Sunday, December 30, 2012

Food on The Travelling Round Table (Fantasy Guest Blog)

This month's topic is Food in Fantasy, and since I proposed that, it's my turn to host. Welcome one and all!
Stay Me With Apples, Comfort Me With Flagons 
Once upon a time, food must have been the most important thing in everyone's lives. Millions of Australopithecoid generations didn’t need shelter, expected seasonal sex, and maybe drew moisture from food, as gorillas still do. But food? If the food ran out, and you couldn't find more, you fell off the human family tree for good.
Lacking food storage, the now idealized Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers were little safer. As for Neolithic farmers, those enormous stoneworks speak as much fear as reverence: they were at famine's mercy, and they knew it. When the climate changed in Orkney, they opened the top of the Tomb of the Eagles and filled in the centuries-old community temple, a mute testament to the despair of people who felt themselves abandoned, literally, to death.
Before the Industrial Revolution, very little changed. William Langland’s great medieval poem, “Piers Plowman”, is vague if dour about vanity and lust, but to the sin of gluttony it speaks with passionate and specific detail, invoking a society where spring doesn’t mean admiring the pear blossom but hunting desperately for the first green vegetable shoots.
Nowadays, at least in the First World enclave, our food fetish has gone negative: for most of us, food is far too available, far too tempting, far too dangerous. Our bookshops swarm with delectably illustrated cook-books, opposite shelves of diet-books. Our TVs bristle with celebrity chefs and celebrity dieticians attacking red meat, dairy products, processed food. Yet every December, Australians, having largely excised religion, and often present-giving, from their major food-based festival, embark on an orgy of food-buying, preparation and consumption calculated to send their nearest and dearest to an early grave.
Ironically, this Desire-Taboo attitude brings us right back beside the oldest (Western) fantasy stories, of the Judeao-Christian apple and Persephone’s six pomegranate seeds. Unsurprisingly, if from our differing angles, Elsewhere’s food has always been the easiest and most tempting way to get lost precisely where you DON’T want to be.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Next Big Thing Blog Meme

This one was passed on to me by the energetic and talented Beth Barany, who's done the meme on her own blog. We all know The  Next Big Thing is just over the horizon, so I'm joining the ranks of writers like Beth who are describing our own new and just-beginning projects, in answer to the Ten Questions for the Meme. And here are mine:

What is the working title of your next book?

My next published novel will be The Seagull – this is the long-delayed fourth of my Everran books, beginning with Everran’s Bane

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This one  I’m putting up on Kindle myself. A bit scary, having no copy or line editors as a safety net, though the freedom of choosing your own cover and knowing the blurb will stay the way you wrote it does compensate. And the promo is no heavier than with my previous print publishers. 

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This was a literal “son-of” book. It’s part of a series, and it sprang as naturally as any book can from the question I can sometimes not resist answering after I finish a novel – yeah, and what happened then?
The 3rd Everran book, The Red Country, featured two of my favourite characters, with an HEA end. But it left me with the What-happened-then tic, which eventually became questions like, What happens to characters after an HEA? And from that, especially, the next-gen questions: How do you deal with children? Especially once they begin growing up?

What genre does your book fall under?

High fantasy. 

How long does it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Sometimes I can write an opening scene and take 18 months or more doing the research to go any further. This one, set in a secondary world where I could make my own geography and history, probably took 3-4 months for the first draft.   

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It’s a bildungsroman, and a wizard’s bildungsroman, of which there are literally hundreds in fantasy. Somewhat presumptuously, the first book into my head in answer to this question was Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. The Seagull is also a book about voyages, on the sea and in the mind and heart.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Round Two, Turn Three, My Travelling Post

In Gratitude for Fantasists

 "Barren crags and ancient forests, winds scented with honey, wolf, wildflowers, swift water so pure it tasted like the wind, deep snow lying tranquilly beneath moonlight, summer light cascading down stone under sky so bright it held no color. These he put into his making... Shapes he had taken in his long life mingled together as swiftly as his body remembered them: the white owl in winter, the golden hawk, ferret and weasel and mink, stone, wind, the tree smelling of sun-soaked pitch, water thundering over stone, endlessly falling, the stag that drank the water ... He remembered faces he had loved, of friend and lover, teacher and ruler, their eyes speaking his name, Atrix Wolfe, beginning to smile.” (The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Ch. 23. p. 238)
The great shape-shifting mage Atrix Wolfe created a death-dealing spell whose ravages occupy most of the book. Here he finally creates a counter-spell, ranging through all the aspects of his life. It’s also a passage that typifies why Patricia McKillip, for me, is a gratitude among fantasists.
 I like many fantasy writers, but few achieve permanent lighthouse status. A handful of small but telling oeuvres, Sheri S. Tepper’s Gameworld books. Ellen Kushner, E. R. Edison. Samuel Delany. Joanna Russ. Tolkien, of course. Unlike Tolkien, McKillip’s work never radically altered my outlook or my writing style, but even now, I wish it could.
McKillip, however, has been around a while. Her fantasy novels run almost uninterrupted from The Forgotten Beasts of Eld in 1974, up to The Bards of Bone Plain in 2010. Eld won the World Fantasy Award, but nothing since has missed a nomination or finalist position in some award, if not a win. From the passage above you can begin to see why.
First and foremost, McKillip is the only fantasy writer I know who customarily operates at the rare level of language Tolkien himself only achieved every so often, as when, describing Cerin Amroth, he used the commonest words – “ gold, white, blue, green, tree, grass, flower” and yet drew with them “shapes that seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived” [that moment] “and ancient as if they had endured forever” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II Ch VI.) But in Atrix Wolfe here alone we have: “wind scented with honey, wolf, wildflowers,” “summer light cascading down stone”, “the tree smelling of sun-soaked pitch.” This passage is a major aria, so to speak, a cornucopia of life-images, but such examples appear everywhere. Simple words, often repeated, particularly words like “bone, wind, light.” Used mostly unadorned, but magnificently resonant.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

That Table Again

Revolution two, round three of the Great Travelling Fantasy Guest Blog Round Table is out, in some three sections. All appear courtesy of Theresa Crater, foundation Table member, over here
And here

And finally, here, with me and Deb Ross, the last people into our seats, apologies, been away or pressure of work caused the delays.
No Round Table picture this time, since it appears various unsolicited net crawlers have been bouncing on and off this blog, attracted by the key phrase or else the pic including such. Testing to see if the words or the image cause a blip in things. Stay tuned.