On Writing

Black Dog of the Sea: The Making of

This novel has been equal parts labor of love and the bane of my existence for the past way-too-many-years.

The idea sparked during one of my first-year English Lit courses. I was already working on a novel at the time, but the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. So I started what would become Black Dog of the Sea, thinking I would soon get tired of it and be able to return to my in-progress project. Well, that never happened…

I have “finished” it twice, and partially finished it a few times, and then promptly realized major plot and character changes were necessary, and I would have to rewrite it from scratch. I realize of course, multiple complete drafts are pretty normal when writing a novel, but when the process drags on for ALMOST A WHOLE DECADE one begins to suspect that something has gone awry.

I’ve heard of something like this happening to other authors early in their writing journeys, and I think it’s due to a combination of not knowing how to structure or outline a novel properly, and the fact that I was changing so much myself over that period of time.

Very little is the same between the first and final drafts of the novel. As I mentioned before, I first got the idea when we read the “Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens” in Lit class, and the novel was originally intended to be a sort of retelling of the story set in my own fantasy world. Since the Ballad was written several hundred years ago, copyright wasn’t an issue.

Basically, “Sir Patrick Spens” is the story of an unfortunate captain who is chosen to undertake a voyage to take a princess through waters everyone knows are horribly dangerous, implicitly because someone has it out for him. Since it was written before the advent of Hollywood, everyone dies.

In my version, the “Patrick Spens” character–who I called Patrick Hood, although his adopted father was called Spens–falls in love with the princess. On this dangerous voyage she gets turned to stone by a cockatrice, Patrick is blamed for it by the nefarious people who were really responsible for the dangerous voyage, and then after some time he comes back, restores the princess to life, and lives happily ever after. The novel was also called “The Mythos of Jaro Reddinger.” Jaro Reddinger was Patrick Hood’s real name, you see. Because…reasons.

As to what the novel is like now, well…

There’s still a female character undertaking a dangerous voyage which was instigated by nefarious persons who don’t like the male protagonist very much. Otherwise everything is different. Well, the male protagonist is still roughly in the “bad boy with a heart of gold” camp, but only just. Kind of. I guess he is by the end of the novel.

It’s also not a romance anymore. Both because I’m not terribly fond of romance novels, and I found there are more possibilities for the unexpected when writing a male-female friendship.

In the category of genre changes, I also significantly narrowed the scope of the novel by transforming Princess Winnowna Whats-Her-Face into Lady Laia Hexton. The events of the novel don’t effect the fate of the kingdom anymore, making what might have been an epic fantasy into high fantasy. What’s more, the negative character arc of my male protagonist (who is now called Corvin) and my recent fascination with Lovecraft have pushed it firmly into dark fantasy territory. I also blame the pandemic. And not being a naive undergrad.

For those who don’t know, a negative character arc roughly means that the character changes over the course of the novel, but not for the better. And Lovecraft is basically the Tolkien of cosmic horror.

I could keep harping on forever about this, but I think I’ll leave it here for this post.

Author’s Note

Those of you who have been reading the blog frequently will recognize this is something new. I’m still going to continue with Fiddlestick’s Diary, but not every week. Fiddlestick’s Diary is designed to interact with my fiction, so it’s sort of difficult to do since I don’t have anything out yet. I also think having more time to figure out where the plot of the Fiddlestick’s Diary is going will ultimately result in a better quality story.