personal, writing

So what’s the deal with Skylark in the Fog?

If you know me as a writer, you know about Skylark. Well, okay. That sounds like a clever starting sentence, but I should be honest. Because “knowing me as a writer” is a feat in itself already — as I have mentioned before, I’ve not been defining myself as an author for a very long time. So I can probably rephrase that sentence and say “if you know me on Wattpad or the NaNoWriMo forums”. Yeah, that’s better.

Either way. In case you do, rest assured, I have talked to you about my One And Only Finished Novel, Skylark in the Fog. Maybe not the first time we spoke and maybe not that much for starters, because #introversion, but eventually. Eventually, I will talk a lot about it. And now, I’m going to write some of it down in a blogpost.

[warning: light spoilers for Skylark i.e. mentions of characters and places]

I started writing Skylark for NaNoWriMo in the year of our Lord 2012, but I think I had the earliest sapling of the first chapter years before — around 2009 if I’m not wrong. It was (naturally) a very different story from what it since had become. Back then, Jeane Blake, our favorite grumpy spaceship captain was a drug addict (I know) and even more crude than now. Kliks was the one beeping and chirping his way through conversations, not ALU and the idea of Talala did not exist how it does right now… he was basically just a weirdo alien, and I’m so proud of what he had turned into since. And ALU… uh… well, they were three stick insect-like aliens connected together into a hive-mind.

The basic structure of the world was the same as now, with the lanes and broken up solar systems, but much more chaotic — I was even planning for time travel and parallel dimensions. Back then, our little group was running from a ship that was inspired by the legend of The Ghost Blimp (yeah, no, I don’t know either) and planning to take shelter on a floating island (a kind of proto-Foggy Cities) supervised by a man called Dikent (eyy… but he wasn’t Jeane’s ex yet). Hollis was nowhere to be found, and the weird McGuffin making the Skylark a target for the Union was the ship’s engine itself. How? Why? What was the story going to be about? Helyna didn’t know.

By the way, that whole slightly important second plot thread with Maura and Miyoza at their interplanetary war? Didn’t exist. Well, that’s not true. It existed, but it was planned to be a whole different story, some kind of medieval fantasy with a queen capitulating before her enemy after a long, bloody war. I had no idea what to do with it other than that, I just had the short movie of that single scene in my head with her sitting in her throne room and letting in the enemy general, and that was it.

And then in 2012, my sister inspired me to get involved in NaNoWriMo. So I took these two very short first chapters from these two very different stories and (while listening to the album Dead Reckoning from the prog metal band Threshold which is still a sort of soundtrack for the whole book in my head) I decided to smoosh them together. It was totally going to work, and it was going to be glorious.

I won that NaNoWriMo (my first) and I really loved writing the story. But then I reached the halfway point of the plot, what is now essentially Chapter 20-21. And oh my god, I’m now reading it back, and I actually had Roy and Dikent together for a big part of the plot back then, can you imagine?? Also, that certain desert planet we all love and hate was at one point revealed to be Earth and uh… no, I don’t know why either. Anyway. I got there, and I got stuck. It wasn’t right. Nothing was right. It was flat, it was boring, and it went nowhere.

And from then on, almost every year for NaNoWriMo, I sat down with this story and tried to make sense of it. And although I still had very little idea what I wanted to do with it, slowly, excruciatingly slowly, I was progressing too; I managed to jot down two-thirds of the plot during 2015-2018, and most of the stuff I came up with then is still in the book in one way or another. At the end of 2018, I was right there at the cusp of things: everyone was together, all the cardinal objects and players at the same place all of them with their agendas and plans, the big Problem had already revealed itself and was just waiting for a solution, but again, I had no idea how the story was going to play out. There were too many little plot threads and way too many characters who could have done a million different things, and I couldn’t decide how to have everything resolved. It was incredibly frustrating. In my fear that I will screw things up and I will never be able to fix it ever again, I just stopped.

I didn’t know what to do at all. I was out of ideas.

As a sidenote, I do also remember having quite a bit of trouble with Jeane’s storyline, who is really the unspoken (or not, you can be a judge of that) main character of the whole thing. And I believe, for a long while, I wasn’t necessarily in the right mental state (oofh that sounds quite severe, isn’t it, but there’s that) to give her the character development and ending that she deserved. She started out as a quite nihilistic character (flashback to the awesome conversation I had with some friends on Wattpad about nihilism, and yes, it is not the most correct description, but it’s still all I have) looking for some kind of meaning in her life, and I was set on having her not change through the course of the story too much. Turns out, that was just not right, and not fitting to what the novel was becoming. And imagine the relief, when I finally let that idea go!

Looking back at it now, it is clear that really all I was missing had been a good sense of the character journeys (not just Jeane’s, but all of them) and the themes of the novel. Because the moment I figured out what these characters were really about (last year, after a good amount of soul searching and the self-imposed pressure that posting it to Wattpad had resulted in) it was obvious what the ending had to be. There was no other way at all. Of course! So obvious! How could I not see that before?

Naturally, as I got older in the meantime, the story also grew with me, encompassing themes and characterization that I had not planned for in the beginning, at all. It’s been with me through some serious shit, and then it was really this hell-year of 2020 when I got around finishing it, so that too left its mark on it (my way of dealing with incapacitating existential dread is apparently being aggressively positive). All its plot points are parts of my life, and although I don’t usually do it, because it can get weird, I only have to think a little bit to connect each important character to myself in one way or another. For an outsider, it’s probably not very transparent; it’s not like it’s an autobiography. But, listen. All my despair and sadness and hopes and dreams are in this story. That’s partly why it was just so hard to let other people read it. To let them peek inside my head and heart? Uh, no thank you (but then I still did it, because dammit, I’m a writer).

Sometimes I used to be afraid I would never be able to write anything else, because what if this was The Story that wanted to get out of me, this and nothing else?

While really mostly a light-hearted take on a conflict between different space-faring communities trying to survive and give some meaning to their lives after a large-scale catastrophe reforming their whole world, means a lot to me in ways I am not certain I can sufficiently explain. I won’t pretend I’m going into deep philosophical analyses of the human condition in the book, or expertly speculating about where technology is going or grimly painting the picture of how the soul distorts when faced with endless war or bottomless despair because you don’t know where you’re coming from or where you’re going, but hey. My characters are dealing with things that, for different reasons, I find or found important in my life, and they are healing (or not) in ways I’m familiar with or at least I wish to be. I’m hoping to convey my probably very optimistic view and hope about humanity. The wonder and chaos we can create. The stupid idiots we can be. The fact that we’re all just trying our best in our own ways, even if misguided or affected by emotions that make one’s method of striving for survival/a happy life hard to symphatize with, but on the grounds of all of us being human, we might. That is not to say there aren’t truly evil or rotten forces in this world that/who only fight for power and disregard any ruin they bring to anyone else in the process, and in huge masses, humans can be quite nasty, but I truly believe in the proverbial, cliche, and saccharine “goodness of men”. I guess that’s what I want to get that through this whole thing. As I said, all the awfulness of this year probably inspired me to emphasize this theme even more.

I think it’s a fundamentally idealistic tale, but I never planned it to be anything else than that either. I can tell you that finally writing the finale was quite cathartic for me, and since these characters had become so dear to me, I tried to bring them all to a conclusion that fit their stories. And of course, I was quite enjoying to collide their personalities in a way that they could become this ragtag, weird team helping, hindering, and trying to understand each other even though coming from vastly different circumstances.

And I talk about it like it was really finished, but it isn’t, not yet. Currently, you can read the second draft on Wattpad — better and improved than the first draft (which is really, like the ninth, but I decided to restart the count when I first translated it from Hungarian last year) but it still doesn’t contain everything I want to include. I’m working on the third draft now, but to see the final version… well, you gotta wait until the paperback drops, my friends!

And it’s only a little bit scary that after all these years, I can finally think about that sequel, eh? I was firmly against it first, unless I have a very good reason for it, because… oh, well, you’ll see. But you know, why not? I do have that file on my computer now. Its working title is ‘The Sequel I Deserve’.

There are definitely other things I would like to try and write. I remember when I was just writing the Epilogue in July, so close to finishing, and I was fretting so hard about how I would feel after. How there might be this empty hole in me where the story should be and I would miss it too much, and it would be a horrible feeling. It seemed logical that was what’s gonna happen. It didn’t. Writing down “The End”, I felt sad, sure, a little, but I was much-much happier. I felt exhausted, and proud, and nostalgic already. I didn’t miss it at all. The only thing I ever wanted was to do justice to the story that existed somewhere deep inside me — and now I feel like I can succeed in that. Now I feel like maybe I can try to write other things (and hopefully not boondoggle with them for eight years again). I think Skylark is always going to be a part of me, even when, at some point in the future, I will stop working on it completely, but it is and will be different than before. It’s sort of going to be like when first you have your baby, right, and it’s all innocent and it needs you for everything but then it grows up and now you can talk to them like to another human being because they have their own intellect and you can sort of be friends with it and bond over their favorite food or actor, instead of just satisfying their every need.

I don’t know, I don’t have children, I’m just talking out of my butt.

So that’s the deal with Skylark. It is now a free bird (almost), and it can fly wherever it wants to. And I’m a proud mama bird sitting in the nest with a blank page on a word processor in front of her, trying to think of other things to write and probably letting another weirdly convoluted metaphor get away from her.

As you do.

Thanks for listening to me ramble.
Love, Helyna

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