In the process of writing Risuko, I have rewritten just about every sentence in the book. As the old saying goes: Writing is hard; editing is harder.
Some chapters have been rewritten more heavily than others. One chapter has been through more changes than any other: the prologue. I’ve written at least five completely different versions of the introduction to Risuko’s world. Here is the one that opened the book when I finished my first full draft. It wasn’t the right opening for the book, but I still like it, so I thought I’d share it here!
Imagine a large sheet of paper.
On it are drawn four shapes: islands. The largest looks vaguely like a trout that is snapping at the hook-shaped peninsula that extends from the bottom of the topmost. The two smallest form parts of the trout’s tail as it leaps for the lure.
The largest island is densely decorated. Above it a neat cramped hand has written Honshu, or Main State. There are lines drawn all over the map—most in rich, black ink. Thick, dark lines like arteries run up and down the length of each island, and some of these, too, are named: Eastern Sea Road, Western Sea Road, Midline Road. Mountains appear as green-tipped scales. Blue lines split the mountains and cross the roads, spilling into the surrounding seas.
Dots are scattered where roads and rivers meet. They are named too: Bayway, or Edo; Kamakura, or Kama’s Treasure. A large, red dot is labeled simply Miyako—Capital.
Dotted black lines carve the fish up into bite-sized portions with names like Horse River Province (Suruga), Worth Province (Kai), Eastern Serenity Province (Totomi), and Three Rivers Province (Mikawa).
What makes this map most interesting is not the map itself, but what lies on top of it. Hundreds of small, painted wooden pegs. Red and white, Blue and green. Yellow, orange, purple, brown, black, grey. They are scattered across the map, usually close to the dots marking the towns and cities. Some of these pegs are limited to just one of the little morsels that divide up the fish—provinces. Some are divided among several. And some of the morsels have more than one color of peg occupying their borders.
These tend to be where there are the most pegs.
They also tend to be where one finds a few scattered metal pins, each with its head painted red and white.
Eastern Serenity Province—Totomi—is not, to look at the map, the most interesting area. A town called Pineshore sits at the intersection of the Eastern Sea Road and the Weatherbank River. Green marks forests and hills, and, well inland, a few mountains. There is a castle—and it is this that draws one’s attention, since around it are arrayed a most varied set of pegs: blue, red, and white. There too one may find a number of the colored pins.
The castle sits atop a rocky hill; it is surrounded on three sides by cliffs, making it easy to defend. At the base of the cliffs begins a dense forest of oak and maple, but also pine and tall hemlock.
In the midst of the woods lies a village that the mapmaker has not bothered to name. It is a collection of perhaps thirty small houses. Barely more than huts, most of them, and most show signs of the inhabitants’ occupations: a pig pen, a few chicken coops, a charcoal pit, a rather meager field of wheat in which stands a battered, ramshackle plow whose blade was converted long ago from a soldier’s spear. Close to the stream, there is a small rice paddy.
One house—among the humblest, with a tattered, balding roof of thatch—shows no outward sign of the function that its inhabitants serve. The only thing that identifies this house from its neighbors is a cherry tree that shades one corner of the house.
In the middle of a shabby, dirt-floored room, a young woman kneels, clad in red silk. Her face is unlined, warm, but her eyes are sad. Before her, at her knees, are three small, brightly colored bags.
Opposite her sits a smaller girl, her cotton robe clean but threadbare. Her face is pale and pinched, as if by hunger, but her expression is one of wonder. Where one is well-fed and smooth-faced, her hair carefully set, the other is thin and unkempt, yet there is no denying their resemblance; they are sisters. “Risuko,” the younger girl mutters. “I never thought…”
“I know,” says the older girl, very quietly. “I never thought I’d be sitting in this room again either, sister.” She takes a deep breath, touches one of the bags in front of her, and begins to tell her story.
If you’ve been reading along, you’ll notice that I’ve changed a few things — I dropped the “Eastern” from Serenity Province, for example. Also, I originally had Risuko narrating the entire book to her sister, which is why you’ve got the two of them sitting together at the end. (What’s in those bags, I wonder?) For a number of reasons (some of which I won’t be able to explain until the fourth book comes out — whew!), I got rid of having Risuko speaking directly to Usako.
(A small spoiler: the map is going to make a return in a later chapter of this book!)
I kind of like the movie-like zooming in from the map of Japan to Risuko’s home, though!
What do you think?
Two pieces of news:
- We’re having another Risuko giveaway on Goodreads! If you’d like to sign up for the chance to win a signed copy, check out the Giveaway page. I’ll put out a reminder next week.
- We’re still firming up the dates, but some time in the next month or two, we’re going to be launching a Kickstarter campaign! It will be a chance for you to support this book — and guarantee yourself some unique Risuko-related swag. If you could be given a reward for backing Risuko, what would it be? Feel free to email or comment — we’d love to know!