We love getting insight into our Issue 048 authors’ inspirations, and Leanne Howard does not disappoint! Today she talks with us about “Seven Beacons Burning” and how she crafted such a vivid tale.
LSQ: Oh wow, I can’t even tell you how lovely I found this. You manage to evoke so much imagery and emotion in such a short span of time. Where did your idea for this story come from?
Leanne: Thank you so much! Honestly, one of my ideas for this story came out of one particular scene in The Return of the King (the movie): the scene when all the beacons of Gondor are being lit. I’ve seen it so many times, and every time I found myself thinking, what is life like for those beacon keepers? How are they living in such isolated places? How are they able to watch the next beacon over at any given time? These things got into my head, and the narrative situation of this story was born from that. But ultimately, I knew my version of this story was not going to be in a world at all like Middle Earth.
By contrast, I think the characters in this story came partially from the situation I was experiencing in my own life at the time. When I first started writing this story, my dad had just been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. So I was thinking a lot about the comfort of being able to eat, and eat well, along with the relationship between a father and a daughter. These things came out in the story, even though the characters are ultimately different from my dad and me.
LSQ: I loved how visceral your descriptions of taste and touch and sight were—the flower stains on the bottom of their shoes, the taste of ash and knowing where it came from, the sounds of drums and heartbeats. It read so beautifully and naturally. What for you is easiest about writing, and what parts do you have to focus on?
Leanne: I love to write tastes and smells and touches. I think part of that comes from my efforts to appreciate those things in everyday life (it’s not always easy for me to be mindful of them!). At the same time, these details are how I get to know my characters. When I start thinking about their lives, I find myself trying to come up with the material reality that makes up their existence. What do they smell/taste/touch every day? What is new to them? The answers to those questions can be fun to discover. One part that is harder for me is figuring out the shape of a story. Deciding when it should end, what note I want to finish on–these things take me a lot of time and a lot of iterations.
LSQ: You do a great job of hinting at a much larger world, but for most of this story the characters seem to be living a fairly small life—there are the Beacons, a few other people mentioned, wonderful descriptions of food and memories of longing. Have you pictured any other stories set in this world?
Leanne: I would love to return to this world in a future story. Little bubbles of ideas managed to pop up while I was writing this particular tale. At the moment, though, those ideas don’t have any particular character attached. It is usually this way for me with stories, although I don’t always want to go back to a place I’ve written in before. Sometimes a vague sense of things will sit and steep in my head for a long time, and then one day I might encounter something else from an entirely unexpected direction that springs a character into being–and bam! I have a story. It’s not a very scientific process, but it’s why I encourage following all thought-threads to their end destination. Who knows what could come of them?