I know that by now it is cliche to read that the writer of your favorite story dreamed it, but that's what happened to me. I was very sick and had a high fever and during the night, I dreamed up the main character and her most basic story to include the finale that you read. Like you, I was along for the ride. I remember that it was extremely vivid—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 was born.
Written in long hand, I soon grew tired of my hand cramping and not moving as fast as my brain. I set out to polish my typing skills that my mother ingrained into me over twelve years prior during a homeschooling stint, languishing as I moved it 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. It was then on that my novel was a soft PG rating. Not a cuss word and one death—off camera of course! But with those constraints, it wasn't the story I wanted to tell and it showed. I tried tinkering with it over the years, always changing it. I am never satisfied. But I still worked on it cause I knew it would be great one day.
Then a setback.
Whatever fossil of a computer I was working on crashed, and it was a long time 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 saving my works to a hard disc. Yes, that's how long ago I started writing the story. Thus, the second rewrite started, this time adding more characters and various details. But I was not satisfied. I was missing something. The story was about a girl who eventually 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 I 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 that tried to read a chapter just felt like it was 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? It was because I was keeping all those colorful details in my mind and not sharing. 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 normal 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 it, 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. I'll probably stroke out because of it, but hopefully, that is years down the road. But her slide to madness was just too quick. It needed to be a slow burn; something that I would not realize for years to come, kind of like Walter White when he broke bad. Still, I fiddled with it, tweaking segments.
By this time, I had (gasp)—dare I say?—picked up Harry Potter and read it. 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 into it. I kept telling him, "You need to read some Star Wars novels, expand a little bit." After about the tenth time, he finally said, "I'll read it if you read Harry Potter." Well, I took that challenge. No way I was going to let a ten-year-old 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, and I was severely lacking. 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 was set aside, but never forgotten. I worked on it here and there throughout the four years that I served. The backstory was my main 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 it away and save for a rainy day. I was glad I listened to the voices in my head that time.
With young Judas behind me, my thoughts returned to the first book. It was during those years that I let my mind wonder and think how far into the future (novels) I wanted to go. At one point, I had thought all the way up to like fifteen novels, a never-dying story. While that is good for some writers and I am totally not knocking anyone, it just wasn't for me. All good things must come to an end, but I wanted it to be the right end, a good end 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 of the show, poignant and overarching. Back to the books! I knew from the get-go that it would not be a one and done nor a trilogy of books; in my head, it was just too massive. But still, there was something missing from my story, and I tried to find it by tweaking it.
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!" So, I started classes with absolutely 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 absolutely 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 it to heart, and he was right.
Another lesson I learned was from his generosity and in a way, he was the spark that started the story that you have before you today. 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 feel I can write about, care about what I write, 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, it was his talk about being passionate. And that got me really 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 was writing. I rewrote my book twice in those three and a half years. At one point, I sent my novel to be professionally edited... waste of money, but I got good insight, so it wasn't a total loss. As soon as I get it 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 was professionally edited? I caught like five errors on the first page alone!" Well, that was a waste of twenty-five hundred dollars! And then she said, "There is a lot of dialogue in your book." It hit me that I was relying too much on the dialogue to carry the book. Man, that pissed me off!
So I went back to the drawing board and really 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 really far out there ideas that 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 helped shape my story because I was 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 was drawn to the longer books, believe it or not, the level of detail they used was superb! One trilogy of books, in particular, stood out was by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory: the Obsidian Trilogy. I got to tell you, if you haven't read it, get it! Also, if you can stomach them setting their world up for the first hundred and fifty pages, you are in for a treat! It was authors like them, and many others that are too numerous to name, that helped craft my writing and let me see a brighter side.
In my later years of college, I was walking in the Exchange on base, and something caught my eye. It was a picture of Sean Bean (and I love me some Sean Bean), and he held a sword and was sitting on this strange chair. The title of the Blu-ray was called Game of Thrones. And I thought to myself, "Hmm, looks very medieval and has Sean Bean, I'll buy it." 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 was singing 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 one 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 finally 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 was done reading his entire series, I was satisfied, I sensed my purpose, the power of the Dark Side was flowing through me. The Force was strong with this one. I finally found why I wasn't happy with my book, and it was because of George's writing that I looked at my manuscript and said, "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 that 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 that is something you feel passionate about, you should do it." My problem was that I had to stop worrying about what my mother would think, stressing about what she would say held me back for nearly a decade. It was time to cast off that shackle 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 it was in this rescript that 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 off 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. It was in her that the story blossomed. With the revision, at the heart of it, was an impressive story about a young woman trying to find herself and failing miserably. During the time in my life when I dreamed it, I could totally 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 really worked with that 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 Oliver Twist. She was 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 a good combination.
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 rather 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 of it. Additionally, a man approaches a problem like this: Man faces a problem, 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, go tweet about it, blow it up by twisting words or intent or whatever it is you guys do these days. Another reason I made her a female is because 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 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 was fleshing out a storyline for book II. And I said, "Hey, I write too, and could use your opinion." It was 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. Woo-hoo! She gave me this incredulous look like she had heard that before. "I am a writer, read my stuff." So, I opened it 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 for 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 that 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 was just 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 novel is a chase. But after this edit, I was happy with the novel, at least, happier. 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. It is a starter book, an introduction into a larger world, a necessity for the rest, but now that I have done that, I can get on with the fun parts.
Alas, you are the proud reader—well I hope you are at least happy that you read it—of more than a decade of writing and fourteen 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, very broad hints at what is to come. The war is in full swing; there is 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? There are several new characters 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.
About Vol. I