On Wednesday, Fire and Lightning is coming out at long last. This story is near and dear to my heart, if for no other reason than because it and I fought so much to wrangle it into shape.
Originally, this story was supposed to be a cute little bit of fluff about a linguist studying Herodotus in the shade of a tree, researching ancient texts about the phoenix. I hadn't quite decided whether he was the phoenix, or whether he was going to meet the phoenix. Instead, I ended up with an epic about a female tree spirit tied to her oak and a free-spirited phoenix who spends her life traveling the globe. Not quite what I envisioned.
Then I had a grand plan for how everything was going to be structured. It worked great on paper, but it made a terrible story. It just dragged on and on, painfully repetitive, and full of things I thought were interesting but weren't related to the real story I wanted to tell. Much hacking and chopping later, I came up with something better. And then I got it back from the editor and hacked and chopped and rewrote some more. Now I think it tells the story I wanted to tell.
One of my favorite things about writing Fire and Lightning was getting to play around with all of the old Homeric epithets and mythological references, sneaking in little bits of history here and there (and taking a few--fairly minor--historical liberties). One of my favorite bits is this scene involving two incredibly minor characters:
One night after Helios had gone to bed, while the Tri-Formed Goddess wore her darkest form, two unfamiliar men slipped into the grove.
"Did we have to come when Hecate rules the sky?" one of them grumbled. "I can't see a thing. I'm starting to lose track of how many twigs have poked me in the face."
"Hush!" the other commanded in a harsh whisper. "The only thing worse than the darkness of Hecate's witchcraft is becoming the focus of it. Hold your tongue and help me find a way into this enclosure."
A soft scuffling sound was followed by a thump as the first man came hurtling over the wall and tumbled into the dirt on the other side. "Ow. You needn't have pushed quite so hard, Argus," he complained, rubbing his hip with a grimace. "My ass is going to be the color of a Samian grape by dawn."
"Good. You'll give Aurora something to smile about when she passes over," Argus retorted. "Now how am I supposed to get in there?"
"I should give you a good hard yank for the sake of fairness, but there must be a door somewhere around here. Doesn't the priest have to get close to the tree to ask the questions? I can't imagine he vaults in every time like … Oh, here it is." The gate swung open with a slight creak, admitting a man slightly older and stockier than the first.
Argus closed the gate after he entered. For a long, tense moment, he silently stared up at Drys' oak. "How in all Hades are we going to cut a plank from this tree, Tiphys?" he murmured. "It's got to be at least ten times as tall as you, and I'm not sure my arms can reach all the way around."
They were going to cut a piece out of her? With a muffled shriek, Drys fled from her bark and cowered in the farthest corner of the enclosure. It wouldn't make any difference if the men cut the oak, but her instincts were pushing her to run. She knew the men could not see her or hear her, so there was no use begging them not to touch her tree. Trembling and afraid, she wrapped her arms around her legs and dug her toes into the earth, seeking comfort from her mother.
Tiphys snorted. "Did you think we were just going to march in, chop down Zeus' sacred oak, and saw it into pieces? I'd prefer not to die by lightning strike, thank you very much."
"But Athena says the Argo needs to have a plank in the prow cut from the sacred oak of Dodona. That's this tree. Apparently it's going to prophesy to the sailors and protect them from danger."
Tiphys barked out a laugh. "That has got to be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. A bunch of sailors are going to kneel down with one ear to the deck and wait for the prophetic floorboard to tell them what to do whenever danger arises?"
"It's what Athena says, and I know better than to argue with a goddess." Argus shrugged.
Regarding the oak with narrowed eyes, Tiphys asked contemplatively, "Does she say how big this plank needs to be?"
Argus shook his head. "What are you thinking?"
"This branch here might do." He ran his hand up the trunk to one of the lowest boughs. Drys shivered as an echo of his touch ran along her side. She began to shake when Argus slowly nodded his head and they raised the saw.
I really love this story. I hope those who read it do, too. <3
Fire and Lightning will be released by Less Than Three Press on November 28, 2012. Until then, it will be available for preorder at 15% off here.