OK, I think I might have found a new-to-me author to read: just check out this awesomely to-the-point post by Elizabeth Bear on women in fantasy fiction. Couldn’t have put it better myself!
There are many thoughts out there about whether or not to put one’s WIP online. For a long time, I’ve only shared the dream cover copy for A Thief & A Gentlewoman. But, some months ago I had a chance to (very) briefly speak with an editor who recommended ‘getting your work out there’ on the internet. When I asked about ‘first publishing rights’ and whether that might put publishers off, he assured me that putting the first chapter or two really wouldn’t matter. So I thought about it. And, well, here’s the first scene of A Thief & A Gentlewoman, as submitted for my MA, so it’s gone through some editing, but will probably change more when I send it off…
Anyway, I’m rambling, aren’t I? Here she is and there may be more to follow …
Women are armed with fans as men with swords and sometimes do more execution with them.
Joseph Addison, The Spectator, Wednesday 27 June, 1711
Quintefoil Morehap was not there for a spectacle or to see Justice dished up hot and steaming in the noon sun. She wasn’t even there to take pity on the poor soul about to dangle, nor did she boo the hangman. She was there to remind herself of the price of failure; a momentary slip of the mask and it would be her on stage, a noose around her own slender neck.
That and to earn her (less than honest) living.
Around her was the full spectrum of Arianople society: from the courtly gentlemen who courted her to the not so gentle women she had grown up with who now wandered the streets at night, beckoning from alleyways, flashing smiles and legs and sometimes more.
Uneasy, Quin tugged at the ribbon tied around her throat – it felt suddenly tighter – and watched the two worlds she straddled mingle, but not quite merge, like oil and water stirred together.
Here Pashas and Veys mixed with the underworld aristocracy, standing inches from the Queen of Whores and the Canting King without the slightest inkling of who they were. The former were there to nod with approval at the punishment of a criminal who dared to take more than he had been dealt, while the latter stood witness to the passing of a peer, a comrade, a competitor, an enemy. The former were also there, unbeknownst to them, to be relieved of that terrible burden of property.
Quin moved through the crowd, judging its swells and jostlings and passing through them as if flotsam on the sea. Decked out in her rich garb, she was a gentlewoman wearing clog overshoes to protect her fine feet from the gutter filth. A flashy chain glinted in the sun proclaiming this lady, with ornate gold watch, as a Personage of Quality.
Except the Quality don’t generally busy their fingers with the unclasping of other people’s watch chains or the stuffing of them into their own pockets.
Keeping her movements slow and her timing keen, Quin visited one group and then the next, settling for a matter of seconds to catalogue (Brass – no thank you!) and collect before continuing on her journey, like a bee in search of golden nectar.
Once her pockets were pleasantly full, Quin found her friend Derry and took a moment to focus her attention on the wooden platform at the front of the crowd.
The first thing she noticed was the way the official perched on the stage to oversee the hanging kept alternately mopping his brow with a handkerchief and craning his neck to ensure a better view. Quin wasn’t sure quite how he could get a better view – he was directly next to the soon-to-be-late criminal, less than five feet away – but still he seemed determined to have the best ringside seat. He was nothing if not devoted to his duties: the Sultana could not ask for anything more in her bureaucrats.
The hangman checked the noose, pulled it a little tighter; Quin swallowed again, aware of each undulating movement of her throat. The hangman pulled a white hood down over the criminal’s face; Quin’s amber eyes peered over the fan fluttering faster. The hangman, seeming satisfied, positioned himself by the lever that would trigger a foot-long drop and a short stop; Quin held her breath, chest constricted, mouth dry.
With a nod from the official, the trapdoor swung. The hooded convict jiggled like a puppet whose strings, all but one, had been severed and then he too swung. Two older men and a young woman, all masked, rushed forward and grabbed the kicking feet and pulled. Quin could hear wailing. She could hear cheering and booing too.
With death, the tension snapped and in an instant the crowd returned to ordinary chatter; the only reminder that someone had just died were faint cries that wafted from near the stage, barely reaching over the ‘scandals!’ and ‘indeeds’ of everyday gossip.
Quin’s heart resumed normal service as the world turned right-way up. She relaxed back into her role, catching the dark eyes of a woman nearby and smiling an acknowledgement that was nodded back. She couldn’t quite call the woman a friend, but she was close to it – as close as Quin got at court, anyway.
Behind the dark-eyed gentlewoman, Quin spotted a figure. Before she realised it, she flicked her fan shut.
“Something wrong?” Derry asked.
With a twitch of her fan Quin indicated the man sitting on a black sabre-cat. That in itself marked him as a man of taste and wealth – such a creature was worth more than a year’s income for most nobility and that was for one of average breeding. This cat’s fur glinted in the bright sun and rippled over dense muscles. It was clear that it could glide down the streets of the city or up the grey mountains to the east as easily as it could use its elongated canines to rip the throat out of any beast or man who threatened its master.
Much as she appreciated the sabre-cat, it was the master that caught Quin’s interest. He sat tall in the saddle, hands resting lightly on the reins. From this angle Quin could only see his profile, but it was enough to be sure of his identity: Fehrim Meregaine Pasha was known throughout Constantolia and Quin in particular had studied his likeness in paintings and etchings. Even from here she could see the emeralds glinting on the Meregaine family’s dagger – Fehrim carried it in all his portraits.
Pictures were one thing, but in life he was more … well, more. He seemed taller, more athletically built beneath that ultramarine coat. His eyes were a rich green that seemed to glow intensely against his dusky complexion. The sinuous curve of his nose reminded Quin of the statue of Dey that stood outside His temple.
Quin tried to swallow, but her mouth was too dry – Fehrim Pasha and his sabre-cat were a pair, both equally able to tear apart any enemy who crossed them.
Then I shall just have to make sure he doesn’t realise I’m the enemy.
Well, if you managed to read all that, first off, thank you for bearing with it! Secondly, if you’d like to give feedback, it would be greatly appreciated. I’ve been part of critique groups and all that, so I’m fine with thoughtful, constructive criticism and welcome it.
Of course, this post, as with text on this blog, unless otherwise stated, is copyright © to me, Clare Sager.
I love a good bit of synchronicity … I’ve been reading Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy recently, having already read and loved The Liveship Traders. One of the things I love most about her work is how damn real the characters are. They make the wrong, slightly illogical choices because of their emotions; they hurt others because of their own flaws; they don’t have an easy time because they know what they want, but they don’t always know what they need. Robin Hobb doesn’t let them off easily.
So I’ve been thinking about character flaws, when what should appear on my blog feed, but a short’n'sweet article by Rachelle Garner on Why Your Novel Characters Need Real Flaws.
As writers, we love our characters, even the villains, but especially the heroes. Which means it’s hard, sometimes, to give them a hard time or to let them hurt each other. In particular, it’s difficult to find that balance between the likeability of the character and the realism of giving them actual flaws that have a negative effect on those around them – their friends, families, lovers …
Rachelle briefly discusses the difference between the real flaw and the cosmetic flaw … but fear not if you suddenly realise your characters have cosmetic flaws, because often the cosmetic flaw is but a watered down, victimless version of the real flaw and all we need to do is look at the darker side of their perfectionism or insecurity and how it makes victims of others.
Check out her article, and I’d love to know if you have any other tips or articles!
I spotted this pretty book during one of my forays into a book shop just before Yule. I stopped in my tracks, stared and then had a look at the blurb. But it’s a bad idea to buy things for yourself in the run up to Yule, so I had to walk on by. After a incredibly unsubtle hint to my gentleman, it magically appeared in my Yule stocking!
Has anyone else chanced upon this book? I’ve already finished reading it and I’m still thinking about what I think about it, if that makes sense!
I’m all aflutter at the release of what looks to be a rather exciting debut novel from the witty and most learned Gail Carriger:
Who could possibly resist a novel whose byline is “A novel of vampires, werewolves, and parasols”? Really?
Do go and check out her blog for Interesting Reading and a very fun Victorian paper doll of her protagonist, Alexia Tarabotti! The book comes out on 1 October and I think I’ll be breaking my current ban on buying books and sending this one straight to the top of my pile. And, dear reader, I think you should follow suit.
Soulless promises to be a steam-punk, historical urban fantasy with romance and lush gowns. I, for one, am in.
I think, think, I’m finished putting all my MA files and things together. I’ve got a killer headache, but I think it’s all done. I just need to get a folder and print it all. I’m in shock!
Anyway, I know this isn’t an interesting post to look at, but because I’m sad like that, I’ve made a cover for the CD containing the electronic copy, so maybe that will entertain your eyes for a little while:
Right, I do believe it’s sewing and film-watching time. No rest for the wicked!
In the course of my writing I have stumbled across a newspaper article from the Arianople Argus and thought it might be of interest:
Madam G―’s Gossip Guide*
All of Society is aflutter after Sunneday’s Gallows Gathering which saw the Fashion Set out in force. In attendance were Mrs Med―, Th― Pasha, Mr Pel―, Ma― Pasha and divers others all in splendid attire.
I am reliably informed that nothing untoward occurred at the event, however perhaps that is because the whole assembly was most diverted by the presence of Fe― Pasha in his annual return to the city. Still this eligible gentleman is without attachment and I know of several women of distinction who wish to put their own daughters forward for the role! The young lady will have to be prepared for a life lived in partial exile, however, as the latest intelligence has it that the palace is showing no signs of easing up on the Pasha’s punishment. Of course, that would be an easy price to pay for the quality of the prize on offer!
Such gentlewomen will be disappointed (or perhaps relieved), then, to note that Fe― Pasha has expressed interest in no particular lady. Perhaps he is still pining for the ‘one that got away’…
My spies do inform me, however, that he made the acquaintance of the young Miss M―. This gentlewoman from foreign climes came to the City of Cities but one month ago and has quite set the town afire with her unusual beauty and charming modesty – she insists on being called ‘Miss’, when I hear that she is entitled to a far grander title owing to her status in the West, from whence she came.
At the Gathering she looked quite well indeed in a gown of periwinkle blue taffeta with, so I am told, three whole yards of Felham lace! Clearly this lady was out to impress and yet she managed to do so with her characteristic art – avoiding the excesses that mar true distinction in a Lady of Fashion.
I do hear, however, that her dignity was somewhat ruffled during a conversation with Fe― Pasha and others, about what I cannot say, but it did seem to pique the Pasha’s interest, even if for only a short while. Perhaps he is not pining so much as we might think…
Of course, I cannot speculate on such things, but if ever a gentlewoman were to capture the heart of a certain gentleman, then one could do worse than place bets on the latest toast of the town.
*The title is indeed a nod to Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century and The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century – I love their pages!
So last time, I mentioned this other addition that I made. It was a brief explanation of my magic system. BRIEF being the operative!
The currently direction of commercial fantasy fiction is away from the excesses of worldbuilding so beloved of Tolkein and his acolytes. Check out what Joe Abercrombie has to say on the subject of Tolkeinesque worldbuilding. It’s not about not doing the worldbuilding – inventing nations, peoples, cultures and attitudes is a vital part of fantasy fiction – it’s about not making the story and the characters subservient to the world. I’m going to straight-out quote Joe Abercrombie here, as he puts it so well:
“It’s the equivalent of a film producer blowing his entire budget on sets and costume he’s not even going to use in the picture, and fondly imagining that no-one will therefore notice the abysmal script, acting, camerawork, editing and direction. Of course, there are writers who come up with weird, and wonderful, and magical settings which fascinate and enthral the reader. But, for me, those are only of real interest as long as the characters, and the dialogue, and the plots are on the money as well.” (See the above-linked interview in SFX Magazine.)
I know all the ins and outs of my magic system, but is it relevant to the story or of much interest to any reader that magic was first used back in the year blah blah blah by so-and-so? No. So it’s not going in the novel.
The important part of a novel is who does what to whom, or, what happens and to whom does it happen. Character is vital, irrelevant history is not.
Having said that, a fantasy world is, by definition, different to ours, and the reader needs to feel that they have a grasp of what’s going on and where it’s going on. Even in contemporary urban fantasy, such as The Southern Vampire Mysteries (AKA, the True Blood TV series), there are differences to our world that the reader (or viewer) needs to understand… like vampires…
… and the reader needs a certain amount of explanation. But the reader doesn’t need all the explanation, and they certainly don’t need a massive infodump.
I suppose the point I am trying to make is that fantasy writers need to walk a thin line by giving a sense of their world by showing the important and relevant elements of that world rather than over-explaining that world in mind-numbing detail. There are shades of grey that tend towards more worldbuilding or less, but the recent trends are towards novels that concentrate on telling a damn good story with some great characters.
And that is no bad thing. For too long, fantasy has stood in Tolkein’s shadow and grown stale there, with too many cliched characters wandering from A to B and infodumping all the way.
It’s quite handy, then, that this new kind of fantasy is very much to my taste. I’m attempting to give brief hints of the world and its magic, revealing relevant pieces of information with little touches here and there, but, as I’m finding, it’s a delicate balancing act.