The Making of "She Robs the Grave"
Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers for the story “She Robs the Grave”. I recommend that you read the full story before proceeding.
I always enjoyed “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad” in my youth, but adapting the action-packed story of Sinbad into the semi-realistic world of the Unnamed Heroine turned out to be more difficult than I had supposed. For one thing, the stories of the Seven Voyages are just too fantastical in nature. As much as I love retconning a well-known fantasy story to give it a basis in the material world, Sinbad’s adventures skew too far toward pulpy sensationalism: the fantasy elements are the story, and Sinbad’s tales would enthrall us far less if they could sustain a rational explanation.
The one episode that offers the most freedom in this regard—Sinbad’s time in the culture whose inhabitants bury the dead with their living spouses—also depicts Sinbad as a murderous sociopath who keeps bludgeoning to death those interred with him so he can survive on their food and water rations. Typically of these stories, Sinbad seeks only to escape from this land; the story does not concern itself with the continued victims of the practice.
Further, the Voyages contain little to no thematic content or subtext, so any attempt to flesh out a modern story on their bones requires the invention of these elements wholesale.
Thus I eventually decided to combine multiple (partial) stories into one narrative that could revolve around Sinbad’s evolution from a jaded adventurer to a crusader for human rights. I borrowed the single-gated city from Sinbad’s Fifth Voyage and turned it inside out: from a place whose citizens left it every night for their own safety to a prison whose citizens could never leave. Mashing this together with the city from the Seventh Voyage whose townsfolk transformed into winged creatures and flew out of the city at the beginning of the month gave me the bookends for the tale. And turning these winged devil-men into da Vinci-style aeronauts, while far-fetched, seemed in keeping with the Middle-Eastern world’s scientific superiority during the period.
Someone had to push our heroine out of her disenchantment so she could rediscover her purpose. Giving her a companion in the darkness of the communal tomb enabled me knock out this requirement while also allowing me to tell a good portion of the story in the first person, from Sinbad’s point of view—just like the source material. (I’ve always wanted to be able to write a speech for a character that begins with, “Know then….”)
One thing about writing this installment was easy: the research. Very little of the original story (and none of mine) takes place in the actual Caliphate, and the source material we’ve inherited comes from divers cultures and languages. It could be (and is meant to be) anywhere, which means I mostly got to make it up.
Disclaimer: I am only a writer, not a historian, even an amateur one. If any of my readers can tell that I have mangled the facts and wish to point me toward better research, I encourage you to contact me.