Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Legend of the Firefish -- Day 2

In an interview a few months ago with Rebecca Miller, George Bryan Polivka said this about the premise of The Legend of the Firefish:
I started on the Trophy Chase trilogy with a simple idea: What if there were sea monsters? What if all those maps back in the 16th and 17th and 18th centuries, where they drew monsters at the edge of the world, were accurate? So that’s the premise. I created a world much like our own in most respects, but with that one big exception. No magic wands or wizards, but the Firefish are quite unique creatures.

As far as audience, I think readers as young as twelve could enjoy it, younger if they’ve got a very good vocabulary. I don’t think there’s an upper limit. The ideal audience? People who care about other people and the things of God, and have ever had to deal with monsters.

VRC: How or why did you choose to write in omniscient? I'll be honest, it didn't really work for me, but I've read Rebecca Miller's interview with your editor, Nick Harrison, as well as her interview with you and I understand that I may not be in the majority. I'm curious what goes into the decision to write in this point of view that is currently considered *out of style*.

GBP: The whole style of the trilogy is a bit of a throwback, coming from a decision I made to write something that would not be quickly dated. I had written a couple of books with pop culture references, only to find that within five years they were very stale. So I just determined to write something that I could keep trying to publish for a while. I studied medieval and renaissance literature in college, am a huge fan of Tolkien, and never felt too constrained to write anything but what I liked... hoping others would like it as well.

As for the omniscient point of view, I find that other writers and publishers are very interested in that whole discussion, but I've never yet had a pure reader (who is not also a writer) even ask me about it. It seems odd to me that this should be out of style, or out of favor, particularly in a world where movies and television are having great success with omniscience. Lost, Friends, Rent, Oceans Eleven, even Survivor and Real World--I would argue that any ensemble-cast product gets its appeal from going deep into multiple points of view. Fiction writers are, I think, well behind the times in that regard if they hew to a single viewpoint thinking it is somehow better for the audience. I may not have done it well, but I hope that doesn't put anyone off the approach itself.

And the Christian viewpoint factors in here also. Historically, I believe the omniscient viewpoint went out of favor as secular existentialism took over the mainstream, based on a philosophy that we really can't know anything outside our own single point of reference. And I think that's just incorrect. The reason we have imagination, I believe, is for the apprehension of the infinite. God gave His creation this gift that we might know Him. And if we can know God, surely we can know others.

VRC: Do you think the writers made up this taboo themselves? *Everybody* blames this on editors--editors don't want omniscient pov. And yet, obviously this isn't true across the board. Is this something that even came up in your initial discussions with your editor, Nick Harrison? Do you think we'll be seeing more of it in the future? (Besides with the rest of your trilogy, of course!)

GBP: Not sure. I've been writing novels for 25 years without an editor (or a publisher), so I have to claim ignorance as to the source of the taboo. It came up quite early in discussions with Nick, but I didn't get the sense that it was as big an issue as it has turned out to be. His comment was that the omniscient viewpoint was unusual to see, and that it is hard to do well. So, I think he got caught up as a reader and was willing to go to bat for it.

The whole thing has surprised me, frankly, the intensity of debate within the industry around something that is, when you look at it, quite traditional. In just about every other artistic endeavor, by the time we got to the 21st Century it was okay to borrow from every style in history. But the fiction world moves slowly, I guess. Retro isn't cool yet.

But I can't imagine that you can keep a lid on a style forever. What good writers want to write is going to get out there, especially with the changes in publishing technologies... it keeps getting cheaper and quicker to get good materials to the end users. Like music and video, eventually the audience will take over and the old rules will change.

VRC: I believe one of the reasons for tight single points of view is that the reader gets to know the character on a deeper level, and that there is more mystery/ suspense as to what all else might be going on. The MC may have some mighty good guesses based on body language and dialog, but no certain knowledge. Do you think we'd have gotten to a deeper level with Packer or Panna with a single pov?

GBP: Possibly, but probably not. One of the reasons the books are long is that scenes just take longer with multiple viewpoints... in order not to lose the depth. But not every character gets the same level of POV treatment. We occasionally ramble around inside Delaney's head, because it's generally a humorous place to be. But we always know what Talon thinks, and how she perceives her world. Same with Packer and Panna. Sometimes we see it from Scat's perspective, sometimes not. And I think this is where it gets hard to pull off... the viewpoint has to anticipate what the reader wants. Which means I have to know which of my characters are interesting, and to what degree. On the plus side, there's always a rabbit to pull out of a hat, by jumping to a unique perspective.

Frankly (and this cuts through to the bottom of why I did it) it's just really fun to write.

VRC: (That's hard to argue with, isn't it!)

The Legend of the Firefish is the first fantasy novel I've read which contains the Bible and all its teachings. (Not every word, of course! Just enough to believe they are intact!) As a writer, I've often pondered how best to portray God in a fantasy novel, what kinds of holy writings my imagined lands may have, and whether there is a past, present, or future Messiah figure to be found in it. One angle I'd never really considered is the one you used, just parking my belief package directly into a fantasy world. It works remarkably well actually, and it’s a method I'll definitely consider the next time I'm dreaming up a story from scratch.

I'm really interested to know how you made the decision to base the Nearing Vast religion firmly on the Bible and Christianity as we know it today. Did you consider any other options?

GBP: As to the overt Christianity, I always felt it somewhat unfair that the rules of fantasy were such that evil could be literal but good had to be metaphorical. And that's how I felt about Tolkien. The antagonists were like all bad guys everywhere, but many, many "good guys" in the real world have a deep foundation for their "good-guy-ness" in their faith. Yet the rules are such that you can't mention God, except very obliquely. So I broke the rules. And because I set this in a very 17th-18th-century sort of environment, it doesn't seem odd to me, and many others, that there is a church and that it's part of everyday life, and everyday faith.

VRC: Thanks so much, Bryan, for talking with me about this! I've appreciated your input into this tour very much.

And thanks to the rest of my tour mates for checking in. To see what else is being said, check the links on yesterday's post. Bryan has agreed to quite a few little interviews (and some longer ones) and it's fun to go around and catch other perspectives.


Jason said...

That's a very insightful interview Val. I'm going to discuss the POV tomorrow, but I'm glad that I could get this piece of information before opening my yap (virtually).

Justin B. said...

Very insightful interview! Now I know why he wrote in the omniscent point of view!

Brandon Barr said...

An intelligent interview Valerie. I enjoyed hearing Bryan's responses.

Valerie Comer said...

Glad you guys enjoyed it!

Beth Goddard said...

Wonderful interview!
I love his comment about the omniscient point of view. I love that pov now! I want to write in it, but I'm not sure I could have the success that Bryan has had.