Friday, August 5, 2011

The Story Behind the Story: "The Casket of Brass"

I'm in the process of epublishing a series of short fiction pieces that have appeared in the Norilana editions of Sword & Sorceress. Whyfor? For one thing, the distribution of any small-publisher POD edition is extremely limited. I love these stories, and hope you will, too. I hope that reading about how I came to write them will pique your interest. You can find them on my shelf at Book View Cafe (and can download them from there for your Kindle or Nook), or on the 400/pound/g/o/r/i/l/l/a amazon or Barnes & Noble (links on the slideshow to the left). Here's the first, with more to come.

"The Casket of Brass" began years ago, after Jaydium and Northlight, but before I began working with Marion on a Darkover collaboration. I wanted to try novel-length fantasy, and I started playing around with some images from The Arabian Nights. Not, you must understand, the real Arabian Nights, full of very grisly stuff, but the Arabian Nights of my childhood. As watered-down as those stories were, they offered deliciously exotic adventures, not to mention wonderful language. The image of a statue, part marble and part living man, is very much in keeping with those dream-like stories.

The other source I drew on was the notion of setting a fantasy in a world of Moorish Iberia. I saw lots of interwoven threads with The Arabian Nights there. Somehow, a student prince (Hamlet, of course) wandered in and demanded a wicked uncle after the throne and a dying grandmother to pass on magical objects disguised as toys. The prince then refused to behave in any sort of adventurous or heroic fashion; I found myself much more interested in his freed-Brictish-slave "Horatio" friend. Maybe I'll go back to that character some day, but this particular story languished so badly, I just set it aside.

Stories set aside undergo a mysterious alchemical change. This is akin to the reproduction of dust bunnies and potholes (or parakeets in the sewers, for you Monty Python fans). When I was casting about for a story idea for an upcoming Sword & Sorceress, this jumble of false starts rearranged itself and a student princess jumped up and cried, "Me! It's me!" Of course it was her. So I kept the grandmother and the enchanted toys, furnishing them with a home in a brass casket, set up some expectations about the usurper uncle (expectations being the sort of things we love to turn inside out), and sent her happily on her adventurous way. The evil-uncle-after-the-throne just begged for unexpected revelations, and his daughter -- cousin and once-dear friend to the princess -- presented interesting possibilities from the moment I met her.

Here's the blurb: "Hamlet" meets "The Arabian Nights" -- with a feminist twist! A young princess-scholar returns home to find her grandmother dying and her uncle, the Regent, poised to seize the throne.

And here's a snippet, with the statue:

Gradually, Maridah became aware of a noise like creaking leather, faint but distinct. She dropped her hands. The statue — surely its arms had been at its sides, fingers loose, wrists curved slightly inward, as if cradling something delicate. Now one of the statue’s arms was raised, the bend of the elbow framing its head.
The rose vines quivered, releasing a burst of scent. The statue took a deep, shuddering breath.

Maridah scrambled to her feet.

The statue took another unmistakable breath . . . and groaned. Maridah’s alarm vanished at the piteous sound. Moving closer, she saw a tear slip down the statue’s cheek.

The statue looked at Maridah. The eyes were creamy, unmarked by any color, not even a pupil. Their blankness gave the statue a quizzical expression, as if it were astonished to find someone else in its private garden.

Maridah opened her mouth, but before she could draw breath, the statue spoke.

“Know, O Princess of a noble race, that I was once as you are.  As you will soon become.” The statue blinked and two more tears dripped down its face.

This was such an extraordinary way of beginning a conversation, even in the flowery language used at court, and even in a place as full of magic as this garden, that Maridah could only stand and gape. Her mind bubbled with the tales she’d loved as a child, of spells woven and broken, dragons slain, evil djinni defeated, sorcerers challenged.

“Are you under an enchantment?” she ventured. “Can I — is there some way you can be freed?”

“Not until the seas run dry and the last dragon falls from the heavens.” The statue raised its hands and let them fall, as if hope were too great a burden. “She who is my torment and my delight is as ageless as the sky.”

No comments:

Post a Comment