The Big Idea: Kevin Hearne
Author Kevin Hearne had a novel way of getting to his novel Hounded — a way that involved equal parts of geekery, stubbornness and alcohol. Given who the constituency is here, I know I now have your attention. Or more accurately, Hearne has your attention, and I’ll give him the floor now to explain how each of those things found itself transmuted into the first book of a new urban fantasy series.
I confess that Hounded was spawned from an episode of Defiant Drunk Nerd Syndrome. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, I can explain briefly: When nerds get drunk with their nerd friends, they often suggest crazy hypotheticals and then try to defend them from the scornful derision of all the other nerds. Sometimes the shot-down nerd will remember the argument the next day, approach it soberly, and then deliver (defiantly) his proof that his drunken idea was, in fact, quite a good one. “So there!” may or may not be added to the end of the proof.
Here is the original drunken idea I offered to my nerd friends: “You know what would be badass? A Druid in the modern world! He could shapeshift an’ talk to animals an’, like, throw oil executives into their own spills, an’ the pelicans would be like, how does JUSTICE feel, son?”
The assault on this idea was swift and terrible.
Nerd 1: “The Druids are all dead, dumbass. Can’t happen.”
Nerd 2: “Yeah. The Romans and St. Patrick wiped them out.”
Me, Nerd 3: “Oh. But still.”
“But still” in nerdspeak signals a temporary concession, yet allows the nerd to rally at a later date with a spirited riposte.
My research began the next morning. I needed to figure out a way to plop a genuine olde-tyme Druid into the modern world. Doctor Who’s TARDIS seemed out of bounds. So did Doc Brown’s flux capacitor. What if one of the old Druids never died? I searched for Irish longevity myths, and it turned out that there were several ways a lad could have managed it, if we choose to read the old legends about the Tuatha Dé Danann as histories. The herblore of Airmid (she knew 365 herbs and what to do with them), the ales of Goibhniu (better than Guinness, I understand), or the hogs of Manannan Mac Lir (the Bacon of Youth!) each had the potential to provide a fellow with wrinkle-free skin.
That’s when I started thinking seriously about writing an urban fantasy novel. A truly ancient Druid walking among us, talking to his dog and shapeshifting like the old myths said they could? I couldn’t wait to write it! Atticus and Oberon were “born” right there.
Fine. I still had to figure out what happened to get Atticus out of Ireland, how he survived centuries of war and why he hasn’t saved all our forests. Further immersion in old Irish tales (and Irish ales) eventually suggested several possibilities. It would almost have to have been an Irish antagonist who drove him from the Emerald Isle—the Brits and the Vikings didn’t cause much trouble in Ireland until the Druids were all but dead. Fortunately, there were a few dastardly types among the Tuatha Dé Danann who could easily step into the role of villain. There were also tales of a magical sword named Fragarach that could cut through any armor. It was originally the sword of Manannan Mac Lir, god o’ the sea, but he gave it to another god, Lugh Lámhfhada, and Lugh gave it to the legendary first-century Irish king called Conn of the Hundred Battles. There is no record of Conn ever giving it back, nor of anyone using it after that time. Aha, I said to myself, now there’s a story waiting to be told.
If Atticus took that sword from Conn and the Tuatha Dé Danann wanted it back, that would explain why he had to flee Ireland and lie low. And when he finally gets tired of running and decides to make a stand—well, that’s going to be a fight worth watching.
The Consistency Gremlin spoke up at that point and said if I was going to treat Irish myths like history, then I’d have to do it for all myths. All pantheons would be alive, all gods equally valid, just as their worshippers imagined them. Whoa.
The story began to snowball: I didn’t just have an idea about a Druid and his dog anymore, I had an entire planet’s worth of myth and history to explore in a series. Once Atticus stops hiding, he and Oberon have to watch out for each other as not only the Irish, but the pantheons of the Norse, Chinese, Finns, Russians, Romans, and Native Americans seek to use him for their own ends.
I hope everyone enjoys the result of my Defiant Drunk Nerd Syndrome. To my nerd friends, I would like to add: So there!