When Memory Deceives: Vodnik Chapter Eighteen

This was a chapter that I wrote fairly early on in the first draft. I can’t remember exactly why now. Typically when I write, I do so chronologically. I start at the beginning and then keep writing until I’m at the end. For some reason (maybe I was stuck at an earlier plot point), I jumped ahead to get this scene down. It might be that I just thought it would be an easy scene to write. Tomas going down the well.

I’d found out that they cleaned out the well regularly from my brother-in-law, and as soon as I heard that, I knew it would be a logical place for Tomas to go looking for vodniks. (The other main part of the chapter–the last water vision of Lesana–was also a bit of tee-ball, creatively speaking. It’s a real legend from Trencin. (At least . . . I thought it was. I had a website from Trencin where I came across it, but that website has disappeared on me, now that I tried to link to it. Bother. Anyway. I made changes to what I’d read about, in any case.)

So I summoned up everything I remembered about the Well of Love and wrote the chapter. Here’s a pic of the well, for reference.

I had pics of the well, I’d been there numerous times–it was all straightforward. I was very happy with how the chapter turned out. The tension that builds as Tomas gets closer and closer to going down the well, the actual experience of descending, and then seeing the Vodnik at the bottom.
Then I went to Slovakia in the final drafting stages of the book, and I discovered . . . the well isn’t round. Not inside, at any rate. It’s square. (And it’s not nearly as wet and slimy around the side as I’d remembered.) This made no sense at all. I remembered the well being round inside. Not like it was a huge pain to fix, but it was a shocking experience to me. (Sort of like being sure there was a web page that listed the legend of Lesana, then going to that web page and finding no mention of it.)
This was something that happened quite a few times on that trip, actually. I found fountains had moved in my memory. Memorials had shifted. Scenery had changed. Bridges had gotten taller. Drives had gotten shorter (or longer). Not that they really had, of course–but my iron-clad memory of all of these things turned out to be cardboard-clad.
Which makes sense, in a way. Through all the drafts for this book, I’ve now spent much more time in Trencin in my imagination than I’ve spent there in person. By the time you’re on your fifth or sixth draft of a scene, that scene is pretty set in your mind. Most other fantasy authors don’t have the chance to then visit the site of that scene in person and discover how much has changed from what you’d imagined. (I read this article in Wired the other month, about how fragile our memories really are. Absolutely fascinating read, which explains what happened to me perfectly, and will make you doubt your memory more than ever. Mind. Blown.)
That said, it’s still a lot of fun to be able to go to Trencin and see all the places I’d written about. In many ways, the memories I have of being there are about the same as the experiences I had Tomas undergo in the book, in my mind. I can look at the town square and “remember” Tomas and his father waiting there until it was dusk, so they could break into the electronics store, just as much as I can remember being there with my son while he scared pigeons.
This is all just to say that memory is a strange beast. But then again, I suppose we all knew that anyway.

Leave a comment