NaNoFeed: the next project

The next project–yes, I’m thinking about the next project, even as I am pausing on the current one–is a space opera. It doesn’t have a name yet, but there’s quite a bit of it written already.

I last touched it using my electric typewriter, some time in the spring or summer of 1979.

It has the potential for massive plot-sprawl, but at the time I began it, I didn’t have the long-form chops to handle that kind of thing. I had no concept of planning on paper; all I find in my paper files is a few cryptic notes in between assignments for high school algebra and world history.

Oh yes, and in those files there’s a history paper about Catherine II of Russia, written in the persona of a fictional British diplomat. The moves I’m doing in Cleopatra’s Ironclads I have been practicing for a very long time.

It’s the dark of the year, here in the northern hemisphere, when we approach the gateway of the winter solstice that opens onto a succession of such doors, year after year into the past as far as I can see. That’s the time of year when I look through papers from the past. This year marks my fifth year doing the National Novel Writing Month challenge, and the point at which I begin to turn full circle to confront the writing I did when I was very young. Cleopatra and her world were my obsession at age nine and ten and eleven. Now I am writing an alternate-history version of her.

Back in 2004, before I’d even heard of National Novel Writing Month, I did 52,000 words of narrative, about a young woman who was the belle of her province in eighteenth-century Ukraine. It wasn’t at all intended as a novel, but character backstory for the antagonist in an adaptation of Nadezhda Durova’s memoir–her mother, who is known to history only by her daughter’s account, a handful of descriptions collected almost a century after her death, and a few census entries.

Out of these few mileposts in the darkness, I conjured an entire character and a world. Granted, I did a huge amount of research to pull that off, but the real work wasn’t there–it was the moment when I stepped into her skin and lived her life, scribbling away in a composition book in ball-point pen and looking up to blink in surprise at the electric light.

I sent it to my dramaturgical consultant to review, and cringed in expectation of a rebuke; even if I was paying him by the hour to review and comment, it felt like I’d just committed a human rights violation shipping all of that off to him. Not only the story of Durova’s mother, but her father, her horse, Czar Alexander I …

He wrote back and said that he’d been sucked in, utterly mesmerized, by the lives of these imaginary people. It read just like a novel.

And so it was, and it gave me something to look back on when four years later I left the job from hell and launched on a sabbatical year dedicated exclusively to my own work. No problem, I said, tallying the word-count for all those stories; I did this all in November and I can do it again.

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4 Responses to NaNoFeed: the next project

  1. Michael Black says:

    you so crazy.

  2. Jean Lamb says:

    And here am I, still chunking along at a thou a day (at lunch, takes me about a half hour) and still having fun have Tam angst and feel homesick about the land he was born in and can’t return to, and considering the irony that he has to guide his friend there for his magical training.

    Oh, yes, and Julian’s two sisters, and Navarre, and the groom, should have been back by now…

    • epbeaumont says:

      I reread the finished manuscript of Cleopatra’s Ironclads last night. Part history paper, part novel, very cerebral until we get to the very end, in which things change. Coming at the betas soon, very soon.

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