What with the release of Love and Other Impossible Things, I figure I can go ahead and start talking about how those four stories came about. It’s not something that you get to hear about often, mostly because where one story comes from or why another story was written is usually pretty squiffy, even for the author. Which is bizarre, because writing is damned hard work—you’d think that writers would have a better idea of where it all comes from. But most of the time (for me, at least) it feels like the equivalent of a sculptor sitting down with a block of marble and staring at it, very intensely, until blood starts to seep from their pores.
Then, apropos of nothing, the marble assumes a rough shape that can be methodically and carefully honed to whatever passes for perfection, given the time and circumstances.
The editing and polishing process almost always leaves a paper trail, so it’s not difficult to trace it. But the original genesis of the kernel of a story—that moment of inception—is rarely so easily expressed. It’s why we tend to externalize where it comes from as a muse or, more classically, a genius (Roman myth) or daemon (Greek myth).
(Side note: Elizabeth Gilbert has a really wonderful and funny TED talk about how this externalization can be much more psychologically healthy for creative types. You can watch it right here.)
I’m very fortunate, because I know exactly where the seeds of the first story in LaOIT, “The Deal”, came from. Because if I want to dash off just a short jam and don’t have anything to write, or if I’m locked up while working on an outline, or if there’s some other blockage, I have a tool that I use.
Before you ask, I’m not getting paid for this. I just fucking love Rory’s Story Cubes. It’s proven to be a uniquely effective tool for me when I just don’t know where to go. Probably because I’m a visual person, and having a set of images gives me something to kick off from, like the seed value used to generate the nightmarescape of a game of Dwarf Fortress.
So at some point in May or June of 2015, I sat down and didn’t have any idea what to write. Luckily, I always carry two separate sets of story cubes (the original set and the Adventures set), so I rolled them magical bones and wound up with a set of images.
At that point, it turned into free association, and (for whatever reason—here I am admitting that there are some things I still can’t properly explain about this process) the story of Pygmalion and Galatea popped into my brainpan, and that started sloshing around with the Norse myth of the binding of the wolf Fenrir with the fetter Gleipnir, which is made from a bunch of literally impossible shit (breath of a fish, roots of a mountain, sound of a cat’s footfall, etc.). Eventually, after staring at the story cubes for a while longer, I noticed the symbol of a set of balancing scales, which I associated with the Egyptian myth of Anubis weighing the souls of the dead to determine whether they could be passed along to Osiris and immortality.
So with Pygmalion and Galatea and Fenrir and Gleipnir and Anubis’s scales kicking around in my brain plus the imagery from the story cubes that suggested mechanical things and torchlight and ancient structures, I proceeded to apply one of the most common questions in my personal writer’s toolkit:
“Yes, but what if I also add lesbians.”
Which is how I wound up with a first draft where Gala was an actual animated statue, the contents of the bag were much, much different (more like the components of Gleipnir), and Mali was being saved from a more vague kind of eternal damnation by the titular deal.
That, right there, was the genesis of The Weird, as I came to think of the setting. A lot of things have changed since that first draft, some significantly. But the essential truth of the world was present.
The next two stories, “The Rose Thieves” and “The End”, were intended for a group project that has not yet come to fruition, and wound up being set in the same world as “The Deal” simply because I had far too much affection for my slow, surreal, oddly hopeful post-apocalypse. You’ll notice that “Thieves” and “The End” do not exceed 1500 words. This was deliberate on my part, as very short (nearly flash) fiction was the order of the day in this project.
Then, when it became evident that the project wasn’t getting off the ground anytime soon, I got it into my head that I’d self-publish my bizarre little children. But a fourth story was needed to round things out, leading to “The Iron Tree”. Now free of the word limit (but still hoping to keep the story relatively short), I allowed “Tree” some more breathing room. It was the collection’s finale, after all. “Tree” was again the product of Rory’s Story Cubes, the randomness of which seems to lend a certain dreamlike logic to the stories in The Weird.
After that, it was a matter of rewriting and editing and polishing until I’d gotten the stories as smooth and lustrous and consistent as I could manage. As I mentioned before, this is mostly sweat and concentration and trying to make sure things sounds good. Nowadays it’s easy to see the progression from first draft to final, especially if you’re writing in an online tool that aggressively versions your work.
So how about you guys? Do any of you have vivid memories of how a story or novel came to be? Of what kind of witch’s brew was roiling in your brain, stirred gently by your muse/genius/daemon, that produced your personal literary homunculus? Let me know in the comments!
And of course, if you haven’t the slightest clue what on Earth I’ve been talking about here, you may want to swing by Amazon and pick up a copy of Love and Other Impossible Things for reference! I honestly don’t believe you’ll regret it, especially if you’ve got a fondness for strange worlds with stranger inhabitants shot through with a consistent motif of ladylove.
LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE THINGS
Two creatures meet in a crypt to conclude a deal struck decades before…
A caravan guard is delighted to see that the strange rose she carries has been stolen…
An immortal gazes down into a vast chasm full of stars…
A woman must ask the unthinkable of humanity’s last savior…
The world has been ending for a very long time. The sun turns red. Sinister obelisks whisper. Strange beings walk the earth. But love and hope do not die so easily.
One thought on “"Mom, where do stories come from?"”
Fun fact: My first novel was inspired by a joke.
What do you get when you cross an atheist with a Jehovah’s Witness?
SOMEONE WHO KNOCKS ON YOUR DOOR FOR NO REASON!
Somehow, that turned into the story of a ghost hunting 8-year-old befriending a 30-something burnout. Which just proves that you can put in the ingredients, but your brain is gonna cook up whatever the hell it wants.