Monday, June 13, 2011

On vacation

Well, a busman's holiday. The draft of During the Fire is going well - I'm on the fifth chapter now - so I'm going to take a hiatus from blogging. I'll be back at the end of July, when Simulated Clinical will be over and hopefully the manuscript will be complete as well. I also have a pile of books to finish, some for reviews, so this will be a chance to dive into them.

Happy writing and blogging to all of you, and enjoy the summer!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Katie Taylor and "The Dark Griffin"

What I enjoyed the most about Katie Taylor's The Dark Griffin (a 2010 release from Ace) was its gritty worldbuilding, especially regarding the griffins of the title. Eragon this ain't. I'm not surprised her debut novel was nominated for the 2009 Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel. Even better, Katie generously agreed to an interview where she discusses the publication of her book and the world of Cymria.

Tell us a little about your book The Dark Griffin, and what the journey from writing to publication was like.

The Dark Griffin is a dark fantasy story set in a country called Cymria, which I modelled (geographically, anyway) on Tasmania. I suppose if you wanted to categorise it, you could call it a tragedy, or perhaps a revenge story. I'd say it's both. I think the thing that's most interesting about it (and not everyone has picked up on this) is that the protagonist, Arren Cardockson, is actually the villain, or at least a villain to be. The meta story within the story is that it's a villain's origin story, and if you read it knowing that, it takes on a whole new meaning. The sequels make it increasingly obvious, and by the end it's staring you right in the face.

I wrote the first book when I was a 21 year old university student - at that point I had already published The Land of Bad Fantasy, which came out when I was 18. Getting it published was a lot easier for me than it was with my first novel, since I already had an agent - but even that took quite a while. In the end, as I've often said, publishing is mostly just a waiting game.

What’s the significance of the series title, The Fallen Moon?

Originally, the trilogy didn't have a title at all. In fact, to begin with it wasn't even a trilogy! I started out with a series in mind, and I wasn't sure how long it would be, but once it got picked up by Voyager here in Australia, I finally found out why all fantasy novels come in groups of three: it's because the publishers insist on it! They also insisted that the trilogy have a title, and it took a long time to finally settle on one. To begin with I was just calling it "the griffin trilogy", but this was deemed "too repetitive". I even ended up appealing to people on my LiveJournal, asking for suggestions, and one person finally nominated "The Fallen Moon". It fits partly because the moon is prominently featured in the book as a symbolic thing seen in the background of many scenes, and also because Arren's people worship the moon, and the "fallen" part is also symbolic because the first book is about Arren's fall from grace, and his people, the Northerners, are in a way a "fallen" race who have lost their land and most of their pride as well.

(Publishers also insist on the ever-present maps you see in most fantasy novels. And Now You Know).

The best thing about the worldbuilding – for me, anyway – is that the griffins aren’t ponies with wings. The blurb of one of the sequels even stresses that Arren’s griffin Skandar is “man-eating”. What gave you this idea?

Thanks! I think the griffins are the part I'm most proud of, and the reason why I wrote them is also one of the main reasons why I wrote the books in the first place. Since I was a kid, I've never liked the idea of dragon riders much, purely because I didn't like the notion that something so big and powerful would ever submit to a puny human. So I decided to do my own take on the concept, and I used griffins instead of dragons because I felt dragons were overused by this point, and if I used griffins people would go in with fewer preconceived ideas. I didn't want to explain things away with "magic", which is too often used as a cop-out in my opinion, so I decided to make it a social thing based upon mutual consent. The griffin is more powerful than the human physically, but the human has the brains, so both of them benefit. To the human, being chosen means becoming a noble, and to the griffin, choosing a human means becoming privelaged and important. So Skandar is Arren's griffin, but Arren is Skandar's human. It works both ways.

Are you working on future novels set in the same world, or a new series?

I've since written a sequel trilogy - originally, when I first signed the contract with Voyager, I pitched four books to them. They subsequently asked me if I could add two sequels to the fourth book and make that a second trilogy, and I said yes - and then proceeded to do just that. All three are now finished and have been sold to Voyager - we're hoping to sell them to my American publisher, Ace, as well. The second trilogy is currently titled The Risen Sun, and will probably stay that way. It has a different protagonist from the first trilogy.

I've also nearly finished the first in a third trilogy. It also stars a different protagonist from its predecessors, and is currently called The Southern Star (the protagonist is a Southerner). And I've now written the first two installments of a series for young adults - that series doesn't have a title but the working titles for the first three books are Scales, Claws and Spikes. My agent and I are about to start selling those. And apparently I've done all that in approximately... four years. Man, I have been busy.

No kidding! That inspires me to buckle down as well. Finally, what’s your favorite fantasy novel?

To be completely honest, I don't actually read much fantasy. I grew up reading young adult fantasy - I was a big fan of Robin Jarvis and Brian Jaques, but didn't like The Lord of the Rings. The only adult fantasy I ever got into is George R R Martin, but I also love Clive Barker and was a huge fan of William Horwood as a teenager. A lot of the time I actually read non-fiction. I also love movies. A movie made out of my books would be a dream come true... if it was a good movie, of course. Heh.

Yay, a fellow Horwood fan. Those are much harder to find that ASoIaF afficionados. Thanks very much for the interview, Katie!

Saturday, June 4, 2011


I watched this 1989 film when it first came out, and then saw it again last weekend. It's still entertaining, maybe even more so - not only is it light and fast-paced, but now I enjoyed everything about Mary Fisher and her writing. She-Devil is a hilarious film.

Ruth Patchett is a plump, unattractive woman married to Bob, a handsome accountant whom she loves dearly. One evening, though, they both meet Mary Fisher at a party.

Mary Fisher is blond, slim, beautiful and a bestselling romance novelist. Everything about her life is built up around that persona; she lives in a castle-like house, dresses in pink and speaks in a breathy whisper. She’s like a Barbie doll come to life.

Sparks fly instantly, and Bob drives her home that night. Ruth tries to remain loyal and devoted during the affair that follows, but the situation in the Patchett household devolves. Finally Bob moves into Mary’s castle and tells Ruth that while he has four assets (his house, his family, his career and the freedom to do as he pleases), she’s a liability. And also a she-devil.

So Ruth behaves like one.

If you enjoyed the revenge plot of The First Wives Club, you’ll like this as well – and there are other parallels between the two films, including Ruth’s outreach efforts to other women, which pay off handsomely for her. I also loved her way of dealing with asset # 1, the house, but then again I’m a fan of creatively blowing things up.

And she locates an unexpected ally in Mary Fisher’s irascible mother, who’s never forgiven her daughter for sending her to a retirement home where she’s kept drugged and locked away. Mrs. Fisher is like a really nasty Sophia Petrillo.

Bob : You know, Mrs. Fisher, I haven’t told you what a wonderful daughter you’ve got. You did a terrific job of raising her.
Mrs. Fisher : You’d never know it, the way she treats me. Miss Famous Writer over there. You would think a forty-one-year-old woman would have learned to appreciate her mother.
Bob : Mary… I thought you were thirty-four.

The acting in this film – on everyone’s part – is delightfully over the top. Scenery is chewed with abandon. I especially liked the way Mary goes from soft-spoken and giggly to sharp-tongued and bitchy as her life slowly crumbles and she finds that being a man’s de facto wife is not quite the same as being his mistress. And the scene where her newest book flops thanks to all the stress was actually a little painful – especially when she sits at a table piled with copies and everyone ignores her.

Don’t expect realism from this film, but do expect a boisterous, amusing ride.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Forests in fantasy

I’ve always been fascinated by forests. Maybe because I grew up in the middle of a desert, albeit one with a lot of skyscrapers.

Or maybe because forests feature so prominently in fantasy, beginning with Mirkwood in The Hobbit. Forests are inherently mysterious places, and none more so than Mirkwood. It’s easy to get lost and visibility is low, hence Gandalf's admonition to never leave the path. I like the part where Bilbo, the smallest and lightest of the party, climbs a tree to find black butterflies flitting about the topmost leaves.

As for the trees themselves, even in ordinary woods they may cut off much of the light and they often shelter dangerous creatures.

It’s also fun to come up with names for those trees. Poul Andersson has braidbark, copperwood, jewelleaf and gaunt lightning-rod in “The Queen of Air and Darkness”, and the Cinderbark Wood in Alan Campbell’s Iron Angel is a petrified forest where the flora has been treated with poisons. As a result, they have turned to vivid colors, and are extremely dangerous – the jab of a thorn can mean death.

Naturally, Cinderbark Wood is in a desert and the only water for miles around is a spring at the forest’s heart.

Other dry forests could be made of ice or metal or crystal (since crystals do grow). The sharp-edged shards could seriously injure anyone trying to pass through such a forest. Maybe the trees prefer blood to water. And some of the leaves could be lenses that focus the sun’s rays to start a fire – which could harm travelers but wouldn’t seriously damage the glasstrees.

Living forests can be dangerous too. For instance, they could grow extremely rapidly, meaning there’s little point in cutting a trail through the woods. They could have sprung up over the ruins of a city – which would have its own defenses, traps and perhaps stores of toxins.

They might act as prions, slowly but steadily altering people in their own image and likeness. So if you take longer than a week to travel through a certain forest, either you won’t come out or you’ll emerge with chlorophyll-colored skin, leaves for fingers and roots instead of feet.

They might have a powerful but hidden guardian – not the pretty unicorns of Dragons of Autumn Twilight or The Last Unicorn, but a creature far more disturbing. I’m thinking along the lines of He Who Walks Behind the Rows, from Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn”.

Because of this, forests often act as barriers, magical or otherwise, to lands. Or they protect a treasure. I especially like it when the treasure is a natural part of the forest, like a special tree – Yggdrasil or the Tree of Life – so it can’t be removed.

What do you like most about forests?