Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Magic Engaged

Especially among fantasy and science fiction writers, there's this phenomenon where we're tuned into… something… that's at least a little magic.

I'm not even talking about that "zone" we get in during writing, or how we can manipulate words to make pretty or powerful sentences.  Or even Terry Brooks' great little book Sometimes the Magic Works.

The magic I'm talking about is the stuff that makes us sit up in our chairs and look over our shoulder to catch a glimpse of that spectral being that must have been whispering in our ear when we put down something for the hell of it, when we make a guess about how something ought to work, when an idea in our heads just got real, y'all!

I've had more than a few of these instances with the current MacArthur kelpie novel I'm writing, but they're not the first for me.

Chris and I both plot similarly (at least, we do when we write together).  We go with our guts for as long as we can until we want to or need to include some details, then we research.  More often than not, especially thanks to things like Google Maps, we have found that the scene we pictured, the props we need for our characters, exist in real life. 

And we have a Keanu moment of "Whoa!"

Neither Chris nor I have ever been to the UK, but a lot of our stories happen there.  We set some scenes in Cardiff, Wales and found out that the timing we need for travel, the areas for buildings, all are right where we need them - and not necessarily based on the set pieces for Doctor Who or Torchwood, either.  Long before that, when we were writing scenes for our Shadow Guard game and stories, we found equally perfect locations in California (where neither of us had visited) and Maine (where I've been, but not where we set the story.)

For the MacArthur kelpie story, the closest I've been to Scotland are the Glasgow Lands in Northampton, MA (where we went to go see the most excellent Scottish-Canadian band Enter the Haggis).  One of my friends has Scottish lineage and his mother has a double citizenship, but I haven't done much brain picking. 

A few months ago, my writing group called attention to the fact it was time that my castle needed a firmer foundation than the mists of my mind, so I went to my friends' studio (where some truly magical research has happened on a few occasions), and spent 12+ hours of researching Scottish castles and geography.

Lo and behold, not only were a lot of the ideas in my head that I worried were a little crazy actually true, but I found actual floor-plans that I could modify with not a whole lot of work.  On top of that, and what really blew my mind, is that the location I needed to set my castle actually existed and, on top of that, housed remains of another castle as part of a nature reserve (did I mention that some major plot elements required that the story's castle abut a nature reserve?)

Scary enough, but then I started working on characters' birthdays.  Throwing aside the whole supposedly new crap about the astrological calendar, I've found that using the existing zodiac calendar has never led me wrong with character traits and that when I pull birthdays from my head for characters, they are usually spot on to their zodiac signs.  Now, the family story for the MacArthurs is complex enough without me adding in all my paranormal and faerie stuff, so figuring out when the heck every one of the kids and parents had to be born (and when they met, started dating/had sex/married) was another 12-hour day at my friends' studio.  But, like a perfect puzzle, the dates fit in and the characters were born in the zodiac signs that best fit their personalities.

Then, as if I needed some icing on my cupcakes that I now had and was eating, too (metaphorically), I decided to look up the history of the actual clan MacArthur (Clan Arthur) in hopes I wouldn't be offending actual people who were proud of their heritage by throwing in missing family lines and faerie contracts.  Well, come to find out, while one of the oldest clans in Scotland (and one that suffered a lot historically, particularly with relations in Britain… which I knew, in my head, the fictional family line had also done), there was a long time where they could not find the clan chief and the family tree was a little hard to follow. 

So, Michael's storyline could very well work in real life, too.

I'm not the only one that this happens to, either!  In a Clarion blog earlier this month, the author made a fantastic plant entry in the style of Darwin, and while the author, Eric Schaller, did a ton of research, he still notes a "happy coincidence" about Alfred Wallace having also gone to Madagascar as Darwin did, as well as the serendipity of pirates having also gone to Madagascar (both points in his fictional plant entry.)

Speaking more rationally, most writers are avid readers and researchers.  Of course, it's possible we could come across various bits of information earlier that our minds file away for later use and, beyond our conscious perception, become seeds and fertilizer laid down even before a story takes root.  I've been to more than a few Celtic faires, Glasgow Games, and similar events on US soil.  About 10 years ago, I was looking through old maps of Britain, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales for an entirely different novel.  I love British media.  I did some minor league stalking of David Tennant (Scottish) while he held the crown of Doctor Number 10.  Yes, I might have come across this information before, or at least had enough background knowledge to create plausible circumstances.

But I write fantasy.  Contemporary fantasy in particular.  I look for magic in the mundane.

Of course I'm going to find it.


Anonymous said...

Hi Trisha,

Lol...there are no coincidences! My great-grandmother was Scottish so I enjoyed reading about this piece on Scotland, castles and clans. Hope you have more fun (and Keanu moments) writing this story.

Peace, Julie

Trisha Wooldridge said...

Thanks, Julie! I'm really just loving these characters and this book, still! I "officially" started writing it last March... at the same said friends' studio. My self-imposed deadline for this first draft is end of March... tho, hopefully, even sooner. :) And I sooooo want to go to Scotland. Everything I research makes me fall in love with the country even more!

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