Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to my village,
looking for a wife.
When Lo-Melkhiin – a formidable king – arrives at her desert home, she knows that he will take her beautiful sister for a wife. Desperate to save her sister from certain death, she makes the ultimate sacrifice – leaving home and family behind to live with a fearful man. But it seems that a strange magic flows between her and Lo-Melkhiin, and night after night, she survives. Finding power in storytelling, the words she speaks are given strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. But she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king …if only she can stop her heart from falling for a monster.
Set against a harsh desert backdrop, A Thousand Nights by E K Johnston is an evocative tale of love, mystery and magic that would not feel out of place if Scheherazade herself were telling it. And perhaps she is…
A Place To Stand
Guest Post by E.K. Johnston
I’ll tell you a secret*: A Thousand Nights was never supposed to be a book. I was working on the idea that would (eventually) become Spindle (which is, of course, now the NIGHTS companion novel), and I realized that I was going to need to buckle down and do some world building.
Now, don’t get me wrong: this was not an onerous task. I love world building. I imagine I’d love it more if I could draw, but even with just words to work with, I still have a blast doing it. My problem with the-book-that-would-be-Spindle was magic. I had a fledging magical system, and I needed to make sure that it worked.
There are two problems with magic in fantasy novels. The first is economic. If a sorcerer can just make gold, than gold becomes worthless and the economy tanks. Similarly, if you can wave your hands and move a large barrel, then you don’t need a donkey to move it for you, and if you don’t need a donkey, then you don’t need . . . well, basically it tears a hole in the fabric of the universe. The point is that your magic can’t be TOO powerful, or your characters never have a reason to do anything at all.
(Think about how, for example, in Harry Potter, you find out that magic can’t make food. This is critical because not only was hunger a fairly important part of Harry’s early story, it’s a REALLY important part of Deathly Hallows. Aside from that, though, if you can just make food from magic, no one would ever work. They’d just wave their wands and start eating, and, once again, total economic collapse.)
The second problem is that if you have a powerful person in your story, it becomes difficult to present them with problems they can’t solve. This is why the knowledgeable wizard dies in a lot of epic fantasy stories (Gandalf, Dumbledore, even Belgarath, kinda, at a really crucial part of the story): the character has to be sidelined so the hero can step in.
It was the second problem I faced with Spindle, because I needed a bunch of powerful creatures in chapter one, and then they all had to disappear in chapter two. I thought it was going to be a simple world building exercise, a thousand words or so while I hammered out the details. I remember thinking I wanted to use A Thousand and One Nights, because I didn’t want it to be super-white. I made a very short list of things I needed to include, and then I went to work.
At the time, I worked at a terribly boring mall that no one ever shopped at. I walked laps of the cookware section two evenings a week, and on this night in particular, I was lost in this new world I was building. And then I had That Thought: Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to my village, looking for a wife.
And there it was: a place to stand and a whole book to put there before I got to the book I had originally intended to write. Since I hadn’t sold either of them yet, I was free to go and work with “the prequel book” (which I soon stopped referring to as a prequel when I realized how it had grown on me), and it became A Thousand Nights.
The rest, as the saying goes, is history. I used NIGHTS to tell a story that I really, really love, but I also used it to explain where those magical creatures in Spindle come from, and how the world works so that they can’t stick around. It was a lot of fun (and turned out to be important career-wise too, which was also pretty great).
Writers don’t always have the freedom to follow their world building. If Spindle had already been sold, I would have had to stick to it, and NIGHTS would be a thousand words in a notebook somewhere. I’m really glad that it isn’t, because it turned out that sharing my place to stand was most of the fun of building it.
*Okay, it’s not a secret. I’ve told literally everyone.
But it’s a good opener, and I couldn’t resist.
A Thousand Nights is out now!