Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Galen Beckett

Much as my Regency handle should Mr. Darcy drop by is Miss Eliza, Mark Anthony also has an alias, that of Galen Beckett, though I don't believe his was to ensnare an Austen hero, but more to give that right fantastical authorial feel to his Mrs. Quent trilogy. Mark spent his childhood summers in a Colorado ghost town falling in love with the mountains as well as the fantasy stories he read "pushed" on him by a pair of older sisters. Of course this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has read his Mrs. Quent trilogy which is a delicious combination of magic and nature. Instead of veering into the realm of fantasy right away he initially trained as a paleoanthropologist. Along the way it wasn't so much human evolution which called to him, though you will see that it does work it's way into his writing, but the evolution of man that is reflected in myth and the literature of the fantastic. This shift shouldn't have surprised anyone, what with Mark growing up on a steady diet of Tolkien, McCaffrey, and LeGuin.

Mark was interested with "how myths and archetypes provide mirrors to our mundane, everyday lives. I think there’s a lot in myth that we can learn from, and fantasy provides a wonderful means for exploring those ideas." Of course there is one outlet that has been a constant for many years for those wishing to go into fantastical realms, and that is Dungeons and Dragons. Mark got his literary start penning novels and short stories for various Dungeons and Dragons game settings. After ten years of writing for Dungeons and Dragons the first book in his Last Rune series, Beyond the Pale was published. Sadly Mark's pointed out there is not any magic to getting published, but lots of work, perseverance, and being willing to keep going after multiple rejections. You just can't give up, and he even has a day job. But his exploration of the idea that reason and wonder need not exist in conflict reached it's pinnacle, in my mind, with his next big project which began with a binge reading of 19th Century classics and asked the question, "What if there was a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë?" You'll have to read his Mrs. Quent trilogy to get that answer, but let's go to Mark for answers to some other questions.

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: I came very late to the dance! I remember my older sisters talking (excitedly) about Jane Austen when I was younger. And of course I read the prescribed amounts of English literature in high school and college. But somehow Austen’s novels were never on the syllabus.

So I was well along in my 30s before I decided that I really hadn’t read as many 19th century novels as I wished. I started in on Dickens, Shelley, Wilde, the Brontës, and of course Austen. And just as I had years before, upon first reading The Lord of the Rings, I felt that an entire new world was opening up before me as I devoured Pride and Prejudice. It was a world I loved so much, I couldn’t resist creating my own version of it!

Question: What do you think Jane Austen would think of her impact with so many literary offshoots, from parody to pastiche?

Answer: I would never be so bold as to try to guess what Jane herself would think of it all—she was a far better judge of people than I! But I do think that any work which made a genuine (and genuinely wry) attempt to seek the point of this achingly silly and marvelous game we call life is something she would have approved of. So while zombies shambling around Netherfield Park for no apparent reason might get a sideways look, I think a delightfully clueless stand-in for Miss Woodhouse in 1990s Beverly Hills might win an approving nod.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: I don’t think it’s so much where inspiration comes from that’s important—it really can come from almost anywhere. Novels, movies, music, scientific works, histories, walks out doors, ancient ruins, even the pixelated art in a video game—all are things that have inspired me at some time or another. What’s important are the connections that can occur between any and all of these things. When you are suddenly struck by an unexpected link between two thoughts that didn’t seem related at all, that’s when the spark happens.

For The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, it was the connection I glimpsed between the circumstances of women in Regency and Victorian England and scientific work that had been done using mitochondrial DNA to trace the lineage of most European women back to seven “clan mothers” who lived many thousands of years ago. What if, my brain that is ever inclined to make things fantastical postulated, those seven women had been witches?

Question: What makes the early 19th century mesh so well with magic?

Answer: It really does, doesn’t it? I think maybe because on the one hand it was a time of reason and mastery—when people were trying to understand the world, and to force an order upon it. Yet on the other hand there was so much they didn’t really understand, and so much that they had marvelously wrong. It makes it fun to imagine a world in which all those things they thought were true, but weren’t, in fact really were.

Question: The world building and system of magic varies greatly in the regency fantasy genre, how did you go about creating yours?

Answer: I tried to keep the magic as limited and focused as possible. As I mentioned, I started with a premise that there were seven clan mothers back in the misty past who became witches, and from whom all witches were descended. Magicians, who are always men, traced their origins to the same time period, and were born of an opposing magic. So the tension between the sexes that existed in 19th Century England took on new meaning in my alternate realm of Altania—it went back to a magical conflict lost in the mists of time, but now coming to a head after all these millennia.

Question: If you had to choose between writing only period literature or only fantasy literature, which would win?

Answer: Well, clearly with The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, I didn't want to choose, and so did both at once! But since you are forcing an answer to such a dreadful question, I would have to say that fantasy would win. It’s my nature to look at everything through a lens of magic and myth and wonder. If you ask me to write a Western novel, or a mystery, or spy thriller, It’s pretty much a guarantee I’m going to find a way to sneak magic into it!

Question: Be honest, have you ever dressed up in Regency clothes just to pretend for a moment you are in the past?

Answer: Well, I did wear a puffy shirt to a Renaissance festival once. Does that count? :)


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