So, by a certain point it became obvious that when I would set to work on a fantasy piece, I would end up centering it around a particular animal. Maybe two animals. This was handy, because at the time I was writing these a trip to the zoo was generally greeted with enthusiasm by most of the other people in the house, though they would sometimes get impatient with my desire to stare for a while at a particular animal they found less interesting than others.
For “Beloved of the Sun,” which I sold to Beneath Ceaseless Skies in 2010, I had decided (for reasons that I’m not a hundred percent clear on anymore) that I wanted to write a scary, dangerous butterfly. As often happened, Ant actually ended up with more screen time, and by the time I was done writing I knew way more about sturgeons in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers than I strictly ever needed to. (I’ve forgotten a good deal of it now, honestly.)
But the couple of trips to the Insectarium at the zoo were a complete success from my kids’ standpoint! So that was a win.
I knelt on a woven mat. The room was dark, the walls barely visible. A low fire burned on the packed-earth floor. Human heads circled the fire, eyes shadowed, dark mouths open as though they were about to speak or scream. The fire flared up momentarily, and I saw they were round clay pots, the faces molded and painted on. Across the fire from me sat a man in leggings and linen shirt, his face strong-boned and sharp, long black hair pulled back. Behind him sat a large, dark bird on a perch.
“She sees,” said a voice like wind through an empty jar. “She hears. She may or may not understand what she hears. But her mind seems to receive speech as words, not merely sounds.”
“But she doesn’t speak,” said the man. “Is there damage?”
Nearly all my fantasy stories have shorthand titles that I used while writing them or while discussing the stories with my writer friends, especially the people who saw the stories at various stages before the final draft. “The Nalendar” is “the skink.” “Marsh Gods” is “the Crane.” “The Unknown God” is usually “the horse” but sometimes “the Frog.” Despite Ant’s taking the stage more often, this one was “Butterfly.”