Every project I’ve ever worked on has developed its own unique process, ranging from “junk” words, stuck points, to fast-track moments and more. Sometimes I overuse “just”. Other times I find that every paragraph or two, someone is sighing, smiling, or laughing. Sometimes I get stuck on rewriting a plot point until it clicks; sometimes the plot is supposed to be dead simple and the characters refuse to obey.
My latest project, which I’ve given the tongue-in-cheek working title of “Bone Witch Project”, has been both exhilirating and maddening so far. I began it on my cell phone, at one a.m., when I couldn’t sleep. (Inside tip: anytime you see me writing truly surreal scenes, they probably started in that exact same way.)
Here’s how it starts:
There are times when pain feels good. I’m not talking about the leather and whips crowd; I’m talking about what every athlete knows, every type A asshole out there knows, every grad student doing that last frantic crunch understands. It’s the pain of intense achievement, spending every last drop of your will, body, blood, and muscle to get the job done. And it’s //good//. There’s that ringing just behind your eyes and the watery mucus that snags eyelashes with every blink, telling you that you’re on fumes and about to go down hard. There’s a delicious richness, a thickness just on the back edge roof of your mouth; a taste unlike any other, a drug that won’t show up on any test. It’s a high, balancing your body’s need to collapse with the determination of your mind to keep going for just, oh, just a dozen more steps. Five more minutes. One more page. It’s an addiction, for some folks. Not for me, but even so: I get it. It’s a good feeling.
At the same time: pain is pain, and it fucking //hurts//.
Unfortunately, being a bone witch is about being familiar with a whole lot of pain. I look young, which is nice. I look white, which makes life easy. And I present as female, usually, although I’ve been known to confuse folks on occasion. Sometimes it’s unintentional.
But mostly I look like a basic suburban housewife, and that’s where the necessary lies begin.
My name is Mia Cgovic. I’m forty two years old, five foot two, with an indeterminate appearance that’s only partially drawn from hair dye and cosmetics. My friends call me Covey, my original last name, because I dislike my first name and they haven’t caught up with the changes in my life yet. My sister calls me Mi-Mi because she’s a bloody shit stirring pain in my ass. My parents died last year, and that’s when all the trouble started.
I wrote that because that’s what I was feeling at the time: wanting to sleep but unwilling to let go until I finished one more page in the book I was reading, or one more round of the game I was playing, or one more refresh of whatever Twitter thread I was following. I don’t remember. I only know for a fact that the first paragraph was lifted directly from what I was feeling at the time of writing, and the rest just flowed from there.
Where does the name Cgovic come from? No idea. I have a research buddy looking into it. (Outsourcing for the win!) Right now, I’m struggling to just get the story written.
It’s an ambitious story — not surprising, as I don’t do things by halves most days. The premise is an alternate history in which witchcraft is real, always has been. Some things happened a bit differently as a result. Nothing truly major shifted, but a lot of small things aren’t quite the same. I’m placing the story in modern day Richmond, and giving myself lots of leeway to reinterpret the city layout and history to suit the plot.
And I do have a plot! Well, sort of. I’ve outlined about half of the story in Scrivener. One of my tasks for this week is to finish drafting that up. Then I’ll turn my attention to the daunting research necessary to support the story. For instance, the Salem Witch Trials. What if Tituba really was a witch, and a lot of what she said was true? What follows from that? And what would have happened with the Black Plague, if witchcraft/healing was real? How about the World Wars? What can I move around without wrecking the suspension of disbelief for educated readers? There’s a lot of brainstorming ahead.
Then there’s incorporating the mysterious notes that are starting to build up along the edges. For example:
Chesterfield is a series of slums and wreckage at this point in this world. It’s usually on fire, at least once a month, and it’s the place where desperate homeless people go to have some cameraderie and a chance to a roof and a scrap of meals. There’s actually a solid community built up there (very diverse, avoid POC poverty tropes!), but the city/state has largely abandoned the area. It’s a hideously poor spot, and Well Meaning White People make excursions that are largely rebuffed, city inspectors know better than to go there, and the police pretty much just avoid it entirely. It’s a great place to find black market goods and hide from authorities, though (anarchist base?)….
Will that note ever play a part in the final story? No idea, but I’m pretty sure it will. Notes like that mean there’s an IDEA hiding in the back of my mind. When I hit the right spot in the writing, I’ll find out why I wrote that note.
I know that Tituba (from the Salem Witch Trials) is going to play a major role in this story, although she hasn’t shown up in the writing yet. I know that most religions are going to be forced to either incorporate witchcraft or splinter into ever more radical sects. I know that the main character is going to go through a whole hell of a lot of pain, both physical and emotional. The story starts out with her losing her parents, after all; then she gets manipulated into becoming a bone witch, which is one of the most hated and feared type of witches. That sets her into a head-on collision with the witch community at large — and with her own memories.
Whew, I’m starting to get excited about writing this story again, just describing it to y’all! That’s a bit dismaying, given that I just listed out a bunch of horrible stuff happening to the protagonist, but … well, I’m a writer. *shrug* What can I say?
If you’re interested in the story, I currently have the first six draft chapters up on my Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/leonarwisoker. (Note: I’ve just overhauled my Patreon to make access to the chapters even more affordable!) I’ll warn you that they’re rough, with lots of notes and [FILL IN LATER] spots. But if you want to see how messy and awful beginning drafts can be, this serves as a great illustration.
I also have “daily dashes” up on said Patreon, for writers looking to get a jump start. Some of them are just freewriting to shake myself awake in the morning; some are culled from the dusty files of stuff I’ll probably never actually use. All of the daily dashes are free for writers to steal and modify as they like, so if you need a prompt, take a look!