108 billion humans have lived since 50,000 BC
The details of the overall plot for the Beyond trilogy are reaching critical mass. Yes, I should be focusing mainly on the book I'm writing, the second volume in the set called The Far Beyond. And I am. But as that part of the story fleshes out, it necessarily creates ties to The Just Beyond and implications for the final book. And this is important, because it helps assure two things: 1) that the narrative will maintain an intimate, logical, and consistent flow, and 2) that I'll finish writing it. :) Even with publication of the first book, writing the other two is a daunting challenge. Writing is a struggle for me to begin with, and on top of that I am perpetually aware that one well-received book is no guarantee for the others, even as they follow the over-arching theme begun in the first.
With regard to The Far Beyond specifically, the middle book of a trilogy is often the weakest, and I'm consciously working to overcome that phenomenon. I mean, The Two Towers is entertaining and critical to Lord of the Rings, but it certainly lacks the excitement of The Fellowship of the Ring or the satisfaction of Return of the King.
Which brings me to a point about writing. Lord of the Rings is my unqualified favorite work of fiction, and its appeal sets the standard to which I aspire. An unfortunate side effect, at least for me, is a tendency to write something that parallels LOTR to an uncomfortable degree.
According to a calculation by Google, the total number of books ever published (mostly in the modern era) is around 130 million. The Population Reference Bureau calculates that a total of 108 billion humans have lived since 50,000 BC (equating to one book per every 831 people, which doesn't account for writers who produce multiple books). The arbitrary starting point makes this a dicey statistic, though: somthing like modern civilization is said to have commenced only about
10,000 years ago when the last great Ice Age ended, or even later with the Ancient Egyptians around 5,000 BC. On the other end of the spectrum, human ancestry can be traced to around 100,000 years back or as far as 2 million, depending on how you define human.
Which is a tedious and twisting setup for the statement that it's devilishly hard to come up with an original story. At the archetype level, every conceivable scenario has been written about over and over and over, and probably better than I could hope to do. How can one writer among a world population of 7 million generate something, if not a completely untried premise then at least a distinctive variation, that hasn't been done before? Even in heavily trodden, formulaic genres like Western and Romance, publishers want to know what makes your book stand out. And as a first-time author, you'd better have an answer.
When that question came, I told publishers that what distinguished The Just Beyond and its successors was a fearless depiction of the Afterlife. As noted on this site's home page, I aimed to transcend the prevailing approach of leaving the nature of the world beyond death "to the imagination". Nothing in fiction is more disappointing than a story that leads you down the garden path only to invoke this cop-out at the end. I've never read another book that handles this subject quite as I did, and my research didn't turn up anything too dangerously close...but how can you know for sure?
And in spite of my good intentions, that old compulsion to ape my favorite material seems to have slipped in while I wasn't looking. I began this posted not intendng to compare the Beyond books with Lord of the Rings. Yet as I consider it, some parallels pop out. In both sets the protagonist is an unassuming personality with empathetic and courageous tendencies, capable of extraordinary feats when called upon. Both tales begin with some necessary background and then launch a desperate, stealthy flight hounded by ghoulish enemies. Upon reaching a safe haven more of the plot is revealed, sending the hero on an even more harrowing path that results in a critical death. Powerful truths are revealed, unlikely allies emerge, formidable enemies are bested, and the most fearsome foe of all is finally confronted in an epic battle involving a sword of immense power. Prominent side characters are wed to their loves, and our hero sails off to a surprising but well-deserved reward. I never intended nor even recognized these shared elements; obviously my subconscious had the upper hand.
Ah, well. Any originality issues raised by my trilogy probably won't matter, since the first book has been judged viable enough to print. That's good, because I'm not sure I could do better. If I'm fortunate enough to develop a solid writing career, I'll certainly try. In the meantime, faintly echoing a classic is hardly the worst problem I could have. :) - Mark