Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition

Isn’t every story a conflict of sorts?

And, come to think, isn’t every mind?

I happened to be listening to a little something about Star Trek, while making a bit of a mess in a fair old project of mine besides writing for a change. Someone mentioned one of my favourite characters in all its lengthy canon: McCoy, and they put his purpose very well: to oppose everyone else’s initiative, to question and to annoy. No surprise that I like him! He’s just the kind of character that’s the most fun to write.

But I wonder who’s playing his rôle in Alpha, or Proteus. This will be one to look out for when I give them their much needed read. It’s a flat kind of story that has no argument, not least the kind who is personified, smiling back at you.

However, I thought something deeper. In a pretty big sense, Madala is her own opponent. And so too is her brother. We all have a bit of our opposite inside us, a psychological conceit as old as eastern philosophy and I dare say many a western tale as well. But some of us suffer it harder than the rest. Some people are born to struggle on the inside. Some of the more compelling people I’ve met, no less. I think we all have it to a degree, but that fire doesn’t always blaze as bright. It can truly drive a mind to the edge of the world, for better and, alas, for worse.

I don’t know quite how well I’ve written that side of Alpha’s leading brother and sister. In all honesty, it’s make or break. They tease it out of each other so very badly that I’ll have failed if I can’t get this working. The heat of the contest they fight between themselves for their lives is Alpha’s urgent heart. And yet that’s not the layer I mean the most. Rather, I want to see Madala’s doubt. I want to understand Katerina, her human alter ego, that brief while she’s on the page.

Alpha’s time is coming. I know that. Reading through its predecessor Proteus lately, finding a name for every piece, I could still well remember what I meant as I wrote it. But for the first time, I sensed a little altitude. A better vantage over my faulty words. A place to be, when their brutal rain must come. To write is to cut. To tell is to hear yourself as your self again. To speak, I’m afraid, is to sing.


Proteus: Piece by Piece

Once upon a time, I came up with the idea of writing the backstory to Andala’s discovery as a little something on the side. It proved to be much more work than I had in mind. A tale within the tale, it grew well beyond my plan until, eventually, I parked it; incomplete. I’m a little wary to get back to Proteus, especially now with Alpha nearing the end of its necessary wait in first draft.

But I’ll do Marie’s story the honour of a proper index, at least. And a promise that I will be back to it, to round off her voyage as I’ve always had in mind. Beyond the lines I meant to steal from her for Alpha’s chapter-tops, and the sense that we have known one another, Andala and Earth, for quite some time.

Proteus: First Contact With Andala

Act I

A Wedding Without a Bride
Breaking Lightspeed
Aria
Nature, Without the Limits
Babel
The Artificial Gaia
Break In
Our Dark Between the Stars
Hanging Out with Robin
Pazan
Naming Little Sisters
Sidewinder

Act II

Our Fall to Vesper
The Little World that Saved Our Lives
Someone Else’s Eyes
We Meet
Tani and the Rest of Us
An Da La
Fifty Two Little Hours
Glimpse of the Globe
Quite a Hike
The Andalan’s Little Secret
You’re a Alien?
Too Much for Translation
Familiar Squabbles
Night Flight
Home on the Lake
Tani and Her Sisters
Another Night Out the Door
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, of Sorts
The Storyteller
Looking For Aner
The Stranger Does Not Happen
A Tek Named Kinsun
Talai Hospitality
The Forge
The Teacher
Naked in the Water
The King’s Man
Ganaks and Our Own Big Cheese
Sibling Tribal Rivalry
First Time Flying Like a Bee

Act III

Arrival in Ayanakert
Introduced by a Master
Akanai the King
Time to Meet the Big Man
Antonaster the Prince
Andala’s Queens
Ayana Hospitality
My Intruder
Every One Can
Amends
Feast
Big Teacher of Azubayeer
The Greatest City of All Andala
By Necessity, Then Caprice
Maigan
Marie stera Maigan!
Through Someone Else’s Glasses
The Universe Inside
Microcosmic Speculation
Her First Andalan Friend

Sixty two parts and counting. Somewhere going on sixty thousand words, quite before its end. Yes, Proteus went a fair bit out of scope. Which is only natural for a piece without a plan. How much of another novel is this, I wonder? And quite how much rewriting needs to be done. Oh Marie, whatever to do with you!

Yet I can’t deny I want to know how it goes, too. It’s still my best way to learn this old Andala that I’ve created: by the act of creating more within it.

Make it till you fake it? Something like that.


Chops

Way back, before I started all this, I had ideas aplenty but never could get far when trying to write them down. It’s a mighty frustrating place to be. You get the feeling that you’re chock full of the good stuff, that you need to get it out of you and into the world, and yet when you do you find, to your amazement, you are quite mute.

Huh?

I’m quite convinced this is the biggest obstacle to so many who try to write. In some quote I cannot seem to find online, Hunter S. Thompson once described it as a fear of the infinity in a blank page, pure and uninterested in every other thing you may have written. All the worse, then, if you’ve not. Starting is a nightmare. It’s white page after white page, all the way down. You might have thought you had a solid idea, but when actually sitting there, right at the face of the beginning of your work, well, you’ll have doubts, all right.

You’ve got to earn your chops.

There’s a great cycle to life and art and creativity. In a certain vital sense, some things really are born again every single day. We all start at the beginning so many times throughout our lives we’re quite oblivious to the pattern. Sure, there’s a difference between making art and brushing your teeth, but both of them work better once you’ve learned. And both of them need done tomorrow, no matter what you do today.

For someone who hasn’t published any one thing I can point to, quite yet, I’ve written a fair old lot of words. Most of them suck. Most of everything sucks. And, the cause behind the problem, you can never quite tell which ones, not when they’re still up close. My memory is strong, and I’m blinded by the vision still alive and well that I was trying to write, the experience of writing rather than what I actually did. You’re sold, always sold, on what you’ve just made. Yet that is the way to crap out a dull old turd. To get above the rubbish, you’ve got to kill the things you’ve made. They’ll only get better when you try.

That’s why I’m relieved to take a little summer break from Alpha. I kicked it off pretty good back in January, and went at just about the clip I intended for the first month or so. Even then, I knew that the pieces weren’t perfectly matched. I could feel the wobbles and creaks of the way I wrote my characters, and the jolts from scene to scene. But it didn’t matter. I kept going, as is the only way, and I finished it in July. I had written them, my characters and worlds were alive! These citizens of my mind, free at last, for me to see their flaws and mine.

First draft is a wonderful, god awful thing. There is no more pure creative experience than the first. That’s the one where you put your skills to their most brutal test. You’re navigating, trying to find the path from place to place you always thought you knew, until now. You’re bringing things into existence, straight from scratch, regardless of the pictures and the notes you made, and all the things you thought were research for this act. You’re naked, you really are, right before the blank. That’s all there is. That’s all you need. And it’s all you have. First draft is the place where you swing from high and low, tumbling around with your work like an adolescent tryst, at once warring and romantic. First draft is first love.

I know that Alpha’s draft is rough. So it should be. I bit off more than I ever should have done with this tale. Some forgiving part of me sees all the clearer now why it took so long for me to face it, and make it real. There’s a book in there. An imperfect, downright broken one, but it is there. For as much of a catalogue of notes is worth, this is better. First draft is the best ingredient there is for second draft, and third. Just add blood, sweat and tears, right?

In truth, I’ve no idea how many drafts there are between me and publishing this book of mine. But I shan’t skimp them. In fact, I’ll need to learn to appreciate that new pain for what it is: another kind of chops.

My plan for Alpha, when I get back to it in some months, isn’t just a spruce up. I’ll be cutting words — whole scenes I suspect, and enjoying the fact — but Venus doesn’t lie waiting in that rock. There’s whole things I’ve forgotten. Pieces of the story, tastes of the environment, and likely even characters quite entire, remain to be made right. Remain to be made in the first place! I’ll be messing with the whole thing in a pretty big way, I think. Certainly, that’s what I feel needs done. I know I can do better than what I sense I have. And I know nothing’s ever right on the first attempt, not when you can take a second.

Daunting, sure, but I am also looking forward to it. All the better than playing god is playing god’s director!

If I’d been better prepared, Proteus would be first draft complete as well. Surely I had no sense it would take longer than the story proper! Anyway, there’s quite a lot to its draft already, and I’m torn between taking Marie’s pen and pushing forth with it, or going back and practicing my rework skills before they come to Alpha.

Proteus was my backstory that went quite awry. I’m only very vaguely aware of where it’s heading, as you may well tell by giving it a read. (A task I must make easier with an index, as I made for Alpha’s first draft.) Marie’s first person perspective was a great little trick to get me started, but I took her place too literally and have written too much detail as a result. Proteus is quite a tale in its own right, as I discovered in its craft, and I need to pull the reins on it to have a chance to reach the end. I had that unnerving sense as Alpha’s Act IV slid askew when I met it, and for quite the same reason. Much to gain, then, in practicing this kind of repair work.

I can sit here and listen to Kira Neris all I want, writing about writing as I so often do. But it’s this fearful work that counts. This liberating slog, this beautiful mess, and, in the end, the very best thing that I do. I’ve a ton of work to make good on yet. And I welcome it, just as much as I wriggle away. It’ll show, and that’s all the reason I need.

If it comes too cheap, it ain’t chops.


Second Draft Introduction

Andala is that second world we find out there.

It happened in 2169. Generations into our exploration of the stars. Life eluded us, no matter where we looked. Instead, we had to bring our own, by garden ship and global genesis.

Until that moment.

The remotest four of us there had ever been. They were the ones who found it. More than we could remember to dream. Our sister. The first life in all our searches, and so similar to ours that we didn’t even realise.

Until we saw what they could do.

That’s the back story. The book I’m writing starts a while down the line, 2301 in fact, once we’ve had a while to get to know each other. It kicks off on the day when our two worlds will meet again, as our meaning, and our threat to one another, is redefined.

Until that point, Andala was a great mystery, safely far away. But history has chapters, and our shared age of innocence ends there and then. I call that story Alpha. Or The Book of Princes. And it shall soon enough begin.


Made of Practice

Use it or lose it. The golden rule of exercise. I’ve seen its effects myself, in the years I’ve been doing my necessary sojourns on a bike. Strength and stamina don’t just build themselves. Yet, in a sense, they truly do. So long as you put in the effort.

I believe the same is true for everything.

The line of writing I have chosen for my work is fiction. But how much of that do you see here? I write the occasional thing, of course, like Marie Chen’s account of Proteus. In fact I’ve quite surprised myself by how far that has gone; given its intention. But for the most part, my writing here reads like a journal of my own experience, rather than the draft of my creation. Instead of writing Andala, I’m writing about Andala. It’s writing about writing! It’s meta work in lieu of the work itself.

I won’t surprise you one bit with the fact that my private notes read just the same way, and did long before the public Project Andala ever started.

There’s some necessity to all that. But I could go on like this for an individual’s measure of eternity. And I’d still be just beginning! That’s no way to write. Not exclusively. I really ought to turn this tale around.

You build your habits. And your habits then build you.

The writing I haven’t done is exactly the stuff I mean the most to do. The fiction! The drafting proper. The book. Why’s it such a fight? Well, my mental muscles aren’t primed for it. I could do far worse than exercise.

And so the thought occurred to me, while riding past Hound Point, that there’s only one way to change this. I’ve got to build the habit. I’ve got to write not only the very thing you see here, but fiction proper, on a routine basis. I’ve got to earn my chops.

But how to do that without stirring up a keen resistance?

Here’s the new bit. I realised that I needed to write non-critical fiction. Little things that aren’t make or break for the entire story. The kind of writing where I don’t get tangled up in a myriad of dependencies the minute I begin. Just what kind of fiction is that, though, given the world I’m building and my evidently maniacal desire for every last piece to fit?

There is just one way I can picture: to escape the canon completely.

One way to do that would be to jump ship to another project entirely. Not something I’d like to do, or think I could for long. Besides, the problem would remain, just in different clothing. No, I’m not looking for another macrocosm; but the opposite.

How about little fictions inside the Andala “universe” that I’ve already started? How about short stories contained within themselves, which needn’t define nor undermine the rules of the game? How about the legends presumed already extant on Andala, like Ayana’s myth? Or even just the backgrounds and day to day lives of the characters I’m making, without the need for vital moments in our future history? Ah, more tales within the tale. But short and sweet.

I doubt it’ll do me any harm. Or you, as I can always put the kibosh on publishing them. We’ll see. I just know I need to shake up my practice.