I hope you’ve been enjoying the Focus on Characters posts as much as I have and now see those people a little differently. I’m not abandoning that series, but I decided to take a break from it to talk about the inspirations behind my stories.
Sometimes I know exactly what prompted a story, and sometimes I can recall the collection of circumstances that led to it. Shafter is in the odd place of filling both types of inspiration. I know the moment that Shafter came into being, with the descriptive title of “Trina,” and yet the story itself draws on a broad collection of experiences and influences.
Trina got her name because I fell in love with the name Katrina in a novel about Scotland. I believe it was Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, read in a children’s illustrated classics when I was young and impressionable. Why Trina instead of Katrina? I realized every main character I was writing about had a name beginning with “K,” so changed hers. Of course, her sister’s name started as Krista, then went through many permutations over the edits, only to end up with Katie, another “K” name. Sigh.
The story itself was an assignment for a Science Fiction and Fantasy writing course in college. A graduate student ran the class and provided a much-maligned view of writing by focusing on publication.
Her class did not inspire my first submission, which had already happened, but certainly got me into the habit. Sadly, the short story (if 8,174 words could be called that–tip: it can’t) did not fare well in the submission pile, perhaps because I’d crammed not just one world but two into those pages. It contained the full story of the novel, with a good bit less detail, but the same beginning, middle, and end. I’d been tasked with writing a short story, so I sat down and came up with one. I’ve renamed stories of that type as novel synopses masquerading as short stories, because that’s what they are. Still, most can be read as a condensed version, perhaps like the illustrated classic.
Anyway, the original inspiration was my assignment, but this is where the swamp comes in.
I have a swamp in my head.
It’s messy, jumbled, and hard to wade through, but contains everything I’ve read, felt, and experienced. If you’ve seen The Princess Bride (and if you haven’t, you should give it a try), this swamp works much like the one in the movie. Without much of a warning, every once in a while, a bubble grows on the surface then explodes with a loud bang.
Where my swamp deviates from that model is in releasing story elements rather than toxic gas, a fact I very much appreciate.
One such element in Shafter is the feel and style of Ceric. When I was in high school, I did a foreign exchange trip with my Spanish class to Barcelona. We toured the old city as part of the trip, and the feel of that place sank into my bones. I had more pictures of those old buildings than I did of anything, or anyone, else, much to my mother’s disappointment.
First City (and yes, that’s the name for reasons) is not a direct copy of old Barcelona. There are elements of other Moorish cities, a touch of Istanbul, and parts coming purely from my imagination. When I re-read the first section of Shafter, old Barcelona springs to life around me from the architecture to the smell of old stone masonry.
The subway tunnels where Trina grew up stem from New York City, absent any functional cars. I’d spent much more time on the subways in Washington, D.C., but those lacked the aura of neglect and grit I needed.
I’m sure, if I thought long enough, I could come up with other connections, but I think I’ll stop here. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into how Shafter came to be. The earlier novel drafts spent more time in Ceric than the final, culled for length issues. I’ve revived a few of those in my Treats from the Cutting Room Floor, and most likely will add to the selection when I have the chance.
If you’ve read Shafter, is there an element’s origin you’re curious about? Or is there another of my stories you’d like to see show up on this series?