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Original Essays | September 9, 2013 5 comments
Editor's note: Chris Bolton is not only a former Powell's employee, he was also once the primary writer for this blog. So we are particularly proud... Continue »
Which Came First?by Geno Salvatore
As with my answers to most questions, I have gotten ahead of myself. Let me first backtrack to my own childhood.
At age six, I first outlined a story I might write. My older brother was doing the same, planning a novel. He is but one year older than I am, and in retrospect it is obvious he was merely trying to emulate our father, himself already an author. But I, of course, thought the world of my brother and believed firmly that he would write this book, and therefore I had to do the same. Naturally, we being so very young, neither of us actually ever wrote a word of the books. But we both did create those outlines — we both saw those stories.
I followed that first foray into the written word with an unending stream of meandering words, of stories started but never finished, but each more complete than the previous. By middle school, I kept among my school notebooks a separate notebook just for my personal musings. Stories, comics, doodles, and bad poetry filled their pages; I would keep one notebook until it was full, then move on to the next.
As each new notebook began, the old was discarded. (I thought I destroyed most of them, but I have recently discovered that my mother rescued many of those ancient collections.) I never really considered it necessary to be rid of them, specifically, but neither did I desire to keep them. They were irrelevant, in my mind; each story began and ended with itself, and had no bearing on what would come next.
Further, each story was written purely for me. It was my greatest displeasure to learn, sometime early in high school, that my mother had occasionally read what I had written. Somehow I felt that the bond between me and those notebooks was personal and private, and the knowledge that they had not, in the end, been seen only by my eyes was difficult to bear.
The point to all this, I suppose, is that in all that time of writing, I never thought of myself as creating — hardly even saw myself as creative, really. I was a math nerd, not a writer. I wrote because I had to, because the words were there and they wanted to come out. They were not my own, often ran directly contradictory to what I believed, or to what I wanted to believe; they were the voices of people I did not know, speaking through me to the paper. In high school I flirted with the idea of having myself psychologically profiled, to confirm that, indeed, I was not crazy, that these voices in my head and their desired path to paper were natural.
In the end, I saw these stories as mine only because my hand wrote them down, not because they were a product of my mind. They existed, I was sure, somewhere in the aether, independent of me; I merely caught them and committed them to a permanent medium.
The Stowaway began as one such story. Originally, it was a short story about a person of indeterminate age sitting in the hold of a ship of indeterminate size, at no particular time or place, pondering the meaning of boredom while throwing marbles at rats.
Then I, my father, and our editor got our hands on it, and we took this idea, this tiny story, and we created it. I went from being, in my mind, custodian of this story without a setting, to a crafter of the world around it. By necessity (opportunity?) of the publisher, the story became set in the Forgotten Realms; and the person was given a name, and an age, and a place, and a history, and perhaps a future. From this tiny riff, written in 15 minutes sometime during a boring lecture in high school, came a novel, and more to follow.
And in its form now, the book is hardly even related to the story from which it sprang. It is instead an exciting, young adult, sword-and-sorcery adventure novel, filled with wizards and monsters, magic and mayhem. All the interesting stuff that will keep readers turning pages (I most fervently hope).
But all this now brings me back to the question with which I opened this essay. What is the nature of the story? It has plot, and it has structure, and it has substance. It has a well-developed setting and fleshed-out characters. It has a beginning, and a middle, and an end. Things happen.
Physically, all this must describe the book. And in that sense, we the authors can surely be called the creators, and the novel is our creation, and surely we came first.
But what of that short piece, written half a decade ago and then let go? The original story that passed through my mind for some reason I’ve never known, reached my notebook pages, and promptly disappeared until I drew it back out several years later for this novel? Is that not also at least part of the creation, perhaps even the most important part?
If that be the case, then in that aspect the creation has existed for far longer than I have borne the title "creator" to it. To my mind, that part of the creation has existed for eternity, in the realm of possibility, that someone some day somewhere would commit it to permanent form.
I have not in my brief life or briefer career, nor certainly in this essay, been able to come to any definitive conclusion. So instead I will leave you as I joined you, Dear Reader, with that same question, and may you draw your own conclusions and reach your own answers. Which came first?
÷ ÷ ÷
Geno Salvatore has collaborated on several R. A. Salvatore projects, including Fast Forward Games' R. A. Salvatore's The DemonWars Campaign Setting and R. A. Salvatore's The DemonWars Player's Guide. He coauthored "R. A. Salvatore's DemonWars Prologue," a DemonWars short story that appeared in the comic book published by Devil's Due Publishing. He is a recent graduate of Boston University and lives in Massachusetts.