A number of weeks ago, some writer claimed he’d never been influenced by anything written by a woman. I won’t link to it here. Go look it up if you’re interested. I’m more interested in the result.
Lists. A lot of lists. Seemed like I couldn’t follow a link without seeing someone else’s list of the women whose writing had influenced him or her.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with lists. Some of those lists no doubt helped readers find new writers, and that’s terrific.
But me, I don’t want to make a list.
Two reasons for that, really. First, I know I’ll forget someone. I’d end up waking up in the middle of the night, saying, “Fuck! I forgot Katherine Kurtz!” and amending the list for the twelfth time.
The second reason, though, is that lists are easy. Sure, I know that sounds like the opposite of what I just said. Flawed as it might be, whatever list I assembled would be done fairly quickly, and would take you even less time to read. And worst of all, you wouldn’t really have learned anything.
Take Katherine Kurtz, for example. If I put her name on a list, that wouldn’t tell you how surprised I was to find her Adept series, or how much it meant to me at the time.
In much the same way, I could list Mercedes Lackey, but that wouldn’t bring across the way my discovery of her Children of the Night paved the way for my love of the urban fantasy subgenre.
So, rather than give you a list, even one with annotations like the last few paragraphs, I thought I’d go into some detail about an influence some of you may never have read.
I’m talking about C. Dale Brittain, and her Wizard of Yurt series.
The stereotype is that college students – especially guys – don’t read for pleasure. Whether it’s because we were supposed to be bogged down under our assignments or our partying nonstop, that’s the common belief in publishing. Men in college don’t buy or read books.
Me, I was different. I always made time to read what I wanted to read. But by about my junior or senior year, I was having trouble finding what I wanted to read.
I wanted to read about wizards using magic. Not just at major plot points. Not just doing the Gandalf bit. But wizards who were main characters, and whose magic was woven into their stories. Not just a special gemstone or ring, but spells. On a regular basis. Not necessarily solving all their problems, but I wanted spells as part of the story.
(Gee. And most of the fantasy I write features spell casters in major roles. Go figure.)
Then I found A Bad Spell in Yurt. Humor, yes, but not so much as the cover and back flap copy made it look. And the main character was a wizard. Daimbert. Not a great wizard, mind you. Last in his class, and generally incompetent enough that the only kingdom that would hire him was that smallest around. Yurt. Smaller than some duchies. No strategic value on the main stage of politics.
In fact, politics played only a tiny role in the series. Why? Because the royal wizard was the star, not the king.
But Daimbert could improvise. It was his great strength. Well, that and the fact that he actually cared about people. He wasn’t the sort to wall up in his tower all on his lonesome, but who got to know the people of his kingdom, and got involved in their problems as well.
This was what I was looking for, and I dug into it. Deep. Must have read the first book two or three times before the second one came out, and bought every other book in the series on release day.
Sadly, there weren’t enough readers like me. The series got cancelled by its original publisher before the final book came out. The demand must have been there, though, because another press picked up that last book: Is This Apocalypse Necessary? The only volume to come out in trade paperback, as opposed to mass market.
I won’t spoil the series for you, in case you want to check them out yourself. So, instead, I’ll tell you some cool things about the books in general.
- Brittain is a professor of medieval history, and it shows in her world-building.
- Because wizards live a long time, the series covers decades, with real character change and growth.
- Certain books include a fascinating take on vampires and djinn, as well as the differences between western and middle eastern magic.
- One of the better fantasy takes I’ve seen on the Catholic Church (including upsides and downsides, without either condemnation or proselytization).
- An intriguing magic system (that obviously allows for improvisation) that distinguishes between the natural and the supernatural.
It’s been a number of years since I last read these books, and I hope they hold up to my memory. Especially since it seems that Brittain has written more stories in that world.
But whether the stories are as good as I remember or not, their impact on me was undeniable. At the time, those stories – even when they got intense – were fun in a way that other fantasy didn’t seem to be. And they carried the sense of wonder that I needed.
And gee, my first novel – Magician’s Choice, first volume of the Rise of Magic series – was also about a new graduate wizard, trying to make his way in the world. Donal didn’t graduate last in his class, like Daimbert did, but he did live in the shadow of his older brother Bran.
Then there was Twice Against the Dragon, where the wizard Larek was dismissed as incompetent, even though he wasn’t, over his one great failure.
And my most recent novel, Half a Wizard, in which the main character is only half-trained as a wizard. But that doesn’t stop him from casting spells anyway.
And now, as I write this, the next novel I have coming out shows a different flavor of influence. The novel is The Price of Demons, second volume of the Ars Portlandia series, and it features a major character, Father Antonio, who is a Catholic monk. He’s nothing at all like Joachim, the priest from the Yurt books. And honestly, he’s influenced as much by real monks I have known as by anything I’ve read.
And yet, as I was writing the story, there were moments that Father Antonio reminded me of Joachim.
And that, to me, is what influence is really all about. The bedrock, under which our stories are built.