101. Mud, prolog

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t claim to be an Emerson, but I am going to shake things up. When I began this website, I intended Serial to be a presentation of my writings and A Writing Life to be mini-essays. This will be my largest deviation from that intention, because Serial is tied up with the fragment Voices in the Walls.

For five weeks I have been writing posts on issues that began with race in America and morphed into a consideration of world wide hierarchies based on race, gender and caste. I’ve written enough essays on that subject, but I have some more fiction to share.

I spent five years studying caste in India and overseas Indian colonies, and wrote my first master’s thesis on the subject. That is the kind of deep knowledge that informs everything I write, even when the subject seems to be something else. While writing a dragon short story (The Best of Lies), I needed a description of the city of Renth. Renth was part of the back-story of three novels I have written, but had never been fleshed out. This is what fell out of my keyboard.

As we went on up the mountain, I thought of Renth. I remembered how she spread out on both sides of River Renal from the crowded waterfront to the first fingers of the great inland swamp. I remembered how herdsmen drove in their herds of tichan every evening to keep them from the night predators. All of the sidewalk vendors would close up shop and congregate on the rooftops until the sound of passing-bells carried by the herdsmen proclaimed the streets safe again. Then the chamarana would come out with their crusted baskets to clean the streets and haul the manure to fertilize their rich gardens.

There are temples in Renth where Encaritremanta is still worshipped instead of the bloodless Septs, and where the ritual dancers proclaim to the world that the Fern of the Deep Forest is still fertile and ripe. There is Bread Street where the bakers from the whole city congregate and the smells are sweet beyond description.

In the morning, the sun falls slantwise on the whitewashed houses, catching the sleepy merchants in their rooftop boudoirs. The boys from the waterfront crowd onto the high roofed warehouses to look across the city at first light when the women take their baths. And some of them look back, insolent and insulated by their station, posturing and laughing and waving.

The chamarana in this bit were Chamars, borrowed whole from India. Later, when I needed a long story to flesh out a too-short novel, and needed it to be set in Renth, I began to consider writing from the viewpoint of one of these outcastes.

This was just before I began this website, when everything was fluid. I considered writing the story and publishing it in short segments as they were written, in Serial. It was a foolish idea, completely out of step with my writing style. I wrote the first six short segments, fell in love with the story, and decided to write it in a more normal fashion. It is on my short list of what-to-write-next.

Here are those segments, to be presented two per day for the rest of the week. It isn’t Black History, but you’ll find that it tastes a little like black history. The novel is tentatively titled Mud.


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