While most people are excited for the coming of pumpkin spice, winter, or the season premiere of The Walking Dead, I’m looking forward to NaNoWriMo, which begins in (gasp!) only eight days. I’ve been in a bit of a writing funk since April when I finished Courting the Moon, and only nibbled at the edges of projects. But National Novel Writing Month (especially in conjunction with the Legendary Novel Writing Challenge) usually gives me the kick in the pants I need to get back on track.
So, to facilitate this imminent frenzy of vomit-typing, I picked a project that I only have the vaguest idea about: the second book in my planned Mariner Sequence series entitled Seahawks and Storms. Now, even though this is the second book I’m writing in the series, Seahawks and Storms takes place about 600 years before the events of the first book, Ravens and Roses. It will tell the story of the first Admiral of the Mariners, Samuel Tempest, his wife Amaris Seahawk, and the founding of their new home, the land eventually called “Marina.” If you’ve ever read The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, you’ll see that the relationship between my two books is in a similar style. Each book can be read as a stand-alone, in publication order, or in chronological order, and should all still make sense. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.
However, as I began to construct an outline for Seahawks, I started to feel hemmed in. While I don’t have to do nearly as much world-building because the basic rules of the world already exist, I still have to make the story fit into a larger chronology. There are events in Seahawks that have repercussions affecting Ravens, and I wasn’t sure how to accomplish that without feeling forced. Things that I threw into Ravens because they seemed cool now need reasonable explanations in Seahawks to justify their existence. And since I haven’t spent nearly as much time with Samuel and Amaris as I did with the cast of Ravens, I wasn’t getting a strong sense of character to move the story forward. Everything felt flat and lifeless, which makes for a very cranky writer. (Wonder if George Lucas was in a similar quandary while working on the Star Wars prequels…)
Despite this narrative claustrophobia, I kept trying to nail down Seahawks. While taking notes (which is basically me talking to myself on paper), a realization hit me. It seems kind of obvious in hindsight, but for some reason I hadn’t truly grasped this one key fact: Samuel and Amaris live 600 years in the past, during a time when the Mariners were oceanic nomads. Their lives are completely different from what the characters in Ravens experience. In Ravens, only remnants of the ocean remain in their style of dress, artwork, and some customs or titles. Everything else has been adapted for life on land.
But Samuel and Amaris have a completely different relationship with the world around them. And that got me asking questions. What is it like to live on one of these giant ships? How does that experience vary between social classes? What are their customs? How do they interact with other groups at sea? What unique challenges do they face? How do they even find Marina and what makes them look for it to begin with? I realized that I had a whole ocean to play in that would have no direct bearing whatsoever on the events in Ravens. Even though Seahawks is technically a prequel, the temporal distance gives me a lot more wiggle room than I’d initially thought. Granted, I’ll be a little more landlocked once they reach Marina, but until then, I can play. I can do what I enjoy most: making new worlds and customs and tossing people into the mix to see what happens. People really are shaped by their surroundings, and I’m curious to see how this kind of life impacts Samuel and Amaris. And since the Mariner Sequence was partly inspired by watching swashbuckler and naval films like Captain Blood, Damn the Defiant!, and The Sea Hawk, it’s nice to actually have a story that, well, takes place in a nautical environment! (I did call them “Mariners” after all.)
When a story you’re writing makes you curious, when it encourages you to ask questions, then you know you’re on the right track, that you’ve got something. You might not know exactly what it is or what form it will take, but there’s substance underneath. All you have to do is pull it to the surface.
See you at the harbor!