“The Emperor’s Finest” (1998-1999) or… How NOT to write a book.

In 1998, a new character walked into my life.   Her name was Arien, and the seed that came with her was a whole hell of a lot different than the sugar sweet that I had been trying to fold into a story.   It was like the door at the end of the hallway of my head had opened up, and a stranger walked out of it and introduced themselves.   She was a space marine, wearing an augmented battlesuit.  She wasn’t pretty, wasn’t a princess, and would not be painted as lounging on Fabio’s lap in any sort of cover art.  She came with a backpack full of problems, medical, drug related.   She cussed.  Drank.    Interesting, but not really where I felt I wanted to go, but that was okay, by then I knew how to kill a story line.  I would write it, it would hit 20-30 pages, and it would die, and I could go back to trying to write another high fantasy romance book.

Although it was not planned to be any sort of ‘romance’, the second character was male… Niel.   From the beginning, he was designed to be a sacrificial lamb… destined to die somewhere around page 30, right before I lost impetus.   I’m guessing I made him what he was to make him easy to kill off… arrogant, handsome, a real platinum spoon in the mouth sort of guy.  Not a guy I’d try to save, even as a written character.   He was going to be the kind of ass I always cheer when they die.

Basic core in place, I sat down and I began this purge of a storyline.   Page 30 came.  And went.  Niel refused to die.  Hell, the entire story was refusing to die, moving forward at its own stolid pace.   Page 40 came.  And went.  Still, Niel hung on to life, and the story did as well. 50.  60.  70.

At about 80 pages down, I sat back and took a long look.  This was now easily twice as long as I’d ever managed before, and it didn’t feel like it was a struggle.  It was like I wasn’t even there, mostly, I wasn’t writing this, I was transcribing it.   Arien and Niel were telling me where they were going, and I was along for the ride.   I made myself a promise then, if…IF…I could make it to a hundred pages, I would start to take this seriously.

And here’s when I show just how lost I was.   It hit 122 pages before I said, “Okay.  This one might just have legs.   I’m not sure where it’s going, but it’s not stopping.”  So I started to go to sites, and began to read the writer’s submission instructions.  And they all had formatting requirements.  Formatting?   Er… well… no…  it wasn’t formatted.   I should do that and see what it looked like, right?   So I sat down and I began formatting my 122 page, marginless and single spaced baby.     Suddenly it wasn’t 122 pages anymore,  it ballooned to more than twice that in less than thirty minutes.  I had gone from ‘maybe this could, one day, be long enough to be a book’ to ‘oh…my…. God, what do I do now?”  I had a three hundred page manuscript with no end in sight.   I had, in one fell swoop, gone from always too short to suddenly looking at way too damn long.   Never in all the years I’d been beating on this had I ever considered that to be an option.  Other people wrote books that were too big.   I didn’t.   I took a long breath, put my fingers on the keyboard, and kept going into the story.

And then, there it was, the second epiphany that came with this project.   Something I had never had before.   Locked in my head, the very LAST sentence.   I could see it.   Feel it.  Touch it.  I knew the ending.  There was one.  It wasn’t the happily ever after I’d always kind of seen my first book as being, in fact the end was dark and rather ugly.  The entire book had been dark and rather ugly.   But I knew where I was going, and yes, finally finished what was to be titled “The Emperor’s Finest”.   After more than ten years of 10 and 20 page attempts, I had done it.   I had a whole book, and I had written it.

I had expected to be beyond thrilled.  I was a writer.  I had written a book, damnit!   Hear me roar!

But what I actually got was entirely different.   I felt…empty.  Lost.  Drained.   And just like that, it felt like that was it.  I’d never write again.  In fact, rereading it felt like it wasn’t even mine.  Someone else had written it.   I had lost it.   There was no more companionship, no more riding along with those two as they did their thing that only I was lucky enough to be able to see.  They were my movie, and the movie was over.

It took time before I opened the file up and looked at it again.  It still felt like it wasn’t mine, but I could see where it would do with some trimming, and I launched into a major edit.   I cut about 80 pages, brought it back down from its cumbersome 500 pages to the 436 page/119k word manuscript that still lives on my computer.

Obviously, however, I had done the hard thing.   I had finished a book, the real work was over, and I’d sell it.   I’d be…a published author, damnit!   Now, I laugh, because while this manuscript has made its rounds, gotten some positive thoughts from publishers, it’s still… just mine and a couple of other peoples’.   Finished in 1999, it remains…unpublished, a victim of “Gee, I should work on that when I get a little time.”  But there never seems to be that time.

But Arien wasn’t done.  While the less than happy ending worked for “The Emperor’s Finest”, she and Niel refused to remain silent.   Although there was no publisher in sight for the first book, I relented to insanity and finished the unnamed sequel, which became the second “Wow!  I did it! I finished…another…book!”  And again, there was the silence.  The emptiness.   The drained loss.   Arien and Niel were actually done then, walked away from me.   And again, it felt like I would never write again.

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