Kate Klimo is here to talk about her novel Daughter of the Centaurs. She will be sharing with us the journey she took while creating the world inside the story.
Daughter of the Centaurs took an incredible amount of world-building. Can you tell us what that process was like, how you organized the material, and what you hoped to capture when describing Malora’s world?
The fact that there were so few centaurs in the literature inspired me to want to tackle centaurs. World building is an exhaustive and exhausting process. Who knew? I’m sure some writers start from inside their characters’ heads and work outward from there to build up an external reality that’s an extension of the characters’ consciousness. I felt I needed to start from the outside and work in.
The first order of business was to create a history leading up to the present action. In world building, context is everything and isn’t history the ultimate context? So I started by researching centaurs, in art and myth. Those results mystified and even slightly terrified me. Except for the wise centaur named Chiron who taught the healing arts to Hippocrates (father of modern medicine), most of the centaurs were pretty rough trade. They were rock-chucking, stick-wielding, meat-eating, booze-swilling lusty boors. Another mystery was that they were all dudes. There were no women and no children. These dudes were real pieces of work: wedding crashers who liked to run off, not only with the bride, but also with all the female guests. Real dream guests, right?
This depiction baffled me. Since the days of cavemen, humans have enjoyed a close bond with horses. So what made this human-horse hybrid so repulsive and savage? Was it digestive difficulties that made the centaurs so rowdy? Seriously! Horses have very sensitive stomachs. A creature that ate like a human and digested like a horse might be permanently dyspeptic and downright surly. Maybe a steady diet of red meat and brandy made them nuts. So that’s where I started. I wrote the centaurs a shady, tumultuous history as rock-chuckers and rapists. It was the centaurs’ raid of one of the last human settlements of Kamaria that resulted in nearly wiping out the human race. Then a wise centaur named Kheiron (homage to Chiron) came along and converted the centaurs from savagery to gentility. No booze, no tobacco, no stimulants, no red meat. The converted centaurs erected a monument to the humans they had murdered and took over their town, calling it Mount Kheiron in honor of the patron. This gave the centaurs not only a religion but also a code of ethics and conduct. In order to stay on the straight and narrow, centaurs adhered to the teachings of Kheiron. They eschew stimulants, spirits, and the eating of meat and revere the works of the hand. All their efforts are dedicated to overcoming the Beast Within. I liked the idea of high-stepping, refined, fastidious centaurs. In early drafts, my editor said I was making the centaurs too effete. “They can’t all be that sissified,” she said. That gave me the idea of creating social strata within Mount Kheiron, with a working class that was more earthy and practical, as compared to the more leisurely patricians. The present action begins when Malora shows up. Not only is she a freak, a biped in a virtually quadrapedal society, but she is also a living (and uncomfy) reminder to centaurs of their less than savory past.
Somewhere around the second draft, with the introduction of Honus the faun and the Leatherwings, it became clear to me that this was not a fantasy set in an alternative world inspired by our mythic past, as I had originally thought, but a far distant future world peopled by human-created hybrids who had turned upon and destroyed their creators, the humans. (Thank you, Mary Shelley!) I loved the variety of hibes that were possible. Like the Mos Eisley canteen scene in Star Wars, it offered a too-too tempting opportunity to play not just with human-horse combinations, but with other mythological hybrids as well, along with more freaky crosses, like bat-human, sheep-human, etc. As the second book opens up to the world outside of Mount Kheiron, these other hibes come more into play.
At the same time as I was figuring out the centaur society, I had to figure out what it must be like to actually be a centaur. If humans have a mind-body split, how much more radical must centaurs’ be? How did it feel to be half horse? How did they go to the bathroom? What was their furniture like? Stairs would have to be shallow, doorways generous, and furniture very sturdy. I think I gave them the Twani, the half-cat servant class, because I thought they would need tiny, spry helpers, given that even the most graceful of centaurs would suffer from a certain ungainliness. The end result of all this thinking, I hope, is a world that is fascinating and unique.
Thanks for having me on your blog!
Daughter of the Centaurs by Kate Klimo
Publisher: Random House (January 24th, 2012)
Reading Level: Young Adult
Hardback: 362 pages
Series: Centauriad #1
Malora knows what she was born to be: a horse wrangler and a hunter, just like her father. But when her people are massacred by batlike monsters called Leatherwings, Malora will need her horse skills just to survive. The last living human, Malora roams the wilderness at the head of a band of magnificent horses, relying only on her own wits, strength, and courage. When she is captured by a group of centaurs and taken to their city, Malora must decide whether the comforts of her new home and family are worth the parts of herself she must sacrifice to keep them.
Kate Klimo has masterfully created a new world, which at first seems to be an ancient one or perhaps another world altogether, but is in fact set on earth sometime far in the future.
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