Hwaet! I’m starting a series of eight or so blog posts (which may appear somewhat erratically). This here is the first of them. Each is going to take a question of the sort that people seem to want to ask and ramble on about it a bit. I’m thinking of this as “Informal interview with self.” I shall speak aloud, virtually, with enthusiastic hand-waving. Just imagine all that.
So, here we go:
As I’ve said elsewhere, outlines kill stories for me, so I generally avoid them like the plague, and I don’t start a book with any kind of coherent “This is a story about X” idea. What starts a story off for me is generally a character in a situation, and the situation is always one that has some setting attached. It expands — explodes, quite often — from there.
For Blackdog, which was the first thing I wrote set in this world of the Caravan Road, that character was a man, a mercenary of some sort. He was in a small town not his own, which was under attack by its enemies. The man was being possessed by a — thing. (I say ‘thing’, because the obvious ‘demon’ means something else in this world.) (Demons are pretty much the only beings who don’t go around possessing or enslaving people’s souls, I’ve just realized. Human necromancers, wizards, gods & goddesses, ghosts . . . yes. Not demons. Demons are rather hermit-like by inclination and quite possibly the most morally upstanding beings in this world.)
[Demon considers attempting possession. Shrugs and says, “Why would I want to do that?” and wanders off to think profound thoughts in the woods, or just ask a human they find attractive for a date. Actually, demons do the latter rather less than gods & goddesses, too, based on the evidence in the book, Mikki’s mother notwithstanding.]
Anyway, that was where it began. Man possessed with a battle going on.
“Why?” is the question that makes the story happen. “Who is he?” that’s another one, and “What happens next?” but why most of all. Everything else unfolds as I try to find out.
Holla-Sayan — that was his name, after about sixty seconds of being named Holly after my then-computer, which used to declare, “Emergency, emergency, there’s an emergency going on,” in Norman Lovett’s voice just before it crashed, which it did frequently — was one of those story seeds that exploded into vast life and a full personality almost instantly. It’s rather like falling in love or getting hit on the head. Bang. Wow. There he is.
He was also obviously not the start of the story. I don’t remember thinking up the Blackdog, the dog-spirit guardian of the incarnate child-goddess Attalissa. It just — was.
So then I went back and I started writing the story at the beginning, with the conquest of the goddess’s town of Lissavakail. Holla-Sayan comes into it at the point where he needs to be, which is slightly against the rules, because there’s this other man at the start who’s obviously the hero and then . . . he’s dead. Sorry. That’s how it happened.
But anyway, there was Holla-Sayan, a decent man, if at that particular point a bit gloomy and sulky, since the woman he had a sort of a thing with in this town has gone off and married someone else. Also he was trying to be properly put out about it and get drunk and some damned horde of wizard-led warriors from the Great Grass invaded and began trashing the place. And tried to steal his horse, which wasn’t even his, he’d borrowed it from a friend. So that didn’t end well. Not for the person stealing the horse. He does what he can to help with the defence and then takes off, the locals having been pretty clearly defeated and he has a caravan and his boss — who is also his other girlfriend — to get back to.
And on the way, among the refugees, he finds a child with a dying dog. And nobody is helping her, nobody is gathering her up to take her along. So he does. He was adopted himself. He doesn’t ride past abandoned children. And that changes the course of his life, and the course of his world.
I didn’t think of any of that in any conscious way. It just all happened. But once the words flowed out for that much of the story, everything else about the world began to fall into place around those figures and the situation they were in. Holla-Sayan, unwilling host to the shapeshifting dog-spirit called the Blackdog and Attalissa the child-goddess herself took to the caravan road, leaving a conquered town in the mountains behind them. And the caravan road, it turned out, was going to run through almost everything in this world.