Sunday, January 26, 2014

Inspiration and the Universe Conspire (to help me create a new story)

We were out of town this weekend, spending as much time as possible with my wife's sister, who is undergoing a bone marrow transplant and more chemo in Birmingham. She slept quite a lot, off and on, and I caught up on some Kindle reading, as well as browsing more than I usually do. I started reading a steampunk novel sample (not too good, so I'm not naming it), and decided to check out a sample of a writing guide for people interested in steampunk (also not so good, but whatever, by this time, my brain was engaged).

On the drive home today, we passed a sign pointing to the exit for two nearby towns, Jemison and Thorsby, and I said, "That's a great character name. Jemison Thorsby, a reporter for the Confederate Statesmen paper out of Atlanta in 1870, two years after the Civil War ended in an uneasy truce."

Soon, we passed a sign for two more towns. "Clanton Montgomery," I said. "Former colonel in the Alabama militia. Hero of the Battle of Birmingham. Now a soldier of fortune operating out of the Republic of Texas."

We passed a sign for two more towns. "Coosada Wetumpka," I thought (as by this time my wife was trying to nap). "A Creek Indian. Father was a Red Stick warrior. He works for Montgomery, and is on the train from the free port of New Orleans to Port Arthur when he meets Thorsby."

I began to think about Thorsby more. He's a reporter, dispatched to get the story on Montgomery, who has been making expeditions into the Plains Nations, where the tribes are armed with electrostatic weapons, dirigibles, and steam-powered cannon-carriages to keep the interlopers off their lands. They have a mysterious benefactor that is designing these breakthroughs, and the U.S. government is secretly bankrolling Montgomery's excursions.

On the train, Thorsby sees a beautiful black woman in the company of two white men. She is clearly rich, clearly a free woman, but one of the men is threatening her. The woman glances at Thorsby on several occasions. Later, in the dining car, Thorsby sees the man slap the woman, and he goes to their table to warn the man not to strike a lady. She speaks to him in a lyrical French accent, "I do not require your assistance, little man." I could hear her voice in my imagination.

Only then does he recognize her. But what is her name?

A moment later, I passed a sign for a place called Legrande. That's certainly French-ish. So her name is LeGrande, but that's only a stage name. What's her first name? What's her real name? I pass a sign for a place called Cleo. Her stage name is Cleopatra LeGrande, she's a famous chanteuse, the toast of Paris, but he knew her when they were children. She was a house servant at the same estate where his father was a stable hand. Her name was...

I passed a sign for a place called Ada. He knew her by that name in their childhood, and he would often offer to help Ada with her chores, but she would always say, "I don't need your help, Little Man."

So what happens when they reach Port Arthur? And then onward to Beaumont, and all across to Amarillo? What happens when they cross the border into "Injun Country," as Wetumpka sneeringly calls it, and they face the dirigible fleet of the United Tribes under the command of Touch the Clouds (a character who I had in mind, but not by name until I happened to do a search for "native American leaders" and found this list)?

What otherworldly monstrosity waits in Roswell? What is "the Breach" and why must it be "Repaired"?

(I wondered that when I passed a sign on a country church that declared they were "Repairers of the Breach." (Don't look that up, because it will depress you.))

The sunset was fiery red as we passed through a string of small Alabama towns. Signs and portents in the sky. The iPod began playing a song about a woman traveling back in time, and I knew I had my answers...

...And that is how a story begins to take shape in my head.

Peace.
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