This is a major big deal for me. It's a bucket list item that has turned into a life project. It began before I turned 20 years old and has finally reached this milestone just before I turn 65.
I have completed the full manuscript of the epic tale I call 'Eden's Womb.' It consists of seven 'books,' about 350 chapters, and as currently written it comes in at a total of just under 430,000 words. For comparison Diana Gabaldon's debut novel 'Outlander' is about 320,000 words and Tolkien's entire 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy (not counting appendices) is about 450,000 words.
I actually wrote the final word about 3:30AM this morning and have been 'celebrating' today by digging back through my notes and revisiting the history of this life long quest. For my own reference (since I doubt that this would matter much to anybody else) I've consolidated a brief history of this project below:
- April 4, 1968 (the day Martin Luther King was assassinated) I wrote this in my diary: "My next poem will be about the world during and after a 'catastrophe' when the poles switch and great upheavals and earthquakes occur. It's a great thing to think about - most of civilization would be destroyed. They would be hard times but great times for an adventuresome life and great experience" I did start that poem, meant to be a long epic poem, but the only finished result was a highly abstract one-page version that won a cash prize in spring 1969 - the poem 'Becoming'.
- 1970's: First thoughts of turning the tale into a prose novel. About 1975 or 1976 I wrote a multiple-page rambling outline for a book entitled 'The Dawn of the Millennium' describing the travels of a character named Luke. It begins in June 1987 when Luke and his friends, including Wilson, travel west from the east coast of the US and meet up with more friends in Albuquerque. My notes say this (interesting to see how my 'predictions' stood the test of time): "Meet group seeking to form commune in west. Bought desert land in E. AZ, met there, hear guns, get tied up by para-military group. Economy: worsening after 15 years of inflation, recession. Gas expensive - $1.50 to $2.00/gal. People say 'to hell with govt.' very alienated with continued govt. ineptitude. Dec 1987 they get away from para-military group and head to Calif. Earthquake predictions. Dec. 6, 1988. Big Jim Thompson from Ill. is president. Ice slides off West Antarctica - tidal wave, ocean rises, widespread panic. Calif. falls into ocean. Flee to Colorado ..." etc. The outline describes years of Luke's travels as civilization steadily collapses toward Dystopia. I never began writing this book.
- Then in 1978 I had a brilliant idea. Instead of writing about Luke's travels, I'd set a new story in the post-Apocalyptic world 250 years later in which a new ice age has begun. I'd follow a character whose ancestor 'Luke' had visited his city of Saskatoone, now surrounded by a 200-foot-deep glacial ice sheet. The character would set out from Saskatoone to travel across the snows to 'find out where Luke went.' The day I first set these ideas down on paper is captured in the image at the top of this post. Many of the essentials of the plot I outlined that day have not changed since.
- Early 1980's I wrote the first few chapters of the book, as established in a fixed 21 chapter format (see the image at the top of this bullet list).
- Late 1987 and early 1988: I got serious about the novel and wrote about half of it - everything through Chapter 12 and also the last two chapters. All this was written by hand using a pen (!) with liberal cross-outs and marginal insertions. The stack of hand-written pages from this era is about ten inches thick.
- March 31, 1988: I bought my first home PC - a Mac Plus. Forward progress in novel writing stopped as I transcribed every one of my handwritten manuscript pages into the computer, making extensive revisions as I went, and stored everything on 3.5 inch floppy disks.
- October 1989: my first child was born. This began a long 'back burner time' for novel writing. I would occasionally revisit the project during the 1990's but never stuck with it for very long. In the early 2000's the book had essentially gone dormant.
- May 2006: a year after I retired I started a notebook that revived the novel project. I began to explore new themes that added a new layer of depth to the story. These included exploring the spiritual and cosmological aspect of the world I was creating, incorporating more of a positive environmental theme, and - most important, I chose to re-cast the setting in the far distant future rather than the immediate future. The primary reason for this change was that I had learned that the next time the earth's orbital parameters will be favorable for an ice age would not be until 630,000 years in the future, and I wanted to adhere to a physically realistic setting for Ice Age Saskatoone. The consequences of this change were that I had to think a whole lot about how humanity could survive that long without self-destructing and without relying on what I firmly believe to be a pure fantasy that humans will exploit space enough to establish any form of interconnected galactic social order (communication at light speed and the physiological effects of space on the human body are the greatest barriers). Nor will humans be usefully able to exploit unlimited energy sources (such as fusion) because the elemental matter at our disposal will continue to be limited. In other words, if we colonize other planets every one of them will effectively be as isolated and autonomous as we currently are and thus have to seek a path of long term sustainability in the same way that Earth will. Okay - in the end these are all debatable issues. The point being that my plot decisions are meant to reflect what I believe is most likely to happen in the real-world future.
- November 2010: I finally made it past a long-standing 'barrier' and began writing the second half of the tale--the stuff after Chapter 12 of the outline above. Up until then, every time I revisited the book I would go back to the start, make extensive revisions, and run out of time or momentum by the time I got to the point I had first stopped writing in 1988 when I got the first PC. Thank 'NaNoWriMo' for this. I wrote 50,000+ new words in the space of 25 days during that month. From then through the early months of 2011 I continued to forge ahead, eventually finishing what was to become all of Books Three through Five. But in the second half of 2011 book writing ground to a halt as I began to plan and train for my Appalachian Trail hike. Needless to say, I didn't write a word while I was hiking--January 1 through the end of October 2012. But I had submitted the book (the first 7000 words) to a novel contest. And ...
- October 20, 2012: I was notified that the first 20,000 words, as then written, had won third place in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category of the Maryland Writer's Association bi-annual novel contest out of a field of 25 submissions. This was all the validation I needed to spur me on to finish the project. Starting on January 22, 2013 I opened up the first file and, starting from Book One page one, I did a thorough re-edit of everything I had written. Then on May 7, 2013 I started plowing forward, writing new text - Book Six. 68,000 words later ...
- August 1, 2013: Done! The entire manuscript from start to finish, reasonably polished and largely internally consistent and free of most typos (few minor issues to be addressed). If I do say so myself, Book Six is *killer*. There are entirely unexpected twists and an epic ending. All the books have great action, but since the original concept was that this is all one story, the tale steadily builds to a final climax at the end of Book Six. Yet that's small potatoes compared with what Book Seven reveals. I can't wait to share it with you.
Of course this is not the end of the project. Just because I'm turning 65 doesn't mean I plan to 'retire.' I'm posting chapters of the book here while continuing to tune them by posting on Amazon's Write On site, where a community of authors and readers come together to read and comment.
But to have written those final climactic words--words I've had in my head for years and years--is a major milestone indeed.
What's next on the writing docket? I've promised myself I'll write a couple books about my hiking. These would be memoirs and chronicles--non fiction. One will share my experience hiking the Appalachian Trail end-to-end twice in one year. Stay tuned.