It’s a new year, and it’s time to look ahead. Which I will now do by looking backwards. It’s not as much of a contradiction as it seems at first glance. How do we know where we want to go if we don’t look at where we’ve been? So now I look backward. Just a bit.
When I think about my first novel, The Long Look, it still scares me a little to think of how much I put into the book without being consciously aware of what I was doing. Now, I do have to make a slight distinction here. I was conscious of the story elements in a procedural sort of way, but if you’d asked me what this or that bit was about, why it was there, I probably couldn’t have told you, I only knew it had to be there. It wasn’t until I’d read the manuscript for possibly the fifth or sixth time, cold, during the line-edit phase that I finally realized what I had done, and was able to express it with any kind of coherence.
The Long Look bears some resemblance to Rashomon in that it has more than one character viewpoint on a series of events, but at heart it is two separate but intertwined narratives about those same events. The first narrative is a (relatively speaking) conventional fantasy adventure story with a quest, battles, magic, and a love match with just a tad of a complication. Ok, so it’s a pretty big complication. Yet this is the story that will become part of the history of the Twelve Kingdoms. Within the context of this universe, this will be the story that “everyone knows.”
The second narrative is something else again. It’s the story of what really happened. And how much work, danger, and adventure went on behind the scenes in order to make the first narrative unfold the way it should. I can’t say any more about it without getting into spoiler territory, but that’s not really the point. Those who read it will see what I mean. Or not.
What might happen is that those who read it for the first narrative are going to wonder what all the rest is about and why it’s intruding into their adventure story. Those readers who (am I kidding myself here?) are expecting something more along the lines of the second narrative from me are going to wonder what all that rubbish about alarums and excursions is doing taking up space and distracting from the real story. Thing is, both narratives together are the “real” story. The way the story appears, and the aspects of the story that must remain hidden below the surface narrative for all time.
The funny part is, that’s the book I meant to write. And yes, I feel a bit like the cat slamming into a plate glass window, then casually grooming its fur with an attitude of “I meant to do that.” But I did. In the three years since its initial publication the book’s done all right. It sold out its hardcover run and moved on to ebook form. It hasn’t been to everyone’s taste, but what book is? I’m happy with the way it turned out, and enough reviewers and readers have reported in to let me know that most of them feel the same way. I did ok.
Maybe next time I can even do it on purpose.