The Pearl in a Grain of Sand
by Dave Duncan
Page 1 of 1
There's a R in the month, so I can talk about oysters. All authors,
especially authors of speculative fiction, are asked, "Where do you get your
ideas?" Some find the query infuriating, and I confess I am often tempted to
respond, "Same place you get your stupid questions." But if it were a stupid
question it would have an obvious answer, and it doesn't. As best as I can work
it out, the process goes something like this.
The seed is always a simple phrase or image. In a hole in the ground lived a
hobbit. Ursula K. Le Guin has reported that the initial inspiration for The
Left Hand of Darkness was an image of two people hauling a sled across a
frozen wasteland. Who would have guessed that? I was led to write The Gilded
Chain by a memory of the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey as played by Orson
Welles in the movie A Man for All Seasons.
This seed, once implanted in the writer's brain, acts like the grain of sand
that irritates the oyster. The oyster coats it with layers of nacre and makes a
pearl. The writer wraps his seed with other ideas, bundling them together until
he has a viable story.
Admittedly experience comes into the selection process. A talking dog? No, a
talking dog would not fit. A mad Czar? Certainly a mad Czar!
I began Paragon Lost knowing I wanted to write about the King's
Blades, and if you have not yet encountered those brash swordsmen-bodyguards, I
hope you will do so without delay. King Ambrose, in the first series, was
undoubtedly an avatar of Henry VIII, so Chivial is sixteenth century England.
But the sixteenth century was loaded with remarkable people: Michelangelo,
Hernando CortÚs, Martin Luther, Ivan the Terrible, and so on.
Luther, I think not. But the Blades meet Ivan the Terrible? Fine! And if
Ivan is the embodiment of utter evil (as he was) then the hero must be
exceptionally good, right? I don't know if I saw that need consciously or
discovered it after I'd written it, but the debonair Sir Beaumont stepped
smiling onto the stage very early. And then he must have some Blade helpers,
say a solid one and a scholar. We need a heroine. In fact we need several --
Isabelle the cook's helper, Sophie the Czarina, Tasha the survivor princess. .
. And so it goes.
But I have written this book. I don't need to write it all again. I hope you
enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
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