What if I started writing fantasy?
The memoirs stalled out. In this book we have discovered that Bekah and I never had a chance. Not until 2004, not until we got enough away from everyone else and their expectations for us. When we adopted that attitude Bekah had in Knife, Part 1, “Fuck that.” After that and we started fighting everyone off together that is when things changed forever. But until 2004, too many people got involved in our relationship.
In my memoirs I saw the approach of the chapter Corrupter. In 2004, I knew that chapter was coming and I knew how it would be received.
I had not exonerated myself yet. I needed time to prove that I was never the problem. Time to prove that it had been outside forces that had broken us up both times. If I came out in 2004 and told her parents they were the problem, they would have risen up against me. They would have attacked me full force. I knew I needed to let years go by of me being an excellent husband and father before I could write this book.
So, I let it go. I stopped the memoirs and I stopped writing every day. I decided I would have to wait until I could not be ignored and shouted down. I waited for 16 years. 16 years of one day after the next showing them all I was not what they thought I was. My time is now. But in 2004, I had to do something.
I was going to a community college. I decided that if I didn’t want to write my memoirs that I needed to be bettering myself somehow so I went to school. I was taking math classes trying to get my Gen Ed stuff taken care of.
I was in therapy when the idea came to me very clear, all at once. “What if I started writing fantasy?”
October was coming up and I decided to write a Halloween fantasy story about an evil priest and demonic, undead children. It would be very dark and I decided that I was going to get started on it. Maybe have it done in a few days. A short. Maybe longer than anything I had written before. I was thinking about fifteen pages. Maybe even twenty. There was a lot of ignorance going into this project.
Have it done by the middle of October and get it published in a fantasy magazine’s Halloween edition. Lots of ignorance as to how the business worked and what to expect, but I was excited and I was willing to learn.
Bekah and I went on a trip to Milwaukee and we took the book On Writing by Stephen King. She read it to me in the car as I drove. She knew this was the profession I was wanting. And we decided it was perfect.
This profession did not rely on a time clock. It did not have to be an every day gig. I did not have to be in public. It did not have all the things that my doctor pointed out were impossible for me. We could go slow. My writing didn’t have to be on a schedule at all. This was something that I could do.
So, we read the book. We read it together so we could both hear what we were getting into. We could both see the lifestyle and what would be expected of us.
I started my short story and I began to let it build.
I created a village called Chaste, a quarry town and I got my heroes into the town and we began to see what was happening here, and I realized that I had written 36 pages and I had barely gotten the heroes in the city. I was not writing a short story.
I walked away. I went outside to smoke a cigarette and wait for Bekah to get home. She had been at the studio; she was teaching yoga and when she walked up to me on the porch on my fourth cigarette, she looked at me and sat down beside me.
“What is going on?” she asked.
“Huh?” I said, barely looking at her.
“Something is going on. Something happened, what happened?” She motioned to me. “What has you so excited and scared?” She knew how to read me perfectly.
I took her by the hand and I walked her into the office of her house. We had set up a desk for me there and I brought her in and sat her down. I looked at her and sighed. “It’s 36 pages long,” I said.
“Oh, did you finish the story?” She perked up. A smile played at the corners of her mouth and she looked hopeful.
“No, it is not done. It’s not close to done. I am barely started.” I looked at my lap for a moment then up to her. “I cannot see the end yet.”
She giggled, “You’re writing a novel?” Her eyes widened and she smiled.
“No,” I said. “I’m not writing a novel.”
“I can’t write a novel. I’m not ready to write a novel. And I don’t know how to write a novel. I haven’t been through the schooling and I don’t have time with the college classes I am taking. I am not writing a novel.” I flexed my hands. “I’m not. I just can’t.”
She took my hands and soothed them. “Listen. This is what you are doing. You were born to do it and you will be great at it. Everything will work out. We just need to get to work. King said to set a daily word count. What do you want your word count to be?”
I stood up and walked the floor. “I am too busy with school.”
“So you quit school.”
“I can’t quit school; I can’t, I have to do school. Right? I have to, right?”
“You can write without it. People do all the time. Not every novelist is a college grad. If you want to quit school so you can dedicate yourself to writing then do it.” Bekah smiled. “This is great!”
I pointed at her. “It’s not a novel. It’s a novella.”
“Okay. We will go with that for now. You are writing a novella. But don’t clip it short just to meet that requirement. You need to write whatever comes and not have expectations as to how many pages it will be.” She leaned back and pointed at me. “You just write the story and let it be any length that it wants to be.”
“There is not enough story there for it to be a novel,” I said.
“That is fine,” she said.
The next day I figured out my regiment. I would hand write on yellow legal pads for two hours. I needed source material. I could not think at a keyboard and I did not know how to type. I could not force the words without a pen in my hand. So, I wrote them out. Usually about ten pages, handwritten. Then I would type it all out adding to it as I went. I would flesh out the story as I typed it up, and end my day at 2,000 words. 2,000 words every day.
If Stephen could do 2,000 words a day, then so could I.
The very notion of that was laughable. If Stephen King can do it, I can do it. That is poor comedy but I embraced it that day and we went from there.
I remember the first time I sat down to type what I had written. I pulled up the document and looked to my left. I had all the pages I had written up on a little paper holder with magnets. It was all very official. I began to type and the wall behind the desk ripped off.
I stared at the vista before me feeling bitter, cold wind and staring at a bleak, gray world. The floor dropped away to fall far beneath me into a thrashing river and my desk sat on a rope bridge that swayed back and forth as I stared. Bekah was talking to me but I was in the world. I was sitting in Perilisc. Up the left side of the bridge rode the party. I could see Ambul picking his way across the bridge. Could see Sai Sibbius Summerstone in his black cloak wet from days of rain plastered to his body. The wet hair, wild like tentacles in the wind. I saw Sob glaring from behind her bangs. Saw Ruther high on his massive horse. I looked at them and I looked at my keyboard and I started typing.
Bekah walked away. Her apartment walked away. The ceiling, the floor, the dogs and everything walked away. Above me in the wind rode Smear Lord of Ire and as I typed ever so slowly the story played out before me.
It took me five hours to type 2,000 words. Two hours to write it. That is a seven-hour day. I was not able to do it every day. I was able to keep the story going even though I did not have a plan. The pages kept stacking up and I kept telling her it was a novella. She kept nodding and telling me to keep writing.
Bell came home one day. He was still living with Bekah, still trying to find a place in the city for himself. He walked in, he was happy, we joked for a while, and I looked at him and said, “I’m writing a novel.” His face didn’t change, and I said, “I’m writing a fantasy novel.”
“Yeah, and?” Bell said.
“Well, I’m writing a fantasy novel, and it’s going really well, and I just, I think that,” I paused. I looked at him. His face hadn’t changed. It was almost judgmental. It was almost pissed. “I just, I think I could really do this.”
Instant fury. Instant rage. It flashed its way across his face wild as a storm. His fist clenched and he stared at me for one hard moment before he pulled back and exploded. “Of course you can do this! This is what we’ve been telling you to do as long as we’ve known you! We’ve been asking you to do this one thing.” Bell, the Droog, the one who had been with me for years, the one who had been at my DnD games, had stayed up late listening to stories of Father Morgan La Guy when he should have been sleeping so that he could save lives, looked at me with all the rage and all the love of a man who had never been listened to, and he said, “Of course you can do this, Jesse. We have all been telling you to do this for years and years.”
And I leaned on his strength because I didn’t know. I didn’t believe. I didn’t think Chaste would be anything. I didn’t think the fantasy world that was alive and vibrant, vibrant and breathtaking in my mind, could be anything worth looking at. I looked at his face and I looked at Bell’s anger, and I wrapped it around myself. And I took it with me, a cloak of rage to warm me on the cold nights when doubt has its way and I’m just not good enough.
Bell, if you’re reading this, know that I know when you were staring at me that day, you wanted to have your hands around my throat, you wanted to be shaking me and roaring in my face, that I was better than I ever thought I was, that you and Burg and others saw things in me that I never saw in myself. I know that now. And your outrage and your indignation was a fuel I used to warm myself for so many years through so much darkness and all my doubt. And when I look at myself and I think, as all writers do, “This is just not good enough. This is just not worth reading.” I see that look in your face. I see that clenched fist, and I think, he just might hit me.
I stopped when I got a new idea for another book. This was in 2004, after I was about three months into Chaste, I got an idea for a book about a warrior fairy. His name was Gentry Mandrake and he would be hated by his family. His life’s work would be defending a child. And someone from the world of man would attack that child and though Mandrake was only a foot tall and a stranger to the world of man, he would break every law in his society, and every custom to fight to save that child’s life. In doing so he would save the world.
I told Bekah I wanted to put Chaste on hold and write this new book I was calling Liefdom.
She told me no. I had to finish what I started. No walking away from a project half finished.
It was in this way that I began to put together my fantasy world. I wrote one book at a time. Doing shifts when I could, building my skill at the keyboard slowly.
By the time I got two hundred pages into Chaste I didn’t need to write anything down with a pen anymore. By the time I got four hundred pages done, my typing time was down to two hours. By the time I finished all 776 pages of the first draft of Chaste I was a novelist. I had an idea for a book that would come after Liefdom, and I have never run out of ideas.
I would write for twelve years before I published anything, honing my ability and my world. I wrote 2,000 words a day every day that I could, stopping for children, but maintaining the dream of one day being a successful novelist. One day I realized that I was writing 2,000 words in one hour and I bumped it up to 3,000.
Every time I sit down to write the wall before me rips away. Every time I can feel the wind. Every time the floor is gone. My characters walk up to my desk and watch me type. My villages and cities span out before me and around me. When I write books that take place in Hell, I can feel the fire in the air. I can hear the screams and I can see the doom. When I write about the Veil, I can smell the crispness in the air and I can see the world of the fey open up and celebrate around me.
I have written 34 fantasy novels. I have plans for almost that many again. I never run out of story, I never run out of motivation. I have Bekah right beside me making sure that I stay sane and I keep moving forward.
Fantasy is what I do. It is my life. It has been since Smear Lord of Ire ripped the ceiling off my bedroom while Pink Floyd screamed in the background.
What if I started writing fantasy? How could I not?
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 2: Normal Street.