And it’s done!

Over the past few months, I have shared the experience of writing a novel, from story kernel to end, with Clearing of the Way. It’s been a great ride,  I put the final touches on it this morning and put it up on Amazon Kindle.      Here is the breakdown… I put the first word down on 12/6/2011 and the last on 4/18/12.    341 pages, 67,412 words.   Then I let it sit for awhile while I worked on editing the sequel to “The Emperor’s Finest”, and went back to it a couple of weeks ago to look at it fresh again.

 

What can I say?  Overall, I’m very pleased with it, and even more so since it is the first original work to come completely after my stroke.   It is definitely one of the cleanest novels I’ve written, editing really meant chasing down all the changes in venue (we did finally decide to set the start in Chicago and forget about New York) and killing more than a handful of oddly placed commas.   So, now it’s onward…to the sequel…

Way of the Blessed.

Thanks for taking the time to walk Nathalie and Gideon’s first steps with me.  I hope you’ll stick around for the rest of it.

 

If an author crashes into a tree in a forest, does any one hear it?

Yesterday was one of those days.   On the good side, I finished the first draft of Clearing the Way, the first completed original manuscript I’ve managed since the stroke in 2010.  Even though it has some holes where I’m still trying to remember exactly which word I was looking for (only the right word will do), it’s a triumph and I am beyond pleased.   It’s currently in the hands of my main beta reader for it, and will go to the hubby for first edit this weekend, but the first part of Nathalie and Gideon’s saga is set down and ready for the nuts and bolts attack.

 

And then there’s The Emperor’s Finest.  My first baby, completed in 1999.   My dark, bloody epiphany, the first of these to develop legs strong enough to take it beyond the page 40 death mark.  And when it did, it did, topping out in its first draft at an unwieldy 490 pages. As you may possibly know, Emperor’s underwent a marathon editing session, cut down to 370 pages, and went live as an Amazon ebook not that long ago.   I’ve been purposefully ignoring it, focusing on Nathalie, and trying hard not to obsess over its progress or lack thereof.   But last night I finally dipped a toe in, and took a look.

I’ll be the first one to admit that Emperor’s Finest has a brutal ending.   On one hand, I am proud of it.   Neither of the main characters acts out just because it’s over.   Neither one of them does something they wouldn’t, shouldn’t, do just to give a sparkly feel good ending.

However, that’s easy enough for me to say since I’ve…read the sequel.   Yes, there is one, there has always been one.   Somehow, I came straight off of the 490 page first part and started the second the next day.  The decision was made at the onset of this to just see how Empfine went… if had all the flight capacity of a lead pigeon, then we weren’t going to disturb the sequel, we were just going to let it all die gracefully while focusing on the newer works.   Call it a learning experience, and carry on.

Except, Empfine is generally receiving quite positive reviews, except for that brutal ending.   So last night I began to look for just where I’d squirreled the back ups for the sequel.  (Hey, it was completed in 2000, it’s a bleeding miracle I thought I still had a copy somewhere!)  And finally, after some confusion, located my back up.  Then converted my back up to a format that my current word processing program will read.  Then, for the first time in years, opened the sequel to the Emperor’s Finest.

How bad could it be?   I vaguely remembered it as being ‘complete’, so my worst nightmares were over.  I found it, it was intact, converted and shorter than Empfine….right?   Some editing, and we’d be back in business.

Apparently my ability to keep a file for twelve years is better than my ability to remember something I’d written.  I had found it.  It was  intact.  Converted.  And… 539 pages long.   And that’s when I hit that tree at top speed.   This is more than ‘a little editing’.  Although I wrote much cleaner prose then than I do now, more precise and time consuming, I am still not willing to bring a 539 page monster to the table.   I guess it’s time to start whupping this one into shape, while I take a breather from Nathalie.

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.