If you have read my novella Guardian Angel, you’ll know that I used a couple of poems as song lyrics, one to introduce the story and one as an integral part of it. (You can read the first poem at the novella page here.) I’m about to sit down and write another set of lyrics for an urban fantasy story idea that I can’t shake, in the hope that it will go away so I can get back to drafting the sci-fi young adult story I’m working on.
Like all angsty teens, I used to write a lot of poems, although most of them are, objectively speaking, sheer garbage. (Sorry, past Cass, but it’s true. I was just flicking through your books of poetry, and yeesh.)
There is one storytelling-style poem that I wrote when I was at university that I think is alright, though, and I thought I’d share it here. It was written back in the day when I was obsessed with Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, and is about a character I’d created for some fanfics I wrote. Knowledge of that world is useful, but I don’t think it’s 100% necessary to follow along.
Snow Softly Falling
The snow was falling softly down onto the icy ground;
The moaning of the winter wind was the only sound
Until the crunch of hoofbeats came, a-breaking through the snow
Plowing through the muddy soil that was concealed below.
The stallion and his rider were both attired in white
And so appeared and vanished through snow-filtered light.
Herald and Companion, making their weary way
Through the fading twilight that comes at end of day,
To a Herald Waystation where they would spend the night
Then up and travel onward, as soon as there was light.
Their heads, they hung down, weary; they hungered and were sore —
The snow was falling softly down onto the forest floor.
Herald and Companion both were Couriers for the Crown
And had just delivered messages into a nearby town,
Warning loyal and local lords of rebels in their fold,
Spies come out of Hardorn, or so the Queen was told.
Couriers travel quickly, and these quicker than most —
Although it’s not the sort of thing of which you’d hear them boast.
The messages sent early, the task already done,
The Herald and Companion’s journey home begun.
They came upon the Waystation and settled for the night,
The glowing of the embers on the hearth the only light.
The night replaced the daytime with nary a sound.
The snow was falling silently onto the icy ground.
Outside the little building, creeping through the trees,
Came four men in cloaks and hoods, silently, with ease.
Each man bore a cruel sword, its blade bright and bare.
Their breath frosted before them upon the frigid air.
Four men came from Hardorn at their lord’s request
To stop the message from reaching the spies’ hidden nest,
To stop the Couriers delivering their message from the Queen.
Four men creeping closer, all silent and unseen.
Their hearts were hardened steel, their faces a blank mask:
Four men with a dark intent to do a grisly task.
The message was delivered, but they could not know.
Four men, dark and deadly, creeping through the snow.
Herald and Companion, both were sound asleep.
Both were sore and weary, and so their sleep was deep,
Yet, suddenly, the Herald felt a foreboding chill
Of fear upon her dreams; she woke and she lay still.
Blinking rapid in the darkness of the little room,
Ears and senses stretching into the pressing gloom.
Mindspeech had the Herald, and so it told her this:
Four people came a-creeping to give her metal’s kiss.
The Herald wondered briefly what had made her wake,
And thanked the Lady Luck herself for the lucky break.
She woke her Companion, she readied her bow.
The Waystation was silent in the field of falling snow.
The four men reached the building and eased open the door;
They saw sleeping Companion, blankets mounded on the floor,
A body huddled under, sleeping without a care.
The first entered the room, approaching with blade bare.
Imagine his surprise when he reached the sleeping form
And discovered piles of clothes! He turned, his friends to warn,
And Herald, hid in shadows black, shot him in the heart,
As the Companion raised his head, making the next man start.
Trembling with anger, the stallion kicked out;
The man fell down, screaming, his limbs thrashing about.
The Herald drew her sword and swiftly dropped her bow.
Two men still stood standing in the falling snow.
The men exchanged a wary glance, taken by surprise.
Together, they advanced again with caution in their eyes.
Perhaps fearing the fate of those who’d gone before,
The men approached with caution the broad Waystation door.
Deciding it was better to take the fight outside,
To give the stallion room to move, the Herald room to ride,
Our heroes hurried forward into the wintry night.
The bandits closed in, snarling, and so began the fight.
The Herald’s sword danced, gleaming; the stallion reared up, fierce.
Bright hooves caved a skull in; bright sword a chest did pierce.
Then, exhausted panting remained the only sound.
The icy snow fell softly onto the scarlet ground.
The Herald’s arm hung, bleeding, from a lucky bandit’s strike;
She cleaned it first with salves, then bandaged it up tight,
And of the four assassins, only one yet lived —
The Herald made him name and orders of his master give.
The lord who’d sent the order to protect the hidden spies
Was one who lived within the court, right under Heralds’ eyes!
And, although tired and wounded, the Herald knew they must
Get this news to Haven, reveal this breach of trust.
She used her Gift of Mindspeech to warn the Queen that night;
The traitor was arrested, and thus the tale set right.
Then Herald and Companion resumed their well-earned rest.
The winter snow gleamed whitely, and Valdemar was blessed.
Valdemar and its trappings are copyright to Mercedes Lackey, and no infringement of that copyright is intended.
I think the single most common question authors—especially very successful authors—get asked is about their sources of inspiration. The question is almost a stereotype now. And a lot of them reply along the line of, “The real trick is making them stop!”
I used to not understand this answer. I spent a lot of time toying with ideas, usually for high fantasy novels, but never getting far because the well would run dry: the ideas I had felt derivative, or paper thin.
It wasn’t till I said “hell with it” and started writing anyway that I discovered the truth. Like writing skill, the ability to come up with story ideas—for me at least—is like a muscle. The more I write, the more I come up with ideas, the easier it is. I suspect a lot of other writers are the same.
Getting to the point where I had an idea with enough weight for an entire novel was a long process, though. I started out, like a lot of people, writing fanfiction. I wrote some short stories in another writer’s fantasy world; it felt easy to me, because the worldbuilding had been done. This was in the days before the internet was huge (don’t laugh!) so the stories were published in the author’s “official” fanzine and distributed via the post. Old school, yo. *poses*
Then I wrote two or three novella-length stories that were another type of fanfiction: the type with famous people as characters (no, I won’t say who). But the stories were my own. These novellas were about 25k words each; when a friend pointed out to me that if I’d put that amount of effort into real fiction I’d have a novel, it was a sobering realisation. And a motivating one, too. It showed me I could do it, whereas before I’d thought I couldn’t.
So I revisited one of the novellas, and took an extra element of an old (non-fanfic) short story, threw them in a pot, and stirred. Then I started from scratch with the ideas born from this mix. The result was Isla’s Inheritance. The only element from the original novella fanfic that has carried across is one of my original (non-famous) characters: Isla’s cousin Sarah.
And once I finished Isla’s Inheritance, that seemed to open the floodgates on my subconscious. Ideas for a sequel, and another beyond that. Another urban fantasy idea (now finished). A solid fantasy/Steampunk concept (outlined). And other, half-formed ideas.
These days it seems like whenever I hear a story on the news, or am talking to a friend, part of my brain is turning what I’m hearing over and looking at it from all sides to see whether there’s a kernel of a story idea there. I can see why writers call that their muse. I think of it more as part of myself—but a part I have very little control over. As my friend Stacey Nash describes in her latest blog post, it seems to have a mind of its own.
I’m curious though—do you find it easy to come up with story ideas? Has that always been the case, or have you had to train yourself/awaken the muse, like I have?
I don’t have a manuscript eligible for entry into the Like a Virgin contest—and, even if I did, that ship has sailed. But I thought I’d participate in their “Getting to Know You” blog hop anyway, because: BLOG HOP. 🙂
1. How do you remember your first kiss?
Vaguely. I was at a party and had been partaking of something bubbly and intoxicating. Sambuca may have been involved. The fellow in question had amazing eyes (although maybe that was the bubbles talking).
If it weren’t for the alcohol making me relax, it would probably have never happened. That being said, don’t do what I did, kids. It could have all gone horribly wrong.
2. What was your first favorite love song?
Speaking of horribly wrong… Back in the 1980s, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan (at the height of their Neighbours fame) released a schlocky duet called Especially For You. Yeah, that.
Hey, I was twelve!
3. What’s the first thing you do when you begin writing for the day?
Re-read what I wrote the previous day. I give it a once-over edit and then hunker down. If I could actually write every day I might not but, because I can usually only write once or twice a week, I need to re-read to remind myself of exactly what was going on, to anchor myself in events, emotional context, etc.
4. Who’s the first writer who truly inspired you to become a writer?
Mercedes Lackey is the first one I can recall doing it. I was writing before that, but for a while there I joined a fanclub called Queen’s Own, and discovered fanfic. This was before the internet was widespread; stories got distributed via newsletter.
Old school, my friend.
5. Did the final revision of your first book have the same first chapter it started with?
It’s the same chapter, but it’s significantly shorter than it was. I amputated somewhere between 500 and 1000 words off the front.
6. For your first book, which came first: major characters, plot or setting?
It was a combination of characters and plot. I had the idea for Isla, and for her, uh, “condition”—and I knew roughly what that meant for her.
Interestingly, her name wasn’t Isla to start with. But I had to rename her after an ex started dating a girl with the name that I’d chosen. Awkward.
7. What’s the first word you want to roll off the tip of someone’s tongue when they think of your writing?
“Easy to read” is three words, gorramit! How about “accessible”? I’ve got very little patience for writing that is dense, rambling and self-indulgent, so those are things I try and avoid in my own writing.
Click here to check out the other “getting to know you” blog posts.