"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

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Appeal of the "Underdog"

Costa Rica's National Soccer Team
It's so exciting to be in Costa Rica this summer, with the national soccer team carving out its little piece of history in the World Cup.

A couple weeks ago, even Costa Ricans were doubtful that their team would make it past the first round. Group D, which included Uruguay, Italy, and England, was popularly referred to as El Grupo de la Muerte, or "The Group of Death".

Then on June 14th, Costa Rica defeated Uruguay with a stunning 3-1 win. Since then, the entire country has watched each game with bated breath, and celebrated each victory with increasing confidence and enthusiasm.

I watched yesterday's game against Greece on a small, old-style television set here in Las Cruces. We were a modest group, but we packed the room that was available to us. Many NAPIRE students and mentors opted to travel to nearby San Vito to see the event in restaurants and bars. It was a long and difficult game; toward the end our collective experience degenerated into a series of groans and cheers. We were all sweating so much our little room began to smell like a futbol locker.

Keylor Navas and Michael Umaña moments after making
When Keylor Navas deflected Greece's fourth shot, everyone in the room fell silent. Those seconds while Michael Umaña stepped forward, set down the ball, and prepared for his kick were probably the longest I've ever experienced during a soccer game.

Then in split second, it was over. The ball shot past Karnezis, and Costa Rica had won.

Costa Rica had WON!!

Shouts, dancing, and hugs exploded not only in our little TV room in Las Cruces, but across the nation.  For hours after the game, one could watch televised reports of the riot of celebration that took hold of Costa Ricans everywhere.

I've sung the praises of Costa Rica many times and for many reasons. Once again I'm impressed by how this little country holds in own in the big leagues, in politics, conservation, and now in sports. Not without effort, and certainly not without cost. But always with a sense of joyful determination, a passion for the game that often pays off.

Costa Ricans celebrate the win against Greece in one
of the major intersections of San Jose.
As a Gringa, I sometimes think my own country has lost something along the way when I witness events like these. We no longer seem to have national projects, not even in sports, that pull us together as a nation, and the fill us with shared joy when an extraordinary goal is reached.  The Olympics used to fill that hole, but those games don't seem to resonate among Americans like they used to when I was a little girl. The Space Program was another effort that brought the nation together decades ago, but that too has fallen out of fashion with the current generation.

Tomorrow, the U.S. team will play Belgium in the World Cup, hoping for its own spot in the Round of Eight. I'll be watching that game with baited breath, too. I hope we win, but even if we do, I know the party back home won't be nearly as good as yesterday's party in Costa Rica.

...Let me just close by saying that I simply must use the name Keylor in one of my future fantasy novels.

Pura Vida.
Felicidades, Costa Rica!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Will Hahn on the Good Fight

I'm delighted today to welcome author Will Hahn, as part of his blog tour for the new release Judgement's Tale from Games of Chance. 

Will Hahn has been in love with heroic tales since age four, when his father read him the Lays of Ancient Rome and the Tales of King Arthur.  He taught Ancient-Medieval History for years, but the line between this world and others has always been thin; the far reaches of fantasy, like the distant past, still bring him face to face with people like us, who have choices to make.

Will didn't always make the right choices when he was young. Any stick or vaguely stick-like object became a sword in his hands, to the great dismay of his five sister. Everyone survived, in part by virtue of a rule forbidding him from handling umbrellas, ski poles, curtain rods and more.

Will has written about the Lands of Hope since his college days (which by now are also part of ancient history). With the publication of Judement's Tale Part One, Games of Chance, he begins at last to tell the tale of the Land's most unique hero, The Man in Grey.

I've never had a post about writing fight scenes on this blog, so I've asked Will to do one as part of his tour.

Will is also raffling off a FREE copy of Tales of Hope, so make sure you enter the giveaway for a chance to win a great read.

Worth Fighting For: How to Write Combat

When Karin first asked me to do this post I was quaking with excitement. Ancient-Medieval History major, military history nut, figurines on my shelves, cardboard counter wargames all over the table, maps on the walls. I’m the guy your mom didn’t need to warn you about- you could warn yourself just fine. I know the difference between a mace and a main-gauche (it’s a big one) or a morningstar (not so big). More bits of useless trivia than you could shake a rhomphast at (after all, eight feet long with a hammer on one end, that’s tough to shake).

Then I thought about it some more, and I got worried.

I’ve SEEN combat, tons of it, in movies and reading about it in books. And I know what I like- everybody does. But the chef could explain all about gazpacho, and it still might taste like cold soup to you.

I can give you one piece of news you won’t find surprising- it’s very easy to do fights poorly.  Sometimes the description itself is “unrealistic” if that’s a word that applies to fantasy writing. More often, I think, you read a fight that serves no purpose- or to be accurate, it serves the wrong purpose at the time you read it. It’s almost as if the writer feels, when a fight or battle or war breaks out, they have permission to take off their thinking caps and just let ‘er rip.

War, especially today, doesn’t make a lot of sense to many people. I often see the bumper sticker that says “WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER”.

But your readers never stop wanting to know why.

When I see that bumper sticker, I always mutter “What was the question?” Writing about combat is the same as writing about everything else, in that you need to know:

The Stakes and
The Objective

It’s the conflict part that gets easier- fighting IS conflict (but maybe not the only one in a good fight scene).


I wrote a bit on this earlier when I gave my opinion at the blog site I share, on the various genres of fantasy. Basically, when the stakes are crucial (“Save the World”) the tale is Epic Fantasy: you tend to see combat less often, and the sides involved cannot afford mistakes because that would be the end. On the other hand, with casual stakes (“Save Your Skin”) fighting is more frequent, sometimes constant: these are Sword and Sorcery tales, and the fight can be trivial (it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an arm). Deciding the stakes of your tale will help inform the frequency and tone needed in your fights.

As an example of good fantasy fighting that many folks might know, I would recommend the incredible sword duel between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black from The Princess Bride. This is an example of the middle-ground in Stakes, Heroic Fantasy. The kingdom is at risk, or at least the future happiness of most folks in it- not just one or two lives, but not the entire world. Either combatant could die- it is set up as a fight to the death. But neither man is fighting only to save his own skin. In fact, the two men are not in combat for the same purpose, and that’s one reason it is so entertaining either to read or see.


The plot usually makes Stakes clear for the writer, but Objective- not so much. Again, the key is never to lose sight of “why”, which in my opinion relates to characters. Why are they in this fight? Because it’s been twenty pages since the last one?

The duel in Princess Bride is a great example. Inigo is fighting to kill the Man in Black- why? Because he’s been ordered to. Why is he taking those orders? Why is his boss so confident he’ll succeed? These questions come rolling out as you see the scene (for the first time, from Inigo’s PoV). You catch up- there’s flashback and humor and heart. You don’t know who the Man in Black is, but you don’t want Inigo to die.
And the Man in Black doesn’t seem to want to kill him. His objective is to catch up to the Princess- and now all your “why” questions remain unanswered. The author stiffs you completely- what a bum! But you are glued to the scene, and some of the most deathless descriptions of dueling and battle chatter ever recorded.

It’s Never NOT About Character

This is I think the final and best advice I can give you. Fighting is alien to ALL of us- unless you’re a war vet writing non-fiction. If you think you can make up for a wandering plot by having some people killed, or throw in a bunch of accurate detail about missile and shock weapons because you don’t know what should happen next, then you’re going to lose the readers. Combat scenes are almost always life and death- for your story.

Yes, you need to be familiar with what weapons and soldiers do. I recall rolling my eyes when halberds were getting thrown in combat (yes, it has a spear-end, but it also has an AX-BLADE, you think that might alter the balance a bit?). On the other hand, I have seen publication guidelines that promise any manuscript will be rejected if a character calls upon archers to “fire” their arrows, because presumably that wasn’t the call in medieval times. But I could live with the first action, if the thrower was really strong and desperate- it might be even better. And can you imagine Kiera Knightly in Pirates of the Caribbean turning to her crew and screaming “Loose!”? Not quite the impact the screenwriters were looking for.

Remember the characters are there for a reason and never stop telling us about that. Even when it’s armies fighting, look at what Tolkein did with Legolas and Gimli- their competition and argument over the finer points shows so much. It’s grim humor, and their pride on display- it implies that the fighting, in itself, is not much of a threat to two such experienced warriors, and of course it reveals a growing bond forged in a battle that now means something more because of what these characters carry through it.

Partway through my tale The Plane of Dreams, the Tributarians are camped in the open by a fire, about to get ambushed. They know it’s an ambush, and have prepared a surprise to turn the tables on their attackers. But what they most need is not to win- their assailants evidently wish only to rob them and, oddly, put them all to sleep. The Tributarians need information, they must capture at least one of the leaders alive and question him. So before the combat even starts, the stakes and objective are clearly off-center: and who really knows if an ambush-of-an-ambush can work?

This is your story, don’t be intimidated by a fight- would your heroes ever back down? Certainly not, but you serve them best by knowing their reasons and goals before the first blade leaves its scabbard. Good fortune to you!

Games of Chance

For twenty centuries the Lands of Hope prospered from their Heroes’ peace, but suffer now from their absence as a curse thickens over the central kingdom known as the Percentalion. An immortal omniscient conspirator schemes to escape the extra-worldly prison restraining his tide of undeath, using a demonic ally in a plot to bring back hell on earth. Solemn Judgement steps onto these Lands both a stranger and an orphan, driven to complete the lore his father died to give him.

In a world beset with increasing chaos, the bravest Children of Hope must take mortal risks. A young woodsman’s spear-cast, a desperate bid to save his comrades; the Healers Guildmistress’ cheery smile, hiding a grim secret and a heavy burden of guilt; the prince of Shilar’s speech in a foreign tongue, a gambit to avoid bloodshed or even war. As a new generation of heroes, scattered across the kingdoms, bets their lives and more, Solemn Judgement- soon to be known as The Man in Grey- must learn to play… Games of Chance: Part One of Judgement’s Tale

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Will's Blog Thoughts- Including tales of a happy childhood (which continues), hopes for a writer's journey, and analysis of Classics You've Never Read

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hadley Rille Books Indiegogo Campaign

I wanted to take a moment to let you know about Hadley Rille Books Indiegogo Campaign, which started on June 15 and will run through the end of July.

Those of you who have followed my blog know how very attached I've become to this small press. HRB is a wonderful family of publishing professionals committed to providing readers with quality fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction titles.  The press was founded in 2005 by Eric T. Reynolds, and since then has given a home to many authors and titles, with a clear emphasis on facilitating a greater representation of women in fantasy fiction.

If you enjoyed Eolyn and High Maga and would like to see more novels feature True Heroines, now is your chance to make a difference. Hadley Rille Books has hit some hard times this year, most notably with the massive stroke suffered by our founder and editor-in-chief last January.  The press is in need of additional funds to continue operations under these new circumstances, and also to expand its activities so that our stories are made available to as wide an audience as possible.

I invite you to watch Rose Reynolds' presentation about the press and its campaign below, and to visit Hadley Rille Books Indiegogo Page to learn how you can help.  Every donation, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated and make a positive difference in HRB's efforts to bring a universe of adventure to its readers.  Please spread the word to your friends and family as well. Everyone who is committed to promoting alternative voices in speculative fiction has a stake in this campaign. Together, we can make it happen.

Thank you in advance for your support!

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Bridges We Build

La Selva, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, Costa Rica


Today we saw
Peccaries        Bullet ants
Iguanas            Stingless bees
Motmots           Poison dart frogs
Howler monkeys
Strangler figs
Cycads and palms
Pipers and Melastomes
The Kapok (also called Ceiba) tree with its pale towering trunk
Inch worms
Crazy fruits
Roots that smell like pepper
Leaves that climb trees
Cement paths over nascent swamps
Fish the color of mud
Butterflies with a flash of sky on their wings

Tonight it rains water upon water upon water
Frogs chirp and crickets croak.



The Stone Bridge brings the visitor across the
Sarapiqui River and into La Selva's forest.
Today I gave an introductory lecture to the NAPIRE group about the forging of Central America.

This is a story I like to tell, one that I’ve shared with many different audiences in just as many different ways: How this mass of stone and fire tumbled upward from the ocean floor, laying a bridge between two worlds that had been separated nearly 140 million years.

The landscape of Central America, a crucible of perpetual struggle for control over the Panama strait and the San Juan River, was fixed at least a million years before the first individuals of the genus Homo walked the plains of Africa.

Fate determined by geography, or perhaps better stated, fate determined by the interaction between geography and human ambition.

Was there something in the creative impulse behind Central America that “reached” toward this role in the history of the planet?  Islands rose, sank, and rose again. Land masses moved north and east to make room for other contenders, fingers lengthened their reach toward the two continental land masses, until at last the gap was closed and the Great American Faunal Exchange ignited.

What was the Great American Faunal Exchange? An explosion of movement by animals, 3-5 million years ago, that marked the reunion of North and South America, and laid the foundation for a rich mosaic of ecosystems that characterizes Costa Rica today.

We’ve had countless bridges built across our history: physical, emotional, economic, psychological. Often these bridges have brought opportunity, exchange, new horizons and a brighter world.

Some of the animals that participated in the
Great American Faunal Exchange.
Yet on too many occasions, we have built bridges of destruction, unleashing forces that erode biological diversity, cultural diversity, linguistic diversity, and the rich heritage built by the deep and dramatic history of our planet.

Today I ask myself, “What kind of bridge do I want to be?”

I don’t want to be a Christopher Columbus bridge or a Captain Cook bridge. I don’t want to build bridges that conquer, homogenize, trample, or reduce.

I want to be a Costa Rica bridge; to tumble upward and stretch my spirit between worlds, to build new landscape for an extraordinary future; to lay down fertile soils that support verdant forests, to establish a place where diverse peoples find a common home.

This is my wish for the future. It’s a wish that seems within reach as NAPIRE 2014 gets underway, because in La Selva I'm not the only one who seeks to build this kind of bridge.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

EOLYN in Audiobook

At last!  The audio edition of Eolyn is now available through Audible and iTunes.

If you've already read Eolyn, this is a wonderful way to rediscover the power of the Magas.

If you haven't yet read Eolyn, now is your chance to join the adventure.

The audio edition of Eolyn is read by the incomparable Darla Middlebrook. Darla's tag line, bringing out the soul of the book, is realized in every moment of the story.  As I've said elsewhere, I couldn't be more thrilled with her interpretation of the characters and events of Eolyn. And I'm especially thrilled now that I get to share this with all of you!

As today's special treat, here's a preview of the audio book: Darla's reading from Chapter 3, 'The House of Sweetbread'.  In this scene young Eolyn, starved and exhausted after days of wandering lost in the forest, meets her mentor Ghemena for the first time.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Vote for HIGH MAGA in the June Cover Wars

Express your support for Thomas Vandenberg's stunning portrayal of Eolyn facing down a Naether Demon: Vote for the cover of High Maga in the Masquerade Crew's June Cover Wars.

The artwork for High Maga was inspired by one of the early scenes in the book, the first struggle in which Eolyn uses the enchanted Galian sword Kel'Barú. 

Eolyn's journey with the sword is not an easy one. She is averse to weapons of war and the violence they represent. Throughout book one of the series, she avoids learning sword play and relies almost entirely on her magic in open conflicts.

Yet Kel'Barú comes to her as a special gift, and she is the only one among her people who understands its strange metallic song.

In High Maga, Eolyn begins training with Kel'Barú under Akmael's insistence. Though she is a reluctant student, Eolyn soon discovers this weapon may hold the key to her people's salvation. It is the only weapon that appears effective against the Naether Demons, monsters released from centuries of darkness by blood sacrifice and sorcery.

Detail of Eolyn from the cover art.
For me, Tom achieved more than just an illustration when he interpreted Eolyn in this scene. He crafted an iconic image of the woman protagonist in fantasy fiction. Tom captures Eolyn's indomitable strength, her aura of sheer determination against an insatiable enemy. This is no sword-wielding sex kitten, but a true woman of extraordinary power and great beauty.

You can vote for High Maga every day this month.  There are many amazing covers in the competition, and you have up to 10 votes per day, so if you see something else you love, vote for that one too!

Want to know more about the scene that inspired this story? Visit my January 17th post.

Monday, June 2, 2014


Me and one of my old friends at Las Cruces.
The semester at Avila has ended, and all of the sudden I find myself in Costa Rica preparing for my next NAPIRE summer.

Those of you who follow my blog may remember that every other year I return to Las Cruces Biological Station in southern Costa Rica to participate in the Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience (NAPIRE) Program

Funded by NSF and LSAMP, this 8-week adventure brings together Native American and Pacific Islander undergraduate students, who conduct independent research under the guidance of experienced field ecologists. Students identify questions and hypotheses, design and implement their own experiment, and analyze, interpret, and present the results. All of this in the context of the magnificent mid-elevation tropical forest that characterizes the mountains of southern Costa Rica. 

I helped set up NAPIRE back in 2006, when I was still working full time for Duke University and the Organization for Tropical Studies. After accepting my current position at Avila University, I’ve returned every other year to participate in NAPIRE as a research mentor. This year I’ve taken on a new and somewhat daunting challenge: I will be co-coordinating the program with Barbara Dugelby. Our team includes two teaching assistants, Lelemia Irvine, a kukupu o ka aina of Hawaii, and Nicole Kenote, a member of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. 
NAPIRE Best Practices workshop in January 2014.
Diverse cultures, diverse minds, diverse forests.
Photo courtesy of Lelemia Irvine.

When the 2014 NAPIRE community is complete, it will consist of 20 students from various Native American Tribes and Pacific Islander Peoples, as well as 10 mentors from around the world. In addition, we will be welcoming mentors from our students’ home institutions as well as a tribal elder, Dr. Don Pepion, and a cultural practitioner, Ku'umeaaloha Gomes.

I have long had an instinctive love for NAPIRE. From the first time I heard about the program, I understood that this is one of those rare initiatives that could truly transform the world. Not from one day to the next, of course, but by planting seeds of change capable of germinating and flourishing long after the 8-week experience has concluded. This because NAPIRE not only teaches students science, it seeks to bridge the gap between scientific and indigenous knowledge systems — a gap that all too often seems insurmountable, abyssal in its depths, ready to swallow anyone who attempts to cross it.

As part of my personal preparation for this summer’s program, I have begun reading Grandmothers Counsel the World, a book by Carol Schaefer that consolidates the experience and wisdom of 13 women elders from different indigenous tribes.

In the foreword, Winona LaDuke makes a compelling argument that the current paradigm, driven in part by a Western approach to science, cannot show us the way out of the planetary crisis, because it is precisely this paradigm that created the problem the first place.

This is a difficult argument for an ecologist to read, even more difficult when the words sting with the weight of truth.

And so the question sticks in my mind:

Can science solve the problems science has created?

I have a feeling I will be mulling over this one for some time, perhaps the entire summer and beyond.

On the one hand, scientific advancement has allowed us to exploit the planet in a way never before seen in history.

At the same time, science has illuminated the extent of the damage we have done, and continue to do. Data gathered by scientists has often urged us into decisive action, as for example with the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Montreal Protocol (1987).

Science is extraordinarily powerful when it comes to deciphering the inner workings of the natural world, yet science offers little in terms of guidance regarding what to do with that information.

Where, then, can we turn for such sorely needed guidance?

Schaefer and LaDuke point to the Grandmothers and their collective wisdom, a rich reservoir of knowledge that spans hundreds, even thousands, of years. Indigenous knowledge systems, they argue, are not simply a place to start. They should occupy a central role in our collective effort to ensure a better, more sustainable future for all of humanity.

All of this brings me back to NAPIRE, a relatively modest effort to create a playing field on which scientific and indigenous knowledge systems interact on equal terms. Every summer I’ve joined NAPIRE has been a new adventure, each iteration distinct in many important ways from the last. Yet no matter the particular experiences of a given summer, I always come away with a deeper appreciation of NAPIRE students and the many cultures they represent. I know the much of the future rests in their hands, and that thought gives me a lot of hope.

This is one of many reasons why I am so excited that the door to NAPIRE 2014 is about to open, allowing me to participate in the many challenges and unique gifts this opportunity has to offer. I invite you to join me as a virtual companion when I step through that door, as the NAPIRE experience will be the focus of many posts from now through early August.

This is one adventure you do not want to miss. 

If you would like to know more about the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, please visit their webpage