I’d like to spend some time talking about what is now called This Red Business after a Walt Whitman poem I quite admire. Usually, I use this space to talk about the things that bother me, the places I’ve succeeded, the everyday life I’ve led. Sometimes I talk about writing.
Rarely do I talk about what I’ve actually been working on. Most of these are things I’ve kept private, from Michelle, from my beta readers, or my confidants. Some featured within the first bleary attempts at pitching my novel. Most have gone unspoken, but should probably be mentioned.
The old writing adage is to write what I know, so just before my writing frenzy I took this to heart. I wrote the stories I wanted to read, something that started as a fantasy novel that would be pure entertainment, to scrub clean the ashes of my failures, that went from Scotland and a cautious approach to my unspoken ambition to write a fantasy novel series about the American Civil War. I’ve been fascinated, utterly consumed and obsessed with that conflict since I was a child. I grew up in suburban Maryland, surrounded by the detritus of the war. My great aunt’s house has divots in the backyard where I used to play which were originally dug by Union pickets. Every month, my dad took me to a battlefield, to learn, to breathe, and to study. In 8th grade, on a summer vacation to Gettysburg, long after we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I spoke so in depth with a National Parks guide that he handed his business card to me and told me I had a job there when I was older. I lost that card. I’ve been offered spots in reenactor companies, but always refrained. As I grew older, I learned nuance, saw past the myth and glimpsed the men beneath. Everywhere, I saw pro-confederate propaganda, the Lost Cause infects wide layers of American life, pernicious as the devil. So I thought instead of being cautious, why not be bold. Why not go straight for the throat here. If all I can see is the Lost Cause, then someone needed to give voice to the Union. I devoured Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs, began to understand he’d seen the same danger in his later years. Fuck, it still feels crazy and ambitious for me to type these words, but let’s keep going.
Alongside these American mythologies, I added my obsession with folklore, with other histories, both foreign and close to home. I scoured my brain for worldbuilding I’d never quite bothered to do, knowing that only 10% was the recommended maximum visibility. To ease my imagination, already consumed with fever dreams of elves and dwarves, dragons, and gnomes, and the watchful Neighbors. I set my story here, at home. In a secondary world inspired by the Frontier Pacific Northwest in the decade before the Civil War. To gain inspiration, all I need do is get off my ass and go for a hike, listen for the dwarves laboring beneath our mountain ranges. Under the dripping boughs of the old-growth rainforest, I could hear the hoots and whistles of the Neighbors.
From this inspiration, I surrounded myself with talismans, crafted towers of books by authors I admired, by books that I read in childhood when all seemed dark, books with words that still drive me to this day. I started not just to write words, but to see the scenes in my head, to watch the action unfold, and to eavesdrop on Pumpkin and the rest of the Chickenshits speaking. The characters I had created were taking the reins, and I was going along for the ride
To add new twists on old classics, I poured in my fascination with Ice Age megafauna, paleontology, classical history, archaeology, Celtic mythology, bread baking, cooking, and my family history. Orcs were no longer broken and enslaved elves, but neanderthals. Survivors who swore the Oath of Survival which required total isolation. Dwarves and gnomes were descendants who fled underground or across to wandering The Other Side. I messed with structure and form, played with expectations and language. All these things live in This Red Business. Nana Cobbles, a hag and my cross between Merriweather Lewis, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Mary Berry, named for a contestant on the Great British Bake-Off’s nan, turns a kaiju-sized Quetzalcoatlus-like white dragon’s bones to bronze and then commands them to bake. This happens in the first third of the book.
Later, Pumpkin defeats her antagonist by using a lawyerly artifact to provide nuance to the statement turning her mother, inspired by Ulysses S. Grant and Merida from Brave, into a god. Before the end, Confederate velociraptors are raised into undeath by a reluctant dwarven lich to fight against their former comrades, I kill my first major character, pastries are baked, and Pumpkin, an actual North American badger, sells her soul to a fairy.
I took inspiration from the writings of Terry Pratchett, Victoria Schwab, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, Chuck Wendig, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Dan Abnett, Tamsyn Muir, Ursula K. Le Guin, Diana Wynne Jones, and so many others. I watched shows like Over the Garden Wall, Critical Role, and Gravity Falls for lessons on combining danger with absurdity and more importantly, heart. I wrote a book about gnomes, family, dinosaurs, and Bigfoot. I wrote a book that mirrors history, where multiculturalism is the key to defeating evil, as it was and is in real life. I wrote a book about a place called Ascham that now lives in my heart, that has perhaps, always lived there.
I want so badly to share it with the world.