“In Memory of Jianhong, Snake-Devil”

I’ve been dropping annoyingly vague hints here and there, but now it’s all out in the open—I’ve apparently started a new fantasy series. I didn’t really plan to do it and I certainly didn’t think I was ready, but then I’m not always in charge. I know writers who strongly disagree with that perspective. “I’m in charge and my characters do what I say.” And that’s often true even with me, as in sometimes I am and sometimes they do. But for me it usually works out better when the characters do what they want and I just follow closely and mark it all down, then cut out the bit where they stared at the horizon for an hour just for the hell of it and add the bit where one of them tripped and fell into the icy stream. Just for the hell of it. Or maybe because they deserved it…ahem. Where was I?

Right, the new series. The first one, “In Memory of Jianhong, Snake-Devil” is now up in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #226. I’ve already written and sold the second one and started blocking scenes for the third. As I said, after Yamada I wanted to do some stand-alone stories, since some of my favorites of my own work have been books or stories with no befores or afters, except what was implied in the story itself. I once attempted a few befores and afters in the case of Jin from All the Gates of Hell, because I liked the character so much, but none of them worked out. She was done, and thus so was I.

Pan Bao and Jing were different. I’ve had them in my head for a while, wondering what they were about. I first had him pictured as a bumbling Taoist priest kept successful (and alive) by his far more competent daughter, and there are still echoes of that, but the man himself turned out to be quite different. Then Mei Li showed up, and well, that was that. So it’s a series. I hope you like it. If you don’t I’ll write it anyway.

It’s not like I’m in charge.

Patterns

On my desk is a picture (artist’s rendering, duh) of Amaterasu, the Japanese goddess of the sun. I keep it there because it’s a cool picture, but also because, in very general appearance, it reminds me of the character Mei Li, who is the Chinese snake-devil (or snake-spirit, depending on the translation and your point of view) in the series of stories I’m working on now. So how did I get from a Japanese sun goddess to a Chinese snake-devil?

Good question, to which I do not have an answer. Different origins, different—though distantly related—cosmologies. Yet I can glance up from working and think, “Yep. That’s her.” Even though it isn’t. Yet the picture helps me connect to the character. I do not know how this works, but I think it has something to do with patterns.

I’ll take for example something not related at all, except it is. I don’t have a very good handle on time at the moment, so late every evening when I’m too ragged to write, I try to put in at least ten minutes or more guitar practice. Since I am a slow study where music is concerned, I have to spend a lot of that interval on basic things like switching chords cleanly and in time. Which is a lot easier when you grasp how different chord patterns are related, say when you realize that a G major chord and a Cadd9 are the same shape (hand held in the same position) the only difference being what strings the middle and index fingers are on.

It’s sort of like that. Amaterasu and Mei Li are not the same (obviously), but in one I see elements of the other. I have never to my knowledge based my understanding of a character’s appearance on a picture of someone else. This time I did. Because…patterns?

It’s as good an explanation as any.