I have been very remiss in posting on here the last few weeks! I had every intention of posting about the NaNo process as it happened…but then it happened to take up every spare writing moment I had! I spent the month doing a lot of writing sprints before work, on my lunch hour and at odd moments here and there. I spent most of the month hovering near the goal amount, and crossed the 50,000 after work on November 30th. Then went out to my writing group!
So much for stats. As to content–as I was beginning to feel earlier in the month, this turned out more of an exploration than a proper novel draft. I think I got, perhaps, halfway through what would eventually be the story, but I’m not sure the first half always went the right direction. I did a lot of world-building in October but not much plot-planning, and struggled to find it in November.
On the other hand! I discovered some new things about my characters, and about the world even, and the themes emerged pretty strongly too. I’m not exactly sure how much of what I wrote will end up in a final version–possibly a lot of fragments, cut up and rearranged.
I don’t plan to finish this semi-draft during December, as I often do with NaNo novels. This was a good exploration and got me back in the writing rhythm after losing my speed some last year (too much revision, and too much other life going on too). So I’m going to put this one away to think about some more, and in the meantime I want to play with some short stories and work on plotting…because that seems to be the big issue on my last three novel drafts that still need revision. So it seems like a good time to play with something shorter to hone some skills.
For now though, have an excerpt from my NaNo novel.
We approached the Great Hall, an intimidating enough building without uneasy thoughts to accompany an approach. I had only been inside twice, once each year for the opening ceremonies of the new term. The effect was quite different when streams of students were covering the plaza and heading through the open doors.
The rest of the time—well, I had passed the Great Hall hundreds of times, but it had always felt more like a mountain than a building, a prominent feature of the landscape but not something to approach, let alone enter.
Gery marched up to it fearlessly enough, bypassing the main doors for a small side entrance quite confidently.
The door opened on a short hallway, leading to a second, interior door, this one with a gargoyle sitting beside it. “Who goes there?” the gargoyle intoned. It was an old gargoyle, judging by the depth of the voice. Those were the best ones.
“Gerhardt Greerson,” Gery said promptly, “with an appointment with Minister Drehagan. And guest.”
I didn’t altogether love that, but the gargoyle squinted at us both then boomed, “Enter,” and the door swung open on a flight of stairs.
We ascended, and I felt my palms itching with increased nerves on every step. It didn’t help when the door banged shut behind me. This was perfectly silly; it was just going to talk to a professor. I talked to professors every day. And professors liked me. Just because this one was the head of the school and had written a landmark book and moved in upper circles of society and government—that didn’t make it any different.
The narrow stair opened onto a surprisingly airy hallway, lined with arched windows on one side and arched doorways on the other. We had to be directly above the literal great hall. Gery went directly to the third door and rapped smartly against it.
Minister Drehagan’s deep voice responded, “Come in.” Well, I was assuming it was Drehagan. I hadn’t actually heard him speak often enough to know his voice.
Gery pushed the door open and we both stepped inside. The office was airy too, with big windows along the back wall, looking out over part of the Great Hall’s roof, then on over the rest of the campus. He could see everything from up here.
The room was bigger than my annex, with a full seating area, several tall bookcases, and an enormous desk at the center of the room. Drehagan was just then coming around the desk, a broad smile on his face and hand outstretched towards Gery.
“Gery, my boy, so good to see you again,” Drehagan said heartily, shaking hands. “New term starting off well for you?”
“Fine so far, minister,” Gery said easily. “Thanks for asking.”
“Well, don’t hesitate, if there’s anything you need, of course.”
“I will. Thanks for agreeing to meet today.”
I didn’t actually cough awkwardly, but it was starting to feel like I’d have to when Gery half-turned to me. “This is my friend Alyse. She wanted to talk too.”
“Ah, excellent to meet you,” Drehagan said, and pumped my hand too. He had a firm grip, to put it mildly.
“Thank you,” I said, because I didn’t know quite what to say. Drehagan was one of those people with a presence, who seems to rearrange a room around himself. Scrabbling for an intelligent sentence, I wound up blurting the not very clever, “I loved your book.” It was true—but it made me sound so silly to say it, and the moment it was said I grew very afraid that I was blushing.
He just said, “You’re very kind,” quite graciously, and ushered us towards the circle of upholstered chairs. It made the whole thing seem much less formal, much more intimate, than if we had gathered around his desk. He sat down in a tall, high-backed chair and extended long legs in front of him. “Now, what’s this you wanted to see me about?” he asked, gaze and presumably question directed toward Gery.
“Well, you remember last year I spoke with you about my Initiative Project?” Gery began.
“Ah yes, excellent work with that fire demonstration,” Minister Drehagan said. “I thought it deserved better marks than you received—but perhaps this year will be your year.”
Gery grinned. “Maybe. But remember our first idea? About nonhuman influence in Achernar?”
All the questions were beginning to grate on me. Just say what you wanted to say!
Minister Drehagan laughed lightly. “Of course. We all start where we must, and sometimes it takes a few false starts to get on the proper track. Nothing to be embarrassed about.”
“But it wasn’t a false start,” I pushed in, feeling indignant, either on my or Gil’s behalf. Somehow it seemed more like our idea than Gery’s. Or maybe it just never seemed very necessary to be indignant for Gery. “It was a very interesting topic that it’s important to explore.”
He laughed again. “Your enthusiasm is admirable, but I think you found that no one else finds it a very interesting or important subject.”
“Someone did,” I countered, reached into my bag, and drew out the slim volume from the library at home. “I found this over the summer. It has information, significant information, that isn’t being preserved elsewhere. There were nonhumans involved in Achernar’s history, in important ways. Their stories aren’t being told, and they’re an important part of our history. This is just a start, but there must be more—”
“I doubt it,” Minister Drehagan said calmly, and the very assurance of it halted me. He picked up my book, barely glanced at it, then tossed it down on the round table between us with blank indifference. “If all history books but one agree, I think it’s obvious where the false note is.”
The mixed metaphor took me a second to untangle, and when I did I was freshly indignant. “It isn’t wrong. It’s presenting a side of history that—”
“—that no one else is telling,” the Minister interrupted again. “Don’t let your feelings carry you away. You seem an intelligent girl.”
No, I didn’t. He didn’t know anything about me. That was merely a polite remark.
He continued, “Surely you must realize that not all written history is perfectly accurate. And I think we can safely assume that the great majority are the ones who are correct, not one outlying author who likely colored up his facts to create an interesting tale.”
It was that damning last word, the rejection of this version of history as a mere tale, that finished me.
Gery and the Minister kept talking, about other ideas for this year’s Initiative Project. Gery never mentioned that he wasn’t actually interested this year, and they never quite got to a solid idea of what ought to be done, and so it all seemed rather pointless. And I was busy sitting silently and smarting anyway.
We finally left, and I waited until we were down the stairs and out the door before I said, “He shouldn’t have just dismissed us like that.”
Gery looked confused. “What do you mean? He talked to us for a long time and—”
“The idea, Gery!” I said, brandishing my book. “He shouldn’t have just dismissed the idea that nonhumans played an important role in Achernar’s history and their stories should be told!”
He groaned. “Oh come on, Alyse. You didn’t even want to get involved with this project to begin with last year. Now you’re a big champion of it?”
“Someone should be, and I don’t see you or Gil doing it.”
“Or Mei,” he pointed out. “You never blame Mei for anything. It’s like it’s a girl thing to stick together.”
“It is not a girl thing,” I snapped, “Mei’s busy with her studies. Doing important things. I don’t know what the two of you are doing.”
Gery looked indignant, I remained steamed, and we preserved a dignified silence for several blocks. I spent the first two ruminating over the unfairness of life and the rudeness of Minister Drehagan. I spent the next block resolving to put it out of my mind because what was the point, really? I spent another block failing at that. By the fifth block I made a concerted effort to study the passing sights as a distraction.
I’d seen all the passing sights, though, all the university houses and the little restaurants and shops there to cater to the students living in the university houses. None were quite identical but they were all much the same mold and I’d seen them all before besides.
Although one thing had changed. We were coming into an election season. The voting for president was still more than half a year away, in the spring, but here in the capital people were already talking. And signs for candidates were already appearing in shop and house windows. They seemed to have multiplied even in the weeks since I’d returned, though maybe that was the effect of students putting their own signs up as they came back.
There weren’t any signs on our house. I didn’t know about the others, but I had never paid much attention to politics.