It's done. It's really, really finished.
I've dedicated 15 months of my life and almost 600 pages of text to Living History.
How did that happen? How?
What's even more amazing is how much my life has changed, how much I've changed in those same 15 months. When I started I was looking for full-time work; living in Beverly, MA; and barely keeping it financially together through freelance work, working at Borders, and unemployment checks. I was slowly cutting everything down to nothing, shedding cable television and finally health insurance just to make rent. I was driving a 1990 Buick Century tank with the front end smashed in.
Today I have a dream job with fabulous employers who trust me to have a brain and writing about infectious disease, a job that requires me to learn something new every day and write the equivalent of a term paper a week. I couldn't have lucked out more if I tried.
A last minute unexpected inheritance fell into my lap, letting me hold on a little while longer until I found that dream job.
I live in a new town. I'm driving a new-ish car with a standard transmission after my Buick valiantly gave its life to prove that an asshole behind the wheel of a leased Porche is no match for Detroit steel. He'll be paying surchages until his dying day for that.
Although I still have the job at Borders. 33% off on books and CDs is too good a deal to pass up.
My financial situation is such that I can actually donate money to the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State at a high level.
A little breathing room, a savings account that gets biweekly infusions, relatively low credit card debt, and the ability to again sock money away into my retirement accounts allows me to lift my nose from the grindstone and actually get involved with the world again.
I've joined LJ, I've met some people behind the LJ names, and I've fought like hell to get out my shell and reach out to people in a way I didn't before.
Living History didn't do that for me, but it helped quite a lot. For awhile it helped keep me sane because it was the one fun thing I could afford to do. It gave me the chance to connect with all of you out there (*waves*). While it'll never be my favorite story--Whisper now and always remains my favorite--it is may be the story that may have the longest impact on my life.
Because of Living History I had to learn how to write a complex plot while sticking to a simple plot line, which I define as: "These strangers come to town and wackiness ensues."
Because of Living History and the fact that I had to make so many characters up just to make it work, I'm actually thinking I may actually be able to pull off original fiction and maybe get shelf space in a bookstore someday. *fingers crossed*
I had to pull in everything I knew about history, oral tradition, mythology, folklore, and even various relgious beliefs and try to put all of it in a single package.
It doesn't help that I live in an area where history is the background noise of every day life to such an extent that none of us realize how extraordinary it is.
True story: When I was in college, my family decided on a lark that we'd go see the U.S.S. Constitution and maybe check out Bunker Hill nearby. Mostly it was because my parents love checking out the rubber-necking tourists, so the historial part was utterly beside the point. While we were in line, there was a couple from Peoria (No shit! I met the mythical people from Peoria!) who were so excited to be in Boston. They got to talking with my parents and in the course of conversation they mentioned that this was their "dream honeymoon."
At this I burst out, "Why would you want to come here?"
They were shocked of course. Their answer was simple. "Because this is where it all began."
I never thought of it that way before. I guess I haven't looked at New England in quite the same way since.
I started paying attention after that. I'd always been a history nut, but it never occured to me that the background noise of my life might actually be something almost exotic to people who lived in the same country I did. Hell, exotic and Boston just doesn't compute even now.
Yet, I've driven by Uncle Sam's House in New Hampshire, walked Battle Road in Lexington and Concord, lived next door to Salem where I could feed my obsession about the Salem Witch Trials and Nathanial Hawthorne to my heart's content. I've had picnics at the Old Manse where Ralph Waldo Emmerson and Nathanial Hawthorne lived. I've walked across the cobblestone circle indicating the site of the Boston Massacre. I grew up in Worcester, home of the American Antiquarian Society, a beacon of learning for scholars who focus on early American and Revolutionary War History. I've been in houses that served as stops on the Underground Railroad. I've walked through the Newport Mansions that served as "summer cottages" for robber barons with last names like Vanderbilt. I've basked in the sun at Walden Pond.
These are all pieces of history that made New England what it is and, to a greater extent, made the U.S. what it is. But these pieces are so easy to miss as we speed to work down Route 2, or Route 128, or Route 93, or Route 290. What these things are and what happened there has been shrouded by time, oral history, mythology, and just plain old indifferent teachers. Sometimes it takes hard digging to find the truth behind the history books. For example:
- The Boston Tea Party happened because King George VI rescinded the tea tax and the merchants were pissed because they couldn't gouge the populace with "black market tea." And no, the British authorities were not at all fooled by the "Indian" disguises the raiders wore.
- Massachusetts will not impose a sales tax on periodicals because the Stamp Act imposed by King George VI was so violently opposed. Tradition still holds, although you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in Massachusetts who can explain why we don't pay tax on newspapers or magazines or even comic books.
- Henry David Thoreau wasn't all that. He may have hung out on Walden Pond during the day, but his mommy was doing his laundry and he was partying every night with his literary buddies in nice warm houses. And no, the house was not moved closer to Route 2. And no, Route 2 has never moved, so, yeah, he was pretty close to civilization while he communed with "the wilderness."
- The Salem Witch Trials were held in Danvers, which was the "Salem Village" part of Salem. D-A-N-V-E-R-S. The reason why you don't know is the descendants of both the accused and the accusers still live there and they really don't want to talk about it, kthnxbye.
- Modern day Salem was Salem Town and once seat of government for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Witch Trials only stopped because "the girls" accused the governor's wife of witchcraft. Since Salem was always the center of commerce, it's no surprise that modern day Salem continues to be the center of commerce for the myth and legend of the Salem Witch Trials. What else do you expect of a city that once had so many ships in its fleet that people in faraway ports thought that Salem was a country and not a little city hugging to the rocky Massachusetts coast?
- No one knows who let loose with the Shot Heard 'Round the World. Some people think the Minutemen shot first.
- Paul Revere was one of two riders sent out to warn the rebels about the British marching to Lexington. He got caputred before he got anywhere near the town.
On a persnal note, I've been the recipient of oral history on both sides of the family. I have a journal written by a Great Uncle who served as a message runner in World War I. I own a tea set (Uncle Tom, my prized possession) that belonged to a cousin of President Grover Cleveland. Behind it all is that family understanding: You can't know who you are until you know where you come from. You can't know where you're going unless you understand where you've been.
I've seen history altered in my lifetime and a new mythology spring to life ( see: Curse of the Bambino, The).
The point is this: History in Boston is old by comparison to the rest of the U.S., but it's a blink of an eye compared to the rest of the world. If a mere four hundred years can make the hows and whys of something like the Salem Witch Trials seem like a mystery, despite the sheer weight of contemporary accounts in newspapers, journals, and official court documents, what will 834 years do to it?
And how do you apply what you know, and don't know, to a fictional story where a significant percentage of the characters have to be conjured from thin air rather than based on an existing fictional universe?
I can only hope that when all is said and done, I managed the trick of it.
There have been days when I've loved Living History and the words flowed freely. There have been days when I've hated the damn thing and was prepared to chuck it away as a never-to-be-finished WiP. I've played with it, I've fought with it, and at the end of the day, I still look at it with a mixture of love and hate. I know it's pretty good, but I see spots where I could've done so much better. There are some lines that make me happy and amazed that I thought them up, and there are whole paragraphs that just make me cringe. Sometimes I wish I was a little better seeding those Q&As through the story. Sometimes I wonder if I was too heavy-handed on the future stuff, or if I over-explained things on the present-day stuff.
I suppose when all is said and done, I'll never be able to explain how I actually feel about Living History. It gave me a chance to fall in love with characters not named Xander or Faith all over again. Yet at the same time it threw curveballs at me as I tried to connect the beginning of the story with the end.
Yes, I wrote the end of the story 15 months ago.
Living History was written in much the same way that the U.S. Continental Railroad was built: I had to hook up both ends somewhere in the middle. Sometimes that required a some huge swerves in the plot to make it all meet up.
For example, when Willow comes up with her plan to wrest the future back for her friends, I had to figure out why she'd think it was so important. What was her motivation? The only thing I could think of was that Willow had somehow got a glimpse of the future herself and realized the danger it posed. So, how do you do it? Enter the Grail causing Willow's brain to go haywire.
Or when Giles hears Catherine's tale of the First Battle of Sun'dayl. Why was he there? Was he looking for her? Did he ask to hear it? On a plane back from writercon, the shimmy shakes showed up and gave me my excuse. Which meant a lot more writing on my part to make it slot into the story and show the effect it had on Xander, Faith, and Giles, such as being willing to swallow Willow's lie whole.
There are a few instances where it happened to me, but those were the biggest and had the most impact on Living History's final shape.
It's strange to look at the start of the story and realize that at first I started writing it because I was sick and tired of all the Scooby-bashing that was going on. If you read the original challenge, you can see how bad it was and why it annoyed me so much. I wanted to write a short romp that would derail the whole challenge and prove you could write a story that made everyone look good in their own characteristic ways without bashing anyone or turning anyone into "the bad guy."
I still think it's interesting that there isn't "a bad guy" anywhere in Living History, and everyone takes their shot at being the antagonist. The only "evil" that needs to be fought is some Great Darkness in the far distant future that does not immediately imperil Our Heroes. The biggest battles that are actually fought are all internal (I'd like to think) as different characters try to come to grips with who they are, how they relate to one another, and confront some dearly held (and possibly erroneous) beliefs.
And I did it all because of a momentary fit of pique and because I wanted to prove a point, maybe the most petty reason ever to start a fanfic.
On the balance, I'm not sorry I did it because, when all is said and done, I got a lot out of it. I learned to actually think about what I was writing beyond the basics. I had to balance whether a change would make sense and would actually fit into the flow. I had to make sure that, even in a story as horrendously long as this one, that something happened in each and every chapter that moved the story inch by inch to the final conclusion. If anything, Living History made me more disciplined about my writing. I never thought that something that I always found relatively easy to do could be such hard work.
It's changed the way I approach fanfiction. It's even changed the way I write things in my professional life. I understand now, maybe more than ever, that keeping things simple in your writing actually takes a hella lot of work.
I don't really know who to thank first, really. All of you who've left feedback, even if I really and truly suck at responding, were really the people who pushed me to finish the story I semi-affectionately call "The Monster that Ate My Life." Thank you for pointing out typos (yes, I appreciate it), or pointing out things that didn't make sense to you (because I could address it in the very next installment), and for posting your questions and concerns about characters and how they were portrayed.
All of you kept me honest. You were the ones that made Living History what it is. I could not have done it without you.
And for that, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
I'll start posting the ending parts starting tomorrow and it'll be smooth sailing from here on out.
Starting Nov. 12, I'll be posting the start of a certain birthday fic for a certain nwhepcat which somehow became something of a follow-up for this. Don't worry. It'll be nowhere near as long (probably half the size, in fact) and will not take 15 months to finish.
That's a promise.