Wednesday, March 24, 2021

On Writing “Brimstone and Brine” • by Beth Powers


[Editor’s Note: Since Stupefying Stories 23 was released quite a few people have written to tell me how much they enjoyed Beth Powers’ story, “Brimstone and Brine,” and to ask questions about how she wrote it and whether she had any more stories like it. Well, yes, she does, and in response to these questions Beth was kind enough to write a bit more about her Carving Bard series and how she came to write this particular story. Enjoy! ~brb]

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Much like the story itself, which consists of a frame and the tale it contains, “Brimstone and Brine” has two origins: the plot and the narrator. 

The actual writing of the story began with the plot of the interior tale, which was unusual for me. My usual writing process is fairly straightforward: start from the beginning, work my way through a draft, and then revise until the story is finished. But that wasn’t the case with “Brimstone and Brine.” The interior story popped into my head all at once, and I wrote it down (at the time, I drafted longhand, and sometimes still do) backward because I was afraid I would forget what I wanted to do with the ending if I didn’t get that on paper first. 

The story was inspired by my irritation at an episode of a TV show that was really just one in a long line of stories that use a similar scenario: a love triangle with two men who love the same woman, but because one is the protagonist, the other needs to be taken off the board. The doomed side of the love triangle often finds a way to heroically sacrifice himself, and with his death, the final obstacle for the remaining couple is removed. I tend to prefer this doomed love interest over the protagonist (I’m a big fan of side characters in general), and so, every time, I am disappointed when writers choose to follow the self-sacrifice story arc. Without giving away too much of the story, “Brimstone and Brine” is my attempt to write a better version of this scenario. 

Once I had written the interior story, I realized it had too conversational of a tone to work well without being overhauled into something else entirely. I had been tossing around the idea of writing a frame story for some time, and I thought this one would work in that format. I just needed a narrator. 

Prior to drafting the interior of “Brimstone and Brine,” I had written a different story with the Carving Bard (it hasn’t been published, and it is currently waiting for me to get around to revising it into the novel that it wants to be). She was already engaged in traveling the countryside telling stories while she carved walking sticks to give to her listeners, and she seemed like just the right combination of storyteller with a chip on her shoulder to tell this story. (As a side note, the character of the Bard has a completely different origin, one that stems from my frustration with prophecy stories and a quirky D&D rule—in an earlier version of the game, a handful of simple weapons, including the quarterstaff, had no cost.) 

Having found my narrator, I wrote the frame with the bard as the storyteller. I liked the completed story in that format, so I wrote a couple more frame stories—one of which is “Fish and Fools,” originally published in Stupefying Stories #17. With each story, the frame and the interior tale were more closely related until I wrote “A Prophecy and the People,” which starts out with the Bard’s tale, but quickly shifts to the Bard participating in the adventures of the story. 

I’ve written two other stories, one published and one not, that are tangentially connected to the Bard as well. Although they each stand alone, I would recommend reading the published Bard stories in this order:

1. “Brimstone and Brine” (recently released in Stupefying Stories #23

2. “Fish and Fools” (available individually as an ebook

3. “A Prophecy and the People” (available individually as an ebook or in my story collection, Sorcery & Widgets

Technically, the first story I wrote with the Bard—the one that is waiting to be transformed into a novel—is chronologically last, so if you want to see where these stories are headed, let me know, and maybe I’ll move it up in my pile of next projects!

—Beth Powers



Beth Powers writes science fiction and fantasy stories. Having already become a doctor of piratical tales, she is acquiring tech wizard skills in order to expand into multimedia storytelling. Most of her stories are collected in Sorcery & Widgets. Powers lives in Indiana with her cats. Visit her at, or follow her on Amazon at