This week’s blog challenge is one I can’t believe I’ve never covered here before: My Ideal Romance Hero. I AM a romance writer, after all.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I am so NOT into alpha males. (Oddly enough I just talked about this during my romance cliche presentation last weekend at the Missouri Writer’s Guild Conference.) If you don’t know what that is, an alpha male is your typical romance hero. He’s usually ripped (think Fabio) and is very masculine, confident and bold. He takes charge to take care of his woman. *shivers* I can fend for myself, thank you. All that testosterone is just not for me.
Give me a beta male any day. A beta male is more vulnerable and sensitive than an alpha. He’s shy, sweet, reliable, trustworthy, easygoing but not a pushover, quick to offer comfort, feels deeply, and avoids confrontation. As author Cynthia Eden says: “The beta, well, he’s the guy you hope to marry in real life. Dependable. Steady. You know, a nice guy. The kind you looked for after you were done playing with the bad boy.”
I wrote Alex in Been Searching for You as a beta male. He’s highly educated, works as a professor (as opposed to alpha male careers like military, cop, fire fighter, construction worker, etc.), and he even cries while reading The Fault in Their Stars. He’s got a thing for theatre and the fine things in life. He’s basically my ideal fantasy man. My Lancelot is also more beta (although he may be a gamma), whereas King Arthur is certainly an alpha, which I did on purpose. Aggrivane is all beta. So is Miles from Been Searching for You. Nick? He’s an alpha-hole. (A subcategory of asshole alphas – this is a real thing in the romance community!)
Actually, the ideal man is probably what is coming to be known in romance circles as a gamma male, a combination of alpha and beta traits. There are shy betas who morph into aggressive, take-change alphas when the heroine is threatened, and alphas who hide a softer, beta side. If I had to pick, give me the former. I’d rather have the sensitive guy who will kick ass if I need him to than the one who kicks ass, but occasionally cries. When I think gamma male, I think Ben Pearl from Interred with Their Bones, who is totally my book boyfriend. he’s an internationally security expert and he protects the hell out of Kate Stanley, but he’s also highly intelligent and is able to keep up with her PhD-level Shakespearean knowledge. *swoon*
Ladies (and men who are so inclined) what does your ideal romance hero look like, physically and in all other ways? I want to know!
If you’re in the US, chances are good you’ve heard about a little movie called King Arthur: Legend of the Sword that is coming out this Friday. It’s directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Charlie Hunnam is the titular king, so it certainly has star power. In case you’re not familiar, here’s the trailer:
Personally, I think this is typical Hollywood, where they are more excited about the “cool” effects they can use (I mean, elephants in Arthurian legend? Ugh!) than with plot, but I don’t discount that it will have entertainment value for some people.
For those who would rather hear Guinevere’s side of the story, I’ve put both Daughter of Destiny andCamelot’s Queen on sale (ebook) through May 14 for $0.99 at all major retailers.
As before, if are willing to help spread the word, I’d really appreciate it!
Share information on the sale on social media. I’ve created a folder that has ready-made images and sample tweets/FB posts and links to where the book is for sale to make it as easy as possible to share.
I will have an article in the Huffington Post this week, so if you see it, please share it.
If you’ve already helped my dreams come true by buying, THANK YOU. If you have time to leave a review, that is always appreciated and may encourage others to buy. Here’s the link to Review on Amazon.
By the way, at the time of this writing, both Daughter of Destiny andCamelot’s Queen are in the 300s on their categories on Amazon. I’d love to see them get to #1…so any help you can give is appreciated!
This is my last ask that I know of until my next release. I really appreciate your efforts, your patients and that are willing to stick with me. Tell me what I can do for you in return!
Arthurian legend is one type of folk tale that certainly does not end with “and they lived happily ever after.” In fact, it’s unclear exactly what happened to our favorite characters after the battle of Camlann.* In the most familiar versions (though not all), Arthur and Mordred are killed in the battle. Guinevere enters a convent to live out her days in penitence, and Lancelot becomes a monk. Sometimes, the two lovers meet one last time, while in other stories, Lancelot is called to the side of the dying Guinevere, but arrives too late and dies of a broken heart.
What then, are we to make of the mysterious carved stones that bear their names? Are they more a part of folk legend than truth? Or did Guinevere and Lancelot seek refuge in Scotland there after the battle? Was Tristan real? Or perhaps some of the theorists are correct and they were all from the area to begin with. We likely will never know the truth. But the stones do make for some thought provoking reading.
According to one interpretation of a Pictish carved stone found in a Highland area called Meigle, after Guinevere was kidnapped and released from the clutches of Mordred (in this version, he’s a Pict), Arthur had her executed by ordering her torn apart by wild animals (dogs or lions, depending on who is telling the tale). Supposedly, the stone, called the Vanora stone (Vanora being a version of Guinevere) marks where she is buried and tells the story of her death.
And Lancelot? There is a stone for him in Scotland, too. At least I know I read about one, but of course, I can’t find where I read it. It’s possible that I’m making it up, I don’t think I am. One thread of legend associates Lancelot with the name/area of Angus, which is something that shows up in my third Guinevere book. If any of you happen to know what stone I’m thinking of, please let me know in the comments. It’s driving me crazy that I can’t find it!
The Tristan Stone (source: Wikimedia Commons)
Depending on the version of the story, Tristan may have been killed by King Mark for having an affair with Isolde, or he may have died in Brittany of a broken heart, thinking Isolde no longer loved him. Either way, his body was brought back to Cornwall, or he was buried there. A 1,500 year old stone in Cornwall near the town of Fowey that memorializes a man named Drustans who is believed to be connected with a possible historical or mythological inspiration for Tristan.
*In some versions of the legends, Guinevere is dead long before Camlann, either from disease or by Arthur’s own hand. In others, she helps Mordred in his bid for the throne and therefore must be punished by Arthur.
The minute I heard Guinevere and King Arthur were going to be a major story line on Once Upon a Time this season, I knew I had to watch it. I wasn’t so much curious about the way they’d handle the whole legend (I already didn’t like their Lancelot who was in season 2 when I was still watching – he was just, meh), as I was how they would handle Guinevere, for obvious reasons.
There was a really great quote about Guinevere being the true power behind Camelot – with which I wholly agree.
But beyond that? Historically accurate and true to the legend it is not. Inconsistent it is. (Spoiler alert – stop reading if you don’t want to know details.)
Guinevere Guinevere is a mixed bag as a character. She doesn’t do anything at all until episode 4, and even then the way she is portrayed varies within the episode. At first she seems docile, and then all of a sudden, Arthur has disappointed her with his alienating obsession one too many times and she’s in full on I’m-not-going-to-take-this-crap, I-can-solve-this-problem-myself mode. THIS is the kind of woman I want to see! She takes the initiative to find the object Arthur is obsessing over (don’t ask – it’s a McGuffin made up for the show), her determination so strong all poor Lancelot can do is trail behind and vow to protect her. *snort* This woman doesn’t need a guardian, as she proves when she rescues him from a dark evil swarm of…something…bats?…magic? Whatever.
Guinevere is in sight of said McGuffin, but her access is blocked by Rumplestiltskin, who offers her magical sand from Avalon instead. This is where Guinevere becomes an imbecile, much like her legendary counterparts. Instead of being a clever woman and bargaining with him or at least TRYING to out-think or fight him, she ends up taking the sand, which is said to be able to “fix” anything. Later, when Arthur reveals he knows about her and Lancelot kissing and she threatens to leave him for Lancelot (she gets points for that), she falls for the old “magic sand in the face” trick. Suddenly, she’s docile, my-husband-is-wonderful Stepford Guinevere…and their marriage is “fixed.”
I get that this is magic and there may be some subtext in that the only way Arthur could control his wife is through magic, but it really made me want to bang my head against a wall. This show is famous for taking strong fairy tale women with agency (Snow, for example) and allowing magic to turn them into useless beings (Mary Margaret may be nice, but she’s not so bright). The only one who seems to have escaped that “curse” (pun intended) is the Evil Queen/Regina. I would have liked to have seen a consistently strong Guinevere from a show that at least, at times, has been the only thing in popular culture to showcase women with brains, beauty AND power.
As Rebecca Jane Stokes writes at Den of Geek, “While it’s refreshing and cool to be presented with a powerful incarnation of Guinevere (instead of a wet noodle in the center of a love triangle), they immediately zap her of any power courtesy of Gold’s red dust. The show is so scared of anything that might be perceived as being outre – LET Guinevere cheat on Lancelot! It’s a complicated story! One we’d watch!”
I find it telling that the other fairy tale woman in this episode is Merida from Brave. They did an AMAZING job with her. She was everything I wanted Guinevere to be: strong, courageous, kick-ass, not-going-to-back-down from her beliefs. I wonder why they felt like they should keep her agency, but not Guinevere’s? Maybe Brave is too recent a story for them to feel like they could cheat with it? I’m just happy someone was allowed to stay strong. Pray she remains that way.
(The actress that plays Merida looks so much like the character, it’s frightening. OUAT’s casting directors get props for that and for keeping diversity in mind with the Arthurian cast, although for me, it’s distracting because it doesn’t fit the legend. But at least this Guinevere isn’t a blonde!)
A Few Other Thoughts: King Arthur and Arthurian Legend Most of the Arthurian story line is very medieval, even down to Camelot castle being modeled after
Were they even trying? Neuschwanstein castle on the left, OUTA’s Camelot on the right.
Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, itself the model for the Disney castle (hello, Hollywood, there are beautiful castles in Spain, France and all over the British Isles you can use, too). And it doesn’t play well with traditional legend, but that show is known for twisting up the tales.
But the interesting thing to me is the writers seem to have taken a cue from older Arthurian legend for the character of Arthur. At first he seems to be the benevolent king that we’re used to, but then he reveals a dark side: he’s so obsessed with finding the McGuffin that he is nearly insane. This is a dark side rarely seen by those who don’t know the early legends. I’ve seen quite a few people online talk about how “stupid” or “unbelievable” a dark or possibly evil Arthur is, which proves they only know the whitewashed medieval version.
I haven’t watched episode 5 yet, but from the recaps I’ve read, it doesn’t seem to further this story line much. I only hope that once the magic Avalon dust wears off (sorry folks, there’s none of that in my books), we’ll have a strong Guinevere who can learn from Merida and take her rightful place in history and on our TV screens.
Do you watch Once Upon a Time? What are your thoughts? Do you think we’ll EVER see a strong Guinevere on screen?
So Goodreads tells me that I’ve read around 50 books this year. And those are only the ones I bothered to track. If you count my research books, the number is probably closer to 80 (seriously, I counted). The good news for you is that I’m not going to review all of them, just a handful of my favorites.
Please note: These are listed in no particular order. Not all of these books were published in 2013; they are just ones I read this year.
1. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley – This was the first book I read by this author, who is now in my top five of all time. The Winter Sea is a historical time travel story that follows writer Carrie McClelland as she both writes her next book and uncovers family secrets. But this is no mere fictional tale; it takes on the idea that memories can be passed down through generations. It’s a great semi-gothic, semi-romance, but what really propelled this to the top of my list is Kearsley’s ability to describe what it’s like to be in the “writer’s trance” and feel compelled to write, something every writer will be able to relate to. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this one.
2. The Demon Lover by Juliet Dark – Juliet is the pen name of Carol Goodman (whose book Arcadia Falls could also easily have made this list) and is the first, and in my opinion the best, novel of the Fairwick trilogy. It tells the story of Callie McFay, a professor newly installed at Fairwick College, who experiences startlingly vivid (read: sexy) dreams after moving into an old house in the area. She soon learns that she’s not alone in the house, nor are all the residents of the town as normal as they first appear. Something supernatural this way comes. 🙂
4. Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor – This novella takes place during Taylor’s previous book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone (go read it if you haven’t already. It’s amazing!), and tells the story of the first date between Zuzanna and Mik, two of the supporting characters in the Daughter series. This story is sweet and full of whimsy and will leave you with a smile on your face and a renewed belief in magic and the power of love. This is one I plan to read over and over again.
5. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers – This is the second book in Lafevers’ His Fair Assassin series, a YA trilogy I can’t recommend highly enough. The trilogy is about a convent of assassin nuns who worship the old gods (I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out) set in a fantasy version of medieval Brittany. The first book, Grave Mercy (also wonderful), told the story of Ismae; this is Sybilla’s story, which is much darker and fraught with danger. What has captivated me about this series is the mythology Lafevers has created. I find myself wanting to believe it is real. Why this books are classified as YA is beyond me (probably the main character’s age); they certainly don’t read that way to me and I recommend this series for readers of all ages.
1. Historic Figures of the Arthurian Era: Authenticating the Enemies and Allies of Britain’s Post-Roman Kingby Frank D. Reno – I read this book during my novel research this year and could have kissed the author – that’s how useful it was. Reno examines Arthurian legend and then lays over it the historical records of the time (such as they are) to try and determine who the historical figures behind the myths were. I used it especially to get the lay of the land in the years leading up to and after what I consider the Arthurian period. To me, this is a resource that is much undervalued in the study of who King Arthur may have been and the world in which he likely lived.
2. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman – I read this book after seeing the Netflix series which is loosely based on Kerman’s experiences and I’m glad I did it in that order. Usually, I’m a book-first kinda gal, but in this case, it was fun connecting the fictional characters to their real-life counterparts. If you’ve seen the series, I’ll offer this word of warning, much of it is fictionalized, so don’t go into the book expecting the same thing. The book is tame by comparison, but it also offers an interesting perspective on our system of institutional justice and the power of the collective female spirit to support and thrive, even in the darkest of circumstances.
3. The English Housewife by Gervase Markham and Michael R. Best – I read this book while doing research for a Tudor-era book that is now on hold indefinitely, but I had to include it on this list. This is an actual instruction manual of all the things an English woman would have been expected to know in the early 17th century. Consider it a Renaissance Redbook. If you are interested in how people lived during that time, how they cured disease or even the elements and courses of a proper feast, this is the book for you. The information on their folk cures was so detailed, it made me want to injure my characters just so I could heal them.
4. The Tudor Housewifeby Alison Sims – This is an incredibly easy to read compendium of the elements of daily life during Tudor times. Unlike a lot of scholars, Sims makes this time period fun, while enlightening on subjects as varied as washing clothes, education, preserving food and how to brew beer.
5. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas – Mr. Mass is a well-known agent and this book is the result of his years of experience in the publishing industry. Unlike other “how to write” type books, this one goes beyond the basics, showing you how to take your writing to the next level and push yourself further in your creation of a plot with truly high stakes that the reader will care about. Maas doesn’t just want to teach you how to be a writer; he wants to teach you the elements that will make you a best-seller. I found this book very thought provoking and it is one I’ll turn to time and time again when plotting books.
And as a little teaser for next year, I’ll add that one of my favorite books of 2013 won’t actually be out until March 2014 in the US. It’s The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier, which I was fortunate to review for the Historical Novel Society. An in-depth review will be posted here as soon as the short version is published in Historical Novel Review.
Happy New Year, everyone. May 2014 bring you even bigger blessings and good fortune than this year did. I’m hoping to have lots of big news for you, so please stay tuned and as always, thank you for reading!
What were your favorite books of 2013? What should I add to my TBR pile?
Defeat of the Saxons by Arthur by John Cassell (source: Wikimedia Commons)
Today in the United States is Memorial Day, when we remember those who have served and have fallen in battle. This got me thinking about all of the wars that have been fought through the centuries and how many millions of warriors have died. So many lives tragically cut short. And for what? We’re still fighting over the same things we were thousands of years ago. But I digress.
I’m also editing my second book right now, so Arthur and his battles have also been on my mind. The list that comes down to us was recorded by Nennius, a Welsh monk and historian, who lived in the 9th century. He lists Arthur’s victories as:
Battle 1. On the river Glein.
Battle 2, 3, 4 and 5. On the river Dubglas in the region of Linnuis.
Battle 6. On the river Bassas.
Battle 7. In the wood of Celidon/Cat Coit Celidon.
Battle 8. At castle Guinnion.
Battle 9. In the city of the Legion
Battle 10. On the river Tribruit
Battle 11. On Mount/Hill/Rock Agned or Breguoin
Battle 12. At Mount/Hill/Rock Badon.
Interestingly, the final – perhaps most famous – battle, Camlann, isn’t noted by Nennius, but is mentioned in the Annales Cambriae, a Welsh historical document dating to the 1100s.
If this list is to be believed, Arthur was certainly a patriot. He is commonly called Dux Bellorum (Leader of Battles), even in the earliest literary references. These are only the victories. Can you imagine how many other battles he fought and lost? Tradition tells us the Britons and the Saxons were fairly evenly matched during the time of these battles (approximately to 480 to 510 AD), both sides winning and losing untill Badon decisively turned things in the Briton’s favor, ushering in an era of peace that may have lasted as long as 30 years.
As with everything Arthurian, historians can’t agree on if these legendary battles took place, and if so, when and where. The only two that are part of historical record are the Battle of Mount Badon (possibly at Bath) and a skirmish at a place called Camlann (sometimes placed in the north of modern England near Hadrian’s Wall, other times in Wales or southern Britain). Because of translations and changing place names as power shifted from the Celts to the Saxons, then to the Normans, and so on, the modern locations of these conflicts is the subject of great interpretation. If you want to read about some location possibilities, Early British Kingdoms has a great list. Historians also argue over whether it is humanly possible that one man could have led (and survived) so many battles over such a long period of time and in such far-reaching locations.
Someday I’ll probably do posts on the individual battles, as I have plans to write more fiction about them, so I’ll have to get to know each one intimately. But for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this general overview. Happy Memorial Day, everyone. Please take a moment to think of those who served your country (wherever that may be) so that you might live in peace and freedom.
Have you heard of Arthur’s 12 battles before? Do you have theories on where they might have been located or who he fought against? Which historians do you think are correct, if any?
Today I’m honored to feature an interview with Kim Headlee, a fellow Arthurian author whom I’ve admired for years. She and I were on the same Arthurian list-serve back in 1999 when I was first conceiving my own Guinevere books and I’m so thrilled to have connected with her once again!
1. Please tell us a little about Dawnflight.
Dawnflight is the first installment of The Dragon’s Dove Chronicles, a series that I hope will span at least eight volumes, including two which precede Dawnflight in terms of the characters’ chronology. Dawnflight features the romance of Gyanhumara (“Gyan”) and Arthur beginning in the aftermath of the first of Arthur’s twelve battles, in which he defeated her people and established the treaty clause that she must marry a nobleman from his side of the border.
Of course, treaties, like all other rules, are indeed meant to be broken. The trick lies in how to break them without creating calamity for all involved. Throw in an enemy invasion for good measure (battles two and three on Arthur’s list of twelve), and our heroes have quite the conundrum, indeed.
2. What inspired you to write it?
A combination of factors contributed.
When I was 7 (I’m dating myself, but I stopped caring about such things decades ago), my parents took me to see the movie Camelot in the theatre. The two images I liked best from that first viewing were Guinevere in her white fur wrap and the knights fighting on top of the Round Table and breaking it. Both foreshadowed the direction of my Arthurian fiction.
At age 9, I read a modern-English rendering of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur cover to cover and became hooked. I began devouring every Arthurian title I could lay my hands on. In those days, that meant editions such as The Boy’s King Arthur, a version of Malory illustrated by Howard Pyle, an umpteenth reprinting of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and an almost-umpteenth reprinting of The Once and Future King.
In high school, my parents gave me a first-edition copy of The Hollow Hills, which made me thirst after historical adaptations. The highest compliment any reviewer has paid my work to date is to give it a favorable comparison to Mary Stewart’s novels; she was my primary literary hero in those days. She still is, come to think of it.
High school was when I first started writing my own version of the Arthur-Guinevere relationship. I still have a couple of drafts of that—and read them recently, in fact. What a hoot! 100% teenage girl, no question about it.
Then Marion Zimmer Bradley came out with her iconic entry into the Legends (Mists of Avalon and, yes, I have a first edition of that, too), which concentrated on “rehabilitating” the reputation of Morgan le Fay.
Through all of this—and I include the works by Nancy McKenzie, Persia Woolley, Sharan Newman, and Helen Hollick—I couldn’t find a rendering of Guinevere that I well and truly liked. So, as the adage goes, “If you want something done right…” 😀
3. You are a woman after my own heart! What’s different about this new version from the award-winning one released in 1999?
Glad you asked!
The most obvious difference at first glance is the inclusion of my digital line-art renderings of images engraved on Pictish standing stones found throughout Scotland, plus some of my original artwork inspired by said stones. These drawings function throughout the text as clues to the reader of an imminent viewpoint shift: the doves represent Gyan, the dragons Arthur, and so forth. With more than ten viewpoint characters, I decided my readers could use a bit of help!
Linguistically—aside from tighter wording and hotter sex—I have expanded my characters’ vocabularies to include additional epithets, endearments, insults, and mythology in order to more richly define their world. I never would have dared to do this had I not decided to include a glossary. Since my work has truly epic scope, I also include an index of characters who appear or who are referenced in the book. This index defines each character’s function in the story and gives other pertinent details.
4. I’ve heard you say that yours is a Guinevere “people will actually like.” What do you mean by that? What makes her different?
She’s smart (and sometimes a smartass!), she’s strong willed, she has a fairly firm idea of who she is and what she wants from life—and from her life-partner—and yet all that strength forms a shell around a compassionate, vulnerable core. She wants to do the best thing for her people but sometimes doesn’t have the first clue how to accomplish it and seeks approval along the way. Consequently, she is mercilessly hard on herself when she perceives that she has failed to meet others’ expectations. In short, she is very much a woman that female readers can relate to despite the fact that most of us don’t rule clans or collect heads. I once described the book to a coworker as, “a female assertiveness training manual.” It’s not far from the truth. Male readers can simply sit back and enjoy the view, along with the battles and political intrigue and whatnot.
5. What made you choose Scotland as the location for your novel when England is the traditional setting?
Several research works I read in the 1980s—before Dawnflight first took shape upon the page—suggested to me that the Border Country was an ideal location for Arthur’s military operations. Plus, I was attracted to the cross-cultural aspect of having Arthur be a Romanized Celt and Gyan a Pict (or “ban-Caledonach,” as she would call herself in my newly invented Pictish terminology). In fact, the more I delve into Scottish Gaelic to create Pictish terms for place-names, the more I am convinced that southern Scotland/northern England was Arthur’s home turf, in spite of what others may insist. The wording, in comparison to traditional Arthurian place-names and battle sites that nobody can identify with anything approaching certainty, fits far too nicely to be mere coincidence.
And, yes, I firmly believe Arthur, his wife, and their associates existed. To do anything less would be a gross disservice to my writing and to my readers.
6. I’ve read that you purposefully stripped your tale of the magic usually associated with Arthurian legend to focus more on the history. Why?
Oh, the magic is there, trust me! But it is the magic of visions and prophecies, the magic of prayer, the magic of curses and blessings, the magic of herbal lore…and most of all, the magic that happens when two charismatic individuals unite to forge a better world for themselves, each other and their people.
7. The summary for your book puts forth an interesting premise: Gyan (Guinevere) marries someone other than Arthur. What made you choose such a bold departure from previous legend?
Good question! I think it may have been inspired by some obscure, ancient tale…after having studied the Arthurian Legends for more than four decades, it’s safe to say that I’ve forgotten far more than most people know about the subject.
Actually, to be fair—and this isn’t really a spoiler alert—Gyan is betrothed to Urien. After she and Arthur meet and become attracted to each other, they spend the rest of the book trying to figure out how she can extricate herself from the betrothal without making Urien start a civil war.
8. Dawnflight has a sequel, correct? What can you tell us about this book and when it will be available?
Morning’s Journey picks up the morning after Dawnflight leaves off and follows Gyan & Arthur through more battles and family changes and triumphs and tragedies. And it delves a little farther into the relationship of Gyan and Angusel (Lancelot). Morning’s Journey will be available as soon as I can get a cover commissioned & delivered, since my copyeditor has given me her input.
9. What else might readers like to know about Dawnflight?
If you choose to buy the print edition, email me (kimheadlee at earthlink dot net) or message me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/kim.headlee) for instructions on how to obtain an autographed bookplate. If you buy the e-book edition, I can mail you a magnet… but I wouldn’t advise putting it anywhere near your device!
Apple, Sony and other distribution channels will be available as soon as possible.
11. How can people find out more about you?
Friend me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kim.headlee. I like to share stuff about cats and Star Wars and writerly things and inspirational sentiments and, oh yeah, the occasional original thought. 😀
Thank you , Kim, for joining us here. I hope you find great success with Dawnflight, and best of luck on your future works!
If you have a comment for Kim, please leave it here. She will be monitoring this site periodically.
Blog note: This is the last post of this year. In 2013, new posts will be published on Mondays, starting January 7. Happy Holidays to all, no matter what you celebrate.
About a month ago, I was fortunate to interview author J.P. Reedman about her new debut novel, Stone Lord. At the time, I knew very little about the book, other than it was Arthurian legend set in the Bronze Age. This unusual concept, combined with her interview and excerpts posted online, were enough to convince me to buy her book. Given that I can be a bit of a tough sell when it comes to anything Arthurian, I was happily surprised by how much I liked the book. And “liked” is an understatement. Ask anyone who had to listen to me rave while reading it. If you want the short version: 4.5 stars.
Despite its title, this book isn’t only Arthur’s tale. It begins with the story of the boy who would become Merlin, how he escaped the clutches of Vhortiern (Vortigern), and grew to guide U’thyr (Uther), Arthur’s father. Once the young king is born, his story comes to the forefront. Throughout the book, Reedman gifts us with truly creative takes on classic Arthurian legend, including the dragons under the tower, Merlin’s relationship with Nin-Aeifa (Nimue), the nature and purpose of Afallan (Avalon), the Sword in the Stone, the finding of Excalibur (called here Caladvolc), and more. The only place where I felt it fell a little short was in Mordred’s conception, which reminded me of other versions I have read, but with a gothic chill that the others lack. I especially appreciated her inclusion of the Green Knight and his beheading game and the hunting of the boar T’orc, neither of which I’ve seen touched by authors in quite some time.
Honestly, I haven’t been this captivated by a book since The Mists of Avalon. But then again, I’m a sucker for all things mythological, and that is where Reedman truly excels. Her descriptions of the ancient monuments and the rites associated with them will take your breath away. She has a way of making such an obscure period of the past come to life, that you half expect to be there when you put the book down. It is a story firmly rooted in its time period, one that actually caused me, as a writer, to reexamine some of my character’s motivations to make sure they are historically accurate. (That is one of the highest compliments I can pay an author – to have learned something about my own work by reading theirs.) Reedman’s insertion of the Arthurian story into the Bronze Age is done so seamlessly that it’s easy to forget this isn’t its usual time period. I’m not in a position to judge the archeology, but I am certain her expertise in this area is a major contributor to making this book feel so real.
The pacing of this book is well done. I didn’t want to put it down. The only place where I felt it was a little off was Fynavir’s (Guinevere) kidnapping. It’s my understanding that in most tales, Melwas holds Guinevere captive for quite some time. But in Stone Lord, she’s being carried away on one page and 25 pages later (most of which is taken up by another part of the story), Fynavir is rescued. Reedman spends far more time on the hunt of the boar than she does on the event that is the catalyst for Fynavir and An’kelet’s affair, which doesn’t seem equitable. I also felt that the ending was a little rushed, like Reedman was in a hurry to wrap things up, but this is a common complaint I have about many books, so it may be more me than the author.
In a few places, just a little more explanation would have helped the overall story. I felt that the background between Fynavir (Guinevere) and An’kelet (Lancelot) depended a lot on the reader’s knowledge of the myth of King Arthur. There are furtive glances and reddening cheeks that make you aware there is an attraction and some sort of past between the two, but the nature of this is never made clear. I would have liked at least a few pages of background to help me understand why, in Reedman’s world, these two are so heartbroken that they can’t be together and what bonded them in the first place. I also would have liked a little more motivation for Morigau (Morgan). She’s as crazy as crazy comes, but the only explanation we really get is a preternaturally intelligent girl of “no more than three” wailing in jealousy that Merlin picked Ardhu to train rather than her. Later, she rails about how Ardhu took everything away from her, especially the love of her family, but here again there’s so much reliance on prior knowledge of legend that Morigau’s motivation feels forced on her. If we could have seen one or two scenes showing how her life changed for the worse because of Ardhu, her venom would be easier to understand. Maybe these things will be further explained in the sequel, Moon Lord, but I would have liked to have had them in the context of this book.
One key thing I thought was missing from the book was a list of place names, both then and now, and maybe even a map, since they are so different from anything most of us would be familiar with. Reedman has a list on her website, but even that individual post is difficult to find and this isn’t a convenient solution when you’re reading and don’t feel like getting online on to verify a location. I made it through just fine without the map, but it would have been nice to be able to flip to the front or the back to verify the characters were going where I thought they were.
Also, if you buy a first edition, there are several typos, so be forewarned. The author is aware of these and will be correcting them in future editions.
But even for its flaws, Stone Lord is a fantastic book. I think it is worthy of a Big Six publisher’s attention, but I’m pretty much the ideal audience for a book like this. If you like the story of King Arthur and can handle a non-traditional setting, you’ll enjoy this book. Congratulations to Reedman on a fine contribution to the Matter of Britain. I look forward to reading more of Ardhu’s adventures in Moon Lord when it comes out.
Have you read Stone Lord? If so, what did you think of it? If not, does it interest you? Why or why not?
J.P. Reedman, author of “Stone Lord: The Legend of King Arthur, The Era of Stonehenge”
Today we have a very special guest, author J.P. Reedman, whose historical fiction novel, Stone Lord: The Legend of King Arthur, The Era of Stonehenge, was recently published.
Q: Thank you so much for joining me and my readers. By way of introduction, please tell us a little about yourself.
Janet: Stone Lord is my first published novel. I began writing fantasy when I was 11, back on the west coast of Canada, where I grew up. I had lots of stories and poems published in the small presses in the ’80s, and had a long foray into ‘fan fiction’ but slacked off when I moved to the UK in 1992—I was too busy traveling around and having fun! A serious illness ten years ago kick-started my writing again; I knew then that it was time to sit down and really make an effort, and not to think you had all the time in the world.
Q: Stone Lord is a very unique take on Arthurian legend, as most books about King Arthur are set the Middle Ages or Celtic times. What inspired you to set yours in the Bronze Age?
Janet: I have read all the different Arthurian versions, plus non-fiction and the legends in the Mabinogion. There were so many versions of the Arthurian legends I began to think that, like Robin Hood, there may have been more than one source of inspiration for the character. I believe there probably WAS a dark age Arthur who stemmed the Saxon tides for a while…but certain mythic qualities in the legends speak of an older time, long before the Dark Ages. In the Welsh Mabinogion Arthur fights monsters and witches, not Saxons, and his company have the thinly disguised names of gods. Then there were Geoffrey of Monmouth’s anachronistic mentions of the building of Stonehenge, a monument many thousands of years older than the historical Arthur. Add to that, stories of weaponry coming from and being deposited in lakes (a custom that began in the Bronze Age), swords in standing stones, and you start to see what may be the root of some aspects of the legend.
Q: In reading the excerpts from your book available online, I noticed the main characters have names that are derivations of the names we normally associate with Arthurian legend. How did you determine what you would call them?
Janet: With great difficulty! I knew that it wouldn’t sound right to call them by their traditional established names, which are a mix of Celtic, French, and even a bit of Germanic. So I looked for older or more ‘primal’ sounding versions of the names, and found them most often in Irish myth—for instance Arthur’s sword Excalibur seems to have the Irish hero’s sword Caladbolg as its direct ancestor, so I used a version of this. I decided I wanted ‘Celtic sounding’ names, but with alternate spellings so as not to sound TOO familiar or confuse people about the timeline. And if anyone is wondering, it is now thought that Celtic languages were in Britain at least from 2500 BC.
Q: What types of traditional research did you do for this book? What are some sources you’d recommend if others want to learn more about the Bronze Age or its people?
Janet: Visit the monuments if you can! There’s nothing like being in the field. There are several brilliant books on the subject of Stonehenge and the British Bronze Age. Stonehenge by Mike Parker Pearson contains much of the recent findings in the Stonehenge landscape, and Aubrey Burl’s Rites of the Gods covers the ritual side of things.
Q: You’ve also done some archeological research. That’s something few people can claim. Please tell us a little about this research, how it came about and how it influenced your book.
Janet: I work part-time at Stonehenge itself and have been lucky enough to talk with many of the top archaeologists in the field. I also have worked myself on a marvelous site just 2 miles from the stones where there is an ancient sacred pool full of deposits that spans the ages from the Mesolithic to medieval times. A rare type of Bronze Age dagger was found in the spring, and this really started to make me think about the Excalibur tradition. The site is on private land and covered in trees; an iron age hill fort stands next to it, and the Avon river curls around it like a serpent…it’s a truly magical place and may well become a site of worldwide importance.
Q. You have some very nice nods to traditional Arthurian legend in your work, such as Ardhu (Arthur) moving a stone and taking a sacred dagger from underneath it. What made you choose to portray the Sword in the Stone in this manner?
Janet: I saw a video about someone who could move large stones. He did it using a pivot point and I thought, ‘Yes, that could work!’ I began to think again, about Geoffrey of Monmouth’s description of Merlin dismantling Stonehenge when it was still in Ireland. It wasn’t magic that moved the stones but his ‘ingenious machines.’ I didn’t want to use magic in Stone Lord, so I had to come up with something that could be done and would look visually impressive to onlookers.
Q: One of the most fascinating aspects of your story, at least to me personally, is the mythology of the people and how it affects their daily lives. Can you please tell us a little about how you came to learn about it and the role it plays in your story?
Janet: When reading many books about prehistoric people, I was nearly always disappointed by the usage (or lack) of personal mythology/ritual. People laugh when archaeologists dig a mysterious mound and say it’s ‘for ritual’ but it WAS a very different world to ours, one when you really didn’t know if the Sun would return every Midwinter, where a simple virus or a bad tooth could kill you, where you would have to placate the powers for your continued survival.. I studied anthropology briefly in the ’80s and tried to make a fairly realistic portrayal of what I think Bronze Age Britons might have believed in—a world where the spirits of the dead co-existed with the living, where trees, stones, rivers all held tutelary deities. It wasn’t the ‘fluffy’ time some authors like to make it either; there is plenty of evidence that strange and not-so-nice rites did take place on occasion.
Q: Your pre-historic version of Guinevere, whom you call Fynavir, is Irish. Why did you choose this background for her? How did you choose how to place the other characters since they are very much out of their traditional element in your book?
Janet: The name Guinevere has the same origin and meaning as Fynavir—White Phantom. Findabhair was daughter of the Irish Queen Maeve in the famous saga The Cattle Raid of Cooley. I liked the idea of a marriage alliance being made, especially as much British gold work of the Bronze Age came from Wicklow. It is now also thought that the Irish hero sagas have roots in earlier prehistory rather than just in the Iron Age. As for the others, I did try to keep some of Arthur’s familial ties in tact. I used Cornwall for his mother’s Y’gerna’s home as not only was Tintagel in the original, it was a very important place in prehistory—the source of Britain’s tin. Lancelot (An’kelet) is a prince from Brittany in France…not a million miles from the ‘canon’ Lancelot who was also from that area; Brittany has had strong tied to Britain since the Stone Age and also has a great megalithic culture.
Q: Some reviews have likened your book to Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel. Obviously they are both set in pre-historic times, but beyond that do you find it an apt comparison? How would you describe your book to those trying to decide whether or not to read it?
Janet: Auel’s book is set at a very much earlier period than mine, but I can see some resemblance. She may have been writing an adventure epic but she knew her stuff about the people and their lifestyle.
Q: What is one misconception you’ve heard voiced about your work and what would you say to clarify?
Janet: I’ve had a few people who don’t seem to recognize that it is fiction! I am not expounding a theory on King Arthur in any way. You could almost call what I write a form of alternative history, I suppose.
Q: Do you believe there was a historical King Arthur? Why or why not? Or do you think it really matters?
Janet: I do think there was, but whoever he was, he has assimilated both mythic characters and a whole handful of different historical figure into his mythos. That’s why there are legends in various parts of Britain concerning him, from Cornwall to Wales, to Scotland.
Q: Is Stone Lord a stand-alone book or part of a series? What are you working on next?
Janet: There will be a second part which carries through to the end of Ardhu’s life. It introduced several new main characters, including Ardhu’s illegitimate son, Mordraed.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Janet: I hope that this book might also give people a better idea of the Bronze Age era in Britain. Too many people still have this image of ‘cavemen’ in shaggy skins grunting as they haul stones around a landscape. These people are our direct ancestors and no less intelligent than us—they wove cloth, wore gold jewellery, forged bronze weapons, used razors and had buttons on their clothes!
Q. Where can readers find the book, online or in print? Where can people connect with you online?
Janet: Stone Lord is available in print and kindle on Amazon. Other e-book variations are available on SMASHWORDS, and print copies from Barnes and Noble and Waterstones.com. There is a blog at stone-lord.blogspot.com, and also a Stone Lord Facebook page. Both have lots of archaeological items as well as information on the book.
Thank you again for spending time with me today. I wish you the greatest success with your work, both now and in the future.
Do you have questions or comments for Janet? Add them here and she’ll respond.