September 30, 2009

Tanella's Flight

Some thirteen-odd years ago I first became acquainted with the Princess Tanella. She appeared in a short story of about three pages that was written at work between phone calls. She was a spoiled brat of a princess who had grown up wild with no mother, and ran away when her father told her she was about to be married in order to cement a treaty with the next kingdom over. The only other character who was well defined in that story was Ambassador Liammial. He was a wonderful old man about to retire. Although his name appeared nowhere on the treaty, and although he would get no credit for it, Liammial was grateful to have been a small part in bringing the pair of kingdoms together.

About four years later, I had need of a longer short story for a contest I was entering. My partner and I had together won the Second Annual Short Story Writing Contest sponsored by the Audiobook Club, and the following year we decided to each enter separately. I liked the characters in Tanella’s Flight, so I pulled them out, dusted them off, and expanded the story to just shy of 28,000 words. With this story, which featured the same willful, runaway princess and kindly ambassador, I became second runner up in the contest. My partner won first runner up. We discovered through this process that while we write well separately, we write better together, and we enjoy the process more. It’s so nice to have a partner to rely on and lean on when you are stuck, and it is also a lot of fun helping your partner to get unstuck.

Some three years later, my life circumstances changed, and I found myself moving in with my partner, who also happens to be my mom. We lost no time in forging ahead on our writing, now that we didn’t live 200 miles apart and have to email everything to each other as body text. (She was writing in Word Perfect, I was writing in Microsoft Works. Totally incompatible. I eventually was able to show her that the most 'acceptable' word processor, as far as sending documents by email, was Word, and we both switched to that, but that’s another story.)

We decided to work on expanding Tanella’s Flight into a full length novel. We looked over the existing short story and realized that in its current plot, the story was as long as it could be. So we set about changing a few things.

First of all, I sat down and had a good long talk with the characters. Now, maybe I never grew out of the invisible friend stage, or maybe I just have a more fertile imagination than most, but I’ve found the easiest way for me to resolve character problems with any novel is to go the invisible friend route, and have a good conversation with them. It’s a way to bring the subconscious mind out into the open, I suppose. The difficult thing is usually finding a place where I can talk to myself in different voices without people wanting to lock me up 'for further observation'. Fortunately at the time I was working in a neighboring city with an hour’s commute each way, so I talked to the characters in the car. Anyone who saw my lips moving assumed I was either on the phone or singing with the radio, so my sanity wasn’t questioned.

I discovered in the course of these conversations that the princess wasn’t as willful as I had at first thought. In fact, she’d been raised to put her subjects ahead of her own desires. The next question then, was if she hadn’t run away from her marriage, why was she missing? Aha! She had been kidnapped! By whom? Each answer engendered a new question, and shortly the entire new plot was discovered.

Our readers often tell us that our characters seem like real people, and I firmly believe that my willingness to play the invisible friend game is one of the reasons why. My characters are real, rounded people in my mind, and they come out that way on paper.

Through the plotting process, we discovered that dear old Ambassador Liammial was neither as dear, or as old, as we thought he had been. He turned out to be the younger twin brother of one of the kings involved in the story. The kings, Jameisaan of Kwenn (Tanella’s dad), and Fergasse of Jurat (Liammial’s brother) got bigger roles to play in the new story.

Mom and I wrote longhand while on our lunch hour, then brought our chapters home and shared them with each other. She was following the doings in the royal courts, while I was following the kidnapped princess. We had to draw a map of the Ten Kingdoms and figure out travel distances, so we could know when everyone was wherever they were. There were a couple of places where people ended up at the same place at the same time and we had to keep them from seeing each other. One night I was making a glass of chocolate milk to drink with my dinner, and the spoon must have hit the glass just right, because a piece broke out of the bottom and there was suddenly chocolate milk all over the manuscripts. It should be noted that although there was no permanent damage done, to this day we refer to the rough draft as the “chocolate copy”.

It took over a year to turn the 28K short story into an 80K replotted novel. The next step was sending it to proofreaders. Most of our proofreaders were novelists, who know very well how to pay more attention to the proofing than the story. Every copy we got back was well marked for about the first quarter of the book. Very seldom did we find any markings after that. Every reader gave us the same explanation. “Sorry, I got so caught up in the story I forgot I was supposed to be editing.” At that point we realized we had a really, really good book happening.

Because both of us were working, and we were caring for a blended family, it took another six months or so to get the editor’s comments incorporated into the book, and do the final checking and polishing.

Then we started shopping for an agent. We needed someone who could handle our fantasy stories, as well as the romantic suspense we write; someone who wouldn’t try to cheat us, but would do a good job; someone who was willing to take manuscripts via email; and someone who wasn’t afraid to take on a first-novel that was longer than 50,000 words. After two years of searching, we have not yet found this agent. (We're still looking. Are you out there?) Mostly it’s the dual genre writing and the long manuscript that are holding us back. We’ve been told, numerous times, that first novels simply aren’t allowed to be that long. If we cut thirty thousand words out, the story would be incomplete, and we were unwilling to cheat our readers of half the story.

We looked into self publishing, but quickly discovered it was prohibitively expensive, and reluctantly set Tanella aside in an attempt to write something shorter for our “first” novel.

Then, after our habitual participation in the 2008 NaNoWriMo contest, we discovered a place called CreateSpace. Self publishing suddenly became possible, and no one was going to tell us the book was too long. Tanella’s Flight was hauled out, dusted off, and taken for one last run through the wringer of editing. We found errors we’d never suspected before. We found a point of view problem where we took the reader head-hopping into the mind of the horse the character was riding. (Don’t bother looking for that one, it’s fixed now.) We fixed everything we could find, and did some general tightening up of the story-line. Then we got busy with CreateSpace and made the novel happen.

And now, a thirteen year journey is complete, and the book is out, on paper, ready for anyone to read, ready to share with the world. It’s for sale at our Createspace store. There’s a link to CreateSpace on the “Ye Olde Book Shoppe” page. I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as we enjoyed writing it.

--Anne