One of the central experiences of my life was when a friend’s brother, who taught gross anatomy, allowed me to visit his university’s cadaver lab. He allowed me to hold a human heart in my hand, an experience I will never forget. I started this story with the image of Alondra holding Simon’s heart in her hand and the title Valentine. One of those pieces got lost in the writing of the story, but I’m still very pleased with how everything turned out.
“Valentine” is not the first story I wrote about Simon Lebranche. He appeared much earlier in “Last-Born,” which was published in 2005 in The Ghostbreakers: New Horrors. Simon was inspired by my friend Brian Thomas’s Renaissance Festival character, an immortal cavalier in too-tight pants who had traveled the world, fighting for the underdogs, often on history’s losing side. Brian suggested the list of battles Alondra knows about in this story.
Brian’s trip to Oslo also inspired the setting of this story. He brought me a brochure about Vigeland Park and the towering monumental sculptures there. I knew I wanted Alondra to see them.
Because I hadn’t been to Oslo, I did a huge amount of research for the story, things referenced only briefly in the text: the sculpture park outside the Museum of Contemporary Art, the rose-painted furniture in Alondra’s room, the flavor of aquavit. I’m pleased with how the story turned out, but it’s definitely easier and more fun to set stories in places I’ve seen with my own eyes.
Alondra’s wolf fur coat was inspired by coats I saw in Toronto in the 1980s. I’m not sure if there was a fashion for wolf at the time or what, but I was deeply struck by the deep fur coats worn in the shopping malls at the time. The fur looked pure white from a distance, but was threaded with silver and gray up close. I expect Alondra’s coat once belonged to a werewolf, as Simon teases her, but I haven’t written that story yet. (Note to self.)
This story was originally published by Wily Writers in September 2010. I listened to the podcast for the first time while at the first Haunted Mansion Writers Retreat. (The story of Alondra facing down the ghosts of the mansion, inspired by that retreat, was published in The Haunted Mansion Project: Year One, edited by E. S. Magill. It will appear in the chapbook coming out in April.)
“Valentine” was the first time I’d ever heard one of my stories read by someone else. I loved everything about the experience, except for the way the narrator pronounced sigil. For the record, I—and Alondra—pronounce it sid-jill.