I talk about my books and writing a lot. It's a passion. I love my job. I've said this over, and over, and over again–and some people even believe me! But, I'm going to talk about the secret love-hate relationship with my novels… the dirty little thoughts I don't voice often.
Join me for a trip down memory lane. Before I begin, there are some things you may want to acquire. Here's your list:
I started writing in late middle school to early high school, so far as I can remember. My first actual story was about gryphons and unicorns, because I had a love affair with Mercedes Lackey's The Black Gryphon and Meredith Ann Pierce's Birth of the Firebringer. It was not quite fan fiction, but I didn't know how to write a story at all, so I wrote whatever. It often involved the types of scenes I loved from these two novels, though with my own characters.
It gives me the chills thinking about how close I strayed to fan fiction. (I have nothing against fan fiction. I get a hit of the stuff once or twice a year when I need a lot of giggles. I don't mind it–I just don't want to write it.)
My first attempts into writing were complete and total shit… with one exception.
I wrote a story about a cockroach who survived a nuclear incident. I was in engineering class, and some kids in my class wanted to know what the fuck I was doing, so I showed them. We were all bored out of our wits, so I had a little audience as I wrote this comedy about this cockroach named Bob.
I wish I still had that fucking story. I really do. I tried recreating it a few times, but I never did manage to recapture it. Maybe it was me who changed, and I lost that spark that made the story so damned funny. Out of the mouths of babes, I guess.
I have lost all of my writing up to about twelve years ago… and I only have most of the first novel I ever completed due to a fortuitous backup. My computer, my backups, and so on were all stolen–and the day after the robbery, the backup server on the other side of the continent exploded.
Fortunately for me, I had emailed a friend with it, and they still had a copy.
Here is a very short excerpt of the beginning of the book. I'm so fucking sorry. I'm so fucking sorry. I read over this, and it hurt me so bad I struggled to get past the first five words. Ouch. Just ouch. I was young, okay?! I was young and stupid!
Fortunately, I got better. Sort of.
The dragon had to die.
Shyann was not usually vindictive, but this time the loathsome creature had gone too far. Usually, only the foolish were entrapped by the beast. These few thought themselves brave, and journeyed intentionally to the dragon's domain. This time, however, the dragon had gone hunting. Its prize was the King's son, Alrich. Alrich was a sweet child, of gentle nature and great beauty. Only six, the kidnapping of the child prince had sown much anger amongst the peoples of the kingdom of Kelsh.
The bitter bite of regret hit her guts like a fist and she paused in her walk towards her fate to glance behind her shoulder where the white city of Elenrune lay. She could almost see its sparkling towers that shined silver in the noon sun, and the vast walls that dominated the hill on which the fair city lay. She longed to walk those streets, though they were forbidden to her. Sixteen years ago, while she was still in the womb, her mother had betrayed the king, and kingdom. What she had done, Shyann did not know. All she knew was her mother had been held prisoner until her birth and then exiled. She had been taken and raised outside of the city by one of the guardsmen, whose wife was barren.
I'm so, so fucking sorry.
This is the novel I wrote in three days to prove I could, and I averaged between 20,000 to 30,000+ words per day to make happen. And it also serves as a true example of why quantity vs quality isn't a thing: I wrote the same level shit even when I wrote only 500 words in a day. I wrote shitty words. Very shitty, miserable, fucking unforgivable words.
Thus started my secret hatred of my own writing. When I wrote it, it was the best thing ever–the absolute pinnacle of fantasy fiction!! Oh, I'm so fucking sorry.
The truth is, the writing sucked, the plot was even worse, and I didn't have a clue in hell how to create a character. The novel was a much-needed lesson in suckage. Take a steaming pile of dog shit, marinade it in more dog shit, and then serve it on a silver platter–we're getting close to my feelings about this novel.
My hatred for it grew over the years, too. But I keep it around. I hate its liver and wish to spit on its carcass, but I keep it around. This was a book of hard lessons.
I fucking sucked at writing.
For those of you who enjoy my writing now, thank you for bearing with me. If you're a writer starting out, take a look at this. It is possible to get better. You just have to want it bad enough and be willing to work really, really hard at it. How much better you get is a mystery you'll only solve by trying. I won't promise you'll be great or even good, but you won't know your limits until you try to reach them.
I have very little love for that story, but I can't let it go. It was a painful lesson, but one I needed. So, I give a heartfelt “fuck you!!” to that novel, along with a whispered, “thank you.”
Love and hate. Who would have thought?
Eight or so years ago, my husband gave me a gift of a writing course I found online: An author did one of those online classes to help fledglings write a novel. She went through the process of point by point outlines, and even did some developmental editing work with her students.
I didn't finish the course.
I did finish the novel.
Tossed by wind and wave, the large sailing vessel Deirnalla's Hope, careened dangerously close to the white capped cliffs of the Pelliyar Range. Thunder rumbled as Melliana fought to keep her footing on the rain slicked deck. Ignoring the stinging pelt of the rain, she used the rocking of the ship to propel herself closer to the stern and the Captain's deck. The front of the Hope felt miles away in the midst of the storm. A rush of water broke over the ship, slamming her against the railings along with several of the sailors who desperately worked the rigging. One of the three masts groaned, the half secured sail whipping in the violent winds.
“Cut the rigging!” Clinging to the railing, she struggled to regain her footing under the heaving of the waves, “Cut it!”
The rear mast creaked, the sails billowed out to their full length. One stray line whipped dangerously overhead. A strong gust of wind rocked the ship while Meliana flung herself towards the overburdened mast. She snatched at the rigging line, grimacing as the rough, slicked rope lashed against her bare arm. Blood welled from the wound. The wet rope whipped through her clenching fingers, spraying water into her face. Hissing, she reached for the knife on her belt, stumbling against the mast as another wave rocked the vessel.
I loved writing this story. This is probably the first novel I actually fell in love with. But, it is a novel I may never actually produce. Like Exhibit 1, this story was an exercise in folly. It was one of the few stories I didn't sit down, screaming about having to write. It went with me everywhere. I carted my laptop everywhere just so I could work on it.
But I never edited it; I couldn't bring myself to, for whatever reason. I'm still not sure why. Like Exhibit 1, it's a novel of mistakes–mistakes I cringe over when I think too hard about it.
It did start a trend: My love of throwing characters in difficult situations from the very first page of a story.
For that, “fuck you, book!” Damned asshole novel, starting a bad habit. I still haven't kicked it. Probably never will. Well shit.
This story is the last novel I wrote featuring unicorns.
This story gave me hope I could become an author someday. It was the first one I took somewhat seriously.
You get a picture of blood and a cross. Rest in fucking pieces, Exhibit 3.
Let me explain something here: I'm not hiding the story of Exhibit 3. It's hidden because every last copy known to man has been destroyed. It was a story I had on a laptop hard drive, a single cd, and that I only printed out once… this story crushed me. I didn't mean to lose the story, I keep everything I write. The cd got damaged, the laptop drive exploded, and I had burned the print out. The print out was a bitter thing for me.
It was the realization my husband would never be a real supporter of my novels. Don't get me wrong, he supports me–financially. That's it. We have sorted things out for a semi-happy middle ground, but I showed my husband this novel.
It was terrible. It was worse than Exhibit 2, but better than Exhibit 1–timeline wise, it was written between the two. But, since I can't show you the text… I felt Exhibit 2 needed to come first.
I made several mistakes with Exhibit 3. First, I showed my husband at around the 30,000 word mark. He hated it. He was bluntly honest and told me it was shit.
I guess I needed to hear it, but it hurt. I hated Exhibit 3 more than any other novel I have ever written. But now I regret I do not have that story around today, simply so I could snap my fingers at it and say, “I fucking told you so you thrice-blasted piece of shit…”
It proved one thing to me: Writing was hard, and I couldn't just wallow around in melodramatic angst and expect to get better just because I was writing…
I love writing, but I hate it too. I hate it with the burning passions of a thousand suns… and all because I can never seem to write the story to the potential in my head.
Exhibit 3 had ideas–good ideas. Fun ideas. Characters I could love… but I didn't know how to write.
And that's why the writing class for Exhibit 2 happened. I had to get better, and I didn't know how to on my own. I wonder how much I would have improved if I had managed to stick with the class?
I guess I'll never know now.
The next novel begins the slippery slope that would eventually lead me to write Storm Without End and The Eye of God. It's the same world, but the world began to take shape. The novel doesn't have a name, I simply call it ‘Bion's Epic' because Bion is the main character's name.
Some of you might recognize the character's name. Those who are familiar with me from #Nanowrimo will recognize it as the start of my handle, which happens to be Bionette. Yeah, that's right. I bitched up a male character's name and ran around with that as my handle because my real name was taken… and the other person with my name was extremely territorial and got bitchy with another variant used. So I rolled with Bionette.
This counts as my first actual foray into epic fantasy.
Defying the laws of nature itself, snow fell in Silverna.
As the heavy flakes hit Bion’s face they melted, leaving the faintest lines of moisture on his cheeks in their passing. When the snow thickened, the water worked into his pale blond beard, cold against his chin. Instead of the warm breezes of summer, the wind was frigid. If he had not felt the chill settling into his bones, he would not have believed the weather could be so unpleasant. Every hair stood on his arms, roused by the bumps that covered his exposed flesh. Bion shivered, but did not tear his gaze from the swirling flakes above.
When the wind blew, the flakes spiraled back towards the clouds that had birthed them before they fell once more. He never imagined that anything so fantastical could naturally occur. Had he not listened to the stories, he would have been certain it was the result of some magic he did not comprehend.
Perhaps it was.
Only an insistent nudge at Bion’s side tore his attention from the clouds above. The aging, golden mule who pulled his plow stared up at him with dark liquid eyes, her long ears pricked towards him. He murmured an apology for making her stand still in the cold. Bella was too eager to hurry, straining in her efforts to drag the raised plow across the land in the direction of her stall. Farmer Tealt would not be pleased if his pet were injured from working in the chill.
The light falling of snow had turned into a swirling maelstrom of white that obstructed his view and chilled him further. What flakes had melted on his face now froze. The snow clung to his shortly cropped beard, turning into icy spikes that irritated his face as he breathed.
Bion was not the only one who had sought shelter from the weather. Farmer Tealt, wrapped in his cloak, nodded at him with approval in his dark eyes. Snow was clumped in the farmer’s short, black hair, but melted in the warmth of the barn. The chill had not yet penetrated the wooden walls.
“Snow,” Tealt proclaimed in his gravelly voice.
Yeah, I had some bad habits… but I started trying to improve on them this novel–and I mean, really tried to improve. I started editing my novels.
This is my first attempts at seriously editing a story.
Bion regretted stepping out of the comforting warmth of Tealt’s home and venturing into the cold. It was too late to turn back, though he looked over his shoulder towards the farmhouse that he could no longer see through the trees and fields.
The road to the village was silent, broken only by the infrequent plops of snow falling from branches above. Ice was hidden beneath the snow, turning once smooth tracks treacherous. With every breath, plumes of white fog erupted from his nose and mouth, the frosty clouds drifting towards the slate-gray sky.
There should have been bird song, sweet melodies that were ever present in the village. There were no birds in the sky or on the branches that he could see.
Dread tightened his chest as soon as the village came into view. For the normal weather, the average home was beyond sufficient protection from rain. The structures, made of wood and with good thatch, had not withstood the fury of the snow storm. On the fringe of the village, his home had not collapsed completely, though the roof was all but gone. He stared at the building, his heart beating quicker as he realized just how much danger they had been in the previous night.
“Dear gods, have mercy,” he whispered. He hurried his pace, pushing himself through the drifts with panicked determination. He had never viewed his home as spectacular in size nor construction, but seeing it in such a state only chilled him more than the winds ever could.
To my shame, I never finished this novel. I couldn't bring myself to do it. I wrote the first 80,000 words and ground to a halt. Something needed to happen within the pages–something I wasn't yet capable of forcing myself to write.
The last passages of the story are where I hit that wall and hated myself so much I put the story down and never returned to it. I challenged myself a lot in this novel.
I counted deaths in number of villages, and I practiced how to describe someone's final moments through the state of their corpse. I learned how to research for a novel–I wanted facts, not just speculations. I wanted characters who changed within the pages.
I wanted to be able to kill a character because they had been cornered, and could not get themselves out–with or without help.
I couldn't do it. Well, I did… but I stopped. I couldn't bear myself to keep writing. I had closed a chapter on a character, and because I had, I closed the book for the entire novel.
I was never brave enough to pick it back up. I don't know if I'll ever be able to tell this story as it needs told–and I hate myself and the story as a result.
Enter Kalen, the character who would eventually feature in Storm Without End.
I finished this book in one month during NaNoWriMo. It was 80,000 words. It was terrible. But after several failures at writing a novel in complete, I needed to finish something. So I did something absolutely insane: I stole a plot feature from a favored anime, and I rolled with it. Actually, two plot features from two favored animes.
I really believed I would publish this novel one day… and I did.
But I kinda hate how it was a totally different book than what I set out to originally write.
From the great spire of the Academy, a single bell tolled. Kalen knew the bell, the sound was so ingrained into his memory he could never mistake it for another. Rich and deep, it reverberated through his bones until it made even his teeth ache. Its tone was so loud he easily believed that it could be heard across the entire city.
Kalen paused, slowing his stride from a hurried jog to a meandering walk to look towards the church belfry. It was a foolish gesture. All he could see from the inner corridors of the Academy of the Arts was the stucco ceiling of the hallway. He should have known better, but there was something about the echoes of the single chime that tugged at him. Stopping, he frowned up at the ceiling. Something differed about that somber tolling, but he could not figure out just what.
So distracted by the sound, he was caught completely unaware as a hand seized Kalen’s collar and yanked him into a suite. His assailant – if that is what he could call the resident prankster – was giggling quietly even as Kalen tripped and fell into the center of the magic circle that had been sketched into the floor. White traces marred the fabric of his black trousers.
Kalen groaned. Had he been paying attention, he would have avoided his cousin’s room altogether.
“Tsk,” Lenar chided as he pulled the door closed.
“What are you doing, Lenar?” Kalen sat up and rubbed at the back of his head. His ears rang from where he had hit the hardwood floor. Unlike his own dorm room, Lenar’s was shrouded in darkness. Only the light of a single flickering candle illuminated the chamber. That was an impressive feat. How his cousin had prevented the light from streaming in from the two large windows of the room was beyond his imagining.
Probably magic. It was always, always magic with Lenar.
Enter Exhibit 7… and a picture!
Exhibit 6 birthed Exhibit 7, which in turn birthed the world this cover features, the Rift. Art by Chris Howard.
I won't go into all of the six or so variations that eventually led to Storm Without End, but you get the idea. So, an unspoken thank you to those novels–my first serious foray into editing with a goal of producing a story I wouldn't be totally ashamed of publishing.
God, you have no idea how many tears and hours of heartache I invested in those versions. And the cussing. Just… yeah. Motherfucker!!! was a tame one in the house during those days.
Exhibit 7 was the first novel I received not one, but four requests for a full manuscript on… and one of those requests for a full almost landed me an agent. But I wasn't quite ready yet, I guess–it didn't work out.
I still curse at the amount of time and heartache I spent rewriting the book to that agent's notes… But I have to thank him, too. It was a hard, necessary lesson.
But so many tears, so many tears at my failure.
Stones crunched beneath approaching feet.
Kalen tensed. Lowering his hand to his sword, he pressed against the cliff that rose high above the broad trail. The sun-baked rock warmed his back. While the red-and-yellow banded stone outcropping protected him from the worst of the wind, he regretted leaving his gauze face mask shoved in his pocket rather than tied across his nose and mouth where it could have done him some good. It was too late to fix it. By the time it was in place, he'd be found. Grit blew in his eyes, but he was left with no choice but to ignore its sting.
He sighed from a mix of resignation and disgust. There was nothing for at least a fortnight the way he had come. That left few reasons for anyone to be on the trail without a horse.
Grinding his teeth together, he shook his wrist to loosen his muscles. As always, right before meeting a potential enemy, he longed for his left arm. With it, he could have swiped his hair out of his eyes or retrieve his mask. He could have shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun.
Kalen flicked at the leather strap that held his sword in its custom sheath. It separated from the loop that secured it so that the weapon fell into his hand. His empty left sleeve fluttered in the wind. Normally, the sleeve was contained with a black chest-wrap embroidered with his Sigil. But, that was with his horses, both of which he'd sent down the trail toward the city that morning.
It had been a long time since he had to worry about whether or not the unconstrained material would hamper his ability to fight.
Enter Exhibit 8… the opening of Storm Without End.
Kalen stared down at his feet and wondered what had happened to his boots. Thick, black mud oozed between his toes.
If he had his boots, the cold, wet forest wouldn’t have bothered him quite so much. His feet tingled, promising agony if he dared to take a single step. His only arm alternated between burning and freezing. A pair of dark dots on the back of his hand marked where he’d been bitten. He remembered that much. The serpent had been red, gold, silver and black, and it had struck faster than he could react.
What had happened after he’d been bitten? He had flung the serpent away, too late to stop its venom.
That, however, had been within the Rift, where the sun heated the stone and blistered the feet of those who dared to walk without boots. Serpents didn’t thrive in forests. They basked in the sun, waiting for people foolish enough to walk the trails of the Rift without paying attention. Kalen’s mouth twisted up in a rueful grin. Shaking his head, he stared down at his feet again and wiggled his toes.
How could he have journeyed so far without his boots? The answer to where he was and how he had gotten there surely hinged on the mystery of his bare, mud-covered feet.
There are still things I hated about Storm Without End. I hated it was as short as it was. I hated that I had to cut scenes I didn't want to cut. I hated that I had to write that one scene, which all of my beta readers screamed at me to add back in, because the book lost bits of its life with its removal–but that scene hurt me. I cried. I hated it. I hated it, but it stayed.
I hated that it wasn't everything I dreamed it would be and more. I wanted to do better–be better. Write better. Tell a better story.
But I loved that I finished it. This was the story I really wanted to publish.
Don't get me wrong, The Eye of God is a story I wanted to tell too, but it's a different story–it wasn't my baby. The Eye of God didn't have a history of seven versions before I finally created Storm Without End.
Storm Without End represents five years of my life. Five years of failures. Then, one little happy moment of success tempered with a bitter realization… if I wanted to succeed at writing, I couldn't dedicate five years to one title, trying over and over again to write a perfect story. A perfect story is likely never to happen in my lifetime.
I'm not putting The Eye of God on exhibit, but maybe I should. I'm still battling my inner hatred of that book… because it was a novel of mistakes. It was the first I published. There were moments I believed it would be the last, because how could I put myself through such misery again?
The Eye of God was never a happy story for me. Maybe, one day, it will be–once I bury it beneath the tragedy and victories of Royal Slaves and Genocide. It's not an easy story to tell. I don't enjoy the slavery or the tortures I put these characters through–a necessary evil to give them the room to grow, the room to become something so much more than they were in the pages of The Eye of God.
I definitely don't enjoy the negative attention the novel gets because I do not soften the blows for anyone in the story. I don't sugar coat a society where women are slaves, and the noble born women are merely slaves manacled with silk and satin instead of iron and steel.
But these women cannot fight to become who they can be, they cannot fight against their society, if their society is not honest–honest to the culture they have been born to, and the greed and evils of those who control the people.
It isn't a story of empowered women doing great things. It isn't a story of empowered men doing great things.
It is a story of women and men who must, somehow, empower themselves from the lowest run and become the sort of people capable of saving an entire culture from itself.
And because of this, the first novel is hard. It's really hard.
But I wouldn't tell it any other way, even if it insults women who believe women in fantasy literature should be powerful.
And that hurts, and I hate how it hurts… so deep within, there's a certain amount of hatred associated with the novel–with all of my novels.
But beneath all of that hatred, love remains; a love of writing, a love of connecting with those who get what I was trying to write, and even a love of connecting with the readers who hated the story so much they have nothing but foul words and thoughts for me.
I touched them, and that's saying a lot.
Underneath all of my love of writing and being an author, there's a foundation built on self-doubt, self-hatred, and general disgust for myself as a human being for being capable of writing stories that challenge everything I personally believe in.
I guess there's some truth about that one saying. You know the one about joy and loss, and not being able to experience one fully without the other.
Without the hate, I'm not sure I'd be able to fully embrace what I love about writing… and I wouldn't be motivated to do even better. I can only hope the next novel is better.