Satisfying my obsessive compulsions through the pursuit of creativity and personal betterment

Monday, February 24, 2014

Scepter: A Look Back

Around this time three years ago, I wrote the first chapter of Scepter.

Now when I say the first, I mean the first WRITTEN chapter. This chapter would later be dubbed number fourteen, and now, as it sits here open on my desktop, waiting in the queue to be edited and then updated to my fanfiction account, it bears its final number, twenty-three. There are twenty-two chapters before it, and possibly that many again after it. My chapters average around 3000 words each, so thus far I have amassed over 75k words in chronological order in those three years. That in itself is the size of a respectable novel, and we're a little over half-way through the story now. I really do expect this thing to hit over 125k words in its entirety.

The story has been through many changes in that amount of time. When I wrote that first chapter, I was a different person than I am now. My family, and myself individually, were going through a very difficult and dark time, and when I first jotted those notes down in a folder and thought I might do something with it, the plot line was depressing and vague. There was a hunter, and her name was Zarabethe. She was a loner by choice. She embarked on this quest, and became obsessed with finishing it. Even though she found love, and possible meaning for her life, she threw it all away in search of this quest. This quest was so old and defunct that it was obsolete, and would mean nothing to anyone except her if she finished it.  So really it was meaningless to everyone except her.  The personality of Zarabethe was patterned off what I felt I would be if left to my own devices and never felt love or acceptance. She was cold. She was violent but precise. She ignored her own needs until it became an emergency situation. The rest of the world and even her own kind were alien to her. She did not seek out companionship and did not desire it. She obsessed to the point of neglecting herself and the people around her. She was never happy but always sought after the next quest, never realizing what she needed or wanted. She was like a robot with one dial that turned in the direction of what she was seeking, and it never wavered. She was emotionless. I feel like even though I've wasted nine sentences describing her in the exact same way, I can't stress enough how extremely unlikeable I made this character. She did nothing but destroy her entire life over this quest, and then she died alone.

For a long time this was the end of it. She achieved what she wanted: to be by herself. To find what she was questing for. And it consumed and destroyed her. The end. After all, that's a realistic ending, right? We hear stories about that all time: addicts who go on unchecked and are found overdosed in the alleyway, penniless and emaciated. Sure, a lot of addicts reform, and some even ride that line between power and ruin, but a lot just pass into the next world without even an ounce of regret.

I wanted her to be a mother in the story, possibly to heighten the similarities between the two of us. But I didn't want her to be a good mother. In the very darkest corners of my mind, just a shadow really, not even a fully formed idea, the child did not survive. She would never out-right kill a child, not even I could write that atrocity. But maybe she just didn't care about her own personal safety, and fell too many times, and caused a miscarriage. Maybe she took such poor care of herself that when the baby was born it was too frail and died. The most likely scenario though, was that she was so obsessed with the quest that even after carrying a baby to fruition, then giving birth, she would simply strap the child on and keep going. Maybe she would successfully care for the child and they would both make it. Maybe she wouldn't, and it would die alone in the wilds somewhere. Maybe she would become self-aware enough to realize how poor of a job she was doing, and give the child up to someone who could care for it. There were a range of possibilities, and none of them happy.

I wrote the first chapter of Scepter in early spring of 2011. Then I set it aside, and did nothing for at least twelve months. My home life was busy. During that time, I got pregnant with my seventh child, and things in my marriage were getting wrung out and then fixed. I looked deep into myself and came to a lot of realizations about the kind of person I was. Some of it was downright scary, but they were not the only parts, and definitely not the ones I intended to let lead my decisions. I gave birth to our seventh and last child at home in our bathroom. My husband went back to school to pursue something he loved. We joined and then left a church. The rest of the kids grew and lived. Sometime in 2012, around June I think, I sat down and wrote another chapter. By this time I'd decided that no matter what, the child would live. Zarabethe would realize at the last moment that she was responsible for this life, and she would step up to it. I started to think seriously about actually plotting this story out and completing it. I wrote three or four chapters during this time, and I really began to get into the joy of writing. Around this time, I started to talk to my husband about the story, as I wanted to incorporate his character into it. It was stop and start, and I was a little reluctant to involve him creatively. This was my BABY, after all. It was sometime during that period that I decided that the story needed to change again.

With the way I had written Zarabethe, no one would like her. Most importantly, the romantic lead, a man of normal emotional depth, would have no interest in her at all, and even if he did initially, she would very quickly put him off and he would not pursue her. And I realized I did not want that kind of ending. Inadvertently, my life had changed for the better so much that I believed in a happy ending again. I didn't want her to destroy her life for this quest anymore. Which meant I had to make a decision: happiness and family, or finish the quest. With it boiled down to that, I added one small but crucial personality detail to Zarabethe. She was still all of the above, but she knew that she was not normal, and she desired to change.

The details of the story are still going through alterations, but since I made Zarabethe want to grow and change, everything finally clicked into place. I set all my chapters aside, opened up a new document, and started chapter one. By the time I got to chapter four, I made a fanfiction account and admitted to myself that I was dedicated to seeing this through.

There have been a few deviations. With the success I was finally having at writing out the story of Zarabethe and Elforen (who now had equal billing, and wasn't just a side character), I began talking with the husband about how our other Warcraft characters interacted. They didn't all have to pair off into romantic couples, but maybe they were siblings, or just worked together. My husband can be quite creative himself, and he spun me a tale of his death knight, and what kind of person she had been before she had been turned, the details of her capture, and what kind of person she was now. We tended to pair his death knight with my priest, and I had always thought of my priest as this innocent, compassionate person who just wanted to help people, and with the knowledge of his death knight's past, the story just seemed to fall into place. I wrote the first chapter of Mercy in two days, and I was really proud of it. I had started out writing one thing, ended up with something else, but it did exactly what I wanted it to without really trying. My husband loved it. He had been a little interested in Scepter, especially since his character was involved, but Mercy he would not stop talking about. Other people who read it kept talking about it. I felt the first strings of the idea that maybe I could write something good enough that other people would want to purchase it and read it.

I wrote the four long chapters of Mercy in between writing parts of Scepter. I still tended to write things out of order in Scepter: the story was so long and winding and had so many good potential emotional turns, that I wanted to write the good stuff first. I stopped publishing out of order around chapter nine, and took down all the chapters I had written a long time ago until I could publish them chronologically. I was getting serious now. During this time I also started writing other things: I realized that if I really did want to publish something that I wrote, obviously fanfiction was not where I needed to spend all my time. It was surprisingly hard to create my own world though. Fantasy is my favorite genre to read and write, but making a working and believable environment for your story to exist in is exhausting. There are so many details that you have to either research or completely make up, and even then you have to research enough to know if what you made up makes sense. I decided I wanted to create a nomadic race that was similar to the gypsies, or the Romany. I very quickly realized that I knew NOTHING about eastern European history, and all the little ideas I had like putting in bits and pieces of other languages, and making different customs, down to even naming commonalities and religious quirks, required hours and hours of research and reading and by the end I was more confused than enlightened.

At this point in the timeline of Scepter, we are kind of at a difficult place. Our romantic leads are separated. Zarabethe is continuing to ignore her growing symptoms, and Elforen is in a state of denial about what's going on in his heart. It's gotten a little stagnant, and although there will be some resolution soon, it's all very angst-ridden. Although I've been really good at staying in order for awhile, I find I've been wandering in my mind to happier times, to a point where things are coming together, where the plot really picks up and MOVES. If I were reading this story, I'd be getting bored, but plugging along, knowing that better times are coming. The anticipation of writing those parts and then giving them to YOU, giving them to my teeny tiny army of readers, and then sitting back and watching as you gasp and awe and get excited for what's happening next right along with me, is incredible. I am SO EXCITED you guys. I've been sailing this ship for three years, and we're no longer in uncharted territory, we are smooth sailing now, as fast as I can get my fingers to type it.

There will still be delays. Life continues on apace, so to say. I have house to keep, kids to raise and teach, amazing costumes to create, and unlike three years ago, I have friends and community now that I look forward to interacting with. Things may slow down and pick up in waves, but I will not leave you hanging one moment longer than I have to. We will pilot this course together and land safely on the other shore.

Onward and upward!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In Which I Read Fangirl and Find Myself

I ended up just copying this into my review on Goodreads, so I'm going to just leave it here without prelude.

Well that is two five-stars that Rainbow Rowell has earned from me in the new year. It's like she digs down deep into my brain, finds a lot of random bits, and then spits them out beautifully onto paper. There are so many things I loved about this book that I don't even know how to articulate them all.  First off, can we just for a minute give mad props to the author who wrote two different stories in this book?  The world of Simon Snow, which was really quite interesting by itself for a way to advance the plot, and the very real world of Cath Avery and her cast of friends.  Second, I have to say I read Eleanor & Park and then the very next book I read was this one, and the only things that they had in common was that her characters are all both very real and flawed, but in a simple, down to earth way. They EXIST.  The two books are as different as can be:  the main characters have different personalities, they have different interests, the format the book was written in was different.  I guess I'm trying to say that as much as I could tell that Rainbow Rowell had a gift for word-weaving from E&P, Fangirl gave me that much more respect for her.  There are some authors that every character they write are the same person, or at least their main protagonists are very similar.  Not so here, and it comes off masterfully.

Now as a fanfiction writer myself, I was incredibly impressed to find a book ABOUT it, and not in an off-hand, "these weird people obsess over it" sort of way.  Because let's admit it:  fanfiction is a naughty word in the world of writing. It's the freaky obsessive step-child of writing. It's the elephant in the room in the internet.  Here, it's out there:  it's a valid expenditure of time, it's what Cath DOES.  I really expected it to be turned into a lesson:  Cath only writes about another world when her world sucks, and when it doesn't, she stops.  But she doesn't.  It's still a pastime for her, not something she does to replace her life, and there is an astonishing amount of validation there for the world of fanfiction.

Another thing I love about this book is the way she deals with mental illness.  It's subtle, and it's fascinating.  Cath and Wren's father is bi-polar, and he tends to play chicken with his medication, staying off of it as long as possible until it gets overwhelming, then he either gets back on it, or steps one foot further and someone intervenes. And the entire time, no one faults him for it. No one lectures about how he really should be faking it and normal, they just accept that is how he is and that is how he is dealing with it.  There is no overtone of how he is betraying his family by not playing nice and taking his medication like a good adult, and that is really different than how you mostly find it.  Let's look at Cath.  Cath very obviously has some mental deviation:  either bi-polar, like her father, or OCD, etc... and although her roommate belittles her at the beginning a bit for not getting drugs, the matter is quickly dropped and she is just allowed to BE HER and not be forced into the box of normalcy. She takes those flaws and she works around them and it all creates her personality. I love that, in order to be happy in life she doesn't have to change and be more like anyone else, she just has to open her eyes and live it the way she wants to.  I could talk and talk until it makes even less sense about what I love about this concept, but it really boils down to respect.  Rainbow Rowell respects her characters for just being who they are.

There are a few things I could nitpick about this book. I didn't really like the absolute redemption of Wren.  I was left wanting for more about their mother and there were some things that didn't get wrapped up well in the book.  It was more like it just ended, rather than having a solid finale to it.  But on the other hand, it works.  This book isn't about Wren, or their mother, or anyone else. It's about Cath, and one thing I've noticed about Rainbow Rowell is that she doesn't stress about the side stories.  She tells THIS story, the one that's happening RIGHT NOW, and she tells it like she lived through it.  And when you live something sometimes it doesn't always wrap up neatly in a bow, sitting on your doorstep waiting to be opened. It just happens, and it moves on, and more stuff happens, and you are the sum of your experiences.