One of the first things people ask is HOW the “Hero’s Journey” relates not just to the plot of a story, but the process of writing it. Let’s apply this to TWELVE DAYS, because with the book just hitting, I’m raw with the emotions of it. Yeah, I try to stay cool–to not turn backflips over a good review, or crash-and-burn if I read a bad one. Have to stay balanced, or the external world will gain the power to crush me, damage my heart, spin me off balance. I cannot afford that. Have commitments, miles to go before I sleep. It ain’t that kind of party.
But how, specifically, do I apply it? Well:
0–The ordinary world. I wrote THE KUNDALINI EQUATION thirty years ago, and consider it a high point. Did I even want to revisit that story, risk tarnishing something that WORKED? I mean, I don’t always hit the ball. But about ten of the things I’ve written over my career feel like home runs. I’m happy with that percentage. I’m not Hank Aaron, but safely in the Majors. And made the All-Star team a time or two. But…the question remained: could I? Did I have anything to say?
1–Confronted with challenge. Editor Marco Palmieri asked to have lunch with me at Worldcon a few years back, and said that he wanted to work with me. I admitted that I had an itch to write a sequel, but wasn’t going to start it without some interest on the other end. I only had the vaguest sense of what it might be about. Most of the central characters in the first book kinda weren’t available to appear in anything any more. Ahem. But the book, about a computer nerd who accidentally re-creates the most powerful meditation in the world, never said what happened to his notes. What if they survived? Who might have them and what would they make of them..?
2–Reject the challenge. Fear, definitely. I always deal with that, the only difference now being that I’m not afraid of the fear. I know it doesn’t mean that I can’t of shouldn’t or mustn’t. It just means I’m afraid. And that can be a very good thing, focusing my attention. I’ve done a lot of things, been a lot of places, learned a lot of lessons since I was the young man who wrote that earlier book. It dealt with the death of my mother. I’ve lost both parents, and most of the blood relatives of their generation, since then. Gotten a lot of scars. The question really arose: is there enough left of me to do justice to this?
3–Accept the challenge. Yeah, there is. Whatever is ultimately true about me is still here. The changes are just the changes. WHO AM I? I’m someone who has lost thing on the left hand, but in the right…wait a damned minute. I didn’t “lose” things. I invested the days of my life in becoming who that little kid who started this life wanted to be. I did it ALL. Now…I certainly have new goals, and failed countless times, but at the three basic things I asked the world to give me…got ’em. So yeah, this was scary, but just more of the same.
4–Road of Trials. So. What was the “gap” between where I was and where I wanted to be? A lot of work, and research. I visualized a complicated skein of plot threads, winding together into a central plot. That…was problematic. The more complicated, the less emotion. And it is EMOTION that pulls a reader through the story. It would take me almost three years just to figure out the plot structure, HOW to tell the story. There were so many perspectives: personal, social, national, international, tactical, metaphysical, historical…and I needed to determine the smallest number of people to experience it all. Ideally, no more than three, who would know PERSONALLY 80% of the large cast of characters, and experience 80% of the critical events. Was that possible? Yes, it was. And could I select ONE of them to care about the most? Whose heart was most central? And after months of balancing, I decided on Olympia Dorsey, reporter at CNS news network in Atlanta, and mother of Hannibal, an autistic boy with secrets. Some coincidences involved here, and I knew it. But if I set the situation up quickly, and invested the audience in their story, I figured that people would forgive me. I had to earn that forgiveness, though…
5–Allies and powers. I COULD NOT WRITE THIS BOOK ALONE. To do it, I needed a military perspective I simply didn’t have. I’ve studied warrior arts most of my life, but that’s not the same thing as the thoughts and experiences of a professional. Luckily I had a dear friend from high school with just the kind of black ops experience I needed, and he was willing to help. Great! The rest of the book was standard research and life experience and interviews. But that one piece…if I really had that help, I could do it.
6–Confront evil, face defeat. It is inevitable that something will go wrong. I knew this in advance. But half-way through the book, my military contact let me know that wear and tear from a lifetime of service had caught up with him. He was dying, and the drugs he used to keep the pain at bay were degrading his ability to think. I was caught in a horrible place. I was losing my friend…but also losing my advisor. Purely selfish bullshit was interfering with my ability to purely focus on what was needed: to let him know how much I loved and honored him, and what a gift he’d been to my life. To let him go without the slightest sense of obligation to the project.
7– Dark night of the soul. There were other things going wrong. There ALWAYS are. This is so predictable that for decades I had the pattern of talking to my girlfriend, wife, and then EX-wife Toni and asking her a specific question: “sweetheart, do I reach a point in every book where it feels as if everything is falling apart, I never had any talent, and have only had a career because of Affirmative Action.”
And she would laugh, and say, “yep. Every time.” Pat me on the head like a dear little boy, and send me off. What was happening to my friend was just the tip of the tentacle. It was hitting me hard. But I knew, from experience, that the way through was
8–the leap of faith. Faith in what? My self (“I can do this. I’ve done this”), my Creator (“God wouldn’t have sent me down this road if there wasn’t a way through”) and my companions (“Let me broaden my net. Do I know anyone else with the necessary experience?”) No. I didn’t. Not to write the precise book I’d had in mind. But books change, morph, grow, mutate. What if I broadened my qualifications? What kind of experience might be needed? If I re-defined the situation, I thought I knew enough military people that might be willing to share the tactics and psychology of the kind of men who could do the kinds of things I needed. And I reached out to three of them, telling them my situation. And…LTC Bart Kemper seemed willing to play, and what he could offer could close the wound left by my friend’s departure. I had to zig-zag, but came to see how I could create something just as good as my original vision. The other fear-dominos began to fall. I could conquer all of them, and did.
9–confront evil, victorious. There were problems internal and external, but most of them are beyond the scope of this exploration. Maybe later. But after years of planning, researching, writing and waiting…I finally got my hands on a copy of the book. I was Skype interviewed by a podcast in which they were so excited to see a copy. “you must be over the moon!” they said. Well…ummm…no. by the time a book comes out, I’m a different guy than the one who finished it. A MUCH different person from the one who started it. It looks like an alien artifact from another life. But feeling THEIR joy I realized: I need to celebrate. Be happy. Yeah…I don’t NEED to. I have much to celebrate in my life, and there’s that thing about balance, but…but to hell with it. I get to party, damn it. I did the job. I have the right to whoop a bit!
10–The new level. The student becomes the teacher. I am now on to what’s next. 90% of the way through the LEGACY OF HEOROT sequel. The television pilot is in at Fox. The Afrofuturism Webinar is finished, and we’re preparing the marketing presentation for that. Life is good. And the knowledge that I could reach this place of clarity, after all the work and worry and pain…THAT’S what keeps me going, time after time.
The ability to tell each and every one of you that it’s worth it. All of it, as long as you are acting in alignment with your childhood dreams and your deepest values.
It was hard. But there was nothing else I could do and be myself. And that makes it all worth while.