The Big Idea: Carrie Vaughn
Posted on July 6, 2010 Posted by John Scalzi 13 Comments
Carrie Vaughn is best known in many circles for her New York Times best selling paranormal series featuring a werewolf named Kitty, but as with many authors every once in a while she likes to wander away from what she’s known for and try something new. And thus, her latest novel, Discord’s Apple, in which a near-future and trouble-scarred United States mingles with stories and legends from the days of the Trojans. Trying new things is working for Vaughn, who has seen this book received a coveted starred review in Publishers Weekly (“brilliantly structured, beautifully written”) — but as Vaughn relates below, the story of Discord’s Apple isn’t so much new as it is ripe after many years.
This is a case where the final novel doesn’t much resemble the seed that started it.
Early in 2002, I went to visit my great aunt Rose, who was dying. It was the first time I’d ever visited someone for the express purpose of saying goodbye. Not to sound callous, the experience was amazing, because two of her sisters were there — my grandmother and great aunt Ag — and the three of them told stories about growing up in the tiny town of Swink, Colorado, in the 1920’s and 30’s. I’d never heard any of these stories before, and I got a window into another world. Sitting with my mother, grandmother, her sisters, three generations of women telling and hearing stories, connected me to my family in a way I’d never felt before.
About a month later, my paternal grandfather died. While in Alabama for his funeral, we visited the house where he’d grown up, which had been beautifully restored by one of my father’s cousins. A tree in the backyard had two straps of canvas hanging from one of the branches — obviously, it had once been a swing, but the swing was gone, and the straps had been there so long that bark had grown over them where they were tied. I realized that my grandfather had probably played on that swing as a child, and once again I felt this great sense of family — of my family’s history — in a new and powerful way.
See, I grew up without much of a sense of heritage. My father was a career officer in the Air Force, and I spent my childhood on the move. I never saw my extended family except for visits every couple of years or so. Our family culture was Air Force with a sprinkling of Catholicism. I have at least five different nationalities in my ancestry, and I was jealous of people with strong senses of national heritage and family pride. I’d read about England and wish I were English, I’d read about Ireland and wish I was Irish, ditto for Wales, Scotland, Sweden, the Netherlands. I’d wonder what it was like to have a dozen cousins who all spent Christmas together. I didn’t have anything.
That is, until that difficult and illuminating spring when I visited my grandfather’s childhood home, and asked my grandmother to take me to see the places she and her sisters had talked about, and realized that I do have a family culture, a family heritage. I just hadn’t recognized it.
So: Discord’s Apple is about main character Evie coming home to be with her dying father, and discovering an amazing, unbelievable family heritage that she never knew existed. Because I’m a fantasy writer, I made that treasure literal: a basement filled with magical artifacts, including a certain inscribed golden apple.
Now, that’s just an idea. It isn’t a story, yet.
A little about my writing process: I have more ideas than I will ever be able to write in my lifetime. One of my solutions to this dilemma is to put as many ideas in a book as I can manage. The more disparate the better, because finding connections between seemingly unrelated ideas can make for great stories.
In a grad school Latin course, I translated bits of the Aeneid and fell in love with Sinon. He’s the Greek spy left behind to talk the Trojans into bringing the horse into the city. He’s brash, clever, and really awesome. So I committed a very long piece of fanfic telling what happened to Sinon after the war — he was kidnapped by a very pissed-off Apollo, made a slave, granted immortality so he’d be a slave forever, and. . .well. You’ll just have to read about it, because his story is the second part of Discord’s Apple, in which we learn that the Trojan War never really ended. (It all fits together, honest.)
At first, I didn’t know quite what to do with this very long piece of fanfic. I got to thinking about the nature of epic literature in general, and I decided that Sinon’s story needed to be part of Evie’s story. You see, “Evie returns home to discover an amazing heritage” is just an idea. But Evie and Sinon meeting each other, the chaotic events surrounding that meeting, and the fact that the goddess Hera still wants to get her hands on that apple — that’s a story.
Throw in King Arthur and my deep and irrational fondness for 1980’s GI Joe comics and what I ended up with was a novel about family, storytelling, history, and war and how they get tangled together.
Discord’s Apple: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read the first chapter of Discord’s Apple here. Visit her blog. Catch her on her book tour.
Well, I read the first chapter, I visited the site, I read the first “Kitty” story, and now I’m hooked. Sigh. Why do I let you do this to me?
So thanks for introducing me to Carrie.
I don’t think Carrie’s fondness for 80s-era GI Joe comics should be considered irrational. With Larry Hama writing, those were some of the best comics produced in that era, and are sadly underrated today.
Oh, dagnab. I’ve already got a humongous stack, and now I want to start this one next. (Or, at least next after I finish the four I’m currently in the middle of…)
No better place to put this, so I’m putting it here: Thanks again for running this feature. I think I’ve purchased half a dozen (more) books in the last three months as a result of these Big Idea postings – most of which had samples available via Kindle so I could read the chapters before making the purchase, and in every case I ended up buying the whole book. In every case, the book was written by an author I hadn’t read before (which, actually, is saying something given my preferences and habits) and in every case but one I’ve really enjoyed the book. (Note: in that one, my teenage son liked it, so we’re 6 for 6).
I’m not usually inclined to post “this is awesome” without more, but it occurred to me that authors might occasionally wonder how much of a difference The Big Idea feature makes – if any. Just thought they might want an independent confirmation that yes, it does sell books.
Including this one.
OK, haven’t read the chapter yet but this looks pretty interesting.
After reading the first chapter it’s gone from Hmmm to “yes must buy soon” When an author pulls me into the story that quickly, I have no choice but to continue on and find out more.
M.A. @ 3
I’m there with you. 3 books in progress with a 4th on deck. Oh, and the fifth one that I keep in my courier bag to read in the vanpool to and from work. But that doesn’t count really, it’s an old favorite that I could probably recite whole chapters from.
Slaves to the written word we are…
Fascinating story. That sounds all kinds of cool.
I never thought I’d see another person use the term “deep and irrational fondness for 1980′s GI Joe comics”, I thought I was the only one *sniff*.
Even though i lived in Ireland, then Australia I followed the comics pretty religously, they were far more science fiction orientated than the jingoistic pro army comics I suspect people thought they were. Also ninjas, lots and lots of ninjas.
That plus my love of all things Trojan Warish makes this book a guaranteed purchase for me!
Thanks for the comments, everyone! And thank you, John, for the bandwidth once again. I for one know how well received these Big Idea pieces are and am happy to be able take part.
I’m really pretty unapologetic about following GI Joe — I liked the recent Devil’s Due run of the story as well. They don’t always hold up to rereading, but they sure had an impact on a bunch of us who grew up in the 80’s.
I am definitely looking forward to this one…and the other one that’s just out and I haven’t picked up yet.
Also, no one should be apologetic about a love for 80s GI:JOE – one of the highlights of last year for me was briefly meeting Mr. Hama and having him sign my copy of GI:JOE #1 at the local comicon.
Thanks, John, for sponsoring this book on Big Idea. Read the chapter, ordered on Amazon, got it yesterday, finished it last night. Enjoyed it lots, even more than the “Kitty” books, which have worn a little thin on me. The characters managed to support a modestly outrageous plotline, but hey, isn’t that what genre is for? Keep writing, Carrie.
Bought the book solely based on this Big Idea article and I loved it! Fantastic and fun.
I don’t get every Big Idea Book, but the ones I got, I loved.
She could have skipped most of the explanation, gone straight to “my deep and irrational fondness for 1980′s GI Joe comics” and I would have been sold.
I met Carrie at RomCon in Denver last weekend, and I scored a copy of this book and the newest Kitty book. She is smart and funny, both in person and in her writing. I will be buying copies of this for friends (so that I don’t have to loan mine!).
Once again, Big Idea = Great Book.