The Story’s Journey or How I Accidentally Wrote a Fantasy Series - Part II

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Our author hero is trapped in an endless maze, unable to use his powers of…well, he doesn’t have powers but he finished novels once and now he can’t! 

He’s turned his back on writing. Years pass. Now a new threat has arisen and the fate of the whole world is… Actually, there’s no threat and nothing much is at stake. This recap isn’t nearly as epic as I had imagined.

I held true to my promise to myself.

In 2003, I set aside my dreams of writing another novel and turned my focus elsewhere.

During the years prior to giving up being an author, my life began to change dramatically. Some of these changes were my choice. I saw a therapist. I broke up a long-term relationship. I saw a psychotherapist. I had other relationships, some longer than others. It really depends on how you define “relationship”.

But some changes I did not choose. In 2001, my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He died 18 months later. That experience, of being there for him and my mum, of love, of connection, of loss, of experiencing true grief over a death for the first time in my life, irrevocably changed me.

Life moved on. I bought a house. I adopted two rescue cats. I met and married my husband and our fur family expanded to four. I was moving upwards in my career.

I had spent my life trying to be many things to many people. But for perhaps the first time in my life I just was. And that was good.

Then one day, in 2006, I was reading something.

I don’t recall what exactly, but it was most likely a comic because I read a lot of them, and I saw the word ‘mythology’—so it was probably a Wonder Woman comic. It reminded me about that long forgotten super hero idea entitled Mythic. 

I dug out those notes that, by some miracle, I had kept. The outline was now closing in on twenty years old. As I read the yellowing page—it was a skeletal set of notes—I recall being surprised how I had not advanced what I considered a solid concept. The hero’s name—Granite—now felt dated, but that was easily remedied.

There was something about that project, about the idea of writing comics, which piqued my interest. Comics are my favourite story-telling medium. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t tried working up some super-hero ideas during those years of chopping and changing, that I hadn’t dragged out this idea in particular.

I was terrified of writing fiction again. In the preceding few years I had, in fact, been writing for and editing a magazine for the organisation I worked for, but this was different. 

There was no way I could consider starting another novel or returning to a partly finished one—and I truly had set aside any pressure on myself to try. But this wasn’t a novel. I wasn’t diving into the creative writing waters so much as checking the temperature with my toe.

I sat down and reworked the original Mythic concept.

Our stories generate “heroic energy”—and each generation that energy chooses a host, whether they are willing or not, as a Mythic. That person was expected to go out and do good deeds, to reflect the heroism of our mythology in real life. There could be more than one Mythic. So long as the previous hosts hadn’t died you could have several active Mythics, sharing the pool of energy between them.

I added a new wrinkle in that each generation of stories generates a different type of energy, shaped by the spirit of our world at the time. So throughout history there had been Mythics with earth based abilities, abilities of fire, air, water, or more recently electro-magnetism, and of the atom.

Our Mythic—a gay man called Tony Monroe (a name cribbed from One Hit Wonderful) would have light-based abilities and be known as Lightsmith. His immediate predecessor was a conservative man called Granite who had earth based powers—and the Mythic from two generations ago was also still alive—she had radioactive abilities that had prolonged her life.

I sketched out the first two years of stories.

It had everything: end of the world threats; Tony’s genius mother and sister who act as his support crew; a love triangle between Tony, the local Police Chief and a roguish vigilante/gun-for-hire called Strongarm; initial disregard from gruff Granite who had wanted to retire but doesn’t trust a gay man to take over the job of protecting the world.

However, over the first six issue arc, Tony earned Granite’s begrudging respect. He ends up becoming Tony’s mentor, substitute father-figure, then actual step-father. Strongarm’s tendency to break the law created a huge dilemma for our hero, who ultimately has to arrest him. Strongarm rehabilitates himself through a heroic sacrifice and is seemingly killed.

There was another super individual called Lunar who we initially think is an ally but who turns out to be powered by the evil version of heroic energy called The Darkness. Worse, Lunar was the heroic energy’s first choice as our generation’s host, but the Mythic energy rejected him because it sensed he was, down deep, bad.

The first two years ended with a six-issue arc where Lunar learns Tony’s secret identity and comes for everyone and everything he loves. The arc was entitled—fittingly—By Lunar Eclipsed.

I loved working on this idea.

Even just summarising it here has me buzzed. Did I dare try writing up detailed treatments/scripts for the first few issues? Chat to artists about commissioning character sketches for a pitch? I was inspired, but I was also reticent. Those years of wandering, lost upon my sea of half-finished novels, had seriously dented my confidence.

Finally, I decided to write a treatment for the first issue and see how I went.

But when I started writing, literally after I typed “Mythic” at the top of the page, I stopped. Something compelled me to add “The” in front of that first word.

A moment later a very brash, angry young lady elbowed her way into the middle of my head. She informed me that she was meant to be the lead character of this newly renamed idea, The Mythic.

She even had the audacity to tell me that The Mythic wasn’t supposed to be a comic. It was a novel. A novel starring her!
‘No,’ I told her. ‘I’m done with novels.’

I tried to go back to writing the comic treatment, but that brand new leading lady would not leave.

Worse, she told me that the concept was wrong. That “heroic energy” was actually from another world where our fiction is their reality.

This new lead character would not be ignored. Believe me, I tried.

I was hit with a dilemma. Was this a relapse of my writer’s fear-of-missing-out or was this actually the project I was meant to be working on all along?

  ‘Fine’, I told the demanding voice in my head. ‘I’ll sketch out the outline of your book and then it’s back to my other idea.’
  ‘No’, said she who would not be silenced. ‘It’s not a book, it’s a set of books!’
  ‘A series? But that will take me years!’
  ‘Then you’d better get started, hadn’t you?’

I had no choice but to write down those initial thoughts.

As I did I fell in love with this new take. The more I worked on it, the more I realised that it didn’t matter if I had a million other ideas competing for creative attention. This new concept was so elastic I could throw everything I wanted into it. 

Did I still love many of the original Mythic-comic concepts? Just adapt them as needed. Did the spectre of half-written novels reappear? They certainly did, except this time I stripped out characters and plots that I liked, plugged them into the narrative, and moved forwards.

Finally, after much revising, I finished a draft treatment for the first book, and brief notes for some books after that. It was now late 2006.

In 2007, I got a new job and we moved cities. I began the first draft of The Mythic soon afterwards, writing at night and weekends. I got to the middle and waited for the curse of not-finishing to strike again. 

But it didn’t strike. 

I continued on slowly, half-sure it was only a matter of time before I swapped to another of my old ideas, or a new idea. But that never happened.

It took me two years, but I completed that first draft.

Parts of it were serviceable. The middle was a mess. But, for the first time in over twelve years, I had finished another novel.

I cleaned up that draft—rewriting that muddled central part—and gave it to my husband to read. For the sake of context, he’s a big fantasy fan. I, on the other hand, haven’t even read The Hobbit.

I hadn’t been secretive about my work, but I hadn’t wanted to talk about it. The longer I went without switching to another idea, the longer I wanted that stretch to last. In short, I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to jinx myself.

The husband read it. He liked parts of it. Most of it.
  ‘I didn’t know you were writing a fantasy book,’ he said.
  ‘Is it a fantasy book?’ I replied.

When I say that I “accidentally” wrote a fantasy series, I mean it. I honestly had no idea of the genre. The story demanded to be told and so I told it.
  ‘There’s a minotaur in it,’ replied the husband. Apparently minotaurs of fairly indicative of defining a story as “fantasy”. ‘How many of these do you think you’ll write?’
  ‘Five?’ I picked that figure out of thin air.
  ‘Then you’d better get to rewriting, hadn’t you?’

And that’s the story of how The Mythic Series came to be.

The Mythic is my take on the hero’s quest and for me, the moment Lucy Knight pushed her way into my head was the pivotal first step on my own journey with this story, even if I didn’t know it at the time. There had been a journey to get to that point and now I was about to begin a different adventure. That’s one thing about the idea of the hero’s journey that you don’t often hear. It doesn’t necessarily begin or end neatly. It can overlap with other journeys, blend with other struggles.

I wanted to share this story’s journey because I love that a character who, until that fateful moment I had never met, never even glimmered, grabbed me and demanded I tell her story. 

I love that she brought with her two worlds of beings, places, concepts, and events that were completely removed from anything I’d earlier written, tried to write, or even dreamed about.

That is the power of creativity and of writing in particular. The ability to conjure something out of thin air is…magical. Yet, as my experiences to get to that starting point, to get to this point, should make very clear, it’s also utterly human.

I wanted to share this story’s journey because, even as I was taking my first steps alongside this tale, I believed that I was done with writing. That thought remained with me all the way through the first draft of The Mythic.

Even as the pages piled up behind me, I kept hearing the voice that told me I wasn’t good enough, that I should be writing another genre, or another project, or that I shouldn’t be writing because it had been the source of so much misery for so many years. But, as I’ve said, The Mythic was flexible enough to absorb all my doubts and ideas. 

It could be a teen drama, a coming of age tale, a wacky family story, a rip-roaring adventure, a revelatory road-trip, and an epic love story—and still have room for more. The Mythic cured my fear of missing out by embracing it, absorbing it, employing it, empowering it. Every doubt, every insecurity, is fuel for my characters.

Don’t get me wrong. At times now I still think about writing other projects, other novels or films. I worry that I’ve not seen the level of success I’d hoped for, that perhaps I should have gone with my original Mythic concept after all, or dozens of other ideas.

But no matter how green the grass looks elsewhere, I know it’s an illusion. Some truths really are self-evident. I finally found myself just before I started The Mythic Series and with the books themselves I’ve found what I’m supposed to be writing. 

The hero’s quest is, at its heart, about learning and growing.

As I write this piece I’m wondering—what has this whole experience taught me? If you forced me to boil it into one lesson it would be this: Sometimes you need to stop “trying” and concentrate on “being”. 

That single act, of taking stock and allowing myself to just be, changed my writing life. It changed my life. I think it saved my life.

As I write this piece, I am completing the first draft of The Mythic and the Rosetta Engine.

This fifth book in the series has taken a long time to finish, mainly due to a lack of free time in which to write. That’s often frustrated me but the book will be far better for it because of what I’ve learned about the story in that time, and what I’ve learned about me during that same period.

As I write this piece, I realise why the hero’s quest is such a compelling theme in storytelling. Because quests change us and change is powerful. 

As I write this piece I wonder—worry—what would have happened if I had never found my way out of the maze I had trapped myself within. Then I remember, I did find my way. Or perhaps I was found by some ‘mythic energy’ or whatever drives creativity. Was the answer within me all along? Or was it something I discovered outside of myself?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because, as with any hero’s quest, it’s not where you begin that matters, but where you end up. I’m not nearly done with The Mythic Series, and it’s not done with me. Even if I can’t yet see that final destination, we’re on the journey, and we’re together. 

As I write this piece, I realise that last sentence sums up the meaning of entire series, if indeed there is a “learning” to be gleaned from it. I don’t think I’ve ever been conscious of that until this moment but I see that lesson threaded through Lucy’s story time and time again. In hindsight, it’s blindingly obvious yet for me it’s an epiphany I’m only just now experiencing. 

That’s just another reminder that the story’s journey is so often the writer’s journey and, hopefully, the reader’s journey. 

Thank you for sharing this quest with me. I can’t wait to see where it takes us.