"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

Monday, January 24, 2011

Simple Magic

I took inventory today and found that since last May, I've written eight posts that deal specifically with  magic in Eolyn's world. I've talked about the Origin of Magic in Moisehén.  I've covered the two forms of innate magic known as Primitive Magic and Children's Magic.  I've discussed some of the difference between Mages and Magas, and gone into a few specifics such as Shape Shifting, Tree Magick and the High Holidays of Moisehén.  I've also done a bit of philosophizing on the Rules of Magic, thinking about what (if any) limits should be placed on magic, and why and how.

It's a good list, but I still have a lot of ground to cover.  (In fact, it's kind of surprising how very little I've posted on the topic, given that my novel is mostly about magic!) So today, I'd like to talk a little about Simple Magic, which in the tradition of Moisehén is considered one of three subcategories of Advanced Magic. 

Advanced Magic is distinguished from Primitive and Children's Magic because it is not innate; it must be learned.*  The three subcategories of Advanced Magic -- Simple Magic, Middle Magic and High Magic -- correspond to the journey of Aithne and Caradoc, the first practitioners of Moisehén, who learned Simple Magic and Middle Magic by observing the natural world, and then were granted the power to learn High Magic by Dragon, a messenger of the Gods.

Simple Magic exists in our world today.  Its definition is pretty straightforward:  it is the knowledge of the uses of plants, animals and fungi for food and medicinal purposes.  Of course, the title is a something of a misnomer -- because Simple Magic is far from a simple thing to learn!  In Moisehén, students of magic begin studying the creatures of the forest and their uses from a very young age, and it can take years before they gain sufficient mastery of the topic to continue on to Middle Magic. Eolyn began learning Simple Magic from her mother Kaie at about the age of five, and continued her apprenticeship under Ghemena until she was formally initiated into the study of Middle Magic at the age of twelve.  (For examples of some of the things Eolyn learned from her mother, have a look at Chapter 1 on this web site.)

In Moisehén, Simple Magic is the only form of Advanced Magic that women are allowed to practice under the law.  This is due in part to the perception that Simple Magic does not pose the same threat that Middle Magic or High Magic can, if used in the 'wrong' way.  But there was also a practical side to this decision, when Kedehen and his advisor Tzeremond laid down the rules regarding the types of magic to which women could have access.  Simple Magic is a relatively widespread form of magic; the use of chamomile, mint and other herbs, as well as food plants, is part of day-to-day existence for most every citizen of Moisehén.  And while the average peasant household does not command the knowledge of medicinal plants that, say, a young mage might, it is still fair to state that Simple Magic is an integrated part of the life and society of Moisehén.  To truly outlaw it would have required burning pretty much every peasant woman in the kingdom -- and even the wizard Tzeremond was not up to that!

Nonetheless, from Tzeremond's point of view, the decision to allow the widespread practice of Simple Magic, while practical, carried substantial risks.  Simple Magic is the doorway to other forms of magic; the first step down a path that can lead to powers that, in the wizard's mind, comprised a major threat to the peace and security of the kingdom when wielded by women. As a result, women with extensive knowledge of medicinal plants are watched closely in Moisehén, and often burned on charges of witchcraft, even if the evidence for practicing other forms of Advanced Magic are minimal. 

Well, that's my post for the week. Hope you enjoyed it. Have questions and comments about Simple Magic?  Please post them below! 

We'll come back to Middle Magic and Advanced Magic later on down the road.

*Note that while Primitive Magic is considered innate, there are aspects of Primitive Magic that must also be learned, or practiced in order to perfect, such as dance and music. In this and other ways, Primitive Magic defies clear definition, something I discussed in my previous post on this topic. Another thing to keep in mind is that these broad categories -- Primitive Magic, Children's Magic and Advanced Magic -- are not entirely linear, in the sense that one does not necessarily 'precede' the other, but all can act in concert, or even cycle from one to the next and then back again..

Today's image is of mint leaves.  I obtained it from Wikicommons; the author is Kham Tran.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Strong Female Protagonists

It's been about a year and a half now since I started shopping around for an agent and/or editor for EOLYN.  The submission process is, in a word, harrowing for any author, no matter how much confidence he or she has in her product. You have to be able to live with uncertainty and hope -- and a lot of patience -- and there has to be a sense of determination combined with an underlying humility; a readiness to confront the difficult truth that this might not be the time or the place to publish a novel like the one you've written.

I've found, in talking to different authors who have been through the submissions process, that we all have slightly different approaches. Some folks shotgun it, taking Writer's Market or whatever their favored reference is in hand and simply going down the list to send their manuscript to any address labeled 'Literary Agency' or 'Press'.  I tended to be much more selective, and tried very hard to identify agents and presses that had represented or published novels in some way similar to my own.

One of the key phrases I used during that period of searching was an interest in 'strong female protagonists'.  Agents or presses that expressed a clear preference for strong female protagonists received a longer look from me, and often a query as well, because EOLYN features a woman who, in my mind, clearly fits this criteria. 

Yet it was interesting, in looking at the titles represented by certain agents or published by different presses, to see how broad and varied the definition of 'strong female protagonist' can be. More often than not, a 'strong female protagonist' tended to be rather gritty in nature, always wielding a weapon, and ever-ready to engage in violence.  Now, I don't have any overt problem with this definition of 'strong female protagonist', but I was disappointed to see just how often this was the only definition of interest to the agent or press that I was researching. 

What is it that makes a female protagonist 'strong'? 

For me it is -- more than the ability to do a back flip, sword in hand, while slicing up three opponents at once -- complexity and depth of character.  A strong protagonist, male or female, has many qualities that we admire and at least  few that we do not.  She must have the capacity to overcome great difficulties, whether through physical strength, or emotional fortitude, or both.  We should be able to recognize something in her that we would like to be; and to think of her as the kind of friend we would like to have, especially when the going gets rough. 

This is the kind of protagonist I've tried to craft for the novel  EOLYN; and I hope that in reading the novel you will agree that I've succeeded.

Just for fun, I thought I'd put together a list of some of my favorite female protagonists over the years.  Here are a few:

The Miller's Daughter -- A nameless young woman in the Grimm's Fairy Tale The Robber Bride Groom, she manages to escape from an unwanted marriage by proving her future husband a thief, a murderer and a cannibal.  One of my favorites growing up, this story and its protagonist always ran neck-and-neck with that other Grimm's classic, Snow White. 

Princess Leia -- Technically, she doesn't quite count since her brother was really center stage, but she has to be mentioned here because Leia was the first fantasy adventure woman to capture my imagination.  Bold, witty and strong-willed. Thanks to Leia, I finally had a role to play when I ran around with the rest of the boys in our neighborhood games of cops and robbers (which of course were instantly changed in those years to rebels and stormtroopers...)

Trinity --  And of course, there has to be at least one person on the list who can do a back flip while slicing up three opponents at once.  Again, techinically Trinity doesn't quite count as a protagonist because Neo took center stage, but she had a tender heart encased in that core of steel, and that always makes for an interesting story.

Arya -- From George RR Martin's classic series A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE Arya isn't even a teenager yet, but oh my goodness she's amazing.  Arya takes war by the bullhorns, so to speak, and does not let its horror or violence defeat her in any moment.  One of the best journeys I've ever read in a fictional character.

Mendoza -- From Kage Baker's wonderful blend of science fiction and historical fiction, THE GARDEN OF IDEN.  Mendoza does not wield a sword or a laser gun, but she's a sensitive, passionate cyborg with super-human strength, and a top-notch botanist to boot.  Who needs jijitsu when you know your plants?   

Ki'Leah -- The protagonist of Kim Vandervort's THE SONG AND THE SORCERESS.  Ki'Leah fits everything I like to see in my female protagonists.  In this first book of Vandervort's series, she is young and somewhat immature, but experience and harsh reality shape her into an admirable leader.  And she can even wield a sword by the end of the story!  I'm looking forward to spending time with her again in Vandervort's sequel THE NORTHERN QUEEN

Olivya -- In the soon-to-be-released APOCALYPSE GENE by my good friends Suki Michelle and Carlyle Clark, Olivya is a sharp-witted and daring young woman with paranormal powers, who lives in a futuristic Chicago beleaguered by a plague of cancer.  Definitely the kind of gal you want on your side when the bad guys come knocking on your door. 

Well, I could go on, but I think that's enough rambling for one day.  So help me out here -- Who would you add to the list of your favorite female protagonists?  And what is it, for you, that makes a female protagonist "strong"?

Monday, January 10, 2011

How It All Began

Welcome back, everyone.  I hope you had a wonderful holiday and are looking forward to a great year in 2011.

Less than five months left before the release of EOLYN; I can hardly believe we are almost there.  Although I stayed away from blogging over Christmas and New Year's, we have been doing a lot of work with the book.  Hadley Rille editor Eric T. Reynolds has been busy formatting the pdf version of the manuscript.  Artists Jesse Smolover and Ginger Prewitt have been sketching ideas for the cover art and the map, respectively.  Later this week, I'll be meeting with Erin Bolton to talk about the marketing plan.

Some news from recent days:

Eric T. Reynolds has posted a list of libraries worldwide that carry Hadley Rille Books.  Visit the link to view this impressive list of libraries that endorse HRB publications.

My short story When Sally Met Ben is now available on 69 Flavors of Paranoia.  Stop by for a free read of this flash fiction horror piece.

The anthology A Visitor to Sandahl, edited by C Lee Brown, is now available through Amazon.  I contributed a short story to this anthology, entitled Chirro's Escape.  The volume also includes several great stories by talented authors, all of whom came together through the on line writers workshop tNBW.

Last but not least, I've been selected for a Writers Residency as a part of the Long Term Ecological Reflections Program at Andrews Forest in Oregon.  I'm very excited about this opportunity, which not only brings together my love of ecology and my love of writing, but will give me the chance to visit the magnificent forests of the Pacific Northwest. 

That's the news. 

So, why the title for today's post,  "How it all began"? 

Well, I just wanted to share a little something with you, though I'm going to keep today's reflection brief.  I was going through some boxes that we have in storage today, and came across the journal entry where I started writing EOLYN for the first time, just over four years ago. Here's an excerpt from those first few sentences:

I'm reluctant to write it down, because these ideas seem so much sillier when they pass from my imagination to paper.  But here it goes...

...The South Woods of Moehn was where the girl grew up.  After her mother disappeared, and her father and brother were killed in one of the King's raids, she was found -- or found -- a maga of the old school, who lived alone...in a place so well hidden only the Duendes knew how to find it...a cinamon-colored cottage surrounded by wildflowers and a thick garden of herbs and fresh vegetables...

The entry is dated 26 Nov 2006. Of course, none of this text survived subsequent edits to get into the final version of the novel, but what struck me was how very clear I was about the premise of the novel, from the moment I started to write about it. 

It also made me smile to remember how worried I was that what I had to say would sound 'silly'.  I seem to have gotten over that initial hesitation fairly quickly though, because what follows is seven straight days of journal entries devoted to Eolyn and her story.  (Followed, of course, by four straight years of working and reworking the delivery of that original idea...)

On December 2, 2006, I wrote for the first time about Akmael, the boy who would become Eolyn's closest friend and her greatest rival.  I ended that entry with this:

For the first time since he began his studies, [Akmael] had a piece of magic over which [Tzeremond] could lay no claim. 

...a sentence which faired remarkably well during subsequent edits, and still exists more or less in its original form, at the end of Chapter 3

So, that's how it all began. 

This year, we'll celebrate another beginning:  the publication of the novel EOLYN in May, by Hadley Rille Books.  Join me as we begin the count down!