Monday, March 11, 2013

Through the Veil—Michael T. Banker

This story was the culmination of two self-imposed missions. One was through-the-veilon a train, staring out the window, telling myself that I had to come up with a story idea this trip. (It's amazing how often that works, actually, I should really do it more often.) I just let my gaze flit around, latching onto random things and immediately twisting them into something else. I am a very visual person, so it's often images I’m working with. This time, melting icicles became melting wax, became a girl encased in wax like a cocoon. So there has to be some sort of metamorphosis, right? I saw her emerging from her cocoon and realizing that the moon shone like the sun, and the sun like the moon. And a boy--husband, brother--was searching for her, but couldn't find her on that other plane. I eventually lost the cocoon, but no matter, I had the seed to my story.

So, fine, mission accomplished, I pocketed that idea, knowing I was going to do something with it. Usually, I'd just set it in Generic Fantasy Land (albeit doing my best to make it as interesting and original of a Generic Fantasy Land as possible). I'd marry myself to the concept and acquaint myself with the characters and off I'd go. But I have a bad habit of writing stories that are all imagination and no research, so this time I made myself research a culture to set it in. Specifically, I wanted to learn more about an Asian culture that wasn't Japan (I majored in Japanese and studied abroad there). I chose Korea and read up on their culture, history and, increasingly as the story developed, folklore.

Note that I consider this story to be inspired by Korean culture, not through-the-veilrestricted to it. Mudang are women of Shamanism (or Muism) who hold rituals to communicate with spirits, but the details of the ritual and nature of the communication are my own. The spirit world itself is inspired partly by their folklore, largely by imagination. I like to use research as a starting point; my goal was never to construct a world true to history.

This was possibly the hardest story that I've ever written. It was stubborn, intractable, and fought me the whole way. I quit the first time midway through, eventually coming back to insert an unsatisfactory ending. Then I left it for quite a while before finally picking it back up again, axing a redundant character (there were originally three mudang), and completely rewriting the latter half of it. I’m very happy that after all of that, it was able to find a home.

--Michael T. Banker

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