"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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving Reflections

We're on holiday this week, so I won't be putting up a regular post.  But I did want to stop in and point you a few directions, in case you're looking for fun things to do on line.

On Heroines of Fantasy, Kim Vandervort has written a wonderful post about the many things writers have to be thankful for.  Her post really struck a chord with me - and also, reminded me that I need to write the acknowledgements section for High Maga!

Hadley Rille Books in the middle of its annual birthday sale.  ALL its ebook titles in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction are priced at just $0.99 through December 2.  That's 10 books in your ebasket for less than ten dollars!  Browse their fantastic collection of titles and stock up on your winter reading today.

High Maga is off for editorial review.  We've sent it to two magazines in the last week; and will forward the galleys to two more before mid-December.  After that, all we can do is wait and hope they pick it up for review.  Editorial reviews are generally published about a month in advance of the release date, so if there is news to be had, I'll be posting it toward the end of February or early March.  Wish me - and Eolyn - luck!

That's all for the moment.  Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and we will see you again next week!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rachel Carson: Past, Present, and Future

One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself:
What if I had never seen this before?
What if I knew I would never see it again?
~Rachel Carson

This week I finished reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the book that launched the modern environmental movement.

This classic has been on my TBR shelf forever and a day.  I don't know what it is about the classics; sometimes it's hard to sit down and get started on them when there is such a bottomless well of modern works to read.

What motivated me to at last read Silent Spring was the desire to explore Carson's life and work with an eye toward incorporating her as one of the case studies for our Avila University course Women and Science.  I won't be teaching Women and Science for at least another year and a half, but between the semesters in which we run the course, I am always looking for new material and new stories to add.

My own background in ecology has long made Rachel Carson an attractive option for this course.  Now I wish I had read her work sooner. 

I was prepared for Silent Spring to be an engaging account of the dangers of using pesticides with reckless abandon.  What I did not anticipate was the sheer volume of data Carson amassed. I had heard she was accused by the chemical companies of not backing up her arguments with data.  I mean, really.  Did they even bother to read the book?

Nor did I know just how gifted a writer Carson was; a master, really, of making complex scientific information readily accessible to the reader. Her prose is very reminiscent of E.O. Wilson; though perhaps it would be better to say that E.O. Wilson's prose is very reminiscent of hers.

Most of all, I expected Silent Spring to be a classic in the classic sense of the word: Outdated, for the most part, in the context of its field, a relic interesting for its historical significance but of little relevance for the modern world.  I couldn't have been more wrong on this account, and I found that realization rather depressing. 

Carson's landmark book led to the banning of DDT, dieldrin, and other problematic pesticides; as well as to a more balanced approach to how, when, and under what circumstances pesticides should be applied. 

Contrary to popular belief, Carson did not advocate abandoning pesticides altogether.  What her book urged us to do, and still urges us to do, is to tread lightly when introducing novel chemicals to the environment.  Chemical compounds new to nature should be used wisely, in targeted situations, and with a full understanding of their potential impacts. 

Rachel Carson passed away in 1964, but
her legacy and her message live on.
It seems a reasonable thing to ask, really, and yet still we struggle to rein in the profit-motivated agricultural and chemical industries. 

We may not spray indiscriminately anymore (though in some places we do), but now we have new inventions like genetically engineered plants that produce systemic pesticides, the full consequences of which are largely unknown.  We have extraction systems like fracking that inject a host of unrevealed chemicals deep into the earth, again with no attention to a full assessment of the impacts.  We have banana and pineapple plantations that jealously guard their pesticide recipes as "trade secrets", leaving laborers and consumers alike in the dark as to what degree of chemical exposure we are all dealing with.  

The list goes on and on, but I'm not really interested in recreating Carson's eloquent argument in a single blog post.  My reflection today centers on this compelling thought:

Some fifty years after her death, Rachel Carson has made it clear to me that the struggle to achieve a healthier planet is far from over. More importantly, she assures me it is a battle still worth fighting, because although sometimes it seems we are losing, it is also true that we have made many gains, precisely because people like Rachel Carson had the courage and tenacity to speak up. 

Such is the timeless power of the written word, the words of a woman and a scientist, the enduring words of Rachel Carson.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

It all depends on your point of view

This week I hit another milestone for Daughter of Aithne, topping 65K in the word count. My goal is 120,000 words, so this means I'm just over half way through the novel.

Writing is always slow going once the semester is in session. This fall, I've been able to set aside just two hours a week for writing, so I've had to be modest about my expectations, and happy with any progress I've made. As a general rule, if I can add on 20,000 words to a novel during a semester, I'm satisfied. Right now, my fall semester word count is at 15,000, which puts me a little behind schedule, but still hopeful that I'll make that goal. 

The chapter I finished up this week deals with a reunion between Eolyn and one of her students, Mariel, after a harrowing set of events has kept them separated for some time. The reunion is one of mixed emotions, because what has come to pass has left lasting scars, and what is yet to come will not be any easier.  I struggled with this one chapter for nearly a month; in part because I only have two hours a week to write, but also because it wasn't until this past Wednesday that I finally realized I needed to write the scene not from Eolyn's point of view, but from Mariel's.

NASA shows how the solar sytem looks from Saturn's perspective;
another example of how switching point of view can transform
the same scene into something entirely different.
This is one of the moments I love most in writing: When I switch the point of view, and everything just falls into place.

Every author has a somewhat different approach to point of view.  I like to write my novels with 4-6 character viewpoints, two of which generally carry the story.  For any scene written with the protagonist, the default option is always to write that scene from her point of view.  Of course, the default option is not always the best option, and for this particular chapter, Eolyn's voice was not the one that needed to be heard.

It's not always easy to determine which point of view should be used in a particular scene.  "Rules of thumb" for making this decision abound, but all of them have exceptions. 

For example, I once heard that the point of view for a scene should be given to the character who has the most to lose.  I followed this rule rather faithfully until I hit a chapter in High Maga that involves a brutal interrogation of one of Eolyn's followers.  I tried to write that scene from the point of view of the victim of the interrogation, and it just wasn't working.  When at last I decided to try writing the scene from the point of view of the interrogator, everything fell into place.

Beginning writers often have wobbly points of view in their stories; I know I did when I wrote the first draft of Eolyn.  We are anxious to communicate what all the characters -- or at least two of the characters -- in a given scene are thinking, and so we jump from one head into another without reason or warning. 

One of the best pieces of advice I received in my early days of writing was to clean up my approach to point of view; to pick one point of view and stick to it for any given scene.  Again, not every writer has to do this, and not every story is meant to be told this way.  But I think sticking to one point of view is a phenomenal tool for learning and refining the craft.  Not only does it maximize investment in a single character, but it also forces the writer to pay attention to all the subtle ways in which characters can communicate their thoughts without speaking, much less letting us into their heads. 

Gestures, facial expressions, and especially actions all communicate a wealth of information, and often in more engaging ways than knowing that character's thoughts. Also, there is an interesting interplay between what is said and what is left unsaid; one tends to wrap around the other, so that what is said defines the nature of what is not.  This, too, adds dimension, mystery, and tension to any scene. 

A great exercise, and one I inadvertently did with this last chapter, is to write the same scene from two points of view.  If you have it clear in your head what the non-point-of-view character is thinking, you will discover many opportunities in which those unspoken thoughts come across loud and clear.

I'm now proofing the galleys for High Maga, which will
go out for editorial review next week!
Over on Heroines of Fantasy this week, Terri-Lynne DeFino has started a fun discussion about holidays in fantasy.  Please stop by to read her post and participate, and help yourself to the virtual brownies at the back of the room.
Speaking of HoF, we are in the midst of planning a major expansion of activities on our group blog dedicated to the discussion of fantasy, and especially women in fantasy.  I won't reveal much about this yet, because the details are under discussion,  but stay tuned because it is going to be very, very exciting.
And I know I've been promising a cover reveal for High Maga for a while now; we are getting very close.  Thomas Vandenberg and I have been settling on the details of the Naether Demon featured on the cover.  He's also given Eolyn a mild makeover, and now we're just trying to decide what font we like best for the title and author.  As soon as these details are settled and approved by my editors, we'll be good to go. 
Release date for High Maga is still on course for 04-04-2014.  Watch for giveaways and other events leading up to the big day!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Changing Face of Eolyn

As part of DelSheree Gladden's Meet the Character Blog Fest last month, I wrote a brief post about how the art work depicting Eolyn has evolved with her character.  I'm reposting that essay here today, for those of you who may have missed it on the blog fest. The post includes another sneak preview -- the best yet -- of cover art for my new novel High Maga.

If you've already read this post, then I invite you to stop by Heroines of Fantasy this week, where we are having a lively discussion about whether an author's personal beliefs should influence our decision to buy his or her work. 

And, saving the best for last, please visit Hadley Rille Books new web site, which went live just last weekend.  If you're an author, make sure to check out HRB's call for submissions for its new Ruins anthology while you're browsing the site.

Enough news; here's my post.  Enjoy!

Images of Eolyn

The novels Eolyn, High Maga, and Daughter of Aithne tell the story of a woman struggling to define her own path in a world largely ruled by men. 

Cover art for EOLYN by Jesse Smolover
In the first novel, we meet Eolyn as a girl with a remarkable but forbidden gift.  Fleeing the soldiers of the Mage King, young Eolyn takes refuge deep in the South Woods.  When she meets the mysterious Akmael, destined to assume the throne of this violent kingdom, she embarks on a path of adventure, love, betrayal, and war.  Bound by magic, driven apart by destiny, Eolyn and the Mage King confront each other in an epic struggle that will determine the fate of a millennial tradition of magic.

High Maga is a companion novel that begins about four years after Eolyn ends.  Early in the story, Eolyn’s fledgling coven is destroyed and the kingdom invaded by an army that commands a terrible and malevolent magic.  Eolyn discovers a weapon that could unravel their power, and must find a way to deliver this weapon to her king. This is a darker novel than the first, deeply entrenched in the brutal realities of war.  And Eolyn is older, more mature and capable of taking on greater and ever more complex challenges.

The artwork for Eolyn and High Maga illustrates very nicely the evolution of Eolyn’s story and character between these two novels.  I’ve had the privilege of working with wonderful artists in both cases: Jesse Smolover, who did the cover art for Eolyn, and Thomas Vandenberg, who is putting the final touches on the cover art for High Maga. 

Detail from the cover art for HIGH MAGA
by Thomas Vandenberg
Jesse’s image of Eolyn captures her innocence and nascent power as she steps out of a sheltered life in the South Woods with the hope of restoring women’s magic to the life and culture of her people.

Thomas’ illustration for High Maga shows us Eolyn in battle, a vivid image of a determined woman who has already suffered loss and sacrifice, yet who refuses to surrender in the face of danger. 

I have loved Eolyn in all her stages of development.  It’s such a privilege to work with a complex character for whom every new experience becomes an opportunity for growth and change, and it’s really delightful to see these changes reflected in the artwork for my novels.

My third novel, Daughter of Aithne, is in the works so I can’t talk a whole lot about it, but I know that when we see the face of Eolyn for this final book in the series, it will be reimagined once more to reflect the added years of her experience and the changing context of her world. 

This post was originally published on October 22, 2013, on the blog for author DelSheree Gladden.