A big welcome to Anton Strout who is here to telling us about Writing Genre, or Being Original (But Not TOO Original)! and celebrating the release of STONECAST, Spellmason Chronicles #2 (published on September 24, 2013 by Ace). Want to win a copy? Enter via the widget below.
Writing Genre, or Be Original (But Not TOO Original)!
Attempting to write genre is a tricky business. You’d think having written four books in the Simon Canderous paranormal detective series and now working on the third in The Spellmason Chronicles would have made writing urban fantasy a little easier by now, but really writing in a genre you love is a bit of a two edged sword.
I came to urban fantasy because I happen to love mystery and magic and a lot of the tropes that happen within my chosen genre. We get to mix traditional fantasy elements with the modern world, explore the unknown monstrous horrors while combating them with modern weaponry or magic as filtered through they eyes of a contemporary protagonist. There’s a hell of a lot of fun to have. Yet despite embracing many of these familiar elements in writing urban fantasy, I am also constantly encouraged to be original with what I create, which means often times shunning the things that drew me into the genre in the first place. I must use the conventions of, re-imagine or totally ignore that which I love.
Like I said: tricky.
The grand question is always there, however: what should I embrace, deconstruct or reinvent to make my work unique in the ever growing urban fantasy marketplace?
First and foremost of the urban fantasy tropes I have loved and had to switch up for myself: the narrative style of the first person noir detective.
My first urban fantasy series followed the traditional narrative structure a reader would expect. The Simon Canderous books were first person and narrated by… wait for it… Simon Canderous, a fledgling paranormal detective within Manhattan’s Department of Extraordinary Affairs. Not that the series had started that way…
The first book, DEAD TO ME, had actually begun life as a third person omniscient perspective, but early on in the workshopping process my fellow writers felt it would work better with the immediacy of first person. I didn’t disagree. That left me to convert roughly two hundred pages of omnipresent viewpoint into what Simon himself could see and experience. The rest had to be discarded or I was forced into finding clever new ways of fitting in those chapters where Simon hadn’t been present. Luckily, my hero had the power of psychometry which meant he could read the history of any object he touched. That power at least allowed me some leeway for getting certain information the average narrator wouldn’t know out there in front of Simon. That was a bit of a lifesaver, let me tell you.
But for my newer series, The Spellmason Chronicles, I decided not to make it too easy on myself and had narrator problems right from the start. For a while I struggled with what the right approach would be for getting out this particular alchemy and gargoyles tale I wanted to tell. Looking at the overarching flow of the story, I was dealing with conflicting world views. Part of the tale struck me as very modern in its telling, but the book was also steeped in centuries old dark, Gothic family saga goodness. The attraction of both these storylines was too strong, and I could come up with only one solution.
I went for dueling first person narrators, which presented a set of challenges all their own in writing both book one, ALCHEMYSTIC and its just released follow up, STONECAST. In one corner, weighing in at a rough one hundred and thirty pounds is Miss Alexandra Belarus. Lexi to her friends, she’s got a deep love of art and architecture due to the legacy of her great-great grandfather’s contributions in building Manhattan. With her and her oldest friend Rory growing up with Harry Potter influencing their sensibilities, Lexi’s delighted to discover her family’s true legacy: Alexander Belarus had been the last Spellmason, a secret order that fused alchemy and art into animated magical stone. Because she is from present day, her dialogue tends to be snappier, her thoughts processing quickly through a filter of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter references, and modern language with a light snark filter.
In the other corner, weighing in at several tons, is the Belarus family’s ever watchful guardian, the gargoyle Stanis. His narrative voice is entirely different. Despite having existed for several centuries, he has not picked up on the changes in language as his interaction with humanity has been next to nil. Commanded only to protectively observe but not be seen, he has had little chance to pick up idiomatic language. His point of view is more stoic in writing Stanis’ perspective, both lacking contractions and with little ability to process our modern world and its sayings.
In the written boxing ring that is my Spellmason series, these two perspectives duke it out, telling a tale that must weaves in and out of each other without being repetitive. The hardest part of that has been determining not only what Lexi and Stanis see, but what the reader sees—what they infer from me showing narrative perspective one and perspective two. It can be tricky, but I think I’ve managed to pull it of with some success.
If you’d like to see for yourself, do feel free to check out ALCHEMYSTIC and STONECAST. They’re full of the tropes I love, mixed with some new twists and my versions of what I think was missing out there in the world of urban fantasy. Thanks again for reading.
He is the author of the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series and Alchemystic, book one of the upcoming Spellmason Chronicles for Ace Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA). Anton is also the author of many short tales published in anthologies by DAW Books.
The Once & Future Podcast is his latest project, where he endeavors as Curator of Content to bring authors and readers together through a weekly news show format.
He has been a featured author guest of honor, speaker and workshop leader at San Diego Comic-Con, Gencon, New York Comic-Con, the Brooklyn Book Festival and many other conventions.
In his scant spare time, his is a writer, a sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the worlds most casual and controller smashing video gamer. He currently works in the exciting world of publishing and yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds.
One copy of STONECAST
STONECAST by Anton Strout
Available on September 24, 2013 by Ace
Alexandra Belarus was an artist stuck working in her New York family’s business…until she discovered her true legacy—a deep and ancient magic. Lexi became the last practicing Spellmason, with the power to breathe life into stone. And as her powers awoke, so did her family’s most faithful protector: a gargoyle named Stanis. But when a centuries-old evil threatened her family and her city, Stanis sacrificed himself to save everything Lexi held dear.
With Stanis gone, Lexi’s efforts to master Spellmasonry—even with the help of her dedicated friends—are faltering. Hidden forces both watch her and threaten her, and she finds herself suddenly under the mysterious wing of a secret religious society determined to keep magic hidden from the world.
But the question of Stanis’s fate haunts her—and as the storm around her grows, so does the fear that she won’t be able to save him in her turn.
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About the author
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