“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.
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!