Monday, March 10, 2014

The 50K Mark

The first fifty thousand words of my novels are like a protracted first date with my characters. It takes that long for me to learn enough about them to decide whether or not we'll go any further together on the journey of their make-believe lives.

As a writer you get to play God, but it isn't as powerful as you think. You can only boss the fictional universe around so much before it starts bossing back and messing things up. Characters start developing their own will after awhile. Only writers will understand what I mean by that. Once my characters start doing what they'll do on the page, I know I have a decision to make.  

Do we go on? Or do I end it here and take up another project with a story that works better?

I'm at the 50K mark with my latest literary thriller, The Healing Room. It's about a pair of childhood friends, a young woman who has survived a kidnapping by a sexual sadist and a young man who has survived a tour of duty in Iraq. Together they work to rebuild their lives despite crippling post-traumatic stress.

At first I thought The Healing Room had a paranormal, magical realism element to it, but no. My female character says that what happened to her was very real, that it happens to mostly women and children every day, and that I'm not to paint that turd pink with anything but the cold hard facts. My male character never believed in magic anyway, so he's impervious.

I got out of that shit alive, the woman says. Don't make that any more or less than it is.

There are no short cuts, says the man. Tell the story right or leave us the hell alone.

So I start over from the beginning and rebuild the world of the story to accommodate my characters as they've revealed themselves to me. Or I scrap the whole thing and leave them in their half-lives, toiling away at relationship and healing in that old Victorian on the mountainside, rebuilding the deck and holding Veterans' meetings in the living room.  
I'll make my decision soon, trying to be objective about matters such as plot construction and story structure, trying to ignore the tiny but now full-fledged voices in my head, begging to be heard.

Come back, they say. Write us.

This is not my photo, and I can't find the name of the photographer, but if you look closely you can see my characters peeking out from the top window, waving hello.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Arrow (What I Was Thinking)

My first year of teaching was in a fourth grade in a tiny Catholic school in Humboldt County.  On All Saints Day our class had St. Brigid. We made a banner for her, and I projected a page from Mercer Mayer's East of the Sun West of the Moon on the paper so that we could trace it. We painted it with water colors. I drew in the mean king who wanted to marry her, the flocks of birds that did her bidding. 

The poster was both too much and too little for what the school required.  Too many Celtic snakes, not enough actual crosses, but I was hooked.  The more I learned about St. Brigid the more I loved her.  The Catholic Church renounced her sainthood in the seventies, you know. They found out she was really a goddess and said, no way you're a saint. You can't fool us. 

When St. Brigid visited the mean king who wanted to marry her against her will, she turned into an ugly monster with boils on her skin.  As soon as he rejected her, she ran away and turned beautiful again. She healed by touch. She hit a target with an arrow from a mile away. She commanded the animals.  She is the Triple Goddess, the goddess of so many things that she encompasses three women. She is the goddess of fertility, wisdom, metal work, childbirth, art, fire, to name just a few.

So I thought, what would happen if an incarnation of the Mother of us all had to face things like global warming, disease, drug addiction, celebrity culture, identity and love just like everybody else?  What if she was of mixed ethnicity because her dad was a powerful Maidu Story Keeper god, and she carried her heritage with grace and nonchalance despite living in a racist society? What if the Triple Goddess was in the form of literally three  women who had to learn how to live and work together in a family despite enormous personality differences?

In The Arrow, the son of Dionysus is a beautiful rock star so addicted to the adoration of fans and groupies that real relationship seems impossible for him. A demon bred to destroy a goddess instead falls in love with her. A billionaire CEO of a huge pharmaceutical company is so obsessed with the girl of his dreams that he's willing to give up the power of a king just to have her all to himself. A witch mother sacrifices her own sons on the altar of her greed for power.

A modern incarnation of an ancient goddess just wants to make her own contribution to the world without her mother and older sister looking over her damn shoulder all the time.

The Arrow follows Fynn, the youngest of the Triple Goddesses as she finds her place in the family hierarchy and falls in love and then out of love and then saves the world and falls in love again.  It's got faery drugs, rock guitars, fights to the death, beautiful but awful witches, sexy but evil groupies, a sexy and redeemed demon, a flock of useful birds, a faithful friend with disturbing eyes who might or might not be a Djinn. It was fun to write.

The Arrow is the first in a series that follows Fynn and her friend and sister as they rescue themselves and everybody else while finding love with very sexy boyfriends.

My obsession with Brigid has taken me far from sainthood, but deep into mythology and the strength of women which isn't a myth at all, of course. But it is awesome and a lot of fun.
From East of the Sun West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer, a truly gorgeous book.