Six Years of Separation

At this time six years ago, Libby the Dog, Sid the Cat, and I were halfway through our three-month stint on Orcas Island, and I was 100 pages into Aret. By the time we left Orcas, I’d written a raw first draft, though it was more of a blurry blueprint than a book. Four years later, I published a better version. The other night, I completed a MUCH better version. Now, it’s in the hands of a group of editors, and I get to step away from revision-mode, which is a huge relief.

My youngest nephew is three. When he attempts a task without immediate success, he pitifully cries, “I can’t!” But because he’s a resilient little guy, he keeps trying, and when he succeeds (usually within about five seconds), he joyfully exclaims, “I did it!” That 180-degree emotional shift is something I experienced about ten thousand times during Aret’s grueling rewrite. I’d hit a phrase, sentence, or paragraph that stopped me dead, decide I was the worst writer in history and a complete idiot to think I could write a whole goddamn book, and seriously consider smashing my computer. Then I’d keep trying, fix the problem, and think, I did it! I do know how to write! Yay!

When I finished Aret’s first draft, if someone had mentioned how long it would take to complete the final edit, I might’ve thrown the manuscript in the trash. Six years is quite a stretch of time, and a lot has changed since 2012. Loved ones have been gained and lost. Much of my hair has turned white. My husband and I have begun the debate I remember my parents having throughout my childhood: You’re Going Deaf vs. You’ve Started Mumbling. A wrist brace has been added to my already super-sexy nighttime routine (mouthguard + earplugs + wrist brace = HOT). And I’ve gone from watching bald eagles outside my cottage on Orcas to having a Harris’ hawk perch on my hand.


Several weeks back, when I mentioned to my sister that I was editing Aret, she replied with this text: What. Are. You. Talking. About. Why oh why would you do that to yourself???  She had a good point. But now that the travail is over, I feel like my nephew with his beatific smile, glorying in an accomplishment that once seemed impossible. I suppose that’s another thing that’s changed since 2012: I have a new role model who’s three years old.


[P.S. ~ If your takeaway from this post was: Hey, I want a hawk on my hand, too!  and you happen to be in Western North Carolina, you can experience an afternoon of falconry here: It is truly amazing.]


There is an episode of Homestar Runner (if you’re unfamiliar, Google it – lots of laughs to be had) in which Homestar tries to answer Strong Bad’s email and ends up crashing the computer. His problem is that he can’t remember the word “deleted,” so he keeps typing in other words until the computer implodes. His first guess is “Baleeted!” and that is the very word that comes to mind whenever I delete something significant from my writing.

At the beginning of Aret, the protagonist celebrates her 21st birthday alone, getting drunk in a crappy bar. When she arrives, she orders a shot of tequila, then observes various items hanging on the wall behind the bar while she waits for her drink. In my first draft(s), the description of those items was weird, convoluted, and rambling. I rewrote the passage several times but never got it quite right.

Over three years, approximately thirty people put their hands on that brief passage. A writing professor and a class of twelve, a critique group, and more than a dozen other readers offered feedback, and with all of their help, the passage expanded, contracted, and utterly transmogrified. At long last, it said exactly what I wanted to say, exactly how I wanted to say it. I sat back and read the finished product with a smile as the following thoughts ran through my head:

It’s done. Finally. Word choice, flow, rhythm, everything in perfect order. Halle-freakin-lujah. And would you look at that? This passage is completely distracting and superfluous. Huh.



[That’s how I felt about deleting something that took three years to write, although when this photo was taken, I was demonstrating my feelings towards entering the Pacific Ocean at 8 a.m. Stand-up paddleboarding is fabulous, but early mornings and cold water? Blech. No.]

All writers eventually find themselves deleting work the moment it has achieved a state of perfection. That is a fact of writing, but its inevitability doesn’t remove the sting, and the emotional rollercoaster is dizzying. “Boo, this is awful. I’ll never fix it. It’s hopeless. Wait…hold it…that’s a little better. Ooo, now it’s much better! Still not quite right, but…oh, wow! Voila! Perfecto! Ah ha ha ha ha! I’m so awesome! And now…delete.”

Yes. Three years of revision well spent, indeed.

The Sun Always Shines on Aret


Building a world is fun and complicated in equal parts. While it’s fun to create a host of new rules to govern one’s land of make believe, the complexity manifests in holding oneself accountable to those rules, which, of course, involves remembering them.

In the early stages of this story’s development, I decided that time runs ten times faster on Earth than it does on Aret. What led to that preposterous, labyrinthine choice? I have no idea. Really, I cannot remember, but considering all the trouble it’s caused, I have to believe it was a decision based on sound logic.

Once the rule was established, Aret’s plot and characters intertwined all around it, creating a sticky mess of narrative knots unthinkable to untangle. So I had to embrace the 10:1 time factor, despite its propensity to cause twitchy eyelids and bouts of explosive swearing.

Throughout the writing of book 1, I thought I took great care in following the terrible time rule, but during one of my nine thousand revisions, I discovered something dreadful. Over the course of the story, about three weeks passed on Earth, which meant that only two days had passed on Aret. However, in every scene that took place on Aret, the sun shone brightly in the sky.



That was not a happy realization, but I tried not to panic. I leashed up my dogs, took them into the woods, and commenced an intense, semi-combative internal dialogue.

Inner Me #1:  What am I supposed to do about this? Half the scenes on Aret should take place at night!

Inner Me #2:  Hmm. Maybe there’s no night on Aret. It’s just day all the time!

IM #1:  Oh, Kelly. That is so lazy.

IM #2:  True. Maybe I need to get rid of that pesky 10:1 time rule.

IM #1:  Okay. Except that means recreating the entire story.  Are you up for that?

IM #2:  Um, no. Maybe I don’t want to be a writer. Maybe I should be a firefighter instead.

IM #1:  Good grief. Quit whining and put some scenes in the dark already!


So I did. I combed through the narrative, figured out the exact timing as characters traveled between worlds (a painful, migraine-inducing experience), and, at long last, incorporated sunsets and starry nights into Aretian scenes.

Bringing darkness to Aret led to another new rule – my dragons have perfect night vision, yet they burn torches in their Council Hall at night, anyway. Why? Well, they’re sophisticated creatures. I imagine they enjoy the ambience.

As I reflect on the process of creating this story, I have one piece of advice to offer other budding fantasy writers. Consider NOT messing with time. Time doesn’t like being manipulated. It just might retaliate.