When I wrote Emergent, back before I started on Pendulum later, it was a straightforward story about a hardware designer in a megacorp, who had just produced the world’s first stable prototype of a positronic computer, and in order to use this new hardware to full effect, a normal OS just wouldn’t do — a proper AI was needed.
If you read Emergent, then you’ll recognize this piece of story. This is Makoto Suzuki, at the start of the novel. You’ll then see things fall together. The heist, the inquisition’s mission. You’ll also meet faerie creatures from the beginning, and you’ll learn that Makoto himself is not what he seemed to be when the story started up.
But when I wrote the first draft, this was not where it was going. Makoto was a normal guy. His mother was suffering from cancer, and couldn’t afford the “Treatment”, the cell renewal process that removes senescent and cancerous cells, restores telomeres and repairs DNA from a backup. When he had the chance to get to work with an AI, and a stolen one at that, there was his chance to earn a big enough bonus to pay for it and save her life.
The story was solid. It had its inner logic, it had rising and falling action to drive the pacing forward and make the beats hit just the way I needed them to. All characters had their individual motivations and goals, and Makoto in particular, but also chars like Daniel, had high stakes that went up with the flow of the story.
While writing, I came up with the idea of “faeries in space”. My first thought was “mages in space”, substituting unexplainable/impossible (at our current level of understanding understanding) tech with actual magic, not just “Clarke-Tech”.
I’m living in Japan, so Japanese mythology would have worked just fine. Japanese folklore exists in two flavours, too. There’s the traditional Japanese lore, with yokai, ayakashi, countless little gods of landscape features (every little rock or brooklet has its own god), and there’s the Buddhist mythological background, which adds devils (oni) and some interesting hells; and it’s even possible to mix them, since they have been existing together for so long here. I decided against it, just because a) I didn’t want my books to have to free themselves from the “riding the weeb wave” stigma, which would definitely have become a thing, and b) because magic is such a weird thing in this folklore setting, almost impossible to design a proper system that makes sense and doesn’t anger people with more knowledge of the background.
Since I’m from Europe, I could have gone with any kind of European lore without batting an eye. Northern Europe/Germanic/German/Slavic, so many flavours to pick from, and much overlap, so moving seamlessly from one corner to another would have worked just fine. But in the end… you can only see/read so much Thor and Loki, see so many Elves and Goblins. Or rather say, I can only see so much of it before I get tired of it. Also, most of it is really rigid. All the lore is known well, there’s actual canon, which doesn’t make diverting from established conventions impossible, but people sure will notice, and they’ll let you know, and then you’ll have to stay cool and ignore all those comments if you want to stay sane and have your stories go on unharmed.
I went with Celtic lore. For once, because the thought of having small, glittering faeries in space is hilarious, and then, because Celtic lore is… just not really a cohesive thing anyway.
You have the Tuatha De Danann, who have numerous different descriptions, sometimes akin to a primitive tribe of humans settling Ireland, sometimes being diving beings. You have the Formorians, who could be anything, from sea creatures to foreign barbarians invading the island. You also have a wide variety of creatures to pick from, and that was what gave me the last push.
So I went with Celtic lore, worked on the rune-based magic system of the druids, gave the Aes Sidhe races their innate magic abilities. I haven’t written about the Draoi, the actual mages among the faeries, yet — but I’ll surely get there at some point. Celtic lore is like an old photo album falling apart, 3/4 of the pictures lost or destroyed, the rest flying around in a chaotic manner. All individual pictures have their own beauty and potential, and the red thread connecting them has been severed long ago, so… lots and lots of artistic freedom.
After I finished Emergent’s first draft, I wrote Pendulum. To be brutally honest, I kinda dropped the ball. I didn’t realize a lot of potential, the team that went to the planet could have provided a lot more interaction, the crew on board could have been interacting in more interesting ways. Instead, I focused too much on the druid magic, it turned into a solo adventure (almost) of man vs nature, with too much navel gazing, explaining and telling. I still think it’s not necessarily a bad book, but I would have been able to write a much better debut novel, had I given it more thought during my planning stages. My enthusiasm for the idea of mixing Celtic lore with science fiction (and slowly building up to a space opera series) got the better of me.
But it’s fine. After I published Pendulum, as imperfect as it may be, I went back to Emergent and re-outlined it, then rewrote Makoto’s arc, kicked out his mom completely (sorry, mom), and made it a proper start to a prequel series (which is also a series of its own, and the standalone novels work without any other books, as well).
Was it worth it?
I believe so.
Right now, I’m writing Children of Gaea, with a lot of background from writing the first two novels. I have a lot of the world building done already, and can fine-tune some things. I have the work flow down, I know how to pace, how to build up tension, and so on. My craftsmanship has improved a lot over the course of writing those two books, and the newest one is my most ambitious yet. Instead of three (later two) arcs in Emergent, I have 4 point of view characters each with their own stories, interwoven, which will make the book longer. My main character is in first person again (Makoto’s original version was 3rd person, as was Deirdre’s in Pendulum — I changed him later to first, and I believe that was the right call), and the main narrator of this book is a female faerie, and the ambassador of “the evil guys”, which is so much fun to write. Combining this with recurring characters like Nadya or Makoto, this sure feels like the logical next step after Emergent, and this would never have been possible with Japanese or Norse or Slavic lore. These books would have become something very different, and they wouldn’t have been the unique universe they’ve grown to be.
I’ll end this posting with another excerpt from my first draft, means it’s rough around the edges, and parts might change for the final version.
PS: I chose the older spelling for most things in my series. Faeries, Aes Sidhe, and so on, just because I find those cooler… and coolness factor is a real thing, when you plan to write a longer thing with many stories, and don’t want to get bored with it over time.
“Mr Flannagan, relax. We are not here to harm you.”
Giovanni’s voice was soft. He stared at the wall over the sofa.
“Who the fuck are you?” Nadya couldn’t tell where the voice came from. It was deep, definitely not what one would expect from a Faerie, but she knew that tiny didn’t always mean high-pitched.
“We are working for Speaker Suzuki.”
A rough laughter, followed by a cough.
“Fuck right off. The Speaker can’t help me.”
“You don’t look good, Mr Flannagan.”
A short break, nobody spoke. She felt a movement in the air behind her, and Giovanni’s eyes followed.
“You can see me!”
Giovanni nodded. “Yes, I can. Would the Speaker send someone who couldn’t?”
“You a changeling?”
“Yes. Being able to see you is about my only talent. But to be brutally honest, it doesn’t make me happy right now.” He grinned, and the laughter started again.
“And you are?” The voice was right next to Nadya’s ear.
“Ivanov, we are working together.”
“Nadya Ivanov, the legend itself.” Again the laughter, mixed with a cough.
“I don’t know how you look, Mr Flannagan, but from how you sound, I would guess you won’t make it through the next winter.”
“I will still be here fifty years from now, when you are either dead or an uploaded chunk of data, like your boss. Get off my fucking lawn.”
Nadya smiled. Seemed like she had hit the mark without even trying.
“What does the Speaker want from me? And what can he offer?”
“For starters, we can offer you this.” Giovanni reached inside his jacket, then stopped moving.
“Relax. I wouldn’t try to pull a gun on a Faerie who could run circles around my bullet. No need to be nervous.”
He started to move again. His hand came out, holding the envelope Nadya had seen earlier.
“This will interest you.” He dropped it on the glass table, took a step forward, and sat down on the couch without asking for permission.
“If this is a trick…”
Life came into the envelope. It stood upright, held by invisible hands. The seam wasn’t closed. No need to rip it open.
“Is that what I think it is?”
“Our boss told us you’re a junkie, and most likely on withdrawal. So we brought you a little something, to help you focus.”
The laughter’s tone changed. No longer did it sound smug, it sounded nervous. The Faerie stopped controlling himself, ripped the envelope open completely, and a slim, long stick of paper fell on the table.
Giovanni picked it up, held it in his fingers, turned it around, and said, “You can have it if you promise to answer a few questions. What do you say?”
The air above the surface of the table scintillated, and from one moment to the other, a small, slim shape appeared. Flannagan.
He looked like shit, Giovanni hadn’t exaggerated. Unkempt hair, a one week old, patchy beard, his clothes stained. He had shadows under his eyes and his complexion was pale. The Faerie exile shivered, while his white wings fluttered to keep him in the air. The icy blue of the Court he had once belonged to had faded. From the looks of it, he was probably unable to stand straight. His wings were what held him upright.