As of this writing, When the Gods Wish to Punish sits at 11,000 words. I still find myself revising my outline. I’ll admit to coming to this project with more than a bit of doom and gloom about the human condition. I had the end state of the novel more or less imagined at the beginning, and I have now revised that twice in the face of realizations about what the natural consequences of certain characters’ behaviors would be. This is not to say that the ending will be all rainbows and sunshine, but just that it has become significantly more optimistic than I originally imagined it. There’s probably a lesson for me in there that I would do best to internalize.
Another insight I had this morning was that, with its heavy focus on characters and their interactions, and with all political and societal sub-themes stripped away, this novel is feeling the most Schrödinger’s City-like of anything I’ve ever written. And I don’t mean in terms of plot or theme or even the characters themselves, but just how the focus is almost exclusively on the characters and their relationships with one another. Hell, even Schrödinger’s City had some lightly political secondary themes. When the Gods will lack even that.
I mentioned yesterday that I am enjoying writing the withers enormously. The withers show up inexplicably near the beginning of the novel as the main character, Ash, is trying to coax his friends into leaving Amrita. When I first had the idea for the withers, I wrote down a ton of notes: what their names were, their nicknames, what properties each had, what each of their motivations were, etc. The novel gives the impression that there are perhaps a dozen or more of these things, but for the purpose of my outline I created six.
Rather than talk about all those properties, or do something spoilery like list them, I thought I would perhaps share a relatively spoiler-free bit from the first appearance of a wither named Irkshaxva. Ash, by this point, has seen these things before, and has now roughly worked out how to deal with them. He’s talking to his friend Min, who was his first roommate in college, when Irkshaxva shows up.
Min was about to say something when a hideous odor hit my nostrils, and Min turned up his face, seeming to smell it too. The game interface flickered and jolted off. The whole of his desk turned a putrid green color and began to wave and ripple like the surface of water.
“Seb is stronger than you, Min.” The voice emanated from the desk. It had a scratchy, hissing quality. It lengthened and warbled all of its vowels. “That’s why Ash wouldn’t room with you anymore. He wanted to be around strong people. You are weak. Scrawny and weak.”
“That’s not true!” I shouted at the green. Min slumped in his chair, and I grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “Min! Look at me.”
“Weeeeeak,” the voice said.
“Shut up!” I shouted at it.
“Min!” I shook him again, and he looked up at me with hurt in his eyes. “I got excited about powerlifting, and Seb knew everything already. That was it! I’m sorry I let you down. What it’s saying isn’t true! You are strong now, and you could be even stronger if you wanted to. You have so much potential waiting to be unlocked. Just don’t listen to—” I turned to face the green. “What’s your name?”
It emitted a burbling, gurgling sound, the sound of sewage being shunted through a pipe system with multiple twists and turns.
“What’s your damn name?” I insisted.
The sounds that time formed something like, “Irkshaxva.”
I dropped my hands from Min’s shoulders, stood and positioned myself between Min and the green desk. “Hey, Shax.” I tensed every muscle in my body. “You can fuck right off.”
The desk stopped rippling and the green hue drained away.
Although I would love to share further excerpts, I have the feeling that subsequent wither appearances will be of a more spoilery nature. Nevertheless, expect the regular updates to continue.