It all started as a bad romance story ala Beren and Luthien, Aragorn and Arwen. I mean, really bad. I deleted it a long time ago.
But the seed of that idea didn't die.
Then it was a line from Revelations 12:12. It got me to thinking about prophecy, and Fate. The question I asked was, if you were the Devil, and you knew that in the end you were going to lose anyways, why try? What's the point?
Somewhere on my 50+ mile long drive home from work, listening to "Waiting for Our Time to Come" by Styx, I had the third idea. A common man, no one special, thrown into a a situation both grave and absurd. A guy whose life wasn't amounting to much, being pulled away, and told that he is the salvation of some alien world. The fantasy of just about every young man on the losing side of life. To be important. To be special.
And then reality shows up.
The first draft of Frankie Falawell's saga started somewhere around 1999, or maybe the year 2000, I think. I spent night after night, into the wee hours, pounding away on my keyboard. Then I handed it to my wife to read. After many, many weeks, her reaction was a smile, and the simple observation, "It's nice," and adding, "It's reminds me of Lord of the RIngs."
(Mind you, I don't think my wife has ever read Lord of the Rings.)
What she was really telling me was that it sucked. But I was undaunted. Out it went to agent after agent, some 80 in all. Those that bothered to respond, passed. Out of all of them, only one thought that I might have a workable story, but my writing style needed a total makeover.
Defeated, I put my manuscript away. For the next decade and a half, it sat collecting dust. Yet, the seeds of the ideas never left me.
Like some sort of guilty father, I felt that the romantic relationship of my main character needed to be resolved. So, one night or two, I sat down and churned out a short story that concluded this love affair. Well, it concluded it in my mind, which was all that mattered at that point. However, even that bothered me. The conclusion was too easy, and the reasoning was too simple. For years it nagged at me.
Then, sometime in December, 2017, I start down and resolved that problem. From December 2017, to February 2018 I hammered out a 120,000+ word novel, drawn from the roots of a short story, that concluded the love interest between Frankie and a yet unspecified female love interest. Actually, it may be more than 120K words. It really doesn't matter...it's long.
I went at that story with a frenzied sort of passion. There was something about the tale I was writing. The elements of it wouldn't let me be, pounded in my head, demanding to be let loose on an empty page. I tried describing it to my wife. At that time, I think she thought I was nuts, or just being overly dramatic. Discussions about the book felt awkward, or at least that was my recollection.
It was them that I decided to return to writing. My eventual plan was to revive the Frankie Falawell saga, just not right away.
I decided my best bet was to write a single, self-contained novel. A story that had a definitive start and end all in the same book. Frankie's story was, to say the least, an ambitious project given the elements of it swirling around in my head. To that end, I decided on writing a "damsel in distress story," featuring a character named Merrith. Several months, and 170,000+ words later, the two-volume story was complete.
It was then that I realized my ability to write short, self-contained stories was severely lacking.
The Frankie Falawell saga was originally intended to be a trilogy. I had the start and the end of all three books in my head. When I wrote the conclusion to the romance in 2017, that added a fourth book to the series. "Okay," I thought, "I can live with four."
Now, here's where things sort of get turned on their head. The original story - the one I tried to shop around in the year 2000 - was a straight Fantasy story very much in the vein of Tolkien. The focus was, more or less, on the main character, and his journey. The wizard was just a wizard. The antagonist / dark lord was an ambiguous sorta-demonic figure, always talked about, but never actually shown until the climax (book #3). As I reviewed what I wrote, the one thing that struck me - besides my awful writing and voice - was that the story lacked depth. Frankie and his exploits needed gravity.
I consider myself a religious sort of guy. I attend church fairly regularly. When it comes to my religion, I am a true believer. I believe that Jesus was the Son of God, begotten, not made. I believe in his death and resurrection. I believe that he will come again on Judgement Day, and that my sins will be forgiven through Grace. I don't believe that there is metaphor or allegory to the Gospels. I believe the Gospels to be the closest account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that exist in the world. I also believe there was a Moses and an Abraham, Noah, Adam and Eve.
My worldview is derived from the Bible, as is my understanding of good and evil, right and wrong. My faith is not blind, despite what some may think. I am very much a Rationalist. Reason figures deeply into my faith, which to some may seem like a contradictory philosophy; I assure you, it isn't. I don't want to make the rest of this blog post about me and my religious views, only that my religion - and the tenants thereof - figure heavily in what I say and do.
Or at least what I am supposed to do, and usually don't.
Using the Bible, and Biblical concepts is a sure way to add depth to my writing. After all, one of the main drivers for me writing the story in the first place was a passage from the Revelation of Saint John. Inserting Biblical concepts seemed like a natural fit.
But this was a Fantasy story. It's not real. By inserting Jesus into this tale, it would be mixing what I held as truth with fiction. In a way, it was like tainting the name of Jesus, or his words, or his works. If I'm going to include Jesus, I feel like it should be done with a little more authority and reverence. But, it doesn't stop me from adding some of the fundamentals of what I believe into my writing. After all, even Jesus spoke in parables and those parables were allegorical depictions of the concepts he was trying to teach; illustrations with words.
However, by adding a religious component, I risk driving away people who just want to be entertained. I get that. Many people who may not share my views might get turned off the minute I start throwing in Bible passages. Being open about my views and incorporating them into my writing will be a turnoff for some people.
In the end, I was writing because I had something to say. By separating my voice with the things I hold dear, I am doing myself a disservice. People don't read books. People read what other people write. By holding back who I am and what I believe from the reader, I'm giving them a cheap story filled with excitement and adventure, but very little depth. That runs contrary to why I started writing in the first place.
I had to be true to myself. So when I started the rework of the Frankie Falawell saga, my views were unapologetically inserted. No, there were no Bible verses. Morality was added where it was appropriate: Dolor speaking of good and evil and why God doesn't simply snap his fingers and make evil go away. Frankie's struggle with Faith in the face of disbelief and absurdity. Very subtle. Very human conflicts both internal and external. The concept of a singular God, of Heaven just beyond the Western sea. The conflict of monotheistic, polytheistic, atheistic and apathetic beliefs. The nature of Creation and forbidden power and knowledge. Those that dared to look beyond the veil of what they can touch, taste, see and the dangers of playing with what exists just outside of our understanding. The phenomenal intellect and power of creatures who understand the smallest parts of Creation as if they were second nature, as well as their motivations to openly defy their Maker.
An average man walking amongst gods and kings.
With renewed purpose, I set about to remake my masterwork. Somewhere along the line, I decided to write for the Young Adult audience. Actually, that decision was two-fold. First, I wanted my writings to be appreciated across a wide swath of readers. Targeting Young Adults (YA) seemed like a natural fit, though I now realize that what the industry defines as Young Adult is different from what I was writing. Maybe that was a mistake or maybe it wasn't. I'll be honest with you: I don't know, and really don't care.
Writing for young adults meant dropping my word count below 100K. That was a problem. So I looked for a natural dividing line, or something that came close. While I am not totally happy with how the first book ends, I will say that breaking one book into two feels both wrong and right. Wrong in the fact that I didn't have an easily definable break in my manuscript, and that book #2 starts slow. However, the things that I'm weaving in and out of Frankie's tale are complex and can come off quite ham-handedly if not done right. Taking many concepts and making books that are easier to digest sounded right to me. While I may feel ill at ease with my ultimate decision, it inevitably forces me to have faith in the reader. Plus, I've always felt that each book in the series should have it's own sort of personality. This accomplishes that goal.
The first book done, I handed it to my wife once more and waited for her assessment. Days passed. I tried to refrain from pestering her. Then, out on the back patio of my house in late 2019, she let me know.
"It is as good as anything I've ever bought."
Now, you have to understand, my wife reads books. She reads a lot of books. I've got several stuffed bookshelves with books she's read and put away. She was employed by a local school district to work in the library - a job that had her reading book after book before the kids in the school did. We've got stacks of paperbacks that are stuffed in boxes, sitting in outside storage. This woman reads books.
So when she says, with a broad smile, that this would be something she'd buy, that's pretty high praise.
Yeah, okay, she still thought it sounded like Lord of the Rings. Whatever.
Not long after that, I handed the manuscript to the second beta reader - a big Harry Potter fan - while I sent another copy of the manuscript to an editor. Weeks passed as I awaited their assessments.
The comments from the editor were glowing. "You have a real knack for storytelling." Of course, it did little to distract from my manuscript bleeding red. I expected it, but it still...hurts.
My second beta reader was even more glowing. Taking her to dinner to thank her for her time, we spent the next couple of hours discussing the book.
Here now I sit, typing this out. Months of rejections, some of them praising many elements of the book, and telling me of the one lousy thing that kept them picking it up and publishing it. The praise is always the same, complementing me on my world building, characters, dialogue, and so on. The criticisms are all different. One tells me the premise is bad. Another says that third person narrative will never sell. One says it's a great premise and it was the correct decision to write in third-person but the narrative voice is all wrong. An agent tells me that its not a good fit for their lists, but then cryptically adds:
You are very talented.
While the fate of the manuscript is still undetermined, it will nonetheless get published. I would have liked to get it traditionally published, but apparently the many acknowledged strengths of the story are outweighed by the single, highly suspect weakness that becomes the deal-breaker. I'm still awaiting several responses, but have already given up hope for the traditional path. It will, undoubtedly, be self-published.
So now you know how this all came to be. Yeah, I skipped over a few details along the way. The important stuff is there, and I guess that's all that matters.
Until next time...