Ilan Lerman

The Origin of Three Kisses

If you’re hopping over from the Daily Science Fiction e-mail blast of “Three Kisses”, welcome! If you’re not…welcome anyway!

I mentioned in an earlier post I would describe the writing prompt that led to the creation of my linked “Three Kisses” stories, so here it is. The prompt was set by the fiendishly clever and talented Ilan Lerman, as part of a series of writing challenges.

From a matrix of twenty four random words we had to choose just two, each from a different line, and these had to be used in the closing sentence of our story. The point was to try and work backwards from a known ending to create a story that fitted. It turned out to be a surprisingly effective approach.

This is the word matrix we were confronted with:







As with most writing prompts, I initially stared at it in despair. Nothing. Nothing coming from it at all. Then I started to play with a few word combinations and the ideas slowly began to creep out. After a few false starts I eventually settled on the words “cold” and “lips”. These immediately brought to mind the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale “The Snow Queen”. At first I tried to avoid a straight up retelling of the work, instead attempting to make more oblique references…something like, say, Google’s Project Glass meets the troll mirror, an SFnal spin… but although these showed initial promise, I kept being drawn back to the raw, icy power of the original story. In the end I ditched the contorted layers of allusion and wrote Gerda’s imagined encounter with the Queen of Snowflakes straight up. “The Mirror of Reason” was the result.


By now I was on a roll. My brain went into overdrive identifying other significant kisses in Fairy Tale Land. For some reason it began to obsess about dwarves and their role in “Snow White” (by the Brothers Grimm). How, if we were to actually encounter them, they may not be as “Disney” (or even “Tolkien”) as we might assume. And if the dwarves received an unnecessarily good press, why wouldn’t also the Prince on his stallion? The collision of these two reversals gave rise to “Defenders of the Crystal Casket“.


“The Snow Queen” mentions a third fatal kiss — so I knew I had to write a third installment, and settled on the obvious choice: “Sleeping Beauty”. Again, the antecedents of Charles Perrault‘s fairy tale are much darker than the rosy modern incarnation. (It wasn’t a chaste kiss that woke the cursed Princess in earlier versions, for instance, but the twins she gave birth to whilst still in her cursed sleep.) I couldn’t let the loathsomely arrogant Prince from “Defenders” get off so lightly this time, and “A Royal Breakfast” sees him get his just desserts.


Although “The Mirror of Reason” was the first of the three to be completed, it seemed to make structural sense to me for it to be sandwiched between the two “Prince” stories to create a linked trilogy, and that was how it was submitted, as a single story. DSF are sending the sections out in a slightly different order, but that’s OK since they should each stand individually.

I hope you enjoy each of the “Three Kisses”. I had great fun writing them. And as to Ilan’s prompt…what two words would you choose?

The Next Big Thing

Last week I was tagged for the “Next Big Thing” meme by Ilan Lerman and Georgina Bruce. Both are hugely talented writers, and if I could reverse tag them I would. The idea of “The Next Big Thing” is to answer ten standard questions and then tag more writers in turn, who answer the same questions on their blogs a week after, etc.

So here are the questions, and my answers:

1) What is the working title of your next book/short story/project?

It’s a novel. The current working title is “Heptatheon”.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s basically a continuation, a sequel to my first novel. I know there’s a lot of sensible advice out there saying you shouldn’t write a sequel to your first novel unless it has proven successful, but I just couldn’t resist returning to see how the story and characters developed. The setting — a constructed world — is designed to be a writer’s playground, so it’s difficult for me to stay away from it too long.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Science fiction, definitely. Although the reader probably wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from epic fantasy in most cases.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The protagonist, Urek, by Jake Gyllenhaal. Hudomek, his reluctant sidekick, by some unholy genespliced hybrid of Yul Brynner and James Gandolfini. In the first novel the villain would have been played by Tom Cruise, but in this one, I think I’ve got Ed Norton in mind. Their co-stars would be Meryl Streep, Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johanssen. Yes, it would be an expensive film to produce.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

This is the most difficult question to answer, especially as I’ve only just begun serious work on the WIP. Still, it’s always good to have a vague idea of what you’re trying to achieve.

Uh, how about this line for Voiceover Man:

“The fate of the world will be decided at the heart of the Heptatheon, where our hero will choose whether humanity or the gods triumph.”

Gosh, nobody has written about that before.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I honestly don’t know.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The last novel took just over four years. I’d like to think this one will take much less, but real life is pretty busy with a young family and a very full time job. I’ve really only just started it, so there’s a long way to go yet.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

…The good ones?

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The original story was inspired by a tree that towers outside my work office. I imagined someone climbing up it, trying to escape from an imminent threat. What were they escaping from? And what were they escaping to? Urek’s story all stems from that.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The first novel was essentially about the narrator coming to terms with the fact he wasn’t as human as he hoped, a journey of self-discovery. In “Heptatheon” the journey continues, but with the stakes and scale cranked up. Thematically, I’m attempting to touch upon the corrupting effects of power; plot-wise there will be intrigue, betrayal, struggle against impossible odds, giant monsters, massed battles and who knows what else. Although I know the ending (more or less), I’m a complete pantser at heart, so anything could happen on the way and probably will.

It will be interesting to read this post again in a few years time and see how the result matches up with my original intentions and expectations.

Now to hand on the baton.

To Erin Stocks a writer, musician, and graduate of the 2011 Clarion Writer’s Workshop. Her fiction can be found in the anthology Anywhere but Earth by Coeur de Lion, Flash Fiction Online, the Hadley Rille anthology Destination: Future, The Colored Lens, and Polluto Magazine.

And to Cécile Cristofari, an aspiring young writer who has so far had a couple of articles published by Strange Horizons and who I’m sure has a bright future ahead of her.

I can’t wait to see what their answers will be.