The little story that never quite could

Today for a short Sunday blurb, I thought I’d take a break from talking about the novel that did make it, and remember for a moment that one that never quite got itself together. Like pretty much every novelist under the sun, I have a few novels who never saw that sun. I have literally dozens of novels I started and never finished, but one novel stands above all the rest, the very first novel I ever finished.

It was called Anna and the Duchess, and it was an epic YA fantasy clocking in at just over 260,000 words. Those of you who’ve mailed a query letter can guess how well that flew… bricks didn’t have shit on my book.  Still I got several bites for partials, but only one full from a brand new agent who was one of those beautiful souls willing to take a chance. I don’t blame any of these agents for rejecting poor little Anna. Looking back two years and several hard lessons down the line, my first book was such a wreck. It was long winded, the main character was milquetoast, and the pacing was accidental when it happened at all (this was before I thought about things like pacing).

As a novel it was a miserable failure. But, that’s kind of the job of first novels. Despite two false starts (I queried a heavily edited version about a year later, which failed slightly less, but not by much) Anna and the Duchess taught me all those little things, like the importance of daily writing no matter what, or how to deal with broken characters in broken scenes, that only the act of actually writing  a novel can teach you.  For that, I am very gratefu, and, looking back, there were parts of the novel that were pretty damn good. 

So, for your amusement, here’s my favorite scene out of the whole novel, where two religious zealots with very different views on how their now kingless country should be run decide what to do next.

Justinian took a seat across from him, resting his sharp chin on his fist. “Devak,” he said, “if you were given the choice between killing a hundred people now and a thousand people later, which would you choose?”

Devak bit off a hunk of bread. “Depends, do the people in question deserve to die?”

Justinian sighed. “For the sake of argument, let’s say they’re all normal, innocent people.”

“Then why kill them at all?” Devak said, chewing noisily.

Justinian sat up, putting his hands out like a set of scales. “Let’s say Calon appears to you and gives you a choice. In one hand, you have a city, let’s say Fignev.” He cupped his right hand as though he were holding something very small. “In the other, you have all of Orel.” He spread his other hand out, as if he were balancing something large on it. “Now, both are very heavy, you can’t support them for long before your arms give out. So, you can either throw the smaller away and use both hands to support the larger. Or you can try to hold both as long as possible until you have to drop everything. Which would you choose?”

Devak lifted his bowl and drained the last of his soup. He wiped his mouth with the napkin. “My arms are pretty strong, I don’t think I’d have a problem.”

Justinian threw up his hands. “Look, forget it. Forget I said anything.”

“Come off it.” Devak leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “It’s not like I don’t understand what you’re asking. Of course killing a few now is preferable to many later. But I don’t see the point of your question. Calon asks many things of us. He asks our obedience to his law, the extermination of heretics who defy him, and sometimes he asks for our lives. But what you’re asking isn’t a question we’re called on to decide. We’re Authorians, not nobles. We don’t govern, we protect. The only thing that matters with innocent people is that they follow Calon’s teachings and don’t fall under the sway of heretics. That’s what we’re here for. Other than that, their lives or the loss of them is not our concern. We’re not kings, Justinian, we’re the Hand of God. Orel doesn’t matter, statecraft doesn’t matter, the only things we have to worry about are Calon and his church. You’d do well to remember that.”

Justinian’s face was pale and angry. “I did not ask you this to be lectured.”

“No, but lectured you were,” Devak said. 

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