I find it simply impossible to focus on one single thing for too long. New ideas always creep in, like moss through holes in the brick. Instead of ignoring them until the time is right, I’m trying a new method: write down everything I can think of regarding the new idea, and file it away until I have time to work on it.
It’s amazing how time sifts through your ideas for you, shuffling aside the not-so-good ones, and letting the great ones shine through.
I discovered this after writing a post on the many plot lines that have yet to find a home on paper. I penned a brainstorm of Joshua Shell and the Aeronauts (the working title is now simply The Aeronauts) nearly two years ago. I laid out the basics of Joshua Shell’s world: a place where the land floats in the sky, over a planet completely made up of water. People travel on air ships that are held aloft by flying rocks. The story begins amidst a war between the sky people, and a mermaid-like race that lives in the water. Maria, a hispanic girl with a life-threatening illness, is somehow transported to this strange world after going in for surgery. There she meets a Robin Hood-esque character named Joshua Shell: fierce, intelligent, and outfitted with a miserable temper. Joshua captains a group of talented pilots called the Aeronauts who, in some ways, behave much like Robin Hood’s merry men. One of the few still alive with the blood of the mer-people in his veins, Captain Shell is leading a rebellion against the sky people’s despotic Emperor, who seeks to enslave water folk and sky folk alike.
Once that was all down on paper, I began outlining the story. It was a complicated war epic with monstrous sky battles and gory, D-day-style ocean sequences, studded with melodrama between Joshua and Maria. But I just didn’t have time; I was in the midst of writing my YA trilogy The Devil’s Throne, so I set Joshua Shell aside and proceeded to completely forget about it.
But Joshua Shell and his world never left me. Maria suffered numerous re-imaginings: a philosophy major dropout, a reforming young heroine addict, a married woman in a loveless relationship. She needed a poisonous background that her time in Joshua’s world would correct, and a brave personality that would win her favor with the Aeronauts. I wrote and re-wrote her origin story, but not a single one was believable. Eventually, I abandoned it.
So fast-forward a year and a half, and I get stuck on the fifth draft of my novel, Fire and Brimstone (the first in The Devil’s Throne series). I realized I needed to do something new and fresh to revive my passion, so I set out to write The Aeronauts.
The first 30,000 words swept me away. I didn’t move from the keyboard for days, so enraptured I was by coloring in Joshua’s world. But as the fuzzy outlines of the planet became hard and real, my steam began to dissipate: suddenly I had a great Act One in my hand, and the shittiest Act Two and Three known to man planned out on paper.
Time had its say in that, without a doubt. I scrapped the war games, and took a humanist angle. Joshua was a warrior, sure; but wouldn’t it be something if the war was won by wits, instead of brawn? I wrote a version of Maria that had a little bit of everything: she was a high school dropout with a drug problem, the kind of kid who is so smart she can’t bear teachers telling her what to do all day and seeks rebellion wherever she can. I kept the incurable disease angle to give her a little freedom: she figures she’s going to die anyway, so she comes equipped with reckless bravery, and Joshua’s men admire her for it. The drug background makes her a thrill-seeker, and her latina heritage gives her attitude and lets her stand out in the dense crowd of YA heroines.
But good characters aren’t enough. In The Devil’s Throne series I often let the characters tell the story, and while it works most of the time, sometimes the story flounders when the characters become complacent. The Aeronauts wouldn’t just stumble to a war victory–I had to drive it there carefully, especially if I wanted the plot to twist at the climax.
Feeling defeated by the enormity of my task, I backed off. I’d been reading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, and the peculiar allure of high fantasy appealed to me. Late one night in a hostel in Buenos Aires, just as I was drifting off to sleep, an idea came to me like a lightning strike. Remembering how The Aeronauts was born, I did not ignore the muse’s call: I climbed out of bed, crouched on the floor with my laptop, and wrote what could almost be a pitch for a middle-grade, high fantasy adventure called Gryphon.
Princess Rheya is on the run after a daring escape from Gryphon Keep. The Black Riders came in the dead of the night, murdering her father, King Reynold, her queen mother, and her three willful sisters. Luckily, King Reynold trained his four daughters in the way of survival and the sword: Princess Rheya may be penniless and orphaned, but she’ll never let the Black Riders capture her alive. She seeks the frozen Sky Mountains at the end of the world, where her instinct keeps her alive on the icy slopes, and the horse-bound Riders do not dare follow her.
But Rheya isn’t alone in the Sky Mountains. As winter sets in, she spies a young boy digging for roots and follows him home. The limitless peaks are home to snow-white gryphons, monsters both feared and revered by King Reynold’s people. Instead of feasting on her, as gryphon stories had led the princess to believe, they give her refuge. The boy, a mute her own age, has lived with the gryphons so long he has become one of them–the human son of the mighty gryphon chieftain. Because the wild has left him dumb, Rheya names him Frost.
While Frost is content with his life on the peak, Rheya is filled with rage at the murder of her family and becomes obsessed with vengeance. As Frost slowly learns Rheya’s language and the ways of humans, she convinces him to help her destroy the Black Riders. The boy agrees on one condition: before he can involve his powerful gryphons in Rheya’s conflict, he must see Thoreus Black for himself and determine whether the Riders deserve extinction.
Thus begins a journey of friendship and betrayal. The children find aid with the late king’s boyhood friend, a kind-hearted but devious outlaw named Jorly Stout. As Frost seeks answers to the Black Riders’ attack on Rheya’s family and Rheya lusts for vengeance, they discover pieces of King Reynold’s dark family history. Frost begins to suspect the Blacks are the rightful heirs of Gryphon Keep, and the princess’s tyrannical father may have gotten what he deserved. Worst of all, Frost bears a striking resemblance to Thoreus Black; when he discovers he may be the great warrior’s long lost son, Frost must decide whether to stay loyal to his best friend, who has assembled an army of men loyal to the king, or betray her and return to his rightful home with the might of the great gryphons at his back. Either way, it will surely end in bloodshed.
Unfortunately, work on Gryphon will likely not begin until at least halfway through 2012. I definitely mean to finish at least a first draft of The Aeronauts first; after that, I’m expanding and publishing an ebook of The Mirror. I’d also like to complete work on a short story collection called Lycanthropia (including an expanded Daddy’s Little Occult Supernatural Monster and My Brother the Wolf). With all these hot potatoes in the air, perhaps by the time I get to Gryphon I’ll have a better understanding of what parts of the story work, and what parts could be scrapped. At the very least, I’m glad to have written it all down, even if it takes years for the story to see itself on paper.
For me the moral is: write it down. Only time will tell whether it’s any good.