We love the story behind the story. Superhero tales, for example. Superman wouldn’t be the same without knowing Krypton blew up just after his parents made him an orphan. In the same way, who thought up the alien-orphan idea and why? What was the inspiration?
Inspiration is taking a breath, getting ready to fight or relax. A planned readying, a gathering of forces. We all need inspiration. I guess if authors were smart, we would methodically review story element trendlines and interest graph analysis and manufacture the next great book based on actuarial tables. But I see that as part of how manuscripts are picked for investment, not how authors work. (But I’ve heard stories, and could be wrong.)
Someone needs to write the story to be picked. Most authors write, and find the story during the process. They start with an idea, the start of a story. I have files and folders full of story seeds, ideas to plant and nurture some day.
But that’s not how One is Come, Two Empty Thrones, and the others in the Five in Circle series came to be. I didn’t take in a deep breath, more like hyperventilated after slipping and falling into the freakishly cold Lake Superior. (It doesn’t matter what month it is. You’d swear it wasn’t water.) For these books, I didn’t have an inspiration, but an epiphany.
On the treadmill, I started a mental exercise, a kind of meditation. I know the mind-body connection well, and did this regularly. But this time I felt like I stuck my finger in an outlet after coming out of a hot tub. Images and voices washed over me, dripping puddles all over, sparks of ideas flickered down and out my hands.
I scribbled as quickly as I could, words jumbled in half-sentences, images and bits of dialogue all thrown together. Haylwen battling Chuck, Stephan and her self-worth, Cadarn struggling against magic-user, monster and obligation. And of course, the dragons. Silver, gold and brown scales, wings and claws, ripping and morphing. Glorious flying and flaming, devious plotting and scheming, heart-wrenching promises and lies.
The whole story. Yes, all of it, all at once. I can’t really explain it. Have you seen those monitor banks in security stations, you know, piped in live camera feeds from different locations? It was like one movie playing on all the screens, different parts on each screen, all at the same time.
With it came the feeling of the story as complete, like all I had to do was write it down. The characters also just emerged whole, like childhood friends you haven’t seen in forever and you thought you’d never see again. Haylwen especially. She looks and sounds vibrant, her voice quiet but intent.
She’s the inspiration. Her whispers inspire me to get up a bit earlier and write, not let the story go to waste. She knows my story too, knows how much I love books and writing, how much a great story can mean to someone.
“You can do it,” she says. “Tell the story you’re reading. Share it. Help it go out, excite and invigorate others. Fun is good, chasing dreams is living, and there is no such thing as impossible.”
She is so right.
And so, I write.
To young C. H. MacLean, books were everything: mind-food, friends, and fun. They gave the shy middle child’s life color and energy. Amazingly, not everyone saw them that way. Seeing a laundry hamper full of books approach her, the librarian scolded C. H. for trying to check them all out. “You’ll never read that many before they expire!” C. H. was surprised, having shown great restraint only by keeping a list of books to check out next time. Thoroughly abashed, C. H. waited three whole days after finishing that lot before going back for more.
With an internal world more vivid than the real one, C. H. was chastised for reading in the library instead of going to class. “Neurotic, needs medical help,” the teacher diagnosed. C. H.’s father, a psychologist, just laughed when he heard. “She’s just upset because those books are more challenging than her class.” C. H. realized making up stories was just as fun as reading, and harder to get caught doing. So for a while, C. H. crafted stories and characters out of wisps and trinkets, with every toy growing an elaborate personality.
But toys were not mature, and stories weren’t respectable for a family of doctors. So C. H. grew up and learned to read serious books and study hard, shelving foolish fantasies for serious work.
Years passed in a black and white blur. Then, unpredictably falling in love all the way to a magical marriage rattled C. H.’s orderly world. A crazy idea slipped in a resulting crack and wouldn’t leave. “Write the book you want to read,” it said. “Write? As in, a fantasy novel? But I’m not creative,” C. H. protested. The idea, and C. H.’s spouse, rolled their eyes.
So one day, C. H. started writing. Just to try it, not that it would go anywhere. Big mistake. Decades of pent-up passion started pouring out, making a mess of an orderly life. It only got worse. Soon, stories popped up everywhere- in dreams, while exercising, or out of spite, in the middle of a work meeting. “But it’s not important work,” C. H. pleaded weakly. “They are not food, or friends, or…” But it was too late. C. H. had re-discovered that, like books, life should be fun too. Now, writing is a compulsion, and a calling.
C.H. lives in a Pacific Northwest forest with five cats, two kids, one spouse, and absolutely no dragons or elves, faeries, or demons… that are willing to be named, at least.
His latest book is the YA fantasy, Two Empty Thrones.
For More Information
- Visit C.H. McLean’s website.
- Find out more about the Five in Circle series.
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- Contact C.H. McLean.