"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

Friday, June 25, 2010

Rivers of Destiny

I'm at the end of my first week at Las Cruces Biological Station in southern Costa Rica. This is not the real South Woods - the oak forests of Talamanca - which I talked about in my post on June 3. The real South Woods is about 1500m (45000 feet) higher up the mountain range. But Las Cruces is a lovely station with a lush premontane wet forest. At 1100m (about 3300 feet) above sea level, the climate here is cool and rainy almost year round.

There is one element of Las Cruces that inspired a scene from EOLYN: the Java River, which runs through the preserve. Like a lot of montane rivers in Costa Rica, it has crystalline water that flows rapidly over large stones and boulders. In chapter 2 of my novel, Eolyn hops from one stone to another to cross what she later learns is the Tarba River. On the other side, she meets a 'Guende', a creature of the forest modeled after the folk myths of 'Duendes' in Costa Rica. The Guende leads Eolyn to the hag Ghemena, a maga of the Old Orders, who adopts Eolyn and teaches her the ways of women's magic.

The Tarba River is also the site of a seminal event in the novel, the first meeting of Eolyn and Akmael, described in chapter 4. Eolyn is an orphan and refugee, Akmael a prince who recently lost his own mother to a violent death. Their friendship begins as a game in the Tarba River, a search for the elusive rainbow snail -- which, by the way, was inspired by a real snail that lives in the highlands of Talamanca. I do not know this snail's true name, but one of my students - many years ago - took to calling it the "elusive indigo snail". What can I say? The phrase stuck with me, and then turned up in my novel.

I don't know where the Java River of Las Cruces got its name, but coincidentally (or perhaps not), the hills that surround Las Cruces are cultivated with coffee.

In a few days, we will make a short visit to another site, Las Alturas. This biological station is about 1000m up hill from here, so perhaps I will see some of the real South Woods then. Maybe I'll even find an elusive indigo snail. And if I'm very lucky, maybe I'll find a Guende.

Today's photo is from the Java River in Las Cruces Biological Station. Of course, this scene is much more tropical than anything you will read about in EOLYN. The South Woods of Eolyn's childhood is a temperate forest, dominated by oak, and with mixed stands of evergreen and deciduous trees.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

On Exciting Projects, Old and New

Vacation time is drawing to a close, so I thought I'd stop in and do few things with the blog. I've made it easier now (I think) for visitors to post comments on my regular posts. I've also added a comment box to my weekly excerpts (which, as some of you may have noticed, are not truly weekly, but just more or less so).

We've had a great stay with my husband's family in Costa Rica, including a full week at Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste. Down time never ceases to be creative time for me - I suppose that's true of a lot of authors - and I came away from my rest with a lot of fun ideas for the sequel to EOLYN. Of course, I need to get my final edits done on the current work, and send it off to my editor Eric T. Reynolds, before I get too carried away with the sequel. But it's a wonderful feeling to have my mind turning around a brand new project.

Hadley Rille Books, by the way, has a brand new release: Life Without Crows, a collection fantastic short stories by Gerri Leen. Check it out!

As part of the little clean up job I'm doing on EOLYN, I've been reviewing in detail the comments I received over the past year through the online writer's workshop thenextbigwriter I know I've made a plug for these guys before, but I have to say again I'm truly grateful for all the thorough and insightful feedback from the many authors on this site. They really helped make my dream of publishing a reality.

So, I've got some fun things planned for the blog in upcoming weeks. There will be more - much more - talk about magic in Eolyn's world: Primitive Magic, Children's Magic, and the various forms of Advanced Magic, including High Magic. I also want to spend some time telling you about Eolyn's home, the Kingdom of Moisehen, and its four provinces. If I'm very lucky, weekly excerpts may even be weekly for a while. And I'm going to be in an interesting place - Las Cruces Biological Station in southern Costa Rica - so maybe I'll sneak in some anecdotes and pictures about that, too.

Thanks for stopping by. More on EOLYN soon...
Today's picture depicts the sunset in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Primitive Magic

My posts are going to slow down for the next couple of weeks. I’m on vacation right now, in a place with little internet & email access – and very happy on both accounts!

In my novel EOLYN, I never lay out in a single passage how the people of Moisehén perceive their magic. Rather, the reader learns about different types of magic as the story progresses, and occasionally I insert a legend that speaks to the history of magic, as for example in chapter 5, the Origin of Magic (the topic of my May 27 post). So one of the things I’d like to do with my blog is tell you a little about magic in Eolyn’s world. The focus of today's post is Primitive Magic.

In the tradition of Moisehén, Primitive Magic is considered the root of all magic. It is the oldest form of magic, the first to animate the hearts of men and women. It is also the least understood of all magic, and many of its forms – such as love and desire – remain under the exclusive (and sometimes infuriating!) control of the Gods. Unlike Advanced Magic, which is learned, Primitive Magic is considered innate to the human experience. For this reason, it cannot be denied to women - or any other class of people in Moisehén, for that matter. While women can lawfully engage in activities considered Primitive Magic - such music and dance – their open participation became limited during the purges that followed the War of the Magas. At that time, association with magic of any sort often resulted in accusations of the practice of High Magic, which in turn led to persecution, torture and death on the pyre.

In my last post, I mentioned that the forests of Talamanca – which inspired Eolyn’s childhood home in the South Woods – have a special kind of energy that I like to call ‘magic’. Much in the same way, dance and music carry a kind of magic for me (more on that later!), so I wanted them to be part of the magic of Eolyn’s world, as well.

Today's image is Pieter Brueghel's classic painting, "The Wedding Dance".

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Real South Woods

Before I start on today's topic, I'd like to mention that this week EOLYN made the All Time Top 20 List at The Next Big Writer (TNBW). This is an on-line international writer's workshop that includes about 2800 authors and reviewers from the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia and other places around the word. Over 600 novels are currently being workshopped on the site. During the last year, I have met a lot of wonderful, talented people on The Next Big Writer, and read many exciting novels in the making. The chapters of EOLYN have received about 750 reviews, all of which have contributed in one way or another to the completion of this novel. So, thank you again, to all my friends and colleages at TNBW, for your incredible feedback and support.

I'm wrapping up my season in Kansas City right now, getting ready to spend the summer months in my second home in Costa Rica. (Of course, if I had it my way, I'd spend winter in Costa Rica and summer in Kansas City, but unfortunately I'm bound by the academic year. Not that I'm complaining - two months in the tropics is two months in the tropics, no matter when it happens.) Costa Rica is an incredibly diverse country biologically, housing 4% of the world's species on about 0.001% of the world's terrestrial territory. Part of the reason for this intense 'species packing' is the terrain of this tiny nation - A rugged, mountainous landscape that rises from sea level to about 3800m (or just under 12,000 feet). So while the lowlands are lush with what we normally think of as "tropical forest" - hot, humid, full of thick vegetation and towering trees - as we move up the mountains, we find dramatically different kinds of ecosystems housing very distinctive plants and animals.

The South Woods, Eolyn's home for the greater part of her childhood, is based in part on the highland forests of the Cordillera Talamanca, the oldest of three mountain ranges in the country. At elevations around 2800m (or just under 9,000 feet), we find a forest that is tropical in its seasonality - in the sense that it is not subject to the intense winters of the northern latitudes - but temperate in its composition. Oak trees - some up to 1,000 years old - dominate the canopy. Blueberry, blackberry and wintergreen plants grow close to the ground. Mushrooms sprout up all over the place, many of them edible, others very poisonous. Mixed in with all of this are plants and animals more 'typically' tropical - monkeys and tapirs, for example, or bromeliads and orchids and a spindly form of bamboo. Their are nearly 50 endemic species and subspecies of birds in Talamanca - and no, I have not seen them all!

Days in Talamanca dawn bright and sunny, but almost invariably end shrouded in mist and cold rain. Nights are chilly and windy, and at our field station in Cuerici we would spend them huddled by a wood burning stove drinking hot chocolate, or buried under as many blankets as we could scrounge, hoping to stay warm until dawn. For ten years I took students to these forests, and I always saw the same reactions: Despite the strange intermeshing of tropical and temperate life, despite the bone-penetrating chill of that rustic field station, this was a place that made them happy, a place that reminded them of home.

Eolyn's life in the South Woods was very much inspired by my day-to-day experiences in the oak forests of Talamanca. These are forests rich with resources - everything is edible, medicinal or otherwise usable. They are friendly to those who know how to navigate them, and cruel - even deadly - to those who do not. The ancient trees are magnificent, and carry an energy that demands awe and respect, a kind of power that seems to flow from the very heart of the mountains on which they grow. When I am in Talamanca, this is the energy that restores my spirit and inspires my creativity. I like to call it 'magic', and when writing the novel, I gave it to Eolyn as the source of her power.

The Cordillera Talamanca is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so it's one of those places that should be on the list of all adventure-minded folk. But even if you never get a chance to visit Talamanca, you will encounter something of its essence and beauty in the first chapters of EOLYN.

Today's picture is from the forests of Talamanca, near Cuerici Biological Station. The tree is called 'Abuelo' (Spanish for "Grandfather"), and while the exact age is uncertain, it is estimated to be about 1,000 years old. This same tree, by the way, appears in my short story Turning Point, published in the speculative fiction journal Zahir. Pictured with 'Abuelo' are me and Alberto Torres, manager and naturalist guide at Cuerici.