17 May 2020

#52writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 9

A version of this prompt appears on the The Voice and Point of View Writing Map illustrated by Sarah Edmonds.

Some writers and their works I fell in love with:
  • Juliet Marillier - Daughter of the Forest (1999)
  • Cecelia Dart-Thornton - The Ill-Made Mute (2001)
  • Ursula Le Guin - A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
  • Cecelia Dart-Thornton - The Ill-Made Mute (2001)
  • N. K. Jemisin - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (2010)

Of course I like much, much more than that (and yes, even newer works!), but whenever there's a request for favorites, these are my old reliables, because each author wrote a book that changed my life during my formative years that made me go, "I want to be a writer." 

I read all of these books while I was in school, back when I still had the attention span and clear frame of mind to read multiple works at once (for work and for leisure).

I read Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest during my freshman year of college in 2001 and it was the book that made me want to write novels(I had only written plays and short stories at this time). I loved the historical fantasy retelling of the Six Swans fairytale, and it also turned me on to romantic elements in fiction. The love story between Sorcha and Red, and the image of him watching her with the wind blowing through her hair just lasted with me for what would be, oh, nineteen years now?  I loved the book so much I found Marillier's email address and sent her a couple sentences telling her how much I adored it. To my delight she responded back and somewhere in my house in America, I have printed out and saved this email exchange. 

I need to go back and reread this book again -- I'm sure it's held up over the years, and it would be like revisiting an old friend. 

Within the same year or so, during the summer when I was back in Mansfield from college in Columbus, I picked up The Ill-Made Mute from the local library. I grabbed it because of its original US cover design, the drawing of a cloaked figure journeying through the forest. 

This book taught me about language in narrative (literally it was the first fiction book where as an adult I had to use the dictionary to look some of the words!), but the most memorable images of the book came from the Unseelie Wights in the forest, particularly the Each-uisge  (water horse) that popped up out of the water to look at the characters rowing down the river before dropping down below again. The special metal ore in the book that allowed for ships to fly in the clouds also created some beautiful images I couldn't get out of my head. The descriptions of the book were so vivid, and I wanted to figure out how to do that with my own writing. 

In 2004 when I studied in Wales I took a Science Fictions course at Trinity College in Carmarthen (now a branch campus of Trinity St. David) and that's when I read Ursula K. Le Guin for the first time. We were assigned to read The Dispossessed, and while I can barely remember that novel, I do remember liking Le Guin's prose enough that I wanted to check out her other work. When my professor said she wrote fantasy, I went to the local library and checked out The Earthsea Quartet; then before I left Wales I bought my own copy of the book after reading A Wizard of Earthsea. Then I got to reread it one more time during graduate school for my fantasy Readings in the Genre course!

What particularly stood out to me from Earthsea was the concept of shadow and light, and how Ged's sin continued to chase after him throughout the book. This book is very much features psychological struggles.

I also loved the introduction of the concept of True Names, which is actually ancient and a part of real-life societies and religions, but to see it here fleshed out as magic really stuck out to me.

Another key point about Earthsea is that Le Guin's lead is an actual brown, "copper-colored" man, and the world she created features all sorts of shades of skin. This was a huge departure for me with what I'd read up until that point, because white fantasy is everywhere all over this genre (but that has been changing for a while now, and will continue to do so).

This is one of the most formative books for me when it comes to building magic systems and turning character conflict inward.

In 2010 or 2011 I read N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms as an assignment for my fantasy Readings in the Genre class at Seton Hill University. I had never heard of Jemisin or this book before, and after some health problems that threatened my ability to concentrate (and continue to do so), I vowed to stop reading epic fantasy because it was too much work for me, and I was tired of the genre tropes and disappointed by a lot of what I was reading. So, I hate to admit it, but I never would have picked up this book because its very title screamed "epic fantasy" to me.

Thank goodness for Seton Hill making me read this because this book changed the genre for me. It was unlike any fantasy I had ever read. Jemisin's worldbuilding and the story of gods in chains really stood out to me. It all seemed so effortless and memorable, particularly with the gods Nahadoth and Sieh. The heroine Yeine was also a character I had never encountered before -- just a really cool lead who was complex and rang so true to me.

This was also a fantasy that had flat-out sexy times. Yeine and Nahadoth, oh my god. The description in that scene blew me away. What is it like to taste a god, by the way? It's something indescribable, and yet Jemisin did it so well.

A particularly memorable line of dialogue that might seem like nothing to you is a simple exchange between Nahadoth and Yeine. When they run into each other, Nahadoth says a rather innocent, "It's been a while," and Yeine points out to the reader that she had just seen him. There's so much information packed in this exchange, basically reinforcing the fact that even though Nahadoth is chained, he is still a god, and experiences time and form differently.

I also enjoyed the image of Sieh playing with his toy balls -- aka actual freaking planets.

This book is cool and haunting AF and changed my life forever.


Ok, I confess -- picking a writer I love and copying their work out by hand everyday for a week -- I didn't do this for the simple fact that of all the books I listed above, I sold them. 😭 I had purchased copies of all of them in Japan as comfort food, just in case I got homesick.

Our charity and social organization in Kumamoto, KumAJET, regularly sells English books whose proceeds go to the local orphanage, and they seek donations for quality books. My books are all new and in great condition, and I figured that a) I had copies of them back in America and b) at some point I need to return home and purge my library in Japan or else blow hundreds of dollars in shipping ... so I donated all of these old favorites.

As a compromise, I found quotes online excerpting A Wizard of Earthsea, and wrote those out by hand:

I don't really want to absorb an author's style into my own -- a voice is what makes a writer distinctive and unique, and I want to have my own voice. But the way details are revealed, and the focus on characterization, psychology, imagery, and worldbuilding in all of these books -- that type of emulation I can get behind wholeheartedly.

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