Friday, July 16, 2010


entry the 2nd
6:17am, central time zone
western hemisphere, north america, united states, south-east, alabama, huntsville, the suburbs, my parents' house, desktop in the main room, in jammies and a t-shirt, no sleep for about eighteen hours

Spam Count: unknown

I try to write a blog entry when I've hit a turning point. I don't know how long it's been since I started building the fantasy world I'm featuring in my novel. I mean this version of it. Let's just call it a week. Oh, but I know how long I've been struggling with the idea. I was a kid when the name for the world came to me. I was in middle school. Sixth or seventh grade, I suppose.

I had just finished reading the first Xanth book, by Piers Anthony. I knew Xanth was a huge financial success. Even back then, that series pretty much filled an entire shelf at the fantasy/sci-fi section of Books-a-Million. Similar to how there's a map of Middle Earth in the opening pages of The Lord of the Rings, Mr. Anthony had included a map of Xanth. It was basically Florida. No, it was exactly Florida. He had modeled the geography of his fantasy land on the state where he happened to live. He had filled it with tropes from mythology and fairy-tales, along with some whimsical ideas that had probably popped right off the top of his head--I could have come up with them--and then he had inserted a self-portrait where the main character is supposed to go, and there was a book. The hardest part had probably been coming up with the frigging name.

A lightbulb flickered hesitantly over little Joseph's head.

One of the only definite memories of middle school itself is one time I was in the library. I was just in there, browsing, and I overheard a conversation between one of the girls' PE coaches and the librarian. The PE lady was holding a copy of The Fellowship of the Rings, asking the librarian about it. "I've heard it's good," she said.

"Do you know anything about Norse Mythology?" asked the librarian. "Because that whole universe is sort of what the author is trying to recreate..."

I was amused and disgusted. Who cared about Norse Mythology? I didn't know anything about Norse Mythology, and I still enjoyed Lord of the Rings. Hell, I ate, breathed, drank, slept, and showered in Middle Earth by that point in my youth. I wanted to defend the books to the PE lady. "Don't listen to this... this... librarian. It's just a good story. You'll like it."

Of course, I said nothing at all. Ever, at that point in my youth. Introvert.

So maybe I wasn't ready to deconstruct Tolkien's life's work at that point in my career, but, by God, I had Piers Anthony pegged. I was going to be rich. I was going to be the youngest published novelist in the history of the globe. I started right away. I drew a map of Alabama. We were studying Alabama geography in Social Studies that week, and I knew it had four basic regions, stacked on top of each other like layers in a cake. I can't even remember what they are now, but that wasn't important. There was a snow-zone, a jungle-zone, a desert-zone, and some other zone. Alabama has four major cities: Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery, and Huntsville. So I whipped up four cities for my world. I didn't feel like making up a bunch more, so I came up with the idea that all the other cities in this world had been destroyed at some point, maybe in a big war or something. Awesome.

Next I threw in two main characters, the unlikely companions. Unlikely Companions might as well have been the subtitle on the novel I was reading at the time. Mine were a barbarian and a magician. They were young guys, though, just starting out, because that was like me. They were going to be rich and famous by the end of the story, I knew that much.

And that's about as far as I got.

I tried to come up with a bad-guy, but he was too vague to work with. His master plan was pretty much undeveloped, his motives were non-existent. I sort of hit a wall there, only I didn't realize I had hit it. So I started trying to come up with the plot. Hit a wall there too, so I skipped straight to trying to write the first draft. Had a first scene I was pretty okay with. And then the project wilted and died, like the seed planted in rocky soil.

There was a lot I had yet to grasp about novelcraft at the age of twelve or thirteen. Disappointing, I know, but I would learn. I would learn.

For instance, one of the things that makes Piers Anthony's Xanth world interesting was so obvious I missed it for years. It was established on the first page. Everyone in Xanth has one, and only one, magical "talent". Boom. For some, the talent is virtually useless, like creating a large pink spot to appear on a wall. For others, the talent is an X-Men-magnitude super-power. These super-talented individuals are referred to as Magicians, capital M. By law, only a Magician can be king of the land of Xanth.

In the biz, this is what we refer to as a Conceit, capital C. In terms of making up fantasy worlds, Conceit is about as important as Main Character. Or Plot. So, to get around to the beginning, a few days ago (I don't remember how many now, I haven't slept most nights, and the days are a blur) I made the vital discovery that the Conceit of my fantasy world was completely wrong. So I fixed it.

I fixed it, and the planets aligned, and the damn burst, and the whole thing went super-nova. That's why I haven't been sleeping much: I've been too busy desperately jotting down all the ideas created in that single moment.

In interviews and documentaries, J. K. Rowling talks a lot about what was going on in her life when the idea for Harry Potter first came to her (she was on a train with nothing to write with) and about what it was like developing the idea, composing the novel, and then trying to get it published. In fact, that whole story is sort of a legend in its own right. But in one documentary, she actually goes into her files and pulls out all the notebooks and journals and diaries and loose leafs she filled with the ideas that were coming to her when she finally got off that train and back home where she could work. She said she couldn't write fast enough for the flow of ideas, and that she became desperate to find sources of paper to put them down on. Anything would do. Scraps. Napkins. Day-planners.

I felt so envious when I saw that part of the documentary, because that was exactly what refused to happen to me with this novel. Until now.

I've filled what was left of a five-subject spiral-bound with everything from character names to ecosystems to chunks of plot to simple equations describing the dynamics behind certain symbolic objects. And I'm finished now. I know the entire story, and everything relevant about all the main characters. I can tell you anything about my fantasy world from the alpha to the omega. That's why this is a turning point, and that's why I'm writing this entry. It got a lot longer than I expected it to. Grew in the telling. That's how Tolkien put it in the introduction to his trilogy.

I could go on if I wanted. Want to talk about the idea-structure behind Lord of the Rings or Xanth or Harry Potter? Don't get me started.

fiasco joe

PS we could talk about that nerd stuff in the comments if you really wanna.

"Ad Nauseum, ad Infinitum, et ad Totalus Madnus."

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