This week's guest blogger is Hadley Rille Books' own Mark Nelson, author of The Poets of Pevana--a man and book near and dear to my heart. I pulled Mark's book out of the slush last summer, and got past what has now gone down in HRB history as "the worst query letter of all time" to discover a true gem. I'm proud to claim this discovery, to be his editor, and now, after months of working together, I am honored to call him my friend. Thanks for being here, Mark!
First I would like to thank the ladies of Heroines of Fantasy for granting me the space to air some thoughts on a few things about something all of us who call ourselves writers have strong feelings about: story. Some of the characters in my first book, The Poets of Pevana, hold story-telling as a sacred trust. Poetry is a part of their livelihoods and their faith. Simply put: it is serious business and not to be taken lightly.
Homer knew his business, as did the host of ancient oral tradition versifiers who related their tales across the campfires and feast halls of antiquity. One thing that always came clear to me when I encountered some of those great stories was their innate, intrinsic rhythm, pace and depth—as if somehow made perfect through time and repetition. I am reminded of Kipling’s short fiction that my grandmother owned: Just So Stories.
Just so: what a great way to describe things that were just long enough to hold all the magic necessary to enthrall a young mind—or any mind for that matter. The story-teller had to hold his audience with the power of his spoken word. He had to weave description, setting, tone, character—all the biggies that perplex high school students who still have to wade through generic literature anthologies as part of their required English courses—and KEEP them focused purely by the quality of his delivery.
Those ancients knew when they reached just so. They must have had amazing control of their idioms, knowledge of their subject and their audience. I suspect the relationship in those former times was much more intensely intimate than what we generally experience today. We read these great old tales as printed translations, and I am not so sure that Gutenberg’s amazing invention wasn’t a double edged sword. We can now preserve almost everything from the oral tradition, but something is still lost. I think it might be, at least in part, that connection between speaker and subject, that special knowledge of just so.
What all the verbosity above adds up to is a question that has perplexed me in recent years as I observe the world of modern letters: when is enough, enough? Fantasy and Science Fiction have increasingly become ‘series centric’ genres. I see a similar effect in Historical Fiction was well, but my issues there are less troubling. Cornwell has been reshaping the facts of history throughout twenty one volumes in his Sharpe Series alone, and he writes very few stand alone novels. But again, I can see reasons for making an allowance there.
My main concerns are with authors who lose control of their stories in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Please understand, there are many, many vibrant multi-volume stories out there pleasing a horde of dedicated book-buying fans. And yet I wonder if “more and more and more” has a potentially negative impact on ‘just so.’
Tolkien lamented the LOTR was too short. Cherryh is on her 13th or 14th volume in her Foreigner series and seems intent on more. I have three drafted and a fourth planned for my Pevana project, so I might be guilty of my own accusation! But I have encountered a number of projects where I felt the author really lost touch with their tale and began selling books rather than telling a story. I thought Twilight might have had a good book or two worth of material that really suffered by being stretched over four. Jordan’s Wheel of Time had such a huge beginning with its first four volumes, but by the time I reached Winter’s Heart I had to give up. Nine hundred pages where nothing happened seemed almost insulting. Those early books had passion, power, politics, flawed heroes, epic quests, relevant good and evil. So good, but it needed to end.
I think Jordan stopped telling a story and started selling books. I think the best stories are those that manage to make a happy compromise between both goals: enrich the audience and enrich the author. I also think there is a responsibility inherent there on the part of the author, the publishing house and those that create the marketing model pushing the story to the reading public: don’t insult the intelligence of your patrons.
So, to end this first ever rant: What are your thoughts on ‘story’? What do you think is ‘enough’ or ‘just so’? Have you ever encountered stand alone novels or books in a series that ‘work’, that retain that freshness of the skald’s voice over the campfire? Have you also met up with a text that seemed to lose that connection? Have you persevered through a series only to find that it lost you halfway through?
I would like to know why so many of them seem to find their way onto best seller lists…
Mark Nelson is a career educator and happily married to his best friend and fellow educator. Together they have raised three beautiful daughters and one semi-retired cat. Words, music, food and parenting serve as a constant source for inspiration, challenge and reward. To temper such unremitting joy, Mark plays golf: an addiction that provides a healthy dose of humility.