My fantasy novel, Witchery, will be published about the first of November by Double Dragon Publishing. T.S. Eliot said "Good writers borrow, great writers steal." When I wrote this novel I was aware that I was borrowing concepts from Robert Heinlein's short story, "Magic, Inc.", and an idea he put forward in Glory Road that had little to do with the main story. I also was aware of an influence from Marvel's Doctor Strange comic books, even though I didn't read many of them.
Of course I also borrowed from Lord of the Rings, Conan, and Le Morte D'Arthur. And some stuff I made up on my own...I think.
However, none of those borrowings inspired the story or characters in the first place. That was my own doing though I didn't know it at the time.
When I was teaching high school English I often gave my students writing assignments and sometimes, because I like to write, I would do the assignment myself. My poem, "Bug War", was the result of one such effort.
In this case I assigned the students the task of describing someone in a setting. Describe the person and the place and conditions that person is in.
I did the assignment myself. I described a young and very pretty red-headed woman on a black horse riding a path through a forest in late evening. I described her clothing, and the blue-stoned ring she wore. I wrote the details of the late autumn forest with its leafless trees. I detailed the size of the horse and the saddle.
And then I filed it away. About a year later that image of the young woman gave me an idea. She had, from the very beginning, in my mind, been a witch. Why was she there? Where was she going? From those questions I developed the entire story that will finally see print this Fall.
The biggest problem I had with the original construction was that I wanted to start the story there. Eventually I came to realize that I could not. There had to be something presented before that would justify her presence at that place and time. That was the most frustrating part of the story—exactly how to begin. I tried at least a half dozen different beginnings before I settled on the one that will see print. And even then, the details of the beginning were changed and rewritten more than once.
Finally, though, I had a finished novel that I could submit (by snail mail, please include envelope and postage for return if rejected) to publishers.
I got the message. Something needed changing. After a fresh look I decided that details of the magic—what it could do and how—needed to be reworked and redefined and limited. But various things of non-writing origin interfered and the novel sat unmodified for several years.
When I at last determined to get to the rewrite I knew what I wanted. The basic plot and characters were just fine; only details concerning the magic needed to be changed. But as I rewrote it from the very beginning I added details about the characters, introduced additional minor characters and additional minor conflicts.
The basic characters all stayed the same, except that I changed the gender of one of them. When I got to the second half I brought the fate of one secondary character to a much more satisfactory continuation. In the original he had simply been left behind. Then I added over a dozen secondary and tertiary characters to bring more life into the conflicts and more drama—more pathos.
The finished draft was more complete and much richer than the draft of years earlier. Then I applied editing software to the manuscript, chapter by chapter. That made the language of the story stronger and the story telling more enthralling.
But through all that the four primary human characters did not change although they did grow during the story. The plot changed not one bit. Details were added or subtracted to various battle scenes (in some cases because of the reworking of the principles of magic) but the plot and the motivations of the characters were the same as in the first draft. The ending was virtually unchanged.
That is what goes into a finished novel. It is art and creativity, but it is also at least as much a craft. Painters and sculptors cannot get by on simple inspiration. They must apply the colors just right. The lines and curves and angles must be just so. The sculpture must have every imperfection eliminated and every surface exactly as smooth or rough as the artist's vision dictates. The same is true for writers. We use words instead of paint or chisel, but the discipline and skill to use those tools is just as exacting.
I hope all of you that enjoy reading fantasy—or those of you that don't know if you like it because you haven't tried it—will read Witchery when it becomes available.
And thank you.