New Voice: R. J. Anderson on Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter

R. J. Anderson is the first-time author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter (HarperCollins, 2009)(read R. J.’s LJ). From the promotional copy:

There are humans at the bottom of the garden, and a glimpse inside their forbidden House convinces the fierce young faery hunter known as Knife that they have knowledge that could help her dying people.

But if the human world has so much to offer, why is the faery Queen determined to keep her people away from it? Is there a connection between the House and the faeries’ loss of magic? And why is Knife so drawn to the young Paul McCormick — that strangest of creatures, a human male?

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view – first, second, third (or some alternating combination) featured in your novel? What considerations came into play?

I’ve made many changes to Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter over the years, but I always knew it had to be written in the third person– I never even bothered trying anything else.

I think first person can be great and I’m not afraid to write it, but for this book it would have been all wrong: Knife is not a chatty character, she’s not emotionally self-aware, and since she’s a faery, her perspective on the world is so different from the reader’s that a first-person narrative would be confusing or even incomprehensible.

Knife is also a very physical character and gets involved in a lot of action scenes where there isn’t time for her to think about what’s happening, let alone describe it. So it was good to be able to pull back a little when necessary and use the third-person “camera,” so to speak.

But at the same time, I didn’t want readers to get too distant from Knife. I wanted them to see the world through Knife’s eyes, identify with her, and follow her steps as she tries to solve the book’s central mystery.

And I especially wanted readers to imagine how certain aspects of human life we take for granted–not just our technology, but our creativity, and the way we relate to each other–might appear startling and amazing to a faery who’d never encountered those things before.

So in order to do that, I had to immerse the reader in Knife’s point of view and never leave it, even once I had other significant characters on the scene. Which meant using a very strictly limited third person POV–no omniscience, no head-hopping, no shortcuts. It’s all Knife, all the time.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

I knew from the beginning that my story was going to take place in the real, modern world and not on some invented planet or magical fairyland, so in a way that made things simpler.

But I still had a lot to figure out about how to make the very isolated society in which the faeries live seem plausible. Since the faeries in my book have lost nearly all their magic and can no longer cast spells at will, they can’t just conjure up food and clothing–they have to forage and hunt for everything. And since they are small faeries, it’s only natural that they’d be at constant risk from predators.

So I had to do a lot of research about plants and herbs, pioneer methods for making soap and candles and tanning hides, what kind of weapons you could make if you didn’t have metal…and also the habits of carnivorous birds and animals who could pose a threat to the faeries if they weren’t careful.

I also had to think about ways in which the faery world might be different from the human one, not only in terms of technology but in terms of social interaction.

A lot of faery folklore implies that the faeries are lacking in some way, that the beauties of faeryland are an illusion and that if you look at the faeries themselves you may find them hollow inside. And that made me think about ways in which my faeries might also be “hollow” in terms of lacking emotional awareness and connection to each other, and how that would affect the way they relate on a day-to-day basis.

Once I’d figured out that they bargained for everything (faeries in folklore are also said to be fond of bargaining) and really had no concept of friendship or family, it helped me a lot in defining the differences between the human and faery worlds and also gave the developing relationship between Knife and Paul more impact.

None of this was easy. It took me many years and a lot of savvy editorial criticism to make my imagined faery society internally consistent and logistically plausible. But I learned a lot from the process, and I’m glad I went through it. Especially now that I’m hearing readers tell me the world-building’s one of their favorite aspects of the book.

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. First-timers may also be featured in more traditional author interviews over the course of the year.