"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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Shadows in the Forest

We are just back from two nights at Las Alturas, a remote station on the edge of La Amistad National Park and Biosphere Reserve.  This was a short break from the rigors of the Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience (NAPIRE) Program.  Yesterday we hiked into the park, climbing700 meters in about 3 kilometers to Cerro Chai, which at 2200 meters above sea level provides a spectacular view of the vast expanse of forest that comprises this small section of La Amistad. 

Any time you go up hill in the tropics, you are bound to encounter more than one distinct ecosystem.  The lower slope of our climb was covered in the riot of growth that constitutes premontane forest; higher up we passed through a thin band of oak-dominated forest, with its understory layer of spindly bamboo.  (This is the type of forest, by the way, that originally inspired Eolyn’s childhood home, the South Woods.)  Near the peak of Cerro Chai, strong winds and cold weather have stunted and warped the trees into what is popularly known as “elfin forest”.

NAPIRE students, in addition to being budding biologists, are deeply appreciative of fantasy and legend, and so they were watchful for elves as we entered the “elfin forest”.  But of course, there are no elves in ‘elfin forest’, or anywhere in Costa Rica for that matter.  The magical creatures that inhabit Costa Rican forests are called duendes.

I first learned about the duendes from my friends at Cuerici Biological Station, located a little further north of where we are now, at about 2500m elevation.  Duendes are elusive creatures, and if you ask a Costa Rican to describe what they look like, individuals who claim to have seen them will answer with a puzzled frown.  It seems the appearance of duendes can’t be captured in words.  After listening to stories about them, I came to think of duendes as something of a cross between fairies and gnomes. 

When I began writing Eolyn, I wanted a creature like the duendes to inhabit the South Woods.  I almost used the same word, until I thought to look it up in a Spanish-English dictionary, at which point I discovered duende translates literally as “troll”. 

Hmm, I thought.  That’s not right at all.  In Costa Rica, duendes are clearly not the same thing as trolls.  So to avoid confusion in my novel, I changed the word ‘duendes’ into ‘Guendes’, hoping that the addition of ‘g’ would inspire images of gnome-like creatures.

The Guendes of Eolyn’s world are very shy and rarely intervene in human affairs.  Their magic, however, is considered powerful, and the people of Moisehén hold them in great respect. 

It is thought that the Guendes use their magic at Summer Solstice to turn the sun on its path, causing the shortening of days and pushing the cycle of the seasons toward fall and then winter. Traditionally, the Mages and Magas thank the Guendes for this service by leaving gifts of food in the forest.  Guendes hibernate during the winter, and for this reason it is the task of the Mages and Magas on Winter Solstice to call the sun back from the Underworld and invoke the lengthening of days that will lead to spring and summer.

Early in the novel, Eolyn has an encounter with Guendes.  They find her in the forest, protect her from starvation and death, and eventually lead her to the home of Ghemena, the last Doyenne of the Old Orders.  No explanation is ever given as to why the Guendes chose to intervene in young Eolyn’s fate.  Were they simply taking pity on a lost and frightened child?  Or did they recognize Eolyn’s potential to flourish as Ghemena’s student and preserve the endangered traditions of the Magas?  And if they wanted Eolyn to become a maga, then why?  Of what interest was it to them that this ancient craft be preserved through her?

I’ll leave it to your imagination to consider the possibilities; because though I might think I have the answer, in the end only the Guendes truly know…

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Back to the South Woods

Me in Las Cruces, a few years back.
Some things never change, and my love
for those trees is one of them.
The days are going by fast in this short respite between when spring semester ends and my field season in Costa Rica begins.  This summer I will be participating once again in the Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience (NAPIRE) Program.  As a research mentor, I'll be supervising the work of three students at Las Cruces Biological Station, a small piece of paradise located in southern Costa Rica, near the border with Panama.

It's been only two years since I participated in NAPIRE, yet it seems like so much longer.  The last time I went to Las Cruces, I had just begun this blog, and signed my first contract with Hadley Rille Books.  Since then, Eolyn has been published, and that one seemingly small event has changed so much in my life, internally and externally, in the way I organize my time and my priorities, in what I want for the future, and how I see myself.  I don't know if any of this will impact my experience at Las Cruces, but it's certainly a moment that has allowed me to see my life is still changing, and I along with it.

I'm invariably inspired to write fun stuff whenever I'm in the woods, so please return to this blog in the coming weeks, so I can share my adventure in the tropics with you.  

In other news, this Saturday I will be at the 6th Annual Author Extravaganza in Emporia, KS.  This event is hosted by the Town Crier Bookstore, and is a celebration of Kansas authors of all genres, and from all walks of life.  If you are in the area, please stop by to visit and meet the authors.  Books will be available for purchase and signing.

This week, I joined the Magic Appreciation Tour and Book Sale.  This is an on-line event, so you can enjoy it wherever you are.  Stop by to meet authors of magical fantasy and find some great summer reading to boot.  The Tour and Book Sale will last until June 30.

I'm getting very excited about WorldCon in Chicago at the end of August.  A couple days ago, I received the list of panels, and they all look great.  I've thrown my hat in the ring to participate in more than a few; as soon as my panels and schedule are confirmed, I'll be sure to post it on this site.

Terri-Lynne DeFino is up this week over at Heroines of Fantasy, and she wants to know what you are doing for yourself.  Stop by to tell her about your plans.  (And if you don't have any plans for yourself, then now is the time to make them!)

I've put together a fun post for next week on Heroines of Fantasy, about some of the non-fantasy books that have most inspired my work, and especially my work with Eolyn.  That post will go live on Monday, June 18.  I hope you will take a moment to visit me there and tell me a little about the books that have most inspired you.

I thought this was going to be a short post, but I guess I did have a lot to talk about!  Next time you see me here, I'll be writing from Costa Rica.  Pura Vida!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Music in the Forest

Those of you who follow this blog regularly will know that I've been away for a little while.  It's been a very exciting -- and relaxing -- two weeks.  Everything started May 24 with the arrival of several Hadley Rille authors to Kansas City, which we celebrated with a great evening of story telling at Prospero's Books on 39th.  Then, Kansas City's own ConQuesT, May 25-27, where I met a lot of interesting authors and fans, and participated in several panels. 

After Memorial Day, we visited the Arkansas Ozarks, an area of the country that is quite literally in my own backyard, yet one that I've never had the opportunity to experience first hand until now. 

We drove south through Missouri and enjoyed a lengthy lunch break in Eureka Springs, AR, before driving into the heart of the Ozark National Forest.  Mount Nebo is a small state park just south of the national forest, with beautiful cabins that have a stunning view of the surrounding landscape. 

The sun was strong, the wind constant and refreshing, its voice an appealing blend of the breathy roar of pine needles and the shivering rustle of oak leaves.  We saw lots of deer, some racoons, lizards and skinks, as well as two impressive snakes, and the tracks of a puma. 

The forest on the north side of the mountain, along the 'Bench Trail', is impressive with its aged oaks and what I suspect are loblolly pines, graceful conifers with scaley trunks.  Bark so scaley that one is left wondering whether these trees might be the descendents of transformed dragons.

Speaking of dragons, we saw one -- very young -- fast asleep atop a gray boulder.  I know very little about the geology of Mount Nebo, and so the rocks seemed filled with mystery.  There are places where the mountainside has collapsed into rubble; barren piles of lichen-stained stone where no plant has been able to recolonize. 

There might be bears in this forest, but we didn't see any sign of them.  And while there are abundant springs, they were all dry or nearly so.

The Summer Tanager was everywhere, fuscia-red and fierce with its song.  Tanagers are abundant in the tropics, so this is a bird I thought I knew well.  But the first time I heard it sing in the Arkansas Ozarks, I thought I was listening to a thrush.  Tanagers in the tropics are known for their colors, not for their songs.  I had no idea any tanager could sing so beautifully. 

The tanager's song reminded me of Adiana, one of my favorite characters in the Eolyn saga.  Adiana is a very talented musician from the province of Selkynsen, the wealthiest province of the kingdom.  Her parents were merchants, and both were executed during the purging of the Magas.  (Adiana's mother was accused of witchcraft, and her father beheaded on charges of harboring a witch.)   The family fortune was confiscated, and Adiana, only fifteen at the time, was left to fend for herself in the streets. 

Adiana had a few rough years after that, until she met Mage Corey and became part of his Circle, a troupe of travelling performers and closet rebels. 

In Eolyn, Adiana's role is minor, though she becomes an important friend for our beloved maga.  In the companion novel High Maga, we spend more time with Adiana and see how her extraordinary music -- considered a kind of Primitive Magic in Moisehen -- becomes both her salvation and her doom.  Throughout her own trials and tribulations, which are many and terrible, Adiana remains unswerving in her friendship toward Eolyn.  I admire this quality of hers, as well as the strength and calm pragmatism with which she faces every challenge presented her.

That's really all I can say about Adiana without handing you the books.  But if you should hear a Summer Tanager singing in the forests near your home in the coming months, you will know something of the beauty and heartache her music can inspire.