“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
We are delighted to welcome Ginn Hale back to the blog today to talk about her new collection The Long Past & Other Stories (out on July 11) and the inspirations behind it.
Put down the Butter Knife, Igor! Or: The Inspiration for The Long Past & Other Stories
By Ginn Hale
I’m actually quite envious of authors who can immediately pinpoint the moment that a specific event inspired them to write a book. My own motivations are murky and difficult to pick out with certainty. I regularly scribble down ideas, even write outlines for prospective stories and novels, but the spark that takes me from just absently pondering a project to pouring all my energy into bringing it to life is oddly obscured from my conscious thought.
It’s a bit like being Victor Frankenstein and waking up one day to realize that you’ve been reanimating corpses in your sleep. There’s Igor giving you the side-eye and attempting to turn his worry about your activities into casual morning chitchat.
“Another creature, I see,” Igor comments.
You follow his gaze across the room to a strange figure lurking near the rose damask drapes. The morning sunlight casts it into shadow, but you have the distinct feeling that something isn’t quite right about the shape of the head.
“Interesting choice.” Igor spreads a little raspberry jam across his morning toast. He continues to grip the butter knife. “Any particular reason… for grafting a velociraptor’s head to the remains of Butch Cassidy?”
“Oh,” you mutter, “that explains why it’s wearing a cowboy hat…”
I didn’t actually cast dinosaurs in the roles of famous western outlaws. Instead I imagined an American west where a war between mages has opened a rift in time and flooded vast tracks of the nation—and reintroduced wildlife from the Cretaceous Era to the Rocky Mountains. The protagonists I chose to follow for the three stories that make up The Long Past & Other Stories are all queer and many are people of color, or from non-Christian backgrounds. As their stories progress their history diverges from the one we know. By the end of the last novella new world powers are on the rise and a completely different twentieth century dawns.
All of which would make a great deal of sense, if I could then list the many western films and books that I’ve enjoyed or been infuriated by. Or if I confessed to being a fan of the “lost world” genre of fantasy stories, wherein modern folks stumble into a pocket of the past, filled with dinosaurs and saber-toothed cats.
But I’ve never been particularly interested in the western genre nor are dinosaurs an obsession of mine. In truth, I began reading and researching the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras because of my interest in the evolution of flowering plants. (After all, “The reproductive organs and mating biology of angiosperms exhibit greater variety than those of any other group of organisms…” To quote Ecology and Evolution of Flowers, edited by Harder and Barrett. An how can anyone not be fascinated by that?)
But none of that brings me any closer to answering the simple question of what inspired me to write The Long Past & Other Stories. I suppose that to do that I might need to set aside the fantastical aspects of the book and consider what the stories are really about.
Because at their cores these aren’t stories of dinosaurs or cowboys. They are stories about lives and identities that have largely been erased or whitewashed from history. Yes, there are dinosaurs and magic and steam-punk machines, but all of that is window dressing and foil-wrapped candies. It’s fun and exciting, but not what makes up the heart of the book, and it’s not where my inspiration springs from, I don’t think.
Oddly, I’d say that it was the discovery of the show Drunk History that actually sparked my desire to write my own version of alternate history and steampunk. Because before I watched an episode I was feeling disgusted and tired of history—American history in particular. So often, if marginalized people are depicted at all, we’re treated as pathetic or doomed. And I’ve always rejected such shallow portrayals. (Even when they’re accompanied by wistful music and a slow “Ken Burns” style pan across sepia-toned photos.)
Then one evening my wife showed me an episode of Drunk History. It was goofy, and irreverent but I was delighted. Despite the fact that the program is intended as a silly comedy production—actors reenact scenes and dialogues from history as recounted by inebriated narrators—it’s packed with stories that are far too often over-looked. Harriet Tubman, Bass Reeves, Percy Julian and Marsha B. Johnson (my personal heroine!) are all recognized—not treated as footnotes in white, straight, cisgendered, male history; but celebrated and portrayed with charm and strength as well as humor.
I remember thinking, this is what history lessons should be like: diverse, lively and fascinating. Not long after that I began writing the first novella of The Long Past and Other Stories. I didn’t think of Drunk History as an inspiration at the time, but when my research turned dour, or frustrating in its portrayal of the people who I knew had played roles in our national history, I found my self revisiting the show. And I’d remember that what I wanted to do was create an alternative to traditional historical narratives. Maybe not a drunk alternative, but one that was inclusive, triumphant and fun.
And somewhere along the way a bunch of dinosaurs came along for the ride.
(So there you go, Igor. Now eat your toast, we’ve got some new bodies to get to work on.)
Award-winning author Ginn Hale lives in the Pacific Northwest with her lovely wife and their ancient, evil cat. She spends the rainy days admiring local fungi. The stormy nights, she spends writing science-fiction and fantasy stories featuring LGBT protagonists. (Attempts to convince the cat to be less evil have been largely abandoned.)
Her latest release, The Long Past, is out now.