Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How I Came to Write This Story: Katherine Tomlinson

All proceeds from PULP INK 2 go to a British charity for children.

How I Came to Write this Story: Thicker Than Water from Pulp Ink 2

About two years ago, when I was putting together the last issue of Dark Valentine Magazine, I ran across an arresting illustration by a Russian artist named Alena Lazereva—a mermaid tied to an anchor; a painting she called “Doomed.” It was one of those moments where a story just popped into my head fully formed—a tale of a young sailor whose life becomes an Ahab-like vengeance quest after a mermaid’s song lures his ship too close to rocks and he alone survives the subsequent shipwreck.

I liked the story but felt like the idea of the painting—you can’t drown a mermaid but you can starve her to death—deserved a darker and more modern story.

When Pulp Ink 2 was announced and the call for submissions was for stories blending noir with horror, I had another one of those “gift” moments. I saw a man floating in a shipping crate filled with water, a man who hadn’t drowned but had starved to death.

From there I started mapping out a story where such a thing would be plausible, setting “Thicker than Water” in the paranormal Los Angeles that’s the setting for my L.A. Nocturne tales. What I came up with was a story of a “surf war” between rival “shoals” of gangster mer-men.

Then I started fleshing out the details.

I looked up names that meant “fish” for my characters. I gave “The Carp,” the godfather of a local shoal of criminal mer-men, some great cryptic Japanese sayings for him to use in conversation. (“The jellyfish never dances with the shrimp,” was my favorite.)

I had a really, really good time splashing around in this particular setting.

In fact, I had so much fun with my world-building that editors Nigel Bird and Chris Rhatigan had to rein me in a couple of times. (They’re great editors, by the way, and every single suggestion they made improved the story.)

I wrote the first draft in one sitting and then went back and played with it for the better part of two weeks. I often use twist endings, but this story ends with a pun and I wasn’t sure if that was going to work tonally. I took it out and put it back in a couple of times. But at the end I thought—your character is part human and part shark and all crass; he’d say what he says. So I left it in. And Nigel and Chris left it in.

And that’s how I came to write the story. A picture was worth a thousand words.


Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Thanks for hosting Katherine.

Katherine - I think it's so interesting that you were inspired to write by a painting! So much is conveyed in art and you've just proven that again :-).

Heath Lowrance said...

Great insight into an amazing story.

Katherine Tomlinson said...

@Margot--I come from a family of artists but I can't draw a straight line with a t-square. Images inspire me all the time.
@Heath--sometimes you get lucky
@Patti--thanks for letting me blather!

Charles Gramlich said...

I love to hear about how stories and books came to be. The process is fascinating.

suburbanbeatnik said...

I love hearing where story ideas come from. Fascinating post, Kathy-- I remember you mentioning Alena's painting a few years ago, and it's exciting to finally see the story it inspired in print!