Years ago, I had an idea for a magic system based around luck.  Users would be able to be phenomenally lucky at times, in exchange for spending periods being extraordinarily unlucky, a little like feruchemists store other attributes in Sanderson’s Mistborn series, although I believe I had this idea before I reader those books.  As usual, though, I had no story, no plot nor characters to accompany the idea and, in truth, I had little interest in trying to develop one.  Really digging into the concept brings up all kinds of problems, like how does the magic know what is lucky versus unlucky, and does it somehow incorporate quantum probability…and it’s better to not poke at those kinds of questions.

The idea hadn’t even crossed my mind in years when I saw the “Gambler’s Grief” Elegant Literature prompt, but the prompt seemed so perfectly suited to that magic system that I went immediately to brainstorming stories around a luck-storage magic system.  My first few attempts were too on-point, feeding into exactly what you might imagine for “Gambler’s Grief” as a prompt and tone: smoky bars, ports and sailors, gambling dens.  Moving away from those default images was the first step to getting the story to work, but even then, it wasn’t coming together.

At the time, I was focusing the luck through pendants or amulets, and the magic wasn’t, well, magical.  There wasn’t something wondrous about it – it was just a luck battery – and the story as a whole wasn’t coming together.  Perhaps most, the tone was still trying to align with that first-instinct concept for “Gambler’s Grief.”  Only when I chanced to catch a rhyme about “wizards and lizards” did I, for whatever reason, have the idea of transferring the luck-storage role to a kind of magical, symbiotic lizard.

As odd as that seems, it proved the breakthrough I needed to get the story to work.  Though nothing truly fundamental had changed, it altered the story’s overall tone, giving it a bit of whimsy, making it more cheerful, and I got a bit more conflict to work with now that luck storage required a living creature.  Starting in an overnight prison after the barfight let me evoke some of those initial instincts relating to the prompt, and then turn them on their heads when I reveal that Ima was just there trying to store up luck by being unlucky.

Once the first draft was finished, I had three main concerns, all of which my writing group was quite helpful in ironing out during revisions.  First, I was concerned about how well the story conformed to the prompt.  There is minimal explicit gambling, and not all that much grief, either.  In my head, I knew that the lucky lizards and the problems they bring to Ima through Nelo’s charmer “cult” (they’re not really a cult – that’s just how Ima perceives them) were both the gambling and the gambler’s grief, but I wasn’t certain an outside reader would catch that nuance, especially in the short format of less than two thousand words.

Giving some more explicit information on the magic system/luck storage functioning helped make that idea clearer, and it also addressed one of my other concerns, which was that readers wouldn’t pick up on the subtler usages and influences of the lucky lizards.  For the most part, my writing group reassured me on that count without requiring many alterations; I only added a few, subtle hints to increase the suggestion that, for instance, it was Nelo’s luck that prompted Ima to challenge him to open his eyes before storming out of the manor.  The ability to incorporate unspoken, barely hinted implementations of luck (or unluck) is one of the most intriguing components of the story.

My last concern was, as with almost every story I write, the ending.  Especially in the case of short stories, there is a very fine line to draw between wrapping up the plot to give a satisfying conclusion, and leaving enough unresolved to suggest how the story might continue in the future.  It’s not a balance I always strike, in part because my short story heritage leans heavily towards the science fiction, where many of the endings I would describe as highly ambiguous (I’ll be discussing this in the release and author’s note for Ship in a Bottle).  At urging from my writing group, I did give a little more resolution to this ending, wrapping up more-or-less definitively the escape from the town and the charmers chasing Ima and Nelo, but leaving their course from that point open to the reader’s imagination.  It is clear that they have further to go, but not where it is they will head.

While I thought it was a strong story, I don’t know that I would have said it was that much stronger than, say, In My Defense, or Ship in a Bottle.  After all of these submissions to Elegant Literature’s prompts, I was fully anticipating an honorable mention at most and to move on with posting the story here in IGC Publishing.  It was an incredibly pleasant surprise to discover that the story was accepted for publication in “Gambler’s Grief” – I even used an exclamation point in my announcement of its publication.  If I had to guess, I’d say that the dramatic difference in tone between this story and the others I noticed in the same issue may have had an impact; Charmers is far more optimistic and cheerful in tone than most of the others that it appears alongside.

Charmers is my first professionally published story (I should really add that to my author bio), which I am very excited about, even now.  I plan to continue submitting to Elegant Literature, but perhaps this will give me an additional confidence boost for submitting stories to other publications, as well.  Speaking of which, I really need to write a post about Elegant Literature.  For now, instead of directing you to another page here on IGC Publishing to read the story, I will direct you to Elegant Literature and the “Gambler’s Grief” issue.  I hope you give it a read soon.

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