Thirteen years ago today . . . .

. . . I finished writing my first novel.

It seems an appropriate date to put up an Open Book Thread for Lies and Prophecy, the much-revised descendant of the book I completed that day.

The floor here is open for questions, comments, etc on the novel and related topics (including “Welcome to Welton”). Needless to say, this will involve spoilers, so you have been warned.

Now if you’ll follow me behind the cut, I’ll talk a bit about how the novel came to be.

It was almost an accident.

Of course, nobody trips and falls and spits out a hundred thousand words. But I got halfway through writing the book before it really became apparent that hey, I’d written half a book, and at that point there seemed no good reason not to write the other half.

The first half came about like this. I had loved Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin for years, and then at one point during high school I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Witchlight, about which I remember nothing whatsoever save that it involved a semi-scientific attitude toward magic. These combined in my brain to give me the notion of writing about people studying magic at college. I noodled around with random scenes — in fact, I think I found them in the depths of my files; I’ll post ’em if anybody’s interested — establishing a host of factors right from the start that, surprisingly, have stayed with the book all these years. Wilders. Kim’s lack of skill with pyrokinesis. Guardians. The Krauss test. None of it was really going anywhere; it was me narratively lecturing myself on the world, figuring out what was in it.

That changed very rapidly one night, when I was sitting in the back of the car on my way either to or from some evening event with my father and somebody from his workplace. I was not in a mood to talk, so I stared out the window and thought, and an image came to me out of nowhere: the attack on Julian at Samhain. Suddenly, I had a plot.

Mind you, I had no idea what that plot meant. Who was attacking him, and why? I had no more clue than my characters did. I had to write it to find out.

My freshman year at college, I was poking alternately at this project (known then by the evocative moniker “the college story”) and another one (which showed up with a title in hand: Doppelganger), still bouncing around writing scenes as they came to me. This was when the Tower incident showed up, Kim’s weirdness with her tarot cards. I had a goodly chunk of text by then, fallout from Samhain and the characters trying to figure out what was going on, but as my college crit group pointed out to me, the pacing was terrible and the characters really undeveloped. And, in the way that so often happens with crit groups, I realized they were right, but that none of them had correctly pointed at the root cause:

This wasn’t the beginning of the book.

I’d leapt in mid-stream, with a couple of infodumpy scenes and then suddenly PLOT FROM LEFT FIELD. I needed to write an actual beginning.

Doing so was kind of a nightmare, and by “was” I mean it in the sense of “continued to be so for years to come.” It took four tries before I got a beginning I could proceed with, and it isn’t the one the book has now; there were something like three other openings in between the two, scattered across many revisions. But I finally got something I could roll with, at least, and so I made a list of everything that needed to get explained or established or set up before I got to the bit I already had, and proceeded to come up with scenes that would do the job.

For those of you who are fans of Tam Lin, this was by far the most Tam Lin-ish draft. The characters spent a lot of time faffing about being college students. There were worldbuilding details that have since fallen by the wayside: M&D classes, for example, short for “Meditation and Discipline,” which were mandatory junior high/high school courses for kids with manifested sidhe blood. (Or rather, sidhe Blood — the italics and capital letter got ditched later on.) Or magical names, which I think get mentioned in passing in the actual book; that used to be a standard thing in the setting, and there was a whole strand about Kim’s and how she shares it with the Circle and then somehow Falcon knows it implying Julian had found out but it never got explained how, leaving it as just “woooo look at Julian being mysterious.” (You see why it went away.)

So I had my list, and I wrote my way through it, and when I’d done all my establishing work I chopped off those first few infodumpy scenes, joined the new material to the old . . . and had half a book. Plus a clear sense of where it was going next, and a burning desire to find out what happened after that. So there was really no excuse not to finish.

It’s changed a lot since then. Not just M&D and magical names and unnecessary italics and capital letters going away. There is vastly less faffing about now than before, and more conflict, and depth to the worldbuilding that doesn’t even all fit into this book; I’ve spent thirteen years pondering wilders and their situation, and while the deep shield was always a part of the story, there’s a whole lot more there that will only come out if I get to write the sequels. My prose is better — though it’s funny, glancing at those early scenes, and noticing little phrases that appear to have survived thirteen years of reconstruction. But it is still, at its heart, the same story. And so I am pleased as hell to have it out in the world at last.

Anything you want to know or respond to? The comment thread is yours!

0 Responses to “Thirteen years ago today . . . .”

  1. la_marquise_de_

    I am three chapters into it at present and loving it.

  2. aishabintjamil

    I finished it about 3 days after it came out. πŸ™‚ And I really should have been doing other things with that Saturday.

    I enjoyed it very much, and hope there will be a sequel. But I did struggle with a bit of disappointment at first. I read the “Welcome to Welton” excerpts and was hooked after the first couple. That’s where the disappointment comes in – I read them assuming they were excerpts from the book, so when I bought it and found it opened two years later there was a certain period of “But, but, this isn’t the book I was looking forward to..”

    I wonder if I’m the only reader who made that assumption?

    • Marie Brennan

      Awww. I guess I did not make it clear enough that the scenes were a separate story, not an excerpt. Sorry! (They’re the result of me spending thirteen years thinking through how the characters first met.)

      • aishabintjamil

        It’s entirely possible that I missed a memo somewhere. πŸ™‚ No harm, except that I’d like to read more of that other story too…

        • Marie Brennan

          Well, I could probably make up more stuff about what they did their freshman year. πŸ™‚ But without a conflict, it would just be authorial self-fanfic, not really a story I could try to sell.

    • dibs_and_dlas

      No, you’re not the only reader to make that particular assumption (indeed, I probably held on to it for longer, and I was more than halfway through the book before I realized that Welcome to Welton wasn’t going to appear as either introductory material or a flashback). That said, not so much disappointment as a feeling of being off-balance, and of wondering where in the book the scenes would appear (which, as it turns out, was “never”)

  3. elizaeffect

    No questions, I just want to note that this gives me hope for the novel *I* started in high school. Which, yes, has a lot of faffing about and has been restarted more times than I can count in the past ten years as I idly try to figure out the world.

    • Marie Brennan

      I tend to think that if it sticks with you firmly enough for you to still be thinking about it a decade later, there’s probably some value in it that’s worth preserving.

  4. celestineangel

    Honestly, I would not have minded more faffing about being college students. I liked those parts! They were interesting! To me, anyway, but I’m weird. It probably stems from what I said before, that I wish that were the real world. I wanted to know more about the fictional classes I would be taking if there really were magically-oriented colleges. πŸ˜€

    Also, is there going to be a sequel because I can think of a lot of questions about the way things ended and what I want to know and and and….

    • Marie Brennan

      I like those parts, too (and that’s part of why “Welcome to Welton” came into being). But ultimately they weren’t really forwarding the story enough, so alas, they had to go.

      I’m curious what your sequel-related questions are. I probably won’t be able to answer most (maybe all) of them — after all, if I do get to write the sequel, I don’t want to spoil everything! — but there might be some I can say something about.

      • celestineangel

        SO MANY.

        –How, exactly, are humans going to use human emotions to fight the Unseelie?

        –What are the further repercussions of the Otherworld rejoining the mortal world, even if it’s not complete yet? (New and different magic classes??? πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ :D)

        –I’m not even just talking about sidhe being able to move freely, or the Unseelie’s plot for WORLD DOMINATION. I’m just talking about really weirdly detailed stuff like… how does it affect (or does it) the Krauss rating of current bloods? How does it affect the wilders and their geis? Just the very fact of the Otherworld and its magic merging with the mortal world, there’s bound to be more magic, right?

        –Also, what will the government think about Kim? She’s a wilder now, but one without the failsafe deep shields. I have this image in my head of some government idiot telling her they need to do it for her own and the world’s protection and Kim laughing in their face and saying “Nope.” Because, unlike other wilders, she was adult and already trained in basic control. But of course, protection was only part of why they made the deep shields, right? It’s the government.

        –What is the wider circle of Guardians up to?

        –Kim’s parents! How do they react to her being a wilder? Does she tell them what she learned about what really causes psi-sickness, and that Noah would have been a wilder if he hadn’t died of it?

        There are probably more, but that’s all I can think of right now.

        • Marie Brennan

          Eheheheheh. It is deeply satisfying to me that many of those are exactly the questions that will drive the second book. πŸ™‚ It won’t actually take place at Welton — the school gets closed down for spring term, and the story picks up again during the summer, when Kim is in D.C. working at her internship — but her parents’ reaction, and the question of whether she is technically a wilder in the eyes of the law, are a major part of the conflict. Which ends up tying into the bigger problem of the Unseelie, of course, and also the geis will be very relevant.

          Thirteen years ago, I actually viewed L&P* as a stand-alone book. Hah! But I had to try to frame it as “this is the story of a beginning” rather than “this is the beginning of a story” because really, there’s a point at which the conflict stops being something that would plausibly be in the hands of a small group of college-aged kids. But then I started thinking more about wilders, and Kim’s position vis a vis that group, and it gave me an angle that lets her and Julian continue to be very relevant indeed.

          *Fun fact: the book went along for ages just being called “the college-story,” until somewhere along the lines I decided it needed a title, and so gave it the working moniker of Shadow of the Sidhe. Which then stuck for years and years, because I couldn’t think of a better one. It spent a brief stint being called Emerald and Gold, until a couple of years ago I thought up the quote that is now the book’s tag-line and repeated phrase, and then it became Lies and Prophecy, which is far better.

          • celestineangel

            Soooo… is this confirmation of a second book, then? πŸ˜€ Or is that “questions that will drive the second book” as in “if I were to write it”?

            I do like the title Lies and Prophecy!

  5. squishymeister

    Awesome :). The Pisces in me delights in exploring how we got where we are today. My favourite bits are the ones that were major turning points in our stories that were relatively mundane at the time. Heck- I am where I am today based purely on whims! And a well placed flier and a well time fortune cookie.

    Just one question though… when are you planning on returning to London?? Cause I miiisss you!

  6. Anonymous

    It’s “questions that drive the almost-complete outline I have for the second book, if I can justify spending several months writing it.” πŸ™‚

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