Please welcome Brian Staveley to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. The Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 1) was published on January 14, 2014 by Tor Books.
Marital Fights and Elevator Pitches: Occasion Versus Subject
My favorite part about marital squabbles is the moment I try to explain them later to an impartial observer. “So, what was the fight about?” my buddy asks. I take a confident slug of my beer, certain of the legitimacy of my grievance, the lamentable errors of my lovely wife, and start in: “Well, first, she said that I should dry the glasses in the drying rack upside down…”
Usually it only takes a sentence or two for that initial confidence to wane. I’m relating the argument just as it happened, and yet, some of the gravitas seems to have slipped away.
“… and then I didn’t want paprika on the burgers…”
I blunder along, powered by stubbornness as the sense of true purpose starts to flag.
“…said the dog leash should be blue, not black…”
All the while my friend just watches, eyebrows raised. If he’s feeling charitable, when I finally putter out he’ll say, “That sucks,” in a tone of voice that makes it clear that a minor dispute over dish-drying, hamburgers, and dog collars does not, in fact, suck at all, at least not to anyone with the slightest bit of perspective about the real world.
The problem, of course, beyond my own occasional lack of perspective, is the question itself – What was the fight about? – and that terminal preposition in particular. We tend to respond to that imperfect word – about – with the specifics, the poorly dried wine glasses, rather than the emotional core of the matter. In a way, this makes sense. People who are capable of saying, “We were arguing about mutual respect, and the difficulties involved in any communication where the partners are unaware or unable to articulate the divergence in their priorities,” are not the same people who get into arguments about the drying of wine glasses.
Interestingly, you encounter essentially the same question when pitching a novel: So, what’s your book about? I’ve had the chance to respond to this about fifty thousand times in the past year, and I have the answer down: Three adult children of a murdered emperor – a monk, an imperial minister, and an elite soldier – struggle to untangle the conspiracy behind their father’s death while trying to stay alive long enough to complete their own training.
As in the case of the marital squabble, however, the answer is both perfectly accurate, and crap. It captures the central characters and conflict readily enough, but if I pause for a moment, I wonder whether characters and conflict really constitute the core of a book.
Before turning to fantasy, I spent a long time writing and reading poetry, a genre where it is common to distinguish between a poem’s occasion and its subject. Take John Keats’ great late ode, To Autumn. What’s it about? Autumn, dumbass.
But, of course, autumn is just the occasion of the poem; it’s about something different, or at least something more than the coming on of a new season. Helen Vendler (who is, in my estimation, the best living critic of poetry) has a whole long chapter of a book exploring this very question, and even she doesn’t seem to exhaust the answer.
Of course, there are drawbacks to discussing your own work in these terms. Chief among them, obviously, is that you look like an asshole. Just as important, however, is the interesting fact that, even as the author of a book, you might not know what it’s really about. That is to say, you understand the occasion, the characters and incidents that make up the plot, while the emotional, psychological, and thematic ligatures connecting those objective elements, animating them, remain a mystery.
I’m putting the final touches now on The Providence of Fire, the sequel to The Emperor’s Blades. It wasn’t until I’d written the entire book, then gone back to read through it, that I started to understand what was going on beneath all the battles and backstabbing, secrets and betrayals. I thought I’d written a book about the emotional ramifications of failure. In fact, the whole thing is about family, duty, and sacrifice.
Who knew? Certainly not me, not when I set out to write the thing. I understood what it was about, but not what it was about. Of course, I’ve now had the opportunity to go back and revise, to develop and shape the story with this realization in mind, and the book is the better for it.
The real trick now, is to apply this knowledge when I put the wine glasses in the drying rack the wrong way.
The Emperor's Blades
The Emperor's Blades
Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 1
Tor Books, January 14, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 480 pages
In The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, the emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.
Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it's too late.
An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test.
At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor's final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing—and risk everything—to see that justice is meted out.
Chapters 1 - 7 are presently available as a free download from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.
http://www.tor.com/blogs/2013/11/read-the-emperors-blades-by-brian-staveley. I’m on Twitter at @BrianStaveley, Facebook as bstaveley, and Google+ as Brian Staveley.
Website ~ Twitter @BrianStaveley ~ Facebook ~ Google+
Pretty awesome, post. One of the best descriptions of the writing process I've ever read. Deep stuff.ReplyDelete