Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Six months, give or take, since the last post I wrote. A lot’s happened since then. Bought a house and moved. Read a few books. Wrote some stuff. Took a few classes. Looking back, it’s hard to quantify and elaborate upon lived experience.
Today, I’m gonna ramble about two things: writing, and the state of the blog.
Ultimately, where I’m at now is that I’m working on Jiharel. Still. Of course. But, I feel like I’ve made some real progress in the last few weeks, unlike before.
Looking back, it’s clear to me that I stopped working regularly on the book–and started working on other things, notably game design–because I was stuck. I didn’t know how I was stuck. Sometime early this year, I got unstuck. The interesting thing here is that I’m still not sure how I was stuck, just that it had to do with plot, and history.
Among my aesthetic goals is to develop a world alien to our own; one with unusual yet familiar flora, fauna, geology, cosmology, and so on. Creating something wholly new is, naturally, nigh-impossible. But trying to synthesize prior concepts in interesting ways is quite plausible, and naturally ends up being the mode of most human invention. When this involves the impossible, I believe it qualifies as the act of “sub-creation,” to borrow Tolkien’s term. The really do exist imaginary worlds which really are dramatically different from Earth; not only on the cultural level, but at the levels of biology, geology, and so on. Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy works make a great example of this–especially his Stormlight Archive novels. A vast, stony landscape swept irregularly with “highstorms,” destroying all in their path, so that the plants and animals of that land must adapt by retreating into the ground, or curling up in great shells. And from there, the people change too.
Yet there’s always this recognition, too. Tolkien invented languages, landmasses, sagas, myths, cosmology, but his novels frame time within the Gregorian calendar. Frodo leaves home in September, and Sauron’s fall is in March. You must travel through the familiar to meet the strange. This too, in essence, is discussed alongside sub-creation in Tolkien’s seminal essay, “On Fairy-Stories”. To create Middle-Earth–or Elfland, or Roshar, or Krynn, or wherever–without in some way allowing the reader to pass through the familiar is incredibly difficult.
Looking back, this is what I was, and to some extent still am, trying to do. I feel it’s really important to try emphasizing that the world I’m writing within is not Earth, from the first things through to the last things; and that even so, the people are human. Finding a way to create this deep alienness, create a land without recognizable plants or animals or landscapes, and yet make the story actually readable is a part of my struggle.
Another part lies in the human portion of that equation. Basically, as I kept working with the text and talking with some wonderful folks in a local writing group, I realized that all the stuff I’d written basically had little-to-no bearing on the emotional core of Jiharel. It was the leading-up. A few options presented themselves: write more than one volume? write a very, very long book encompassing the war? go in blindly and assume readers will care without being told why? None of these appealed, for varying pragmatic and aesthetic reasons.
(I feel it’s important that this work is standalone, not a trilogy or series. I love very-long-form fantasy, but we need works of individual power, too. Even though I vaguely intend later, and earlier, interconnected tales.)
In hindsight, it’s kind of embarrassing it took me so long to figure out the answer: mimic the old works. My current draft opens in medias res, as the heroes, Ephraim Dragonstar and Alain Light-Blessed, emerge “from the bowels of the world” covered in dust and viscera from some unnamed, titanic battle, and travel across a strange land of leafless, bone-white trees. From there they then tell a version of the “whole long war” tale to people in that land, to explain where they came from. The idea and pattern’s nicked straight from The Odyssey, where Odusseus washes ashore upon the beaches of Phaiakia far from home.
Part of this process is intuitive. Compared to before, this draft feels solid. It feels right. There’s something about this opening, and then going back and telling how the Quest began, which is just really working at the moment. It’s spawned a pair of new characters who feel really vivid to me, more so than my prior side characters. The draft feels fruitful, in a way my other one didn’t, in how it combines a calculated hook with the broad backstory to the part of the plot which matters.
As of this writing, I’m around… 15k words into this draft? Somewhere in there. My total thrown-out words settles somewhere around the 10-30k range, from which I can definitely acquire concepts and moments and characters, but which I don’t foresee myself being able to steal actual prose (except for one handwritten bit I really like, in which the heroes encounter a dragon). No clue how long it’ll end up, though my goal for final copy is just to stay under 120k, which translates to ~500 pages hard copy. Insanely long, longer than anything else I’ve written, but still in a comfort range for fantasy.
(On another aside, the game design thing I was working on, the magic rules for RuneQuest, did actually exceed in wordcount my first novel. Which is a whole other species of terrifying considering I was around 70% done. I think.)
Ultimately, my main work for the short, intermediate, and long terms has to be Jiharel, and I’m starting to feel like that’s actually possible. In my master’s program, I’m in the midst of the “thesis” work classes, which is more like a nebulous space to give us time to read and write. I intend a draft of this to be my thesis submission, so I’ve really got to get it done, and get it good. And then after, get it good some more, probably.
Now, I’d like to move on to talk more about this platform, itself.
I enjoyed writing blogs and updates. They slowed down, because I wasn’t sure they were the most efficient use of my time. And once I fell out of the weekly habit, they pretty much just disappeared off my radar altogether. I’m here today not to say “I’m getting back into it!” because I’m not. I don’t think it’s realistic for me to be writing an update or a something every week. It’s not going to happen.
But I do enjoy these. It’s a sort of empty space for me to blather on about stuff, like above, and is often conducive to my own thinking process. So I’m leaving a nebulous “more of them” on the subject of updates, or writing rambles, or whatever.
Moreso than personal updates, though, I’d like to start producing something resembling content on this site. A reason I started blogging was so that, in the brightly-colored and shimmering future, if I were, through some chance, to receive a publishing opportunity (or more realistically, self-publishing my work) then something resembling a basic platform would exist to spread news. Not the only reason–and certainly not the reason I kept it up!–but a reason, and I feel a valid one. Really, this thing is entirely selfish. I hope y’all find it interesting or entertaining, but I’m not gonna meander around the point: writing a blog is a selfish thing, and I’m doing it for selfish reasons. Mostly, because I like doing it.
Content-wise, I’m thinking short fiction and nonfiction, with maybe a touch of longer nonfiction, too. When I first started Akhelas, my weekly stuff was a review, or opinion, and so on. As I said, I am not going back to weekly stuff. Nope. Nuh-uh. Ain’t happening. Yet I hope to publish something on here occasionally, whether it’s just a review of a movie or TV show (even if just to get thoughts out of my own noggin), or a short article on a concept I find interesting, or even the occasional update on my personal work. Maybe something once a month, ish.
I make no promises. But, try to keep an eye on here, will you?