Every Newsletter, I like to sit down and write something for you that will be a little different. Something that gives a window into what I’ve been doing lately, or things I’ve been thinking about.
Today, because of the White Sand release, I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between Brandon the writer from the late 90’s (when the book was written) and today. I was 19 when I wrote the first draft of White Sand, and 24 when I wrote the second version (the one that was turned into the graphic novel.) Looking through it again, there is a lot about me and my writing that has changed.
The magic system is one. White Sand has a very cool magic system, where people control sand with their mind. The magic is powered by the water inside the person’s body, which is a neat system. You need to drink a lot in order to have power over the sand--but it’s on a tidally locked planet, where the sun never sets on that side of the world. (In fact, the sun recharges the sand’s power.) So everything is connected in a cool way. Sunlight recharges the sand, a person gives water to the sand (it’s actually a microscopic lichen-like substance living on the sand, and giving it its white color, that creates the magic. The Sand Master gives water to the lichen, fueling its magical life cycle, which in turn releases power that allows the Sand Master to control the sand.) But the sunlight also makes you more likely to dehydrate, which in turn stops you from being able to power the magic.
And then, it has the oddball--Sand Masters ALSO have the power to turn sand into water. I did this because it was cool to my then-writer brain. What if people who lived in a giant desert could make water? Wouldn’t that be useful? I use this to great effect in the story, and yet, it doesn’t fit the narrative. The modern me would never have added this power. It doesn’t fit into the entire system in a cohesive way. The rest makes logical sense; this (though I tried to justify it with worldbuilding behind the scenes) just doesn’t.
But in some ways, the old me was more willing to take chances. This is important to realize as well--I can't become so certain I know the way that things SHOULD be done, that I fall into doing the same thing over and over. I don't think the power to turn sand into water, ultimately, works in the novel. (Let me know what you think, if you read it.) But the fact that I was willing to add screwy, out-of-the-box powers to magic systems back then is a reminder that not everything in life is neat, able to be tied up with a bow. As much as I like playing video games, I don't want my books to feel like a video game--and that's a danger when every piece of the book, magic, and setting fits together to the point that it loses any sense of feeling organic.
A good lesson to learn from my old self.
I find a lot of the things I do in my writing now were there in these older books like White Sand, they just weren’t fully formed yet. I can also see my early self striving very hard not to fall into cliches, or to do just what was safe or expected. One of the book's two main protagonists, for example, is a black woman. I was trying hard to make sure my books weren’t only about white dudes. And yet, I was still young in my understanding of how to make a book feel real and vibrant, full of people who see the world in unique and different ways. For example, while I have a strong female protagonist, in the first draft she was basically the only only major female character. I did this a lot in the past--focused so hard on doing one thing well that I forgot to expand it to the greater story. (As a note, we changed one of the characters in the graphic novel version to be female, to help balance this out. It worked very well, and she's now one of my favorite characters in the whole book.)
It's hard to see past your biases in books though--and this is still something I fight against. I think great fiction somehow expresses the way the world truly is, the way the writer sees the world, and the way that people NOT the writer see the world, all at once. In this book, one of the main protagonists is dark skinned,. And yet, if you read the book, you’ll find that some of the villain groups are stereotypical, faceless, dark-skinned savages. While that same culture has some main characters who have real depth and characterization (thankfully) that didn’t stop me from relying on tropes for some of the broad brush strokes of the story.
Writing is a constant struggle of managing clichés and tropes, and figuring out when they serve you, and when they don’t. And the more you write, the more you become aware of things you lean upon--not just tropes like the ones I mentioned above, but things that are individual. I’ve been wondering a lot about these things with my own writing. At what point does, "Inventive magic system, religious politics, and people faced with difficult moral decisions" become a cliche to me any my writing? How can I push in new areas, doing new things, while preserving what people love about my writing?
Well, I'm still thinking about all these things. I'm very fond of White Sand, and when I was going back through it, I often found myself smiling. remember with great fondness the time I had back then to just write. There were no tours, no interviews, and nothing to distract me. I wouldn’t go back for anything, (I like actually having people read my books!) but there was something pure about that time, when I wasn't writing to deadline, I was just writing whatever I felt like at the moment. That's another thing I try to preserve today, the freedom to do odd projects now and then. Without it, I think I'd get very boring, very quickly.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy White Sand! This book needed far less revision to bring into graphic novel form than I thought it would. The dialogue was snappy, even after all these years, and the world was one of my more inventive. 20-years-ago-me wasn’t nearly as bad a writer as I sometimes pretend he was!