Well, maybe not kung fu fighting exactly, but it sounded snappier. Two main pieces to this chapter–one of them came into the book in the first or second draft, the other didn’t show up until almost the end.
I found out that Tomas was immune to fire and water about the same time Tomas did in the book. As I recall, the idea came to me in the shower (where most of my ideas come from, if I’m being honest). I’d known Tomas had been injured in the burning/drowning incident when he was little, of course. But then I started wondering what sort of an effect that incident had on him. It was magical–could it have had some ramifications? What would they be like?
I didn’t find out exactly what they were until I was writing this chapter. The story of Rasputin came to mind, and everything clicked all at once–the name, the abilities. Everything. I love it when that happens. It makes everything so much tidier.
Of course, the name–as proud as I was of it–wasn’t an exact fit. It’s a piece of Russian history, not Slovak, and while we Americans may just sort of jumble all of those stories together into one big “Eastern European” category, believe you me when I say that Slovaks do not. When Denisa read the story over in its draft form, this was one of the spots she really wanted changed. The name of the ability. It didn’t make any sense to her, to have it named after Rasputin.
And I tried. Really, I did. I tried using various Slovak words, but none of them had the same ring. I tried other combinations of English. (I have notes . . . somewhere.) But nothing really worked and felt as cool to me as Rasputin, so in the end I just went with that. (Sorry, Denisa.) (Side note–Slovaks do *not* like Russians. It all comes from being forced to do a whole bunch of Communist things for so long. Denisa has story about all of them, from having to participate in Communist parades to taking field trips out to Communist memorials. Add to that the persistent fear the populace had of being turned over to the secret police. and . . . that sort of bad memory just doesn’t poof away when Communism falls. Enough that Denisa also recommended against naming Tomas’s cousin Katarina. It’s got a very Russian feel to it, and she didn’t think any Slovak at the time Katka was born would have named her Katka. But I really liked the name . . .)
In any case, the Rasputin ability is one of my favorites from the book, and I’m still very pleased with how it turned out, even if I couldn’t get the name exactly right. We see a bit of it in action later in the novel, but I’ve got these ideas of how much it could be used in a sequel . . .
The second point–the element that came in the final draft–is the fighting technique Lubos shows to Tomas. Once the Bigot Gang started being so physically abusive, I needed Tomas to be able to fight back. My first instinct was to have Lubos start straight with sword fighting techniques, but there were some speed bumps with that. First off, it wasn’t like Tomas could just start sporting a sword around town. Roma, armed and dangerous? Not going to fly. And even if it could, I didn’t really want him dealing with the fallout (emotional and legal) that would happen if he ended up killing a kid in the book. This isn’t that kind of novel.
So sword fighting was out.
I talked to my brother-in-law, and we discussed various approaches Tomas might learn. I wanted him to dive straight into real fighting, Karate-Kid style. But my brother in law assured me that the first thing to learn would be how to fall the right way. So . . . that’s what I went with. I tried to keep the training sequences as realistic as I could. Tomas doesn’t have any special abilities that let him learn how to fight more easily. He has to go the normal route. (And I think it’s important–in a fantasy novel–to keep as much “normal” in the book as you can. You can’t go running to magic every time you need a solution to something.)
I’ve always loved training sequences in movies and books–seeing how a character goes from a novice to a full-fledged expert. Of course, having seen a fair number, I’ve got very strict ideas about how they need to roll out. It really bugs me when a character has two or three lessons, and suddenly they’re an expert. I wanted to avoid that in this novel. Even by the end, Tomas isn’t particularly good at fighting. Just good enough to surprise bullies who are expecting an easy target. (Give Tomas a few more months or years of lessons, though . . . )
Still, it was fun writing these training sequences, and I was happy for the opportunity to do it. I think they turned out well, and fit the book.