It's not the death of David Eddings that has me down - though that's certainly a part of it. Although my father was a fan of the David and Leigh Eddings writing duo, I can only definitively claim to have read one book in the series, Polgara the Sorceress, given to me as a gift by a non-fantasy fan friend. To let you in to the joke: Polgara the Sorceress is a retrospective of one of the Eddings' two epics, the Malloreon, from the point of view of one of it's most mysterious and powerful characters. It's intended to be read by fans of the Mallorean who want an insider's view of the story. It was certainly a weird reading experience.
As an aside, there ought to be a word for reading a series out of order, that sense of displacement and mystery that weirds, rather than ruining, the experience of the books. I've done it twice, and it's a fascinating feeling.
Anyway, what's got me down here at the Burning Zeppelin is a death much closer to home: the death of a story.
Stories are a lot tougher than people. Unlike, say, my brother (not that I've tried any of this with my brother - honest!), a story can have its innards torn out and rearranged, and survive, none the worse (in fact, often the better) for wear. A story can be left in a cabinet with no food, water, or ventillation for years, and still be just as fresh when it comes out as it was when it went in. When part of a story falls off due to a tragic computer accident or lost notebook, the rest doesn't bleed. The stump is smooth and ready to grow again. Stories are tough, but they can die.
About five years ago, I wrote a story called Useless Nick. It was the tale of a future, set in the shadow of an interstellar war. With the war over, the huge intelligent spaceships that had won the war for the good guys - the Behemoths - were gradually being decomissioned and given new jobs. The main characters were a crew tasked with finding M.I.A. ships, repairing whatever damage had caused them to go missing, and bringing them back to earth for reassignment. Useless Nick himself, a cartographer accidentally assigned to the squad, proves his worth communicating to a damaged ship with astrophysical metaphor and becomes part of the crew.
Ever since starting my Burning Rejection Letters Experiment, I've been wanting to find Useless Nick, brush it up, and fire it off. I've switched computers twice since them, leaving both machines practically smoking wrecks in my wake, but I've always been confident that I could find my story in the maze of old data.
No such luck. After about an hour spent poking through ancient files thanks to the magic of firewire, I am forced to concede that Useless Nick is no longer where I thought I'd left it... which means, I fear, that it's nowhere at all. It's all gone. While I've had stories survive long hiatuses, extensive remodeling, and the loss of a few hours (or days) of work, I've never successfully started from scratch. A finished story - a solid piece of fiction - is a such a delicate weave of words and themes, I can't imagine starting again.
So, hats off for Useless Nick. Like the phoenix it may rise from the ashes, but probably not.
• • •
- Have you ever had to accept defeat and admit that a story had gone missing? How did you handle it?
- Any advice for starting a story over from scratch?
- If I know you in real life and you have a copy of Useless Nick, for God's sake, email me!