Undergirding: The Twice-Drowned Saint

I woke up with my first “conscious” thought this morning being, “I forgot that’s where stars came from: the belly of a chuffer fish!”

I don’t know what a chuffer fish is, but I bet they’re chuffed to be a stellar incubator. And I don’t know if it was because of that waking fantasy of origin stories, or the fact that a new friend of mine just checked out my book Bone Swans: Stories from her library that I got to thinking about origin stories, their structures, and their substructures.

This year, my short novel The Twice-Drowned Saint came out in A Sinister Quartet. (I may have mentioned.) I should probably do a review round-up of it soon, but until I do, here’s my favorite: Ian Mond’s from Locus.

I haven’t talked much about it structurally, and I think the amount of people who have read both The Twice-Drowned Saint and Bone Swans is probably pretty small. So there’s not going to be a lot of people who are going to get my little jokes: Carlos, my mother, a few friends.

But the idea that a new friend would soon be reading Bone Swans fresh, and then, maybe–maybe!–try her hand at The Twice-Drowned Saint was exciting. Because she’ll get my jokes!

Okay, well, not a joke exactly. They’re like inside jokes, but really they’re just self-referential allusions. The structure of The Twice-Drowned Saint is a story in 15 parts, and each part is a “shot” in filmic terms. (The narrator is a movie-maker, or will be, and has been close to a form of cinema all her life.)

It’s in 15 parts because “fabulous fucking Gelethel” (Ish’s words, not mine) (okay, both our words), the Angelic City, was once ruled by 15 angels who ate their god.

Now, at the beginning of the story, there are 14 angels. The 15th angel was the one that walked away. (Shades of Omelas. Which, of course, are shades of Brothers Karamazov, as I found out for myself when I gave that big raunchy hilarious heartbreaking darling a read a couple years ago–talk about origin stories!) I’d originally thought to do the thing in fourteen chapters, but it wouldn’t fit.

WHICH WAS APPROPRIATE. I was quite pleased with how that turned out.

The mind’s substructures are more interesting, sometimes, than its facade. Anyway.

Anyway, there’s this bit–this joke–about the cinema. The narrator is playing a double feature at her movie palace, two oldies called Life on the Sun and Godmother Lizard. One’s a sort of a war movie and one’s an epic fantasy–you know, familiar genres–but they’re also old stories of mine. Early works.

“Godmother Lizard” was one of my first bigger stories published for pro-rates–in Black Gate Magazine, back in the day. And “Life on the Sun” is the opening story in Bone Swans. What they have in common with The Twice-Drowned Saint–and what they always did, even seven or so years ago when The Twice-Drowned Saint was a messy chunder-splash first draft on the page–was that all three take place in the desert cities that cling to the underbelly of the Bellisaar Wasteland.

As a writer I knew that, of course. But who else was to know that this was a wasteland I’ve walked in since I was eighteen or so? Before it even had stories to populate it? Before it was anything but a glaring white heat with a name? Who was to know if I never said anything?

It delighted me to bolster the backbone of this novel’s world with the remnants of old stories. It’s a trick I do more often than anybody really knows–like putting my friend Amal’s name (or any of her nicknames) into most of my stories. (She’s even in The Twice-Drowned Saint, but you won’t know that unless you know what her family calls her.)

I put a lot of my friends in my stories. Just hints.

And maybe that’s why I put my old stories in my new ones. Because they are still my friends. And I don’t want them to be forgotten.

My new novel–the big one–Saint Death’s Daughter–will be published in spring of 2022. Look for Bellisaar in the pages. Look for mention of Gelethel, of Rok Moris and Sanis Al (from Life on the Sun and Godmother Lizard). Look close enough, and you’ll see hints of Desdemona and the Dark Breakers stories twining in and out, in hints, in shadows.

Same world. Different continents. Different timelines. Different gods.

I feel like I’ve got my own mycorrhizal network going on here. It’s my secret delight. Or it was secret–sort of–until I wrote this.

Hey, and if ya don’t know, now ya know, Mr. President.

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