Today, as this posts, I am hanging out with my family in the deepest part of the South, probably dying from the oppressive humidity or being attacked by a foot-long bug of some kind. Still, I am sure I am having a great time! Hopefully all of you are watching Matthew in Pillars of the Earth, a treat awaiting me when I return home and power up the DVR, which I will be doing ASAP. For now, spare a wee spot of time to read this insightful blog from the My Dearest Mr. Darcy virtual tour. It was for My Book Addiction and Wendy asked me two questions. This was my response.
“Why I Write a Saga” by Sharon Lathan
I was cleaning my books shelves recently – yes, in the plural! – and thinking about what I write in relation to two questions that are often asked of me. They are, “What is your favorite book?” and “How has it influenced your writing of the Darcy Saga?”
The answer to the first question that immediately pops into my mind each time is JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It is my favorite book and has been since I first read it at the age of 13, right after reading The Hobbit for the first time. I reread it roughly every year and have read most of Tolkien’s works numerous times as well. Tolkien is the master of fantasy, and reading his creation led me to embrace the fantasy genre as a whole. There is no denying that out of the many thousands of books I have read in my lifetime, the bulk of them have been fantasy.
However, I write historical fiction with strong romantic elements. At first glance this seems at odds with what I typically read. If LOTR is my favorite book and fantasy my favorite genre, how in the world could that influence my writing? There are no scary creatures, no magic, and no other universes in Jane Austen’s story or in mine. So what gives?
Believe me, I have thought about what appears to be a contradiction many times. My husband still insists that I should write fantasy since that is obviously what I know and love best! Yet what he also forgets, and what cleaning my shelves reminded me of, is the breadth to my collection of books.
Among my earliest reading memories are the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, everything by Louisa May Alcott, and massive epic stories like Gone With the Wind and Centennial and Shogun. I own the entire John Jakes’ Kent Family Chronicles, Stephen King’s Gunslinger novels, the continuing sagas by Howard Fast, Robert Ludlum, and Diana Gabaldon. All of them have been read dozens of times.
Do you see a pattern? And have you ever noticed that most fantasy books are part of a trilogy or more? Heck, Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind are working on double digits in both of their series!
After a bit of introspection, it now feels perfectly natural that I would end up writing a continuing saga. In nearly every one of my favorite books, including Lord of the Rings, there is the common thread of lengthy stories unfolding, in some cases, over decades. I love this! For me books offer a refuge and the characters become dear friends that I want to visit and live with. I never tire of my beloved characters and the worlds they inhabit. I am delirious with joy when the author decides to write more of them, to give me a new book that will reveal more of their lives and take me on a new adventure with them. And if the author does not do that, I just read the same book a second or tenth time!
Another common thread I see in my collection is extreme world building and depth of story. Fantasy and Sci-fi are known for world building, of course, but any well-written novel that needs to transport the reader to a place unfamiliar must rely on the same tactics. Richness in vocabulary, detailed history, gritty realism, and comprehensive exposition are hallmarks of a perfect book, to me anyway.
I know that this desire to dwell with characters I love is what primarily inspired me to continue the life of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy. I was not content to say good-bye at the end of Jane Austen’s classic novel! I hungered for more and when I could not find a sequel that satisfied that hunger, I wrote it myself!
Additionally, I saw this as my chance to truly live with characters I love, within a historic world I love, and to do so on MY terms! I would not be at the mercy of another author who may decide to kill off a person I adore, go in some bizarre direction, or ignore a preferred storyline entirely. I am in control! And I love it!
Thank you, Wendy, for asking the questions that allowed me to put into words how I feel about saga-themed stories. There is nothing wrong with a single story novel. I have a million of those on my shelves also! But if any of those authors wrote a sequel, I would be on it like white on rice.