Web Fiction Guide is a huge listing of web fiction serials and web novels, much like the Solstice War, and I’d been looking forward to being listed there. Hopefully this will attract new readers to the story, as well as give existing reader’s feedback a home away from home. You can leave reviews, rate it with stars, and all that sort of stuff, and check out other similar stories using the tags. I tried to tag it as sensibly as possible for readers who might be looking for similar things. I encourage you to take a look at the listing and if you’ve the time and inclination, leave your thoughts! It’d help regular users of that site, and it would help me out too!
About a year ago I told myself I would do something with all my milsim nerdery and historical trivia. In the absence of any other talents, all I could really do was to write a story that incorporated them. My main obstacle was that I don’t like historicals; if I wanted to read something where the history is predictable because it actually happened here I’d read some nonfiction. I know that for most historical fiction the appeal is seeing new characters in familiar settings, but something about those stories always put me off, like they were very selective readings of history.
What I wanted to do primarily was to write a story that was informed by our history but did not slavishly adhere to it, and that presented readings of history that were both highly alternative but also strongly rooted in reality. The Solstice War is speculative fiction and I like to say it is fantasy, but it is full of parallels that satisfy my ideas as to what war stories and their characters should be like. Essentially the elevator pitch was “Fantasy Soviet Union 1941, almost everyone’s colored and there’s tons of queer folks of all kinds, Barbarossa happens but it’s done by essentially, western liberal-technocrat imperialists with a few fundamentalist religious people in the mix. Things develop from there.” I kept this in mind as I began to plan and research and so on.
Of course, the elevator pitch always changes after more thinking and more planning. I definitively wanted to keep the Nazis out. I hate the Nazis, I hate all of their depictions, I hate any attempt to humanize them, I hate being in their heads. I just want them dead; and though they certainly would be killed in any story I wrote, I did not want them in it. I would have hated writing them, and I would have hated introducing what that they represent into the story. For my purposes I needed an evil that was less intense, both for my own sanity and for the entertainment of the readers. I also wanted an evil more difficult to identify and more challenging ideologically. Everyone who is not broken as a human being can get behind the destruction of the nazis. I wanted instead a more insidious and contemporary foe.
In addition, of course, the “fantasy soviet union” would not end up quite as such. For one I didn’t want to perfectly reproduce Stalin’s reign in a story. I believe Socialism has always risen from the context of its surroundings, and so the Soviet Union will never be reproduced, and to simply reproduce it in fiction would have been, to me, a very facile thing to commit to. Instead I developed an “Ayvartan” socialism out of its own context and out of the wills of its own people. It has certain tenets of communist anarchism and of Soviet Union style socialism and it is very much its own thing. This is important because it makes it more believable: direct 1-to-1 comparison to the historical object, in my opinion, would have made it more difficult to suspend disbelief in the events of the story. Especially if you know the history of it, and especially if you know primarily a westernized history of it. This is why it is important to invoke a spirit of the period, but not the artifact in full.
Starting point is essentially 1941, or in Ayvarta, 2030 D.C.E.; but we’ve already gone back, within the story. The Solstice War is a story that moves through time in strange ways for dramatic necessity. To pace it right, I can’t simply start at the beginning and go in a line from there.
When I write The Solstice War, I have a few objectives that might appear very strange to most people. Certainly it would be easier to have one main character and tell one traditional story of war, starting with the background of the war and moving into the fore, but that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. Certainly it would have been more straightforward to write a historical, but then the war couldn’t have gone the way I wanted exactly. Bagration would’ve had to happen in 1944 and so on. I couldn’t even really make up my own silly operation names! So, I’m not writing a historical. I’m writing a fantasy war in the spirit of the period of World War 2, and I’m writing about military conflict in the spirit of a war narrative rather than through a lavish adherence to media or history surrounding it.
There are little interesting things that you pick up while reading about a period that stick in your mind when you are writing a story set in that period. I never want to linger on these details or explain them too thoroughly. But for example, the fact that the majority of cars did not have seat belts. It contributes to things like the scene where Parinita is trying to drive and gets pummeled by the steering wheel when she hits a bad bump. Later on the characters are talking about films and they mention slapstick films. In the absence of speech, slapstick was a great way to convey comedy in film. It was funny seeing a dude smacked up and falling into manholes, more funny perhaps than reading his awful jokes in a dialog card cut into the film. And Parinita shows a little a sympathy for the protagonists of such films which was fun for me to write given that she was in essence the protagonist of a slapstick scene a few sections back. All of these details are not contemporaneous to us, they are our history, but they are also the current lives of these fictitious characters. This is what I understand as writing in the spirit of things. I don’t want to get too deep into these details, I don’t really want to be pushed to show my work so to speak, but my writing is definitely informed by them and I want these details to create interesting scenes. Overall though, I’m not writing a historical; this is a story in its own fake world that happens to have technology and culture parallels to our world’s 1940s.
Similarly, I didn’t want to write about war in the way war tends to normally be written about. War in fiction is usually very strange. It is a very individualistic and centered rendition of an apparatus that has an incredible multiplicity of perspectives within it. I did not want to write a story primarily about A Hero or even A Group Of Heroes. Because I am writing primarily about a socialist military I wanted to look at it as an apparatus that does not create the focused single or groups of “heroes” like popular narratives do, but a community. I did not want to write a story where single persons “win the war” but one that showcases groups of people fighting together for a common cause, each with their own important roles. This is why there are a lot of perspectives. Some will inevitably be lavished more attention. I am a writer, biased in that I want to write about some things more than others. As the character roster builds, however, I would like to write a tapestry of interconnected characters where the individual development of a character can be secondary to what their perspective, however limited, says about the war as a whole, his or her or their people as a whole, the story as a whole. I’m not exactly in the business of writing intensely dynamic individual heroes around whom the story revolves, but a community of characters who, together, create a good story. This, I feel, separates the kind of war story I want to write from traditional war stories revolving around individual icons of war.
Of course some characters will grow and change, but this is not my primary focus. Individual character arcs are less important to me than showing a lot of viewpoints and people in different roles. It’s a matter of degrees. I’m not looking to write a specific “hero’s journey” of the Solstice War, but one might happen somewhere. There are a lot of characters, and like I said, I plan to touch upon a few more than I will touch upon others. My emphasis and goals are just different, and in the end, that will hopefully create a story that is different than most you may have read. I don’t see The Solstice War as having a real protagonist. And I don’t particularly see having somewhat static characters to be a detriment to it, ultimately. Though certainly people have disagreed (and sometimes violently) on this score.
This is why, for example, there’s a scene with Parinita sitting around working on documents. This is something that happens all the time in real war. For all that rugged manly war fiction likes to decry bureaucracy, the army would fall apart and become worse than useless without staff. War is not solely won by powerful humans deploying weaponry, it must also be won by the cooks, by the clerks and by the truck drivers: by a community of people. Certainly the Solstice War won’t be won just by soldiers. I wanted to show different aspects and to give prominence to different people. This complicates writing, and it introduces scenes where I questioned whether they would be boring or unimportant, but ultimately I included them because they are in the spirit of what I want to do. Primarily the Solstice War is written as I want to like it and experience it. Overall, it is an eccentric story, I think, and with eccentric aims. But it is in the end the story I want to write.
I’ve written a little survey you can answer regarding The Solstice War. Because this is the very first one, and because none of the topics concern story direction, this one will be public. Future surveys will be given out to the $10+ level patrons of the Patreon I am running, who will be asked questions that will directly influence the story in certain ways.
All of the questions are 5-point rating scale questions. Please answer all of the choices and to the best of your ability! They would be a major help. Here is the link to the surveymonkey. There are 6 questions in all. All questions must be answered to submit it.
I’ve had a little emotional trouble the past few weeks but I am working on the next chapter which I want to have out by the 15th or so. It may be closer to 8000k words than 15k words, but we’ll see about that! Thanks for following along!
Welcome to the first “The Solstice War” supplemental post. I’ve been meaning to start doing these for a while now since they’re something I promised on the Patreon. However I couldn’t figure out exactly what to write about. I figure then that it’s best to start from the beginning.
Of course, every story starts with its author in one way or another, so let us start with me.
I have been wanting to write The Solstice War in some form or another for years. My childhood was very difficult in a lot of ways, I lived in a rough area, money was not always on hand, and I had nascent ideas about queerness that I could not admit to for fear of retribution. One shining light in my childhood, oddly enough, was video games and militaria of various sorts. I loved watching documentaries about wars, reading articles about wars; especially World War 2. My favorite games were strategy games: I loved Starcraft, Command & Conquer, and so on. Later I found far more difficult war games about World War 2, such as Panzer General, Operation Europe and Combat Mission. When playing any of these games, I’d often imagine myself as the voiceless commander that is often the player character in them. It made me feel less powerless about things. Later I discovered shooting games where you could be a soldier IN World War 2, like Call of Duty, and that was almost as good as being the commander.
I especially liked when I could play as the Soviets in video games, at first because they were different than the others. Though all the Western media I consumed was quick to vilify communism, I found it fascinating. As I learned more and became an adult and found sources that weren’t fed through a western lens (Marx; Lenin; a wee bit of Mao) it became my political ideology, despite the hatred I knew I would face for it. I figured I was already a queer hispanic person in the US; I was already hated. I might as well be true to myself and be a dirty commie.
Ultimately, of course, I grew up, and I knew that war wasn’t just my fun, it was not simply something I did on the computer to feel like I was strong. In fact, it became disgusting to me that I found it a source of strength. All those chits on the board, back in 1941, were people, and they died, and they did not die simply because I fumbled with the UI or didn’t know the game’s rules properly. So for a while I tried to swear off all that stuff. But I kept getting back in. My life was not getting better and I needed distractions. So I could never quite let go of war entertainment.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that it was generally more harmful to me to hate myself for liking these games, than it was to attempt to construct some kind of principled abstinence from them. I know intellectually that war is bad. I know intellectually the history of World War 2 from all sides of the conflict (though my particular focus has always been the Soviets). I understand it, I respect it (what deserves respect). I have different ideas about war now, which have come from shedding noxious notions of strength that I held as a put-upon and hurt little boy.
When I’m feeling down though, I’ll still boot up Company of Heroes or Unity of Command.
This became more problematic when it came to my other hobby, and my biggest passion: writing stories. Ever since I was 12 I loved writing stories. I wrote little stories on notebooks and tried to get my friends to read them. When I found out that the internet, and especially forums, fanfiction.net and fictionpress.com would allow me to reach tons of people with my scribblings, I was the most elated kid in Puerto Rico. I wrote a lot of stuff during my childhood and teenage years. My writing matured, but I eventually came to a point where I was very self-conscious of what I was writing, and convinced myself it wasn’t good enough to do it. That lasted about 2 or 3 years in college, as I was finishing my English degree and received a lot of encouragement from my department not to write fiction, and especially not to write the dreaded “genre” fiction.
So instead I tried to write stuff for tabletop RPG games. I regret wasting time on that.
In late 2011 I decided to get back in, with stuff like Ladybird that was quirky, and dumb, and that I didn’t have to take seriously. It built up my confidence, but I knew I was avoiding writing dramatic fiction, and I knew that I wanted to write it. (Though I also want to write Ladybird, but I am one person who is occupied enough with a single story as it is!) I rewrote Ladybird a bunch of times, and constantly found myself writing “first chapters” of Ladybird that redefined her origin, because I wasn’t satisfied. Even now I have another origin in mind!
That’s kind of when I realized writing origins was pretty destructive sometimes and it is better to start ahead and assume the origin has happened already. But that is beside the point right now.
For a long time I wanted to write a war story, mostly just to do it. I know a lot of stuff about war and about the time period of World War 2 and I felt like I could write a very interesting story with this knowledge. I didn’t have any particular political aims for the war part of the story: my writing has in general always been fairly political, but not really about war itself. Ladybird is a story that is leery toward capitalism and moneyed democracy, open to queerness and coloredness; that is my writing in general, and that would also be any war story I wrote. Of course, it would also force me to deal with those apprehensions I have toward war as a piece of entertainment. I don’t want to write a story stereotypically “critical” of war because I do not believe the pacifist message helps empower oppressed people such as queer folks and colored folks. But I also did not want to write a celebration of war, because celebrating war attracts the kind of people I am heartily disgusted by, like nationalists and racists of all sorts. Military fandom is highly, rigidly conservative and reactionary. I wanted an ambivalence of war; and a focus instead on the people and the ideologies behind it.
That is when I got the core idea for the Solstice War: a look at a World War 2-styled conflict from the perspective of a communist nation toward which other, capitalist nations are committing violence driven primarily by economy and ideology.
Over time this core would expand in different ways, which I hope to talk about more in the future once I have collected all of my thoughts on the subject. I find writing about writing to be difficult to do objectively or scientifically, because to me a greater part of writing is sort of instinctual. When I was seven years old I taught myself English by watching English television and picking up thesauri and dictionaries. It has always been an obstacle to my thinking of English (and writing) as a specifically contrived practice that constructs objects. In a way, I “just do it.”
So, here’s hoping that subsequent entries in this series grow more coherent and not less.