Monday, August 26, 2013

Irresponsible things like engagements of state..

  When people ask what inspires a certain story, there is generally a list of things that spring to mind on a basic level. Elisabeth Grace Foley's question started me thinking about what really did inspire The Baby, and to be sure I did not give a pat, off-the-cuff-links answer. She admitted that this is a question she has great difficulty answering, so I am sure she will have grace with me for being a bit abstract, perhaps.

      As far as strictly commonplace things that inspired The Baby (or helped me come up with it, or whathaveyou), the first that comes to mind is a man I know. I do not especially like this man (which is why he showed up as Darron Ap-Brainard, bwa-ha), but since the very first of my acquaintance with him, he made me cock my head and try to figure him out (which is also how he swaggered his way into the novel). There is a strange mix of charm and double-faced-ness about the real man which lends itself well to making a good antagonist. I do not think the man himself is a villain, so you will not find complete villainy in Ap-Brainard. (But honestly, a complete villain with no shred of ruined goodness about him is not much of a character to read about.)
     The other commonplace thing that gave me the idea for this story was the peculiar thing that happens to me with many of my novels: the first line. Usually I end up changing the first line in the final draft, but it is usually a first line that gives me the idea for a whole story. I'm a big one for starting different Microsoft Word files for bits of writing that probably won't go anywhere. But occasionally they do, and The Baby is one such. At the start of it, you have a little shred of dialog:
 "We could mutiny!"
 And that's all. But from that bit of dialog came the whole of the story as you know it now. Wonderful, how the mind ends up making mountains out of molehills. Please don't ask how a lost baby came out of a line about mutiny. I couldn't tell you.
  But sometimes inspiration can be retroactive, meaning that some of the less-obvious things that prove as inspiration for The Baby were not even recognizable as inspiration for anything when I first became acquainted with them. Oftentimes they are things from years back. Or, even if recent, the items that inspire seem to have very little to do with the matter under inspection; upon seeing a pin-board for a new novel idea, Jenny suggested I read Rosemary Sutcliff's The Shield Ring for inspiration, though it is "off by a thousand years." In the same way, the names of the Balder children sprang from nothingness: they are both named after their father's shipping firm; Jamsie's real name is 'Jamaica', from the sugar-plantation that has been in her family's possession for several generations. Richmond was named for the great city in America where their father's company has a sister shipping-office. The ideas for the family business were inspired in some part by Amazing Grace (quite opposite an effect than Wilberforce must have been thinking), as well as The Witch of Blackbird Pond. In both cases the source had very little to do with why I retained some little impression about plantations, but...I did. Something about slaves and sugar and Barbados and Jamaica. I dunno.
    The whole idea for The Puddle came from a nighttime walk to the mailbox when the eery idea whispered in my head as I sloshed through a murky pool of water in bare feet: "What if you stepped into a puddle and it had no bottom?"  Starling and Leona (And hence, Smidgen) came out of two separate dreams I had that, at the time, I thought I ought to write down because there had to be a story in there somewhere; I didn't write them down, but I remembered all the same and got two playing-pieces from it. The Admiral and his Fleet came from a hyphenated scrawl I had down for inclusion in Cottleston Pie: "Passenger-Pigeons." But all at once this story needed The Fleet and they had to be black and voila: you have mail-carrying crows.

So in a very long and roundabout way, Elisabeth Grace, I hope I've answered your question to your satisfaction. I find that there is almost never one single thing that influences my stories. They just are or they are not, and the ones that are end up making it to "The End" and the others rarely even make a debut on this blog. Just as my life is a mash of everything including the kitchen sink, so my stories grasp ideas from anywhere and everywhere ranging from sugarcane to excursions to get the mail.
"My brother thinks the king should not have gone on the trip himself, especially when I was so near my time; irresponsible things like engagements of state are better left to members of the House of Polaris who like to go sailing."
-The Baby

1 comment:

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

No, I'd be the last person to blame you for being abstract! Stories built around an interesting character...things out of dreams...scraps from other stories...I've been there, done that. A writer's brain in the inspiration stage must look like one of those word cloud thingys you see on blogs and websites. And what a great first line, by the way.

I'm just Elisabeth in everyday life, by the way. The 'Grace' only shows up on the covers of my books—or when I'm in trouble. :)