Fantastic History #7: The Creative Spark in Ancient Worlds by Rachel Marks

Every story has been written. Every tale has been told. As you look at history you begin to see how true this idea is. At this point, as artists, we’re all basically re-creators. There is nothing new under the sun. What one man leaves behind another picks up and reshapes, and this is especially true in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. From Harry Potter, to Star Wars, to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, most well-know speculative creations have been inspired by, or seem to echo ancient mythology, a historic culture or a historical event. According to George R.R. Martian, Game of Thrones was inspired by his fascination with the War of the Roses. Tolkien was inspired by his love of ancient language and Norse and Celtic mythology. And the much maligned/loved Twilight could easily be seen as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

After I finished work on my debut series (The Dark Cycle), I found myself in a slump with a very real case of writer’s block. I had several projects in the baby stages but nothing that had enough meat on its bones to allow for me to really dive in as my next big challenge. I went back and forth between projects for several months and just couldn’t make any of them work. I decided to take a break in writing and focus on research. Just research. Because that’s my sandbox. I would soak in information based on ancient culture, historic wars, colonization and change, and I would go into my sponge time with no preconceived notions. I’d just take it all in and see what my subconscious did.

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Irish-Celtic mythology/culture, and Norse as well (having a grandma who sprouted from each of them), with a solid knowledge base on both of them, and so I naturally gravitated towards those. I knew that I wanted to write something with an ancient feeling, but told in a modern setting. I planned on laying out a few paths I could possibly walk down as I started taking notes.

Within the first two weeks of soaking, I had a new main character waving at me, a mythology structure rising to the surface, and a very real mood I wanted to create; all the bones I needed to build the new world of Fire and Bone. A world woven through with ancient Irish Folklore, wrapped in the mood of a dark European faerie tale, with a twist of sassy modern wit.

I was surprised how quickly my writer’s block was broken by simple historical research, my mind opening to new ideas from old stories and ancient imaginings. And while I may not have had all the details laid out perfectly, I had a baseline to jump off of. I was finally weaving a story again. A new story sparked because I couldn’t get the vision of what I’d read out of my head; I felt the plight of the old gods clashing with the new as the East met the West through Rome, I saw the image of a god transforming into a raven, I marveled at stories of children abandoned in the woods by parents who feared the illusive fae. Because they had faith that not setting out fresh cream for the pixies brought fate’s mischief, that a sickly child was a changeling. Superstition was the order of the day. And the gods walked among us.

The inevitable story questions rose: what would that look like in modern day? And how would the ancient gods of Erin, of Albion and Prydain play with us now, if they could? The answers to this author’s inspiration came from the past.

Maybe yours will as well.

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Rachel A. Marks is an author and artist, a cancer survivor and the mom of four awesome humans. She’s the author of the bestselling Urban Fantasy series, The Dark Cycle. And her new book Fire and Bone was one of SyFy.com’s most anticipated books of 2018. You can read more about her on her website: www.RachelAnneMarks.com