Friday, April 5, 2013

Dark Shadows

I had a lot of fun this week preparing for my blog interview with L.M. David and her resident vampyre, Preston. At the last minute, I gave into the urging of Nasan, heroine of The Golden Lynx, and carried a sword. Boy, were we glad. Vampyres can be so touchy.

Alas, Preston imagines himself the Fourth Musketeer. That part of the encounter didn’t go so well—for him. Nasan had a great time.

Preston is recovering nicely, thank you. No damage except to his pride—and his pants. Hey, how was I to know he’d swish a cape better than a sword? (I do feel bad about the pants. Turned out he'd charged them to L.M. Oops!)

Here’s a (slightly edited) excerpt from the interview. But there are lots of good questions I left out, so make sure to read the whole.

Q. Tell me about the character Nasan.

A. Nasan is a descendant of Genghis Khan, which makes her a princess. At 16, she is on the brink of marriage—as her mother reminds her about 18 times a day—but she has grown up among the nomads, a world where women live much more active lives than those residing in towns. Nomadic girls learn to ride and to defend themselves; they wrestle cattle and do whatever needs doing, especially when the men are off raiding and at war. Nasan is a tomboy who resists growing up, which for a 16th-century princess means marrying and becoming a mother. She justifies her reluctance by appealing to ancient Turkic legends in which warrior heroines marry only men who can defeat them in battle, men they can respect. She also appeals to the ancestral spirits of her clan, the grandmothers, to guide her along the path to achieving her dream: to become such a warrior heroine. But she knows this is unlikely, and when she fails to prevent her younger brother’s murder, she begins to question whether she can fulfill her dream. Then her father orders her to marry the son of their enemy, a Russian nobleman, and she has to adapt to not only a new family but a new culture, a new language, and even a new religion.

Q.  What would draw a 14-year-old to this story?

A. Nasan is 16, married to a 19-year-old. She lives in a different time and another part of the world, but she has a lot of the same problems that any teenager has. Her mother and mother-in-law are always on her case, trying to get her to act like the perfect lady. Her father orders her around and makes plans without consulting her. Adults spend most of their time telling her what to do. The hot guy she’s married seems to be fooling around with another girl. She has to deal with her mean sister-in-law. And Nasan doesn’t take these things lying down. She fights back; she stands up for her right to define her own identity as a woman.

Q. Your next book, The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel, what inspired you to write it?

A. I actually wrote this one before The Golden Lynx. I read the original Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy, when I was 14 and loved it. It’s about a guy who seems to think about nothing but clothes, but he’s really a swashbuckling hero who saves people from the guillotine during the French Revolution. In 2005, Penguin put out a centennial edition, and I read it again. I loved it just as much, but I found myself retelling the story in my head, imagining myself as the heroine, Marguerite, and thinking about what I could do to fix her conflict with her husband. Eventually I decided to write my version down. The original is in the public domain, so I was able to use it without violating anyone’s copyright. But only about 10% of my book actually comes from Baroness Orczy; the rest is my invention.

Q.  In this story, Nina, Ian, and a college professor enter a virtual reality video game. How did you come up with this concept?

A. I didn’t want to do a straightforward time-travel novel, because The Scarlet Pimpernel is fiction, not history—and besides, time travel is kind of a cliché. I needed something that would put people into the book but still let them alter it, and computers seemed like the obvious way to do that. When I began writing the book, back in 2006, the technology to produce the kind of experience that Nina and Ian and their friends have seemed far-off, but now we have wireless refrigerators and smartphones everywhere, so I figure it’s only a matter of time before there’s an app for that.

Q. In both books, your female characters are strong-willed, solid characters. Do you see them as role models for the age group these books were written for?

A. I write strong female characters because I can’t stand to read about weak, whiny women. Of course, women often had little choice historically—even in the present, in many places—but as a historian I know that women can exercise power in ways that don’t necessarily draw attention to themselves. The two mothers in The Golden Lynx are also strong female characters. Other characters in The Golden Lynx are not, but they will get there before the series ends. A couple of reviewers have criticized my characters as too modern for this reason, but in fact I put a lot of research and effort into making them historically accurate. People just tend to assume that women in the past were downtrodden, which was not always true, especially among the elite.

As for them being role models, yes, I hope they are. Not in the sense of swinging a sword or stringing a bow, but in the sense of being true to yourself while balancing your own needs against those of others and the demands of your society—I think that’s a lesson everyone needs to learn.

Q. Do you have a current work in progress?

A. The Golden Lynx is book 1 of a five-part series. Right now, I’m halfway through the first draft of book 2, The Winged Horse. Mostly it involves Nasan’s older brother and his attempt to claim the young woman promised to him six years earlier, despite the efforts of a disgruntled half-brother to grab the girl and leadership of her nomadic horde. Nasan and Daniil appear in a side plot set in the independent khanate (kingdom) of Kazan. There’s lots of politicking, races, duels, assassination attempts, and stampedes. And quite a bit of romance, although the characters don’t really think in those terms. I’m eager to get it done, because plots for books 3 and 4 are already pounding at my brain.

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