Writers usually dread questions about where they get their ideas. How can anyone remember the thought processes that generated hundreds of decisions about plot points, character traits, macguffins and more?
However, in the case of “A Pebble in the Mountains,” I remember quite clearly how the story began to form in my mind. I was in the university library, looking for an entirely different book, when my eye fell on a volume titled An Anthology of Georgian Folk Poetry by Kevin Tuite. On a whim, I picked it up and began to leaf through it, expecting to find poems from the American state, or else the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Instead, it proved to be poetry from the republic in the Caucasus. All at once, I was pulled into a world of high mountains, fierce shepherds, and gods old and new. It was love at first reading.
When I had read all parts of that book several times over, I began seeking out more examples of Georgian folklore. The poems proved to be just a fraction of a much larger corpus of legends, fairy tales, ballads and historical epics shared by the peoples who inhabit the border between Georgia and the territories of the Northern Caucasus. If you liked the tropes in “Pebble,” their original source material is well worth tracking down. Most of it isn’t translated into English, but there are a few titles available.
Ethnography and Folklore of the Georgia-Chechnya Border by Shorena Kurtsikidze and Vakhtang Chikovani translates legends and fairy tales. Here you can find hunters, princesses, and a great many heroic horses, but the flavour of the stories is quite distinct from similar European tales. The book also includes ethnographic information and black and white photographs of the Khevsurs and the Kists, two ethnicities that inhabit that harsh corner of Georgia. There’s a sample of the material here.
Legends of the Caucasus by David Hunt is another terrific source. This is where the cyclops legends, epics of resistance to foreign invaders, and the occasional tale of a woman warrior are collected. Of the three three books, this one probably generated the most tropes for my story. It gave me so many ideas, I could write several more tales written in fantasy analogs of the Greater Caucasus range.
Myriad Lands, the anthology in which “A Pebble in the Mountains” appears, launched this evening at Readercon. If you’re in the Boston area this weekend I recommend going to take a look at it.