"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Midwinter's Eve

Time for my first annual Christmas reading.  (haha -- I've always wondered how a 'first' can also be an 'annual', but let's just hope I'm right and this becomes a yearly event.)

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 23 of EOLYN, which recounts a celebration of Winter Solstice. 

Winter Solstice, by the way, is coming up this week, and will be accompanied by a full lunar eclipse the night of Monday, December 20, around midnight.  I'll be staying up for that one -- let's hope the skies over Kansas City are clear!

I want to let you know I'm going take a break from this blog over the holidays.  I will, of course, respond to any comments you leave, but no new posts until after Christmas and New Years.  When I come back in January, we will be heading into some very exciting times -- The final countdown for the release of EOLYN, scheduled for May 6. 

Well, on to the audio recording.  This is a long one...about eleven minutes.  But, like I said, it's the last you'll be hearing from me for a little while, so you can always break it up if you like -- four minutes now, four minutes next Sunday, three minutes the following week, and by then we'll be good to go with brand new material for 2011. 

I want to thank all of you for sharing in the journey of EOLYN these past few months.  May the holidays bring you much rest and companionship, and many opportunities for celebration. And may at least one of your dreams come true in the New Year. 

I found the image for this video online.  It is entitled "Yule Witch", and the best I could do for tracking down a credit was to find a person called "EcoWitch" who apparently posted it on photobucket.com   So, I'm really not sure who the original artist is.  If you happen to know, please drop me a line so I can give proper credit. 

Similarly, I don't have a proper credit for the 'merrie dancers' image I used for this post; I obtained it online at barleyhall.org.uk

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King

Many posts ago, I talked a little about  why I wrote EOLYN, highlighting some of the early influences that,  in my view, inspired the story.  I haven't returned to this topic -- at least, not explicitly -- since then.  But tonight I was watching the San Francisco Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker Suite, and I remembered what this fairy tale meant to me as a child. I realized this classic ballet, based on the much more intriguing story by E.T.A. Hoffman, was one of the fantasies that fed my young imagination and planted the earliest seeds of my own stories.

There was a period -- oh about ten years ago -- when I considered myself an authority on the Nutcracker.  After all, I'd seen the ballet countless times.  I'd even performed in it as a child, interpreting the role of a young boy in the Christmas party hosted by the Staulbaums.  I'd read Hoffman's tale -- or had it read to me -- repeatedly by the time I was ten years old.  And I knew all kinds of quirky little facts about the story's history, like for instance, how the Tchaikovsky hated the score for the ballet.  It was the least favorite of all his works (thought it became his most famous), because when Russian choreographer Petipa commissioned the music he had already choreographed the dances.  So Tchaikovsky's creative impulse was thoroughly constrained by having to respect predetermined rhythms and phrases. 

As a self-designated Nutcracker Expert, I had a full layout in my mind of the differences and similarities between the ballet and Hoffman's story; I knew what the original version was really about, and I could tell anyone all the fine and important details in which the ballet departed from the purity of Hoffman's vision.

You can imagine my surprise when, a few years back, I sat down with Hoffman's story once more for nostalgia's sake and discovered it was very different from what I remembered.  It turned out I wasn't an expert on the Nutcracker at all.  The story I'd been telling all those years -- the original, true version in which Klara was the brave young protagonist of a magical and somewhat dark adventure -- had not been written by Hoffman at all, nor choreographed by Petipa.  In fact, it didn't really exist anywhere outside my own imagination.

To this day I'm wondering what led to the strange amalgamation of real story and personal myth that became my unique version of the Nutcracker.  The essential elements remain; my 'Nutcracker' is still a Christmas story, though curiously devoid of all Christian imagery.  (Has anyone ever noticed the creche is altogether absent during that great battle against the Seven Headed Mouse King? I mean, where were Joseph and Mary -- and Baby Jesus, for that matter -- when the Nutcracker really needed them?)  My 'Nutcracker' has a female protagonist who makes the transition to womanhood by falling in love with an ugly prince, following him into war, and saving his life.  And my 'Nutcracker' is the story of a girl coming into her own by learning the ways of magic, inheriting a rich tradition of special powers from her mysterious and beloved uncle, the toy maker known as Drosselmeyer.  Most importantly, my 'Nutcracker' is not a dream (and nor was Hoffman's -- it was Petipa, it would seem, who got that lame 'it-was-all-just-a-dream' ending started, and generations of ballet companies since who have insisted on keeping it).

Of course, my version does not have a Sugar Plum Fairy, but who needs her anyway?  (The Snow Fairy, on the other hand, was a definite keeper...)

Somehow this is all connected to EOLYN.  That's why I got started on the topic; that's what I found myself thinking as I watched the San Francisco Ballet on TV tonight.  Eolyn's childhood, and her journey in magic are, in some deep and perhaps untraceable way, an elaborate permutation of my version of Tchaikovsky's version of Petipa's interpretation of Hoffman's The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King. (And who knows where Hoffman first got his ideas?)

Eolyn, like Klara, inherits a rich tradition of magic from an eccentric and mysterious old practitioner.  Eolyn also falls in love with an ugly prince -- though he's not exactly ugly, and for a good part of the story there's some doubt as to whether he's really a 'Nutcracker Prince' or whether he is, in fact, a 'Seven Headed Mouse King'.  

The resemblance probably ends here, but in any case there you have it:  Another seed -- however obscure --that helped me build a novel. 

What are the fairy tales that have inspired you, in your life and in your imagination?  Do you have your own version of some classic legend?  If so, tell me about it -- I'm always up for a good story.

In honor of Christmas, E.T.A. Hoffman, and Tchaikovsky, I've posted a scene I wrote once based on this classic tale on my Other Works page.  Click HERE if you'd like to read it!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The "Rules" of Magic

The big news this week:  Kim Vandervort's THE NORTHERN QUEEN is being launched this weekend.  Hooray!  I can't wait to read it. This is the sequel to the wonderful novel THE SONG AND THE SORCERESS, released by Hadley Rille Books in 2009.  I'm a big fan of Vandervort, and if you haven't had a chance to read her work yet, now is the time to put her on your holiday reading list.  Congratulations, Kim!

Both of the links I put for Vandervort's novels go to the Hadley Rille website, but you can also order these books through Amazon, or ask for them at your local bookstore.  Just as a reminder, though -- Hadley Rille is still celebrating its fifth birthday with the giveaway of a free Kindle 3G. In addition to being able to register for the drawing for free when you visit Hadley Rille's website, every time you order a book from the site you get another entry in the drawing.  For more information, click HERE

Okay, on to today's topic:  The 'Rules' of Magic

I'm not sure who first coined the term 'the rules of magic'.  I'd like to credit Orson Scott Card with having used the phrase in his brief but very helpful book "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy", but in truth I'm not sure he did.  The first time I heard "magic" and "rules" used in the same breath was at a meeting with my local writers group, the Dead Horse Society.  The heart of the idea did not really become clear to me, though, until many months later when a member of DHS, having read an early draft of EOLYN, came back to me with several questions about magic in Moisehen.  The one that has stuck with me to this day is this:

"If magas draw their power from the earth, how is it that they can shapeshift into owls?"

In the moment, I thought this  a ridiculous question.  Why would drawing power from the earth negate the ability to shapeshift into an owl?   As it turned out, this person's confusion arose from a preconceived notion that flying creatures are associated with the power of air.  Yet in the world of Moisehen, that's not how things work.  All living creatures are associated intimately with the power of the earth, and practitioners connected to the earth can, therefore, shapeshift.  Practitioners who draw their power from the air, on the other hand, cannot shapeshift  -- even into flying creatures -- although they do have access to other distinctive gifts.

In any case, this question was a turning point in my journey as a fantasy writer.  For the first time, I realized there would be readers out there with preconceived notions of how magic is supposed to work, and that if I wanted to avoid upsetting them with 'magic that made no sense', I needed to be more explicit throughout the novel about the underlying logic of magic in Eolyn's world. That day I went home and told my husband I needed to outline the "rules of magic" for Moisehen.  To which he laughed and said, "I thought the whole point of magic is that it breaks the rules." 

At the 2010 World Fantasy Convention, I attended a panel discussion entitled "The Fairy Tale as a Specific Form".  There were five members of the panel, Leah Bobet, Terri-Lynne DeFino, James Dorr, Gabe Dybing, and Delia Sherman.  Early in the discussion, the topic of magic came up, and one of the panelists mentioned that for JRR Tolkien, magic by its very nature could not be explained -- as so many readers expect it to be now -- it simply 'felt' right, though its inner workings would always be a mystery. 

Now, I am no scholar of Tolkien, and all I have from this panel is that one brief note, but I do think it's interesting -- assuming the panelist's assesment is accurate -- the implication that we have moved from a period in which magic was accepted as an intuitive, essentially inexplicable endeavor, to a time when it's a fundamental task of every fantasy writer to elaborate, in an almost scientific fashion, on the 'rules of magic' for his or her world. 

Does that mean the genre has advanced somehow, become better, more thorough in its approach to world building? 

I'm not so sure. I have heard, for example, colleagues ruminating about the problem of 'conservation of mass' during shapeshifting.  Yet as I see things, if you can turn a duck into a goose with a wave of a wand, the laws of physics are already irrelevant.  What, exactly, do we gain by mixing science with magic?  By distilling the infinite universe of imagination into testable hypotheses? By trying to fit square pegs into round holes? 

Just one year ago, I was comfortable with this idea of 'rules' in magic, but -- as is probably clear from this post -- I'm starting to drift away from that.  I no longer believe 'rules' is the correct word to use in association with magic. I do believe magic (like, say, religion or art or even literature) must have an underlying logic, a way of working that is tied intimately to the culture, history and worldview of the people who practice it. (Another way of saying, I suppose, that it has to 'feel' right.) In that sense, magic will always have limitations -- but limitations defined, I think, more by the vision of its practitioners than by any inherent 'rules' that govern what magic can and cannot do. 

What do you think?  Does magic need rules?  Or is magic meant to break them?