Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Next Big Thing

This is my first time in participating in an internet 'meme.'  As I understand the use of the term for internet activity, it is a game of tag of sorts.  Someone asks you to do something or tags you in some task, and then you tag someone in return.  
In this case I was tagged by my very lovely and supportive (though somewhat crafty) fellow Anticipation Writing Workshop colleague Sara Card.  It's call "The Next Big Thing."  Writers blog about their current project and then tag up to five others to do the same.  You can read Sara's blog about her current novel, "The Isle of Waiting" at
With gratitude toward Sara for inviting me to participate (especially since I rarely tire about talking about my writing projects), I would now like to invite you to read about my "Next Big Thing": 
What is the working title of your next book?  
A Spell of 13 Years.
Where did the idea for the book come from?  
It came from a disagreement I had with a fellow writer who was critiquing a short story of mine.  It was a story about someone that lives the last half of his life over and over again.  By the end of the tale, the main character discovers that what he thinks is his life is actually a simulation of the universe made by aliens in the very far future, and the only reason even that much of his life has been saved is because the aliens were more interested in the life of his son.  
The person who critiqued the story thought that I should have been writing about the son.  I disagreed, saying that my story was about someone caught up in something bigger than he was, something most of deal with from time to time.  
At the same time, I was doing a lot of thinking about fantasy novels and one of the classic tropes of high fantasy, that of "The Quest," where a team of important people, usually identified by their archetype, "Great Warrior," "Clever Thief," "Powerful Wizard," are traveling to some distant and dark place to recover/find/destroy/restore something to right the balance of the world and restore order.  
These two ideas, percolating in my brain, coalesced, and I came up with the idea of writing a fantasy trilogy about such a quest, but where the point of view character for each of the books would be a very normal person whose life The Quest was passing through.  The Wizard, the Warrior and the Thief, would be background or supporting characters in the protagonist's own story about how his or her life was impacted by the Great Evil the questers were trying to right.  
What genre does your book fall under?
The overall story for the trilogy is classic High Fantasy.  A Quest with a Powerful Sorcerer, a Clever Thief and a Mercenary with a Secret Past.  
Each book, however, will be more like an Urban Fantasy, although one set in a world similar to early Renaissance Italy.  The goals and objectives of the "heros" of each work will be more short term and personal, although they will be shaped, or perhaps twisted, by the background story that the classic, High Fantasy heros will be following.  I'm hoping to catch a nice blend between to the two genres, with the immediate objectives being something anyone can understand, with a background of world changing implications.  
What actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie rendition?  
I had actually not thought of this prior to reading this question in the meme instructions.  I don't think in terms of movie actors when I come up with my characters' appearances.  I usually draw them people I know or met in real life.  
The main character, a young man about 17 years old named Enrico Paoli, looks like me when I was about twenty.  Slender, though well defined.  Incredibly adorable looking.  Anyone who knew me from that time will remember.  His older brother, Giuseppe, is based off of my best friend in Junior High School.  The Sorcerer looks like an older version of a friend I briefly shared an apartment with during my early days of going to college, especially the deep baritone voice.  And the family friend and cloth merchant that Enrico discovers is manipulating his family is based on the tow-truck driver who came to pick me up when I was stranded on the highway just east of Denver, Colorado while I was on my way to visit my family and see my sister get married in North Carolina.  You can read about that trip in a previous series of blogs posts of mine entitled, "The Road Trip."
If I ever do sell the movie rights to the story, I'll think about actors then. 
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your story?  
I would call this the logline, or pitch-line.  For my story it is: 
A magical plot forces a second son to enslave himself or murder to live his own life.  
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  
Hmm...  Good question.  I would like to go through the traditional route for this first book, finding an agent and getting it published through some established company.  I have met and spoken with a few self-published authors, and listed to other more established authors on panels at various conventions, about the pros and cons of self-publishing.  I know there will be stories I want to publish where I'll want the control that self-publishing gives to the creator.  Given the amount of time my "real life" leaves me, however, I would prefer to have someone else doing the leg work on getting my first novel to print.  
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  
I started writing the novel on November 1, 2010, as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  It is a month long challenge to write a novel length piece of work, 50,000 pages, in thirty days.  I had 75,127 words done by the end of November, but I was not finished with the novel itself.  The First Draft was completed on February 20th, 2011 and came in at a whopping 218,997 words.  
Needless to say, I've been doing a lot of rewriting since then.  
I have to say that the experience was something else.  When I started writing "Spell," I only had a main character in mind, the overall situation and the ending.  In fact, it turned out that the main character I was originally thinking about was actually the main character for the second book in the trilogy.  Normally, when I start writing a story I have a general outline or plot of how things are to go, plus background of the situation and the world or universe the story is set in.  With "Spell," all I had was my hero, Enrico Paoli, the "second son" of a well-to-do innkeeper and farmer, what he wanted and whether or not he was going to get it.  I was flying by the seat of my pants, discovering the story as I went along.  There were numerous days when I'd finish a writing session thinking, "that's it.  I'm stuck.  There's no way to go forward from here."  The next day, though, I'd start writing and then something would present itself, I'd work through the moment and be off and running again.  
I also discovered how much better it was to write in bigger chunks.  My normal daily output before writing the first draft for Spell was a few hundred words, about two pages a day.  While writing Spell's first draft, I was doing a couple thousand words a day, hitting a high of over 5,000 words one day while on vacation at my parents' house during Thanksgiving.  Today, I don't feel satisfied until I reach at least a thousand words by the end of my writing session.  
Basically, writing this draft changed my perspective on what I could do and how much I needed to get started.  I also showed myself that I could finish a really long story.  And it was great fun, to boot.  
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  
That's a hard question for me.  For one thing, I have to admit I haven't read that much fantasy in recent years.  I've focused mainly on science fiction in my reading.  Besides that, I can't recall a story like mine, where the main characters are so decidedly ordinary for a fantasy novel, amongst the fantasy stories I have read.  
The one novel that does come to mind that I can compare it to is the first speculative fiction novel I read, way back when I was thirteen years old.  "Tunnels in the Sky," by Robert Heinlein, was the book that turned me into a science fiction fan.  One of the reasons it hooked me was the fact that the main character was only a few years older than I was when I read it.  He was an ordinary kid, like me, that found himself stuck in an extraordinary situation, being stranded on a hostile, alien world.  This is close to the feeling or tone I want to strike with Enrico and his plight.
Another book came to mind while writing this: "Tigana" by Guy Gavriel Kay.  The similarity stems from both his Peninsula of the Palm and my Twelve Realms of Nao, the land where my story is set, being based on early Renaissance Italy.  Furthermore, from what I remember reading it years ago, there is very little overt magic in Tigana.  The story is primarily concerned with the result of a massive spell cast upon the land, where the name and history of the country of Tigana, where the book gets its title, have been removed from the minds of the populace.  In Spell of 13 Years, there is also very little magic displayed directly, but the impact of the supernatural infuses everyone's life and understanding of how things are.  At least, that is the sort of feel I'm going for.  
Who or what inspired me to write this book?  
Another hard question.  I've been writing so long, the act has become such a habit, that the answer could be as simply as "I woke up.  It was time to write."  
For Spell, though, reframing the question to, "what inspired me to keep writing such a long piece and not stop and give up?" the answer would be that it was just so much fun I couldn't help myself.  Writing Spell of 13 Years the way I did reminded me of when I was a teenager and first discovering Science Fiction and Fantasy.  There was a sense of exploration and discovery as my fingers typed out things about the world I didn't know a moment before.  There was a sense of intrigue as a character would appear at the inn, and I KNEW that he or she was important, but didn't know how or what they would do next.  It was like playing one of the many adventures when I started playing role-playing games, about the same time I started reading speculative fiction.  The difference was that writing Spell allowed me to be Game Master and Player and all the Supporting Characters all rolled into one.  The inspiration to keep going came from how much I liked the characters I created and how much I wanted to find out what happened to them.  
What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?  
You're not going to let me go easily are you?  OK...  Well...
If you, as a reader, is looking for something that is both familiar and different, I think you might enjoy my story.  
If you like reading about food and cooking, which seems to hold a more special place in fantasy novels than science fiction for some reason, I have some scenes I think you'll enjoy.  
And over the course of the trilogy, I am planning on exploring my own personal perspective on the difference between "Magic" and "Religion," which is central to the overall story. 
Does that answer the question?  
Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to peruse my Next Big Thing, A Spell of 13 Years.  Next week, I suggest you stop by the sites of these, my writing colleagues, for their Next Big Thing: 
Ann Dulhanty and Dennis Coleman are marvelously supportive and talented members of my Anticipation Writing Group, which is hosted on LiveJournal.  
Ann has been working on an urban fantasy she is currently calling "Odds of the Gods."  Ann comes up with some of the most unique and specific metaphors in her writing that I've ever seen.  There is no "cold as ice" with her.  More like, "as cold as an insurance salesman's sense of humor," though much better.  I'll let her tell you more about her current work at her website:
Dennis has worked in the Hollywood entertainment industry for years.  His Next Big Thing is a movie script with the title of "Genesis Jones and the Case of the Genocide Virus."  Dennis has impressed me with his ability to combine different concepts in interesting ways.  I'm looking forward to seeing what he's come up with this time:


Blogger Erick Melton said...

A quick footnote...

Sara Card is one of the moderators of the Anticipation Workshop I participate in via LiveJournal, and is one of the reasons I find such participation so valuable and enjoyable.

When we first met face to face in Reno at WorldCon, we quickly fell into a fun, sniping sort of relationship. I thoroughly enjoy teasing and being teased by her.

This is not to say I don't think she's crafty. Just that her craftiness is one of the things that makes her... Adorable. Yeah.

January 13, 2013 at 9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do not look anything like Enrico. He is fairer and has a longer face. Maybe like a young Kevin Bacon.


January 13, 2013 at 2:41 PM  
Blogger Erick Melton said...

The marvelous thing about prose as an art form, Ann, is how each reader participates by creating the scene in their own minds. This creates a intimate experience with the work due to how they cast the settings, action and characters... Even when they're wrong. ;-).

January 14, 2013 at 6:44 AM  
Blogger slcard said...

First off, Chief, we originally met face to face in LA. Sheesh. Way to suggest a person doesn't make a first impression.

But, awwwww, you called me adorable! That's exactly what I'm going for. You know, in a bad puppy sort of way. You're the best!!

And gotta love someone you can get a good argue out of. Reno really was great fun. I'm hoping to make it to San Antonio so we can all set up a nice throne for you in one of the party rooms and you can rail on and on. I'll do my part by goading you. It'll be great fun!

I'm glad you highlighted Spell of 13 Years. What a pleasure it was to learn about your process with that piece. I look forward to reading it; a twist on the hero's quest is my kind of thing. Remember me when you want the full manuscript read.

January 14, 2013 at 6:11 PM  
Blogger Erick Melton said...

You're right. We did meet when you came to L.A. At that time I didn't get the full force of your annoy-- Uh, Charm! Yeah... I didn't get the full effect of your peculiar form of charm as I did in Reno.

And as far as supplying me with a throne, I've been wondering why you haven't gotten around to that already.

I will definitely think of you when it's time for someone to read the final piece. And I look forward to seeing you again, in San Antonio or wherever.

January 14, 2013 at 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Erick, really interesting Next Big Thing answers. I especially look forward to the difference btween Magic and Religion!

Russ C.

January 15, 2013 at 11:40 AM  
Blogger Erick Melton said...

Thanks, Russ.

Hopefully my offerings on the subject will meet your expectation.

January 15, 2013 at 9:12 PM  

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