The great thing about Shakespeare — as if there were just one great thing about him — is that he offers so many opportunities for other writers to explore his work, ask questions and then build their own stories from there. He’s a lodestone of inspiration, and even some of the smallest elements of his tales lend themselves to expansion. To make this point, author A.C.E. Bauer is here to tell us how Come Fall came from wondering about a character in a Shakespeare play, whose role is so small that it doesn’t even have a single line… and yet inspired fascination all the same.
I fell in love with A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I was a teenager. The story, the sets, the costumes—everything charmed me. And the blowhard with the ass’s head was named Bottom! What wasn’t to love?
Over the years, as I reread the play and saw new productions, something began to puzzle me.
Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies, fight over a boy the queen adopted at the request of the boy’s mother. Oberon becomes jealous, calls in Puck, and sets in motion a series of hilarious mismatched love affairs thanks to a magic potion. The argument resolves when Titania agrees to give up the boy, and the story ends with all the young players getting married—as all young players in a Shakespearian comedy should.
But what about the boy? He had been given to Oberon. What next?
The boy was something of a mystery. We were told he was from India, that his mother died in childbirth, and that Titania was her goddess. But the boy had no lines, nor were there any stage directions for him. In the productions I’ve seen, he didn’t even appear on stage. I caught a glimpse of him once, in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman issue about A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But there he was Shakespeare’s son, dressed up for the part..
And so I speculated. If I were Oberon, given a child whom I despised and wanted to hide from my consort, what would I do with him?
The boy’s memory needed to be wiped out, so I reduced him to infancy. Then I sent him far away, to another plane of existence, on the other side of the world—to Bridgeport, Connecticut. For the next fifteen years, I kept him clear of all things fairy, to avoid Titania’s eye, and had him spend his life in foster care, moving from one family to the next.
Except for one thing. Although Titania gave the boy up, she had promised his mother that she would care for him. And a queen is not so easily forsworn. So, despite the boy’s banishment to New England’s suburban hinterlands, she would have kept track of him, Oberon’s jealously notwithstanding.
Here’s where another idea came in. The boy was human. What if he had no idea that this swirling world of magic existed?
Okay, back to my childhood for a second.
Sometime after I learned how to read, and sometime before puberty confused the heck out of me, I truly believed in magic. Oh, I didn’t believe in magic tricks. They were tricks. But there was a place out there, somewhere, elsewhere, where magic existed. And sometimes, when I walked through the woods and talked to trees, or if I stared just right at complicated tilework, or when I scratched a rock with a stick, or threw a pebble into a lake, I thought I glimpsed it—not the whole place, only a shimmer or a sliver of it—and if I played it right, I knew could walk in and be magical, too.
But then I’d be called to dinner, or forced to brush my teeth, or asked to do any number of childhood chores. Day in and day out, I dealt with this world, without magic. And eventually I realized I couldn’t get there from here.
I wanted to explore this relationship to magic from my childhood.
Since the boy had been banished here, I made him live in our world—a place where bullies don’t get jinxed away, and foster parents don’t suddenly grant wishes, and bottle caps are simply bottle caps, not some talisman to conjure up a djinni. Though he might glimpse the magical world and believe it was real, he couldn’t reach it.
I wrote his story without visible magic. Titania and Oberon were engaged in an all out tug of war, but they were off-stage, and the boy only saw the fallout in the here and now.
After several hundred pages, I had intriguing characters, a good story arc, and a hint of the mysterious. The boy made friends, good friends, who did brave things, and I really liked them.
My editor at the time said, “There’s something missing here. Why are these kids encountering so much trouble? You hint, but you don’t give us enough.” She turned down the manuscript.
Well duh. I had left out half the story! So I set out to fix the problem—a remarkably easy fix, I thought at the time. I had already created a raging fight between the king and queen in my head. It was a simple matter of putting it down on paper. And since the this world part was written, it’d be easy. I recruited a crow who already played an important role in the story. Puck made the perfect go between. Voila, I had it. Right?
“Hmm,” my current editor said. “It’s kind of dark.”
“A little. I guess,” I said.
This wasn’t going well.
“Then there’s Titania,” he said.
“What about Titania?”
“She’s throwing a tantrum.”
“Well, she’s pissed, you know.”
“For the entire book?”
Okay. I had work to do.
I went back to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and spent time with Puck and the queen. I reworked several plot lines and drove my family crazy with “What if” questions. I rewrote. A lot. But it was worth it.
Come Fall strikes a balance. On the one hand there’s the world of a great king and queen who are at odds while dealing with fairies’ foibles. On the other is our mundane world where we’re stuck weeding gardens and dealing with ordinary humans. But these two worlds connect and influence each other. And if you look at things just right, at a slant, with a bit of willingness, you can catch a glimpse of that elsewhere.