Catania’s Forest has been a bit of an adventure, but not one I regret. For one thing, writing it has given me a much different perspective on the Christmas story. So much so, that’s it’s making me want to write more allegories or re-tellings.
This story (like all my stories, really) is inspired by and dedicated to my King, Jesus Christ. It is also dedicated to all the little drummer-boys I’ve met in my life, from the black-haired one to the curly red-head; and to Emerald, and all the life he breathed into the Little Drummer-boy song. I wish I could remember who inspired me to make Emerald up. Also for my talented, stubborn, ornery characters and all their help.
The character who came first (surprisingly) is Tyre. This centaur is mixed up with this story’s origin, and also with the subtitle.
Somewhere back in the scary recesses of my brain where stories ambush me and make me write them, the stargazing attributed to Narnian centaurs was connected with the Wise Men’s Christmas star. Once formed, the idea refused to be forgotten. What must naturally come next was Jéru’s flute, and Catania’s bow.
Cat came slowly but surely, and carefully explained her character. Jér just sauntered into the story and there was nothing I could do with him. He rather scared me at times, but he wasn’t as bad as Tyre.
The centaur’s personality came quickly, and stuck like glue. Tyre may be my least favorite character I’ve ever written about (shhh! don’t tell), but there was absolutely nothing to be done but write him–my fellow authors will understand. So here we are, with Tyre. I can recall at least one story I made when I was little (probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever made up, you can be glad it was abandoned) which had centaurs in it, but I think this is my first written story that deals with them. They’re rather nice, after all.
Tirim Nothfall came along quite suddenly, with no name and no real place in the plot, but he fit perfectly into Cat and Tyre’s existing (contentious) relationship. But gradually the conversation and the fight took their place in the story, and it became the perfect climax before Jéru’s visit. I don’t honestly know where Moth and Horbrid came from, but they definitely helped the story work. Governor Daniel and Lord Nightseer were merely necessary links in the plot, neither make an actual appearance.
Lythia was a real surprise. In the original plot, the “Mary” character was not involved with Catania in particular in any way, and wasn’t even mentioned previously. ‘Lithia’ showed up somewhere in Cat’s past and the rest came pretty naturally, though it took me a while to figure out her story in relation to Jéru. She also started as a human, but I later realized she needed to be an elf, to fit Mary’s role in my world-building. I wanted her to have black hair, but she turned out to be an elf, and I gave all my elves light hair (though I don’t think I spelled that out clearly in the story anywhere).
Maylock was necessary, as soon as I figured Lythia out. He didn’t turn out quite like I wanted him to. I guess I wanted him to be more noble and heroic, and more like Aragorn. But this wasn’t really a story for human (or humanoid) heroes: the emphasis had to be on a broken world, in need of a redeemer.
Most of the names were not too hard this time. Some of the obscure characters like Tirim and Lord Daniel took some thought, but that’s probably because I didn’t have much of their personalities to go off of. I was originally going to give my ‘Jesus’ character a name, but I couldn’t think of one, and decided it flowed fine without one.
Catania and Tyre (quite by mistake) are both names of cities.
(Jéru started calling Catania “Tanya”, and that made sense, until Moth and Horbrid started calling her “Cat”. It turned out I liked Cat better and wanted my favorite characters to call her that, but Jéru decided to be stubborn and wouldn’t let me switch things around. So Lythia ended up calling her “Cat” as well, simply for my own satisfaction. 🙂 )
Jéru’s name was my own invention, and the fancy E I’m sure was a product of me studying Old English last year, though Jéru itself isn’t a word in OE.
Horbrid is also a random name I made up, and Moth came quickly after that. I wasn’t sure I liked the latter at first, as I didn’t like any reference it made to the insect. I had an alternative name picked (which I’ve forgotten), but in the end I just went with Moth.
Maylock is a name I came up with a while ago, from messing around with a different word and switching the letters around (I don’t recall which word it was). I let my “Joseph” character try it on for size, and it felt alright, so we went with that.
Lythia’s name started out ‘Lithia’, like I mentioned earlier. While we were in China I started randomly writing out all the different ways I could spell it.
‘Lythia’ is what stuck. (I’m kind-of partial to the letter Y, for no particular reason. I think it makes words look prettier.)
Cat’s Forest, for me, is a story of opposites and contradictions. On one hand, I had a beautiful, sylvan stage in which the nature-lover in me reveled. But I was also well aware that I was, to an extent, trying to re-create the ancient Roman empire at the time of Christ’s birth–which required a rebellious, suffering world, falling into a dark, dystopian era.
This story insisted on being brutally real. There was pain, that wouldn’t let me even begin to paint over it with rainbows and butterflies or witty dragons. I don’t believe in escapism, and this story was real, and it was determined to remain so–but the contradictions went still further, as other aspects of the story remained irretrievably fairytale-ish and impossible: the real probability of being able to catch stags and mark their antlers, and then succeed in finding them on a hunting trip is (I’m sure) alarmingly low–and no one could ever tie their hair with a fern frond, it would fall apart.
As I mentioned above, I gave all my elves light hair. I easily associate elves with blond hair, which I’m sure has a long story behind it, about my subconscious conclusions. I could guess at it, but it would take too long. (This post is not about my preconceptions of mythical creatures.) Since I became better acquainted with Arwen, my mental elves have become more diverse, but Cat was still blonde, and always was. I made all my other elves blond as well, mostly just because I wanted a way to differentiate them from humans besides their ears. (Pointed ears are great, but I most often want elves to have distinct features besides them.)
All centaurs may have dark hair and light eyes, but I’m not sure yet. I don’t really know anything about my world’s werewolves and dwarfs except for their existence.
Catania is one character that I think deserves a section all to herself.
I’ve become very fond of Cat, and she was enjoyable to write about–unlike some (*cough* Tyre *cough*). It took me a while to figure out who she was, but once I got myself immersed in the story-world it was easy to get to know her.
At first, I thought she was a daring, Amazon-like character, a natural warrior. It wasn’t until I tried taking a personality test answering as Catania, and got the same results I myself got, that I began to question if that was right. Soon after that, I realized Cat’s circumstances were tough, and I’d created rather a cruel world; and they drove her into her role as a bold hunter. After I found her father lurking in the background of my story, I began to realize this was probably his influence.
Yeah. The writing. In my behind-the-scenes post for “The Mushroom Feast”, I wrote:
“The Mushroom Feast is readable proof that stories write themselves.”
I’m realizing this could be said about almost any story I’ve ever written. I always start out thinking they’ll act a certain way, and they always throw new characters and plot-points into the mix I wasn’t counting on.
The original idea of writing a fantastical retelling of the little drummer-boy came along and politely asked me to help it dig up its story. It felt harmless enough. It appeared quite civil and well-spoken, but the story I dug up was rather a monster.
Also, I made the mistake of trying to write the whole thing in a summer. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, and resulted in a lot of frantic writing and scrambling right before Christmas. But I got it all up, and the last part out on Christmas Eve, and I think everyone enjoyed it, so I guess I’m happy.
If you wouldn’t mind answering some questions about Cat in your comments, I would love to hear your feedback! (Just FYI, by part I here mean any event in the story, not necessarily the “parts” or “chapters” I broke it into.)
-Who was your favorite character?
-What was your favorite part?
-What part(s) did you find the most suspenseful?
-Was there anything that came as a big surprise for you? If so, what?
-Was there anything that confused you?
-Was there anything that annoyed you, or you felt detracted from the story?
-How often did you scroll down to look at the maps? Did you find them helpful?
And any other comments you have! If there are any questions you’d like to ask about the story or the writing process, please include them in your comments! I’ll do a separate post (like I did with The Sacrifice) with all the answers in it.
Thanks for reading! And thank you for always bugging me to keep writing–it keeps me motivated! 🙂