Guest Post from Morgan Keyes, and a Book Giveaway!

Darkbeast by Morgan Keyes

Darkbeast by Morgan Keyes

Today we welcome my good friend Morgan Keyes, who has just published a brand new middle grade fantasy, Darkbeast (Simon & Schuster).  Morgan also writes as Mindy Klasky, and in that guise she is not only a colleague of mine over at SFNovelists, she is also a regular contributor to the Magical Words blog site.  She is witty, incredibly knowledgeable about our genre and the publishing business in general, and a wonderful writer.

As an added bonus, Morgan, with the generous support of the folks at Simon & Schuster, is giving away a free copy of Darkbeast.  Leave a comment before 11:59 p.m. EDT Sunday night, September 2, and you could win.  (Please keep in mind that this post is up at several blogs, so the winner might or might not be chosen from people who comment here.  Only one entry per person across ALL the blogs, please.  Commenting at each blog will not increase your chances of winning.)

Without further ado, here’s Morgan!!

Many thanks to David, for allowing me to visit here and tell you about my middle grade fantasy novel.

In Darkbeast, twelve-year-old Keara runs away from home rather than sacrifice Caw, the raven darkbeast that she has been bound to magically all her life.  Pursued by Inquisitors who would punish her for heresy, Keara joins a performing troupe of Travelers and tries to find a safe haven for herself and her companion.

Some authors have it easy.  They set their stories in real cities, taking advantage of real maps and readers’ familiarity with real landmarks.  Think, for example, of the wildly successful The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  A reader could navigate from the titular girl’s apartment to virtually any other setting in the book, simply by following Stieg Larsson’s detailed prose.

Some authors have it hard.  They set their stories in real cities, but in times past.  (Yes, D.B. Jackson, I’m looking at you, and at Thieftaker!)  These authors need to learn the actual map, as it existed in the time of their tale.  That alone can be a struggle – tracking down appropriate resources, reconciling conflicting data.  And woe to the author who has his characters walk streets that have changed their courses, or travel to landmarks that have burned and been rebuilt elsewhere.  Readers will helpfully offer endless “corrections” despite the actual accuracy of the story as written.

And then there are authors, like me, who can draw on actual history, but take liberties.  In writing Darkbeast, I created a secondary world, one that is not directly identical to anything in our actual historical past.  Nevertheless, I populated my world with people who were similar – in some ways – to actual people who lived in actual historical cultures.

Here’s an example:  Keara and her family are very religious; their lives are controlled in large part by the twelve gods they worship.  The architecture associated with those deities is distinctive, and it guides not only the design of the actual godhouses but their placement within villages and towns.  (For example, the goddess Pondera offers shelter to travelers, and her godhouse, however rudimentary, is always situated at the southern edge of settlements because people traditionally traveled from the south to the north on the Great Road.)

Alas, I don’t have any experience as a city planner.  For tiny villages, my ignorance was immaterial.  For larger towns, though, I needed help.  I needed maps of similar towns, located in similar geographic settings.

And so I came to study maps of Venice (with its waterways and bridges).  I also studied Rome (with its hills and multiple temples).  I tossed in a couple of surveys of Avignon, (with its massive Palace of the Popes, dominating an otherwise rather unremarkable medieval town).

My goal was not to create a factually correct map; no one is going to travel to Duodecia and use Darkbeast as a guidebook.  My goal was not even the more challenging one of presenting historical fact for modern readers, similar to Thieftaker.  Rather, my goal was to create a world that feels right, that seems accurate, even if no one can ever set foot there.  To that end, I could trace the path from the Doge’s Palace to the Bridge of Sighs, bulking up the palace into a “papal” bulwark, turning the bridge itself into a godhouse with specific attributes.

In the end, my readers will likely never know the specific paths I’ve traced.  But I know them, and they help me to keep the story straight in my head.  They help to make the world more real.

What are the most realistic secondary worlds you’ve encountered in fantasy fiction?  And what makes them feel “real” to you?

Morgan Keyes

Morgan Keyes

Morgan can be found online at:

Darkbeast is for sale in bricks-and-mortar and online bookstores, including:  Amazon | B & N | Indiebound

Morgan Keyes grew up in California, Texas, Georgia, and Minnesota, accompanied by parents, a brother, a dog, and a cat.  Also, there were books.  Lots and lots of books.  Morgan now lives near Washington, D.C.  In between trips to the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery of Art, she reads, travels, reads, writes, reads, cooks, reads, wrestles with cats, and reads.  Because there are still books.  Lots and lots of books.

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