THE STONKING STEPS, a journey through ING-ONG-UNG
Inspirations For The Stonking Steps
I first began working on The Stonking Steps at Christmas of 1995. It was a very cold and snowy December that year and the weather, combined with many festivals and events we have in Saskatoon during the holiday season, made me tempted to write a story that contrasted the Arctic-like cold and warm, fuzzy, and colourful atmospheres.
JUSTIN WALKER, the main character of the story, is largely based on a young boy who I once knew in my home town, whose first name was the same and whom I will refer to as “the real Justin”. This Justin briefly attended an elementary school where I used to volunteer. He was only there for a couple of months. Like Justin Walker, the real Justin kept changing homes and schools, at least once every two or three months. He had gone to seven schools in only two years. He was very attached to me and very affectionate, both physically and emotionally. As well, like his character counterpart, the real Justin was closely attached to his mom and wanted more than anything to live with her, but, according to a staff member of this school, she didn’t want him and had moved to Vancouver.
BENNY and LORETTA are pretty much based on my own memories of my
stuffed animals. When I was a child I had a stuffed dog named Henry, who I used to sleep with and play pretend with. I would also have him comfort me when I was sad. I think many kids have imaginations of their stuffed toys being alive and being their friends. Kind of like Christopher Robin and his stuffed toys in Winnie-the-Pooh. I also had an English rag doll named Simon, who I also played pretend with, as well as several other stuffed animals, including a teddy bear, a beanbag frog, a koala bear puppet, and a stuffed dolphin. I made voices for each of them.
FUZZBANKS – The name for this stuffed animal village is named after Fairbanks, Alaska. I have done this with a number of Ingian town names. When I was a young teenager, I would go down to Minnesota to see my dad and stepmother in Rochester, about 80 miles southeast of Minneapolis, for summer,
Christmas, and Easter (My parents have been divorced since I was ten). My dad would pick me up at the Minneapolis airport and we’d drive to Rochester. Well, anyway, right outside Minneapolis, just off the highway, there was an oil refinery which belched forth thick, smelly smoke. You could smell it through the car vents. My dad and I used to change names of cities to give names for this city- like oil refinery, such as Piggsburgh (Pittsburgh), Pew Orleans (New Orleans), San Pewego (San Diego), San Franpuko (San Francisco), Scumolulu (Honolulu), etc. The train leading from Fuzzbanks to Cookieapolis is partly based on a miniature train in Kinsmen Park in Saskatoon, and a similar type of train in Brackenridge Park in San Antonio, where my grandparents lived and where my grandpa still lives.
THE EVERNOEL FORESTS are derived mainly from an event we have in
Saskatoon called the Festival of Trees, which is held in early December. It’s an
indoor festival and consists of about a hundred lit-up and decorated trees,
many of which have a theme. The Festival of Lights, which features fancy
Christmas light displays, also reminds me very much of these Ingian trees. The
park in Aspen Grove, where Justin walks through to get to Newcastle Portal, is
largely based on a park in Saskatoon, President Murray Park, which is dominated by spruce trees.
COOKIEAPOLIS – This Ingian cookie village is partly based on a big collection of gingerbread houses called Gingerbread Village, a display they have in the same building as the Festival of Trees in Saskatoon. These gingerbread houses and sets are very exotic and include gingerbread schools, gingerbread parks, etc. Last Christmas, there was even a gingerbread Munchkin Village, which was an exact replica of the one in the Judy Garland film of The Wizard of Oz.
In addition, Cookieapolis is based on a graham cracker village that my
real dad made when I was thirteen. This included seven different buildings. I
named it “Cookieapolis”. My dad also used to make me gingerbread houses for
Christmas when I was a young child, and when I was a teenager, he’d make them to take to my stepmother’s family’s place for Christmas reunions. They lived on a farm in rural Iowa, and we’d go there every time I’d come down to the U.S. to see my dad and stepmother.
NONO, HIP and MISS BLOOP were pretty much thought up randomly, though when I was in grade two, I had an abusive teacher who hit us on the head if we screwed up on assignments. Fortunately, she was eventually sacked. But Miss Bloop is probably worse than any teacher you or I ever had.
CANYON DE TELLY, whose name is derived from Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, was an idea that came to me when I thought of how my dad sometimes pointed
the TV ray gun towards me and said, teasingly, “Let’s change your channel.” So
I thought, why not write about a place where you can change people and objects
with a TV ray gun?
WORD PLAY – This is used many times throughout the story. This is a sattire of how words are abused all too often in the English language. For example, quotes for Ingian puzzle games, like “tee bone hamburger steak” and “trimming a Christmas tree with garden shears”, reflect on how bizarre it is that a hamburger patty is called a steak and that trimming a tree doesn’t mean cutting a tree. Up until I was in my late twenties, I thought that trimming meant cutting in this sense, instead of decorating.
LAUGHLIN, not to be confused with Laughlin, Nevada, is the place where people literally laugh their heads off. It goes to show how people in our world laugh so inappropriately, especially their failure to keep their voices down, like at pub parties. While I like people laughing, I can’t stand the way they get so loud.
FUSSEN, not to be confused with Fussen, Germany, has worse nitpickers than
anyone I’ve known. This is a sattire on how stupid I think it is when high school
students have to wear the same colours of gym shorts and T-shirts, or how
fussy choir conductors are about how you pronounce your r’s, and so forth.
ICELAND, not to be confused with the North Atlantic country of that name, is
a village of ice sculptures and snow figures in the far north of Ing-Ong-Ung. In
Saskatoon, some people build castles, towers, etc. out of ice blocks in their
front yards. It’s truly a stunning sight to see.