Regular Graphic Novel Friday readers might be aware of my annual summer trip into the Canadian wilderness, where I unplug at a family cabin and read as many comics as I can. This year the weather was especially uncooperative, which made for fine morning, noon, and night reading. Upon my return, a nutritional detox was necessary but I read an especially healthy batch of books, including:
Saga, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: Like everyone, I wondered if Vaughan and Staples could possibly top their Vol. 1 efforts (which we selected as one of our Top 10 Best of the Year picks in 2012), and like just about everyone, I was so happy to see the indie duo succeed. There is more charm, fantasy, action, science fiction, romance, and grotesquely nude giants in this volume than any comic on the planet. It’s the best ongoing comic that I read, and I gobbled it up before anything else this summer.
Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust and Kim Thompson: Being one of the late Thompson’s final translation efforts makes this a must-read—plus, that title. Graphic memoirist Ulli Lust recounts her 1984 journey across Italy, which is nowhere as idyllic as it sounds. Lust is a broke, defiant punk at the time, and the aggressive sexuality she endures is shocking. She travels without passport, money, or GPS, and it’s an adventure that makes me glad I have all three.
What do Tom Cruise, Anne Rice, and Pac-Man have in common? They were all in San Diego this past weekend for Comic-Con International.
This annual four-day event attracts more than 100,000 fans and professionals to revel in all forms of geekdom, creating an incredible pop culture overload packed with celebrity sightings, epic costuming, limited edition toy collecting, giveaways, autograph sessions, panel discussions, sneak peeks, and lines, and lines, and lines.
What's this got to with books? Well, of course, writers are crucial to the geekiverse at large and the Con in particular. As fantasy author Seanan McGuire told us:
"There are writers behind everything. There are writers behind the toys I play with. Monster High is so popular because it has a very coherent meticulous and well-plotted play line with writers that are writing the story of how these dolls are changing and evolving. And that's turned into a book line that comes out from Little Brown that's the Monster High books," she says.
"The big movies come from books, the comic books have writers. Without writers, this whole thing collapses. We are the invisible base bones. We're like those poor cheerleaders that everyone is standing on top of and if you take us out of the pyramid the pyramid will fall, but nobody ever notices we're down there because we've got our faces in the mud."
While Hollywood dominates the SDCC spotlight, most events owe their roots to sci-Fi, fantasy, and graphic novels. Panels for Ender's Game, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead were among the elite. And even beyond the ultra-hyped panels, literary fun was everywhere: bumping into a professional Michael Clarke Duncan imitator from The Green Mile by
Stephen King, seeing comic book greats acknowledged for their work at the Eisner Awards, or Chuck Palahniuk admitting "I'm more likely to write dirty than scientific." And only at Comic-Con could something like this happen:
Seeing really is believing. Here are four lists of six that demonstrate just some of the book-friendly things I geeked out about this week:
Authors on the "Ode to Nerds" Panel Tell Us What's Next For Them
1.Cory Doctorow (Little Brother): The Man Who Sold the Moon--"An optimistic crime story about people who go to Burning Man and who build a 3D printer... they form a kind of long-lasting friendship that results in them landing these things on the moon to sinter lunar regolith into bricks they can use to someday assemble habitats."
3. Austin Grossman (Soon I Will Be Invincible): Crooked--"A novel written from the perspective of our 37th president Richard Millhouse Nixon. It chronicles his own told adventures: the death of the Cold War and a shadow supernatural arms race. It is a novel of Lovecraftian horror and Cold War espionage. Which is my way of saying it is the story of a marriage."
Excellent Experiences Outside the Convention Center
1. Regardless of Orson Scott Card’s politics, it was thrilling to receive a badge and dog tags, then attend Battle School on real movie set desks in HGTV’s Ender's Game pavilion.
2. It takes being an unabashed tourist geek to hire a ride from a Game of Thrones themed pedi-cab.
3. 50 Shades of Grey author E.L. James, who held a streetside seat at the Random House party at Bootlegger, was lovely enough to allow me to snap a shot. Meanwhile George R.R. Martin held court across the room while the bartenders cos-played characters from his books.
4. Kicked off the Con by breakfasting and engaging in wonderful calm-before-the-storm conversation with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and writer/Image Comics publisher Ed Brubaker at the Omni.
5. Tasty treats from True Blood Drinks & Bites were on the menu at the True Blood party.
6. Watched Neil Gaiman play the straight-man to Jonathan Ross at the 25th Annual Eisner Awards Friday night at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.
Today, Amazon Publishing announced the launch of a new comics and graphic novel imprint, Jet City Comics! We’re launching with a series of comics set in The Foreworld Saga, an alternate history created by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear and Mark Teppo, and more, and it's full of sword-fighting, quests, and plenty of world-building. The first issue, Symposium #1 by Christian Cameron and Dmitry Bondarenko, releases today and requires no prior knowledge of the Foreworld universe. It’s new-reader friendly, and sets the stage for the larger works in the series, like The Mongoliad.
Beginning in October, we will release three projects from legendary novelist George R.R. Martin: an original comic, called Meathouse Man, and two graphic novel prequels to his A Song of Ice and Fire series (the basis for the gamma-powered Game of Thrones television series). Also coming in October is our visual trip down the silo with the comics adaptation of Wool, the bestselling science fiction sensation by Hugh Howey. We will release issues of Wool on a monthly basis via our Serials program, and then collect it in physical and digital omnibuses later in 2014.
To celebrate today’s news, we asked Hugh Howey and Neal Stephenson to share their favorite comics (see highlights below):
For those of you familiar with Wool, Hugh’s favorites should come as no surprise—running the gamut of big action and literary elements (see his comments below):
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller: This was the book I carried with me everywhere as a kid. I practically ruined my copies. I bet I've owned a dozen editions of this masterpiece over the years.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons: I know it's cliche to love this book, but I can spend hours flipping through issue #5, checking out the symmetry of the panels.
Fables by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham and Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan, Jr.: These two series blew me away for their writing and storytelling--Fables, because it was so inventive, and Y for creating an audacious world that I completely believed in. Two of the best series ever.
The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim: Another short series that I read over and over as a kid. I've never rooted so hard for a villain. It was this series of comics that made so many of us fall in love with Thanos, which is a relationship as messy as his is with Death.
As for Neal Stephenson, well, his favorites are easy: “Anything with Mister Miracle in it.” Mister Miracle, of course, being the New God created by Jack Kirby in 1971 (see his first appearance in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 1), and later joined the “Bwah-ha-ha!” heroes in Justice League International. Note: Grant Morrison recently enlisted Mister Miracle in his Seven Soldiers of Victory epic.
Neal also noted that he is a fan of “rock star” French artist Aleksi Briclot, who has about as diverse of a resume as I’ve seen: He is one of the main artists on Magic: The Gathering; he illustrated several Spawn comics; and he recently co-founded DONTNOD Entertainment, a video game development studio behind the recent Remember Me game (see also The Art of Remember Me hardcover, where Briclot pens an introduction).
This is only our origin tale, comics fans, and the adventure will continue in 2013 and beyond. Hop aboard as we prepare for takeoff today, and please let us know how we are doing here.
Neil Gaiman is gripping both of my hands in his, squeezing them. "We're at No. 5!" he exclaims. I don't correct him, but I already know by this time that he's advanced to No. 4, behind Dan Brown's The Inferno, Stephen King's Joyland and the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. For now--in the fevered rush of his repeatedly scrawling his name and doodling a character that seems to fall somewhere between a Pac-Man ghost and what looks disturbingly like a Klan member--No. 5 will do.
Much like the seven-year-old narrator of his new novel might be at the prospect of a new comic book, Gaiman's giddy about his Amazon Best Sellers ranking for said new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. His reaction to metrics is more related to abating nervousness than feeding ego.
It's release day, both here and in the U.K., and he's just spent the last couple of hours onstage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), reading from a chapter or two and answering questions from those in attendance. "This book is so me, it feels like I'm walking naked down the street," he said. To like this book is, in essence, to accept the man himself. The positive reaction, for the first time in a very long time, is extremely personal.
That sentiment has permeated every aspect of the event--culminating with an autographing session, and beginning when the lights went down two hours ago, he took the stage, and started using heartfelt phrases like "ridiculously grateful." The whole thing went a little something like this...
He briefly explains the book's origin: a short story for his wife, singer Amanda Palmer, which soon grew to a novelette, then a novella, and ultimately--upon finally transferring his handwritten story to typewritten pages, revealed itself to be a full-fledged novel. Then he cracks open the book and reads, in that soft, precise, utterly British voice of his, Chapter 2--a primarily innocent part of the story in which only the repeated pulsing of the italicized word "anatomy" warrants a menacing, almost Snape-like delivery.
Closing the book to (of course) enthusiastic applause, he visibly exhales, runs a hand through his mop top, and waits for the clapping to die down. While Palmer performs an interlude--a new song sung nearly a cappella with only her ukulele to keep her company--Gaiman collects himself, and the stack of index cards with audience questions, offstage. The stack he hands to Palmer; he returns to his podium.
Was the book inspired by his own childhood memories? "Yes." He stops there; question answered. Palmer ostentatiously flings the card behind her. The crowd laughs and Gaiman chooses to elaborate, emphasizing that it's not autobiographical, that it's "filled with lies," though he concedes that the "landscape is completely true."
Editors Note: As you'll see from the first line of his introduction through to his last fantastic question, horror author Joe Hill has tremendous respect for Neil Gaiman's work. In this exclusive discussion of Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane--one of our own top picks for June's Best Books of the Month--Hill explores both the real and the imaginary inspirations behind some of the novel's most compelling details.
by Joe Hill
You know the facts already, and if you don't, man, have you missed out:
If Neil Gaiman wrote nothing but Sandman, his award-winning comic series, he would still have the stature of a Bradbury or a Tolkien. Sandman was not just the best, most daring, and most moving comic of its time; it was and is probably the best, daringest, movingest comic of any time.
Gaiman followed with an epic, American Gods, which--along with Michael Chabon's The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and Jonathan Letham's Fortress of Solitude--shattered the artificial barrier between genre and literature, inspiring the best writers of my own generation to slip the shackles of realism and take a chance on fantasy. Godswas a kind of uncorking and a flood of fever-dreams poured forth afterward. Coraline was only the scariest book for children ever written, and it led to a phantasmagoric movie that soars like a modern Wizard of Oz. The Graveyard Book reads like if Charles Addams wrote The Jungle Book, and deservedly was awarded the Newbery Medal. And Gaiman's episodes of Doctor Who stand among the most keenly felt and inventive chapters in that show's storied 50-year history.
So now here is The Ocean at the End of the Lane--an overpowering work of the imagination, a quietly devastating masterpiece, and Gaiman's most personal novel to date. I had a chance to talk to him about it. Here are some things we said:
Joe Hill: Not long after a grotesque and tragic shock, the young boy at the heart of the novel meets Lettie Hempstock, her mother, and her grandmother. We soon discover that Old Mrs. Hempstock can snip bits out of time; Lettie's mother can see things happening elsewhere; and at one point, Lettie herself can be found hauling around an ocean in a bucket. These aren't the first women to wander through your stories, deforming reality as they go. Would the story have been different if it was a house of three guys? Could that even have worked?
Neil Gaiman: It would have worked, yes, although it would have been a very different sort of book. The farm men I knew as a boy were a taciturn lot, and they weren't much for talking. I like that the Hempstock women are chatty, and welcoming.
I think I got to take all the things I loved about my grandmothers' kitchens when I was a boy, the feeling that food was always there and that always somehow meant family and meant love, and transmute that into something rather stranger. And less Jewish.
I went for the women partly because I liked the idea of grandmotherly energy, and because the original inspiration for the Hempstock family, when I was about 8 years old, was having read a story of Henry Kuttner's called “Pile of Trouble” about the Hogben family, an Appalachian family of mutants--and all the Hogbens were men. (There is a Ma Hogben, but she never says or does much.) I thought about the farm down our lane that was mentioned in the Domesday Book, and wondered what would happen if the people who lived there had been there for the last thousand years. So the Hempstocks had been composting in my head since I was a small boy, waiting for their story to be told. Sometimes other Hempstocks would show up in other books, but they weren't the real Hempstocks, the ones in the farm at the end of the lane.
JH: Have there been women in your life who seemed especially prone to warping reality?
NG: My wife, Amanda, is terribly good at warping reality. She is like a bowling ball on a rubber sheet, and you find yourself living in her universe, doing things that are completely unexpected or unimaginable for you, but you blink and you're up on a stage singing, or wearing a peculiar wig, or writing a book filled with feelings and emotion, or doing something equally as unlikely.
My daughters, Holly and Maddy, are each good at warping reality in their own unique ways. Maddy's world is prettier and simpler than mine, Holly's has more hats in it.
JH: There's another woman in this story who goes nibbling holes out of our world: Ursula Monkton, who comes to work as a nanny--a kind of anti-Mary Poppins--for our hero's parents. But really, why is Ursula Monkton so bad? She only wants to help people!
NG: I agree with you. And Ursula Monkton, wherever she is, agrees with you a lot. It's just that people are fragile, and the ways Ursula wants to help them are ways that break them, or drive them to madness, or worse. It's one thing to want money, but if you find yourself choking on a coin as you wake, the money is slightly less desirable.
Ursula Monkton (or, as I tend to think of her, the thing that calls herself Ursula Monkton) was a glorious and scary thing to write, and she took me by surprise. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was going to be a short story until Ursula Monkton decided to follow our hero home...
NG: Imagine a mosaic picture of a house in the country: lots of red and blue and yellow and black and brown and white and a dozen different shades of green tiles which make a beautiful picture if you stand back far enough.
All the little red squares are true--true things, true places, true feelings. But the red squares aren't the picture. All the rest of it is lies and stories, often within the same sentence.
I hoped that I was able to write an emotional truth, but even though the landscape of the story is the landscape of my childhood, the family isn't really my family, and none of the things that happened to our hero happened to me. Well, none of the big things, anyway. I didn't even know why our white Mini went away until over thirty years after it happened.
JH: Our hero has only a single weapon to hold back the darkness--his books. What were your weapons as a child?
NG: Books. They were more of an armour and an escape route than they ever were a weapon, really, though. Books are defensive, not offensive (unless you're the puzzled adult trying to make the kid with the book interact). I loved all books that I could read, and I never knew if I was ready for it until I tried to read it, so I tried to read everything. My mother had lots of her childhood books on our bookshelves, so I read those and had great fun putting imaginary versions of them into Ocean.
There were other weapons. I was bright, and I could use that as a weapon: words can wound, whatever those sticks and stones sayings claim about them never hurting, and I could use them if I had to.
I really wanted a catapult, because kids in books had catapults, but they were regarded as things you could put people's eyes out with, and I do not believe I ever had a catapult.
JH: It was only after I finished the novel that I realized--with quite a bit of shock--that the narrator doesn't have a name. He remains, throughout, an indefinite ‘I.' And we are told early in the story that names have power and special significance; they can be used against you. Who is this guy? Does he even know himself?
NG: I'm sure he knows his name. In the first draft, in the handwritten manuscript, Ursula Monkton calls him by his name, but I took that out in the second draft. It seemed right that he's--not nameless, but has no reason to tell us his name.
Names do have power in this book, and naming things and people was something that fascinated me. None of his family have names, after all. They just have roles.
JH: There's a lot of wonderful food writing in this book. I had to put the thing down several times to rummage desperately through my fridge. Can you give us the recipe for the Hempstocks' lemon pancakes? Please don't let that part be make-believe.
NG: There is no make-believe in cooking. There were few things I took as much fun in cooking, when I was a boy, as pancakes. (I liked making toffee, too, because it was a little like a science experiment.)
Right. The night before you are going to make them, you mix:
1 cup of ordinary white flour
a pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups of milk and water (a cup and a half of milk and a cup of water mixed)
1 tablespoon of either vegetable oil or melted butter
(You'll also need some granulated sugar, and a couple of lemons to put on the pancakes, along with other things like jams and possibly even maple syrup because you're American.)
Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Crack the eggs in and whisk/fork the egg into the flour. Slowly add the milk/water mixture, stirring as you go, until there are no lumps and you have a liquid the consistency of a not too thick cream.
Then put the mixture in the fridge overnight.
Grease or butter or oil a non-stick frying pan. Heat it until it's really hot (377 degrees according to one website, but basically, it has to be hot for the pancake to become a pancake. And these are crepes, French style, not thick American round pancakes).
Stir the mixture you just took from the fridge thoroughly because the flour will all be at the bottom. Get an even, consistency.
Then ladle some mixture into the pan, thinly covering the whole of the base of the pan. When the base is golden, flip it (or, if you are brave, toss it). Cook another 30 seconds on the other side.
For reasons I do not quite understand (although pan heat is probably the reason), the first one is always a bit disappointing. Often it's a burnt, sludgy, weird thing, (always, in my family, eaten by the cook) (which was me). Just keep going, and the rest will be fine.
Sprinkle sugar in the middle. And then squeeze some lemon juice in, preferably from a lemon. Then wrap it like a cigar and feed it to a child.
(You can experiment with other things in the middle, like Nutella, or jam, or even maple syrup--but remember that these pancakes are not syrup-absorbent like American style pancakes.)
This is a very peculiar interview, Joe. Let me know how the pancakes come out.
Acts of translation are often truly international efforts. In the case of Squaring the Circle: A Pseudotreatise of Urbogony, this is doubly true. Iconic writer Ursula K. Le Guin selected and translated 24 "Fantastic Tales" by the highly decorated Romanian writer Gheorghe Sasarma in this collection--but not in quite the usual way. Instead of translating from the original language, Le Guin translated initially from the Spanish edition of the book, La Quadratura del Círcolo.
Squaring the Circle, which consists of several short tales each set in a different fantastical city, is perhaps the author's most controversial book. First published in 1975, it fell afoul of Communist censors, who cut about one fourth of the collection. In 1983, as a result of continued censorship, Sasarman left Romania to live in Munich, Germany. Since then he has continued to write, but only published in Romania again in 1989 after the fall of the dictator Ceausescu. He is a potent reminder of the constraints placed on many writers of that era, especially in Romania, where repression was particularly acute.
Le Guin explains in her introduction that, for a while, the book "kept lying around in one place or another in my study." But gradually, the collection exerted an effect on her, as sometimes happens: "It's not rational, not easy to explain [this effect some books have]. They don't glow or vibrate...They just are in view, they're there... And even if I have no idea what it is or what it's about, I have to read it."
As she became absorbed in these tales, Le Guin realized she wanted to translate them into English. "I love translation because I translate for love. I'm an amateur. I translate a text because I love it, or think I do, and love craves close understanding. Translation, for me, is discovery."
Le Guin's "laborious" translation from Spanish into English was then checked against the Romanian original and a French translation. "Both were of use when my Spanish got stuck or I wanted to see the original wording (for Romanian is, after all, a Romance language, half-familiar even if unreadable by me)." The original Spanish translator, Mariano Martín Rodríguez was also of use, via email.
The result? A collection of quite beautiful and sometimes dark tales, sure to delight lovers of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges—or aficionados of the work of Le Guin herself.
"We launched Squaring the Circle at the Seattle Library in mid-May," Le Guin told Omnivoracious. "The author's daughter came from Munich, his nephew from Canada, and the Spanish translator from Brussels, and we each read a story in English, Spanish, and Romanian. The audience was great. I think the high point was when the Spanish translator, reading the story 'Kriegbourg,' stabbed himself in the back, and bled to death (with my red scarf)."
As for Le Guin's favorites in the collection, she has several and found it hard to choose. "Maybe 'Arapabad' is the most beautiful single story, but I love 'Sah-Harah,' and 'Oldcastle.' And images haunt me--the greased slides in Vavylon, the doorways in Moebia..."
Squaring the Circle has been lovingly published by Aqueduct Press as an attractive small-sized paperback with copious geometric illustrations.
A winner of the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Arthur C. Clarke awards (to name a few), China Miéville specializes in the fantastical and the weird. His literary approach to genre themes earned him a legion of fans (most recently with his novel Railsea in 2012), but Miéville remains a fan as well--of comics. The personal and professional interests collided in the best of ways during DC’s New 52 initiative, when the publisher announced a new Dial H series with Miéville at the helm with artist Mateus Santolouco. In the following exclusive essay, Miéville reveals his long history with the series and how that history led to a fresh, successful start for the book while remaining true to its core weirdness.
I wasn't very good at canon. Oh, I got better as I got older, but as a kid, I pieced together my comics knowledge like a mudlark, scobbing together whatever titles I could find in local shops and libraries – new copies, second-hand ones, beaten-up and ripped-to-shreds remnants - without any understanding of publisher or continuity. I’d cross-fertilize them with the various exciting bits and pieces I'd picked up, all the rumours and half-truths regarding superheroes.
This led to an idiosyncratic version of the DCU. Once, many years ago, as a very young child, I was delighted to discover a pile of comics in an attic. They featured a blond, orange-shirted superhero who could speak to fish. “Ah,” I thought, settling down to read. “This must be this ‘Superman’ of whom I've heard so much.” I was intrigued that so many of his adventures were maritime.
As the years passed, I got a bit more systematic, but I never lost the excitement at the sheer chaotic variety of costumes, monikers and powers I might find fighting for justice, every time I opened a comic. It was always a surprise. This addiction to the proliferation of the superheroic is something many of us never grow out of.
In fact, inventing superheroes is one of the basic games of childhood. Tie a towel around your neck and come up with a powerset, all the abilities you think you’ll need. Justify that hot mess as coherent by some ingenious, tendentious argument. Finally, give your wonder a name. (Electrical blast and tiger stripes? Electrotiger!) This is what we do. Like countless kids around the world, I was a martyr to superherogenesis.
Writing isn’t just about action and dialogue and description. It’s not even just about all that and a few characters and a plot. Because what brings it to life—more than vivid descriptions, intricate world building, and scintillating dialogue, all put together—is having a world whose characters and other bits are reactive, responsive, and, most importantly, interactive. Having consequences for every choice, and equal and opposite reactions for every novelistic action.
Without repercussions, it feels a bit like throwing a rock into a pool—without it making a sound, a ripple, or a splash. Which is to say, it feels awesomely unsatisfying—and the opposite of immersive. It feels flat, and frustratingly unreal, no matter how gorgeous a picture of the pool and the rock description paints, and no matter how well-described the action of throwing the rock.
So, What Does It Mean?
Reactiveness and interactivity are the binding agents of your story. Without it, even if your dialogue, action, description, and plot are all beyond excellent, we’re going to be stuck in a serious state of wanting more. And by more, I mean that we’re want to know:
What emotions people are displaying (or, for the point-of-view character, just plain having)?
What thoughts people are broadcasting (or, what thoughts is the POV character is having)?
How people are expressing themselves and communicating with one another nonverbally?
I fell in love with Iron: or, the War After immediately upon holding it. The compact hardcover sports a red, textured cover with an embossed golden-colored rabbit and tree. Snowflakes drift from the limbs. It’s a package unlike most—and then I opened it.
Artist and writer S.M. Vidaurri’s watercolor treatment features predominant greys and blues with occasional splashes of red (a recurring robin, for example). The word he crafts is one of “constant winter,” and it’s populated by anthropomorphic animals. These creatures live in an age of quiet rebellion, post-wartime, where a faction of animals plan a revolution while those in power seek their hideouts. The story is rife with paranoia, threats of betrayal lurk in the wintry corners of dialogue balloons. A rabbit, Hardin, is the focus of the first chapter as he escapes an enemy’s clutches with stolen documents. All of this—the war, the rebellion, what lies within the documents--unfolds at a measured pace, and it keeps the reader at a crossroad: quickly turn the pages to uncover the mystery, or linger to appreciate the stark, absorbing artwork.
As future chapters develop, Hardin’s children become the focus while the threatening forces grow closer to their targets. There’s a train sequence that is heightened by its chugging course through the snow; plot points slowly collide, upsetting the quiet nature of the book with an explosive reveal. If all the heartbreak of the finale weren’t enough, Iron ends with a letter from a son to his father. It casts one last ray of wintertime light onto a character, opening his motivations long after it is too late.
Publisher Archaia continues to produce these under-the-radar gems—see also our spotlight on their much louder and fast-paced Tale of Sand—that reward any reader lucky enough to happen upon them.
When you pick up a Guy Gavriel Kay book, you know you are in for an intense experience. Guy Gavriel Kay is a master at creating compelling, complex, human characters in which the reader can’t help but become invested—even if their initial presentation is somewhat less than heroic. His fluency with themes can make you actually care about abstract concepts just as much as you do about the life or death of a character. And the combination of the above makes for books known for both their poignancy and resonance.
So, of course, I was beyond thrilled when Guy Gavriel Kay—winner of the 2008 World Fantasy Award, the International Goliardos Prize, two-time winner of the Aurora Award, and internationally bestselling author besides—agreed to do an interview on how he wrote his upcoming novel, River of Stars.
I hope you enjoy!
Susan: One of the most striking things about River of Stars is that it feels so incredibly human and grounded—the relationships between the characters in particular, but also the battle scenes—which gives it great poignancy and gets us readers super invested. How does a writer achieve that level of realism?
Guy Gavriel Kay: I have a longstanding one-liner, but it is only partly a joke, that “I've always depended on the intelligence of strangers.” The riff on A Streetcar Named Desire is actually at the center of my writing. The kind of “investment” on the part of readers that you refer to depends, it seems to me, on an author respecting both readers and characters—and I think they amount to the same thing. This means, of course, giving room for characters to emerge and become significant for a reader. I think that's a key.
Susan: At the same time as feeling grounded, River of Stars has the resonance of a myth or legend. How do you invest your writing with that kind of feeling?
Guy Gavriel Kay: You are being generous right off the top here. Thank you. In River of Stars I was interested (as always) in how the past affects the present day. The present time of the story, but also, by extension for the reader, his or her own time and life, if I do it properly. Looking back on long-ago events can carry that kind of legendary quality, and I wanted to explore an awareness that even as things are happening now in the book, later generations might see them as legendary events of their past—and, as we all know, the past gets changed by how it is remembered. That's a theme of the book.
Susan: There are many smaller tales in River of Stars that all wind together in ways that seem at first largely inconsequential (plot-wise), and then become incredibly, earth-shatteringly important. How do you make sure the reader can trace back the ripples of every stone?