All right, so, NaNo 2003 proved one thing: I can finish a novel, right? So I’m all set and can just charge forth with this novel-writing thing. Right?
Yeah, not so much. The next few years were dire.
I attempted to throw a lot of stuff at the wall, and have a handful of failed manuscript beginnings based on that. A big manuscript graveyard. There was, for example, Long Night of the Pieman, a non-genre attempt to turn my experiences as a late-night pizza delivery guy into a kind of shaggy-dog novel. Because, I mean, I have stories from those nights, and that would totally work as a novel. Right?
Never quite came together. Attempting that as a NaNo was a failure as well.
So I also decided to really move forward with the fantasy stuff. I had Fifty Year War after all, right? So I kept editing that, and then reworked that diplomatic-outpost idea to a traveling ship. Some of the same characters, but I was so pleased with myself because I was making them active, having them go places instead of having stuff happen in their orbit. This was the real start of Crown of Druthal.
But yet it wasn’t coming together.
So I tried to force myself, this time with my Space Opera idea. I set up a website (that doesn’t exist anymore, and was so off-road in terms of traffic, I doubt it was even archived), with the idea that every week I would post up 3,000-5,000 words worth of a serialized USS Banshee. After all, if I’m doing that, and there’s an audience expecting it, I can’t let them down, can I?
Of course, the audience never came, and that was a hot mess of a story. Those two things are likely connected.
Then in 2005 I went to the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop, using the first chapter of Crown as my submission.
Friends, I was so damn cocky about that first chapter. I honestly felt I would go in and get solid notes, but essentially praise, thumbs up, and pats on the back. That is not what happened. AT ALL.
And it totally deserved that. Because it was a mess. My writing was a mess, flat out. I needed to get it together.
IF I HAD SELF-PUBLISHED AT THIS POINT: Well, in a way, I kind of did try with the USS Banshee project. I mean, I just put it out there, no gatekeepers, and let the people find it, with word of mouth and stuff? Right? Yeah, except it was a mess. No one found it, or if they did, they certainly didn’t talk about it. And why would they? The most charitable thing you could say about it was that it was a charming hang-out story with a handful of lower-deck characters on a starship, and the only thing that separate it from being mediocre Star Trek fanfiction was that it wasn’t actually set in the Trek universe. So there you have it: mediocre fanfiction of a setting no one else knew but me. Yeah.
BUT DID I LEARN ANYTHING BY NOW?: Yes. Characters at the center. For better or worse, with both Banshee and Crown, I had gotten the core idea of coming up with having characters to anchor the story, and writing unique voices for those characters. I still hadn’t come up with things for them to do, or refrained from pointless worldbuilding or historical tangents. For real, that first chapter I brought to the workshop? In less than 5,000 words, I not only had extraneous paragraphs about wine or mustard, there is a nearly 2,000 word side-story about how and why the main character’s uncle was elected to Parliament. An Uncle who, I should point out, wasn’t going to appear in the story beyond that first chapter of putting the main character on the ship. So, with the workshop, I was starting to get the idea that not every bit of backstory needed to be told.