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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Manthycore update

I started tonight on the first little bit of a new Servant of the Manthycore tale, with the working title of "The First Trial of Jermaish the King"--- yes, everyone's favorite loutish young king is back, with a problem that only Ninshi can fix.

The story is in direct following sequence to "To Destroy All Flesh" which will be appearing very soon in the "Return of the Sword" anthology coming from Flashing Swords Press. I am extremely excited about being in this anthology, as its TOC reads like a Who's Who in upcoming fantasy writers. I am equally excited about the story, for a number of reasons. First, I was able to find some interesting things about the character of Miri, and her changing perception of her terrifying adopted mother. As she grows, her reactions to Ninshi change, and I am finding that perspective very rewarding to explore. Second, the story did some things that I have been slowly working toward with the stories from the start, stylistic things that I have been groping at and have slowing been able to find.

This might be a good place to discuss those stylistic things. For quite a while, the Fantasy genre has been dominated by Jordan-like Tolkien derivatives, massive tomes of castle drama chunked into 500 page doses. I have no problem with that, because of course for the longest time that has been what sold best, but I think that it also has ghettoized an already fairly isolated genre even further. That people read less is not in question, but the fact that Harry Potter openings had to have security guards and Dan Brown's dreadful piece of hackwork sold more copies in five years than Catcher in the Rye has in 40 tells me that people will still buy books, if you give them a fantasy that they actually want to read.

Now, if I knew the secret to what that actually might be, a lot more than the 80 or so people a week who read this blog would be tuning in. But I do know what I'd like to see, what I have spent money on the last 40+ years of my reading life, and a part of that is what drives me to write what I write, in the fashion that I do.

Fantasy has been dominated by the Brits, with even the most American of writers writing Brit tropes, in imitation of Brit writers. I am an American, and while I love me some Tolkien, I also have a taste for American pulp fiction.

It would be ridiculously pretentious of me to say that I really know what I'm doing here, but what I'm trying to do is write Fantasy in a distinctly American voice, with American sensibilities and expectations. I have some thoughts for myself that may be useful for someone else who may have had that nagging little desire to write something different, but hasn't quite figured out what. Not saying anyone else needs to follow Michael's ideas, but they might give you something to think about.

1. As much as I appreciate the term Sword and Sorcery, I'm not certain it applies anymore. To most people it means bad Conan rip-offs on late night TV and Xena the Warrior Princess. Originally it applied to some pretty gritty stuff, including Howard's original Conan, Lieber's anti-heroes Fafred and the Grey Mouser, and Moorcock's very dark Elric stories. These were not written for kids, they were hard-core pulpy works of sock-you-in-the-eye fiction. I'm not certain what we should be calling it, but it is probably time for a re-branding.

2. With that re-branding should come a re-thinking. The genre came from the pulps. They were adventure stories, some with historical basis, many without. In fact, many were closer to westerns or hard-boiled detective stories than the high fantasy of the multi-volume doorstop type. I had a critic call one of my stories "Castle Noir", which I thought was pretty cool. I am thinking that good heroic fantasy might do well to forget the anglophile Tolkien tropes, character types and the whole idea of "races" and concentrate on mood, character, plot and atmosphere rather than the too-often seen half-elf on a quest to partner up with a dragon-rider and a trusty wood ranger.

3. So for this post, I'm going to call the stuff I have been trying to write "Hard-Boiled Fantasy", because those distinctive American forms of the Hard-Boiled Detective and the film noir feeling of failed moral choice and struggle for redemption has guided some of the best, or at least most enjoyable reading and movie-going I have experienced, from High Noon and Shane to The Maltese Falcon and the Long-Legged Fly.

There will be more of this, as I can work it out. As I said, I am groping toward something here, something that I hope will make what I write better for me as the writer and more interesting and alive to you as the reader. I may be miles off base here, but that problem is self-correcting: if people stop buying my stuff or writing me to tell me they like it, then I will know.

In the mean time, feel free to tell me what YOU think in the comments.

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