In 2015, I wrote 225 pieces of fiction. The shortest was six words long, while the longest was 1,751. Altogether, they total 152,775 words, which is about the length of a six hundred page novel.
When I decided to make a Top Ten List to celebrate the end of the year, I had no idea I had written so much. My “short” list of favorite posts was 68 items long.
I spent an hour or so trying to sort through them, then decided that trying to judge the quality of my own writing was going to drive me crazy, and picked the ten I had the most fun writing.
Then I cheated.
Here are my Top Ten (ish*) Posts from 2015, ranging from ‘I really enjoyed working on this this’ to ‘There’s a warrant out for my arrest to keep me from having this much fun again’:
10. Same Old Uniform
This story was born of three things: One, my generally poor relationship with cats, which led to a month-long search to find another predator that might be allowed on a fictional ship to deal with pests. Two, the inextinguishable sunshine that is Zain Visade, as he exists in my head. Three, a friend challenging me to include the line, “Why are there ferrets in your pants?”
The cat-replacements, on their own, led to Unacceptable Solutions, and the joking conclusion that when a ship goes down in my stories, it’s “women, children, and ferrets first!”
Sunshiny Zain, on his own, inevitably leads to things like Everything You’ve Got and Volcano Gamble, though neither of them had the added pleasure of playing him off Toar Nothing Important Should Happen Before Noon Aelisand.
So, really, you can blame most of this on the friendly challenge.
I was in college when I really started attempting to create a different sort of magic-user. Up until that point I wrote plenty about mages, but it took a grad student dashing into the middle of my freshmen year to make me question why I was still borrowing that term when I didn’t have to, and when it came with a whole host of audience presuppositions that didn’t really apply.
At the same time, a professor was introducing me to the idea of Collective Experiences, those life events that are so common that most people you meet will have experienced either a similar event (catching the chicken pox, learning to drive a car, hearing the “O Romeo, O Romeo” speech) or so impacting that they remember the exact same event (September 11th, The Kennedy Assassination, when Zayn Malik left One Direction). Essentially they’re the punchline to every “Only real 90s kids will remember…” joke. People who share the experience immediately hold common ground. People who don’t… well, their friends will eventually force them to sit down and watch Star Wars because “it’s a classic.”
Within a few weeks, I had started to define my keimon by both their abilities, and by the common experiences that they would have to hold: starting their first fire, starting their first accidental fire, getting their first scars, etc. Now, every time I write one of those events, I get a kick out of it.
(Also, I’ve just realized how long this blog post is going to be. I am so sorry.)
For me, this piece is a lot of things stitched together: injured sailors in a society dominated by ships and strength, the idea of home in a society dominated by transience, the ways a child can obviously belong to a parent even when not blood-related, the difference between dangerous and cruel, and the different ways a child can be defended.
I think it’s that last bit that I like best about this piece. I knew from the beginning that Galen would do the obvious thing – the heartfelt, sacrificial thing – and put himself between eight-year-old Jaera and the rest of the world. I had a lot of fun finding the space for Barrett to step in beside her and say, “I know you’re scary. You know you’re scary. There’s still a place for you here.”
Writing this piece was all about exploring a Legal System (which is obvious when you see how slowly Part I moves) and placing Terius Visade inside the context of his status as heir to an entire island.
I invented Terius when I was fourteen, and at the time, making him rich and powerful was as easy as writing the words “rich and powerful.” I made other characters follow his orders without question (unless they were evil). I gave him a girlfriend from the lowest social class possible, because that was the only interesting love story I knew for a rich and powerful boy. I made him kind, and I made him loyal, because… well, he was someone’s boyfriend. Who would date him otherwise?
Like most of the characters formed in my teenage years, building him into real complexity takes conscious thought. And this time around, I liked where it took me.
It’s sequel, Matched pleasantly turned into a more nuanced version of the “We’re not sure how we can be together because you’re made of gold and I’m made of mud” scene I wrote when I was fourteen.
Brance is one of my favorite characters to write about. He was created when I was freshman in college, and almost not a teenager.
He arrived, grinning like a mad cat, as the foppish princeling who gifted the palace maids with dusters made from peacock feathers, wore a new brocade coat with diamond buttons every day, hired men to carry his horse around so it wouldn’t have to walk, wrote notes to the laundry lady on gold leaf paper and otherwise spent his father’s money at a ridiculous rate in the hopes his father would kick him out out of the family and save him the trouble of abdicating a throne that disgusted him.
He hasn’t changed much.
But a friend asked to see what would happen if he was forced to babysit. I fell in love with the idea as soon as I was given the chance to have him greet the kid with, “Hey, guppy.”
Easy as a Whisper might also have been born out of this prompt. It’s hard to pin-point exactly when I decided I wanted my dangerous little fire-setters to be friendly with each other.
(I promise, I do know the meaning of succinct. It’s the execution that gives me trouble.)
Jennika, or, as she’s called here, Dovev, was another teenage invention. She was me, if I had lived on the streets since I was six years old, become one of the best thieves in the world, and aged naturally into a cocky, brilliant pirate with an absurd sense of humor. She was the romantic ideal of Perfect Freedom, answering to no law but gravity, and sometimes, she even ignored that.
Over the last decade, I’ve been trying to give her weight, to tie her into rules she either doesn’t know how to break, or refuses to. I also wanted her to value loyalty above almost anything else, so I gave her a whole string of friends who had betrayed her.
Does it surprise you that Brance showed up on this list twice? Because it shouldn’t. If it surprises you that I’m also going to mention its sequel, What They Earned, then I know you haven’t been paying attention.
Brance is twelve here, and at this point, he hasn’t yet come up with his escape plan. A friend of mine recently described this time of his life as when he realized that adults were jerks, and said, “Oh wow. Can I be a jerk too?” She’s close enough to echoing my own thoughts, to make me crack a grin.
It’s also when this happens: “How will you make me?” Brance asked. It sounded dangerous, rolling smoothly off his tongue, as if he wanted to know exactly how a fist curled together, how a grip locked tight.
This is the only story on this list where the characters were invented on the spot. It’s also the only one I don’t have a strong explanation for why it’s here. I just like it. I just want to hear that drumbeat.
2. Grown Strong
I like stories about monsters. Wait, no scratch that. I like stories about the difference between humans and monsters, which sometimes include monsters.
This is my private version of that story: a family that has bred magic into their blood through a hundred generations and now, are just waking from the tradition to see what they’re doing to themselves.
Brance’s sister, Kadelyn existed in my stories four years before he did, and she is the only character I can think of who has maintained a single name since her invention. Her evolution as I’ve aged has been marked by explosive revelations, perhaps most famously the 11 P.M. On The Way Home From IHOP Declaration, “Oh mY GOSH, THEY’RE TWINS.”
Sudden realizations are not actually how I like to create characters, and I’ve been trying to coax out decisions about her for most of this year. I wrote Permanent in January, and ended up accidentally teaching myself about how her younger sister, Ineli behaved. In March, I wrote Space Beside Her and liked it, but captured her in a moment where she was hovering between decisions. I wrote Succeed and liked it a lot, but hadn’t really touched any of her internal thoughts.
And then I wrote Anonymous. And five paragraphs in, Kadelyn came in with her usual bang.
I’d be more frustrated if I didn’t love the feeling every time.
*ish is an ancient word defined by context, here meaning “not even close; she didn’t even try”