Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Fantasy and Sci-Fi Novels that Inspired The Dreamwielder Chronicles

The Dreamwielder Chronicles are branded as YA fantasy, but when you delve into the books, you’ll find there’s a bit more to them than that. They are, in fact, a unique mashup of fantasy, steampunk, and horror for young adults and adults alike. I have consciously drawn from several inspirations while creating the series, and I’m much indebted to their authors. So here they are, without further ado, the fantasy and sci-fi novels that inspired The Dreamwielder Chronicles.

A Song of Ice and Fire
By George R.R. Martin

Martin is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read most of what he’s written, including his sci-fi work he did before ASOIF, so it’s no surprise his work is a big influence of mine. One of the ideas Martin has espoused on writing genre fiction is the idea of “used furniture.” I’m paraphrasing heavily here, but the idea is that there are certain tropes in each genre that readers are accustomed to, and that authors should use those tropes to their advantage so that they don’t have to describe every detail of their world in tedious detail.

Since A Game of Thrones has become such a big part of the modern fantasy landscape, I decided to borrow some of Martin’s furniture. I used the idea of having messenger ravens and even named the realm in my world similarly to his. He has the Seven Kingdoms. I have the Five Kingdoms. Other inspirations include the grittiness of the narrative and the fact that no character is safe. Ever.

A Wizard of Earthsea
Ursula K. Le Guin

Magic is a big part of The Dreamwielder Chronicles. When developing how the magic worked, I drew heavily upon the work of Le Guin, who to my mind creates magic with the most symbolic significance of any writer out there. Magic in A Wizard of Earthsea is all about understanding the true nature of the natural world and working in harmony with it.

I invoked this same spirit in The Dreamwielder Chronicles. You’ll see it in the discordance between magic and the budding industrial technology in the Five Kingdoms. You’ll also see it as Makarria, the main protagonists of the series, matures and learns how to control the magic she was born with.

The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien

Even if you’re not influenced by Tolkien as a fantasy writer, you’re influenced by Tolkien. His stamp on the genre is ubiquitous. I for one am glad of it. Tolkien’s attention to detail when creating the world of the LOTR, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion is unparalleled. Not only did he create a vast history and mythology for his world, he created language for its denizens. Those sort of details pervade his writing with a richness that makes Middle-earth feel as real as our own.

I didn’t go nearly as far as Tolkien, of course, but I was inspired to thoroughly imagine the world of the Five Kingdoms well before ever sitting down to start writing the story. I have pages and pages of history, mythology, maps, and timelines that will probably never factor into the story of The Dreamwielder Chronicles, but by knowing those details, I was able to make the world far more believable for the reader than I would have otherwise.

Wild Seed
Octavia Butler

It seems like most epic fantasy stories are set in either a medieval British/European setting or a pseudo-medieval British/European setting.  Same goes for a lot of steampunk, except it’s Victorian era rather than medieval era. Wild Seed was probably the first novel I ever read that was an American fantasy. This amazing novel by Octavia Butler, along with the works of numerous Latin-American women authors I read while in graduate school, had a profound impact on me.

I set out to make The Dreamwielder Chronicles an epic fantasy that was roughly analogous to the real world Americas. Part of the history I mentioned when discussing Tolkien involved the arrival of conquerors from the Old World, at the cost of assimilation, and in some cases, annihilation of indigenous peoples. This facet, in particular, will be more apparent in book 3, but even in the first two books, there is a conscious mixing of cultures that is indicative to the Americas.

Wild Seed influenced me in two other ways. For one, it served as a model for me in writing a true omniscient third person narrative in Dreamwielder. Most modern fantasy fiction, like other popular contemporary fiction, relies on tight, limited 3rd person viewpoints, even when there are multiple viewpoint characters. Yet Butler masterfully weaves a true omniscient narrative in Wild Seed, flowing from one character’s viewpoint to another from one paragraph to the next as the story unfolds. Reading this narrative story telling mode gave me the license to do the same, even if true omniscient is out of fashion.

The final influence Wild Seed had on me, along with all the magical realism I read over the years, was a comfort level writing a story with a woman protagonist. Butler approaches her characters in Wild Seed with compassionate and unbiased viewpoints, regardless of race, gender, or anything else. Perhaps I was naïve when I first read it, but I took this as a matter fact as to what good writing was supposed to be. As such, it never occurred to me that it might be odd for a male author to write a woman protagonist. I wrote Makarria, Taera, Talitha, Fina, and all the other women characters in The Dreamwielder Chronicles the same way I wrote any of the male characters: I put myself into their shoes, and wrote them like the humans they are.

The Anubis Gates
Tim Powers

The connections between my work and Tim Powers is not as evident as some of the others, but book 2 in The Dreamwielder Chronicles, Souldrifter, was directly influenced by The Anubis Gates in two distinct ways. First, Powers is a master of crazy plot turns that all tie together at the climax of the story. Souldrifter is very much in that vein, with a crazy plot that leaves readers guessing until the end. The second influence is one of the characters in The Annubis Gates, Dog-Face Joe. I won’t go into details, since I don’t want to give any spoilers about Souldrifter, but let it suffice to say, that this was another conscious borrowing of furniture.

(On a side note, it’s worth mentioning that Wild Seed has a character, Doro, who is similar to Dog-Face Joe, or perhaps visa versa is more appropriate since Wild Seed was written three years earlier. In any case, I’d forgotten about Doro when writing Souldrifter, but it’s likely that I subconsciously borrowed from this character as much as I did from Dog-Face Joe.)

Lord Kelvin’s Machine
James P. Blaylock

It’s no secret that Blaylock has been one of my writing mentors. I began reading his work when I was one of his students in grad school. The Last Coin is my favorite book of his, but his genre-defining steampunk story Lord Kelvin’s Machine is much more of an influence on The Dreamwielder Chronicles. Much of the steampunk aesthetic in my series is directly influenced by Blaylock’s Victorian England. Another smaller, subtler influence, is the humor Blaylock imbues into his characters. Going into writing The Dreamwielder Chronicles, I knew one of the dangers was that the books and protagonists might take themselves too seriously. To divert, or at least diffuse this issue, I came up with the character Natarios Rhodas, probably one of my favorite characters in the series. He’s a despicable human in most ways, but has a sense of humor and never takes himself too seriously—that’s a direct influence of Blaylock’s characters, albeit a bit more Dr. Narbondo than Langdon St. Ives.

Dream Baby
Bruce McAllister

I had the pleasure of meeting and getting know McAllister in recent years, and he was even gracious enough to read an early draft of Souldrifter and provide some revision suggestions. This was a huge honor for me because, in no small part, his novel Dream Baby was a direct influence on the first chapter of Souldrifter. The two novels couldn’t be more different, but one particular cave scene in Dream Baby was so chilling that I couldn’t put it out of mind, even months after reading the book. The emotional gut-punch of that scene was a direct influence for Chapter 1 of Souldrifter and helped set the tone for the rest of the book.

The Belgariad
David Eddings (and in all likelihood Leigh Eddings) 

I gobbled up this series and everything else Eddings wrote back when I was in junior high and high school. It’s hard to quantify the true impact of books you adored when you were young. I’d venture that they make you a part of who you are. If nothing else, Eddings influenced my writing style.

While Eddings’ writing is by no means high-literature, he wrote with a fluidity that sucked me into his worlds, combining high fantasy, action, humor, and twisting plots into tales that made me read through them with an unhealthy fervor. The writing never got in the way of the story, and that’s something I’ve tried to emulate as an author.

It’s worth noting that The Belgariad, despite having adolescent protagonists, was sold as straight up fantasy. There was no YA tag placed on it. I took the same mindset when writing and marketing Dreamwielder, which was perhaps a mistake. The modern marketplace is geared very much towards niche marketing, and YA is hot, hot, hot. If we had branded Dreamwielder as YA from the outset, it’s very possible it would have reached a wider audience, but so it goes.

Garrett Calcaterra is author of The Dreamwielder Chronicles and other works of dark speculative fiction. Book 2, Souldrifter, is available now in ebook and paperback formats from Diversion Books. Learn more at www.garrettcalcaterra.com


lilygardner.net said...

Some of these I've read, some not. Thanks for the recommendations.

Anonymous said...

Some of these I've read. Some not. Thanks for the recommendations.

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