Watcher of the Skies and Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

from Flaxman’s Iliad – 1792. Public Domain.

So, my last post really did make it sound like I wasn’t doing NaNoWriMo, mostly likely. And apparently that’s the thing that got me going. Or something. I’m not going to try and explain it in too much details, but it goes something like this. I screwed up my back. I had to take medicine. I found out my kid does, in fact, have Asperger’s. My brain was mushy, I was in need of escape in the form of writing therapy that wasn’t going to require much editing (see: medicine), and my best friend Karen started talking to me about Joss Raddick. Readers of Pilgrim of the Sky know Mr. Raddick well, a godling of the water variety from Second World who eventually (and rather reluctantly) joins up with Maddie to help her get to Alvin in First World and prevent All The Bad Stuff. This isn’t the first time that Karen has birthed a book into my mind by just saying a few words. The entirety of The Aldersgate is due to her saying to me once, “I’m surprised you’ve never written anything with cowboys” or something to that effect, and I wrote back and said they’d have to be cowboyknights and, all that stuff happened.

The original text of Keats’s poem, “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer”. I get giddy about the handwriting.

Anyway. The words have been spilling out, most appropriately considering Joss’s nature. The book is entitled Watcher of the Skies, and while it bears the same title as a Genesis song, it’s taken from Keats’s poem “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer”. Last night, though I didn’t think I was going to get much done because of feeling kinda crappy, I almost got another 3K in and brought the book to 30K which is, quite frankly, a really good chunk. And this draft is surprisingly solid. Or maybe not surprisingly. I’ve been contemplating Joss’s story for quite some time, and it was just a matter of getting the details right. The book is set up in a frame narrative. The beginning features Maddie and he talking, and he invites her to hear his whole story on a rather appropriate godling level. It involves a hand full of water and mushy ice cubes and one of my favorite phrases to date: “a drunkard’s communion.”

No, this is not the book I was going to write. But it’s the book that needs to be written right now. It’s perfect timing, which I think is the way that working writers can succeed at endeavors like NaNoWriMo. I really hate the pressure people put themselves under. As a novelist, it’s not like November is the only month I can write books in, and if I don’t it somehow means less. But life and projects have conspired to make this a most amenable month of writing–and it isn’t as if I’m writing that much more than my usual 1K a day. The stars have aligned and I am enjoying myself immensely.

One of the most exciting parts is that I’m getting to explore Second World. If there’s one thing the reviewers let me know it’s that they’d wished I’d dabbled more in alternate history. Well, I’m doing just that. The book takes place starting in the late 18th century and moves to the early 20th–and let’s just say the historical/religious/economic landscape isn’t the same as you’d expert. I’m not going to be too spoilery, but there’s lots of poets, cameos by Percy and Mary Shelley and Keats and Byron and Wordsworth and Coleridge, and even mention of crazy old Blake (okay, some are significantly more than cameos, but y’know). Plus I get to explore various twains in their previous incarnations–Randall, Matilda, and Alvin are all present, sort of. Other versions of them. And I finally get to have fun with Athena. She’s a cross-dressing theatre owner of African descent. You know, as you do. I’ll have a lot more to share eventually, but for now, I’m just giddy about this book.

My pithy advice to those of you writing this hectic month is to be kind to yourself. Learning to write is like any good habit. And while it’s lovely that so much energy is poured into the month of November, it’s not the only time to write. It’s okay to step back and say it’s not a good time, professional or fledgeling or proto-fledgeling. It doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you a person who has a life and deadlines and responsibilities and maybe, just isn’t ready yet. If you want to be a writer, whatever that means, you’ve simply got to write. You’ve got to strike when the iron’s hot, and when it’s not. My issue with NaNo is that it doesn’t produce a book. It produces part of a draft. In 2008, when I “won” (whatever that means) it was very helpful, because that book did become Pilgrim of the Sky. But it’s been four years since I made an effort, and time it was primarily because of a need to escape and an excuse to keep away from Rock Revival. The timing was right for me. It may be right for you. But it may not be. And that, friends, is really, really okay.

Anyway, I have a few hours alone for the first time in almost a month, so I’m going to put it good use. For all your NaNoers out there, good luck to you!

Joss meets Andrew La Roche, Randall’s predecessor, in a tavern, while his friend William Wordsworth encounters Samuel Taylor Coleridge for the first time.

“You still haven’t told me your name,” La Roche said, taking up a cup of tea and stirring it gently. He managed to do so without a single clink against the China, so precise he was.

“It’s Joss,” I said. “Joss Raddick. I’m from Cumbria.”

“I daresay you are, it’s written all over your vowels,” La Roche remarked with a knowing smirk. “But I knew of you the moment you were born. The others argued with me, but I have a sense for these things. As you do.”

I nodded. “I felt you. Until you snuck up on me.”

“Slipped beneath your senses,” he said. “I was out of the rain, out of the river, out of the water. I dry rather quickly when I want to.”

Having no idea what he was talking about, I added, “You’re… warm. That’s the only way I can describe what I sense. Warm. Bright. Dry.”

“Hmm, yes, indeed,” he said. “And I have a particular aptitude for the healing arts. And poetry.” He said this last word with particular relish. “As you do, so I have heard. You’re a kept man, Mr. Raddick.”

I didn’t quite know what he meant by that statement. “Kept, sir?”

La Roche sipped his tea. “Hmmm… yes. You’ve been tamed, so to speak, by that curious little lake poet, Mr. Wordsworth. I’m sure he’s been a most impressive teacher, as poets are so often, but he’s using you for your light. For your inspiration. Surely you’ve figured that out by now, yes?”

I snorted. Of course I had figured it out. But it didn’t make the situation any less difficult. “He has been kind to me. He’s taught me things, about how to fit in, about how to experience… how to be a human man.”

“And what makes you think you are not a human man?” La Roche asked. “I’m genuinely curious, not attempting to pass judgment on you, Mr. Raddick.”

“Not sure what to say to that,” I said. “It’s just something I know. Humans come from women, born in a big egg that breaks open and spills water on the earth. A stream of blood and birth. That’s not how I came about.”

“Well, we have that in common,” La Roche said. “I was awakened. In a young village lad, some centuries ago. In Southern Gaul. It was quite strange. I awoke, and walked away from the family that had raised the boy. He was no longer. I entered him like water into a gourd, and have since made this body as I’ve willed it. I don’t always have to look like this, but I prefer it.”