I’ve listed Guy Gavriel Kay among my favorite authors for years. When I talk with fantasy fans, many people have not heard of him. Most of them have read his work in spite of that, since he was a contributing author on the Simarillion.
How I Found Him
I was flying to a summer scholars program in New England, and I had to find a book that would last me a good bit of the time I was gone. One book for six weeks, so I knew it had to be a thick one. I selected Tigana. I’d never heard of the author. I liked the teaser on the back cover of the paperback.
By the time I finished Tigana, (I remember sprawling on my stomach on my narrow dormitory bed devouring the last few chapters in a single afternoon) I knew I had to find more of Kay’s writings.
Why I Love Reading His Work
That summer scholars program was one in Spanish language and literature. I also tutored French while I was there. I have always been fascinated by world languages, literature, culture, and history. The vast majority of the works of Guy Gavriel Kay use a very strong influence of the cultures, theologies, and geographies of our own history. The Sarantine mosaic are about Constantinople, Song for Arbonne could have been written in Alsace-Lorraine, and Tigana had a distinctly Italian flavor to the tale.
I absolutely love that overlay of a fantasy world and fictional characters woven together with our own history, our own historical figures. In the Fionavar Tapestry, (a trilogy that I often recommend as a starting place for most readers), Kay explains that all of the worlds are connected and layered over one another. So his “weavings” are really just one layer off from our own world. I also love that it seems like – except Fionavar, and by extension Ysabel – all of his stories could be set in the same tapestry – the same alternate layer of our own world.
(Ysabel stands alone as another good starting spot for new readers, incidentally. His most recent work, Under Heaven might also interest new readers, if you prefer Asian culture.)
What I Learn About Writing From Him
The thing that brings me back to Kay’s writing again and again is his deftness with character. If fanfic had been as commonplace as it is now back when I read the Fionavar Tapestry, it is doubtless I would have written reams of Mary Sue stories about my massive character-crush on Paul (Pwyll).
Kay creates characters that are flawed, scared, selfish, and confused. He creates believable human beings regardless of the fantastical surroundings or circumstances. As a writer, I would love to know how much backstory he creates for his characters, how much he knows about their inner workings before he sets them off on their quests.