Hard Fantasy

It’s been nearly a year since I began work on THE SPIRIT-WEAVER, and as I close in on the completion of this monster, I get more often reflective about it.  The bulk of the work is behind me now, and I have a pretty good sense that it’s only a matter of time before the book will be in print; I base this largely on the opinion of a well-known agent who read 150 pages and and an outline in December.  While no contract of representation was forthcoming, that’s not unusual; what was unusual is that this agent knew me from online articles I’d written many years ago, and contacted me out of the blue, after reading this blog.  When the book’s done, he wants it; and that’s good enough for me now.

Over on Bryn Neuenschwander’s (AKA Marie Brennan’s, whose books you ought to be reading) site she has some thoughts on a sub-genre called “hard fantasy”:


What constitutes this sub-genre is much debated; and I have yet more confusion to add to the debate: THE SPIRIT-WEAVER, I believe, constitutes a kind of hard fantasy.  Specifically, it’s emotionally and physically hard; by this I mean it deals realistically with the emotional and physical consequences of the situations it portrays.  The aforementioned agent described what he read of the book as “intense”–and subsequent discussion with him led me to believe he really meant that the book shows nakedly many things fantasy usually glosses over.  What does it really feel like to kill someone in a fit of rage?  What does it feel like to have a loved one have committed suicide?  How do you really feel at the end of a 500-mile trek through the wilderness?  What does it really feel like to watch thousands get slaughtered in a desperate battle for one’s own country?  And so on.  THE SPIRIT-WEAVER holds nothing back; hence, I call it hard.

THE SPIRIT-WEAVER is best described as James Fenimore Cooper meets DELIVERANCE, with mythic sensibilities.  That may sound paradoxical, but it’s a feeling I’ve had many times through my life: even in the midst of the worst oppression and agony, there’s still the sense that you’re living some kind of myth, that there’s some kind of meaning and reason for it all.  That you are, in addition to being an individual in unique circumstances, also an archetype playing out a mythic role.  I know that’s an almost religious attitude to experience, yet I can’t avoid it: that’s how I think and see the world; I always have.  That comes through very much in the book, and gives it a lot of its power.  But the book is not per se about all the dark stuff that’s in it: rather, it’s about overcoming all of that, and finding, along that journey into the uncertainty of distant lands and alien people, something you can believe in and defend and call your own.  It’s about finding the soul you lost years ago.  To use a Christian metaphor, it’s a descent into hell from which you emerge better and stronger than you ever could have otherwise been.  At the end, I want readers on their feet, cheering, just like when the original Jaws got blown to bits.


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