Sometimes you have to fiddle around with a book before it starts working, before you find the right approach to the story, the right voice for the narrator.

In this instance, it took all of about three sentences.

I knew, when I started writing A Natural History of Dragons, that it was going to be a Victorian-style memoir. When I started writing, I immediately discovered the delights of that approach. My protagonist is, especially in this first book, a headstrong and slightly naive young woman — but the woman who is telling the story is decades older. The result is the best of both worlds: I get to play with her youthful enthusiasm and foolishness, but also the perspective and bulletproof audacity that comes with age. Older women in many times and places have been allowed leeway not given to their younger selves, and Isabella is exploiting that to the fullest.

It’s also fun to play around with the explicit framing the memoir format provides. I’ve written first-person stories before that are less strictly constructed, stories where you’re in the protagonist’s head, but she isn’t telling her story from a defined point in time, or to a defined audience. This approach loses a degree of flexibility, but provides a whole array of games to play. Isabella can distinguish between the young woman she was then and the old woman she is now, reflect on changes in her world, and tell the reader outright what she is and is not willing to talk about. It still has its implausible conventions, of course; when she reports a conversation word-for-word, what exactly is she basing that on? She kept a diary, of course, as many people in that time period did, but a great deal of what she says must be invention or after-the-fact reconstruction. But all fiction has such artificialities, regardless of the approach. What’s different in this instance is that I’ve never tried the memoir format at a length longer than a short story.

For all the challenges (and believe me, there are challenges, especially when it comes to the things Isabella doesn’t want to talk about), I’m having a blast, and have been since those first three sentences. Her voice clicked instantaneously — a shameless old woman talking about her youthful stupidity — and my brain is constantly supplying me with entertaining little asides, or wry commentary on the characters and events. In fact, the only downside to that part is figuring out when to rein Isabella in!

I’m two books into the series at this point, and it’s still as fun as when I started. In my line of work, we call that a win.

EXCERPT

A physician had accompanied the hunt, to minister to both the dogs and the men; he arrived shortly after we did. I was not his first patient, though. I heard Jim’s voice moaning from the other side of the small room, but I could not see him through the press of other people.

“Don’t hurt him,” I said to no one in particular, though rationally I knew the physician must be trying to help him. “Don’t blame him. I made him do it. And he protected me; he got in the way when the wolf-drake attacked.” This I had pieced together after the fact.

The injuries Jim suffered through his heroic move were one of two things that kept him from being ignominiously sacked. The other — though I can take little pride in it — was my tireless defense, insisting that he was not to be blamed for bringing me on the hunt. Now, far too late, my guilt boiled up, and I fear I kept harping on the point long after my father had agreed to keep him on.

All of that came later, though. Once finished with Jim, the physician came to me, and banished everyone but my father and the now-sleeping Jim out of the hut, for the wound was on my shoulder and it would not be appropriate for others to be there while it was bared. (This I thought foolish, even at the time, for young ladies may wear off-the-shoulder dresses, which show just as much flesh as his ministrations did.)

I was given brandy to drink, which I had never had before, and its fire nearly made my eyes start out of my head. They made me drink more, though, and after I had enough in me, they poured some over the wounds in my shoulder to cleanse them. This made me cry, but thanks to the brandy I no longer particularly cared that I was crying. By the time the physician began to stitch me up, I was not aware of much at all, except him telling Papa in a low voice, “The claws were sharp, so the flesh is not too ragged. And she’s young and strong. If infection does not threaten, it will heal well.”

Through lips gone very thick and uncooperative, I tried to mumble something about how I wanted to wear off-the-shoulder dresses, but I do not believe it came out very clearly, and then I was asleep.

MARIE BRENNAN ONLINE
Website | Twitter | Goodreads

  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marie Brennan is a former academic with a background in archaeology, anthropology, and folklore, which she now puts to rather cockeyed use in writing fantasy. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to many short stories and novellas, she is also the author of A Star Shall Fall and With Fate Conspire (both from Tor Books), as well as Warrior, Witch, Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, and Lies and Prophecy. You can find her online at SwanTower.com.

ABOUT THE BOOK: You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten… All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever. Marie Brennan introduces an enchanting new world in A Natural History of Dragons. (Tor Books, February 5, 2013)

GIVEAWAY!

Tor Books are offering up THREE (3) finished copies of A Natrural History of Dragons

For entry into the giveaway please:

  1.  Answer the following question: If you were to be the world’s preeminent naturalist studying a mythical creature, what creature would you choose? (Please leave your answer in the comment section of this blog post)
  2.  Enter your details in the widget below

This giveaway is open to US/Canada/UK only and ends 13th February 2013

GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED

PLEASE NOTE: Before entering please take the time to read our Giveaway Policy. As from Jan 2013, we will not be contacting giveaway winners by email. Winners will be announced on the blog via a post containing a link to claim their prize. So as to not miss these announcement posts, as well as future giveaways, subscribe via RSS or Email. Failure to claim your prize within SEVEN (7) days of the giveaway announcement post means you will forfeit your prize/s.

Carolyn

Carolyn created Book Chick City in July 2009 due to her love of books. A Brit chick obsessed with zombies, kick-arse chicks and sexy heroes. She's also seriously addicted to chocolate, shopping, and speciality teas (Teapigs anyone?). Her favourite genres are Urban Fantasy, Romance and Zombie Lit... Brrraaaaiiinnnnsss!

59 Comments


Ailsa February 6, 2013 at 4:19 pm

As soon as I saw the cover for this on NetGalley, I knew it was something I wanted to read. I love the story so far, and I love the voice we get from Isabella – her past, younger self compared to her much older self writing it as a memoir. I’ve always loved dragon stories, since I would walk in the woods with my mum and she’d pretend we were looking for Smaug.
I think that means you won’t be surprised to know I’d choose to study dragons if I had to pick a mythical creature to study :)

~Ailsa

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Karis February 6, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I would study brownies because they like to help people out with domestic chores.

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Freda Mans February 6, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Being a Sagittarius and a dragon sign I have always been enamored with dragons and minotaurs. I would definitely study one or the other, or even both.

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J Shaw February 6, 2013 at 4:50 pm

I would choose Minotaurs, as they would be able to answer my questions ;)

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Marie-Claude February 6, 2013 at 5:37 pm

I would choose Kelpies.

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Ben Audsley February 6, 2013 at 6:18 pm

i would be a phoenix and rise from the ashes!

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Sophia D February 6, 2013 at 6:27 pm

If I could, I would study mermaids :)

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Alexandrea Ward February 6, 2013 at 6:45 pm

For me, I’d have to say either a dragon or a phoenix. Love both of these mythical creatures.

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erinf1 February 6, 2013 at 7:46 pm

I love that cover! And the book sounds fantastic :) I think that I’d want to study either dragons or fairies :)

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Emma Holness February 6, 2013 at 7:52 pm

I’d study griffins.

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Isobel Barrick February 6, 2013 at 8:16 pm

I would study basilisks as they get a bad press. I’d have to design some protective gear first though.

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sherry fundin February 6, 2013 at 8:21 pm

If you would have asked me that a few years ago, I would have said Unicorn with no hesitation. Dragon would have been a close second. Now that I live in Florida, have to say a mermaid also. And if you saw my house you would say a Flamingo. LOL As you can tell, I love to live in fantasy worlds and books take me there. Thanks for the great giveaway.

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Mel Symonds February 6, 2013 at 8:50 pm

I would love to study Griffins…such amazing creatures!

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Alison M February 6, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Being Scottish I’d have to say The Loch Ness Monster…so many sightings over the years, got to be something down there! And of course his cousin Ogopogo in Kelowna in Canada so I could have a nice holiday and take in some stunning scenery and “real” wildlife like bears, wolves and raccoons etc.

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Lucianne February 6, 2013 at 9:50 pm

If I were the world’s preeminent naturalist studying a mythical creature, I would choose faeries. This study would be in the vein of the Victorians, many of whom were convinced in the existence of the “little people”.

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K W February 7, 2013 at 1:58 am

Definitely dragons… I’ve been obsessed with them ever since I was little, and have the piles of books/ornaments/games/etc to prove it! I’m also a fantasy artist and can you guess what I draw the most?

This book looks gorgeous and I’m drooling over it already.

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LisaC February 7, 2013 at 2:51 am

I would study the manticore, being careful to stay away from its sharp teeth and spines.

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Barbara E. February 7, 2013 at 4:23 am

I’d study sea dragons, or creatures like Nessie in Loch Ness. I think the difficulty in their habitat would make it a real challenge.

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Sarah February 7, 2013 at 11:05 am

If i were to study a mythical creature i would study … hmmm this is a toughie. Ok, being i’m from Wales i would like to investigate the Welsh Water Horse (Ceffyl Dŵr). I love those myths about water horses carrying innocent people off to their deaths in deep pools and i’d like to find out why they do it! I’d probably be happy with any of the old fairytale mythical creatures to be honest!

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Elaine February 7, 2013 at 1:14 pm

I would pick dragons as a first choice, griffins as a second.

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Irene Menge February 7, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I’m a horse person so naturally I would study unicorns or pegasi.

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Solange February 7, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Minotaurs

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Celia Husmann February 7, 2013 at 10:53 pm

mermaids

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Joani S February 8, 2013 at 1:50 am

I would def study Dragons, and then maybe the Fae. I love dragons!!

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Christina February 8, 2013 at 2:10 am

Totoro!

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Selinda February 8, 2013 at 10:55 am

Gryphons!

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Fiona Mallard February 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I would choose Gryphons, I’ve always wanted one!

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Nina February 8, 2013 at 11:12 pm

100% Dragons

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Hannah @ Once Upon A Time February 9, 2013 at 12:32 am

Sorry but dragons! I adore dragons (and really should get reading about them so that I can say “and all the lore and mythology surrounding them”). Heck, just last night I dreamt my boyfriend was a dragon shapeshifter from a parallel world. It might have been the coolest dream I’d ever had. Gotta be dragons.

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Caroline February 9, 2013 at 5:36 am

I would love to study dragonology.

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Sarah February 9, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Griffins would be my choice as they are my adopted username-sake.

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Margaret Lycett February 10, 2013 at 4:24 pm

THE UNICORN

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Fran Light February 10, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Dragons … but I’d be careful not to get TOO close to them (I don’t want to singe my fringe!)

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Mickie Bull February 10, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Griffin

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Amelia Powell February 10, 2013 at 6:41 pm

I’d study Unicorn’s. Magnificent and often overlooked.

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Vicky Limerick February 10, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Unicorns

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Mary Ann Woods February 10, 2013 at 9:42 pm

I’m fascinated by the unicorn.

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Liviania February 10, 2013 at 10:27 pm

I’d love to study the phoenix. But dragons would be a close second.

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Daniel Thornton, Jr. February 10, 2013 at 10:36 pm

mermaids

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Katie Contests February 11, 2013 at 2:05 am

I’d choose the basilisk!

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Michelle @ The True Book Addict February 11, 2013 at 4:04 am

It would have to be a Gryphon…definitely!

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Mark Whittaker February 11, 2013 at 11:57 am

The Caladrius – its curative power could be fantastic

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Georgia Mcallister February 11, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I would study Mermaids.

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Jennifer February 11, 2013 at 6:27 pm

I’d want to study gryphons or phoenixes.

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Jessica Rodriguez February 11, 2013 at 8:28 pm

If I could, I would study dragons and phoenix, I really like them

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Christine Fridlington February 11, 2013 at 11:51 pm

I would study the phoenix, as the saying “like a phoenix rsising from the ashes” has inspired me at times.

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Linda K February 12, 2013 at 3:34 am

I would study vampires.

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Emma K February 12, 2013 at 4:19 pm

I don’t think I could choose just one. I can whittle it down to 2 – Dragon’s and Phoenix’s. :)

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Natalie Henderson February 12, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Sidhe – the most powerful!

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michelle blackman February 12, 2013 at 7:35 pm

fairies

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Paul Witney February 12, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Banshee

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sj wesley February 12, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Definitely a Phoenix – to see for myself what the Harry Potter Order of the Phoenix hyped up!

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Kari Flores February 13, 2013 at 3:11 am

I would study Unicorns.

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david jackson February 13, 2013 at 11:52 am

I would choose Minotaurs, as they would be able to answer my questions

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Kathleen M Smith February 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Unicorns, of course

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June Jowers February 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm

A hippogriff

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Michelle Little February 13, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I would study Fairies.

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Jennifer February 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm

A shapeshifter, then I would be always guessing how they would next appear.

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Stacy February 13, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Unicorns!

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