Monday, August 12, 2013

Inspiration in Fantasy

I'm sitting out here on the deck fighting off yellow jackets and trying to wean five kittens (who are not enthused with the project), recovering from Spocon and working on the revisions for The Mask of God. While my editor thought they would be extensive, they're really not, a matter of clarification, putting back in some already-written scenes I had deleted for length, and emphasizing some characters in a couple of places. I am 3/4 of the way through the little stuff and will soon go back for the bigger revisions.

As I sit here working on the lead-up to the climactic scene, I am reminded of a couple of conversations I had at Spocon over the weekend. It was a fun and fairly relaxed convention here in Spokane, and there was time for leisurely speculation as well as panel discussions. There are always many history buffs among fantasy readers, and of course, being a history major myself, I'm one of them. There will be no doubt in the mind of anyone with even a passing knowledge of medieval European history as to the origin of the big battle in The Mask of God, but I'm not tellin'. Half the fun of reading fantasy is trying to guess what inspired the author.

This book had a lot of influences, from recent Middle Eastern history to not-so-recent Middle Eastern history to the Dark Ages to Anne McCaffrey's Pern series for the notion of an Earth colony long cut off from Earth. My mythical colony, however, remembers its origins, and you see signs of the colonial Founders everywhere even though their tech is no longer usable. It reminds me (as does every power failure at my house) of how dependent our society is on our power sources, and how much would be lost if our digital knowledge goes down along with the power. That is my only objection to ebooks and the mad rush to digitize everything and get rid of paper. A flip of a switch and it's gone. We have already seen how readily governments embrace the idea of censorship, and how few qualms even the U.S., the supposed bastion of freedom, has about spying on its own citizens. Denying knowledge to the citizenry on the pretense of "national security" is only a short step once all the knowledge depends on public power sources and data banks.

So. The plausibility of a colony fallen from starfaring technology to swords and armor (even if not the type of armor we'd normally think of), is actually even greater today than it was 24 years ago when I set the first words of this series to paper (yes, it's a series now, not a trilogy, being so long). I have a very clear vision of the monks in my Mt. Sinon monastery squinting at their precious digital reader, transcribing the works on disc by hand to paper....

And now, I suppose, it is time I went out and read "A Canticle for Liebowitz", a classic with which I have, alas, but a passing familiarity. My inspiration for the work at Mt. Sinon was The Book of Kells, that glorious icon of medieval calligraphy.

Okay, five kittens who are missing their mom sitting in my lap all at once is at least four too many. It would so help if I could catch the mother (like, four months ago). They're so cute but I really don't need more cats! Anybody need a kitten??

Off now to gently point them at the food bowl, which at least they have figured out...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Of Dread and Hope

I have been working on revising my very ancient trilogy, "Fate's Arrow", which it looks like will be published as six books instead of three. Written almost 25 years ago when I was happily learning my trade, they are really, REALLY long in their raw form, the kind of books that pull you in and leave you walking around for days thinking you're still in that world. They are very long, politically complex tales in a huge story arc that still takes less than three years of subjective time to complete. And, uh, I took 110 thousand words out of the first one before I subbed it. Heh. Long indeed.

My goal back then was to create a new world from the wreckage of an old one: an Earth colony that had been overrun by zealots worshiping a new god (think Mohammed forcibly converting the Middle East back when). Rebellion inevitably followed, and societal fracture directly thereafter. Earth is forgotten but not the stars, because remnants of Founder tech are everywhere--just not usable anymore. And in the chaos, all sorts of things shifted, from language to mores to customs of every sort. That was the world I wanted to--and did--create.

My editor admits it is an intense read, total immersion in this world. But, judging from the moans of anguish (I've yet to see the edits), all the rewriting I did over the years has left the poor reader floundering in new terms, names, and concepts. Ergo, I foresee much work to bring back in all the bits I axed in an attempt to bring the word count down to something publishable even in two volumes.

It is a reminder--and a grateful one, I might add--that the books we see on the shelves, that we so easily sink into and enjoy, did not start out as such seamless reads. Rare is the author who can get a rough draft published. Just about everybody needs editing, which is why so many self-published tomes are so bad, and so rightfully panned. We can't see our own mistakes. We can't see when we know the world so well that what lands on the page is only half of what is in our heads--and not the most essential half the reader needs to know. That takes other eyes: a workshop or an editor who knows what she's doing. Assuming your work makes senses is a big assumption. And sometimes, a fatal one with regard to sales, your reputation as an author, and any chance of developing a fan base of people who love your work.

I do feel very sorry for my editor for having been the one to have to wade through this heavily revised, overhauled, rewritten, umpty-umpth draft. I promise it is a good book under the new stuff I bury the reader in. My trick now is to retain the best, let the little stuff go, and keep the flavor I want without losing my readers. Because it IS a good book, and the next two (or four) in the series are even better. I love these characters. They taught me to write. And I so want to bring them to readers who will appreciate them--all those fans of high fantasy, SF, and odd mixtures of the two. And the cover! You should see the concept art Bill Warren is coming up with. I am in awe.

Don't sweat the small stuff. That's what one of my old bosses used to say, and he was right. Change a name from something complicated to something a reader can remember? Sure. Lose a bit of linguistic shift if it doesn't come trippingly off the tongue? Ok, I can do that. Remove the heart of the story and what I wanted to say? Nope. That's where I push back. Fortunately, I've never been asked to do that. Irene Radford is a terrific editor, and I look forward to seeing what she has to say, even though, deep down, I also dread it. It may hurt. But I know I'll get a better book out of it.

And little Ms. Perfectionist here wants the best book I can create. Isn't that what it's all about?

The Mask of God is scheduled to be out this fall. I'm not sure exactly when or I'd give you a date to watch for. I daresay it will depend in part on how much rework is required. But I look forward to the challenge!