Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fractured Reality: The Roads to Baldairn Motte

Two summers ago I was a featured reader at the Big Orange Book Festival. I read two excerpts: the opening chapter of my work in progress, Remember the Future, which went over quite well, and then an excerpt from The Roads to Baldairn Motte, which did not go over so well. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but in doing massive revisions with my co-authors over the last couple of months for the new edition of Baldairn Motte from Reputation Books, I learned a lot about the nature of storytelling and the double-edged sword that is multiple vantage points.

Despite having what I’ll call “aggressive prose,” Remember the Future was easy to read aloud and easy for my audience to digest aurally because it is a straight forward narrative. There is one viewpoint character (my protagonist) and the story is completely internalized and colored by his personality. It’s a narrative form readers are used to.

The Roads to Baldairn Motte, on the other hand, is a mosaic novel, a novel with multiple view point characters, narrated via fragmented and disconnected stories that only overlap peripherally. Alone, each of the pieces seem incomplete, but just like mosaic art, stick all the pieces together and you have a complex, cohesive whole. It was no wonder my audience was lost when I tried to read them a short excerpt.

So, why did my co-authors and I write a mosaic novel if it lends itself to confusion? Was it just an exercise in forced artfulness? Not at all. In fact, quite the opposite—our lofty goal was to reach absolute realism in a fantasy story. Whether studying literature, history, or philosophy, a recurring phenomenon you’ll discover is that reality is always distorted by perspective. Read a history text book in the US about the Vietnam War and it’ll be far different from the version of the war you’ll read about in Vietnam (or France or China or Russia). The only way to give yourself a holistic, somewhat objective view of an event, is to view the event from as many vantage points as possible. That's what a mosaic novel can give you.

Form means nothing without substance, though, and to get to the root of our decision for writing a mosaic novel, you have to start with the story, and the story Craig Comer, Ahimsa Kerp and I wanted to tell was of the harsh reality of war. Far too often the versions of war we hear—whether historical or fictional—are glamorized. Romanticized. In fantasy, this comes in the form of noble characters doing great deeds of heroism to combat evil. Kings, queens, knights, wizards, etc. In reality, motivations are far more murky and the fate and hardships of war rests on the shoulders of common people, those who fight on the front lines, and those whose lands and way of life are destroyed. That’s the story we wanted to tell. Hence the premise of The Roads to Baldairn Motte—a war of succession, pitting northern lords against southern lords, told from the perspective of those whose lives are affected most: foot soldiers, farmers, millers, sailors, healers, and whores.

Whether we reached our lofty goal of emulating reality is certainly debatable, but The Roads to Baldairn Motte is definitely a book the three of us are proud of, and if you read all the pieces, you’ll have a fantasy story quite unlike any other you’ve read before. Plus, just because we strove to weave a realistic tale as opposed to one shrouded in the fantastic, it doesn’t mean the story is boring. Just like in real life, there’s plenty of swearing, screwing, fighting and heartbreak.

-Garrett Calcaterra

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