I’ve never been a regular participant in National Novel Writing Month, simply because I haven’t needed the fixed schedule and/or motivation to get myself writing. Every time November rolled around, I was either already writing a novel or had just finished one. But as it happened, last year I got an idea for a story close enough to November that I figured, why not wait until the 1st to start writing the book, then try to write every day for a month and see what happened?

Where I got the idea, by the way, was from my brilliant, imaginative daughter. She has about fifty ideas for stories, and she was rattling off just a few of them to her brother when I overheard a premise that instantly grabbed hold of me. I asked her if she would mind if I wrote that story, and she happily agreed. The basic idea (which originated in a dream she’d had) is that a girl dies and wakes up to discover she’s an Empress.

I started making character sketches and generating some preliminary worldbuilding. By November 1st, I was quite impatient to get started. I didn’t end up writing every day, but when I did write, I usually tried to push myself to at least 2000 words. I was pretty close to 50,000 words (the bare minimum length for a novel; most YA books are longer) by the end of the month, so I pressed on at a similar rate until I finished the story at around 67,000 words on December 16th. I’m not sure if it’s the fastest I’ve written; I’d have to look up the stats for Mortal Failings, which I wrote in a rather vituperative frenzy. It was certainly one of the fastest. Not that speed is a necessarily a quality of a good writer — it might even be the opposite. However, there is an undoubted value in the practice of discipline, of making oneself write frequently and consistently. The only difference between a would-be writer and a writer is actually sitting down and writing. (Or standing and writing, if you prefer. Whatever gets the words on the page.)

Empire is the working title; not sure if that will change. The story itself was quite fun to explore. Being transported from the mundane world to a fantastic one is quite a common trope, but I tried to tweak and twist the conventions in a fresh way. For one thing, Rachel dies. As far as she knows, there’s no going back, afterlife dream or not. Also, a lot of protagonists go through a stage of denial, insisting that it’s all a dream, but mine never stops denying the reality of this strange Empire she’s supposed to rule. I fully acknowledge that this was influenced by the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to a certain degree, though, um, with significantly less darkness and horror and self-loathing. I wanted to explore that tension between trusting our senses or wondering if everything we experience, if indeed all reality, is nothing but the product of our minds.

In this new world, Rachel (or Su-mari Endira Rakhel, as she is called by her courtiers) is a revered Empress who wields great powers to protect a vast Empire. In her old world, she was an ordinary girl just about to graduate from high school. Why wouldn’t she prefer the new world? Because she has no memory of it, and she remembers her old life and fully believes it was real. And it was a happy life, simple and unassuming though it was. To deny that would be to deny her family, her friends and all her experiences and memories. And yet she can’t hide away and ignore her new life. Dangers threaten the Empire. Even if it’s all a dream, she want to do the right thing and protect the helpless. Not that she has any idea how to wield her powers. There’s also the little matter of discovering someone else from her old life in this new one….

I haven’t touched it since finishing the first draft in December, so we’ll have to see what I think of it after letting it sit for a month. I’m sure it’ll need plenty of revising — alas, my least favorite part of the writing process — but it sure was fun creating something out of nothing in less than two months.


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