When I started gathering notes for Crosswind in early 2011, it was at that point just a concept called “Perch” based on several ideas cobbled together. What I decided early on was that the animals in this world needed to be quite different from those in our own, to help this semi alternate history stand out.
So, what animal is prevalent in stories set in the real time period of the late 1800s and early 1900s? The horse, of course. (Insert Mister Ed jokes here.)
I didn’t want a horse. I wanted some sort of prehistoric creature that would make people read and say, “Now, that’s unusual.” So I dug deeper into my research of Ice Age mammals, from which I’d already gleaned mastodons, diprotodons and teratorns (oh, my!) for the Perch world fauna.
But when it came to nimble, fast creatures a man could saddle and ride, my search came up short. Oh sure, there were plenty of horse ancestors out there, but they just looked like – littler, dorkier horses. Meh.
Guess I needed to come up with my own.
The megafauna avians such as dromornis inspired me to go for a two-legged creature. It wasn’t that big a stretch—I’d always liked the tauntauns from The Empire Strikes Back. But the horse image was still stuck in my head.
As an aside: I work for a print shop in the first couple of hours before heading off to my library job each morning. One of the owners is very talented when it comes to pen and ink sketches. She has a very thick book of copyright-free animal images—all sorts of critters. I paged through that book until something hit my eye.
Ibex. Antelope. These graceful creatures that reminded me vaguely of horses would serve as perfect models for the head of my creation.
Yeah, I know, it sounds kinda Dr. Frankenstein-ish. Such is the creative process.
It took me the better part of an afternoon—or maybe during my lunch break at work, I can’t remember which—I sketched out a guy in a hat on the whatever-it-was. It came out looking like a cross between a kangaroo, a horse and an ibex. Plus some shaggier hair. Fun. I liked it.
From there on out, it was quite fun to imagine guys riding on … well, whatever these things were called.
It took a while to scribble out some words until I got a name for these creatures. Don’t quite recall the thought process, but after some brain-churning, I got: branter.
Branter. Sounded like an animal. Something you’d ride up a mountainside with your rifle strapped to the saddle and bad guys in pursuit.
It’s a funny thing, looking back over old notes and sketches for the origin of a creature that proves central to Crosswind. What I mean is, the branter is so ingrained in my mind with Perch and its people that it crops up in their language. “Branter’s-eye” and “branterspit” are my favorites.
But the one that made me chuckle most was when I wrote a scene in which pilot Copernicus Sark lovingly describes his aeroplane—right down to the engine power. I typed horsepower.
Oh, wait. No horses.
Branter-power it is.