Guest Post--Daniel A. Rabuzzi (The Choir Boats and its sequel, The Indigo Pheasant) on writing historical fantasy

For a number of years, The Choir Boats, by Daniel Rabuzzi (Longing for Yount, Book 1, ChiZine Publications, 2009) sat on my wish list.   So when I was asked if I'd be interested in participating in a blog tour to welcome the second book, The Indigo Pheasant (released this October),  I said, yes please, I want to read them both!

Yount is a place that exists uneasily in the same space as our own world, thrust into a strange convergence with Earth through a great convulsion long ago.   And now Yount and its people are imprisoned in their liminal enclave...waiting for the right person to use the key that will unlock the final door that will free them.   Emissaries from Yount have ventured to England, to find the destined person to whom they will give this key, and their choice is a surprising one--a prosperous merchant, Barnabas McDoon.  They promise him that if he takes the key to Yount (a voyage across the southern ocean, where science and mysticism must combine to make the crossing happen), he will find his heart's desire--his lost love.  But Barnabas hesitates...

Then the jailer of Yount, the mysterious and scary Cretched Man, kidnaps Barnabas' nephew, Tom, promising to take him to Yount and there exchange him for the key.  So Barnabas, his business partner, and Sally, Tom's teenaged sister, set fourth on the ship that will take them to Yount...  And Tom is making his own way there (under compulsion), listening to the Cretched Man tell him the other side of the story that Sally is hearing.  If the door were to be unlocked, and Yount were to be freed before the time was ripe, Hell would be unleashed on both Yount and Earth.

Sally begins to dream...of places in Yount she has never seen, of a broken temple at the heart of the island.  Her ship is lost in a  surreal and horrible sea that is no place on Earth, but a song comes to her from her dreams that opens the way.  Back in London, a black girl named Maggie, daughter of a slave who escaped from America, hears Sally, and joins her in song across the miles...and together, they might save both Yount and Earth.  (It's important, and very pleasing to me as a reader, that both these girls are avid readers who are brilliant at math).

So that's the gist of the story of The Choir Boats.  It is a book to savor, with appeal for both adults and younger readers.  At first the story seems simple, the characters pleasant, almost gently risible, the setting familiar.  But gradually more and more complexity appears, more dark notes are sounded, more questions are raised...the dissonance and the magic grows, and the resolution becomes more uncertain.  And so I was eager to plunge into the second book of the series, to see how everything worked out!

I haven't finished The Indigo Pheasant, so I'll be writing a more comprehensive review of both books on Saturday.  But in the meantime, it is my great pleasure to welcome Daniel Rabuzzi to my blog, to talk about historical fantasy!

Daniel studied folklore and mythology in college and graduate school, and earned his doctorate in 18th-century history, so he is a writer who knows his stuff (and it shows!).  His wife is the artist Deborah A. Mills (who illustrated and provided cover art for both Daniel's novels).

And now, the Guest Post:

I write historical fantasies: for me, getting the history right is harder than making the fantastical believable.  After all, we know how giants speak and witches behave, right?   But we most likely do not know how in, say the England of 1815, a vicar speaks or a merchant’s daughter behaves.  Such things have changed in the intervening two centuries, and they will be doubly estranged for readers who are not English. 

So my first task as the author is to immerse myself in that vanished time and place, as foreign to me as Faerie, and bring back enough material to guide both story and reader.  As I have written recently elsewhere (see “A Picture-Show in theNight-Kitchen,” in Layers of Thought, September 26, 2012), I am an “imagist,” not a “plotter.”  My novels spring from scattered images, sounds and words that bake up in the middle of the night.   For The Choir Boats and The Indigo Pheasant, where the action starts in London in 1812, I found myself haunted by visions of tall-case clocks with ornate hands and the moon chasing the sun on the face, of winsome portraits revealed within a delicate locket, of carriages grinding over cobblestones, of bold patterns on porcelain tea cups, and equally vibrant patterns on colorful waistcoats.   

These artifacts, which I spend many hours looking at in museums and in books, literally set the scene.  My wife and artistic partner, Deborah Mills, has rendered many into the illustrations for The Choir Boats and The Indigo Pheasant.  Some of her illustrations are interspersed here, side by side with the originals that inspired them.*

And then my actors start to drift in, one by one, sometimes in groups.  So like us, and yet so different.
Their language, for starters, is not wholly ours.  Not that the words are different, not for the most part, though certainly some of their words have disappeared for us, and many of our words cannot be known to them.  No, it is more that they use our common vocabulary with a different sensibility (now there is a proper Regency word to be sure!), with small but important distinctions from our usage.  For instance, “artificial” and “condescending” had a more positive import for Regency ears than they do for ours, while “enthusiasm” for them was a negative, as it had a different definition then.

Individual words can be deceptive enough...the deeper challenge is diction, style and syntax.  Well-educated Britons of that era constructed sentences in a very different manner from ours today, among other things, they attempted to emulate the models of rhetoric inherited from Classical Greece and Rome, and they were conversant with the King James Bible and Milton’s Paradise Lost.  (Modern Americans may feel more at home with the vivid similes and brash banter recorded among the less-educated Britons of that time!).  We understand their meaning but simply don’t talk like that today.

Hence the problem: creating dialogue that rings true to the period without bogging down the modern-day reader.  Frankly, the challenge is nearly impossible to overcome, so I have in my novels opted for a transparently extravagant approach, i.e., the dialogue is intended to call attention to itself, as if it were the chanted spell that transports the reader back to the earlier time.  Call it an open trickery on the surface of the hidden trickery that is the writing of fiction.

 I am very interested to hear what readers of Charlotte’s Library have to say about the challenges, and satisfactions, of historical fiction generally, and historical fantasy specifically.  Regency clocks ticked seconds as ours do...but we can never be entirely sure how those seconds sounded in the ears of Regency people.

*the image of Sally's locket (the central one) and the Pheasant Clock are reproduced here with all rights reserved, (c) Deborah A. Mills.  The copyright to the bottom locket picture is held by ßlϋeωãve, and the original can be found here.

Thank you so much, Daniel, and Deborah! I'll be picking up the threads of the conversation on Saturday, when I write my full review, but in the meantime, those who wish to say something viz historical fiction here, please do so!

More information can be found at these places:

Book Previews:

The Choir Boats: http://chizinepub.com/media/choir-boats/TheChoirBoats-Preview.pdf

Book page links: 

Daniel's Twitter: @TheChoirBoats

Deborah's web site: http://www.deborahmillswoodcarving.com/

And here are the other stops on The Indigo Pheasant's Blog Tour:

Sept 14 - Civilian Reader
Sept 26 - Layers of Thought   Book & Yount greeting cards giveaway.
Sept 28 - So Many Precious Books, So Little Time   Book giveaway.
Oct 4 -     Charlotte's Library
Oct 4 -     World in a Satin Bag
Oct 5 -     The Cozy Reader
Oct 11 -   Jess Resides Here
TBS -      Disquieting Visions
TBS  -     Grasping for the Wind

1 comment:

  1. Hi, the miniature photo locket showing Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria, is copyright to me. The original can be found here. Could you please add an attribution and a hotlink back to the original on Flickr.
    Thanks, ßlϋeωãvε


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