Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On the Writing of: Yuri's Butterflies

Lara Dunning blogged about using writing prompts to mine story ideas (they don't always work for her). I find using prompts to be intriguing, but I find that for them to work I typically need to pound a number of ideas together until I get something that has that niggling hook that grabs my attention.

Yuri's Butterflies is one of those stories that took a couple of different ideas and pounded them together until I came up with something. It started with an article in The Economist, "Reputation Management: Glitzkrieg". The article stands out because it's one of the few articles written in second person and it describes how one might buy respectability. The idea of a drug kingpin, or down-and-out dictator was intriguing to me and the way they might use or rather abuse their power seemed like an interesting character.

I mixed this with the world I'd first started with an addictive substance called dust that created illusions. I realized that the world was an alternate current day world with the addition of this fantastical element and that it would fit well as a backdrop for exploring a drug kingpin who is trying to become respectable.

This mixed a little bit with a recent New Yorker article, "The Art of the Billionaire", I'd read profiling philanthropist Eli Broad. It was an interesting article and didn't play significantly with the story, but it did provide information about the way that principal donors work with large art organizations.

Lastly, one of my favorite parts about Tad Williams Otherland series was the garden that Mr. Sellers kept at his house. I liked the sense of wonder filling this garden and the ministries around it and I always looked forward to these portions of the story. I hope I captured a little bit with the illusions of the butterflies.


  1. That was a fascinating story that stood out for me on a visual level. It had an almost sci-fi feel about it. Intriguing to hear about the process of how it came together.

    I think I do something similar when cobbling together my best work, but I've never logically plotted it out as you've done here.

    As for prompts, I think I'm in the minority: I love them. The only issue that I ever had was that I would take prompts from people, and what their prompt might say to me was not at all what they wanted/expected in a story. That's the way it goes, I guess.

    BTW, I don't think I ever responded to your comment regarding queries. Is there truly a hard number? If you've queried twenty times and received no response, is it your query? No, I don't believe so, at least not in a sense.

    Here's the thing: If you, Aidan Fritz, wrote a novel, queried, and didn't receive any requests for partials or fulls in twenty queries, I would be shocked. But I think you would've done your homework and prepared a solid query that was directed at the right parties. What I see on so many of the sites where people offer up their queries for critique is that the queries really, really, really need a lot of work. I think that is the majority of what crosses an agent's desk, hence the numbers: no requests in twenty queries? It's your query.

    And of course, there are only a billion other little factors into why a query gets rejected or accepted. :-)

    Sorry to derail the topic at hand.

  2. Interesting! I was reminded of Mr. Seller's garden when I was reading that story, and also of the bird woman (Avalie) in the cage, trapped in the illusion.

  3. @Rebecca, I think it is fair to let the prompt speak to you and lead you in the direction you desire. For me a mischievous part wants to take the prompt in an unexpected direction.

    Re: Yuri's, I'm interested that it had a scifi feel and wonder whether that is partially because of the current-dayish setting and hope it's with the confidence I have about how the world works. We'll see.

    Yes, good point that there are many queries that may need more homework or additional work, and therefore the rule-of-thumb does make sense (and actually wouldn't hurt to look at the query regardless).

  4. @Tessa, I hadn't been thinking of Avalie, but I can see how that works too. I love the way art is connected.

  5. A lot of my inspiration (my 'prompts', if you like) comes from artwork.

    I have loads of books of fantasy and SF art (the Spectrum series puts out a great collection once a year). Often the image just provides the spark, the fire is something unpredictable and tangential that may not relate too strongly to the original image, and obviously I am adding movement and emotion to a still scene, if the original scene remains at all...

    Red Tank, for example, was inspired by the last one of these images.

  6. @John, intriguing. I like the image with the tank's turrets pointing upwards because it has a sense of soulfullness & and communing for me. Yes, even for me the non-picture prompts may spark something very different from the initial inspiration.