"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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Death and Mourning in Eolyn's World

Lear and Cordelia by Ford Maddox Brown
I suppose this seems like an odd topic to write about on a sunny June day, but 2013 has been a year in which death has touched my family in many ways, taking both relatives and friends, in some cases expected, in others not so much. 

As I've mourned these losses, and supported others in their mourning, I've realized that this is one of the many themes relevant to Eolyn's world that I haven't yet touched upon in my blog. Rites and beliefs concerning death are a fundamental part of any culture, so the fantasy author must give some attention to death when building her world, whether or not the rites in question will be a part of the story.

According to the tradition of Moisehén, death entails the passage of the spirit from the living world into another reality called the Afterlife.

The nature of the Afterlife is almost impossible to decipher or understand through the lens of the living.  It is thought to be a place of relative peace, yet of greater challenges.  Spirits that enter the Afterlife gain a larger perspective on the conflicts of the world of the living. If those same spirits are particularly rich in magic, they can, under special circumstances, intervene in the living world.  How and why they do this is not well understood.

In order to reach the Afterlife, a spirit must first pass through the Underworld.  Unlike the Afterlife, the nature of the Underworld is fairly well understood by the people of Moisehén.  This is because on very rare occasions, particularly powerful mages and magas have sent their spirit into the Underworld and returned to the world of the living to tell what they experienced.

The Underworld is a place of constant decay.  Many souls get trapped here, fettered by their own illusions and fears.  Spirits confined to the Underworld are known in Moisehén as the Lost Souls. Eventually, the Lost Souls fade into nothing.  Their slow decay ignites a hunger, of sorts, for the light and magic of souls that have recently been released from their living bodies.  As a result, the Lost Souls prey on spirits attempting to make the journey to the Afterlife, and they can quickly drag others into the same state of decay. 

The rites of death in Moisehén are mainly focused on helping the recently deceased navigate the dangers of the Underworld.   The basic idea is that a bridge can be created between friends/family in the living world and friends/family in the Afterlife. 

At the time of the person's death, certain herbs are burned, such as winter sage. These are believed to help strengthen this bridge.  Loved ones who accompany the dying person will also sing songs of passage, the lyrics and melody of which are crafted to alert helpful spirits in the Afterlife of the pending descent to the Underworld.

Of course, not everyone dies in the company of friends and family, so the rites of passage are adjusted to fit different circumstances.  Warriors, for example, will burn winter sage and sing the songs of passage on the eve of battle, so that the foundations of their bridge are already laid in case they meet their doom in combat.  High Mages accompany every army and cast sacred circles on the edge of the battlefield to help guide the souls of the fallen safely into the Afterlife. 

Death of Elaine by Thomas Hovenden 1882
Despite these precautions, it is understood that an individual who suffers a violent death runs a higher risk of becoming one of the Lost Souls.  For this reason, battlefields and any other site where a soul was torn violently from its body are considered dangerous places where the curtain between the world of the living and the world of the dead is ominously thin.  Mages and magas will often return to battlefields weeks, months, or even years after the conflict to attempt to 'seal' these holes by casting spells and planting new life in the form of trees or wildflowers. 

One of the dangers of the Underworld that I haven't yet talked about are the Naether Demons.  But they are complex enough to deserve their own post, so I'll come back to them later.

The people of Moisehén do not believe there is a god or any other entity that sits at the gates of the Afterlife and decides who is worthy of entering.  Rather, they believe that one builds a bridge to the Afterlife by living well in this world, by establishing positive relationships with others who will sustain one's spirit in the moment of death, and guide one safely into the hereafter.

It is the quality of those relationships -- not the quantity -- and the strength of the magic held within them that matters. Even one person well-loved has the potential to redeem a lifetime of wrong-doings and ensure a safe journey to the other side. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A picture worth 120,000 words

Cover art for Louise Turner's new novel, Fire and Sword.
copyright 2013 by Thomas Vandenberg
I just had to share this latest masterpiece from Thomas Vandenberg

The artwork is for the cover of Fire and Sword, a new historical fiction novel by Louise Turner that will be released this fall by Hadley Rille Books.

The novel is set in the late 1400s and recounts the story of John Sempill of Elliotstoun in Scotland.  Sempill became a sheriff, and then through many struggles rose to knighthood (and beyond).  His rival, Lord Montgomerie, the antagonist of the story, both aided and hindered John's success. The novel features lots of great battles and conflicts, and promises to be an all around awesome read.

The author Louise Turner has met John Sempill's descendent, the present Lord Jamie Sempill.  She has done a lot of historical and archaeological research in order to show in vivid detail what life was like back then for nobles as well as for the common people.

I am very excited about the release of this novel, so you'll be hearing more about it during the months to come, both on this blog and on Heroines of Fantasy.

Most of all, I am delighted that this same artist, Thomas Vandenberg, will do the cover for High Maga! 

Tom finished reading the manuscript for High Maga last weekend, and is very excited about the novel.  Right now, the key word we're working with for the cover art is sinister.  Our goal is to craft an image that will communicate the very deep and harrowing conflicts of this next stage in Eolyn's life.  In looking at Tom's work with other Hadley Rille titles (check out Poets of Pevana and King's Gambit, both by Mark Nelson), I know he will not disappoint.

In other news, please stop by Heroines of Fantasy this week, where I've written a post about publishing choice.  With self-publishing, traditional publishing, and everything in between, options for authors have rarely been as diverse (and confusing!) as they are now.  I point out some of the costs and benefits of each route, and talk at length about why I chose the small press option for Eolyn.

This weekend, I will be at the Campbell Conference in Lawrence, Kansas.  Woohoo!  This is one of my favorite conferences: small, relaxed, entirely focused on talking about science fiction and fantasy, and on celebrating the best science fiction of the year.

If you happen to be in Lawrence this weekend, stop by the All Season's Den in the O'Read Hotel from 12:45pm to 1:30pm to meet all the authors in attendance, including a good number of award-winning heavy hitters in science fiction and fantasy.  Their books will be available for purchase  in the adjacent bookstore. 

That's the update for this week.  Summer has arrived in Kansas City, hot and fierce, so I will try to get out and enjoy some sun this afternoon.  Hope you are able to enjoy some sunshine as well, wherever you are!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Tour, Contest and Giveaway with Phyl Manning

It's my great pleasure today to have author Phyl Manning as my guest.  Phyl is on a two-week blog tour for her novel Here, There, and Otherwhere.

Originally from Nebraska, Phyl Manning is a widely traveled long-time educator who started teaching at age sixteen in a one room school house but did much of her 45-year service (classroom, curriculum, counseling, administration) at international schools overseas. She has lived and/or traveled extensively in the West Pacific, Southeast Asia (expanded to include Nepal and Sri Lanka) and Southern Africa as well as Europe. Her long-time experience/research/expertise/passion included international wildlife and the traditional Inupiat (Arctic Inuit).

Here, There and Otherwhere, Vol. 1, recounts adventures as an adult in overseas venues. Vol. 2 recovers adventures at various ages in domestic (U.S.) life. These will be her fourth and fifth books to see print.

Phyl Manning has a married daughter and family in Chico, CA, and a married son and family in San Diego.

Phyl has written a guest post for us on the importance of book covers.  At the end of her post, you will find an excerpt from one of her novels, a blog tour Elephantology contest announcement, and the opportunity to enter a giveaway for free copies of  Phyl's books. 

So without further ado, please join me in welcoming Phyl Manning!

Why Book Covers Are So Important

"Don’t judge a book by its cover!" is something I remember hearing even before I could read—but of course I judged books by their covers! I was three years old, and that cover was my way to recognize my favorite book (of the moment) whenever someone said he or she would (oh glory!) read to me. AND the cover design also helped me decide which unknown book to pick off a shelf.

Now I’m a whole lot older, and if the book is written by one of my favorite authors, I pay no attention to the cover. However, if it’s a NEW author, or someone I haven’t really decided on, yet—then you betcha! That cover is likely to become a major factor in my selection, even though I may be oblivious to my reasoning. Sorry, can’t help it. I’m human.

In my own writing, I’m "lucky"—surrounded as I am by talented family members and friends who are both artistic and generous. One daughter Irene is a magician on the computer, so she and I together have the final say. Her husband Steve carves big hunks of wood into "people" heads and torsos . . . and he granted me an appropriate picture of one of his carvings for Volume 1of Here, There & Otherwhere. Irene did the rest—the design itself and the (very important!) back cover which—artistically—had to contain certain specific information as well as appeal. Irene’s older sister Carolyn is a sculptress, and one of her creations graces the cover of Volume 2 in the two-volume series. An artist friend who lives in Paradise (no kidding! It’s a town in the Sierra foothills of northern California) has done the covers for two of my earlier books . . . exactly to my specified vision, and I can’t complain. In fact, the children’s book of African jungle animals he designed is a collector’s item.

Stephen King or Barbara Kingsolver, I’m not. I might be as good, as might you. But we don’t have the promotional chops. Therefore, we can be sure that much consideration by a potential purchaser is placed on our books’ covers. . . and on the covers of books by any author who is not well known.

Visit Phyl at http://phylsbooks.com or http://KalanaPress.com

About Here, There and Otherwhere

Here, There and Otherwhere are in two volumes published approximately one year apart, both anthologies of narrative nonfiction. The genre by its very nature (not memoir, not autobiography) requires true-life adventure with focus never on author per se but rather on what is happening under what conditions. In narrative nonfiction, the author is the story-teller but not ever the story itself.

Volume 1 takes place at some time during forty years overseas, mostly in settings such as the West Pacific islands, SE Asia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, southern Africa and involving often unusual people in a usually exotic settings along paths not often taken. Reader is allowed to accompany author on a high porch in the Nepali jungle awaiting a tiger . . . to be "mooned" by a herd of elephants . . . to find out what happens when a customer so much as touches a piece of fruit at a green-grocery in Northern Italy . . . to find out why we humans are prey as well as predators.

Volume 2 occurs mostly in the United States (two exceptions) over a span of a century and a half. How exciting are "the facts of life" when you are not yet five years old? Prone on low groundcover, can you survive the tornado ripping through your ballfield? How does it feel to continue living when the U.S. Government has pronounced you "dead"? And what happens to a tiger no longer willing to be "a tiger in [somebody’s] tank"?

Excerpt: 'Blood Relations'

My favorite cousin Bill and I were both four years old this summer, but I was more four than he, being nine months older. I was also a good bit taller than he. And more substantially built, as well, a condition which lost luster in subsequent years.
"You don’t like rutabaga," Bill told me.

I couldn’t argue with that.

"Or even spinach," he continued.
I tried to keep my nose from wrinkling.

"And that’s why my rabbit Fred is going to beat your Henry in the race."
I had no ready response because I was trying to figure out how the speed of a rabbit was conditioned by the diet of its mistress. But I stayed silent. After all, Bill was my smartest cousin.

"And because I eat lots of vegetables and fruit," Bill continued, "I’m going to grow taller and stronger than you." He let that pronouncement sink in before adding, "And also older."

Was that even possible? I hadn’t lived enough years to know the answer.

Blog Tour Contest: Elephants*Pachyderms*Elephantology

Sure, they can paint—but only YOU can write. Yes, about elephants. We’re hosting a two-level contest with (a) modest $$ winnings and (b) possible inclusion in Elephanthology, a planned anthology of elephant lore—short stories of fiction or narrative nonfiction (imaginative writing, not articles per se), poetry, flash fiction . . . all published with author’s name for each piece.

To find out more, visit Phyl's web site.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The merry month of May

May came and went in a blink of an eye this year.  From Virginia Beach to ConQuesT to the Arkansas Ozarks, there was not a day that passed that one could in any way call "boring".

Already ConQuesT seems far away, though it happened only last weekend.  We had a wonderful time with GoH Patrick Rothfuss and unofficial GoH George RR Martin.  Hadley Rille Books took the town with numerous editors, authors, and artists in attendance, including Eric T. Reynolds, Mark Nelson (launching his new book King's Gambit), Terri-Lynne DeFino, Christopher McKitterick, M.C. Chambers, Lawrence M. Schoen, Christopher Gerrib, and Tom Vandenberg.  For a great break down on all the fun, I invite you to visit this week's post by Mark Nelson on Heroines of Fantasy.

The day after ConQuesT, we jumped in a car and headed south for the first trip of our summer vacation.  This year we returned to the Arkansas Ozarks, which as some of you may remember, I also wrote about last summer in my post Music in the Forest.

I loved the Ozarks then; I continue to love it now.  The dense expanse of forest covering this ancient mountain range is simply magnificent, and late May is one of the best times of year to see it.  We stayed at Buffalo River Mountain Cabins, managed by the artistic and wonderfully friendly Merlyn Lazarow.  Our cabin was well off the road, nestled inside its own patch of forest.  I can still hear the wind roaring through the trees every evening, every night.  Utter peace and tranquility. 

On Wednesday we rented canoes and floated down a stretch of the Buffalo River.  The weather was perfect: sunlight over sparkling waters, occasional clouds and a constant breeze that kept the day warm without letting it get too hot.

I would have liked to have seen a bear or an elk, but you can't have everything, can you?   I would have also have liked to have stayed longer, but I am very grateful for the wonderful breather we had. 

One of the best parts of travelling is, of course, coming home.  While I was as happy for this homecoming as I have always been, it was also bittersweet because it marked the end of a truly great month.  The last of our ConQuesT guests departed yesterday, and now I have to wait another year before May offers its blessings again. 

That's not to say there's not more to look forward this summer.  First up in June: the Campbell Conference.  A small but friendly gathering of authors, scholars, editors, and fans, this is, hands down, my favorite SFF conference of all.  It has been offered by the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas every year since 1979. 

I also have Phyl Manning scheduled as a guest author later this week (complete with a contest and giveaway!), and toward the end of the month I will attend the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation meetings in San Jose, Costa Rica.

And of course, work continues on bringing High Maga to press.  The manuscript will go out for copy editing in the coming days, and Tom Vandenberg is poised to start his work on the cover art. 

Writing-wise, I'll spend the better part of the summer reworking the first 40,000 words (or so) of Daughter of Aithne, the third companion novel for Eolyn.

So stay tuned, as our summer adventure has only just begun.  I'm looking forward to enjoying it with all of you!

Photos courtesy of Rafael Aguilar Chaves