(This was originally posted on the PSG Publishing website. I’m publishing it here with their agreement.)
When people know that you write stories, sooner or later, they start asking you: “Where do you find all your ideas?”
My standard answer is: everywhere and anywhere—and I mean it. My short story for the Library of Dreams anthology is a perfect example of how plenty of random little things collided to end up in a full-fledged story.
It all started with the theme of ‘dreams’, of course. When I think of those, I often think of Ezekiel, whom I created years ago for a pen-and-paper role-playing game, as a character who had strong ties to the Oneiros. The latter was an ideal setting for wild landscapes, strange creatures, and extraordinary adventures. So when the time came to write a story about dreams, I remembered Ezekiel and an episode where he had to deal with one of those eerie constructs born from the darkest nightmares (I call it the DreamEater, by the way).
However, that was only one element. Whether it came to my original game or to my story for the anthology, many others gathered in my mind as I was writing, without my even realising it. Inspiration comes to me from many, many sources: pictures, music, movies, a tiny detail on the street, a colour. Whatever goes, although as a general rule, visual and musical elements tend to weigh the heaviest in my personal balance of influences. I have attempted to track down which of those permeated my writing here. You’ll see that some are pretty evident, and some others somewhat silly.
My Oneiros owes a lot to the Sandman comics, which I discovered some 15 years ago, and which have since fuelled my fascination for dreams in general.
I strongly suspect some ideas came to me from two animated movies/series: Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi first (for the Viaduct, and the rails surrounded with waters), and Ginga Tetsudou 999 (for the Conductor, with his shiny eyes and darkened face). I just don’t see how those two couldn’t lead to my use of a train here, anyway.
A series of video games, .hack//G.U., was behind my creating the DreamEater in the first place, years ago, which is really weird, since I’ve never played those games. Still, the few images I saw provided me with a visual for that Nightmare (dark shapes with dark arms and hands).
The Hell Rides were inspired by Roger Zelazny’s Amber novels. While the concept itself isn’t especially original, I just couldn’t help but hint at one of my favourite series here. To me, it stands to reason that whatever or whoever is able to manipulate dreams must do so in a subtle way; the less subtle the manipulation, the harsher it becomes on the dreamer’s psyche.
Speaking of dreams being harsh on the person who’s having them: I drew that from personal experience. I’ve woken up feeling physical pain after vivid nightmares. I’ve also had my share of dreams within dreams, those that left you wondering, upon waking up, if you’re still dreaming or not. Ezekiel himself has already visited my dreams a couple of times. Now, talk about not knowing what’s real or not anymore!
As far as musical inspiration goes, one specific song played in my mind when I was writing the second part of my story: Magia by Kalafina. This song was composed for an animated series called Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and the witch worlds appearing in it would do very well as nightmares. Shortly after watching this series, I even attempted at representing my own version of Ezekiel and the DreamEater, which you can see here.
One of what I’m going to call ‘silly little bouts of inspiration’ is linked to the portals in Erebus. Ready? Here goes: I had been playing Minecraft; we needed to mine obsidian blocks to craft a portal in the game; and so, I decided that Erebus’s portals would be made of obsidian stone. (I did warn you, didn’t I?)
I’m positive that a few other things contributed to shaping This Thing of Darkness, things I’m not even aware of. The eyes are one of those. I couldn’t tell you why they came to play such an important role, only that ‘darkness + many eyes opening in it’ seemed rather freaky. Eyes are the mirror of one’s soul, as the saying goes; maybe I went with that as a way to represent how both parties in TToD could thus look into each other.
I don’t know how other writers’ minds work. Perhaps they do in simpler ways than mine, or in even more convoluted ones. In the end, what matters is what we do with our inspirations, and what stories they become, doesn’t it?