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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Author Guest Blog Post: Mortimus Clay on Fantasy World Building

Mortimus Clay has stopped by Fantasy Book Critic to talk about world building while writing a fantasy novel. It's a very unique situation Mortimus has, as he is a dead author who is published through his secretary Christopher Wiley. You can read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Mortimus Clay's novel, "The Purloined Boy" HERE.


Mortimus Clay on World-building

Being a dead author has its advantages. Like so many of my peers, my success has come posthumously. I do not know what all the excitement is about, as I have told my secretary, Christopher Wiley, posthumous success is so common as to be cliché.

He assures me I am a unique case. When I mention that other authors continue to publish after death – dear Ron Tolkien comes to mind – he informs me that those works were written while their authors were still alive. I asked, “Are you sure about that?” He tells me he is.

Well, I suppose that does make me a novelty. But I will bring the matter up with Tollers. With the volume of work he’s produced since death I suspect I may not be as singular as some believe.

No matter, to the subject at hand! World building!

When an author tells a story the “where?” question is a fundamental consideration. When you are telling a tale about the so-called “real world” you still have to answer it. It is in Britain, or the Isle of Wright, or Uncle Bernie’s closet? Before you get on very far the reader has a right to know. And from my experience it is a good practice for the writer to know first.

Telling a fantasy story – or as some so delightfully put it – a fantastic story – adds another level of difficulty. For example, if I tell a story about eighteenth century Tibet, I have work to do discovering the cultural and religious characteristics of the time and place. But they are there to be discovered. They are givens. And a wise author accepts what he is given. But when you are creating a whole new world, nothing is given. You must invent!

But must invention be ex nihilo? That would be difficult. From reports I have received only one author pulled that off and it was not Tolkien.

So authors of fantasy borrow. Tollers borrowed heavily from the Norse. Why even the name “Middle Earth” came from somewhere. (Hint: look up Yggdrasil.) And I admit, I have borrowed.

My secretary, having been a professor of philosophy (and given to awkward jest) has accused me of taking the cosmology and social structure of my book, The Purloined Boy (available on Amazon this very second!) “whole cloth” from Plato.

While I admit consulting the fellow, I think “whole cloth” puts the matter in a rather bad light. Plato did not even want to speak to me at first. The little I could pull out of him came with the promise that my book would revive interest in his dusty old tome, The Republic. When he saw what I did with the social structure of his precious “ideal State” – well, let us just say we have not been on the best of terms as of late. (Nothing new there, mind. He has not spoken to Aristotle since they were both alive. Really, a more crimped and irritable fellow you cannot come across.)

By adopting the cosmology and social structure of The Republic I had a ready-made world for my story to inhabit. A tremendous advantage, I tell you! And because The Republic is one of those books everyone knows about but no one ever reads people are vaguely familiar with elements of it yet feel it is fresh without knowing why. This is a great help to an author because you can suggest so much while explaining so little. (Explanation is so tedious and odious to the reader.)

Adding little wrinkles is where the fun comes in! Without the wrinkles my book would simply be a retelling of The Republic. And who needs that? With the wrinkles all sorts of new terrain emerges to explore. There is a book out that has gotten a lot of press – “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”. (Being a dead fellow myself I am a little put off by the stereotyping here, but it is the sort of thing I am addressing. Zombies are rather pleasant people to know if you can look past the occasional body-part falling off.) Back to the subject – you could say my book is The Republic with bogeymen thrown in. That is right – the ones who inhabited your closet as a child. What would Plato’s Republic look like with lots of bogeymen taking stolen children there for some sinister purpose? That is the basis for a pretty creepy story!

There are plenty of other wrinkles: there is the magic wrinkle; and the secret society wrinkle; and the parallel universe wrinkle. I could go on, but for your sake I will not. Each one of these wrinkles interacts with the others, altering and enriching them, giving them complexity and depth; in other words, creating an alchemy from which something original can spring forth.

Well, must be going. I hope you enjoyed my little essay. I also hope you make the time to read my little book. Currently it is only available through Amazon. That is soon to change I am happy to say. I will be appearing at the New England Independent Booksellers Association at their convention in Hartford in a few weeks. If you manage to get there signed copies of the book will be available right across from the Baker and Taylor table (my distributor).


Liviu said...

Excellent essay; loved it!!

Anonymous said...

What an excellent essay! I never knew dead men could be so charming. Tell Tolkien that all of us who read Fantasy Book Critic say hello. ;)

I really do like the term "wrinkles" to describe a variation on borrowed ideas. Every author who borrows ideas (that is to say, every author who exists) has their own set of wrinkles which makes their story unique.

Rachel Heston Davis
Up and Writing

Cindy said...

What a great Essay! Thank you again Mortimus! I have to say it was a pleasure and so much fun to work with a dead author :) (that sounds a little morbid)


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