An Unexpected Discovery
In 1991, I moved to Kansas and enrolled in the graduate program at KU. As I unpacked a host of hastily filled boxes from the move, I came across a file of old papers and other creative endeavors from my high school days. Among them, I found the original, hand-written manuscript of Calibot’s Revenge. Amused and excited, I sat down with this blast from the past.
My amusement didn’t last long.
I was horrified at how terrible it was. I had a BA in English, was studying for a master’s degree in the same field, and dreamed of one day being a novelist. So it didn’t sit well that this first full-length novel I’d ever completed was so wretched.
Twenty-two years later, I’m not surprised and a little more forgiving. Novels written by high school students are bad. That’s just how they are.
But I thought there was a seed of a good story in that beat-up, red notebook, and so I sat down and started making some notes.
The second edition of the novel introduced three major new elements that would become staples of the final version. They all added something that was sorely lacking in the original — motivation.
The first was the Eye of the Dragon. This ancient stone enables the person who can master it to control the Wild Lands, a sinister, magical forest that dominates a large portion of the eastern half of the Known World. In this version of the novel, Gothemus controls the Eye, and Elmanax the gnome wants it. He has plans to master its magic for himself and turn the Wild Lands to his own purpose.
To accomplish this, he enlists the aid of an elf prince named Therdien. This was the second major change. Rather than operating as a sort of evil entity unto himself, Elmanax becomes a manipulator. He convinces Therdien that, if he controls the Eye of the Dragon, they can use it to start a war with humanity they can win. Therdien’s elves are persecuted by the human expansion and driven back into the Wild Lands. They are slaughtered if they emerge. Elmanax has no problem with Therdien’s war, but he’s only interested in his own aims, which are conquest-oriented.
When Gothemus gets wind of Elmanax’s plan, he crafts an elaborate scheme of his own. He plans to die, be reincarnated as a dwarf, and then poison the dwarfs against Therdien’s elves to prevent an all-out attack on humanity by a combined dwarfish and elfin army.
Gothemus hires Sir Lycius (the renamed Sir Ly) away from the port city of Dalasport, which thwarts Lycius’s plans to topple Duke Boordin. Then Gothemus disguises himself as Elmanax and orders Therdien to intercept Lycius and pay him off to poison Gothemus. Therdien does as he’s told, and, when he arrives at Gothemus’s tower, he finds he is to escort the famed wizard across the Wild Lands to visit his brother Zod.
So where does Calibot — the main character — fit into all of this? That’s where the third significant change came in. Rather than being a warrior, I changed Calibot to a poet. He was working his way up the court ladder in Dalasport and attempting to become the duke’s poet laureate. He succeeds at amusing Boordin with a racy poem and gets the job.
In the duke’s court, he meets and is immediately attracted to Boordin’s daughter, Elspeth. Calibot seduces her, and ends up bedding her. But afterwards, he gets word of his father’s murder (which Lycius successfully pulls off at Zod’s castle), is summoed to his tower, gets the magic sword, is transformed into a warrior by it, and is charged with avenging his father.
With that massively complicated plot, I planned to write the book in three parts. The first would concern the build up to Gothemus’s murder. Gothemus travels to Zod’s, Elmanax steals the Eye of the Dragon in his absence, Calibot seduces Elspeth, and Lycius murders Gothemus. The second part concerned the rising action of Calibot getting the sword, Lycius being forced to help Zod and pretend he hadn’t been the killer, and Elmanax and Therdien’s army moving north to the dwarf kingdom. Part Three featured a giant battle of three armies and Calibot’s dispatching of both Lycius and Elmanax.
But the surprise at the end would have been Gothemus being restored to his human self, and Calibot being outraged at how he was manipulated and at how Gothemus has cavalierly played games with world politics.
Conceptually, at least, this was a much better book than one about a son avenging his murdered father (especially since the crime was unmotivated). I was pretty excited. At the age of 23, I had my first really good idea for a novel. I sat down and starting writing, trying to pen a chapter a night in between the heavy homework load of a graduate student.
I made it through the entire first part. To this day, I’m kind of proud of how I wrote that last chapter and had the three events of Gothemus’s murder, Elmanax mastering the Eye of the Dragon, and Calibot bedding Elspeth. I wove all three events together and had a pretty good cliffhanger at the end of Part 1.
And then the weight of finals in that first semester of grad school overwhelmed me. I had to stop writing for me and focus on writing for school (and studying for exams). I spent three weeks between semesters at parents’ house in Wisconsin — away from my computer. By the time I got back to Kansas in January of 1992, my focus on Calibot’s Revenge was gone. The book would lie dormant for another 11 years.