Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Building Conversations Between Generations, Part 2: An Interview with Stephen Booth

Last month, we featured a joint father-daughter review of Steven Booth's new novel, Dark Talisman.  Today, we are excited to once again bring back and collaborative efforts of Lindsay Craig and his daughter Eleanor, this time in an interview with Booth about his novel.

Eleanor Craig: What inspired this book?

Steven Booth: Good question!  It's an interesting story, actually.  Chronologically, the first book I wrote in the series was The Emerald Guardian.  It's the tale of a young boy that gets thrown into the middle of a battle between two vast, opposing forces.  At one point in the tale, since the youth has no real talent as a warrior, I needed a stealthy comrade for him, to sneak into an enemy fortress, so I created Altira, the Dark Elf.

When I was done, and I submitted the first-draft to Deborah, my editor, she came right back and said 'Who is this Altira person?  She steals every scene she's in.  You need to pull her out of most of these chapters, or people will think the book is about her, and not about Therin!'

Well, I mostly left her in, but did extensive revisions.  When the book was finished, I realized that I couldn't release Emerald as the first book in the series; it had to be Altira's story.  Dark Talisman fills that role, and was actually much more fun to write.

Eleanor: Is it important that Altira not have an apostrophe in her name when all the other dark elves do?

Steven Booth: Well... not all Dark Elves have an accent in their names (Zalfeer is one, Aanarian, the king of the Green Elves is another, for example). Altira's mother's name was Antarra, and she named Altira because of where she was born.  Apostrophies don't have any special significance in the names of Dark Elves.  They are just a part of the language... like the letter 'a' in English.  'Sarah' isn't really any 'more special' than 'Emily', for example.

Lindsay Craig: Throughout the book, most prominently in the early escape from the vaults of Fu and the final confrontation with the Dar, Altira is portrayed as a capable and willing fighter – though imbued with magical abilities. When creating Altira, was there an intentional bias toward combat prowess over magical ability? Was her gender a part of this decision, working against the stereotypes of male and female abilities that sometimes occur in fantasy (and other) literature?

Steven Booth: Well, first of all, Dark Talisman, indeed all my work, is intended to break the traditional molds of Fantasy in as many ways as possible. I wouldn't say that Altira is a 'willing' fighter, exactly.  In reality, she really doesn't much like direct conflict -- It's not in the nature of most Dark Elves to be directly offensive; they much prefer stealth and evasion to outright conflict, when possible.  Of course, as a result of the opposition in the story, Altira is thrown into numerous situations wherein combat is a necessity, the fight with the Dar in the end being the primary example.  But even in this battle, you will notice that Altira uses her wits and innate magical skills to prevail, and not her physical prowess with the blade -- by necessity, since the Dar greatly exceeded her abilities in strength and speed.

Altira's gender was pre-determined before the first line of Dark Talisman was written, and is a result of the requirements for the story in what is now the second book in the series, The Emerald Guardian, as I described earlier.  So, no, Altira was not specifically intended as a counterpoint to the protagonist trope in Fantasy -- although she certainly serves well in that role!

Eleanor: What happened to the sorcerer?

Zalfeer, after causing the huge explosion that kills the Sultan, and very nearly the Prince and Altira, escapes from Fu and returns to Xan`cata.  But don't worry, this is not the last we've seen of this nasty guy.  His day will come. The third book in the series is entitled 'The Sorcerer of Xak' (which would be... him), and in it, Farthir, along with Altira, Erlini and friends 'have it out' with Zalfeer, in an epic battle set in the dungeons of the mysterious City of the Dark Lord.
Eleanor: Will Erlini find another partner?

Erlini is immortal, so there is an excellent chance.  In fact, the next book in the Guardian Series is called 'The Emerald Guardian', and in fact, it's all about Erlini finding a new Companion... among other things!

Lindsay: Tolkien pre-eminently founded his cohesive fantasy world on the philology of the languages his creations use, famously declaring that he had built the stories to serve the languages. What is the relationship between the story and the unique language used in Dark Talisman? How are they bound to one another?

You are quite correct that Tolkien, who was a linguistics scholar at Oxford, derived great inspiration from his love of, and talent in philology. There are, of course, multiple languages in Dark Talisman, and in the series as a whole; however for me, the language was not the primary motivating factor.  Rather, I started with the character concepts -- their motivations, ethos and attitudes -- and derived the languages as a tool to evoke those characteristics.  For me, the language is just one component in painting a cohesive and complete image in which the story is told.

I think that all stems from the fact that my primary strength, as an author, is in creating believable visual environments.  I actually start with the setting when I write, then place the characters, and finally describe what happens to them using the linguistic tools that are consistent and support the emotions I'm trying to express.   Thus, for me, the language is derived, rather than being the foundational driving-force behind the tale.

Lindsay: The significance of youth and opposition, near rebellion, is inescapable in Dark Talisman, and clearly linked to the idealized audience for the book. What significance does Tyke’s name hold in your vision of the book (it is not quite diminutive, but not without some dismissive connotations)?

Steven: Very perceptive observation!  Tyke's name was chosen for this exact reason, and is in fact, is a 'Red Herring'.  The intent -- and it's one of the primary objectives of the series -- is to go against-trope for the Dwarven race as a whole.  The reader is lulled into a dismissive attitude regarding Tyke (and by extension all the Dwarves) initially, only to discover over the remainder of the book, and in fact, over the remainder of the entire series, that the Dwarven race in Salustra are not comic relief, not semi-intelligent, and certainly not physically impotent.  They are, in fact, the most subtle, most powerful, and except for the Guardians, the most magically potent race in Salustra.  They will have a huge role to play in the epic battle to be waged over the next seven books in the series, and will gain the readers' respect and even admiration, before we are done.

And finally, from Eleanor: Will there be another book?

Steven: There will be seven other books!

By Lindsay and Eleanor Craig