This short story actually has a very interesting backstory.
If we flash back to January 2006, we find me having been dating Pemberly (her real name is Emily, but she goes by Pemberly online) for about two months. Our relationship was still quite new, and we weren’t exclusive yet. (Though I wanted to be. I was pretty sure I wanted to marry her by that point.)
Well, at one of our dates, Pemberly told me an amazing story. It seems that one of her eighth grade students—a girl named Matisse—had done a book report on Elantris. Now, Matisse didn’t know that her teacher was dating me. She didn’t even know that Pemberly knew me. It was just one of those bizarre coincidences that happens just to prove to us all that the world is a funny place.
Now, when I say book report, that doesn’t get across the scope of what Matisse did. Being a clever, creative girl, she went the extra mile. Instead of a simple write-up on the book, she did a Dragonology-style book on Elantris. This thing is amazing; it has sketches and bios of the characters, strips of Elantrian cloth stapled in as examples, little pouches filled with materials from the books, all of that. A total multisensory experience dedicated to the novel, all handmade. Pemberly showed it to me, and it was honestly just about the coolest, must humbling thing I’d ever seen. Matisse had obviously loved the book very much.
That set me thinking of something I could do as a thank-you surprise to Matisse, who still didn’t know that her teacher was dating one of her favorite authors. I’d had this idea itching in the back of my head.
Holes in the Story
In any novel, there are decisions you make regarding what to put in and what to leave out. A lot of authors talk about the “iceberg” theory—that for any good book, there’s a lot of story and worldbuilding beneath the surface that the author knows, but the reader never discovers. These things give weight and a foundation for the story you do see, allowing it to feel more real and more engaging because the author has thought through so much of what isn’t stated.
In Elantris, there are a couple of these holes. Places where I knew what was happening offscreen, but decided that I couldn’t talk about it in the book. In this novel, there were generally two reasons for these holes. One was if I couldn’t get a viewpoint character into the right location at the right time; the chapter triad format earned me a lot of things, but also constrained me sometimes. At the end of the book, however, the triad system fell apart on purpose, and so I could show random other viewpoints. In the case of what was happening with the children in Elantris, however, I decided that there was already too much happening during the climax, and these sections were the ones that had to be cut.
So I knew what was going on inside Elantris when the attack by the Dakhor came. In the back of my mind, I also knew that the children were saved and protected by Dashe and Ashe the Seon, kept from being slaughtered in the attack. I didn’t want them to fall like the others; Karata had worked so hard to protect them, and letting the children not have to suffer through the slaughter at New Elantris was my gift to her. A kind of compensation for her own sacrifice at the end of the novel.
Hope of Elantris
I’d been itching to write another Elantris story. Because of the nature of publishing, I knew that I couldn’t do a sequel to the book at the time, as the Mistborn novels made so much more sense to publish. However, Matisse’s project gave me the inspiration that I needed in order to turn my attention back to Elantris. I stopped writing on Mistborn: The Well of Ascension and wrote out this section of the Elantris story.
Because Matisse had inspired me, I decided that I would name a character after her. I also felt that if I was taking the time to write a short story in the world, I wanted to introduce a new character rather than telling the story from Dashe’s viewpoint. (As would have been likely had this section ended up in the final novel.) Therefore, it was reasonable to write it from the viewpoint of the character I’d just named after Matisse.
The Matisse in the story doesn’t act like the real Matisse. I didn’t know the real Matisse; I’d never met her. (Though I did have Pemberly describe her so that I could make the character look like her. Matisse was one of my wife’s favorite students, as you might imagine from her doing fantastic projects like the Elantris book.)
After writing the story, I sent a copy with Pemberly to give to Matisse as a gift and a thank you. I can only imagine how surprised she was to turn in a project based on one of her favorite books, then get back a short story written by the author including her as one of the characters in the world. This is the kind of nifty little thing you can pull off once in a while as a novelist, and I just couldn’t pass by the opportunity.
(Of course, the fact that I’d just put one of Pemberly’s favorite students into a story for her, then let Pemberly give the gift, did not escape me. I can’t help but think it got me a few bonus points. After all, we did start dating exclusively just a short time after that. . . .)
Matisse gave us the original Elantrisology book she had made as a wedding gift. She still comes to a lot of my signings, and as far as I can tell is still one of the most awesome people alive. (Though I’m biased toward anyone who says nice things about my books.)
So there’s the backstory. Now, the question comes up, what do I think of the story itself?
Well, it’s hard for me to separate the backstory and the history of the story from the text itself. For me, this story is a piece of my history with Pemberly, and is intertwined with a lot of the emotions and experiences of that crazy year from summer 2005 to summer 2006 when my first novel was released and I met and married my wife.
Looking back at this story, I think it might be a tad on the sentimental side. (How could it help but be, considering . . . ?) I’m bringing a lot from my own experiences to the characters, and Dashe and Matisse became full and real people to me. However, I’m not certain I justify their relationship and the characters enough to earn the emotion of the short story.
I hope that it doesn’t come off as too melodramatic. (Read outside the context of the Elantris novel, I think that it might.) I wrote it quickly, and I’m afraid it’s not as polished or as intricate as I might have otherwise been able to make it. I realize it’s not the finest piece of work I’ve done, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest it to anyone who hasn’t read Elantris itself, as the story doesn’t work at all (emotionally or plotwise) if you aren’t familiar with the novel. I also think it’s not a good introduction to my work.
But for what the story is, I’m quite pleased with it.
Thanks for reading!