Friday, September 5, 2008

Reinventing the world

Quite naturally, writing is on my mind today, and specifically, THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE. No surprise there, since I'm in the middle of the book, where the plot and characters are ravelled up like the proverbial Gordian knot, and you're fairly wading in new cultures ... cultures in collision ... with a different mythology driving them, even though some of the sounds of the book -- the names of people and things -- might have a quasi-Norse timbre.

It's one of those fantasy novels where the whole world is new and different, not "just" a reworking of a certain region or time in history. It's definitely Earth, but in so parallel a time-line that the catastrophic event that kicked off the changes between our world and theirs must go back to the epoch of the dinosaurs. Why? Because the map itself is different. The land masses are not the same, so some event caused continental drift and tectonics to be a smidegeon different. The story takes place on a continent, all right, and you know where north is, because (!) it's COLD there, which can only mean it's close to the pole ... also, the sun still rises and in the east and sets in the west. So your basic geography is set right there.

Then the fun begins. Where's the coastline? The mountains? The islands? This is the part of fantasy writing that's The Most Fun for many writers. (It's the Second Most Fun for Keegan; it's the messing about with culture, language, history and mythology I get the biggest kick out of, at least on this level of fiction creation. The Romance Scenes don't count: humans are not going to stop being humans, no matter the setting ... and you can bet your pension there ain't one darned thing we're doing today that wasn't done five thousand years ago. So...)

So I'm having huge fun with the language, the history of their world, and also the mythology which underlies the history. It's been said (and I believe it), "What is mythology, but history in the guise of legend?" This is a lovely idea; but is also gives you a lot of work to do, if/when you need to examine myth and try to interpret history from it. Sometimes you can: Homer (no, not Homer J. from Springfield; THE Homer, okay?) is a great example. Is the Battle of Troy history, or just a story? Quite a few of our more modern archaeologists and historians are leaning toward the interpretation of The Iliad as a poetic version of something that really happened. Homer gussied it up, over-blew some aspects of it, changed the order of events for dramatic impact, and so on, but at the foundation of the poem is the certainty that SOMETHING happened.

Tangentially: if you're interested in the Trojan Wars, either on the mythological level, or as a probable history, or just because, woah, could you ever fancy Brad in that movie (all excellent reasons for taking an academic interest in history), have a look at Barry Strauss's recent book. It's the best work on the subject I've ever come across. It just came out in paperback, but see if you can get the hardcover ... they're changing hands, used, on Amazon, for silly little prices.

What's extremely good about this book is, Strauss is gay friendly about the whole thing. This is great news for the RLU (Readers Like Us).

(Even more tangentially, the only thing that irks one about the movie, TROY, is that it'll do anything but address the question of the love story between Achilles and Patroclus, with the result that when Achilles goes berserk over the kid's death, the story tips off-kilter. That kind of suicidal insanity, following someone's death, is much, much more usual and predictable, in the death of a spouse, or one's own offspring. We KNOW what Homer is saying, via the histrionics in the story ... but the producers of the movie were sinking a hundred million tosherinos into this film, and probably didn't dare put a gay spin on any of it, for fear of alienating part of their audience and jeopardizing the picture's money-making potential. Makes sense, on those terms. But, damn, you could wish...)

Anyway, a quick buzz over to Amazon should turn up this book, for a song. It's not merely fathoms deep in information, but Strauss writes very, very well. There are times when this text book reads like a novel. It gets to be a page-turner, which is most unusual for a non-fiction work. Tip: watch the DVD first (yeah, yeah, I know, any bloody excuse to look at Achilles and Paris romping around in sunblock and smiles), and then read the book. You'll be surprised how much you'll get out of the book after the movie "brought it to life" ... you'll also be surprised by the deeper perspective the book will give you on the movie you just saw.

Tangent complete: back to THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE!

The challenge, putting together a book like this, is in avoiding the list of DON'Ts, as much as in obeying the list of DOs. A couple of points are absolutely critical. Such as, avoid the temptation or tendency to do anything even remotely like Lord of the Rings, because it's so well known, readers will assume you copied, even though the original draft of your novel goes back 15 years! (To these ends, the city of Althea is built of gray granite, does not have white walls, stands several miles from the gorge of the Harbendane River, is reached by a bridge, and shows the patterns of having been built in segments over many centuries. There: try and misconstrue this one as Minas Tirith, if you can!) Next ... try desperately to avoid any likeness to the white, anglo saxon type heroes, even if the book has a quasi-Norse sound about it! You'll notice that one of the "archetypes" we've used in the "color sketch" work, in development for the cover (to your right) is anything but anglo-saxon. He's an islander, a Zhenander, in fact ... taller and brawnier than everyone else; could be Jamaican, or Maori, or Hawaiian, depending on where the reader's fancy is headed at the time of reading. (There: read Aragorn, Boromir, Faramir, Legolas, Haldir, Celeborn or Elrond into this character, if you can!)

And of course, since the geography is so different, as well as the distribution of our various human gene-types, society, culture, religion, mythology, is all in the process of being reborn. And it's huge fun. At this point I'm working with elements of Greek and Native American mythology, but trust me: you're not going to spend 200pp of the book (it's quite a long book) playing "spot the legend." In fact, you'll have plenty more to hook onto: this is also one of the classic "first time" stories, where The Romantic Interests have never met before the story opens. And a good time will be had by all.

Look for the book in late October ... and yes, it's going to make a great Christmas gift. I'm planning to give copies myself. And speaking of all this -- I ought to get back to work. Which is a crying shame, because it's a glorious blue-sky day out there, the parrots are chirping, the ducks are nesting in the ribbon plants (!), and if this were a KDO (acronym: Keegan's Day Off ... they are infrequent. Rats) I'd be somewhere in the middle of the national park --

Work! Right.

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