My NaNoWriMo winning streak came to an end at midnight yesterday. Really, there was no way that I could have caught up short of a miracle and/or limitless time and energy. There was a solid 17-day period when I didn’t write a single word, and I attempted to make a comeback that included penning almost 11,000 words on Thanksgiving Day alone (only the morning and evening had planned events—I promise I wasn’t neglecting my family. Only my husband. Sort of). Ultimately, though, I ended Salvage at 34,189 words out of 50,000, by the official counting tool on the website.
If you’re a Wrimo who didn’t reach the goal either and you’re feeling a bit down, it’s fine to feel that way. I’m not here to tell you how you should feel, and I won’t tell you that you shouldn’t feel bad or that you should feel good about your attempt. Process what’s going through your mind in whatever way you need to: I’m just here to share my reflections on this past month.
I’m not as disappointed by this as I thought I would be. This isn’t a “loss” in the sense that I could have gained something but didn’t: sure, I’m a little bummed out that my second wind didn’t end up panning out, but I don’t feel like I’ve failed, really, because nothing was at stake. I can’t and won’t blame anything or anyone for my lack of a victory: yes, I procrastinated, had artistic blocks, and bit off more than I could chew in a November that was already shaping up to be pretty busy, but that’s called life, and it happens to everyone except fictional characters (except when such moments are part of the plot—Wouldn’t the ability to skip the boring stuff in real life be convenient?). I’ve won NaNoWriMo twice before, so I know that I can write 50,000 or more words of the same piece in a month, and proving it to myself again wasn’t as necessary as I initially believed.
I don’t want to say that I didn’t have enough pride in Salvage to really get invested in it because that’s not true, but I definitely had a bit more emotional distance from this manuscript than I had in years and projects past. This was perhaps both my boon and my downfall: it allowed me to take risks and experiment without feeling like I would disrupt the integrity of the piece, but it also allowed me to get complacent about my commitment as the month went on. It’s by far the most curious relationship that I’ve had with a piece of writing, and one that I think I can use to my advantage moving forward.
If anything, and forgive the cliché, I think that I still won despite not hitting the goal. After all, I made a commitment to getting words down. I got a partial draft out of the deal, which I definitely plan on finishing with the “devil may care” kind of approach that got me to start working on it. And, as an unexpected little twist, I got to try out a different style of prose. The big, grandiose plot and religious elements in my piece, as well as the nature of my protagonist, got me writing in a pseudo-Romantic style (as in the 19th century, not the genre). I don’t know that I’ll try it again because it always felt weird and I’m far from an expert in the nuances of that era’s prose, but it was a very refreshing experiment that got me thinking about words, sentences, and voice in ways that I hadn’t before.
What’s my next move, outside of finishing this? I can get back to those projects that I put aside—namely, querying the finished novel and working more seriously on revising the one that’s on tap. I can get back to more creative blog posts for you guys. I can put together a bunch of shorter stories and essays, or dig up the ones that I already have, and start trying to get those out. And if I don’t get all of this done with what’s left of 2015, I’ll definitely have some goals set for 2016 (and you’ll probably hear about those in a “New Years’ Resolutions” kind of post, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves here).
This is kind of a short blog post: I didn’t have a whole lot to say, and whatever seasonal bug is going around caught me and is chewing holes in my brain. So I’ve decided to do something that I said I wouldn’t do, because so many of you have been really supportive of me as I’ve tried to finish the challenge and I feel like it’s only fair:
I’m going to post a small piece of what I was up to this November.
Please don’t take the quality of what follows as my usual caliber of writing, style, or care and instead take it for what it is: a portion of a very, very rushed first draft that might have a diamond in there somewhere but is for the most part rough. It’s an experiment, and like all experiments, it’s imperfect. I won’t tell you to be gentle, but I will advise that you keep those things in mind.
For some context, there’s a massive overhaul of the world order that’s caused the apocalypse and the end of life on Earth as we know it. I originally planned this as a Ragnarok-style event but failed to do enough research in time, so I did focus a lot more on explicitly Judeo-Christian figures just because I knew the most about them without doing a lot of reading. The Raphael that’s narrating this section is indeed that Raphael, but as a result of cosmic turmoil has been corrupted into the First Horseman of the Apocalypse, which I interpreted as Pestilence. The other archangels and high-ranking emissaries (including Metatron, who also appears, and who I’ve interpreted as an angel distinct from Michael) have all met similar fates, but the explicit reasons for this are unknown, even to me, and I was writing this thing—these characters are the best and very open and honest with me about their motivations. Thanks, guys.
All that said, here goes nothing:
“How are you feeling?” Metatron asked me. He was still holding me, and again I wanted him to never let me go. He had asked the question a number of times on our way over here, and though my answer changed little it made us both feel better to have something comparatively light to discuss after the revelation of what I had once been.
“I’m much better. Thank you kindly,” I told him. “I could probably walk on my own, if you felt comfortable allowing me to do so.”
“You still seem a bit unstable. Maybe once you’ve had more time to rest and get your strength back. Yes, your face is still very pale. Do you deprive yourself of sustenance often?”
“When I can. I can’t actually control the pestilence, and I’ve hurt people in many ways with it before. I stay as far away as I can for as long as I can manage so that I don’t cause any unnecessary harm. I normally don’t let myself go this long, though,” I explained.
“That’s such a Raphael thing to say,” Metatron chuckled. Then, to elaborate, “It’s comforting to know that it’s really you in there. Even if you don’t remember much of anything at all, just the fact that you’ve stayed yourself in spite of everything is reassuring.”
“I suppose it would be,” I replied noncommittally. My eye caught something, and I stopped walking. Metatron only had to take another step to realize that I hadn’t moved, and he stopped and followed my gaze to the painting I was eyeing.
The edges were burned or otherwise damaged, but the canvas on the whole was still intact. A man of religious importance crouched in prayer in the bottom right corner of the picture, and the bulk of the frame was taken up by a winged figure robed in gold and brown. His hair was long, and his gaze authoritative but gentle. He was a pale creature, and his long fingers wound around a staff. There was a confident, poised affect to his countenance.
Had I not known better, especially in light of the recent revelations, I would have assumed that this winged creature, this angel depicted on the canvas above us, had been an image painted from some brother or cousin of mine. His was a face I had seen time and time again in my existence, though distorted, in rippled reflections on the surface of pooled water or in the reflective surfaces of mirrors that broke down as I drew closer to them.
Here was a remnant of a bygone world: bygone in that the world as humans knew it had ended, and bygone as well in the sense that even us celestial beings had been transformed into completely different forms. This painting was of a face that resembled mine, but was cruelly ironic: this was a figure that I used to be, but no longer was. Here I existed in this space, both my opposite identities at once, and my overtaxed mind and soul caught on what remained of one role as I was forced into the other. I tried to imagine myself as the angel in the picture, and though I was getting vague glimpses into an alternate life I suspect that they were more wishful thinking than actual memories.
“Tell me,” I requested of Metatron, nodding to the painting. “Is that who I was? Was I really so great that there were monuments to honor me?”
“Monuments, holidays, and the like,” he told me with a note of sadness. “Come on, let’s get into the sanctuary. It will be colder, but better for your constitution.”
“One more thing, before we leave this image,” I insisted. Even if he didn’t know, I needed some idea. I needed to know that I wasn’t the only one of us that had considered this as a possibility. “If I am Pestilence, and I was able to use that to break down both of our curses until our true identities could shine through…. Does that mean that I could use that power to change us back into what we were before? Could we become angels again if I just tried?”
Metatron sighed so heavily that I immediately lost any hope. I didn’t need an answer, but he graciously provided one.
“In all honesty… I don’t believe so. We were reshaped by Yahweh’s hands, and what He does tends to be permanent unless changed again by Him. We were cast out of His favor, and He formed this new reality and our new realities out of wrath. For all intents and purposes, my memories of a reality beyond this one are imagined. I have memories of a reality that doesn’t and never existed, even though it did. This is how His power works, and what He is truly capable of. I don’t believe that you can change us back, no matter how hard you tried to break our curses, simply because, with reality the way it is now, there never really was a back to change to or to have changed from. Even though we were not always like this, He rewrote things so that we always were. I fear that we might be trapped like this forever.
“However,” he said, and I got the feeling that he was simply trying to placate me, “You are the First Rider. The one that throws things into turmoil. You already have, in that you are doubting your life and starting to remember things as they were before. Aside from the poetic irony, perhaps there is a different reason that you were given the power to break things down. You have to break them down before they become anew. You cannot transform into something else, but you can break it down until it’s something new.
“You got through to me, and you got through to yourself. If you’re ready for it, and do remember that you have time to consider this, I’d maybe try getting through to the other Horsemen,” Metatron proposed.
I looked at him, shocked. “But… I can’t do that. War would sooner impale me than spend enough time around me to let my powers work through his curse. Death is never there until someone needs him. And Avarice….”
“Like I said, perhaps not right now, and perhaps not for a while. But if my theory is true and you are capable of breaking down those mental barriers that cloud their perceptions of their lives and realities, we might stand a chance in this world. We might be able to stand up to Yahweh once again.”
“Forgive me, but it seemed as though going against Yahweh’s orders did not work so well for us last time we tried it,” I told him.
“I’ll concede that, yes. However, what more do we have to lose? We have lost our stations, our powers, our identities. There is not a whole lot left in this world or any plane known to celestial kind that we can call our own. We are no longer His creatures, and we were therefore no longer bound by His rules. If we were still, I would have seen some retribution for all of the vile things I’ve thought and said about him of late.
“I will not ask you to betray your principles. Kind though you are and were even then, you were afraid to cause ripples. I absolutely understand that, especially now. Now more than ever, even. But I’d like you to consider this option. If nothing else, setting Uriel, Michael, and Gabriel free from their mental chains would mean that we were no longer alone in this world.”
“But wouldn’t that knowledge torture them as it has me? As it has you? Especially you, you’ve been carrying around millennia in a human body for I don’t even know how long!”
“My guess, and I’m sure a guess that you would share if you had all of your memories, is that they would be angrier if you left them in their condition. We shared everything before, and they would feel betrayed that you didn’t help and share information with them when they needed it more than ever. They would understand your trepidation, certainly, but I feel as though they would appreciate your bravery if you acted in spite of your fears. They wouldn’t want to betray everything they are and everything that they so fiercely believed until this happened to them. They’re all fighters and all very, very good angels: they need to know. Don’t let them be the monsters that Yahweh earnestly believed that they were: prove that they are and always will be more than that. Give them the chance to come back from this. Give them the chance that you had, the one to try and change your path.
“I’ve already given you much to think about. Forgive me for giving you more than you were ready for at this time. I will let you get some rest, and we will reconvene in the morning. I will not discuss anything further on this issue until you bring it up and you’re ready for it.” At that, we walked as one into the sanctuary, and I laid down on a pew for the first time in a long time and stared up at the stained-glass murals catching what little of the light of the dying sun remained outside, the angels looking down on me now more poignant than ever before.