Tuesday, March 23

The Birth of an Age

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myths, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning. Robert Jordan, The Eye of the World; Book One of The Wheel of Time.
Ae.ther n. Greek Mythology
  1. personification of the sky or upper air breathed by the Olympians; son of Erebus and night or of Chaos and darkness.
  2. a medium that was once supposed to fill all space and to support the propagation of electromagnetic waves.
Earlier this year, I came across a call for submission for an anthology named Aether Age, co-edited by Chris Fletcher and Brandon Bell, and co-produced by Hadley Rille Books and M-Brane SF. I love watching Science Fiction movies and TV series, but when it comes to reading and writing, I lean toward Fantasy (among other things). And Aether Age is a Science Fiction anthology. But I kept my mind open and I read the submission guidelines. Never had I come across a writer's guidelines so comprehensive and specific like that of this anthology. The basis of Aether Age is simple: what if Aether came to Earth during the time of the ancient civilizations and prompted an exponential growth in culture and technology, starting from the discovery of printing press? Instead of facing a decline, in this alternate reality civilizations like Kemet (Ancient Egypt) and the Greeks prospered and discovered space travel much faster than in our reality. The timeline events given were specific, but instead of constraining, I found the guidelines refreshing and inspiring. I started asking myself, "What if?" Every writer knows this very question is the spark needed to nudge inspiration into written words. Where my sister loves astronomy, I love ancient civilizations and the myths that accompany them. I began thinking about Ancient Egyptians. They had been a people shrouded in mysticism and mystery, and had been deeply spiritual. I asked myself how such people would discover their first flight. Ideas and dreams took shape. I discovered the rough outline of my story. I wanted it to be epic, but not large-scale. My forte is in characterization and in dialogues, so I concentrated on developing a central character. I scoured Kinokuniya (where else?) for books on Ancient Egypt, and found Traveller's Guide to the Ancient World: Egypt in the year 1200BCE, by Charlotte Booth. The book gave a wonderful insight on Ancient Egypt during Ramses's reign, from the holy to the mundane. I read the book, I searched the net. Little by little I built a world surrounding my character, Issa, a temple scribe with a dead, useless right arm. And soon enough, Flight of the Ibis was born. I asked other writers in my group at WDC to review and to comment on my story. I made the corrections and adjustments based on their suggestions. Before I had a chance to doubt myself, I sent the 4.7k-word story off to Chris Fletcher on January 22, well before the deadline on January 31. I kept on checking my mailbox, I kept on visiting Aether Age's website (click on this post's title to access the site). No news. As usual, agitation and self-doubt crept in. I wrote other stories, but nothing as grand as Flight of the Ibis. I couldn't write other stories as well as I did that one. I told myself my creative well had dried up, and needed time to be replenished. Then I came across a blog update. The publishers were extending their deadline to February 15, and they extended their invitation to writers who had submitted to submit more stories. Should they deem those stories publication-worthy, they'll publish 2 stories from the same author. This time, I found myself turning toward the Ancient Greeks. But instead of the near-beginning of the storyline, instead of a different perspective on the discovery of space travel, I thought about the end of the timeline, where colonies on the planets surrounding Earth have been established, and whispers of otherworldly beings are spoken. Though I am not a spiritual person, I wanted this new story to have the same spirituality as Flight of the Ibis. Maybe it has something to do with my finding my way back toward God, even though my stories touch on polytheism. But I also knew that this time, I had to delve deeper into Science Fiction. But I threw in a safety net. I added a Love Story element into the mix. My foray into Kinokuniya sent me back to the Ancient Civilizations section. A close WDC friend of mine, Raven, had suggested Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, by Thomas Cahill. I was in luck; the book had been waiting for me, silent in its shelf. I also wanted to buy Traveller's Guide to the Ancient World: Greece in the year 415BCE, by Eric Chaline, but the book eluded me. I read the book I had bought, and I read snippets from the Iliad and the Odyssey. I read about the temples the Greeks had built, and the deities they worshiped. Since in Aether Age the Romans never came to power, the planetary system hasn't been named after Roman gods. Venus would not be Venus, but Aphrodite. And the volcanic, barren landscape may not be so barren after all, with life-giving Aether surrounding it. Soon enough, another story took place, but with my work schedule, I knew I wouldn't make the new deadline. I emailed Chris Fletcher for an extension, and he was more than accommodating. I took it as a good sign for the story I've already submitted. After much revision that included killing off (by that I mean total wipe-out) a child-character, multiple changes of the title, and re-writing whole segments, The Return came to be, just shy of 4.5k words. Some of my colleagues loved it better than Flight of the Ibis, while some thought the opposite. But all of them urged me to send the story off, as they believed that the story is publication-worthy. Two days after the deadline, I submitted The Return with a prayer on my lips. Double agitation for me, and it took a toll on my writing. I couldn't write anything half decent, and I missed deadline after deadline for other calls for submission. My hectic work schedule didn't help, as it left me both physically and mentally burnt every time I reached home after spending over 30 hours working. I waited, I checked my mail, I stalked the website. Monday morning, March 1. Big news for me. I woke up to an email from Chris Fletcher saying that he definitely wants to publish Flight of the Ibis. He's contemplating on The Return, as he's still not sure how he wanted to end the timeline. But he asked for all the accepted authors to keep the news to ourselves as he finalized the acceptances and rejections. I was ecstatic! Another story of mine has been accepted for publication. I still kept my hope up for The Return, though I was already thinking about other venues should the story be rejected. Yesterday, as I was having lunch at Carl's Jr. with my cousins, I received another email from Chris Fletcher. He and Brandon Bell have decided to merge my story with another writer's, Jaym Gates (an established writer), by breaking up the scenes that we had, and intertwining those scenes in an alternating sequence, to make up a 5.3k-word story named The Shadow of Phrixos (the title of Jaym's original story). I printed out the story and read it. I'm still blown away at how well the two stories melded. Of course I agreed to the new version. Another story of mine is getting published! This morning, when I checked the website, I found that Chris Fletcher has put up the Table of Contents. I have wanted to write this post for a very long time, but I wanted to wait for the ToC to appear. I saw my name there not once, but twice. For someone so eloquent when writing, I cannot describe the feeling when I saw the ToC. I am now officially a part of something big, something grand. Aether Age will not only be available in print, but also in ebook, as well as an audiobook. My stories will be heard as well as read. Now, if only there is a way to get the book sent to Malaysian stores as well...