Kim Alexander is one of my online buddies. She recently finished and put out there a really cool series called The Demon Door, and discovered that ending a series is almost as tough as starting one. Which may be why I’m not ending any of my series in the near future.
It began with an image. It ended with tears.
It’s quite a common question to ask authors what inspired their work—I used to interview writers for a living (before I became one) and I certainly asked them about that. The answers were as varied as the individuals—a song, a color, a snatch of conversation overheard on the street.
In my case, the inspiration appeared long before I wrote the first words. It was an image, soft as an old photograph, which came out of nowhere and lodged in my head. I can still see it: A man and woman sitting at a campfire in a dark wood. The details slowly emerged; she wore a white party dress, and her white hair was elaborately pinned up. He had dark skin and bright red eyes, and a morose expression. I knew with a complete certainty he’d kidnapped the young woman, and I also knew she wasn’t afraid of him. Where did it come from? It’s tempting to say The Idea Store, because that answer is as good as any.
I kept returning to the image, and started asking questions. Why didn’t she run off? Why did he look so sad? Was she at a party? What was he? Because he clearly wasn’t quite human.
Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I began to write their story. That was the summer of 2013, the summer I got fired from a truly excellent job, and needed to prove (to my ex-bosses? To myself?) I was still good for something. Or at something. I thought about everything I learned from the writers I’d interviewed. I cashed that severance check, and I began.
Since it was my first book and I didn’t know any better, I began without an outline, and only the foggiest notion of where I wanted the story to go. And since I was feeling ambitious, I gave my two worlds alternate time lines, and just for good measure had time move at different rates. (I, and I can’t say this strongly enough, do not recommend this!) With two worlds running at different speeds and over forty named characters, I am here to tell you I needed an outline. And a snack. And a nap. It was a lot.
I remember somewhere in the middle of editing book three I was sort of sorry I ever started the damned thing and wished someone else (the writing elves?) would finish for me, because none of it made sense and how was I going to fix a spaghetti bowl of plot points and time issues?
But the thing is, I loved those characters. I loved learning that my red-eyed kidnapper was a soft-hearted romantic who couldn’t tell a joke. The white-haired girl turned out to be a ferocious warrior who was also trying to quit smoking. They had families. They had friends, and lovers, and ex-lovers, and enemies (and frenemies.) They had parties and they fought and made bad decisions and drank too much and ultimately it would be up to the two of them to save their respective worlds. They waited patiently for me to learn how to fix the problems I created, and they came to life in front of my eyes.
Four editors, three debuts, one bankrupt publishing house, two complete rewrites, four novels, one novella, and eight years later, the epic fantasy adventure/romance/thriller/tale of Lelet, the runaway heiress, and Rhuun, the half human prince of a destroyed kingdom has been completed. (The tears I mentioned were mine when I typed ‘THE END’.)
Now, I’m working on a paranormal romance series. I have new characters, and I adore them. (And I have an outline. It’s not a very good one, but it exists.) But I keep returning to that image, the one that got me started. I miss them, and I wonder what happened to them, after I typed ‘the end’ and let them go. Do they belong to me anymore? Did they ever? Did I leave some story on the table? And do I really want to know?
Everyone talks about how hard it is, starting a novel. I guess the last lesson I learned is that it’s pretty tough finishing one, too.
Thanks to Kim for sharing about how the story started – and ended. You can find the series and more information about her on her website, KimAlexanderOnline.com.