When I started writing The Wanderer, I didn’t expect to wind up featuring gods to the extent that the story does. At first I thought of it as an historical romance set in medieval England, which would make all of the characters Catholic.
Religion didn’t play that much of a role in the story itself, though I gave Stephen (the male love interest) a personal priest as an advisor because many of the nobility had one in that time period.
But when I decided to create a fantasy world for Lucinda and Stephen to navigate, I decided to make it a pagan world, with gods and temples. But this was still very abstract; the gods were mere figureheads the various characters referred to occasionally but which had little real bearing on their lives.
But this didn’t quite satisfy me, either. I knew that in the medieval world, religion (not to mention superstition) was the lens through which people experienced the world. Certainly there were freethinkers then as there are now, and certainly for many people, then as now, religion was a thing they practiced only on the Sabbath and not the rest of the week.
But religion drove the feast days and the holidays and marked the seasons. Whether you were devout or not, you still knew when Michaelmas was.
I wanted to bring some of the into Lucinda’s experience of the world. I use science to explain the world to myself, and so does Lucinda, to the extent that she observes how the world works and adjusts her actions accordingly. But for her, why the world works the way it does has more to do with gods and nature-spirits than it does universal physical laws.
What happened when I began making the gods real to Lucinda was that her beliefs about them began to impact her actions (just as today a religious person’s beliefs drive theirs, just as my understanding of science drives mine).
This was transformative to the story and to the character; she began to be more real. And I had a lot of fun creating personalities for the gods, and to show Lucinda’s changing relationship to them.
Many versions after I first began writing this story, I finally found a way to motivate Lucinda to take action—a reason other than “she really needs to take action or I don’t have a story here”—and that motivation ties directly to her beliefs about the gods who rule her world.
It took a long time for me to figure all of this out—ten years!—and sometimes I look back and wonder why I couldn’t have worked it out sooner, but I’m not sorry; I learned a lot about writing “bigger” stories in the process and I don’t think taking shortcuts or being satisfied with less would have been as rewarding.