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The Dark Crystal Gelfling Gathering – Update

DarkCrystalFacebookLogoToday I finished the first draft of the novel I am writing for my entry to The Dark Crystal Author Quest. The target goal for the finished novel dictated by the contest sponsors is ‘upwards of 50,000 words.’ My completed draft has 51,792 words (about 200 pages). This represents about 47 days of intensive effort. Fortunately, I had the freedom to do this, being a full time writer and not under contract with a deadline for anything else at the moment.

My next step is to review and revise what I’ve completed. I expect that this will take a few weeks. After this, I’ll decide what I will submit for the contest and make sure those sections are as good as I can make them. The limit for the submission is 10,000 words, and I’ll probably provide the first chapter (currently 4,912 words) and one of the middle chapters.

A few people who have read and enjoyed my previous books have volunteered to be beta readers and proofreaders, and I appreciate this. Unfortunately, the work as it is (although I think it is quite good) is probably not ready to subject to others just yet.

My thanks to all who have encouraged me in this endeavor, and I apologize for the interruption this is causing to my previous work in progress, blogging, book reviews, and other activities. But it’s the Dark Crystal. How could I refuse?

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The Gelfling Gathering – A Dark Crystal Prequel

DarkCrystalFacebookLogoAs those who follow me on Facebook or Twitter may already know, I have suspended work on my next book set in the world of the Warden to write a prequel to The Dark Crystal. I did not take this action without some hesitation. My Warden novels have received excellent reviews and I can even boast of having a fan or two. I am eager to complete the next one, but I have long been an admirer of Jim Henson’s work, so when my oldest daughter told me that the Jim Henson Company had just announced a call for submissions for a Dark Crystal prequel, I checked it out.

This open call for submissions is technically a contest, although I suppose all are when you get right down to it. This one has three distinct stages. In the first round, entrants will submit 7,500 to 10,000 words (about 27 to 36 double spaced pages), which can be “the first chapters, final chapters, a collection of middle chapters, or a short piece that would form the inspiration for a novel-length story.” These will be reviewed by the contest sponsors and five will be selected to go on to the next stage in which the authors will provide detailed outlines for their proposed novels. The one winner of this stage will receive a $10,000 contract with Penguin to provide a 50,000 word Young Adult novel.

I decided to go for it, although it does present some challenges. The first is that the submission period is between 1 October and 31 December 2013. That is not a lot of time to write a full novel.

But, I hear you ask, why write a complete novel when all that is required for the first round is what amounts to a couple of chapters?

That’s a good question, and the answer boils down to how I go about building my novels. They always begin with a rough idea from which I write an initial sketch of the major plot elements, settings and characters. Then I do an outline for the complete story that will be told in the novel. Once I have this, I begin work on the first chapter and go on to write the initial draft of the complete novel. After this comes revision, editing, and creating the final draft. But these steps are not as strictly sequential as they may appear. Each stage in the process inevitably necessitates changes to those that came before. I may not have an accurate outline, for example, until the final draft of the novel is complete. In order to have the best possible sample chapters and outline of the work I will submit, I must have at least a complete first draft of the entire novel.

I can see that several people are now questioning my sanity. I am, after all, committing myself to several months of intensive effort on a slim chance of earning not a lot of money. When you calculate the first prize value against the hours that go into creating the novel, you would be better off financially spending that time smiling and asking customers if they want fries with their burgers— and that’s if you win.

There is one other thing you may not have considered that will convince you of my madness.

The novel I submit will be considered a derivative work dependent on the copyright of the Dark Crystal, so if it does not win, I cannot publish it anywhere, ever. Discounting the experience and what I may have learned from writing it, all the months of intensive work will have been wasted.

Another challenge for me personally is that this is a work of Fantasy set in a world created by others. My previous novels are set in a world of my own imagination and they are Science Fiction , albeit in a setting more typical of Fantasy, but I have never written a story in which magic plays a central role. Also, at 50,000 words, the final novel required by the contract is shorter than the more epic stories I’ve written to date. My shortest, which is intended for a YA audience, is Amy’s Pendant, which has about 76,000 words. The time spent working on this Dark Crystal novel also delays the completion of my next Warden book, and I do not wish to disappoint my current fan base.

So, why am I doing it?

Well, I’ve asked myself that. The first prize contract is not terribly large. It’s certainly not feed for metaphorical chickens, but the money is not a motivator. The selfishly rational part of me says that winning this would be good publicity, and I believe it would be. I would love to have my name associated with that of Jim Henson and the Dark Crystal. This, I think, gets down to the real reason I’m taking a chance at this. I have always loved the things Jim Henson produced. In the media of film, no one could create thought provoking, insightful, and uplifting fantasy worlds that are as believable and intricate. I would like to see his work appreciated for generations to come. Extending what he began to original and well written new novels can help do this.

So, how am I coming along?

After researching all available information, I completed a sketch and initial outline for the story I have in mind. Some of the characters and details of the setting already exist, so I do not have to recreate these, although I do have to be faithful to them and have taken copious notes to help ensure that I do. The sponsors of the contest say they will be providing additional information, a kind of Dark Crystal encyclopedia, which should fill in some of the existing gaps. I look forward to seeing that, although it may lead to some revision of the work I have already done.

As for my first draft, I completed Chapter 7 last night. This brings the total word count to over 26,000, which is about the midpoint of the story. In other words, I’m on target to have it completed before the end of the submission period (and which is why I have time to write this post.)

If you share my insanity and you also wish to try your hand at this, a link to the Dark Crystal Author Quest site is provided below, or you can click on the image at the start of this post to see the Dark Crystal Facebook page. It also provides applicable links.

Update: I didn’t win, but you can read or download the completed novel here:

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Jim Henson

Muppet creator, Jim Henson, is probably best known as an innovative and highly creative puppeteer.  But he was also the force behind several great works of speculative fiction on film including educational and entertaining shows for children, comic retellings of classic fairytales, fantasy movies and television, and a satirical sitcom.  There are two things that strike me about Jim Henson’s work.  The first is that much of it was truly thought provoking and made insightful observations about humanity.  The second is that Jim Henson’s fictional creatures felt “real.”  Sure, they were fantasy creatures often in a fantasy setting and you could see that they were puppets but they had intellect, emotion, and often a surprising amount of personality, considering the fact that they were, after all, puppets.  The works that I think best exemplify what I mean by this are below.

The Dark Crystal (movie, 1982) – This was the first movie I ever went to the theater to see twice.  The detail of the completely fantasy world being portrayed was incredible.

Fraggle Rock  (television series, 1983-1987) – I loved the music in these as well as the contrast between the fun-loving Fraggles and the hard-working Doozers.  Although the show was targeted for children, it often dealt with important and fundamental issues.

Labyrinth  (movie, 1986) – This is a great happy ending fairytale.  The interaction between the live actors and the wonderful puppet characters is seamless and believable.

The Storyteller  (television series, 1987) – This was another wonderful retelling of fairytales.  The thing that sets The Storyteller apart though was that it took a step back and, through its narrator, emphasized how important, even essential such stories are for people and have, throughout history, helped to define what it is that makes us human.

Dinosaurs  (television series, 1991-1993)  Although this was produced after Jim Henson’s death, it was based on one of his ideas.  The series was hysterically satirical and frequently dealt with serious and timely issues.

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