Guest blogger Steven Savile has a new book out this week. SILVER mixes elements of fact, fantasy, myth, and thriller into a blend that's garnering raves from advance readers.
We're a little late this week, due to a spur-of-the-moment trip, so without any further ado, let me introduce you to the fabulous Steven Savile.
Telling Lies For a Living
That’s what we do, after all, us writers, isn’t it? We tell lies for a living. Some of us tell great whopping ones... I mean my current work in progress, London Macabre, is Fabulist Victoriana (I say fabulist rather than fantastic as the latter term seems to be have co-opted by steampunk and infernal machines and my tale is nothing like that, it’s about elementals and daemons and gentlemen with extraordinary gifts) and I am basically selling you a London that never was. For that matter my latest novel, Silver, posits at least six impossible things before breakfast, to abuse Alice’s words.
I first heard the phrase ‘The willing suspension of disbelief’ back in high school, when my teacher, PJ Knock (we called him Peanut for reasons not too difficult to guess when you saw him) started trying to explain why it was a bad idea to ‘animate the inanimate’ and why our heroes shouldn’t leap out of hospital windows to escape the bad guys when they were four flights up. Obvious stuff but fundamental just the same. A few years later I read a review of a book - no idea what the book was, but elements of the review stuck with me for... twenty years... egads! - in which the reviewer expressed his disappointment in terms that rang the memory bell and had me thinking about old Peanut’s lesson. You see, in this review the main objection seemed to be that the book was ruined because this basic covenant of reader and writer was broken by the writer’s stupidity or lack of research, and because of some elementary mistake (in this case the writer made reference to MI5 working a case in Australia, and any thriller writer worth his salt knows that MI5 only operates on sovereign soil, ie back in dear old Blighty. Once things go overseas it is always MI6) he couldn’t trust anything the writer told him. This one mistake led the reviewer to moan about a dumb joke the author made about someone hiding out in ‘the bush’ ‘What the Australian Bush?’ ‘Nah, the other one...’ obviously meaning to make us chuckle and think of the villain hiding out in the shrubbery but it had the reviewer up in arms. Didn’t this moron of a writer know there was only one Bush?
God, or the Devil, you see, is in the details. We have five senses. As writers we need to use them to sell our stories. It’s so so important we use all of them to ground the story and make it feel real. The world is about more than just we see. I guess what I am saying is a good writer lets us experience their little lies with every faculty available to us. And get the little stuff right, make us trust and believe in what you are telling us, and we’ll be more willing to believe you and continue suspending our disbelief.
Silver offered some pretty unique disbelief challenges - I mean everyone is familiar with the thirty pieces of silver, and Judas, and, well, let’s face it, the story of the garden, the Judas Kiss, all of it. So, setting out to tell Silver I knew it was really important I got the small lies right if I wanted the reader to swallow the big ones, and that’s what it is all about. Not only did I need my Bible stuff right, even though I was spinning a story grounded in the gnostic gospels, I couldn’t just ignore what people knew - I couldn’t say Jesus was hanged in the Garden and expect readers to swallow it.
Likewise, I needed to make sure the settings were authentic. When we meet Noah for the first time in a sleazy bedsit-hotel in London I needed it to feel like a sleazy bedsitland hotel room. It helps of course that I’ve slummed it more than once and have plenty of experience when it comes to grubby curtains so thick with used smoke they could stand up by themselves, and bedsprings that poke through threadbare mattresses like something from the princess and the pea. It’s easy to get those details right. And by getting them right your reader will automatically be inclined to trust you’ve got other stuff right. It’s just the way our minds are programmed to receive.
One set of details is research, another experience, the last one though is outright lie.
I’m selling you lies from quite early on. By themselves they are just little things, for instance while Nonesuch, Sir Charles’ house and the operational hq of the Ogmios team, isn’t on any map that I know... the roads are all right, the landmarks they pass on the way there, they are all real landmarks, in the right places... it’s just Nonesuch that’s a figment of my imagination. It’s believable though, because everything around it is dead on. In other words I sell the lie by surrounding it by truth. Someone might think it’s a homage to a great record label, given my habit of making musical references hither and thither, others might think it’s a tip of the hat to the Nonesuch Dickens - not unreasonable to have another writer linked to Wyndham, given Sir Charles’ own borrowed name... or perhaps I just misspelled Nonsuch and based it upon the Palace of Henry VIII built for his wife - the same palace and grounds I did cross country running through the grounds of for 4 years when I was at school? It could be any, all or none of these. Sometimes I just like to play.
Of course, being writer now is so much easier than it was even as recently as a decade ago. We have the world literally at our fingertips. That’s right, the big bad interwebby...
Take the scene quite near the beginning when Ronan is driving his bike up to Newcastle, it’s a simple job to check the street maps and trace a route, but technology has come on in leaps and bounds to the extent that you can go into Google Street View and block by block drive the same streets without leaving the comfort of your arm chair. I was able to look at the front of the house he breaks into live on the web. Okay, I’ll admit that’s a little creepy when you think about it, but the technology is there so use it. That kind of attention to detail means everything from being able to capture an authentic feel of the place you want your readers to visit even if you haven’t been there. Of course, I grew up in Newcastle, so I know those streets well - but I know them from 1997. I remember how the smelled, how the cold bit in the more exposed areas, all of that physical detail, but technology allowed me to give my memory a quick refresher course.
That’s not saying that the internet can replace actual honest to god experience, but it sure as hell can supplement it. God is in the details, after all. By doing something, going out there and absorbing it, we find these little details that sell the lies.
Research, in any way shape or form, is our friend.
And down on this basic level, a meticulous eye for detail - not simply listing this then this then this, but actually finding beautiful tactile vocabulary that revels in the authenticity of the bad bed in the crummy bedsit - is where we lay the foundations for the whopping great lies.
For instance, quite early in the research for Silver (after I had decided to use the Sicarii zealots as the historical core of the story) I came across this little tidbit of information: there had been an earthquake in the Masada region a few years before. With that simple truth I knew not only how I would lose the silver dagger (there’s no secret there, it’s on the cover of the book so I am not spoiling anything for you) for two thousand years, but more importantly how I would recover it. I brought it back with a truth that was verifiable. Of course there never was a dagger, not one forged from the thirty shekels Judas earned in return for his kiss, that’s the big lie I want to sell the reader... If I keep my MI5s and MI6s straight, have the right sort of trees on the right street corners (no ironwood trees in Newcastle for instance, little things like that), give you a feel for the seasons, having it rain or snow or shine, having leaves mulch beneath your feet or cars splashing water as they don’t slow down for corners where the drains have flooded, then you’ll believe me when I say ‘Come, closer, I want to tell you a story about a dagger, and about these men, these modern day terrorists, who call themselves the Disciples of Judas...’
Do I pull it off? Do you believe my glorious whopping great lies? Well, you’ll need to read Silver to find out, won’t you? Available, as the adverts say, at all good bookstores today... Ahem. Sorry about that. Normal service is resumed.
Critical praise for Christy!
For "Murder Hooks a Mermaid:"
"Author Christy Fifield creates the kind of characters that stay with you for a long time. Fifield’s new Haunted Souvenir Shop mystery, Murder Hooks a Mermaid has it all: a sunny, relaxed setting, captivating locals, delicious food, and—of course—murder! Delightful amateur sleuth Glory Martine is back with her wisecracking parrot and charming group of friends in this thoroughly entertaining adventure. Don’t miss it."—Julie Hyzy, National Bestselling author of the Manor House Mysteries and the White House Chef Mystery series
"Quirky and unique, a heroine for whom you can't help but root. The story sucks you in." - The Maine Suspect
"With a lovable cast of characters, good conversations and a great setting, this well-written book is a terrific read." -- Dru's Book Musings
For "Murder Buys a T-Shirt:"
A refreshing new sleuth! - Lynne Maxwell, Mystery Scene Magazine
"A fun book that will make the dreariest of days a little brighter! Socrates' great Book Alert" - Socrates' Cozy Cafe
"An entertaining and clever Florida whodunit" - Harriet Klausner
"Hilarious! A great murder mystery with well-written characters" - Paranormal & Romantic Suspense Reviews
For the Georgiana Neverall Series:"Christy Evans will find legions of fans with this new series" - Sheldon McArthur, Lincoln City News Guard
"Funny and entertaining -- a solid mystery filled with likable characters." - RT Book Reviews"
Cute cozy mystery debute -- wry humor -- adorable dogs" -Publisher's Weekly
"Will have you giggling out loud! Four Stars." - Kathy Fisher, The Romance Readers Connection"The Book is good! Keep them coming, Ms. Evans!" - Mystery Scene
"Evans delivers a fast-paced mystery with admirable finesse!" - Sharon Galligar Chance, FreshFiction.com"Christy Evans has a hit on her hands" - Harriet Klausner, Bookreview.com
"Christy Evans is aces. I'll be very suprised if Sink Trap isn't an instant hit with cozy readers!" - CozyLibrary.com