This is my first experiment with volunteering, on Twitter, to randomly read and review independent work. Thank God, my first taker was the very talented, J.R. Schuyler (@JRSchuyler1), a copy editor living in New Zealand, like Frodo.
Novellas occupy an awkward space between short stories and full-length novels. Like a short story, it aims at unity of effect — a single theme or idea, but a good novella allows the reader to luxuriate in that effect, to explore its corners and hidden egresses. Just as When the Leaves Fall perfectly occupies that space between short story and novel, so too does its content reveal the space between reality and imagination, wakefulness and delirium, eager anticipation and cold disillusionment.
Arthur finds himself stumbling through the countryside of the American Southeast on his way home from a tour of duty and imprisonment in the first world war. Without money or transportation, he’s walked all the way from Maine to Tennessee, getting by on wild game, stream water, and whatever he can find. Injured from a fall, and perilously close to death, he is picked up by Paul, a kind farmer with a horse and wagon, who brings him to the nearest town for medical attention and food. But a recent murder in the town brings Arthur back to the trauma of war, and stands between him and the homecoming he’s imagined for so long.
J.R. Schuyler’s writing is at once expert and effortless, evoking a palpable and vivid gloom that reminded me of the mid-west dust bowl of HBO’s Carnavale (I’m a TV guy, so forgive me for not supplying a literary reference). From trees that seem to echo Arthur’s misery to the warp and creak of the farmer’s wagon, Schuyler’s judicious and elegant details anchor the reader immediately in both the physical scene and the protagonist’s mood.
When the Leaves Fall is a perfect Sunday after-brunch read, the start of a train ride, an airport layover, or a day at the park.
Awake, who sleep in water’s grave,
And hear leviathan call
Drowned men and maids from every sea
Come dance at Neptune’s ball.
Who cares if you be young or old
what age have salt and brine?
The earth shall hold your yesterdays
The wind take your designs
Leave your sunken rusted ships
your sky planes where they fell
Come, murder’d girls and mariners
And dance at Neptune’s ball.
Did you die ‘neath ice or storm?
Or drown by act of war?
Do mothers wait at home for you?
Speak their names no more.
For now the merfolk come in ranks
with kelp to trim his hall
to greet you haunted sailing men
Who dance at Neptune’s Ball
Bring what pearls and evening gowns
The sea has not consumed
But leave behind your earthly cares
Your waiting brides and grooms
Hasten, ‘ere the chamber shuts
And kraaken cracks the bell!
And cursed be they who did not come
To dance at Neptune’s ball.
Disclaimer: I don’t write poetry because I think it’s stupid™ (read: hard), but this one came to me in response to a twitter #vss365 prompt, and there seemed to be some themes I wanted to explore a little further. Again, for the record, I think poetry is stupid™. And I know rhymed couplets are passé, but whatever.
I’m not a musician but I woke up this morning with the chorus for this song in my head. The verses just kind of came after. I don’t know if it counts as a very short story but I thought I’d put it down, with a rough attempt at chords. I think the tune it came to me with was Burl Ives’ A Little Bitty Tear. I’ve added some suggested chords on the chorus and verse.
CHORUS [C]There’s an uninvited guest at our [G7] wedding She’s prettier than I could ever [C]be She’s standing right up there, at the [F] altar [C]Where I always [G7]pictured you and[C] me.
VERSE [C]I wonder why nobody[G7]noticed How come no one asked her to [C] go When she started walking down the [F] aisle [C]Towards the only [G7] love I’ll ever [C] know.
You swore that we were meant for one another You said that we’d get married at the beach And mumbled something else about the timing Somehow it was always out of reach
I put on Momma’s dress Sunday morning But as soon as I walked in, I could see of all the fancy people in the chapel The only uninvited one was me.
There’s an uninvited guest at your wedding A girl you thought you’d left in the past Who finally found her way back to you So we can be together, at last
I told the priest to stop talking I tried to call out your name But an angel tapped me on the shoulder and dragged me back to heaven once again.
There’s an uninvited guest at your wedding The girl who still loves you so Who sometimes forgets that she died And still hasn’t learned to let you go.
The Patience of Darkfall focuses on two main stories which take place in my sprawling medieval world. I’ll describe the basic setup for each of them in two separate posts, and then talk about how they intersect, and what I think I have to do to split them up.
An aged priest (~70 years old). I picture him looking like Tchéky Karyo from STARZ’s “The Missing”. Just lose the glasses, leave the baggage.
As a teenager, Adam persuades his best friend, Jak, to steal his family’s boat, the Rose for one last adventure beyond the western shores before joining the crown navy. They drag Jak’s sister, Neila, along, so she won’t tattle on them, and cuz Adam has a big crush on her. They get to the western shore, have a few exciting run-ins with the local fauna, and eventually discover the ruins of a spooky old manor. In that manor, there’s a door with a an even spookier painting on it, which they’re too chicken to open, so they turn around.
When they get back, Jak’s father beats him to death. BOOM! You didn’t see that coming, did you? OK maybe you did.
Years pass. Adam comes back from the navy and finally marries Neila. She dies of tumors a year later (shit luck, right?). In his grief, he tries to burn himself alive in that same boat — the one he convinced Jak to steal for that adventure that got him killed.
Following so far? Here’s a picture of a boat:
He survives the fire, gets arrested for nearly burning down half the city’s docks, spends 4 years in a cell, and gets sprung by a priest of Talfar (a monotheistic faith that’s basically standing in for Catholicism here). He, himself, takes up the priesthood because, well, crippling guilt and grief, and all that.
Anyway. That’s all in the past. For most of the book, Adam is old. He’s lived a peaceful village life, tended to his flock. He’s ready to retire and die and go to heaven to be with his dead wife, his dead friend, and of course, Talfar.
He’s still consumed with hatred for Jak’s father, and he’s not OK with spending the rest of his days carrying that hatred around. He doesn’t want to bring his grudge with him to the afterlife.
I know what you’re thinking. Batman’s parents, the Red Wedding, John Wick’s Dog, and now… Some old guy’s nagging grudge?
Whatever. I like understated things.
Anyway, one day, Adam learns that Jak’s father, and all those settlers who wandered off to the west, survived, which now means that there’s a very slight chance that the man he’s hated all these years is still alive (even though he’d be in his nineties by now). It’s enough for Adam. He packs up his gear and sets off to find the man and make peace.
That’s right — forgiveness is the new vengeance.
So that’s the setup. There’s a lot more to it. There’s a brewing holy war, an assassin sent to kill him, a cache of lost texts, a guy’s tongue falls out, oh… and it turns out Jak might not have died the way Adam remembers. Also his wife Neila might have been a changeling.
I know that’s a lot of spoilers, but you should still read the book if it’s ever published, because it’s cool and written a lot better than this blog, I promise. And there’s a dog, because every story needs more dogs. I suck at synopsessesses.
Next, we’ll delve into story 2 in this monster, talk about the ways they overlap, and talk about why Scrivener is gonna make this surgery so much easier.
I wanted The Patience of Darkfall to be about 80K words. I know this, because “Harry Potter wordcount” is in my google search history at around the time I started writing. At the time, that number seemed ambitious, but doable. I plugged it into Scrivener and began hammering away.
By the time it was done, printed in double-spaced courier, edited, and ready for querying, I had written 250k words. “Game of Thrones wordcount” was now in my google history.
I’m sheepish about saying that, because I often see people dropping big numbers as if it’s a huge accomplishment — a boast. It is not. It’s stupid. It displays either a lack of foresight in researching industry standards or simple arrogance — my book is too epic for your pedestrian limits.
I would like to say I was only guilty of the former, but I’ll leave the fiction to my work. It was both. As I crested 150, I knew I was probably pushing it, but I didn’t want to research it because, well, my book is too epic for your pedestrian limits.
Plus, it was just fun, being caught up in the story and the flow, not wanting to hasten anything to an unnatural end. It wasn’t even until I hit 80K words that I realized what this book was about, what stories belonged in it and what stories belonged in future installments. Once I knew where I was going, I simply wrote at a pace that felt natural, and nudged each storyline toward its conclusion gently but firmly.
I knew I wanted a Game of Thrones-style novel, with concurrent storylines, rotating POV, and gobs of world-building trivia. I wanted to let one cliffhanger or revelation simmer, take the reader to another story for a while, then bring them back.
In the end, that’s what I did. I wrote a big, beautiful novel with two main storylines that resolve nicely while also setting up a great big series arc that will take me the rest of my reproductive years to put to paper. It kicks ass. I’m very proud of it.
You can’t read it.
It’s too big, and no agent or publisher will look at it. I know it, now that I’ve done just a little research. It hasn’t stopped me from sending a few queries (see previous paragraph about pedestrian limits). If I were George Martin, JK Rowling, or Tolkein’s reanimated, twitter-savvy corpse, maybe — maybe.
I’ll confess I’m not ready to self-publish. I want agents to swoon over it, publishers to fight over it, and readers to get angry at me for not getting its sequels out fast enough. I write fantasy worlds, why shouldn’t I live in one, at least for now?
So I’ve decided its time for surgery. If the crazy kids in this picture can survive apart, rock candy red peacoats and freak out random pedestrians with their Shining-twins smirk, then perhaps there’s hope for the stories in my book.
Impossible, you say? Damn right, it is.
Chang and Eng didn’t want to be separated. Who can blame them? Surgery in the 1800s was done with laudanum and post-hole diggers. Plus, their conjoined state earned them a living. Also, Chang was just hilarious to be around.
I just thought one of those fancy quote things really belonged here, you know?
Imagine if you were George Martin, minus the years of experience, publications, contacts, etc., sitting on an early draft of Game of Thrones. You have three major plotlines — Jon, Ned, and Dany. If you pull them apart, some might survive, but you’d lose the theme of simmering global conflict and political scheming that ties it all together. I don’t even think the separate stories would end up being in the same genre — though I’ll leave that speculation as a thought experiment for the comments.
With The Patience of Darkfall, I’m in a bit less of a bind. It’s mainly two stories, each centered around one MC (btw – if you’re coming to writing from a rap background, this hip abbreviation stands for “Main Character”). There’s a few chapters that connect them and address the series arc, but I think I can just chop those out or put them in the next book.
My twins are only conjoined at the elbow.
So, with the decision made and my knives sharpened, it’s time to cut. I’ll chronicle the process, in case anyone else finds themselves in a similar bind and wants to learn from my mistakes.