The Why of the Thing: Part 1

As a placeholder, here is my original query for book 1 of my trilogy:
Azetla has long lived a quietly precarious life. For thirteen years he has been in the army of Maurow, the very Empire that makes pariahs of his people; he is a commander with no rank, a soldier without citizenship, and he carries a sword that it is unlawful for him to either own or use.
He has learned to hold his tongue or risk losing everything.
When Azetla’s battalion is sent to the edge of the desert to catch a “devil”—one of the myth-shrouded inhabitants of the waste—his already tenuous position is threatened. He discovers that there is more to this campaign than catching some fiend. For the Emperor of Maurow, this is a means to prove that he fears nothing, not even devils. For the Emperor’s brother, however, it is a stepping-stone to revolt. As a dangerous coup forms on the horizon, Azetla and his men are cornered into choosing a side.
The devil that Azetla catches in the desert, however, is not what anyone expected. It also knows how to hold its tongue…and how to wield it to cunning ends. It knows far more than it should and might be all that is needed to give victory to whoever is reckless enough to listen to it. As the conspiracy against the Emperor becomes entangled with the revolutionary ambitions of the desert tribes, Azetla strikes a bargain with the so-called devil in order to survive.
Naturally, she is not to be trusted. But then again, neither is he.
So where did this come from?
I saw an interview on the Colbert Report in which Toni Morrison said that she recently looked through her novel “Beloved” in order to find something, and got caught up reading it, and read the whole thing. She said she loved it. “It’s a good book!”
She didn’t say it with arrogance. She said it like a reader would. She enjoyed the prose and the stories. She went on to say that the reason she wrote her books in the first place was because they were the kinds of things she wanted to read, but that didn’t seem to be anywhere on the shelves.
Now I would never be so silly or foolish as to compare myself, in skill or maturity, to a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. But what she said resonated deeply with me. I started writing the scraps of story–the ones that became different scraps of story, that became an attempted manuscript that eventually became a real manuscript, that eventually got heavily, heavily revised–because it was a story I wanted to read, and I couldn’t find it on the shelves.
It started with a few separate events, that all came together without my realizing it:
1. I was always making up stories anyway, although the idea of being a writer never entered my mind and did not seem at all relevant to me.
2. I had an excellent history teacher with whom my 9th grade class read “The Killer Angels.” It was during this phase of my life that I became obsessed with politics and war history, and tried to find a Narnia-like door into the Civil War era so that I could fight for the North, or work on the underground railroad. When our class took a trip to the DC area, I insisted that we reenact the Battle of Little Roundtop and Pickett’s (ill-fated) charge at Gettysburg. I wanted to be in battle. I wanted to save lives. I wanted to fight for justice.
3. I had an excellent literature teacher who loved fantasy and assigned one of my all-time favorite books “The Blue Sword” by Robin McKinley, or maybe it was “The Hero and the Crown”–either way I read both–and then gave us all an assignment of writing a fairytale. Mine was atrocious, one of the worst in the class, if not the worst…but my teacher said “I think you’ve got a bigger story here. Just keep writing on it.” And I did. I think it would be very difficult for even an anthropologist or a historian to trace that absurd story to the one I eventually did write, but, hey, an acorn looks nothing like an oak.
4. Around this time I decided I would join the military after high school. Not long after, I decided on the Marine Corps because Marine Corps boot camp was the longest in all the services, because my brother-in-law was a gung-ho, fresh-out-of-training-school Marine, and he unintentionally convinced me that the Marines were the best. (No really: He made us watch Full Metal Jacket, which you think would deter someone from wanting to join the Marine Corps…but it just made me even more excited. When I said “well, that’s it, the Marines for me!” his older brother, who had also been in the Marines, called me up on the phone and tried very hard to convince me NOT to join. It didn’t work.)
5. After reading lots of McKinley, and a little Tamora Pierce, I wanted more stuff like that. Complex cultures, battle scenes, adventure. Ironically, if this had happened today instead of a decade and a half ago, I wouldn’t have to search hard for epic battle books with female protagonists. That’s almost all there is now, it seems, and I could take my pick. But I’m very grateful this was not true then because, not only did it enable and encourage me to read many things that didn’t simply cater to my age and interests, (I think this is very important), it also encouraged me to write in order to satisfy my desire for that kind of story.
So that is why I wrote. The idea of ‘being a writer’? No. To get published? No. (I mean, now, I would obviously LOVE to get published, and I am working on it as we speak. But that was far and away not how it all started). To write a story that I could read and love deeply? Yes. That has matured into a desire to share it, to share something meaningful with others, but even if I never quite get to do that, I am still so very glad I wrote the story.
And part two of “why I wrote this.”
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