Last week, I was honored to interview Luke Taylor and review his new fantasy novel, The Muiread, and today, he has been nice enough to return with a guest post as well as a giveaway. So without further talking by me, let’s get to the post.
ON FILMING THE MUIREAD:
DEREK CIANFRANCE AND WRITING FROM VISUAL PERSPECTIVE AND DISTANCE
The very first scene for The Muiread came to me in a dream. It was only a flash, but it was enough to get me on the right path. I was on a horse, following a woman with fiery red hair, also riding on a horse just in front of me, and we were surrounded by these massive sloping walls of emerald green. The horse had this easy, ambling pace, as if it hadn’t a care in the world. And the woman’s face, well, I couldn’t quite see it, but I knew she was a fair Highland beauty if there ever was one.
That was it.
But in that, I caught the truest essence of what The Muiread was to be to me, and hopefully to the readers, and that was, a physically immersive experience, both through lyrical and poetic prose and visceral nose to nose visuals.
You see, I was in this other world that felt so real, but it was only enough of it to whet my appetite. There was nothing whimsical, imaginitive, fantastical, or magical about it. It was real. I was in it.
Let me preface this piece by saying that I write visually, first and foremost. My imagination is a movie screen and I’m only describing the movie I’ve seen and am always trying to put it into words. I cast these “movies” with the appropriate actors (I can always get who I want!) and I pick the appropriate directoral style and location for the “film”.
For The Muiread, the only one that I’d seen capture such a visceral, tangible cinematic experience was Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond The Pines) and if you watch the very first sequence of The Place Beyond The Pines, and watch the camera voyeuristically following Ryan Gosling’s stunt biker (strangely enough, named Luke) through a night carnival, you’ll understand what I mean. Your world-building is done in a minute flat and it’s so incredibly dense and fascinating and interesting and dangerous and mundane and colorful and confusing as our own world, because it is. There’s almost too much to take in so you just accept it all. Electric blue cotton candy and metal band t-shirts, trinket kiosks and parents frustrated to wait in line with their children. It’s all a blur, because of Cianfrance’ magnetic focus upon Gosling, but it’s there, too deep and perfect to comprehend the intricacies of so we just accept it in our senses like a taste or a texture. And each and every detail carries its own story, but we have to focus on the one that we’re moving with, back to front, shoulder to shoulder, the one we’re following around like a stalker.
Cianfrance’ filming style is to artistically put the audience in the same room as couples arguing, letting them smell the cigarette smoke as it drifts toward the unblinking eyes of the lens. They curse, they spit, they say what’s in their heart, and you can’t help but listen. A character wears the same jacket because it’s the only one he has. Every scene carries the uncomfortable freshness of happening right before your eyes, in the moment. No pause button, no retakes. The camera walks in step with the characters and the world around them is as un-Hollywood as the one in which we live ourselves.
I hope you can understand why I wanted this style and viewpoint for mythic/archaic epic fantasy.
And capturing this raw and grainy verve is all a matter of distance.
Most epic fantasy has a very broad and polished feel to it, soaring with great big budgets and loads of faces you can’t remember and names you can barely pronounce. If you watch Peter Jackson’s The Lord of The Rings (you probably shouldn’t be reading this if you haven’t) then you’ll remember a great many gratuitous helicopter shots of the stunning mountain ranges of New Zealand and the CGI-laden roller coaster ride in The Two Towers highlighting the building of the army that would later march against Helms Deep by sweeping down from the ripping up of the trees past all these pulleys and weights down to where the forges were blazing as weapons were being made, orcs and other creatures dotting this layered terrine of destruction like scampering ants. Dizzy and overwhelming, it was brilliant. And the movies just kept getting bigger. This was all necessary to establish how grand an investment Middle Earth is, but that meant constantly adjusting the perspective from a soaring eagle’s eye to plodding Hobbit-height as we go from a battle of thousands to a battle of inner struggles, a battle of thoughts and lies, back up to a parapet wall for a hail of arrows and then down again in the mud with Sam and Gollum arguing about Mr. Frodo. Subliminally, books do this far too much without realizing it, stealing grandeur from something that needs to be huge or removing claustrophobia from something that should make the back of your neck itch just to read it by putting the reader at the wrong distance or perspective. What I wanted was a fixed directoral style that put you shoulder to shoulder with the characters, no way to leave, so you got mud in your face when they did, and you felt overwhelmed when the earth shook and mythic beasts that’d been chained up in the depths of the earth for Ages tore from a chasm in the ground to take to the sky.
I’d like to share a few portions of early reviews of The Muiread, collected from Goodreads.
“It’s a book that doesn’t follow the typical style of more modern fantasy novels, instead it focuses on giving the readers a story they’ll never forget. If you’re looking for something you can read by the fireplace this winter, that’ll let you escape reality briefly to Dunheath’s dusty scenery and to the smell of beeswax candles and baked bread, to visions of magnificent stallions and characters so real that you’ll feel like you’re reuniting with old friends, then pick up a copy of The Muiread.”
“Author Luke Taylor is a vivid writer and his scenery is crisp, raw and makes the reader feel as if they are riding along through ravaged lands or dark woods at full speed on a stallion alongside the characters. Taylor constructs kingdoms, dialects and unforgettable characters that become real people, heroes and villains alike, instead of just flashy, surface specters with no substance or backstory as in many fantasy novels. With Taylor’s creativity, everything from the dirt to the sky is full of life as The Muiread builds. As the book continues on, the intimacy and intensity grows and Luke Taylor takes careful steps with each sub story and character to keep the momentum flowing.”
“The descriptions of the world and the characters in it were absolutely magnificent. I had some very vivid images in my mind as I was reading because it was just described so well!”
I am very thankful these readers felt what I wanted to give them, that feeling of being there. Thankfully, they let me do that to them, and I’m glad they got what I was trying to do.
And this was all achieved by distance and perspective, established not only by what is described in setting, location, or action, but also in the proximity or distance of smell, and sound.
So, the first scene consists of one character watching another, written in first person. All of The Muiread is written in a poetic manner (which we’ll discuss later) but to get such a clear view into the narrator’s thoughts as he watches this beautiful woman walk around this less than noteworthy village set behind great big shoulders of emerald gives you that distance immediately. It’s very personal. No talk of history, just one person looking at another. Take a look at a photograph of nature. Is it taken from a helicopter? Or is it taken by a person standing on the ground? The more photos you look at, the more you’ll notice the difference. It would be elementary to say that your perspective changes the way you see something, and I wanted to make sure never to leave that feet-on-the-ground perspective. Moving on through the story, the slowness and stillness of the pace helps to establish the dominant and uncaringbigness of the setting spreading around the narrator, which I modeled after the Scottish highlands. Nature thrums with a sort of independent carelessness, not giving a damn about anything, just doing whatever it does, and I wanted to just let it be what it is, unflinchingly massive, almost scary it was so big, instead of trying so hard to describe something it wasn’t. I wanted to play on a reader’s natural perception of nature. By writing in first person with the narrator always interacting with characters in close proximity to establish this intimate distance of establishing us (the narrator and whomever he’s with) and them (the giant breadth of the land and all the mystery it holds behind a veil of fog) I was able to populate this cinematic experience at eye level.
As the story goes on, there are some gutsy moments, and I wrote it so the reader almost felt like another member of the party nobody noticed. Just a voyeur, your fate linked to theirs. Some bad stuff happens and it’s up to you to duck and cover or you’re going to die.
Parts 2 and 4 are written in third person, but again, focuses on two women using this elbow to elbow proximity, following them behind the back when they’re not looking, or staring at them in the eye as they stare back. You watch them think. You hear the silence. Smells, sound effects, breath puffing in the air, all these things drag you closer to their bodies, like a magnet. These two women also have a lot of interior locations, so the settings seem to shrink or expand and blur in focus around them, and every eye in the room sticks on them like glue. Also, this is a good a time as any to talk a bit about the accents. I was very careful to listen to the actresses I’d cast, and instead of using accents and dialects to “add” to the flavor, it seemed to me a case of honesty and immersion. In this land, this is how they talk. This is how he or she talks. If you can’t listen, you can’t hear what they have to say. I’ve had tons of compliments on the accents, though, and I feel it’s a case of all these things working together, even though it’s nothing I could or would want to change.
Finally, Derek Cianfrance has a wonderfully artistic nature, crafting a senstive but also psychologically deep narrative, coming from the world of documentary filmmaking. These things blend together in The Muiread with that visceral sense of distance and physics, with all of the onomatopoeias and the rhythmic and grotesquely musical nature of battle and the fact that nothing special was going on in this fantasy world save that everything in it was inherintly real or realistic. So the artistry, melancholy and/or psychological, came from the actual poetic voice of the prose, which just about every review has praised. To me, this was like film score music, but like a window into the arcane oral tradition of ancient storytellers, who were the rockstars of their day. I wanted to write a book that could be read aloud, but writing so much of the prose with subtle verse was simply another layer of artwork to tint this already expressive adventure. And for adventure, I never wanted the reader to feel stimulated with false drama. Life is dramatic, but sometimes that gut-wrenching sort of drama that just hangs over us like a cloud, making us feel uneasy. The uh-oh of something being unfixably wrong and staring us in the face, holding a sword low in-hand, ready for a duel. The knowledge that you can’t run away from it. Pacing works with all of this to mitigate the established distance as well. Some writers, like action flick directors, like to use fancy cuts and chop up the pace and make fights easier to choreograph. Sometimes it seems like teleporting. There are very few, if any, camera cuts in a Bruce Lee fight. But Bourne? Bond? Taken? You see what I mean. I tried to slow the world down to a walking/running pace to get you to feel your own heartbeat, and when that heartbeat increased, it wasn’t by anything flashy or fancy. Just the tension of being alone in the Hexenwaste and walking straight into the monolithic Temple of the Immortal for answers buried deep in lore, or seeing strange and mythical carvings and knowing we live in a world older than we can even begin to comprehend, a world so old and mysterious it scares the crap out of you to reach out and touch that which has been left secret for a reason, a mere canvas painted by a million distant stars in the tapestries of Eternity.
All of this (and so much more) worked together in my mind to craft The Muiread to be if not an unforgettable experience, at least a different one, as realistic as it was artistic, and as deep with drama and mystery and personality and heart as the intricately woven lives of those who were so kind to take the time to read it.
Thank you very much for reading this, and my sincere thanks to Wendell for taking the time to read The Muiread and offer me this guest post on his excellent blog, Bookwraiths.
Never stop reading!
Until next time,
Luke Taylor was nice enough to provide a copy of this novel for the winner of this giveaway. North American residents only.
And the winner is Elizabeth Hutson! Congratulations, Elizabeth. Your book is on its way.