In my last two posts (I’d include a hyperlink, but they’re right before this one, for crying out loud, so I think you can manage that little feat of dexterity without my help) I’ve told some of my writing story. I actually began it with today’s content, but as I’ve explained, the whole thing morphed into something longer (“this tale grew in the telling,” aye, thanks, Professor T) --- which isn’t a bad thing. But here we finally are, so sit back, boys and girls, and attend.
It was spring 2006… and raining in the city by the bay… uh, sorry; I was channelling Raymond Chandler there for a second… I actually didn’t/don’t live in any city by the bay. Anyway, I’d changed schools the previous autumn to teach senior high English, having taught junior high for over twenty years. With my then-principal’s retirement, I thought it a good time to move to senior high, where students would hopefully be confused on a higher plane. Yay me.
Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last. My new school proved… well, rather than get too colourful, let’s try and stay professional by simply stating the administration and I turned out to have fundamental, irreconcilable differences of opinion as to what constituted good pedagogy and a soundly run school. It didn’t take long to reach that conclusion, either --- I knew with a month or so I’d made a major mistake --- and I slithered from enthusiasm to puzzlement to concern to outrage quickly. By spring 2006, my morale was rock-bottom --- particularly after a pretty intense back-and-forth between the principal and myself while the entire department watched, slack-jawed, heads snapping back and forth like spectators at Wimbledon as the principal and I (we unintentionally, or perhaps more accurately, subconsciously, sat at opposite ends of the table) lobbed verbal sallies at each other. I came away with my worst suspicions confirmed; the inmates were running the asylum, this was the Mad Hatter’s tea party I was prisoner at, and what the hell was I to do now?
(Part of my problem, so my ever-patient wife informs me, is I’ve always had crystal-clear convictions on the rightness and wrongness of things, and more importantly, find it very difficult to let things I can’t change merely slide off my mind like water on a duck’s back. Nope. I have this insane compulsion to periodically open my mouth and lead the Charge of the Light Brigade, while people around look on with either amusement or admiration --- perhaps both, it’s not always easy to tell. Haro! For God and Saint George! Dulce et Decorum Est! and similar battle cries.)
Well, by autumn 2006, I’d found myself another school --- but that isn’t the focus of today’s epistle: it’s what happened in the short term --- no revelation to anyone who knows me even a little: I coped with my feelings by writing about them. Quel surprise!
Not long after the Fateful Meeting, I was sitting at my classroom desk one day, wishing desperately I could get out of that awful place (instead of doing what I should have been doing: marking --- argh, the bane of any teacher’s existence) and found myself staring at the exterior wall. Part of it contained moderately large windows, but another part was simple blank wall. And I idly began thinking… I wish there was a door in that friggin’ wall… a door leading away from here into… into… I dunno… some place with a whole helluva lot more magic… and enchantment… a better place…
Ah, ‘tis true: from little acorns do mighty oaks grow. Or something to that effect. Because that very evening I began chronicling such a scenario. I remember the opening words with crystal clarity (although today, they’re on page 17 of the novel --- needed a teensy bit of establishing background, dontcha know): [he] grasped the doorknob, and with a quick, almost convulsive movement, turned it. Then it… well, it proceeded from there.
Now, as an epic fantasy author, I’ve never been particularly enamoured of the hoary old writer’s aphorism write what you know, but I guess it was apt enough, at least to begin. Because that was me I was writing about, going through a door where there shouldn’t have been any door, escaping my troubles to enter a brave new world that had, to paraphrase Will, such creatures in’t.
But here’s an interesting thing: I had no particular intentions of writing a novel; I was just engaging in a little writer’s therapy, as I had done numerous times before… writing about my frustrations instead of doing something foolish in the real world --- a more socially acceptable response, you must admit, to handling the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (paraphrasing Will again). So I wrote.
Apparently, though, the therapeutic value was far greater than I ever imagined, because, rather like Pooh and his honey, I wrote and wrote and wrote and… only when I reached the point where I had amassed 14,000 words did I stop and think: whoa, wait a minute. What’s going on here? What’s evolving in this process?
I went back and read what I’d written… finding, to my bemused pleasure, it had turned into a pretty interesting story. The central character had acquired a name --- Rhiss, short for Rhissan --- and I liked what was going on. Okay, I thought, let’s keep going and see where it goes.
So I did. And about another 188,000 words and change (and some seven or eight years) later, had a first (bloated) draft of what had become Gryphon’s Heir. Four drafts, and much editing and Murdering of Darlings after that… it was waaay leaner, but contained far more story… and was publishable. Maybe we can talk about that process another time…