I know that by now it’s cliche to read the writer of your favorite story dreamed the saga, but that’s what happened to me. I was very sick and had a high fever during the night. I dreamed up the main character and her most basic story to include the finale you read. Like you, I went along for the ride. I remember the vividness–almost real–and the only thing that made it unreal for me was the impressive displays of magic. When I woke, a strong compulsion to write down everything I could remember came over me, and so the first draft manifested. Written in longhand, I soon grew tired of my hand cramping and not moving as fast as my brain. I set out to polish the typing skills my mother ingrained into me over twelve years prior during a homeschooling stint, languishing as I moved from paper to computer. The more I wrote the story, the more came back to me. At one point, somewhere in my mind, the insipid thought snaked through that eventually my mother would read what I wrote. From then on, my novel didn’t rise above a soft PG rating. Not a cuss word and one death–off camera, of course! Within those constraints, it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell, and it showed. I tried some tinkering over the years, always changing it. I am never satisfied. But I still worked because I knew it would be great one day.
Then a setback. Whatever fossil of a computer I worked on crashed, and a long time passed before I managed to acquire another one. When I moved back home to my parent’s house at the age of twenty-three, I would commandeer theirs when they were not using them, and saved my works to a hard disc. Yes, that’s how long ago I started writing the story. Thus, the second rewrite began, this time adding more characters and various details. But satisfaction eluded me. I was missing something. The story was about a girl who went on to get her ass kicked by the bad guy. Now, I am all for the bad guy winning. I cheered for Darth Vader, Heath’s Joker in the Dark Knight made me giddy with excitement and was ecstatic when he won at the end of the movie. Yes, go back and watch it again. Sure, he was captured, but not before turning Harvey Dent and Batman taking the fall.
My story flowed too easily from scene to scene–at least in my mind–and anyone who tried to read a chapter just felt too jarring (my mother–who has an English Major). But it played out like a movie for me, so why didn’t it for the reader? Well, I kept all those colorful details in my mind and didn’t share. And so the third rewrite had begun. By the fourth or fifth rewrite rolled around, my story had more than doubled, and the only thing that dampened my spirits was the lack “humph” for my main character. She went from regular girl to bat-shit crazy in a span of two or three chapters. In real life, very seldom do people just flip a switch and lose control, but rather a slow build to the point in which they lose all sense of reason. I am that way, too. I internalize and take in all the flak and let it build slowly, simmering on my back burner until nine months later I blow a fuse. My coworkers have said I’ll probably stroke out, but hopefully, that is years down the road or never at all. But the main character’s slide to madness happened too quick, like Anikan in Revenge of the Sith. I needed a slow burn–something I would not realize for years to come–kind of like Walter White when he broke bad. Still, I fiddled, tweaking segments.
By this time, I had (gasp)–dare I say?–picked up Harry Potter. I’ll be honest: it wasn’t my choice. A young boy named Cody, who always had his head buried in a Harry Potter book, his glasses inches from the page, blackmailed me. I kept telling him, “You need to read some Star Wars novels, expand a little bit.” After about the tenth time, he said, “I’ll read it if you read Harry Potter.” Well, I took the challenge. No way a ten-year-old boy would get the better of me! I’d show him! Well… he sure did school me. He loved the Star Wars books, and I loved the Harry Potter ones. We swapped back and forth until he ran out of Potter books (I think only the fourth one was out at this time). But I thoroughly enjoyed the books, and Rowling showed me something: good writing counted, something I lacked. Exasperated, but not broken, I returned to my terrible drafts.
I, in my infinite wisdom of nowhere fast, went to the Marine Corps, and the book became lost on the sidelines but never forgotten. I worked on it here and there throughout the four years I served. The backstory evolved into my primary focus, to flesh out my character’s histories, Judas’ in particular, and Xilor’s too. I even started on a young Judas novel to tide me over but quickly grew bored. But a warning bell went off in the back of my head to not throw anything away and save for a rainy day. I’m glad I listened to the voices in my head.
With young Judas behind me, my thoughts returned to the first book. During those years, I let my mind wander, and think how far into the future (novels) I wanted to go. At one point, I had plotted all the way up to like fifteen novels, a never-dying story. While good for some writers–and I am not knocking anyone–it just wasn’t for me. All good things must come to an end, but I wanted the right ending, an excellent conclusion to my series, kind of like Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show started with Q and ended with him, too. I like the full circle aspect, poignant and overarching.
Back to the books!
I knew from the get-go that a one and done or a trilogy of books wouldn’t be enough; in my head, it seemed too massive. Still, something remained missing from my story, and I tried to find it by tweaking. So, I got out of the Marine Corps and thought, “Hey, I joined for the college tuition and to see the world! I got one of those done, let’s do the other!”
I started classes with no clue what I wanted to do, twenty-seven, and still hadn’t found my calling. I took the intro courses while I decided. I had to take remedial algebra because who doesn’t use that shit like every day to balance a checkbook … oh wait, people don’t use checkbooks anymore? Man, I am behind the times. This old soul is living in the wrong decade.
Back to the classes!
I also had to take a grammar class. I met Professor Pollick, one goofy bloke with a terrible John F. Kennedy impersonation, but I got him, he was funny in an older guy kind of way. From the class, I learned nothing, still don’t have a clue about grammar and the English language, but I remember some of the kernels of wisdom he let drop. He said, “Once in your life, you may write something perfect on the first time. All the other times you need to write it again and again. Polished writing comes out around the fifth draft, but don’t stop there.” Well, shit, that’s not what I wanted to hear, but I took the sentiments to heart, and he proved right.
Another lesson I learned from his generosity came from a talk we had, and in a way, he sparked the current version of the story. He gave us a list of ten or so topics to write about. After class, I approached him and said, “Professor? There is nothing on this list that I care to write about and receive a passing grade.” And he said, “What do you want to write about then?” And of course, I said something offhanded like “Capital Punishment” or “legalizing steroids in professional sports” or “Zodiacs”–and yes, I did write about all those subjects in college! He said, “If that is something you feel passionate about, you should do it. You have my permission to pick your topic.” It wasn’t that he let me pick my topic, but his talk about being passionate. And that got me thinking about my book.
In my college years, when I wasn’t studying or playing World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic, I wrote. I rewrote my book twice in those three and a half years. At one point, I sent my novel to be professionally edited… a waste of money, but I got good insight, so not a total loss. As soon as it came back, a friend of mine says, “Send me your first ten chapters; I want to read it.” I am sure all writers, professional or otherwise–even professionals were not always so–have heard those lines or something similar. So, I sent it to her, and she came back a few days later, and the first thing she said was. “Didn’t you say this is edited? I caught like five errors on the first page alone!” Well, what a waste of twenty-five hundred dollars! Then, she said, “There is a lot of dialogue in your book.” It hit me–I relied too much on the dialogue to carry the book. Man, that pissed me off, but in a good way!
So, I went back to the drawing board and dug deep. I even did something I had never done before, enlist the help of a friend to brainstorm. Man, he came up with some far-out ideas I could never make work on paper. But the thing that helped me the most was him always talking about all these other fantasy books he had read, which shaped my story because I made notes like, “I’m not going to do that, or that, haven’t even thought about that, that’s stupid, wow! They actually did that? And it was good?” He then recommends all these fantasy writers and hands me a box full of books. So, I pour through them, reading each of them. Some I loathed, some were phenomenal! It’s hit or miss with me. I found myself drawn to the longer books, and the level of detail they used was superb! One trilogy of novels, in particular, stood out: Mercedes Lackey’s and James Mallory’s The Obsidian Trilogy. I got to tell you, if you haven’t read it, do so! Also, if you can stomach them setting their world up for the first hundred and fifty pages, you are in for a treat! Authors like them, and many others too numerous to name, helped craft my writing and let me see a brighter side.
In my later years of college, I ambled through the Exchange on base, and something caught my eye: a picture of Sean Bean (and I love me some Sean Bean). He held a sword and sat on this strange chair. The title of the Blu-ray? Game of Thrones. And I thought to myself, “Hmm, looks very medieval and has Sean Bean? Shut up and take my money!” Yeah, I am an impulse buyer. I took it home, popped it in, and then subsequently binged watched the damn thing over two days. WTF! What an awesome show! They tried to kill the kid in the pilot! Mother of God. I was hooked!
Thrilled, I logged into Star Wars online game and started praising the damn thing in guild chat (which by the way, I don’t have cable, and I live in Okinawa, so I get everything a year late, which they knew), and I sang praises to Baby Jesus for how awesome it was. And my friend, going by the avatar name of Xenomene, says, “Oh yeah, great show, you should read the book!” And I thought to myself, “Scrotum of gods! There is a book?!” I must have it! So, I bought it on Kindle faster than a Japanese man can slurp his noodles (and yes they slurp, I live here, remember? It’s just an observation!). I started reading that night when I went to bed around nine. It was two-oh-damn!-clock when I turned off the Kindle. Reading Game of Thrones became my ritual for however long it took me to read it. Man, I swear in one of those books, Martin takes five pages for Jon Snow to lace up his boots, head to the door, and take three steps up the stairs, but it’s riveting because it’s damn good writing. Once I finished reading his entire series (that was out at the time), I found myself satisfied, I sensed my purpose, the power of the Dark Side flowed through me. The Force was strong with this one. I found why I wasn’t happy with my book, and George’s writing made me look at my manuscript and say, “Damn … just damn.”
At the epicenter of my failures was the underlying fear that one day my mother would read my book, and coming from such a religious upbringing in my earlier years, it’s quite understandable. Beyond the overwhelming sense of dread from hearing my mother gasp at all the horrible things I envisioned for my novel, Professor Pollick’s words came back: “Kyle, if it’s something you feel passionate about, you should do it.” My problem stemmed from worrying about what my mother would think, stressing about what she would say held me back for nearly a decade. The time had come to cast off the shackles and forge my path. Armed with that mindset, words of passion from my professor, a gentle critique from a friend about dialogue, and a lot of random crazy-ass thoughts from my brainstorming partner, I sat down to write. For real this time. And boy did I write.
This was the twelfth revision. I know that for a fact because in this rescript I developed the idea of the Krey and introduced a few of their characters. Man, I loved the Krey. For my main character from this new batch of miscreants, I pleaded with my friend to let me use the name Xenomene and base the character on her avatar with her personality. She said, “Sure, but I demand two things. A nickel every time you use the word and an awesome death if you ever kill her off.” Well, I think I owe her like…five bucks or something. While I introduced new characters, I went back to the meat of the story, an estranged young lead trying to find their way in life, wanting to belong. In her, the story blossomed. With the revision, the heart centered on a story about a young woman trying to find herself and failing miserably. During the time in my life when I dreamed it, I could relate, working dead-end jobs that were not my calling and failed relationships. More than anything, I wanted to have a sense of belonging, like her. I worked with the angst, dug deep, and found my youthful rage against the world I failed to understand. But like all great characters, her internal struggle needed to pull her in opposite directions, much like people are. For her, I wanted her to crave power like a Sith Lord and yet yearn for family and pine to belong like young Harry Potter. She’s mistrustful, like me, but I got there by trial and error, learning that being optimistic at heart and gullible at the same time did not make for good bedfellows.
Now, a lot of people ask me, why didn’t you make your main character a man? Firstly, I don’t view my main character as the main character but one of several. Yes, the first book is loaded with her storyline, but it is through her eyes that you learn about Ermaeyth and magic. Secondly, I made her a female because she was a female in my dream, and it was a pretty damn good dream! (Not that kind of dream, Sweet Shades, get your head out of the gutter!)
Thirdly, men characters, like men in life, do not have a wide range of emotions–at least, that they are willing to show. When a man cries in front of another man, they both get uncomfortable, and one says, “Suck it up, be a man,” or something similar, and that’s the end. Additionally, a man approaches a problem like this: Man faces a challenge, the man tries to overwhelm with brute strength, man is bested, the man goes to man-cave and broods, the man comes back and beats problem, the end. Women, in my experience, are better at displaying emotions and not worrying about what others think, and they have a greater emotional range, so I used a female for my lead. At least, that is my opinion. You may not agree, and if you don’t, that’s fine. Another reason I made her a female is that there aren’t a lot of books or movies or comics where they are the leads but rather sidekicks, eye candy, damsels, and the likes. I wanted a chick who could kick ass!
Lastly, I made her female because I wanted to. It’s my story. So, I am at work on the night shift, a grueling 1800-0600 and a female Marine is working with me, and we start to talk about writing. I had finished the latest rewrite of Book I and fleshing out a storyline for book II. And I said, “Hey, I write, too, and could use your opinion.” A bold move considering I knew next to nothing about what she liked to read. Luckily, she read all kinds of stuff, but mainly fantasy and book porn, though the latter I found out a lot later. Woohoo! She gave me this incredulous look like she had heard the claim before. “I am a writer, read my stuff.” So, I opened up to the prologue, reminding her that it’s not a proper edit, and she pulled it close and started reading. I got busy with work, and about an hour later she came up for breath, a small smile on her face, and she said, “It’s good.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but when you first hear that from someone, you’re like, “Yeah, that’s right, my writing is the shit! Ain’t no one better than me.” But then it sinks in, and you wonder, “Are they just pulling my leg or are they afraid to tell me to spare my feelings?” Every time we worked together, she would ask to read more until she finished, and behold, my first dedicated beta-reader. It took a decade to find her. There were others, and I will get to them in the next book cause this is getting pretty long, and you are probably tired of my droning, but she was the first. With her critique, I tightened the bolts for a thirteenth draft. I go on to flesh out book II and book III and brainstorm ideas beyond that and come back to Book I a year or so later.
By now, I was like, I need to publish or stop writing altogether. So, for the fourteenth and final time, I sit down to edit my book and make it shine. I was about eighteen chapters into it when I thought to myself, “Wow, this sucks, not the editing, but my book!” I just felt there wasn’t enough of a hook to nab the reader in the front part. I like to write character-driven novels instead of plot-driven, but the front third’s pace seemed too languid and too much of a slow burn. So, I scrapped it. Yeah, I kept the chapters in case the revision didn’t work out, but it did. I kept the essence of the novel, but change settings and tempo as the first third of the book is a chase. But after this edit, I was happy with the story, at least, more satisfied.
Now, I have been staring at this novel for over ten years, and I have grown fond of it and in the same breath, loathe it. This is a starter book, an introduction into a larger world, a necessity for the rest, but now that I have, I can get on with the fun parts.
Alas, you are the proud reader–well I hope you are at least happy you read it–of more than a decade of writing and fifteen revisions. I hope you enjoyed the book, or hated it and will grudgingly read the next one because there is, at least, one character that you loved. A few, broad hints at what is to come. The war is in full swing; there’s more Krey in this book, almost double the amount of the original, so if you love them great, and if you hate them, what’s wrong with you? Several new characters are being introduced, both part of the main story and several supporting roles. It’s a descent into darkness and out the other side, but darkness, like fire, won’t let you play and come away unscathed.
Enjoy the wait.