Another review coming…and a different kind of perfect moment

I hear that there will be a review of the Heart of the Mirage in the Brisbane Courier-Mail this weekend. Fingers crossed it will be a good one.

My grandson and I are pals at last. It’s taken a week!! We are going to set up a live computer link when I go home so that he doesn’t forget me again…

And today, when we went to a plant nursery to choose some flowers for planting, while I was looking at some Exotic Impatiens, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird came and fed on the flowers, then hovered a bare foot or so away. Eyeball to eyeball. Ah. To a birdwatcher from a non-hummingbird part of the world, that was a pretty good moment. To add to the pleasure, several pairs of Purple Finches were nesting in the plant shed (at least, that’s what I assumed they were, although I didn’t have my binoculars with me), with the males warbling their hearts out. Perfect.

I am actually a bit frustrated, I will admit – my telescope and bins have gone to Austria to be cleaned and serviced, and I am doing without. I have thus gone cold turkey on birdwatching, and that is incredibly tough, especially when there are all these exciting things about.

Second review…

There’s a lovely review of Heart of the Mirage up on the site of the speciality Galaxy Bookstore in Sydney (can’t wait to visit in one day). The book is their selected “fave rave” new title for this month. I think this is the best review I’ve ever had anywhere.

Larke has granted the reader a near-perfect escape into a breathtaking adventure. Heart of the Mirage is so real, your pulse will race and your breath catch…

The review ends with this:

To my mind, Larke’s self-assurance, insight and guts – much in the traditon of Robin Hobb, Carol Berg and even Elizabeth Moon – firmly places her on the list as one of the very best Australian writers of fantasy fiction.

Moments don’t get much better than this.

A first review…and why aren’t kangaroos invisible?

Lucy Sussex has written a very short review of Heart of the Mirage for The Age, a Melbourne newspaper, appearing yesterday (Sunday). I am tickled pink to be in The Age and to have a writer as talented as Lucy say nice things! The review ended with: For those jaded with genre fantasy, Larke provides fare that is fresh, strange and intriguing.

There have been some interesting comments added to my last blog entry on the difficulties of language of a period, and Gillian had some words of wisdom over on her blog. I liked the comment Karen (author of Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology) made about some things being invisible, no matter what world you are writing about – cows and horses are fine, but the moment you mention something like kangaroos, you’re doomed. You’ve made the place Australia, and nothing is going budge the reader out of that slot.

I think this is one reason why fantasy seems sometimes to be so much the same in setting: oak trees are fine (“invisible”) and so are wolves and generic bears and wild boars and the north being colder than the south. None of those things grates on the reader. Include kangaroos or armadilloes or giraffes and all of a sudden you are no longer in a land called “Cavalaria” or “M’grith”. Have your hero fight a battle with a savage tiger during a hunt, and you’ve got to be in India. Have your heroine watch the toucans in the tree outside her castle and you’ll have your reader shaking their heads in despair. You have placed them somewhere real and not at all fantastical in the way they expected.

The challenge is to provide a setting that is different, yet doesn’t carry a load of baggage with it. The aim must always be not to jerk the reader out of your world and into his/her own.

Getting the language of the period and place right…

One of the toughest things about writing is getting the language right. I don’t mean style or the order of words – I mean the actual vocabulary.

You work hard to draw your reader into your world, to have them believe in it, and each time you use an inappropriate word, you fling him or her back into the present. The moment someone is jerked out of their belief in your setting and period, you – the writer – have to struggle to regain their trust.

Some things are obvious. You can’t have a man living in a medieval world say “Ok”. But lots of other choices are more subtle. Can you have him say, “Run that by me one more time?” (Not in my book, you can’t. The phrase just sounds too modern.) Can you have someone in your made-up, pre-industrial fantasy world use the word “teenager”? Or does that sound too modern? Can the healer refer to a heart attack? Or a stroke? Or is he more likely to say apoplexy? Did Roman ladies wear “make-up” or is the word cosmetics better? I have just annoyed a reader by using the word “minutes” in a society that uses only sundials to tell the time. Appropriate or not? Not to that reader – it jerked her out of her sense of place, and that’s enough to have me think I shan’t do it again.

And then there’s those foreign words which we use all the time – but are they appropriate? Can you say “deja vu” in your world? What about “run amok”? “An Oedipus complex”? Or “spartan”?

Sometimes it’s the little things that count.

Settling in

They drive on the wrong side of the road, turn off their taps – sorry, faucets – the wrong way, and the light switches are upside down…

And spring in this corner of Virginia (Charlottesville) is just gorgeous. I believe the town has been voted the best place to live in US for several years now, and I can see why. It really is lovely. I have been here before, but not quite at this time of the year. The dogwoods and cherry trees and azaleas are in blossom, the trees are all in full leaf (eat your heart out, all you people in more northerly climes), the days are short-sleeved Tshirt warm and the nights nippy. What more could one ask?

I am working on the third book of The Mirage Makers: The Song of the Shiver Barrens.

Feedback trickles in…

Heart of the Mirage” hit the bestseller list at Sydney’s Galaxy bookstore last week, which was lovely to see. I believe some Dymock’s stores are also listing it as a bestseller. Many thanks to all those customers who had faith in my writing!

Emails and message board posts are all positive so far…seems I have been responsible for miscellaneous ills including sleepless nights spent sitting up reading, getting back from work late and getting into trouble with the boss, and – with two people at least – the necessity of taking a cold shower. (I was unaware the book was that sexy, as I do not tend to be particularly, er, graphic!)

I was pondering the need for feedback yesterday, after receiving a lovely email from someone over in Nevada, who was desperate for reassurance on the ending of the Isles of Glory trilogy as the third book is not yet out in the States! That email made my day.

For years I wrote and wrote with no feedback at all. Writing was just to fulfil my own need to create. The joy was in the act, not in the feedback. Most of my work I never showed to anyone. My first published book, Havenstar, was seen by no one at all before I sent it off to my agent. It was not even read by a member of my family, let alone a more critical commentator. Same with the next, The Aware.

But those days are gone, and I find myself desperate for feedback, both before and after publication. Beta readers have become very important in my writing life, and I wonder how on earth I ever did without their input prior to sending the book off to the publisher. And reader input has become a joy. I love to know what impact I have had, if any; I want to know what worked and even more – I want to know what didn’t. If there is anything that is boring or sub standard or confusing, I want to know it so that I can prevent a similar mistake elsewhere. Writing is a continuum of learning. I even take reviews as opportunities to think more deeply about my work and how to improve it. I would hate to be one of those writers about whom everyone says: “Oh, she never wrote anything as good as her first book...”

Here in Virginia

Ah, how I hate plane travel, economy class. I can’t even use my laptop because there isn’t enough room to open the top to see the screen. I started from home at 5.30 a.m. and arrived at NY’s Newark airport at 8.30 p.m. of the same day – but the day was already 27 hours long before the sun decided to set…

Fortunately I stayed overnight in New Jersey – then a day’s drive to Charlottesville. My grandson is still ignoring me even though the resident dog and cats have decided I’m harmless! More when I have decided that the sun is actually up at the right time and it must be me that wrongly wired…

World building

I have to be off to the airport at 5am, so I really ought to be getting some sleep. Instead, Gillian over at gillpolack over at livejournal started me thinking about worldbuilding. She has thought more deeply about the way I do things than I have myself!

For those who don’t know much about writing sff: think about this. If I tell you I am writing a mainstream novel set in London in 2006, you already know a helluva lot about my novel before you’ve read a word. You have a sense of place, time, culture. You could probably make a stab at what my characters have for breakfast without me telling you. If I tell you my main character teaches at a government secondary school, then you already have an idea of his socio-economic position.

But what if I told you my book was set in Sebundancia in the forty-sixth century after the cataclysm and my main character makes corrabuds for a living? You would be none the wiser. A fantasy writer has to build a whole world and make it believable. If they don’t do it well, the whole book flops, even though the plot may be a scorcher and the characters marvellously drawn.

Gillian says: “I am reading Glenda Larke’s work and it strikes me that her worlds are a lot more convincing that those of a lot of other writers. When you get down to it, though, she doesn’t have a great deal more information than many fantasy novels, and she definitely has less than some. Why do her worlds work? “

“…It isn’t the amount of background you add to your novel, though the amount of effort you spend worldbuilding most definitely helps. The important thing is what detail you select. And Glenda chooses her detail with extraordinary care. Her worlds work because she mimics the sense we sometimes get in our own lives: that things are interlinked and complex.”
And : “The detail is *so* telling, that we can infer much more from her hints than is said on the page.”

I was delighted when I read that, because that was the result I was striving for. I have a horror of boring the reader with a myriad of details, for example about what you can order for breakfast in the local inn and how the food actually got there… Yet I don’t want the reader to ever be jerked into a sense of disbelief. (Hey, wait a moment, this inn is in the middle of the desert, how come they have fresh bread and what do they use for fuel to heat the ovens if there’s no trees?)
I don’t think I do nearly as much written work to build my world as some authors do. You won’t find my study strewn with plans of the economic life of the Gorthan Spit or notes on the details of how the Hub Race affected the social status of the Middling Isles…and yet I do know those things. I could tell you if you asked. So how do I do it?

I spend a year (at least) thinking about a novel before I write it – and most of what I think about is the place. How it is governed and stratified. What the conflicts are and how the economy works. I don’t write this down. I don’t do it in painstaking detail. And I don’t do it as an academic exercise either – I do it through my PoV characters, in the amount of detail that they would understand.

Let’s say Ferria is a chambermaid in Sebundancia and she is one of my main protagonists. She works for the corrabud-maker. I think about her a lot. How she spends her day. What she thinks about, the work she does, where she lives, what her family does. She probably doesn’t know much about how trade is done with the people who live in the neighbouring valley over the other side of the hills, but she will know some things – where those silk sheets on the beds come from, for example, and how much they cost. And that small snippet of info will also mean that there are silk merchants and silk traders and silk caravans, which I will probably mention somewhere or other. And if there are silk sheets on the bed, then making corrabuds is very lucrative…

Gillian says – and she is absolutely right:

“And that is the strongest argument I can think of for thinking about how that world needs to appear in the book at least as much as you think about building your world in the first place. When a writer gets the appropriate detail -the telling detail – and links it closely into plot and people then fantasy and SF reading becomes a whole new ballgame. We feel as if we are entering those strange lands ourselves.”

Music Matters…

My daughter was in hospital four days, so this unashamed plug is to cheer her up – all you peoples downunder have to go an buy her band’s EP CD “If Gold were Silver…” from F.O.Machete (distributed by Shellshock)

And listen to her live interview on Sydney’s FBi Radio 94.5 FM at 8.50 am on Monday. One assumes they will also be playing the music.

Photos by Simon Clark , international award-winning documentary and advertising photographer. Click to enlarge.

(Devious Mum here has another motive, btw; if daughter gets her career going downunder with the same kind of success she now has in Scotland and the rest of the UK, she will return home to Oz which is closer – and cheaper to get to – for me!! Besides, I need another excuse to get to all those sff cons and intereting stuff you have down there…)
So go out there and buy her music everyone!

How to start the day…

Writers tend to sit. A lot. Some of us don’t even have a normal outside- the-house job that gets you moving (as far as the car in the garage anyway). When living in West Malaysia, my husband and I try to walk every morning, just at dawn, by going to a local park on the banks of a river.

In Sabah though, I reckon we have one of the best morning walks ever. It takes less than an hour, and I suspect we will speed it up even more when we get used to climbing the mountain involved (well, it’s gotta be a mountain, doesn’t it? – it has a trig point on top!!)

We start at the pond, and from there on, it’s climbing most of the way. As we go, the view unfolds: tantalising glimpses of the South China Sea through the trees, then a full blown vista, Kota Kinabalu, the islands of the marine park, and the hills in the other direction.

And then, right at the top, the Crocker Range and the sun over the distant many peaks of Mt Kinabalu. And the trig point.

In the pix with the buildings, our starting point, the apartment is that pinkish building behind the long white block. Taken halfway up the hill.

If you look hard at the pix with the sun, you will see the pale blue rocky peaks of Kinabalu in the distance.