Monday, February 06, 2012

The Lair of the Twelve Princesses—Amanda C. Davis

I tried to write this story three times, and like a typical fairy-tale idiot with the usual amount of wishes, I borked it up twice and had to fix everything in round three.

Summer, 2004. Take one. Two friends and I were excited about our the-lair-of-the-twelve-princessesnew LiveJournals (those were crazy times! A digital Wild West!) and had epic fantasy on the brain following the release of the LotR movies. Solution: start a role-playing game, obviously. We wrote out character profiles and emailed them to each other.

Turns out we were all getting excited about completely different games.

I was a traumatized lady soldier. Brad was a knight of a holy order. Linda was a six foot tall blue elf.

Negotiations fizzled, and the RP never came together. I scratched out one page of mostly exploratory dialogue for Bay and her genie, then called Cali, and abandoned them in a folder for five years.

Winter, 2009. Take two. I'd been submitting stories for publication and in the process learned to love anthologies. Contributors' copies were the bomb. Send in a story, get a whole book? What a return on investment! I kept elaborate lists of anthology deadlines. Eventually I came across one that was looking for fairy-tale retellings.

I like twisting fairy tales. I like ascribing full motivations to the often-inscrutable, intentionally-cardboard characters that the Grimms delivered unto us, and I like shuffling genders, roles, and the-lair-of-the-twelve-princessesprotagonist/antagonist status. For this story, I lit upon The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I thought it was interesting that the princesses were in charge of their own curse--not the damsels in distress, as they seemed, but the obstacles, the villains. (I'd written a flash piece along those lines recently, but didn't feel like I'd finished the job in 500 words.) It occurred to me that a female soldier might have certain advantages in the investigation over the traditional male one.

"Hey," said the lazy part of my brain (or, more simply, "my brain"), "you've already got a lady soldier. Just use her."

So Bay got a story, and the genie came along. I changed his name to Kalomel.

I got to six thousand words before I realized a) the story was about three times as long as I thought it would be and b) something wasn't working. Pieces of the plot weren't leading naturally to one another. I was procrastinating important scenes because they bored me. It didn't mesh, and I hated it.

The anthology closed. I loved Bay and whatever-his-name-was, I liked the core idea, but I was doing something wrong. I threw my half-done (yet somehow unconscionably long!) story into the False Starts folder and put it on my list of things to get around to when I had a chance.

I didn't quite stop thinking about it.

Spring, 2011. I noticed the excellent Sword and Sorceress anthology series was taking submissions.

"Hey," said my lazy brain, "you've got a swordswoman-and-sorcery story practically done! Just finish it!"

I spent two weeks in coffee shops rebuilding the story from the ground up. I actually did that thing where you cut the scenes apart with scissors and tape them back together. The genie became Khloromain. The plot fell into place. The length exploded to nine thousand words. Exactly two lines of dialogue remained from the 2004 material. (I feel like I ought to send a No-Prize to the first person who guesses them.) Sword and Sorceress responded with a kind, encouraging rejection, so I kept sending it out. Luckily it found a great place to land.

I don't regret spending all that time working on one story. In retrospect, that probably means it would have been a pretty fun RP.

--Amanda C. Davis

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