Friends and Heroes

I have been gently mocked—and more harshly mocked by some—for my abiding love of George R. R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire series. But for better or worse, our heroes are our heroes, and we cannot shake their influence or absolve our love for them.

I picked up A Game of Thrones in (approximately) 1999. I’m guessing, here, because I really don’t recall. I was with my parents at a Barnes and Noble in Waco, Texas, visiting my older brother at Baylor University. I think it must have been 1999 because it was an early visit to Waco and because A Storm of Swords came out in 2000 and my copy is a first edition. (And now signed!)

Actually, I picked up A Clash of Kings first, because of its attractive cover. The golden cover, the woman in red, the description of the book itself pulled me in. I mean, look at it. It’s pretty.

But because I’m an OCD soul, I had to go for the first book first. I picked up A Game of Thrones, despite its less attractive cover (I own the infamous Harlequin Jon Snow version, which is, these days, hard to find: see image above), and took it home with me.

I’m not going to lie to you, readers. It was boring. I fell asleep on our couch reading it. But after a few false starts, I was intrigued. And when (SPOILER ALERT – have you been living under a rock??) Ned Stark died, I was hooked. HOOKED. Here was a writer who could create a nuanced, sympathetic, enjoyable character, and kill him off without compunction. Here was a writer I needed to know.

So I read the gorgeous A Clash of Kings, and received my copy of A Storm of Swords for Christmas the next year. I read it, enjoyed it, was shocked by it, then patiently settled in to read the next installment. How little I knew.

Fast forward eight years to a small apartment in Hayward, California. I decided the story bouncing around in my head during my commute from Hayward to Berkeley for my reporting job deserved some more attention. I said to my (now) husband that I wanted to focus on fiction, and I did just that. I began my first (trunk) novel, a huge epic about a pair of thieves who get embroiled in a political conspiracy to return magic and science to their stagnated nation. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning rereading Martin’s books, learning about point of view and narration from his chapters.

Fast forward another three years to 2011. I met the wonderful Emmie Mears through WordPress and a shared experience of familial tragedy. We discovered a mutual love of Buffy and all things fantastic, and suddenly we were fast friends who had never met in person.

Now, in 2013, I had the great privilege of flying out to Maryland and meeting Emmie in real life.

e and k

Bosom friends meet at last.

Aww.

In case you haven’t noticed ’round these parts, Emmie has been a huge part of my life in the last two years. We’ve commiserated, celebrated, even long-distance watched movies together. Though it started as an Anne of Green Gables joke, she IS a bosom friend, and one I’m so very grateful to have in my life. My sanity would have suffered much more in the last 18-months without her supportive, bosom-friendy presence.

So what does my abiding love for Emmie have to do with my abiding love for GRRM?

Well, come Capclave and our time together, we encountered guest of honor, George R. R. Martin himself. Emmie sat beside me in the front row while he did his first reading and I blushed every time he looked toward us.

Then, at nearly one a.m. after a Scotch-tasting party, when I gushingly said I wanted to tell him that I used to stay up late rereading A Game of Thrones to learn about perspective and how much that helped me, Emmie said four simple words:

“You should tell him.”

So I did. I fanned out so hard. I told him how he was a huge influence on me, how his writing gave me the courage and the inspiration to try writing a ridiculously huge novel with multiple point of view characters. And then, because there was an awkward pause, I said it must have helped, since I now have an agent.

And because he’s awesome and kind enough to hang out with his fans, George R. R. Martin asked about my agent. And our writing. And our process. And told us about his own childhood.

We got to take a photo with him, too.

Photo does not include mental squeeing.

Photo does not include mental squeeing. Also, yes, I am this short.

Lifetime achievement: unlocked.

Since this photo, people have teased me. Said I should have it framed and hung in my bedroom. Above my desk. Treasure it forever.

And you know what? I’m totally going to do it. These two writers have influenced me more than I can say. I would be honored to hang them above my workspace.

Friends and heroes. What’s the difference?

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Who Chooses the Chosen One?

My husband is fond of making the semi-cruel joke that George R. R. Martin may not live long enough to finish A Song of Ice and Fire, and the fans will be left with nothing but questions and the hope that some Brandon Sanderson of Westeros will be chosen to finish the series.

I dub thee, Replacement Author! ©Disney, 1963

I have faith that this won’t happen. Martin will finish the series himself.

Then again, I’m not convinced that fairies aren’t real.

Clap your hands, folks. ©Disney, 1953

Now, Robert Jordan’s wife and editor chose Brandon Sanderson to finish her husband’s work. And presumably many writers would indicate who they would like to see end the work. I’m sure editors contribute to the decision, too.

But since it’s fun to speculate, who would you choose? I’m really not sure who I’d pick. J. V. Jones writes gritty epic fantasy, but she may not have strong enough storytelling capabilities. Jacqueline Carey is well known for her erotic fantasy series, but she also wrote an epic that Martin himself enjoyed. I don’t know if she could pull off the ugliness that’s rampant in Martin’s world, though: Carey’s world is exquisitely, almost painfully (haha) beautiful, even when her character’s face truly appalling situations.

How about Stephen King? He could certainly write the ugliness, and he’s perfectly capable of writing an epic. Or Neil Asher, who writes gritty and bitterly humorous sci-fi? Asher, however, has not yet written an epic.

I’m curious, readers. Who would you pick? Have you had an author leave a beloved series unfinished?

My Gift to You

Well, it’s a little late, but who’s looking at blogs on Christmas Day, anyway?

This Sunday’s Top Ten list (which seems to be a new weekly thing around here) is: The Top Ten Fantasy Books YOU Should Read.

Now, I’m not including no-brainer things like The Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series. Come on, people. You know you should read those. Instead I’m giving you a list of wonderful, absorbing fantasy books you may or may not have heard of. Some of them are bestsellers, some are more obscure, all are worth reading.

1. Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay
Kay is, in my learned opinion, the best writer working in the fantasy genre today. His books are like poems. Each one stands alone, completely self-contained, completely beautiful. Tigana takes place in a medieval pseudo-Italy, a country whose name was stolen by a sorcerer. The main characters are trying to win back Tigana’s name and freedom. Read it. You’ll love it.

 

2. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke
Two magicians learn from each other, battle each other, and must reconcile for the sake of English magic. That’s a pretty ho-hum way of describing it, though. This book is full of magic. I love Jane Austen, as well, and Clarke’s Austen-inspired Regency England is charming and engaging. This book is hugely long, too, so it’ll keep you busy for awhile.

3. Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey
This book isn’t just naughty. It’s NC-17 erotic fantasy. However, it has a captivating main character, a lush prose style, and a sweepingly epic tale that makes the entire book feel decadent, like eating drinking eggnog and eating an Entemann’s chocolate donut in the same sitting, but, you know, sexier. Don’t let the S&M put you off: the fantasy tale is amazing.

 

4. The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
Rothfuss wrote such an incredibly good first book that we should all hate him. Instead, he’s funny and talented and runs an awesome charity this time of year called Worldbuilders, so you have to love him. The Name of the Wind is the first of Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Trilogy, which looks at the creation of a hero-myth from the perspective of the hero. It kept me up till about 3 a.m. the first time I read it. I dare you to put it down.

5. Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson
C’mon, you knew this one would be on here. I have an unholy love of Brandon Sanderson. The other night, I dreamed I met him and he ate my phone, and I was totally okay with it: that’s how much I love him. Anywho, Mistborn is combination heist-epic fantasy, with some jaw-dropping twists and a sweet romance. This is the first book I recommend to young fantasy-lovers, and it’s high on my list for grown-ups, too.

6. Magic Bites, Ilona Andrews
I poked some fun at this book back when I first read it, but the truth is, I really enjoyed it, and each book in the series has been better than the last. I’m really impressed with Andrews because her magic system is so unique: magic hits in waves, giving way to technology periodically, but also destroying the modern world. Plus, vampires are disgusting, twisted corpses piloted by necromancers, and there are plenty of monsters from Russian mythology. How cool is that? Read Magic Bites, read the next four, then join me in waiting for more installments.

7. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
Um, if you haven’t read this one, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore. Okay, that’s not entirely true because I have lots of friends I love who haven’t read it… yet. Still, the book is about American Gods–literally, the Norse, Celtic, Russian, Native American, and every other pantheon come to life in America. It has a tale-within-a-tale, an epic battle, a road trip, some humor–everything you could possibly want. Read it before HBO makes it into a television series, which they are doing in the very near future.

8. The Dark Tower series, Stephen King
Full disclosure: I haven’t read these books. However, I was reaching the end of my list of books I’m willing to tell you are unconditionally fantastic, so my fiance said I should direct you to these. Obliging woman that I am, here they are. Whatever you want to say about him, King is a seminal influence on the fantasy genre, and his On Writing is my favorite writing book. Plus, he has monsters in The Dark Tower called lobstrosities. You just can’t beat that. Though I suppose I should give them a try at some point if I’m recommending them to you.

9. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
I’m going to assume, since these books are now an HBO series, that you’ve read these books. If you haven’t, DO IT. You’ve heard Martin called the American Tolkien, blah blah blah, but these books are as good as the hype. They’re gritty, dark, brutal, realistic fantasy that are not remotely influenced by D&D. These are what fantasy could and should be: no pretty elves, no sexy vampires, no sound of dice rolling in the background, just a real world where magic and dragons happen to exist.

10. The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay
Yup, double Kay action on this list, because he’s just that good. He’s my favorite fantasy author, despite my constant references to “Sanderson says” and “The Gospel of Jim.” The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy are Kay’s first books, and they’re not actually my favorite of his work. I should recommend to you A Song for Arbonne or Ysabel, but because we have many aspiring writers visiting us here, I give you the trilogy. These books are good, but they’re not great: it’s like Kay took all of his favorite ideas and wrote them into one single trilogy, and the books are just all over the place. King Arthur? Check. Norse mythology? Check. Sorcery? Barbarians? You got it. There’s a valuable lesson to be learned here. The next time you find yourself feeling too in love with your first work and pet ideas, read this trilogy and see why you shouldn’t condense all of your ideas down into one series.

There you have it, folks. Happy holidays. Go out and buy yourself a book on me.