Please welcome fantasy author Jeff Seymour, whose newest novel, SOULWOVEN: EXILE releases this week!
I met Jeff through the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference, and look forward to seeing him every year. He’s a talented author, a skilled editor, and an all-around fantastic guy (the kind whose books you want to support…hint, hint). In honor of his new release, Jeff is taking over the blog today. And so, with no further ado, here’s Jeff:
Mystery and Fantasy are Like Chocolate and Peanut Butter
by Jeff Seymour
If you’re a fantasy reader and a mystery fan, you may have noticed that mysteries crop up frequently among your swords and spells. “What’s this ring?” (The Fellowship of the Ring), “Who’s this ‘Gray King’?” (The Lies of Locke Lamora), “What’s up with these White Walkers?” (A Game of Thrones).
Most of the best fantasies I read open with a mystery. Mysteries are a great way to draw somebody into a story, and in fantasy, where you have to get the reader to follow you into a world very different from their own, you need all the drawing power you can get.
On top of that, mysteries let you pose interesting questions to your readers.
In Soulwoven: Exile, the second book in my dark fantasy series Soulwoven (out 12/12/14!), the central mystery hits on page 48.
“Why do you think they let you go?”
That question comes to haunt most of the point-of-view characters in the book, and for the reader, it becomes a mystery to ponder (they, after all, have much more information than any one character).
But on top of wanting the drawing power of the mystery, I put it in there because it’s an interesting question.
I love fantasy. I love the tropes, love the stock settings, love the stock characters and situations. But in my writing, I like to take those things out of their boxes and rough them up a bit.
In Exile, I wanted to examine the trope of heroes (and heroines) escaping the baddies. A lot of fantasists give their villains flaws that let the heroes and heroines get away from their early encounters with them. Or they create a Gandalf or Aragorn to provide a rescue. Or the heroic ones just benefit from a little bit of that dastardly good luck that seems to follow protagonists around. That’s all well and good, but it can be boring if it goes unexplored.
If a force so evil and powerful it was set to destroy the world let a small group of people get away, wouldn’t we question those survivors a bit? Especially if it happened over and over again? Wouldn’t we ask why they got off so easily and just how, exactly, our friends survived a situation that should’ve killed them? And if our baddies were known for manipulating situations, wouldn’t we be even more suspicious?
That plot element doesn’t create a whodunnit, but it does create a mystery. A few months ago, I heard William Kent Kruger describe a mystery as (more or less) a story in which a discovery raises a question, an investigation ensues, and the question gets answered. And that, it turns out, describes a whole lot of fantasy. In fantasy, we just tend to answer our questions partway through and spend a little more time describing the aftermath of the investigation.
I may not have written a bestseller like the novels at the top of this post, and I’m not a genre hybridizer like Jim Butcher or Seanan McGuire, but mysteries are still a key part of my fantasies. While I’m not constructing enormously complex logic puzzles, I’ve found that readers tend to enjoy the puzzles I create—either solving them, if they’re of a mysterious mind, or waiting for the reveal if they’re not.
Therefore, I have concluded that mystery and fantasy are like peanut butter and chocolate. Each delicious on its own, and a delectable treat when combined in the right proportions.
About Jeff: Author, writer, and editor Jeff Seymour has been creating speculative fiction since he was a teenager. He is the author of the magical realist short story collection Three Dances and the epic fantasy series Soulwoven, which has netted him over a million reads and 14,000 followers online. Jeff has also edited sci-fi and fantasy on a freelance basis for clients including Harlequin’s digital-first imprint Carina Press and the Nelson Literary Agency Digital Liaison Platform. In his free time, he blogs about his writing and editing, pretends he knows anything about raising an energetic kitten, and dreams.