For years now I've wanted to get back into novel-writing. I have a pretty good feeling about it this year. Writing hasn't become a daily habit, but I've written more regularly than I have since I was a teen. The problem is, I still don't have a firm idea what I want to write.
I've toyed with the idea of adventure fantasy. All I would need to do is think up the queerest D&D characters I can imagine, throw them together to bicker and bond and best the baddie, and there's my book. Seems doable.
But I'm struggling with the setting. Do I want to do Generic Dragon Fantasy Realm? Do I want to build an Appalachian Old Magic Realm? Or do I just wanna toss dinosaurs into the mix and call it a day?
One of the first short stories I wrote was a Jurassic Park fanfic. "Jurassic Park II: Escape from San José" was a bloody, violence-as-punchline satire of Michael Crichton's airport-thriller prose. Our heroes, held in diplomatic limbo after the Isla Nublar incident, decide to escape overland from Costa Rica, traversing jungles teeming with runaway dinosaurs. Having learned the lessons of the first book (as my 11 year old brain considered them), they don't go anywhere without having a missile-launcher handy in their back pocket.
Shortly afterward, I discovered Michael Bishop's short story "Herding with the Hadrosaurs." It was published in The Ultimate Dinosaur, a strange mix of non-fiction essays and sci-fi stories that could only have been printed in the cash-in-on-Dinomania phase of the mid-1990s. In "Herding," a timewarp in the western United States is run as a combination tourist trap and colonialist entrepôt. The narrator goes through the warp into the Late Cretaceous with his family and their Neo-Studebaker station wagon. Perils and pathos immediately ensue. I was captivated.
For the next few years, almost everything I wrote was, essentially, "Herding" fanfic. From 11 to 15, I kept writing and expanding what I called the Cret Saga, following one particularly stubborn man on his multiple trips through a tourist timewarp, all of which end in saurian disaster. At one point I mapped out six novels, beginning with a full rewrite of that first "Herding" fanfic, then trapping our heroes with the closure of the warp, followed by a harrowing voyage to investigate rumors of a new warp in the Gobi Desert.
I wrote about 600 pages in longhand before I decided my saga's foundations were too childish. At 16 I began the first attempt to write a new, authoritative version of the first Cret. This "authoritative" version evolved into its own multiversal variants. One turned into a novella that, in 1999, won me my very first personal rejection from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Another popped up as late as 2005, serialized as chapters on my LiveJournal. Each variation had this in common: they were sad, they were serious, they were downright dour. Somehow I'd lost sight of the simple joy of running away from a tyrannosaur.
All of which is to say, I've been thinking of abandoning the fantasy element altogether and trying my hand, once again, at an "authoritative" version of my Michael Bishop fanfic.
I'm not planning on getting an agent or a publishing deal with this novel. It's a "practice" novel, a way to relearn long-form writing, something I haven't done since 2009. So really, it wouldn't make any difference this time around whether I wrote about seven pansexual elves saving the realm from the fire-breathing Metaphor for Capitalism, or seven pansexual friends just trying to make it out of the Cretaceous alive.