Starenka: Vodnik Chapter Twenty-Three


Starenka was another fun character to write. She first appeared back when Tomas and Katka were doing their original tour of the city. Back then, she tried to give Tomas the herbs he’d need to complete the spell the Vodnik put in his hands much later on. (Which is another argument in the “Fate” camp, if you’re looking at the plot of this book from that angle. How did Starenka know Tomas would need to be having those herbs? Since we know she’s not actually Starenka, but instead is Tomas’s grandmother, working for Morena, then that seems to suggest that perhaps Morena knows more than she lets on to Tomas, and the Vodnik’s death was fated to happen. But I digress . . .)

In case you’re wondering, the dialogue back at the beginning of the book translates roughly as follows:

Starenka asks Tomas if he’d like to buy some herbs.
Tomas says no.
She then says that he’ll be wanting them later, and it would be easier to just get them now.
Tomas says, “You don’t want. You don’t want.” (his Slovak isn’t very good still at this point. Poor kid.
She says some other things he doesn’t understand, and that’s that.

Anyway. When I was writing her, I pictured the quintessential witch from Hansel and Gretel. Except this one’s good, not bad. I think witches get a really bad rap in pop culture these days. They’re always bad bad bad. I liked the fact that Slovak folklore had a good witch character in it.

And then it turned out that good witch was actually Tomas’s grandmother in disguise. In my defense, I didn’t know that until the end when I was writing the first draft. The end scene is there, and then suddenly Starenka is revealing that she was Babka all along.

It’s experiences like that that make me really love first drafts. Anything can happen still, and sometimes, anything does. Of course, there have been times when a small side character tries to make a reveal like that, and I look at it, and then firmly tell that character that, no, it can’t say that. But now and then, things all just click together in the right way.

I’m a firm believer in letting my subconscious do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to first drafts. The story’s there, and it’s up to me to ferret it out as best as I can. Sometimes I’ll hit a figurative wall, and it takes some time and thought to write around it. In some cases, that means going back a few chapters and starting over. In other cases, it means retooling a character so that a later reveal makes sense.

I remember in the first book I ever wrote and finished (INTO THE ELEVATOR), I had a main character who revealed himself to be a villain about two thirds of the way through. There were no hints of his villainous nature. No foreshadowing. One minute, he’s good. The next–surprise!–he’s bad.

I still would like to pull a stunt like that some day, mainly because that’s often how it seems to be in real life. We’d like to think there are all these subtle signs about who’s good and who’s bad, but too often I’ve seen people I would have sworn were 100% great and loyal people just turn around and change in an instant. It’s only after the fact that the signs are clear. In literature, I think we authors sometimes feel too obligated to include all those signs ahead of time, so that we can prep the reader for the reveal.

Then again, that groundwork is necessary. Starenka revealing herself to be Babka only works because I devoted time and attention to that plot line throughout the book. It solves two mysteries at the same time, and it manages to make both of them make sense. (Well, to me it does, at least.) In my first book, it was just too shocking. Readers were upset, and I ended up having to change things.

Anyway. Out of time for today. Thanks for reading!

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