Monday, March 14, 2011

Exploiting Your Babies

No, I am not talking about black market sperm and egg sales, although those may or may not have their place in funding an aspiring writer's struggle towards publication.

I'm talking about your Baby, the Big Idea, the Grand Poo-bah of your Creative Aspirations, the Summation of all your Writerly Hopes, Dreams and Fears, etc, etc, blah blah blah ad nauseam.

I'm talking about the story that made you want to be a writer, the one that you had to tell so badly that it was worth it to put up with all the trials and tribulations that come with being a professional writer.  For most of us, our Baby is not the first story we publish or even the first story we shop or seek an agent for.  For a lot of us, its not even the first story we write.

Because it has to be done RIGHT.

There are a lot of ingredients that go into the successful crafting of the Baby, because its the story we're least willing to compromise on.  We don't want to write it before we're ready, because sometimes we don't have the necessary skills yet to tell the story the way it deserves to be told.  We don't want to be told readers will be more receptive to it if we do it this way, we don't want to hear that market trends are leading away from it.  We really don't want to hear that the brilliant plot twist five years in the making doesn't work the way we think it does.

We are very possessive parental types.  Nobody tells me how to raise MY child.

And yet, like all proud parents, we want to show our Baby off to the world, share their glory and beauty with everyone and put all the other monkey-faced babies to shame by comparison.  You know the ones I'm talking about.

So the question becomes - how far are we willing to compromise, to share our Babies with the world?  Do we self-publish, to retain full creative control?  Do we bargain - make deals where we will write what our publishers, agents, audiences want us to write, if they will let us write this?  Do we just write it for ourselves and our friends, and let that be enough if external forces demand too much change to its core nature?  Do we just say screw it and write it however it needs to be written to make it out onto bookshelves, just because the need to share it in SOME form is so pressing?

My personal Baby has not yet been written, though the time is coming up, hence it being on my mind currently.  It's actually what I plan to write as soon as I'm done with Dust to Dust, and I've dabbled with it before, made some attempts at writing it but could never find the right place to jump in.  That's because my Baby is more like the full line-up of a Midwestern Christian family with highly fertile genes and a religious opposition to birth control.  I'm Octo-mom.  One of the first compromises I had to make in regards to the epic story I've been dreaming up since I was fourteen, is to recognize that there's no way I could ever actually write everything that was in my head in regards to it.  The physical restraints of time, book size and shelf space won't allow it.  It's an epic fantasy universe I refer to as the Citadel, in which a common origin and mythology resulted in over fifty different worlds with their own unique cultures, geographies, magic systems and mythologies - and stories.  (My rough outline for the Citadel universe is 100K and rising).  I could easily write stories in all those worlds, even whole series, and then more to tie them all together, but its just not practical.  Not even with all the time in the world. 

So instead I plotted it as separate, individual standalone novels spread across the various worlds with little hints and references to each other, common threads that tie characters and histories, timelines and storylines together behind the scenes, but don't actually require that say Deluge be published in order for The Lords of Consequence to make sense.  There are two actual series, a prequel one and an 'endgame' series that ideally would bookend all the standalones and tie everything together, but if they never get published, I'll still have a goodly chunk of the Baby out in the world.  Plus splitting it up into separate, manageable chunks means even if I have to compromise with editors, agents, publishers etc on specific standalones, it still doesn't necessarily alter the Big Picture of my Baby.

So my question of the day is, what's your Baby?  Have you written it yet?  If not, is there a reason you haven't yet, and if so, what compromises have you had to make or are looking at making?

(Quick plug: I am in fact looking for new critique partners starting with Hypothetical of Being, which I'm ramping up to start as soon as I finish Dust to Dust.  It'll be epic fantasy, but YA, and most likely a trilogy.  It's set on the massive world of Seln, which was created by the Sky Mother with the aid of twenty Sacred Birds.  Upon completion of her creation, she transformed the Sacred Birds into the first humans out of gratitude for their aid, and before moving on to other worlds she named them Regents and imbued each of them with an aspect of her power.  Seln is a world of giant, elevated landmasses like continent sized plateaus miles above the Ground, which is a thing of myth and legend.  Travel between landmasses or Regencies is done via mystical Sky Trails, large domesticated birds, or magically propelled airships.  A mystical Tarot deck, used for divinations, shows the faces of each of the current twenty Regents, plus the 'Joker', Dian, the dark counterpart to the Sky Mother who some say was her lover, son, father or brother, but remains a presence on Seln, determined to corrupt her Regents and steal her power. 

Every copy of the Tarot deck in the world changes magically whenever a Regent dies and is replaced by the new Regent, randomly chosen by the Sky Mother's whims and elevated to Regency and bestowed with her power, becoming a font for the magic type associated with that Regency.  For instance, the Swan, Regent of Grace, is linked to the gravity of the world, as is its counterpart, the Ostrich.  The Robin and the Vulture are linked to entropy, the Dove and the Shrike to electromagnetism, the Hummingbird and the Crane to time, the Cormorant and the Raven to thermodynamics, etc.  Hypothetical of Being is predominantly the story of a young girl who wakes up in the jungle Regency of Altera to find she has become the Hummingbird, (Regent of Joy, Passion and Vitality, counterpart to the Crane and font of all time magic) and must struggle to balance ruling a country with warding off Dian's dark temptations, all while coming to terms with the fact that no Hummingbird Regent has ever lived past the age of twenty one.  Thing I look for most in CP's, and am best at in return, is acting as a sounding board, to bounce ideas off of, hunt for plot holes, and hack ways out of corners.  Just throwing that out there.)  


  1. Your series sounds incredible, Kalen! I've always loved fantasy, but the epic fantasy is far beyond my expertise--critique wise. I hope you get some good offers. I think the QT forums have a fantasy group there. Have you considered posting there that you're looking for partners?

    As for my baby? All my books are my babies! LOL

    But I do have one very secret, very special baby tucked away in my heart and mind that is waiting patiently to be written. It's a gothic literary about a young Virginian woman in the 1920s, sent to an insane asylum because she has severe PMDD (I'm not kidding, they used to send women away for that!). Anyway, the woman starts to suspect that experiments are being practiced on the patients in kind of a Josef Mengele fashion.

    It's a very dark, somewhat gruesome story that may or may not end happy. It's something that I'll be ready to write when I've grown enough as a writer to do it justice. I'm ALMOST there ... just not quite yet. Maybe within a couple of years or so.

    I know what you mean though ... about how much will you compromise your babies to get pubbed. That's been a constant struggle for me, and often ends in heartache because there is the core vision that I just won't bend on. Here's hoping we'll both find editors one day that will share our visions. :-)

  2. Thanks Anita! And no worries, I've got a few places to try for CPs, just mentioning it here first.

    And that sounds like an amazing story! Okay, shameless friend plug here, but you really need to check out my friend sometime. You two would get along great, and write very similar subject matter. I know Splintered would be right up her alley, and her first book 'Scripped' coming out from Belfire Press this June is about stumbling into Faerieland...only in this particular instance, Faerie happens to be a camp town featuring Appalaichan Fae in the deep south. I just kept thinking OMG Katey would love this when I was reading about your 1920s gothic. She's all about the dark and twisted and and historical accuracy. You'd have a lot of fun poking around her site, I think.

  3. Hey, thanks for the tip, Kalen! I'll check out her site! ;-) Her story sounds AWESOME.