Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings) and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or on her author website. And try her books for free here and here.
I had forgotten just how much work it was to move. We lived in Eastern Oregon for eight years. That's the second longest I've ever lived anywhere. And when you live someplace a long time, you gather a lot of stuff. When we found out we'd be moving, I thought it was a great opportunity to do some winter cleaning.
When I was packing up my house, I went through my file cabinet to get rid of stuff and found this folder:
If you can't see from the picture, the tab says "Joe Doe." There I was, sitting in front of my file cabinet, papers stacked ALL around me, and I'm staring at this folder thinking, "John Doe? What is that?" Then it hit me. This was where the Blood of Kings trilogy all started.
It began with a dream. Literally. In the spring of 2007, I dreamed about a woman. She was a soldier entering a hospital with the mission of rescuing the prince. It was a dangerous mission because he'd been in a transport accident on the wrong side of the city. This city had two sides. A good side and a bad side. And the prince was now stranded in a hospital in the worst part of the bad side of town!
So in comes my soldier woman. She's stealth. She's undercover. She's packing a blaster. She's moving with her team up the stairwell. They find the prince's room, find the prince. He's sedated, but okay. They load him onto this sweet floating stretcher... (Think how Han Solo frozen in carbonite floated along and you're with me.)
So our heroine has got her man. She's moving out with him and the team. And then the curtain splitting the hospital room down the middle opens and a guy walks out dressed in nothing but a hospital gown. He starts asking our girl what she's doing. They talk. And this guy says he doesn't know who he is or what he's doing there, but he knows he is supposed to stay with the man she is taking away. Our girl doesn't want to leave anyone important behind, so she takes Amnesia Guy along.
But what she doesn't know. (And what I do know. It's my dream. I know things.) Is that Amnesia Guy IS the prince. And that the guy our girl thinks is the prince is an impostor!
That was all I remember from the dream. My girl called Amnesia Guy John Doe, so that's what I called the new story idea.
Also around this time my son and I were on a walk. He was a baby. (He's 14 now!!!) And I was pushing him in the stroller in Burbank, California. We passed by a house that had been burned down. I stood there, mesmerized by this tree in the yard. It was right beside the fence. And the part of the tree inside the yard was all charred black from the fire. And the part that was hanging over the fence and street was leafy green and blowing in the wind. And as I was standing there, I thought, "What if there was a world that was half shrouded in darkness? Half dying?"
John Doe merged with the tree idea. This is where my science fiction story became a fantasy. I figured I'd be safer writing about swords and horses than blasters and spaceships. I started brainstorming my story, creating plot summaries, character names (My hero was Gideon, which later became Gidon, pronounced with a long "i.")
Here is a note written on a paper inside the folder: Alon is the gift blood sharers can use to see into the mind of the blood relatives.
If you've read By Darkness Hid, you know where I went with that. ;-)
Also around this time, I had recently met Jeff Gerke at a writer's conference in San Jose. Jeff is big on description, and he had suggested I check out a George R. R. Martin book if I wanted to read a fantasy author who handles description really well. (He did warn me about the content.) Two things stood out for me in the first Game of Thrones novel. I loved the harsh, medieval storyworld. And I loved the appendix that listed the people from each house and showed the house's sigul.
This book made me realize my world was way too small.
So I set to work. I drew a map with a ton of cities on it. I wrote lists of characters who ruled each city and everyone in their family and house. I drew flags for each house. I drew castle floorplans. I drew sketches. I went to the library and checked out tons of books on medieval history. I think you've all heard me talk about how I fell into storyworld builder's disease. It wasn't until my husband said, "I thought you were going to write a book?" that I snapped out of it.
He was right. Time to get busy. I put everything into this binder and started writing. (Think I'd done enough world building? Um, yeeah.)
I spent another few months thinking over my plot. Lots more things changed. I really got into using the Hebrew dictionary to find cool words for things. I made a major plot change when I decided that I would write in two points of view. That was inspired by another series I was reading at the time. The books were called The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia (written by Megan Whalen Turner, they are AMAZING, go read them all right now). I don't remember which book it was, but there was this minor character. And it was a boy, but he was always described as small and thin and soft spoken, and I thought, *gasp* "This character is a girl pretending to be a boy! That is SO COOL! I figured it out! I figured it out!" And I was totally jealous because I thought that would be so much fun to write.
Well, imagine my surprise when I got to the end and that boy was actually a boy! (I had NOT figured it out.) But I knew then that I had to have a girl in my story who was dressed up as a boy. So I went back to my plot and thought and thought and thought until I figured out how to make that work.
I was SO READY to write this book that when I finally did, I completed the first draft in a month! It was December 2007. We were planning to move to Eastern Oregon at the end of January. I would need to be packing up my house in January. I wanted that book done! And it was.
Once we got settled in our new Oregon home, I rewrote the book a few times. And I pitched it that August to Jeff Gerke, just for fun, to see what he thought, since NO ONE at the conference wanted to see YA or fantasy. And Jeff bought the book for his new publishing house Marcher Lord Press and here it is:
So pretty and look at the half-living half-dead tree and there is Achan on the front hearing those voices. *happy sigh*
This here blog post was a summary of how it all went down, but the real thing took a lot of effort and time (dream in spring 2007 until I pitched it in August 2008). And this was the sixth novel I wrote, so I did have a little practice. My first book took me three and a half years to finish and it was NOT in good shape even then and didn't sell for another four and a half years!
But as I sat there in my house in Oregon, holding the John Doe folder, packing up to move to a new place, I marveled over how stories evolve from that first nugget of an idea into a complete book. I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to do a series on Go Teen Writers where I write a story from scratch? And the teens could play along and write one of their stories from scratch. We could practice Story Evolution together and write a whole bunch of new books!"
That sounded pretty sweet to me.
So, starting next week, I'm going to take you through my process. I realize that not everything I do will appeal to you as we all have our own ways to doing things--and that is good. But I want to encourage those of you who can to play along with me. And at the end of the summer, we'll host a BIG contest here on Go Teen Writers that you can all enter. More on that later. For now, plan to sign up to write books with me right here on the blog. Next week I will announce which book I'm going to write with you. I can't wait!
Who's with me?