writing life

Origins and Influences: Katherine Kurtz

In my ongoing series of posts about the origins and influences on my writing, I seem to have reached my teen years. That was when I really got into modern fantasy. I’d been obsessed with Narnia and had read Tolkien, and that had led into some of the “children’s” fantasy, such as Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series and the Oz books. When Alan Dean Foster, whose science fiction books I’d loved, wrote a fantasy series, the Spellsinger books, I read those. But I hadn’t delved into most of the other fantasy being published at that time.

Then a book caught my eye at the library, mostly because of the cover. The art was similar to that on the covers of the Alan Dean Foster books, but it looked like something out of a fairy tale. I picked it up to look at and ended up checking it out. The book was Deryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz. I plowed through that book, then got the rest of the series the next time we went to the library, and then bought copies of the series for myself. I was utterly obsessed with those books. I fell madly in love with the characters, and I loved the sense of history. It was like it was a real world whose history we were getting to read. I also enjoyed the thread of faith worked into those books (complete with Bible verses at the beginnings of chapters). It worked like in the real medieval world, when faith was pivotal to people’s lives, and while there were evil people who used faith as a weapon to help them maintain power, the good guys also had faith and tried to live in accordance with it. This is an element that’s frequently left out of fantasy worldbuilding, and the way it was presented in these books rang true to me as a person of faith.

That led me into reading other fantasy published in the 70s and 80s, in the initial wave that came after the Ballantine publication of The Lord of the Rings. Most of it, I don’t remember much of. I do know I read The Sword of Shannara and Elfstones of Shannara. But there were so many others, some of which are probably forgotten now because there was a lot of “disposable” fantasy.

Strangely, I didn’t read the other Deryni books for some time because when I looked at the second trilogy, I saw that it was set in the past. I wanted to read about those original characters, not about other people. During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I went with a friend to a flea market. She told me it was a great place to find books, but I hadn’t found anything to interest me. I did see a copy of the first book in that second trilogy, Camber of Culdi, and bought it just to buy something to make my friend feel better about dragging me there. It was a few months after that before I finally read it — and then fell even more madly in love with those characters and that time period than I had been with the original trilogy. Rhys Thuryn from those books remains my primary Book Boyfriend. I eagerly got the next two books. I was overjoyed when I learned that a new trilogy was coming out. I was so excited about these books that I bought a set to give to a friend just so I’d have someone to discuss them with (how I’d have loved to have the Internet then). When I went to college, I displayed these books in my dorm room and used that as an icebreaker. I found a few friends because I knew they’d be kindred spirits since they’d read them, too. I did a paper on the world of these books for my parageography class in college.

It was through this obsession that I decided that fantasy was what I wanted to write. My first attempts at writing had been science fiction. Then I’d tried to write spy thrillers. But I started seriously writing with attempts at writing fantasy novels. When I was right out of college, I even won the fantasy category of a writing contest a couple of times (I eventually finished those books but haven’t sold them). Oddly enough, I still haven’t sold a “traditional” fantasy novel along the lines of Kurtz, and I’ve only drafted a couple of attempts at one. Everything I’ve published has been contemporary or Victorian/Steampunk.

I’ve actually met both of the people who led to this obsession. Darrell K. Sweet, the artist who did covers for both Alan Dean Foster and Katherine Kurtz, was artist guest of honor at FenCon once. And I was a guest at a convention where Katherine Kurtz was a guest of honor. I had a major fangirl moment when I ended up sitting next to her at a booksigning, and I thought I would faint when she picked up one of my books to read the back. I eventually managed to pull myself together enough to mention what her books had meant to me, and I got to hang out with her some, which felt rather like an out-of-body experience. I actually ended up spending more time that weekend with her husband, since it turned out that we had similar backgrounds as military brats and had lived at some of the same places, so there was a lot of “did you ever go to …” going on.

I do still want to write a traditional fantasy along the lines of the Deryni books. It’s a harder sell these days because it’s been done to death and you have to find some new twist on it. Right now, grimdark seems to be the trend, but I’m not so into the blood-and-guts, life sucks thing. I may just do it and publish it myself so I can tick that box off my literary bucket list.

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