Indie Journey: Story Behind the Novel

SpaceshipThank you for joining me on my indie journey. I hope you’ve had the chance to check out one of my latest releases, and if you have, please post your experience, good or bad, on Amazon, Goodreads, and/or wherever else you log your reading. Reviews increase visibility, and can act as warnings, but also let me see what is working for you, my readers, and what is not. As an indie author, I have complete control–for good or bad–so can modify my plans to meet your pleasure.

My upcoming release, Shafter, is a science fiction novel that had its start as a short story in one of the best writing classes I took in college. A graduate student got permission to teach a speculative fiction workshop focused not just on writing and editing but on submitting your works to markets. Back then, it was unheard of.

At the time, I had not mastered the speculative short story because I get sucked into my characters’ worlds. I had not yet learned the balance of information for a short story when I had a universe worth of fascinating things to reveal. What I wrote then, I now term short story synopses rather than stories, with a novel’s (or more) worth of work crammed into 5,000-7,000 words through summary language.

For NaNoWriMo 2003, I took that short story and wrote the novel it wanted to be. I finished on November 22nd with 116,437 words, driven by the story that never left my thoughts. After editing, the novel grew to about 120,000, and then I cut it back down to around 94,000 in an attempt to meet the market lengths of the time.

Thanks to excellent feedback, the story has undergone radical changes. Some were to deal with length, cutting beloved characters and stripping out subplots, while others were to improve the story itself.

As with the short story issue, the first version of this novel contained more than the story could support at a reasonable length. I mourn the removal of some layers in the culture of Ceric, but like all my worlds, it’s full and complete in my head. Ceric colony has an origin story that may someday see the light, and a history built of generations born and raised in an alien landscape with extreme challenges both among their communities and with survival itself.

One of the hardest things was learning just how much I could put in without disrupting the story or confusing you, the readers. For example, when you read Shafter, you’ll learn a tiny bit about the doctrine that forms the foundation of the colony. It was born out of extreme hardship, and gave purpose to their survival through religious belief. At the time of Shafter, however, its power is much diluted and so was one of those cultural depths that only got faint mention as whichever way I tried to make it clear turned out to be at turns more confusing or distracting from the story.

It’s a delicate balance because hinting at complexity gives a better sense of a well-rounded world rather than those old Western movie sets where if you leaned too hard or glanced around the sides, the town was just wood frames. At the same time, true intricacy isn’t a single layer, and showing the front makes you want to peek around the side. If there’s only a murky darkness rather than fuller clarity, the curious and intrigued become confused and annoyed. Because of that, some of the aspects of Ceric culture have been brushed over rather than either distracting from the story or providing just enough to confuse.

What it means, though, is that there are other stories to mine in this world, and going back to my beginning note, these are stories that I can give higher priority if I see interest in learning more.

So, here’s a glimpse into the history of this novel. If you have any questions, or would like to hear more on any aspect, the comments are open. I do moderate posts by new commenters, so please be patient, but I will approve as soon as I see them.

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2 Responses to Indie Journey: Story Behind the Novel

  1. Glad you’re getting your ‘baby’ out of the door. I think most readers love to get additional stories about a favorite world. You may have a great series on your hands!

    • Margaret McGaffey Fisk says:

      Thank you. If all the stories I’ve captured in written form are my babies, though, I’m the old woman in the shoe ;). I hope people are as captivated by the characters as I have been, because that’s what would turn this into a series: readers wanting to know what happened to…or was the story of…the various characters who did not get to be the main focus of this book.

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