so.

This is why I always say I don’t do the writing.  I don’t do outlines, because I don’t know what’s going on until they bother to tell me.   It’s a relationship, a path that I’m led down.

But that was what I had.   One research editor.  One crazy homeless guy.  Both talking to supernatural entities, Nathalie in her dreams and Gideon in the open.  And the end of the world on the horizon.   Not a whole lot, but honestly, I don’t start with a whole lot.   I had all I needed, and let it start… in a city.

Eh, yes.  Well.   City.   I live in a very small rural town in Wisconsin… I am most familiar with Dallas (lived in a suburb of there for awhile) and Chicago, but I don’t like committing to either, since I don’t really know any well enough to write strongly about it.   It finally ended up as New York, why, not entirely sure, but it didn’t want to be Chicago.  And New York is something I know absolutely nothing about.   City, check.  In a snowstorm.   A big one, the kind that close the world down.   Fitting, I felt, for a world about to be torn apart… somehow.  I just wasn’t sure how.

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“Clearing of the Way”, Present.

After finishing “Fog and Roses” and “Curses and Blessings”, I had calmed down a lot.  I wasn’t writing, but I had written, and I had the usual murmuring cacophony back in my head again.   I piddled with a couple of projects, I have a couple of friends that I share…ahem… fanfictions of a rather adult nature with, and I was working on one of those when I was hit by another story core.

Original fiction, strongly fantasy, set in the present day.  Unusual right there for me, but it sounded good.   I set it on the back burner, and let it simmer… I need a main character, a name, and the first four or so pages before I put fingers to keys.  Finally, after about two weeks, I had the seed… Her name would be Nathalie, a struggle that took about a week to settle on.  (Names are very important to me, and once a character has a name, that’s it.  It has occasionally led to name recycling… in “Forget to Remember”, I needed a name, quickly, and gave Clair a temporary name that belonged to another character…Besseth.   But when Besseth was written, that was her name, and it’s the name she has.   So I have two Besseths.)

Nathalie would be socially awkward, an introvert, forever marked by the fact that she had been claimed at birth to stand during a culling of humanity.   She would be a champion of one of the players in this war, his avatar in reality, as the world ended.

I liked it, enough to take my seat in my computer room, and drag out my writing keyboard.  This, a gift from the spouse, comes out only when I’m serious.   If I’m just playing, I will use the laptop’s keyboard, but real writing puts me far away from everyone else… the noise when I write is obnoxious.

First, I have to have music.   I can’t write in silence.   And even more obnoxiously, I do my best writing to dance/trance music at a pretty hefty volume.   My husband does not like dance/trance.  And he doesn’t like a ‘pretty hefty volume’.  And, even though it was his inspired purchase, he does not like the rapid ticketytack of ‘my writing keyboard’.   New keyboards have rubber nipples under the keys to render them nearly silent, but my Unicomp keyboard  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model_M_keyboard is another critter altogether.

Okay, Nathalie.   Again, unusually, Nathalie decided to introduce her presence by a strong and concerted first person point of view.   This is both a blessing and a curse.   I’ve always had good relationships with those who come at me using the dreaded ‘I’ pronoun, Clair remained unflappable through a hundred thousand words plus as an “I”, it’s not the easiest way to approach a novel.   The ability to change points of view during my preferred third person omniscient view has gotten me out of a lot of issues.  Stuck?  Simple, switch to other character.  Voila.  Unstuck.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.   However, the purely first person does help keep things straight, if Nathalie doesn’t have a reason to know it, then I don’t know it.   It alleviates the temptation to go with a ‘cast of thousands’, to keep things tightly wound around her.  And that is how this new one is… strongly first person.  I take them as they come, however they decide to be.

With the beginning core of Nathalie in place, I turned my attention to her other half.   As my husband notes, I really do write those romances I had planned to as a teenager, they just aren’t historical.    And then he was there.  Gideon.   (Pause for another three days while I fought to find his name)  Gideon arrived in my mind as a firmly set vision.  Homeless, crazy, a volatile mix of childlike wonder and bugnuts insane.   Eeeewwwhhh…what?    How was I going to make this a sympathetic character, and how would I make it to where my imminently sane and reasonable main character would have anything at all to do with this?   I decided to let her tell me.  And I started this…about six weeks ago.

This is where I’ve been trying to get to this whole time, to have you all walk along with me during the birth and struggle of writing this novel.   I felt the prior blogs were necessary to explain everything that’s come before.   But we’re here now…

 

Aftermath… “Fog and Roses”/”Curses and Blessings” 2010/2011.

Late 2010.  Still recovering from the stroke, and the heart procedure, and growing more and more concerned.  I had never gone that long without something, no matter how stupid, wandering across my mind.   Sure, I’d never bother to give the dumb ones keyboard time, but they usually still showed up… snippets of previous works too small to settle down, things never to see the light of day… but I had nothing.   I was desperate.  I wanted to hear something, anything, yes, even another fanfiction, to let me know my brain could still manage to come up with the stories I’d always taken for granted.

And life was apparently determined to laugh at me.  It was during this time that I received the first notification… that “Remember When”  had placed well enough in the contest I’d put it in to guarantee its publication in the contest’s anthology.  I’d found a paying home for it.  It was followed by the first cautious emails from an e-publisher interested in “Fall of the Old Guard”.  So, I had someone finally interested in one of my full length novels, and I couldn’t write anymore.   I was both thrilled to death and embittered, I still felt like I was so close, and now there was another hurdle in my way.

But I had a neurologist telling me that my computer gaming habit was ‘therapeutic”, and some lovely coworkers who had given me a gift card to “Buy that computer game you keep talking about.  We don’t know which one, so we figured we’d just let you pick it up.”  They were referring to the latest World of Warcraft expansion:  Cataclysm.   I decided to immerse myself in gaming, and started Cataclysm with a brand new character.   I had a fairly strong reputation as a good player on my server, but was in no condition to deal with that.   I could play, but my focus was off and I didn’t think I was up to the level of play I had once enjoyed.   A new character, on the opposite faction (World of Warcraft characters have a societal allegiance, they pick ‘sides’, Horde versus Alliance.)  of my other, would ensure I was left alone for quite awhile.   After all, who would want to recruit a shiny new Worgen mage?

I chose a male character, because the females looked funny, and started.   The starting story line was compelling, and I was really enjoying myself, when the unexpected happened.   That shiny new Worgen mage began to talk to me.

Banastre was an aberration in two ways:  One, he was male.   Usually my stories start with a strong connection to the female main protagonist, her other half comes later when I know her better.   And two, he was an active character of mine.  The best of my fanfiction works had main characters I never played… Clarimonde has never been a game character of mine, and Besseth was played for a couple of days after I was done with “Servant of the One True King”.

But at that point, I didn’t care.  I had a story…one I could write.  And write it I did.  Banastre’s first segment, “Fog and Roses”, was not my longest and most complex fanfiction ever, (It came in at a respectable 40k words) but his voice was there and it was almost as true as Clair’s had been earlier.  And just as they’d always done before, it flowed right into the second part “Curses and Blessings” (31k).

I was writing again.   Sure, it was another fanfiction, but I was willing to take what I was given then.  My brain was not irretrievably lost, I still had the hallway, this time inhabited by a Byronesque werewolf and his irascible girlfriend.   It was all good, where the fanfics lead, the originals follow.

The End of the World as I knew it, October 2010.

If you’ve read my archives to this blog, you know where I am right now.  Early October, 2010.   I had suffered a stroke at the end of that September… the long version of up to this point is in the October 2010 archives.   I knew, going into my first appointment with my neurologist, that my MRI had come back abnormal, positive, whichever term you prefer.   I had read the report, and was having difficulties grasping exactly what it said.   “Scattered areas of demyelination, and one older lacunar infarct.”   Er… looking up demyelination had led me to exactly one illness… multiple sclerosis… and I was scared.

My neurologist looked at me and said, “The easiest way for you to understand this is to take a look.”   and he put the actual MRI films up.   It was immediately obvious that those little white spots, each the size of a pea, were not supposed to be there.  Even more sobering was the number of them.  Scattered, indeed.   He stared at the films for a long moment, gave an expansive shrug and glanced at me.   “I don’t know what they are.”  He finally admitted.  “But we’re going to find out.”

Finding out started a barrage of tests, an MRA, an echocardiogram, a spinal tap.  Nothing, nothing, nothing, until one small note on the echocardiogram popped up, and it was only tentative.   “Suggestion of a patent foramen ovale.”

I knew what a patent foramen ovale was, my niece had undergone open heart surgery to correct hers.   A congenital heart defect?  But I was 41, not 2.   Could it have gone unnoticed this long?   Dubious, but that was the end of the barrage of tests.  It was the only hint we had of what might have caused this, the only lead we could chase.  I was scheduled for a TEE (transesophegeal echocardiogram) to get a better look.   I do not like anesthesia, and the happy statement that I would not remember any of it only made it worse.  So… me of the highly effective gag reflex…could vomit all over three doctors, a nurse, and two students and NOT remember it?   I could admit to the murder of the century, and not remember it?   Pee myself?   (Yes, I have an overactive imagination, we’ve established that)

The first thing I remember coming out was the utterly excited statement:  “We found it!”

Found it.  Found what?   Oh, right.  The defect.   Once I regained a certain level of consciousness, it began to make sense.  Yes, I had a PFO, previously undiagnosed.   It was, they told me gleefully, a surgical fix.   They were gleeful, I was not.   I’d stood in the hospital during my niece’s open heart, I’d been there in the recovery room after.   Open heart surgery?  I wasn’t 2.  I was 41.   This was big time surgery, and I wasn’t sure I was up to it.   Yes, my brain had polka dots, but….

I was taken into consult with the interventional cardiology team, and they were quick to let me know that medical advances had completely changed this procedure.  I was young, I was a good candidate, they wanted to attempt a repair via catheterization.   No big scarring, minimally invasive, I’d be back at work in a week or two.  It sounded too good to be true.   But they were confident, and raring to go.

They were, but their own neurology team (not the one I had been dealing with at my small rural hospital) was less than convinced.   They held out for medication and suggested surgery only if I had a ‘significant’ stroke.   As if the one I was dealing with was not quite significant enough for them.   I had my primary physician, the neurologist he’d sent me to, and my cardiology team urging me to go ahead, and a big hospital neuro team urging me to ‘wait and see’.

I am not a very decisive person, but to me, there was no decision.  We were going ahead with the surgery, and a week before Thanksgiving I went in for the procedure.  Exactly as promised, I walked out of the University of Wisconsin hospital 24hrs later, the proud new owner of my very own Amplatzer Septal occluder, and I went home.

That week was Thanksgiving.  It really didn’t quite sink in then, I was busy and still not right.   Sleepy and on edge.   It wasn’t until later when it began to hit me.   I’m never alone, if I’m bored or lonely, all I have to do is open the door to the hallway and start my very own movie rolling.   At first I blamed the silence on the persistent headache I’d had since the stroke, but by three weeks, it was becoming obvious… there was nobody to talk to.   My mind was empty.   There wasn’t even the stupidest fragment of a story I would never waste time to consider growing.

So many people came to me, and told me the same thing…. “You’re so lucky.   You got off without a single problem!”  That was never right, my affected side is numb, heavy, and just off.   But that I was willing to live with.   The brain pauses… more annoying, but still bearable.   But it seemed like I was facing a disaster….losing my ability to write…but most people considered that a small hobby, not too much to lose.  I was growing more and more panicked, however.  I’d struggled for years…since I was 15…and it looked like I was going to lose whatever hope I still had of making this happen.

“Gates of Torrent” 2010.

Coming off of the combined “Servant/Chiaroscuro” brought another story, the hoped for original fiction to end my long spree of fanfiction.   I had a character in mind who was all mine, Esme.   She was a return to the high fantasy I’d always seen myself writing, which had fallen behind an odd proclivity to write science fiction.  Esme was even a princess, the youngest child of a king.   I knew her spouse from an earlier short story written a few years ago.  I had a strong core idea in mind, a flip of the usual fantasy world dying under the oppression of science and disbelief.   Esme’s world was an ordinary medieval kingdom under assault by an increasing pressure of the fantastical, where these otherworldly forces were unwanted and terrorizing.

I started it with high hopes, but the start ran into problems right off the bat.  I meant the beginning, Esme’s childhood up until her life was strongly affected by the mythological forces assaulting her home, to be, if not idyllic, then happy.  I meant to transition gracefully into her darker adulthood as a juxtaposition to the beginning.   What I got was a happy, chatty start that fell abruptly into awkward darkness.   My husband read what I had and immediately stated that while he liked the ‘Esme as an adult” sections, but that the beginning was not cutting it.   It had to go.  I agreed, and planned to restart, or to just begin with Esme as an adult, and work from there.   That was September, 2010.  And I was about to have much bigger problems than “Torrent”‘s awkward start…

“Servant of the One True King”/”Chiaroscuro” 2010

So there I was, firmly telling myself that I was done with fanfiction.   I had finished Clarimonde’s trilogy, and I was pleased with it.   It was time to get back on track, back to my own original fiction, and time to continue chasing the dream.  Except, well, yes, I had a character in mind.   Dark, moody, angsty, depressing, and quite firmly yet another fanfiction.  I tried to hold her at bay, but she wasn’t having any of that.   So I brought her up to a friend/best reader, imagining that some of the phrases I used to describe her would get me a firm “Oh, no, I don’t want to read that.”

What I got instead was a firm “Oh, yes, I’d love to read that!”

So, a little uncertainly, I began the story of one Besseth Southcross.  While World of Warcraft is rated to pass for a teenaged audience, the back story line placed for it in Warcraft III is more than a little dark.   The game is a light, bright, cartoony world based firmly on a truly heart wrenching story, and Bess was bound and determined to live in that darkness.   Again, it was easy to let her grab my hand and tell her story.

“Servant of the One True King” was another six week writing marathon, 51k words.   And this time, I had been smart.  By killing Besseth at the end, I had guaranteed the lack of a sequel.   I had squashed this one, and had only put six weeks into it.   My fan based was pleased, I was smirking, and all was good.  Back to those original fictions…

Or not.

“Doesn’t anybody stay dead anymore?”  (Prince Arthas Menethil, Warcraft III, human scenario.)

Nope.   Besseth didn’t stay dead.   The answer to her resurrection was there, the secondary characters I had surrounded her with yelled obnoxiously at my blatant murder of her, and conspired to bring her back.   Again, back to the keyboard, this time with “Chiaroscuro”, the sequel.   At a relatively short 36k words, it still took me six weeks to complete.  I ended it with an epilogue that, while not promising a third part, at least would flow into another part.  However, that third part has not bothered to stir itself, and (although I back away from saying it) Besseth’s story may just be done.

March, 2009. “Falling”.

Most of the time, I think I’m a pretty even keeled person.  (Ignore my husband’s gales of laughter with that.)  I’m a pretty classic geek/gamer/writer introvert, but I’m usually a pretty happy geek/gamer/writer introvert.   March, however, is an entirely different set of circumstances altogether.

First off, I have seasonal depression, and live in Wisconsin.  By March, it seems like our Wisconsin winters are never ending.   The attempts to get as much sunlight and vitamins as possible have failed, and I’m in a funk.   I usually don’t write, and my gaming suffers.

And March brings my birthday.  That in itself is not the issue, I’m not one of those women constantly hung up on how old I’m getting.  March, however, does bring an anniversary (on my birthday) that I still, after all these years, have trouble with.  As I noted earlier, my mother was a very important part of my life.  She was the glue that held my family together.  The force that was always there.  The indulgent one who gave me books and supported my nebulous dreams of becoming an author.

Not long after I’d gotten married and moved out, it became obvious that my mother was ill.  By 1997, it was obvious that we were dealing with a terminal illness, and I made the emergency trip home in January, expecting the worst.   But my mother came out of her coma.  Regained consciousness, and was moved to hospice.   Unable to stay, I returned to Wisconsin.   By February, she had rallied enough to go home and, except for depression, seemed to be doing well.

It was late morning, my birthday, when I received the call.  All my father had to say was my name, and I knew.  My 56 year old mother was gone, died in her sleep, at home just as she’d wanted.

This all makes the perfect storm for me to melt into a furious blue fit by the beginning of March, and 2009 was a bad one.   The winter had been especially long and dismal.   And there was a story suddenly there to fit it.   It ran against the whole ‘Never writing fanfiction again, damnit!’ agreement I had made with myself, but hey, it was just a short one, and I needed to express what was going on in my head.

That created “Falling”, the least fanfic of all my fanfics.   It’s also (ironically given that it is the very least canon driven of them all) my perpetual entry in Blizzard’s annual fanfiction contest.  I know it’s not going to win, but I write Wow fanfics, and I’m going to enter!  (Word limits have kept the others from being my submission.   Falling is the only short story I have that fits.)

It’s dark.  It’s depressing.   And now that it’s a few years old, it’s also very amusing from a strictly mechanical point of view.   “Falling” lacks so much concrete description that readers aren’t actually told what the main character is.    It has led to some interesting discussions, and I’m amazed how readers can take a perfect lack of description (The main is described as she by pronoun use, and is mentioned to have black hair.  That’s it.) and fill in their own blanks.   Although I know exactly what she is, I’m always amazed to hear others put forth a rousing (and wrong) argument for why they think she’s what they think she is.   I realized three quarters of the way through that she had no name, no description, and I kept going with it.   I think it’s an interesting effort, with all the descriptions limited to the main character’s surroundings and feelings.   Another exercise, another experiment.  And I really hadn’t broken my promise to myself about those fanfics, at just 3,600 words, it wasn’t really a fanfic.  Just a little story to help purge my emotions.

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