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A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. not-10

Take . . . three?

Back in 2016 and 2017, I began reading through my old notebooks from high school, college, and graduate school, unearthing what bits of story I was working on when, pinpointing the moment at which certain things began, and so forth, all preparatory to sending those notebooks off to be archived. Then I dropped the ball until 2019 and picked it back up again — for a single post, after which I dropped the ball again until now. But dammit, I will persevere! (Because I want these notebooks to stop cluttering up my office, heh.)

So, onward into the tenth volume!


A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. Not-9

Once upon a time, I started reading through my old notebooks from high school, college, and graduate school, and blogging about what I found therein, preparatory to packaging these things up and sending them off to be archived with my papers at Cushing. I’ve finally picked that project back up again, so let’s take a trip in the Wayback Machine to 2002!


A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. 8 (ish)

Appropriately enough, after the chronological trainwreck that was the previous volume, I never actually numbered this notebook. Because it was the one I was in the middle of using when I took the time to number the previous ones? Because I started using it after that? Not because I gave up on trying to fit it into the chronology; this one is remarkably coherent. Judging by the stories I was working on and the class notes that appear sporadically, this starts around the summer after my junior year, continues through senior, and fetches up in early grad school, without any huge skips or bits of Doppelganger showing up at the end.

I don’t know why, but I went through another phase here of writing a lot more stuff longhand — which is nigh unheard-of for me. I did it in high school because I spent all day in class and had to look like I was paying attention, but in college and grad school? Class occupied much less of my time per day, and I was taking much more in the way of actual notes. Not sure why I went on a kick of it here, but I definitely did; I have an almost-complete draft of “Such as Dreams Are Made Of,” a good-sized chunk of “Beggar’s Blessing,” and the entirety of “A Thousand Souls” — the latter with its wordcount helpfully written in the margins, because apparently I wrote it somewhere I didn’t have access to my computer right away, and that was the only way to figure out how long it was. (760 words in the first draft; counting wasn’t a very onerous task.) I have lots of planning for the still-unwritten novel that goes by the acronym TIR, including the page where I stumbled through a lot of phonemes on my way to the main character’s name. I have snippets from another unwritten Nine Lands novel, because I had an idea for an interaction between three characters and wanted to make sure I didn’t forget it. I have other planning for Old Project C, because this apparently coincides with another spate of work on that.

But the most interesting things in here, from my perspective, are the bits related to two novels that did get written. The first, from the standpoint of what shows up in the notebook, is Sunlight and Storm, the trunked novel I mentioned before. On the very first page I wrote:

I feel like I have this inability to tell the difference between an honest need for a break and simple procrastination.

Am I stuck on Sunlight and Storm? I don’t think so. Could I be writing something more powerful if I stopped and took a break and made some deep meaningful connection? Maybe. Or is that just laziness talking, uncertainty, stupidity. Who knows?

I can’t swear that taking a break would have produced any great improvement in my situation, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that powering through (which is what I did) left me with a completely lifeless first draft. The story had no energy; it was preachy and colorless and not at all what I wanted. It remains the one novel draft I have never tried to revise. Instead of attempting to clean it up, I wrote out a scene-by-scene outline of the story in its first incarnation, scribbled a few pages that I think are the single time in my life I’ve ever explicitly written out the themes of my story, and then started a white-page rewrite. I’m not sure I even looked at the original draft again, after I wrote that outline — I’d have to compare the files to see whether I kept any original text. My recollection is that I didn’t, but that could be mental erasure talking; that’s how much I disliked my first attempt.

Nor is that the only novel outline in this notebook. The other one is similarly an accounting of a book I’d already completed; I’ve never been much of one for outlining stuff before I write it. In 2001 I went to WorldCon in Philadelphia, and found that an editor I’d been submitting to was on a panel, so I hatched a plan to try and talk to her afterward. She’d written me a personalized rejection letter for what eventually became Lies and Prophecy, so I figured that would be my hook: introduce myself, remind her about the book, thank her for that encouragement, and then get out before I took up too much of her time.

I got as far as my name.

She remembered me. She remembered the book, before I even said anything about it. She remembered that I had another novel (The Kestori Hawks) in her slush pile. And she asked whether I was doing anything else in the setting of Lies and Prophecy. When I stammered out something to the effect of how I was thinking about revising it, she asked me to send it to her once I did.

And I know all of this because I wrote it all down in the notebook I’d taken to the con. 😛 (Though the memory is pretty vivid, too.)

So after that I have an outline of Lies and Prophecy, wherein I made a lot of progress in tightening it up and eliminating the stuff that was more just about the characters hanging out at magic college than anything plot-related. (I’ve mentioned before that Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin was one of the inspirations for the story; the original draft was waaaaaaay more Tam Lin-y in that respect.) Which means this notebook very thoroughly documents the period where I learned to be a lot more aggressive about my revisions, not just polishing up the story but going in there and hacking stuff apart to put it back together again. It’s a key skill, and one I didn’t have in the early days.

There are other bits and pieces in here — me poking at a story based on one of the only dreams I’ve ever remembered, research notes for my paper on Minoan bull-leaping, a quasi-journal of my first trip to Ireland, notes from a class with Henry Glassie the Most Amazing Lecturer Ever, a brief stab at my second Latin grammar/Irish phonology mashup conlang (for Tir Diamh, one of the countries in the Nine Lands) — but those two things, the Sunlight and Storm and Lies and Prophecy revision notes, are probably the most significant things in here.

Well, that and the seedlet for a novel that may never get around to writing. It’s entirely possible I’m going to repurpose it for a short story I promised to write this spring.

A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. 7

If you need proof that my numbering for these notebooks is more what you might call guidelines than actual rules, look no further than this volume.

Our last installment was largely devoted to the spring of my junior year, with a brief retro-foray into my sophomore spring in the last few pages (where I was pondering which field school to attend and writing part of Doppelganger). This notebook, which theoretically follows in in sequence, opens with me as a sophomore again, dwells for a while on my actual time at Cas Hen, skips off my junior year like a rock off a pond, and then lands firmly in my senior year for a good half the notebook before wrapping up in the final pages with me settling into Bloomington the summer between college and grad school — except that the back has the nigh-obligatory couple random pages of text from Doppelganger (seriously, how many notebooks did I spread that across?) and page after page of Japanese vocabulary practice, which could date to any point between my freshman year of college and my third year of grad school.

Like I said. Guidelines, not actual rules.

Anyway, this bounces back and forth between NPC stats for the Japan-based Vampire game I never ran on the recto side of pages with Irish verb conjugations on the verso before getting to quite an assortment of writing stuff. The notes for Sunlight and Storm must be very early; I hadn’t named any of the characters yet, just referring to them as “the protagonist” and “flighty” and “Mrs. Dull.” (Who actually isn’t dull, but that’s how the protagonist first sees her.) Then, after a page of semi-outline for Doppelganger and a page of me conjugating laudare for no reason I can recall, I’m at Cas Hen!

I think my field school notes started when we were in Ireland for the middle two weeks of six, because the earliest stuff is about graveyards, and we spent a lot of our time in Ireland taking rubbings of old headstones and so forth. That and survey work: if I need to remind myself on the differences between resistivity, magnetic susceptibility, and magnetometry, now I can. Also phosphorous testing, which I’m pretty sure is how we snapped the handle on the auger before somebody got around to admitting we had totally the wrong kind of auger for the job and that’s why it never worked for beans even when it was intact.

Random line, reigning in solitary glory on the back of a page, I think said by one of my friends at the field school: “The reincarnation of Jack the Ripper is the son of Zeus.” No, I have no idea what we were talking about to wind up with a line like that. I don’t think it was meant seriously.

Some of this is actually kind of interesting, and I can only assume I got it from someone at Cas Hen, given its placement in the notebook. I have a page describing the tools a blacksmith uses: not just the obvious things like hammer and anvil, but also bosh, mandrel, swage block, drifts, sets, fullers, hardies, and the difference between cold chisels and hot chisels. Also the parts of an anvil, and the detail that the block it sits on is usually elm? And then another page of the different heats you bring a metal to (warm, black, dull red, bright red, bright yellow, light welding, full welding) and the techniques you use on it (drawing out, upsetting, bending, hot cutting, punching and drifting, welding, hardening, tempering, annealing, normalizing, case hardening). The next page talks about the right build for a workhorse versus a warhorse vs a horse for endurance riding; for all I know, I got that from one of my field school friends, who knew a lot about horses. I don’t think it’s really worth photocopying these before I send the notebook off, because I could get that info in much greater detail from a book if I ever need it for some reason, but it’s still quite nifty.

Then piles of notes for my final paper, about how the site of Cas Hen gets presented to the public through signboards, reconstructions, pamphlets, and shop displays. Unlike most of my classmates, I actually have the paper itself, too, because I went to the trouble of hauling my laptop to the back end of nowhere and running it off the electricity in the finds tent. I had to write my final draft by hand, which was annoying, but at least I was able to compose the paper digitally. I’ve preferred to write on a computer ever since I was nine.

Back to writing! There was a thing I was doing freshman year, that must have continued for longer than I recalled, where I was writing folktales and bits of pseudo-history as worldbuilding for the Nine Lands. I have one of them in here, about an incident in the political history of Tir Diamh. (In verifying that, I also discovered that what I thought was me trying to write poetry for poetry’s sake was actually an attempt at the satire that gets mentioned in one of the other bits of Diamhair history. It seems I used June Tabor’s “Aqaba” as my source for its melody and scansion.) Did that plant the seeds for something that shows up near the end of the notebook? I have there something of an outline for the early part of a novel I still haven’t written; whether I will or not, who knows. Then more Doppelganger bits, including the earliest evidence I’ve yet come across of what eventually became Dancing the Warrior, eleven years later.

Junior year is represented by me trying to work out floor plans for our dorm suite and about four pages of class notes for three different classes, before the next page declares HIEROGLYPHICS! in very large excited letters. Which means it’s now my senior spring, when I took a class on Egyptology. But wherever the first half of that semester is, it isn’t here, because the hieroglyphic bits are followed by my first trip to Japan, during spring break: thoughts on which places I might visit (I hit rather a lot of them, though didn’t make it to Sanjuusangendou, Arashiyama, or Fushimi Inari until a later trip), an attempt at a daily journal that died four days in. (Half in Japanese, half in English, of course.)

“Since I work on stories instead of taking notes anyway, I might as well use a story notebook.” Is that what this is? And here I thought it was a nonsensical hodgepodge of random crap. But while I may have been ignoring the professor in my Aegean Bronze Age archaeology class, I do wind up having actual Egyptology notes soon after that. Interspersed with bits from my push to write a bunch of short stories before I graduated, so I could send them in to what was then the Isaac Asimov Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing; it’s now the Dell Magazines Award for same, and it was my first monetary success with my writing. Of the six stories I wrote in those two months, “Calling into Silence,” “The Twa Corbies,” and “A Thousand Souls” wound up being published; the other three are currently trunked. But trying to brainstorm story ideas from folklore gave me my first notion of writing a short story based on “Tom O’Bedlam,” so while I can’t really say that I had the idea for “Mad Maudlin” in college, I did have the ancestor of the idea for it.

Unexpected treasure: notes from the Shadowrun game a friend of mine ran. It was, for a long time, the only campaign I played in that actually reached a conclusion — because it was planned from the start to be something like six sessions. People who know Shadowrun are invited to beat their heads into their desks when they hear that our party consisted of three physical adepts and a shaman. <g> Our GM was kind and tailored the game so we didn’t need a decker or a rigger or, y’know, any of the things that are normally core to a Shadowrun campaign. (One of our phys ads practiced . . . aikido? Some martial art that meant he had a penalty if he initiated violence. He was also built like a tank, so we generally stuck him in front as our meat shield, let the bad guys attack him, and then went to town once he started fighting back.) But really, our weird-ass party composition fit the plot, which turned out to be a modern-day sequel to the old wuxia film The Bride with White Hair. Sadly, the notes here cut off before the end of the campaign. I hope they turn out to be in another notebook, because I remember the conclusion wound up being very bittersweet: we had to decide which of several factions (the Bride, her lover, some triad group, I forget who else) to give the magic flower to, and waffled back and forth so much, more people died than might otherwise have done. My comment afterward was “I think my character feels like they made a wrong decision . . . but she can’t tell which one it was.”

The last thing in here, before the logistical notes from me moving to Indiana for grad school, the Doppelganger bit, and the Japanese vocabulary, is from what I dubbed Old Project C a while ago. I’d laid it aside round about my freshman year, maybe sophomore; years later I picked it up again, in the hopes that the intervening time would have given me enough distance to be able to really reconceive it as I needed to. The answer was both yes and no: I was able to make major changes, but not to turn it into something successful. I got far enough, though, that I started trying to write new fiction in the setting, plots wholly unrelated to my previous attempts. And this one is especially noteworthy because it’s pretty much the only thing I wrote that entire summer: I was working for a contract archaeology lab, getting up way earlier than I was accustomed to, which meant I also had to go to bed way earlier than I was accustomed to.

This killed my creativity.

I knew I was a night owl, but I didn’t know how much. I won’t say that I’m incapable of writing in the daytime, but my most productive hours are after 10 p.m. Always have been. And the shifted schedule, combined with a mind-destroyingly tedious job, meant I got no writing done — except for the one night I decided to say “screw it” and stay up later than I should. I wrote a short story that night, the story I apparently started here in this notebook. So it’s a reminder that yeah, my work schedule is a choice . . . but not a random one.

A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. 6

I pity the hypothetical poor bastard who ever tries to go through these notebooks to write some book or paper on me. The fifth page of this notebook features the following gem: “Tá mé réasúnta ard agus measartha tanaí. Caithfidh mé a ? láidir. I should email [name]; he can probably help.” Four pages after that, we get “家へかえりたい” — the start of a whole block of Japanese text. I think by this point in my life I had stopped randomly writing things in Spanish, but I can’t swear to it, nor that there won’t be some Old Norse later on. The actual content of this stuff is rarely meaningful; the Japanese says “I want to go home” and goes on to whine about how I can’t write in kanji anymore and I’m tired, while the Irish, from what I can piece together with the help of a dictionary, is an evaluation of my height and weight and physical strength (why I was writing that I don’t know, other than as a way of not forgetting the language). But a casual glance at the text doesn’t tell you whether it’s pointless filler or not, written down because I was bored in class. Some of it might be load-bearing. The only way for that hypothetical researcher to know is to translate the Irish and the Japanese and the Spanish and maybe the Old Norse, along with the Welsh song lyrics and Latin poetry and other crap I scribbled out because I was trying not to fall asleep.

Dear god. A later page has me trying to write out the first line of the Aeneid . . . in katakana. アルマ ウイルムクエ カノ。

My brain has always been a weird place.

Anyway, this notebook. It mostly continues straight on from the previous one, as in I’m still taking notes from my junior year Japanese history and witchcraft classes. (Also my ethnography class, but either it bored me stiff or it was the kind of class that was more about discussion than absorbing information. Possibly both; I could tell you better if I remember which professor taught it. Anyway, my “notes,” such as they are, largely consist of details about paper due dates and complaining about my fellow students.) Reading through it took me a while, because I was pretty gung ho about writing as much as I could of my notes in Japanese; I got a lot of hiragana practice the last couple of days, and had a few rounds of “what do those kanji mean? Bakufu, maybe? <goes to dictionary> Okay, yes. Then the bit right before it probably means Kamakura, because I know that’s the next historical period after Heian.”

From a writing perspective, it means this volume isn’t very interesting, as the vast majority of it is class notes, and the bits that sparked story ideas are pretty scarce. But I’ve got a page or so of noodling about the Nine Lands, scattered notes on The Kestori Hawks, and the occasional nugget of idea, marked to hold onto for later. My paper for that ethnography class was written on the local SCA fencing practice, which is further evidence of how my interest in that subject developed. Toward the end I started working on my junior thesis, which wound up being about weapons in Viking Age Scandinavia; apart from more proof of “hey, I like sharp things,” that thesis led directly to a short story and an as-yet-unpublished novel based on same. (I read Hervarar saga and was wildly disappointed by how it squandered the narrative potential of the poem “The Waking of Angantyr,” which was included in my Old Norse textbook. So I decided to write my own version.) And I think this one page full of random words was me scribbling down names I liked while working for Anthropological Literature as an indexer, because the second page of that also features the note “Kumari” by Allen, Journal of the Indian Anthropological Society, 32:3 207-221 pp. I knew “Once a Goddess” was inspired by an article I read while indexing; now I have the exact citation. Thanks, Professor Allen!

The most interesting bit, however, comes at the back of the notebook — which clearly got used before the rest of it did, because the material there dates to my sophomore year, before everything else. I’ve got contact info for several archaeological sites, which must have been field schools, because the last thing on that page says “Cas Hen’s a possibility.” That would be Castell Henllys, the field school I attended the summer after my sophomore year, which is noteworthy for two things in particular. The first is that I wrote a good chunk of Doppelganger while sitting in my pup tent with my laptop balanced on my air mattress — including the pivotal scene where Miryo comes face-to-face with the Primes after her encounter with Mirage, which will forever stick my memory because my subconscious threw a spanner into the works that night, that wound up making the entire story much richer. And the second noteworthy thing is that Cas Hen is where I met Alyc Helms, who seventeen years on is still a good friend and my closest writing buddy. As I said when recommending her to my former editor after he set up shop as an agent, every time I hit a wall mid-draft, Alyc is the person I fling my manuscript at, wailing piteously for her to hellllllp meeeeeeee. So, uh, I’m glad I decided not to go work on Low Briker Farm or Silchester Roman Town or the Billown Neolithic Landscape Project, because I could have written Doppelganger there, too, but I wouldn’t have met Alyc.

Oh, and there is Spanish in this notebook, though it’s limited to me scrawling CALLATE! (shut up!) when one of my classmates wouldn’t stop talking, and some song lyrics when I got really bored. So, par for the course.

A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. 5

Years ago I numbered these notebooks so I would know roughly what order they went in, but it’s more what you might call guidelines than actual rules. This one, #5, starts out with my junior year of high school — I can tell because there are three pages from a project I was working on for Theory of Knowledge — but then it jumps straight to my sophomore year of college. And I can tell that because I was finally taking actual notes in class.

In fact, the bulk of this notebook is dedicated to class notes, stretching across three semesters. But even if there were nothing story-related in it — which isn’t the case — I would still consider it fair game for archiving, because of what it shows about my development as a writer. The classes recorded here are Ancient Celtic Society, my Irish Gaelic language course, The Christian Revolution (on the early formation of the church), Shakespeare’s Later Plays, the history of folklore theory, Japanese history, and witchcraft. (Yes, I took a course on witchcraft. My textbooks for that had the most interesting titles.) This is characteristic of my education: I ricocheted all over the globe, filling my brain with bits and pieces of material from a dozen different cultures.

I hadn’t realized it began this early, but here we get the first scattered appearances of the mark I mentioned before, the thing I would put in the margins of my notes to let me know when I’d gone haring off the path of class material and into ideas for my stories. It’s a little MB, for Marie Brennan, and it makes obvious what otherwise would require inference: the fact that my classes were directly fueling my fiction. It’s possible that one of my other notebooks will even record the moment at which a folklore seminar gave me the idea for “Calling into Silence,” the first piece of fiction I ever had monetary success with. I’ve said before that I didn’t choose my majors (archaeology and folklore & mythology) with an eye toward what would be useful to me as a fantasy writer, but I don’t think I could have chosen better for that purpose if I tried. Here is the proof of it, with my college education dumping truckloads of fertilizer and seeds directly into my brain.

Story-wise, there are a bunch of things in here, starting with Old Project C (that can be the code name for the originally-fanfic-based-but-later-original thing I may revive someday in vastly altered form) and bouncing around through Doppelganger, The Kestori Hawks (my third and wildly unsuccessful novel, now trunked), the Nine Lands short stories, and Sunlight and Storm (my fourth novel, which may get revived from the trunk someday). I can see the moment where I started noodling around with the name that wound up becoming Shikari. There are some scene-bits for what would probably be the pivot point of a series I have not yet written, more than fifteen years later. There are diagrams and choreography for the plays I worked on, during the four years that I was basically the only stage combat person at Harvard with anything resembling training — early stratigraphy for Writing Fight Scenes.

There are also a few habits that are still with me now. The first is my tendency to randomly start writing in cursive, in a never-ending and perpetually doomed attempt to regain the ability to make it look good. Sketches periodically fill the margins; I’m not much of a visual artist, at least not outside of photography, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying. And every so often — more, when there’s a good reason — I’ll write bits of my notes in Japanese, again in an attempt to keep up my skill. Mostly what it means in practice is that I remember how to write dates, and my hiragana comprehension has stayed good, because I can spell out things I don’t remember/never knew the kanji for, and kanji (at least the way I write them) are often too slow for note-taking purposes. This was useful in the part of the notebook where I was studying Japanese history, because I could and did write about how しょとく promoted Buddhism in やまと during the 六の century, but a few scattered habits stayed with me overall; I suspect later notebooks will show me writing 人 for “person” or “people,” because that’s one of the few cases where the kanji is genuinely faster to write.

A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. 4

My fourth notebook dates to my senior year of high school (because there are calculus notes and Latin translations in it) and my freshman year of college (because there are personal notes in it, which I have no compunctions about tearing out before I send this off to be archived).

It is probably fair to say that my writing process has never been so well-documented as it was in this period, simply because of the circumstances of my life. In high school and early college I didn’t really take notes in class, because I mostly didn’t have to. (When the “lecture” consisted of the teacher going over the information that was already in the book, I didn’t see much point.) I just listened . . . sort of . . . and remembered stuff. But I needed to look like an industrious student, so I wrote stuff in my notebook, and sometimes it had to do with the topic at hand but most of the time it didn’t. The result is things like this:

scan of a notebook page featuring a triquetra knot

Right there, documented for posterity, is the moment I had the idea of using the triquetra knot as the symbol of Starfall’s witches. There are countless little tidbits like that scattered through here: Poltergeist activity in Talman? says one page, a four-word query that led to a major scene in Lies and Prophecy. Another page has Five sections of witches. Name? followed by Ray in a different pen, as I worked out the structure of witch society in Doppelganger. There are worldbuilding tidbits that got abandoned, like the modes of address for the Primes; there are worldbuilding tidbits that got kept, like the top margin that has a few scribbled details on the psi-virus. There are two entire pages of me brainstorming setting details for the Nine Lands, evidence of me pursuing my goal of a world whose countries really were culturally distinct from one another — and given its placement in the notebook, after I had arrived at college, also evidence of how anthropology was feeding my brain.

I don’t know exactly when this habit ended, but I know it didn’t last beyond my days of taking classes, because it only happened when I was sitting around with a notebook in front of me for hours each week. These days my ideas sometimes get scribbled down on scraps of paper, but they’re more likely to stay in my head until they go into a story. There’s no record of the moment when I figured out the end of In the Labyrinth of Drakes, because it happened in conversation with Alyc Helms instead of when I was pretending to listen to a teacher. For years I had a tendency to jot down random names, phrases, cultural snippets, plot twists, and anything else that came into my head; eventually I developed a mark to put in the margin so I’d know which parts of any given page were about writing instead of class. It means I can watch myself think through things from back then in a way that just isn’t true of later work.

It reminds me of where certain ideas came from, too. For example, this notebook contains a lot of game notes: for my Vampire character, for my very short-lived Mage character, for Vampire sequel game I thought up and never ran, for the Highlander game I was running online. That latter had a female PC named Miryoko, and I remember that I knew “three syllables ending in -ko” was a common form of Japanese name (didn’t learn until later that it wasn’t that way in the time period the PC lived in), but I looked up “miryo” to see whether it was a legitimate Japanese word, and found it meant “charm or glamour.” Looking at it now, I’m pretty sure it means in the social sense, but it stuck in my head as the magical one, and yep, that’s how one of the protagonists of Doppelganger got named. The Head/Hand/Heart division of the witches comes from the comic book Elfquest, the three trials Cutter and Rayek go through when their rivalry over Leetah annoys her enough to make them fight it out with each other. Old forms of the stories get preserved: the scenes from Lies and Prophecy in here still feature a professor named Shields, because that was a perfectly innocuous name for Grayson until the plot headed off in directions that had a lot to do with shielding and it became a distraction. (And yet for all of that, startling amounts of text in here went almost verbatim into those first two novels.)

This notebook also features extensive evidence of a writing habit I had to kick before I could really make progress. It used to be that I would get an idea for a scene or even just a brief interaction, and I’d write it — out of context. Both Lies and Prophecy and Doppelganger got started that way, me hopscotching around to do the fun bits and then having to stitch them together into a coherent narrative fabric afterward. I didn’t manage to finish a novel, and I’m not sure I could have managed to finish a novel, until I made myself write more linearly, because that was the only way to make sure the stuff in between the fun bits was also good story rather than the bare minimum of connective tissue, and to make sure the key moments were properly grounded in the preceding text. These days I’ll sometimes let myself skip ahead if I’m really stuck and need to remember why I’m excited about the project — but even then, I usually write it in a separate file, to remind myself that any and all of it is subject to change once I get there properly. Non-linear writing works great for other authors, but not me.

A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. 3

My third notebook opens with probably the most sustained example of that conlang I was making up. I won’t translate it, because the text I chose to put there is kind of dumb, but here’s the text itself:

Tíolaic’inn cen

eachtread t’ilith tdeabhíu
ceid tasteal’siad aseo
éis misiuil’siad é conuirtithidh
isin caith’gabhain’siadirh
fara raoneidh cen rannatheidh

Fóire rhiai cosin’siad liate
bronn’iade cenath aithedhé crínnacheidh
élaineí h’isini ómhead h’eseandai

Déarté éis sithé.

So if you were curious what the conlang looked like in action, there you go. It’s . . . well, it doesn’t look so O_O if you know Irish phonology. But if you don’t, well, it has the Irish problem of “holy god what’s with those consonant combinations why are you so in love with the letter H.” (Answer: lenition!)

The next thing in the notebook is . . . an outline? I guess? For that Highlander fanfic. I think I must have been pretending to take notes in class, because that’s the only explanation for the weird formatting. Quite a lot of this notebook is devoted to that story, where it isn’t filled with calculus notes instead, or what I think was an abortive attempt at a college application essay, or translations of the Aeneid, or me writing stuff in Spanish to keep my hand in after I stopped studying it. Judging by the story bits in here, I did not know Japanese history all that well back then — but for an eighteen-year-old in Texas, I clearly knew more than your average swan, which is nice to realize.

In semi-related Highlander content, I also ran a (short-lived) play-by-post game for a seven players, which might have survived longer had I not been ambitious and decided to start off with the origin stories for all of the PCs. This mean I was attempting to run seven simultaneous single-player games set in pre-contact Mesoamerica, medieval England, later medieval Transylvania, Heian Japan, Tudor England, Tokugawa Japan, and the Crimean War. I would consider this a ludicrous challenge now; attempting it back then was sheer hubris.

Three new things appear in this volume. First, we have what I think are some of my earliest attempts at cartography: very messy sketches solely intended to help me figure out spatial relationships, rather than to serve any aesthetic purpose. Second, we’ve got several examples of something I used to do as a writing exercise, which was to take a movie or TV scene I knew really well and write it out as prose. I actually used this same exercise with my students when I taught creative writing, because I think it gives you valuable practice in thinking about which visual or emotional details you want to include and how you’re going to integrate them with the dialogue. Do you give the whole line and then the description? Description and then line? Or do you break up the dialogue with a bit of narration, as a kind of punctuation to control the pace of delivery?

And third, we’ve got the earliest bits I’ve yet uncovered of what at the time were known as “the doppelanger story” and “the outlaw story.” The former, of course, became Warrior (originally titled Doppelganger). The latter came to be known as The Kestori Hawks, a trunked novel that will only ever see the light of day if I decide it has merit as a teaching text — at which point I will put out an ebook of it with annotations about how you can learn valuable lessons on novel-writing by looking at where that book failed. I was apparently putting in a lot of effort at that point to learn how to visualize and describe characters, though, which I had quite forgotten.

So that is Volume Three! Stay tuned for Volume 4 at a later date — I still have a lot of these notebooks left.

A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. 2

My journey through my high school notebooks continues!

I wasn’t organized about filling one notebook completely before starting another, so the chronology here is a vague one. You may recall that volume one included notes from my senior year English class; this one starts with a short-lived attempt to keep a journal while I was in England the summer between my junior or senior years. Obviously there is a great deal of overlap going on.

This notebook contains a great deal more in the way of actual story. It falls primarily into three boxes:

1) Notes and plans from some online RPGs I had completely forgotten ever playing in — largely because (like so many games) they didn’t last for very long.

2) Highlander fanfic about a character of my own creation, a two-thousand-year-old Irish immortal named Eithne. There are surprisingly large chunks of this; most of the fiction in Vol. 1 was just short snippets, a paragraph or two, but this has several bits that run on for two pages or more. I will give my high-school self credit for at least trying to be sensible about why my European immortals were traipsing about Japan during the Tokugawa era; the real answer, of course, is “because Highlander taught us all that Japan Is Kewl,” but I had enough awareness of the history to say my characters got thrown overboard by a ship captain who realized there was something weird about them, and then they were trying to sneak overland to Dejima (and relative safety) without being caught and beheaded.

3) Material from the idea mentioned previously, the one that started off as fanfic but later I tried to file the serial numbers off it. (I’m not mentioning what the original source of the idea was because there’s an outside chance I’ll revive it someday, and I’d prefer not to pre-program people’s expectations of it.)

A few bits of this are fiction, but most of it is notes, and oh, does it ever look like my work. Faced with the realization that I couldn’t do much with the idea unless I de-fanficced it first, my immediate reaction was to worldbuild the shit out of the setting. 😀 I organized the society into Clans — each with its own name and iconic color and sigil — which were part lineage (you inherit your Clan from your mother) and part quasi-social class; each Clan has a traditional sphere of responsibility, like healing or hunting or whatever. But it’s a semi-flexible system, because if you have a particular gift for some activity or just really suck at what your Clan does, you can be adopted into a different one. Laid across this are the Rings (no, I’d never heard of L5R at this point), which are basically hunting bands/war-groups, inspired by the Fianna, and those usually don’t follow Clan lines.

Current Me looks at this and sees that it doesn’t hang together all that well: the Clan responsibilities are too narrow, my decision to cap Ring membership at eight means that the social dynamics of how people find a Ring to join would be a disaster, and there are a lot of other questions I didn’t even think to address. But it’s still an interesting foundation, and if any version of this ever becomes an actual thing, you may see those elements still included in some form.

You may also see my one serious attempt to date at conlanging. The phonology is thoroughly Irish, complete with lenition and eclipsis (though I did change the pronunciation somewhat); the grammar is more Latin than anything else, with a system of inflection — six declensions but only three cases, nominative, genitive, and objective — and so on. It’s apostrophe-tastic, but that’s because, as a matter of orthography, I decided to use apostrophes as the means by which enclitics got attached, and I had a lot of enclitics. (Some of those probably aren’t enclitics in the technical sense, but I’d picked up the term from Latin and ran with it.) Samples:

Fifth declension
Nom. sing.- ends in “e”, “i”, “o”, or “u”. e.g. re (the moon)
Gen. sing.- accents the final vowel. e.g. ré (of the moon)
Obj. sing.- adds “dh” to the stem. e.g. redh (the moon)
Nom. pl.- drops the final vowel and adds “ith”. e.g. rith (the moons)
Gen. pl.- drops the final vowel and adds “ithí”. e.g. rithí (of the moons)
Obj. pl.- drops the final vowel and adds “idh”. e.g. ridh (the moons) For stems ending in “i”, add “ídh”.

Verbs in the present tense are simply the infinitive form with the pronoun apostrophized on the end.

ta’fe [I . . . am? Posterity does not record the meaning of this verb, but that’s probably it]
ta’sa [You (fam) are]
ta’te [You (form) are]
ta’se/si/sei [He/she/it is]
ta’mair [We are]
ta’sibh [You (fam pl) are]
ta’teir [You (form pl are]
ta’siad [They are]

Other tenses add a tense marker between the verb and the pronoun.

Imperfect: abh
Future: idh
Perfect: ath
Pluperfect: eth
Future perfect: ith

Ex: ta’fe, ta’abh’fe, ta’idh’fe, ta’ath’fe, ta’eth’fe, ta’ith’fe.

It is entirely unclear what effect if any an accent has on pronunciation, I created words haphazardly, and even a casual glance tells me I was wildly inconsistent about how far I got away from the Irish originals; this would need a lot of cleanup and rebuilding before I tried to do anything with it. But still: for a seventeen-year-old, that ain’t bad. My unfinished grammar covers the progressive, the conditional, the gerund, and obligation. I had notes to myself that I still needed to figure out the comparative and superlative of adjectives, indirect statements, indirect questions, and possibly the subjunctive.

And the best part is: back 2000 I realized that these notebooks were not a good way to hold into information, so I typed all the useful bits up. Which means I don’t have to do that typing now, and can send these off to Cushing with a clear conscience — because this info is worth keeping, even if it never sees print.

A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. 1

I’ve been archiving my papers with the Cushing Library at Texas A&M for several years now, but mostly that’s just meant copy-edited manuscripts and page proofs. I’m reluctant to let go of the boxes in which I keep the papers from each of my novels, because I’m never quite sure when I might need to consult them for some reason; mostly I don’t, but then a random occasion will crop up (e.g. “I need to scan that fight map I drew for Doppelganger so I can include it in Writing Fight Scenes“) and I’ll think, maybe I should hang onto these.

Then it occurred to me that I have about half a shelf of spiral-bound notebooks that I haven’t looked at in . . . more than a decade, certainly. Fifteen years, quite possibly. And those, I decided, are fair game.

But of course I can’t just ship those off to College Station without looking through them first.

Follow me, oh friends, down Juvenilia Lane!

This is like literary archaeology, trying to piece together from clues when the first of these notebooks dates to. Apparently at one point I went through and numbered them, and the early pages contain notes from a class on Native American mythology I took my freshman year of college — or do they? Did I do something else involving Native American mythology? Because that notebook also contains random spates of computer code, and I haven’t taken computer science since my junior year of high school; was I trying to write a program for something writing-related? I seem to recall having done that at one point, though I can’t remember what it was for (and the code itself is not enlightening me). The various snippets of story and notes thereon are no help; I was working on basically the same stuff my freshman year of college as at the end of high school.

Possible clue: I was apparently on a kick wherein I wrote some of those story notes in Spanish or Latin, which were the languages I studied in high school. It isn’t definitive; I might well have been trying to keep my hand in during my freshman year. But more significant is the fact that I don’t have any notes written in Japanese, which is what I studied when I got to college. (I even, god help me, have some bad English-language poetry written in dactylic hexameter. It’s clearly for a story, but the context has long since flown my head.) There are also random bits of Irish Gaelic, but most of those are clearly recognizable as song lyrics: I didn’t take Irish until my sophomore year of college, but prior to that was trying to translate lyrics using a dictionary and no comprehension of Irish grammar whatsoever.

I can watch myself working through the challenges of trying to file the serial numbers off a beloved fanfic idea, which definitely occupied a lot of my time in later high school; it was some time during my freshman year that I shelved it in the hopes that absence would make the heart grow more able to hack it apart as needed. But apparently at one point I decided to set one of the sub-stories from that idea in a Tarot-based world. I have no recollection of this. But it seems it was a thing!

. . . waitasecond. I’ve got half a page here of text from Lies and Prophecy. Half a page of text so old, Liesel is still called Lisa.

(Despite that, some of the sentences are unchanged from this notebook scribble to the finished product.)

IT’S A HIGH SCHOOL NOTEBOOK. I have found the smoking gun, and it comes in the form of my Beowulf notes. My senior year English teacher permitted us to annotate our copies of Beowulf with any information we thought might be useful to us on the test; I have a whole two page here where I was collating line citations for references to fighting, gift-giving, loyalty, Christian/pagan blending, the heroic ideal of excellence, and more. (I inherited three annotated copies of the text from my brother and other previous students to get me started; I still own my copy, and it is the most thoroughly annotated thing I think that teacher ever saw.)

Still don’t know why I was writing computer code in it, though. The early pages might be from my junior year (did we do a Native American mythology section in Theory of Knowledge? We must have), but there’s code in the middle of my Chaucer notes, which is definitely senior year.

And with one and a half lines that might have been me trying to conlang for one of my stories (it’s a cryptic description of the perfect passive participle, and then I didn’t get around to detailing the present participle), we finish out the first of my notebooks. Thank you all for accompanying me down Memory Lane. Stay tuned for further installments, probably, as I wade into notebooks from later in my pre-career!