Those of you who roll your eyes because I collage as brainstorming should skip this post. No, really, it’s just going to make you crazy. Me, I’m already crazy. I’m stressed to the max on Liz, I’m kinda broke because Liz is three years over due (turns out they don’t pay you if you don’t turn anything in), and I knocked a glass of water into my good laptop last month and killed it. I loved that laptop and it was only four years old. It would have done me just fine for another four years. But no, I had to have a glass of water while I was typing, so I’ve been working on my old laptop, the one that’s about eight years old, and it’s kind of slow, and the letters have worn off the keys and it’s really heavy and its trackpad isn’t working really well–it’s a good old pal but it’s nothing to do a lot of work on without screaming. So this past month has been tense, nothing like January which almost finished me off, but I’ve got a lot pressing down on me and sometimes I just sit in the middle of the bed and vibrate.
At times like that, I crochet.
There’s something incredibly soothing about tying regular, rhythmic knots in beautiful yarn. It’s a lot like driving in that there’s an automatic repetition to it, my brain gets quieter, and when my brain gets quieter, I can hear the Girls better. But something odd happened this month. I’ve got a story series in the back of my head that’s percolating nicely, not time to write it yet, even if I could, which I can’t because of Liz, but still, it’s a rich, wonderful world, a kind of steampunk fairy tale world with some Pratchett and Dr. Who overtones along with whatever else gloms on (it’s sticky time for these stories). At the same time, Nerd Wars started up again last month. Nerd Wars is a group on Ravelry (big knitting/crocheting community, currently taking on the Olympic committee) that holds three-month-long tournaments, six challenges each month, and players compete as part of a team. I am generally on the Discworld team but this month I jumped ship and joined the ‘Punks, the new steampunk team, because I needed to learn more about steampunk which is one of slipperiest terms I’ve ever had to deal with. That was all I wanted, to learn more about steampunk, and instead I found myself crocheting things in my stories.
The first short story in the series is called “Zo White and Five Orphants” and it’s about a woman who is a kind of good (well, good-hearted, moral she isn’t) Fagin to five street kids who have, uh, issues with fitting into society. As in they’ve all been thrown out of decent orphanages for anti-social behavior. So Zo is trying to keep these five kids alive until they reach adulthood and can take care of themselves; although they’re cunning little bastards and damn good at survival, they’re still kids and need a parent. They end up in a derelict mansion of a serial killer and the cops have caught them there, and Zo has to talk the cops out of arresting the kids while trying to get them to understand that Odolf, the mansion’s owner, is not just a rich, important aristocrat but also part of a cult that rips out people’s hearts and eats them (Zo’s stepmother is also part of this cult, she sent Zo into the woods with a huntsman with instructions . . . no, wait, you know that story).
But it wasn’t until I started crocheting steampunk things that I realized that Odolf was also a mad inventor; I just thought he was an evil son-of-a-bitch hide-in-plain-sight killer, but now that I think back on it, anybody who rips hearts out as part of his social life is probably going to cross boundaries in other ways, too. I began with a steampunk dragon that had nothing to do with the stories, but the damn thing fought me all the way and would not be cute and slowly as I got it to where I wanted it to be it became part of the story, inadvertent brainstorming, something Odolf made as an amateur mechanic and magician, key word being “amateur,” as in “makes a lot of mistakes” and “still learning the basics.” In this society magic is strictly regulated and mechanical things are outlawed, and mixing magic and mechanics will get you the death penalty without any further discussion, so that means that Odolf’s dragon was not a just a cute pull toy (not really cute, either) it was alive and angry and on wheels. In fact, the whole house is full of angry, dangerous, illegal moving things, and now there are five sociopathic little kids in there, surrounded by dangerous toys, and Zo has to get them out by talking the cops into letting them go while keeping the kids from getting killed by the toys or vice versa . . . At least that’s the plan for the first story in the series.
So basically, it wasn’t until I started to make steampunk projects for Nerd Wars (go Team ‘Punks) that I realized I was brainstorming for the book by making some of the things in the stories, not all of them from Odolf’s mansion, but all of them from the stories I wanted to tell.
Take the dragon, Nelson. Nelson started out as a dragon pull toy, but he was such a bitch to make, I keep frogging and trying again, and then I looked into his shiny metal eyes and realized he, too, had the soul of a serial killer. In fact, I think Nelson was a kind of Dexter, a mixture of assassin and savior who moved through Riven society killing murderers who couldn’t be brought to justice, not because he was a hero, but because he was a batshit sociopath with a savior complex. Then he met Odolf and Odolf did the heart thing on him, but transferred his consciousness by magic into a failed mechanical dragon he’d made, complete with a little screaming golden-haired princess. So now there’s a little self-powered serial killer dragon rolling around the house, completely nuts, with razor sharp teeth and an ax to grind. I love Nelson. He’s like a feral, rabid Lassie, completely mad, who ends up completely attached to one of the orphants, little golden-haired Gleep, possibly because he associates her with his golden-haired princess or possibly because he recognizes an equally feral mind. Here’s Nelson:
Then there’s Lefty and Bob, Odolf’s bunny slippers. They were Odolf’s henchmen until they blew an assignment and he killed them and put their consciousnesses into his houseslippers, which were on wheels because Odolf was lazy. And then slippers grews razor-sharp ears and blank killer eyes and tried to skate Odolf down the stairs one night, so he hid them away in a box, where Owl, the mad inventor orphant finds them:
But the invention that gets a story of her own is Jane the Automaton. I started her as a project called the Automaton’s Girlfriend, after the automaton in Hugo, but then I began to think about her. She’s a writing automaton, like the one in Hugo, and I thought about Odolf, wanting more books from his favorite author, deciding the reason there weren’t more was because she was lazy, kidnapping her and putting her consciousness into an automaton he’d made and then eating her heart so that he could write books like her, only faster. And when he finds out that doesn’t work, he gives the automaton pen and paper and tries to force her to write, only to find out that Jane–by then she had a name–was smarter than he was. The more that I work on Jane, the more kinship I feel (wonder why?) and the more I like her. She’s dead, but she’s not going quietly. Jane’s my Nerd Wars dissertation which means I get three months to finish her, starting with a wooden Christmas angel that I spray painted silver and made a silver yarn wig for; clothing to come and possibly a steampunk cat to keep her company). Here’s Jane’s head shot:
I also made something from the Fairy Tale Lies collaboration that’s set in the same world; in my story, the hero is a mechanic (illegal) who lives in a treehouse in the forest. The tree his house is in is mostly surrounded by water, so he’s filled the river with mechanical fish to act as an early warning system, realizing too late that his section of the river is polluted with magic from an old alchemy dump, so the fish become sentient. This is one of his favorites, Algie:
So yarnstorming is like collage on steroids, thinking about where these things I’m making come from and how they work in that world. I have no idea if I’ll ever write these stories, but I know these characters will never die in my head because I have made the things they’ve touched. Yarnstorming is the best time I’ve had getting ready to write in years.