One of the things we do, from time to time, is post outtakes — chapters or vignettes or scenes that didn’t make it into the book they were intended to grace. Pretty often, those items were written during the first draft of the novel; rarely, they’re pieces that survive until the last draft, when, for Whatever Reason, including the need to make weight, they were pulled, and stuck into the Not Used folder.
Now, there seems to be a little bit of misunderstanding about how book-like narratives come to be built — or at least, there seems to be a little misunderstanding about how we build book-like narratives.
So — bear with me — I’m going to Seize a Teaching Moment.
Those of you who have seen us at cons, or heard us talk about writing in various venues — including our blogs — may recall that we say we don’t always know where the story is going to go, when we sit down to write.
What that means is this: We often don’t know where the story is going to go when we sit down to start writing.
This approach to storytelling is fraught with Opportunity.
Opportunity for Brilliance. . .
. . .and. . .
. . .Opportunity for Disaster.
But what it does almost always mean is that the first draft of a novel will be. . .exploratory. It may even?
Be wrong — by which I mean, there’s nothing the matter with the story, as a story, but it doesn’t get us where we want to go.
We rarely write an entire first draft novel. Ten or twenty thousand words is usually enough for us to identify a direction, get a feel for the characters, the problem they need to solve, and their likely approach(es) to solving it.
You might say that we write until we find a direction that pleases us.
So it was with the splinter I posed back in July, Strings, strands, and and Vines in Motion.
The 6,766 words that make up that outtake were written “for” Crystal Soldier, and — clearly — it does not belong in Crystal Soldier. In fact, it’s the — really intriguing — beginning of a Whole ‘Nother Book. That being so, we didn’t use it in Crystal Soldier — we removed it — or, we took it out — of the narrative. Hence, outtake.
Wow, you might say; what a waste of time and effort.
To which I would answer, Not so.
Those she’s making an appearance in a Completely Different Adventure, writing that bit gave me a good basic feel for Cantra from the inside out — which is invaluable. And while the Cantra in the Splinter is younger, and hasn’t yet come into her own, still she’s already developed her own way of looking at the universe, her own moral code, skewed as it might be, and her own reactions to danger.
Not a waste of time and effort at all. Rather, an essential element of the final story. That outtake is the reason that Cantra feels like a real person, when you read her in the Crystal books.
Now, the piece I’m going to share you with you, down below this commentary. . .was part of the first draft of Carousel Tides — a book for which I did, as it happens, write a complete first draft.
Some authors call first drafts, the “working it out” draft. It’s in the first draft that you figure out the world, and the characters and their motivations. That was very much the case with Kate’s world.
You will, in fact, see, at least one word that does not appear in the book — Sasanoa, to describe a native of the Land of the Flowers. I decided, between first draft and second, that it would be too confusing and there wasn’t any real need for it, so I dropped the word.
Also, you’ll notice that the wood at the top of Heath Hill, where the Lady resides, is named in the outtake below, though its not, in the final draft. I thought it would be. . .more fitting and more mysterious simply to have it be The Wood — and I didn’t want to tip my hand that far, with the name.
In the first draft of Carousel Tides, there were several blatant “working out” chapters, which I called Dreamtimes, when Kate had to break her story in order to go back and fill the reader in on some important bit of history that they’d need in order to make sense of what was going to happen next.
Really clumsy. In the final draft, a lot of that information is included within the narrative, the way grown-up writers do it.
So, the piece, which is the story of the Great Fire of 1900, as Kate told it to me, in first draft.
* * *
Archers Beach hasn’t always been a hole-in-the-wall, hardscrabble town with a main drag full of empty storefronts and a run-down amusement park its best and last hope of making a dime.
Nosir, back in the 1890s Archers Beach was a sight to see. There were luxury hotels, casinos, and concert halls. First class acts came up from Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. to entertain the tourists who poured in by the double-dozens. There was money to burn, back then.
A pier was built — the original Archers Beach Pier. That was a wonder, so I’ve been told — 1800 feet long, 20 feet above high tide, the whole of it made from prime German steel. Three pavilions offered food, drink, and views to casual promenaders, and at the bitter end stood the Sea King Casino, as seductive a den of pleasurable ruination as ever man did see. An electric train ran the whole length of the pier, to provide transport for those too enfeebled by fun to walk.
That was all before The Fire, of course.
There’ve been a couple fires in Archers Beach history, but only one The Fire. That one started on the evening of August 15, 1900, and by the morning of August 16, Archers Beach — the glitz and glamor part of Archers Beach — was gone.
What they teach in school, and how it was written up in the newspapers at the time, is The Fire was started by a girl named Marie Valincourt, who worked as a maid at the Emerson Hotel. Seems Marie had the evening off to spend with her young man. It was a special date, and she’d been curling her hair. And, well, it was a special date, and she was hurrying, and one of the irons caught the lampshade afire, just a little ember, really, and she brushed it out before she left.
An hour later, the whole maid’s wing was engulfed and it was all downhill from there.
That’s the story they teach, and it’s a good one, too, though they never do say what happened to poor Marie Valincourt. Me, though, I’ve always preferred Gran’s version.
The way Gran tells it, the proximate cause of the fire was a Fire Ozali running for his life, hounded so nearly that he didn’t care where or how he manifested, so long as he could give his pursuers the slip.
The slide over into what most of us like to call the Real World, that actually did buy him some time, but Archers Beach — all those hotels, casinos, playhouses, restaurants, and concert halls built out of nothing but good Maine lumber — Archers Beach couldn’t stand against even the least touch of that fell lord’s wing.
Give him credit — Gran always does. As soon as he realized what had happened, he stopped, and tried to undo the harm he’d done. It’s interesting to note that the old news reports bear Gran out here: Shortly after it started, the fire began to diminish, flames guttering in the midst of plenty. Seeing the enemy falter, the fire department rallied, charging deep into what had been the worst of it, water spraying out of their brand-new wagon.
It was right about then that his pursuers arrived, hounds baying. The wind of their coming whipped the flames into frenzy; they leapt up with a vengeance; the fire wagon exploded; and there was no putting it out then, though many men tried, all through the long, nightmarish night.
One night, that was all she took to burn to the ground, and only three people dead by way of it, which was nothing short, said the newspaper reports, of a miracle.
Gran contends that last kiss of luck was what the Ozaliflame had left in him to give, in payment for the harm he’d done. It’s her story, and she’s got a right to have it like she wants it, though I’ve never met a Sasanoa — one of those good people from the Land of the Flowers — who cared a fig what he broke or who got hurt when he did it. Could be there’s some; I haven’t met them all.
Having bestowed the luck, or not, the Fire Ozali then did one more odd thing. He ran, staggering and damn’ near spent — he ran, so Gran has it, to the old growth forest up on the high land at the edge of town — Nyssa’s Wood, as some call it. It always seemed to me a funny sort of place for an Ozaliflame to head for, but as it happens, he knew what he was doing, because the trees let him in and the Lady of the Wood herself gave him sanctuary.
Still, his pursuers found him, as he and the Lady must have both known they would. Four Ozali of the Air and four of the Sea, with six of their great hounds barely held to heel — that was who came up to the wood, with the fire at their backs, and their faces in shadow.
The trees refused them, which anyone who knows them will find easy to believe. Those trees are stubborn. More than that, a trenvay on its own ground is a match for any eight Sasanoa you care to name, Ozali or not, which lesson they had learned over time, to their sorrow. They go warily now in this land of ours. For the most part.
So, the first Ozali — Zephyr; Gran always names her — put her pale blue steed forward, and bowed over the saddle, her long hair twisting ’round her head like a thing alive.
“We would speak with the Spirit of the Wood,” she said, soft-voiced. “An she would meet us here.”
The trees passed the message and the Lady heard, but she neither replied nor came forth.
After a bit of waiting, an Ozali of the Sea urged his froth-white mount ahead, and said, earnestly, “The Guardian of the Wood harbors one who is both dangerous and unpredictable. Willingly would we, her cousins in power, remove this peril from her. All she need do is send him forth.”
More waiting, then a third Ozali came forward, pushing his stormy steed to the very edge of the trees, though the creature shifted, danced, and sidled.
“Lady Nyssa,” he called out. “Will your wood withstand a wind-twist?”
It was at that moment that the trees parted and the Lady came forth. She stopped in the shadow of the wood, for she was old and had no opinion of Sasanoa, and most especially the Ozali. Behind her, still among the trees, the Ozaliflame stood, his hair sooty and his clothing torn. Before her, the black dogs snarled, straining at their leads.
“Go home,” she said, as much to the Ozali as their dogs. “The one you seek has ceded his life to me; he concerns you no longer.”
“His life is surely his to do with as he pleases,” Zephyr agreed. “And if he choses to tie himself to a lesser reality, then that is his affair. However, there is a geas upon him that predates your own.”
The Lady considered her, wooden-faced. “What is his crime?”
“He has made free with certain items of the Sasanoa which were not his to tamper with. His peers have therefore sentenced him to imprisonment within the Tower of Mists until such time as he should ask to be released.”
Now, this sounds like a mug’s game, but the joker in the hand is that the Tower of Mists, which stands, in case anybody cares, on Serenity Island, which is located in the middle of the Glass Sea — anybody incarcerated in the Tower of Mists immediately forgets — everything. They’ll never ask to be released because they don’t know they’re imprisoned. They won’t take sustenance, because they don’t know they have to in order to stay alive. And eventually what happens to them is that — being Sasanoa and not like us denizens of a lesser reality — eventually they just sort of …thin out… and sublimate back into the element of their birth.
In other words, the Fire Ozali was under a death sentence, which he’d tried to duck by turning himself over to the Lady of the Wood and accepting her terms for his existence — that is, he gave up on being a more-or-less immortal based in the Sasanoa reality, in order to become a really, really long-lived semi-magical being centered on the earth-force of what we call the Real World. In practical terms, he’d just exchanged one death sentence for another.
“I am willing,” said one of the Sea Ozali, apparently thinking along those lines, “to allow that, by tying himself to this place, our brother has met the intent of the geas issued by the Council.”
“I am also willing,” said Zephyr.
“…and I,” another of the Wind Ozali murmured.
“But I,” stated the Ozali of the Storm Winds, “am not.”
Well, that was too bad, and there followed a bunch of jawing back and forth that Gran usually gets over as quick-footed as she can. Bottom line, when all the cussing and fussing came to an end, with the Lady standing firm for her rights and the Ozaliflame standing inside the trees, saying not one word, and his eyes never leaving her — the compromise that was reached was that the renegade could remain here, since he’d already given himself to the land, anyway. But — for the whole length of his lesser, though still vastly long life, he would be bound into Googin Rock, just downhill from Nyssa’s Wood. Another nasty twist, being as they were imprisoning a Fire Ozali, is that the Rock is underwater at high tide.
That was the best the Lady could get, though there were those on the other side who obviously felt the additional punishment too severe. The Ozali of the Storm Winds, though — they were afraid of him, even Zephyr, and it was his will that carried the day.
Being as she held his oath, it was the Lady who had the right of binding. Which she did that very night in full sight of the Sasanoa, and all the trenvay who could gather, their combined and not-exactly-complimentary energies crackling and steaming against the stars. From the town, if anyone’d been looking, it must’ve looked like another fire.
When it was done, the Sasanoa left, gone back to the Land of Flowers. Googin Rock’s right there, of course, where it’s always been. And for all I or Gran or anyone else knows or cares, the Ozaliflame is still bound deep inside it.
* * *
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