Grey Hill notes. The title is “The Things You Do Are Magic,” but that’s just too damn long to write out all the time in your brain, let alone paper.
Ramble, ramble, ramble.
A little sketchy history:
South Dakota used to have lots of country schools. The government (I’m not sure what branch or branches) built schoolhouses and hired teachers for dozens of tiny school districts all over the state. My grandfather’s farm was the entirety of such a school district, called Grey Hill school district. Including the kids of farm hands, they were able to keep seven or eight kids in school there at any given time, grades K-8.
I don’t know how long the school lasted. By the time my father brought us back from the Air Force and Cheyenne, Wyoming, the school was empty. In fact, we used the teacher’s old house to “anchor” our trailer house. I loved going in to the old schoolhouse. Mom and Dad set up their woodworking shop out there, so it smelled wonderful. I practiced piano on an old player piano with the player mechanism broken and torn out — I played it with the window open so I could see the keys dance. Books, half-rotted toys, a collection of buttons, including pearl buttons and buttons from all sorts of military uniforms. A magic place with its own outhouse (boarded over).
I always loved the name, too. Grey Hill. Otherwise our farm was just known as Lambert’s place or the Hat Ranch (the name of our cattle brand).
When I got to college, I became annoyed that the only people writing fiction about South Dakota were straight fiction writers. No fantasy, no sci fi, nothing really fun that I could find. Some good writers, a couple of really good poets, but nobody…genre.
I decided to take on the role.
Whenever I get a chance, I set my stories in South Dakota. And I occaisionally attempt to write parts of the Grey Hill saga, an ongoing story that’s been in my head since I was twelve. The first story, “Beloved,” was about a girl who loses her parents — literally loses them. The farmland, acres and acres of wheat drying in the sun, just takes them, tractor and all. The next story, “Things…Magic,” is about an older woman, a sorceress, who leads a young warrior across a transformed landscape on a mission to wipe out resistance to the new, pagan order. “Beauty” is about a sealed religious community that becomes infected with a virus that destroys their humanity. And there are five more stories I haven’t even started yet, novel-length, about the interaction between the different cultures that exist after all the upheaval and transformation, one about science, one about magic, one about environmentalist/religous zealots, one about normal people, and one about a group of monks trying to live in the balance. No names for them, I just think of them as the Five stories, since there are five main characters and they all play different roles in each story, the main character in one, the villain in the next, etc.
I’ve never tried to really finish any of the stories, and I’ve certainly never tried to get any of them published. I haven’t felt that I’m good enough to handle the stories the way they need to be handled in order to be entertaining (instead of just a private project).
Well, like I mentioned, I’m working on “Things…Magic.” It looks to turn into a novel.
All the things I’ve been learning lately about writing stories don’t fit with this one. The first sentence doesn’t really grab. The action hasn’t started within the first three paragraphs. Conflict doesn’t drive the pace of the story: conflict exists, but the narrator is an old fart that likes to ramble.
Nevertheless, I’ve rarely been so pleased with a first draft as a read back on the prior day’s work. In fact, I don’t even think, “I’m pleased.” I just start reading and continue on until I realize I’ve come to the end and need to start making up some more if I want to find out what happens next.