Mood Music

Music helps me capture mood in my writing. Sometimes songs are easy to find; sometimes hard.

Songs and music have always been part of my stories, but it wasn’t until the musician Sorley moved from minor character to supporting in Empire’s Exile that I started to create playlists for part or all of my books. In Exile, it was only one song: there exists, in my fictional world, a song about two brothers separated forever by war. Sorley sings this one night, ‘for all we have loved, and all we have lost.’ Before and during writing this scene, I listened to Danny Boy, over and over again, trying to capture the sense of loss and love embodied in both its tune and its words.

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side….

Then Sorley moved from supporting character to main character, and the story he had to tell was one of love and betrayal, both in the immediate and looking back on it, and I needed songs to tell me of his pain and longing. The playlist started with Runrig’s This Beautiful Pain:

All that’s constant
And wise I still see in your eyes.
It was always this way from
The start. Right here where I
Stand on the last of the land.
But you’re still breaking the
Heart….

and Stan Rogers’ Turnaround:

…yours was the open road,
The bitter song, the heavy load
That I couldn’t share
Though the offer was there
Every time you turned around. 

Eventually it included Blue Rodeo, Gordon Lightfoot, more Runrig, Cat Stevens and CSNY. And one more, by the end: the song Sorley writes himself (or, rather, I did, of course – capturing the mood of Archie Fisher’s Dark Eyed Molly), his beautiful Paths Untrodden.

Then I started writing Empire’s Heir, which is the first of my books to have two narrators: the aging Cillian and his adult daughter Gwenna. There were two separate moods I needed to capture, along with a sense of a world changing, the torch being passed. I had Gwenna’s quickly: another Runrig song, Always the Winner

When you close your eyes there’s
A frightened pride that lives
For you. That your mother’s life
And your father’s eyes can’t
Hide. You had no choice, didn’t
Ask the dice to fall for you.
Still your courage comes like
Thunder through the skies. 

Cillian’s song took much longer – until a comment on Twitter discussing Leonard Cohen’s best songs took me to Alexandra Leaving – and it was perfect.

Suddenly the night has grown colder
The god of love preparing to depart
Alexandra hoisted on his shoulder
They slip between the sentries of the heart…

Now, as I contemplate the two planned books – Empress & Soldier, the stories of Druisius and Eudekia before Lena and Cillian and Sorley enter their lives, and the last book of the series, Empire’s Passing, which will be narrated by Colm and Lena – I’ll have to go looking for appropriate songs again. They’ll be out there, somewhere.

Danny Boy lyrics:  Frederic Weatherly, 1913; copyright expired.

This Beautiful Pain: Songwriters: Calum Macdonald, Rory Macdonald lyrics © BMG Rights Management

Turnaround: © Stan Rogers, Fogarty’s Cove & Cole Harbour Music

Always The Winner Songwriters: Calum Macdonald, Rory Macdonald lyrics © BMG Rights Management

Alexandra Leaving: © Leonard Cohen, Sharon Robinson and Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada Company. 

Hostage

We exchange our heirs, in surety for each side’s good behaviour.

In the modern mind, the term ‘hostage’ conjures up someone taken by force – the Iranian Embassy hostages; the person grabbed by a gunman in a robbery. But in Empire’s Hostage, Book II of the Empire’s Legacy series, ‘hostage’ is used in an older way.

“What does it mean, to be a hostage?” I asked. I saw something flicker in Turlo’s eyes. He grinned again.

“Exchanging the children of high rank as hostages is an old and honoured tradition,” he answered, “although not one we have respected, in some generations, and in truth needed to be reminded of. We’ll treat Donnalch’s son, and the other boy they are sending—his brother’s son—with every courtesy. They will lodge in the White Fort for now, and then be sent south to the Eastern Fort when the weather improves, to learn with our senior cadets. Darel, you will basically live the life that Donnalch’s son would have, whatever the education, in arms and tactics and books, they deem appropriate. That is the gist of it: we exchange our heirs, in surety for each side’s good behaviour. You will not be mistreated, but, understand, neither will you be truly free.”

In Hostages in the Middle Ages[1], Adam Kosto points out that:

In medieval Europe, hostages were given, not taken. They were a means of guarantee used to secure transactions ranging from treaties to wartime commitments to financial transactions. In principle, the force of the guarantee lay in the threat to the life of the hostage if the agreement were broken. 

Who were these hostages?  In her review[2] of Kosto’s book, Shavana Haythornthwaite tells us the preference was for sons of the family, but ‘the question of exactly who a hostage was in the Middle Ages was in fact part and parcel of the question of what the structures of power were.’ And that’s who stands as hostage to the treaty in my book.

He grinned. Nothing, ever, seemed to keep Turlo’s spirits down. “But the treaty, my lad, and lassie,” he added, “requires hostages. Donnalch’s son and another to us, and two children of our leaders to them.”

But peace treaties weren’t the only reason for hostages, and the interpretation can be broad:

Hostages were taken and held as surety for various reasons: the holding of property, the promise of paying off debts, the securement of peace. Hostages could be taken for social reasons, if broadly read. The fostering of sons is a form of social contract involving the holding of a boy by another family to strengthen a network of alliances. Betrothals and marriages of daughters and sisters, especially in the cases of making treaties between warring factions, served much the same purpose as a hostage or a fostered son: a promise of peace held in the body of a person.[3]

In later books in the series, almost all these broad definitions of hostage are part of the story, just as they were part of life in the middle ages.


[1] Kosto, Adam J. Hostages in the Middle Ages, 2012, Oxford University Press: https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199651702.001.0001/acprof-9780199651702

[2] Haythornthwaite, Shavana.  Review of Hostages in the Middle Ages, (review no. 1579)
https://reviews.history.ac.uk/review/1579

[3] Medieval Hostageship c.700-c.1500: Hostage, Captive, Prisoner of War, Guarantee, Peacemaker. Matthew Bennett & Katherine Weikert, eds., Routledge, 2019

Moving On

“Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving”

In Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing, the one that has always resonated with me is this one: “Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”

The tendency to keep refining my work is there. I can agonize over ever word, moving them around, adding, subtracting, to see if my intent is better expressed, if the emotion is stronger, the scene more intense. But if I do that, my books will never see the light of day. And I have more writing to do.

Empire’s Reckoning is done. It’s been structurally-edited, line-edited, revised, copy-edited, beta-read, sensitivity read, revised again, and the first ARCs are out. Twenty-two months of the most difficult writing I’ve done. I threw out the first draft almost completely and began again after 80,000 words. I excised 45K to become the novella Oraiáphon. I had difficulty finding my protagonist’s voice; I had difficulty with the two-timeline structure. And I had difficulty telling the story, because to tell my characters’ stories honestly and authentically, I challenge perceptions and presumptions about them. Not all my readers will be comfortable with how the story unfolds, I think, and that too was another difficulty.

“Move on, and write the next thing,” Mr. Gaiman says, but I can’t, not yet. I need time to let these characters who have lived so intensely in my mind for up to twenty years step back. They’re not disappearing, but they are giving way to the next generation; they will become secondary characters over the next two books in the series. I need time to get to know my new protagonist as an adult, to hear her voice clearly. I know the major story arcs of the next book, political and personal – or at least I think I do – but she needs to be living those conflicts, not being a puppet I move around within them.

I’ve lived, over the past almost-two years, a period of about eighteen months in my characters’ lives, a period for them of intense emotion, political intrigue, and personal growth. When I see them again, they’ll all be four years older, my original main characters feeling the aches – physical and spiritual – of middle age; the young ones the challenges and frustrations that come with taking their places in the world. It’ll be a bit like visiting friends or family you only see once or twice a decade, and get holiday and birthday cards from, but not much else: there will be a lot of catching up to do.

Sometime in the next week or two, I’ll clean up my study. I’ll take down the pictures of the actors that represent my characters at the stage of life they were at in Reckoning, and the pictures of northern Scotland and Vindolanda and Hadrian’s Wall and the Caledonian Forest that have kept me in the landscape of my book. The mindmaps and charts and even the song lyrics that line my study wall will go in a banker’s box and be relegated to the basement. I’ll back up all the files.

And then, in a few weeks, I’ll start replacing them: I’ll find pictures of my new protagonist as a young woman, not the girl she is in Reckoning. I’ll find the pictures of Rome that will inform the streets of Casil, its analogue city in my series and where most of the story of Empire’s Heir will take place. Empire’s Reckoning will be out in the world, for better or worse, and it will really be time to move on. Knowing that, following one more of Neil Gaiman’s rules, I’ve written my story as it needed to be written, honestly, and as best I can.

Empire’s Reckoning releases May 30.

Second Books are like Second Children

Do me a favour? Pay my second book some attention; it wants to be read.  And its older sibling is free right now, on Amazon, for the Kindle reader or app….so for a minimal price, you can have them both.  Think of it as a kindness. If I know other people are giving them their share of attention, I can focus on gestating the third baby!

I’m the third sibling of three…the baby.  My father was an amateur (and then professional, for a while) photographer.  There are hundreds of pictures of my sister, the oldest. (Remember this was 1948, when black & white film had to be hand-developed.) Hundreds. 

When my brother came along, six years later, there are fewer.  A couple of requisite baby shots, the christening, a few more.  But his presence clearly wasn’t as exciting, didn’t need to be recorded in the same way.

This is fairly typical, from what I’ve seen with the photos and video of my nieces and nephews, too.  The first baby gets a lot of attention; the rest…not as much. (There are even fewer photos of me.)

And that’s pretty much how I’ve been reacting to the publication of my second book, Empire’s Hostage. Yes, I’m pleased to see it in print. I’m doing my part to promote it.  But I lack the ‘look at what I produced!  It’s the best baby ever!’ excitement that first child/book engendered. Don’t get me wrong…I think it’s a fine book, a worthy sequel to the first. I’m proud to have written it. Some of the reviews have blown me away. But it’s the second child. I’m more realistic about its prospects and the work involved in getting in out into the world. And with the first still needing attention, and my mind already pregnant with the third, it’s going to fight for its share of my time. Do me a favour? Pay it some attention; it wants to be read.  And its older sibling is free right now, on Amazon, for the Kindle reader or app….so for a minimal price, you can have them both.  Think of it as a kindness. If I know other people are giving them their share of attention, I can focus on gestating the third baby!

Empire’s Hostage Now Available

“Involving, evocative, intelligent – an outstanding historical fantasy.” – Maria Luisa Lang

“Involving, evocative, intelligent – an outstanding historical fantasy.” 

Arboretum Press announces the publication of:

Empire’s Hostage

Book 2 of the Empire’s Legacy series.

“Marian delivered a fantastic sequel.”  Cover to Cover

Marian- book cover final

Paperback available from Arboretum Press:  arboretumpress@gmail.com

Canada/USA: $12.95 + $11.00 shipping/handling ($23.95); payment via Paypal or personal cheque

For international rates please contact arboretumpress@gmail.com

Payment via PayPal or personal cheque.

Kindle and paperback editions also available from Amazon.

 

Procrastination 101

Anything but work on the novel….

I should be copy-editing and reformatting the e-book proofs of Empire’s Hostage, but I’m not. Instead, I’m finding lots of other things to do.procrastination

Most of my ‘other things’ are writing related.  I updated my website, I wrote a book review.  I worked on some of the editing work I do.  I worked on a presentation I’m assisting with on growing herbs.  Monday, a surprise acceptance to read at an event this coming Saturday arrived in my in-box, so I’ve polished that piece, and practiced it, and polished some more.  Now I’m writing this.

I tell myself the following excuses:  I’m waiting for the feedback from the beta-readers; I haven’t downloaded the latest copy to my ipad (it’s easier to find the errors working with both the ipad and the PC interface); I’ve got lots of time to get this done.; my hips hurt from sitting at my computer too long.  All these are true, but I think they aren’t really why I’m procrastinating.  I think I’m procrastinating because there is part of me that doesn’t want to let this book out to the wide world, to the ratings and reviews (or lack of them); to the marketing, to the mostly uncaring public…and then there is the fact that, once it’s out there, I need to start the extensive research needed for the third (and probably final) book.

On the other hand, I know there are people waiting impatiently for Empire’s Hostage.  I have a responsibility to those people, my public, if you like. It’s a good thing they’re out there: sometimes I need extrinsic motivation.  So, I’m going to make a cup of tea, and upload the newest proof to the ipad, and get going on those edits.

Or maybe tomorrow…..

Cover Reveal!

I’m pleased to share with you the cover – back and front – for Empire’s Hostage, again the work of the talented A.J O’Brien (check his own psychological thriller out here.)

Marian- book cover final

‘Hostage’ is currently with its beta-readers and I’ll be making the last changes, copy-edits, etc., in the next few weeks. I’m hoping to release in late June or early July, just in time for summer reading!

I still have a few ARCs available for Kindle or e-pub….and if you haven’t read the first book, Empire’s Daughter, I can provide an e-book of that as well, if you’d like.  Send me a message!

 

A Noble’s Quest, by Ryan Toxopeus: A Review

If it is adventure you are after, The Noble’s Quest has it in spades.

Elves and dwarves, men and halflings, gnomes and orcs…this is a high fantasy story in thea-nobles-quest tradition of Terry Brooks, with gaming influences also apparent. Fast paced, and with a unexpected twist towards the end, A Noble’s Quest suitably entertained me. The gaming influences, I think, are most apparent in the pace of the story, and the characters’ self-awareness, tending towards ‘kill now, think about it later’ rather than the more reflective nature of some fantasies.

But if it is adventure you are after, A Noble’s Quest has it in spades. Thomas and Sarentha, the two protagonists, are peasants working as lumberjacks until Thomas accidentally kills the boss’s son. Forced to flee, they are caught up in a quest that involves an ancient map, the branch of a magical tree, and silver dragons that breath frost, not fire. (I liked that dragon, a neat inversion of the usual.)

There’s a bit of a fan fiction feel to parts of the world Ryan Toxopeus has created, strengthened by his use of the terms orcs and mithril, but to some extent Middle-Earth belongs to the generations now, part of a shared consciousness and the foundation of much of high fantasy, whether the authors realize that or not. The characters are a bit predictable (well, most of them – no spoilers!), but that’s less important in a story shaped by the adventure, not by the personalities. Sometimes the solutions to problems seemed a bit ‘deux ex machina‘, especially towards the end, again reflecting (in my opinion) the influences of gaming.

A Noble’s Quest is followed by its sequel, A Wizard’s Gambit, which I will be reading as soon as I get through my backlist! Overall, 3.5 stars from me for The Noble’s Quest, which translates to 4 on Goodreads and Amazon.

I received a copy of this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

More Good News!

I’ve just learned that my local library has ordered Empire’s Daughter for its collection. That’s quite rewarding, really; it’s really nice to see the library supporting local authors.  So now it’s in three libraries – two public (the other one is my university’s library, as part of its Campus Author program) and one private (the library of the rec centre in the over-55 community in which I live.)

And I’ve finally worked out a thorny problem in the sequel, so it’s coming on a-pace!

 

 

 

The Fall of The Gods (Elynx Saga Book 1) by Nicola Bagalà: A Review

I found parts of the story to be quite fun…

The Fall of The Gods (Elynx Saga Book 1) by Nicola Bagalà requires a major suspension of disbeliefFall of the Gods to enter fully into the world the author has created. Visualizing the action as a movie may help; when I could do that, I found parts of the story to be quite fun, although I could never really take it seriously.

The writing, as far as the adherence to the rules and conventions of grammar and spelling of the English language, is quite good, perhaps more so as English is not the author’s first language and he has translated the work from Italian. There were one or two mis-steps (snickers for sneakers, as one example) but overall the translation is competent and sentence flow is good; there are fewer mistakes than I usually see in any self-published work. It’s in the structure of story-telling that the problems arise. Mix together a sentient artificial intelligence that is the ‘soul’ of a building (and can appear as a solid hologram), a missing genius scientist, a Japanese grad student who is a mathematics and martial arts specialist, some equipment and action straight out of comic books and video games, dream sequences, and aliens crashed in the Sonora desert…well, can you mix all that together and write a coherent storyline? Not in one book, I’m afraid. There are too many plot lines and too many genres combined here for the story to hold together well. As it is the first book in a series, it is possible that once the other(s) are written that the whole series will coalesce into a solid and meaningful story. As it stands now, it’s too many flavours in one pot.

Standing out for me among the characters of the book was the sentient, holographic AI Hex. Perhaps an homage to Hal of 2001: A Space Odyssey, (although he also reminded me of the ‘soul of the Tardis’) as revealed in the Doctor Who episode The Doctor’s Wife), I found the character appealing and amusing, and oddly enough more fully realized than most of the other characters. (Which may, of course, say more about me as a reader than it does about the writer.)

Overall 2.5 stars, which translates to 3 on Goodreads and Amazon.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.