When I was thirteen, I started work on a six-part series — not-really-fantasy-but-kind-of. The first (and only) book was eventually titled The Two Masters. It told the story of Princess Ariana and her escape from a traitor-ridden kingdom, while the rebel Jarek wrestled with either taking revenge against the kingdom who enslaved his people or keeping the Princess Ariana alive. Or something like that.
I thought about this story night and day for two years. I drew scenes from the book in my math notebook — fierce warrior women riding astride tigers, the petulant Jarek, and a girl suspiciously just like Eowyn standing atop a tower full of butterflies. I acted it out in the overgrown orchard in my front yard. I fell asleep replaying my favorite scenes over and over again.
Surprisingly, I did finish a 24,000 word draft, and even revised it. Want to read an excerpt from each? Well, here you go.
Embarrassingly excerpted from Princess Ariana
“Princess Ariana!” The heavy step of Ariana’s most trusted protector and knight rang throughout the hall, causing Ariana to stop mid-step and turn about slightly.
“Yes, Captos?” Ariana replied fearfully, her face suddenly losing its normal rosy color, draining into a pinched, pale complexion. “Oh, ‘tis not Mother, is it Captos? Please don’t say ‘tis.” She leaned against the marble walls of the hall, her arms pressing into its coolness, hoping to close out the dread of losing her beloved mother.
“Nay, fair maiden, ‘tis not your mother this time,” Captos replied reassuringly, bowing low as was custom, his richly embroidered cape sweeping the ground. Ariana let out a long sigh of relief. Her mother’s constant battle with death…it was haunting her night and day, and she dreaded even seeing her trustworthy bodyguard for fear of hearing bad news.
“What ‘tis it, Captos?” Ariana asked, her tight face relaxing, relief pumping the roses back into her cheeks. “Am I wanted?”
“Yes, m’lady, your father is asking for you in your mother’s bedchamber.”
I read aloud this passage to a writer friend, once, and I couldn’t get through it without dying of laughter. Isn’t the dialogue just riveting? And that grammatical use of ’tis — I must have been re-reading the Felicity Merriman books.
My teenage self recognized this train wreck for what it was and attempted to rescue it. I had just finished reading the Lord of the Ring series, so I borrowed heavily, and poorly, from it.
Softly his arm stole round his daughter’s shoulders and pulled her into him; they walked in silence away from the others. It was a warm silence. She had not been in his arms for a long while. He smelled of fur and sorrow and cold; his heartbeat throbbed in her ear. One hand he placed on his breast, fingering a chain there, as he always did when about to discuss something of contradiction to someone he loved.
“Ariana,” he said, “I would tell you to be strong, but I dare not ask you anything I cannot do myself. I try to be a good leader, Ariana; you are my daughter.”
She let him ramble on.
“Ariana—daughter, precious, I—” He only said, “Niece Roanna, your aunt is dead.”
She fled from his arm and froze, eyes wild. Eny sat down neatly, tongue hanging out. His eyes pricked the niece’s thinning lips, the water trickling out of an old dam breaking. They strayed to the King, uncomfortable; to the master, with eyes searching; to the mistress, white and taut.
The sun dimmed.
“Uncle, I am so sorry,” Roanna cried. She burst into tears and the hands cupped over her eyes could not hold them back. She apologized, said she had to go back to the sickroom and wandered off to her duties.
“She died free, my lady. You have great hope,” said Master.
None of the three were sure she had caught her breath again; she struggled, with a terrified face; she had frozen up, shriveled inward. When at last she gulped a breath, her lords could again breathe free; but she turned away, slowly at first, and then quickly.
I overcorrected. I made it too complicated. I even wrote two new languages for this story. (I’d translate hymns during church instead of paying attention.)
I think I got discouraged, looking back at previous paragraphs and not having the slightest idea of what I was saying, so I stopped two-thirds into my revision.
That was the last time I seriously tried to write a novel.
I won’t detail my thoughts on amateur noveling. I’m embarrassed by it, because many amateur novelists aren’t good, but they think they are, and they self-publish, and they might force me to read their work, and I’d have to lie about it, because I’m a people-pleaser who could never tell somebody to their face that the thing they’ve been working on for years and years is cliched.
To spare my friends and family that awkwardness and to protect my good name, I told myself I would never finish a novel (so why bother?). But above all, I promised myself I would never, never, never write a kind-of-but-not-really-fantasy. Period.
All amateur Christian novelists wrote kind-of fantasy of one sort or another. If I ever broke my first rule of never writing a novel, I would break it with a great, modern-day, non-magical, completely ordinary story.
Of course, to my deepest humiliation, not only am I participating in National Novel Writing Month, I’m writing a kind-of-not-really fantasy…and enjoying it.
Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo or written a novel?