On Setting Part II (aka Why Does King Arthur Talk Funny?)

“Nobody can be too careful about their habits of speech.” –Once and Future King

Even bearing in mind that not all critics are created equal, two of the reasons I don’t want to read reviews is that 1) good or bad, they become stuck in my head (good:  I wonder if I’ll ever write anything that good again; or bad:  they’ve discovered that I’m a hack and a fraud like I’ve always secretly believed);  and 2) I may feel the need to respond to some of their criticisms.

So anyway, before I went on my review fast (and a sucky job I’ve done at it), I ran across a criticism about the language in my novel.  To be straight, I have a very urbanized tale, putting the “urban” in urban fantasy as it were.  It is set among homeless teens, gang members, and drug dealers and thus has what I will generously call a highly select lexicon.  Some of which some readers have reacted poorly to.*

I get that an inner city tale of any sort might not be in every reader’s given experience.  Then again, the book is billed as The Wire meets Excalibur, so it’s not like the warning’s not right there on the cover.  But I want to look at this from the fantasy writer’s/reader’s expectation perspective.  Our job as writers is to build worlds, worlds complete with art, history, and language.  If a writer has done their job well, they can submerge you into any alien world and as part of the reader’s journey, they pick up the slang or language of the world.  Be it the lexicon of Dune, snippets of alien language, the random bits of poetry in the Lord of the Rings**, or Klingon (which I probably should have taken instead of French in college).

What I can’t stand, however, is when the … tone of the comments are undergirded with what I will generously call “angst” that the characters speak in American slang.  As if there is one and only one cultural lens through which Arthur can be interpreted.  Let me put it another way.  I am finally getting around to reading T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (I know, I know:  “what kind of King Arthur book can you have written if you hadn’t even read this?  Blah, blah, blah … bite me).  It’s widely hailed as a fantasy classic and I am in no way criticizing its position as I’m fully cognizant that my books may be in the discount bins in a few months, forgotten and unread.  Anyway, I ran across this passage:

“Wold fools may be wold fools, whether  by yea or by nay, but I haint served the Family for fifty year without a-learning of my duty.  A flibberty-gibbeting about wi’ a lot of want-wits, when thy own arm may be dropping to the floor!”

Now, I read that passage several times, with the criticism that I was committing some sort of cultural  hate crime in the back of my head.  And I thought, as an American male plopped on his couch reading this book, “this isn’t exactly torn from my cultural lexicon.”

This was just something I was thinking about as I vowed yet again to quit reading every review before I finish the last book in the Knights of Breton Court trilogy.  As it stands, I’m ¾ of the way done with the last book, King’s War.  The story is still set in Indianapolis, the characters still have their particular lexicon and their own diction.  It’s all a part of world building, where I hopefully transport you to a new world and make it believable and real.  After all, this Indianapolis doesn’t exist (as far as you know).

Of course, all of the criticism could be right and I simply suck.

*A friend told me to imagine that readers of fantasy were little old white women living in Iowa.  Not terribly accurate as sweeping generalizations go, but, oddly enough, it gave me some comfort.

**I won’t lie:  I was not a fan.  I came to a point in Fellowship of the Rings where I literally said out loud “if he writes one more damn elf song/poem, I’m done with the book.  He did and I was.  So, maybe I ultimately have no room to grouse in this blog and should leave it at “to each, their own.”

On Setting (aka King Arthur in Indianapolis?)

I ran across a blog entry the other day which seemed to take issue with my series The Knights of Breton Court. First off, here’s the book description (from the Angry Robot website): On the streets of Indianapolis, the ancient Arthurian cycle is replaying in the lives of rival street gangs. Told through the eyes of King, as he gathers like-minded friends and warriors around him to venture into the fastness of Dred, the notorious crime lord, this is a stunning mix of myth and harsh reality. A truly remarkable novel.

I understand this book won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, after all, what’s a few pimps, trolls, drug dealers, elementals, homeless teenagers, and the occasional dragon between friends? However, that was the element of disbelief said blog writer couldn’t suspend. His issue was the setting. Indianapolis, specifically selling Indianapolis to British readers.

When it comes to American cities, Indianapolis is nothing special. My apologies to the Hoosiers but it’s true. It may be the 14th biggest US city but in terms of defining characteristics or geography or culture, there isn’t a lot to talk about.

(It’s a great blog, btw. The author goes on to do an informal survey asking people what their impressions of various big cities were. Indianapolis is … yellow and average.)

I debated briefly about whether or not the story would fly in Indianapolis. But considering what all inspired the story, it was ultimately a no brainer. And I’ll admit, I’m a lazy researcher. I had to go all of around the corner to find this tag:
(This really was taken around the corner from my house. If you know what you’re looking at, you know exactly which gang sets, or which gangs someone is claiming to be tagging for, are represented)

Now, the Indianapolis I write about is not the Indianapolis of the tourist brochures. I’m not trying to do anything exploitative or take folks slumming, either. One of the theses of the story is that any city has a shadow side. An invisible side to it that most people choose not to see, a whole world which may be playing out right under our noses that we have no idea is going on. Sometimes that world is poverty or homelessness. Sometimes that world is magic. Sometimes that world is filled with monsters. But it’s our world to explore.

Indianapolis is actually a perfect place to set the story. It’s a blank enough canvas that I’m betting even native readers will have their eyes opened by much of the story’s locales. And frankly, be it Indianapolis, The Shire, or Gallifrey, the important isn’t how familiar the world is to us, but how real the author makes it to us. Here’s hoping I made the Indianapolis haunting, real, and terrifying. If not, you at least have a gorgeous cover to enjoy.


Here is the response from Stomping on Yeti and a King Maker inspired contest from them.