So, back on August 18th, as you may possibly recall, I posted that I’d finished a manuscript but needed to revise it. You all liked the scene I posted from that book, so that made me happy. It did need a good bit of revision, and in a perfect world I would have stepped back for about two months before starting that. In this imperfect world, I thought maybe two weeks or so would do.
Ordinarily I would read a lot of books over that two week period, but I’d had this other idea for a completely different book in my head for a little while, so I thought, what the heck, I would write fifty or so pages of that one and when I got stuck, suddenly revising the first book would look very attractive. It’s just a general truth of the universe that when you’re writing a first draft, you feel like revision would be easy; and when you’re revising, writing a draft seems like it would be easy; so why not take advantage of that phenomenon, right?
Well, I did not get stuck on the new WIP. Instead, I got obsessive.
This has happened to me before, but never as strongly nor for nearly as long. Here we are, 40 days later, and I have a brand-new complete novel sitting here. I really, really did not expect that to happen. It’s not even a short novel. No. It is a loooong novel: 201,000 words. That is, as rapid arithmetic will show you, an average of 5000 words per day, or a bit over 15 pages per day. During the school year, no less. I was routinely hitting three to five thousand words on weekdays. I do work part time, but . . . not that part time.
You might be wondering what this was like. Even if you’re not, I’ll tell you. Those of you who know me best (Hi, Craig!) will know how out of the ordinary some of this is:
I normally go to bed before ten. I couldn’t get to sleep because the WIP wouldn’t turn off, so I thought what the heck and stayed up much later to work on it. The dogs get a biscuit at bedtime, so they start pushing me about turning things off and going downstairs around eight thirty. I started making them stay up till nine, then putting them all to bed, then coming back upstairs and working till roughly eleven, sometimes later.
I normally get up between 4:30 and 5:15. My alarm is set for 5:15, but it very seldom wakes me up. You would think that since I was suddenly going to bed later, I would wake up later. No. I woke up even earlier than usual, and the WIP was immediately in my head, so there was no chance of going back to sleep. Many mornings, if you call it “morning” when it is still practically the middle of the night, I got up around 4:00. I even felt happy to have extra time in the morning to write.
I started taking 1 1/2 benadryl and 7 mg melatonin at bedtime to try to get more sleep. It didn’t really work. Yes, I did get a lot more headaches than usual, but not as many as I ought to have, because lack of sleep is definitely a trigger for me. Excedrin luckily controlled most of the headaches, which occurred roughly every third day for this whole period.
I normally have a lot of trouble getting anything much done from 3:00 in the afternoon until at least 5:00 or 6:00. That is a low-energy period for me. I had no trouble whatsoever working during the afternoons during this period.
I normally like cooking. I made almost nothing remotely interesting during this period. Whenever my mother said, Oh, I made xyz, would you like some? I said Yes, thanks! Normally we don’t really share that much food because I make much spicier food than she does and also I am often trying to stay away from carbs. During the whole of this period, I didn’t care about any of that.
I normally take the dogs out for a walk at dawn when it’s hot: three sets of dogs is 45 minutes for me. That’s not exercise for them, but it is for me and they enjoy it. If the weather is cooler, I like to take them out to run in what we call the Arboretum, a fenced acre and a half, in the afternoon. I kept this up because the dogs shouldn’t have to forego their fun just because I’m obsessed, but I was happy to have rainy days. Also, I entirely stopped listening to podcasts or looking at the internet on my phone while walking the dogs. Instead I listened to music and thought about my WIP.
I read no books of any kind during this entire period. All my time went into writing. During meals, I read bits I had previously written.
…. I think that pretty much gives you an idea of how different this experience was than ordinary writing, where I set a minimum daily wordcount and more or less stick to it.
I once wrote the last 220 pp of a book in 19 days. That was similar, but obviously less intense, especially since that was not during the school year. I had another similar fast, intense 200 pages during Shadow Twin. But this, no. This was different.
What made it different? I’m not sure. But this is a very, very simple story in some ways. The heart of the story is the relationship between two characters. It is not a romance. I was even almost sort of tempted, but no. American culture is so sexualized already; I’m with Nicole Kornher-Stace here, why promote the idea that all intense relationships must be sexual? So, no.
There is just one pov protagonist, who carries the story throughout. There is just one very important non-pov protagonist. Normally I would define a character as secondary if he never picks up the pov. Not this time. All the other characters are quite secondary.
The plot is very simple in some ways. You all suggested the main fantasy element to me in a relatively recent post and discussion about, uh, stuff. I could tell you explicitly, but it would be quite a spoiler, so I’m not sure I should. Although it’s the kind of spoiler the reader might enjoy: you would know something important and get to watch the protagonist figure it out. I would enjoy that personally.
This particular fantasy element established the main tension in the story and also provided the antagonist and the plot. Nothing else is remotely as important.
So, yes, a simple story in some ways. But very intense, for me and hopefully for readers as well.
Would I want to do this again, feel like this again? … Maybe? Every couple of years? I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Plus I wrote 200,000 words! In 40 days! But, you know, it was an obsession. It interfered with everything else in my life. That was okay, because my life is very calm and boring and I don’t have young children — I suppose if I did the experience would have been self-limiting. But still … once every couple of years would probably be better than anything more frequent.
How I feel now: sorry it’s over. Relieved it’s over. And looking forward to getting more sleep.
The next step: Dotting a few i’s and crossing a few t’s. Then I will send it to my agent, marking the 14,000 words that I know would probably come out if it were traditionally published. It could tighten up elsewhere as well, no doubt. If she loves it and places it in a fine new home, great. Otherwise, I will self-publish it, of course, and in that case I will probably do relatively little cutting. I can see perfectly well that some chapters could fall out, but I like those chapters. I like practically the whole thing. Even the slowish transition scenes feel okay to me.
Now, after all that, I expect you would probably like to take a look at the opening scene. Here it is:
Beside the coals of the dying fire, within the trampled borders of our abandoned camp, surrounded by the great forest of the winter country, I waited for a terrible death.
I had been waiting since midmorning. Shadows stretched out in the late afternoon. Soon dusk would fold itself across the land. The Lau must be close now. I faced south, so that my death would not ride up behind me on his tall horse and see my back and think that I was afraid to face him. I was afraid, but I was not such a coward that I would forget my pride before I even glimpsed the knife.
Also, I faced south so that I would not have to look at the trail my brother had left as he led our defeated warriors, at their best limping pace, away from this camp and toward home. Even kneeling beside the fire, I would be able to see the trampled snow stretch away into the empty forest. I did not want to see that trail. I did not want to remember my brother striding away, leaving me behind.
That might have been a different kind of cowardice. But I could only face one direction. So I faced south. I would not look over my shoulder to the north even now, long after the muffled sounds of pony hooves and creaking leather had died away in the distance.
When we ride out from our homes, we sing. We have many songs of battle and courage and victory. We sing those at the beginning of a raid or on the way home afterward, our ponies laden with good things, driving our new cattle before us.
We have other songs. We sing to the Dawn Sisters when they rise and to Sun when he returns after the long dark. Our women sing to announce the birth of a son, and they sing harvest songs as they scythe and thresh the grain. But we have no songs for defeat. No one sang among the men my brother led away. We had gained nothing and lost much, and might lose everything that remained if the Lau refused to be contented with my death.
I was glad no one had sung as they left me . I would not have wanted to listen to the voices of my people fade into the distance.
The fire burned low. My brother had built it up with his own hands before he had led our warriors away. Now it was only coals, and the cold pressed against my back. The wind came from the north, and a little from the east. I wished I could build the fire up again. Mostly that was what I thought about: that the wind was cold and that I wished I could reach the small remaining store of wood. That was as close to thinking about nothing as I could come. It was better than thinking about my brother, or what our father might do when he heard of our defeat. It was much better than thinking about the Lau, who would surely come soon. I hoped they came before the fire burned out, or I might freeze to death before they found me.
I tried not to hope that I would freeze before they found me.
Then I heard them, the hoof beats of their horses and the jingle of their harness, and there was no more time for hope. I held very still, as a rabbit who hears the wolf, though of course stillness would not protect me now. Nothing would protect me. I was not here to be protected.
They came on their tall horses, riding between the great spruces and firs. Two at first, wary of ambush even though they must have seen there was nothing left of our camp except the trampled snow, and the fire, and me. Those two looked at me and at the camp. I raised my hands to show the thongs that bound my wrists and bound me to the stake that had been driven into the frozen earth – to show that I was tuyo, left here for them. I had thought I would stand up to meet them. The thongs were long enough to let me stand up. But the strength had run out of me when I saw them, and I did not think I would be able to get up. I would have been ashamed to try and fail. I stayed where I was, on my knees.
The two Lau warriors rode away again. Then others came. Ten, twenty. Twice twenty. More than that. And even this was only the vanguard. They rode through the remnants of our camp and around it, and around the fire, and around me, and a little distance the way my brother had gone. Then they all came back and some of them rode to the fire and circled around me, not many paces away. They looked down at me, tall dark men on tall dark horses, with the Sun device of the summer country on its pole snapping overhead in the wind, and I looked back at them and did not bow my head. Pride shows itself in strange ways. I did not have the courage to stand up and face them on my feet, but I would not look away, nor cower before they even touched me.
Even though they were all mounted, they carried the straight, short swords and long rectangular shields they fight with – they do not fight from horseback, the Lau, but on foot, in tight ranks. They are not a brave people, but we Ugaro never face them on foot, for we learned long ago we cannot win that way. There are too many. They do not need to be brave. We do not face them at all if we can help it, but raid quickly and get away before Lau soldiers can come up on us. When we fight them, we try to take them by surprise and we are quick, striking before they can form up into their squares. We attack from a distance, with bows, because our archers are better than theirs, and then we ride away and disappear into the cold forests of our winter country. The Lau seldom pursue us across the river that marks the border between the winter country and the summer country. But this time they had. Our raid had broken against their ambush, and when we had fled, they had pursued us. We could not outpace them. So my brother had left me for them. Now they were here.
I knew immediately which must be the warleader of the Lau troop. The Lau mark their warleaders with silver. He had a silver falcon on the breast of his coat, and silver wire worked into the backs of his gloves and the tops of his boots, and he did not carry a shield, but a slender black stick about as long as a man’s forearm, with silver wire spiraling around its length. His horse was the color the Lau call fire bay and we call blood bay, and there were silver studs set into its bridle. It was a fine horse. The Lau breed very fine horses, but they belong to the summer country. They are too long-legged and too thin-skinned for the cold of Ugaro lands.
Like their horses, the Lau belong to the summer country. They are also long-legged and thin-skinned, and they like the cold no better. They are a tall and graceful people, the Lau, with smooth brown skin and black hair, curlier than the straight hair of my people. Lau men often grow beards, thicker than the wispy beards Ugaro men sometimes grow, but they shave them very short, just to outline the jaw and mouth. This warleader had a beard like that. He had cut his hair very short to match, as the Lau do, or sometimes they braid their hair back so that it might as well be short. No Ugaro man would do such a thing; for us, hair cut so short is a mark of shame. We tie our hair back or leave it loose, but we do not cut it.
I saw, when the warleader dismounted to look at me more closely, that he was even taller than most of people. He looked cruel to me, with a hard set to his mouth and watchful eyes. My belly clenched tight. My mouth was too dry to speak. I held up my hands to show the thongs, though I knew he had already seen them.
His first words were not what I had expected. I have no idea what I had expected, but what he said was, “Staked out like a goat for the mountain lions! It is not the sort of bait I’d expect in a trap for men.” He looked at one of his men. “You’ve made certain there’s no ambush? Of course. Well, there’s certainly there’s no trace of magic.” His eyes came back to me.
His voice was deeper than I had expected from a Lau. He came down on the ends of his words more sharply and crisply than my older sister, from whom I had learned the tongue. She had taught me darau because she wished to teach me and I wished to learn it, though such a skill, as with everything to do with trade, is more fit for women than for men. My father did not object. It is useful if some warriors speak a little darau, so they can escort the women who will trade; and he did not care much what his younger sons did when they were children, being more concerned with his sons who were already men.
Now I was very grateful that I had learned it, though I did not expect it to matter for very long. Only I had not realized that the sound of it could be so different than the speech I had learned.
But I could understand his words, thought I had to think about the sound of them for a moment because the difference had taken me by surprise and because his words made no sense to me at first. When I was sure I had understood him, I said, speaking carefully, “Lord, there is no ambush. Certainly there is no sorcery.” He had used a different word, but I only used the one I knew. It had not occurred to me the Lau would not know what I was – far less that they would think of sorcery. I had never heard of a sorcerer among my people; and if one should be born, he would be put to death as soon as his father or his lord learned what he was.
I said, “I am . . .” I struggled with it. I had not expected to have to explain, and it was hard for me to say it. But I got it out at last. “I am tuyo.”
He was looking at me in obvious surprise, whether at my words or that I had spoken in darau. I tried to think of the darau word for tuyo and could not. I could feel my face getting hot – a strange reason for shame, yes. But I had been proud of my ability to speak darau, and now failed in nearly my first sentence to this warleader. Bowing my head, I said, “I am here for you. For you to . . . ” the word kill did not seem adequate. “For you to take vengeance upon. For your anger.”
The warleader stared at me. For a moment the silence was almost complete. A horse picked up one foot and set it down again, and the wind blew across the snow, and harness creaked as a man shifted his weight. Far away a fox yipped, calling to its mate. Other than that, there was no sound. The land was shadowed lavender with dusk, and the wind was cold.
The man the warleader had addressed spoke at last. “I’ve never heard of an Ugaro magician, far less an Ugaro sorcerer, and if an ambush was planned, I don’t know what they’d be waiting for. Full dark, maybe. But they’re in no shape for clever ambushes . . . ” A slight pause. “Or I’d have thought not.”
warleader glanced at the man, acknowledging what he had said. “No,” he agreed.
“I do think that’s unlikely.” Then he said to me, “Stand up. Can you stand?”
So then I had to get up. I concentrated on the stiffness that had come to my knees because I had been kneeling for a long time in the cold and not on the weakness that was fear. I stood up and my legs did not give way, for which I was grateful.
The warleader looked me up and down. “Tuyo,” he said. “Is that your name? Look at me.”
“No, lord. It is not a name.” I straightened my shoulders and looked him in the face, as he had commanded, pretending I was not afraid. “My name is Ryo inGara. I am the second-youngest son of Sinowa inGara” I saw that he knew that name, and tipped my chin up in acknowledgment. “Yes. So I am given to you. I am for you, that you will be satisfied and seek no other vengeance. That is tuyo.” To be completely sure, I added, “The one given by the defeated, to appease the anger of the victor.”
This time the pause was longer.
Finally the warleader said, “You are a son of Sinowa inGara. Yet your people left you here, staked out this way, so that we would find you and kill you and not pursue them? This is the meaning of this word, tuyo.”
From his tone, this might not have been a question. But he was looking at me. I said, “Yes, lord. That is . . . it is a custom of my people.” It was beginning to occur to me that it might not be a custom of his. I said urgently, “Lord. My brother does not want to fight you again. That is the meaning. You should not . . . he will not . . . my brother acknowledges you are the stronger, lord. He acknowledges you have won. You do not need to pursue him farther, nor seek other vengeance. That is why I was left for you.”
“Your own brother left you. So that I would not pursue him.”
“He didn’t want to. It must be someone important.” I could hardly believe I was defending my brother. I had cursed him when he had bound me in my place and left me there. I had blamed him for not taking the tuyo’s place himself. But he was older, and warleader, and we had gotten into so much trouble, and he had to get us out – them out. I had cursed him, and he had not answered me with a blow as I deserved, but only bowed his head and taken my words in silence. Later I had wished I had not cursed him. I had known all the time he had no choice. The men would not follow me. I was too young, and I was not him. The last words between brothers should not be bitter ones, and I had been wrong.
I said, “He had to do it. He would not expect you to be satisfied by less. The tuyo must be someone whose death will content an enemy.”
“I see.” The warleader looked at me for some time. Finally he said, “So your brother expects me to kill you and be satisfied. Then I am supposed to take my men and leave. Then – what? He will cross the river again to raid more farms and villages, and leave me another brother staked out like a goat when I come after him again? I think it would be much more efficient to go on, run your brother down now, and kill every man with him. Indeed, I see no reason to stop there. My king commanded me to put a stop to these raids. It’s plain our border will have no peace while your young men think of Lau farmers as sheep for their shearing.” He paused, cocking his head, inviting me to answer.
My father says I have too much imagination, but even I could never have imagined that I might stand facing the Lau warleader and have to argue him into killing me.
I said, watching the warleader’s face, “You do not need to . . . to go to the trouble, lord. My brother will not raid again. Neither will my father nor his allies raid again.” A dying man must not lie, even my misdirection or omission, so I added, “At least, not this season. Even next year, my father will not lightly send any of his warriors across your border. He will not do it, lord. My brother acknowledges you have defeated him. My father will acknowledge it. Neither of them will want to face you again. Not now. Not for a long time. You can tell your king this. It is true.” I took a breath, making sure I could speak steadily and knew all the words for what I would say. Then I said, “Any vengeance you would take on my people, you should take on me. Please, lord. Accept me as tuyo. Take what vengeance you desire for every blow my people have struck against yours, and be satisfied.”
Again, a pause stretched out. Finally the warleader said, to a man of his, “Check again. The whole area. Be thorough.” Then he said to another man, “Have camp set up twenty lengths from this place. No. Forty.” Then, as most of his warriors went away to obey his commands, he tucked away the little stick, drew a knife instead, and stepped toward me.
I thought maybe he might mean to cut my throat right there – I hoped he might, even though I had tried to explain that so quick a death was not expected for the tuyo.
Instead, he cut the thong that bound me to the stake. Not the thong that bound my wrists. So I understood he would take me somewhere else and kill me there.
He put the knife away, not having to look at the sheath while he slid it home. He said to one of the men who had remained with him, “Take him to my tent and hold him there.” Then he walked away.