Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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ALL the Influences

So, I’ve known perfectly well from the beginning where some elements of TUYO came from. But I was startled, the other day, to realize that everything and its cousin was an influence for this book. Not that this is intrinsically startling, exactly, because of course we know that this pattern:

A lifetime of reading –> the book you write

is pretty much going to be inevitable for everyone who writes fiction, right? (Maybe even nonfiction, in a different way.)

I’m just not used to tripping over one element after another that looks like a distinct influence on a particular book, or at least looks like it could have been a distinct influence on that book. Yet here we are.

So, four possible identifiable elements (so far) for TUYO. Wait, five, though one was a negative influence. Here they are, starting with the ones I knew about to start with and winding up with the ones I just discovered. Re-discovered.

1. That really neat thing Elizabeth Bear did with the sky in The Eternal Sky trilogy. I loved that detail so much! You’ve read that trilogy? If not, this is the fantasy world where the sky literally changes depending on the polity. In one country, there’s a moon in the sky for every member of the royal family and when one of those people dies, his or her moon falls. But if some part of that country gets conquered by a country where the sky only has one moon, then poof! That’s the new sky in that area, just the one moon. Hard to picture how that could work! But such a fantastic detail! That’s what was on my mind when I drew a river down the middle of the map and said, Okay, over there, the country of the Moon. Over here, the country of the Sun. Obviously that causes much, much bigger differences in the TUYO world, but this thing Bear did with the sky gave me the idea for that worldbuilding element. I’m pretty sure we will see the starlit lands eventually. Also the land with two suns. Also the land of the shades, which I’m almost entirely certain is a real place that actually does lie below the land of the living. (In the TUYO world, you really want to take every casual comment someone makes about the metaphysics as very likely literally true. For example, when Ryo says at one point that very few people ever come back from the land of the shades, you should hear that as occasionally someone does.)

2. Honor’s Heir by Brightley. The first-person narrative from a boy’s pov, where he’s from a cold region inhabited by a nomadic people and gets taken as an apprentice by an older man, a high-ranking soldier from a much more civilized country. That made me want to do something sort of like that. Obviously I changed everything, starting with a still young protagonist, but not that young, and then giving his nomadic people a complete makeover. The Ugaro may be violent, sure, but they’re not nearly as brutal, as a rule. Plus I completely changed the way their society views women, gave that view a metaphysical context, and went on from there. Plus Aras is sort of a high-ranking soldier, but also a whole lot more. And the relationship is not an apprenticeship type of relationship. Still, this novel of Brightley’s is the one that first gave me the basic idea for my protagonists.

3. Telzey Amberdon from those stories by James Schmitz. You may remember, though it was a good while ago, I commented here that I was re-reading these stories and I thought Schmitz had failed to realize that Telzey is actually evil. He sets her up as the nice protagonist, he obviously expects the reader to like her and identify with her – and I did, when I first read the stories as a kid – but on re-reading them, it’s impossible to miss that Telzey is amazingly casual about changing people’s memories, manipulating them, and sometimes completely revamping their whole personality because the current personality doesn’t happen to suit her. Plus she is a genius and amazingly good at everything. Cute, too. But aside from the various eye-rollingly Mary Sue qualities she possesses, yeah, she’s also pretty much evil. So this was a powerful negative influence when it came to writing TUYO.

4. Now, this one I did not recognize until yesterday! And it may in fact have occurred de novo, but listen to this bit from “Blood” by Sharon Shinn and see what you think. This is Kerk, a young man, speaking to his stepfather.

“Your nephews both continue to be employed in your firm as well,” Kerk said.

Brolt nodded. “They are good workers and loyal to the business.”

“Perhaps Brolt Brazhan is more blessed than a man could wish,” Kerk said softly. “Perhaps he has an excess of young men for whom he feels he must fine a place in his company. Perhaps he is hoping that one of the young men under his care might look for a situation elsewhere.”

Doesn’t that sound a lot like Ryo speaking to his father? “I would never wish to do such a disgraceful thing. I ask my father not to put me to that test.” The above scene in “Blood” is my favorite scene in the novella, but I’d completely forgotten the style of that formal language. Then I re-read the novella and it jumped out at me. I don’t know, certainly the styles aren’t identical, just similar. Maybe it’s coincidence. I was trying to come up with a formal way of speaking that’s quite different from modern American and also quite different from even the most formal Lau style. Lau speech patterns are a lot more like American English – just as the indigo speech patterns are more like American speech patterns. Again, coincidence? Maybe so! Both Sharon Shinn and I were specifically writing about worlds where very distinct peoples almost side by side. If any writer wants to distinguish between two different cultures, speech patterns are an obvious way to do it. I don’t know, but I do know I’ve loved this novella for years. Maybe these speech patterns were just waiting in the back of my brain for a chance to flow out of my fingers onto the page.

One more:

5. Again, I was re-reading “The Scapegoat” by CJC just yesterday. Take a look at this bit:

The car lurched. The elvish driver made a wild turn, but the one who had gotten out just stood there – stood, staring up the hill, and lifted his hands together. … there was light enough to make out the red of the robes that fluttered in the breeze. And light enough to see the elf’s hands, which looked – which looked, crazily enough, to be tied together. …

The elf has voluntarily made himself a sacrifice, to be put to death in whatever way satisfies the enemy and so end the war. I bet that reminds you of someone. Again, I knew this, I hadn’t forgotten the plot of “The Scapegoat,” I have read this novella many times, but wow, I hadn’t drawn a straight line between this situation and the initial setup for TUYO until I re-read it yesterday. Again, as with “Blood,” this could be a coincidence. The roles are just about reversed; the elf is something like Aras and deFranco a bit like Ryo. But still, the similarities are so obvious. As I said in yesterday’s post, I find this a very powerful novella, intense and compelling. It’s something that could have reverberated into my story – I think it probably did. Maybe. Who knows!

What I have definitely had brought home to me by re-reading these two novellas is that

A lifetime of reading –> the book you write

I didn’t put a dedication in TUYO. It should have been dedicated this way:

For all the authors who have ever set their work deeply in my mind, so that their words echo and re-echo and finally inform my own writing, whether recognized or otherwise.

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4 Comments ALL the Influences

  1. Pete Mack

    Not really influences per se, but so far 3 “non-classical allusions” in Kate Elliott’s _Unconquersble Sun_ space opera. “Release the krakens”, “come with us (sic) if you want to live”, and another I’ve forgotten. Doubtless I’ve missed others, and doubtless Elliott had a blast writing this book.

  2. SarahZ

    Re: Pete’s comment, I do get distracted by pop culture references in sff books, sometimes. Like, in Nalini Singh’s Archangel series someone will quote Star Wars, and then I’m speculating on whether their world is different or similar enough for that bit of pop culture to exist. Of course, when the author makes up alternative pop culture sometimes it feels less than authentic (like slang, I guess). The Touchstone books do a good job on that account, but maybe being able to reference Earth entertainments for comparisons makes that one easier.

  3. Pete Mack

    Sarah–
    This is different–just Easter eggs scattered throughout the book–Terminator here, AA Milne there, and Monty Python somewhere else. Etc. I doubtless missed more than I noticed.

    I also like that the defeated admiral is named after the lowly tardigrade (aka waterbear), which can survive direct exposure to outer space.

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