“You can’t make babies on one idea.” -Alan Ayckbourn
The story of the Fate of the Qhami has come in bits and pieces. It has percolated for a long time (almost a decade at the time of this post) so I can’t necessarily recall the origin of every single bit. At the same time I have tried very hard to make the story and characters unique and original. People will probably say when they read this that, “Oh, he was influenced by this book or that movie.” That’s not the case. I’m sure it carries traces of the many things I’ve read and seen but if so, it has not been conscious borrowing. Here’s what I can remember:
In early 2008 I started with a few germs of ideas–snippets of story lines and vignettes. Originally Davi was the main character. Elkasu (originally called Cyrus) had come to the First Erq before the main action took place. He had been converted by an itinerant minister and joined the Exiles. The main story line was what now happens in Book Two.
Tansul was in a fishing village on an Unseeing world where he was being cultivated by a Noble in stasis as a replacement for her long dead husband. The whole sequence was originally going to start with Tansul and the Noble’s steward (I never did name her) fleeing the village, getting picked up by Volkas and somehow ending up in the First Erq. So there was going to be one book for Tansul, one book for Davi, one book for Amjia (originally called Dema), and one book with all of them together. I’m not sure how much I had about Bodin (but he was first called Bodine).
In March 2009 I started writing what would later be Ezai on an index card that I was using to study for the GRE. I started out with just sa, ma and a couple other word pairs.
That summer I started creating Ezai in earnest. I started by brainstorming new letter combinations (words) alphabetically. Then I matched words to them in binary pairs at first (light-dark, happy-sad, full-empty, etc.). Trying to figure out how to tell time in the Qhami brought about the Dawn of Order and the Primarqs. (That might have come earlier, I’m not sure.) I had a few vignettes of Bodin’s story.
I got this big grin on my face and I thought, “Yeah, that could really be something.”
I can remember the moment when I first knew I had to write the book. I was doing my student teaching at Dobie Elementary School in Dallas, Texas, USA in Pre-K classroom in June of 2009. I was doing math with a little girl one-on-one and then in the middle of the activity this little vignette came to me where Korla says to Bodin after he’s almost been killed, “You’re a damn fool for staying.” And I got this big grin on my face and I thought, “Yeah, that could really be something.” I was stuck there for probably fifteen seconds just grinning and not doing anything. That little preschooler was probably wondering what was wrong with me.
That was when I knew I had to write this.
Only I spent about two years not writing.
I call this phase, Percolating.
I thought about the stories much of the time but wrote very little. At first I mentally sketched out the different story lines—Tansul, Bodin, Davi (later Davia), Amjia. I still wanted to start with Tansul at Athkenozi (the little fishing village) but I couldn’t see how telling each of the separate stories in their own book and then bringing it together with Davi as the protagonist would work.
Eventually I realized that I was most compelled by Bodin’s story at Narben with Korla. I cut Tansul’s story because, although it was good, I couldn’t figure out how he would contribute to the greater story. I made Bodin the central protagonist instead of Davi as the reluctant hero.
I continued to work on Ezai (mostly for character names) and the Encyclopedia of the Qhami. I wrote a bit of the Doctrine of Isolation and the start of a short story—a film noir/police procedural about a detective named Masde who was investigating a serial killer who turned out to be a retired Kitazr assassin—”Practice Killing”.
Then in mid-2011 I entered a new phase–Serious Outlining.
At this point I still managed to be scared of screwing up the beautiful thing I had in my head. I did buckle down in April or May of 2011 and wrote the first page or so of Book 1 just as pure, stream-of- consciousness pre-writing. Then, aided by a birthday gift (Scrivener) on my 27th birthday I started Serious Outlining. Paired with this I was still doing heavy percolating, only now the story was occupying virtually every unoccupied thought that I had and giving me a great deal of pleasure. I started carrying a tiny notebook everywhere so I could jot down ideas.
I continued to work on the Encyclopedia and the Ezai dictionary. Nikal was at this point, almost exactly like how I describe Zufra. He was the original pure-evil villain. But I couldn’t figure how a clever girl like Amjia would fall for him.
In late 2011 I entered the penultimate phase–“It Fits”.
The percolating and outlining resulted in a distillation of story that was finally workable. I embraced crapiness and started writing more regularly. Bits and pieces here and there. In no particular order: Bodin became good guy #1; Tansul rejoined the cast as Bodin’s right hand man; Nikal became more conflicted and less evil and finally, more or less good; Ahlbes became Undesirable #1 and the series’ uber-villain. The action is condensed into three books (3 acts to the play) with a possible 4th (which is tangential but interesting).
By this point I could see a path for every character and how it would all come together. I cut Narihkzai and Yloehk Pakr from the Encyclopedia and made just one hybrid language: Ezai. In March 2012 when I compiled this “backstory of the story” I wrote this fitting line that captures my writing experience for the last five years:
“Now I come to the hardest part: getting it from my head and safely on paper.”