I mentioned a while ago that Gryphon’s Heir began with a single incident: a desperate man going through a door that shouldn’t exist. It wasn’t a novel at that point, obviously. In fact, I had no particular aim to write a novel. I was just responding to an extremely unhappy period in my life in a way I had done many times before: writing about it as a means of dealing with it. (Yes, I suppose that qualifies as my nerd confession this week. But before you raise your eyebrow too much, remember that as coping strategies go, it’s a pretty benign/inexpensive/non-destructive strategy. And occasionally quite creative.)
There was no gryphon then, just one solitary man. But then he went through a door (I must regretfully confess that, at this point, my situation and the man’s diverged) and met Someone on the door’s other side, and they talked, and that Someone answered a few questions while simultaneously raising all sorts of others. The man wound up going through the door. In retrospect, he didn’t really ask all --- even most --- of the right questions, or kick the tires very much before agreeing to go through, which I suppose was a reflection certainly of his desperation and perhaps his subconscious willingness to do something completely different with his life. But I don’t want to be too hard on him, because I think many of us have been at that point, haven’t we? (Remember what Thoreau said about most men living lives of quiet desperation.)
I wasn’t really sure what he was going to encounter on the door’s other side, and played around with several ideas before settling on the one I ultimately used. (At one point, I recall thinking the door might exit into an inn, and the man might be met by a couple of other people, abilities and roles unknown. But the setting I employed was, I think, far more romantic and allowed the introduction of raw, elemental conflict much sooner, to much greater effect.) Right, then; we needed a couple of creatures for that conflict.
Wait a minute, I hear you objecting: just how long was this writing-as-therapy thing going to continue? Well, one of the interesting observations we can make at this point is that therapy took a back seat before disappearing entirely, because the story just wouldn’t leave or conveniently end. I had an incident, yes. I had a response to that incident, yes. But then, all of a sudden, before I knew what was happening, we were off into another world, quite literally, and things were happening to the man --- all kinds of wonderful, terrible, fantastic, interesting kinds of things. Where was all this going? Just as it says at one point in the book in relation to Aquilea, my gryphon, I intensely desired to find out. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Okay, then. Back to practicalities. I needed creatures for a conflict. I already had a bad creature in mind. Now I needed a good creature, one that would be intelligent and form a close relationship with the man. And I wanted it to be able to fly. But what? A dragon? Nope. Tolkien’s Smaug and Paolini’s Saphira immediately came to mind, and I didn’t want such an obvious similarity. Hmm. An eagle? Nope, Tolkien again. Hmm. Flying mythological animals, I thought, mentally running through the catalogue. What about some sort of hybrid? And the gryphon just came to me in a flash. I wasn’t aware of any as famous as Smaug, which was an important consideration --- that was then, of course; since my book’s publication, I have belatedly discovered the gryphon is evidently used much more often by fantasy authors than I was aware of at the time. However and oh well, he said, shrugging pragmatically. I’m very attached to Aquilea, whose name I thought of, using the Latin words for eagle and lion. Like my protagonist, I’m sure there could be some linguist out there to quibble with the proper construction of the name, but frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn. I like it.
And so there she was, in one fell swoop, if you’ll pardon the pun. Why a female? I really don’t know. She just was. Had to be. Always had been. I can’t say rationally beyond that, because I don’t know. Some things in life, you just know with utter certainty. You don’t know how or why you know what you know, but by gosh, you do. And I can tell you that Aquilea had to be a girl. Ah QUILL leah. Three syllables, emphasis on the middle one, and don’t ask why, because again, That’s Just The Way It Had To Be.
On a final connected note, a post-script, if you will... the cover painting of Aquilea. It’s really quite lovely, isn’t it? It was done for me by my father several years ago, at my request. He was an enormously talented commercial artist --- started off as a lithographic artist back in the 1930s --- and his technique and ability in both commercial and fine art were absolutely breathtaking. For example, I still have samples of his work where some of the lettering he did, completely by hand, is so small, it’s readable only with a magnifying glass. Amazing.
And as far as the cover of Gryphon’s Heir is concerned, I guess only fitting, too: when I was a boy in school, I always used to ask him to do title pages for my reports and essays, and he crafted some that were truly works of art. (What my teachers thought of them, I have no idea.) I wasn’t originally sure I would use his gryphon painting, but now, I’m very glad I did, because we could look on the cover for my first novel as the penultimate, final title page he did for me... and a tribute to him.