Monday, March 22, 2010

Guest Blogger - Judith Tarr

A Victim of His Own...Something

One side effect of a long and prolific career is that while I'm nearly always focused on the next book (Q: What's your favorite of your books? A: The one I'm writing next), every so often, by chance or choice, I get to look back and see what I've been doing. This can range from embarrassing (I can't believe I wrote that!) to illuminating (I can't believe I wrote that!).

Aside from an ongoing fondness for big blond guys who look dumb but aren't, feisty heroines who aren't taking any crap from anybody, and intermittent cameo appearances by various of my cats and horses, I seem to have this thing for making characters the victims of their own advantages. Immortal, beautiful, powerful? They just want to be normal. Don't want to be normal? They end up having to deal with a whole raft of normal and much loved human beings whose problems are mostly their fault. And of course if they have magic (and many of them do), it's never entirely under control. Even when by all rights it should be.

When I was getting my handful of out-of-print novels ready to put up on Book View Cafe (, I had a chance to reread two that I had written one after the other as part of the same contract, A Wind in Cairo and Ars Magica. That was an interesting experience. It had been so long since I looked at them that it was almost like reading books written by someone else. I could see all their faults, the holes in their plots and their prose, the things I really shouldn't have done and the things that worked in spite of themselves. And I could see that without being aware of it, I'd followed the same trajectory of hero-cuts-swath-of-victims.

One protagonist is highly gifted in magic. One is not, but magic rules and controls him. They both make boneheaded mistakes, and those mistakes do major damage to the same category of character: a magician's daughter. A strong female character sorts each of them out and helps set everything, eventually, to rights.

What's interesting is that they're two completely different books that take off in completely different directions. One is a love story about a girl and her horse. The other is a historical-novel-with-magic about a boy who wants to know everything and ends up, in a manner of speaking, ruling the world. They're both about people who are victims of their own gifts (good and bad), but the stories they tell aren't much alike at all.

I like to pick up an idea and turn it in all sorts of different directions, and poke at it to see where it wants to go next. I usually know where I want it to end up, but how it gets there is very much up to the characters. Obviously I had some things to work through in these two books, and some themes that were just a little too big for one story.

If I'm aware of this, will it change how I write what I'm writing now? Well, yes and no. I might decide to play another riff on the theme, or I might dance completely away from it. I won't know till it happens.

And that's the best part. Even when I'm pretty sure what I'm likely to do, I'll still manage to surprise myself--and, I hope, my readers.

--Judith Tarr


  1. I love that you can go different places with a theme so easily! That's how the reader gets to go along for the ride and not know where they will end up.


  2. I think it's great that you surprise yourself along with your readers. It makes writing and reading book much more fun if sometimes we don't know where our characters and authors are going to take us. I love being surprised by a character and have much respect for authors who provide twists in their stories and can pull it off.

  3. Isn't it fun? I think if the writer is having fun (and Plotting Evilly), the reader can't help but feel it, and the story is that much more enjoyable.

    ...btw,this is Judith Tarr here, using my Blogger ID. :)

  4. I'm fairly new at writing, and I love my current series, but I can't help but wonder if a few years from now, I'll look back and think, "What the heck was that?" I know I look at earlier versions of the stories and I'm embarrassed.

  5. You have to squeeze your eyes shut, hold your nose, and move on, mostly.


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