Tuesday, August 23, 2016

OUTREMER Update + Snippets

So, it's been a while since I've posted an update on OUTREMER. The reason for this has not been that I've been letting it stagnate; far from it. The reason is simply that I've been far too busy writing it.

However, today I come, somewhat thrilled, to give you an update. A real update. An update just a skootch more exciting than "yeah, once again, I've exceeded my target wordcount."

Today, I finished the first draft.

As you may recall, I started work on the first draft nearly a year ago, at the end of September, which means I've taken just on 11 months to finish the thing. Originally I hoped the first draft would clock in at roughly 250,000 words and that at the rate of 50,000 words per month I'd finish by February, or no later than about May.

This did not end up happening. First, I had too much plot for a 250K story: the cursory first draft now clocks in at just over 400,000 (or, a bit shy of Gone With the Wind). Second, while I was correct in assuming that I would be able to keep up a 50K-per-month output over the course of several months, I found that in practical terms I was only able to keep this up for about three months at a time before burning out and needing a break. Oops?

Fun Facts!

OUTREMER is what you'd get if you threw Tasso, Tolkien, Tim Powers, and the Arabian Nights into a blender and hit "STUPEFY"

Some of my favourite things about OUTREMER include:

- lady knights
- assassins
- djinn
- Baldwin IV
- psalms
- redemption
- Rule of Cool
- needlework
- secrets
- irony
- Raymond, Count of Saint-Gilles
- somehow, a decent level of historical accuracy

OUTREMER novel aesthetics thanks to Annie at The Curious Wren
Unfortunately, honesty compels me to admit that OUTREMER is also, at the moment, complete and utter rubbish. It's only a first draft, after all. Some of my least favourite things about this story include:

- incoherence
- failure of awesome at key points
- cheesy melodrama
- incoherence
- the mind-boggling amount of work that will be the second draft
- nonexistent world-building
- incoherence
- the fact that the first act doesn't end where it should
- how often it reads like a dry history text
- incoherence

So what's next?

OUTREMER will be taking a few months on hiatus now, since I need to attend to a few other things for a little while, and it needs time to sit on the back burner of my mind and talk to itself. At this stage of the year I probably won't get back to it till next year, but I'm confident that the hiatus will do it the world of good.

A few facts have emerged pretty clearly from the first draft, the most important probably being that it's not going to be practical to release this story as a single volume. In how many volumes it will eventually end up seeing the light is, however, currently a complete mystery to me.

OUTREMER novel aesthetics compiled by moi


 The count gave a swift glance over the camp and a spark came into his eyes. “So! the old dog has something up his sleeve! A charge, is it to be?”
Saint-Gilles nodded. “When the sign comes.”
Bohemond turned and snapped orders to his men. Then, as the line thinned and the knights took horse, leaving a skeleton wall of sergeants behind them, he swung back to Saint-Gilles.
“What sign is this?”
“The same as the Lord vouchsafed to the Israelites in the desert.” He pointed to the northern horizon. “Watch there.”
The sky showed blue above the northern hills. Saint-Gilles squinted with his one good eye. Was there--?
The young Norman had better eyesight than him, and caught his breath in understanding. “Pillar of smoke,” he whispered, and then wheeled, shouting and snapping and putting the counts in battle array.


It was a bedroom. There was a big bed in the centre of it and sitting up in the bed a small boy was staring at her with enormous eyes.
“Are you an Assassin?” he whispered.
Marta’s stomach flipped and she froze into immobility.
Baldwin the Fifth. She had broken into a king’s bedroom.
“No,” she told him, “I’m a girl. My name’s Marta, like the saint. Are you a count?”
“No,” he whispered very grandly, “I’m a King. Why did you climb in the window?”
Marta sidled to the door. “I don’t believe you,” she whispered, her voice light. “Who ever heard of a King being sent to bed early?”
“I am!”
“Couldn’t be.”
“You’re too short. And how could you even wear a crown? Your head would stick right through. You’d have to wear it like a carcanet.”


“The ordinary Mahometan believes this is the tomb of Rachel the wife of the patriarch.” The voice was young, cultured—and instantly recognisable. It spoke Syriac without the hint of an accent, although John had last heard it speaking Arabic. “For that reason alone I assented to spare it. But you and I know better, I think, John Bishara.”
He swallowed painfully and turned, slowly, slowly, at the door of his wife’s grave. The Chosen was facing him on the path that led from the stream, a light, straight sword held in his right hand. He wore a loose black silken tunic, no doubt with a mail shirt hidden beneath it, and his head was swathed in a mass of black wrappings, turban and veil.
“You did this,” John whispered, a cold horror creeping down his spine.


She bit her lip. After a moment she said: “I don’t understand you. You aren’t a coward. So why do you avoid the fighting?”
Lukas let his head fall back with a thump on the door behind him so he could see into her eyes. “You have got to be joking.”
But the puzzled furrow between her eyebrows convinced him she wasn’t.
“I don’t understand you Franks,” he growled. “You think nothing of throwing yourselves half-prepared into impossible situations, and it amazes you when you’re mown down by your hundreds. I’ll tell you why I don’t run to join them. The last time my belly was full was October. I have a rusty mail shirt, someone else’s sword, no shield, and half a lance. And I have no particular wish to die.”


A black shape came to the edge of the Saracen camp—she could see him outlined against the flickering firelight—and her voice faltered and died as they faced each other.
Then he stretched out his hands at his side and began to walk toward her. Marta froze. Surely he could not see her against the black heap of the hill? Surely he could not hear the half-whispered words of Rahel Bishara’s lullaby?
Then came the fire.
It raged up all around the black robe of the Saracen. Her eyes were hot and sticky and she wasn’t sure what she was seeing: just the small figure standing black and threatening in a ring of dirty, smoking grassfire. She became suddenly, horribly sure that he was looking at her, that all his attention was bent upon her. And then he lifted his hands and walked on, the fire licking after him like the train of a ceremonial robe.


He finished eating, bowed to Abdul, and left the tent. Saida followed him, her baby under her arm. Between headdress and veil, her eyes watched him solemnly. “There will be no more journeys to Acre after this, John Bishara.”
He felt as if a cold drip had run down his back. “Why do you say that?”
“Times are changing,” Saida said in her soft voice. “The wind blows here and there as it wills, and so does the will of Allah.”
“Do you know something I don’t?” he asked on impulse.
She gave him a cool, level stare. “You don’t always have to lick your thumb to figure out which way the wind is blowing, John Bishara.”


They were surging through the last ripples of surf onto the wet sand of the shore when a column of Frankish knights burst over the dunes in a smart shower of sand and stood there, the horses shaking their heads, while one of them only came on, the sand kicking up behind him as he ploughed his horse down to the shore.
“Who goes there?” he hailed when he came within easy earshot. He spoke French with a Western accent. “Who is your leader?’
Balian strode across the firm sand at the brink of the sea, signalling with his hand for his men to gather themselves behind him. At once the knight leveled his spear, nearly in his breast.
Balian stopped. “Are they so poor in courtesy in France, then, that friends are welcomed with blades?”
“Your name,” the Frenchman insisted.
“My ship is flying a cross.” Balian sighed. “I am Balian, former Lord of Ibelin and Nablus. I have a hundred and fifty men and horses and food in my ship. You may have heard of me.”
“No.” The spear wavered downward a little. “From your complexion you could be a Saracen.”


At first, Lukas assumed the duke was scanning the landscape for fortresses, or even signs of the Turkish army rumoured to be on its way from Baghdad. Then Godfrey sighed and said, “It’s beautiful.”
Lukas blinked. He supposed it was beautiful. Under the haze of an April sky, Lebanon glowed in muted colours. On the right, the sea was a rich silver-blue carpet; but the green land reared up on the left like a massive wave. Between mountains and shore the fruitful plain was a patchwork of groves and orchards, all set out in orderly rows, with here and there the brighter emerald of pasture, or the rich red of freshly broken earth. White among the orchards shone farms, monasteries, villages, fortresses, or mosques... South, blue with distance, Tripoli on her peninsula spurred the sea.
“You didn’t tell me it was like this, Bishara,” the duke said with a smile.
Whether it was the long Turkish occupation, or the more recent passage of the Frankish army, the centuries had not left Lebanon untouched. The villages and towns were shrunk. Some of the farms, some of the houses in the villages close at hand, were clearly empty, roofless shells. Some of the orchards had gone wild, and burn-scars in the landscape suggested that some of the buildings had been torched; mosques? Villages?
“No, my lord,” he said, sighing. “It was better than this.”


“The sultan al-Ashraf is merciful,” Ibn al-Salus had told him, a smile lurking in the back of his cold eyes. “You are permitted the next two hours to go where you will. After that, the hunt will begin. The sultan wishes you every opportunity of escape.”
Around him, the Mamelukes stared at him from behind veils of chain, faceless in the predawn dark.
“What opportunity for escape have I in the desert?” he appealed.
Ibn al-Salus shrugged, throwing up his hands. “Perhaps you should have considered that before organising a conspiracy to assassinate the sultan.”
“What if I refuse to run?” He drew himself up to his full height, thrusting out his chin in a show of courage. “A man of my birth should face death with dignity. Not running like a dog.”
“Nor sitting peaceably.” Something that might have been pity moved in ibn al-Salus’ face. “Die a red death, friend.”


Unknown said...

Oh my goodness, I'm so excited! The snippets are wonderful. I know it's going to turn out awesome! The fact that your first drafts are horrible too gives me hope :)

Hayden said...

I can't wait until you finish this one! It sounds incredible (even with a terrible first draft, haha :)

Lady Bibliophile said...

Lady knights, assassins, and needlework. I can't wait. This sounds incredibly awesome.

It is a comfort that the first draft is a common plot to mortals. Perhaps it is merely a Watsonesque perspective, but I have always thought "My dear Holmes, how stunning" about any draft you've done. ;) Somehow I can't get it out of my head that your subsequent drafts are like Tolkien's. They can be published in all their stages without having anything to be ashamed of.

I love Marta finding the child king...Lukas explaining why he is not eager to fight....and that last quote gives me the very best of shivers.

Grand snippets, and a grand job well done! :)

Suzannah said...

:D Thanks for all your encouragement!

Katherine, I'm a firm believer that great art, lasting art, isn't made easily, without practice and thought and willingness to throw out what you've done and change it. Keep working away! Two drafts, three, four, whatever it takes to make the story what it needs to be.

Hayden--I do believe there are the ruins of a terrific story in OUTREMER, and will be working hard to make it what it can be :D.

Schuyler-friend, my ego always looks so clean and fluffy when you're done stroking it! So glad you enjoyed the snippets--and I'm so looking forward to the day you get to read it!

Jamie W said...

This makes me extraordinarily happy! I'm content to wait on your craftsmanship but always glad to get a taste of what's in store. Thanks for sharing your good news!

Sophia White said...

Popping in again to say I like the second snippet. I'd like to see more of what happens between those two. It adds a spice of lightness to what could be an otherwise too-heavy story.

Suzannah said...

Jamie, thanks, as always, for the encouragement. It really does keep me going :).

Sophia, oh, my! This is definitely a too-heavy story. I have to admit that things like nuance, humour, and relaxation don't usually appear in my stories till later drafts...!


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