"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, 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.