(Janice Law’s illustration of El Gordo, a character in her latest story for AHMM, “The Bosky Dell”)
“The Bosky Dell” was an unusual story for me, because the idea arrived nearly complete. No little hint of an idea followed by a frustrating search for what should come next. No big revisions needed, no second thoughts. There on two handwritten pages of my writing notebook was the whole thing, characters, setting, and, always most difficult for me, plot. A real gift of the Muse.
This was odd in one way, because I do few stories with any touch of the supernatural. Fantasy isn’t my thing, and like Steve, the true crime writer in “The Bosky Dell,” I have little enthusiasm for the elf realm and the stories of princes and princesses that feature so profitably in his Martha’s literary output.
But certain things are universal. Who among us has not wanted to a do over? A mulligan in golf, a word unsaid, an act undone. Or regretted, conversely, some sin of omission? Writers, especially writers like Steve and most of the rest of us of the middling sort, are very prone to this desire. With so many scribblers of equivalent talent, success and profit do often depend on lucky reviews, powerful contacts, chance meetings, or good timing.
Absent these, writers can easily fall, as Steve does, into envy, condescension, and bitterness. Against all his principles, he passes through the bosky dell that his wife sees as a charming fairyland feature of their property into another time and place.
He discovers what the previous owner had hinted at: opportunity. In his case, the opportunity to secure the narco killer’s interview that, Steve is sure, would have made his first book a success and changed his life.
This turn of plot produced the second thing different about this story, namely the need to create a plausible, yet not totally realistic, alternate time line with a plausible, but not strictly realistic, El Gordo, the flamboyant killer. Logically, he should have been based in Mexico or Colombia or in some obscure corner of the States.
I drew instead on a visit to Chile, to the far south, reflected in the name of our hotel, Finisterra, the end of the earth. The architecture looks Scottish—a product of the Scots sheep men who settled there. The country side is open and windswept; the night sky, unfamiliar and only sparsely populated by stars.
I tried for a sense of difference, of things being not quite what they seem in that part of The Bosky Dell, because time travel would certainly represent a profound psychological shift, such as Steve experiences. We are not, after all, Dr. Who, for whom traversing an eon or two before lunch is all in a day’s work. Time travel is unnatural, and just as in the dark old fairy tales, the unnatural must be paid for.
This story also illustrated something about the limits of my imagination. Just for my own amusement, I sometimes do illustrations for my work, and my new iPad and drawing program make this easy. I tried three times to do a bosky dell, none were satisfactory. But when I turned to El Gordo with his pastel leisure suit and his Chihuahuas, I had no trouble. Magic landscapes are not my thing, but crooks and killers of the literary, and apparently the graphic, persuasion are right down my alley.
Janice Law’s The Falling Men, a novel with strong mystery elements, has been issued as an ebook on Amazon Kindle. Also on kindle: The Complete Madame Selina Stories.
The Man Who Met the Elf Queen with two other fanciful short stories and 4 illustrations and The Dictator’s Double, 3 short mysteries and 4 illustrations, are available from Apple Books.