Saturday, March 17, 2012

WATERSPELL’s Celtic Connections

     In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s an excerpt from a Q&A in which I talk about the Celtic elements in the WATERSPELL trilogy.

     “The goals of science and magic are identical: the unlocking of the mysteries of Nature.” —Michael Patrick Hearn, Introduction to The Annotated Wizard of Oz. W.W. Norton, 2000

     To the unlearned common folk of the Middle Ages, science was magic. The two have always rubbed shoulders. Alchemy was a blend of philosophy, mysticism, and chemistry. The Druids—the original “wizards”—were the intellectuals and learned professionals of ancient Celtic society. I suspect they got their reputation for working magic from their knowledge of astronomy—being able to predict eclipses, alignments of the planets and such—and their skill as physicians, curing the ill with herbal remedies. Such knowledge was potent: revered and feared. They took pains to preserve their mystique by keeping their lore secret. Knowledge was not written down, but was passed orally to new initiates. Druidic poets, for example, spoke “in a dark tongue” so that the uninitiated could not understand. It’s easy to see how and why the ignorant masses would begin to think that these learned professionals were actually working magic.

     In fact, the English language still reflects this connection in the words grammar and glamour. I read in David Crystal’s fascinating Encyclopedia of the English Language an etymology of the two words that shows the close ties between science and magic. Grammar had come into the language by the early 14th century. To the illiterate, the word came to be identified with the mysterious world of the scholar, and therefore developed the sense of “learning” in general, and then of “the incomprehensible,” and even of “black magic.” Later, in 18th-century Scottish English, a form appears that is spelled with an l—glamour—which retains its magical sense. Mr. Crystal points out that the Scottish poet Robert Burns links the two words in referring to gypsies who “deal in glamour” and those who are “deep-read in hell’s black grammar” (1781). Glamour developed the sense of “enchantment” or “charm.” Katharine Briggs, in An Encyclopedia of Fairies, defines “glamour,” in terms of fairy-lore, as “an enchantment cast over the senses, so that things were perceived or not perceived as the enchanter wished.” By that definition, I can certainly claim that there’s a good deal of glamour in WATERSPELL—and good grammar, too!

Q: And quite a lot of research, it seems. Aren’t there echoes of Scottish and Irish English in the books, and many references to traditional folklore?

A: Yes, I made a deliberate effort to pay my respects to those great old Irish and Scottish storytellers who are a link to the Celtic mythology that underpins much of the genre. Readers who are familiar with Irish Fairy & Folk Tales (1892, edited by William Butler Yeats) may recognize some of the uses I’ve made of the vernacular and common sayings or figures of speech. For instance, at one point my melancholy sorcerer, Lord Verek, tells Carin: “It's a long lane that has no turning.” That’s an adage taken from “The Kildare Pooka,” by Patrick Kennedy—one of the selections Yeats included in his anthology. Sharp eyes may also notice that I’ve adapted to my purposes that old saying: “Rowan, amber and red thread / Puts witches to their speed.”

Q: Does WATERSPELL take its inspiration from Celtic mythology?

A: Broadly and indirectly, yes. When I started reading the early Irish legends and Celtic myths, I was looking mainly for “the telling detail”—authentic figures of speech, colorful descriptive terms, gritty background textures. But as I read, I noticed that aspects of the mythology had their counterparts in this fantasy I was writing. Or vice versa. For instance, water often has mystical qualities in the legends: Irish rivers like the Boyne were held sacred. It’s pretty obvious from the series title—WATERSPELL—that water has magical properties in my story, too. The traditions tell of quests, leading into the Otherworld and back. “Other worlds” figure prominently in WATERSPELL: the premise that what’s harmless in one world or reality may prove deadly if it arrives, whether innocently or by skullduggery, where it doesn’t belong. Also central to my work is the heroic quest, undertaken to gain information or wisdom, to bring healing, or to find or restore lost objects.

     I am by no means an expert on Irish legends. Given the huge number of books that have been produced on the subject and the very few of them that I’ve read, I can barely claim a nodding acquaintance. My sole aim, in working into my writings details from the legends, is to make WATERSPELL “fit” into the world of Celtic mythology the way Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings fits with traditional Scandinavian mythology. Katharine Briggs said of Tolkien’s work: “The whole was not decorated but deepened by the use of traditional folklore which gave it that sense of being rooted in the earth which is the gift of folklore to literature.” That’s what I’m after: to create a fantasy world that’s rooted deeply in an ancient tradition.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Publishing Business Is Changing ... and Some People Are Scared

      Fascinating reading at Joe Konrath’s blog, “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.” Below are a few quotes from the article, “Barry, Joe, & Scott Turow.” Anybody who enjoys e-books, either as a reader or a writer, should take time to read Joe’s entire post. It’ll open your eyes.

      “I’ve reached many more readers through Amazon than I have through every brick-and-mortar bookstore in the entire world combined. Ebooks don’t require a publisher to distribute them. THAT is modern bookselling.
      “ … many authors who couldn’t thrive in the legacy system are now putting food on their tables with the money they make from their books.” —Joe Konrath

      “I have been an author for 37 years. I have had agents and publishers up to here. Most authors are, like myself, fed up with the good old boys. Publishers pay gigantic overhead for prime real estate offices and switchboards and secretaries and senior editors and junior editors and cafeterias and fancy seduction lunches for unsuspecting newbie authors and deign [to] give 10 lousy % to an author? Agents? They don’t work for authors either. They flog your book, take their % and when you get into a dispute with a publisher, agents crawl under the couch.” —Suzanne White

Check it out: A Newbie's Guide to Publishing

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Read an E-Book Week, March 4-10, 2012

During "Read an E-Book Week," now through March 10, you can get most of my Smashwords e-books for half price. Simply enter the code REW50 at checkout for 50% off during Smashwords' site-wide promotion.

Featured at Smashwords are the three books of WATERSPELL, my prize-winning fantasy. WATERSPELL, in a similar vein to Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, takes place partly in the known universe but mostly in a faraway world, where magic, once common, has become rare: a precious Power requiring protection from those who would use it for evil.

This week only, get each book of WATERSPELL for $1.50:

WATERSPELL Book 1: The Warlock
Drawn into the schemes of an angry wizard, Carin glimpses the place she once called home. It lies upon a shore that seems unreachable. To learn where she belongs and how to get there, the teenage traveler must decipher the words of an alien book, follow the clues in a bewitched poem, conjure a dragon from a pool of magic—and tread carefully around a seductive but volatile, emotionally scarred sorcerer who can’t seem to decide whether to love her or kill her.

WATERSPELL Book 2: The Wysard
After blundering into the last stronghold of magic, Carin discovers that she is right to fear the wizard Verek. He is using her to seal the ruptures in the void, and she may be nothing more to him than an expendable weapon. What will he do with her—or to her—when his world is again secure? Or has he erred in believing that the last bridge has been broken? The quest may not, in fact, be over … and Lord Verek may find himself not quite as willing to dispose of his fiery water-sylph, Carin, as he once believed himself to be.

WATERSPELL Book 3: The Wisewoman
Plague and pestilence have come to Ladrehdin. With their worst fears realized, Carin and Verek set out to put right everything that has gone so badly wrong. On the final leg of their quest, they retrace Carin's journey north from the plains—accompanied this time by the village wisewoman, Megella. Along the way, Meg dredges up—from an increasingly unreliable memory—the oldest of the "old stories," revealing how the actions of the Ancients continue to menace every life on the Wizards' World, and beyond.