Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ars gratia artis

You might recall me saying that cover concepts are being kicked around for the new fantasy novel. It's never as simple as saying, "it's going to be like this, so just paint it, okay?" You go through scores of sketches, some color, some monochrome, trying to thrash out the "pallet," and the body lines, the face, the details.

The first color work has been done, and I'd like to share it right here -- it's probably nothing remotely like what will be on the cover, but it's spectacular in its own right, and deserves to be seen.

There's always a burst of inspiration when you see the first cover work, especially when it's done on color. In this book, I'm playing an intricate "game" with cultures and languages, and geography. Getting into a fantasy realm gives a writer so much to explore (so long as you don't want to just play video games, run about having sword fights and zapping monsters with wizard rays. That's fun, too, but I'm weird. I actually prefer playing with culture, language, social protocol, the etiquette of places unknown).

There's a saying, that good books aren't written, they're REwritten, and if it's true, this one ought to be a beaut, because this is its third or fourth incarnation! A lot of the action takes place in the far, frozen north, and I couldn't resist giving the place names a kind of mock-Scandinavian sound. There's not really anything "Viking" in the book, save for the landscapes.

One of the chores I attend to first is getting the "sound" of a location tied town before I even start to write. You often notice, in SF and Fantasy novels, characters seem to be named willy-nilly (even some of the very best novels can suffer from this syndrome). Basically, rather than creating a whole culture from the ground up, the writer named the characters and places on the fly, as a name became necessary to fill the gap and keep the narrative moving along. You can do it that way, and a hell of a lot of writers do; but ... me being me ... I like to know a little bit about the culture I'm writing about. Makes a difference, when I come to fill in the details later.

Then the fun starts, because you can mix up cultures and locations. Imagine that you have a kind of Afro-Latin people, perhaps from an island chain in the tropics. Now, figure they were overrun by Celtic peoples a thousand years ago. Their place names and their own names will show a thread of their own long-conquered culture, with a thick overlay of the Irish, Scots, Manx, and so on. They might even have a predisposition to wearing kilts, playing bagpipes and tossing around telephone poles, although they have the genetic look of Jamaicans.

Anyway, that's where Keegan's brain is, this Sunday afternoon. I'll be talking about the book during the next month or so, as I go through the final draft. The first thing it's getting is a whole new Chapter One, possibly two chapters ... also, I have to decide how much magic, sorcery, wizardry, is going to wind up in the published version. (Incidentally, people, don't be shy: go ahead and leave your own thoughts, if you have an opinion. Freedback is always more than welcome.)

Last note for this post: the pilot copy of AQUAMARINE is in the system, and we're expecting its delivery by the end of the coming week. I have to say, I'm delighted with the way the book "came out" in this incarnation.

More tomorrow ... got to go back to work now.


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