Believe it or not, The Ghost Tiger's Lament originally began in April 2007 as a lighthearted RPG fantasy parody. I was taking a break from another project (which has since been benched, at least for the moment), and basically wanted something simple to work on: no strings attached, no obsessing over cliches or stylistic choices or worldbuilding.
Needless to say, that did not work out anything like I was hoping.
I'd already ditched the original setting and the entire nonexistent plot by the time June rolled around. All that remained were four characters* — the queen, my hapless heroine, her best friend, and a certain self-proclaimed apothecary — and my original premise: the princess's kidnapping and the queen's odd summons.
Sometime around August, I decided to consolidate the project with another story** I'd been planning to write, resulting in the beginnings of the current historical fantasy universe. I also started calling the project "Ghost Tiger" instead of "that pseudo-wuxia/fantasy parody thing" and established tentative titles for the remaining books of the series. (I already knew at this point it would be a pentalogy.)
By November, I was already on draft #4. I say "draft", but I probably hadn't written much more than 5000 words in all at that point. I was just struggling to figure out where the story started, how to start it. And when I thought I'd figured it out, I then proceeded to spend a year noodling around trying to figure out what happened after the story started. (I'd known almost from the start how it would end, on the other hand. It was the parts in the middle that were muddy and vague, for the most part.)
In September 2008, utterly dissatisfied with the direction I'd taken the story, I decided to take an entirely different approach and began draft #5, which featured 1000x more infodump than the previous versions had, partly because I was finally sitting down and doing some serious research (I had intended a much, much looser take on history*** originally, for various reasons, not least because I am lazy). This too lasted about a year before I switched gears again.
During all this time I had written maybe 10k in all for this project. Yes, you may laugh. But Real Life had taken over and I generally was not in the mood to work on anything that required much brain power. I did not take my writing at all seriously at this point, despite harboring dreams of "someday" being published.
Draft #6 (October 2009) is where the story (what little of it still existed after I decided to trash huge chunks of it) finally started resembling the final version. I must confess, however, that actual progress was still nonexistent. The bulk of my research happened during this time period (2009-2011), though I've continued to pick up bits and pieces of information since.
In early 2010, I started Draft #7, determined to finally start Taking Things Seriously. The only real difference between this and the previous draft though was that I pared down the opening considerably and tweaked character motivations to be a little more consistent.
Over summer 2010, I started hammering out a semi-consistent naming system. Finally. After years of using placeholders like "Kingdom A" and "State C" and I am not telling what names I was using for the characters (I called Braksya "apothecary dude" for an awfully long time in between other random names).
That, combined with further compression/paring of the opening and the beginnings of actual progress on the rest of the novel resulted in Draft #8.
As the year drew to an end, further cutting/rearranging resulted in Draft #9, the opening of which is more or less the same as the final version.
Throughout 2011 I continued to work on Ghost Tiger as well as other weird things on the side, still unfortunately dealing with Real Life but decidedly getting much, much more done than I used to. In May, I officially decided to self-publish Ghost Tiger, which I had until then still been thinking of submitting to agents. I officially expanded the title to The Ghost Tiger's Lament (which I'd already informally transitioned to the previous year) and gave myself October as a totally unrealistic deadline for releasing the first book.
And totally missed. Thanks a lot, Real Life.
I then became determined to finish by Christmas or before the end of the year, but at this point I was only about halfway done with the book, and one of my subplots had basically exploded... For quite a few weeks it felt like I was living in the writer's version of Zeno's Paradox.
Much angst and a handful of drafts later (Ghost Tiger took 13 "drafts" in all to complete, which isn't nearly as bad as it sounds because my writing process is a little bizarre), the book was finally done and I punted it out into the big wide world with a big sigh of relief.
Now, of course, the process starts all over again. Except I certainly don't plan on taking another five years this time around!
* Of all the characters, the one who has gone through the most dramatic changes is perhaps Kitzon... who was originally two characters before I realized he worked much better as one. The characters who have changed the least are Ashne and Zsaran — and Braksya, who has always been insufferable. Shranai, Muntong, and the royal family have also been fairly well established from the start. Some of my other early characters from this universe won't really show up until later installments, though, so I shall keep mum on that!
** This second story is now slotted as Tea Child (working title), the third book in the series.
*** Though admittedly, what I've ended up with is still a fairly loose take, partly because of the difficulties involved in researching this particular time period.