(A Gaunt and Bone Novel) will be published on September 24, 2013 by Pyr.
I'm delighted to be here at The Qwillery to talk about The Scroll of Years
. By now, you've had a look at Kerem Beyit's beautiful cover. So, what's the deal with the couple in the picture, and where the heck are they?
Sometimes it's fun to make up imaginary Hollywood-style elevator pitches for stories. As in, "It's like George Lucas retelling a Hans Christian Andersen story! In space!" (If you like the sound of that, go check out Joan D. Vinge's The Snow Queen
.) Or, "It's like I Am Legend meets The Road Warrior!" (I may have to write that one, actually.)
My imaginary pitch for The Scroll of Years
might be, "Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser run away to the land of Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds
." Let me unpack that a little.
Ever since Fritz Leiber coined the term "sword and sorcery" to pin down what made his adventurers Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser so different from the noble heroes of J.R.R. Tolkien, fans of sword and sorcery have been debating how to define this subgenre. But however you slice it, Leiber's fierce Northman and his swashbuckling friend are at the heart of sword and sorcery, busting in and out of Thieves' Guilds, facing down weird magic, and staying one step ahead of their creditors. Leiber specifically identified Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, as a sword and sorcery author also, and so courageous, lusty barbarian wanderers definitely belong here too.
Sometimes sword and sorcery seems like epic fantasy's old pal from the wrong side of the tracks, always dragging epic fantasy into seedy establishments, playing the music too loud, keeping them both up yakking till dawn. But they do have a lot in common -- plenty of action, quirky characters, exciting locations, memorable bad guys.
What I keep coming back to is personal stakes. Even if kingdoms or worlds stand in the balance, the emotional heart of a sword and sorcery story is with its main characters, and whether they get their gold, or their revenge, or just their hard-earned moment of peace. Epic fantasy characters, by and large, want to do the right thing. Sword and sorcery characters can be persuaded
to do the right thing, but the greater good is rarely the first thing on their minds.
When I first started writing magazine stories about the poet Persimmon Gaunt and her formerly-enchanted lover, the thief Imago Bone, I realized the biggest footprints I was following were Leiber's, and therefore what I was building was a sword and sorcery series. And so, the stakes needed to be personal. At first Gaunt and Bone were trying to get rid of a magical, doom-laden book that had helped Bone escape a curse. In the beginning that quest was something of a lark; Gaunt and Bone's deeper motivation was to travel their world's equivalent of Europe and the Mediterranean, and to learn more about each other. In time they discovered the book was a threat to their world, but it was still their own necks they really wanted to save.
Once they accomplished their goal, I realized they would have another plan in mind -- to settle down and raise a family.
Now this might seem beyond the pale for sword and sorcery, but I think it does fit. The stakes are as personal as they can get. But people like Gaunt and Bone make enemies, and it seemed likely they would have trouble finding a haven. They might have to flee to make their dream a reality. They might have to run as far away as they could possibly go.
So, there's half the equation. Where does Bridge of Birds
While I'm not sure where my longstanding interest in China began, I am sure that Bridge of Birds
, Barry Hughart's award-winning fantasy of "an ancient China that never was," hit me between the eyes in my impressionable college years. Wonderstruck, I wandered with the dogged Number Ten Ox as he carried around his elderly mentor Master Li, a sage with "a slight flaw in his character." Their convoluted and harrowing quest to save the poisoned children of Ox's village would involve cutthroats, spirits, and gods before reaching its beautiful and bittersweet conclusion. It's likely this book had something to do with my two quarters of Mandarin (it didn't stick, alas) and the elective classes I took on Chinese arts and culture. I remember toying with the idea of writing a China-inspired fantasy setting, but like many such ideas it stayed on the back burner for years.
As fate would have it, however, my wife is of Chinese descent on her mother's side, and so in a quite different way I became newly acquainted with Chinese culture. Most of this information I owe to my late mother-in-law. She emigrated from China after World War Two, as the civil war resumed between the nationalists and the communists. She shared stories of hiding out from Japanese bombers, and of moving to Hong Kong and then the U.S. after her mother and grandmother were killed traveling a mined river. And she would reach further back, describing how it was to be a tomboy of a girl in a much more traditional time and place. She also shared tales she'd heard as a child. Some were purely legends; others were family history. Sometimes legend and history blurred together, but she reported it as she'd heard it. Absorbed by the storytelling, I wrote some of it down. I'm grateful to have heard these tales. I wish I'd written down more.
Now, the place Gaunt and Bone flee to in their search for sanctuary, Qiangguo, the land of walls, is not of course the China of my mother-in-law's stories, nor the China of my reading, nor even Barry Hughart's China. For better or worse it's my own concoction, with a bunch of things thrown into the pot -- fact, fantasy, pulp fiction, philosophy, wuxia movies. Sometimes fusion experiments work well, sometimes not. But I found that throwing a pair of sword-and-sorcery rogues, and the assassins on their trail, into a China-inspired setting resulted in something I had a lot of fun writing. So much so that it grew beyond the bounds of a magazine story, and became Gaunt and Bone's (and my own) first foray into novels.
If the elevator pitch intrigued you, I hope you'll be persuaded to pull up a chair and join them.
"The Demarcation of Sword and Sorcery," by Joseph A. McCullough V. Retrieved from the Black Gate
magazine website on August 19, 2013.http://www.blackgate.com/the-demarcation-of-sword-and-sorcery/
Chris Willrich (Mountain View, CA) is a science fiction and fantasy writer best known for his sword-and-sorcery tales of Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone. Until recently he was a children's librarian for the Santa Clara County Library System, in the San Francisco Bay Area. His work has appeared in Asimov's, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Black Gate, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Flashing Swords, The Mythic Circle, and Strange Horizons.