The writer I would most like to be …

January 4th, 2014Posted by Nancy

No question at all. Patricia McKillip. If I could figure out a way to magically steal every scrap of poetry, plot, inspiration, craft and beauty out of her soul, I’d do it. (Ok, maybe I wouldn’t do exactly that but I’d    certainly be tempted…)

I read The Riddlemaster of Hed in high school, while I was working at the Markham Public Library.  I reached the end of the book, boggled at the cliffhanger ending, and wanted the next book right away.  I had to wait months for the Heir of Sea and Fire to come out but when I did, I loved it even more.  I was in university when the last book, Harpist in the Wind, was published.  I inhaled it in a huge gulp one day in my residence room and then promptly went back and read parts of it again, just for the sheer beauty of them.

Since then, I’ve read everything she’s written, most of them more than once (or twice, for that matter).   Her books aren’t huge fantasy “doorstops” but there’s more richness of imagination in them than in many trilogies.  Her world-building is exactly what you need to know and no more, a feat of which I am incredibly envious.  Her language can be opaque at times, requiring attention to parse out the full meaning, but it is always beautiful.   There’s an austere grace to her writing that hits every button in my reading/writing brain.

Read the following passage from The Cygnet and the Firebird and see what she can do with something as shop-worn and familiar as dragons:

“An eye had opened in the distant mountains: a second-sun, red-gold, flaming through the harsh, barren crags. A crag unfolded, extended itself upward in a broad sweep of gold. Another eye opened. The true sun rose above them. A second crag broke away, moved  upward into the sky, to catch the wind. The dragon shrugged itself out of the mountain, soared upward, light sliding like molten gold across its bright scales…..  It came straight to them: its vast shadow, flung forward, reached them first.  It seemed, as the earth darkened beneath its broad underbelly, to have swallowed the sun. Then it veered, loosed the sun from beneath it’s wing. It settled on top of the steep ruin of stones near them. It stretched its wings the light: gold shook in their eyes. Then it faded into itself among the rocks, its brilliant, craggy profile to the light. One eye stared down at them, wide and ruthless as the sun.”

One of her books is called Something Rich and Strange.  That’s a good a description of her own writing as any.

(Be sure to get the editions of her books, where possible, with cover art by Kinuko Craft. They’re absolutely exquisite.)

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