Tag Archives: Novel Weekends

Novel Weekends (11): Progress

The novel has taken a bit of a backseat this past week, as I’ve geared up to get some hardcore dissertation writing done, but I was bit by the writing bug this weekend and feeling a bit disenchanted with academia (a rejection from a journal will do that), so I wrote quite a lot in my little fictional universe.

I am now in the midst of Chapter 7. The preceding chapters are in various stages of completion, but I hope to get them into shape relatively soon. After that, I’m going to charge full-steam ahead.

So far, I’ve written chapters focused on the POVs of 5 of my principals (Theadra, Eulicia, Arshakh, Talinissia, and Antonius). I have one more major character to introduce and a couple of minor ones, and then the full cast will be there. I’m still not sure if any of them are villains in the typical sense, but I think that’s probably a good thing. There is one character who’s unpleasant, but that’s not quite the same thing.

I also really enjoyed getting to know my character Arhsakh this weekend. He’s a lot more complicated than I had previously thought. He’s a survivor, and a schemer, but he also has weaknesses and foibles, just like anyone, so we’ll see what happens to him. I see a bright future for him, but that could always change.

All in all, I’m happy with both the progress I’ve made and with the general trajectory of the plot. I think I have an interesting story to tell, and I think my story does and says something, so I think that’s a pretty good basis. It’s very easy to write shitty fantasy, but I like to think I’ve at least hit mediocre.

So, with that happy note, I’m off.

Until next week!

Advertisements

Novel Weekends (10): Feeling Great

This has been an exceedingly productive weekend. I churned out a substantial part of Chapter 5, and I finished Chapter 4.

At this point, we have been introduced to almost all of the main characters that live in the Imperium: Imperator Talinissia, Tribune Theadra; Rowena the Huntress; Prefect Antonius; and Prefect Eulicia. They all have pretty interesting things going on around them, and now that we are in Chapter 5 the action is heating up as Theadra has to make a run for it.

I don’t normally like to toot my own horn, but I have to say that I have grown a lot as a writer in the last few months. Part of this, I think, stems from just writing a lot–on this blog, in my dissertation, on social media–and part of it comes from reading magazines like The Writer. And part of it comes from getting older and being more self-conscious. It’s a good feeling, to finally feel like you’re writing stuff that’s both interesting and pleasurable to read.

There’s still a long way to go with this novel project, but for the first time, I really and truly feel that it’s going to be a worthwhile journey, and that the endpoint is one that will be a strong payoff for both the characters and the readers.

What’s more, I think I’ve really begun to build a world and a story that have a lot to offer both in terms of depth and in terms of philosophy. I continue to draw from the deep wells of history in our own world, and I remain inspired by the fantasy greats in whose shadow my own work may one day grow.

Stay tuned, folks. While the Diss is calling, more world-building essays and updates on the novel are forthcoming, I promise!

Novel Weekends (9): The Big Picture

This weekend, despite still being a bit exhausted from the Orientation, I’ve been able to write a bit. What’s more, I’ve been largely happy with the writing, which is always a truly great feeling.

I’ve now moved into a new character chapter, that of Rowena, a half-Anukathi/half-human assassin, spy, and general operative. I don’t have a full sense of her as a character yet, but things are starting to emerge as I write this chapter. For me, that’s one of the most exciting parts about this project: discovering things I never knew about the characters I’ve created. I know that she lost a father in the revolt led by the current Imperator’s brother a few years before, but I don’t know which side he was on (yet), or what her own political affiliations are.

The book I’ve been doing for research about the rediscovery of Aristotle’s works in the Middle Ages has really revitalized my drive to work on this novel project. I now have a stronger sense of the larger stakes, though the endgame is still a bit fuzzy. I’m really trying to do something compelling with the final battle that’s definitely a staple and to answer the question: “what happens if the gods on both sides die?”What happens to human beings in this schema? Does the created world keep going, when the force that gave it life is gone?

That probably gives you a sense of the trajectory. I’m still envisioning a quartet that leads to the final battle, but I also want to do a second series that continues the story of the first but in some new ways. I haven’t even decided which characters are going to survive, but I’ll figure that out as I go along.

Things are heating up, and I couldn’t be happier.

Novel Weekends (8): Momentum

Well, it seems as if I have finally hit some momentum when it comes to my novel. I finally have a story that I think holds together pretty well, and after re-reading some of the material I’ve produced, I’m also happy with the way that I’ve told it so far. There’s a lot yet to go, but I’m confident I can get there.

Over this weekend, I managed to finish up the Prologue (which is now basically done), as well as parts of Chapter 3. I also published a character sketch of one of my primary characters, which really helped me to understand his depth and motivations in a much more sophisticated way.

I’m really happy with the way that the pieces of the first part of this novel are coming together. Writing an epic that’s more than just an adventure (though there’s nothing wrong with that), is a bit of a challenge, but it is definitely one that I am determined to undertake. I really want my fantasy novel to do, something and that is what makes it such a tremendously enjoyable endeavour.

I’ve also begun reading a fascinating little book called Aristotle’s Children, which details the rediscovery of Aristotle’s works in the late Middle Ages and the learning revolution that it sparked. This has helped to add some layer and depth to the story that I am telling, for The Heretic’s War is, quite simply, about one of those periods of epistemic shift that really reshapes how an entire civilization thinks of itself.

Now that I’ve started to make some genuine progress on the Dissertation–and, more importantly, nearing the finish line–I feel like I have a bit more space to work on my creative projects. That is truly a great feeling, and I look forward to the adventure!

Novel Weekends (7): Good Progress

Well, this was actually a tremendously productive weekend in terms of novel composition. I wrote a total of 2500 words of Chapter 2, as well as some fine-tuning of Chapter 1. The latter is not completely finished yet, but it’s close to it. I’ve made a conscious effort not to leave any big gaps. In other words, I’m determined to work straight through. At this stage in my process, I think that’s really the best way.

Today’s chapter was told mostly from the point of view of the Prefect Antonius, one of my fave characters in the work. He is a straightforwardly queer character, one who lives with his beloved of many years, Trystane. He comes from one of the rural western duchies, from a farming family of modest means. This chapter reveals a lot about him, as well as his sense of loyalty, which at this point is being torn between his acolyte and his duty to the Church.

Overall, I’m quite happy with the way that Chapter 2 is turning out, and I’m excited about some of the research that I’m drawing in. Right now I’m reading a book on the Muslim conquests, as well as one about the way that the senses were understood in the Enlightenment. Everything, no matter how tangential, will prove to be grist for my imagination mill. Given that my series is loosely based on the Muslim conquests and on issues of embodiment and transcendence, these books should be especially useful for me.

I’m hoping to continue the forward momentum, though since I’m going to be traveling that might be a bit difficult. Still, I’m confident that I can eke out at least a couple thousand words before the end of the week. Then it’s back to Syracuse and back into the regular swing of things.

Novel Weekends (6): Increments

Well, this weekend wasn’t quite as productive as I would have liked. I did publish a small piece of world-building, and I wrote around 1,000 words of the revised Chapter 1. However, I hope to at least write some bits and pieces this week, mostly focused on finishing up the outline for both the first volume and the subsequent ones.

Overall, I like how the entire trajectory is shaping up. There’s a lot going on in my vision of this series, and I have constructed the entire world in such a way that I see a lot of stories that I can tell that are set in it. Though I have other fantasy worlds that I’ve developed  during the years, this one feels like it has potential that the others don’t.

I know that some writers don’t like outlines, but when it comes to my fiction I like to have a strong sense of how the overall plot arcs are going to go. I don’t need to have every detail worked out, but I do like to see where all of the major characters are going to do and what’s going to happen. And, fortunately for me, I think I have all of those worked out. I’ve managed to give all of my characters, even the challenging ones, important things to do (which is harder than you might think, actually).

Speaking of the trajectory…ideally, I’d like to have a full draft of this book done by the end of the year. It’s ambitious, but I think it’s doable. Even more ideally, I’d like to start hunting for an agent sometime in the coming spring. But, given that the dissertation is also in the final stages of completion, this timeline may have to accommodate some adjustments.

But, it can be done!

Novel Weekends (5): World Building and a New Prologue

Two major accomplishments to report today.

First, I published a blog post (which you can see here), that is a bit of world building. As I’ve said before, that is one of the most exciting–and most challenging–parts of writing epic fantasy, but I think at last that the pieces are coming together. It’s surprisingly difficult to build a religion from the ground up, but luckily some actual faiths from the history of our world have provided at least something of a skeleton.

Second, I also managed to write over 2,500 of a new prologue for the first book.

This prologue looks significantly different than its earlier iteration. There are now two viewpoints rather than one, reflecting a pretty substantial plot development I discovered during yesterday’s outlining. The prologue narrates the meeting of the enigmatic Conclave of the Nameless, particularly two of its members, the Stranger and the High Queen of the Anukathi Y’Narra, both of whom are given tasks by their master the Demiurge (who appears as male to one and female to the other). While we know the Stranger’s task (at least in broad outline), I’m leaving Y’Narra’s a mystery (which probably won’t be revealed until Book 2).

I probably won’t have a lot of time to work on the Novel this week, since I want to finish up a novelette I’m working on and a short story (the latter of which will debut here!) Still, I hope to chip away at some outlines, just so I have an idea of how the larger series is going to work out.

Ultimately, I hope to make this two quartets, with the second taking place some years after the first.

The first quarter will be titled The Heretic’s War, while the first volume will be The Blooded Sword. 

I feel really good.

World Building (4): The Theology and Cosmology of the (Western) Church–Part One

Much has been written of the beliefs of the Church, which has exercised such complete and unrivaled authority over the rulers and people of the Imperium. Entire books have been written on the matter, and the original set of 29 books has come to be known as the Kalatheia, which translates roughly into “The Good Truth.”

Many of the foremost theologians of the new religion came (and continue to come) from the intellectual powerhouse of Helleniea. Unlike its sister provinces in the region known as the Peninsula, the men and women of this region cared more for the pursuits of the mind than for money and power. They preserved among themselves the traditions of a land that had long ago vanished beneath the angry sea, of a faith that was founded upon the pursuit of transcendence, of an aspiration to escape from the toils of time and the flesh. Through this contemplation of the world beyond, these theologians argued, one could get in touch with the transcendent power of the Name and could evade, if only temporarily, the prison of time and the body.

As they grew in power and as their theology became ever more refined, the men from Helleneia preached a message that was truly anathema to established faith centered on the god Ormazdh held by their Haransharin overlords. Unlike the priests of Ormazdh, who held that the material world was the site of the good life, that it was the duty of any good servant of the great deity to bring forth the earth’s plenty and to enjoy all aspects of its beauty, the mystics of Helleneia denounced that as at best a delusion at worst a monstrous lie. Their central tenet, which has remained to this day the core of the Faith, is that the material world is hopelessly ensnared in the corruption of the flesh and that it was to the state of the daimons, those spirits of aethyr, air, and fire, that was the goal, for these beings were held to dwell in the innermost sphere, in a state of harmony with the Name. All of humanity, so the Faithful believe, are likewise made of fire, air, and aethyr, that has been sullied and trapped in the world of earth and water, yearning to escape and return to a state of grace with the divine.

Their founding myth is the belief that the Name, the union of the male and female divine principles, had once ruled over all the cosmos, an ethereal, boundless, eternal realm beyond the limits of time and the chains of the material world. They were surrounded by their creations made of the pure elements of aethyr, air, and fire, the daimons and the elohim. However, they were not alone, for in their darkest thoughts they had inadvertently conjured up their twin, the befouled creator god, the Demiurge, who grew dissatisfied with the world of light and flame and yearned for something else.

Drawing on the lesser elements, those of earth and water, this entity crafted a a new layer of reality, and slowly it grew, and as it did so the the Demiurge saw the need for companions to populate this realm. For while the Name yearned above all things for solitude and eternal contemplation, the Demiurge craved the art of making and binding and yearned for companions in its relentless solitude. From the beginning, so the Church tells, the fallen children of the Demiurge had within them the pure elements of fire, aid, and aethyr, but they were dragged down by the trappings of matter, for the Demiurge in its madness believed that it had the power to turn the pure elements to its own ends.

In this blasphemous act of creation were sewn the seeds of a cosmic conflict, for it transpired that renegade elohim, abandoning their service to the Name, lay with humans and produced a monstrous race, the Anukathi. The Name, in its righteous wrath, prepared to destroy this hideous progeny, but the Demiurge leapt to their defense, igniting a terrible war.

At last, upon the great mountain known as Thell-Megitho–but which was known to many by another name, the Pillar of Creation–The Name and the Demiurge did battle and the latter was vanquished, imprisoned in the Outer Darkness and guarded by the elohim. The beauty of the world, however, was irreparably splintered, and from one world there were produced many. The Name, along with the daimons and the elohim, withdrew into the Inner Kingdom, where, the Church believes, the dead are at last granted solace and sanctuary, the inner pure elements at last freed.

Now, whether this is in reality what actually happened in the earliest days of the cosmos is up for dispute, and indeed the followers of Ormazdh in the East and the Anukathi in the far southern continent hold that it is the Demiurge that is entity that is worthy of worship, and that the one known as the Name is the one who ignited the war that ultimately shattered the great unity that once held the spheres together. Indeed, among the Ormazdhites the Name is known as the Great Evil, Ehrimakh, the destroyer of worlds. Their sacred texts claim that fire is in particular the special domain of Ormazdh, who uses it in an everlasting quest to purify the world but not, as the Faithful would have it, to bring about its destruction.

Whatever, the truth, these two systems of religious thought became, in their respective homelands, so bound up in the identity of their peoples that to think of the Imperium and the Church is to think of one and the same entity.  All those who choose to serve in the Church vow to abstain from reproduction, for it is held that those who would seek the purity of the soul by continuing to bring other matter into the world are doing a grave sin.

There is some disagreement even within the Church as to whether the laity should likewise abandon the reproductive cycle, but by and large the consensus has been among several Synods that not everyone is suited to the rigours required of the Prefects and other of the higher orders, and there has been some marked disagreement about whether the lower orders of the clergy should be permitted the same laxity. At the time of this story, however, the vast majority of Church elders believe that reproduction is a necessary evil but that it is necessary for ascent into union with the Name that those who are nigh on to death symbolically disavow their progeny and apologize to them for bringing them into the world.

The Church, in keeping with its origins in Helleneia, has also decreed that the love between those of the same sex is permitted, though only in very specifically defined forms. Though it is sanctioned, and often encouraged, for young men and women to seek out a partner of the same sex as they make their way through the training to become a cleric, the physicality must eventually give way to a deeper, more spiritual love. This is in accordance with the dictates of Quintinos, one of the most famous and prolific theologians and philosophers of the early Church.

The desire to escape from the limits of mortality, time, and the flesh remains key to the Church. It is the hope of every Prefect and devout worshiper that, at some point in the future, the Demiurge and all the earthly world that is its creation will one day be brought to an end in a conflagration that will not only bring the worlds back together but also, and more importantly, abolish time itself.

*Note: This faith is very broadly based on both Gnosticism and Manichaeism (with a bit of Byzantine Hesychasm thrown in), just as the faith of Ormazh is based loosely on Zoroastrianism.

Novel Weekends (4): An Outline Emerges

While I wanted to work this weekend on producing new material, I decided that I needed to sketch out an outline, at both the macro and the micro level, so that I would have a good idea of the overall canvas as well as the role that my various characters would have in it. Luckily, I had at least some measure of guidance (given that the novel is a retelling of the Sassanid/Byzantine conflict), but I have a larger canvass to deal with, so that opens up many opportunities.

That has really occupied almost the entire day, to be quite honest. At the end of it, however, I think I have a pretty strong idea of how the four volumes (it’s expanded from a trilogy) will play out. I’m pretty happy with the way that the action is resolved at the end of the first volume, which has a nice cliff-hanger but still sees all the characters where they need to be and sets the stage nicely for the next volume.

At the heart of the thing is the cosmological conflict between spirit (called æther in this world) and matter and the concomitant strife between the Name and the Demiurge, the divine manifestations of these two principles. I think that there will be a climactic battle between them, since part of my intention is to show what it actually means when deities, not just their avatars, fight for the future of the world they seek to control.

I’m also making a point of including not one, not two, but three LGBTQ+ characters, and at least two of my characters are people of colour. Indeed, I think that the romance between two of my leads will actually prove fundamental to the conflicts that arise in books 3 and 4.

Making progress!

Novel Weekends (3): Back At It

This was an eventful weekend for the Novel. I wrote a total of 5,000 words, mostly concentrated on three chapters. I also managed to revise part of the Prologue into what I think will be its final form. What’s more, I did some revision on a short story/novelette that’s set after the first novel but before the second. Not too shabby!

I also (you may have noticed) published a short essay on the history of the Church in this world, and I began another short essay on a history of the Imperium. Further, I have several more planned. So keep looking for those!

Given my own interests in history–and on using my novel to explore questions related to history–I also started reading a new book on the connected nature of the ancient world. A great deal of both the world-building I’ve done and the plot arc I have designed has been heavily influenced by the work of historian Tom Holland (in particular his book In the Shadow of the Sword), but I have a feeling this new book will also have a large impact.

As I wrote this weekend, I found myself oddly drawn to one of my secondary characters, a Korrayin named Ibrahim. I know that he is going to be a founder of a new faith, but I wasn’t aware that he would play such a big role in this novel. But then, that’s one of the most exciting things about writing; frequently, the most interesting things are the ones that you find by accident.

This week, I fear, will be a bit sparse on the novel. I have to submit a dissertation chapter this week, so that will suck up a lot of energy. Rest assured, though, that I’ll be right back at it next weekend.

Until then!