How Zhanai’degau was written

Nearly sixty years, from inspiration to publication, here at last is Zhanai’degau, Book One of The Black Ring.

It all started with a dream — in about 1958, plus or minus a year — that filled my head with ideas. I developed those ideas and images during the next few weeks, then started writing things down, creating characters, monsters, strange lands, and weapons. I compiled notes about almost everything, from clothes to horse-drawn vehicles to sailing vessels. I wrote sketches, over thirty years or so, and outlines, cosmology, and ideas for groups of companions, and leagues of enemies, and other things. I created a superhero, who evolved to become so powerul, that he could defeat a small army single-handed. 

And he was boring. He always won. There was no challenge. 

I was still fascinated by everything else I had created. There were stories here, I was sure of it. But I needed a hero who could not solve problems instantly, who maybe had to think, who had to make difficult choices. Someone who was was the opposite of a huge, over-muscled male comic-book superhero. The image that came to mind was of a young Sally Field. 

With that thought, everything came together. I created Jeanette Delgado — twenty three, five feet tall, nearly one hundred pounds, never independent a day in her life, and suddenly widowed. For her, everything was a challenge. Just getting on with her life was a challenge. And turning her into a hero would be a huge challenge for me. It was exciting.

I had so many ideas. There were plots to create, find plausible motives for evil, companions to win and loose, all those monsters and strange worlds and bizarre experiences. And I wanted to put in things that were left out of ordinary heroic adventures, such as grief, and conscience, and sometimes guilt for having killed even an enemy. I knew it would take several volumes, and though I didn’t think of it a series, I knew I would have to treat it that way.

I couldn’t just start from the beginning. I had learned from past experience, with the Rikard Braeth books, that if I was going to do something like a series, I had to plan it all out in advance, not stumble blindly from book to book. So I designed a structure into which I would put my outline, roughs, and drafts. It would be five volumes, thirteen parts, one hundred chapters of seventy five hundred words, more or less. As mechanical as it was, it was a framework to guide me while I created my story. I put all my ideas into it, until I had an almost complete but very, very rough draft.

But I knew that I wasn’t ready to write this yet. I didn’t have the narrative skills. So I put it aside, and hoped to acquire those skills while I was writing other books. 

Then, in 1995, we went to England for about three years — two years, nine months, two weeks, four days, eleven hours, actually. I took my epic heroic fantasy down from its shelf some time after we got back, , and read through the finished chapters and the very rough sketch. I knew what to do with it now, I knew how to do it now. I was ready.

I wrote clean first drafts of chapters, parts, volumes, all the way through to the poignant ending I had always visualized. But something I had written in Book Four suggested that I could add a sixth volume, and bring the whole epic to a much more satisfactory close, so I added that. I took breaks between drafts and wrote other things. I submitted Book One to someone I knew, and it took him three years to reject it. And what if he had accepted it, and then rejected all the rest? Where would I be then? I decided I had to publish it myself.

I had to learn how to do that. I had seen self-published books, and I wanted to do better than that. So I practiced, and everything that I published, from Cat Tales to Slaves of War, was to teach myself how do a good job on The Black Ring.

I had developed as a writer, and I had to revise again, do one more polish, and it was while I was working on that, in the spring of 2017, that Michael Ventrella introduced me (via email) to Deron Douglas, who is Double Dragon, and he agreed to publish the whole thing, all six volumes sequentially. 

He decided to go out of business, so I took The Black Ring back, and prepared a second edition published by Ogden House. And here is Book One, Zhanai’degau. There are four parts, each a complete story, each depending on the previous story, leading to the next, and ending with a direct lead-in to Book Two.

Cover by Darcy.