The original story I sent in was "Fortune", which was inspired heavily by s00j's song "Carousel". (The original focus was "stories inspired by S00j songs, but that shifted to "stories featuring music" as they got a bunch of A-list authors sending in gems that were not necessarily About S00j.) When editing, I had to tweak the Mermaid's story a bit, as it previously relied on you knowing her from the original November WTD, when she was a mangrove nymph.
So I sent it in with the backstory woven (and some amazing art by ultra_lilac)... and satyrblade said that the Mermaid piece blew everything else away. Core of greatness surrounded by things less great. And he wanted to see a whole story as great as the Mermaid's piece. Having read "The Angel of Fremont Street" (that story's why he headhunted me for this), he knew I could do it. This led to lots of intense writery back-and-forth. "Write Vegas," he said; "You have such a feel for it." We fiddled about with trying to keep the Mermaid (couldn't) and trying to keep the Fortune-Teller (could keep the concept, but it's a very different Fortune-Teller), and what ended up pouring out was the Vegas-based Descent of Inanna that's been lurking in in the recesses of my brain for a while.
Yeah. satyrblade poked me for an emotional core, and oh boy did he get one. Because you know what Inanna's Descent means to me, right? What Vegas means to me?
She almost didn't see him - a shadow sprawled under the iconic sign of the Pioneer Club. A man, shuffling and reshuffling a deck of oversized cards... one leg extended, one folded, a mirror of Vegas Vic above him. He was talking to himself - no, singing, with the buzz and hiss of neon drowning him out almost completely.
"...woke up on a journey, the road ahead in my mind's eye... "
She found herself walking toward him. Slowly. Fremont Street was near-deserted, this time of night, and she felt a twinge of trepidation. He had the ragged look she recognized as Vegas having run somebody down - shaggy dark hair hid his face, but his hands were callused, one thin scar creeping up the back of his hand toward his wrist. His jeans were worn down to a crumpled-paper softness, and his Frye boots had been resoled a few times and were coming up on needing work again. All the signs of someone who maybe lived out here, on the kindness of tourists.
She'd never seen him before, though. Back and forth on Fremont every night, and she'd never seen this man who looked so comfortable in the shadow of the iconic neon cowboy, as if he'd just grown there.
The curiosity pulled her in. That, and the music. He seemed not to notice her, rocking so slightly back and forth as he shuffled the cards, tapped them on the concrete beside him, shuffled again, all going to his internal rhythm. "...the way, it opened for me like the drawbridge of a castle... underneath the tragedy I found the cave of crystal..."
Abruptly, he seemed to snap into focus. He looked up and grinned as though he'd seen her there all along. “Dead night, huh?”
He gestured with a card, its edges feathery with use. “It’s a slow night. Quiet. Fremont at four in the morning, all grey and potential. The city that never sleeps is maybe taking a nap. What are you doing out?”
“I - I’m-”
He held out a hand to stop her. “Oh, no, no, let me.” He plucked a card from the deck, sat cross-legged, pressed it to his forehead. “You’re looking for someone.”
“Yes. How did you-”
He laughed, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “Oh, honey, it’s Vegas. Everybody’s looking for a girl.”
She slumped a bit, releasing the tension she hadn’t realized she’d been carrying.
He edged forward. “Hey. I’m sorry. Look, let me tell your fortune.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“Me either.” He grinned again and held out a hand to her.”C’mon, sit down.”
She looked around. Same quiet street. Nothing to lose, really. “Fine.”
She touched his hand - and something happened within him, some shift, and by the time she was seated, something about him had changed. He seemed brighter than his surroundings. His smile, as he shuffled the cards, was gentler - more genuine pleasure, less the lure of the raconteur. When he spoke, his voice resonated. “You will choose seven cards. With each card, you will leave something behind. A token.”
“I have no-”
“You will know. You already know.” The thing inhabiting the man tapped the deck on the sidewalk and gestured to her. “Choose your first card.”
And yeah, that's Axis. He finds ways to show up everywhere. My mad bad wide-broken shaman stepped in as the Fortune-Teller, and everything else clicked right into place.
So the story?
100% different, save the device of having a Fortune-Teller.
And it will walk you through the underworld, oh yes.
I still get ultra_lilac art, though.
...y'all have no idea how much I want to share this whole story with you. It is my best yet, and if it accomplishes what I think it does, it fills one of my life goals as a writer. I cracked myself open and touched things I haven't touched in fifteen years. The longest night of my life is in there. And it's not the one you think.
This gift I give to s00j, for her healing.
You guys want this book. Oh, yes. Because it's not just my story. You get work from Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Francesca Lia Block, Storm Constantine, Holly Black, copperwise, and so many more. And the art! Front cover, back cover. Shiny. (Dude. I get to be in a book! This book!)
So the story started out inspired by "Carousel", but ended up drawing more from the territory of "Crystal Cave". Listen and enjoy.
Oh, and PRE-ORDER RAVENS IN THE LIBRARY TODAY! Seriously.