“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their…well, Inspirations and Influences. The cool thing is that the writers are given free rein so they can go wild and write about anything they want: their new book, series or career as a whole.
Today, we are thrilled to have the wonderful Rachel Neumeier over as our guest, talking Inspirations & Influences. Rachel is the author of some of our very favorite fantasy books ever – from the Griffin Mage Trilogy, to The Floating Islands, to Thea’s personal favorite, The City in the Lake. Most recently, she is the author of adult fantasy novel House of Shadows – another beautiful, breathtaking work of fantasy fiction (which Thea will be reviewing later today).
Please give a warm welcome to Rachel!
Thank you, Thea and Ana, for inviting me to post on The Book Smugglers! I haven’t actually counted, but I think you two are responsible for about half the books I buy – and I buy a lot of books. So it’s a particular honor to be here, and I, if not my budget, thank you both for continually offering such thoughtful, informative, honest reviews.
Now, House of Shadows is an easy book to talk about if the theme is Inspirations and Influences, because some of the inspirations and influences for it were very obvious to me while I was developing its setting. And for me a book is all about setting, at first. The characters tend to emerge from the setting rather than the other way around, and then the plot naturally emerges (if I’m lucky) from the characters. (If I’m not lucky, I wind up beating the plot out of the ether by brute force, not my favorite part.)
I didn’t have anything in particular in mind when I started House of Shadows. I was just putting words in a row, seeing what if anything wanted to grow from a random beginning. Actually, right there at the beginning, I was trying for a fairy-tale tone. You can still see traces of that as the story opens, although it quickly went off in its own direction and didn’t turn into a fairy tale after all. But the initial tone and setting and situation – eight sisters, suddenly orphaned and needing to cope with a threatened disastrous plunge into poverty – were at first meant to be the opening steps in a fairy tale.
But I had no idea where I was going to take the opening situation until I happened to pick up a copy of Liza Dalby’s nonfiction book Geisha. That immediately changed the direction of the emerging story. I found the social role that geisha played, and to some extent still play, in Japanese society very interesting. Here we have nominally powerless women, yet they are certainly in a position to influence important men.
I modeled the keiso in House of Shadows after geisha, of course. But with several important differences – I wasn’t trying to write an alternate Japan; far from it. I just wanted to play with the idea of professionally glamorous woman companions who are hired by men who want to show off their good taste while they entertain their friends.
At the same time, I was reading the latest installment of Barbara Hambly’s A Free Man of Color mystery series, which of course is set in 1830s New Orleans. At the time, New Orleans was really divided into two (or three, or now that I come to think of it, four) distinct communities, but the one that interested me in this context was the world of the demimonde, the almost-openly-recognized, nearly respectable free colored mistresses of wealthy French Creole men. Here was a situation where a white man would have a wife and then also one recognized mistress, whom he would support and whose children he would also support.
The keiso of Lonne grew out of both of these ideas. I completely separated them from prostitutes, turning them instead into artists and celebrities and “flower wives” and giving them, in fact, several distinct and respectable social roles – if not always easy lives.
This is what I mean by the characters emerge from the setting. Because if you have keiso – if you have an social role at all similar to keiso – then that tells you a lot about the society in general, doesn’t it? And that society is going to provide the first level of conflict and dilemma for the characters. Especially female characters.
Of course, House of Shadows isn’t all about the keiso. It’s also about ambition, and about war and the threat of war, and about the conflict between the mages of Lonne and the bardic sorcerers of Kalches, and about how our dreams can drive us, and about the rather terrible situations parents and children can get into with one another, and about the danger a man of conviction can pose to the world if he’s both absolutely committed and absolutely wrong.
And if I remember correctly, there might possibly be a dragon or two somewhere in there as well.
About the Author: Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.
She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.
You can read more about Rachel on her website, and follow her on her blog and on twitter (@rachelneumeier).
Thank you, Rachel! And now for…
We have a copy of House of Shadows up for grabs! The contest is open to ALL and will run until Sunday July 22 at 12:01am EST. In order to enter, leave a comment using the form below. Good luck!
Stephanie T.July 10, 2012 at 3:56 am
I would totally go for the more exotic setting such as China or Africa!
JoannaJuly 10, 2012 at 4:31 am
Hmmm I think I’d be more interested in the latter, I’ve read my share of pseudo-Medieval-European fantasy and I wish other cultures would be explored more. At the same time though, I’d have to trust the author not to fall into the orientalism/exoticism trap – which is why I look forward to House of Shadows so much!
Rachel ChanJuly 10, 2012 at 4:46 am
Ooh, that’s a hard question! Although I really enjoy reading books with a Medieval European settings, I’d probably have to choose the fantasy book with the more exotic ambiance, especially if it was reminiscent of Ottoman Turkey, which seems like a very interesting setting.
AnimeJuneJuly 10, 2012 at 5:51 am
It sounds a lot like the role of Companions in the world created by Joss Whedon for FIREFLY. In the show, even though Mal derisively refers to Inarra (a Companion), as a whore, she is still influential, sophisticated, and in control of her own pursuits.
This book sounds really interesting!
Yuko86July 10, 2012 at 6:05 am
I think I’d choose a story with a Medieval European setting, I love it!:)
Shannon HJuly 10, 2012 at 6:47 am
I think I’d go with the more exotic setting, if it was an author I liked. I would trust them more to not fall into stereotypes. Though ideally, you could just start out in one place and then travel to Medieval Europe and maybe hightail it back to China or wherever, and we could just see both 🙂
StephanieJuly 10, 2012 at 7:24 am
Oooo. Hard question. I would probably pick up the exotic first. Though really it would depend on my mood. Sometimes it is easier for me to fall into the more familiar/traditional fantasy.
brenda cJuly 10, 2012 at 7:25 am
I’d definitely prefer the more exotic location!
KatieJuly 10, 2012 at 7:33 am
I’d definitely pick the story with the more exotic setting, particularly if it was set in Asia. I’m a sucker for that. But the Ottoman empire and Africa would be more appealing to me as well, compared to a medieval setting.
RebeccaJuly 10, 2012 at 7:45 am
I’d be open to either; the setting wouldn’t be the decision maker but what the characters (and plot) sounded like. I can’t help it; characters always win over other elements for me! 🙂
Molly FrenzelJuly 10, 2012 at 8:22 am
I really don’t know which I’d pick up first. I guess it depends on the plot, at least for me. I really don’t have a preference on where the story takes place, as long as I’m into the plot.
KaralynnJuly 10, 2012 at 8:35 am
On the question: It would honestly depend on what that other setting was. I’ve gnashed my teeth over some portrayals of my own culture, and I’d want some assurances that the setting was handled richly and deftly. Whereas I’ve developed a tolerance for the standard medievalesque Euro-fantasy fare.
And actually, hearing about Hambly’s mysteries (which are a big favorite of mine) being an influence on House of Shadows is actually more of a draw than any geishas! Excited to be reading this one soon.
Lisa (starmetal oak)July 10, 2012 at 8:43 am
I usually always pick the more exotic setting, only because it’s less represented in fantasy and I’m always willing to try something different.
Maya SJuly 10, 2012 at 8:53 am
Definitely medieval European. It’s much more to my taste, usually.
John J.July 10, 2012 at 9:17 am
I’ve been meaning to read Rachel’s work for a while after Steph Su and y’all wrote countless praises about her YA novel The Floating Islands – but now I HAVE to read her, because I love anything that is inspired by the geisha culture or of a similar cloth. Seeing that concept be an inspiration (even if I’m sad that it’s not an alternative Japan) is just extremely exciting from a reader perspective. I also love that Rachel identifies the influences so well in her writing instead of downplaying their importance.
John J.July 10, 2012 at 9:19 am
Oh, and to answer the question (I was so exited to comment I didn’t even look at the contest entry) I will always pick the setting inspired by a more unusual culture over the traditional European influence – it’s more fresh and suggests that the author’s influences are broader and unique to the genre.
AndreaJuly 10, 2012 at 9:21 am
Hmm, that’s a tough question. As a medievalist, I love medievally settings. As an admitted otaku, I equally love asiatic settings. I’ve read fantastic books of each. I would probably devour both of them with equal vigor, though I might go for the asiatic one first. It would really depend on my mood (and I won’t lie, the cover and opening line!).
SheilaJuly 10, 2012 at 9:28 am
Anywhere with dragons! :LOL:
Lindsay ElizabethJuly 10, 2012 at 9:34 am
I would actually pick up each book and read the first line. Whichever one I liked better, I would read!
sakuraJuly 10, 2012 at 9:44 am
Although I like both settings, these days I’m more likely to go for something non-European and medieval. Probably because I’ve had my fill of them!
MichelleJuly 10, 2012 at 9:46 am
I would definitely pick up the non-standard setting first, but if I found it difficult to figure out what was going on, I’d probably return to the more familiar setting. Luckily, most books I’ve tried that aren’t set in pseudo-Europe have been fantastic, especially lately.
JosephineJuly 10, 2012 at 9:53 am
EllieJuly 10, 2012 at 10:09 am
I would probably choose the exotic setting because I’ve read a lot with the medieval European setting, so it would be interesting to switch things up a bit.
mary anneJuly 10, 2012 at 10:23 am
I am a little ashamed to admit I’d probably go for the medieval European setting. Reading those type fantasy settings are like comfort reads for me; I find I don’t have to work as hard to become engrossed. I have to twist my mind a little harder to enter the more exotic fantasy worlds – though when they are well done, they are so much more rewarding.
SerenaJuly 10, 2012 at 10:25 am
I partial to the latter kind of setting TBH.
Re: the word “exotic”. Exotic according to whom, though?
jenmitchJuly 10, 2012 at 11:42 am
honestly, if i’d heard good things about the author(s) and the books, i’d probably buy them both at the same time and start with whichever had a better cover 🙂
but, to answer the question, i’d probably go with the more exotic setting first. these books can be more dangerous, in some sense, because they run the risk of “othering”, but recently i’ve read SUCH great specimens, that i would definitely be on board.
Book Review: House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier | The Book SmugglersJuly 10, 2012 at 11:56 am
[…] Guest Author & Giveaway: Rachel Neumeier on Inspirations & Influences […]
Kara MileyJuly 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm
Yikes, that is hard! I did my undergrad in Medieval European history, on the other hand, reading a book based in a country or time period I’m not familiar with sounds more interesting from a learning point of view. I’m going to go with option 2: the exotic location.
LoboJuly 10, 2012 at 2:16 pm
I always prefered the more traditional, Medieval Europe kind of settings, so I’d go with that.
Christina K.July 10, 2012 at 2:42 pm
Definitely Medieval Europe – I love the era and lore and politics:)
Thanks so much:)
ElizabethJuly 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm
If it’s well-written, I like both, but tend to love and re-read the tradition, European setting more.
But I would love to see a book with a fairy-tale-like atmosphere in the future from Rachel Neumeier!
Sarah NBJuly 10, 2012 at 3:27 pm
Most definitely the exotic setting!
JamieJuly 10, 2012 at 4:16 pm
Definitely exotic. I’m pretty bored of European fantasy. Even if its written very well, the setting and world-building is so predictable and doesn’t demand much of its writers or its characters.
BreanneJuly 10, 2012 at 5:05 pm
Since most of what I’ve read is more of the European variety, I’d pick the exotic setting.
Victoria ZumbrumJuly 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm
I would go for the exotic setting. Tore923@aol.com
erinf1July 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm
Thanks for the great post and giveaway!
I’d be torn and quite frankly, would probably read them both. But I’d pick the more exotic location one first b/c so many magical fantasy books do have a medieval setting, so it would be nice to read something more original and new.
NaJuly 10, 2012 at 5:56 pm
Both sounds great but I would go with the Medieval European. The old world would be great with fantasy involved.
Celesta H.July 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm
Given the choice I would go for the Medieval European setting. That’s a part of the world that I have always been drawn to, and even though I love asia, Europe just has a magical feel for me, whether or not the story actually contains works of magic. Just a feeling. Great question and thanks for hosting the giveaway!
RainaJuly 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm
Usually I’d go for Medieval European, unless it was Ancient Egypt 🙂
Kristen H.July 10, 2012 at 6:30 pm
I like exotic settings. Altho both are really appealing. 🙂
saracJuly 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm
My gut says I’d pick up something with a Medieval European setting, although I would like to be adventurous and try something different.
Jasmine StairsJuly 10, 2012 at 7:02 pm
While I still love the medieval european setting, as it’s what I grew up on, I find in a lot of situations it feels rote. I expect setting to be almost a character (this is why I read SF and Fantasy), and in a lot of situations it feels as though when people write in a “medieval fantasy Europe,” they’re pulling from the canon of similar books, not even going back to the history to make a setting sparkle. A book set in another area, even if it’s just Eastern Europe, or a celtic setting, indicates that the writer considered the setting a bit more.
At least, that’s generally the subconscious idea that goes through my head when I scan book jackets for plot points that sound interesting, alert for cool setting pieces like “arranged marriage” or “magical food” or “dragons.” 😀
KelleyJuly 10, 2012 at 7:39 pm
For fantasy, I’d choose the more exotic locale
Amy CJuly 10, 2012 at 7:51 pm
I often go for the medieval European books, although I like the exotic settings more, but often the author drops too much vocabulary and customs and exposition, and it feels like more of a book report than a true story, and it distracts me. I guess after a while I just sort of gave up on them… ;____;
Mary PrestonJuly 10, 2012 at 8:27 pm
I think I would pick up the exotic setting first. It would intrigue me because it would not have been something I read a lot of.
StephanieJuly 10, 2012 at 9:25 pm
I would choose the exotic setting.
Mieneke van der Salm (@Pallekenl)July 11, 2012 at 3:18 am
I’d choose the non-European medieval setting, as that is the one that’s less common.
Jessica TanJuly 11, 2012 at 5:58 am
I would choose something with a medieval Europe setting. The exotic setting books usually spent too much time on description, which I do not like.
meredith gJuly 11, 2012 at 9:38 am
A story with a more exotic setting because I have grown tired of the traditional English setting.
REDJuly 11, 2012 at 10:15 am
I have very particular likes/dislikes when it comes to characters. Thus, even if the two books were equally good, one would almost definitely have characters that stood out more for me, and I would choose that one. The setting doesn’t really matter at all.
But if for some reason they really did sound equally interesting to me… well, that’s a hard one. I’d go with exotic IF it didn’t seem like the author was writing in that setting for the sake of being different. The setting would have to not be much of a focus.
KaetheJuly 11, 2012 at 12:36 pm
Y’all, these Inspirations & Influences posts make me want to read every single book mentioned.
KaetheJuly 11, 2012 at 12:39 pm
Gak. Somehow I left out the part where I answered “somewhere else” like Asia, or Africa. That’s really driven my selections lately. Medieval Europe-type fantasies bore me lately.
TinaJuly 11, 2012 at 12:55 pm
I tend to pick books more on characters and plot rather than setting… but since I have read a lot of books with European-esque settings, I would probably lean towards a more exotic setting if given a choice, for variety.
SerenaJuly 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm
I have typically gone for the European settings, but I’m not sure if that’s not just because they are so predominant in the genre. I’ve found recently a couple of great ones in more exotic settings, and I think if I had the choice, I’d lean towards those. But other factors would definitely be involved and I would be unlikely too pick up any book primarily because of its setting.
Hann1balJuly 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm
In all honesty, I’d probably go for the medieval European book, but I still want more interesting fantasy settings.
Kindree KnoepfleJuly 11, 2012 at 3:47 pm
I’m not terribly picky. I like both exotic and European-inspired settings. I’ve found myself particularly drawn to Victorian and Edwardian British settings, especially for fantasy novels. Other than that, I can be a bit wary of “exotic” novels that are mainly drawn from stereotypes, but if it’s an author I trust, I’ll pick them up anyway. And sometimes I find that some of the imaginative ideas western people had of other lands and peoples in the past are excellent settings for fantasy novels!
SueCCCPJuly 11, 2012 at 4:10 pm
To be honest I really don’t mind the setting, though I haven’t read many books set in the far east, so I might be tempted to chose that one.
Nikki EgertonJuly 12, 2012 at 1:15 am
Until recently I would have chosen the Medieval European setting, but I’ve read so much of that now I want to try something new. I adore N.K Jemison’s books, and would like to try some Japanese fantasy too xx
Tiffany M.July 12, 2012 at 8:17 am
I would most likely pick the non-European setting, especially if it was in Asia. I love that particular setting, though I do enjoy fantasy in general. 🙂
JanetJuly 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm
I would definitely go for a more exotic setting. I love under-represented locations, time periods, and concepts in novel settings. Medieval Europe can be interesting, too, but the problem is when it’s fantasy trope Europe instead of a real Medieval Europe. I mean, come on, the Middle Ages were ten centuries long. Why not be more specific and authentic? I think you can really tell when an author’s world building is based on research and creativity, and when it’s based on ideas from other people’s novels. Of course we all get inspired by other novels, art, music, etc.- but it’s easy to tell who went on to do their own research (like Rachel Neumeier!) and who didn’t.
PrimroseJuly 12, 2012 at 7:50 pm
I would love an exotic setting as opposed to European ones since reading is like a journey for me so once in a while it’ll be nice to travel to somewhere new and exciting.
Mel SJuly 13, 2012 at 11:09 am
Medival Europe I think – just because it’s more familar so I think I will read it quicker! 🙂
Stephanie O.July 13, 2012 at 6:57 pm
I enjoy the world-building in books where I get to see in my head the places as the characters see them. I think out of these options I would go with the exotic setting. I think they provide a more diverse setting for the characters to interact with.
Melissa (Books and Things)July 13, 2012 at 7:56 pm
Exotic setting. I love visiting new worlds even if it is only in a book!
scribe kiraJuly 13, 2012 at 11:13 pm
I would love both, but maybe I’d pick the exotic one first?
PetaJuly 14, 2012 at 1:33 am
Hrm – have to confess it would be in my “safety zone” of Medieval European every time. Which is weird because I love general fiction books in exotic locations!
Most excited that in her author pic Rachel has (at least) two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels as I have a pair of my own. Best dogs ever. 🙂
ElenaJuly 14, 2012 at 10:15 am
Given two equally promising books where the only difference is setting, I want to say I’d pick the non-European one, but I’m not sure. Like Peta above, Medieval European-based fantasy is a comfort zone for me. I suppose it would depend on whether I was in the mood for a familiar comfort read type book or a brand new and outside-the-box reading experience. So I guess it would vary depending on the day!
KateJuly 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm
I would probably read a more “exotic” setting, simply because I’ve read so many European and pseudo-European fantasy stories that I have my eyes out for something different.
SpencerJuly 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm
Exotic. I’ve read too many medieval fantasy books, and after a while they ran out of things to teach me.
ValerieJuly 15, 2012 at 7:23 am
I’d go with the non-familiar one. 😀
Sarah NBJuly 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm
Definitely the exotic one!
MaureenJuly 16, 2012 at 9:27 am
I would pick the Medieval European one.
Kyrstin BJuly 17, 2012 at 12:36 pm
I tend to pick up the more exotic one because it’s so unfamiliar. I like both kinds of books, but the farther away I can get from actual reality when reading a fantasy book the better.
Seth ChristenfeldJuly 18, 2012 at 5:50 pm
I’d pick up them both, clearly.
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