"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

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...