Monday, October 1, 2012

Guild of Spies - An Interview with Author L.B. Beckett



Sia, thank you for letting me be a guest hostess today! 
Today you are going to learn a new word and be given a perfect example of it. 
The word is “uchronia”. The “u” part of it comes from the word “utopia.” Most folks think that means “a perfect world”, but it actually comes from the Greek “ou” meaning “not” and “topos”, meaning “place." So, “not a real place.”  The second part of the word comes from “chronos”, meaning “time”. So “uchronia” means a place that doesn’t exist and a time that doesn’t exist. Think of JRR Tolkein’s Middle Earth as a good example of it. 
Uchronia also applies to the new novel, Guild of Spies, by L.B. Beckett. In a time that is vaguely turn-of-the-century/Victorian, the secretive, vaguely China-esque country of Tem decides to finally allow visitors from the Western world. The first delegation consists of a politician, a minister of trade, a cultural minister, a historian, and a translator. 
And of course, a spy. 
Dian Von Camff, ostensibly a dilettante “lady adventurer,” finds herself in a land where politics and intrigue are woven into the very fabric of life, where rituals and customs must be strictly observed, the slightest whim of the Emperor must be obeyed, and the “Hand of Tem” is everywhere. Her “minder” in this dangerous new world is Counselor Sen Ari, a man with secrets of his own.

I was fortunate to interview the author and delve further into this work of intrigue, secrets and romance.


KS: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
LBB: Most of the book was fun to write, honestly! Just as a little bit of background: I wrote Guild of Spies a number of years ago when I was between more “serious” projects—which is to say, ones that I thought might get me published and get me started on a real writing career. The problem was, I didn’t know what that next “serious” project was going to be—I just didn’t have any ideas at the time. I’d learned enough about writing to realize that like most skills, you need to practice, so I decided that I would write this book purely for fun and to keep my chops up. I wasn’t putting any expectations on myself other than to write every day. So the whole thing was kind of a romp.

There were a lot of scenes that I enjoyed writing. I think where the whole thing really took off was from that first scene between Dian and Sen Ari, the first of their many conversations that take place on several levels at once. I loved writing anything with the Emperor, especially that very dark moment when Dian is called to his observatory in the middle of the night. The second meeting between Dian and the Minister of Rituals was a lot of fun, because he’s very polite, but obviously not a nice person. A lot of the “action” of this book takes place in conversations, and all of that verbal fencing was a kick to write.
KS: I love the place and character names in this book and the fact that some of them are what I call “Easter Eggs,” meaning they have a layered sort of meaning. For instance, the delegation is from “Albion,” which is an ancient name for England. You also have countries named Aquitaine and Khalabad. How you came up with these names? And why “Tem”?

LBB:  I wish I could tell you that I had some master plan or intellectual construct for the names, but the truth is, I just made them up as I went along. As mentioned, this was a book that I wrote for fun, just to write without a lot of expectations, and a part of that was avoiding research (which is usually a large part of my writing process). So, I set it in an imaginary place, where I could do whatever I wanted without having to respect actual facts or real history. I picked names that had the sort of resonances that I wanted for the places I was making up. With “Tem,” I just liked the way it sounded!
KS: What exactly is “The Hand of Tem”?

LBB: The Hand of Tem is several things at once. It’s a faction of fundamentalist extremists, sort of like the Taliban, that becomes an unofficial militia and creates a lot of chaos in Tem. What isn’t known is the extent to which The Hand of Tem is a genuine grassroots movement and to what extent it’s being manipulated by powerful forces in the Temish government.
KS: Dian Von Camff is by nature (and necessity), aloof, distant, an observer (making her the perfect spy!). Councilor Sen Ari Of Tem is a man of rules, rituals, and secrets. What makes these two perfect for each other, and how did you get them to “open up” to each other?

LBB: It was a challenge. When I was beginning the draft, I honestly didn’t know how much of a romance there would be between the two of them, how it would develop, what their feelings toward each other would be. Both of these people are very guarded, and they both have hidden agendas. Both have reasons to pursue each other to advance their own interests. So their relationship of necessity had to develop slowly. It starts with a mutual attraction, but acting upon it would be extremely risky for both of them. It advances because of a shared secret that binds the two together up to a point, but still, neither one can be open and honest with the other. The lack of honesty and trust, while understandable, leads to some devastating consequences.
Beyond attraction and beyond manipulation, they’re drawn to each other because they have a similar approach to life—both are close observers who rely first on analysis rather than emotion to make their decisions—or, that’s what they tell themselves. In reality both of them have a lot of passion that they try to cover up. Dian’s aloofness and distance cover up a deep well of anger and the truth about her life before the Guild. Ari’s loyalty and devotion to duty cover up a rebellious streak and a love of power games, of winning.

What draws Dian to Ari is that he’s smart, he’s funny, and he seems to genuinely respect her, in particular her strength and “spirit of adventure.” That’s the part she’ll admit. What she’s less likely to cop to is that he’s a man who seems to want to take care of her, and she’s had very little of that kind of support from the romantic partners in her life.
What draws Ari to Dian at the beginning is that she’s absolutely not a woman he should get involved with—a delegate from a foreign nation traditionally considered an enemy of Tem. One of the ways that Ari’s rebellious streak expresses itself is in an attraction to women that are going to get him into trouble. We find out as well that living and working in the viper pit of Temish politics, he’s lonely and isolated, and it’s very tempting to open himself up to an outsider. Also, Dian is smart, she’s interesting, she challenges him, and she knows about a world outside Tem that he’s very curious about but has never gotten to experience.

Whether this mutual attraction and compatibility is enough to transcend their very different backgrounds and conflicting loyalties is something that you’ll have to read the book to find out!

KS: Guild of Spies is a BIG book, but it’s worth it for the delicious unfolding of the intrigue. Reading it reminded me of a Japanese tea ceremony, where every slow gesture and ritual holds a deeper meaning. It’s available in two parts, “The Open Hand of Tem” and “The Hand of Tem Closes,” but I’d advise going ahead and getting the combined version, Guild of Spies, because once you start, you’re not going to want to stop!

  • What other examples of "uchronia" have you read? Do you find made-up worlds as appealing as I do?

In a country of secrets, even a spy has her limits...

The Guild recruited Dian Von Camff when she was little more than a child. She’s served this secret organization ever since, performing covert missions to advance their Grand Conspiracy. Now she’s been given her most difficult and important assignment to date—infiltrate an Albion diplomatic delegation to the reclusive Imperial Kingdom of Tem.

Once in Tem, Dian finds herself surrounded by strangers who play dangerous games at the highest levels of power. Chief among them is Counselor Sen Ari, a Temish official who takes a special interest in Dian. But what are his motives? When Dian saves the life of the Emperor himself, she becomes enmeshed in subterranean plots whose objectives she can only guess—and even the best spy the Guild has might not be good enough to survive the unleashed fury of the Hand of Tem.
Purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

 

23 comments:

Jo said...

Sounds a great book. Will have to check it out.

Kat Sheridan said...

Good morning, Jo! This book has such lush prose and a grand adventure. It's the sort of book that drags you off to another world.

Jo said...

I'm slightly puzzled. There seem to be three versions on Amazon although each one says the same thing.

Kat Sheridan said...

The one I have linked here is the full version. If you check the covers of the other two, one says "The Open Hand of Tem" under the main title, and the other says "The Hand of Tem Closes". The full book is large (think Ken Follett or Harry Potter), so the author split it for folks who might want to read it in smaller chunks. Each of the two can stand alone, but together they form a beautiful tapestry (sort of like Tolkeins Ring trilogy, which is really just one long story told in three parts).

~Sia McKye~ said...

kAT, I'm looking forward to reading this one. I know I like the author's writing style. Thank you for bringing us such a nice interview!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

"Made them up as I went along" - that's how I come up with names as well!

Jo said...

Thanks Kat

Judi Fennell said...

Must say, love the book and love the cover. But I could be biased on that last one...

Kat Sheridan said...

Alex, I admire folks who can just make up names like that. My own WIPs are full of things like [INSERT BUTLER NAME HERE] because I just have to research it to death to make sure it's perfect. That's one reason I LOVED the names in Guild of Spies, because there are some lovely hidden meanings behind them!

Kat Sheridan said...

Judi, that cover truly is GORGEOUS! Love the juxtaposition of the hard gears with the delicate phoenix. Did I mention there are airships in this book?

Johanna Garth said...

That cover is insanely beautiful and the book sounds wonderful too.

~Sia McKye~ said...

JUDI--you did a beautiful job on the design of this cover! I like the delicate phoenix on it as well.

I tend to make up names, but there are times I research a particular meaning for the name.

Ms Beckett, I love the storyline here. And thank you for visiting with us on OVER COFFEE!

Kat Sheridan said...

Hi, Johanna! That eye-catching cover was done by formatting4u and captures the essence of the story very well. I just honestly LOVE this book!

lbbeckett said...

Thank you for having me -- what a wonderful blog and a great community!

Judi's cover is the perfect visualization for the story -- it's so evocative!

Jill Lynn said...

Sounds like a delicious, multi-layered book.

Carol Kilgore said...

This sounds like the perfect book to curl up with in front of a fire with the snow falling outside.

Kat Sheridan said...

Jill, multi-layered is the perfect description. You know how it is with spies. Saying one thing while hiding something else. Especially in a land where EVERYONE is hiding behind a polite mask.

Kat Sheridan said...

Carol, it's perfect for that! It's the sort of book that pulls you in and immerses you in a world of intrigue and danger and romance. From what I understand, there's a possibility of a companion book to this one that I'd love to read. The world of Tem is a deeply fascinating one!

nutschell said...

great interview! And that book sounds like something I will definitely enjoy reading. And thanks for telling us about uchronia--another word to add to my growing word pool.

Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Sheila Deeth said...

Great cover, and this certainly sounds the sort of book to keep me enthralled. Nice interview too.

Kat Sheridan said...

nutschell, I adore adding new words! My latest acquisition (besides uchronia) is 'tenebrous', meaning dark, gloomy or obscure!

Kat Sheridan said...

Glad you enjoyed the interview, Sheila. I loved talking to LB about the book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Dana Fredsti said...

Kat, what an awesome interview and review! I loved this book and hope there's gonna be a sequel...