Saturday, October 06, 2007

"Heal Thyself" at 65K

This story has been a difficult one for me to pin down. It's probably my most ambitious story to date and the most complex in terms of world building, character conflict, and character growth. For one thing, I am inventing two fantasy cultures that don't have much to draw from in the genre. The vast majority of fantasy novels still take place in some version of a medieval European-based cultures. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are rare. ("Paper Mage" by Leah R. Cutter, is a notable exception whose story takes place in the Tang Dynasty in China)

The bulk of "Heal Thyself" takes place in an invented land that has some correspondence to the Russian Steppes and to the Middle Eastern desert. One of its two cultures is heavily based on Mongol culture. Although I didn't know it at the time, the genesis of this story was inspired by reading a biography of Ghengis Kahn ("Ghengis Kahn and the Making of the Modern World" by Jack Weatherford) I am not a huge non-fiction reader, but my husband recommended this one and I was spellbound. I read it several years ago and I guess the images have been rattling around my brain ever since. When I wanted to tackle a book dealing with wildly different cultures in conflict, I decided I had to use a Mongol inspired culture in the mix.

A second reason this novel has been a challenge is that I feel it needed to be told through two tight points of view: one character from my 'eastern' culture and one character from my more 'western' culture. They are both the story's protagonists, the hero/heroine. And although it is not a romance novel,per se, the structure of the story has some romance elements, including using only these 2 POV and not having the antagonist become a POV character. It was also a challenge to write through the POV of someone whose beliefs I don't share. I think a writer owes it both to the character and to the reader to let the character speak without the writer's biases taking center stage.

A third reason is the antagonist. Although there is a character who embodies the antagonist, in some ways it is elements in the culture that the main characters must battle. And the main person who is the antagonist doesn't come to the stage until the second half of the story, although he is present through his effects on the protagonists' lives.

While I'm at 65K and starting the events that trigger the book's climax, I'm still not certain how the story is going to end. That's also a first. In each of my other novels, I had a clear vision of the ending. "Heal Thyself" is not committing itself quite yet. I think Lilliane and Zev have several more surprises to reveal before the first draft of this novel is complete.

A snippet for those of you who have waded through this long post so patiently. From an early chapter, after Lilliane has saved Zev's life and as a consequence has become an outlaw from her own land.

It seemed that the Divine must be laughing at him. All his choices at the hands of women. He shook his head. It would have been so simple to leave after the healer attended to these newest wounds. He could obtain a horse--likely one of Tisreen's own royal stock too--and be far into the desert before daybreak. The longer he stayed in Arnesh, the larger the risk of someone in either Markesset’s organization or the Rimland military finding him.

He was not, by nature suicidal and staying struck him as a very bad idea. But he heard the words emerge from his own mouth in his own voice. Why was this vatashdi woman so important? Zev was not one to justify every desire with prophesy and Divine will. But surely he was meant to help her. And besides, outside of his fever-dream, he didn’t even desire her.

The healer paced the room, refusing to look at him. She stopped at the window. “There’s a fire south of the market. I can see it from here. When you found me, you smelled of smoke. What have you done?” There was no trace of fear in her voice.

“Only what was needful.” Three evil men dead to save the lives of seven innocents. More than a fair trade.

“I gave up my life and my home for you. I should have let you die.”

“Perhaps.” Zev knew it was never easy being a tool in the hands of the Divine. “But by your actions, you’ve already done a great good.”

“You killed someone, didn’t you.”

“I did only what was needful,” he repeated.

She turned to face him, her face the color of sand. “I could stop your heart right now.”

“If that is my fate,” he said, “and yours.” He didn’t believe she could easily take a life, sworn as she was to save it. Unblessed that she was, still, her oaths were as sacred as his. A week ago, he might have labeled a thought like that heresy.

Her hands were shaking. “They’ll be looking for you,” she said, staring out the window.

“Perhaps.” He thought it good odds that the girls had gotten away. The fire would provide both distraction and misdirection. It was likely that Markesett’s people would believe the girls had perished there. At least for a little while. It would take a day or two until anyone could even search the building.

“You say I have a choice.” She said choice as if it were a curse. “What choice? Either I die on the gallows in Rimland or I follow a murderer into the desert.”

He narrowed his eyes. Divine knows he shouldn’t have to justify himself to her. “I am not a murderer, Healer Tor. I take no life lightly.”

“Then what are you?” Her voice fell to a whisper and she rocked back and forth, her hands clasping her forearms.

“One who follows the Path. One who owes you a life-debt. One who honors his debts.”

She continued to rock. Silence stretched between them. “You would stay and be captured?”

“Yes.” Her gaze darted back and forth between Zev and the door. He stood very still.

“And if I turned you in?”

“I would stay.” He slowly reached for his knife and placed it on the floor. She held her breath as he nudged it toward her with his foot.

She kicked it and the knife went spinning across the room. “It must be very convenient to have a deity like yours. It’s all ‘the will of the Divine.’ But I don’t have the comfort of your all-seeing god.”

In Tisreen, such blasphemy would get her killed.

“I promised Torrin I would come home.” Her eyes were red rimmed.

“Dead you will certainly be foresworn, Healer Tor.”

“And what oaths can I bind you to, Hal Jahnissim?”

He shrugged. “What oaths would you believe?”

She shook her head. “Take back your blade. It’s of little use to me.”

Zev retrieved the stolen knife and tucked it back in his belt. Its companion was nestled comfortably in his boot, but he wouldn’t feel secure until he could carry a sword at his right hip again. “Get some rest. We’ll leave at moonset.”

“Where are you going?”

“To free some horses.” He paused, studying her frowning face. “You do ride, don’t you?”

Her expression softened. “Better than you sail.”

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