K.V. Johansen's Blog
March 5, 2015
Well, it���s been a while since I posted anything on the blog, and March being the start of a new year (at least it feels that way to me once the snow starts melting and the sap starts running — an important psychological year-mark even though I only own one sugar maple and don���t tap it), be it hereby resolved, I am going to post on the blog more often. I���m aiming for once a month. Go ahead and subscribe by email or the RSS feed thingummy [technical term] to get notifications of posts, if you will, and/or follow me on Twitter. I tend to be on Twitter a lot; it���s my home for virtual Marakander coffee-house socialization and I enjoy it a lot, so why not try to bring some of the same approach to the blog, I said to myself this morning. Rather than feeling guiltily that I need to somehow scrounge time from writing whatever book it is I am presently writing in order to compose a long and thoughtful essay, I���m going to aim for some sort of monthly blog post of news and progress and reflections.
So here I am, and here we are, and what have I been up to lately? Well, The Lady came out in December. It���s the second volume of Marakand, completing the story begun in The Leopard. Marakand can be read as a sequel to Blackdog, or as a standalone, since although the histories are connected, the focus of the two is different. With that out and launched upon the seas of fate (go buy it, go read it, and give it lots of love in reviews . . . I, like every author, beg you — because that really helps), I���ve carried on with my current project, which is another book set in the same world.
How���s it going? Well . . . it���s been a long and wandering road. There was one element of the story, a very difficult psychological journey for a character, that took much thought and revision to get right. I couldn���t seem to get on with the external plot and the main characters��� external struggles, until I (and that one character) had mastered the internal one. You remember the old ���themes��� we were taught back in elementary school? In those days all stories were labelled as either ���man against man���, ���man against nature���, or ���man against himself���? This one is definitely having two parallel stories happening, and one of them is ���man against himself���. Those over-simplified ���themes��� are found in varying proportions in most stories, but in this case, getting right this story of a man struggling to survive the aftermath of great psychological trauma — shellshock, PTSD . . . in his world they would say he has been wounded in his soul — really dominated my work on this book for many months, to the point where in the end I concentrated on writing that one character���s story (and that of his partner which is necessarily closely entwined with his own and is in fact the warp thread of the book, the spine of the story), while leaving the strands of three other important people and the larger plot of external enemies, civil war, and stuff you���re going to have to wait for the book to learn about, for later.
But now, having finally written that strand of this polyphonic plot to my satisfaction, I am at the stage of going back to write the parallel-and-interwoven external story. ���Man against . . .��� what was that conversation Ahjvar and Ghu had in The Lady?
���Who are we fighting?���
���You and I? Mostly everyone . . .���
December 24, 2014
I decided I’d done so many of these that it was time to list them all in one place. Here’s a directory of my interviews and guest blogs — ones that still exist at time of making this page!
Sample: First chapter of The Lady at Civilian Reader. (Not technically a guest blog!)
All four published stories of Moth’s world. (Three covers by Swanland, one by Artemisia.) Aren’t they handsome? The contents are pretty damn fine, too.
The Draumr Kopa Blog did an interview with me about The Lady and other things.
And here is an author interview at The Book Plank.
The Book Plank also asked me to do a guest post about influences on my writing of The Leopard and The Lady.
Here’s an interview about Blackdog at Beyond the Words.
At Fantastist Enterprises, Magic on the Edges.
Ah, and the guest blog on “out-brutalling the last guy” over at Skiffy and Fanty.
On world-building, for Clarkesworld Magazine.
An interview on the ArtsEast blog.
Clarkesworld Magazine — part one of a multi-author interview on Epic Fantasy.
Why Shapeshifters? at SF Signal.
And part two of the Clarkesworld Epic Fantasy interview.
Five Things You Should Never Do in Epic Fantasy, ’cause people like rules. (Take all rules with a grain of salt!) This one’s at Adventures ini SciFi Publishing.
An interview at the Functional Nerds podcast.
An interview at the Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast.
December 9, 2014
Today is the launch day for The Lady, the second half of Marakand, continuing the story where The Leopard left off.
The Lady: Marakand Part Two, cover art by Raymond Swanland
My publisher, Pyr, has given permission to the Civilian Reader book blog to post an extract of it — the whole first chapter, in fact! So, if you want to get started while you wait for your copy to be delivered, head on over here to see how it begins.
November 19, 2014
Yes, it’s the obligatory photo of the tower of books to show off the author-copies. The Lady is supposed to be out December 9th.
Marakand as it is meant to be read: one long novel in two volumes.
All four published stories of Moth’s world. (Three covers by Swanland, one by Artemisia.) Aren’t they handsome? The contents are pretty damn fine, too.
October 14, 2014
Last night I had the strangest dream — to abuse an Ed McCurdy song — and it started me thinking about how dreams are used in writing fantasy. More so than in other genres, the presentation of dreams in fantasy is an inheritance from antecedents in myth, legend, and folk-tale, where the act of dreaming is always of significance, and where the dream warns, foreshadows, or parallels the action of the story in some metaphorical way. In modern fantasy a character may dream in a realistic, primary world way — disjointed images of the day, anxieties, nonsense, codfish lying on the feet because the blankets have fallen off — but very often, authors will use dream in a way that is consistent with the reality of the fantasy, but which would seem over-artful if presented in a ‘realistic’ novel set in the primary world. If magic — the interconnection of things through unseen forces, the sympathetic bond between ‘soul’ and matter, or however the story presents it — is allowed, then dream is allowed to become more as well, and that is — useful.
Dreams become a device for flashbacks, for rapid switches from action (recalled in dream) to contemplation on the meaning or of the aftermath of the action, for recapping or reminding of a crucial moment for those whose memory of the event in the first book needs refreshed. They function to foretell and create suspense. They warn, ominously, and provide clues the characters cannot decode but which the reader, with the benefit of hindsight several chapters later, can enjoy interpreting. They can be used as metaphor, to explore a character’s state of mind or stir up hidden depths the author doesn’t yet want to lay out in the waking world, but which need to begin stirring, to emerge in due course.
Like all literary devices, it’s possible to overuse dreams. I like dreams and do find them very useful, so I worry, of course, that sometimes I’m overdoing it. I’ve been writing a character suffering from a great burden of psychological trauma — something akin to PTSD, shellshock. There’s no equivalent term used in a pre-psychology world for that aftermath of horrors. The modern psychological understanding of PTSD needs to have a more metaphoric terminology to sit comfortably with the cosmology here. Nightmares are only one of his symptoms, and his nightmares are pretty much just that, flashbacks in the psychological rather than the narrative sense, though they can function usefully as those too. I’d written several versions of a scene where this person, in discussion with another who knows something of dreams in the context of this world, in both their realistic, ‘psychological’, and their magical aspects, did begin to find a way to grapple with some of his various problems (so as to have some energy to deal with the external side of the plot, which was not hanging about twiddling its thumbs — I wanted the two things running in parallel). The problem I kept running up against was that I could not believe in this person ever baring his soul to the extent that he would discuss — what I needed him to discuss — with this other character. Or with anyone, but she’s the one he ought to talk to.
This brings me back to my strange dream, in which (amidst some interesting but irrelevant set dressing involving a barn, a 1930’s passenger plane, and a grey rainstorm), I had a long conversation with a friend about something that has been preying on my waking mind for a while now. In my dream, I was definitely playing myself; I said all the things and made all the arguments and excuses I know I would have made had the conversation been taking place in real life. My friend pointed out things and made arguments that were deeply perceptive, pertinent, occasionally angering and upsetting, and persuasive. I woke up feeling I had gotten to the truth of the matter and that my friend was right and had shed a great deal of light on things, except of course, that I had been writing both halves of the dialogue, putting the words in their mouth.
That, I thought almost at once, is how I need to handle some aspects of this character’s problem. Not a real discussion with the character who might help him, the one it just doesn’t seem plausible he’d ever unburden himself to, but a dream, in which his dreaming subconscious can use the other character to put into words what he is coming to understand but can’t get out where he can see it. (And no, my dream wasn’t about anything half so serious, or I would not be prattling about it here!) The thing is, if I had just had the notion to do this, have my character dream his discussion, I’m pretty sure I would have then discarded the idea as unrealistic and too contrived: too artificial as primary-world dream, and too unsuited to this secondary world’s understanding of psychology. Now, having had a dream myself where I wrote, as it were, the whole thing, and yet surprised and unsettled myself by what was being dragged out into the light, I can’t deny it is realistic. Having granted that such a dream is realistic, it’s simply a matter of casting it into correct form for my character’s world, and for his understanding of that world. Which, I suppose, means he might feel he did discuss things, in his dream, with this other character or some aspect of her that had a separate existence from himself, rather than in the complexity of his own subconscious — and that he might be right. I read Don Camillo at an early age, and now I recall that all of Don Camillo’s arguments with his crucified Christ above the altar are doing the same thing, though they aren’t usually cast as dreams. Is Don Camillo’s Christ real within the story, or merely the priest’s own conscience or subconscious? One can read it both ways, and either interpretation is valid within the reality of those stories, which is why the device works so well.
So there’s another use of dreams that I’m likely going to resort to, the almost Socratic self-analysis with the dreamer’s own unconscious playing the role of the interrogator/mentor/counsellor/analyst; looked at from a certain angle, it actually seems a lot more probable in my character’s world than mine, and since I now know the mind really can work that way, I can do it with a clear conscience. Unless, of course, my friend shows up tonight to argue me out of it. #SFWApro
September 7, 2014
It’s a bit difficult to keep up with things this fall. We’ve moved house and I’m still not unpacked, with so many things looming that Must Be Done in the next month or so — making insulating curtains, getting my poor migrated perennials out of their pots and into the ground before the frost, making an insulated trapdoor for the attic to forestall the escape of most of our heat upwards … the laws of thermodynamics have become a significant concern. Meanwhile, such minor matters as unpacking my clothes and the boxes of books which occupy every square foot of the study not claimed by my desk get put on hold, and the kitchen cupboards still have labels to tell us where to look for the plates. It’s been a week since DragonCon, though; time to get something up.
Me and the big poster for The Leopard. That Swanland cover looks gorgeous blown up to this size. Wish I could have smuggled this away for my wall at home.
So what did I think of my first DragonCon? There was a lot standing in queues in the scorching sun, and that was just to pick up my badge. I’m not sure that combining people needing to pick up prepaid badges into a many-blocks-long line with people who wanted to buy a day pass is an idea that will win the organizers any friends, though. Printing the map very, very small, on newsprint, in pale grey, is likewise not really the best notion anyone ever had. However, once I finally was permitted to be admitted, and had found the Pyr Books booth, my home away from home for the duration, I greatly enjoyed the chance to meet people and talk books with them. It was particularly great to connect with some longtime fans face to face. (Jay, that means you!)
Signing books at the Pyr Booth at DragonCon 2014. All photos in this post are by Lou Anders – the silly expression is his fault.
Signing books again (still!)
Jon Sprunk, Joel Shepherd, Clay and Susan Griffith, E.C. Myers, J.F. Lewis, and I pretty much moved into the booth for the duration, to hang out with our editor Lou Anders and Meghan Quinn and Mariel Bard, the pool-playing publicists, while Mike Resnick dropped by a couple of times. We did a lot of people-watching as well as bookselling, as you can imagine. Quite a lot of that involved me saying to Jon or his wife Jenny, “Um, so what’s that one?” since I’m not really that up on recent TV. I did see a very well-executed Moist von Lipwig in Postmaster regalia, although I didn’t get a photo as I hadn’t brought my camera. I met up with Rob Sawyer on the flight home, so it was a chance to renew old acquaintances too.
K.V. Johansen and Jon Sprunk, hanging out at the Pyr Books booth.
I staggered into my house at about 2:30 in the morning, home at last, to be met by a very excited dog, who, after the obligatory greeting, headed straight for my backpack. He was somewhat disappointed to find it a) zippered and b) devoid of exotic foreign biscuits, after the Marks and Spencer Almond Biscuit Incident of the prior week. (Those who follow on Twitter will recall that I brought home my long-remembered favourite M&S biscuits from London, since M&S abandoned the Canadian market some time ago, only to have Mr Wicked discover them in my backpack and devour half the package before I had been home ten minutes.)
August 26, 2014
Song for a Dark Queen
A Trafalgar Lion, aloof, waiting for the peace of winter.
Another Trafalgar Lion, amid a sea of tourists. Amazingly, there is some greenery about him.
The National Gallery overlooking Trafalgar Square. A busy place, that. Thought about Blackout and All Clear.
St. Martin’s in the Fields. My mother’s family’s church, which my great-great-great-grandfather helped build, was St. Martin’s in the Woods, rumoured to have been some sort of mission church from St. Martin’s, though I don’t know the details. Probably they raised money for the benighted Anglicans of the colonies.
Ceiling of the portico of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields.
The horde invades the British Museum. I thought I had taken a rather nice photo of it; couldn’t find it. Then I remembered that it was a photo of a Japanese tourist, using her camera, which was rather better than mine. I hope it turned out well for her!
Westminster. Modern democracy, still muddling along reasonably well.
Westminster Abbey. This building only dates back to 1245, but Harold and William were both crowed at Westminster.
Horse Guards’ Parade. A besieged horseguard, man and horse exhibiting exemplary stoicism. I like the horse’s eye, though. It is a horse having an Opinion.
In St. James’ Park, spies feed the ducks. Nobody mentions the coots. Any spies out for a casual rendez-vous the day I was there would have had to make do with coots.
A duck. Or more likely a goose – it has gooselike attributes. Species, anyone? I don’t have a bird book for Europe. I’ve ruled out Ferruginous Duck and “Goose with Russet Pears” and searching either duck or goose with “European” and “russet” or “chestnut” is getting me no further ahead.
The obligatory photo of Buckingham Palace. “A face looked out but it wasn’t the king’s / he’s much too busy a-signing things …” It really annoyed me when a teacher changed that to “queen’s” when I was in grade one. That is NOT how it GOES, I said. On this occasion, nobody looked out at all. Plenty looking in, though.
Detail of the Canada Gate opposite Buckingham Palace: the New Brunswick arms.
And those of Ontario.
On my way up the Strand to St. Paul’s, I had success in my Quest for Tea.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, peering down the Strand.
And in black and white.
The steps of St. Paul’s.
In Psmith in the City, Psmith suggests to Mike that they play truant from the bank and pop out for a dish of porridge. I always found this a bit odd, but this is not the only eatery I saw in London advertising that one could pop in for a plate of porridge. Must be a London thing.
Not actually the name of the pub; possibly just a general remark on life. The world needs more buildings painted black and gold, too. I like it.
August 25, 2014
Crossing the Thames to Greenwich in a cablecar.
The south shore entrance to the Greenwich Thames tunnel constructed in 1902. Not the 1869 tunnel of Paul Marlowe’s story “The Mudmen of Tower Tunnel”, obviously, but the original Tower Tunnel entrances were destroyed in the 1920’s (north) and 1990’s (south), and I didn’t photograph their replacements.
A tugboat and barges heading upriver. The Thames is still a working river.
View of the Tower through a window, blurrily, heading upriver.
August 24, 2014
The Endeavour room in the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, where the 2014 SFF Masterclass was held. Not a bad place to work on a copyedit, either.
The Cutty Sark in her glass case. How would she have fared in a race against the Marco Polo?
Loncon 3 was my first Worldcon, and in fact my first really big con at all. When I try to get my thoughts in order, I find I’m still a bit overwhelmed by it all, though London itself has a lot to do with that. How to give it all a focus ….
Well, I can’t. It’s just too big an experience. All I can say is, I had a great time. I began with the SFF Masterclass, which in itself was also a great time, and at which I met some great people. For three days, we were centred in Greenwich, in the Endeavour Room at the Royal Observatory, and you can’t get much more central in Greenwich than that, right up in a former telescope dome. I have to confess that on the occasions when I wasn’t instructing, I played truant, rather than sitting in on the sessions that Neil Easterbrook and Andy Duncan were doing, and went wandering. I explored the Royal Park at Greenwich and spent a (hot) day at the British Museum. Seeing the latter has been a lifelong ambition of mine. But I really enjoyed the masterclass sessions I was there for (my own) and found the discussion elicited by the books I’d assigned to be quite stimulating.
Actually, I did sit in for part of one other session, since while I was in London, a number of copyedited chapters of The Lady: Marakand Part Two arrived for me to deal with. As my computer chose those days to have a serious crisis, once I did get it restored to functioning (thinking, right, I’m in London sitting up to one a.m. trying to fix my computer — successfully, after a couple of days), I needed to do some real work. So I sat in the telescope dome at Greenwich Observatory and worked on The Lady. Appropriate, I suppose, since the most noteworthy architectural features of the temple of the Lady are the two domes.
I had a friend’s Oyster card and found getting around London by Dock Light Rail, Tube, London Overground and Thames Clipper mostly straightforward with a few bursts of confusion, the rare occasions when I’ve been anywhere with public transit being Toronto, where there are hardly any transfers between subway lines or to West Berlin of the eighties, where the system was a time-punched card.
I was thinking about what a literary city London is; not a real place at all, but an assemblage of associations. What is the British Museum? Sutton Hoo and The Story of the Amulet, The Magician’s Nephew and Greenwitch. What is the Thames? So many things — most recently the geographical thread binding Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant novels — but so much history. And Our Mutual Friend, and the waters of the Isis and Handel, “the fever is abroad in Rotherhithe”, the Docklands and the Blitz . . . . So many streets and neighbourhoods resonate with so many stories, known names. One walks on the heels of Paddington, of Holmes and Watson, of Psmith and Wooster, Peter and Harriet, just in reading the names on the signage or of the Tube stations.
Loncon itself was a lot of fun; to be honest, I had expected to be a bit oppressed by crowds, which I don’t enjoy, but it was far less crowded and frenzied than I expected, because the venue, the Excel Centre, was actually big enough to hold the thousands comfortably. There were a few long queues — the one for the theatrical adaptation of The Anubis Gates was the length of the Excel. Compared to other cons I’ve gone to, admittedly only a few and much smaller, it was admirably well organized, too. Even eating was easy; the central boulevard of the Excel, which is almost a km long, was lined with fast food places, some of them very good and none with huge lineups, which is a bonus at a con. The panels I was on or attended were all very interesting, well-moderated and with a lot of good discussion. Taken all in all, Loncon 3 is going to be the con against which I judge all others. (And the takeaway curry from the Mint Leaves a new standard in basic curries.) Went to some parties and receptions, met some old friends in person for the first time, made some new ones, discovered that some of my work as a feral academic is rather better known than I thought
And then there was my voyage up and down the Thames on the riverbus, a walking tour of the heart of the city, and a day at Kew Gardens. More to come. Mostly photos! I’m going to make a couple of galleries, I think.
I’m very grateful to the friends and relatives who helped me make this trip possible, and to the New Brunswick Arts Board, which offered a grant to assist with travel expenses. #SFWApro