Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Birth of the Heron

Now that The Heron in His Vigilance has finally hit the shelves, I thought I could write a bit about where it came from.

The seed of the story was a role-playing game. The old-fashioned kind, a bunch of friends sitting around a table with paper, dice, books, and beer. The players were the folks listed in the dedication. Mallgeir was in the names, as was King Balás, and Qutuchin, Uliante, and Celio, although the names were different. The basic plot, the struggle against Balás, was the same. The attack on Norcincó, the escape through the tunnels, and the murder of the Heir of Jan was there--although the Heir of Jan was male and the Temple of the Dust did not exist.

It was a great way to develop a story, interacting with other people, drawing from other creativity. I conceived the idea of making the story in 1998, flying from Burlington to Los Angeles for the Writers of the Future Award ceremony. You spend a lot of time in the air, between Vermont and California. That was in the days when Babylon 5 was on the air, and the notion of a television serial story (as opposed to a series of stories) was novel in America. It occurred to me that I could adapt the game into a TV serial, so I wrote up a treatment, a list of episodes, describing the development of the story.

Some changes occurred immediately. The invention of Rabbit as the central character, the addition of Sister Dagmar and Bjornsterne. The player's characters quickly transformed.The only character who is recognizable is Deb Hayes's K'Shan, who became Qoyor Sube. The backstory and the nature of her power are original to the book, but K'Shan was a shaman of the Bayan Govi.

Two non-human characters are largely gone: Tony Galbraith's Beast and Carrie Rouillard's Ithiel. Coincidentally, both are visual artists: you can find Tony's paintings and wool sculptures at, and Carrie's masks at Beast was adopted out of another novel, so I couldn't use him. Ithiel, a unicorn, survived into the TV show, but when I decided to do the novel, I decided to drop her. A unicorn is a powerful archetype. It seemed impossible to have a story with a unicorn in it without the unicorn and the nature of unicorns being central. I replaced them with Tlikkipit, who was part of the TV show all the way through.

Also, as the story evolved, it became much more humanocentric. All manner of magical creatures, trolls, man-eating bird people, banshee birds, and others were dropped. Not to mention the issue that Marion Zimmer Bradley's estate, which wouldn't have objected to her banshee birds being pulled wholesale out of her books for a role-playing adventure, would have had something to say about a published novel.

Amy Freund's Ghost lasted through the entire story in the TV version. When I wrote the novel, however, I got as far as Skowe before realizing he didn't have a role, anymore. Not coincidentally, this is when I realized Tlikkipit could not always be there. It was then left behind by the old trick of spirit creatures not crossing water.

Jeremy Freund's Ben Barak survived in Bjornsterne. Ben Barak was a Leane Si from a far northern people which I later dropped. Obviously I couldn't have another Leane Si just banging around with the party, so that had to go. But Bjornsterne's character came a lot from Ben Barak, particularly the speechifying, although I don't believe Ben was quite as obtuse as Bjornsterne.

But there was still a long way to go. For instance... the people of Uliante, and Rabbit himself... were all white.