"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Midwinter's Eve

Time for my first annual Christmas reading.  (haha -- I've always wondered how a 'first' can also be an 'annual', but let's just hope I'm right and this becomes a yearly event.)

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

The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King

Many posts ago, I talked a little about  why I wrote EOLYN, highlighting some of the early influences that,  in my view, inspired the story.  I haven't returned to this topic -- at least, not explicitly -- since then.  But tonight I was watching the San Francisco Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker Suite, and I remembered what this fairy tale meant to me as a child. I realized this classic ballet, based on the much more intriguing story by E.T.A. Hoffman, was one of the fantasies that fed my young imagination and planted the earliest seeds of my own stories.

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

The "Rules" of Magic

The big news this week:  Kim Vandervort's THE NORTHERN QUEEN is being launched this weekend.  Hooray!  I can't wait to read it. This is the sequel to the wonderful novel THE SONG AND THE SORCERESS, released by Hadley Rille Books in 2009.  I'm a big fan of Vandervort, and if you haven't had a chance to read her work yet, now is the time to put her on your holiday reading list.  Congratulations, Kim!

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

Simple Magic

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

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

Choice, Change and Loss in EOLYN

Some news and announcements before I get to today's topic.

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

Epic Love

The first time I read Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, I was around the age of 12 or 13 -- the same age, as our ninth grade English teacher told us, that Juliet was when this immortal tale of fatal love began. (As an aside, at the time it didn't seem all that remarkable to me that Juliet was only 13 when she met her Romeo; it wasn't until years later that '12 or 13' became unbelievably young to fall in love with that kind of intensity.) I would be hard pressed to count how many times I have seen the play -- or some interpretation of it -- since then. But whenever I've sat down in the theater, or in front of the TV, or in the movies, to watch these lovers once again, I do so hoping against hope that this time, it will end differently. 

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

The High Holidays of Moisehén

November, and the holiday season is upon us.  I haven't tired of the holidays -- which, in Kansas City, consist of a continuous run of celebratory moments from Halloween to New Year's Eve. Of course I don't live the holidays the same way I did as a child. But I still love the feel of this time of year, the transformation of the colorful autumn landscape into the chill of winter, the donning of sweaters and coats and the occasional scarf, the constant sense that something special is about to happen, like the first fall of snow, or an unexpected call from an old friend, or even just the chance to sleep an extra hour over winter break.

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

World Fantasy 2010

Happy Halloween, Everyone.

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

The Hunt for Eolyn

Well, it looks like October is becoming "audio excerpts from Eolyn" month.  This recording from Ignition, the annual reading of the Dead Horse Society, was provided by author and good friend Brent Bowman.  (Thank you, Brent!)

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

The Boy by the River

I have a special treat for you today:  A preview of Chapter 4, where Akmael and Eolyn meet for the first time.  Their encounter is made possible by an amulet left to Akmael by his deceased mother, Queen Briana.  (You can read more about Briana's death and the gift she left to her son in Chapter 3.)  The amulet transports Akmael to the distant South Woods, where he finds Eolyn playing on the banks of the Tarba River. (To learn about the river that inspired this scene, read my June 25 post, Rivers of Destiny.) This audio recording is from the reading I did yesterday for the Longview Literary Festival, and includes one scene from Chapter 4.  I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tree Magick

Good news this week! My short story "Creatures of Light" will appear in the fall issue of Adventures for the Average Woman. This is a tale of passion and brutality, an eclectic mix of romance, fantasy and horror set in an imaginary Age of Exploration. It's a very different world from EOLYN, and was a lot of fun to write.

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


This has been a week of numerous parallel events, the coming together of old friends and new beginnings.  I've been involved in the simultaneous launch of three wonderful projects, a couple of which I mentioned in my last post, and all of which deserve to be repeated here.

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

Happy Birthday, Hadley Rille Books!

We are in the middle of the first round of exams at Avila, so it has been a very busy week, and will be a busy week to come. In addition to that, my good friend Suzanne Hunt is coming to town this week for NASCAR with race car driver Leilani Munter. (And let me just say -- if there's one thing sexier than a woman in a race car, it's a woman in race car working to save the world. Check out Leilani Munter's web page!) As part of the NASCAR events, both Hunt and Munter will be working with Operation Free to promote energy independence for the United States. So this weekend I'm trying to move things off my desk as quickly as possible, in order to enjoy some fun at the races with my eco-minded friends and colleagues. 

All that to say, it's going to be a short post for the blog this week. But I do have several exciting announcements I want to share.

First, Kimberly Todd Wade's novel THRALL is now available from Hadley Rille Books -- just launched in hardback this weekend. Set in prehistory, at the dawn of individual awareness, this is the story of Hoolow, a boy who struggles with independent thoughts in a tribe bound together a collective consciousness. This is the latest volume in Hadley Rille's Archeology Series, a set of historical novels built on real-world archeological knowledge.

Also in Hadley Rille news: My publisher is celebrating its fifth anniversary! Happy Birthday Hadley Rille! HRB will be celebrating with a book sale, including special deals, prizes and events from here to the end of the year. Hadley Rille Books has many great novels and anthologies available in the genres of science fiction, historical fiction and fantasy. If you haven't yet checked out their collection, please do. I guarantee you will like what you find, and with all the promotions coming up, now is the time to buy.

Last but not least, here are the upcoming public events for October:

October 15-16, Longview Literary Festival at Longview Community College right here in Kansas City. My local writer's group, The Dead Horse Society, will be running a series of workshops on the craft of writing fiction and fantasy fiction. One of these, "Creatures of Light and Darkness", will be hosted by Dr. Andrew Rambo and myself, at 3pm on Saturday, October 16. We'll be talking about how to fill your imaginary bestiary with fantastic but believable critters. I will also be participating in a panel of Hadley Rille authors, and will confirm the day and time for that very soon.

October 28-31, World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio. Mostly, I'm going to be there enjoying the fun! But Terri-Lynne DeFino and I will also host a reading from our novels, FINDER and EOLYN, respectively. Again, I will confirm the exact day and time of the reading soon.

Okay. My time's up for this week's blog post. I hope you all have a great week. Fall is settling in in Kansas City; the air is cool and the trees are on the verge of turning. This is the start of my favorite season, and what an exciting season it promises to be.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Women in Eolyn's History

In crafting Eolyn's world, I put a lot of thought into the History of Moisehén, because the circumstances and importance of Eolyn's struggle were, in many ways, predetermined by other people and events, in both the recent and distant past. As Eolyn's story develops, her understanding of Moisehén and her place among her people is strongly influenced by what she learns of their history. And -- as I've mentioned before -- history is a mutable entity in in my novel, with historical events very much subject to individual interpretation. Of course, that does not make any one character's version "wrong", it simply underlines the fact that our view of history is very much influenced by what we live and how we see in our personal and collective past.

In the history of Moisehén, there are two women who become important figures for Eolyn: Aithne, whom Eolyn adopts as an example of who she would like to emulate, and Briana, who becomes an example of the kind of fate Eolyn hopes to avoid. Aithne is a legendary woman of the distant past, the first person to discover magic and bring it to her people, as related in the Origin of Magic. Briana is a more recent historical figure, a formidable maga and the incipient leader of the Clan of East Selen, who saw her people massacred by the Mage King Kedehen and then, for reasons never fully understood, agreed to become his queen and bear him an heir in the person of Akmael. Briana was eventually confined to the East Tower of Kedehen's fortress, where she spent the last years of her life before being assassinated by the Maga Warrior Kaie. It is the tragedy of Briana's story that most haunts Eolyn's psyche, as she is drawn into war against the new Mage King Akmael and struggles with confliction emotions of fear and attraction.

I gave Eolyn heroines of the past, because I too have heroines of the past, women whose lives have inspired my own in one way or another. Some of them are family heroines, like my mother and my grandmothers. Others are more famous folk that people have written books and made movies about, like Queen Elizabeth I or Kleopatra. I'd love to list them all here, but of course, we'd be stuck on this blog post for the next 20 years if I did. So I'll offer just a few examples of my favorites:

Kleopatra -- Who I think has been consistently misrepresented in popular movies and TV series, but wow! Talk about millenial mystique. My favorite historical novel about her is by Karen Essex, under the same name Kleopatra. This is part one of a two-part novel series, and covers the circumstances of her rise to power. No Marc Antony in the whole book, but believe me, you won't miss him. I haven't yet gotten around to Kleopatra Volume II, but if any of you all have, I'd love to hear how it is. There is also a very nice short biography of Kleopatra in Antonia Fraser's The Warrior Queens.

Pope Joan -- May not have even existed, but wouldn't it be cool if she did? I've read a couple versions of Pope Joan's story; one of my favorites is journalist Peter Stanford's The Legend of Pope Joan, which reads kinds of like a whodunit of history.

Eleanor of Acquitaine -- What can I say? No list is complete without her. The biography I read was Alison Weir's Eleanor of Acquitaine: A Life, which left me wanting to write a historical fiction novel about this woman, who centuries later persists in our imagination despite the paucity of contemporary written records about her. Unfortunately, it looks like Weir beat me to the finish line, having recently published Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Acquitaine. Guess I'll have to check that one out.
Isabella de Medici -- A new addition to my list, thanks to my sister's recommendation of the book Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline P. Murphy. Daughter to Duke Cosimo I, she is an icon of Renaissance Italy: beautiful, brilliant, passionate. A great patroness of artists, musicians and poets. More Medici than her Medici brothers, Isabella was murdered shortly after her father's death, for the crime of living as if she could expect the same privileges and freedom as the men of her time and station.

Queen Elizabeth I -- Again, no list is complete without her. I've read a lot of books about this remarkable woman, but one of my favorites is Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey, which covers the very uncertain period of her life between when her father died and when she assumed the crown.

Okay. I think I'll stop there for now, or we'll be at it all week. But before I wrap up my own spiel, please tell me: Who are your favorite heroes and heroines of history?

Today's image is a portrait of Isabella de Medici by Alessandro Alori.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Full Circle With DHS

Last night, my local writer's group The Dead Horse Society (DHS) had their annual public reading, entitled IGNITION, at the Writer's Place in Kansas City, Missouri. Ten members of the group presented works of fantasy, science fiction and horror to a full house. The author list included Brent Bowen, Marshall Edwards, John Petersen, Cybelle Greenlaw, Jon Cleaves, Maddie McFadden, Byron Dunn, Joe Baric, Laura Hardenbrook, and myself. The event was organized by Erin Bolton. I read one of my favorite scenes from EOLYN, in which both Akmael and Eolyn shape shift into wolves. My friends and fellow authors at thenextbigwriter.com helped me pick that one out. Everyone enjoyed all the stories, and the food and the wine as well. Overall it was a wonderful night for sharing the adventure of words and imagination. I wish we could do it all over again next weekend!

Just one year ago, when DHS hosted its first public reading ever, EOLYN was still a work in progress, and I a devoted author facing a lot of uncertainty as to the future of this labor of love called my novel. I had just started sending out queries, and was racking up my personal list of rejections. Last night I realized -- as I stood in front of a new set of faces to share, once again, an excerpt from EOLYN -- the depth of transformation brought to my life a few months ago by one email from a very enthusiastic and much admired editor, Eric T. Reynolds of Hadley Rille Books.

Almost four years have passed since I set pen to paper for the first time and crafted "Chapter 1" of EOLYN. That chapter no longer exists; it was eventually dropped in favor of a later scene that -- after much working and reworking -- now constitutes the true Chapter 1. I had no title for the book, and no conscientious intention to see it published. I expected it to be a brief story, maybe 40,000 or 50,000 words, more of a novella than a true novel. But everytime I introduced a new character, that person brought with him or her a personal history and a unique future, and by the time I finished weaving it all together, I had a lot of words on my hands.

Still, EOLYN was mostly intended for me. She was my escape from what was -- at the time -- a very difficult situation in my professional and personal life. I never thought to share EOLYN with many other people, until one day I gave the manuscript to my good friend and partner in eco-idealism, Suzanne Hunt, and she loved it. That's when I thought maybe other people would love this novel, too.

So I started showing EOLYN to ever wider circles. Around that time (in 2007, to be more exact) I landed a job in Kansas City and returned to my home town after a twenty year absence. One of the first things I did was look for a writer's group. In truth, the thought of showing EOLYN to 'real' writers was terrifying. I had no image of myself as a 'real' writer back then; 'real' writing was what other people did, people who were much more knowledgeable than me about the craft and genre fantasy. The folks at DHS were (and still are!) incredibly adept at reading and reviewing. They found no lack of problems with my first draft, but just like Suzanne, they loved the story and encouraged me to continue working on it.

That's where it all began, really. At that very first critique meeting with DHS, I took my first step down the long winding road to publication. DHS taught me how to improve my writing, and how to see myself as a writer. The group also led me to other very important circles of writers, including thenextbigwriter.com, where I connected with talented authors from all over the world, whose input has been invaluable in finishing the final draft of EOLYN. It was also through a DHS member that I received an invitation to the opening for Kim Vandervort's THE SONG AND THE SORCERESS, published by Hadley Rille Books about one year ago. And -- as I've mentioned before -- it was that event, and Vandervort's book, that convinced me to pitch my novel to Eric T. Reynolds.

Well, I had planned another topic for this week's post, but I'm feeling too sentimental about my journey as a writer over the last year (and then some) to think about anything else right now. I know I've said this before, but it can never be repeated enough:
Thank you to DHS, thenextbigwriter, my family and my friends, for all the support you've given me along the way. This is a very old dream of mine, something I hadn't thought about since high school, the idea of being a novelist, of publishing a book. I've kept this particular seed hidden away at the bottom of my treasure chest for a long time, and it's been wonderful to rediscover it, draw it out, put it in some fertile earth, add a little bit of water and sunshine, and watch it grow. All with a little help from my friends.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Women Warriors

Before getting into today's topic, a couple announcements:

First, the Dead Horse Society will be hosting its annual public reading this Saturday, September 11, starting at 6:30pm at the Writer's Place in Kansas City, MO. Entitled IGNITION, the reading will feature ten awesome authors from the Kansas City area who will read works of fantasy, horror and science fiction. I'll be there to share an excerpt from EOLYN. If you're in the area, please come join us. It's going to be a great evening.

I will be attending the World Fantasy Convention, October 28-31, in Columbus, OH, where Terri-Lynne DeFino and I will share a reading panel. Terri will read an excerpt from her novel FINDER, which will soon be available from Hadley Rille Books. I will be reading an excerpt from EOLYN. The exact time of our half hour slot has not yet been confirmed, but I'll be sure to post it here as soon as it is. Hope to see you there!
Also, I've made several changes on the blog this weekend. There is now a separate page entitled Events and Announcements, where I am posting important dates. Check here regularly if you are looking for information about upcoming readings, book signings (which won't start happening until next spring & summer, but hey -- it's never too early to start thinking about it) and other events concerning the novel EOLYN or related topics. Also, I've now posted the first three chapters of EOLYN, each on its own page, so new and returning visitors can have a fairly comprehensive preview of the novel.

That's it for announcements. On to this week's topic...

Meet Ki'leah (pictured above), the heroine of Kim Vandervort's young adult fantasy series that starts with the wonderful novel THE SONG AND THE SORCERESS. The image posted here is the cover design for the second book in the series, THE NORTHERN QUEEN, to be released this fall.

It was Ki'leah's story that convinced me to pitch my own novel to Hadley Rille Books, just about one year ago. Vandervort does a wonderful job of painting a complex, likeable female heroine whose story is embedded in a rich and believable fantasy culture. As part of her journey to destroy the evil sorceress Lyarra and come to terms with her own destiny, Ki'leah -- among other challenging tasks -- learns to fight with a sword. She is not the only woman in her world who has this skill. In fact, her tutor is a woman, the ever-engaging and sharp-tempered Britta, whose legendary skill is unmatched by most men.

Eolyn's world also has its share of women warriors. Her mother Kaie was among the last of a special class of Maga Warriors, witches who knew how to integrated the arts of war and magic and who rose up against the Mage King Kedehen in the time before Eolyn was born. (You can read more about this in A Brief History of Moisehen.) As part of her journey, Eolyn meets the mountain warrior Khelia, who is very gifted in the use of weaponry and has fought many battles side by side with men. (The similarity to the name of Vandervort's protagonist is a coincidence, by the way. Long before reading THE SONG AND THE SORCERESS, I had derived the name Khelia from Clelia, a genus of beautiful, non-venomous tropical snakes.)

Eolyn, however, never learns the sword, though she is very skilled with the knife. This is not due to a lack of effort on the part of those who would like to teach her. Early in the story, Akmael tries to instruct her in the basics of swordplay, but fails. Many years later, Khelia will offer Eolyn the same opportunity, but the young maga refuses.

Eolyn's distaste for swords runs deep. On a subconscious level, the trauma of her family's death has left her with a strong revulsion for anything with the power to bring destruction, death and misery. For her the sword is the archetypal symbol of that power. Added to this is the instruction of her tutor Ghemena, who has a powerful and lasting influence on Eolyn's view of the world and the purpose of magic in it. Ghemena abhors war, and anything associated with it, and works very hard to instill Eolyn with the same values.

It was a challenge, on many levels, to build a fantasy novel around a strong female protagonist who does not wield a sword and is averse to war. The current fashion in fantasy seems to run toward so-called 'chicks with swords', who are more than eager to jump into the fray with their male companions. So I experienced no small amount of insecurity in following a different path with Eolyn. But like all responsible authors, in the end I had to be true to my character, and let her be the person she wanted to be.

While it was a bit of a risk to take this approach, I do believe that by capturing Eolyn's story -- her ability to take on formidable challenges without a sword in hand, coupled with the real limitations placed upon her because she knows so little of weaponry in a world subject to constant warfare -- I have touched upon a larger 'truth' about women and women in history, particularly medieval history. As much as we all love to see and read about warrior women, the vast majority of women in centuries past had to get by without a sword in hand. Nonetheless, some extraordinary figures emerged among these females; Eleanor of Acquitaine comes to mind as an example, or the Empress Theophanu. Women who made their mark in history and achieved what they wanted -- and needed -- because they were skilled at using every other tool imaginable to which they had access.

Of course, Eolyn is not entirely defenseless. She commands a very powerful form of magic, which can ward off violent attacks and inflict injury, if she so chooses. She also has that handy little knife, which she does not hesitate to use if necessary. Would she have been better off, in the long run, if I had given her a sword as well? You'll have to read the novel and decide for yourself...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Shape Shifting in EOLYN

One of my favorite books growing up was T.H. White's The Once and Future King, based on the legend of King Arthur. Years -- uhm, okay, decades -- later there are still scenes and passages from this book that remain vivid in my memory. I liked White's portrayal of Guenevere, for example; his very sympathetic treatment of this legendary woman who loved two men, and the two best of her time. And I especially liked Merlin's tutorship of Wart (young Arthur) during his childhood. As part of Wart's instruction, Merlin turned the boy into one animal after another: a fish, an ant, a hawk (if I recall correctly), and others that don't come to mind in the moment. I mean, how cool is that? What I wouldn't have given to have teachers who could turn me into animals. Even JK Rowling's magnificent Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry could not replace, in my imagination, the wonderful tutorship of Merlin.

When I crafted the childhood of Eolyn and Akmael, I wanted them to have a touch of Merlin's approach in their training. So Ghemena and Tzeremond both include shapeshifting as part of their students' instruction. Both Akmael and Eolyn experience shapeshifting during their younger years while they are mastering the principles of Middle Magic. In one scene, they spend an afternoon trying to change each other into animals, but don't succeed. This is because in the world of Moisehén, mages and magas cannot induce shapeshifting on their own until they learn the techniques of High Magic.

In theory, a person who has mastered High Magic can shapeshift into any animal with which he or she has had contact. This gives Eolyn, especially, a very wide range of options, since she grows up in the forest and interacts with all its creatures on a daily basis. Yet, as magas and mages reach adulthood, they tend to favor certain forms over others. Both Akmael and Eolyn favor the forms of Wolf and Owl -- yet another expression of the underlying affinity between these two characters, who develop a strong friendship and mutual attraction, despite the circumstances and formidable conflicts that separate them.

There are few animals, in my mind, that embody as well as Wolf the image of fierce independence coupled with a deep need for meaningful companionship -- Eolyn and Akmael, through and through. I have a special love for wolves, though I have never had the privilege of seeing them in the wild. A few years ago, we went camping in northern Minnesota, where we heard the wolves at night. It was just spectacular.

Owl, of course, is a creature of the night, with amazing wings that are designed for an absolutely silent flight. Day creatures like ourselves are crippled by darkness, but Owl is at home in the night forest, which for us is shrouded in mystery and fear. When I do night walks with students in the field, I always include a moment when we turn off our headlamps. All of us. The darkness is astounding -- a deep inky black that is hard to imagine anymore for folks who live in urban environments. It makes you especially appreciative of what it means to be nocturnal.

If I could be changed into any animal -- just for a little while, because I actually like being human and wouldn't want to permanently shape shift -- I would be a mountain lion, or puma. The puma is more of a New World animal, so it doesn't appear in EOLYN, but one of it's cousins, Lynx, lives in the South Woods and shows up on occasion. I've always been partial to the strength and ferocity of the wild cats, and the kind of powerful sensuality that accompanies their every movement. African lions are another one of my favorites. They're just cool.

How about you? If you could shapeshift into any animal, what would it be?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Children's Magic

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

Hidden Magic

It turns out I have a mage in my family tree!

Meet Ed the Wizard, also known as Edmund Peuschel, pictured here on his wedding day, with his beautiful young bride Margaret.

Dad told me Ed's story just a couple months ago. He lived in Kansas City, Missouri, in the mid 19th century, where he ran a saloon with his brother. Ed the Wizard had the singular ability to take his head off and hold it in his hands. To this day we don't know what his secret was, but I suspect it involved getting his clients good and drunk before the show started.

Or...Maybe he was a wizard for real.

Ed was the grandfather of my grandmother, Rita Gastreich (Rita Peuschel, by her maiden name). Rita studied ballet as a girl, and during the 1920s performed in New York as a soloist with the Albertina Rasch Dancers, featured in many of the Ziegfield shows. (In addition to clicking the link to find out about Albertina Rasch, you can see a photo of my grandmother in my July 8 post, Celebrate.)

It was during the off-season, when Rita came home to Kansas City, that she met the man who would become my grandfather, Karl Gastreich. Karl had immigrated to the U.S. from Germany just after WWI, at the tender age of fourteen. He came from a proud old German family, and was slated to marry a bride handpicked for him from a similarly proud old German family back in the fatherland. But he fell in love with Rita, and scandalized his extended family back home by marrying an American woman.

When Rita married Karl, she abandoned her identity as a professional dancer. All the photos and letters from that time were stored away and never talked about, along with her last pair of pointe shoes. It was not until the mid 1970s, when my sister went to study at the Joffrey in New York, that Rita brought all the old photos out of the closet and revealed her charismatic past to her children and grandchildren.

I never learned directly from my grandmother why she chose to conceal this charismatic past for so many decades, but it's occured to me in recent months that something in the mystery of her silence provided one of the seeds for EOLYN, a novel in which we find a variety of characters who, for one reason or another, hide the full extent of their magic.

I suppose we all have hidden magic; a special part of us that we aren't comfortable sharing with just anyone, and that we often simply choose to keep to ourselves. But it's when external forces obligate us to hide our magic -- through repression or other forms of violence -- that we lose something very important to our lives and humanity. This is a core theme of EOLYN, where magic is denied first to one class of people, then to another, and always with adverse consequences.
To this day, I am very grateful Rita brought her photos out of the closet. Otherwise, I might never have known who my grandmother really was.
For those of you who may not have noticed, this week I added a new page to the blog, A Brief History of Moisehén. Read it to find out more about the prohibition of magic among Eolyn's people.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Names in EOLYN

It's not always an easy task to find the right name for a character. In fantasy, there's an added expectation that names will be distinctive, representative of the unique worlds and cultures from which our characters derive. On the other hand, I've had readers tell me that "strange" names with difficult pronunciations are one of the elements of fantasy that they don't like. So the key is finding something that's different, but not too different. Though I think the 'strangeness' of any given name is not only a product of how it sounds, but how it fits - or not - into the context of the fantasy world in question.

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.

Today's image is of Miranda Otto, who interpreted the role of Eowyn for Peter Jackson's film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Leaving Las Cruces

I'm just going to check in this week -- no particular reflections to offer on EOLYN this time around. I am wrapping up my field season at Las Cruces, so I'm busy with packing and such, taking that last hike through the woods, caught between the sadness of leaving and the wonderful anticipation of going home.

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...