In a fit of unusually disciplined planning behaviour (in Nanowrimo-speak I’ve historically been a pantser more than a planner), I have uploaded the working title and synopsis for my November 2015 novel draft to the NaNoWriMo website. Introducing “The Thrones of Arid Den,” an original fantasy novel about to be written by yours truly, Fiona Kat [surname withheld partly for privacy, partly because I can never decide whether to go by the maiden name that best represents who I am or my married name which while acknowledging my husband’s significance in my life also gives me the sense that my unique individuality was obliterated when I got married and changed my surname and, without intending it, became absorbed into the in-laws’ pre-existing sense of family identity, even though it’s very different to who I am].
If you’re a NaNoWriMo participant yourself, you’re more than welcome to add me to your buddy list – my profile is http://nanowrimo.org/participants/fiona-kat. Apologies for the long and convoluted author biography; I felt particularly verbose on the day I updated it. But if you read it you’ll discover just how profoundly nerdy I am, and I’m sure that will be enlightening.
One thing Nanowrimo has done for me over the last couple of years is to reignite my creative streak. Oh, it was always there, it never fully died, but it was like warm coals without kindling. For a long time my creativity was in hiding, timid and fearful of being expressed in a context that wasn’t always fully supportive of women’s creativity, at least, women who were not gifted singers or speakers. At times I was actively told that it was wrong of me to desire anything beyond motherhood, and asked, “What more would you want?” I am glad I ignored this spiritual bullying and chose to dream big, anyway – even if I had to do so quietly.
I look back over the last 14 years of my involvement in a somewhat fundamentalist Christian community and grieve over what it stole from me. I hasten to add that this was not the community as a whole, but rather the specific groups of people I fell in with for the first half of my time there. The congregation is actually quite diverse and mixed, with everything from extremely conservative complementarian fundamentalists with strong shades of prosperity gospel beliefs through to progressive gays and their allies through to those of us with a hopeful universalist perspective. They can’t all be painted with the same brush. It’s just that for a long time I was told that I ought to fall in line with the ultra-conservatives, even if that meant going against my gut instincts and values. I deeply regret ignoring that value system. The moral of the experience, if there is one, is to proceed carefully and patiently when adopting a new set of religious ideologies, lest one behave in such a way that causes a lot of damage.
My music, my art and my writing for a time were lost in the frantic pace of being a “good” Christian and all the responsibilities that label entails for a woman, wife and mother. My music and art stopped for a long time. My writing continued – writing is like breathing to me – but it was expressed through personal journalling and writing mass-produced Bible studies for a church programme. That was, until I took up blogging and then a few years later returned to university.
I now see it as a kind of death, couched in concepts like “self sacrifice.” It was through reading authors like Thomas Merton that I finally learned that this was not the cross Christ asked me to bear. He never called me to throw out the person He made me to be. What liberty to discover that fully-realised humanness and womanhood are not in an obliteration of the self – “More of Him and less of me,” as we were often taught to say. At the time it sounded so noble; now I hear it as a form of social control. But that’s a tale for another time and if I try to write it now I will not do my own story justice, nor would it do justice to those who are still struggling with this loss of self in the name of some forms of Christianity. In a way, one of the characters in my upcoming Nano story will himself have to face these questions of whether it is acceptable to throw one’s self out in obedience to authorities.*
Nanowrimo has rekindled in me the sheer love of creative writing for no reason other than the fact that I love it. My stories are mine to tell. They’re my dreams and nightmares put to prose. My imagination set on fire again. As the real me is allowed to surface again, I also find myself picking up my paints and my guitars with increasing regularity. I love writing and I can credit Nano with being a huge factor in not only getting me to write in some hyperactive over-caffeinated annual November event, but in a more consistent way all year round.
The novel draft I wrote in 2013 was a milestone event for me. It marked the highest word count I’d ever written, for starters. Prior to that my record-holder was my 18,000-words university dissertation that took me two years to research and compose and edit and edit and edit again. My Nanowrimo story left me with the sense that I can, in fact, give my dreams of writing a genuine attempt but only if I allow myself the space to do so. It also gave me the bare bones of a story that I have continued to work on and which I believe has potential to be an interesting sci-fi novel about a long-lived genetically engineered humanoid species returning to their ancient ancestors’ home of Earth, only to be met by a xenophobic and violent Homo sapiens, and the fight they have to reunite with their brothers and return home.
The novel draft I wrote in 2014 was an exercise in getting it dreadfully wrong and realising just how true it is that a novel is not just one good idea, but a whole series of good ideas, and that if I’m not gathering ideas continually, they’re not going to materialise just because I sat in front of my computer that one month and willed the words to come. I was, as Nanowrimo call it, a “pantser” – flying by the seat of one’s pants, as the idiom goes.
But I am so excited, now, about my upcoming novel for 2015. In this story I am exploring ideas of contemplation, solitude versus a need for others in one’s life (written like a true sociable introvert), metaphysics and the uncanny, sacred texts, druidry, the sometimes cruel power of religious social structures, and the tension between loyalties, through the shared experiences of my just-named characters Zaira Dwamgarner, Aulay Harttherion and Haimo Tighe.** I sat up way too late last night scribbling ideas on paper – I think best when I hand write my stories. I look forward to breathing life into Zaira and her travelling companions when November 1, 2015, rolls around. I think this will be my best one yet.
A note on the title – titles are my weak point. I am not great at developing working titles. I had a few ideas – “Zaira and the Torn Skies,” “Zaira and Aulay’s Journey,” the more simple, “Haimo,” but in the end settled on “The Thrones of Arid Den,” because it encompasses the point on which the plot turns. If it weren’t for the thrones, and the prophecies surrounding them, there would be no need to tell about Zaira and Aulay and Haimo.
In the meantime, while I eagerly await the beginning of Nanowrimo, I am taking a short course on Astronomy through Open Universities Australia’s free Open2Study programme. I look forward to exploring more of our incredible universe over the coming weeks.
*I must note that my stories are not morality tales. I have found I don’t enjoy reading nor writing the spiritual allegories that Christian writers so often are expected to write. I have read more permutations on them than I can count and apart from the incomparable Chronicles of Narnia, I am usually not a fan of religious allegories in novels. This is a personal preference, though, and not a moral view – to those who love good Christian novels I hope you continue to find them edifying and interesting. In my own stories, they are explorations of concepts and personalities and sociological ideas. I don’t necessarily expect my characters to choose actions that would agree with my own personal moral or behavioural worldview. One thing I’ve noticed in writing is that my characters take on minds of their own.
**Apologies to anyone, however unlikely, who happens to have the same name as my characters. In good conscience I have created names I believe to be purely imaginative and my characters are not based on anyone I know (with the possible exception of Zaira, who will probably have elements derived from my own personality).