Sunday, March 3, 2013

Guest Post: Marie Brennan

Today on the blog, I have Marie Brennan, author of A Natural History of Dragons which you may have seen hit the shelves about a month ago.

Sometimes you have to fiddle around with a book before it starts working, before you find the right approach to the story, the right voice for the narrator.

In this instance, it took all of about three sentences.

I knew, when I started writing A Natural History of Dragons that it was going to be a Victorian-style memoir. When I started writing, I immediately discovered the delights of that approach. My protagonist is, especially in this first book, a headstrong and slightly naive young woman -- but the woman who is telling the story is decades older. The result is the best of both worlds: I get to play with her youthful enthusiasm and foolishness, but also the perspective and bulletproof audacity that comes with age. Older women in many times and places have been allowed leeway not given to their younger selves, and Isabella is exploiting that to the fullest.

It’s also fun to play around with the explicit framing the memoir format provides. I’ve written first-person stories before that are less strictly constructed, stories where you’re in the protagonist’s head, but she isn’t telling her story from a defined point in time, or to a defined audience. This approach loses a degree of flexibility, but provides a whole array of games to play. Isabella can distinguish between the young woman she was then and the old woman she is now, reflect on changes in her world, and tell the reader outright what she is and is not willing to talk about. It still has its implausible conventions, of course; when she reports a conversation word-for-word, what exactly is she basing that on? She kept a diary, of course, as many people in that time period did, but a great deal of what she says must be invention or after-the-fact reconstruction. But all fiction has such artificialities, regardless of the approach. What’s different in this instance is that I’ve never tried the memoir format at a length longer than a short story.

For all the challenges (and believe me, there are challenges, especially when it comes to the things Isabella doesn’t want to talk about), I’m having a blast, and have been since those first three sentences. Her voice clicked instantaneously -- a shameless old woman talking about her youthful stupidity -- and my brain is constantly supplying me with entertaining little asides, or wry commentary on the characters and events. In fact, the only downside to that part is figuring out when to rein Isabella in!

I’m two books into the series at this point, and it’s still as fun as when I started. In my line of work, we call that a win.

Marie Brennan is a former academic with a background in archaeology, anthropology, and folklore, which she now puts to rather cockeyed use in writing fantasy. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to many short stories and novellas, she is also the author of A Star Shall Fall and With Fate Conspire (both from Tor Books), as well as Warrior, Witch, Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, and Lies and Prophecy. You can find her online at


Cecelia said...

Oh, what a fun insight into a lovely book! I'm glad to hear that it's still fun for Brennan to write these, because they're marvelous reading. Lady Trent is a hoot!

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