So I’ve taken on the challenge of tackling a new novel. Whoo! It’ll push me beyond my comfort zone, into unfamiliar territory. THE IRON WHO CRIED WOLF is contemporary survival literary fiction, set in Russia, with a female Chinese-Russian prison guard named Temur and a male Ukrainian convict named Mikhail stranded in Siberia.
No science fiction or fantasy. Just straight-up drama. A deviation from my usual interests.
What’s with the title, you ask? You might be thinking I’ve made a typo, or lost my grasp of the basics of the English language. THE IRON WHO CRIED WOLF? Shouldn’t it be THE IRON THAT CRIED WOLF? Why is the iron crying wolf? This makes no sense slkdjfdsfl. Shh, it’s ok. Let me explain you a thing. The story revolves around the belief of seeing danger that’s not there, or raising a false alarm. Or as Aesop’s fable puts it, “cry wolf.” The phrase sums up Temur’s struggle to overcome her wariness and mistrust towards Mikhail, who becomes more of her friend than an enemy despite his past crimes. Temur is a name derived from the Turkic-Mongolic word meaning “iron.” She is the iron referred to in the title, the one who cries wolf. That’s why the preposition “who” and not “that” is used. Hence, THE IRON WHO CRIED WOLF. (There’s reason to this madness, y’all.)
Obviously, as a Vietnamese-American, I’m not intimately familiar with Russian culture and living the Russian experience. While I’m excited to get this story rolling (I’m already a few pages in), I’ll run into challenges along the way, namely how to portray a gritty yet believable survival story. There’s also nuances of the Russia-Ukraine conflict I have to explore, since Temur and Mikhail’s relationship will be rocky and crackling with tension…not just because one’s a law enforcer and the other’s a criminal, but that one’s from Russia and the other’s from Ukraine. I only know that Russia and Ukraine really don’t like each other (or more like Ukraine really dislikes Russia), but I need to dig deeper into the history. Then again this is not a historical novel. I have to avoid overdoing research, and take away only what I can to flesh out Mikhail’s character, who will be exuding most of the cultural resentment. Temur’s dilemma, on the other hand, lies in trying to trust Mikhail and look past his criminal background. Surviving a winter in Siberia will be a harsh lesson for them both, teaching them to join hands rather than butt heads if they were going to make it back home alive.
I’m pretty sure I have thematic significance and all that under control. It’s the technicalities of wilderness survival that I need to address. For starters, I bought the US Army Survival Manual for reference, and have kept tabs on every survival site I can get my hands on. Temur is a prison guard, so I also looked into the world of Russian prisons (which is quite fascinating and scary, I must admit). And I’m thinking of rereading the great Russian classics, hoping I can capture some of their essence in my own work. Tolstoy’s and Dostoyevsky’s characters are famous for their internal strife and angst, how they’re fighting against themselves more than anyone or anything around them. I hope to achieve the same effect in Temur’s struggle against her own pride as a prison guard who’s thrown out of the world of safety and order she’s used to, and against her own preconceptions of Mikhail as she’s constantly on edge around him.
Putting down my thoughts here, even if they’re somewhat rambling, helps me remember and focus what I need to get done, in case I forget or steer away from that vision. Speaking of what I need to get done, I have to cut this post short and actually work on that novel!
P.S: Not gonna lie, I imagine Temur to look like Naomi Misora from the manga/anime Death Note:
And Mikhail looks like Tom Hardy as Max in Mad Max: Fury Road: