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24 | Revealing Seeker of the Lost Song's earliest notes

Turns out I started this thing in 2011!

Deadmedia shares monthly peeks behind the scenes, writing updates, and creativity thoughts from SF/F author Samantha Garner. Learn more here.

Hi everyone,

It’s hard for me to pinpoint the genesis of Seeker of the Lost Song. I usually point to the time a tweet of mine ended up in Reader’s Digest, pictured here:

They made a hashtag for you to use in a tweet-length story, and winning entries would get published and receive a year’s subscription. I needed to win a subscription for my mother! And I did! She was very proud.

That tweet was about a generation-ship in space. I was fascinated by this idea of people on a multi-generational journey that they’re forbidden to understand or talk about. The Twitter/Reader’s Digest thing happened in 2012, and I always remembered it happening this way: The tweet came first, and then I fleshed it out later and added the concept of forbidden magic. But in reviewing my old notebooks, I see that I’d already written some preliminary thoughts in December 2011!

Notebook 1: 2011-2018, Semi-Retired Hens, spaaaaace

Outline/Notes, Dec 2011

- MC’s best friend Ellis is a mage/magic user
- Magic is kept hidden for fear of punishment
- Ship was put into orbit in 1980. Currently 2055
- MC starts to notice her own magic?

Where did that initial idea come from? I no longer remember. For context, I started writing The Quiet is Loud in 2016, which was my first full SFF writing project. Maybe I’d been working through some ideas way down in my subconscious?

In December 2017 I needed something else to write while I got TQIL ready to query agents with. I picked up this project (which I’d been considering for a short story) where I’d left it six years prior. Here’s what these pages say:

- Nobody can really remember the past, the reason for leaving Earth.
- Reason for them being on the ship is forgotten.

Dec ‘17/Jan 2018

- Earliest Keepers were more focused on daydreaming, imagining, creating a new life. Too much looking forward.
- MC’s brother went missing, maybe b/c he discovered the reason Salem [Ed. note: the name of the ship at that point; a little on the nose, I know] left Earth?
- Maybe their family was one of the main magic families on Earth, and he discovered magic too.
- Risk to Ellis or MC?
- Magic is seen as primitive and therefore ppl who have it are scorned.

There are major differences here to what ended up becoming Seeker of the Lost Song. Aside from the setting, the core mystery of the story was different, magic involved alchemy, and the main character wasn’t Ellis (I dropped one L eventually) at all, but a woman named Glynnis who was in her late twenties. This Ellis was her best friend, who was hiding magic ability—a relationship that would later swap places, with Elis becoming the MC and her magicky best friend becoming Kaija.

Yet, what strikes me are the things that have always been in this story. The Keepers, the group of people who ostensibly keep the peace in the society; the concept of those in charge caring more about looking ahead than looking back; magic being seen as primitive and therefore scorned.

The project’s first-ever outline, from January 29, 2018. There was a big mystery focus in this iteration of Seeker (which I was calling Y80 then). Midsomer Murders is one of my comfort shows and I guess it felt natural to try my hand at writing a mystery myself. It was fun, but ultimately I couldn’t make that particular mystery work in an environment as small and closed as a generation-ship in space.

Hook: blank!
Inciting Event: Ellis loses control of her magic?
Key Event: Glynnis starts to find help with magic usage
First Plot Point: Glynnis hear a rumor that Max may still be alive.
Turning Point/Midpoint: Glynnis finds Max alive and in hiding
Strong Action: G is empowered to learn more about what the Keepers are hiding - M has been close to discovering a secret
Second Pinch Point: Glynnis’ mother is held for suspected magic - Aisling

Aisling is a Keeper, a character who is now Hanne. Like “Glynnis,” “Aisling” is a name I’ve always loved. Honestly, I’m a little sad that Seeker’s eventual Finland/Scandinavia/Philippines-inspired culture meant those names had to go. One day they will triumph!

January 29, 2018 was also the day my friend Teri (whose novel is coming out next spring!) sent an email around to a few writers she knew asking if we wanted to set up a little writing group. We met on February 11, and you can see evidence of that in the top-left of the image above. We named ourselves on the very first day, I love it. Here’s what the February 22 notes say:

The MYSTERY

#1 What happened to Ewen?

Potential suspects/ppl involved
- Friend, working in Hall of Records
- has info about Ewen?
- plants false leads?
- untrustworthy?

Here you can see an early mention of the Hall of Records, which has survived unchanged as a concept: the place where all recorded history is kept, guarded by a few against the many.

Notebook 3: 2018-2022: Killed darlings, Kalevala, tidally-locked planet, ARGH

[Ed. note: Notebook #2 is missing from this roundup as it’s a misnomer; it was really an all-purpose notebook that only contained a handful of book notes.]

On November 8, 2018 I made my first sketches of the generation-ship, now called Ipswich [Ed. note: slightly less on the nose]. I’d envisioned it containing four quarters: Forest, Capital, Culture, and Death. Each one had their own distinct microculture. It was really fun to write, but here again I couldn’t realistically make this work in such a small and closed setting. Forest made it to the current Seeker of the Lost Song, though.

Ben, Aug 7 [2019]
Ellis’ boyfriend & Ewen’s childhood best friend. Works in the Literature Dept of Office of Culture.

Poor Ben. Named after my favourite Midsomer Murders character, and an all-around good boyfriend. But Ellis already being in an established relationship just didn’t work. Ben was just kind of … there. He had to go, as well as a friend named Rhys, and Ellis & Ewen’s parents. The characters of Narra and Simon have always existed (snippets of Narra’s info is on the left), and they were much more interesting to write anyway so I was sure to leave them in.

On January 28 in either 2020 or 2021 (thaaaaanks, Past Me), I decided to build out the influences of the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic. There were influences there before, but now it felt right to strengthen them and weave them into the fabric of the book. I loved the idea of history being told in a repetitive sort of story-song. As I wrote then:

- Influences of Kalevala
- repetition
- told as a story
- story of persecution on Earth

RESTRUCTURE, Dec 22 ‘20

- No more murder mystery structure
- No “villain.”
- Function of Rhys? Still gets in the way, but maybe not in the same way as before.

The era of restructuring begins. Here I finally accepted the truth about my murder mystery plan. On May 7, 2021, I decided that the setting wouldn’t work overall, as I felt the characters had to go on a journey, a quest. They needed more movement. On December 17, 2021, I wrote “TRAPPIST-1e” in my notes, which became the inspiration for the next setting—and current setting of my new novella—a planet that has one side permanently facing its star.

Possible new Finland-inspired direction, May 5 [2022]

- 9th-10th c? In Viking Age but before Xianity in Finland.
- Swedes beginning to come into the area - basis for formerly the TUs?
- Karelia area. Too far east?*

By April 2022 I had almost entirely lost steam. Again, what the story needed clashed with the limitations of the setting. I was spending so much time on researching the most realistic-seeming way life would evolve on a tidally-locked planet, and keeping all those very specific logistics in my head was making me hate writing. And it showed.

At the end of the month I talked to my friend Susanna about it. Not only is she an amazing artist and photographer, but she’s Finnish too. And she’s someone who shares the same spirit and mind with me when it comes to creativity. During our conversation I’d started telling her about a vague “historical fiction in Finland” idea I’d had for a long time. The more we talked about ideas and inspirations, the more home it felt. The more urgently I wanted to be there instead. And so we said - why not just do it?

Could I really fold the historical Finland idea into my novel? It seemed like a perfect fit. Early Scandinavians thought Finns and Sámi were forest weirdos who practiced unnatural magic. It could still be a secondary world, but one that was Earthlike. Firsthand accounts by/about Finns were scarce to nonexistent, both before and during the Swedish rule of Finland. And I’d always felt that the Finnish story was missing in the Viking/Norse saturation of books, video games, movies, and TV (woe betide the poor soul who inadvertently gets me talking about how Finns are Nordic but technically not Norse/Scandinavian**). BUT. ANOTHER new setting?! I’d spent so long working on this book. I just wanted to write it.

I wrote the above notebook notes few days later, and a few days after that I sent my writing group a long, anguished email about my dilemma, which ended with “In essence, ARRRRRGH WHAT DO I DO.” Because they are incredible, they told me that the characters and the story were what they liked, and they supported me changing the setting if it meant I could write the book I wanted to. Though, they cautioned me against over-researching this setting too. I agreed with them. I had no intention of writing about goddamn hill forts, for example. This would be a world of its own, the history of Finland and the Philippines and Scandinavia a foundation.

I started notebook 4 with this new direction in mind. Everything opened up. Writing became joyful again.

I finished the first draft four months later.

Thank you for reading this! I know it was long, but OOF this novel has been through a lot. I’d really love to know what you think, whether you reply to this email or leave a comment on the web version of this post.

Talk soon,
-Sg.

*Karelia was not too far east in the end. I won’t go into a long history lesson here but Karelia is one of the regions ceded to the Soviet Union in the Winter War and the Continuation War. This is a gross oversimplification of Karelia which has a rich and complex history besides this. However, my family comes from Salla/Kuolajärvi, one of the other ceded territories and, as such, that overall story has been in the back of my mind all my life. It actually formed the basis of what became Seeker’s sequel.

**Disclaimer: I consume and enjoy some Norse/Viking media and this book is not a diss track about Sweden. These are just my knee-jerk reactions as a Finn and a history lover! It’s okay if you consider Finland culturally part of Scandinavia today, as now the distinctions are more blurred than they were thousands of years ago.

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