May 17, 2011
Guest post: Marian Allen on landscape in Eel's Reverence
When elderly priest of Micah, “Aunt” Libby, goes on a Final Wandering, she’s accosted and then befriended by an amphibious mugger. The area known as The Eel is infested with worse than minor criminals–it’s under the thumbs of a coalition of greedy, brutal priests. Aunt Libby is a frail barrier to stand between peace and violence, and the worst violence may not come from her enemies…but from her friends.
Aunt Libby is run out of town by the coalition, then brought back by true believers. When her presence is discovered, she becomes a pawn in game of politics, power and prejudice, with her friends held for ransom and her life as their price.
A fantasy with no sorcery or warriors, EEL’S REVERENCE explores the kinds of choices ordinary people have faced through all time and in all places, and shows the contrariness and heroism with which they’ve dealt with the consequences of those choices.
EEL'S REVERENCE began with a couple of scenes of a merman in a desert town. A merman and his human female semi-friendly acquaintance. A merman who got himself into trouble a lot. Did he meet this semi-friend in the desert, in the town, or before?
It also began with a scene-snapshot of a priest being cornered by a pack of wolves. Were the wolves good and the priest bad, or were the wolves bad and the priest good, or were they all one or all the other?
When the book began to coalesce around these two bits, The Eel was formed. I wanted to begin with the priest meeting the merman--or, as these androgynous creatures are called in my book, mermayd--on the beach, within sight of the coastal town where most of the action takes place.
So I needed a coast long enough to include more than one town, narrow enough to make the bordering forest and the forest’s bordering desert quickly reachable. Long and narrow and irregular, as most coastlines are. Like an eel. And the mermayds have long, serpentine lower bodies to support their upper bodies out of the water. Long and narrow. Like an eel.
My husband had bought several volumes of McGraw-Hill’s Our Living World of Nature. I spent hours pouring over THE LIFE OF THE FOREST, THE LIFE OF THE DESERT and THE LIFE OF THE OCEAN. I also read up on life in early cities and pre-industrial rural homesteads, locations where semi-precious stones are found, and natural dyes.
I didn’t dump everything I learned into the text, but it all informs what can happen in the various settings, keeps me from going all anachronistic, and gives readers the occasional detail to bring the scene to life. For instance, in the desert, Aunt Libby tells Loach how to find water. It becomes more than just a Boy Scout lesson when he immediately turns to Muriel and announces his new knowledge as if she hadn’t just heard it from Aunt Libby.
When Muriel manufactures a “relic” to sell to a desert temple, she makes one that would be especially precious in a desert community: one including a damp piece of cloth.
In a farm cleared from the forest, a family hides Aunt Libby from Uncle Phineas’ wolves with the help of herbs and home-brewed beer.
The coast is where the mermayds and the humans can choose to clash or come together, which is one of the tension clusters in the book.
I indicate the pride or humility of the priests by how expensive their robes are, and by what (if any) semi-precious stones they use for adornment or temple enrichment. My reader may not know the difference between using pearls or using opals, but I know. It makes a difference to me, and I think it makes a difference in how I write about the characters and their relative locations.
Marian Allen writes science fiction, fantasy, mystery, humor, horror, mainstream, and anything else she can wrestle into fixed form.
Allen has had stories in on-line and print publications, on coffee cans and the wall of an Indian restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky. On Tuesdays, she posts on the group blog Fatal Foodies. She has three novels–EEL’S REVERENCE now, SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING and FORCE OF HABIT coming in 2011–available through Echelon Press in various electronic formats.
Allen is a member of the Green River Writers and the Southern Indiana Writers Group, and is a regular contributor to SIW’s annual anthology.