"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, December 25, 2013

Time to Rest and Recharge

I admit, I am somewhat relieved to see 2013 drawing to a close.  This has been a tough year in a lot of ways -- ways I'm not inclined to talk about in any detail on the internet.  But it has left me weary, and a little wary of what the new year will bring.  I've been reminded, in a rather grueling fashion, how difficult it is to let go, how quickly time slips through our fingers, and how some things will go wrong no matter how hard we try to make them right.

At the same time, 2013 has been a year of unexpected gifts and truly joyous moments. As I look forward to 2014, I see a mix of stormy seas and calm waters.  Intense challenges coupled with reasons for celebration; sadness and happiness all melded into one. 

If nothing else, 2014 will be an interesting year. 

Here are some of the good things we have to look forward to:

High Maga will be released on April 4th.  Words cannot capture how excited I am to at last be approaching the final stretch on bringing this novel to press.  When I come back in January, we will start the formal countdown with a cover reveal.  From there forward, every post leading up to April will be related to some aspect of the novel and its release. You'll see previews and excerpts, meet many of the most important characters, and learn about the world in which they live.  We'll have giveaways and other special events as well, so I hope you will be here to join the fun.

Heroines of Fantasy is expanding its activities to include new contributors as well as a book review section. Stop by the blog to check out our new look and participate in our weekly discussions and critiques.

Eolyn will be released in an audio edition.  Hadley Rille Books has now signed the contract with a wonderful reader, Darla Middlebrook. Exact date for the audio book release has not been set, but it's looking like late spring.  So, we'll be able to listen to Eolyn around the same time that we get to read the full adventure of High Maga.  Won't that be fun? 

The first week of the new year, I will be in Las Cruces Biological Station.  I've written extensively about this beautiful forest in the mountains of southern Costa Rica.  It's been a year and a half since I've returned, and I cannot imagine a better place to spend winter break and recharge for the new year.  If everything works out as planned, I will be doing field research there again during the months of June and July.  Another adventure to look forward to, and you can follow it here on my blog. 

Time to wrap up my last post for 2013.  I hope all of you who celebrate Christmas had a wonderful holiday with friends and family.  For everyone, I wish you the best in the New Year. 

Please check back in early January as we start our countdown to the release of High Maga. The adventure and the magic won't be complete without you!

Monday, December 16, 2013

On Characters Corrupted by Power

Isabella has secured her throne. Is it all downhill from here?
We are about half way through the second season of ISABEL, TVE's incomparable series based on the life of Isabella of Castille. 

I raved about this series in a previous post, and my admiration for the production has not faded in the least.  Season two, however, is a different ballgame from season one. 

In season one, we were allowed to support Isabella unconditionally in her thwarted efforts to achieve a peaceful co-existence with her half-brother, King Henry IV. We admired her without reservation as she defended her claim to the throne of Castile. The final episode, in which Isabella crowns herself without waiting for the presence of her husband or the support of the Cortes, is an unforgettable moment of triumph.  By then, we have come to care deeply about the fate of this remarkable and courageous woman, who along with Ferdinand of Aragon, promises to guide Spain into a new era of peace and prosperity.

Of course, any series based on history must be faithful to that history, and TVE makes no attempt to gloss over the horrors committed under Isabella and Ferdinand's reign. In season two, Isabella and Ferdinand become ever more entrenched in the self-made myth of monarchs appointed by a rigidly Catholic God.  They initiate the Spanish Inquisition against so-called Jewish heretics, and launch a brutal war to oust the Moors from southern Spain. 

It's not easy to like Isabella as she begins the marginalization and expulsion of a people whose only "crime" is the profession of a different faith. It's not easy to like Isabella as she allows her own lady-in-waiting, an innocent converso of 15 years, to be arrested and tortured under false charges. It's not easy to like Isabella as she, in defense of her crown, commits the same wrongs against her subordinates as were committed against her.

The series has given me much food for thought as I continue crafting Daughter of Aithne.  Eolyn and other characters who have suffered oppression in the past reach the pinnacle of their power in this third and final book of the saga.  How will the mantel of political power change my characters?  How will they respond in situations where the stakes are higher than ever, yet the future remains just as uncertain?  Will they be benevolent leaders, or will the game change make them just as pragmatic, paranoid, and brutal as their predecessors? 

All of these questions are running through my mind as I approach the 70K word mark in the novel.  70K is an important check point for me.  This is where I take a break from drafting new chapters and go back to re-read everything that has come to pass so far.  I will be filling in holes, making sure certain events are properly set up, and all and all getting a feel for whether I'm on the right track toward an appropriate denouement.

As I start that process, I have a couple questions for you:

Does it make you uncomfortable, as a reader, when a character with a demonstrated history of integrity begins making decisions you don't like, especially decisions that cause the suffering of others?

What stories have you read, where a character is transformed in negative ways under the influence of their own power?  Did it turn you off to the character, or did it make the character more intriguing for you?

Your answers may or may not have an effect on the particular story I'm telling; after all, the power is in my hands! But I look forward to hearing your thoughts, nonetheless.

This past weekend, ISABEL celebrated 40,000 followers on Facebook. 
And yes, I'm one of the 40,000!

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Making of a Cover

On the philosophy that I'll try most anything once, I've put EOLYN up against 16 other titles in the December COVER WARS, hosted by the Masquerade Crew.  Visit the site, peruse all the great covers, and VOTE for your favorite every day.  Most importantly, participate in the scavenger hunt so you can enter the giveaway for a $25 gift certificate from Amazon.

Submitting Eolyn for Cover Wars has made me a little nostalgic; I've been thinking a lot about the excitement that went into putting together this cover for my first novel. I still remember when my editor, Eric T. Reynolds, suggested we ask Jess to do the cover.  I loved the work Jesse did for the cover of Finder by Terri-Lynne DeFino, and I had been secretly hoping Eric would give him Eolyn as well. 

I don't think I quite realized at that time just how important the cover of a book was from a marketing stand point.  We always say, "Don't judge a book by its cover," but the truth is, most of us do.

If I had thought about the cover as a publicist, I might have taken a different approach than I did.  But I wasn't a publicist yet, I was still 110% an author.  More than a cover that would catch people's attention, I was thinking in terms of a cover that embodied essential elements of the novel.  I wanted the beauty of Eolyn's childhood home in the South Woods; and of course, I wanted Eolyn.  In addition to the haven of the forest, I wanted a glimpse of the larger world to which Eolyn returns; of a moment where she looks upon her destiny. 

Of course, it was a long road from the seed idea to the final product.  After our first conversations, Jesse sketched several preliminary versions. Here are a few:

In the end, we combined elements of all these sketches.  I wanted Eolyn standing, as sitting seemed too passive; and I wanted as much foliage on the trees as possible, to communicate the wildness and impenetrability of the South Woods.

Early in the process, we had considered doing a wrap-around cover that would include a scene of the South Woods on back. This is still one of my favorites of all the sketches Jesse sent. It depicts the river where Eolyn and Akmael first meet, and way in the background, you can just make out Ghemena's cottage.

For the sake of time constraints, we had to let this idea go, and instead focus on the front cover.  As Jesse filled in details and color, each sketch generated lengthy conversations about further edits and possibilities.  Here are some of the early versions of the full-color front cover:

I fussed over everything from the shape of the tree to the color of Eolyn's dress to the length of her hair.  Jesse was very patient with all of my feedback.  It wasn't until the very end that, at my behest, he included Eolyn's staff.  Now I can't imagine the image being complete without it. Eolyn's staff defines who she is, a High Maga whose power transcends the simplicity of her aspect and origin. 
From the last image in the above sequence, it was of course just a short hop to the cover art we've come to know and love.  Interestingly enough, the scene that Jesse and I created for the cover never actually occurs in the novel.  But again, my goal was to capture an idea or feeling, as opposed to a moment in the story.
As happy as I am with the final product, it would be dishonest for me to claim we accomplished everything I would have liked to with this cover. 
One thing I didn't realize until we were nearly done is that we hadn't really captured the deep conflicts that run through the novel. Akmael and the war brought on by his shared history with Eolyn are nowhere to be seen. 
And while I love the lush landscape painted by Jesse, the overall brightness probably gives the impression of Eolyn as a much lighter story than it truly is. Everyone seems to like the cover of Eolyn, but once in a while people look at the book and ask if the novel is YA or (what really makes me cringe) written for children. 
The answer to both questions is no. Eolyn, in terms of the level and complexity of its conflicts, is an adult epic fantasy.  Because the violence and the sex are not explicit, it is appropriate for younger readers; many YA readers have picked it up and greatly enjoyed it.  The companion novel High Maga, however, will not be as accessible for a young market. The events of High Maga are decidedly darker, the world brutally and passionately adult. Using what I learned from putting together the cover for my first novel, I've been working with artist Thomas Vandenberg to make sure this is communicated on the cover for High Maga.
But that is a story for another day. . .
Please stop by the Masquerade Crew's COVER WARS and vote for Eolyn. You can vote every day. Best of all, participating in the scavenger hunt (also posted below) will earn you entries in the giveaway for a $25 Amazon gift certificate. 
Thanks so much for your support, and good luck with the drawing!

a Rafflecopter giveaway