Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tools of the Trade by MK Hutchins - Guest Post - June 2014

Hutchins, M.K. Drift. Tu Books (Lee and Low), 2014. 392p. $19.95. 978-1-62014-145-8.

Pick up your copy of Drift (affiliate links) Amazon | Indiebound and stop by tomorrow for my review.

Drift follows Tenjat, 17 as he tries to carve out a life for his sister Eflet and himself. They lost their parents five years ago as they were escaping their previous island home, Island Ita.  Tenjat is determined to escape the life of a farmer hub and become a Handler on Island Gunaji to give Eflet the future she deserves. The future he promised his father he would give her.
Read on as M.K. Hutchins talks about flintknapping obsidian and how that helped define her worldbuilding in Drift.

Years ago I sat in a room with a tarp-blanketed floor, holding a chunk of obsidian in my hand. Some of the exterior of the rock remained – gray and pitted like a crumbling piece of city sidewalk. Inside, though, the obsidian gleamed: black as ink, glossy and glittering as polished jewelry. The stuff is practically magic.
Using a piece of antler or a round, smooth stone, I struck at the obsidian, trying to fracture off a long flake in a process known as flintknapping. Any badly-angled strikes could produce a bad flake or – worse – cause imperfections inside the stone that would make further flintknapping difficult. My protective leather gloves were soon spiderwebbed with thin cuts, even though I worked with care. Freshly flintknapped obsidian is far sharper than surgical steel scalpels. When the class was over, we gathered up those tarps and safely disposed of the obsidian in accordance with hazardous waste regulations.
Beyond the beauty and the skill and the danger, I also admired the technology I was trying to learn. It would be wasteful to take one chunk of obsidian and knap it down into a single tool. Ancient peoples figured out how to make cores. They looked somewhat like tapering cylinders with a flat striking platform on top. From that platform, an experienced flintknapper could knock of blade after blade, utilizing almost every bit of the beautiful stone.
And the Classic Maya were virtuosos of flintknapping. They didn’t just make tools and weapons, they made art, called flint eccentrics. By striking off flakes, they crafted delicate, graceful patterns and profiles of human faces. Every time I look at one of these, I think of how one misplaced blow during the manufacturing process could have snapped and ruined the entire thing. The technology to create these is lost – modern flintknappers can’t recreate them.
I never became a great flintknapper, but I’m still a little obsessed with obsidian. Fantasy is a genre defined by setting. It’s part of the reason that I, at least, read fantasy. I want to become immersed in a world, in the smells and sounds and tastes.

Drift was largely inspired by Maya mythology, and I wanted to pay homage to that. Often, fantasy is a realm of swords, blacksmiths, and horses, but I wanted to step away from that. I wanted jungles and plaster, howler monkeys and turkeys. And I wanted obsidian – with all its danger and beauty. In the novel, the use of stone tools is just one aspect about the world, but it made the world more real to me.
Sample Chapters of Drift
MK Hutchins blog
MK Hutchins Twitter

Blog Tour
June 19: John Scalzi’s Whatever Blog - M.K. Hutchins on worldbuilding and cultural ecology here
June 20: Supernatural Snark – M.K. Hutchins on being inspired by Maya mythology here.
June 23: It’s All About Books – M.K. Hutchins’ top 5 most influential books here.
June 25: Read Now Sleep Later - Drift GIVEAWAY here.

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