Happy New Years! I wanted to take a moment to let you know about some of the things that will be coming to A Weird Miscellany in 2017. Not necessarily in the order they will appear, the new year will see the thrilling conclusion of The Mysteries of Malfait, a tale of environmental horror at the moment called Nature is Getting Restless, and The Castle of Ravenspeak. The last piece in the list is a rather odd creature. I wrote it almost ten years ago and this year my plan is to revise it. If I may, I’d like to go into some detail about how it came into being.
THE ORIGIN OF RAVENSPEAK
About ten years ago, I was working at a job that I did not like. Or rather, I was feeling that I was being asked to fix things that were beyond my control to fix. However, I felt the only solution would be to change careers, and that, for a long time, seemed too drastic and too daunting.
At some point during this malaise, I discovered National Novel Writing Month, and its promise of a month of unfettered creative endeavor took hold of me. It was in late November when I made this discovery, but I was not going to wait a whole year to try my hand at NaNoWriMo. My worldly obligations were going to lighten in February so I decided I would bang out my 50,000 word draft in that month (plus a couple days).
I felt that somewhere in me was an epic fantasy whose bedrock was Arthurian and Celtic myth. It was going to be a story about a young prince trying desperately to escape the ghosts that haunted him. And so, after not writing fiction for over a decade, I dove in and wrote about 20,000 words in the month of February.
While I wasn’t close to finishing the story by the end of the month, something very wonderful did happen. I kept writing after the month ended. Unlike the numerous half-started stories that haunt my hard drive, I continued with Ravenspeak. The story had gotten its hooks into me. The characters started to do things on their own – and what an amazing rush that is. A year and three months later I finished my first draft of The Castle of Ravenspeak, and I had a vague idea of what books two and three would be about – because, of course, the trilogy is the default format for all fantasy novels.
I spent the next year editing the novel and then, still possessed with a passion for the story, I queried several agents. This story was going to be published. I just knew it. However, reality had other ideas and all the agents I queried passed.
But I was not discouraged. I was actually proud that I had put the story out to the universe, risked it to the harsh light of reality.
Moreover, I kept writing. I came to the conclusion that I needed to go back and learn to crawl, as it were, before writing an epic trilogy, and wrote short stories. After a time away from it, I looked at Ravenspeak and realized that the agents were correct. It had a problem. Namely, the world building did not meet the standards of the epic fantasy genre. “Book One” was only 75,000 words – it lacked those wonderful passages in Tolkien’s work that provided such a deep history and endless horizons that makes Middle Earth so real. Ravenspeak was very claustrophobic as most of it took place in the eponymous castle. It was also a lot closer to Robert E. Howard’s stories of Conan. Howard used epigraphs, brief descriptions, and historical references to call up a host of images in the readers mind that filled out the world for the reader – without actually putting this background into words. Which is fine for a sword and sorcery story.
I realized that the main problem was that I had written a beautiful mutt of a story. There were elements of Celtic myth, Arthurian romances, Gothic romances, and pulpy sword and sorcery all blended together. I didn’t really know what to do with it or how to “fix” it, so I put in away again.
Recently, I came back to it again and decided the way forward was to turn it into an historical fantasy. The question was, what historical period? Two of the key plot points were a jousting tournament and a recurring plague. The mid-1300s allowed for these two points, but the main character was the son of a dead king, and thus I would have to make him the son of a know historical person which would not work – Ravenspeak is a fantasy, not an alternate history. So I went back further in time and I found that Ravenspeak would fit the political situation of the mid-sixth century and that it also had the Plague of Justinian. However, I would lose the jousting tournament, and this led me to the realization that if I wanted to come back to Ravenspeak, I would have to be prepared to kill my darlings.
On the one hand was cutting scenes I had spent a fair amount of time crafting and on the other was the reality of an incomplete 75,000 word story that I really liked. Indeed, the writing of Ravenspeak had helped me through a difficult period in my life. I felt – I feel – I owe it to the story and the characters to it give it a proper ending.
So 2017 is the year I am going to do it. The first step is to jettison the idea that this is a trilogy. Given the plans I currently have for the rest of the story, and given the pulpy speed of my plotting, another 50,000 words would probably finish the organic plot of the story. Along with the cuts that will have to be made, I should end up of with a novel-length thing. Indeed, that is my only goal: to end up with a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
To start I will have to outline the chapters and to get a feel for the plot, to pick up the threads. From there, I can figure out how I can tie them together in a satisfying way that is not abrupt. As I finish going over each chapter, I will publish them here as well as report on how the process is progressing. I hope you will come along for the ride!