Today marks a major milestone in my writing career. I just typed the words “THE END” at the bottom of a 95,000 word document that is my first novel, Eridani’s Crown.
When I first dared to try my hand at writing fiction in English, back in 2010, I planned on being a novelist. I wrote a prologue and half a first chapter on a novel and then I realized that I had no bloody idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to proceed, how to build a decent plot or a character arc. Worse yet, I didn’t know if the writing was any good, and I didn’t know any people who could tell me. While I have been a life-long science fiction fan, at that time I never even met another science fiction writer.
And so I came up with a brilliant plan: I would write a few short stories and I would send them out to science fiction magazines (of which I only knew about three total.) I figured that if I was able to write publishable short stories then that meant I was ready to tackle a novel.
I wrote a short story. Then another. Then another. After a few months of this my stories suddenly began to sell. At first I placed a few at very small token markets, but before long I had a string of semi-pro sales, then a few pro sales. Over the course of six years I’ve had nearly 100 short stories published, most of them at pro venues. I won an award, was nominated for another, had countless stories reprinted, podcasted, translated to other languages…
But I never finished that novel. Or any other novel. Until now.
Having more-or-less established myself as primarily a humor writer, I figured my first book would be some sort of a snarky urban fantasy or an otherwise humorous adventure yarn (space opera, maybe?) But instead, I set the mode to “super difficult” for myself and wrote a secondary-world grimdark fantasy with not a joke in sight.
Why grimdark you ask? I wrote a short story about the protagonist and was really fascinated with her. So I wrote another. And then I wanted to write her origin story. And before I knew it, I had a novel-length project on my hands. So I just kept writing.
It was slow going. I started working on this book about three years ago, but I added to the novel very slowly. choosing to focus on short story projects instead. As the manuscript slowly grew, I became more and more focused on the novel. In fact, well over 50% of my writing time in 2016 was spent working on this book. And tonight, the hardest part of the project is done.
To be clear, the book is far from finished. First drafts are messy and kind of ugly; they’re the sort of things you never ever show anyone because they contain mistakes and prose that can be outright embarrassing. But they’re the bones upon which the book will grow and flourish as I work on revisions.
I also have no idea if the book is any good. At the moment it feels like someone thoroughly shook the dictionary and upended it onto my screen. In other words: a random combination of words masquerading as a story. I simultaneously crave and dread the moment when I get to show this book to my trusted beta readers. If all goes well, they will assure me that the book is not totally crap. If it doesn’t… Well, no one can make me show this manuscript to anyone else. But I remain optimistic.
I can’t tease you like this and not tell you what the book is about. Eridani’s Crown is the story of a woman who is her world’s version of Alexander the Great or Napoleon — except she succeeds where they failed and actually takes over the entire world (conveniently, her world is a single Pangea-like continent called the Heart.)
She starts out as a hero, fighting against terrible odds and for all the right reasons. But by the end of the book, she is the worst kind of villain and despot. I like to describe it to folks as a “character arc of Breaking Bad meets the grimdark setting of Game of Thrones.”
And while, again, I’ll reiterate that I don’t know if the end result is any good, I’m certain it’s ambitious. There are politics and machinations, examination of power and responsibility, and the first instance of a political Cold War I’ve seen in this sort of setting. I stole liberally from different eras of history, with characters loosely based on Alexander the Great and Mozi (Chinese engineer and pacifist from 400 BC). There are scenes inspired by the Battle of Waterloo and the decline of the Roman Empire, by the ill-considered reforms of Peter the Great and the brutality of Ghenghis Khan.
And I’m pretty sure the body count would make George R. R. Martin flinch.
Whether this book or good or not, I have unlocked a major achievement in that now I can call myself a novelist. Tomorrow the revisions begin, but tonight I celebrate and rest on my laurels for just a little while.