Once upon a time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the screech of dial-up networking was a common sound, I hatched an idea for a novel called (drumroll, please) The Fall Of The Hammer. The core idea: At some undefined time in history, the world shattered into a mosaic of times and places, each interpenetrating with the other to some degree. Against this backdrop, there was a ... uh ...
You see the problem. I had a setting, but no story. But I tried to write one anyway, and got about sixty thousand words in before hitting a brick wall and giving up.
A few years later, I started work on another story entitled Out Of Place. It dealt with the repercussions of the appearance, worldwide, of artifacts — simple cubes of various sizes — that had hard-to-predict effects on the people that encountered them. It was patterned loosely after the 2000 film Traffic, with a few different plot strands that explored different factions: government agencies chasing down the artifacts; criminals trying to get their hands on them; ordinary people exposed to them; scientists trying to decipher their mysteries. Parts of it got posted online, but feedback was minimal. I didn't get very far with it, and eventually hung it up.
Both ideas, or pieces of them, remained in the back of my head for the following two to two-and-a-half decades. They never completely went away, and so every now and then I pulled them out, like photos of old friends, and mulled over them. Nothing clicked.
My metaphor about the photos fits the more I think about it. Old, unfulfilled story ideas are like memorabilia you can't bring yourself to throw out. You feel defined by them, and the minute you consider letting go you wonder how you're going to live with the vacuum left behind. Then one day you just throw them out, and you realize you severely overestimated your attachment to them. When I moved cross-country, I got rid of almost everything I owned, and there's maybe one item out of that whole batch I actually miss.
But the other way to deal with such ideas is to plunge them fully into the revivifying waters of your new understanding — of who you are now as opposed to who you were when you first came up with the idea.
That's more or less what happened with Fall Of The Hammer. Somewhere between then and now, I changed enough to be able to let go of all the old associations I had with the idea, to tear it completely down to the core and begin again.
All that remained now was two central ideas, both from different stories: the mysterious element that appears in this world and changes everyone it encounters; and the world being subdivided/partitioned forcibly. From the space between those two ideas, an entirely new story — a story this time — began to come forth.
In Part 2, I'll talk about the story that emerged from these two fragmentary ideas.