Sometimes you can get bogged down in the research.
One of my favorite stories about overdoing it on research is from the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading, and was told by Dennis Lehane, a writer I greatly admire. He talked about a story that involved a prison around the Boston area. He went to the site where the prison stood. He researched it in book after book, went to libraries and universities to learn more about this prison and what life was like in this prison. He took copious notes. He just researched the hell out of it.
At one point, he’s sitting in a library, reading the gajillionth book on this goddam prison, and a big voice booms in his head: “Who gives a shit!”
And of course, the voice was right.
After all, Lehane said, you’re writing fiction. No one else is going to know what kind of brick was used to build the walls of a prison that hasn’t been standing in 175 years. Who cares.
Which, in my interpretation, means at some point you just have to write the story.
I got caught up in this trying to do a flash fiction challenge. The challenge was pick a random image and write a 1,000 word story on it in a week. Mine was the castle you see in attached to this entry.
That castle is a real Scottish castle — Eilan Donan Castle — and there is a real story behind it about a real person. He was a saint, actually, named Donnan of Eigg. There is a very interesting story not just of the history of the castle, but of how Donnan of Eigg was martyred and a whole bunch of other really cool stuff.
I got about 350 words done before my time was up, and I realized that I had spent time I should have been writing doing research on Donnan of Eigg and the castle and Scottish geography and Vikings, believe it or not.
And so the story didn’t get finished.
And I wanted to show you what an unfinished story looks like.
Here it is.
Oh, will I finish it? I don’t know. Maybe at some point. I liked where it was going, but it also felt a little stalled out in all the detail to me. I also doubt I can do it in the 1,000 word limit.
The First Castle
We cannot hear the drums. But I know what Freyja has told me is true. The drums will come, the rhythm swelling like highland thunder, beyond Eilean Thioram to our west, beyond Eilean Glas, across the still of Loch Alsh, from the dark horizons of the deep waters.
In the keep, the sliver of white moonlight crosses her face, and for a brief moment I forget everything. There is only her, a goddess of the frozen north country, beautiful, perfect. I hold my fingers to her face and Freyja closes her eyes.
“Donan,” she says, whispering, as though the Berserkers on the approaching impervious ships might hear us. “Please. Flee to Inverness with me.”
His Lourdship, Cinioch son of Lutrin, has sent his men to fetch us, to bring us to the Castle of Inverness across the country, a day’s ride on horse. His rangers still wait outside the castle keep. Unless I can send them away with Freyja soon, their loyalty will be swiftly rewarded with blades to the throat.
Cinioch is a good king, a wise man, and loyal. But a country away I defy him. And when he learns of my treachery, I will have long received my punishment at the hands of the Viking Berserkers.
# # # #
“I speak on behalf of the Church,” I spoke to the blonde, Viking people who greeted me at the stony shore of the Norse Land.
# # # #
They have been seen. The many boats of the Viking Berserkers were first seen Durness and then Lochinver. Signal fires and horseback messengers were sent across the lands. The longships were past Skye when the rangers arrived from the Glenfinnan outpost. Too late.
In the dark shroud of night, passing the northern face of Glas Eilean, and the small eastward island, across the still, black water of Loch Alsh, a boy will stand at the edge of the town of Ardelve. He will run to the town square, the church, and he will ring the bell, high and loud. But the bell will not be heard over the drumbeats from the longboats.
I listen through the distance. I can hear the drums.
© 2017 by Benjamin J. Kirby
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