Monday, October 8, 2012

Feral Stories - How I came to write The Adventures of Mary Alwyn

Many moons ago, life got so very difficult I had to put aside writing altogether and go after Life's Issues with a whip and a chair.  That year began with me getting food poisoning, wended its way through near nervous breakdowns, and ended with an apparent permanent solution to certain issues with the Day Job.

I had worked my ass off all year to set things up so I could have my life back.  I would be poor -- working only half time -- but I would have time to work.  And so I entered January of that next year, confused and out of practice, but free.  And poor.  So I really needed to make that time I'd gained count.

So I joined my first novel dare.  1000 words a day for 60 days to create a short novel.

And because I was free -- and enjoyed being free -- and also because I figured rebuilding my habits was more important than anything else, I decided to just sit down and write something unpublishable.  Something free.  Just straight-forward feral story telling.

A trashy novel or something!  Yeah!

It came out more "or something" than "trashy."

Because, to tell you the truth, trashy novels don't interest me that much. I was much more interested in myth and folklore, and popular culture and old-time television and comic books.

One thing I hated, as a reader, was the overwhelming push toward more and more world-building that was going on in fantasy at the time.  I didn't even want magic, I just wanted imagination.  So I decided to set my story in an alternate universe which broke all the then-current rules of fantasy writing: no world building, no "accuracy," no magic or alternate technology.  Just a world much like this one, as it appears in popular culture.

No, not even that realistic.  I wanted a world as it appears on stage. Plain, artificial backdrops, with all the focus on the characters and drama.  In other words, to heck with reality, just tell the story as if it were a fairytale or folk tale.

The world I ended up with was inspired by both the American and French revolutions, with maybe some Irish and Scottish rebellions thrown in.  (Though it was American in flavor.)  I had some idea of a woman torn between a rebel rogue and a polished nobleman, and I wanted to turn the good guy and bad guy aspect on its head and back again.

And since it was a "trashy" novel, I decided that the woman would be married to the rebel, and loyal to his cause, but she'd fall for the nobleman.  And she'd end up betraying everybody, in order to save the day.  And I wanted to have that whole betrayal thing be kind of an upbeat and positive thing.  With a good solid grounding of anarcho-puritan values.

I ended up with a book titled "The Whore of Freedom."  That's a line from the story, and everyone who read it (even sensible people who were publishing pros) agreed that was the exact right title for it.  But it only works after you've read it.  For those who haven't read it, the title is misleading, and also off-putting.  (Also, bloggers and booksellers are uncomfortable with mentioning it on their sites.)  So I changed the title to "The Wife of Freedom" which fit the theme just as well.

How did this feral storytelling experiment go?

Not bad, actually.   I had a broad critique group, mostly pros and publishing people, and as with any story, critique reactions varied for the most part (some put off by the lack of writing sophistication, others passionately excited about it).

However, there were two universal responses to the book by the pros:

1.) It's unmarketable in commercial publishing -- nobody has any idea what genre it is or even how to describe it.

2.) They all really really really really really loved the husband character, Jackie the Freedom.

Jackie is a secondary character in Wife of Freedom and we never get to see inside his head (and he clearly has an interesting head).  But even from the fringes, he kind of soaks into every part of the story.  Sometimes I think he was the voice whispering in my ear to tell me the story in the first place.  But he stays out of the limelight just enough that everybody wanted more.

So even though nobody thought the first book was publishable, everybody wanted me to write a sequel.

I wrote a sequel.

Because, hey, why have only one unpublishable book?

The sequel is incredibly long and it rambles, and has elements which are the best thing I ever wrote in my life.  But it also has some of the worst things I ever wrote in my life.

And since it didn't even have a market to aim at, I couldn't figure out what to do with it.

But some of what is "bad" about it, is that it's episodic.  It's... a serial.  Furthermore it's not really one long book; it's three short books.  (Well, a trilogy, as the second story does end on a cliffhanger, a la Empire Strikes Back.)

This summer, while I was writing The Misplaced Hero, I went over the old manuscript and was really happy to see that it is perfectly suited to the kind of short-episode serial I was doing.  It worked.  And when I looked at it that way, I could see a direction for some of the odder bits toward the end.  I could finally approach a rewrite!

On October 15th, a week from today, I will begin to post Test of Freedom as a serial on this blog.  It will post twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays.  I expect it to run to mid-March.  (While I have the full story in hand, I'm still fiddling exactly how I will break some of the episodes. I will probably have some of the early and late ones run long.)

I hope to have the actual, finished, polished version of this novella/short novel done in December, and I will upload it as an ebook at that time, for those who are impatient or just don't like reading online.

Of course, a sequel by nature contains a few spoilers for the first book -- even the concept.  (After all, you know the characters survived.)  You should be able to read them out of order, even though it's a kind of ongoing melodrama/soap. However, to enhance your reading pleasure, I have decided to make Wife of Freedom FREE for the first month of this serial.  (Links below)

In the meantime, I'll post an introduction to Test of Freedom on Thursday, and start the new story on Monday.

See you in the funny papers.

To kick off the start of the serialized sequel: 

The Wife of Freedom, the ebook is currently FREE
(until Thanksgiving)

You can get it at the following retailers:

*Currently Free at Smashwords

*These vendors should make it free in the next couple of weeks: Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo.

Amazon may or may not ever make it free (and if they do, they may never put it back to priced.) But Smashwords does have a Kindle-compatible movie file.

Amazon Kindle Store, and Amazon international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain

(Why no Apple iTunes? They didn't like the word "whore" in the original title.  I recently tweaked the formatting and re-uploaded to Smashwords.  We'll see if it shows up on Apple in the next few weeks.)


Aften said...

I really really liked 'The Whore of Freedom' and I am eagerly waiting for 'The Test of Freedom.' I will read it as soon as you put up the ebook and then it will be interesting to reread it as episodes on the blog. As episodes I can concentrate on the writing in a different way than reading in a headlong dash to know how it comes out. Thanks for providing that experience.

The Daring Novelist said...

Thanks, Aften!

You bring up a good point. It is a different experience reading things as a whole and as a serial. I don't want to make people wait for anything -- I'm just taking as much time as necessary to get it done right.

But you make a good point about why it still works for the serial if the book is already available.