by Sandy Auden
Tom DeFalco gives us the inside line about
the Marvel Chronicle; Alison Goodman talks about oriental fantasy The Two Pearls
of Wisdom; Suzanne McLeod talks urban fantasy with The Sweet Scent of Blood; Graham Joyce
on demons and the Memoirs of a Master Forger; and Jay Amory tells us about flying in his
YA omnibus The Clouded World.
Hot on the heels of Alex Irvine's Vertigo Encyclopedia comes a second, larger comics project from Dorling Kindersley called Marvel Chronicle. Written by Tom Brevoort, Tom DeFalco, and Matthew Manning, it focuses (obviously) on the Marvel Comics universe.
The book will cover Marvel's history decade by decade, starting in 1939 with the first Human Torch story from Timely (Marvel's progenitor). The book will examine the real world events that were happening as the Marvel stories were developed.
Ex-Marvel Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco got involved with the project when, "Alastair Dougall, an editor at DK that I enjoyed working for, got in touch with me with an intriguing idea," DeFalco said. "He told me that DK was planning to do a book that detailed a month by month history of Marvel Comics from its earliest days as Timely Comics and asked if I'd be interested in working on such a project. I knew it would be a ton of work, but it all seemed like it could be fun. I got half that right.
"Alastair told me when the book needed to be finished and asked me how much I thought I could do in that time. I figured I could easily do one decade and maybe two…so he put me down for two."
This isn't the first book ever published about Marvel though… "The other books were devoted to the characters and their histories. This one talks about the company and its history. It also explains some of things that were happening behind the scenes.
"For this one, I spent a lot of time in my basement, re-reading old Stan Soapboxes and hunting down old magazine articles and interviews about the company. I also scoured the internet. Some information was relatively easy to find. Other things continue to puzzle me. Martin Goodman often made slight changes to a magazine's title. He'd changed A Date With Millie to Life With Millie and never explained why.
"But I think I figured out why Fantastic Four and Hulk used to be broken into chapters with full pages splashes. And you'll have to read the book to find out the answer…"
It helped that DeFalco is an ex-Editor-in-Chief with previously published books about comic writers and artists too. "One of my decades was the 1980s. I joined the Marvel editorial staff on January 1980 and participated in a lot of went on in that decade. And every book helps prepare you to write the next one. Books are marathons that have to be run over a period of months. You need a lot of conditioning to finish one."
Marvel Chronicle will be released in November 2008.
Alison Goodman On Turning Japanese
Eon is training to become a Dragoneye -- a powerful Lord able to command wind and water to nurture and protect the land. But Eon also harbors a desperate secret -- he is in fact a young woman living a dangerous masquerade that, if discovered, will mean certain death. Brought to the attention of the Emperor himself and summoned to the opulent court, Eon is thrust into the heart of a lethal struggle for the Imperial throne where his allies may be the only thing to stand between him and death.
"The Two Pearls of Wisdom is a classic quest story," said Goodman, "It's a structure that is often very familiar to avid readers of adventure and fantasy." But Goodman has added some intriguing complexity to her story. "Twists and reversals are great storytelling tools that can create surprise and originality within those classic story structures," she said. "Other ways of surprising and delighting a reader is to create strong characters that move far beyond stereotypes, building an original and rich setting, and developing a thrilling storyline that involves the reader on many levels."
Woven into that rich setting are magic and meditation techniques. "My magic system is based on Chinese astrology and Feng Shui. I did a lot of research into both lores and used them as a springboard to create a system of energy manipulation through twelve energy dragons. It was both great fun and a lot of hard work to develop a system that was both consistent and logical within the world and still served the action of the story.
"The meditation technique and the fighting in the novel was inspired by Tai-Chi; I developed a series of forms that are based on the idea of Tai-Chi but use the twelve animals in the Chinese horoscope. Personally, I really enjoy the elegance and flow of Tai-Chi and that feeling of power balance. I also took a few sword lessons to feel the heft of a Chinese sword -- experiencing how the sword moved and how it stopped against a body (with lots of padding protection!) was invaluable for my action scenes."
Tai-Chi wasn't the only influence on the story. "I do two main types of research -- book based and experience based -- so the other research that had a huge influence on the story were my trips to Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. I had a great time experiencing those cultures -- tasting different foods, seeing how they used space in public and private buildings, hearing the different everyday sounds, smelling new spices and perfumes, and touching rich fabrics. All the vivid sensory information that I collected during my trips was a great help when I sat down in front of my computer to create Eona's world."
The Two Pearls of Wisdom is the first volume in the series, so what will be happening in the second volume? "Book two is titled The Necklace of the Gods and will conclude the story. It will also be a fast paced adventure, with our heroes on the run and desperately seeking a way to overcome Lord Sethon. Eona will be facing huge danger, not only from her enemies, but from the corruption of her own power and the betrayal by those she loves…so stay tuned!"
Suzanne McLeod Bares Her Teeth
Urban fantasy has grown into a highly popular sub-genre over the last few years and Suzanne McLeod's approach is to mix in murder-mystery to the heady brew of vampires, strange creatures and fairy folk. The result is SpellCrackers.com.
The Sweet Scent of Blood is the first of three SpellCrackers novels and they all feature Genny Taylor -- an investigator in a firm run by witches. With the vampires running a slick PR campaign, they're the new sought-after celebrities and Getting Fanged is the height of all things cool. Until one vamp kills his girlfriend and the bad press begins…
Genny's character is part of what makes this first story so alluring, so how much of McLeod's personality is in Genny? "As I created her, probably all of it, and none of it! Genny isn't me, any more than any of the other characters I create, she's just the one I spend the most time with, but since she's brave, loyal, and ready to fight to help her friends, even if it means doing something that lands her in more trouble, she's a great character to be with. And of course, she gets involved in all sorts of interesting situations and I have to figure a way for her to get out of them…"
Another excellent aspect of the book is the world building. It's very detailed and quite singularly quirky in places, particularly around the goblins and their rituals. "I started with the premise that Genny's world is one where mythical and magical characters have always co-existed in some way with humans and that their existence has never been a secret. Then I asked myself how these other species might interact between themselves, with other species and with the humans. For instance the majority of goblins are nocturnal and live underground and because of this, their sense of smell, hearing and general awareness of movement is much more developed than their sight, which is poor -- the reason why they love their bling, it's easier to see in the dark!
"Goblins also live in a very structured, hierarchical and sometimes violent society where greetings would need to reflect the status of both parties. Hence, touching each other, such as in shaking hands, wouldn't be acceptable; but a specific non-threatening movement, such as touching their own nose and covering their mouths to hide any inadvertent warning grins, would be much more suited to their different culture."
All of which hints at quite a bit of background research having been done. "I did quite a lot, in that I read and Googled all sorts of things, then I sat down and extrapolated from there. Whilst I like to keep reasonably close to what a brownie, or a leprechaun or whatever the creature might be like, there are so many different stories about all these creatures that I feel I can add my own touches to them.
"An example is my cluricaun. Traditionally he is an Irish male fairy, related to the leprechaun who protects and brings prosperity to inns and pubs, so long as you allow him to help himself to the odd tipple now and again. For me it seemed natural for a cluricaun to have suckers on the ends of his fingers so when he is dealing with bottles and glasses, he doesn't have to worry about dropping them."
And all this information is revealed through out the book in snippets, in the dialogue and character relationships. How carefully did McLeod have to write these scenes to make them natural without any major info dumps? "Some more carefully than others depending on how well I've thought out a particular point. If the idea is clear in my own mind, then the scene comes more easily. If I'm not too clear, or something cool pops up as I'm writing, then I can take quite a few drafts until I'm happy that I've got the info over just as I want.
"I'm constantly conscious of trying to give enough information through my characters and my plot so that the reader can understand what's going on and know whether something is important or not. But also without going into massive details about all the back story or world building I've thought of that might be really interesting, but probably aren't necessarily relevant right at that particular point in the story, and would therefore slow the story down too much."
All of which has us looking forward to the next volume, but what will happen next? "In book two -- The Cold Kiss of Death -- Genny is trying to discover why a ghost is haunting her, when she's suddenly accused of murder and ends up on the run from the police, determined to find the real killer before they claim any more victims. Both Finn the satyr and Malik, one of the vampires, are still part of Genny's life but her search also leads her to meet some of the other fae that live in London, such as the dryads."
Graham Joyce on Tackling Demons
William Heaney is a dissolute book-forger. A talented writer in his own right, he scribbles poems anonymously for an Asian friend and creates forgeries of Jane Austen first editions to sell to gullible collectors. And he sees demons. Shadowy figures at the shoulder of everyone around, waiting for a moment's weakness. Then an extraordinary woman, who may just be able to save him from the world's suffering, walks into his life…
"I met William Heaney on a creative writing course I was running," said Joyce. "He kept butting in and I suspected he was drunk but was good at disguising it. Then at the end of the session, he asked me if I knew anyone who could see demons, which he said he could. It was Heaney who showed me his 'black library.' He's an expert in demonology, or thinks he is. He's not a bad writer but someone should hose him down. "
Joyce has been teaching creative writing for some time now but has it influenced his own style/writing process? "I don't think it's done much to influence what I do. It has given me some analytical ways of thinking about the novel, which is useful for approaching the redrafting. But the first draft is done with a different part of the brain."
Joyce's stories always read smoothly but does the writing process run the same way too? "You must be joking. Firstly, each one comes out differently no matter how similar my approach might be. Out of fifteen novels and a lot of other stuff, only once or twice have they popped out like loaves from an oven.
"Mostly I have to do a lot of redrafting. But in the original draft there is usually a mid-point of darkness and loathing where I suspect I'm writing the wrong novel but I'm as far from the start as I am from the end. All you can do is keep making movement."
The next Joyce story will be a Young Adult book to follow Three Ways To Snog An Alien. There's always a flavour of fantasy and horror to his work somewhere so why does he keep coming back to it? "Can't leave it alone," he finishes. "And I love that moment of uncertainty in Fantastic fiction when the ground shifts and you know that the old rules don't apply."
Jay Amory Spreads His Wings With New Omnibus Edition
Imagine a city high in the sky comprised of pristine white spires, bathed in glorious golden sunlight -- a city above the cloud layer, looking down on the ever-changing cloud formations below. From up here, the worst thunderstorms are little but flashes of light amongst the cloud cover, their force directed away from the cities and the tiny two- and four-seater aircraft its inhabitants use for travel. The world below the clouds may be disturbed, but in the tranquil world above, populated by winged people, life is good. Life isn't so good for Azreal Gabrielson. He's one of the Airborn too. With a stretch and a beat of their eight-foot wings, his people can flit effortlessly around their cities, living a life of airy ease and beauty ...and, in this world, Az is an oddity, a painfully isolated exception: Az Gabrielson is a wingless boy…
"The two new books carry on the story as before, focusing on Az, and Cassie his spirited Groundling gal pal," said Amory. "Darkening For A Fall centres on an attack launched by a Groundling business magnate against the Airborn's sky-cities (his motives are pure profit, of course). Empire Of Chaos sees the return of a villain from one of the previous books and an audacious plan to undermine Airborn society.
"I had no idea at the time of writing them that they'd be published first together in an omnibus edition, so each is a standalone adventure and I haven't changed any aspect of that. I think they sit well side by side and some of the new characters introduced in Darkening reappear in Empire so that ties the two of them together even further. There are big revelations in Empire about the origins of the Clouded World and why it came to be the way it is -- and I've even left things slightly open-ended, in case there's a Book Five.
"I've had a ball writing the series, mainly because I've allowed my use of language and formalism to take a back seat and concentrated instead on plot and pace. I've also been freer in my characterisation, in that I've made room for melodrama and exaggeration, which I try to avoid in my 'grown-up' work, where realism is important. The other great challenge has been to write about a race of people who are essentially angels, without calling them that.
"Teen readers have responded really positively to the series and that may well be because I don't shunt the adult characters to the sidelines but have made them integral to the whole. That's a more credible approach to YA material, I feel, having the adults central to the story rather than leaving them to affect matters at one remove. In life, you can't get away from adults. In fiction, too often the kid hero gets orphaned or separated from his/her family in order to increase the sense of peril. I've been attempting to prove you don't have to do that."
Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit www.sandyauden.co.uk.
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