The Journey Home: A Retrospective on the Making of What Once Was Home
Part Two: What am I Doing?
So, there I was, writing my first novel with serious intent to publish. (You’ll have to check back tomorrow for Part Three: Slightly Sidetracked, to find out why this is my 8th published book if I started writing it before them!) I had a genre: military science fiction. I had a plot concept: alien invasion. I was sure it would take place in the familiar environs of western North Carolina, as that mountainous region of thick forests was not only familiar to me, but also a great place to wait out an interstellar war.
So…what else did I need? Oh yeah, a character! I knew things would get up and rolling quickly, and that we’d be doing a little bit of “X year later” shenanigans, so he had to start young. I could tell the story of him growing up and becoming a man in the wake of the invasion. It would be a coming of age story.
Jace is fourteen years old when the book starts, but I wasn’t interested in writing a book for kids. So, he grows up in a few chapters. And in the course of that I had to explore not only how he changes, but how the world changes around him…
The building looked abandoned, but that was the best way to hide where they were. It was an old lumber barn for a logging operation that used to run in the area. There were plenty of dirt roads running in different directions, and one met up with the local highway. The building was ramshackle looking from the outside, but the inside looked like a fortress.
And, it kept changing…
As old vehicles ran out of fuel or broke down, they were added to the barricade. There were old tires piled up everywhere, wood panels, aluminum siding, shopping carts, old appliances; and pretty much anything else that could be pushed, pulled, or otherwise stacked to create a wall.
And, Jace changed as well…
“If it’s another citizen complaining about a stolen chicken, I really wish you would send somebody else to deal with it. I’ve been saddled up on Wraith most of the day and I’m exhausted,” Jace said as he plopped down on the old sofa in the office.
And as all of this happened, I realized that something else had changed. I set out to write a military science fiction alien invasion story, but where was I now? Building scrap metal barricades? Riding around on horses dealing with stolen chickens? This had become a post-apocalyptic survival scenario without me ever planning for that to happen. I was surprised, but also overjoyed. The story had taken on a life of its own and was evolving as I wrote it. The best part was that I loved what it was becoming! It still had plenty of military elements, and more would crop up later, but it had turned into something I never expected. It had also become more personal, emotional, and rather than focusing on fighting aliens it was focused on rebuilding a community. This was it! I was writing my “great American novel.”
Then, something very strange happened…
“So, you want me to go hunt them down? What am I now, the county sheriff?”
“Say now,” Dusty’s eyes lit up, “that’s not a bad idea! Show these lowlifes that law and order exists in Lewis County. Sheriff Jace and his posse ride out to restore the peace!”
“Now you sound like you’re trying to write an old western,” Jace groaned.
“My boy, if they want to act like this is the wild west, we’ll play our part and show them how it’s done.”
What…just…happened? Now I’m up to my eyeballs in a military science fiction post-apocalyptic western?
All said and done in retrospect: That’s exactly what it is. And you know what? It works!
Still, at the time I had to take a step back and take a break. I’d work on a side project, then come back to it with fresh eyes…