When I’m writing a story, especially one set in an alternate world, I try to spend a good deal of time in determining the lay of the land: the cultures in play, their histories, their attitudes toward one another. This helps me to focus on what I really want to write about: the characters. In other words, I wasn’t so interested in exploring the conflict between the two peoples as I was individuals within the scope of that larger conflict. Well, wait... That’s not completely accurate. I like to create a world in which there is conflict present, and then I like focusing on characters so that you see how individuals can affect the society at large, and vice versa.
Many of my stories are written with the intention of capturing the flavor of a certain era while adding a twist of some sort, and this is how Desert truly began. I chose the milieu first and played with it until I had the speculative elements that felt right to me. The flavor in “How Peacefully the Desert Sleeps” is, of course, life along the American Frontier. I have strong interest in the Native American life and the way in which it was tragically altered by the introduction of the frontiersmen and their irrepressible thirst for land. Like in American history, the natives in Desert are being pushed ever harder by the pioneers, but they have a weapon the Native Americans did not: the dejda. The tribesmen, over the centuries, had used the dejda as little more than a domesticated animal, largely unaware of its ability to gain consciousness. Without them, the tribesman would have already gone the way of the Native Americans and eventually succumbed to the pressure of the pioneers, but the beetles gave them a distinct advantage that allowed them to create a stalemate along the frontier.
Kallie’s character was the first one that came to me, and she came fairly easily. I liked the notion of taking someone from the more powerful society, the settlers, and placing them in a situation where they were almost completely dependent upon the tribesmen’s generosity. Once I realized that the dejda provided not only protection but also the powers of healing, Kallie’s ailment came soon after, and her character started to form more fully from there.
I had known from the start that Kallie would be the main character, and that she would be the catalyst that would help propel the dejda into consciousness. What I didn’t know was what would happen when this came to pass. I had thought that the Ohokwa Queen, Wattoha, would be the primary foil to Kallie. But as the story unfolded Nilawi demanded more and more attention. Eventually Nilawi and Kallie became two polar opposites. Nilawi came to represent the status quo, the passing of the torch from mother to daughter with the dejda in the same role as they’ve always been, while Kallie represented a new and terrible possibility.
Paheka, much like Nilawi, demanded more page time as the story played itself out. At first, she was simply a crazy old medicine woman, but I realized later that she was acting as an extension of the old dejda queen. She mutated from a character who provided flavor to the primary catalyst for change in the story: the voice, essentially, of the dejda as they struggled to make sense of their expanding awareness that Kallie had triggered within them.
Bradley P. Beaulieu