Continuing with story note posts, here’s one for “Valley of the Falling Clouds.”
In June, 1996, I went to the Kerrville Folk Festival, a yearly music event held on a ranch outside Kerrville, Texas, in the Texas Hill Country, a land of cedar, prickly-pear cactus, and heat. The festival has been going on since 1972. It lasts three weeks, with crowded outdoor concerts on weekends and smaller concerts during the week. Some people go just for the weekend concerts, some stay a few days, and others camp out for the entire festival. There’s a tradition of elaborate campsites that groups set up in the same place each year.
Someone has a page devoted to it here.
A lot of musicians who aren’t official performers go to play their songs in the campgrounds and hang out with friends. It’s like a science fiction convention but without the boring panels and pontification; also without a bar, but there’s no lack of drink.
I was sitting outside my tent, under a tarp, temperature at least 96 degrees, and I had an image of solidified clouds rolling down a hill and crushing someone’s house.
A story unfolded about Rex, his longing for Apple Jane the herbalist’s daughter, and his departure to the wilds beyond the town of Moonsocket, where he built a shack. A shack he hoped to share with Apple Jane.
For a long time I tried to have the story start with the cloud boulders rolling down the hill and crushing Rex’s shack, and then jump back and forth in time. Jumbled mess. It was one of the stories I submitted to Clarion West. The fifth week, tired, not getting anywhere with a new story, I revised it, re-arranging it in chronological order. Based on feedback, I took out assorted things. A few years later, unable to find a publisher and more confident about what belongs in a story I write (what makes a story my story and not someone else’s), I put everything back.
Maybe because of its origins at a music festival the story has various song references woven into it, “wind’s dominion” from a Butch Hancock song, the name Rex and “blue wind” from Townes Van Zandt’s “Rex’s Blues”.
Another inspiration for “Clouds” was wanting to write something like Jack Cady’s story, “The Bride,” which I read in Century, a magazine that gave me hope that my style of fantasy could be published and appreciated by a genre audience. An older inspiration, which I didn’t connect until re-reading it last year, was Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar, which I first read in my early twenties; its subtle tone and matter-of-fact description of the fantastic helped shape my writing style.
In Nick Gevers’ Locus Magazine review of Polyphony 3, where “Valley of the Falling Clouds” first appeared, he described the story as “pastoral surrealism,” which I liked quite a bit.
It used to end differently, but life changes made that ending impossible.