On this, the 13th Watermaidens Day, I thought I’d walk you through the origins of Watermyth aka the hypertext and the novella that started it all.
How It All Began
The world of Yrejveree actually existed three years before the hypertext storytelling web initially known as StormLight’s Realm was birthed in 1997. These were the pre-internet years for me. I was studying for my STPM examinations (uni entrance-level exams here in Malaysia), and one evening I just penned down two pages of writing that was to become the narrative of The Wild Maiden of The Trees, and The Forest of Dreaming. That was the first part of Yrejveree that came into being, in 1993.
I left that behind for a couple of years, and then, while attending a computer course for one of a number of computer certifications back in 1995, post-STPM examinations, Ipede Dwinkum and the Mushroom Glade (later to become the Mykologosia Protectorate) came to life. It was a tale of a manic and bloodthirsty wood-dwarf turned alchemist who danced the Hootchie-Mootchie underneath every blood moon, within a dark Mushroom Glade with sentient mushroom homes. I penned a lot of it after WordPerfect class, in an open-air food court next to the Klang Convent school. I always seemed to be waiting for a friend there, and the field was nearly always partially submerged in water — and yes, there were wild mushrooms. Unsurprisingly, one of the main protagonists of the Cantata of the Fourfold Realms is a Psyche who came from Klang. That’s my homage to the town in which I birthed this world.
The Wild Maiden of the Trees and Ipede Dwinkum initially existed independently of each other. As for me, I was fixated on my Sesen stories but also penning independently postcolonial Gothic stories (both published now!), and then I started law school. I was still writing, but I wasn’t writing much in law school — mostly because I was intensely a classical guitar student, a songwriter/composer and an indifferent law student. Somewhere along this law student timeline there were other short stories happening, though. Learie’s story with the sea serpent emerged after a fever-dream I had one afternoon after I fell asleep reading George Macdonald’s Phantastes. Tarme the Were-Maiden came to life after another fever-dream. I tend to have very vivid dreams connected to afternoon naps. It’s why I try to avoid sleeping in the afternoon!
1996 was my second year of law school. I was listening to a lot of Ravel and Debussy, even more so than during my teenhood. It happened thus: I got a decent chunk of money doing legal research assistant work for one of my aunts. Being me, I squandered it all on classical music CDs and classical music magazines. I existed in a rarefied state of being drunk on music and on dreams. One morning I woke up with a vivid dream of a story, a story that I’ve been entranced with for most of my life: Amor and Psyche. A year or so before that, I’d read a Jack Zipes book that detailed the origins of Beauty and the Beast and its correlations to Apuleius’s account of Amor and Psyche, as well as several other variants such as d’Aulnoy’s, which I found very exciting indeed*. I discovered Lucius Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. Needless to say, this dream entranced me. And already an alternate Amor and Psyche story was beginning to happen in my mind. Not long after, during my internship in a courthouse, when we had to sit in the dock for hours on end while the magistrate’s court was in session, I wrote down on foolscap paper seventeen pages worth of The StormLight, a poem about a different kind of Psyche. A Psyche who grew old waiting for Amor. In an island that was inspired by D’aulnoy’s The Green Serpent.
*(2024 edit: I checked the book I bought and it’s signed “1997” so I may have forgotten/messed up this timeline a bit. Pardon this old lady’s memory!)
Naturally, one of the first things I did when I got on the internet was put all of these stories together and they organically flowed into the same Realm, and I continued adding to the hypertext web, stories in instalments. It even got onto a few lists, back in the day. I received a mind-boggling amount of fan mail. Good grief! More than I ever have received now, as a professionally published author. Those were the days of innocence!
By 2003, I’d mostly neglected the island and its inhabitants. I’d nearly completed my MA dissertation on fairytales and Angela Carter. I was grappling with other types of stories. I wrote my Merlusine poem during this time as well. But NaNoWrMo 2003 happened. Because I was rather intensely swimming in those days and someone dubbed me “the mermaid” enough to paint pictures about it, I was inspired to fling myself into a narrative about a Mermaid. An alternate version of Orpheus and Eurydice because of Maria Callas’s version of j’ai perdu mon Eurydice. The narrative led me back to Yrejveree. I always meant to expand that 60000-word novella into a novel, but I was still working on my Sesen stories. But I left it alone to focus on other projects (this appears to be a theme).
So, by 2009 (the second year of my PhD candidature), I’d written several short stories, completed several other novella drafts and I was feeling really stuck with my Sesen project. I had this “brilliant” idea of writing a fast and easy* novel that smooshed together three of my novellas (Finora’s, which had been on the internets since 1997, Learie’s and Amara’s — the Saltwater Orphee). But the frame story became a story of its own, and the world evolved and became even more complex than my Sesen stories.
Eventually, the Cantata of the Fourfold Realms was birthed, a story rooted in the myth of Amor and Psyche. Only, there are multiple Amors and Psyches. And not all of them are good. As for the originating poem, it will be included as bonus material in future editions. A postcolonial re-telling of Amor and Psyche, for a postcolonially hybrid world with many apertures leading into other worlds.
*Friends, it only took me thirteen years. Fast and easy indeed!
** 2024 edit: 14 years, rather. 😅
Watermaidens Day and my Publication Timeline
Over the years, I wound up doing a lot of research on water-based folklore and water-based supernatural creatures and shapeshifters. A lot led me back to Ophelia and other water-type maidens in myth, legend and folklore. Something very Elaine-like about Ophelia, after all. This led to the first Watermaidens Day in 2010, mostly because of Ophelia’s song and Emelie Autumn’s Opheliac.
Every Watermaidens Day since, I’ve been hoping for a Watermaidens Day when I could launch Watermyth. That was not to be. And I’m kind of glad. Because over the years, this day has held so much baggage and an Opheliac-sized baggage is not something one would wish on one’s beloved child. I’ve so moved on beyond those associations now that I’m eager to make new associations.
Watermyth has now grown beyond those three novellas. What exists in the novel is independent of those novellas, even if Amara’s story and Learie’s story will appear in subsequent volumes of the Cantata of the Fourfold Realms. What exists now is independent of Watermaidens Day. Therefore, it’s only right that Watermyth has its own publication date, independent of baggage and of other associations.
Watermyth will debut sometime in March, sometime between the 14th and 21st of March, depending on my health, time, energy and academic commitments. It will be a slow debut, but this is to be expected as I am not doing any of the usual publication bells-and-whistles. I don’t have that luxury. Not of time and of energy.
But Watermyth is coming, and I am very proud of the novel that it has grown into. I hope you will join me in welcoming it into the world.