50,000 words of which a “bitch” will almost certainly not be one

I last tried National Novel-Writing Month in 2002. I won, by which I mean I completed the goal, which was to write 50,000 words of fiction. My entry was a faintly TRANSMETROPOLITANoid 50,007-word fragment called RATCATCHER, which started with a terrorist attack on a reservoir executed via remote-controlled rats and somehow got to a ruined jungle temple in maybe Indonesia in which cryptographic secrets, possibly P=NP, were guarded by a half-sane soldier named, I think, Sergeant Geronimo Vasudevi. (That last is my idea of humor. I wish I could say “was,” but it is crucial to acknowledge one’s limitations.) I have barely even looked at it since then. It is unfinished and unreadable. I later realized that a few dozen of the “words” I wrote were almost certainly section dividers. Its only real use is as a down payment on my million words of crap. I wish I could say I learned a lot from it, but judging from the tangles of overplotting and bad prose that still encrust THE DANDELION KNIGHT like amyloid plaques on an Alzheimer’s brain, I’m not really capable of learning a lot at once.

As evidence, I will be trying this again.

The plan over the last two months has been to add 25,000 words to THE DANDELION KNIGHT, turning what was a bloated first half into a novel of its own. This has succeeded. The plan, as of now, is to set THE DANDELION KNIGHT aside for a month (the first time I’ll have done so for any length of time since late 2008, when I quit short story writing to focus on it) and crank out a draft of a story that’s been gnawing at me since Christmas. In my head, it’s a short novel, which makes it well suited for NaNo — one thing I didn’t realize the first time around is that the novels I like are almost always in the 100,000-word range (sometimes multiples of this length; doorstopper sf and fantasy books are my poison of preference). Compared to THE DANDELION KNIGHT, it’s relatively straightforward. It’s less broody, the world-building less shadowed and elaborate; THE DANDELION KNIGHT comes out of Gene Wolfe, China Mieville, and Samuel Delany, whereas THE EIGHTH KING comes out of Michael Moorcock and Dumas via Steven Brust. It is a wuxia novel. I have no right to write a wuxia novel, but there it is. There will be politics, polytheism, prophecy, and kung fu. It will be fun.

I haven’t decided what my blogging stance on this project will be. I’ve been thinking about just blogging the day’s words, but that’s going to be complicated inasmuch as (and I know this is cheating) I’ve already written 7500 words, most of which I quite like. I may post selected excerpts, although that will doubtless come back to haunt me later, when I look at the passages I thought were the novel’s best and wonder what sort of primate was behind the wheel that day. Stay tuned.

I’ve already posted the preface to what I then thought was a short story, written almost a year ago. For a bit of context, here are the next few paragraphs:

Although a direct threat to his sovereignty, the Therku insurgency evaded the attention of King Tenshing Saptama for several predictable reasons. First, Therku was a territory of no account in those times, nothing like the center of economic and commercial activity that it is today, and a region of Uä’s far-flung periphery rather than a pillar of its core. Second, the humble origins of the insurgency and its gradual escalation had lulled the king’s advisors well past the point of actual crisis. Had the self-titled Chief-Marshal Kandro been a member of the elite, or had he secured an impressive amount of critical territory quickly, this might have been avoided. Third, after realizing that they had badly underestimated the enemy, the king’s advisors responded in the way of all functionaries ambushed by failure: They concealed the gravity of the problem while trying desperately to fix it. Concealment robbed them of necessary resources; desperation robbed them of their already taxed competence. And fourth, in spite of the assiduousness of the monks’ inquiries on the matter, the gods were not forthcoming about the gravity of the rebellion. Thus, although the Thousand Arm Testament leaves many readers with the impression that King Tenshing was a derelict or distracted ruler, this is not a fair extrapolation of the evidence.

In any case, the rise of Chief-Marshal Kandro ceased to evade anyone’s attention after the battle of Goat Ridge, when his dragoons — principally farmers and small-time artisans, mounted on underfed horses and armed with unreliable rifles enchanted by the very lowest echelon of hedge-wizards and sorcerasters — destroyed not one but two tank columns on successive uphill charges. At one stroke, this upstart commander and his swarm of yowling irregulars seized the nation’s entire supply of saffron dye and, not coincidentally, provided conclusive proof that they were girt for revolution by an influence that was, if not divine, at least strongly supernatural. It was at this point that the Chief-Marshal’s challenges to King Tenshing’s lineage began to gain a wide reception characterized by a grudging acknowledgment in some quarters and absolute credulity in others. After this debacle, the bureaucrats who had concealed Kandro’s threat were rapidly terminated or imprisoned awaiting execution, but King Tenshing’s subjects were not impressed by this response to the problem.

In truth, they rather flocked to Kandro’s banner.

And so it was that King Tenshing Saptama, eighth son of an eighth son and unto eight generations, came to his throne room on a cold morning in early spring, well before the sun had crested the horizon, to spend some quiet hours contemplating the army on his doorstep.

In case you care to follow, I’m mjw on nanowrimo.org. Wish me luck!

2 thoughts on “50,000 words of which a “bitch” will almost certainly not be one

    • I’m actually not that much of a wuxia fan; I just thought a wuxia novel with a THREE MUSKETEERS flavor would be a good time. So I’m probably doing it all wrong. I did plan to pick up some wuxia novels before I did this, but never quite got organized — let me know if you have any recommendations…

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