Saturday, December 18, 2010
This excerpt is taken from Chapter 23 of EOLYN, which recounts a celebration of Winter Solstice.
Winter Solstice, by the way, is coming up this week, and will be accompanied by a full lunar eclipse the night of Monday, December 20, around midnight. I'll be staying up for that one -- let's hope the skies over Kansas City are clear!
I want to let you know I'm going take a break from this blog over the holidays. I will, of course, respond to any comments you leave, but no new posts until after Christmas and New Years. When I come back in January, we will be heading into some very exciting times -- The final countdown for the release of EOLYN, scheduled for May 6.
Well, on to the audio recording. This is a long one...about eleven minutes. But, like I said, it's the last you'll be hearing from me for a little while, so you can always break it up if you like -- four minutes now, four minutes next Sunday, three minutes the following week, and by then we'll be good to go with brand new material for 2011.
I want to thank all of you for sharing in the journey of EOLYN these past few months. May the holidays bring you much rest and companionship, and many opportunities for celebration. And may at least one of your dreams come true in the New Year.
I found the image for this video online. It is entitled "Yule Witch", and the best I could do for tracking down a credit was to find a person called "EcoWitch" who apparently posted it on photobucket.com So, I'm really not sure who the original artist is. If you happen to know, please drop me a line so I can give proper credit.
Similarly, I don't have a proper credit for the 'merrie dancers' image I used for this post; I obtained it online at barleyhall.org.uk
Monday, December 13, 2010
There was a period -- oh about ten years ago -- when I considered myself an authority on the Nutcracker. After all, I'd seen the ballet countless times. I'd even performed in it as a child, interpreting the role of a young boy in the Christmas party hosted by the Staulbaums. I'd read Hoffman's tale -- or had it read to me -- repeatedly by the time I was ten years old. And I knew all kinds of quirky little facts about the story's history, like for instance, how the Tchaikovsky hated the score for the ballet. It was the least favorite of all his works (thought it became his most famous), because when Russian choreographer Petipa commissioned the music he had already choreographed the dances. So Tchaikovsky's creative impulse was thoroughly constrained by having to respect predetermined rhythms and phrases.
As a self-designated Nutcracker Expert, I had a full layout in my mind of the differences and similarities between the ballet and Hoffman's story; I knew what the original version was really about, and I could tell anyone all the fine and important details in which the ballet departed from the purity of Hoffman's vision.
You can imagine my surprise when, a few years back, I sat down with Hoffman's story once more for nostalgia's sake and discovered it was very different from what I remembered. It turned out I wasn't an expert on the Nutcracker at all. The story I'd been telling all those years -- the original, true version in which Klara was the brave young protagonist of a magical and somewhat dark adventure -- had not been written by Hoffman at all, nor choreographed by Petipa. In fact, it didn't really exist anywhere outside my own imagination.
To this day I'm wondering what led to the strange amalgamation of real story and personal myth that became my unique version of the Nutcracker. The essential elements remain; my 'Nutcracker' is still a Christmas story, though curiously devoid of all Christian imagery. (Has anyone ever noticed the creche is altogether absent during that great battle against the Seven Headed Mouse King? I mean, where were Joseph and Mary -- and Baby Jesus, for that matter -- when the Nutcracker really needed them?) My 'Nutcracker' has a female protagonist who makes the transition to womanhood by falling in love with an ugly prince, following him into war, and saving his life. And my 'Nutcracker' is the story of a girl coming into her own by learning the ways of magic, inheriting a rich tradition of special powers from her mysterious and beloved uncle, the toy maker known as Drosselmeyer. Most importantly, my 'Nutcracker' is not a dream (and nor was Hoffman's -- it was Petipa, it would seem, who got that lame 'it-was-all-just-a-dream' ending started, and generations of ballet companies since who have insisted on keeping it).
Of course, my version does not have a Sugar Plum Fairy, but who needs her anyway? (The Snow Fairy, on the other hand, was a definite keeper...)
Somehow this is all connected to EOLYN. That's why I got started on the topic; that's what I found myself thinking as I watched the San Francisco Ballet on TV tonight. Eolyn's childhood, and her journey in magic are, in some deep and perhaps untraceable way, an elaborate permutation of my version of Tchaikovsky's version of Petipa's interpretation of Hoffman's The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King. (And who knows where Hoffman first got his ideas?)
Eolyn, like Klara, inherits a rich tradition of magic from an eccentric and mysterious old practitioner. Eolyn also falls in love with an ugly prince -- though he's not exactly ugly, and for a good part of the story there's some doubt as to whether he's really a 'Nutcracker Prince' or whether he is, in fact, a 'Seven Headed Mouse King'.
The resemblance probably ends here, but in any case there you have it: Another seed -- however obscure --that helped me build a novel.
What are the fairy tales that have inspired you, in your life and in your imagination? Do you have your own version of some classic legend? If so, tell me about it -- I'm always up for a good story.
In honor of Christmas, E.T.A. Hoffman, and Tchaikovsky, I've posted a scene I wrote once based on this classic tale on my Other Works page. Click HERE if you'd like to read it!
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Both of the links I put for Vandervort's novels go to the Hadley Rille website, but you can also order these books through Amazon, or ask for them at your local bookstore. Just as a reminder, though -- Hadley Rille is still celebrating its fifth birthday with the giveaway of a free Kindle 3G. In addition to being able to register for the drawing for free when you visit Hadley Rille's website, every time you order a book from the site you get another entry in the drawing. For more information, click HERE.
Okay, on to today's topic: The 'Rules' of Magic
I'm not sure who first coined the term 'the rules of magic'. I'd like to credit Orson Scott Card with having used the phrase in his brief but very helpful book "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy", but in truth I'm not sure he did. The first time I heard "magic" and "rules" used in the same breath was at a meeting with my local writers group, the Dead Horse Society. The heart of the idea did not really become clear to me, though, until many months later when a member of DHS, having read an early draft of EOLYN, came back to me with several questions about magic in Moisehen. The one that has stuck with me to this day is this:
"If magas draw their power from the earth, how is it that they can shapeshift into owls?"
In the moment, I thought this a ridiculous question. Why would drawing power from the earth negate the ability to shapeshift into an owl? As it turned out, this person's confusion arose from a preconceived notion that flying creatures are associated with the power of air. Yet in the world of Moisehen, that's not how things work. All living creatures are associated intimately with the power of the earth, and practitioners connected to the earth can, therefore, shapeshift. Practitioners who draw their power from the air, on the other hand, cannot shapeshift -- even into flying creatures -- although they do have access to other distinctive gifts.
In any case, this question was a turning point in my journey as a fantasy writer. For the first time, I realized there would be readers out there with preconceived notions of how magic is supposed to work, and that if I wanted to avoid upsetting them with 'magic that made no sense', I needed to be more explicit throughout the novel about the underlying logic of magic in Eolyn's world. That day I went home and told my husband I needed to outline the "rules of magic" for Moisehen. To which he laughed and said, "I thought the whole point of magic is that it breaks the rules."
At the 2010 World Fantasy Convention, I attended a panel discussion entitled "The Fairy Tale as a Specific Form". There were five members of the panel, Leah Bobet, Terri-Lynne DeFino, James Dorr, Gabe Dybing, and Delia Sherman. Early in the discussion, the topic of magic came up, and one of the panelists mentioned that for JRR Tolkien, magic by its very nature could not be explained -- as so many readers expect it to be now -- it simply 'felt' right, though its inner workings would always be a mystery.
Now, I am no scholar of Tolkien, and all I have from this panel is that one brief note, but I do think it's interesting -- assuming the panelist's assesment is accurate -- the implication that we have moved from a period in which magic was accepted as an intuitive, essentially inexplicable endeavor, to a time when it's a fundamental task of every fantasy writer to elaborate, in an almost scientific fashion, on the 'rules of magic' for his or her world.
Does that mean the genre has advanced somehow, become better, more thorough in its approach to world building?
I'm not so sure. I have heard, for example, colleagues ruminating about the problem of 'conservation of mass' during shapeshifting. Yet as I see things, if you can turn a duck into a goose with a wave of a wand, the laws of physics are already irrelevant. What, exactly, do we gain by mixing science with magic? By distilling the infinite universe of imagination into testable hypotheses? By trying to fit square pegs into round holes?
Just one year ago, I was comfortable with this idea of 'rules' in magic, but -- as is probably clear from this post -- I'm starting to drift away from that. I no longer believe 'rules' is the correct word to use in association with magic. I do believe magic (like, say, religion or art or even literature) must have an underlying logic, a way of working that is tied intimately to the culture, history and worldview of the people who practice it. (Another way of saying, I suppose, that it has to 'feel' right.) In that sense, magic will always have limitations -- but limitations defined, I think, more by the vision of its practitioners than by any inherent 'rules' that govern what magic can and cannot do.
What do you think? Does magic need rules? Or is magic meant to break them?
Friday, November 26, 2010
Things are starting to come together now for EOLYN's debut as a Hadley Rille Books publication. The release date has been set for early May. Ginger Prewitt is drawing up a map; and Jesse Smolover has agreed to work with us on the cover art. Both artists have collaborated with Hadley Rille before; Prewitt has done maps for Kim Vandervort and Terri-Lynne DeFino, and Smolover did the cover art for DeFino's FINDER. I met with HR editor Eric T. Reynolds on Wednesday to talk about cover design. We came up with some very cool ideas, and I am excited to see what the artist does with them.
In other good news, my flash fiction short "When Sally Met Ben" has been accepted for publication in the December/January issue of 69 Flavors of Paranoia. This is a great little story that grew out of a writing exercise with my local writers' group, the Dead Horse Society.
In honor of the holiday weekend, I'm giving myself a break from writing a full blog post, but not without giving you a little treat. This is an audio recording of the opening pages of Chapter 1 -- part of the reading I did for World Fantasy at the end of October. The acoustics aren't the best, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. If you haven't read all of Chapter 1 yet, you can find the text by clicking HERE.
The image used for today's video is from Biogradska Gora National Park in Montenegro, one of the few remaining patches of old growth forest in Europe. This scene is a bit more summery, maybe, than what is appropriate for the reading, but I liked the photo so I decided to use it anyway.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
First, the good news: My flash fiction short "When Sally Met Ben" will be published in the December/January issue of 69 Flavors of Paranoia. (This may be the last of my short fiction pubs for a little while; I don't have anything else out at the moment -- better get hopping on that...)
Also, I've put up a Directory of Audio Recordings for the blog. You can go to this page now for direct access to any post to date that includes an audio recording from EOLYN. I am also working on setting up access to audio clips for you to download. I haven't quite figured out the best way to do that yet, but I will keep you posted as options develop.
Now, the bad news: Friend and author Christopher McKitterick, who recently published his first novel TRANSCENDENCE, discovered this past week that the electronic version of his novel was pirated and is now available for free on the internet. After going through the five stages of grief, Chris has decided to fight back by giving away electronic versions of his novel for free -- which brings us back to the good news. If you'd like to download a free copy of this great sci fi book, visit Christopher McKitterick's website.
Those are my announcements. Now, for the topic of the day...
"Eolyn’s gaze wavered and disconnected from Akmael. An unmistakable energy flickered about her, the signature of some terrible memory. Before Akmael could determine the source, she buried her thoughts with a quick shake of her head."
-- Chapter 4
A friend from one of my writer's groups once said that EOLYN is essentially a story about loss; that this is an underlying theme that ties the entire book together, from beginning to end. The statement took me by surprise, because in writing this novel, there was no conscientious effort on my part to create such a thread. Yet when I thought about it, I realized he was right. This is one of the wonderful things about having fellow authors willing to read your novel as it takes shape; they often see aspects of your work that are intriguing, and important, but to which you yourself are blind.
I think my initial inability to see the prevalence of loss in EOLYN stemmed from my approach to change in my own life. I am, in many ways, the eternal optimist. I embrace change because I instinctively focus on all the good that can come with it: new opportunities, new friendships, new adventures, clean slates. Coupled with this, I am not very inclined to think much at all about what I am leaving behind.
In writing this novel, I gave some of this attitude to Eolyn. She is, from the very first page, dealing with the first great loss of her life, the disappearance of her mother, Kaie. Her strategy is to push back that emptiness by imagining Kaie still present in the whispers of the forest. When Eolyn's village is destroyed, she does not return to dwell on the aftermath of that massacre, but instead seeks a new future in the South Woods. At the age of fifteen, she must say good-bye to Akmael in order to study High Magic. Intent on the joy and excitement she feels for the completion of her training, she does not consider how painful it will be to let her only friend go until the moment in which she is forced to do it. And so it continues: Choice and change, gain and loss, over and over, and through it all Eolyn looking instinctively forward, convincing herself that the good she will find in this next transformation must outweigh the pain of what is being left behind.
Is this a useful strategy to have in life? Sometimes I think, definitely yes. At other times, I'm not so sure. But for better or for worse, I gifted this instinct to Eolyn.
I suppose it's no coincidence that EOLYN came together as a novel during a period of my life characterized by dramatic transformation. This is not to say that the novel is somehow an allegory for the last four years of my life, but rather I think the transitions I was going through made it easier for me, as an author, to understand how a character like Eolyn might confront and respond to change. I also think that in some ways, Eolyn became a kind of imaginary companion for me, a good friend who always seemed to be facing challenges much greater than my own.
This month is Eolyn's birthday. Four years ago in November, I sat down with a journal and penned (quite literally) the first chapter of the book. At the time, I was living in Costa Rica, working for Duke University and the Organization for Tropical studies. I had no clue that a year later I would be living in the United States, back in my home town, close to my family for the first time in twenty years, starting a new job at Avila University, building entirely new circles of friends and colleagues, and looking for the path that could lead me to becoming a published author. So much change in so little time; and something tells me it's only just begun...
So, Happy Birthday, Eolyn! I hope we have many more years of choice and change ahead of us.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
This time...Romeo will not kill Juliet's cousin.
This time...the priest's messenger will reach the exiled lover before he hears of her "death".
This time...Juliet will wake up before Romeo commits suicide.
This time...It'll all work out, one way or another.
Thus the hopeless romantic in me refuses to be silenced. But let's face it: If the story ended in any other way, we would no longer have an immortal Shakespearean play. And I would not go back to see it again.
What is it about doomed love, and -- more generally -- about love that manifests itself against impossible odds, that so captures our imagination? An easy love is also, so often, a boring love. An easy love can't be real love; not like the Great Loves, the Timeless Romances that persist in our mythology and literature, almost all of which are either forbidden or at the very least, born of (and doomed by) impossible circumstances. Love, by definition, must violate the rules; challenge the entire structure of our existence and society. It must strive to break down unbreakable barriers, and to bridge impassible chasms. Otherwise, it's not quite love at all. Not epic love, at any rate. Not the sort of love that will keep us coming back for more, wanting to hear the same story again and again.
When Akmael and Eolyn first meet in the South Woods, they are children unaware the Gods have chosen them for an epic love. Akmael knows Eolyn is learning a tradition of magic forbidden to women by his father, the Mage King Kedehen. He tries to talk her out of this path, understanding it will lead if not to death on the pyre, then most certainly to direct confrontation with him and the realm he will inherit. Eolyn, intent upon her dream of learning the ways of the magas, does not listen to her friend. Nor does she know the full truth of Akmael's identity. Years later, when they are on opposite sides of an armed conflict, the memory of their friendship and love will become their one hope for redemption.
Will it be enough?
Something never mentioned explicitly in the novel, but that forms an important subtext of the plot, is the meaning of love in the context of the line of Vortingen, the dynasty of kings to which Akmael is born. At one point in the book, Mage Corey tells Eolyn,
"No King of this land has ever or will ever love a woman. The capacity for love was bred out of Vortingen’s line long ago. The royals fear love and the treachery they believe it can bring to their games of power."
A couple generations ago, Corey's statement might have been true. But the decision of Akmael's father Kedehen to learn the ways of magic (thereby breaking an age-old prohibition that kept royals from becoming mages) has changed all that. By inviting magic into his life, Kedehen unwittingly allowed love to return to the house of Vortingen, for one cannot have magic without assuming the blessings and the burdens of love.
Kedehen was never able to manage the force of his passion for Queen Briana, and as the novel progress we learn bits and pieces of the terrible conflicts that marred their relationship, which ended with the imprisonment of the Queen. A generation later, Kedehen's son Akmael will also be tempted to overpower his love for Eolyn by overpowering her. Will he exhibit the same failings as his father? And even if he does not, will that be enough to guarantee him the love he so desires?
If you understand the dynamics of epic love, you can probably guess the answers to some of these questions. But what you will really want to do is read the novel to find out...
Today's image is a painting by John William Waterhouse of another famous pair of doomed lovers, Tristan and Isolde.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Holidays are an important part of Eolyn's world. Similar to the pagan or Wiccan traditions of our world, Moisehén has eight important days of observance that commemorate the yearly cycle from Winter Solstice to Winter Solstice. Central to this sacred calendar is the journey of the Sun, which, according to the beliefs of Moisehén, travels between the World of the Living, giving us 'day', and the World of the Dead, giving us 'night'. I will not list all of the High Holidays today, but I would like to share a few that are of special importance to the novel.
Winter Solstice. The longest night of the year, Winter Solstice is a moment of celebration and risk. For six months, the Sun has lingered ever longer in the World of the Dead, becoming colder with each night, more distant, more reluctant to return to the World of the Living. At Summer Solstices, mages and magas shoulder the immense responsibility of calling the Sun back from the seduction of the Underworld. Through celebration, song, dance and sensuous delights, they remind the Sun of the pleasures of the living world, causing the days to lengthen once again, and the warmth of the earth to be renewed.
Eostar. Spring equinox. Eolyn's name is derived, in part, from this sacred holiday, which celebrates the renewal of life after the long winter, and the start of the growing season. It has long been a tradition, under the Kings of Vortingen, to host a tournament for the knights of Moisehén during the week of Eostar.
Bel-Aethne. Perhaps the most favored holiday of the people of Moisehén, Bel-Aethne celebrates the mythological lovers Aithne and Caradoc, who together discovered magic. In the novel EOLYN, Ghemena relates that Aithne and Caradoc "consecrated their love under a full spring moon, and the heat of their hearts sparked a fire in the center of their village. The villagers gathered in awe to observe the blaze. With branches of pine they divided the flame so that each family took a piece back to their own home." Thus, fire was brought to the people of Moisehén.
Summer Solstice. The shortest night of the year, Summer Solstice is when the sun must be turned back toward its journey into the Underworld. Here we have the opposite dilemma of Winter Solstice, in that the Sun has become very attached to the World of the Living, and is reluctant to linger in the World of the Dead. While magas and mages hold vigil on this night through song and dance, they refrain from practicing magic. Instead, it is the responsibility of the Guendes, ephemeral creatures of the forest, to invoke the lengthening of nights that will lead the year back toward Winter Solstice. Offerings are made to the Guendes, in the form of food and drink, in thanksgiving for the use of their magic.
Samhaen. This holiday corresponds to our "Halloween" and is a time to commemorate those who have passed into the Afterlife. This is usually celebrated as a quiet night of rememberance. It is believed that the dead return to the World of the Living on this night, to visit family and friends. Food and drink are left on porches and doorsteps to welcome returning loved ones.
Today's image is a painting by Edward Robert Hughs.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
October's unofficial theme continues; I have yet another audio recording for you, this time from my reading at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, OH. It's been a busy weekend, and it's late (for me, anyway) as I sit down to write this post on a Saturday evening. I have attended some very interesting debates regarding the nature of fairy tales, the future of epic fantasy, and the 'evolution' of sword and sorcery. I've even run into a new subgenre -- "literary adventure fantasy". I'm still trying to figure out just what that phrase means. I suppose if I were to pick a favorite panel from this year's WFC, I would say it was the discussion of Jorge Luis Borges and his influence on contemporary fantasy.
This morning, I gave my reading from EOLYN, and I'd like to share the audio recording with you. This excerpt is from Chapter 30, which describes the celebration of Bel-Aethne. Bel-Aethne is one of the most important High Holidays of Moisehen, and commemorates the discovery of magic by the mythological figures of Aithne and Caradoc. The recording includes some additional background and context for the scene. I hope you enjoy it.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
A couple announcements before going on to the reading.
First, my short story "Creatures of Light" is now available in the October issue of Adventures for the Modern Woman. Stop by the Adventures Website to order your copy of the magazine, which includes lots of fun and scary stories for the Halloween season.
Second, next weekend is it! The World Fantasy Convention starts on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio. This will by my first pro fantasy con, and I am very excited. Hadley Rille Books will be well represented. My editor, Eric T. Reynolds, will be there, along with Terri-Lynne DeFino (author of FINDER) and other Hadley Rille authors. I will present EOLYN on Saturday, October 30, at 10am. The presentation will include a brief description of the book, a reading, and a question-and-answer session. I hope to see you there.
Okay. Here's the audio recording. I give a pretty thorough introduction to the scene in the recording itself, so I won't bother writing anymore about it here, except to say: This is an excerpt from Chapter 38, and I hope you enjoy it.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Saturday, October 9, 2010
The short came together thanks to both my writers' groups: TNBW and DHS. It was through TNBW that I met David Hunter, whose work in progress A Road of Blood and Slaughter contains the marvelous bestiary that inspired the character of Selenia. (And no, Selenia's not a beast -- well, okay, maybe she is -- but mostly she's a woman scientist very interested in strange and deadly beasties). Then, about a year ago, I had the opportunity to put Selenia in a story thanks to Tepring Cocker of DHS, who organized a secret pal activity for the holidays. My secret pal was Maddie McFadden, who asked for a 'high fantasy, maybe with a dragon'. "Creatures of Light" is not exactly high fantasy, and I kind of cheated -- just a little -- on the dragon. But Maddie liked the story anyway, and so did I, and fortunately so did Laurie Notch, managing editor of Adventures. I'll let you know when the magazine is available, but if you would like a preview visit the Works in Progress page on this blog.
As serendipity would have it, next Saturday I'll be hosting one of the DHS workshops at the Longview Literary Festival, together with Andrew Rambo. We'll be talking about -- you guessed it -- 'Creatures of Light and Darkness'. How to create believable and fantastical beasties for your work of fiction. The workshop is FREE and the fun starts at 2pm. Hope to see you there!
Those are my announcements. On to this week's topic, Tree Magick.
I've been working since last summer on a sequel to EOLYN, which has been a lot of fun, and a little distracting given that I still have some minor cleanup work to do on the first novel before we go to press. At any rate, moving into book 2 I've realized I need to put together a herbarium for Eolyn's world, to write down the different plants and their uses so I can keep things consistent going forward. So, I've gone through the original manuscript and marked all the places where the magas and mages use herbs or other plants for certain tasks. Now I need to sit down and catalogue everything in a separate document.
While I'm a little behind on putting all this information into one place for herbaceous plants, I do have a fairly decent catalogue of the sacred trees of Eolyn's world, their meaning and what they are used for in terms of magical purpose. I thought I'd share some of that with you today.
Alder -- Modern ecologists call alder a "pioneer species" because it is very well adapted to colonizing deforested areas. Hence, its meaning for the magas of Moisehen: Alder provides protection during transition. It is often associated with Raven or Crow. Alder is commonly used in funeral pyres, and also for making the sacred fire used to forge a maga's staff.
Ash -- Ash is a hardwood, strong but elastic, and historically it has been used for making bows, tool handles and (more recently) baseball bats. For the people of Moisehen, Ash is the symbol of strength and wisdom during times of sacrifice. Ghemena’s staff is made of Ash.
Fir -- There are many species of fir, and the one sacred to the tradition of Moisehen is very similar to the European silver fir, the first tree to be used as a Christmas tree. These trees can become giants, the largest on record having reached a trunk diameter of 3.8m and a height of 68m. Mages and magas consider Fir the 'staff of the forest'. Its roots can extend to the depths of the Underworld, making it a living bridge that unites the living and the dead, as well as the elements of earth, air and water. This very sacred tree can also be used to achieve powers of flight.
Linden – The heart-shaped leaves of this beautiful tree may be the source of its mythological role as the protector of Children’s Magic. Ghemena adds Linden to the traditional mix of woods for the sacred fire meant to forge Eolyn’s staff.
Oak – No magical herbarium would be complete without Oak, which is considered one of the most sacred trees in the tradition of Moisehen, conferring strength and endurance upon those it favors. Oaks are dominant trees in the primary forests of Moisehen, and their slow growth produces a very dense wood that is highly resistant to disease and decay. Eolyn’s staff is made from Black Oak, and Akmael’s from White Oak.
Rowan – Also called “mountain ash”, Rowan also produces a dense wood. In our own mythology, Rowan is a favored wood for magician’s staves, and the same is true in Moisehen. Rowan confers control, discrimination and discernment. Tzeremond’s staff is forged from Rowan.
Walnut – A hardwood that can be polished to a rich purplish brown, Walnut confers power for transitions and hidden wisdom. It is used to build the sacred fire for forging staves, and also for funeral pyres. Walnut is an important wood for Mage Corey, and IF he had a staff (which he might, or he might not…) it would be made from Walnut.
Willow – I still remember climbing and swinging on the vine-like branches of the willow that grew in my cousin’s backyard while we were growing up. So of course, Eolyn and Akmael had to have willows to climb as part of their childhood adventures in the South Woods. This tree embodies flexibility, strong inner vision, and a gift for making connections.
That's not the complete list, but it covers some of the most important trees of Eolyn's world. I'll come back to the herbs later on down the line.
Today's photo is from the forests of Cuerici in the Talamanca Mountain Range of Costa Rica. Although this is a tropical forest, its high altitude results in a cool wet climate that favors many plant species we tend to associate with temperate forests, such as oak, alder and blueberries. These are the forests that inspired images of Eolyn's childhood home, the South Woods.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
First, my publisher Hadley Rille Books, is celebrating its 5th Anniversary with a book sale and a drawing for a free Kindle 3G. Anyone can win -- no purchase is required, although the more books you purchase, the greater your chances of winning. Please stop by their website to register and browse the catalogue. They have so many awesome titles -- if you haven't had a chance yet to read something from Hadley Rille, you are definitely missing out.
Also this week, my good friend Suzanne Hunt launched a web presence for the Green Goddesses, a network of professional women doing amazing things for the environment and for the world. Somehow, EOLYN made the blogroll for their site -- I'm not sure how that happened. I'm humbled and honored, really, to have my little novel on the roster of so many amazing projects.
And, as I mentioned in my last post, this week one of the Green Goddesses, car racer Leilani Munter, launched her partnership with Operation FREE, a group of U.S. Veterans who are working hard to promote clean and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels. They were in Kansas City at NASCAR, and yes we went to the races to see her. Can't say I ever thought I'd go to a car race, but they we were, and it was great fun.
This latest rash of coincidences has me thinking a lot about serendipity, which my dictionary defines as "an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident". This is a little different from the way my friends and I have used the word on a day-to-day basis. Once I saw serendipity defined as "a special type of paranoia in which the individual believes all the powers of the universe are conspiring in his or her favor". This is closer to my understanding of serendipity; closer to the way I have lived it. Serendipity as a kind of luck, a mysterious process by which circumstance come together that help us move forward with our dreams and our lives.
I talked a little about the serendipitous path of EOLYN in my September 12 blog post. Looking at the chain of events that has accompanied the writing of this novel, I'm often tempted to call myself 'lucky' in having the opportunity to publish EOLYN with such a great small press, Hadley Rille. After all, the circumstances just seemed to "come together" in my favor. But calling this all "luck" undermines the importance of the sweat, blood, passion, heartache, time and energy that went into pushing the novel as far as I have. And, as a colleague of mine once said, "Not everyone knows what to do with their luck."
I read a study once (and the scientist in me is embarassed to say I can't remember where) that compared individuals who considered themselves 'lucky' with persons who considered themselves 'unlucky'. It would probably come as no surprise to you that neither group was more likely to win the lottery. However, 'lucky' and 'unlucky' people responded to similar tasks in different ways. For example, in one study the researchers asked the participants to determine the total number of ads in a section of newspaper. People who considered themselves "lucky" were significantly more likely to notice that on page 4 there was an ad that said, "There are 27 ads in this newspaper. You can stop counting now." People who considered themselves "unlucky", on the other hand, were more likely to not notice this message and continued to count all the ads. So "luck", it seems, is not so much an external force as an internal capacity to recognize opportunity and take advantage of it.
Serendipity -- which I will now define as the presence of coincidence in our lives -- is an ongoing theme in my novel. Eolyn, Akmael and the people they interact with are connected through numerous coincidences that weave many disparate stories into a single organic whole. Is this due to the intervention of the gods, or is it just the way things work in a realistic universe? Neither Eolyn nor Akmael spend much time contemplating the power of coincidence, except in key moments toward the end of the novel, but the reader will see this as a clear force in their lives, a force that sometimes works in their favor -- becoming what we would call 'luck' -- and sometimes does not, resulting in some very bad luck indeed.
Wishing all of you a very serendipitous week, in the very best sense of the word.
Today's image is "The Crystal Ball" by John William Waterhouse.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Saturday, August 21, 2010
A couple announcements before getting into today's topic.
First, EOLYN now has a page on Facebook. There's a link on this blog -- scroll down the column on your right, and you'll find it. If you haven't already, please take a moment to "Like" the page, and spread the word about EOLYN by suggesting it to your friends. This will be my primary tool for making announcements about readings and other upcoming events for the novel, although -- for those of you who have yet to succumb to Facebook fever -- you can rest assured this information will also be posted on the blog.
On a somewhat related topic -- just because it's also about marketing -- this week classes start at Avila University, where I teach biology, ecology and related subjects. I'll be telling my new and returning students about the novel, so hopefully the blog will get some new visitors. For that reason, if you're a regular, you might see some repetition here. For example, I'll be reposting the first three chapters of the novel over the next few weeks.
So much for announcements. Let's talk about Children's Magic!
About a week ago, we went to see the Disney musical Beauty and the Beast at Starlight Theater, a lovely outdoor venue in Kansas City, Missouri. It was a warm and clear night, with a beautiful sunset, followed by a half moon illuminating the dark sky. The theater was packed with children, mostly little girls, all decked out in their princess outfits. It reminded me of how I, too, dreamed of being a princess when I was a little girl. In fact, my paternal grandfather's nickname for me was "meine kleine Prinzessin", German for "my little princess". And he put a lot of energy into reinforcing that particular fantasy of mine. Of course, one day I grew up, and started reading my history, and found out that being a real princess wasn't always what it was cut out to be. In fact, most often it was downright nightmarish. That particular disillusion probably ranked right up there with learning the truth about Santa Claus.
But children need their fantasies, and we cultivate them and indulge them, and value them in a way that only adults who have lived them, and lost them, can do. In the world of Moisehen, the capacity of children to fantasize is considered a form of magic. Just like Primitive Magic (which I talked about in my June 7 post), Children's Magic is thought to be innate.
In an early draft of the novel, Eolyn's mother Kaie teaches her that Children's Magic
"is the magic of play and discovery. It is called Children's Magic because all children who are well kept express this magic. But a strong maga knows how to practice Children's Magic, no matter what her age. It is the magic that keeps us fresh and imaginative."
The final draft of EOLYN contains no explicit discussion of Children's Magic, though it is mentioned in a scene about a quarter of the way through the book, when Ghemena prepares a sacred fire as part of Eolyn's initiation into High Magic. For kindling, she uses "less traditional twigs of Linden, the protector of Children's Magic". But the friendship that grows between Eolyn and Akmael in the South Woods is infused with Children's Magic, and all the spirit of imagination, adventure and affection that comes with it.
I feel compelled to point out that a child's imagination -- and therefore, Children's Magic -- is not always a bright and airy thing. One of my favorite movies is Pan's Labyrinth, a story about a girl, Ofelia, who lived in Spain during an era of fascism. Ofelia lives a rich fantasy life set in a parallel world that -- while it provides an escape from her family's brutal reality -- is just as dark as the "real" world. The timeless popularity of Grimm's Fairy Tales is another testament to the appeal of the darkly fantastical to children the world over. Even Beauty and the Beast, for all the pretty songs and nice costumes with which Disney has dressed it up, is in the end a downright scarey little tale about the potential costs of being a princess.
Today's image is from the movie Pan's Labyrinth, showing Doug Jones as the Faun, and Ivana Baquero as Ofelia.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Sunday, August 8, 2010
My own surname "Gastreich" originated in fourteenth century Germany. It's a "real" name, but I suppose it sounds like it could have been pulled from a fantasy novel. Certainly very few people in the U.S. can pronounce it, or spell it, without explicit instructions. And even then, it seems to be difficult. But I like the name Gastreich because it has such a deep history, and ties me to a wonderful family of very talented and loving people. In its earliest derivation -- that is, in Old German -- it literally means "taster of wines" -- a tradition we have been faithful to now for more than five centuries. (Though please don't ask me to tell you about wines; I just like to taste them!)
Ever since I can remember, I've had a sense that names are important part of our identity. So as an author, I put a lot of thought into the names of my characters, and will play with different versions of similar names over and over until I find something that 'feels' right. Every name in the novel EOLYN has a history and meaning, if not for us, then for that character and his or her culture.
The name Eolyn was derived from 'Eowyn', of Tolkien fame, a name I have always liked and a character I have always admired (though it's an interesting irony that my protagonist Eolyn is intent on shunning all arms, while Eowyn seemed rather intent on taking them up). My friend and fellow author, David Hunter, has pointed out that the prefix 'eo-' can be taken to mean primeval, and 'lyn' signifies 'pretty', making Eolyn, in a sense, an 'archetypal beauty'. It's an interpretation I like a lot, though it wasn't what I had in mind when I chose the name. In the untold backstory of my novel, Eolyn's mother Kaie chooses 'Eo-' in reference to one of the pagan names for spring equinox, 'Eostar'. Eolyn was born in the springtime, but also Kaie was expressing a hope that her daughter would bring a new 'springtime' -- a renewal of magic as well as life -- to her people.
The name Akmael was derived from 'Asriel' (Lyra's father in Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy), and 'Achim', a German name that I have always liked, but that wasn't quite regal enough for a king, although I let Akmael use it anyway when he first meets Eolyn. I wanted the -iel or -ael ending, because in our culture these are suffixes associated with angelic names (Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael, and so forth). While Akmael is not an angel, and angels don't really exist in his world, I wanted to give him a name with that kind of power. That's how I found 'Akmael', but in the imaginary world of Moisehen, Akmael's mother Briana chooses the name, derived from "ahkma", which is the sacred word for "first". For Queen Briana, Akmael represented the start of something entirely new for her people, the first king to be born of a mage and a maga; the union of the blood lines of Vortingen and the Clan of East Selen; and also the birth of a new beginning after the annihilation of her people and her sisters in magic, the magas. In other words, she was packing a lot of hope into this one boy.
So, both Akmael and Eolyn are meant to represent a 'first', a 'something new', for their people. In hindsight, I now realize they represented something new -- and wonderful -- for me, too.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Some little news bits:
The Dead Horse Society will have a public reading at the Writer's Place in Kansas City on September 11, 2010, starting at 6:30pm. I'll be participating, along with nine other great speculative fiction writers from the Kansas City area. If you're in town, please stop by for a listen!
This year I'm attending World Fantasy Con for the first time. That will be in Columbus, OH, October 28-31. I've heard great things about this conference and am really looking forward to it. My editor Eric T. Reynolds is working to put together a reading table for Hadley Rille authors, so hopefully I'll have a chance to share some of EOLYN there as well.
At Las Cruces this summer, in addition to supervising three students who have completed very nice research projects, I finished up my own edits on the manuscript for EOLYN. Right now, it's in Eric's hands, and will also be read by author Terri-Lynne DeFino, before it comes back to me with some final suggestions for tweaks and changes.
Another gift of Las Cruces: I've penned about five chapters now of the sequel to EOLYN, some in better shape than others, but all very solid and exciting. I'm really looking forward to the adventure of this new novel. It's a great feeling to be working on another project with these characters whom I've come to know and love; and challenging to explore new characters or old characters with new stories to tell; and fun to see that Eolyn's story -- and my story with her -- is not over yet.
So, those are my news briefs. Tomorrow I travel all day from Las Cruces to San Jose, where I'll spend a day packing and saying goodbye to friends and family before I fly home to Kansas City on Thursday. Oh, I will miss this place. But it will also be good to be home.
Today's photo is one of my favorites from this summer. I can't tell you what this buttefly is, but we found it along the Rio Java during our last hike yesterday. It was very patient and cooperative while I took the photos. Butterflies area a great symbol of growth and transformation, and the stages of their lives -- egg, larvae, pupae, adult -- are often likened to the stages of the creative process. I'd say the novel EOLYN right now is in the pupal stage. The sequel has officially hatched and is now a (very hungry) first instar larvae. Me and my entomology geek metaphors...