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07:25 am: Wright's Writing Corner: Prospero Lost--A Writer’s Odyssey

Today, in honor of the release of my first novel, Prospero Lost , (in stores at last!) is Part One of my history of how Prospero Lost came to print.

 

 

Humble Beginnings

 

When I graduated from college, I took a job working for my father, with the agreement that I could write two hours and work six. (I only got paid for six, but I lived at home, so this was no big deal.) I had heard that an author I admired submitted stories for ten years before she finally got her first sale. I vowed then and there that I would not wait ten years! I would get published right away!

 

Pride goeth before a fall. That was in 1985.

 

 

I had begun writing about nine years before, when, at the age of twelve, I started my first story on my mom’s old typewriter. By college, I’d finished a couple of short stories. Not good enough to sell, but I did have a real, bona fide rejection letter from George Scithers at Amazing Magazine, which I hung on my dorm room wall. Even back then, I could tell that the novel would be a better medium for me than short stories, so I was determined to start a novel.

 

Only, I knew my writing was not up to the job, so the first six months, I just practiced grammar. I bought a couple of grammar books and split my two hours of writing time between doing grammar exercises and copying and diagramming passages from authors I liked. My grammar is still weak in places, but it improved greatly that year over what it previously had been. My clearest memory from that period is of copying paragraphs of Tolkien by hand (this was before we owned a computer) and underlining them in various highlighting colors, to indicate the parts of speech; a lot of semi-colons in Tolkien.

 

Eventually, I moved on to writing a novel. Several novels were started and discarded: one about a wizard who was trying to create life while drinking a lot of tea; one about immortals in the time of Queen Elizabeth; one called City at the Heart of Dreams, about a girl who meet Odin in a dream and soon finds out she’s pregnant, but only in dreams; one about a psychiatrist named Devon MacDannan who was under attack by Leanan Sidhe. 

 

I also wrote more than 600 pages of a Victorian romance called The Audacity of Her about an American heiress who married a British lord, based on the experiences of the real American heiresses know as the Buccaneers. That one was a lot of fun, and I still have chapters and chapters of it laying around somewhere. There are one or two scenes where I captured some part of the life of the times that John still talks about today. 

 

None of these works were ever finished.

 

 

 

I Write A Book

 

Somewhere in the early Nineties, John and I were invited to play in a roleplaying game run by a friend. He was a new moderator for us, so I decided to write a short story demonstrating what my character could do, so there would be no misunderstandings. For my character, I picked Miranda, the daughter of the magician Prospero from Shakespeare’s Tempest, only in the game, Prospero would turn out to be one of the magicians in the game background. Miranda lived on an island with her airy servants and had a group of airy captains who worked directly for her.

 

One of these captains, a grumpy detective from a 1940s world, was named Mab. I chose him as her side kick for the short story, which took place on a world with talking gargoyles (the one character in the original story who never made it to the novel) and other strange supernatural beings. It was a light-hearted story involving vampires and Pixie Cola.

 

We only played in that game a few times, but I liked the character and the story I had written. I decided to write more. I took the character out of the game background and put her into a entirely different story. I  moved Miranda back to Earth and made her the daughter of the original magician Prospero from Shakespeare. I set the story in the modern world, only a modern world that had a secret history and all sorts of supernatural beings in it.

 

I figured that if Prospero had fathered Miranda in the 1400s and was still around today, he’d probably have other children. So, Miranda needed siblings, and I knew exactly who I wanted them to be.

 

I asked John for permission to borrow his Prospero Family, a zany and lovable bunch of characters who had first appeared as supervillains in a game he ran in college, but who, by the time I met them in the Corruption Campaign, (our long running roleplaying game,) were good guys—funny, quirky, and outgoing.

 

They fit perfectly!

 

I kept them as close to John’s originals as I could—including the difficult parts, such as that one of the sisters had married one of the brothers. But in the end, I made them my own. Erasmus, who smiled through his lank hair as he spouted morose poetry became Miranda’s adversary and a bit of a lady’s man. Theophrastus, the heroic and level-headed one, became an old man.

 

Then, I borrowed the magic system from our Corruption Campaign. I’m still amused when I reread the book at how elegantly I took the magic system and the past events of the Prospero Family from our game and wove them into Earth’s history. None of this will matter to any readers, of course, as they never saw the original, but it is nice to see that I could pull it off. (If and when I ever get the Corruption Campaign series written, those books should have the same magic system as the Prospero series.)

 

Then I wrote some twelve or thirteen chapters. Back then, Miranda still had a lot of qualities I had made up for the original game character. She was suspicious and calculated, not trusting brothers and out to under-cut them. After writing about half the book, I had a friend read it. He identified certain problems that depressed me. I put the story aside.

 

Five years passed. I wrote other things.

 

Three friends—their names appear in the Acknowledgement: Mark Whipple, Dave Eckstein, and Catherine Rockwood—would not let the book die. One month, somewhere around 1998, all three of them inquired, asking what had happen to that Prospero story. I think Catherine asked first. Mark, who knows the Prosperos best, asked the most insistently. 

 

So, I dragged the old manuscript out and re-read it. It was much better than I had remembered. When I got to the part where Mab is not answering Miranda’s questions because he’s advising her to get rid of her magic, I laughed out loud. (It’s never seemed as funny since as it did that one time.) I figured any story that made me laugh out loud was worth another look.

 

I got back to work on the Miranda book again, which was then called Prospero’s Children. This time I stuck with it until I finished it. It was the first novel I ever finished. I managed to use most of the scenes I’d written in 1992-93. The story was a mystery with humor and magic. Prospero disappears. The family gathers. They spat. They learn to work together. They rescue him.

 

Finally, in early 2001—sixteen years after I vowed I’d get published immediately—I had finished a novel!

 

Next week:  Part Two: I Encounter The Awful Truth About Publishing



Comments

[User Picture]
From:kokorognosis
Date:August 5th, 2009 01:03 pm (UTC)
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It is always interesting, and simultaneously encouraging and disheartening to read a Tale of Someone's Publishing.

It is nice to know that the Rejection Slip is not the end, but aggravating knowing that you will see dozens or hundreds more.

People invariably ask about writing when they find out that you are a writer; I describe as banging your head against a brick wall until the wall gives way.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 5th, 2009 01:09 pm (UTC)
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Not a bad description. ;-)

While I realize it can be disheartening, it is my hope that by chronicling my waiting and waiting and how the book finally did come to be, that someone else will be encouraged not to give up.
[User Picture]
From:kokorognosis
Date:August 5th, 2009 01:32 pm (UTC)
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Oh, yes. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing to write this. But the mix of emotions is interesting.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 5th, 2009 01:58 pm (UTC)
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I often feel that way when reading about other writers...both delighted and sad at the same time.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 5th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)

congratulations

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I get disheartened sometimes when I think of how long I've been working on my current "work-in-progress". So, I guess then it's heartening (?) to hear that these long running projects can see the light of day.

Congratulations. I'll have to run out and buy it, as I've read the first half twice now and never found the time to read the second half (sorry).

Jeff Lyman
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 5th, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC)

Re: congratulations

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Thanks, Jeff. Really sweet of you.

Well, this took 17 years...so you still have time to beat me. ;-)
[User Picture]
From:johncwright
Date:August 5th, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
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"None of these works were every finished. "

This should read "None of these works were ever finished."
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 5th, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC)
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Fixed. Thanks!
[User Picture]
From:bojojoti
Date:August 5th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
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John keeps sending me here, and I enjoy what I read. May I friend you?
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 5th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
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Oh, please do!

If you friend me, I'll friend you, too!
[User Picture]
From:bojojoti
Date:August 5th, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC)
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I look forward to getting to know you!
[User Picture]
From:cdenmier
Date:August 5th, 2009 07:38 pm (UTC)

Eager for Next Week

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I know this echoes another comment higher up, but it is nice to see someone who struggled over a long period of time (with both herself and her stories and, apparently, publishers) but eventually succeeded. It gives folks like me hope that one day, if I keep cracking the whip over my own shoulder come "inspiration" or not, that one day I may possess that coveted crown: to be a published author.

Thanks for sharing your story -- I look forward to next week (and to successive Wednesdays of writing advice).

And congratulations on the debut of your first novel!
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 5th, 2009 09:40 pm (UTC)

Re: Eager for Next Week

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Thanks!

That's exactly what I was hoping when I wrote this up...that other people striving along as I was would be encouraged to keep trying!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 5th, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)

If I had a hat, it would be off to you

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People like you, who write and write well, and persevere and get stuff published, really impress me. I hva ealways longed to write, but I lack the discipline and practical hard-edgedness that seem to be necessary. Whatever. I never wrote anything, and now I'm almost the age Richard Adams was when he wrote WATERSHIP DOWN. Hey, that gives me an idea...

I intend to buy PROSPERO LOST next week and read it as soon as I finish THE GOLDEN AGE.

Congratulations on this achievement!
From:botticelli_s
Date:August 5th, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)

Re: If I had a hat, it would be off to you

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Sorry, that was from me.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 5th, 2009 09:41 pm (UTC)

Re: If I had a hat, it would be off to you

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;-)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 5th, 2009 09:41 pm (UTC)

Re: If I had a hat, it would be off to you

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Thanks...but don't give up. The wonderful thing about writing is that you can succeed at it at any age. Young, medium, or old.

;-)
[User Picture]
From:princejvstin
Date:August 6th, 2009 11:22 am (UTC)

Re: If I had a hat, it would be off to you

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Confidence is something I lack. I take MY hat off to you, too. I'm not confident enough that I could get a novel that I wrote published.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 10th, 2009 03:07 am (UTC)

Re: If I had a hat, it would be off to you

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There were a lot of days I wasn't confident either...but I wouldn't give up!

(Do you have stuff you've written?)
[User Picture]
From:carbonelle
Date:August 6th, 2009 06:20 am (UTC)

I remember

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...starting my book back when I was eight or so. My best friend at the time was also going to be a writer (librarian and nurse respectively--I got close!) and we promised we'd dedicate our first books to each other.

Now the book I started then still isn't finished, but I did dedicate my first book to her, so that's something.

I'm glad you made that dream of yours come true at last!
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 10th, 2009 02:52 am (UTC)

Re: I remember

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Thanks! It was a long wait...but worth it!
[User Picture]
From:damcphail
Date:August 6th, 2009 05:19 pm (UTC)

Wow...

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How very cool :) I enjoyed reading that. Bits of the story I didn't know.

Can't wait to read the book. Some day I want to be just like you ;)

D-
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 10th, 2009 02:53 am (UTC)

Re: Wow...

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Thanks. Yeah! I want to see you make it,too!

I was thinking of you alot on the trip to Montreal. I came across a Bible quote that I kept thinking I wanted to share with you. I'll try to send it tomorrow.
[User Picture]
From:damcphail
Date:August 10th, 2009 11:14 am (UTC)

Re: Wow...

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:) Thanks, lady. Means a lot to me :)

Hugs,

D-
[User Picture]
From:jjbrannon
Date:August 7th, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC)

An overnight success!

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After 15 years and *1* night.

:>)


JJB
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 10th, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)

Re: An overnight success!

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;-p
[User Picture]
From:alycewilson
Date:August 10th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC)
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Congratuilations! I found out about this from Dani Ackley-McPhail.

If you're interested in me reviewing this for Wild Violet (http://www.wildviolet.net), then email me and I'll get you my home address. Just go to the "contact info" page at Wild Violet and e-mail me. I prefer that books don't go to the P.O. Box, because then they have to keep them behind the counter for me (it's a smallish box).
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