Story #2, of the new Paksworld stories, the “lightning strikes” post, is one of those “out of the blue/accidental hits” stories. Here’s the article I found that started it all: “The Ghost Cavalry of Gondole.“ Right off the bat, the title begs for a story. Reading the article and bring up all the pictures…skin-tingling stuff. It belonged in Paksworld. It felt right for Paksworld. But right as background does not make a story…a big fancy gravesite (a real one) is a fact, not a story.
Muttering and making notes followed. Supposing it could fit into Paksworld, where and when would it be? What people would be buried there, and why? What non-ghost people would interact with them? Would they be excited, happy, frightened…and why? (Remember the much earlier post on motivations?) Could this situation (grave, with people and horses buried in ritual positions) fit the requirements for the second anthology? How? How would magic be involved (since this is a fantasy anthology and some magical something is needed)? Are ghosts themselves magical? Are there really ghosts or do the people (still undetermined) who see the grave think there might be ghosts? Are they afraid of the dead? (And always, WHY?)
It did not feel like “current times” in Paksworld–the time of the current books. It felt…older. So I wrote it as a bardic legend sort of thing…a king was buried with his companions (only not quite the same as those at Gondole) and their horses (though not the same as those at Gondole) and I let that tale unfold over some length of time, not really specified. How did the bones get there, and why (again!) and then what happened to them? I was feeling for the twitch of the web that means “A Story Starts Here” and nothing came until…it did, later than I expected. So by the time the story starts, the bones have been there a long time, and a lot has happened in the lands around.
WHAT lands around? I poked around in the land, in an authorly way. Hmm. Doesn’t feel like Dwarfmounts or Westmounts. Something about the smell…the plants are different (WHY???) OK, which way is the sea? Or is there a sea? If you just walked off *that* way, toward the rising sun, what would you come to? And how long would it take? And who might you meet? (And WHY???)
Because of another chance meeting with another chunk of archaeology, the Valley of the Kings (the real one) tangled with the Ghost Cavalry of Gondole and then evoked a memory of the barrows and burial mounds in the UK and Scandinavia. And I’d been reading Tony Hillerman’s Navajo country mysteries. What if…there’s more than one grave? How many could there be? What would happen to them? Over what span of time? Say they were barrows…well built? Not? Animals burrow, rain falls, wind blows…what happens if people want to put a city on top of graves? Archaeology knows. How long does it take to build a city over some graves (WHY??? Is it supposed to be lucky? Do people believe the spirits of the dead will protect them? What kind of theological framework might go with that? ) Why put a city there anyway? A ceremonial site to which people come regularly from…somewhere else? (Where?) And any ceremonial site may be a target for raiders, for attackers, because…it’s collected wealth. And it can be raided, burned, ruined…hmmm.
Finally, after some hours, a character…actually a bunch of them…showed up. They weren’t what I was looking for, but maybe they’d lead to something. They were from a long way back in Paksworld history, but a time of civilization–they came from a land that had been thriving for a long time. (WHY???) They’re a different culture from any of the others in the books–older, but not primitive. So I started writing Story, not Myth or Legend, in the POV of the one I saw first. And now there’s a story that needs a title, but is enough of a story (say the first-readers) to be sent to the anthology editor and see what he thinks.
The process in all this started with investigation, a willingness to poke around and see what was there, a discovery of who, what, where, when, and why. Then it moved into a kind of intense observation…feeling my way into the POV character, what he experienced in the past, what he thought in the present, what he thought about the future, and also his sensory input right this moment. Feeling around inside him to find out his why, and the why of the others. Short fiction doesn’t allow the leisurly exploration of character that novels and series do–you have to get right at it, crack the code, evert the psyche the way some sea creatures evert their stomachs to get rid of waste (some have no through-flow.) And then tuck it neatly back inside, in the way that works best for that story at that length, so the reader sees enough but not too much–so the reader gets the thrill of discovery as well.
It is a messy business, writing fiction, in part because people are messy inside (and so characters need to be messy inside, not too easily assembled or disassembled.)