To kick off this fun-filled week of fantasy goodness, I’ve got a guest post for you about fantasy and murder from A.F.E. Smith. Stay tuned afterward, because I’ve got all the deets on a great Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post!
Fantasy and murder: what’s the appeal?
It’s no secret that fantasy is, and always has been, my favourite genre. There are many reasons for that, but one very good one is that the sheer number of possibilities it opens up to a writer is breathtaking. Fantasy has no limitations except for your own imagination and your ability to convince your reader to suspend disbelief.
Yet for that reason, writing fantasy can feel like being handed a bottomless bucket, pointed in the direction of an infinitely wide pick’n’mix stand, and told to take as much as you want. And if you’re me, that might result in something like this.
I like birds. And unicorns. And shapeshifters. So let’s have a flying unicorn shapeshifter! Duels to the death, always good. Add them to the bloody murder and general mayhem. Airships, sure, why not? Bit of romance. Bit of mistaken identity. Swords, yes, gotta have plenty of swords … oooh, guns! Hmm, swords or guns … what? Swords AND guns? Don’t mind if I do. And a walled city. No, a double-walled city. No, a SEVEN-walled city.
I’m not kidding: all this stuff is in Darkhaven. And put like that, it’s not so much a coherent novel as it is ALL THE THINGS.
But a key fact about pick’n’mix (and I should know, I’ve eaten plenty of it) is that it isn’t as good without something to accompany it. Sitting with a bucket of candy and staring at the wall is not very satisfying. Eating that same candy whilst watching a great movie? It doesn’t get much better than that. In this analogy, the candy is all the cool stuff that makes fantasy so much fun to read; the movie is the part that engages the brain. The movie is the plot.*
Darkhaven’s plot – the murder and its resolution – was actually the part of the book that came first. Without unleashing a horde of rabid spoilers, I think it’s safe to say that it’s a fantasy plot; the whole point of the story is that the murder bears all the signs of having been committed by a shapeshifter, so it’s not exactly CSI: Miami. But at the point when I came up with the plot, shapeshifters was as far as the fantasy side of things went. All the other stuff – the weapons, the steampunky bits, the unique city setting – came afterwards. And because I already had a plot, it was easier to see which of the infinite number of fantasy flavours would enhance it, and which would be just a distraction.
So I guess that’s the appeal of combining fantasy and murder, as I see it. A murder mystery requires you to write a plot with a particular shape: one that reveals information gradually, follows a natural progression, and has a definite conclusion at the end of the book. And fantasy allows you to decorate that skeleton with lots of really shiny things that give it the enjoyment factor, but also – in some cases – added depth. Take firearms, for instance. The setting of Darkhaven is industrial, but at a time when firearms are only just beginning to be discovered. To start with, I gave one of my characters a gun as a way of giving her the edge, because in her world it’s a rare and highly prized weapon. But as it turned out, the gun also added something important to the plot that will be picked up in the sequel. So worldbuilding can influence plot as much as plot influences worldbuilding.
More fundamentally, of course, fantasy and crime have something very basic in common: they deal with extreme situations. Consider a classic Agatha Christie novel. It goes without saying that every character in it will have some kind of secret; that emotions will be heightened; that the investigation will be hampered by people working to their own agendas and struggling with their own personal demons. And that kind of life-or-death atmosphere is common to fantasy, too. People are never so exposed, so close to the edge, as when they appear in a genre novel. Perhaps the joy of genre fiction – fantasy, sci-fi, horror, crime – is that it allows us to strip away the trappings of everyday life and see what lies beneath.
*Unless it’s a Michael Bay film.
About the Author
A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.
What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.
About the Book
Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.
When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?
Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.
I must say, I have to agree on the point about the joy of genre fiction – genre works can make you see things about your world in a whole new way, exposing the truth of things that was there all along if only you’d opened your eyes to it sooner. Lit fic can do the same, of course, but I’ve been reading a lot more genre fiction than literary fiction lately, and it amazes me how the truth of the world can jump out at you from even a bit of ordinary prose. Has anything like this ever happened to you? Tell us all about it in the comments!
And now, onto the rest of the fun!
The aforementioned giveaway includes a host of great prizes. There’s an e-book copy of Darkhaven, a signed paperback of Felinity, a set of five bookmarks, a notebook and keyring, some chocolate, AND a £10/$15 gift card! It’s a king’s ransom in prizes, and they could be yours if you enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!
You can earn entries in several ways:
1. Join the release party.
2. Sign up to A.F.E. Smith’s mailing list
3. Leave a blog post comment
4. Add Darkhaven on Goodreads
5. Tweet about the giveaway
6. Follow @afesmith on Twitter
7. Visit A.F.E. Smith on Facebook
8. Complete the scavenger hunt
A scavenger hunt, you say? Why, yes! To join in the scavenger hunt, all you have to do is visit at least one of the stops on the tour each day and collect the letters (see the L up above). At the end of the tour, you should have five words. Type ’em into the Rafflecopter for five entries!
See? Toldja it’d be fun. 😀
Don’t forget to stop back tomorrow for a fun Q and A with A.F.E. herself!
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