"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, August 27, 2013

On Serendipity and the Dance

Flamenco dancer Manuela Carrasco.
The single most important skill of the
craft is attitude.
Dance has been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember.  I started my classical training at the age of eight.  Like many little girls, I dreamed of being a ballerina, though I never quite had the body for it.  The decision to set dance aside as a career option and pursue a more academic line of work happened early in high school.  Even though I did not go on to be a professional, I have never stopped dancing, or stopped studying dance.

In a way, not pursuing a professional career in dance set me free.  From that moment on, the pressure to reach a competitive level of excellence was off, and I could just dance for fun. When I went to college, I joined the dance theater at my university, where I was introduced to modern dance. For the next twenty years, modern dance would be my favorite art form. I studied it with various instructors in Houston, Austin, and most recently in San Jose, Costa Rica.

It wasn't until I moved back to Kansas City, ironically enough, that I plunged into flamenco.  At the time, I was most interested in continuing to study modern, but my sister, a long-time member of the Kansas City dance community, recommended that I check out flamenco classes with Tamara Carson of OLE Dance and Music of Spain.

This was not the first time I'd encountered flamenco.  I had a brief introduction to it in high school, and took a few classes again as a grad student at the University of Texas in Austin.  Though flamenco had long fascinated me, I don't think I was quite ready for it until I stepped into Tamara's class and hit the dance floor with my first golpe.  After that, I was hooked forever.

Why flamenco? 

Well, first and foremost, flamenco is attitude. This was probably the number one reason why I decided it was time to learn it. The steps, the rhythms, the postures and facial expressions all communicate the same fundamental message:  Don't mess with me.  At the time I started taking flamenco, I felt the need to internalize a little more of that kind of grit.

Flamenco is also passion and sensuality. Passion in every sense of the word:  anger, desire, love, loss.  Whatever the emotion of the moment may be, flamenco challenges us to live it to the fullest. 

Me and some of my KC flamenco buddies.  Guitarrist Jarrod
Stephenson on the left; Tamara Carson third from the left.

Most of all, flamenco is support.  I've rarely encountered such a community-oriented, supportive form of dance.  This is an art form that a person can do whether they are eight years old or eighty.  No matter what your age or skill level, your compañeros, both dancers and musicians, unite to support you, to ignite the fire inside and help you show attitude, passion, and sensuality without holding back.

Long before I started flamenco classes, I had decided to incorporate dance as a form of Primitive Magic in Eolyn's world.  Still, flamenco gave me a new window on how that magic might manifest itself.  The dance shared by Corey and Eolyn on Midwinter's Eve, for example, has always had a flamenco style in my imagination.  Not with any taconea (footwork), but with the very elegant movement of the arms, the intensity of the focus, and the studied steps that dominate slower moments in the music.

One curious aspect of my journey with flamenco (and yes, I'm finally getting to the serendipity part) is that it has closely paralleled my journey as a writer, as well as Eolyn's journey as a character. 

When I first started classes with Tamara, I was finishing up the final draft of Eolyn.  So incorporating that flamenco attitude was also about building confidence in myself as a writer and artist as I contemplated sharing Eolyn with the larger world.

One of dances I learned during this period was Sevillanas. A classic introduction to flamenco, this dance is not simple, but the footwork is relatively straightforward, so you can really focus on finding and expressing your own personality as a flamenco dancer as you learn the steps.  It is also a dance performed with a partner, so you are never alone.  Partners cue off each other in the same supportive and playful fashion that makes all of flamenco so wonderful. 

Here's an example of Sevillanas  (and no, it is NOT being danced by me; the artists are Fanny Ara, Marina Elana Scannell, Jason Macguire, and Felix de Lola):

Of course, I found my partners in publishing during this same period, at Hadley Rille Books.  And we've been dancing ever since!

When I started working on my second novel, High Maga, Tamara began teaching us Tangos de Malaga.  This is a very difficult dance that I still struggle with.  It is serious in tone and aspect, and the lyrics are focused on themes of death, poverty and overall misery. The dance fit almost too well with the war-time context of my second novel, and I found I was able to capture the essence of more than one of my characters through learning it. 

Here is Tangos de Malaga; this video features Kansas City's very own Alma Flamenca, with Jarrod Stephenson on the guitar and Margaret Gordon dancing:

After Tangos de Malaga, Tamara gave us a short break with Alegrias, an all around happier dance that lets you smile once in a while. At the same time, I gave myself a short break from the darker side of Eolyn's world.  When I returned to writing to start Daughter of Aithne, Tamara began introducing her flamenco class to Tientos.

According to the story I heard, Tientos was originally crafted to be danced by men. So it has a very masculine feel about it, and often women who perform it will wear slacks and vests.  Tamara couldn't have picked a better dance to get me in the mood for Daughter of Aithne, because in Eolyn's third and final book, it will be the women who, in many cases, must wear the pants.  Figuratively speaking, of course. 

Here's a sample of Tientos, featuring Marina Elana Scannell once again:

Needless to say, I'm, uhm, still working on that footwork. . . 

That's today's post.  I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the dance and music of Spain, and especially my musings on how one creative art can feed into another.

As a finale, I offer this brief medley of OLE's wonderful repertoire. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Exciting News and Fun Interviews

Great news!  I met with my editor Eric T. Reynolds last week, and the release date for High Maga is now official.  Officially official.  I mean, it can't get any more official than this!

First we said Spring of 2014.

Then we narrowed it down to April.

For the last several weeks, I've had my countdown timer set to April 26, just to play it safe.

And now (drumroll) here is the date as confirmed by the chief editor of Hadley Rille Books himself

April 4, 2014.

That's right: 

Easy to remember, but mark your calendars anyway. 

For those of you who have been watching the clock, I'm sure you're happy to realize your wait has been shortened by a full 22 days! As soon as the ARCs are ready, I'll be hosting some pre-release events and giveaways.  I cannot wait to share this story with you!  But, unfortunately, I have to wait, just a little while longer.

In the meantime, check out the sneak preview of the amazing cover art below!

Speaking of exciting events, author Deb Sturgess hosted me on her blog recently with an audio interview for her series, Embrace Magic, a weekly conversation about fantasy and romance.  We had a great chat about what inspired Eolyn, the importance of flawed characters, challenges of publishing, and keeping everything in balance in the life of a writer.  Please stop by Deb's blog to listen to the interview, and to share your comments and questions. 

Tonight I'll be heading over to Prospero's Uptown Books for open mic readings.  The topic?  Animals!  I've got a lot of material I could offer, but for the moment I've narrowed it down to either the wolf fight between Akmael and Eolyn, or Selenia and the Mulian Dragon from 'Creatures of Light'. (Suggestions and preferences would be much appreciated!) I'm also very much looking forward to hearing stories from other KC area authors.  It should be a great time, and I hope you'll stop by if you're in the neighborhood. 

SNEAK PREVIEW:  Here's a small piece of the cover art for
High Maga, currently in progress by Thomas Vanderberg

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A time to live, a time to die

The Death of Arthur, by John Mulcaster Carrick 1862
"I may not be able to save her, but I can bear witness to her fate as a friend, and I can stand nearby when she meets her darkest hour."
~Mage Corey, from High Maga

A couple years back I had a very interesting experience while doing a beta read for my good friend and fellow author Terri-Lynne DeFino. 

In the original version of the manuscript she sent me, one of the major characters faded into the background during the last third of the book. This situation didn't sit right with me. 

On the one hand, the story was very well constructed up to the last page; lots of tension, uncertainty, and conflict all around. Terri had tight character arcs for everyone -- except this particular individual. He had played a crucial role in the first part of the book, but by the end it was like reading about a ghost, a person unseen and without any power over the events at hand.

Then it hit me:  I felt like I was reading about a ghost because this character was a ghost. Terri had passed through a crucial moment in the story when he should have died, but did not. 

When I brought this to Terri's attention, she knew immediately that I was right. In fact, she confessed that for several reasons she had conscientiously resisted the instinct to 'kill' him in precisely the same place that I identified as his moment to die. 

Terri went on to 'fix' this part of the manuscript before the book went to press, making the character's story much more fulfilling, moving, and heroic.  More worthy of the extraordinary person he is. (In case you're curious, her wonderful novel is now available as A Time Never Lived, another great title from Hadley Rille Books.)

When Terri and I first had this discussion, I was not new to killing characters.  I had sent a fair share to their deaths in Eolyn. As for High Maga, it is a veritable blood bath by comparison to my first novel, as many of you will soon find out.

Letting my characters die time and again hasn't been easy for me, but I've done it, for the most part because I've recognized how important those deaths are for plot, tension, and story building.

Sure, we all wish Romeo and Juliet had lived, but would their
story be nearly as compelling if it were written any other way?
But in reading Terri's manuscript, I gained a new perspective on this age old aspect of the craft. I learned that in order to truly respect a character, we must allow him or her to meet their destiny, especially when that destiny is death. 

If we force a character to live past their moment, we condemn them to being a ghost in our fictitious worlds, to becoming personalities without form or reason; the types of characters our readers tend to get annoyed by and may even come to hate.

If we allow them to die in their moment, we give greater meaning to their life.  Everything they desired, fought for, did or failed to do stands out in sharp relief against the impact of their absence.  The reader comes to appreciate the character more, to remember them better, and to say long after they finish reading the book, "If only he  (or she) hadn't died. . ."

All of this has come back to me in recent days, because in the writing of Daughter of Aithne, I've had to let another character die. Who, how, or why  is irrelevant at the moment (after all, this particular death may be edited out again by the time the novel hits press).  What matters is the impulse it gave me to share these thoughts with you.

Like Mage Corey in the war-torn world of High Maga, we as authors cannot always save our characters.  But that's okay, because sometimes what's more important is to bear witness to their fates; to stand close by when they meet their darkest hour.

I have a fun post up this week on Heroines of Fantasy about The White Queen, and how the incomparable Philippa Gregory has inspired me as an author.  Stop by to read and share your thoughts when you have a chance.
Also, my Orangeberry Book Tour will continue next week on August 19th with a guest post on the Quality Reads UK Book Club.  Please stop by to say hi, and by all means, share the link with your friends!

I hope you are in for a great weekend.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Interview with author Mark Nelson

It's my pleasure to welcome author Mark Nelson as a guest today. 

I met Mark through Hadley Rille Books.  Mark is a career educator and for the last twenty-two years has been teaching composition and literature at a small high school located in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains in eastern Washington State.  He is happily married to his best friend and fellow educator, and together they have raised three beautiful daughters and one semi-retired cat.  Words, music, food and parenting permeate his life and serve as a constant source for inspiration, challenge and reward.  To temper such unremitting joy, Mark plays golf: an addition that provides a healthy dose of humility.  You can visit Mark at the Heroines of Fantasy.

I have read Mark's novels Poets of Pevana and King's Gambitboth set in the vibrant fantasy world of Pevana.  Mark is a great new voice in fantasy, and I recommend his work to anyone who enjoys stories with a heavy dose of danger, intrigue, adventure, and romance. 

Now, without further ado, here is our interview with Mark:

Q: Tell us a little bit about your novels Poets of Pevana and King’s Gambit.
The Poets of Pevana and King's Gambit are my first two novels published by Hadley Rille Books. They are set in a mock historical, pre-industrial, medieval region called the Peninsula, which comprises the realm of Perspa and a handful in independent city states. The region is beset by religious and political machination. Some folks care. Some don't. The ones that do struggle to find a voice to protest. Poetry, plans and passion all play a role in the events that unfold.

Q: The world of Pevana is wonderfully complex and very original in the context of fantasy, especially with its emphasis on a culture of poetry.  What inspired the characters and world of Pevana?
The Poets of Pevana started as a result of my online interaction with fans of the rock band Styx on a message board dedicated to discussing the band and music in general. The community quickly morphed into something that went well beyond rock and roll and related topics. I met several fellow poets on the site and one in particular, Joey Barat, aka Devyn Ambrose, became an online friend. We started having these poetry duels on the site where we had to make something out of unrelated terms posted by the other. We posted our results on the website message board and the other community members loved it. We kept it up for months and the seeds for what became the core of Poets were sewn.

I figured out early on that there was a story here. I kept seeing pie-slices of experience all intersecting at certain points--in this case a rowdy festival in a mock medieval city.
King's Gambit got started soon after I finished the first draft of Poets, but I stalled out after a few chapters. I realized the story would be more convoluted, more political, and I was not sure I had the time or skills to pull it off. King's Gambit's plot never changed much from those early whiteboard notes. The people we see in the tale were all laid out in notes jotted down over an extended period of time. What surprised me about King's Gambit is the extent to which the characters took over the story from me. The first draft was heavily dependent on the male points of view. And yet I found myself liking Eleni's character the most after finishing Poets. When my editor TeriLynne DeFino suggested King's Gambit was more of a woman's book, I took a while but then warmed up to the irony of it: a war story dominated by the sensibilities of some cool ladies.

Both novels include my verse. That was always my intention: to find a way to incorporate that part of my expression in a story format. I do not think that has been done seamlessly before--at least not in my reading experience. For me, bard stories all tended to be sword and sorcery tales with only a thin veneer of the poetic sensibility in them. I had a feeling my format would be a little different from the ordinary. So far, I think I have stayed true to my original intent and design. What I find interesting is how people have responded to the various verses that show up. I am told they actually 'sound' like they come from the characters, and I think that is an enormous compliment--and in some ways a happy accident. I'm not sure how much control I exerted there, but eventually, even I 'heard' the characters voices in the words EVEN THOUGH SOME OF THE POEMS IN THE STORY ARE QUITE OLD! Yes, a few pieces actually predate the drafting phase of Poets. Eleni's poem 'Dust' is one of them. Somehow it fit, and as the story grew, Eleni's verse started taking on terse, linear qualities based on rhythm rather than modulated, horizontal cadences based on end rhyme. A few of the bits in Talyior and Devyn's duel, some of the earliest bits of the draft, actually, came from my duels with the real Devyn online, edited for continuity in the story. I didn't go into this thinking to write in multiple voices, creating this buffet-line of poetic line, but in the end the synergy between sensibility and story happened. I rather like the effect.

In the end I wanted to tell a story about how politics can suborn faith and twist it into a false expression. I wanted to write a story about small lives that intersect with great ones and great events. I wanted to write a story that paid homage to the power of words and the need to comment on life. I wanted to write a story relating how the choices we make ultimately shape our character.

Q: Do you have a favorite character (or characters)?
I love all my characters, even the detestable Byrnard Casan and the corpulent Sevire Anargi. Early on, obviously, Devyn and Talyior claimed my attention, but as I mentioned above, Eleni Caralon grew on me, as did Prince Donari. Hence their intensified roles in King's Gambit.  I loved developing the notes for Sylvanus Tamorgen, the Tyrant who wanted to be a grandfather. But the two who I really took a liking to over the course of King's Gambit were Lyvia, Sylvanus's daughter and Demona Anargi, Sevire's estranged wife. Both gals more than hold their own in King's Gambit. Kembril Edri still haunts my sleep. I hated what happened to him, but Devyn's character is an outgrowth of Kembril's persona. Eventually, I'd like to codify the folk tales of the region, as told by Kembril as he sat there beneath his oak tree in the holy dust of the Maze.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of writing Poets of Pevana? King’s Gambit?
The most challenging aspect of writing both novels has been getting stuff past my editor! Terri-Lynne DeFino took a chance on Poets, but since then we have become adept at working with each other. I have a number of bad habits, and she consistently points them out to me when I write them. I have learned how I compose from going through the editing/publishing process. These have been hard but great lessons. I've taken them back into the classroom with me to good effect. I thoroughly enjoy writing. One of the reasons I started Poets was to see if I could gain the discipline needed to see a story through from beginning to end. I love keeping track of my word count, pushing myself to keep aware of my flaws, to keep track of cliche and repeated language. Writing makes me a sharper thinker. I love the medium as a mode of expression.

King's Gambit is a much larger story. It also ended up being a bit longer than Poets. But the ideas were big, the risks greater both for me and the characters. I had to juggle points of view in Gambit, had to concern myself with pace and event more precisely. I had to let some characters tell the story and let go of the narrative control--with happy results, I think. I had to gain and lose some people. I'm no GRRM: that stuff still hurts.

Q: Do you have any new projects underway?  What can we expect for the future?
I am currently editing/revising book three in the cycle, tentatively titled Path of the Poet-King. It relates the events that happen just after the close of King's Gambit. I am slowing down a little in an effort to smooth out rough spots and make adjustments to the plot necessitated by things that happen in King's Gambit.  Demona's character is much more fully realized now, and that has forced me to re-do chunks of the new book for continuity. It helps that I am working from an already completed draft. Book four is yet to be written. In fact, I was settling down to begin book four two years ago when I looked at the pile of story I had on my lap and decided to try and shop the first book. I felt I owed it to myself to at least try. DeFino liked Poets,and the rest is now my future: writing.  Book Four, King's Peace, is heavily noted, plotted for the most part and might conclude the story arc with my Pevanese characters. And yet even as I type this, I am not so sure. I keep seeing a line at the end of this as yet unwritten book: "Come, let's go find that shade of green..."  So, you never know. THAT is another reason why I love writing: there are surprises behind every verb, metaphor, and sound.  If my work ever receives a box set treatment, I would like to call it Pevanese Mosaic. Just saying...

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
My advice to aspiring writers is to stop posing as what they think is a writer and actually write. Finish something. Tell the truth--even if it’s a made-up truth. Search out and accept constructive criticism. Feedback is vital even it if rips apart your illusions. You write better when you understand the depth of the contract between writer and reader. And I think it is ok to write for pleasure alone or for close friends and family. An audience, no matter how small, is a cool thing. In the end what we produce adds to the collective experience.

The publishing adventure has changed my life and how I see the rest of it passing. Words are now more important to me than ever, and I can't wait to see what happens next. I feel lucky to be part of the HRB family. Good friends, great writers, awesome people. I am glad to be a small part of it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Savegre Lodge and Ballena Marine National Park

The resplendent quetzal, king of the highland forests
of Talamanca, is set to make a cameo appearance in
Eolyn's third companion novel, Daughter of Aithne.
This week Avila University professor Amy Milakovic and I did a scouting trip for a new course we plan to offer next spring, entitled Ecology through the Writer’s Lens.  The course was inspired during my residency for the Long Term Ecological Reflections (LTER) program at Andrews Experimental Forest in the mountains of Oregon (see my May 2011 posts). 
Like the LTER project, our goal is to integrate scientific and literary approaches to understanding the forest. Of course, we will be working on a much shorter time scale than LTER.  The program at Andrews Experimental Forest is set to run about 300 years; our course will run about 10 days.  Still, it’s going to be a fun and memorable experience for us as professors and for all our students.

On the scouting trip, we visited Savegre Lodge, nestled in the oak forests of the Talamanca Mountains, at about 2300m elevation.  Fans and followers of Eolyn know by now that these are the magnificent forests that inspired Eolyn’s childhood home in the South Woods.
Ballena Marine National Park, Costa Rica
After a night in Talamanca, we visited La Cusinga Lodge in the Pacific lowlands, surrounded by tropical rainforest and overlooking the stunning Ballena Marine National Park.  Along the way, we saw quetzals, monkeys, whales, and all kinds of other wildlife.   We travelled with long-time friend and colleague, Jose Rogelio Vargas, owner of Ruta Verde Tours.
While I was off the grid, Mark Nelson wrote a wonderful reflection for Heroines of Fantasy, marking our 100th post for the blog.  Mark contemplates the same question we will be asking in our upcoming course:  How do the landscapes we encounter inspire the stories we write? Please stop by to read Mark’s post and share your thoughts on this topic.

A howler monkey in the lowland rain forest
Next week, I’ll be starting a blog tour with Orangeberry Book Tours.  The tour will last through September, including guest posts, interviews, reviews, giveaways, Twitter views and Twitter blasts.  Eolyn will also be one of the featured titles for the Orangeberry Book Expo, which runs through the end of August. For the full schedule, visit my author page at OrangeberryBook Tours. I will, of course, post events as they occur here, as well as on my Facebook page and Twitter account for Eolyn.
That’s the news for now.  Enjoy the sunny weeks to come. Autumn is on its way.

Members of this week's tropical expedition (from left to right):
Dr. Amy Milakovic, Rafael Aguilar, me, Jose Rogelio Vargas