I’ve been spending some serious quality time with my NaNoWriMo project. While I’ve NaNo’d in the past, I’ve never been this serious about it. Sure, I didn’t start with an outline and used NaNoWriMo as an excuse to just go out exploring an idea that started out as simply “College of the Gods.” Originally I had a grander, properly novelly idea—King Lear mashed with As You Like It in spaaaaaaaace—but this idea seemed more accessible, and with a 50k month sprint ahead of me, accessible sounded like a good idea.
And I think it still is a good idea. I felt brave enough to leap in, at least after a few days of warming up, and now I have 39,875 actual words to mold, which is 39,875 more than I started out with.
The draft being developed right now is nothing like what the final story will end up being, and I’ve been seeing vast changes take place with the characters and the plot (now plural) and the world I’m building. Like the cracking of a baking pan of brownies, there are now discrepancies between chapter 1 and whatever chapter I’m on now (I’m writing scenes in a timey-wimey fashion at the moment to meet word count, so “chapter” is a bit fluid).
So I thought, what an excellent time to write a vignette between the three main characters (three! And not just one main character and sidekicks!) that
captures the themes (my gods, themes, I haz them) of the novel,
clears up the motivations of each character (really, really important, since this will describe their trajectory through the story),
sums up the personalities, virtues, flaws, backgrounds, and relationships of the three, and most important of all
adds to the overall word count.
I couldn’t have written this vignette three weeks ago. Because I actually got around to exploring this story, I’ve been able to develop a much better idea of how the narrative will work. It’s far from perfect sight as to how everything will go, but without NaNoWriMo, I wouldn’t have gotten this far.
The hardest thing to deal with is that this vignette is so different from the current style of the manuscript; it’s done in three first-person viewpoints, whereas the manuscript is done in a kind of vague hand-wavy third-person that attempted to concentrate on one deity in each section. The rewriting phase is going to be prolonged and a bit violent to the version 0.0 of the text.
So! Um. Here’s the vignette, which is actually a sort of story trailer, now that I think about it. I’ve had my Mac read it to me and everything, so the cadences sound right for each character’s head space.
Funny. I thought the first serious book I wrote would have more explosions in it (you wouldn’t imagine how many explosions there were in King Lear As You Like It In Space, which had an outline and notes and lots and lots of planning and… never got there. Maybe another NaNoWriMo).
The Pantheon Plot
The gods do not pray; they are incapable of it. This is a law of the universe: that a being of belief can neither feed itself nor feed its own fellows with faith. Were it possible to do so, it would be one of the few blasphemies of our kind. So said Professor Thoth Ogdoad, and so it has turned out to be true so far for me.
I remember the old man who was named Rengu. I consider him my ancestor at the very least: the man whose sole faith in one lonely spirit was somehow enough to usher me into the auspicious Lon Derr University in the immortal city of the same name, an honor reserved for gods and goddesses, or so the Lady of Owls had told me when she came to ferry him into the next world.
Every day I kneel in front of the shrine I built for him, as he once knelt before the burning rock he thought was the spirit of his wife, from whom I take my name: Lisao. Unlike him, I have no memento to place on its tiny dais. But I fill a bowl with water, reverently from a pitcher, as he did; and I light small tea candles to float in small metal leaves, as he did; and nothing I do is enough to fill me with the contentment I sensed in him when he was alive.
Behind sit my two friends, without whom I would have been lost in the first few days of the semester, for the Lon Derr University is not a forgiving environment meant to nurture the gods, but to forge them in fire. An irony, that a burning rock should show weakness in that forge, but my nature is that of the small: timid, fragile, uncertain.
In contrast, my friends are strong. I have seen Psann tease a thunder god in the face of his derisive contempt; and I’ve seen Gyron ground the lightning that arced from the hands of the same god. I wish I had either of their qualities: fearlessness, will. I feel fortunate that I’m in their trust, that they humor me in my blasphemous endeavor. I hope we remain friends forever; but as the existence of the Lady of Owls informs us, nothing lasts forever: not civilizations, not gods, not faith.
I concentrate on the type of thoughts that Rengu had when he had sat before me, but try as I might, I fail to recapture the essence of his prayers every morning for five full cycles of the seasons. It’s like trying to perfectly capture the color of the leaves in autumn, or the smell of the bonfires in winter; every sensory filter removes one from the reality of that which we attempt to portray.
Still, I know I have to try. I owe this much and more to him, he who gave me life, and had lived such a painful one before the Lady took him away.
In the past few weeks, when I’ve felt like broaching the subject, I’ve told Lisao that attempting to pursue ancestor worship–and of a mortal at that–was nothing more than a desire to crawl back into the flames of her old rock and sit in the balmy faith of one man. She shrinks from me when I say that, and though on the outside I am a hardened warrior with the bark of gold upon my breast and shoulders, inside my soft heartwood wishes to comfort her, even though I know that would only encourage her to further explore this folly for the gods.
“Perhaps what she wishes for is the warmth and support of a family,” said Psann much earlier today, as we walked back from the atrium across the bridge of pale moonlit night. “Rengu as her ancestor? He’s more of a father, as kind and loving one as a deity is as like to get.” He lifted his head to the false night sky curving above, hand on one breast, sighing as if with longing, as dramatic as he always is.
“And was your father so kind and loving?” I asked him, thinking of my own. Baldur, he is, the god of creation in the post-Ragnarok world I come from, a world of green and life forever more—
So the world would turn for him
All things in the world loved him
Strife abolished, competition overthrown
Middle earth alive as it never had been
As it never should have been.
“I should have thought you’d know better than to ask that question,” said Psann. “I have no wish to speak of my family, but I do wish Lisao the best in her project.”
“Do you realize what it means if she succeeds?” I asked, no longer surprised at his lack of judgement in supporting this deed.
“And yet you humor her. I knew you had a heart and soul, fair and just warrior of the golden tree! Perhaps I can persuade you to the cause of forming our own pantheon after all, for we could do with a triumvirate that included a goddess of war and wisdom.”
I could punch him when he says that. I could drag Lisao away from her altar to a mortal. Yet I do not. All the years I have run from Baldur, never setting down root for fear of being trapped, and yet these two have touched me to the core. They simply accept me, with my wide sapwood and my fierceness and all the tact of my uncle.
Perhaps I can still knock sense into both of them.
Gyron sits lotus-position to the right of me, bedecked in golden armor and holding her small spear Mjollnir in her hands; Lisao’s guardian angel and voice of reason, when Lisao chooses to listen to her. I sit like a seal, legs folded back and hands in front, because of course this ceremony is taking a while to execute, and no one can excuse a seal maiden for sitting as he does. I try not to mind the way this position creases my neatly pressed slacks, or disarranges my jacket and shirt.
If Gyron sits as her angel, then what am I, who sits opposite? I am only her jester, her fool if she takes me to be so, which I cannot be completely certain of, for Lisao is as accepting and warm as the equatorial seas of Second Earth, and I think she always takes me seriously. That is the conundrum of her; she could be a mother goddess if she should choose, but she’s at the same time too innocent. She also doesn’t know what she wants, which is even more unhelpful.
Gyron, on the other hand, recognizes me as I am, although I fear she is too harsh; she calls me Trickster when she has no reason to do so. I have only ever once Tricked in my existence, and that for the least selfish of reasons: to stop an insane cycle of unrequited love. Even if the price turned out to be a net positive for me, my release from the clutches of my effectively-father. Well, she did point out that my lack of planning beyond “trick the creator-Trickster of mine own pantheon” led to the parting of all of my fingers by the virtue of my effectively-father’s cleaving knife, but perfection is rarely achievable, even by the ultimate gods. We are the reflections of those who believe in us, in all their love and spite and contradictions.
And that is why it strikes me as most unfair that Lisao cannot pray. We are, in many ways, only reflections, and not those who cast them.
We go through the motions for her sake, but there’s nothing in it. And when the small candles burn out, she realizes this as well. She bows her head, then stands up, shakily, as she always is after exerting the meager energy from the faith of one dead man. I immediately leap up to assist her, followed by Gyron. “There, there, my dear,” I whisper, holding her hand carefully in my own, mechanical fingers covered in gloves of velvet sealskin. Gyron shoots me a warning glare; she never likes it when I act too romantically towards our Lisao.
“Where do they go, Psann?” she asks, staring at the plain sandalwood shrine. “You must know. Your mother was the goddess of death for your people.”
“Death deities and psychopomps keep their secrets close to their hearts, my dear Lisao. I would not know what she knows until I enter her kingdom, never to leave, and that would be quite useless to you. Besides, I have far better things to do than rule Adlivun.” I did not repeat what Gyron referred to as my boast of going out into the world and forming a new pantheon, free of the influences of predecessor gods.
With the way that Lisao’s spirit is waning, we can’t afford to wait for mortals to suddenly believe in us.
Lisao was originally going to be the main character, the one to whom the Hero’s Journey would happen. Instead, everybody seems to be going on their very own Journey.
Gyron is based on Gerth, an actual old-timer mythological character, a beautiful giant in Norse mythology whom Freyr fell in love with. I had only ever heard about Odin, Loki, Freya and her cats, Thor and his hammer, how the evil giants would help bring about the end of the world, and never about the “good” giants.
Psann’s name is actually as odd in Inuktitut as it is in English. Ending with a double consonant final is rather wrong. And no, that’s not a series of pronoun mishaps in the text.
I’ve also been troubled by the idea that Psann is actually a self-insert character, since he has just about all of my faults except that he doesn’t shy away from confrontation. Which, combined with a lack of good judgement most of the time (tricksters seem to LACK THIS IN SPADES), leads to a lot more disaster than it does magically saving people. For a writer, this is very convenient, but also, if the self-insert theory is true, hella embarrassing.
PLANS WHAT PLANS? Revision (lots) is going to happen before any beta readers see this, though hopefully revision should be happening simultaneously as they get each slice. I think it’ll be February before anyone sees the revised draft, which will obviously also not be the final draft. After the final, I hope to portion it out onto a website once a week for as long as it takes.
Publication: anything other than self-publication opens up too many questions for me, such as conflict of interest with the day job. Come to think of it, self-publication itself opens up too many questions for me.