I'm proud to announce that I'm part of Beneath Ceaseless Skies' Tenth Anniversary Special Issue!
My story, "Magic Potion Behind-the-Mountain," takes place in a setting that I dreamed up during a bout of dengue fever that a mosquito gave me sometime in 2014. I'd gone home for a high school friend's wedding, was feeling a little ill when I got home, and then had a full-blown fever the next day. Whenever I'm sick with a fever, I mostly just stay in bed and drink a lot of warm water, all though the day and night. And, well, the water goes right through you. But you have to drink it! Hydration is important when you are sick.
I wasn't sure if it was dengue, since I tend to get a violent fever once a year or so, but since it was in late December, which is mosquito season, there was a chance that it was. Dengue fever tends to run its course in two weeks. It's referred to as "breakbone fever" because that's what it feels like when you're suffering it. And yeah, it sucked worse than usual, and coupled with my constant drinking of water, there was a lot of stumbling to the bathroom in the dark.
At some point, I had a dream that my body was a geography with some Warring States action going on. As I lifted my blanket to climb back into bed, I proclaimed, "this is the blanket that covers the five kingdoms!!!" As soon as I got comfortable, I thought to myself, "did I actually say that out loud, how embarrassing." But that was all right, because I started sketching out the geography of the five kingdoms and what they were like.
My friend S. Qiouyi Lu wrote this lovely poem in 2016 about a dish that I like to make. In Malaysia, where the dialect for this soup is Hokkien, it's called bak kut teh. It's a pork rib soup made with a very particular herbal mix, and the name literally does translate into "meat bone tea." I've also tried making it with oxtail and lamb, and while some people complain that it's not real bak kut teh if it's not pork ribs, I find the flavour of the herbs to be the most important element of the soup, so I don't really mind cooking it with other meats.
It took a lot of Googling to even find a recipe for the herbal mix, because most of us tend to buy it in a packet. Then I had to track down the names of the individual herbs to find out why they're in the mix!
I've been reading Beneath Ceaseless Skies since 2010, as much as I have time for, and I love Scott Andrews' sensibility combining epic fantasy settings with a literary voice. I'd submitted a few times before, and was rejected each time. I wrote this story knowing that the first place I was going to submit it to was BCS, because it's the kind of story I imagined myself writing for that kind of audience and voice. I'm so happy that Scott accepted it! And I'm happy that it's out there in the world. I really want to write more set in the Five Kingdoms.
I hope you like reading it!