So I did something interesting this evening. Not having any pressing deadlines, and being in a recuperatory mood, I did some work on my first novel.
For those of you who don't know the saga, the first novel I finished was a book called All the Windwracked Stars. It has two sister novels, The Sea thy Mistress and By The Mountain Bound. They're not exactly a trilogy, more... three interlaced novels separated by 2500 years. Stars is actually the middle book chronologically, but it's the first one in terms of the emotional arc. They are, however, designed to be read in any order, and to illuminate each other in different ways.
There are three books because the story is about three people. If you can call them people. And while the prose in the existing drafts is workmanlike at best and strained at worst (hey, we all have to start somewhere), and the plots are badly broken in several places (Bound, which is the first book chronologically and the third in order written, is probably almost completely salvageable plotwise, as long as I rewrite the whole thing so the prose doesn't stank. Stars and Sea have... issues. Oh, hell, they have a subscription.) well, like many first novels, there's some mad cool shit in here. (cf the skzbrust Cool Shit Theory Of Literature.) (I waffle between that one and the Le Guin version, which seems to me to boil down to, if you're not passionate about it, why not get a job that won't turn you into a foul-tempered drunk? If you are passionate about it, there's no help for you; pull up a chair.)
Stars wears its first novel greasepaint proudly. The plot's contrived and wandery and artificially constrained by being limited to a single first-person narrator. It's broken in that way that only first novels can really be broken. It's unsalvageable.
But it does provide a lootable corpse. And a really amazingly cool world (it's Norse Postapocalyptic Cyberfantasy, with moreaux and shoggoths and two-headed steel horses with steam engines in their bellies and wælcyrge and einherjar and seithr and Technomancers and pretty boys with ponytails and Loki's Children and Odin knows what), and some of the cooler characters I've ever been forced to live with for years.
And here's the thing. It has a fan base. Of people like katallen and cpolk and leahbobet, who every so often--not too often, but often enough--sidle up to me and ask "You're not really going to trunk that trilogy, are you?"
Well, I meant to.
But they won't let me alone.
And tonight, just kind of playing around, I got the first page of an entirely new draft. It was one of those things where I was thinking gee, there's nothing I have to be doing right now, and well, I have a novel proposal due but not for three months, and two short stories but not for eight months... wow.
I have time off.
So what did I do?
I wrote. Completely from scratch. The first page of a new version of All the Windwracked Stars.
And what was really interesting is that by the time I got to the end of the fourth sentence, it started sounding like Stars. The voice came back, in other words, with that kind of mythic call-and-response it always had, where the paragraphs pick up echoes, almost like refrains, from previous paragraphs.
Except the last time I was writing this, I was a pretty lousy writer. And this time, I could feel it doing more or less what I wanted.
And I think I have to write this book. But I also think I have to take my own sweet time about it.
Which is fine. It's not like I can sell it this year or next year, anyway.
So, without further ado, because I liked it, here is the first manuscript page.
He was born white, until she burned him.
But that wasn't what happened first. Not in the beginning.
In the beginning was the end of the world.
There was snow at the end of the world, and Kasimir was dying in it. His wings were broken, dragging from his shoulders like defeated banners, disordered white feathers hauling crimson streaks through the snow that would not stop falling. The wings were the worst pain, each step grinding bone-shards through savaged muscle and lacing his withers with ribbons of acid heat.
The worst pain, but not the only. One of his forelegs wouldn't bear his weight. His harness dragged askew, girth snapped, stirrups banging his ribs as he hobbled in circles, his right head hanging, his antlers scraping ice and frozen earth and fouling his remaining leg.
But still he walked, limping in narrowing circles, bellying through drifts that rose to his chest, blood freezing bright as hawthorn berries on feathers and hide that vanished into the mounting snow.
It was cold, and he was dying alone. But somewhere under the snow was Herfjötur, who had been his before she was torn from the saddle. Kasimir was a Valraven, the war-steed of a wælcyrge, and they were dead, all dead, every one of them, the wælcyrge and the einherjar, the Choosers of the Slain and the immortal warriors.
They were dead. Herfjötur was dead. And it was snowing.
And Kasimir would not lie down until he found her.
P.SSomething that I find interesting about this process is that an enormous amount of the emotion and internal resonance that went into this story came from a single, very short (eight-line) Housman poem.
You might know it. It starts:
Stars, I have seen them fall,
P.P.S The first chapter in its original version is published as my short story "Ice," online at Ideomancer. Which is, curiously enough, the title of the first chapter. Or rather, "Isa" is.
If you wanted to look for comparison's sake, it's here.