The Big Idea: Rachel A. Marks
Posted on February 28, 2018 Posted by John Scalzi 3 Comments
Author Rachel A. Marks reached into her own personal mythology to help craft her new novel Fire and Bone — a little bit of early imagination finding its way into a tale in present time.
RACHEL A. MARKS:
I’m going to be honest right up front; the Big Idea for Fire and Bone is a bit wee. It’s even a little childish. But, hey, I was a kid when the seed was planted, so that’s fitting. You see, my imagination has always been more than reality could handle. And, since I can remember, I believed with very little doubt that faeries were real and—hold on to your hats, folks—I was one.
Like, really. I was a faerie.
I didn’t buy into Santa or the Easter Bunny, but I would have bet my life on fae parentage.
In my youthful head, the story went a little like this: My faerie mother was running from something—a mean elvish king, maybe?—and she couldn’t take care of me anymore. So, she left me on the beach (which is obviously why I loved the beach so much), and eventually these two humans stumbled upon me wrapped in kelp and took me home. They just didn’t remember that I wasn’t really theirs, because they’d been put under a spell.
For the doubters, there were a handful of breadcrumbs my kid brain had reasoned out.
Exhibit A: I had green eyes while my parents had blue and brown.
Exhibit B: I didn’t fit in with other kids. At all. I was too different, too quiet, too aware of birds singing in the trees, or the specks of gold reflecting sunlight in the sand. While the other kids played kissing-tag at recess, I collected leaves and made villages for the ants.
Exhibit C: My favorite thing in the world was being submerged in salt water, as deep as I could go. I’d dive down beneath the waves and hold on to the rocks on the ocean floor, blinking at the foggy world of fish and seagrass. So, obviously, I was from the mermaid species of the fae community.
Needless to say, I’ve always been more than a little drawn to folklore, my childhood whimsy morphing into a hunger to study history and legend. Namely, British and Irish. My grandmother was Irish on her mother’s side, disowned for marrying an Englishman, and that family soap opera, told over cinnamon toast and hot chocolate at my grandma’s humble kitchen table, only urged me on in my discoveries. The wilds of the ancient Celts and their pantheons through the ages became one of my favorite things to study, and the fiction that reimagined the mythos over and over became my favorite thing to read. I loved exploring the darker things that terrified even the Romans, sparking them to build Hadrian’s Wall.
Then a little over a year ago I was asked to put together a proposal for my publisher to consider once my debut series ended. As I sat there, mulling over the strange tangles I was managing to pull out of my deadline depleted brain, my only thought was, I wanna write something fun.
I needed the equivalent of book comfort food. And what’s my favorite thing to read about?
But not the cute, Disney reimaginings. I wanted the hypnotic, darker myths, the ancient grit I’d found in my research.
Up popped the big idea: I could reawaken those ghosts of Erin and Albion, and bring them to life in a new way in the modern world—the scent of rosemary burning on the brazier, the distinct blue lines of woad on the skin of a warrior—I could watch the ancient things twist and grow into the iron and concrete of the city as legend wove through reality. I could raise the gods from the dead, and watch them walk the streets once more, playing their games with those weak human hearts in all new ways.
I had my mission. But as I began to create the world of Fire and Bone I realized something wasn’t working. My main character’s journey was too simplistic as it formed. I wanted to take it deeper, draw this strange world around her more, make it wider, weightier. Older. I needed the reader to feel the centuries in every dusty corner. I needed an ancient rite, a thousand-year-old secret.
And so, in spite of my looming deadline, I stopped word-counting and let myself play for a few days. I explored the past of my characters even more, searching out details that might spark the right inspiration, or cast a more effective shadow. I stretched at the framework of my world, picking at the threads here and there. And something surprising bubbled up through the layers.
My very own faerie tale was whispering to me.
“…in the long summer of wyne, the babe was abandoned within the Caledonian wood by the widow, for she hoped that the fae would take back their trickster gift and the gods could be appeased. But no wolf or beast consumed the child. It lay, surrounded by the arms of ash and birch, and soon was found by a humble monk of unknown title to be raised in seclusion until her twelfth year…”
It was like Christmas came early. I’d discovered the fuel I needed to realize my vision more clearly. Plus, a faerie tale!
Everything about my character, my world, suddenly unfolded in front of me. And I dove into the process, head down, fingers flying, imagination buzzing. I knew I could finally create the story I’d been envisioning in foggy pieces. I’d make it stark, I’d make it funny. There’d be beauty, ambiguity, deadly hunger, and ancient secrets. And I’d drag the reader through the madness with pacing abandon. It was going to be beyond epic. Bwahahaha!
Well, that was the dream, anyway. I certainly had fun playing in my historical sandbox of myth. And any faerie relations have yet to complain.
Fire and Bone: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.
Some years back, one reference for my family name had a really interesting little detail that fits with a bit of hereditary genetics, and is just plain fun for anyone who likes medieval fantasy or science fiction. Some people have hair that is pale white-blond when they are kids, and darkens as they grow up, usually around their teens and before adulthood. Or another bunch have hair which lightens in the summer sun and heat and darkens in winter cold and less sunshine. (Others may do the opposite and get lighter hair in winter.) Either of those is like a seasonal coat in other mammals. The color change with age and maturity is also similar to other mammals that have a different coat pattern for juveniles and adolescents or adults.
But back in medieval and ancient times, they only knew there was this color change going on, and that was mysterious and perhaps magical or maybe — a sign of connection with the faerie folk, the elves and others. And that might be good or bad, depending on your point of view. Or the other guy’s point of view, more to the, uh, point. Such as a sharply pointed weapon aimed your way. Or the other guy’s way. Because, medieval times and superstitions.
So if, like many people on my dad’s side of the family, you had pale white-blond hair a s kid and it darkened in winter, or as you grew up into adolescence and adulthood, but perhaps did or did not quite ever go away…. Well! You just might be connected to the elves (or other faerie folk), good or bad or just the faerie folk. — You might be their aliies, or their friends, or their, hmm, lovers, or…perhaps that kid of yours, or you, or all your kids, or siblings…might be changelings! Or something! And we never did trust your kind, anyway. Just how pointed are those ears? Any magical or unexplained or odd things going on with those folks? Oo-ooh.
So if you had certain common-enough family names, because of that pale hair or skin — You might be in league with the elves and faeries! Which, you know, could explain a few things about you and yours.
There was an old family photo of my dad and his sisters, before their youngest brother was born, that shows them all with very pale blond hair. (It was an old black and white photo, but that’s what it was.) All of them grew up to have dark brown or light brown hair, except that later younger brother, whose hair only turned a darker sandy blond. Hmm. However, their skin tones varied, so not all are very pale white, but all happened to be blue-eyed, since both their parents were blue-eyed.
As a little boy, my hair started out very pale blond, and over time, darkened to that sandy blond by my pre-teens, and stayed that way. And around when puberty started, my hair went from straight to very wavy.
Er, curiously enough, the rest of me was not straight either, so to speak. Which was not something my upbringing or personal self was quite prepared to deal with. But it was so and stayed that way. Er, and never you mind that that gets called being a fairy too. — It took a long time to sort of learn how to deal with this. (Still trying to figure that out, really.) — Wish greatly that I could’ve grown up with that being just fine, instead of how I did grow up. Would’ve really helped.
So — Medieval people had this very ambivalent view of relations (friendly or amorous) with the elves and faeries. Although only a few centuries earlier, their barbarian ancestors often gave people names with one or another form of “elf” or similar words, indicating the “elves” (and so on) were held in higher esteem.
And this was apparently a common folk belief back when family names became fixed to families in medieval England and Europe.
So…someone, somewhere back in there, thought my ancestors just might’ve been in league with (or in bed with?) a bunch of elves and faeries and such. Well… I dunno, but the hair trait has carried down through the generations. It’s not universal in the family, but it’s often there.
Just how blond or brown or platinum pale white-blond / tow-headed (etc.) that hair is or when it changes, or what that might mean about how much elf-kin you are, I don’t know. Changelings? Dunno either.
So you never know. But some portion of English and other European families apparently were believed to be potentially part elf / faerie, or connected to them somehow.
I’ve since seen other things that supported the idea that was a common folk belief. Kinda fun, as long as they think you’re an OK sort.
I assume you mean “twee” and not “wee.” Wild sea-beings consorting with humans, unusual changeling children – these things don’t have to equate to “Oh, how cute.” Tinker Bell and the Blue Fairy, as animated for film, are twee. The excerpt “Sage” on your website is anything but that; nicely done!
I enjoyed the excerpt and will buy e-book as it is easeir to ignore the cover. Drawings of the characters have always bugged me. I ripped the cover off of a paperback copy of Confederacy of Dunces because I hated it so much.