Sunday, February 27, 2011

Story Notes - Becoming an Autonomous, Moral Grown Up

Yesterday's excerpt, was from The Adventure of Anna the Great.

That was the first novel I completed after I went to Clarion. You could say it was my first real novel. I learned so much at Clarion and in subsequent writing classes (but mostly Clarion) that I had a hard time pulling all that knowledge together at first. I had learned exactly how much I had to learn, and it was paralyzing.

And, of course, this was a time when everyone was writing those huge complex trilogies -- very very ambitious works of fantasy and science fiction, and a time when everyone was out to prove that sf was not junk, so there were all sorts of extra rules in writing them. So I got hopelessly tangled in some very ambitious projects.

I decided to write something simpler, and something with less pressure. I chose to write in a "dead" genre, the swashbuckler. Now, I know a lot of people think these days that a swashbuckler is usually a pirate story, but that wasn't always the case. Certainly the pirate sub-genre is a part of the genre, but so many of the great swashbucklers were what they call "cloak and sword" stories. Stories of spies and mystery as well as action and adventure.

I also decided that I wanted to cut out the romantic subplot, and make it a YA adventure. At that time, in particular, the original swashbuckling romantic plots had a problem. They had been taken over by sexist romances of the forties and fifties, and some really good tropes were sullied by meaningless repetition.

In particular, there was one trope that sometimes cropped up in early swashbucklers, in which the woman was stupid and went for the villain before she learned the error of her ways. This bothered me on two levels. On one level it bothered me because the woman was being treated by the author as a child who has to learn her lesson. The other was that often the villain is more interesting than the hero. So...what kind of lesson was being learned here?

I thought, okay, what if this isn't a romance? What if this is the story of a child trying to make sense of life? Especially a life/world that makes grown women into children? This girl wants to grow up to be a grown up.

And what if the villain really IS more interesting than the hero? What if the hero is a good guy, but every inch the stodgy representation of the world that makes women into children? And what if the bad guy is a rule breaker, who is very much a bad guy, but also represents an alternative path?

To the Victorian mind, those are the choices that life presents. What does this mean for Anna who is both moral, and who wants to be an autonomous grown up? What if she wants both freedom AND responsibility?

Once I had that as the question of the story -- as the theme or premise -- I had a story which told itself. It was fun to write, and it was fun to play with. Someday I think I may produce an illustrated version. The first draft of this story got me into grad school with a full fellowship, and it got me into some personal correspondence with editors.

Unfortunately, at that time nobody wanted to publish a young adult swashbuckler, but they wanted to see what else I wrote... and I didn't write more young adult fiction. (And when I finally did, I went "off the grid" again in terms of genre; writing a stand-alone book that looks like a series novel, and nobody could decide if it was for adults or kids. Sigh. You'll hear about that one later.)

So I put that book in a trunk, and wrote on. This past year, though, I took it out and gave it another rewrite, and published it for Kindle. I've had some requests for sequels, and I might do some someday. Anna is definitely an irrepressible character. But I've got a lot ahead of it. Maybe I'll do a shorter work, some smaller novella length adventures.

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Check out yesterday's excerpt, The Royal Stableboy.

The Adventure of Anna the Great is available in ebook form at Amazon's Kindle Store, Kindle UK Store, Smashwords. and Barnes and Noble's Nookstore. Look for it at Apple's iBookstore, Sony, Kobo and Diesel, too.

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