Guy Gavriel Kay

I just recently read Under Heaven,  a spectacular book written by this guy right here.

That smug bastard. Look at him. What’s that? Why do I sound bitter, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

Under Heaven was amazing. I was mezmerized by this book. The prose, the characters, the world. It was the perfect blend of the real and the fantastic. It was a damn fine book. And it was very close to the kinds of books I’d like to write. It’s history, really. Heavily inspired by history, anyway. Kay is even more unabashed about his unrelenting borrowing of real-world fact than most. He totally understands what he’s doing in his books, and he has damn good reason for it. He writes what I want to write, albeit with a bit less snark and general rudeness.

A little about the book then.

Under Heaven is a fantasy based on the Tang period in China. In particular Kay was heavily influenced by the poetry of the time, and it shows in his writing. Not only does his book contain a fictionalized representation of the great Tang poet Li Bai, but his words and world are heavily inspired by the poetry of that same man. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Li Bai’s poetry was the initial impetus for the writing of this book.

Kay does a lot of really cool things with his writing. He has no qualms about switching to omniscient mid-chapter, even stepping out of the time period of the story and analyzing the events of his plot from the viewpoint of his world’s future fictional historians and antiquarians. His characters are well crafted, though they seem to be more vehicles for the time period than truly inspiring personalities. Still, that’s alright in a book like this, in which much of the wonder and enjoyment is derived from the fantastic world that the characters inhabit. Kay even messes around with tense, writing his male characters in the usual third person limited past tense, and his female characters in a sometimes-omniscient third present tense, so that the actions in the female chapters have both a sense of immediacy, and a strange sense of distance. Very cool stuff that you don’t typically see in a fantasy novel.

So basically, Kay is making me look bad. Pathetic, even. This clever son of a bitch even talks about his reasons for writing historically-inspired fiction, and they’re good ones. I’ll link you now to an essay written by Mr. Kay: Home and Away. Follow that link, and read the words contained therein. Do you see? Do you see now, gentle readers? Guy Gavriel Kay writes in that essay the same things that I’ve written about on this blog, but better. This essay of his? This is how I discovered that Kay is not only a man after my own heart, but also a man I am destined to destroy. In fact, disregard my previous request: don’t read the essay on the other side of that link. Just read my thing about fantasy again and pretend that it–you know, sounds better.

I do, however, have one complaint about Under Heaven, a complaint which I shall cherish, it having prevented the creation of a near-perfect fantasy novel that would have forever dashed my hopes of creating anything of even comparable quality. It seems at times that Under Heaven, as well as Kay’s other books, perhaps take a little too much from one period and region of history. They end up feeling like direct copies of actual historical events. I’d prefer a little more of a grab-bag approach to using history in a fantastic setting. That is to say, you can evoke a period of history and realistic events/cultures/characters without borrowing exact details and merely changing some names. This isn’t to say that Kay’s approach to fantasy is incorrect, but perhaps the Martins and Abercrombies of the world are a bit more creative with the content of their fictional worlds.

Alright, that’s all for now. More updates on my first draft in a short while.


Right in the Spleen

Another two weeks, another blog post. So it goes.

Really. That’s what it looks like it’s gonna be from here on out, at least for the duration of this school year. I can’t seem to find time to post more often than that. And I’ve got even more bad news.

I won’t be making my goal for the word count of my book. Not even close, in fact. Now I know you’ve already begun gnashing your teeth and tearing at your clothes in sympathy for my plight. But of course, this was a deliberate decision made by me, the reasons for which are twofold. One: I know that you, the countless masses, will be clamoring for many more posts about the creation of my first draft, and I can hardly provide those sustaining posts if the draft is completed. Two: I’m basically out of material at this point; once this book is finished, I’ll have nothing else to write about. So, bearing that in mind, the first draft should be completed by about the year 2050.

Now let’s talk about the book!

Sticking points are on the mind today. By now I’ve probably hit about twenty serious sticking points. You see, when you get set to write a book, it’s best to outline and develop a basic beginning, middle, and end to your story. That’s at least how I’ve gone about it. And when you have all of that laid out you might think, “Great! Now all I have to do is fill in the in-betweens.” Ha! Good luck, smart guy. How little you truly know, and how ignorant of your own ignorance you are! All the little transitions and pieces that fit between the pivotal moments of your story? They take ages to create. Sometimes two scenes really, really don’t want to join together, so you’ll spend a couple days mulling over how the hell to get from A to B. Other times you’ll realize that you don’t know how something mundane and heretofore unthought-of works (“Did they have rubber in 1890? How was a medieval tournament organized? Where does a merchant keep his wares? How the hell do taxes work? No, seriously, can someone help me with my taxes?”). So then you have to spend hours finding out how exactly to write your own story correctly.

This is where that previously mentioned writer’s perseverance has to kick in. Because this kind of thing really makes you want to quit. I’ll compare it to boxing. The exciting challenges of writing a good plot are like getting hit in the face. If you’ve never experienced it, you might think it hurts. But more than anything it makes you grit your teeth and try harder. The aforementioned sticking points, on the other hand, are like body shots. You can get hit in the face a bunch of times and still come back for more. But one unbraced-for bodyshot, and you’ll be ready to crawl meekly under the ropes and out of the ring. They make you want to quit, you see.

So yeah. I’ve been experiencing a lot of those recently. Literary body shots, man. Ouch.

But see, in the long run, it’s probably better to get hit in the body a lot than it is to have your braincase rattled on a regular basis. It’s just hard to keep that in mind when you’re in the moment. When you’re a wimp like me, you don’t realize that mostly it’s just pain, and for the most part pain won’t really stop you unless you let it. Writing stories is the same. You might prefer the challenge of creating a plot and characters, but sticking points are the hurdles that are really going to hurt in the moment. The trick is just not letting them make you quit. It’s just momentary pain, and you’ve got to push through it. Don’t walk away when things get hard. Either try your best, or get knocked out. And I’ve yet to be knocked out by a book, so I think my record is pretty good actually.

I just need to stop letting these sticking points get in my way. Are you ready to see my pitiful progress, reader? The current word count is 32,219. Not great. But we’ll set a new goal right now. Even with impending school work, I’m going to shoot for that 75,000 word goal by the end of October. Two months to write about 50,000 words. And this time, not even the hardest liver shot’s gonna turn me away.

If you want to sop me, book, you’re gonna have to knock me out. And I’d like to see you try.

Please don’t.