Since I’ve been posting daily word counts and snippets of my progress on G+, I thought folks might be interested in what, exactly, is this project I’m working on.
*I have a bad memory, so some of the following may not be entirely accurate:
It’s the summer before my junior year of college. I’m home from the University of Dallas–and, more excitingly, a semester in Rome. I have few friends in town; most of them moved away and stayed away (and who could blame them). The internet exists, just barely, but although I have an email address, I don’t have anyone to email.
What I do have: Final Fantasy VII, a car to take me to and from the used bookstore, an insatiable appetite for fantasy novels, a PC in the living room with a copy of WordPerfect (yes, WordPerfect. With the blue screen and the white type. Which you reached via a DOS prompt.), and copious amounts of free time.
My favorite books are the original Dragonlance trilogy, Terry Brooks’s Shannara series, Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, anything by Robin McKinley (but most especially The Hero and the Crown), and just about anything by Mercedes Lackey. I love the X-Men, especially the books written by Scott Lobdell and drawn by Joe Madureira–and since Madureira, Humberto Ramos, and J. Scott Campbell just launched their creator-owned titles on the Cliffhanger imprint, I faithfully buy all the books, and I love them all, but Battlechasers is the best. I’ve played every Final Fantasy game available in the US, even the Game Boy titles, and I’ve beaten them all. I love anime, especially Vampire Hunter D and Shoujo Kakumei Utena.
I tell you all this stuff by way of background, so you know all the disparate influences seething in my brain. Anime, comics, video games, trashy fantasy novels (I still hadn’t read Tolkien) and the classics of the Western canon (Homer, Vergil, Dante, Milton, Spencer, Shakespeare), myth and fairy tale and eighties cartoons. But like Frankenstein’s creature on the slab, they weren’t doing much of anything useful until struck by the final essential spark.
For me, the spark was William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. Not the movie (although the movie is awesome), but the book, which is even awesomer. I read it, I laughed until I cried, and when I finished it I sighed happily and put the book
down and said to myself, “I wanna write something like that!”
The second spark was a song.
I’m lying in bed, trying to fall asleep. I’ve got my headphones in, listening to my Walkman (yes, my Walkman): a collection of songs I’d taped (yes, taped) off the radio by my favorite artist, Dougie Maclean. Up starts the peaceful guitar intro of “Ye Banks and Braes,” based on a poem by Robert Burns. I sit up in bed, my eyes widening. I know I’m not going to sleep any time soon. I’ve got AN IDEA.
I typed the first chapter that night, then went back to bed and slept like a log. When I got up in the morning I was on fire to keep writing.
Wi’ lithesome heart I pulled a rose
Full sweet upon its flowerin’ tree
And my false lover stole my rose
But ah! He left the thorn wi’ me
Steel Butterfly is about a girl whose lover rides off to war and never comes home. He’s taken by the Faerie Queen, and when she finds out, she buckles on a sword and sets out to rescue him. She has myriad adventures, meets a diverse cast of characters who help or hinder her on her way, and eventually she finds and confronts the Faerie Queen to win back her love.
I didn’t know anything about anything (although I thought I knew everything), and I’d never written a novel before. But that’s what it turned into: my first real novel. I wrote it in a blur that summer, and I don’t remember ever pausing or getting stuck or baffled about what happened next. It just flowed out of me onto the page.
Of course it was terrible, but I didn’t know that at the time.