I’m close to wrapping up the first draft of Stealing Light and remain astonished at how the story has morphed time and time again. The core plot, the one I intended to write from the beginning, remains, but the emphasis on a forming found family, wasn’t intended.
The novel was born a year ago while developing the idea of a school for the gifted in Pannulus. After some initial world building, I launched into the story told from the POV of the principal adult, Tharlise. It started great, but then became too restrictive. I set that version aside and launched into the story again from Vistanna’s POV. It made for a better opening, and I was happy with it—until I wasn’t.
Months passed while I edited Carrdia novels and drafted during NaNoWriMo. Last December I wrote short stories for Vistanna’s group and it seemed I was on track. I was also struck by the obvious: Stealing Light needed to be told from the POV of both Tharlise and Vistanna.
It worked. I kept the unique scenes and chose between the others. The rewrite went exceptionally well and by the middle of February I was as far as I’d been on my previous two attempts, which translated to about 60% of the novel.
Whoops again. I knew the ultimate ending, but had already scrapped to routes there already so I needed a new path. I had my new version, but as the characters from the six short stories entered the tale I was haunted by the feeling that something else was missing.
I was stunned. Was the novel going to go wrong a third time?
I took a step back and reexamined, realizing one focus was the relationship between Vistanna and Tharlise. Later, there’s the dynamic between Vistanna and the rest of her group. What I wasn’t seeing was that Tharlise was vital to those same students (Tharlise is a professor, along with being in charge of Vistanna’s group).
That did it.
All at once the end scenes revealed themselves faster than I could write them down, the lot of them leading me straight to the ending I’d always known would happen. When I returned to drafting and introduced Tharlise to the other students, sure enough, she pulled the story together.
Found families are a strong theme in most of my writing and nowhere more so than in Stealing Light, but it was never intended to be as strong a theme as it is. Where it went wrong was losing track of who Tharlise was. In Pannulus, she’s a variant (LGBT+), but she’s also a natural for motherhood, even if she struggles with raising Vistanna.
Instantly becoming the mother of a gifted teenager isn’t the easiest task in the world.
As a Seeker professor, Tharlise is also trained in human behavior, the two going hand in hand in conducting character assessments. When I thrust her into the middle of the other students she thrived. In many ways Tharlise represents the found family theme (along with other themes) that’s central to the novel.
But it goes deeper than that.
While Vistanna and her classmates are the focus of the story, Tharlise is the glue at its center. It explains why the two versions had to be stitched together. Vistanna is the star, but Tharlise is critical. Going forward, though the focus will remain on the students, Tharlise will continue to be vital as a teacher, mentor, and mother figure for a growing found family.