I am now back over 84,000 words on Princess of Fire. This means that I have recovered somewhat more than half (very approximately) of the 30,000 words (in round numbers) I cut during the Great Prose Massacre. That still means I am still short of completing this draft by probably about another 30,000 words– the road does seem to lengthen as I travel it. Nevertheless, I am encouraged.
My latest sticking point seems to be psychological– not my psychology (at least, not directly) but the psychology of certain of my characters. Kathy is in the position of having to induce the cooperation of government ministers and bureaucrats in dealing with an approaching crisis, and getting tremendous push-back and passive resistance in the process. My problem is that I have been finding it difficult to get into the heads of these government paper-pushers– I basically do not understand the mentality of people who close their eyes to impending doom because the action required to prevent the danger interferes with their prerogatives or daily business. Certainly, of course, we have no shortage of examples of this sort of blindness in people, from Pompeii to 911. It’s just I have trouble getting into their skin.
I think I finally got a clue, though, when the minister of the Imperial Railways said, in response to Kathy’s threat to seize trains as they arrived in the capitol, “But we have schedules to keep!”
Ah, schedules– and routines, and procedures, and red-tape– the tyranny of daily business. In truth, it consumes most of us, for most of our lives. For some people, it becomes their god. Even for normal folk, it makes it hard to think outside the box when something novel threatens. So I think I’ve found my key to these people. It’s nice when that sort of thing emerges from the interaction of the characters on the page
It is nearly October, and at this point perhaps the most realistic estimate for the completion of the first draft of Princess of Fire would be January. Add three months on that for straightening out the narrative, editing, formatting, etc., to get it ready for publication. March or April 2015 would be about one and a half years from the publication of Princess of Shadows. That’s a lot longer than I originally intended, but a novel “will be done when it’s done“. Thank you, George.
Perhaps a brief update is in order, now that I’ve been AWOL for a while.
I tend to be a glass-half-empty sort of person, even on the best of days, as some of you may have already noticed. Not for nothing have I been nicknamed “Eeyore” in more than one workplace. Lately, however, I have been more down than normal. Life-issues, starting a new job, and, most importantly, doubts about my whole writing effort have contributed. April has been a gloomy month.
Perhaps, though, things are starting to look up. Along with the new job, I have started work on Princess of Fire version 3.0.
Yes, version 3.0. There was a version 2.0, but it had the life-span of an ice cube on a Texas road in August.
I started out wanting to cut everything back to a single thread focused on Kathy. When I actually started cutting, however, I realized that another thread was needed, to round out the story and ground it in the everyday life of people Kathy was working hard to save. The chief difficulty is that I don’t really have the story of this secondary thread down. I probably need to build out the characters a little more, and in that effort, mostly likely, the sub-story will be revealed.
I still managed to cut 10,000 words. I will probably add that many, and a good deal more, back before I am finished.
The other issue I have to resolve is with structure and pacing. I want the story to go forward against a backdrop of rising danger, which has to start small and increase steadily until it’s screaming in Kathy’s ears. This may be, in fact, the most difficult effect I have ever tried to pull off in a novel. The only thing similar I have ever done was in one of my unpublished trunk novels, A New Heaven and A New Earth, in which a mortal danger is slowly developed– but that was achieved through a series of distant incidents, with the full revelation of what was going on eventually being sprung upon the protagonists (and the audience) in one big reveal. In Princess of Fire, the danger literally looms over Kathy the whole time, and somehow I still have to create suspense and increase the sense of danger by steady increments.
I am not sure I am up to it.
But I’ve started. Progress will be slower than with version one, simply because I’m no longer sitting at home debating whether to write or watch Game of Thrones clips on YouTube. Because of that, all bets are off about when Fire will see publication. But then, it’s not like the rent is depending on its sales.
I’m still working on that part….
PS, 4/26– As I get into version 3.0, one of the first evident facts about it is that many of the scenes and sequences are actually, no kidding, and absolutely in the wrong order. This was pantsing on a manic scale– I have one character working with Kathy before she even arrives in the capitol; another is preparing in the morning for a festival that same afternoon, and ten thousand words intervene that relate the passage of two whole days before I get back to that afternoon festival. I am cutting and pasting thousands of words at a time to get things in the proper order.
This is sooo belated, though (by ten days), that I am not going to add my link to the collection for April 6th– there’s just no point. There’s also the not inconsiderable fact that I completely blew away the 200-word limit. So, instead, I’ll simply acknowledge the inspiration and move on.
Having said that, this doodle is actually part of a concept I have had for a while for a sci-fi story. I think it would work as a novel, but I think it would really rock as a movie. But the story has to come first, and these are the first few hundred words of the concept I’ve actually laid down.
In a far future, humanity shelters from a poisoned Earth in a vast, enclosed habitat. After centuries, things are not going well, and an unlicensed scientist approaches one of the elite– literally, a “high-level”– with his concerns….
Copyright 2014 by Douglas Daniel
“They say it’s the last tree on Earth,” Carr said.
Anneke knew that was not so. Far above, in the up-levels, there were many bonsai’d trees, individual specimens in pots. She had seen those all her life. But a full-grown tree—she had had no idea such a thing existed. This had to be the only, the last, of its type.
She looked up. There was the explanation– this patch of open space, nearly dead center under the core Atrium, was one of the few places in Lower London with plenty of light. Far, far above, sunlight shone through distant skylights, but this place was so down-level, at what the ancients had called ‘street-level’, that the natural light seemed filtered; it was bright here only because artificial light leaked into the core Atrium shaft and supplemented the sunlight. Even as she watched, the sunlight dimmed, then brightened again. Doubtless a dust-cloud had howled over the Habitat just then, momentarily occluding the sun.
“Come closer,” Carr said.
Anneke, hesitating, followed him into the open space around the tree. Odd stone slabs stood upright all around the tree, although some leaned considerably out of the vertical, and one or two had fallen. They were worn and gray; as she came closer Anneke saw that all of them had writing carved into them, although in a mode so ancient that she had trouble understanding the words. Some of the stones were so worn that she could not make out the writing at all.
Tombstones. The realization came with a start—it meant she was standing in a graveyard, among, or over, the bones of ancients buried here. And that meant that the dilapidated stone building standing close at hand was a church. The sheer antiquity of what she was seeing caused her to shiver, all the more because the Hampstead Heath support pillar loomed gigantic over the open space, a few hundred meters beyond the church, and the walls of the Atrium rose dizzyingly overhead.
The two of them stopped beneath the tree. The ground was covered with pink-white petals, matching those still on the tree. As Anneke stood there, a petal fell from a stem somewhere overhead and, in falling, brushed her face. She started, but the petal was soft and the impact gentle.
Looking up, she had an impression of a complexity of brown branches, green leaves, and pink blossoms. She had the sudden sense of being in the presence of a mighty, but silent, being. How long had it grown here, forgotten, a lost remnant of a dead world?
But more petals were falling. “Is it dying?” she asked Carr.
He shook his head. He casually laid a hand on the tree’s trunk, as if they were old friends. “No—it’s spring, or it’s supposed to be. I suppose there’s just enough natural light for the tree to follow its normal cycle. It was normal for trees to blossom in the spring, and then shed their flowers as the season passed. If there were other trees to pollinate each other, then they would bear fruit.” He paused, looking up at the tree. “But this tree hasn’t borne anything for centuries.”
Anneke shifted on her feet, uncomfortable. “Why are you showing me this?”
“I wanted to give you a taste,” Carr said, “of what humanity has lost. We’ve been trapped in the Habitat for so long, we’ve forgotten what the Earth was like before the Catastrophe. Imagine trees like this, thousands of them, standing in forests, groups of trees that covered the land and were so vast you could get lost in them, all under an atmosphere you could actually breathe. And that was only one sort of life-form on the Earth in the old days.”
“I know the history of the Catastrophe, and the ancient times,” Anneke said, irritated.
“I know you’ve read the histories,” Carr said. “Reading history can only carry you so far. Come, touch it.”
Anneke realized she was reluctant, and then she was angry with herself. She stepped closer and laid her hand on the tree trunk. The…bark, she supposed, was rough under her fingers, but cool and benign.
“We are meant to live among other life-forms like this,” Carr said. He stood over her, but there was no threat. His expression was solemn. “Humanity can’t continue to be trapped in the Habitat. We are dying, lady, slowly dying, because we have been cut off too long from what is natural. I think you know that.”
“Yes,” Anneke whispered. “But what’s to be done? The Earth is poisoned, and it’s been poisoned for two thousand years.”
“We must find a way,” Carr said, “to purify the world. And I think those who built the Habitat meant for there to be a way to do that. If so, surely the Administrator’s own daughter would be in a position to find out what that was.”
Anneke looked at him, comprehending. “So that is why you contacted me.”
“Yes,” Carr said. “My friends and I are desperate, lady. You may be our last hope. Please.”
Anneke hesitated. What Carr was asking her to do was to go against her father, the bureaucracy, the entire security apparatus of the Habitat, and two thousand years of tradition. But we are dying. There was no escaping that fact.
“I will try,” she said.
Since putting Princess of Fire on hiatus, I have doodled away on several other projects, this among them. I may spend a few more weeks off, and then take a whack at PoF version 2.0. It’s not the way I usually handle my drafts, but Fire has already proven to be an unusual project.
Princess of Fire is now over 96,000 words, but that’s not a completely happy thought. I believe I will use most of what I have written, but the structure of the novel as it now exists is an appalling jumble. I have to admit that this is one instance in which pantsing the draft has not done me any favors.
This novel has gone from “gosh, this is going to be easy” to trench warfare. In fact, I have the feeling that I need to put this project on hiatus, giving it a few days to rest before I think about my next steps with it. This is not something I usually do, but the scope of the problems I now perceive with Fire exceed those I had with Princess of Shadows, which at least had the benefit of being a good deal simpler in structure. I need to give this project some space to sort itself out.
But, in truth, there is more going on with me than just the issues I am having with Fire. Other factors are impacting my productivity and making it hard to stay focused on a difficult project– uncertainties in the personal space, employment issues, and, depressingly, one of my periodic funks in which I am sure my writing is the most godawful dreck in the history of literature. I do this every now and then. This time around it’s been bad enough to make me wonder if I should really be asking people to pay for my stories on Amazon, and whether I shouldn’t just offer them all for free somewhere.
Partly as a consequence I did remove two of my novellas from Kindle I decided were not up to snuff, but I finally talked myself into leaving my other stories in place. I think my stories are at least as good as the average run of self-published material. Considering what’s out there, I may be damning myself with faint praise, but I’m not going radically change anything, at least for the time being.
As far as Princess of Fire goes, I am going to let it lie fallow for a few days while I doodle on some other projects, and then see if I can come back to it with fresh eyes. To be honest, it’s not like I have a rabid fan-base pounding on my door, demanding the next Divine Lotus book. The only pressure I have on me with this project is self-imposed, and I need to give myself a break.