The question of why one chooses to write fantasy lit over genres continues to fascinate me. What is it about magic and monsters that are so compelling they make for interesting stories?
I’ve decided to expand my quest for an answer. In addition to blogging about my own reasons for writing fantasy, I’m going to ask some other fantasy authors why they do it.
I’ll start with Jamie Marchant. A professor at Auburn University, Jamie is the author of two fantasy books: The Goddess’s Choice and Demons in the Big Easy. I asked Jamie to discuss her books with me and why she uses fantastic elements to tell the stories she writes.
Phythyon: You’ve got two fantasy novels out right now. Talk about them for a moment. What are they about?
Marchant: Demons in the Big Easy is an urban fantasy novella. Adventurous in her youth, Cassandra built gateways between Domhan and its parallel realm of Earth. Now she’s too old for that kind of thing. But something is making it easier for demons to pass into Domhan. Not only that, but their behavior becomes inexplicable: whenever Cassandra banishes one, it laughs at her rather than resists, and it promises it will soon devour her essence and that of every resident of her small village. Cassandra is certain such a thing is impossible, for strong wards protect her village.
But then Cassandra’s granddaughter Aine falls through an unstable gateway. Cassandra is the only one within a hundred miles capable of creating a gateway and bringing Aine back. Cassandra goes after her and lands in New Orleans. But something goes wrong with her tracking spell, which indicates Aine exists in four different places at once. As she struggles to find the true location of her granddaughter in the Big Easy, Cassandra discovers the source of the demons’ confidence. Now, with an unlikely pair of allies—her timid granddaughter and a homeless man who may or may not be crazy—she has to not only save her granddaughter but also prevent both Domhan and Earth from being overrun by demons.
The Goddess’s Choice is an adult epic fantasy novel set in a kingdom called Korthlundia. The crown princess Samantha fears she’s mad; no one but she sees colors glowing around people. The peasant Robrek Angusstamm believes he’s a demon; animals speak to him, and his healing powers far outstrip those of his village’s priests.
Their gifts also endanger their lives. Royals scheme to usurp the throne by marrying or killing Samantha, and priests plot to burn Robrek at the stake. He escapes the priests only to be captured by Samantha’s arch-enemy, Duke Argblutal, who intends to force the princess to marry him by exploiting Robrek’s powers. To save their own lives and stop Argblutal from plunging the realm into civil war, Robrek and Samantha must consolidate their powers and unite the people behind them.
It is loosely based on a Norwegian fairy tale, “The Princess and the Glass Hill.” Though my favorite fairy tale as a child, it disturbed me that the female character has no name and no role other than being handed off as a prize. My novel remakes the crown princess of Korthlundia into a strong heroine who is every bit as likely to be the rescuer as the one rescued.
Phythyon: Who’s the goddess? It sounds like you’ve got a pretty well developed religion in the book.
Marchant: The goddess is Sulis, who is based on the Celtic goddess of healing, but the religious structure is mostly my own invention. Priests (and priestesses in the Northern kingdom) exist to heal both body and soul. Ideally, they have healing magic, similar to Robrek’s (although not as strong.) In reality, most of the Northern priestesses have such magic. The Southern priests do not. Magic requires mixed blood, and the Southern priests do not accept this fact and have been preaching about the importance blood purity for centuries. This has mostly killed magic in the Southern kingdom. The Southern church has become corrupt and exists mostly to serve themselves rather than the goddess’s children.
Phythyon: Why did you decide you needed elements of the fantastic to tell these stories? They both seem to feature a lot of magic. Why was that an important component of the plots?
Marchant: I think the fantastic is an important element of almost every plot. It gives us an escape from our mundane lives. It appeals to us at our most primitive. Neither of these books would have a story without the magic. Both plots revolve around it.
Phythyon: You say all plots have an element of the fantastic. How do you distinguish between the fantastic and magic?
Marchant: Truthfully, I don’t distinguish between magic and the fantastic. Magic is one element of the fantastic that I enjoy in the books I read. The real world has too little magic in it, so I want it in the books I create.
Phythyon: Is that what made you want to write fantasy novels?
Marchant: I’ve been fascinated with fantasy since I was a very young child; my older sister would tell me fairy tales. They were an escape from the mundane world while teaching important lessons about life. Good fantasy fiction is like that. It brings in the magical while illuminating the importance of the simple things of life and human relationships. My love for fantasy was nurtured in my teen years by Piers Anthony and Roger Zelazny. It was while I was in high school I attempted my first fantasy novel. I’ve never really wanted to write anything else.
I’ve also liked magic for the possibilities it opens up for the imagination. With magic, the world contains infinite possibilities. It allows us to reach beyond the mundane into a realm where no one has gone before.
Phythyon: Do you have any particular influences?
Marchant: Besides my sister’s fairy tales, my strongest influence is probably Mercedes Lackey. Her Valdemar books have become my favorite as an adult. I want my fantasy realm of Korthlundia to be as rich and varied as her world.
Besides Lackey, my favorite writer is Jim Butcher. I don’t know if my favorite authors inspired me to want to write. I’ve always wanted to write. I started writing stories about the Man from Mars for my older sister when I was about six. But they inspire me to write my best, to not give up until I get it right.
Phythyon: What do you hope to emulate from those writers? What about their work inspires you?
Marchant: Both their characters and their world building. Both authors create complex, believable characters that you can love and love to hate. Their worlds are also rich and complete and allow you to suspend your disbelief. I want Korthlundia to be as compelling as Lackey’s Valdemar.
Jamie Marchant lives in Auburn, Alabama, with her husband, son, and four cats, which (or so she’s been told) officially makes her a cat lady. She teaches writing and literature at Auburn University. Her first novel, The Goddess’s Choice, was published in April 2012 by Reliquary Press. She released Demons in the Big Easy in January 2013. She is hard at work on the sequel to The Goddess’s Choice, tentatively titled The Soul Stone. Her short fiction has been published in Bards & Sages, The World of Myth, and Short-story.me.