This week, I thought I’d begin an answer to a question mentioned in March’s “What is a Foundation in Wisdom Really About?”: What is An Ember in the Wind based off of, and who was Mara really?
Sometimes, large pieces of a story-world only exist in the writer’s notebook. They may be fully developed, but have nothing to do with the plot. I don’t think this is terribly unusual. For instance, here’s a map I used for Locana, so that I could keep the settings consistent. Sometimes, though, these little diversions manifested into full-blown story arcs.
Earlier drafts of A Foundation in Wisdom were full of such side story arcs. Much of it was cut after my editor stripped the story down to its fundamentals, and advised me to carefully consider which “fat” to re-introduce. It was an eye-opening exercise. Letting the mind wander may be good for creativity, but often creates unnecessary tangents that make the story hard to follow. In the end, I left most of it out. Since the book is part of a series, I can always re-introduce these cut sections later–when they’ll be meaningful to the reader.
Likewise, there was much about the events surrounding Locana in An Ember in the Wind that had nothing to do with Mara. Some questions will be answered later, so I won’t touch on those 😉 Others, though, are lost to fictional time. After all, the premise of Mara’s story was that it was what she recorded in her journal. If it didn’t interest her enough to write about it, how would it ever get to Sheridan (and, hence, to the reader?)
[ No real spoilers in this post. I’m just expanding on the blurb. ]
For instance, the politics behind the war between Locana and Culatan runs deeper than was ever explored. Mara, like myself, was apolitical. She only writes about it when it directly affects her–which, for a large part of the story, isn’t much at all.
So, let’s call this week’s “episode” An Ember in the Wind: The Untold Story… part 1: who’s it written about? Why? Also, who is Ry the Squirrel? These questions and more will be answered eventually. I thought I’d start by telling how An Ember in the Wind came to be, and where Mara came from.
Mara, like a lot of the older characters in An Ember in the Wind, was named after a player on a MUD (text-based MMORPG) called “The Final Sacrifice”, which I played with my friend “K” (mentioned in an earlier post) in 1999. It’s a fairly anti-climatic answer, I suppose. But Sheridan and Mingo were named after streets in Tulsa, OK. Perhaps “Mara” is a bit more creative. Also, if the “The Final Sacrifice MUD Mara” ever finds out, it should be
So who was “TFS Mara?” I don’t really know. We knew each other off and on throughout 1999, but a lot of my memories have faded, or were crowded out by the other “I’m glad 9/11 happened” Mara, who was a pain; albeit interesting to talk to.
There’s a running joke in An Ember in the Wind that Mara Sanghid is overly cautious about people confusing her with “all the other Maras”. The joke is that “Mara” is a fairly rare name (at least, in the U.S.) However, on MUDs, it was a very common name–and they were all different people. MUD usernames, like usernames just about everywhere on the Internet, had to be unique. Simple names seemed to be more highly prized.
“TFS Mara” quit playing in October, and gave me some contact information. We kept in touch very briefly, and the last memory I have is her telling me a hurricane was approaching her home–possibly Puerto Rico. That was the last I heard from her. Shortly afterward, my family upgraded to a DSL line, and I lost all my AOL contacts.
Out of curiosity, between the first and second draft of this entry, I stuck the contact info I was given into Google. Her name shows up in a list of 9/11 victims, and I couldn’t find anything else dated after September 2001. It seems there’s a possibility she died in the World Trade Center. If so, this would be a very ugly coincidence. If you’ve read the book, you can probably figure it out. I’ll mention it here so I can go on record that it was not intentional. If the list is correct, she’d be the only 9/11 victim I knew. Perhaps I’m lucky I wasn’t more affected by the 9/11 events more than that–but it’s still sad to think I might’ve lost an old friend, even if we haven’t spoken in 15 years.
“TFS Mara” was given a cameo as “Sanna Carlm”. As time has progressed, and memory faded, Sanna’s lines were whittled down.
At one point, I wrote down as much as I could remember about the various people I met, including all the Maras. I haven’t been able to find this file, and perhaps that is what is lurking in “The Lost Dimensions”.
“The Lost Dimensions” is probably a journal of sorts. I have several such files, because I know what my memory will and won’t keep. My thesis is another example–a 300+ page document, a large chunk of which is intended for me to be able to use to reteach myself what I did to write it in the first place.
Now that I’ve written who Mara Sanghid isn’t, I should probably start talking about who she is.
Mara Sanghid (I’m putting the last name here so you don’t confuse her with the other Maras) is the last incarnation of the “blue-eyed, black-haired girl” (BEBHG) that has shown up in a lot of stories I wrote around the turn of the century.
BEBHG first appeared, unnamed, in a short story I wrote, for a high school English class, called “Bread Upon the Water”. There’s no significance to the colors. I stuck with them because I thought it’d be cool to have a recurring character. Prior to An Ember in the Wind, her biggest role was as “Danielle” in an incomplete story called “A Journey of Two Thousand Miles”.
Had I known Mara would become a major character, I would have used “Danielle” again. Using the name “Mara” was somewhat accidental. This is the end of the line for the BEBHG, though. I won’t be able to think of her as anyone but Mara Sanghid.
In 2003, I wrote a very short “story” called “A Brief History of Number Theory”. It was the continuation of “A Brief History of the Wiener Dog”. “Number Theory” introduces a character named “Lady Mordred”, who was a Renaissance-era number theorist.
The original premise of An Orthogonal Universe was that John and Sheridan spent their drive swapping stories, trying to outdo each other. I had planned about twenty short tales, and “Lady Mordred” was the first I wrote.
When I sat down to write, a funny thing happened. Lady Mordred’s story started racking up tens of thousands of words. The reason why will be a future installment of “Who is Mara Sanghid?”
Lady Mordred started her life as a peasant, and I realized it didn’t make sense to call her “Lady”. So, I decided to give her a first name. I wanted to keep “Danielle” for a major character, so I threw that name out.
About this time I found an old MUD log from “The Final Sacrifice”. (since the games were text-based, it was easy to capture all the output), and it included a message board with list of names. If you look at it, you’ll see some other familiar names: Matta, Theon, [Sid] Strider, [Dahes] Elias.
I had several MUD logs, and I thought of using a different one, or some other roster, for the source of names for each of the short stories. This is why the names of the characters from A Foundation in Wisdom were largely from “Realms of the Lost Dimension”. The names from the third book are mostly, or were mostly, streets in Spokane, WA.
I picked names off in the order I needed them, so it’s not hard to figure out the order I wrote the scenes in. I skipped the ones that obviously weren’t plausible names.
“Lady Mordred” became “Mara Mordred”, which soon became “Mara Sanghid”.
Then I changed the entire premise of An Orthogonal Universe. I kept the four best stories, and decided to make them into novel-length stories.
On sites like DeviantART, I see a lot of younger writers talking about all the processes they’ve come up with for thinking of names. Pick a good one and go with it is probably better advice, especially for the
lazy busy writer.
I initially stuck with “Mara” as a name so I could use the “confused with all the other Maras” joke. I contemplated changing it a few times, but as time went on, the name grew on me. There’s a chapter in the book where Mara contemplates changing her name to “Ninety-Seven”, which is largely a reflection on my decision to not change it.
Mara Sanghid is one of the strongest characters in the series. I can imagine she would insist to be thought of as “Mara Sanghid”–not “TFS Mara” or “TLD Mara”, or any of the other Maras. So, rather than change her name, I worked it into the story.
Mara Sanghid spends a lot of time in the book contemplating her name. I worked it into her trying to establish her roots, origins, and decisions that led her to her current point in life. However, the inspiration for all that dialogue was just me trying to decide if she needs an original name.
What sealed the deal was that I used An Ember in the Wind as a subject for some of my first GIMP/MyPaint attempts. Soon, people on the GIMP Talk/GIMP Chat forums began to recognize Mara, and her somewhat iconic appearance. By then, it was too late to change the name.
Fun fact: Mara’s appearance is based on a drawing of Elizabeth standing under a horse statue at the North Carolina government plaza. I changed her outfit colors to Wolfpack Red because she was a grad student at UNC, and I thought it would be funny.
With the possible exception of Aphrael, the resemblance between “The Final Sacrifice MUD” players, and the characters in An Ember in the Wind, pretty much ends here. However, there’s more to dig into in the aforementioned TFS log. It is largely manifested in the chapter “Unpleasant Trees”.
In the next installment: The TFS log, NCSU-UNC rivalry, and 9/11 — odd coincidences and more.