Post-mortem for “My Own Desert Places”

I have finally finished my favorite story of all I have written. It took nearly 179,000 words, which I have written frantically in slightly more than a month. If one considers the average length of a novel to be 80,000 words, this story ended up reaching the length of 2,2 novels.

The concept and the few associated notes for this one had been waiting in my archives since maybe 2013. I knew it was about a ghost who falls in love with a living woman and that possesses someone else’s fresh corpse to date her. Beyond that, I was sure of two things: the ending, which I have dreaded writing from the very first part, and that the protagonist’s new life was a mess he would need to navigate, due to how the previous owner had screwed it up.

During creative periods, I tend to come up with quite a few interesting concepts which I’m quick to write up and archive for whenever I end up using them. Sometimes my brain works in the background some more details about those stories. It just happened that most of the details that my subconscious came up with for the initial iteration of this story didn’t excite me. I pictured Asier’s life as being involved with some sort of drug ring, gambling, or some similar illegal enterprise. I believed that the story needed that kind of external pressure, because the protagonist would be focused on seducing slash deceiving the so called impact character, which in narrative terms is the character that changes the protagonist the most. However, I just wasn’t interested in figuring out how to pull off Asier’s previous life convincingly, and I had more pressing stuff to write.

However, after I finished writing my last short story, “A Poor Player”, I browsed through my notes to figure out which concept grabbed me enough this time. I figured that I could test the concept of “My Own Desert Places” for a single part and see if I enjoyed it enough. In that first part not only I fell in love with Irene’s personality, which was tremendously fun to act out, but I also thought of Asier’s particular sins which had ended up wrecking his life. I’m someone who has always had a terrible trouble connecting with others, so when I got to trust someone a little, the notion that they could betray me, and the fact that some did, ruined me significantly for future relationships. I loved the idea of Irene having to bear the burden of a behavior (serial cheating) that I despise, and it allowed to flesh out Irene’s behavior during her first life, mirroring Asier’s: the protagonist hadn’t been a cheater, because she technically never dated any of the girls she pursued, but she only cared about short-term pleasures, not thinking a bit about the long-term misery she caused not only to others but also herself. I have always avoided getting too attached to people, so performing this narrative could work out my personal issues, which is a significant part of why I have always needed to write.

In my original notes, the protagonist was a man. However, I have loved every single story involving body swaps (one of the last of those stories I’ve experienced being Shūzō Oshimi’s “Inside Mari”), so I wanted to contribute to that, and I think that the notion of a woman being in love with another woman but using a man’s body to seduce her, because that’s what the other woman is into, is inherently compelling. I knew very little about Irene when I wrote that first part in the last day of April 2021, but an inherent law of narrative is that most, or ideally all, of the symbols form a pattern that justifies why each of them is there. The symbols either complement each other or offer a distorted mirrored image of others. Usually the subconscious mind works this out in the background during the period when you are writing a full-length story, and you need to be alert and write those notes down. So Irene’s behavior could have been compared to Asier’s because that bastard needed to be a serial cheater, and Irene felt isolated and freakish and killed herself because she needed to connect with Alazne. Kateryna’s suicide was a case of mirroring: she trusted too much, was too good, but people fucked her over anyway. Ainhoa’s inability to accept whatever didn’t contribute to normality, and her implosion when she finds out ghosts are real, plays out differently in Alazne, who eagerly welcomes Kateryna’s ghost. There was also an unexpected mirroring in Kateryna’s brothers Oleksiy and Hadeon: the big brother was the tall, big one with anger issues, same as the protagonist, and Hadeon was the withdrawn person with troublesome fetishes and who loves anime, same as Alazne. I’m not sure what that means. In any case, there are tons of these symbols connected throughout the story, which I’m sure I will enjoy, or even fortify with further details, as I go through a full revision.

I write for fun, whether it involves silliness and acting out ridiculous scene concepts, or for the inherent fun of writing a compelling scene, even if it’s as depressing as they come. Because my brain doesn’t allow me to detach from my obsessions, for the time it takes me to write a full story I live vicariously through it. It feels as if I’ve constructed false memories. Related to that is the fact that Alazne’s demise has lodged a cold ache in my heart. I have always preferred imagined people to flesh and blood ones, after all, so I guess I fell in love with her along with the protagonist. Even before I wrote the first part of this story I knew how Alazne’s arc was going to end, but finally acting out those two scenes that encompass the climax of this story was one of the hardest creative endeavours I’ve gone through. Throughout this last month I tried to think of any other way it could end, but I never figured out any ending that felt more powerful and fitting.

This version of Alazne wasn’t my first iteration. After I self-published two books of novellas written in Spanish, my native language, I jumped into writing a far more complicated story that would end up having to be split into two books, not only because of the length but because its narrative allowed it. That story was about a guy who experiences hallucinations and who befriends a reclusive writer who is trying to write a novel which is barely more than fanfiction about someone she’s obsessed slash in love with. That reclusive writer was named Alazne, and was an Ukrainian refugee from Chernobyl who had been adopted by a childless local couple. There was plenty of stuff about her failing to connect with others, feeling permanently alienated, etc. Ironically, the person that Alazne was in love with was a woman. Anyway, the story was a novel within a novel, because the story that the co-protagonist was writing was also fleshed out. I ended up writing a whole first draft, a very loose one, of what should end up becoming the first book of two. Writing the second book would have required me succeeding even minimally with the two books I self-published (both for scenes involved in the narrative and because I couldn’t imagine this new story selling otherwise), but I sold close to nothing of those two books. In the end, after I finished the first draft of the last scene of that book, I realized that it hadn’t been fun. I had writen that book to work through some troubles of mine, but I wasn’t enjoying it, and I didn’t want to revise that whole novel and then handle the second one. I never reread any of those drafts.

That first iteration of Alazne was Ukrainian originally because I had that connection from high school. For a while I hung out with a guy who was blond and blue eyed, and although there are virtually none of those around in my province, I didn’t think much of it. It was strange that the guy preferred to hang out with outcasts and losers like me. One day we went to his house and it only took me glancing at his parents to realize that the guy had been adopted; his parents were tanned, dark-haired, dark-eyed, probably from the south of Spain. Then someone told me that the guy had been involved in the Chernobyl incident as a baby or a toddler, which matched his age, and that his biological parents either died or gave him up for adoption directly. I never figured out anything more about that background, not even if it was true, but it remained as a cool story for the purposes of me becoming creative with it.

Plenty of Alazne’s issues are or were mine, of course. Her musical tastes belong to me, and I also love to play the guitar. For example, during the writing of this story I became temporarily unemployed (although I’m going to be recalled for the summer), which meant I turned into a recluse except for the times that I went out to the woods to play the guitar. In my mid twenties I also was diagnosed with clinical depression, along with Asperger’s syndrome (now considered merely high-functioning autism), and for many of my earlier years I had a terrible time handling the depressive aspects. Irene’s demise, that of failing to connect with people, dropping out of college, having an abusive job (which was worse in real life) and then wanting to jump off a cliff, were mostly my background as well, except that I stepped back and went to the library.

What comes next is me going through the thirty five parts and fixing minor issues like punctuation. Then I’ll have to figure out how one puts together an epub file these days. Afterwards I’ll spend some time walking around with the digital version of my story to perform a major revision, which will likely involve adding a few descriptions here and there and strengthening symbols. When I consider that done, which might take me a couple of weeks, I’ll spend 150-200 euros to commission the cover art, and I’ll upload the digital book to Amazon and similar services. I have no fantasies that any traditional publisher would want to bother with this story, not to mention that I despise the process of selling it to people who don’t care.

I have no clue what I might write after this. Maybe I’ll try to generate a bunch of new concepts through freewriting (asking myself about my likes and dislikes, what I’m passionate about, what bothers me, what I hate, etc.). What I have always had clear is that I shouldn’t bother writing a story unless I find the concept compelling enough by itself, and even then I wouldn’t invest my energies in writing it unless the process is fun. I have started and abandoned quite a few stories because they sounded good in paper, but they simply didn’t work in practice.

In any case, if anyone is reading this and has read some of “My Own Desert Places”, I hope you got something out of it.