I wrote three stories this year, in Scott Lynch’s “Gentleman Bastards” series, C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith, and Stephen King’s The Stand.

My assignment was in the fandom I had most hoped to be matched on, Scott Lynch’s “Gentleman Bastards,” which I’d recently re-read. It’s about con men in fantasyland, full of lovely worldbuilding details and dialogue straight out of The Sopranos. The gang consists of Locke Lamora, the brains of the outfit with a penchant for over-complicated melodrama; Jean Tannen, previously a soft merchant’s son, who discovers a gift for fighting; and Calo and Galdo Sanza, sidekick twins.

My recipient, Labellementeuse, requested the time period where they’re all teenagers under the mostly-benevolent mentorship of Father Chains, a real priest masquerading as a fake one. She also requested Jean’s POV, a focus on the Locke-Jean relationship, and to see what Jean sees in Locke. I thought that was a great prompt: not too detailed, not too vague.

I wrote The Goddess of Suffering Scam. No canon knowledge needed beyond what I just told you, and it’s not spoilery for the books. The self-flagellating apparatus was Sherwood Smith’s suggestion, and in my opinion it completely makes the story.

Northwest Smith is lush, vivid space opera from the 1930s, featuring Northwest Smith, a tall Earthman with colorless eyes whose stoic exterior conceals some interesting psychological vulnerabilities, and his partner, Yarol the Venusian, a cheerfully amoral young man who looks like an angel and is constantly rescuing Smith from soul-sucking space vampires.

Last year I requested it, and got an amazing story, Ithaka, or, the Moons of Jupiter from Quillori. This year she requested it herself. Her letter was so charming that it ought to be read in full. (One note here about slash - I know Smith/Yarol is a popular reading, if anything can be said to be popular in such a tiny, almost non-existent fandom. And it's not as though I have any objection in theory - Smith does spend an awful lot of time noticing how gorgeous Venusians are in general and Yarol in particular - but I have a hard time reading Smith as anything other than straight, or perhaps not straight exactly - I can imagine him having friendly, casual sex with Yarol on a regular basis - but we spend enough time in his viewpoint that it really does seem to me his type, or what he genuinely believes is his type, is women (women, or possibly eldritch abominations and dark gods - with whom, frankly, he appears to have more success). )

Quillori wanted a story starring Yarol and focusing on worldbuilding, saying that often her favorite part of the story was when they were wandering around alien worlds and the plot hadn’t actually started yet. I thought that was a wonderful prompt, and wrote Strangler’s Veil. No canon knowledge needed beyond what I just told you.

Finally, [personal profile] kore and I co-wrote West, for Stephen King’s The Stand.

The novel is post-apocalyptic, a huge, sprawling, vivid narrative with a memorable ensemble cast. Toward the end, four of the characters— all men— go on a quest to save the world. Maidenjedi’s prompt was, “What if the women went instead?”

Cut for length and spoilers for both our story and The Stand. If you’re thinking of reading our story, please do so before reading the author notes. If you haven’t read The Stand, I don’t think our story will be comprehensible.

I loved this prompt. Like a lot of male authors whom I otherwise love, King wrote a lot of interesting, three-dimensional female characters with their own agendas and stories… and then shunted them off to the side, killed them off, or made their final important role be having a baby. I certainly wouldn’t call him a misogynist— probably the single most heroic character in the entire book is Dayna Jurgens, a bisexual jock who tries to kill the Devil with a switchblade— but there’s an underlying sexist assumption that of course the characters who are most important in the end are the men.

I’d written Dayna’s backstory, The Devil and Dayna Jurgens, for a previous Yuletide, and I really wanted to snatch up that prompt. However, by the time I saw it, there were three days left and I was working or all call for at least part of the day for all three. The prompt needed length to do it justice.

I then remembered that my friend Kore was also a big Stand fan. I emailed her to ask if she’d be interested in co-writing it with me. To my delight, she was. We sketched out a plot and divided up the characters to write, so it wouldn’t be too jarring if our writing styles were very distinct. Initially, she took Frannie and Nadine, and I took Dayna and Lucy. But as we wrote, trading scenes back and forth, some of that got switched up. In the end, she wrote Frannie’s first scene and I wrote her subsequent scenes, and I wrote all the Lucy scenes except the one where Nadine quotes Milton to her.

Maidenjedi’s prompt was actually to suggest that Lucy, Frannie, Nadine, and Dayna go on the quest. To keep the plot closer to King’s original, we sent Sue Stern instead of Dayna, so Dayna still goes to Vegas as a spy, and Frannie could break her leg and be rescued by Dayna. The scene where Kojak and then Tom Cullen care for Stu was something of seminal hurt-comfort scene for me as a young reader, so there was no way I was losing the chance to re-tell it with a different set of characters.

We decided from the beginning that we wouldn’t take them all the way to Vegas, but would end with them walking west, allowing the reader to decide for themselves whether our story concludes much like the novel, with Lucy, Nadine, and Sue dying and taking Flagg with them, or if somehow they (or some, or one) of them escape the destruction of Vegas. The important thing is not exactly what happens when they reach their destination, but the choice to make the journey.

I had a wonderful time collaborating on this story. It wouldn’t have been possible for either of us to do it alone, and I love that it now exists.

Kore’s author notes on “West” are copied below:

For me, the seed of this story germinated a couple of years ago when Rachel wrote the backstory for Dayna Jurgens, in her words the most badass person in the entire book because "she takes on Randall Flagg with A KNIFE" (paraphrasing here). Like other women I know who also love The Stand, I love its female characters but feel frustrated at how they end up -- Nadine, Sue and Dayna all die, Fran's main value seems to be her pregnancy, Mother Abagail becomes a Magical Negress, no woman goes on the final pilgrimage, and so on. When Rachel told me about the prompt that interested her I was instantly hooked.

Due partly to time constraints, we wound up scrapping a few planned scenes – the finding of Harold's body, and Kojak coming to Fran's aid. But these wound up being good decisions, I think, because that way the focus of the story is all on the ladies (including Billie Jean -- I have no hesitation about telling you it was Rachel who named her that).

For me, getting a chance to rework source material I felt so strongly about (in a number of ways) is a big part of what Yuletide is all about, and I loved plotting and writing with one of my best friends and celebrating with her when our recipient wrote she loved the story even more than we'd hoped she would. That kind of connection and creation is a big part of what Yuletide is about for me, too. Writing about heroines, with a woman, for another woman, was just icing on the Yule log.

While working on this story, I repeatedly hit the wall (I've had writer's block for many years), once so badly that I thought it would be impossible for me to continue writing at all. Rachel coached me through the block so kindly that -- I don't want to say it was a case of life imitating art, but it reminded me that most of what we do in life is accomplished just the way our pilgrims went on in the story -- half in faith, half in doubt, but step by step, always going on.
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