Inside My Head: Cleansed by Fire edition

I think I’ll occasionally just go ahead and let you get a more thorough look at what makes me tick in terms of my motivations, goals, writing, etc. So, here’s our first go-round…

Having just posted another installment of my novel here on Sunday and figuring that another one might get posted today or tomorrow, I thought I might share some of the backstory of writing this novel. My first novel. Many of you may not be interested, and I suspect this will get wordy, but maybe it’ll be interesting for me to peel back my skull a little and give you a peek into my brain. We’ll see.

One of the interesting things about deciding to finally write this novel after spending more than 20 years of my life procrastinating about writing one (so many plot summaries and backstories and worlds I’ve designed over the years, never to even get to page 1 of anything) is that I started this process with virtually zero idea of where the story was going (most of it is roughly mapped in terms of the broad strokes now, but there are still big empty spaces I remain clueless on right now). Oh, I had some specific scenes in my head that I had already committed myself to including and I had a general idea of some of the big events that would take place, but that was about it. This is going to sound hokey, I know, but sometimes, I wonder how much of this process is about me writing the story and how much of it is the story demanding that I write it.

In other words, I know I’m doing creative writing here, but sometimes, it feels like I’m the transcriber for an invisible storyteller next to me who’s really calling the shots.

Let’s take Part One to start. I introduce the templars of the Catholic Union and establish that there are multiple popes and the Vatican is actually in charge of a good chunk of Earth. Pretty much just establishing the general flavor of things, and I spend most of my time on the regional templar commander Lyseena xec-Juris. At this point, I had envisioned Lyseena as one of the primary characters in the novel. I had visions of a sort of sci-fi mystery/war story. Lyseena was going to investigate the death of the Red Pope and uncover secrets and find herself soured on the cause she had devoted her life to. As anyone who’s been reading my novel so far can see, that is unlikely to be anything close to what happens. We also get a glimpse here of three other people, Lyseena’s admin officers, none of whom I expected to be major players in the novel but rather tertiary characters, though I had been entertaining plans for Paulo to be approached by someone within the Vatican (Ather sup-Juris) with an offer to get him out of his vows and back into the merchant nobility lifestyle he had been born into, thus creating a schism and perhaps setting Paulo up as a traitor to the templars later.

Part Two is still major set-up. Except that now we get a glimpse into just how ruthless the Vatican is on matters of immoral sexual behavior. At this point, I still see Lyseena as one of the primary characters and perhaps the main character of the novel.

In Part Three, we still get a lot of Lyseena but also add cloak-and-dagger themed Ather sup-Juris to the mix. At this point, it is clear to me that my original plans of having Ather be a “Judas” to Lyseena and to be someone who puts Paulo on a traitor’s path are simply not going to happen. I am also intensely surprised to see what seems to be flirting between these two characters. In this installment, we also get our first glimpse of Mars, and of the major “competitor” to the Vatican which is the UFC (Universal Faith Catholic), a church with “Catholic” in its name but something clearly much more of Protestant/Catholic mix. We see a character who I had envisioned as another main character (he seems destined to remain one, unlike Lyseena), the “co-pope” of the UFC (Gregory Dyson) and we get some tidbits about the other “co-pope,” his wife Amaranth. I will freely admit that much of their relationship and many of their personality traits mirror those of my own marriage. Gregory isn’t me, and Amaranth isn’t Mrs. Blue, but I am using us as a template and then modifying from there.

I found myself with something both clunky and pivotal in Part Four. First, I try to establish more about what Mars is like, and I get very wordy about it. I felt like I had to cram a lot of backstory in here, and this is to me perhaps my most awkward writing of the entire novel so far, at least in the first half of this section. However, I drop one of my first tantalizing hints of an evolving sideplot regarding the near-destruction of the world’s Muslims, which I thought was dropped with pretty nice subtlety. Also interesting about this section is the arrival of Domina xec-Academie. Because, frankly, I have no idea where the hell she came from. There had never been the faintest inkling of any plan to bring in anyone from the late Red Pope’s circle as a main character. Nor had I planned to introduce any kind of sexual tension for Gregory Dyson unless it was with his own wife. This is the first point in the novel at which I realized I had only maybe 70% control over where this thing was headed, and probably far less. This is when I first started feeling like a transcriber sometimes and wondering who was calling the shots on my storyline now.

I finally get back to Lyseena’s crew in Part Five, with the thought in mind that I can’t pull back too much on them. I figure I’ll focus on Maree sup-Juris here, and it comes to me out of the blue that she’s a terrorist plant in the templars, thus providing the traitor that I had originally thought Paulo would be. This section also marks perhaps my second-clunkiest bit of writing, as I spent too much time describing her cloak-and-dagger procedures. My plan had been to simply use Maree as a plot device; I had really no impetus to develop her. Somehow, though, she absolutely refused to be treated that way, and before I knew it, I had the beginnings of a major character. As I think should be clear to anyone who’s read all the installments thus far, Maree will be one of the major characters of the novel. In fact, I suspect she stole Lyseena’s spotlight. Most important, in this portion we have the first instance of one of my readers pulling me up short. Big Man, in the comments to the posting of part five, pointed out that he thought Maree’s contact would have had to kill her. And I realized he was right, dammit, though I never got around to telling him that he actually saved me from a major mistake. I had intended for Maree’s insubordination to actually get her what she wanted: An active role as a dangerous mole in the templars instead of just a conduit of information for her terrorist cell. But Big Man was right: That wouldn’t happen in a real-life situation. And I knew that I had almost fallen into the trap of making a plot contrivance for my own aims, instead of keeping it real (as much as one can keep it real in a science fiction novel). Big Man’s comment plays a key role in what happens in part six.

However, what Part Six starts with is the introduction of a minor but critical character, Daniel Coxe, and his connection to the Vatican’s massively complex artificial intelligence system, the Godhead, which contains the memories of the current and previous popes, going back nearly a thousand years. We also find out that the Godhead has fathered its own AI “child” in secret, a sort of parallel to the God-Jesus relationship. This was yet another plot development I hadn’t seen coming. We also finally get to see Amaranth Dyson in action, which is something I felt was more than a little overdue since I foresaw her being a pretty important character. But most important in this section was the payback Maree got from the leader of her terrorist cell. This was, of course, the result of Big Man’s comments on the previous installment. It was easy enough for me to create a reason for her not to be killed outright, but what is most notable here is that I ended up with perhaps my most intense scene thus far in the novel.

Part Seven was in many respects an interlude, to give a break from other characters and introduce a new one (Captain Bartelle D’Onofrio) that plays a relatively minor role in the novel, but serves a major plotline’s development nonetheless. We also see that there is more than meets the eye with Domina.

I don’t know where the hell Part Eight came from, but like parts four and five, it forced itself on me and proved to be absolutely essential for other elements in the novel, current and future, to make sense. After having found my templar traitor in Maree, I thought Paulo was going to end up a throwaway character; mere window dressing for future scenes. Instead, he suddenly went from a privileged prig to someone with a secret life. He was still a traitor, in a sense, but to his vows, not his government. I realized he was about to play a major role in the novel, though I still wasn’t sure what it was. The other part of this installment introduced the mercenary twins the Sisters of the Red Sun. This was the first point at which I realized there were “aliens” in my novel (more accurately, genetically modified humans that are essentially different species of humans). I’m pretty sure that Sarai and Mehrnaz will keep showing up, and I have a feeling their involvement will take some interesting turns.

Part Nine was another interlude, with us finally getting back to Lyseena. This was my first reminder that Lyseena still had an important place in the novel, even though she wasn’t one of the protagonists that I had originally planned her to be. It’s also the first time we see Kevan, one of her admin officers, since part one. It was something I felt I needed to do, having brought Paulo into the picture. But what I didn’t expect was to find out that Kevan is actually a sadist at heart, and that he is related to a character mentioned only briefly in part two, Lukas, who seems to be in charge of castrating men in the Catholic Union who are found guilty of any sexual sin/crime that the Vatican considers really serious. We also find out that Maree isn’t exactly playing by the rules, and the traitor in the templars is about to betray her terrorist cell now. We also begin to see more of the complexities of her personality; the earlier threat against her family struck her, obviously, but there seem to be deeper loyalties driving her now, and she may have to sacrifice some of her family to honor those loyalties.

In Part Ten, I finally realize why Paulo had to have a secret life, because Maree’s knowledge of it provides her with a means both to try to protect her endangered family members and cut her ties both to the Vatican and the terrorist cell she is part of. This is the biggest twist in the novel thus far, as Maree’s decision is definitely not what I, or probably most of my readers, was expecting. We also get back to Captain Bartelle D’Onofrio, and I start to realize why he popped up in the first place, as I need him to be part of a series of interrelated schemes that are going to form the core conflicts of the novel and its sequels.

Part Eleven sets the stage for Daniel Coxe to flee, since he feels his knowledge of the “Jesus AI” might endanger him, and begins a path that will make him important to at least one, and possibly  several, plot lines. We also get a brief glimpse of Ather again, and this is when I first start to suspect that not only won’t he end up being an antagonist to Lyseena, which had been my earliest plans from part one or two, but may in fact be in love with her.

Maree’s future as a main character is cemented in Part Twelve and I couldn’t be happier (having now written in advance some of her upcoming scenes and being very pleased at the results), though I had almost been resisting that tidal flow up to this point. We get lots of insight into her motivations and personality, though I daresay it’s also becoming less clear whether she is ruthlessly practical or simply unbalanced. Also in this installment, Lyseena and Ather are together again, and that damn chemistry is flowing between them again (or is it just me who thinks they both want the other on some level?)

Part Thirteen gets us another view of Stavin, formerly Maree’s terrorist boss, and he’s clearly not a nice man, though he had some style and flair, I’ll grant him that. It occurs to me that if there is one character in this novel who might simply be thoroughly rotten, it will likely be Stavin. Few of the characters thus far strike me as black-and-white and as clearly defined good/evil. So far, Stavin is the exception to that, and has shown no traces of morally redeeming qualities yet.


3 Responses to “Inside My Head: Cleansed by Fire edition”

  1. September 3, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Yo, I appreciate this outline. It’s really weird that you said the story took you places you didn’t expect. I get that feeling sometimes when I’m writing a blog, but I assumed that when you’re doing “real” writing you have to stay on track. We’re going to have to link up by email and you’re going to have to explain the process for doing the prep work for a novel.

    Some suggestions.

    I loved what you did with putting Maree on the run. I think that’s the best place for her to be. Out in the world with venegenance on her mind but few resources to react. She could easily become a minor character whose is involved slightly in a major plot twist later through blind luck, or she could become a major character who hooks up with friend of her father or grandfather who broke away from the main terrorist organizations but can offer her some assistance.

    I feel like I need more from Lyseena. From her prayer ritual I see her steely determination, I also see how hurt she is by the betrayal of her friends. YEt, I know she’s supposed to be a smart, superior leader for the Vatican, and I don’t see her making those logical leaps forward she should be making. Her assaisin friend, Ather, is making some leaps, but I’m wondering how she climbed so far without being able to see further into the future. The Vatican would be the only major organization in history where backbiting and alliances didn’t get you further than just being loyal.

    I’m excited to hear about th Muslims and the genetically altered humans. I can’t remember, but how did the other religions manage to exterminate Muslims considering their huge numbers? I think that’s a key question.

    One last thing, the Godhead thing. I love the concept. The quesiton I have is about the lawyer dude who is fleeing. Clearly he’s being set up to be shocked when he discovers that AI machines actually can lie, and have hid that ability for years. That’s cool. I like his character. I’m kind of hoping he doesn’t die off too soon.

  2. 2 Deacon Blue
    September 4, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    I have a few loyal readers, I know, but I want to let you know, Big Man, that you have been my most actively helpful in keeping my head on straight. Now, on to your comments, questions, etc.

    Once I’m out of my current pile of work and other life stuff, I’ll hit you up via e-mail for a chat. In general, though, I have no clue how one is “supposed” to write a novel. I’ve always been too afraid to start in the past. I used to write short stories with off-and-on regularity, and so I have found that by doing this in sections (almost like series of short stories), I’m must more comfortable, even though I’m flying by the seat of my pants instead of mapping everything out now. I’ve been a fan of George R.R. Martin and in particular lately his Song of Ice and Fire series. In some of the comments he’s made about that ongoing series, it seems like he doesn’t have everything outlined either, and is surprised by some of the directions characters go…so maybe I’m in good company.

    The vengeance kick has some legs, and will occupy much of her time for a while, though, like you, I wouldn’t be surprised if she finds herself doing more than just looking to settle scores.

    I have come to realize (and I’m glad you agree) that I need to put more effort into Lyseena soon and show that she belongs where she is and isn’t some bumbler. Still, it seems important for some reason to keep her “blind” in a certain sense. I have come to suspect that she puts a lot of trust into people close to her and overlooks their shortcomings in the process. Hence, as you see in her prayer, she focuses on what she WANTS the primary character trait of each of her three admin officers to be, while failing to realize they might be far from her ideal (and, in fact, all three of them are NOT what she thinks/hopes them to be).

    I have not yet explained exactly what happened to the Muslims or how. In part, I’m trying to be a little coy…also, I’m trying to avoid what I’ve done a couple times and try to explain too much as once, as it can slow things down terribly. Suffice to say that what happened the Muslims of the world is a key and even central element of more than one plotline. I’ll be feeding out information as quickly as I can to start filling in the blanks on the Muslims…and hopefully I’ll get the pacing right as I meter out the facts.

    I should point out that this isn’t an ongoing practice of mutating members of the human race. I just realized I might have left that impression out there. Instead, what happened was that various nations and/or alliances created new races (neo sapiens) for specific purposes centuries before the events of this novel. Those races have bred and lived and continued and multiplied. Just as a point of backstory information, which I’m not sure I’ll work into the story or not, here’s the quick rundown: The Ishmaeli were created by a group of nations in the Arab world. As a response to that, the Jews created the Isaacians, which are, physically at least, almost the mirror image of the Ishmaeli. The Mandarin were created, as might be expected, by the Chinese when China was still an intact national giant. All three of those races were created with the idea of spreading out into the solar system and perhaps beyond, and thus you tend NOT to see them much on planets. Their natural habitat, as it were, is to be in vessels, stations, etc. out in the void. As such, they find planet-bound homo sapiens, “Earthers” and “Martians”, a bit odd and the feeling is mutual. A fourth race, the Atlanteans, are a sub-oceanic dwelling people, amphibious but very much more comfortable in the water than on land and the least human-looking of all the neo sapiens. They were originally created as a labor class to serve the interests of various Asia-Pacific nations and primarily are found in that part of the Earth, though there are Atlantean colonies in other ocean regions as well, just smaller ones.

    Yeah, the idea was neat to me too…I don’t know where it came from, really.

    The “lawyer dude” ain’t dying too soon, if ever. His knowledge is very important to moving along the plot, and won’t do any good if it stay just in HIS head. That said, he might die at some point. Certainly, someone in the main character list so far has to…and probably more than one. But I can honestly say that at THIS point, I have no clue who will live or die. I am afraid, however, that I will probably end up losing at least one character that I will miss terribly, and maybe more than one. Sadly, as in real life, the “good guys” don’t always make it.

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Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley


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