Monday, November 14, 2011

Stone Masters

Just a reminder that you can still read VMK Fewings' short story, "Mortal Veil," for free online right here.  It's an excellent introduction to the world of the Stone Masters - or more accurately, to the world of their vampires. It follows one man's discovery of a world he once knew too well. Perhaps you too may be reminded of something you've lost...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Further More Ask the Author: Anna Lee Waldo

Watch the Face of the Sky features some very strong characters. What inspires you to write such colorful people?

I watch people to learn how they react. I did research on leukemia in a large hospital in Dayton, Ohio, and saw people in pain, people with various diseases, bone fractures, and in childbirth. Some reactions were unpredictable, such as a patient stressed about his illness who brought a jar of urine into the lab to be tested - but it was from his dog. I saw a sobbing man climb into the bed with his wife who was giving birth. My husband was an inorganic chemist who worked with radioactive elements. He couldn't talk about his work, which was classified. He talked about architecture and government. We had five children, each a unique individual with completely different characteristics. I have good material to draw from for my characters.

Over the course of the novel, Madoc travels from the American South to Wales, then to a variety of islands, and finally to the Yucatan Peninsula. How did you balance the widely divergent settings with the same cast of characters?

All the characters have a "home background," same as migrants do today. These people use what they learn at "home," and watch and listen to strangers they meet. All new places have similarities to the old; for instance, there is land, edible plants, animals, and water. There is wind and rain, sun and clouds, day and night. Little by little, the characters learn a new language and a different way of doing things. Each character also teaches the strangers a new language and a different way of doing things. People always use and make do with whatever is available in the place they find themselves. Knowledge is shared and spread. Mistakes and accidents are made, but that makes the story interesting.

What writing project are you working on now?

I'm working on the last book in this series about Madoc and his people. I call the book, The Blue-Eyed Mandan. In this last story, you will find what happens to Madoc, his family, the other Welshmen, and the women and children in the Unproved Land. You will go up the Big Muddy River with some of them as they pass through the largest Indian settlement ever found in North America, which today we call Cahokia. While there, Bran again plays in a ballgame. The Palefaces show the Mandan Indians how to make fishing boats, similar to the Welsh bull-boats.

During the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Mandans carved Welsh leafy designs on the bull-boat paddle handles. They kept a few of the Welsh words in their language. The questions are: Did these few Palefaces, who were in the Unproved Land in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, keep their oath not to fraternize with the native people? Why?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More Ask the Author: Anna Lee Waldo

Your debut novel, Sacajawea, was a #1 New York Times bestselling novel. What did you learn in the process of writing Sacajawea that still helps you in your writing today?

I had written a number of scientific articles and knew the rules for that kind of writing, but a novel was something completely different. At first, I tended to put everything in a story that I thought was unusual or interesting about background, people and their thoughts. That's too much good stuff for any reader! I learned to pare down my description of a landscape, how to skin an animal, or people's behavior and thoughts. I began to read novels in a critical way, so I would understand how good writers stated facts.

I learned not to let anyone rewrite my work. I learned not to believe all answers about historical happenings. After something has taken place, there are many ways to interpret the facts. I look for answers in more than one place. I go to the places I write about. I ask my local library to borrow books they don't have from other libraries, just for me. I watch the way people talk, use their hands and facial expressions, and how they dress.

I learned to let characters show their feelings by words or actions, not by me stating how they feel. I do not stay in a dramatic scene too long. I learned to plant an idea or the way a character thinks or acts early in the story, then I use those plants in a dramatic situation later so the reader thinks, "I knew that would happen." Though he really doesn't until he reads it and the plant has grown.

No matter how much I think I know about any subject, there are still so many things I don't know and sometimes my readers will tell me.

What are some of the more interesting responses you've received from readers over the years?

"I'm related to Sacajawea," "I'm related to Jean Baptist Charbonneau," "We have that book at home and it was written by Sacajawea herself." One time in Portland, Oregon, a young man said, "I have an original painting of Sacajawea, I call Birdwoman." I said I'd like to see that, and about an hour later he came back carrying a very large framed picture. I pointed out the name, "Pocahontas," printed in small letters at the bottom of the picture. He shook his head and said he didn't know what that word mean, but he was going to put a little strip of paper with the words, "Sacajawea, the Birdwoman," over the top of that Indian word so people would know the beautiful maiden's name.

I hear all kinds of pronunciations of the word Sacajawea. "Sack-a-jaws," "Stack-a-gooey," "Skith-a-jewy," "Sock-a-jaw," etc.

Once in a radio station in Boise, Idaho, I was interviewed by a newsman. I enjoyed talking with him because he seemed to be familiar with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. At the end of the broadcast, he moved his chair closer to mine and we continued our conversation for an enjoyable hour. When I was leaving, he called me back. Some of his radio fans were calling in to say how much they'd learned and how they appreciated his extra-long program talking with such an interesting author. He'd forgotten to turn his communication off and bring in music after our thirty minute interview. Boise and other nearby listeners sent me letters about the special broadcast for weeks afterward.

One of my sons, then a teenager, told me that whenever I gave a talk on radio or TV I must remember not to leave any "air space." I thought of him when I was in Paris to talk about the French edition of Sacajawea. One night I was with a group of French historians. We wore earplugs so that a couple girls could translate the French for me and translate my English back to French for the historians and the TV moderator. Things seemed to go well until my English translations went dead and the moderator asked me a question. Of course I did not understand his words. I began with, "A--when I was writing Sacajawea--" and went on with a story I knew well. Afterwards the girls giggled and said that was the best part of the show.

I have been at libraries and bookstores where lines of people were around the block waiting for me to autograph their books. And, more than once, I have sat alone at a table with a stack of books and no one came to have a single book autographed. In a bookstore in St. Louis, Missouri, I saw a woman with half a dozen of my books in her arms. I went up to her and said, "I'm Anna Lee Waldo, author of those books. I'll autograph them, if you like." Her husband ran up and said, "Ignore her! She's out-of-her-head crazy."

I never did that again.

When I was researching the first Circle book, about Madoc's boyhood, a woman called me by telephone to tell me she wanted me to write about her grandfather, a prominent rancher in Wyoming, and ended by saying she would send me clippings and other material about him. I told her I was not ready for that, but a week later I received a box full of most interesting things, which was the beginning of Prairie, the book about Charlie Irwin, the Y-6 ranch in Wyoming, cowboys, Sioux Indians, rodeo performances, and politics.

After Circle of Stones came out, a Welshman sent me copies of old maps showing places where English families crossed over into Wales during the reign of King Henry II and told me his relatives were druids who left England for Dubh Lunn. He was not happy with today's druids. He said the old-timers were peace-loving and highly intelligent.

What draws you to write historical novels?

When I was little, I was told many times that a culture's history shows its strength and weakness. I played among Crow and Blackfoot children. My father and the Indian grandmothers told us stories which made me think about how a childhood background, ideas, feelings, thoughts, actions, situations, or even artifacts influence people. I became an organic chemist, a scientific researcher, an instructor, and an author.

Thus, I am interested in history because of my childhood and background, and science makes me stick to facts as much as possible. I am curious and search for something different in settings, landscapes, and people. Novels are large enough to tell the whole story.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ask the Author: Anna Lee Waldo

This month, ZOVA has the honor of releasing the historical epic Watch the Face of the Sky, by Anna Lee Waldo. Best known for her bestselling novel Sacajawea, Ms. Waldo has been studying and writing on obscure but deeply influential historical figures for decades. In her upcoming novel, she explores the little known legendary Welsh prince Madoc, who supposedly reached the shores of America with his crew of Welsh sailors three hundred years before Columbus. 

In the next few days, we will be posting some comments from Anna Lee herself, answering a few of our own questions about her writing and this remarkable novel in particular.

What inspired you to write a series about the legendary Madoc?

When I was little, my father told me stories that always had history somewhere in them. Until I was in high school, I thought Paul Bunyan was a real lumberjack; and about the same time I realized my father's Madoc stories had no real endings, except that he sailed away in Viking-built ships. I was fairly certain that Sacajawea was real, because I'd heard Blackfoot and Crow grandmothers tell stories about her. I believed their stories must be real because these grandmothers were my friends and they knew about Captain Lewis and Captain Clark. In school, I studied about the captains' expedition in American and Montana history. None of my teachers knew about Madoc and said he was a figment of my father's imagination. My father was well-known for being a history lover, and if asked would tell a story about most any well-known historical figure.

After finishing my book titled Sacajawea, I began to look into Welsh history to find more about Madoc, the son of Owain Gwynedd. There was not much written about him. Maybe he made two or three trips to an 'unproved land.' Maybe he found his way back to Wales and somehow gained more ships and brought Welsh women and children to the men he'd left in the unproved land. Hardly any librarian or historian I talked with had ever heard of him, coming to this country in the 12th century, 300 years before Columbus. So, I believed it was up to me to find out about this unknown, daring, courageous man and let other people know about him as well.

What kind of research did you have to do to write this novel?

I used local libraries for books and museums with artifacts to look at and touch to tell me what an early Viking one-sail ship was like. I found out what Welsh wattle and daub houses and their furnishings were like. I learned about the Celts and people who followed an old druidic religion and believed in the brotherhood of man. According to druidism, each person, no matter the gender, had special qualities and was more adept at certain lines of work than others. They also believed that every person had opportunities for good deeds. I learned about Welsh twelfth century gardens for flowers and for food, what animals were hunted for food and clothing, the gear that was used for both, and the games people played. Then I began to lean about Welsh and English history in the 12th century. I wrote letters to noted historians, geographers, and astronomers with questions.

I learned a little more about the man called Madoc when my husband, Bill, and I went to Wales. School children there knew about the Welsh hero, Madoc. I learned that people around Mobile Bay, Alabama, also knew about him. Bill and I went there to talk with those people. Then, because one man suggested that Madoc's ships were blown off-course by a terrible storm and ended up with the Incas, I began to check out the possibility of Madoc's ships landing on the Western side of South America, in Peru, where the Incas, or maybe the Mayans, were. Peru seemed almost impossible. Later, I found from a Navy man, a meteorologist and an oceanographer, that in a storm, the ships would have been much more likely to have landed on the northern top of the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Mayans really were. From there, directly across the gulf, is Mobile Bay and the mouth of the Mississippi River, the 'Big Muddy.' Bill and I went to Yucatan and found out about the Mayans. I began to read about archeological digs around Chichen Itza and how these early people lived, kept records, and followed the movement of Sun, Moon, and Stars, such as Venus. I visited Teotihuacan, once a city of ten thousand people, and read all I could about their ancient way of life, in order to use some of it in my story about Madoc.

The inclusion of the Mayan calendar and the foreshadowing of 2012 is very timely. What compelled you to include it in the story?

By the 12th century, the Mayan priests had books and books with facts about the movement of stars. They knew that the stars seen in a summer sky are different than those seen in an autumn, winter, or spring sky, and that Venus is both a morning star and an evening star. They knew that the earth moved around as a cone on a tilted axis. Its movements are similar to the movement of a spinning top, rotating very rapidly about its axis while the axis itself revolves slowly about the vertical. This slow change in direction of the axis of a spinning object, whether it is the earth or a gyroscope, is called the precession of the axis. The precession of the earth's axis is produced by the gravity of the sun and moon, which tug at the equatorial bulge of the earth. Under the influence of these forces, the axis of rotation revolves in a cone, completing a circle once every 26,000 years.

At present, the axis is pointed toward the North Star; 5000 years ago, it pointed in the direction of the star we call Thuban, in the Constellation Draco, and 12,000 years from now, it will point in the direction of Vega, which will be the replacement for the North Star. Ancient Mayan Sky Watchers knew this and predicted that in 2012 AD, the earth will have completed its fifth precession - and the sun, moon, and earth will be in perfect alignment with the dark place in the Milky Way. It will not be in this same alignment for another 26,000 years.

I found it so interesting that the ancient Mayan Sky Watchers knew about a precession - although I doubt they named the action - and ended their calendars on December 21, 2012, that I had to make a story about it. I felt the same way about the Mayan crystal skull.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sneak Peek: A Vampire's Dominion

V.M.K. Fewings
Naked and barefoot, I sprinted along the uneven rain soaked pathway, my mouth dry and thirsting, terror constricting my throat and threatening to choke me. I tasted freedom as though for the first time.
Remembering nothing.
A cold salty sea mist hit my nostrils and I shook my head trying to repel nature’s sting. Night wrapped her arms around me as I fled past the grey crumbling wall, bolting left under an ivy-colored archway, descending faster down slippery stone steps.
Don’t look back.
Taking two at a time, I landed on the grassy bank and ran onward, following the sound of crashing waves.
I struggled to recall this place and how I’d gotten here, my memories seemingly just out of reach and my rambling thoughts making no sense and threatening to sabotage my focus. 
There was no time to question.
My gut insisted someone was closing in and dread shot up my spine forcing me to run faster. Rustling dead leaves swirled around my feet causing me to stumble. Quickly, I found my footing again, crunching over a pebbled beach toward the vast ocean, crashing six-foot waves onto a dappled-grey shoreline and rolling them into foam. The force with which I hit the icy water shoved my shoulders back and snatched my breath.
This was no dream. Descending further, spiraling into the darkest depths, the ocean buffered against me and with outstretched arms I thrashed blindly to stay afloat, braving to glance back.
The towering rogue wave broke over my head, dragging me lower and delivering me into the path of a riptide that snatched me further into the blackness, sucking me into the swirling undercurrent and forcing seawater down my throat.
Drowning me . . . 
Surrendering to the infinite darkness, I passed out.
Unsure of how much time had passed, my eyes opened to a blanket of white cloud revealing pockets of stars and a glimpse of the thumbnail moon, only for it to soon shy away. The night chilled my bones causing me to shiver and pebbles scratched my back.
Turning awkwardly, there was that same castle rising out of the granite, an intimidating symbol of supremacy conveying the gut wrenching realization.
I’d not made it.
A grinding pain in my right shoulder blade; I cradled my arm with the sudden awareness I’d dislocated it.
With mixed feelings that I failed to understand, I took in that dark silhouetted castle looming large on the horizon, trying to recall why it instilled such trepidation. My mind scrambled to piece together memories of having wandered along its sprawling corridors, losing hours within its age-old library, reading my way through its infinite collection of well-worn books, each one pulled from the antique mahogany shelves. With nothing but quiet for company.
More curious still was a faint recollection of whiling away endless days in there, waiting until sunset so I could return to the highest tower once more and paint my beloved nightscapes.
Daylight, that part of my life I’d long given up, exchanging her burning mortal kiss to become night’s lover, surrendering to that endless promise of eternity. 
As only a vampire can.
With an unsteady hand I stroked my clean shaven jaw and ran my fingers up and over the rest of my body, relieved to find that other than my arm there were no other injuries. Using my good arm, I staggered to my feet trying to distance myself from the waves spraying foam.
Across the shoreline Penzance lit up the night skyline, the sleepy town still, quiet, and desolate.
I turned and there, standing serenely staring back at me with dark brown eyes, was a tall young priest.
“Jadeon?” The stranger stepped closer.
I went to give an answer, but had none to give and considered diving back in to get away from the one whom I assumed had been chasing me. He reflected an easy confidence that went beyond his thirty years. He still hadn’t blinked.
Trying to judge if I could trust him, I struggled to hold onto the faintest memories that dissipated like cruel whispers clashing with each other, tightening my throat.
“You’ve hurt your arm,” he said. “Let me help you.”
Ignoring the pain, refusing to reveal any weakness I asked, “Who are you?”
“Father Jacob Roch.” His fingers worked their way down each button of his long, brown coat and he slipped it off. “Here you are.”
Cautiously I accepted his coat from him and pulled the left arm through, wrapping it over the shoulder of the right, unable to lift it.
He made a gesture to help.
“I’m fine.” Though clearly I wasn’t.
“You’re adjusting, even now.”
“To what?”
He went to answer but stopped himself as though unsure. Rubbing my forehead I tried to find the answers and not be influenced by the man who I had no reason to trust.
Far off lightning lit up the night sky, and a few seconds later came the crack of thunder. 
The sound of footfalls signaled someone fast approaching. Over the ridge a young man appeared and skidded to a stop when he saw us.
“Steady, Alex.” Jacob gestured for him not to come any further.
Alex’s expression was one of horror and I tried to decipher whether it was disgust or hate. Lost in a fog of thoughts I tried to recall how I knew him.
“Let’s go inside,” Jacob said.
The rhythm of the ocean sounded like it was now inside my head and my legs weakened. My feet gave way.
My mind blurred, threatening to slide off. “Who am I?” My face struck the pebbles.
“That’s what we’re going to find out.” Jacob’s voice grew distant.