Kyle Willey

Aspects of Sand Week 2 Reflection

For the month of April, I’m going to be doing something different for Fiction Fridays.

Normally, I try to upload a piece of writing each week. I’m not great about that, but it’s more or less worked out. But this month I’ll write about Aspects of Sand, the fantasy novel I’m writing for Camp NaNo. It’s posted to Wattpad and Penana if you want to check it out.

The Serial Issue

One issue I have with writing this as a serial is that my method doesn’t lend itself to that neatly. I’ve got an approach where I work across a text, in this case typically over a span of about four to five “chapters” at a time starting from the very beginning, though in the past I’ve started a novel at both ends (Daughter of Spades, my first novel) or with chunks more or less spread throughout the story (Babylon Recursion, my second novel).

The problem is that since I rarely make a chapter ready for publication on its first writing I don’t have a lot of room to work with. Though I can polish it up enough to feel comfortable putting it up for readers online after a solid second pass, posting a chapter a day or even two chapters a day has proved to be something of a pipe dream.

One issue is also that I just haven’t written as much as I should. I’m wrapping up my MFA and maintaining other projects while writing Aspects of Sand. Even though I still write more than three thousand words a day, I only get about a thousand on Aspects of Sand per day.

That’s not enough to hit the NaNoWriMo goal. My efforts draw thin across all my projects.

Thoughts on Themes (Spoilers)

Last week I mentioned my use of the gods in Aspects of Sand as symbols. Today I want to talk about some of the broader themes throughout the novel.

The fundamental crisis comes about because people are derelict in their duties.

That’s fairly on-the-nose as an assessment for modern society. But it’s not an exclusively modern phenomenon, and I have a certain amount of that in my own life.

The main (internal) conflict involves Zefra figuring out how she should relate to the gods.

I don’t answer this question explicitly. But the events should speak for themselves.

Heroic Transmutation

At the start of the novel, Zefra is a shrine keeper.

This is the equivalent of an educated layperson, or maybe something like an elder in the Christian church hierarchy. She’s not blessed with the wisdom of age.

Like myself when I was her age, she has her life “ruined” by a crisis. I don’t state this explicitly, but she’s somewhere in the nebulous “new adult” age group between 19-21: too old to be a child but too young to have wisdom.

In my case, the experience was metaphorical. I expected something from the world, and it became clear I would not get it. I wound up getting it anyway, with some realignment.

But Zefra’s case is much more tragic than my own. Her betrothed, Hanun, is dead.

Alchemical Processes

In alchemy, matter goes through four basic stages of transmutation to become the Philosopher’s Stone.

These correspond with stories well.

The first stage, nigredo, involves death–or at least loss–and sorrow, a threat to the matter. This can come through calcination, the application of heat, as in the inciting incident in a story.

The second stage, albedo, involves an initial rebirth or restoration. The subject regains the strength needed to encounter the world, though it is really still recovering from the initial exposure.

The third stage, xanthosis, is associated with acquiring internal and external strength in preparation for a greater purpose. We can think of this as the middle act in a story where the hero is being tried and tested.

The fourth stage, rubedo, is gaining primacy over the world. When this is complete, so is the Philosopher’s Stone, which bears the power to alter the world. Of course, the hero gains this by conquering the central adversary.

Zefra is a Philosopher’s Stone, in a metaphorical sense. She is a conduit for the god of dreams–for the manifestation of thought–whose domain is the human spirit.

Her fruition is a return to right thought.

The Connection (Act 1)

At the start of the story, things are disregulated. The Glassmakers are evil, though not perhaps deliberately so. They prey on the vulnerable to achieve great things.

The role of the Glassmakers is power without responsibility. They represent artifice, but in a negative sense.

Serving oneself is not inherently wrong, but it is not a purpose. Turning it into one is dangerous.

This is the lesson from the first act of the story.

The Connection (Act 2)

By the time we get into the middle of the story, the problem is known while the solution is unbearable.

The gods (in this case, nature) have condemned the world Zefra inhabits for its descent into sin (and sin is the proper term here).

But when it rains, it rains on the just and the unjust.

Zefra needs to realize two things:

  1. Perhaps the things she thought were righteous were not, including unexamined devotion to the gods.
  2. The gods are immutable. The only solution is to adhere to them. You might train a lion, but not a dragon.

The second act involves trying to turn things back the way they were.

This is not possible. Further, it is not desirable. Doing so would repeat the same problems. The Glassmakers would not restrict their own power.

And then the violence and death the gods visited on the world would merely occur from mortal action, with no lesser loss of life.

The Connection (Act 3)

After Zefra figures out that her role is to serve the gods, not remake the world, the plague can be ended.

This requires both internal devotion (a confrontation with Akkun, the god of dreams) and worldly dedication through a quest for an artifact.

While this will cannot reverse the death that has occurred, it permits an ablution to be made and society to be cleansed.

I was questioning this at first, but I think the appropriate ending is for Zefra to become queen (or some sort of ecclesiastical equivalent) to represent the transmutation process she has undergone.

Wrapping Up

I’ve been enjoying Aspects of Sand, though I need to be better about working on it. It’s exciting to be working on a new novel, and while I had first thought that it might be too “mass market” it’s turning out to be an interesting thought exercise.

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