About ‘Forest Spirits’

I had a story out in 2018! “Forest Spirits” came out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #266 at the beginning of this month. I always try to share a little bit of background about a story when it comes out, but I’m only getting around to it now due to Reckoning 3 prep and then the holidays. I guess this is going to amount to my “awards eligibility” post too, such as it is, today being my last chance.

I haven’t written a whole lot this year, obviously. If you’re really hankering for more of my work, please read Reckoning 3. It means a lot to me.

So. “Forest Spirits” is a story about what it takes to rebel against an impending ecological catastrophe that has been making your life easier and better for a long time, to which you have been actively contributing. I imagine my inspiration for all that doesn’t need a lot of explanation. But it’s also a story about the revelatory experience of showing a part of the natural world that was instrumental in making you who you are to someone you love. I’ve been through that a few times. It’s not easy. It takes a hell of a lot of trust; it’s making yourself vulnerable, opening yourself up to the possibility that they won’t understand. At least it was for me. A lot of what I am, a lot, comes from my relationship with nature. The Mary Oliver poem I quoted in the upper right on this site communicates it probably better than I’ll ever manage.

I came up with the idea for this story at a writing retreat hosted by BCS editor Scott Andrews at his family’s house on Buck’s Elbow Mountain in the central Blue Ridge, over a week of very early, misty mornings spent hiking around fire access roads and cow pastures with Justin Howe. Yes, both Scott and Justin are people I trust with the part of my soul that is a product of mountains, mist, mushrooms, summer squalls, owls, trees, water trickling through moss, etc. Justin and I had a series of conversations about a kind of story that could take place on a path through wilderness, a story that would undermine certain traditional dramatic expectations by occupying the interstitial space between big set pieces, the parts that tend to get glossed over, particularly in adventure fantasy. We talked about Western plots that work that way, and bits from samurai films and what they have in common. And I ended up working out a set of story furniture I thought I could work with: small stakes both foreshadowing and emerging out of larger stakes, just a few characters, one of them being the setting itself, lots of backstory. I’m not sure if Justin ever did anything with this idea—I hope he tells me when he does. I’m very grateful to Scott for getting on board with it—the ending was entirely a collaborative effort between us, figuring out how to lead up to the edge of a climactic conflict without actually going there.

The setting of “Forest Spirits” is something between the central Blue Ridge, the eastern Berkshires and the colder, rockier White Mountains of my youth, all of which I miss dearly from here in the inland-sea geological flatness of Michigan. I’m indebted to Miyazaki—as I’m sure I didn’t have to tell you—and also to Thoreau’s “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers”.

Photo credit I believe goes to Erin Hoffman.

For the record: go into the wilderness with someone you love, trust and admire. Show them the parts of your soul you usually only visit alone. Take that risk. It’s worth it.

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