Friday, June 07, 2013

Guest Blog by Mark T. Barnes, author of The Garden of Stones - June 7, 2013

Please welcome Mark T. Barnes to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. The Garden of Stones (The Echoes of Empire 1) was published on May 21, 2013.  You may read an interview with Mark here.

Something old and something new in ‘The Garden of Stones’
By Mark T. Barnes

Let me start by saying I read a lot, and a lot of speculative fiction: fantasy and science fiction mostly, with some horror and other elements to round things out, and provide some depth and breadth. I’ve always favoured those writers who provided an immersive, layered experience, not only in their prose, but in the complexity of their plots, their character development, and their world building.

In ‘The Garden of Stones’ I aim for something similar, but as unique as I can make it. Īa is an old world, where elements of culture have been inherited down the centuries as civilisations rise, and fall: or vanish, leaving barely understood legacies behind. Part of the world building process was making shifts from paths we walk so often. Taking the story out of something comfortably European was s starting point; dispensing with standard approaches to religion, and removing deities; having a world of reason and grand invention, rather than something reminiscent of the Dark Ages; refusing to slavishly follow historical gender roles, so that gender is mostly superfluous to what a character can do with their lives; and using language to give names to things that are meaningful to different cultures in a multicultural world.

The grass roots of my world and language building were found partly in the Mediterranean, but more so in Middle Eastern and Eastern World influences. Even then, these were a high level framework, almost an abstract, from which I could build something new. While not a native of these countries, I respect their traditions and didn’t want to copy them slavishly—or misrepresent them—but used elements to weave like pieces together into something new, that was still familiar enough for readers to hold on to. World building is hard enough, without making everything so foreign that readers have no anchor to hold them fast to the characters, world and story.

Social mores are something that interest me, and it constantly surprises me that we feel the need to reflect the wilful ignorance, if not the outright arrogance, of our own history in our fiction. Isn’t fiction—and in particularly speculative fiction—supposed to give as the broad strokes we need to write about something new? For me, raised in a non-sexist, non-racist environment, the idea that anybody was limited by their gender was ludicrous. When creating the cultures of Īa, I set simple rules: anybody can aspire to social and professional advancement; war is for those trained to wage it; and gender has nothing to do with your life opportunities. So you’re a woman and you want to be a soldier? Go right ahead. Want to lead your influential family? Of course you can! You’re a man, but you want to be a courtesan and give pleasure for a living? Absolutely. I think it’s important to break down the established views on gender, and look at ways where we can represent women and men, the rich and the poor, equally with regards to responsibility, accountability, authority, and opportunity.

I think one of the most fun parts was creating a new system of magic, and making mystics more than mages. Shifting to a Renaissance mind set, with its innovation, intellectual pursuits, its revolutions in science, and its approaches to diplomacy, gave me the chance to leverage some non-standard fantasy elements. Using the seeds of archaeology, of arcane engineering, of branches of magic as a science, etc, made the world building and story telling more interesting for me. Adding arcane devices, flying ships, mystic weapons and methods of healing, artificially created races who thrived to form cultures of their own, etc, added layers to the world. Writing a story in an age of reason gave me the chance to have characters who could be motivated more by curiosity and a desire to learn, and to adapt, moving away from the fear of the unknown.

The three point of view characters all have different histories and motivations, needs and wants. Readers get to see Īa unfold from these perspectives, sometimes seeing the same thing through different lenses, and having different impressions. I’ve tried to build a world people will find engaging, populated by people who actually live in it. Through their eyes, readers will discover Īa, it’s cultures, it’s people and it’s layered history, all things I hope readers will enjoy, and make Īa a place where they will want to spend more time.

‘The Garden of Stones’ is the first book in ‘The Echoes of Empire’, and reveals part of the world, the people, and the history that makes Īa the place it is. I look forward to sharing more of my world with people, as it unfolds with the release of ‘The Obsidian Heart’ in October 2013, and ‘The Pillars of Sand’ in May 2014.

About The Echoes of Empire

The Garden of Stones
The Echoes of Empire 1
47North, May 21, 2013
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 506 pages

An uneasy peace has existed since the fall of the Awakened Empire centuries ago. Now the hybrid Avān share the land with the people they once conquered: the star-born humans; the spectral, undead Nomads; and what remains of the Elemental Masters.

With the Empress-in-Shadows an estranged ghost, it is the ancient dynasties of the Great Houses and the Hundred Families that rule. But now civil war threatens to draw all of Shrīan into a vicious struggle sparked by one man’s lust for power, and his drive to cheat death.

Visions have foretold that Corajidin, dying ruler of House Erebus, will not only survive, but rise to rule his people. The wily nobleman seeks to make his destiny certain—by plundering the ruins of his civilization’s past for the arcane science needed to ensure his survival, and by mercilessly eliminating his rivals. But mercenary warrior-mage Indris, scion of the rival House Näsarat, stands most powerfully in the usurper’s bloody path. For it is Indris who reluctantly accepts the task of finding a missing man, the only one able to steer the teetering nation towards peace.

The Obsidian Heart
The Echoes of Empire 2
47North, October 15, 2013
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook

A plot to overthrow the Shrīanese Federation has been quashed, but the bloody rebellion is far from over...and the struggle to survive is just beginning.

Warrior-mage Indris grows weary in his failed attempts to thwart the political machinations of Corajidin, and faces the possibility of imprisonment upon his return to his homeland. Moreover, Indris’s desire for Corajidin’s daughter, Mari, is strong. Can he choose between his duty and his desire…and at what cost?

Left alienated from her House, Mari is torn between the opposing forces of her family and her country—especially now that she’s been offered the position of Knight-Colonel of the Feyassin, the elite royal guards whose legacy reaches back to the days of the Awakened Empire. As the tensions rise, she must decide if her future is with Indris, with her family, or in a direction not yet foreseen.

As he awaits trial for his crimes, Corajidin confronts the good and evil within himself. Does he seek redemption for his cruel deeds, or does he indebt himself further to the enigmatic forces that have promised him success, and granted him a reprieve from death? What is more important: his ambition, regaining the love stolen from him, or his soul?

About Mark

Mark Barnes was born in September, 1966 in Sydney, Australia. Raised and educated in Sydney, he was a champion swimmer who also played water-polo, soccer, cricket and volleyball. Drawn to the arts at a young age he wrote his first short story at age 7 though was active in drawing, painting, and music as well.

His career stuttered in finance, slid into advertising then leaped into Information Technology where he continues to manage a freelance Organizational Change consultancy. It was not until January 2005, when Mark was selected to attend the Clarion South residential short story workshop, he began to write with a view to making it more than a hobby. Since Clarion South 2005 Mark has published a small number of short stories, worked as a freelance script editor and done creative consultancy for a television series.

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  1. Sounds like something I'd enjoy very much. And you got lucky with some very cool cover art!

  2. Wow!! interesting stuff!! thank you for sharing it with us!