It’s all in the name. One name can propel a story for me. One fantastic name can make or break it all. I have gotten lucky and created a few great names. Saykobar Hesh, Volacha Brinchay, Kolaster Vagan, Tobin the Treefrog, Rayph Ivoryfist—all these names crafted the character for me. They all brought that character to life. But not like this one.
I had a perfect dream. As a writer, I don’t dream about my books. Some do. I don’t. Never had it happen to me– until this one dream came in a pretty box with a bow on it. In one night of restless sleep, I had dreamed a novel perfect and complete. When my wife came to wake me up, I looked at her and said, “His name is—” and I said it. The greatest name for a character I had ever heard. It gave me goosebumps just to say the name. It had power. It had mystique. It brought me awake and thrumming, and guys, it felt so good to say it.
He was a young boy, an orphan, grubby and uneducated. He worked for change performing tricks on a train that traveled from the mainland out to an island where everyone worked. Tricks and flips and stories he told; jokes and tumbles and card games he played; and the people, entertained and in love with him brought food and candy. They brought him warm clothing and gave him fistfuls of change. They all loved this orphan with the perfect name. Until one day, on his twelfth birthday, he disappeared.
The atmosphere of the train changed that day. What had been happy and light, filled with laughing and camaraderie, became sullen and petulant. The commuters stopped talking. An air of discontent rode the wind, and for long years, the train fell silent. Everyone hated the ride. Then the boy came back.
He was sixteen now, tall and charismatic. He was the perfect image of a beautiful young man. The people grinned when they saw him and fell in around him to hug him and laugh. But he had not come alone.
The boy with the inspiring name had brought others with him, darker folk, angry and quarrelsome. These people begged openly for money. When it was denied to them, they grew restless. They grew villainous, and they looked to their leader for aid.
The boy was definitely their leader. He walked these gypsies with humor laced in rage. He led with a cruelty the riders of the train had never seen in him before. Because, see, the boy was furious. He had been living on the streets when the passengers had brought him scarves but he needed a home. They brought him gloves when what he wanted was a family. He had been abused by the life of the homeless, and now that he was powerful and smart, now that he had a crew and a voice, he was here for payment. Payment in misery.
Violence. The boy wanted violence. He intimidated the people to get what he wanted. He stole from them and commanded them about. He pulled a knife on an old man one day when the man accidentally stepped on his foot. He reached out and plucked a woman’s purse out of her hands, riffled through it in front of her, and dropped it when he found what he wanted. His gypsies were worse. And the ride back and forth to the island was hell.
One day, something sparked it. I know not what it was. It was a small thing, though, no punch to the gut, no taking of some innocent rider’s pride. One tiny little injustice provoked the commuters, and the train erupted with an uprising.
People were beaten. Blood and horror, the darkest things a man can do to another man, broke out in the train. The gypsies pulled guns, and bedlam rode free on the speeding train.
Someone started a fire, and within the flames, everyone died. The train crashed and the station shut down.
For years, no train. But after nearly a decade had passed, the people of the mainland and the people of the island erected a new train. On a stormy day, on its maiden run, just when the cloudy skies parted for a bit of sunlight, the engineer looked out his window to the image of a train on fire shooting straight at him. Hundreds of faces hung out the windows, wailing, and on top of the train, wreathed in flames, sat the boy with the perfect name, screaming in horror and hate.
But I never wrote that story. That one slipped past me. I was writing sword and sorcery. I was writing high adventure, and this story did not fit in my genre. It did not fit in my plans, and I shoved it away. I packed it up and put it somewhere.
The name is gone. I have searched my mind for it for years. I would like to write that perfect dream novel. I would love to tell that little boy’s story. But for me, the name is everything. And without it, I cannot gain the momentum to put it all down.
But every now and then, I will be sitting and thinking of a book or driving some street I have known for years. I will be on my deck, grilling pork steak, or in the shower, and I will see before me a flaming train filled with screaming death and a nameless boy riding the top, shrieking in my face.