Nor Yet A River Of Fire
Once On High is still the most ambitious project I ever actually started working on. It was projected to be five volumes, each one around 250 - 300,000 words. So the part I wrote was maybe half the first volume, and the entire epic would be somewhere around 1.5 million words. It was intended to cover a thousand years of history in my invented setting, carrying through from age to age with memories of the previous eras there in misunderstood and mythologized form. It was about memory and the inevitable destructiveness of time. It was about how myth and history mix and overflow and inform one another, even as they make each other into liars. It was about everything I knew about loss and trying to find your place in the world. And it was about a kind of faith that transcends death.
So I looked at it again, as I have not since maybe 2001. I'm not the same person I was when I started it, and now it seems very rough to me. There are a lot of things about it I would do differently. But - and this is the but - I still find a lot of it very moving, and meaningful, and worthy. The world still lives in my mind, and I would like to finish the story. This book has been my Questing Beast for almost 20 years, if you count the time I spent thinking about it before I began it. It's been the one Serious Thing I need to do before I die, and I went a long time thinking I never would.
Now I kind of think I might do it. I think I might do it now. I will have to go through all of it, line by line, and smooth it, sharpen it, make it better than I could when I was younger. But what seemed impossible when I was 23 is now within my reach. I write three novels a year now, each one just as long as what I have already done on this project. I can take it up again, and at least finish this first book, see if I can maybe do it all justice. I'm not the person I was 17 years ago, but then I'm not the same person I was a month ago either. I'm more like the old me than I have been for a long time, and less like him than I have ever been. The question is: can I do it? Working on it before was agony, because I had to drag every paragraph out of myself with a winch. It was like writing by trying to be a lightning rod, scrawling things down with the sparks that jumped from my fingers when the bright bolt struck while my insides boiled. I wasn't ready then. Am I now? Is that why this comes to me now, because I'm finally the instrument I need to be? Am I worthy? Can I be?