Five story attempts into my novel-writing pursuit (started in the eighth grade), I stumbled on a persistent one. While the earlier ideas float around in my head, possibly getting a new novel one day, Stalemate follows every new step of my path. It upgrades with my ability and morphs to something new several times.
It’s likely already a thing, but I’m calling it my journey piece; lots of writers probably have one. Mine looks like a favoured, and thus worn and battered (by multiple machine washings) stuffed animal from childhood now. Essentially, I’m defining a journey piece as your first novel idea that makes it through the trenches of experience. Each stage of your writing progress marks a new version.
I get the feeling it likely ends up as the “drawer novel.” I don’t recall where I read about drawer novels, but essentially they are the first novel ever written, and then stuffed in a drawer for eternity because they’re just that bad.
I honestly hope Stalemate doesn’t end up in a drawer. I put it on hold a few years ago because I simply cannot get in touch with the main character any more. I still dabble in the story on occasion, however.
In its first incarnation, the main character, named Ember (because of her firey-red hair), lived amongst humans as a street urchin. She most certainly would get nabbed by slave traders without plenty of baggy clothes and a tight and concealing scalp-hat she could tuck her ears under, and a deeply cowled cloak. Most assumed her too old to bother with. However, she had one thief pal, Alex. The love interest. By the end of the first chapter he fell off a cliff and she sprouted angel wings on instinct, swooped down after him, and saved him.
This version didn’t last long, I lost the document. I decided she needed a street urchin family in which she and Alex were the oldest two. I renamed her Akasha and decided she was more than an elf with super-secret wings that sprout when needed. Also, her hair turned lilac…for now.
She became a demi-goddess daughter of a winged elf and the high god, Onshtranals, created on purpose by the latter in order to fill the vacant office of nature goddess. Biggest catch, he fired the former nature goddess (Syndranalsa) and cursed her to the barren under-dark where she became a twisted and chaotic evil creature bent on revenge. Her plans were to turn Akasha against Onshtranals though, tipping the balance in her favour.
If you get the sense I’m holding stuff back, I am. First, this “In memory of Stalemate” post would be too long if I told you everything. Second, I’m still keeping some elements in the current version and I don’t want to spoil it for any readers should I ever finish it.
I struggled with Akasha’s version for a while, my community college lit mag even chose to publish it, along with an old drawing I made of Akasha (inked for that purpose). The drawing sucked from the waist on so I cut it as you see.
By the end of this version a bunch of fairies marry her and Alex deep in the woods (he followed her out of curiosity one day and found out she was an elf).
I got some bad feedback from a star critter at the Delrey writing workshop and decided to up the tension by killing my darlings in the next chapter. Brutally. Everyone but Akasha and the youngest, Kitsune, died. Kitsune was a girl, so the invaders took her with for slave-trading. Even six-year-old Kyle was brutally murdered on the end of a pike. Acclaimed critter got back to me. He loved it.
Far from being pleased he loved it so much, it bothered me. Everything up until that point was “over-written” and “mediocre.” He also said I was hard to follow and he was so bored he couldn’t finish past the parade scene (basically the first few hundred words of chapter one; ie he only read the prologue). Acclaimed critiquer’s favourite part he raved on was where I killed all the characters that bored him so much?
Unfortunately some stragglers were around when Alex and Akasha returned. They attacked and Akasha’s powers lept into action for defense. She did well until she lost control and accidentally killed Alex. Crushed, she gave up and the remaining slavers carted her away in a cage on her way to the best slavers market.
First introduction of my favourite character, another elven slave they “captured,” Navianna. She was a dark elf with psionic abilities who allowed the slavers to capture her so she could get in close to Akasha, break her out, and bring her back to Syndranalsa.
Then I scrapped that. Alex became a lordling and Akasha, now Wynaré (then Ceraia, then Tesari), was the “disfigured” daughter of the house bard, Mikasis. In this version, elves are creatures of myth considered akin to demons, and magic, an evil force that steals your soul a little with each use until you end up an evil and depraved shell of humanity.
Rather than kill the little elven foundling he came across, Mikasis took pity on her and helped begin her life of hiding, using “disfigured” as an excuse for her to hide her face, hair, ears, etc. under masks and cloaks. He died of illness and the lord and lady, taking pity on Akasha, whom they’d known most of her life, kept her on as a replacement entertainer.
Then I went wild creating cultures and unique roles in the land. I joined the story with another character who suffered similar villains, a similar story prologue to the original Stalemate (Dark and scary creatures attacked his winged-elven home and killed everyone).
I gave Wynaré (now with some long-forgotten name that starts with an E) a professional reason to hide. The Spinner profession on this fantasy planet was born. Elves and magic were still evil things of myth, Mikasis still took pity on her, but he was a Spinner now and began her Spinner training in private, making elaborate costumes of the trade for her.
A Spinner, still existent in the current version, is something of a spiritual avatar and entertainer. They are also the culture’s version of a super-hero-entertainer complete with laws in place to protect them. They hold an exalted and protected status. Punishment for harming or unmasking a Spinner is harsh and includes strong belief in divine punishment and bad luck as well.
This culture highly prizes the arts, so their best artists are something like priests and the air of mystery makes them exciting. Unmasking that mystery ruins the illusion. So, while curiosity in the person under all the costume, veils, masks, etc. is common enough, most don’t want to see the Spinner out of costume any more than church goers want to see their pastor preaching naked at the podium.
Her most recent name is Isana, she’s still a Spinner, Alex is still a lordling, Mikasis still raised her and is dead (illness) in present time of the novel. Key (the other winged elf story thrown in earlier) is also still part of this version. Navianna has yet to re-enter any version since the slave scene, but is in all of them. I made the gods a mysterious species of life shaped by will and belief without true physical form (Formless Ones), though the people don’t believe in them as such, but as normal god and goddess beliefs.
Now my trouble is Isana. She’s way too passive. I recently added a new character, a proper young woman trying to catch Alex’s attention and hand in marriage. He cannot marry Isana anyway unless he gives up everything, becomes a Spinner, and later meets up with her as someone else (only Spinners may freely see another Spinner out of costume). Not gonna happen.
I’m making Isana a bit rebellious, perhaps a little roguish and flirty and unconcerned about danger. She runs with something of a minor death wish because, thanks to human mythology, she believes her people are evil and the magic innate in her will steal her soul. Throw Key in the mix…a PTSD suffering crazy-elf…helps convince her of magic’s drawbacks.
The action starts when Key crash-lands in the estate gardens and Isana quickly hides him in one of Mikasis’ old costumes. Obviously she MUST know more about the only other elf she’s met. She nurses him back to health. Soon they end up on the run together with Alex and the unnamed proper girl who follows him purely to make sure Isana doesn’t get him killed.
There’s more to the story, of course, but I don’t want to spoil anything more. Hopefully this entry wasn’t too boring. I’m still on this journey with Stalemate, but most of the work is background now. Out of all my worlds, thanks to this journey, Taerion possesses the richest existence and I add to that still, a little at a time.
Oh, also I gave up the elves and dark elves thing. I created an entire fey-like race and called them kyri (after my writing buddy, Kyrias). These kyri are elven-fey-like humanoids tied to certain aspects of nature and the elements. Navianna is now a nekyri, and rather than nekyri just being a fancy name for dark elves/drow, it is the name for undead kyri under a curse from the high god, Onshtranals.
They are former sylkyri (forest kyri; something like dryads) and alkyri (bird kyri) led by the former nature goddess, Syndranalsa. They live underground still, but they’re not as obviously evil, and the natural abilities of their kyri forms are corrupted. If I -had- to pinpoint other races for nekyri inspiration…I’d say zombie-psychic-vampire-elves, who are properly pale for underdark folk.
Enjoy an old map I made for the areas of Stalemate for following to this point!
I wish I could blame 15-or-younger-year-old me for this map…but I drew it in my early twenties.