Somebody is always asking Stephen King where his ideas come from. He has lots of answers, but one that stuck with me was that in his opinion, everybody’s brain has a filter, and whatever they observe will go through that filter. By example, he said that he and Zane Grey could both look at a bubbling, oozing tarpit and write a story based on it. Zane Grey would probably write a story of a battle over water rights and land by ranchers, while he would probably write one of monsters crawling out of the pool.
I’m currently writing a trilogy of novels that was supposed to be a quick sort of sword and sorcery story of young people who somehow wandered off the beaten path and wound up in a strange place with a magic weapon and saved the day from the evil overlord. You know, popcorn. It has been rattling around in my brain for YEARS.
But it would never gel. I started writing it. For some reason, it had to be two girls and two boys. I don’t remember why. A double budding romance, I think. But it wouldn’t work. One day I was staring at my computer screen and the short girl stares back at me and says, “Hey, stupid! I’m a guy!” and the handsome young man stepped up and snapped, “And I’m a girl! What’s wrong with you?” I looked at the other two and they held up their hands. “No, we’re good.” Okay, back to the beginning. So, a short, cheerful blond guy and a taller, aggressive, hostile Latina girl paired up with a really big, muscled black guy and a medium-sized girl from the Far East…uh-huh. I know. SO cliched and stereotyped!
But it only went so far as their wandering off the beaten path and meeting the downtrodden folk on the other end. It was a terrific episode. I did so much research on the location. I was holding my breath while writing it. The action! The terror! The suspense!
But it didn’t work. Back to the drawing board. I started at the other end of their journey. A dark scene, a dungeon, dying men, despair, terror, torture, and murder. Escape through natural disaster to freedom and a hard journey to the meeting place with the young people. It felt better, but…
About that time I got the opportunity to go to a writer’s conference and for an extra fee, get the first chapter or two of my work in progress (WIP) reviewed by other budding authors and two professional writers. The resulting opinions were interesting. One blew the whole story off because he hated the alternate world trope. I would have preferred he at least gave some opinion on how I wrote it, but he didn’t. Others weren’t ‘into’ that sort of fantasy or science fiction, so they didn’t say much other than “eh”. A few said it sounded interesting, but they were interested in short stories and didn’t like that it had no ending. One young man, who was my intended target group, loved it! Hope he finds it once it’s finally published (even if I have to self-publish it) and still likes it.
The two professionals’ opinions made me blink. One found it unbelievable because one of the girls was a prostitute. “Where were her parents?” The whole table stared at her. The other threw his copy of my manuscript down and announced it was all stupid because “nobody talks like this!” This time the table stared at me, embarrassed sympathy on their faces. Eh, I’ve faced harsher words. I worked the phone lines for the IRS…
But, again, it wouldn’t progress. Was I secretly inhibited by their criticism? I didn’t want to think I was. Maybe I was working too much. Then I retired, so I didn’t have that excuse. Then I wrote my three collections of short stories, and my sisters went through cancer, my mom got sick…you know, life happened. Then one day…(ellipses are my favorite vice…)
I was idly skimming the Internet one day during a rare moment of free time and came across a reference to ley lines in Texas. I live in an area where weird stuff happens all the time, so I clicked onto it. That started a long and winding path to Enchanted Rock State Park. It caught my interest and soon I was researching it, and ran smack dab into information about the Lipan Apaches who used to hang around there.
Like Stephen King, my mind went to “What if?” What if four modern teens ran into Lipan Apaches in the mid 1700s? What if one of the teens could speak Tex-Mex and one of the Apaches could speak Spanish learned from Spanish monks? But what would happen if that one teen was the exact double of the tyrant who terrorized them and was slowly killing the Apaches off?
Then my ‘ghostwriter for God’ kicked in and suddenly God was a major character. I took the manuscript I had so far to my writer’s group. One of the members remarked that it sounded like Exodus. Epiphany! It was, and the story was a trilogy. It was a tale of an enslaved people, a brutal tyrant, and four saviors sent by God to rescue them and teach them to be free. “Project Burning Bush”, “Project Exodus”, and “Project Promised Land” was born.
Why four heroes? Why are they ‘red and yellow, black and white’ like in the old children’s song? That puzzled me and my writers’ group for a while, but I knew they all had to be there. My fellow writers warned me of possible complaints about racism, political correctness, and too many main characters! I couldn’t help it though. They all had to be there.
I was researching the Lipan tribe and found they had a website. I sent an email asking if I could ask questions and make sure I got details correct. I never heard from them, but they did have a book list of the Lipan history for people wanting to know more. I’ve bought three so far. At first I just skimmed, looking for certain details. Then stuff began popping up that BLEW MY MIND.
There were four teens, and they were those ‘colors’ because the Lipan spiritual beliefs were based on the number four and the colors black, white, yellow, and blue. Yes, blue, not red. Once you read the book, you find out how that works out.
The weirdest part of writing this story is that the details of the Lipan tribe were written into the story first, then I found the writing in the history books that backed it up. Like their myths and legends, and how the teens fit into them.
It is amazing how much research is going into this story. I’ve even got blueprints of early Spanish settlements in Texas and topographical maps of Texas. Dates, and names, and I love Pinterest for photos of clothing worn back then. Padlocks and keys of the 1700’s, wildlife and fish found in Texas, the fastest way to kill somebody with a knife (yes, there is violence, just like in Exodus in the Bible) and how to use an old fashioned slingshot – the kind without elastic. Headgear from the Middle East, Marine training and slang, spy gear. Survivalist equipment, medical supplies, priests and conquistadores, the food they ate. I have a very fat file of research details.
Project Burning Bush first draft is done. Now I am winding my way into Project Exodus, which takes place in our time, to the people left behind when the teens disappeared. More violence, mystery, good vs. evil, tragedy, and triumph.
I assume this story is coming from God, because I can’t figure out how I’m making it up. I can hardly wait to see how Project Exodus comes out.