New novel is officially long for it has crossed the 100,000-word line. Though I still aim for 140k, I have to admit, it might possibly weigh in at a bit heftier. I still have the other half of this fight scene, the aftermath, the reporting-back, the off-to-see-the-wizard section, then you-might-be-the-chosen-one-I’m-too-sober-for-this aftermath, then the last scene of proving chosen one status, and end of book. Which, um, sounds like a lot, I realize. It’d be nice for it to be 140k, but we’ll see.
Screen shot for proof:
Forgive all the placeholders. Proper nouns are my arch nemesis and usually the last thing I work out in a draft, so everything just has hundreds of ________. Also, the precision of the word count meterwasn’t intentional. I knew I was getting close, stopped to check after finishing a sentence, and ‘lo and behold, it was 100k exactly, so I screenshotted. Because how many times will that happen when the word count falls on such a nice round number without it being choreographed or cut off mid-sentence?
Endgame begins. My writing soundtrack has shifted from ESO ambiances to Witcher III combat music.
Aiming also to have this book done and polished by the end of this year. It’s been a personal challenge to see if I can (finally) write a novel and finish it in the time constraints of a typical publishing house contract, since most of mine have taken between two years and three, but I’ve never dedicated the whole of my attention on the one book. Previously, I was writing the novel while I was doing creative writing grad school work, and while I’m still doing grad school work (though for a different degree), the fact that I started writing this book the first week of January, it was too tempting to see if I could finish it in a year.
It might happen. I want it to happen. I’d be really happy if I could finish the initial drafting by the end of August and move on to fixing all those proper noun placeholders and doing revision work to the beginning in the fall, but best laid plans and all that.
Anyone else hitting fortuitous word counts that make nice screenshots lately?
So I hit my self-imposed goal of 30,000 words by January 25th. Yes, I realize now in looking over my 2021 Goals post that I’d said 20,000, but proceeded to then forget the actual number and went with what I vaguely remembered—30k.
The other…interesting hiccup is that this…isn’t the novel I started with. See, I was about 15k into a different novel, then this thing came along and blindsided me. Words were coming slow for the 15k one, so I decided, on a lark, I’d try my hand at fanfiction just to shake things up.
The attempt last less than a day. I categorically failed at writing fanfiction.
What I did succeed at, though, was starting a completely different book, a book that I humored for the first 1,000 words. Then the second. Then the third. And by the time I hit 10k in less than a week, I had to admit to myself that, er, this was the new book, not the other.
Essentially, I’ve written 30,000 words in three weeks. That’s probably the most productive I’ve been in sheer word count since undergrad. Huh.
In retrospect, I tried to pull the other one out of the proofing drawer too soon, and while it looked risen at first, the more I tried to knead it, the more I realized it hadn’t built up the gluten. This thing is more like the baking equivalent of three ingredient no-knead bread.*
It’s also an absolute blast to write. I’m currently sitting at 32K and honestly, my output has only slowed because grad school started this week and I’m still acclimating to that.
This is not the novel I intended to write, but it is the novel that’s getting written. Which is…interesting, to say the least. In many respects, this is the first novel I’ve worked on without a formal outline planned. Yes, I know where it’s going, but because it’s rather more linear that my previous ones and, so far, has just the one viewpoint character, it seems to require less pre-writing, less balancing of story threads, so I can fall back more on plain-old play. “Oooh, if I introduce this complication, what’ll happen? Oooh, if it instead jinks to the left here instead of the right, where does that lead?”
It’s also rather refreshing to tackle a project that’s rather finite and, hm, constrained. It’ll probably be a duology, but only because it’d be impractical, size-wise, as one book, but it is one story. There are no standalone components. And, as it’s just the one viewpoint character doing the one thing, I have to juggle fewer future timelines and reveals because, er, it’s rather simple in its structure.
Which brings me to the grand reveal: it’s Chosen One fantasy.
I swore I’d never write Chosen One fantasy. It’s boring, it’s familiar ground, it’s been written to death. And yet…exploring it, directly engaging with it, balancing homage with subversion, has been a fascinating sandbox in which to play.
Also, I really enjoy the idea of a chosen one who’s fast approaching middle age and is, essentially, a level 1 hero but a level 50 quartermaster; all his skills are with numbers, ledger books, and logistics, not with waving swords around and challenging gods. And I’m having far, far too much fun with a character who is ethnically from a certain land, but culturally from another, and struggling to adapt in the land supposedly his homeland when his heart belongs to a completely different place, one that, frankly, is more often the aggressor…
I realize this is incredibly vague. I tend to do that. So! In light of vagueness, I instead present—drumroll, please—concept art!
Because why not riding dinosaurs? No color version yet, but their feather crests are almost macaw-bright, with the rest of their scaly selves more alligator/crocodile in coloration and texture. And with this one, fantastical change, suddenly, I have so much freedom with designing the local flora and fauna. So far, it’s limited to the dinos and a sort of cross between a ring-tailed lemur and a skunk, but I expect this to continue, because why not? Because if I’m going to explore such familiar territory as the Chosen One, I might as well go completely ham with everything else. At the very least, it’ll push my creature-design skills to their limits.
As a challenge, I aim to finish this draft within the year. Step up my production schedule, ’cause three years for a novel is rather long, just in the scheme of making this a career. So! 120K by January 2022.
That’s the goal, at least. We’ll see how this goes.
* Have I been watching a lot of The Great British BakingShow? …maybe.
Although, if I’m to be honest, “resolutions” seems so chiseled in stone and imposing than just “goals” so perhaps we’ll just go with “goals.”
Last year I made a resolutions plan for 2020, some of which I’ve accomplished, some of which I have not. Like the goal of 60 submissions. I don’t think I even made 40 (*cough* 28, according to the Grinder) in 2020 but, erm, there was the whole plague and quarantine that happened, and I lost easily six months of potential writing productivity to just a general sense of hopelessness and defeat. But, hey! Three acceptances! Same as last year, so fewer submissions but same rate of acceptance. Go figure.
I did, however, hit every one of those goals for Dead God’s Bones. I finished the editing pass, then did another, found betas, got feedback, did more editing, found more betas, did more editing, and got my submission packet together. Then decided, er, might be better to wait till 2021 for this. Querying in 2020 didn’t seem either wise nor feasible, so I mostly researched agents, put together my list of who to send it to, and just generally did prep work. I did write at least five short stories (five exactly) and I also started the next book (more on that later—possibly more on that in a separate blog entry). I also did a bit of painting, so there’s that?
I didn’t end up querying In Blood another 20 times; I think I did five or six more then retired it. I thought I’d be absolutely heartbroken but a year of distance between querying it and three years of distance from writing it, and I can see its flaws more clearly. It’s not a bad book, and there are elements of it that I still love, but I’m all right with it just being for me. The component parts don’t fit together as seamlessly as DGB or the new book, and I’d like to think I’ve leveled up as a writer.
So I suppose that’s 2020. The most surprising things this past year mostly happened around my day job. I was promoted, realized I’ve reached the ceiling for advancement/pay without a degree in the field, so applied, was accepted, and am now going back for yet more college.
Moving on to that handy bulleted list I used last year.
2021 Resolutions Goals:
Hit 40 submissions again. I need to get back into the habit.
Start querying Dead God’s Bones with intent. I have my list, I have my packet, all that remains is to do the legwork. So far, my agent list is about 15 agents strong at this point, but for DGB, I’m going for more targeted querying than I did with In Blood. We’ll see how that works out.
Continue working on the new book (more on this in its own dedicated blog post). I’d like to get 20k words in by the time I start school, and while I’d love to have the draft done by this time next year, not sure how feasible that is with grad school looming. I’d be happy with halfway by January of 2022. Anything else is extra credit.
Go to school. Again. This time, though, instead of a degree in writing, I’ll be working on a degree in libraries. In my day job under another name, I’m the Assistant Head of Circulation. My goal, however, is to specialize and become either an Outreach Librarian and/or a Reference Librarian.
Because in real-life, I’m fighting the fluctuating but constant feeling that I’m either being gaslighted by society at large or that things are utterly bleak and hopeless, and in the U.S., we’re experiencing so much social and political upheaval ramping up to an election with potential results that, frankly, terrify me, I’m going to use this space to babble about a video game that shaped how I write and what I write about.
That game is Morrowind.
Look at those graphics! Look at those giant bug critters! Look at those…people with eldritch horror tentacles ripping their way out of their faces…hm. Y’know, in the original low resolution on an old 90’s block screen, you didn’t quite get the visual horror of these guys that modern high resolution retexturing mods give them.
Anyway, this video game was THE video game for me, though as a kid, I had issues with sticking to a choice and playing a character for more than six levels, along with just not quite getting what I was supposed to be doing. So, as a kid, the guidebook was my bible. Like, really, I carried the guidebook around at school and when the glue in the spine crumbled from so much reading, I put the pages in individual protector sheets and stuck them in a binder. I also read a lot of the in-game lore books, since I was mostly restricted to Seyda Neen, Balmora, and maybe Ola Oad or Aldruhn if I felt particularly daring. A few times I ended up in Sadrith Mora, but since I usually didn’t play a character long enough to unlock the levitation spell, I couldn’t go past the entrance halls of the Telvanni towers.
A few years ago, I bought the game and played it as an adult and…yeah, well, the graphics haven’t aged all that well and the combat is absolutely nothing like subsequent games (Oblivion and Skyrim). But! As an adult, I was able to, 1. commit to one character and 2. finally understand how to read directions. Because there are no map markers in Morrowind, and occassionally, the directions are wrong. After many, many years of never getting beyond the first major quest in the main quest, I finished not only Morrowind, but Tribunal and Bloodmoon, the two expansions.
It also gave me the opportunity to truly appreciate how much of an indelible mark this game made on proto-writer me, particularly in how I approach worldbuilding.
Morrowind has a steep learning curve, and it explains very little beyond the basics. Once you click past the tutorial, you are on your own (unless, of course, you have a guide). Instead, it immerses you entirely, and once you start scratching at the surface of the worldbuilding, you realize…it’s layers. Layers upon layers, and some of those layers are in direct contradiction with other layers, but both are, sort of, true. The sheer amount of reading available in this game is utterly staggering. Though the lore books average maybe four pages, there are hundreds. And, unlike subsequent titles, most of the game’s dialogue happens in dialogue boxes, with a single notable exception. Little is voiced. (But the little that is…oh, the sound of an Ordinator saying, “We’re watching you. Scum.” will forever be immortalized in my memory. Along with, “Mournhold! City of light! City of magic!” and “Wake up. There you go. You were dreaming. Now, what’s your name?”)
But the worldbuilding is so, so rich, and the quests and characters are some of the most unique in the Elder Scrolls series (excepting Elder Scrolls Online, only because that game is truly massive, and it does its fair share of callbacks to Morrowind, but I’ll get into it more later). And so much of it is conveyed with little explanation, forcing you, the player, to fill in the blanks and dialogue with it while the local fauna is trying to kill you as you run for your life under the canopies of giant mushroom trees. And if, like me, you’re one of those players who, when you stumble across a secret or uncover another layer of worldbuilding, you squeal in glee and treasure it like the shiny nugget it is, this game rewards you, and often. It encourages multiple play-throughs, simply because you are going to miss details, and every time through gives you something new.
Yet, it also plays a lot with the mutability of truth. Of how much perspective plays a role not only in history, but in how history unfolds in the present. And the importance of leaving just a bit of mystery, just a few questions unanswered, because it’s in those spaces that you let imagination proliferate.
So, basic rundown of the core concept of the game. By the emperor’s order, you’ve been pulled out of prison, stuck on a boat, and shipped to the very alien landscape of the island of Vvardenfell in Morrowind, one of the two eastern-most provinces of Tamriel. At first, you are an imperial agent who gets cast in the role of the Nerevarine, the reincarnation of Nerevar–an ancient Dunmer hero–and a sort of Dunmeri messiah figure. But, the further along in the story you go, the more tests your character passes, and it starts to become clear that you might actually be the Nerevarine, not just an impostor lookalike. Which coincides with the rise/reawakening of Dagoth Ur, the fellow behind the eldritch horror tentacles and, possibly, Nerevar’s murderer.*
I say possibly. Because it’s also possible he was murdered by his own allies, Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil, who subsequently ascended to a mortal godhood and became the Tribunal. And even though you have the opportunity to talk to, well, two of the three (Vivec and Almalexia), you’re never given a clear answer as to what happened. How did Nerevar die? It’s unclear, and depending on the interpretation, all perspectives are true due to a dragon break. But even without the dragon break, it’s fascinating to hold up the pieces, the snippets that different characters give you, and see how they fit together. What overlaps, what doesn’t? And that approach, that uncomfortable “knowing but not knowing” is a fascinating technique that I notice I often use in my own work. What’s truth? Subjective. Different people have different takes, different theories, even when they were witness to the event.
Also, judging by the content of Dead God’s Bones, I also really love to engage with the idea of mortal gods. Oh, and when I do utilize the chosen one trope, it’s almost always the “you look like the chosen one, you’ll do” and the character becomes the chosen one through a “fake it till you make it” approach (or never becomes the chosen one at all). Which has similar parallels to Morrowind’s approach.
And, for DGB at least, I often channel the visual, mm, texture of Morrowind and, to a certain degree, Oblivion. Less so Skyrim, not sure why. I often wish I had the ability to convey truly alien creatures the way visual media–such as games, movies, or art–can do. Writing is filtered through the reader’s perspective, and so such things require a different kind of building to maintain clarity. Sometimes, I wish I could drop a reader into a landscape like Vvardenfell the way Morrowind does but, alas, my skill is not yet high enough. But I can try, to some extent.
Still, I so very much enjoy building massive worlds to only show the surface, inviting a reader to scratch and see what’s underneath. Or, in the case of short fiction, since short fiction is limited in word count and what can be explored,setting up the illusion of great depth of worldbuilding. I strive to give just enough hints, while maintaining just enough mystery, to engage my readers’ imagination, and invite them to piece things together and fill in the blanks for themselves. Mostly because I want to recreate that experience that Morrowind provided me, but for someone else.
Also, as a side thing, I still haven’t found a literary equivalent of this game. I’m always on the hunt for suggestions, though, so if you’re familiar with Morrowind and have read something that channels the same spirit, please suggest?
Remember how I mentioned this would relate to ESO? Right, so when I bought ESO and started playing it for the first time, I hadn’t realized that the version I got came bundled, original game plus the Morrowind chapter. The game started, there was a tutorial thing, I did it because, er, ESO has a bit of a learning curve too, if you’re used to TES games. Anyway, tutorial over and…I’m in Seyda Neen. More so, I am on that DOCK, the one from the beginning of Morrowind and…the music is playing, and it’s reminiscent of the original soundtrack, to the point that some things are direct covers of the original, and…oh, the feels. So much sentimentality going on. And then I start walking and run into this thing:
And went, “What the hell is that? And what are those?”
Apparently, the in-game explanation for why this Vvardenfell’s flora and fauna look a little different (beyond developments in graphical capabilities and changes in aesthetics due to different development teams) is that ESO’s Morrowind is a little under a thousand years prior to the events of TES III: Morrowind, and things change. Notably, things change a lot if your island is an active volcano and only gets more active, and covers your land in a fine dusting of ash. Which actually makes a lot of sense. One of my critiques of the Elder Scrolls universe is that, between games, there often isn’t a huge visual difference, though hundreds of years may have passed. Beyond Vvardenfell, the entire architecture of Mournhold is different which…also makes sense, seeing that in a hundred years or so, it’s going to get razed.
TES in general has a thing for reoccurring characters, and ESO is no exception. There are a lot of references in ESO’s Morrowind to TES III: Morrowind (similarly, Skyrim’s Dragonborn expansion references a bit, though not quite as thoroughly).
I have shamelessly bought the Ald Velothi bug-style Redoran house in ESO and have, also shamelessly, decorated it to be as Morrowind-reminiscent as I could, with a few nods to the Clockwork City because, second to Vvardenfell, it’s by far my favorite area. Also, Clockwork City gave that denied chance to speak to Sotha Sil, seeing that events of Tribunal make that rather impossible. He’s…interesting. Philosophical but also very meta, very sideways-aware he’s an NPC. It’s an interesting conversation.** Vivec is Vivec, and by the end of the Vvardenfell chapter, I was questioning just how much I was charismatically manipulated into certain actions. Hmmmm… And Almalexia is…slightly less insane. But, also, roped me into saving her temple and then gifted me with a lamp? It felt a little anti-climactic, but also very fitting.***
However, since I’ve now cleared Vvardenfell, Clockwork City, Stonefalls, and Deshaan, I’m off to Shadowfen, which is very much new territory to explore, given that there hasn’t been an Elder Scrolls game set in Blackmarsh since Arena, but that’s set on/in all of Tamriel, and Daggerfall is as far back as I’ve gone so far.
In the meanwhile, I’m looking forward to Skywind, and fan-made port of Morrowind’s intellectual spirit into the Skyrim engine. They are making their own models, they’re making their own textures, they’re building Morrowind from the ground, up, but using Skyrim’s more modern infrastructure. And I absolutely cannot wait. This is the game that’ll woo me away from ESO, I guarantee. My grand-plan is to, eventually, play Skygerfall (the Daggerfall main quest remake in the Skyrim engine, a mod that’s already released), then Skywind, then Skyblivion (the Oblivion recreation in the Skyrim engine, much like Skywind), then eventually, replay Skyrim and actually do the main quest without taking a year break in the middle. And, depending on how the release schedule ends up, maybe being able to then play The Elder Scrolls VI.
And thus brings a close to my long, rambling ode to a game near and dear to my writerly heart. If not for Morrowind, I certainly wouldn’t write the way I do, and I wouldn’t be fascinated by the concepts that I am. Or, er, quite as obsessed with worldbuilding.****
After writing all this, I do find myself craving a new playthrough. Hm. (Wait for Skywind, I tell myself, wait for Skywind.)
* I don’t feel like this is a spoiler, since this game was released in 2002. ** There’s some a few references to what ends up happening to Sotha Sil peppered around in the dialogue. He apparently has defense measures set up for three potential, and possibly only, threats to his life. One is himself. Another is an angry daedric prince. The third is Almalexia. Very much a “Hah!” and “Oooh…” moment. *** Also, fun and somewhat weird thing, but if you start playing in the Morrowind chapter, then go back and wander into Mournhold, you’ll run into a familiar face from Morrowind…who’ll have no idea who you are, because ESO is designed to go chronologically for character development, but being an MMORPG with multiple expansions, doesn’t guarantee a player will meet that character at the start of their arch. **** It didn’t fit in the essay, so this is postscript, but the Elder Scrolls universe also plays, at least worldbuilding-wise, with cultures which aren’t based on a good vs. evil dichotomy, which is rare in high fantasy. A reoccurring theme within the Elder Scrolls is more an order vs. chaos, which is fascinating.
After a many month break, I’ve returned to Dead God’s Bones refreshed and ready to get it into shape for querying, because I will NOT have a repeat of In Blood, where I sat on a completed manuscript for three years waiting for…god knows. For the time to be right? For that sudden bolt of inspiration that turns it from a so-so novel into a great one? For my courage to stop cowering in a corner?
Either way, we shall not have a repeat. DGB is going to be submitted, and in a timely manner, before I change too much as a writer and as a person and grow to loathe the thing I’ve made.
So I took a chance.
I posted a call for betas on Reddit.
I’ve been frequenting the Reddit beta readers forums to find beta projects I’d like to work on, but this is the first that I’ve ever put out a call. It’s…a little intimidating. Most of the time, my betas are drawn from a group of other writers I personally know, some through my grad program, some through undergrad, and some through my in-person critique group. I don’t have much need to foray into the wilds of forum boards to find betas.
But, this time around, I wanted someone who doesn’t know me, who hasn’t read an excerpt of this novel somewhere, who will be, more or less, objective. I also find myself in need of someone who loves pointing out mistakes, seeing that I apparently created continuity errors during my last editing pass and I’m not all that great at catching them myself. Thus, beta reader. Thus, Reddit.
The plan is to start querying either at by the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021. I think I’m just going to have to embrace this book at 180k, since trimming just seems to lend itself to further expansion elsewhere, and by the end of an editing pass, it’s nearly the same length. So I guess 180k is where it needs to be for now, and I want to get started on the next step, since this is as good as I’m going to get it at this point in my writing skill level. Which brings me to queries.
So far, I have two versions, the long one and the short one. For funsies, I’ve posted the longer one here, since I used the shorter one for my Reddit call.
Three years ago, Investigator-Prefect Kossa en Bekhir failed to capture a serial murderer targeting magical practitioners in the city of Balara. It nearly ended his career. Now, the killer is back, and has graduated from preying on low-ranking government officials to the upper echelons of society, their throats slit and bodies drained of blood.
Complicating matters, he’s partnered with his boss’ daughter—a newly-minted investigator-brevet with no experience, a hair-trigger of a sword-arm, and questionable loyalties. As the investigation into the murders becomes increasingly convoluted, Kossa draws connections between the murderer’s method and his own secret past. For Kossa en Bekhir doesn’t exist. His name is a lie, his voice is a magical fabrication, and his skin bears the scars of the hundred-and-twenty stroke legacy of a dead man found guilty of treason. Every step forward brings him closer to a place he never wanted to revisit: the home that betrayed him and ripped the magic from his veins.
He won’t survive the encounter a second time.
DEAD GOD’S BONES is a 180,000-word adult high fantasy set in a sub-tropical island city rife with drugs and dragons. It’s THE ANKH-MORPORK NIGHT WATCH meets THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA and A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE.
Another beta pass, maybe two, and I plan to descend once more into the query trenches and send this out. I’ve already started preliminary research on agents and putting together my list. Once again, feeling rather out of my depth, but there we are.
Oh, I did say there would be art, didn’t I?
I’ll be honest, I haven’t freehand doodled with an actual pencil on actual paper in almost a year. I discovered I’m out of practice, but not in the way you might think. I was able, for the most part, to accurately translate what was in my head to my hand to the page. Rather, my muscles have apparently atrophied and I don’t have the fine motor control. Which was…frustrating. Need to build that back up. Also, forgive the off proportions, I wasn’t working from reference.
So these three are the main viewpoint characters of Dead God’s Bones, Kossa at the top, Maiv to the middle-right, and Luko bottom-left. As you might note, yes, in my head, they’re totally elves. On the written page, it’s less apparent, though they are varying shades of blue, ranging from a pale noon horizon blue to an almost blue-purple, and their sclera is black rather than white.
You can’t see it, but the impetus for beginning this was a desire to draw Kossa’s marriage ear-cuff…which can’t really be seen because I drew his head too small. I’ll probably draw another at some point or a closeup of his ear and just the ear. A lot of my doodles are born of a need to visually work out some worldbuilding detail, and it spirals out from there.
Also, don’t believe Luko. He does get paid, just not right now due to plot reasons.