Adventures in NaNo-Land – Where Do I Start?

November 3, 2012 at 10:49 pm (fantasy, writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

Readers often ask me: “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s a building process for me. I start with a seed of an idea, a seed that might come to me in one of a hundred different ways and usually involving the ending of a tale, and then I build layers around it until I have a full story. My first NaNo started that way. I had a story idea but I wanted to blend it into a backdrop from some obscure mythology, to give a rather scattered storyline some cohesion (and it worked). I searched my big book of the gods until I came across Siberian mythology, not well known and something that seemed to fit with my plot. I was surprised after I had built the Kalau and a few other races into my Elements of Genocide, when I did further research, how much my vision of these beings matched what I found in the academic books out there. It was almost as if I had known they would work that way from the beginning.

The same thing happened with me last year with Sleep Escapes Us. I wanted zombies involved in the story, but it had to work with the mythology I chose, and not feel forced. I picked Zalmoxis and the Thracian mythology because it had the right vibe, but the more I investigated, the more it felt like I had written the plot to the myth, and not chosen the backdrop after I’d come up with my synopsis.

This year, after a friend had mentioned traders of skin, I decided that had to be the focus of my NaNo project and once I came up with my story, I pulled out the big book of gods. I found some Sami nature gods I thought fit with my tale (referred to by the derogatory term “Laplander” in the reference manual) and after plugging in that mythos, started to research it in depth. Imagine my surprise to find that traders of skin (in particular reindeer, raven and bear) and the duality of the soul play an integral role in the Sami mythology. The story absolutely came to life around their legends and it just felt right written within their culture. It’s still fantasy with magic and monsters, but it feels more real for it.

And here’s today’s excerpt. Tomorrow I’ll be posting the link for chapter two:

“Apparently your boy can’t tell a ‘deer’ from a ‘darling’,” came another wise-crack from the back of the crowd, as Jaská had Dáidu gently lower his charge to the ground where the temporary noaidi could inspect her better. She knelt beside Lieđđi. Oaván hung his head.

“I shot her by accident. She spoke in your tongue, Mother. She must be one of your kind.”

Those words seemed to immediately set Jaská, who had started to examine the young woman’s wound, on edge. She reached to move aside the deerskin, but recoiled again, as if avoiding tooth and claw as soon as her fingers connected with the soft white hide.

“My tongue? Impossible – why would she be this far south? Why would she be travelling all alone,” a startled Jaská mumbled, directing Dáidu to gather Lieđđi up again and take her to their tent.

“Were you not this far south when you met father?” Dáidu pointed out. “Were you not alone when he first encountered you?”

“That was different – she is different,” Jaská insisted. “You cannot look at her and honestly suggest that we’re from the same clan.”

That much was true. Lieđđi was as thin as Jaská was thick, as frail as the older woman was muscular. While Lieđđi was almost as white as the hide she was wrapped in, Jaská’s skin had a somewhat dusky, ruddy hue. The women could not have been more unalike unless they had been separate species, worlds apart in appearance. And yet…

“But I heard her speak. I answered her in your tongue and she understood me,” Oaván protested. Had all of his senses failed him? His eyes had seen a reindeer that wasn’t there, his ears had heard words that according to his mother weren’t there either. Maybe Lieđđi’s smell had not been nearly as enchanting as it had seemed, another cruel deception that had him questioning his sanity along with his senses.

“We must hurry,” his mother told him. “I will need to gather some herbs to make an elixir so that we can strengthen what’s left of her blood before I pull that arrow. I’ll need to have some sinew and bone needles ready, to stitch her up once it is out, and I’ll have to have a salve prepared to dress the wound, to try to prevent infection. From there we will need prayer, lots of prayer. It will be up to Maadteraahka to decide her fate. She gave this girl…”

“Lieđđi,” Oaván interrupted. “I asked her her name, in your tongue, and she told me that it was Lieđđi.”

“Fine then. She gave Lieđđi her body and it will be up to Maadteraahka to choose if her soul gets to keep it. I would start praying now if I were you. Beg for her mercy and apologize for the damage you have accidently done to one of her creations.”

Oaván shook his head as he followed along behind her and Dáidu, still worn ragged from his trek back carrying Lieđđi. He wished he could be more like his father, the epitome of faith, but he had never found any answers in prayer, which was why he was not likely to become the next noaidi. Not that Oaván wasn’t spiritual, but he found his connection with the divine while he was alone in natural places, meditating to the kind of silence that let you hear the sound of your own heart beating. He had never found it in the social worship of his village – not in the drumming or chants or prayer that uplifted the other people of Anár’s spirits. He liked to simply sit at one of the sacred sites – either at the sieidi, the álda and sáivu hills, or one of the blessed springs –and just feel the energies of everything that surrounded him.

More tomorrow J



  1. Christina Westover said,

    I truly believe all mythology is based upon fact, and love that you pointed out how it is basically fantasy and magic: ) I was once told I am an old soul who came from an ancient civilization who only spoke telepathically…and this year, I began to speak telepathically. Who’s to say some of what you write will not come true? That question keeps me forever hopeful when immersing myself in art of any kind. I love the sagacity, the compassionate serious tone of this…and love that FAITH is the cornerstone of it all.

    • chantellyb said,

      The duality of soul concept is at the root of the story, animal instinct vs higher reasoning and living in the now vs an awareness of past, present and future. The protagonist flounders quite a bit until he learns to accept himself for who he really is, with all his particular strengths and weaknesses, and trusts in his own sense of spirituality.

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