Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes: Judith Starkton and Hand of Fire

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Judith StarktonIn this week’s episode of Behind the Scenes, I’d like to introduce you to Judith Starkton. Judith writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. She’s a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and humanities. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their Golden Retriever Socrates.

I recently interviewed Judith about her new release Hand of Fire. Before we dive in to the interview, I thought you might like to know a little more about Hand of Fire

In the Iliad, Homer gives only a few lines to Briseis, the captive woman who sparked the bitter conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon. Hand of Fire brings Briseis to life against this mythic backdrop. Thrust into leadership as a young woman, she must protect her family and city. Sickness and war threaten. She gains much-needed strength from visions of a handsome warrior god, but will that be enough when the mighty, half-immortal Achilles attacks? 

And now to pull aside the wizard’s curtain…

Hand of Fire CoverM: One of the things that fascinated me about your story was how you looked at what it would have been like if the Greco-Roman/Anatolian gods were real. What inspired you to blend history and fantasy in this way?

J: My novel tells Briseis’s story, the captive woman who triggers the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon in Homer’s Iliad. Homer’s poem depicts a world in which a goddess rises from the sea to comfort her mortal son and the fate of the war is determined in an assembly of the Olympian gods. I enjoyed keeping some of those fantasy elements in my novel.

By treating the gods as real, I was able to enter into the historical mindset of the period I portray—walk in my characters’ sandals, so to speak. The Greeks and Trojans thought of their gods as real and that included their gods’ direct interference in mortal lives. While I’m sure a Greek soldier of the Late Bronze Age would have been terrified to meet a god in the course of his daily life, he wouldn’t have been surprised by the god’s presence.

We often think of myth as trivial or frivolous and not genuinely religious, but to these Bronze Age people (and this wouldn’t be true of the much later Romans) these myths had immense power. We have rites recorded on clay tablets unearthed from this period from other cities similar to Troy. Those rites include the recitation of myths at public festivals as powerful analogic magic. So, for example, in my novel, Briseis as a healing priestess, makes a prayer for the fertility of her city’s fields, herds and women by reciting the story of how the god who oversees such well-being was wooed back from abandoning his people. By telling this story of the divine restoration of fertility, Briseis and her people believed that a similar restoration would truly happen in their midst. They paired the recitation with sacrifices and offerings to entice the necessary god to be present and then magically won him over with the telling of his myth. It’s an exciting world to depict because the blend between fantasy and reality isn’t nearly as sharp as the modern world would have it. Being historically accurate didn’t for a minute exclude exploring the mystical, otherworldly elements I enjoy so much.

M: You mentioned that your main character, Briseis, was based on a historical figure. How much is known about the real Briseis, and how did you choose when to stick to history and when to invent something for the sake of a good story?

J: As far as the plotline of Briseis’s life goes, we only know a little from Homer, who may or may not reflect historical memory rather than myth. We have no truly historical records that mention Briseis. Homer tells us that she was a princess of Lyrnessos captured by Achilles, and Achilles slaughtered her three brothers and husband. But sadly, we don’t know if she really lived or not. She might be a figment of the bard’s imagination.

We do, however, know a wealth of detail about life around Troy in the Bronze Age thanks to recent archaeological finds, including extensive Hittite clay tablet libraries found in the city of Hattusa. Everything I made up in order to construct a flesh-and-blood life story for Briseis is grounded in historical fact, but I did have to imagine quite a bit. For example, I made her a healing priestess, a position in Hittite/Trojan life that comes straight from the cuneiform tablets, the most concrete (clay?) evidence we have about this culture, but I was the one who imagined that this real job was Briseis’s. Giving her these duties allowed me to build connections between Achilles and her. As a priestess she is tuned into her protective god from an early age—and that turns out to be an interesting link to her experiences with Achilles. Also Achilles was a famous healer as well as the most deadly of the Greek warriors, so they find common ground in this area as well. I was able to tie the mythic with the historical smoothly by using the solid historical details I found in the tablets because it was a culture that saw the world of the gods as directly interfacing with the world of man.

M: For writers who are working on a historical fantasy or a straight historical novel, what’s the best piece of advice you could give them?

J: Connect with the rest of your writing community because your friendships there will be the bulwark you’ll need as you try to get published and as you keep to the job of putting the words down every day.

Also, make sure you get the history right but don’t forget that the story comes first. Can any of us imagine loving Tolkien if he hadn’t used all that amazing medieval history, but would we have been glued to Lord of the Rings if it had been overburdened with that history? That goes whether it’s fantasy or straight historical.

M: What one theme or message do you hope readers will walk away with when they finish your book?

J: Hand of Fire explores why some people, women especially, can survive great tragedy and violence against them, even managing to take delight in what life still has to offer. Despite being a book about war with a lot of death and violence, the fundamental theme of Hand of Fire is one of hope. I think people will come away with a renewed sense of the resiliency of humanity and of women in particular.

M: I don’t want to give any spoilers so I won’t mention details about your ending. I would consider your ending hopeful, but not necessarily happy. What prompted your decision to leave it open-ended? Will we be seeing more books in a series or is this a standalone novel?

J: Although my next book published will be the first in a historical mystery series I’m writing about the Hittite Queen Puduhepa (now also a sleuth!), there will be a sequel to Hand of Fire. I didn’t anticipate a sequel when I started writing Hand of Fire, and the open-endedness you mention was a direct product of the themes that I was integrating, rather than an attempt to set up for another book. But the ending does invite the story to continue, and I’ve already started the research for that book. This spring I spent five weeks in Turkey and on the island of Cyprus, getting a detailed sense of new settings and talking to some fascinating archaeologists about what women of this period could do in the form of launching new lives, so to speak. It turns out, women had a lot of room to maneuver in and Briseis has a lot of opportunities to choose from. I’ll be consulting with her via imagination and see what she thinks! It’d spoil the ending of Hand of Fire if I revealed the central theme of the sequel, but it’s an idea I’ve been intrigued by for a long time and I’m glad Briseis is giving me the chance to ground it in a good story.

An excerpt from Hand of Fire, book reviews, ancient recipes, historical background as well as on-going information about the historical fiction community can be found on Starkston’s website www.judithstarkston.com. You can also connect with her on FB or Twitter.

Hand of Fire can be ordered through your local bookstore and is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most other online outlets.

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Behind the Scenes: Ava Louise and Mail Order Brides in Space

Ava LouiseI have a special treat for you in this episode of Behind the Scenes. I asked Ava Louise to write a guest post for me because of how much the idea behind her series Intergalactic Matchmaking Services intrigued me. I don’t want to give too much away–I’ll leave that for her post–but I do want to introduce you to her.

Here’s what Ava said about herself:

I was born an Army brat overseas, and have been married to a retired Navy sailor for 25 years. Life in the military has given me many opportunities to see different parts of our beautiful country. Currently, we live in the Midwest. Since writing came to me later in life, I like to think I’m living proof that it’s never too late to reach for a dream or to achieve it. Before I started writing my own stories, I usually read from a wide array of genres. I love Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Mysteries, Thrillers, and Young Adult.

And now for her post where she shares with you what aliens and mail order brides have in common and how they inspired the books in the Intergalactic Matchmaking Services series. Take it away, Ava!

**************************************************************************************************************************

Thanks for the opportunity to guest on your wonderful blog. It’s a true honor to be here.

You asked how I came up with the idea for the Intergalactic Matchmaking Services series. This was a case of art inspiring art fed by a dare. When I read, I like to immerse myself into the story to the point of asking myself, “What if?” A truly good book, in my opinion, makes the reader ask that question in one way or another. What if this were really possible? What if it happened in MY life…how would I react?

Last Fall I was on a reading kick about Mail Order brides in the Old West. While mail order brides did (and still do) exist, I wondered what it would take for a woman to give up her current life for a completely unknown environment. The bravery it took to embrace that choice must have been tremendous.

A friend and I were talking about books and this topic came up. She suggested I write a book about it…she dared me. Writing about mail order brides sounded fun, but I didn’t want to write about the Old West. Inspiration struck!

Being a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I’ve always been fascinated by space travel. It’s an area that is open to endless possibilities in reality and fiction. I chose that route for my story.

I started by asking “What if?” From there, the ideas just sort of blossomed. What would make a modern-day woman give up her life? How bad would things have to be for her to make that decision? What if she had an emotional tie to someone or something here on Earth? How much harder would that make it? How would that emotional entanglement impact her interactions with an alien race?

When it came time to think about the males in my story, I didn’t want to go the route of the Tarzan/He-Man/Caveman stereotype. I don’t find that personality appealing, and I figured there had to be readers out there that felt the same. Give me a man who has manners and can still be strong without dragging his knuckles, thank you!

But what would make an alien race consider approaching human females—without just kidnapping them and racing off to the other end of the universe like some galactic Neanderthal? What could force the necessity while demanding diplomacy at the same time? The only thing I could think of would be that they were in danger of extinction, therefore, they needed other races.

Then, because my cat, Mamzell, is such a large part of my life, I wondered “How would I leave her behind?” The answer was simple, I couldn’t. So Mamzell was woven into the first story! What cat wouldn’t want to be the first one into space? And how would an alien race react when faced with this relationship? Mamzell offered me many avenues of humor in the first book!

I like to think Maggie’s Story or Shirley’s Story could happen one day. Not exactly as I wrote them, of course. But hopefully there is life out beyond our own galaxy. Perhaps we humans aren’t alone. And perhaps we have a role to play in the lives of these as-yet-unknown races.

Shirley's StoryAbout Shirley’s Story (Intergalactic Matchmaking Services, Book 2):

Just as Shirley decides to try opening herself up to a chance at love, a stalker from her past returns. How does she move forward when her past comes knocking? What’s going on with her young student, Hannah? Will her dog, Oreo, be okay with Shirley looking for love?

This is a novella-length story.

You can buy a copy of Shirley’s Story on Amazon!

Find Ava Online:

Email: AvaLouiseAuthor@yahoo.com
Website: http://avalouise.net/

Blog: The Road to a Dream: http://avalouiseauthor.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/@avalouiseauthor

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Behind the Scenes: Elementals and Tricky Mother-Daughter Relationships

Melinda VanLoneToday I’d like you to welcome special guest Melinda VanLone. Melinda writes fantasy and science fiction, freelances as a graphic designer, and dabbles in photography. She currently lives in Rockville, Maryland, with her husband and furbabies. When she’s not playing with her imaginary friends you can find her playing World of Warcraft, wandering aimlessly through the streets taking photos, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks. And today she’s taking us behind the scenes into a world where people wield elemental magic.

Take it away Melinda…

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of elementals, probably because in the online game I play, World of Warcraft, my character is a mage who has a water elemental for a pet. He protects her by shooting at the enemy, and provides companionship just by always being there. Sort of like a dog, but without the messy business of poop removal. When I first toyed with the idea of elementals, nothing seemed right because they seemed more like pets than people. I had a hard time ascribing desires and goals to something like that.

For the Xannon series, I took my love of the elements and gave the ability to the people instead, letting them be human first, with the ability to harness elemental power second. Just as some people tap into a natural musical or athletic ability, the people in the Xannon world all tap into one element or the other to fuel their natural magical ability. Most humans tap into one main element and, to a lesser extent, one other element. Tarian taps into Water and Air very strongly, and to a lesser extent, Fire, which is what makes her so powerful. Controlling three elements is extremely rare. Her sister Calliope is mostly Air, with water as secondary. It’s all hereditary, like having blue eyes or blonde hair, which means they came by their skills because of their parents.

The twist, of course, is that in general nobody knows who the father of the Keeper (heir to the House of Xannon) is, because of the Succession Ritual. Multiple partners donate their abilities to the child, which means Tarian’s strength is a blend of several men, plus her mother (a fierce and strong power all by herself). The same will be true for any of Tarian’s children. In Stronger Than Magic, Tarian’s journey toward motherhood begins and the spark of possible magical abilities swirls around the conception. Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. Four elements. A child who could wield that might be the strongest magical user ever in existence. Stronger, perhaps, than the Ancients themselves.

I suspect raising such a child might be a bit…problematic. How do you teach a child to control their magic when they’re stronger than you are? And once she’s grown, what might she accomplish?

That is what the House of Xannon series is all about. The cycle of life, mother to daughter, over generations, and the power of love to bind, protect, energize, and strengthen.

Promise Of MagicTarian’s story begins in Stronger Than Magic. Tarian Xannon fights demons like the rest of us. This time, the demon just happens to be real.

When Tarian Xannon is attacked by a demon-like creature, she realizes her talent with water, air and fire, while strong, might not be enough to protect herself or her family. She also learns that some things are stronger than magic, and worth fighting for.

Finding Flame introduces Macari, an air daemon who can walk the Corsaerie, a manifestation of pure Air energy that contains every event that has ever taken place, both daemon and human. When Tarian’s exploits cause ripples that spread through the Corsairie into the daemon plane, Macari is sent to investigate the cause of the chaos. She must report her findings before the mark of Air fades from her hand or be banished from her home forever. But the journey seems impossible, the human plane full of danger, and the way home is not easy. All that has been is written on the Wind, but can the past show Macari the way to a better future?

Tarian’s story continues in Promise of Magic. Despite the advanced stage of her pregnancy, Tarian has some explaining to do. Fulfilling her Agreement with the Carraig was an issue of honor—but it led to complications. Tarian embarks on a dangerous mission which could cost her the life of her unborn daughter, end in disaster for all planes of existence—or save the world.

Some promises are deadly to keep. Will the promise of magic be one of them?

If you could wield one elemental power, which would you choose?

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Behind the Scenes: Kim Cleary and Necromancers

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Today I have the privilege of interviewing debut author Kim Cleary. I’m especially excited to offer this interview because I edited Path Unchosen and so I had a sneak peek long before it was available for purchase :) When you hear about the obstacles Kim overcame to write this book, I hope you’ll find her as much of an inspiration as I do.

Path Unchosen by Kim ClearyBefore we get to the interview, here’s what Path Unchosen is about…

When eighteen-year-old Judy Hudson discovers she’s a necromancer and sees first-hand the pain her powers can cause the dead, she just wants to deny who she is. The zombie plague is long over. She wants to find a more normal life, but that’s a challenge when a beautiful otherworldly man, who claims to be her guardian, saves her life.

Judy tries to set right the harm she inflicted on a spirit she raised, but new zombies attack—zombies raised from among the long-time dead. Someone else just like her is out there, and he’s not trying to set anything right. To save her own life, and protect the innocent inhabitants of the nearby town who’ve become her friends, Judy has to figure out who’s raising the dead and why.

She must also learn to control the darkness inside her—a seductive darkness that promises her power beyond her wildest dreams.

Welcome, Kim!

What was the spark of inspiration that started you writing Path Unchosen?

I started writing a short story called “The Darkness” when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune illness which caused permanent damage in my hands and stopped me from typing. I had to teach myself how to use voice software and a good friend gave me an opening line to get me started. (The opening line was “The darkness surrounded me, enveloped me, I felt strangely warm, as if a quilt had been wrapped around me.” This line has since been taken out, but what is left of it is now halfway through chapter 3 and says “Warmth encircled me as if someone had wrapped me in a downy quilt, but it was a fleeting sensation before darkness surrounded me.”)

I’ve always loved fantasy and science fiction stories and found myself gravitating to the style as soon as I started writing. I shared pieces of the story with my sister and a small number of friends, received positive feedback and encouragement, and I just kept going with it. By the time I was let go from work, I had 35,000 words written and several ideas of how to keep the story going.

That battle with darkness is a recurring theme in Path Unchosen, and so readers might expect you to cast your necromancers as villainous (because of their dealings with the dead). How did you choose to deal with the preconception of necromancers as dark and evil, and why did you make that choice?

My heroine was always going to be a necromancer. I’m not sure I can explain why! Even as a child, I was interested in the culture of death and the dead. I’ve also always been a bit contrary, so perhaps I just wanted to go against the norm. I tried to paint Judy as a compassionate character from the start of the story, and to show her own conflict with her power over the dead.

In this story, it’s just one generation on from a man-made plague that killed more than half of the world’s adults. After the plague, zombies rose and attacked survivors. In this world, people are comfortable with magic and witchcraft; they accept, and fear, life after death in a variety of forms. Judy accepts that she has a responsibility for the dead. She not only speaks to them, she cares for them as well.

What do you feel makes your book unique from all the others out there?

I’m not sure it is unique! At one level, it’s just a coming of age story in a fantasy setting. If there is any uniqueness perhaps it’s that my heroine is full of hope in a rather bleak world. She is determined to be compassionate even though she can access enormous power.

I felt your book took a fresh take on a lot of fantasy tropes, but what I liked best was Judy’s emotional journey. If there was one message or emotion you wanted your readers to walk away with at the end, what would it be?

I had one reader tell me she really identifies with Judy and how she discovers herself, makes sense of her life, and finally meets herself. That put a huge beam on my face. But my main message is twofold: (1) knowing who you are doesn’t trap you – it makes you stronger, and (2) compassion doesn’t make you weak – compassion combined with bravery gives you power.

Thanks so much, Kim, for taking us behind the scenes on Path Unchosen!

About Kim:

Kim ClearyKim writes urban fantasy for anyone who longs to discover they are extraordinary. She writes about hopefulness and determination, and about heroes who push through extraordinary situations and obstacles, one step at a time. Magical friends and gorgeous guys help, or hinder, in one adventure after another.

When not writing, revising, or thinking about writing, Kim gardens, plays with her dog, chats on social media, catches up with friends or cooks an Indian feast. She is a member of Writers Victoria, Romance Writers of Australia, The Alliance of Independent Authors, and a certified chocoholic.

Kim grew up in Birmingham, UK, studied medieval history and psychology at Adelaide University in South Australia and has worked all over Australia and in London. She now lives with her husband and an adorable Cocker Spaniel in Melbourne, Australia.

You can buy Path Unchosen (Daughter Of Ravenswood)on Amazon.

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Behind the Scenes: The Official Game of Thrones Cookbook

A Feast of Ice and FireGames of Thrones started as an epic fantasy novel, became an award-winning HBO series, and now it’s a cookbook.

As soon as I found Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer’s blog The Inn at the Crossroads (with the awesome logline, “In the game of food, you win, or you wash the dishes…”), and found out they’d authored the official Game of Thrones cookbook, I knew I had to interview them.

A Feast of Ice and Fire contains a forward written by George R. R. Martin along with recipes from King’s Landing, Winterfell, the Wall, the mysterious lands east of Westeros, and other locations we’ve come to love (or hate), and a guide to dining and entertaining in true Seven Kingdoms style. So without further ado…

As a fantasy geek and amateur foodie, I was incredibly excited to find out someone was bringing the richly described meals from George R. R. Martin’s books to life. Where did you come up with the idea to create a cookbook based on the Song of Ice and Fire series?

Well! One day, last March, we were sitting in the kitchen, and had the sudden desire to eat lemon cakes. However, a quick Google search didn’t really lead us anywhere, and didn’t bring up any results for Game of Thrones food blogs, so we began to research and experiment with recipes ourselves. And, since we recognized it for a cool thing, we decided to start a blog to chart our culinary adventures and be able to share them with others.

How did this go from an idea to a book deal?

We emailed GRRM to let him know about the blog, never even expecting him to write us back. Of course, we were thrilled when he did, and mentioned that his publishers had taken notice of the blog as well. From there, we worked directly with Random House to develop the cookbook. It’s been a real labor of love, and they have been very supportive of our vision for the book.

Did you find it intimidating to email George R. R. Martin?

It was a bit intimidating, for sure. We never really expected him to write us back, but he did, and was incredibly kind and appreciative of our efforts. 

Where did you learn to cook? And how did you find taste testers for the more exotic dishes?

We are not professional cooks, either of us, but we both grew up in families of cooks and avid eaters. It was tough getting even our friends to try some of the stranger dishes, and there were a few things that only we tried. For the most part, though, we had a queue of eager volunteers! In fact, we had an email list for emergency eaters when we were in the crunch period before our deadlines, since we were making four or five dishes per day.

What’s the process you go through in re-creating each recipe so that it’s both faithful to the book and tastes good?

For most recipes, we have a two-fold approach. We find an historical recipe that most closely matches the description in the books—this can be as old as the ancient Romans, or as relatively new as the 19th century. We make that historical dish as accurately as possible, according to the original recipe, only adding ingredients to match GRRM’s description. It can be very tricky to follow the older recipes, which often don’t even have measurements, cook time, or other crucial details. There is a lot of trial and error involved.

We give ourselves a little more leeway with the modern version of dishes, allowing for more liberal interpretations and lists of ingredients. We usually find a few recipes that we like the look of, and combine them, drawing on our own bookshelves and the internet. 

There is often a misconception that medieval food is gross, but we really haven’t found that to be true. The preparation of a lot of dishes has changed over time, such that a modern pork pie will be savory rather than sweet. But that doesn’t mean that the currant-filled pork pie of Henry VIII isn’t also awesome and worth trying. Ultimately, we have very open minds; if we think a dish isn’t good, we don’t publish it, and keep searching and experimenting until we find one that is.

How many tries on average does it take to get a recipe right?

Sometimes, it’s beginners’ luck and we get it on the first try. Sometimes it takes a few attempts, and some we are still working on, even now! For the most part, though, I’d say we make them two or three times, once to try, and another one or two times to perfect. Of course, that’s all before photographing for the blog, and we’ve made some of the cookbook recipes at least ten times by now. :)

What recipe was the greatest challenge to re-create due to scarcity of ingredients? How did you manage to overcome it?

The full meals are the hardest to recreate, since they are composed of so many different elements. Sometimes it’s tough to get several seasonal ingredients at the same time, or to splurge financially for all the specialty items for a particular dish or meal. We occasionally make a substitution, but since we’re sticklers for authenticity, we mostly just wait until we can make it right.

Are there any recipes you refuse to make?

You know, a lot of folks get caught up on the weird foods, but they make up a very small portion of both blog and cookbook. There are a few dishes we either won’t or can’t make, usually for gross-out factor or illegality. An example of the first is olives stuffed with maggots, and the latter is heron. Basically, if something is legal and affordable, it’s probably on our list of dishes to try. We’re currently looking for camel—GRRM threw down a lot of culinary challenges for us in Dance—but we have tried rattlesnake, eel, crickets. 

I know it’s a bit like asking a mother to choose between her children, but which recipe in the book is your favorite, the one you’d recommend people start with?

A really solid starter recipe is the one for Honeyed Chicken. It’s very easy to make, and delicious. As for favorite dishes, Chelsea loved the mead-marinated venison for the Robert Baratheon themed meal, and Sariann loved the Banbury Cakes, the historical half of the Buns on the Wall dish in the cookbook.

You can get a sneak peek at some of the recipes featured in the cookbook at The Inn at the Crossroads. A Feast of Ice & Fire releases May 29th, but you can pre-order your copy from Amazon or Barnes and Noble now.

Have you read any of the books in the Song of Ice and Fire series or are you watching Game of Thrones on HBO? Is there a particular food you’re dying to try (or would refuse to eat)?

Please help spread the word for Chelsea and Sariann’s launch by sharing this post!

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What’s the Point of Fairy Tales?

Tales of Beedle the Bard fairy tales from Harry PotterLast weekend I sat down with a long-awaited treat—The Tales of Beedle the Bard. If you’ve read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or watched the movie, then you’ll recognize The Tales of Beedle the Bard as the book of wizarding-world fairy tales containing “The Tale of the Three Brothers” (who owned the Deathly Hallows).

Before I tell you what I thought of the book, I think we have to answer one essential question. What’s the point of fairy tales?

Like all stories, fairy tales are meant to entertain, but that’s secondary. Unlike today’s novels, their main purpose is to give a moral in a way the audience will remember. They exist to teach a clear lesson.

In this, the stories in The Tales of Beedle the Bard only partially succeed.

I can hear the argument now. Yes, but The Tales of Beedle the Bard are supposed to be fairy tales for wizarding children, not Muggles. People can’t actually perform magic, so you can’t expect a moral for us.

Paranormal romance author Kait Nolan (who I interviewed last year on her YA fairy tale reboot Red) pointed out in her excellent “What Makes a Fairy Tale?” post that what sets fairy tales apart is that magic or some kind of enchantment is basically required as part of the story. That magic doesn’t lessen the need for a universal truth. “Variations of the same stories can be heard all over the world,” Kait wrote, “because they spark something in our imaginations and hearts, such that we’re still telling stories that originated hundreds of years ago.”

Magic, enchantments, and witches show up all the time in fairy tales. The Tales of Beedle the Bard aren’t unique in that way. And they’re not exempt from needing to teach a lesson to anyone who reads them.

Okay, you might say, but The Tales of Beedle the Bard are just supposed to be something fun and extra for people who loved the Harry Potter books.

I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. (Don’t believe me? I ate Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.)

Part of what made the Harry Potter series popular was we could still relate to the stories even though we couldn’t perform magic and would never need to fight a dark wizard. The stories and characters transcended the details of the magical world to tell a story of a boy who longed for a family that loved him, who just wanted to fit in, who struggled to figure out the line between right and wrong, and who learned that some things are worth fighting and dying for. You don’t need to be a witch or wizard to relate.

The lessons in Harry Potter, while secondary to an entertaining story, are what made it so loved by people who wouldn’t otherwise read a fantasy. It’s also what makes them re-readable.

If you didn’t like the Harry Potter books, The Tales of Beedle the Bard aren’t worth reading.

For those of you who are curious, here are the five tales in the book.

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot

A wizard refuses to use his magic to help the local Muggles. His cooking pot starts to hop, sprout warts, cry, and otherwise show the wizard that the people he refused were suffering. Eventually he gives in, and once he helps, the pot returns to normal. The wizard moral seems to be that wizards should help Muggles. I guess we could really stretch this to the Muggle moral of “we should help those less fortunate than ourselves.”

The Fountain of Fair Fortune

Three witches and a knight overcome obstacles to try to bathe in the Fountain of Fair Fortune, which is supposed to give good fortune to one person per year. They get through the obstacles based on luck and, in the end, none of the three witches need to go in because their problems are already solved. The knight goes in and, made brave, proposes marriage to one of the witches. They all leave happy, and “none of them ever knew or suspected that the Fountain’s waters carried no enchantment at all” (35). The moral would likely be that we make our own good fortune in life, but the fact that a lot of things in the story happen due to luck rather than skill or hard work actually dilutes this moral.

The Warlock’s Hairy Heart

A wizard thinks people act foolishly when they fall in love, so he takes his heart from his chest and locks it away. Left in isolation, it grows withered, dark, and hairy like a beast. When he finally takes it out again, he ends up killing a maiden and cutting out her heart because he wants to replace his with hers. The wizard moral is that even magic can’t make you invulnerable to every physical, mental, and emotional pain. The Muggle moral could perhaps be that, if we don’t open ourselves up to love, we shrivel and become savage?

Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump

A king wants to be the only one in the kingdom to possess magic, so he gives an order to hunt down all magical folk. An old witch tricks him into rescinding this order. Honestly, while this is a cute story, I can’t figure out what the moral for magical children would be. As for the moral for us non-magic folk…“don’t lie” is the best I can come up with, but it doesn’t entirely fit the story.

The Tale of the Three Brothers

Three brothers cheat death by building a magical bridge over a dangerous river. Death gives them each a wish. The aggressive first brother wants an unbeatable wand. The arrogant second brother wants a stone that will bring the dead back to life. The wise third brother wants to remain unseen by Death. The first and second brothers end up dead because of their wishes. The third brother meets Death as an equal once he’s old. The moral for magic folk and Muggles alike is that death is inevitable. The best you can hope for is to postpone it until you are old and live a full life. This is the best of the fairy tales in the book, and the only one that I think works perfectly.

Do you think I’m wrong about the purpose of a fairy tale? If you’ve read The Tales of Beedle the Bard, am I being too harsh?

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Behind the Scenes: Angela Wallace and Elementals

Today I have the privilege of interviewing Angela Wallace, author of suspense-filled urban fantasy, to go behind the scenes on her Elemental Magic series. Dry Spell, the second book in the series, has just been released.

Dry Spell by Angela WallaceAileen Donovan is an elemental with magical control over water. When Aileen finds a mummified body at a scientist’s convention in Seattle, she suspects supernatural foul play. Her amateur sleuthing, however, isn’t the romantic getaway her human boyfriend, Colin, had in mind. Breaking into crime scenes and fending off black magic doesn’t really set the mood.

As more bodies turn up, Aileen’s insatiable desire to solve the mystery not only pits her against a serial killer, but also a cunning vampire lord, and an elemental agent with ulterior motives.

But the closer Aileen gets to the killer, the further she finds herself from Colin. Can she try to salvage their relationship and stop a murderer, or is she out of her supernatural league?

Welcome, Angela :)

Thank you for having me on your blog, Marcy!

I’m so glad you could stop by :) I’ve been looking forward to your visit since I read the blurb for Dry Spell.

In your Elemental Magic series, Aileen Donovan is a water elemental, meaning she can manipulate water and communicate with sea creatures. How did you decide what special abilities to give each of the four types of elementals?

I saw four episodes of Avatar, the Last Airbender and thought that was cool. Wield a whip of water? Oh yeah. I also like limitations on powers, so Aileen’s ability to manipulate water does have to follow the laws of physics. The more she tries to go against that, the harder it becomes. Being able to talk to the animals of a specific element also ties in to your next question regarding how elementals came about.

I love the history you’ve developed—that hundreds of years ago God created the elementals to care for the earth. Where did you get the spark for this idea and how did it develop from there?

I’ve been in love with the elements ever since I went on a youth retreat where the theme was the four elements and how they were metaphors for God and spirituality. It just automatically flowed that my elementals would be stewards over their powers and the natural world. I’m a big thinker when it comes to stories, and like to have every detail and angle that I can think of covered. And though I don’t write “Christian” fiction, there are certain aspects of my faith that show through in my books, such as being created for a specific purpose.

If you could be one type of elemental, which would you choose and why?

Earth. Earth is pretty powerful because some form of it is almost everywhere. Plus, I would love not to kill my plants.  ;-)

You and I both :) I’ve even tried naming my plants so they last longer. I’ll spare you the gory details of Miranda’s death…

Can you give us a sneak peak at the next book in the series?

Sure! I am very excited for Elemental Magic 3 because we’re getting a new main character and a new element! Nita is an earth elemental, and she’s got her hands full with a newly made werewolf, and a creature scary enough to take one down.

Excerpt:

It took me a moment to notice the sudden stillness of the clearing I had just stepped into. Not a single pine needle or blade of grass seemed to move. Everything was silent. I cocked the rifle and turned in a slow circle, watching for any disturbance in the woods. The few animal presences I detected were huddled in their holes, not moving. A predator was near. If it were a normal land animal, I would have sensed it, but since I didn’t, that left the werewolf as a strong possibility.

I knelt on the ground and braced the rifle barrel on my knee so I could hold it with one hand while I dug around in my sack with the other. I pulled out a fresh kill—goose, feathers intact—and tossed it several feet away. If he was in wolf form, he would smell the blood. With my eyes scanning the tree line and my rifle still braced on my knee, I took my free hand and dug my fingers into the soft earth. The soil hummed at my touch, thousands of tiny voices from centuries of rock and clay singing out to me. My fingers coiled around them like a lifeline. If that wolf attacked, this was my defense: my earth wielding.

Watch for it this fall.  ;-)

One thing that everyone always wants to know (okay, maybe it’s just something I always want to know) is why each writer chose their individual path. What made you go the route of self-publishing?

It’s kind of a long, complicated story, one I definitely see God’s direction in. Basically, I queried Elemental Magic and my other novel, Phoenix Feather, for a year each. Both racked up 20+ rejection letters. But hey, J.K. Rowling got that many, right? So no worries. I didn’t even know self-publishing (for free) existed until someone told me (that’s the long, God-had-a-hand-in-it part). I have loved it ever since. It’s more my style, my pace. I love maintaining creative control. There are a lot of pitfalls and things to learn along the way (I’m still learning hard lessons), but it’s been rewarding too.

We all love to talk about what we’d do in the case of a zombie apocalypse or other crazy disaster, but my thoughts always go to how I’d make sure my pets survived too. I know you have a go-bag for your cat in case of an emergency, so what essentials would you suggest pet owners keep packed and ready in case they need to evacuate?

Great question! And I recently learned there were a few items I was missing in that go-bag. Btw, the go-bag is the cat carrier. First, a leash and body harness. Suppose you’re stuck in a house with a wall missing, or a shelter. You can’t keep your pet locked in a carrier 24/7. A body harness works better than just a leash around the collar because it’s harder to wriggle out of. I also have a small fleece blanket stuffed inside. Finally, a Ziploc baggy of food. We probably don’t think about it, but our pets get used to the brand of food we give them. Relying on handouts from friends may not work if your pet refuses to touch a different brand. A bag of treats is also a good idea; you never know when you may need to bribe your animal into something.

That’s a great tip about a Ziploc baggy of food. Our youngest cat was one we took in as a half-starved stray, so she’ll eat anything (including green beans), but our Siamese would rather go hungry that eat a new food.

Thanks for taking the time to give us a behind the scenes peek!

Angela WallaceAngela Wallace has been penning adventures ever since she was sucked through a magical portal as a child. She has since come back down to earth, only to discover this mortal realm has magic of its own. Now she is quite at home in the world of urban fantasy, though she believes that love, faith, and hope are of a stronger magic than fire wielding and sorcery. She loves gun-toting good boys, and could have been a cop in another life except real blood makes her queasy. She’ll have to stick to solving supernatural mysteries. You can find out more about her at her Elemental Magic blog, or connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

Dry Spell is currently available as an ebook from Amazon or as a paperback from Amazon. More formats coming soon!

Which elemental would you like to be (earth, air, fire, or water)?

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The Missing Hunger Games Line

The Hunger Games movie posterEven though I loved The Hunger Games movie that released Friday, I couldn’t help but notice that the screenwriters left out one of the most important lines in the book.

The night before the Games begin, Katniss finds Peeta on the roof of their hotel, watching the Capitol celebrate.

Peeta tells her, “I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.”

This makes no sense to Katniss. In the book, she replies by telling him to care about staying alive, and in the movie, she explains that she can’t afford to think that way. Although that particular line wasn’t in the book, it was a perfect addition because that’s the way things are in District 12, where Katniss lives. Thinking of what might be only leads to disappointment. You have no chance of bettering your situation, nothing you do changes anything significant, and the best you can hope for is to survive.

And that’s the best she hopes for from the Arena as well. Only one of the twenty-four who compete comes out alive. To Katniss, any expectation that something might change this year would be futile.

Yet it’s Katniss who, by the end of the book, thumbs her nose at the Capitol and forces them into allowing two winners of the Hunger Games for the first time ever. And over the next two books, it’s Katniss who, without even meaning to, ignites a revolution and changes her world.

She learns one person can make a difference.

I’m not sure whether the scriptwriters missed this theme running underneath all the books or whether they didn’t catch the line that brings out the deepest facet of it, but in Chapter 7 of The Hunger Games, Peeta and Katniss are arguing about which of them has the better chance of survival and of getting sponsors. Each believes it’s the other.

Peeta turns to Haymitch (their mentor) in exasperation and says, “She has no idea. The effect she can have.”

They left this line out of the movie, and without this line, part of the message is missing.

Not only can one person make a difference, but sometimes we make a difference in others’ lives without even knowing it.

Katniss didn’t set out to change the world. She just did what was right and change followed. She had no idea of the chain of events her seemingly small actions would cause.

It works the same way in real life.

When I was twelve, the boy who sat behind me in class would ask me to explain all our school work to him. I dreaded feeling that pesky tap-tap on my shoulder. When I finally lost my temper, he confessed—he couldn’t read. Somehow he’d slipped through the cracks, dismissed as either stupid or lazy, when he wasn’t either.

So I taught him (and felt guilty about snapping at him). At the time, I didn’t think it was anything important, but a couple years later, I overheard him telling a teacher how much I’d helped him and how much it meant to him.

I treasure that memory. So often I struggle with feeling insignificant and like nothing I do really matters, and that memory helps remind me that I won’t always know how something small I did positively affected someone else. If I hadn’t overheard, I would never have known I made a difference.

We’re not all destined to be famous leaders or world-changers, but that doesn’t mean we’re not making a difference in the individual lives we touch, sometimes when we least realize it, often just by doing the right thing. And that too is important.

Do you ever struggle with feeling like what you do doesn’t matter? Has someone made a difference in your life, probably without realizing it?

(If you’re looking for a movie review of The Hunger Games, Karen Rought at The Midnight Novelist has a mostly spoiler-free version, and Jessica O’Neal–the sexy little nerd–does a great job of analyzing the actors and the flow of the movie.)

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Behind the Scenes: Randy Ingermanson and Mars

Oxygen Randy IngermansonToday I have the privilege of interviewing award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, author of “Genius in Jeopardy” books and creator of the Snowflake method. He’s taking us behind the scenes on his fast-paced science fiction novel Oxygen (co-written with John Olson).

An explosion on the first mission to Mars leaves four astronauts with only enough oxygen for one to live. The evidence points to one of the four being a saboteur. One’s unconscious. One’s unstable. And the other two are falling in love.

(If you buy the ebook edition of Oxygen, you also get two helpful appendices. The first takes apart the motivation-reaction units—à la Dwight Swain—in the first two chapters. The second explains how they sold Oxygen to a respected publisher in less than seven weeks without an agent.)

Welcome, Randy :)

In your Authors’ Notes of the Kindle edition, you write that neither technology nor money are actually an issue and that “humans could walk on Mars within a dozen years.” Why do you think we should send a mission to Mars? What would make it worth the money and manpower investment?

If you believe that space exploration is a good thing, then it needs a goal. Nobody achieves diddley unless they have a goal. Putting humans on Mars is a powerful goal that anybody can visualize and understand. It’s the one goal that would move us forward fastest.

The space race in the 1960s created numerous technological advances that nobody expected. These have paid off massively over the last fifty years. The computer I’m typing on right now and the internet I’m sending you this document over are partly due to the space race. Partly.

A Mars mission would very likely have the same unpredictable side effects. I can’t tell you what they would be, because “unpredictable” means that you can’t know in advance what they are.

The usual scientific reasons given for a Mars mission are that it’ll contribute to our understanding of the history of the solar system (unfortunately, most people don’t give a fig about our understanding of the history of the solar system) and that it could possibly provide evidence of past life on Mars which would shed light on the evolution of life on earth (unfortunately, many of the people in positions to vote for a Mars mission believe that “evolution” is a four-letter word).

So let’s just leave it with this—a Mars mission will astound us with an amazing array of technological advances that we can’t predict, for a total price tag much less than the cost of running a foreign war for one month. A Mars mission would give us a vision of greatness and adventure. If that sounds like something our country desperately needs, then a Mars mission would be a good thing.

What’s the one thing you think is key to making a manned mission to Mars possible? How did you work this into Oxygen?

Political willpower. Going to Mars is not that hard, technically or financially. If you fund the project at a few billion dollars per year (this is well within NASA’s current Spartan budget) and you commit to a ten or twelve year program, you can get there. It’s harder than going to the moon, but not much harder, and we have better technology than we did fifty years ago when John Kennedy committed to putting Americans on the moon.

The key thing missing is a political champion (like Kennedy) who can look beyond the next two years. Several presidents over the last couple of decades have given lip service to Mars, but they typically backed off when something more urgent came up.

A Mars mission needs steady commitment for longer than that.

In Oxygen, we simply postulated that NASA formed a small independent unit, a “NASA within NASA” that had one guy who had absolute control and a reasonable budget. This was the only way we could see to get the continuity needed. No international collaborations. No sprawling bureaucracy. Just a small team of dedicated people.

The problem came when the budget cutters came around with their axes, looking to save a few bucks. This is very plausible, but it’s also the best way to wreck the mission. You cannot run a Mars mission that doesn’t have dependable funding. You can’t.

A lot of people see science and faith as incompatible, yet your two main characters (Valkerie and Bob) are both people of faith. How would you answer the people who say you can’t be both a scientist and a person of faith?

Roughly 40% of all working scientists are people of faith. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are conservative Christians or orthodox Jews (although some are). But it means that the death of faith among scientists has been greatly exaggerated. Likewise, a surprising number of philosophers are people of faith.

There is an odd philosophy known as “scientism” which has sprung up in the last few decades which says, roughly, that the only valid knowledge is scientific knowledge. The reason I say this is “odd” is because there is obviously no way to demonstrate this using scientific method. So scientism is self-refuting, and therefore false.

Of course I believe that science is one way to reach valid knowledge. But if it really is the only way, there’s no way for us to know that.

Given North America’s ongoing love affair with reality TV, one element I enjoyed was that you had a news station wanting to turn the Ares 10 mission into the “biggest, baddest reality show you ever saw, with a boatload of danger and packed to the gills with romance.” What aspects of a mission to Mars do you think would make for great reality TV?

In our novel, two good looking single men and two good looking single women, isolated for almost three years in a ship the size of typical Tokyo apartment was all the reality show the networks could dream of. Whenever you have that, there’s the immediate question of who’s going to hook up with whom, and when?

Throw in some jealousy and the ever-possible threat of instant death, and you really do have the best reality show ever. TV money might very well be the only way to fund a Mars mission.

Because this was a co-written novel, did you run into any “bloopers” where John wrote a character in a way that made you ask “what was he thinking?!”

Hmmmm, maybe the other way around, but we’re not going to go there. At one point, I wrote a scene that John just said no on. But neither he nor I will ever tell anyone what it was.

Early in the coauthoring, we discovered a much more insidious problem was maintaining the emotional continuity between scenes. It was just impossible for either of us to write a scene until we had read the preceding scene, because we had to pick up the emotive atmosphere in the same place.

Once we learned that, we put ourselves on a rigorous schedule where we mapped out who would write each scene and on what day at what time. As soon as a scene got written, whoever wrote it would email it to the other one, who was waiting for it.

This made writing the novel hard, but once we learned that we had to do it this way, it worked pretty well.

You’ve written a sequel to Oxygen. Will The Fifth Man also be released in a Kindle edition soon?

We’re working on final edits now. We’re shooting for a release in early April, but I can’t make any guarantees until the book is done, because life happens.

Randall IngermansonThanks, Randy, for taking us behind the scenes on Oxygen.

If you want to learn more about the craft and marketing of fiction, sign up for Randy’s Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine (with more than 29,000 readers). You can buy Oxygen in paperback from Marcher Lord Press, for Kindle at Amazon, or for your Nook at Barnes and Noble.

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Did I Eat All The Bertie Bott’s Beans Flavors?

Harry Potter Bertie Bott's Beans

They might look like buttered popcorn but . . .

Earlier this week, in my Behind the Scenes post on Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, I let you vote on whether you wanted to know how my box of Every Flavor Beans tasted and whether I ate them all—even the vomit-, booger-, and rotten egg-flavored ones. Since I received a resounding “yes” . . .

After arranging our beans in the order we each planned to eat them (we ended up being opposite), my husband and I used a round of rock-paper-scissors to decide who’d eat the first bean. I lost.

Until I chewed, I honestly believed those little Jelly Bellies were going to taste good and be awful in name only. I was wrong. Oh so wrong.

“How was it?” my husband asked.

I swallowed and turned pleading eyes to him. “It tastes just like sweet grass.”

The black pepper tasted just like black pepper, the soap like when you get shampoo in your mouth in the shower. The earwax, despite its name, tasted like the wax lips I used to have as a kid at Halloween.

Overall, none of them were that terrible, but I knew from my husband’s reaction that the worst was yet to come.

The dirt bean came next and tasted like wet bark and mud (please don’t ask how I know what that tastes like). The sausage? Well, let’s just say meat and jelly beans should never go together.

And then all I had left was the earthworm, the vomit, the booger, and the rotten egg.

Earthworm apparently tastes like raw, moldy beets.

I’d be lying if I said that by the time I finished the earthworm bean I didn’t consider simply swallowing the vomit, booger, and rotten egg beans whole like pills. Then I could honestly say I’d eaten them, but I wouldn’t have had to taste them. Except that would have been cheating. So I chewed that vomit bean.

And I’m sad to report it reminded me exactly of the taste you get in your mouth when you almost throw up.

I looked at my husband, who only had black pepper, soap, and grass left (and who was smirking at me).

“Someone had to taste test these,” I said. “Can you imagine?”

“I hope they got hazard pay.” He popped soap into his mouth. “You’re up again.”

His plan of eating the terrible ones first suddenly looked brilliant.

I stared down my booger bean, and it stared back at me in all its mocking greenness, looking innocently like what I’d come to expect a juicy pear Jelly Belly to look like.

And I chewed and I swallowed. And then, in between chugging down a Diet Pepsi to try to purge my taste buds, I asked my OCD husband (who insists on even numbers of everything), “Are you really going to eat two of these?”

He shook his head. “My OCD can go to h*ll.”

And I forgave him the mild profanity because that’s exactly where the booger bean belonged.

Only one bean now stood between me and being able to claim the distinction of having eaten every awful Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans flavor that came in our boxes—rotten egg.

For the love of all things good, if you do buy a box of Bertie Bott’s Beans, do not eat this flavor. I tried. I really did. But this is like the Death Star of jelly beans. I couldn’t manage to get it down.

Not only could I not get it down, I spent a couple minutes gagging over our kitchen sink while my husband laughed.

To think I once thought cinnamon jelly beans were as bad as it got. I can safely say that we won’t be buying Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans again. At the same time, it was the most we’d laughed in weeks, and for that alone, it was worth it. Next time, though, I think I’ll stick to chocolate frogs.

If you still want to try these or if you’re throwing a Harry Potter-themed party, you can buy them from Jelly Belly or from Amazon.com. (My apologies to my Canadian readers. As far as I know, you can’t get them in Canada.)

If you want to go even farther behind the scenes, Jelly Belly also sells Bean Boozled, where flavors like chocolate pudding and canned dog food look identical. You won’t know what you’re eating until you chew.

Is there a flavor of jelly bean that you would absolutely refuse to try?

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