I’m hosting a guest post today for The Camellia Resistance, a dystopian / urban fantasy novel. Enjoy.
In one of my favorite novels by one of my favorite authors, a narrow swords-woman manages to put off the death-blow that is inevitably coming to her by catching her opponent’s curiosity. His need to know what happens next is his undoing. As she allows her story to unwind detail by detail, she maneuvers herself into a stronger position, executes a last-minute thrust and kills the man. (The Innkeeper’s Song, Peter S. Beagle)
In less dire circumstances, it is curiosity that keeps us digging into the next page, the next chapter, until we’ve answered that most irresistible of questions: what happens next?
It’s no different for the writer. Curiosity is our downfall and we chase it eagerly, consequences be damned. What happens after the worst thing you can think of takes place? When your world gets turned upside down, where do you go next? This is the trouble with disaster and tragedy of the personal sort. Life does go on, as much as you wish it wouldn’t. My curiosity as a writer is about what that going on looks like.
I started with Willow five years ago. All I had was a vague sketch of a woman who’s been confronted with the collapse of the careful world she’s lived in and defended. There were ways I could relate to her and ways that she was a complete mystery to me. The world she lived in was familiar to me while also being totally foreign. Word by word, I followed my curiosity through the landscape, the people that inhabited this new world, the customs and rituals, the consequences. The book itself is a kind of travel guide. As the author, I only have the privilege of walking the journey a few steps ahead of the audience and the responsibility of getting the story as right as I possibly can.
When I sat down to write the story, I had no idea who I was going to meet along the way. The people that populate this world can be taken as good or bad, but in my mind, they’re both, equally, depending on who you ask or what you know of their history. I like each of them, in their own way, though I certainly would advise keeping Ven at a certain distance: he’s far too mercenary to keep close. Willow can be hard to love too. She is equally sanctimonious and uncertain, trying hard to find a way to suppress her need for authentic contact and failing miserably. There are good reasons why you wouldn’t like her if you met under the right (or wrong) set of circumstances. Marshall, my bullheaded Marshall, heaven help you if you’re on the receiving end of his defensive attack. Ven’s mom is the closest I’ll ever get to re-writing Miss Havisham and I adore her and her droopy pompadour. And then there is Morrigan… If I had known I was going to find Morrigan, this might have been a very different book. I’m proudest of Morrigan: she is so relentlessly herself… comfortably bitter, yet she can’t quite convince herself to refuse when asked for help. There’s hope in her, and she resents it and craves it, all at the same time.
I think we write for the same reason we read: we can’t help ourselves. This idea, this voice shows up out of nowhere and there’s just no denying it. You’ve got to know what happens next. I hope the audience has as much fun satisfying their curiosity about Willow, Ven, and the New Republic of America as I did getting to the bottom of my need to know what happened next.