I’d like to extend a warm welcome to August Li as she shares some of her “story” about the Kitchen Boy.
Stories Within Stories
Hello and thanks for having me. I’m August Li (Gus) here to talk about my new novella release from Dreamspinner Press, The Kitchen Boy.
As you can probably tell from the beautiful cover art, books and reading play an important role in this story. As a person who loves books and tales, it was fun and interesting to explore how they can impact a character’s life and contribute to his growth.
Language represents freedom. My character Yoli is a kitchen servant and uneducated. At the beginning of the story, he cannot read. Though he daydreams as he works and makes up stories in his head, written language isn’t something he ever expects to understand. Circumstances put him in a position to start learning to read, and many things about him begin to change. In a way stories represent freedom for him on many levels. If he can’t escape his situation permanently, the books he reads afford him a way to escape it for a time. In his mind, he is able to go somewhere else. Language also grants him the freedom to express himself and work through some of his confusion through writing. And of course the most obvious benefit is that he learns a skill that gives him the potential to make a better life for himself.
Books are also a way for a character to learn about life and himself. We all learn from stories. Whether written in books or handed down orally, they’re a way to discover the world that is uniquely human, and we learn from them in ways we probably don’t even realize. Before we can even speak, we hear other telling small stories about what happened to them that day, and we begin to learn the nature of society and relationships by hearing about the ways others experience them. Later, stories teach us about the world beyond what we’ve personally seen and interacted with. They teach us about possibilities, and they teach us to dream. They teach us empathy as we imagine how we would feel in someone else’s situation.
Yoli’s world is initially very small. He came to the castle where he lives to work as a servant at a very young age. He hasn’t seen much of the world, and he rarely leaves the kitchen, which means he’s not only unfamiliar with other kingdoms, but that he has little experience interacting with others. He doesn’t get the chance to speak with many people, and when he does, it usually involves preparing food or cleaning the kitchen. Though they aren’t the only factor in the changes he experiences, books and tales are an important way for him to broaden his emotional landscape and enrich both his inner and outer life.
Stories within stories can echo thematic elements. Characters in stories are often unaware of forces affecting them or the themes shaping their lives. They likely don’t know that they’re taking part in a story about the rewards of compassion (or whatever). When Yoli is first learning to read, he has to start with something simple: books intended for children. While the characters in these tales are often talking animals, many of them have important messages that are reverberations of themes in the main plot. Sometimes they provide him with a moment of clarity, but even when they don’t, I can only hope they provide another layer that adds nuance for readers to enjoy.
What were some of the first stories that had an effect on you and stayed with you? What did you learn from them? Are there any books you’ve read recently that opened you up to new possibilities or taught you something interesting?
Kitchen servant Yoli is one of only three men who know a carefully guarded secret about High Commander Koehen, the brilliant general who united their lands against a common invader. The enemy wants that secret, and they are willing to use either kindness or cruelty to obtain it.
Yoli must decide if his loyalties lie with the commander, who has shown him more affection than anyone in Yoli’s life, or with his own best interests. High Commander Koehen’s attention is capricious at best—he summons Yoli only when it is convenient for him, and Yoli knows there’s little hope of a future together. Is a glimmer of a hope for love worth sacrificing a chance for prosperity beyond his wildest dreams?