Book Trailer and Guest Post: Falcon in the Glass by Susan Fletcher

Some time ago, I was privileged to host a conversation with my VCFA colleague and gifted writer Susan Fletcher and children’s literature scholar Taraneh Matloob. Now it’s my delight to invite Susan to write a guest post for me on WWBT–this time about her latest book, Falcon in the Glass.
Here’s the trailer, with music and editing by that talented duo, Cooper Appelt and Laurel Kathleen
Here’s what I asked Susan

Obsession and form dominate in this book–Renzo’s obsession with the glass, the forms of birds and children that appear as if magically from the mist, and the glass and what it means. The interplay between these things does so much to help shape this beautiful story. Can you talk about that? What did obsession and form (structure if you will) mean to you in the making of this book?

Her answer is filled with all those internal contradictions that writers know so well–the fragile and the unbreakable, the fleeting and the enduring, the things that create the shifting, shadowy dance between vision and craft.

Susan Fletcher on Obsession, Form, and Falcon in the Glass

I guess I started with three obsessions from the get-go. First of all, Venice. Ever since seeing a video documentary on Venice about twenty years ago, I’ve been fascinated by that city and have wanted to explore it in person and in writing. Maybe it’s all those canals and bridges, or the reflections of water on stone and stone on water, which give the city a rippling feeling of evanescence. Maybe it’s the opulence, or the flamboyant history, or the fact that the city is sinking, which brings to mind the fragility of everything that’s beautiful. Maybe it’s the fact that when you walk through those old streets, you can almost imagine that the 21st century has dropped away and you’re living in some alternate Renaissance—with tourists.

In any case, my second obsession had to do with the shape of the story I wanted to tell. Years before, I had read The Kite Runner, and it had moved me deeply, and I’d gone back and asked myself why. Part of of it had to do with the book itself, which I still admire. But part of it, I decided, had to do with the type of story it is—a story of harm inflicted and later atonement. I can’t tell you why, but this kind of story pulls at me. And it has a particular shape: Someone hurts someone else, for human reasons that we can understand. And he then tries to go back and undo as much of the harm as he can—though undoing it entirely is impossible. So I knew the larger shape of the story very early in the process. A sort of forward movement with the hurting. And an echoing backward reflection with the attempt to undo. Stone on water. Water on stone.

falcon glass169 - Book Trailer and Guest Post: Falcon in the Glass by Susan Fletcher

My third obsession is longstanding. It has to do with creating things. Shaping things. The word “art” makes me skittish—but I spend the bulk of my days thinking about, teaching about, writing about, and in the act of attempting to create something original and harmonious: a story. I hadn’t really explored this territory yet in a novel, but I wanted to. So my protagonist, Renzo, aspires to become a glass artist. He is, as you say, obsessed. In this book I got to explore, through Renzo, some of the issues I have mulled over the years in my teaching and writing. How important is innovation in artmaking? What is the relationship between the hard work (and even drudgery) of developing the skills the artist needs on the one hand…and the flash of inspiration required for the art to break through to true originality? For me, finishing a novel requires a kind of dogged persistence. It’s a long process requiring a suite of hard-won skills. But when I approach a book with a sort of grit-your-teeth determination, I can crush all the life out of it. My best writing comes when I lighten up and approach my work in a spirit of play. For me, writing a novel is a delicate balancing act of craft, persistence, obsession, and joy. And I imagine that this is true of other art forms, too.

And finally, I found myself exploring the relationship between art and life. Some artists believe it’s necessary to sacrifice the fullness of their lives to their art. They believe that genuine art requires that level of sacrifice. And truly I have found that if you let it, life can shoulder aside your plans to make art. And if you want to create, you can’t allow that to happen. On the other hand, I think the most important thing I’ve done in my life isn’t writing my books—it’s raising my daughter. So in Falcon, Renzo finds himself caught between the demands of artmaking and life. I won’t say what happens, but I will tell where I come out on this issue: Life can disrupt your plans to make art, but it’s a full life that gives you something to make art about.

Thank you, Susan, for this sensitive post on a book as rich and beautiful as the history, art, and humanity it brings to the page. 

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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