Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Bones of the Earth by Scott Bury: Guest Post

The Dark Age. The Earth has turned on humanity with earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and a new plague that kills the Roman Emperor himself. Barbarian invasions shatter civilizations.

In this chaos, Javor comes of age in a poor, remote village. Try as he might, though, he never fits in with his own people. There is just something about him that keeps him apart from the others.

When barbarian raiders kidnap the girl he loves, he takes a mysterious dagger handed down from his great-grandfather and tries to rescue her. But while he's away, a horror that Javor could never believe existed murders his parents and devastates his village.

Javor begins his quest for revenge, not realizing that he is entering a war against forces bent on eliminating humanity.

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I'm thrilled to welcome Scott today and also want to announce that we've done a swap today and I am also guest blogging on his blog where I ramble on about How I Select Books for Review.  Hope you will drop by there and give me a bit of comment love, too.  :)

Why I wrote the book I wrote
Maybe I’m weird, but I don’t like to read the same thing over and over again. One of the reasons I wrote The Bones of the Earth was to tell a story that I thought had not been told before.
I read Tolkien and Lewis when I was about 13, and then more fantasy and science fiction, but since my 20s, drifted away from that genre. When I came back to it, maybe 8 years ago, I found the bookshelves filled with Tolkien knock-offs, like the tremendously disappointing Eragon.
When publishers see a successful book, they publish more just like it. When a book like Twilight succeeds, there is more Twilight. And True Blood and The Vampire Diaries and more books like the Thirst series. At least Bite Club has a slightly clever title, and maybe a clever story line.
When I see the unabashed knock-offs, my reaction is “it’s been done, so I’m not interested.” Apparently, that puts me in the minority.
Check the fantasy shelf at your favourite bookstore (if there’s still one near you). Flip a random one open.
-          Inside will be a crude, childish map of an imaginary land.
-          Characters’ and place-names will sound vaguely Celtic, olde-English or Germanic—as long as you don’t really speak any of those languages.
-          The setting will be a facsimile of England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland or Cornwall, or, rarely, some other part of western Europe in the Middle Ages.
-          The heroine is always a princess, but with a thoroughly 21st century Western, kick-ass attitude and fighting skills that would definitely not have been taught to any girl in the Middle Ages.
-          If there’s a dragon or other monster, it’s friendly, or at least allied to humans in some way.
Over and over again. And it’s not just the commercial books. That’s the model that most indie fantasy authors are following, too.
The value of mythology
What I like best in stories are good, interesting characters I can identify with, and a story arc that is interesting and that makes sense.
Ancient Greek mythology is a great example. They satisfy us on a deep level. That’s why, after thousands of years, we still want to hear, read or see these same stories. Of course, we want to see and hear them in new ways, with better special effects, and from our perspective. For decades now, movies and TV shows based on Greek mythology, from Kevin Sorbo as Hercules to Sam Worthington as Perseus, all depict the gods as jerks.
But the basics are the same. Greek myths tell immortal stories that, ultimately, are about us. We see ourselves in these stories. Every good modern story takes elements from these myths. They’re a great source of not just inspiration and information, but also of good plots.
Breaking the rules
I have two sons. They’re tall, strong and smart, but each faces his own challenges.I decided to write a story about a boy just on the edge of becoming a man, who has to face a dragon. My main character would be a combination of my two sons.
Then I thought I would defy the rules of fantasy writing today, as exemplified by the books for sale. First, I did not create an imaginary world. I wanted a setting filled with magic, mystery and an ancient, crumbling civilization, so I set the story in the Dark Ages.
I decided on a region largely ignored in literature (other than vampire stories): eastern Europe. There was a lot of movement of people in the region, influxes of cultures, languages and technologies that make great details for a story.
By setting my story in a real time and place, I did not have to make up languages and names. All the place-names and characters are historical (okay, I made up two). Even Bayan, the Avar Khagan, or King, was a real person.
Choosing a real setting required a lot of research, which was very rewarding. It also helped me with another goal: not romanticizing the era. Life in the Dark Ages was awful. There were multiple plagues without any treatment, waves of mounted invaders burning fields and killing entire legions and repeated famines. The climate was changing, the seas were rising and drowning coastlines. Rome and other ancient civilizations were crumbling and the new kingdoms were chaotic.
The next rule to break was the characters. My characters are all commoners—no princes or nobles. The main character is an illiterate farm boy from a tiny village hundreds of miles from civilization. I make passing reference to the Roman Emperor and some other rulers, but they’re not main characters.
I based other characters on people I know, or combining elements of people I actually know. And I made a real effort to stay away from comic-book dialogue. Like this:
“ ‘You seem strong enough for the Martial Academy but I detect a brilliant spark of intellect in your eyes that suggests you were a student of the Scholar, or perhaps even the Magus Academy,’ the librarian deduced.”
People spoke differently 1,500 years ago, but in my story’s setting, they spoke Greek. If I have to translate, I might as well translate their idioms, too, into something my audience can understand.
Dragons: powerful and disinterested
I think the most worn out cliché in fantasy writing today is the friendly dragon. It was cute 50 years ago with My Father’s Dragon, but with the publication of Eragon, the dragon-rider story was as overdone as my barbequed steaks.
Eragon completely misses the point of dragons. In ancient myths, dragons represent the life-force of the earth. They’re powerful and wise. I decided my dragons would be not only powerful and immortal, but also completely indifferent to human desires. Why should a dragon help a human? Why should it care who’s on the throne?
Breaking the rules but honouring the most important one
I wrote The Bones of the Earth as a gift for my sons, to be a different kind of story—the story I wanted to read. I decided to break the conventions not just to break rules, but to ignore the ones that got in my way.
But there is still the most important rule of all writing: you have to create a story that keeps the readers interested, that makes them turn the pace (or tap the screen). In the end, it has to tie up the plot in a satisfying way.
I hope that I did that. I’d love it if you would let me know whether it satisfied you, too.

Scott Bury is a journalist, editor and writer living in Ottawa, Canada. He has written for magazines and newspapers in Canada, the US, UK and Australia, including Macworld, the Ottawa Citizen,the Financial Post, Marketing, Canadian Printer, Applied Arts, Workplace and others.

In his blog, Written Words, he writes book reviews, writing tips and opinions on anything related to communication.

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Regan Black said...

Thanks for this fabulous post, Scott and Laurie!
I can so relate to the rewards of research and I think it's one of the best things about being a writer.

Good luck with your book!

Courtney Wyant said...

Thanks for the great giveaway!! Sounds like an amazing book!

Shauna Buck said...

Very interesting story!!

Kimberly Lim said...

Thanks for the giveaway

Holly Bryan said...

Wow, what a great post!! I so appreciate your comments and your philosophy on writing, especially on writing fantasy. SFF is my favorite genre (or genres, really) and it is unfortunate how everything seems to be the same story over and over (with some notable exceptions). And can I please be the first to say -- THANK YOU, Mr. Bury, for TAKING BACK THE DRAGONS!!! I love your thoughts on what they truly represent and how they should be portrayed. Thank you, thank you, thank you! :)

Kara D. said...

Very unique concept of a book. It's been a while since I've read this genre of book.

Jennifer Haile said...

I really want to read this! Thanks for the giveaway!

Written Words said...

Thank you all for your comments! They really make my day. I feel so encouraged now to continue writing and publishing.