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Tackling an Epic Novel
Seven Moons Deep: Pendleton Shaw’s Quest for the Seven Cities of the Moon
© 2013 James LaFond
I prefer to write at novelette and novel length. I like my novels on the light side at about 60,000 words. Sometimes though, a big one is called for. I expect Seven Moons Deep to be twice as big as anything else I will ever write. To the extent that it might be of help to other writers or of some entertainment value to readers, what follows is my process for constructing an epic tale. This is not an outline, though that is what I call it. It is the bones of my tale, and it is my job to put some meat on it. I do not write according to the linear plot suggested by the contents, but according to the characters [my story threads] and the resulting story cords. I begin each story with an ending in mind but permit the characters—if they are compelling enough—to alter or change it.
The Story Seed
When an episode in one novel in a series, particularly one from a few years back, has served as the inspiration for a new story thread, I will cut and paste it at the head of my working manuscript as a kind of loadstone and reference. The tail end of the following will be rewritten from Pendelton’s viewpoint, and constitutes the genesis of his character. I made up Pendelton while I was typing out ‘El Cid’. I had decided that, Jay, the time-hunter character, was going to elevate war-crime to an art form and thought a witness would be appropriate.
From Thunderboy, Chapter 23, Warpath
The Rundown [last scene]
He walked over to the dying horse as it bled out and looked into the eyes of the young dark-haired man whose legs were crushed beneath the big stallion. The young man just swallowed painfully and looked up into Jay’s eyes. “Madre Maria?”
Jay raised his sword between his hands for a finishing thrust. It then occurred to him, as the sunlight shined briefly on the blood-dripping wired grip, that his weapon resembled a crucifix. He looked into the boy’s eyes momentarily as he hesitated, and the young man repeated his question painfully, “Madre Maria?”
“Naw boy, wrong church.”
He gave him a sure thrust for a quick end. He deserved it. Jay had come to like him.
El Cid
He walked up to RavenSong as the man admired his handsome new horse and his warrior scalped the fallen don and musketeer. They grasped hands and Jay knew it was over for the chief. The rest was personal, between Jay and Don Enrique. “See ya later ole boy. I got dis.”
RavenSong stepped back and went to one knee and sang a brief song. Jay was touched in the heart over this, and helped the lean older warrior to his feet. They hugged, he turned and clasped hands with the warrior, handed off his bow and arrows and was off up the track at a run.
Within a mile he had them in sight. He could tell that the pike-man was a real good runner, and was now trailing the big charger that carried the fat don. Don Enrique would not be fat by 21st Century standards. But he probably went 200 pounds at only five feet and ten inches. That load was going to tell on that horse; and that was a heck of a horse. He was a big black charger with huge hooves. The thing was like a Clydesdale, like something that a knight would ride. It was a lot bigger than King Phillip.
With the load that this horse was carrying Jay figured he should be able to run it down in a mile or two, but, the snow was really telling on Jay’s legs, and seemed to affect the horse far less than him and the pike-man struggling in its wake. Jay knew that the run was slightly uphill all the way to the Susquehanna. He settled down for a long jog, and would just dog them for the next six hours before he turned up the heat. The pike-man had cut down his pike to a six-foot length and discarded his sword and breast-plate.
A determined foe is good for the soul. This will be a run to remember!
They ran slow through the late morning, hard through the afternoon, and slow again as they neared the heights above the Susquehanna below which Havre de Grace would have been in the 21st Century. The horse had stopped sweating. The don was bleeding from the ass and sweating hard. The pike-man was drenched in sweat and had vomited three times, the last mostly blood, phlegm and bile.
Push it now!
When he crested the ridgeline he broke into a run, his blade still reversed and gripped by the ricasso in his left hand. He could hear wood creaking at a distance, even as the gentle lapping of the bay slapped the hard muddy banks.
No! You can’t let this coward take ship! Pump those legs hillbilly!
He broke from the wood-line running like a madman. In the distance, across the heavy river, was a Spanish mission, a nice log cabin version of the Alamo he thought. To his right spread out the bay, and on it, a fleet of many large warships flying a flag that was not Spanish or English. This perplexed him, because other than the Stars-and-stripes, Stars-and-bars, and Rising Sun, he did not know what any of the other national flags looked like, either now or in the future.
Oh yeah, they’re Dutch.
A small boat bobbed toward the mission from the flagship, where some small robed figures stood awaiting it on the riverbank—the very bank toward which Don Enrique, whipping his big black charger savagely, was headed. The big beast was barely keeping its head above water as it struggled against the current. Jay wanted nothing more than to catch this man and pull him off of that horse to drown. But, a man that was really a hero was standing with his back to his fleeing commander, on the hard muddy bank, leveling his shortened pike as Jay charged maniacally at the stalwart soldier.
Just before he impaled himself on the pike head, Jay beat it with a lateral roof block and crashed into the battle-hardened foot soldier. As they wrestled both of their helmets came unsnapped and rolled off into the lapping inch-deep murk. He sat out and turned in and slapped a knee-bar on the man. This soldier came from a society where ‘tapping’ was not even a sports convention. He just grunted and ground his teeth as Jay separated his knee.
He rose and grabbed both weapons. He drove the head of the pike into the bank and placed his helmet on it. He then returned his claymore to its scabbard and strapped it to his back and kicked off his moccasins. The bearded battle-scarred soldier looked up at Jay in wonder, surprised that he was not being killed.
Jay saluted the man where he lay and then let out a roar as he charged into the river and swam for all he was worth. It was so cold he could not feel a thing. He could have sworn that his testicles and penis had shrunken to microscopic proportions. He did not, however, feel hypothermic. His heart and lungs were pumping like a primed heat engine. He felt like a tireless hydraulic pump.
Each time he pulled his head to the right to suck in air under his arm he caught a glimpse of the fleet—even thought he heard men yelling. After what seemed ages he heard a horse whine and snort up ahead. Then his fingers scrapped mud and rock. He lowered his legs and began to high-step slowly so he would not ruin an ankle. As the north wind blew the sheets of water from his naked body and the sun died in the west he could see Don Enrique freeing himself from beneath his fallen warhorse. The horse was struggling to rise but could not, and the rich bastard didn’t have a care for the animal, was just crawling away from it and drawing his sword.
The clap of oars was heard to his right, as were some English words. Spanish words were heard ahead to his right as robed figures approached. He had no time for these. He focused only on Don Enrique; his fear and urine smell and his staggered breath. The don, giving up all hope of escape, finally turned and faced him with rapier leveled. Jay drew the claymore and retained the scabbard in his off hand to use as a beater. The horse snorted and he was moved to speak between ragged heaving breaths of his own, “His name… the horse’s name?”
Don Enrique cast his fine hat aside, and said, with all of the pomposity he could muster, “He is El Cid, a finer horse than any, and a nobler beast than you heathen!”
As he charged with a roar and Don Enrique waited to impale him with his precision dueling weapon he heard a small voice speak in English off to his right, “By the Furies Hempstead, the painted savage be a Christian, a wild Scott thinks I!”
He drew the thrust and beat it aside with the scabbard, and then cleaved savagely into the hip joint of the man, which ruined the don and sent him crippled to the hard mud bank. He stood above the man relishing his work, not wanting to end his suffering yet.
The don was groaning in Spanish to the robed figures behind him. The fourth, farthest to the left, was a nun. The other three were some kind of monks. He could smell man sweat and semen on her. He knew then that she wasn’t really a nun and was just the wench used by these hypocrites who were no doubt trying to conceal her from the English, who would surely haul off any simple prostitute, while they might show mercy on a nun and leave her be.
The monks came close and stood at the don’s head as he pleaded with them. He then looked to Jay. “You have slain me heathen. I plead only for absolution.”
“Well hefey, I don’k now whad dat big word is. But if it means somehow not goin’ to da Man Below den I’m thinkin’ I’d like yer company when I ged dare.”
On a sudden wrathful impulse Jay ripped an extended forehand slash that cleaved through all three of the thin monks at the waist. As the bodies and legs began to fall and spurt in separate directions and the woman screamed in horror, he rotated his five-foot weapon into a reverse grip with his left on the ricasso ahead of the crosspiece and the palm of his right hand on the pummel, plunged it through Don Enrique’s bowels, and left him to lay groaning among those who he had thought would pave his way into Heaven.
As the woman fell to her knees vomiting he turned to the sounds of the English voices and saw an unlikely crew. Standing before six burly sailors and a well-dressed servant, was a miniature gentleman, a gaudily dressed boy with curly blonde locks that could have been no older than twelve—not even beginning puberty. The boy looked at Jay with astonishment as one of the sailors behind him swore, “By God, there be three less papist dogs to trouble ole Uncle Calvin me-Lord.”
The boy then approached Jay boldly, not even five feet tall. He removed a dainty ruffled glove and extended a delicate hand. “Well done man! I am Lord Pendleton Shaw, late of Dover, ward of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, Stadthouder of the Dutch Republic. It is a pleasure. To what highland clan, may I ask, were you born, and how came you to this heathen shore?”
Little Lord Shaw
Jay did not want to get mixed up with these people, but did need the use of their boat. He sheathed his claymore, leaned on it as the woman continued to cry and choke behind him, and regarded the spoiled little brat before him for a second before shaking his little powdered hand. “Given name is Jay Brant Bracken—were born ta dis lan’ sir. I’ll tell ya all ‘bout it while yer men row me ta yon’ shore ta recover ma prisoner. I could swim it again but I’m haulin’ freight now.”
He turned to the woman in the nun’s habit, grabbed her roughly by the arm and dragged her to her feet. She looked up searchingly for a mercy that she did not expect. She was a pretty big-eyed Spanish-Algonquian mix. He opened her mouth and checked her teeth—teeth are always a big question mark with primitive chicks—then felt her small full breasts and slapped her butt to make sure she was fit. She faked some tears for the English, but he could smell her submission despite her disgust. “Bwayno Chakeyta.”
He then heaved her over his shoulder and turned to Little Lord Shaw. “Well Lord Shaw, iz id a deal?”
They managed about twenty minutes of question and answer as they sat in the jolly boat crossing the river while the sailors rowed. The little lord wrote down his every word with an ink-dipped quill in a sheepskin book bound in fine leather. The boy was initially concerned about the burning of Porto Soto, the battle and the pursuit. As Jay discussed these things with Lord Shaw he was reminded of various conversations about his prizefights with fight fans. Perhaps, like many of his time, this boy was a fan of war, the pastime of his aristocratic class.
They pulled up onto shore and made a little ceremony of escorting him out of the boat. He even walked through two short files of oarsmen standing at attention. The Spanish pike-man was now sitting up attempting to bind his knee. Jay set down the girl and motioned for her to aid the fallen soldier. He then walked over to the pike and helmet hung with near two-hundred colorfully adorned scalps. Little Lord Shaw sucked in his breath in amazement at the sight of the savage headpiece, “May I Jay?”
“Sure Lord Shaw, try it on if ya like.”
The boy and his manservant examined the piece in detail, the boy even beginning a sketch. “Just for the proportions you know—a mere moment. I can complete it from memory. Don it please Jay.”
Jay posed briefly with the helmet on his head and scalps draping his upper body as Lord Shaw sketched furiously. He then grabbed the pike and handed it butt-first to the little rich boy. “Dare ya go Lord Shaw, sometin’ ta take home. I need to be headin’ back to my people now.”
As he said this he handed his helmet to the woman and heaved the soldier across his shoulders.
Little Lord Pendleton Shaw was excited. “Chief Bracken, if I may name you so, I intend to pen a mariner’s guide regarding this land. What advice might I offer in your words, for those doughty English and Dutch souls who might venture upon these shores?”
“Tell them Lord Shaw that my sons and I will see that it’s just a visit—and a bloody one at that, just like we did for Old Don Tinoco, Frank Drake and Big Don Enrique. Thanks for the ferry across.”
He then turned to his recently acquired woman and slapped her on the rear end. “Undalay Chakeyta, undalay.”
Behind him he could hear some of the discussion between Pendleton and his manservant before he began tuning his ears and nostrils into the wild world he was plunging back into. “Have you ever seen such a savage sight! He be the very image of our ancient ancestors. A descendent of Prince Madoc he be. I wager Hempstead, that a turreted keep rises in this hinterland somewhere. To think Hempstead, a race of White savages ruling the heathens—what treasures they must have hoarded!”
“Aye me-Lord, a frightful shore this be…”
He felt a pair of great wings beat above him just before they entered the forest. He looked up and saw nothing, not a wing in the sky. A chill then played down his spine.
I suppose Don Enrique wasn’t such a satisfying meal for the Man Below as you supposed. He’s still got his eyes on you hillbilly.
The image that Pendelton Shaw holds in his mind of ‘The New World’ he is being sent to govern will certainly be darkened by the shadow of the savage warrior he met in his youth, a warrior that is, in fact, a genetically engineered man-hunter born to a 24th Century corporation for the purpose of retrieving remarkable organic humans from primitive environments.
Author’s Note
The original outline and first 18,000 words of Seven Moons Deep were written in February of 2012, 13,000 words of which [chapters 3, 10 & 17] were issued as the novelette By This Axe! In December 2013 I added 4 characters to the cast and 17 chapters to the outline. Based on my typical 4-5,000 word chapter length I am projecting the final word count to be up to 200,000, and will strive to keep it closer to 180,000. I plan on writing Strand B this winter, as the story spans from December through March. I hope to wrap strands A and C up by mid-summer of 2014.
Seven Moons Deep
Pendleton Shaw’s Quest for the Seven Cities of the Moon
Part One of Tears of Earth: Book Four of The Sunset Saga
James LaFond is a huge Robert E. Howard fan.
For Zach.
“Appearing sporadically in individuals it comes down the ages—the germ of savagery, the seed of freedom.”
-The War Chief, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Reader’s Note
Each viewpoint character represents a thread in this novel. Hence there are 10 beginnings and 10 endings. Which of these stories are most important is a matter for the reader to decide. The individual stories coalesce into three major strands, identified below. The novel may be read traditionally, by strand, or one character at a time, as you prefer.
Story Strands
A. In 2843 Hyman Maxim is the oldest and most powerful man to have lived. He has set the earth’s doomsday clock in motion and holds humanity’s future in his depraved grasp from the penthouse of his Stratospheric Tower. The only problem is he suddenly finds himself naked and on the streets of Richmond Virginia as it is being overrun by Union troops on April 6th, 1865.
B. In 1628, as a boy-ensign in the Dutch Navy, Lord Pendleton Shaw stood before a Spanish mission in the New World and watched a White heathen cut down the last of the Spanish dons. In 1654, aboard the English man-of-war Drake’s Revenge, Lord Shaw returns to take possession of these savage lands for Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, and investigate the tales of seven fabulously wealthy cities in the mountainous interior. Lord Shaw can have no idea that the bloodthirsty heathen that captured his imagination in his youth and inspired his quest has also set the remnants of two tribes on a collision course, a course his path is destined to cross.
C. Time-hunter Jay Bracken returns to the 21st Century suffering from the delusion that he is an ancient Germanic war god cast down from heaven among the unworthy mortals who now defile the world he once bequeathed to his worshippers. Jay has been deconstructed and reprogrammed to hunt down and kill Three-Rivers, who is currently incapacitated. It falls to former crack-dealer, ‘Eddie Scientific’ to save Three-Rivers and his RV caravan of chronological refugees from the rampaging maniac.
Protagonists in order of appearance, according to strand:
1. Hyman Maxim, Administrator of The Division Core, A
2. Stands-with-demons, Long Way Warrior of The Principal People, B
3. Yule Alpha 7 [AKA Jay Bracken], time-hunter, C
4. Eddie, former crack-dealer, now a hip-hop time-traveler, C
5. Lord Pendleton Shaw, Protector General of Port Drake, B
6. Hush, Last of the Sons of Fierce Woman, B
7. Kelly Thompson, massage therapist, C
8. Joan Henderson, Lead Investigator, Project YF7, C
9. Randy Bracken, time-criminal, C
10. Sammy Brighton, deckhand on the tramp steamer Bengal, C
[*Indicates a chapter that has been written in my mind. ** indicates that the chapter has been manually written. I refer to the remaining chapters as ‘signpost’ chapters, reserving the right, like a teenage hoodlum, to alter, move, or remove the signpost.]
1. Among The Rubble of My Dream [Hyman Maxim]
2. The Bow Unbent [Stands-with-demons]*
3. Cast Down Among Them [Yule]**
4. Not This Mess Again [Eddie]
5. Drake’s Revenge [Pendleton]*
6. Broken Camp [Hush]**
7. My Girlfriend with the .357 Magnum [Kelly]*
8. Shady Grove [Joan]**
9. The Muddy Waters [Stands-with-demons]
10. I Am War! [Yule]**
11. Off The Hook [Eddie]
12. Port of Ghosts [Pendleton]
13. All the Whiteman Desires [Hush]*
14. The Hang-around Girl [Kelly]
15. Ashland [Joan]*
16. Among Maize Mountains [Stands-with-demons]
17. By This Axe! [Yule]**
18. This Joint is Supposed to Have Wheels Fool[Eddie]
19. Hawke [Pendleton]
20. Chief Bookmaker [Hush]
21. Property of OMG [Kelly]*
22. Brother of Love [Joan]
23. Stratospherically Yours [Hyman]
24. Father’s Song [Stands-with-demons]
25. Follow the Wild Goose [Pendleton]
26. She Tumbles Down by the Hills [Hush]
27. Stacking Them Up [Joan]
28. Five Pigs in a Poke [Randy]*
29. The Long War Way [Stands-with-demons]
30. A Haunted Land [Pendleton]
31. Big Water Bane [Hush]
32. To Slay a Prophet [Kelly]
33. When Ravens Call [Pendleton]
34. Evil Bringer [Hush]
35. The Gauntlet [Pendleton]*
36. Uncle Blue Feather’s Dream [Stands-with-demons]
37. And, And! [Eddie]
38. Talking to The Head in My Hand [Jay]*
39. Sandcastles [Joan]
40. Tequila Wednesday [Randy]*
41. House of Letters [Pendleton]
42. A Town for All People [Hush]
43. A Little God [Kelly]
44. Little Debbie [Sammy]*
45. Demon Song [Stands-with-demons]*
46. Queen Vajayjay [Randy]*
47. Oatmeal Crème Pies [Sammy]
48. The Day I Lay Me Down [Pendelton]
49. I Am [Hyman]
Appendix: Timeframe Status
CGRP-Memo 6
[write after chapter 1]
The Morality Box
author's notebook
Killer Babes
the combat space
within leviathan’s craw
shrouds of aryas
america the brutal
sons of aryas
the lesser angels of our nature
on the overton railroad
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