Raised in Tolkien, nurtured by the writings of Anne McCaffrey, a child of Star Wars, and an admirer of the writing of Joss Whedon, I found myself struggling with the question of whether there was a place for strong, healthy relationships in the face of the incest and rape at the heart of so much of G. R. R. Martin’s books. (He kills off every even remotely good relationship like he does all his ‘good’ characters. Sorry if that’s a spoiler.) One of the major flaws of the later Star Wars movies was that the ‘bromance’ (a word I hate) between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-wan overshadowed and was in some ways more compelling than the romance between Anakin and Padme.
With that legacy, I wanted to take my readers on a journey that looked at everything from prejudice to the price of war in a different, more intimate way. I also wanted to dispel the notion that women couldn’t fight alongside men, or lead them. Despite the fact that they had been doing that from time immemorial – many of the ‘goddesses’ of ancient times may have been female leaders demonized by their enemies. The ancient Persians were proud of their female warriors. There were complaints written in ancient texts about the independence of Egyptian women. It wasn’t until the more paternalistic religions took precedence that women were relegated to the sidelines – this despite Judith, and the Queen of Sheba, and the various successful women rulers throughout the centuries. Queen Victoria’s devotion to her husband Albert is well known, and proof that romance can exist even with a strong female ruler.
That’s something else I wanted to show – that a woman can be strong and capable, yet still have a good relationship.
In Star Wars it’s Leia who goes to rescue Han, until she’s unmasked.
I loved the romance between Zoe the warrior/first mate and Wash the pilot in Firefly, it was realistic, not without its struggles, but they were devoted to each other. As were Aeryn Sun and John Crichton in Farscape – another of my favorite shows.
As a culture, we’re oddly cynical about relationships. We focus on the 50% that don’t succeed rather than the 50% that do, and forget that until recent times good solid healthy marriages were the rule rather than the exception. It still makes me smile to think of one couple who were interviewed on NPR – they’d been together for 50 years and were still devoted. Both people were committed to the relationship through thick and thin.
What I didn’t want was to be consigned – as some very good writers are – to the female ‘ghetto’ of ‘romance writer’.
I struggled with that in a pretty deep crisis of conscience – until I came on-line. In one of those odd moments of serendipity, one of the first things I saw was a blog about the best relationships in Sci-fi, including some of my favorites.
Those were the kinds of relationships I wanted to explore in my novels, built on mutual respect and shared values that survive despite the turmoil of their lives. There might be centuries of difference between the two main characters in one of my books, and they might come from different ‘races’, but they recognize those shared values and develop the mutual respect over the course of the books. In another, despite being terribly damaged by her past, another character still finds a man strong enough to accept her for who she is.
I’m still in transition, and I don’t know if I’ve found the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m searching for a way through so I can still take my readers on wonderful, magical journeys. Read More »
I’ve always found honor and integrity fascinating. The struggle to maintain either in the face of a world – ours or imaginary – that often values neither. That’s where the true conflict lies. All of my characters have to deal with that, but none so much as Elon and Jareth in The Coming Storm. Even Daran High King has his own sense of honor, and holds true to it.
It is Elon and Jareth who struggle with it the most, though. Colath, Elon’s true-friend, faces no such struggle, he simply lives both without question. There are those very rare people who do that.
Elon, though, is more complex. He understands the consequences of his actions and decisions, yet even so he fights to do the right, the honorable thing, on both a grand and a personal level. Despite everything he believes, everything his and the greater society believes, he does what he knows is right, even if there will be consequences,even at the risk of his own life.
For Jareth, honor is more personal, a moment by moment decision he has to make and it’s not always easy for him. He didn’t come from a good background, as we discover in A Convocation of Kings. For him those choices are more complicated.
It’s those decisions and the people who make them that intrigues me and its something many of my characters have to struggle with. The kind of decisions about what’s best, either on a grand scale or a smaller one.
What is it about some men and women that send them running toward danger to help or save others, and not away? That’s what interests me.
It’s not always the big, muscular “hero” types either. Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at fit men as much as any other woman, but it’s not always the Alpha males that are so popular in fiction who go charging into the face of danger. Watch the news, many of the cops and firemen you see are just average people – not particularly tall or overwhelmingly muscular, just fit. (Although there are a LOT of pictures of very muscular fireman on FB).
We do have a thing in our society about physical appearance. Most people tend to think that danger comes in the form of disreputable people, which makes TV shows like Dexter believable on an entirely different level than what was intended. Dexter is a serial killer of serial killers, but he’s attractive so he has to be the good guy. The reality is that people like the man who kept three women hostage in Cleveland was that he was so ordinary in real life that no one gave a thought to him. To some extent I have to blame those line-up pictures that the news shows put up…but then again, how many of these people have time to pretty themselves up for that? What they should have shown was a picture of the man his neighbors and friends saw – not the disheveled monster.
We also have glorified the anti-hero, the person who has to be convinced to do the right thing (or the schlub who can barely do anything right).
Yet I look at the firefighters who died in AZ; or the cops, firefighters, and first responders who went up into the Towers, and I know that few of them fit those stereotypes. They did – and many still do – what was right because it was the right thing to do.
Those are the characters in my books…Whether it’s Kyriay in Song of the Fairy Queen, who decides to restore Oryan to his throne when no one would blame her if she took her people into the deep forest and let men fight among themselves. Or Ariel in Lucky Charm, who grabs a two by four when she sees three men beating up a fourth. Or Ky in Heart of the Gods, who risks his life and identity. None of them are boring, all are complex, each makes their decisions for their own reasons, and all of their books will keep you entertained and on the edge of your seat…
The Coming Storm http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004WLOBG2
Author page http://www.amazon.com/Valerie-Douglas/e/B0036POJZI/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1 Read More »
Dear readers, especially those who love fantasy,
This coming weekend the Alexandria Publishing Group will have a special for you. Many of our fantasy books will be free then, so if you haven’t gotten all our books on your virtual shelves yet, this weekend will be your opportunity to stock up at a price that can’t be beat.
Read More »
Why a rewrite, you might ask? Many would argue that a professional writer – and I consider myself a professional – would never do such a thing, that you should never release a book that isn’t finished. Read More »
Well, I didn’t – insofar as the perfectionist in me would allow. I was happy with A Convocation of Kings, it was a good book . It accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish, said the things I wanted to say – that love can conquer all and the hatreds war engenders are never over when the fighting is over, among others.
I remember reading a quote from a famous artist that said that even when the painting is on the wall of a museum he could spot little things he might have done differently.
Another quote says that a work of art is never truly finished, it’s just abandoned – a quote possibly attributed to DaVinci.
I understand both quotations. (and yes, writing is an art.)
But a point has to be reached where you simply have to say – It’s done.
Go to any one of thousands of writer’s groups and you’ll find dozens of people who have been working on the same manuscript for years, endlessly polishing, questioning each word or phrase, critiquing each other’s work, but never submitting a single manuscript. And they probably never will.
I understand that, too, but there is a point where you can actually tweak a story to death, render every sentence sterile and remove any semblance of soul.
You want it to be the best it can be, but sooner or later, you have to let it go.
So I made A Convocation of Kings as good as I could make it, and then let it go.
So again, why the rewrite?
Because, as any artist or writer can tell you, sometimes your mind is wandering and then suddenly this idea pops up out of nowhere. I was working on this completely different project when I had this brainstorm about A Convocation of Kings. Was it anything specific? I don’t really remember. I was just driven to take another look at it. (Ask my husband, I disappeared into my writing room for the better part of three weeks.) I just knew it could be better and how to get it there. So I sat down, started on page one and did an extensive edit, tightening some scenes, making others clearer, expanding on others, deleting one or two that didn’t move the story forward while adding others. New characters popped up and a small character got bigger, to reflect the part of the story that revolved around the main characters.
I’m hardly the first one to have done it. Stephen King released a Complete and Uncut version of The Stand because he wanted to put back in some scenes that had been edited out.
In the past, that wasn’t possible. That may be one of the blessings of being an indie writer, especially of e-books. It’s a new world, a new way of doing things, and we may now have the freedom to make changes on the fly – whether just minor grammar changes or something as extensive as with A Convocation of Kings.
All I know for certain is that when I finished, I felt a great sense of satisfaction. A Convocation of Kings was a good book. I really believe that now it’s a better book.
The Coming Storm
Elon of Aerilann, Elven advisor to the High King of Men, helped negotiate the treaty between Elves, Dwarves and men. He suddenly finds that fragile truce threatened from without by an unknown enemy and from within by old hatreds and prejudice. With the aid of his true-friend Colath, the wizard Jareth and the Elven archer Jalila, he goes in search of the source of the threat.
Ailith, the Heir to Riverford, fights her own silent battle. Her father has changed, but her quest to discover what changed him puts her life and very soul in danger and leaves her only one direction in which to turn. Elon.
To preserve the alliance, though, Elon will have to choose between his honor, his duty and everything for which he fought.
The Coming Storm is the most compelling book I’ve read in a long time. I realize that’s a gushy way to start a review, but as a long-time reader of fantasy novels, I’m comparing it to the often cliched books of the same type. …I’m anxious to read the next book.
Donna K. Fitch
Very good story! The plot is well developed and fast moving with strong, well developed characters that are easy to identify with and yet complex. The battle scenes are intense and the ending left me eager for more – both on the history of the world the author created and on what happens to the characters afterward. Well written epic fantasy in the middle earth tradition and definitely a must read!
Colath couldn’t remember a time when he’d ever been so weary and if he was tired, what of the men, Iric and Mortan? They hadn’t the endurance of his folk. Both were thinner in only a few weeks, there were dark hollows beneath their eyes and a dullness to them. Travel bread could sustain you but it wasn’t meant to replace real food and they hadn’t seen such in nearly a week. That had consisted of the one game they had scared up, a solitary rabbit that had somehow stayed hidden in these hills. Jalila had gotten it with one shot. The rabbit hadn’t been large.
Of other game, they saw only carcasses rotting in the sun. Boggins or boggarts, who loved entrails but not much else.
They had to get away from the borderlands and soon but that was becoming more difficult with each passing day. The line between the borderlands and the rest of the Kingdoms had blurred. Narrowly missing an encounter with a firbolg, they’d also avoided an ogre and several boggins. They’d spent a day or so upon a tor, looked down the slopes from the rocks at its crown to watch as a troop of boggarts passed below them. Thankfully, they hadn’t picked up on their scent or were so intent on their own quarrels they hadn’t noticed. Without warning a trio of the boggarts had leaped upon another and torn it to shreds. When they were gone a salamander had crept out from the rocks at the base of the hill where it had been hiding and made a fine meal of what the other boggarts hadn’t finished.
Manticores, they learned, hunted in prides much like some desert cats. The one they’d first seen had likely been a solitary young male, if they held true to that comparison.
All were far out of their normal ranges and too many in number.
A firbolg come down from the high ranges you would see once or twice a year, perhaps, after a hard winter. Young boggins and boggarts weren’t uncommon and the reason for the Hunters, most often. The smart ones learned their lesson and fled back to the borderlands screaming their frustration and defiance. Stupid ones died. Kobolds came once a season, maybe. Ogres and trolls once or so every few years. As for goblins, this wasn’t their territory so much as north and east but every few years a new leader would come along and gather them all up for a raid. It would take a small army of Hunters to rout them and send them running back to their own lands again. Never without there being wounded on both sides. Thankfully, they’d seen no trolls yet, nor goblins. So few in number, he and his small party would never have stood a chance against them, not with men in their party.
It was enough and more than enough, both north and south. Time to go home, to return to Aerilann. It was the how that was difficult, he thought, as he brooded beneath the overhang and stared out into the night. Somewhere not far enough away something screamed at the darkness.
They’d run across a trail of a number of orcs running before them.
Behind, of course and in both other directions, was more of the same.
The orcs, those monstrous, bear-like things with their oddly hinged jaws were more than his small party could face, particularly Iric and Mortan. Despite their protest, he and the two other elves had taken their watch this night. In the end, both men had to admit they were too weary to be useful. What tricks men used to stay alert had long since worn off. They were completely exhausted and both now slept deeply.
Alic gestured a warning and Colath tensed.
They’d had many nights like these, startled into alertness by some sign or strange noise. Once they’d had to kill a basilisk looking for a temporary den. Alic had been caught and frozen, to his shame, before the glare in those eyes.
That was the basilisk’s magic, their method for capturing their prey.
No shame to him, though, as basilisks here were as common as salamanders – that is, not common at all. They were southeastern creatures.
Then Colath caught the scent of what alarmed Alic, a faint stinging in his nostrils. A boggart or boggarts and near. He nudged Jalila gently. She rolled over, instantly aware and awake.
The two men were so deeply asleep they dared not nudge them to consciousness for fear they would cry out. As cruel as it was, it was still much better to press a hand over their mouths and frighten them awake than it was to risk an outcry. He nodded to Jalila to wake Iric, while he went to Mortan.
Mortan bucked beneath his hand but then his eyes opened enough to see Colath’s face in the dim glow cast by elf-light. Abruptly, he subsided but he looked more alert than he had in several days, the little bit of sleep and fright charging him with energy. It wouldn’t last, Colath knew, beyond a few hours. He hoped it would be enough.
Tapping his sword, he drew it, so the two men could see it. Nodding, they drew their own.
With a quick gesture, he sent Jalila and her bow to the back of the tumble of rocks that arched around them. Sheltered there beneath the overhang, she had a good defensive position from which to shoot and to guard the horses. Although Elves could and did run for miles, the men couldn’t and Colath didn’t want to think of any of them afoot in this country.
Alic stood with Iric on one side of the entry, he and Mortan at the other.
There was little else to do. Boggarts were dark-skinned and stealthy, to venture out was to risk themselves foolishly.
A tumble of wood stood where the rocks ended but Colath hesitated to light it.
Once lit, it would be a beacon for any other creatures that prowled the night. He hadn’t lit it earlier for fear the smell of smoke would draw more than repel. Most of these creatures hated and feared fire but they also seemed to know that where there was fire there were men and Elves. He hadn’t wanted to invite attention.
If the boggart or boggarts attacked, they might have no choice, depending on how it went. It was unlikely to go well or unnoticed. Typically, boggarts screamed when they attacked, an unnerving shriek that was intended to shatter the nerves of its prey if they were unwary enough to be caught off guard. That shriek alone would often send prey flying from cover. Colath hoped he wouldn’t hear it. If he did, they were in serious trouble. While not as thick-skinned as the manticore, their skin was thick enough to keep an arrow from driving too deeply if the shot was off a hair. The swords of men could glance off if their aim wasn’t true, for that Elven steel worked better. Add long arms, sharp claws and wicked teeth and you had a formidable opponent even for Elves.
If it came to a real fight, they would have to run. At night, as dangerous as that was. There was no choice. The sounds of battle would carry. Like the salamander they’d watched, there would be those who would be drawn to the noise for a chance at the offal.
Orcs didn’t see well at night, unlike boggarts. With luck they would like not stir and the party might get past them.
An unearthly shriek rang out.
Instinct warned him.
He flung himself to one side as a boggart leaped from above, one long arm narrowly missing his head. An arrow from Jalila’s bow flashed by to bury itself in one massively muscled boggart thigh as the thing rolled to its feet and spun.
It roared in fury and charged, long arms reaching. The horses tried to scatter, blocking Jalila’s next arrow, kicking to defend themselves instinctively. Alic swung true, opening a gash along the thing’s side but taking a brutal backhand that flung him against the rocks as Iric hacked wildly, trying to drive it off. One of the horses screamed as Colath leaped forward to drive his sword straight and true into the boggart’s side as Jalila threw her shoulder against a horse to push it out of her way.
Free, she had an arrow nocked as Colath and Mortan fenced with another boggart that leaped over the rocks at the entry, ducking and dodging the reach of the claws at the end of the long arms. It shrieked again as Jalila let fly. Flinging himself forward, Alic threw himself back in the fray, although his face streamed blood. The scent of it maddened the boggart, who turned on Alic. Jalila’s next arrow buried itself in the boggart’s back, piercing deeply – nearly half the length of the shaft, as two more scrambled over the rocks.
Steel rained down on the things as they held them to the center of the ring of stone. Scores of wounds were opened on the creatures. Colath saw an opening and took it when one reached for Alic for the blood on him, exposing its vulnerable underbelly just long enough for him to drive his sword up into it. He dove out of the way of a massive backswing of an arm, claws slashing through the spot he’d just occupied closely enough to snag his shirt. There was no pain. Not at the moment.
It screamed its defiance, raising its face to the sky.
“Light the fire,” Colath shouted.
Startled, Mortan stared, then ran to kneel by the pyre and set flint to steel, sparks flying. The tinder caught and flared.
Another arrow and the other boggart fell.
“Jalila, stay alert.”
She nodded sharply and stepped away from the horses to get a better view. Iric’s mount was scored, long gashes running along one leg. The tendons in that leg were gone. It would never run. With a flash of his blade, Colath ended its life. Elven cull it might be but he wouldn’t leave it to the savagery of the creatures here. Dead, it could suffer no more miseries and might buy them some time.
“Iric,” he said, “you ride with Jalila.”
Both were smaller and light, not so much weight as putting Mortan up behind her. Her horse could carry both, although not for as long.
“When we go, grab a torch from the fire and ride hard,” he said and swung up onto Chai’s back.
His bow would be of little use. Even with Elven-sight he couldn’t see far and clearly enough to make his shot count sure. It was sword work or nothing and hope your sword was long enough.
Alic leaped for his horse with Mortan shadowing him to his own mount. Once she was sure they were set, Jalila swung up on hers and reached for Iric.
Dropping Chai’s reins, Colath let the horse have her head, leaning down swiftly to snatch up a burning brand as he went by the fire and sweeping it alongside to drive off any boggarts before righting himself and leaning into the race.
Chai took up the challenge, living up to her name. She was swift, leaping forward to clear the rocks completely and racing into the night.
The others were behind him, flames streaming from the torches. Fire wouldn’t matter in the mad charge except light and as a weapon. He sent an elf-light ahead of them to give the horse light enough to see.
Dawn was too far off, the first dim promise of it nearly an hour away.
“At all and any cost one of us must make it to Aerilann,” he called to the others.
Somehow all of them would if he had any say in it.
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