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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

GUEST POST: You Are The Magic You Eat by Greg Van Eekhout

In CALIFORNIA BONES, the first book in my new urban fantasy trilogy, wizards get their powers by ingesting the remains of extinct magical creatures, such as griffins and dragons and basilisks and hydras. The La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles are a particularly rich resource of these valuable bones, and powerful osteomancers use their magic to rule the kingdom of Southern California.

There’s a type of fantasy where you change one thing, where the world is just like our own, except vampires exist, for example, and the ways in which the world is different are known to only a few. Or else everyone knows things are different but life isn’t drastically altered for most people. In CALIFORNIA BONES I wanted to take a different approach. I wanted to really mess things up.

The first thing I did was get rid of the cars and freeways. It’s a simple but drastic change that immediately signals we’re in a different world. Because LA without cars is like New York without tall buildings. To replace them, I reached back into some of Los Angeles’ goofy, charming history and lifted real estate developer Abbot Kinney’s Venice canals and expanded them across Southern California. Instead of roads and freeways and bridges, we have canals and flumeways and locks. Instead of cars we have boats, and instead of trucks we have barges and tugs.

The rationale I came up with is William Mulholland, the historical head of what would become the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, is the Southern California kingdom’s century-old chief hydromancer, and the water transportation system forms a sprawling mandala of magical power fueled by the energy of circulating ocean water. Mulholland is both partner and rival to the Hierarch, the realm’s ruling osteomancer, each of them dependent upon the other to maintain control of the realm.

Another tried-and-true method of making the familiar strange is exaggerating what’s already there. In reality, places like Beverly Hills are surrounded by invisible walls defined by wealth and status. A poor person can walk Rodeo Drive, but they won’t be treated as though they belong there. Hell, there are places in LA where I expect to get tazed just on principle. When I walk through the doors of some shops in Beverly Hills I don’t hear a bell but rather a recording of someone saying, “Ew.” I literalized the metaphor of this wall in CALIFORNIA BONES and created the Golden Wall, a physical barrier with gates and guards surrounding the wealthier parts of town.

Los Angeles is the kind of place where material history is treated without much regard. A lot of history gets bulldozed or transformed beyond recognition. One trick I pulled in CALIFORNIA BONES was resurrecting what’s been lost. I brought back Pacific Ocean Park, an amusement park built on a pier in Santa Monica. It featured such attractions as the Mystery Island Banana Train, the Flight to Mars, the House of Tomorrow, and King Neptune’s Courtyard. The day Pacific Ocean Park opened in 1958, it drew more visitors than Disneyland. Eventually, it fell into disrepair and succumbed to fires and crumbled away. I have vague childhood memories of seeing some of the ruins, but I don’t know if these memories are real or imagined, and it’s that tenuous grasp on reality that makes Pacific Ocean Park such a magical place for me.

So I brought back Pacific Ocean Park, and I expanded the Venice canals, and I built a wall around Beverly Hills, and I changed dozens of other things and invented things and left some things completely as they are, because I wanted my fictional version of Los Angeles to be as strange and threatening and wonderful and magical as any fictional world I could create. I wanted readers familiar with LA to enjoy the games of “Spot What’s Different” and “Spot What’s the Same.” And I wanted all readers, including those who don’t know LA, or aren’t particularly interested in LA, to experience the same pleasures of an interesting setting that they would in any fantasy story.

Official Author Website
California Bones Website
Order California Bones HERE
Watch John Scalzi interview Greg Van Eekhout about the book & its locations

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Greg Van Eekhout was born and brought up in Los Angeles. He's of Dutch & Indonesian descent and has spent almost all of his life in the western half of the USA. He has also previously worked as a political fundraiser, a comic book store clerk, a bookseller, a bookstore assistant manager, an educational multimedia developer, and a college teacher (of English and of multimedia development). He currently is located in San Diego & loves the beaches.

NOTE: William Mulholland picture courtesy of Stan Walker


Ashana Lian said...

This book sounds incredible. I was most fascinated by the concept of canals in California and naturally how the wizards get their powers! I'm quite excited for this novel, I think it's fair to say. =]

Unknown said...

I just bought the ebook. If anyone is listening, this is a must for audio and the publisher needs to make this happen!

Heather said...

I recall seeing this on another site and found the idea of the novel quite interesting. Now I'm intrigued! I'll definitely be checking it out.


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