Where did that come from is a series where we ask our authors the question, “Where did you get the idea for your story?”
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: “PARADISE OUT OF ORDER.”
When the editors of the anthology that would come to be known as Dimensional Abscesses sent out their request for submissions, I knew I had to take part. They wanted stories about portals that led to unlikely places, and my mind whirled with possibilities. “Paradise Out of Order,” however, ended up quite a different story than where I began.
With a new story, I tend to throw out my first idea. And my second. Sometimes my third. But in this instance, I couldn’t let go of my original idea: a science fiction story about a prison planet with a portal that only went one way: in.
For a week or so, I thought about this story every day. I let it percolate in my mind while I made the long commute to and from work. Why was this prison on another planet? What kind of science created the portal? What did my main character do to end up there? But, as with many of my first ideas, the prison story ran out of steam once I realized it required too much backstory to make sense.
That’s when I changed my tactics and turned the idea on its head. What if, instead of a dangerous portal that takes you where you don’t want to go, the hero had a portal that could take you to paradise? And what if it didn’t work as it was supposed to?
I began crafting a very different kind of story. For the first time in a while, I wrote a straight-up contemporary fantasy story. I imagined a character that was part mage, part hard-boiled detective. I wanted a guy who knew stuff, had a lot of power, and understood the danger that this broken portal represented.
Before finishing my first draft, I realized how much my main character sounded like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden character. I needed to do something different with him. So, instead of a detective, I made Malcolm the owner of a magic shop, the kind that offered real magical items to the right clientele. I made him kind, instead of tough, a man who wanted to look out for his community and the people he knew.
Then, I made the biggest change.
The fantasy genre is filled with wizards and mages. I wanted a character that would stand apart, but still have access to magic. I decided Malcolm was an alchemist. For a short story, I didn’t need to explain a lot about his power, but I made it clear that his power was an extension of the objects in his shop. He used magic, but it didn’t come from him.
And then there was the door. Without realizing it, I borrowed the idea of the standalone door from Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three (who probably borrowed it from someone who borrowed it from someone … ad infinitum). I love the idea of a door that stands in the center of the room. A door which, when opened, reveals a world hidden beyond it.
I won’t explain the rest. To do so would tell too much of the story. But it was enough for me to fall in love with the alchemist, the doorway, and the world I created. So much so, I am writing a novel with Malcolm as my main character. The first novel in my Alchemist series should be available later this year.
One final note: A couple of months ago, I came across the 2007 short story “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” by Ted Chiang. (It’s an excellent story, filled with lush language and a stirring premise. I wish I could write so beautifully.) While our stories have little in common, I wish I had thought of the phrase “Alchemist’s Gate.” It would have made a perfect title for my story.
I am a short story writer and novelist. During the early years of the new millennium, I was a fair poet (several of my poems were published in a university literary magazine). More recently, I’ve started selling short stories to anthologies. My first novel is due to be released in 2015.
I’m a husband, a father, and a good friend to the many lifeforms that inhabit this big rock hurtling through space. I read. I watch television and movies. I indulge in sessions of what my wife likes to call “LEGO therapy.” I like long car rides, the sound of the ocean, and music from the 1940s “big band” era.
During the day, I work as a technical documentation analyst. In the past, I’ve had jobs in customer service, technical support, IT management, web design, and marketing. I used to review films, but stopped when everyone and their dog started writing movie review websites. I even tried teaching English composition at the university level for a while. I gave that up when I realized I don’t have the temperament to be an instructor.
You can get a copy of Dimensional Abscesses at any of these fine retailers