Over the mountain

The thing that draws me to a fantasy or science fiction first is the promise of an interesting world. A place that is vivid, unique and somewhere I can relate to. I read a few science fiction books set in worlds completely unlike our own. In one case it was particularly jarring. I made it through the story, but spent most of the time trying to understand how the characters actually fit into the place. Perhaps the author’s purpose was to describe how bizarre it would be to live in a place like that. If so, he got it, but I also felt like it was at the cost of a compelling story. Now, I get it that this isn’t really the same as writing fantasy, which are typically set in places we might recognize, but it’s a lesson I’m trying to apply.

Where I live, there are places so surreal they seem like you just stepped on to the page of a fantasy. Last year I was hiking with some friends, and thick fog rolled in. With it, came an icy dampness. We came over the top of a hill I’d never gone over before. At the top was a swamp. We might as well have been in the dead marshes (actually I took a picture and told my children this is where we went). When the fog lifted, some lensing trick of the atmosphere made the mountains across the valley behind us seem to tower over us, even though they were still miles away and normally didn’t appear even half that tall. Another place that sticks out in my mind is down at the end of a bay where the land and islands climb out of the water hundreds of feet in sheer grey cliffs, topped with massive spruce trees. Bits of cloud often cling to these cliffs where thousands of birds swirl around squalling.

Sometimes, when I’m driving around I look at the mountains and wonder what’s just over them. Perhaps some place fantastic is out there waiting to be discovered. It seems to me that those worlds, filled with totally routine kinds of things can be almost as fantastic as a fictional place. This is the place that I started, and just added some imaginary stuff with a few odd details, and I like it. There are times when I’m trying to revise where I get drawn into my own story, walking up the road under the rustling canopy of oaks and elms.

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