Letters from the Fire

Letters from the Fire, a novel I wrote with my now husband a century ago — well, in 1999 — has been available as an e-book on Kindle for some time. This morning it became available on Smashwords also.

Letters from the FireWhen the paperback was first published in New Zealand, it not only sold out, it got some great reviews  and gathered more than 100 enthusiastic comments on the book’s website. The e-book version hasn’t elicited anything like that, but it did recently get an excellent review on Yahoo from Davida Chazan.

Among other things, Davida said “this novel is a breakthrough of how to write stories for the Internet age. The fact that the bombing of [Yugoslavia] is long over, doesn’t mean that we can’t imagine something similar happening with other wars across the world. The Internet has made this globe a much smaller place and this book shows just how close we can become, despite the distances between us. I couldn’t give it less than a full five stars and highly recommend it.”

You can read her wholereview of Letters from the Fire here

Here is an excerpt from the novel’s foreword:

 In the dying days of the last century – the country of my birth was attacked. The bombing campaign cost lives, and cost me pieces of my childhood, as the things I had known and grown up with vanished before my eyes. Close members of my own family were driven away into foreign lands as refugees. Places I had loved twisted in flames.

And yet somehow the Western world – ignorant and driven by propaganda – screamed that it was all deserved. The few voices that said the attack was unjust, unjustified, and undeserved were stifled, muffled, gagged, driven away, shouted down.

I was heartsick, angry, and appalled — but in this darkest hour, a man who had been courting me on the Internet made a suggestion that offered me salvation: “Use your strength, use your passion, and tell the other side of the story,” R.A. (Deck) Deckert said.

So was born ‘Letters from the Fire,’ a modern epistolary novel told in emails between two characters, Dave and Sasha, during the fury of the war.

I was living in New Zealand at this time and Deck was living in Florida, USA. We wrote the book together, literally around the clock, because his day was my night and vice versa. I would write a character-penned email as Sasha, and go to bed. At the same time he would be getting up, reading that particular day’s communication, and replying as Dave, and then he’d go to bed. I’d get up, find the reply and answer him… and so it went.

… The book was written at white heat, handed to the publisher and rushed into production. It was on the shelves in New Zealand less than six months after we had begun it.

The lives of Dave and Shasha took unexpected turns in the midst of the chaos of war. We, their creators, forged a shared existence that came out of the Letters from the Fire. In 2000, a year after the events events depicted in this book, we were married.

This is a tale of power and passion, and above all, a testament of how love came through the flames and was made stronger for the ordeal. And Deck and I – and through us Dave and Sasha – give the story to you as our gift.

Pick up your copy of Letters from the Fire at Amazon

or from Smashwords here.

A new old Worldweavers

Gift of the Unmage, Worldweavers 1My young adult series, Worldweavers, about Thea Winthrop, a teen who can do no magic in a magical world, was first published by HarperCollins in the heady days when every publisher was hoping to find their own Harry Potter.

My trilogy was no ripoff. Thea is as American as Harry is British and the world of my series is totally my own, invoking both modern computers and Native American gods. But, of course, Harry Potter is the elephant in the living room and I was delighted when the series got excellent reviews, some of them invoking that magic comparison

(see below).

Originally published as a trilogy by HarperCollins, all three books appeared in hardcover editions and then two (#1 and #2) in paperback – but due to a slew of circumstances the books did not get the push or the attention that might have assured a bigger slate of sales. In the end, when the rights of the three original Worldweavers rights reverted to me, I took them to Sky Warrior Publishing and they are now being repackaged and reissued as brand-new editions, initially in ebook format to be followed at a later stage by a paperback edition. The first book in the series, Gift of the Unmage, has just been released in its e-book format, available for an assortment of reading platfoms. The new cover is gorgeous.

Buy Gift of the Unmage here:

The second book, Spellspam, and the third, Cybermage, will follow soon.

And here is the scoop.

There is a final and concluding installment to Thea Winthrop’s story which is coming out exclusively from Sky Warrior when the whole original series has been re-released. “Dawn of Magic” will follow the story arc from the original series, bringing Thea’s story to a thoroughly exciting finale. So, if you know and love these stories, or are just finding them for the first time now, there is that to look forward to. Watch this space.

 

Oh, a  few of those magical reviews:

“Although it will appeal to those who love Harry, there is much more in store for readers who discover, along with Thea, the ordinary magic in the world around them.” Teri S. Lesesne said in a starred Voya review for the first in the series.

“For readers suffering withdrawal (from) Harry Potter, this new series might just suffice,” said a Voya review for the second book.

“…it’s too simplistic to compare this book to (Harry). There’s much more here, including elements of Native American culture and ancient mythology. Thea might be time-traveling and struggling with magic to face nefarious forces, but her situation rings universal for teens struggling to come to terms with their identity.” – Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast.

“This book does remind me of Harry Potter….a highly imaginative story and I really loved it,”  said Susan Rappaport of the Rutherford Public Library

 

A Question of Character

What comes first, the plot, the idea behind the plot, the problem, the setting, the character?? Which is the most important, the most essential, tool?

For me, it starts with CHARACTER. When asked how I ‘create’ my own characters, my answer has always been that I don’t; I meet them fully formed, complete with the problems they carry. They step out of the woodwork and essentially grab my hand, shake it firmly, tell me their name and rank, and then march me smartly to the first writing platform available and demand I take dictation.

This is partly why I never have real problems with a character’s individual voice, or at the very least, the only times I do so occur when I try to make the character do or say something that that particular character does not want to do or say, or in other words try to make the character act against itself.

So long as I listen, and obey the instructions I am given, my characters tend to assume a certain three-dimensional reality, at least to me, and I very much hope to my readers. Wearing my reader hat, I have met other characters like these, characters who were so vivid and so alive that it remains impossible for me to think that they have never existed.

As it happens, I have a couple of perfect characters in hand – NOT mine – to begin to explain this phenomenon. I’ve been re-watching Babylon 5 in its entirety and no matter what ELSE the show was about, in the broader sense of the story arc, it crystallises as the story of two exceptional characters and their relationship.

G’Kar and Londo Mollari.

mollari-and-gkarBoth of them began almost two-dimensional cartoons — Mollari as the effete buffoon courtier, G’kar as the blinkered and violent thug whose first instinct was to whack something. There was an early scene between the two of them, in the cartoon days, bickering while they are waiting for an elevator, and getting so carried away at trading insults that the elevator arrives and leaves before they quite realize it and then they look at each other and blurt, in comically identical outrage, “LOOK what you made me do!”

But they didn’t stay caricatures.

Their choices began to take them in unexpected directions. Londo, who is essentially all heart, someone passionate about things and letting all those passions hang out, ANSWERS the question that the Shadows put to him, the inspired “What do you want” question which goes on to define so many of the B5 characters.

Londo’s passionate response is that he wants to see his people, the proud Centauri, up “where they belong”, as the Lords of the Galaxy. And he is given that, in spades. But he gradually comes to know the cost of the thing he was given.

I will never forget the appalled dawning understanding of it written on his face as he stands at the window of a Centauri warship watching the destruction of the Narn homeworld – something he never wanted, that he himself would never have condoned, but that he is nonetheless in a very real sense utterly and personally responsible for. He then finds himself forced to defend all of it when his people are brought up to face the consequences of it all. He cannot step up to accept his own guilt because doing so would admit guilt by the Centauri and he will not do that to his race.

We see him developing, in the aftermath, and grappling with the consequences of the choices that he has made – right until the final choice that he makes, at the end, when he willingly surrenders his body and his soul – his self – to a Drakh Keeper parasite in order to keep his world and its people ‘safe.’

In one of his last moments of freedom, he tells G’kar that once he had all the choices in the world and no power and now, now that he is about to become Emperor, he has all the power he could ever want and no choices at all.

Mollari is the martyr. In a powerful moment when the parasite takes control of
him we see none of it except his hand, lax by his side, suddenly clenching into a fist – and we know that the Mollari we have known is now gone and in his place is a puppet who will dance to a tune others command. It is a decision he made in order to preserve what is left of that thing he so passionately believes in, the Centauri place in the universe, their pride, and in this instance their very continued existence.

He does what he must, and in this moment he earns our most profound pity as well as our deepest respect. It’s a long way from the original caricature.

G’Kar’s journey is an even greater one. If Mollari is all heart, G’Kar is the soul, the spirit. His passions are no less deep, and certainly no less volatile, than Mollari’s – but they are the crucible in which his ultimate nobility is forged, in fire and in pain.

It seems, with G’Kar, that the more he loses, the more he gains in return, the more he grows, the more he becomes a towering figure who is a true leader, and perhaps even a true saint. He is occasionally portrayed as brash, sometimes even buffoonish, but underneath it all is a kind of iron nobility and the closer we come to the core of him the more we learn of what he truly is.

In a moment at which I always weep, just before Mollari is about to go off and surrender himself to his fate, he goes to say farewell to his old enemy and his old friend, G’Kar. And as he is about to leave, G’Kar calls him by name and as Mollari pauses by the door, G’Kar says to him that too much has passed between their races – “My people,” he says, ” can never forgive your people. But I…can forgive you.”

And Mollari’s face changes, just for a moment, as the two old foes clasp hands and exchange a last long look – because here, maybe, lies a glimmer of that salvation that Mollari has sought for so long and has almost – almost – given up on finding.

When I heard that the actor who had portrayed G’Kar in the series had died, I wept – I felt as though I had lost a brother. But it was not the actor whom I was mourning, may those he loved and left behind forgive me for that – it was G’Kar. The indomitable. The irascible. The funny, the tragic, the wounded, the triumphant, the glorious, the inspired. The character who never really existed, who could not exist, and yet who was as real to me as though I had grown up in his physical shadow. There was a video made in his memory, and I watch it and weep, even today.

Such can be the impact of character on someone who is immersed in that character’s story.

I remember my own characters who came to me and let me tell their stories:

 Anghara Kir Hama, heroine of my “Changer of days” fantasies, who was such a pivotal character for me that I have borne some form of her name as my online identity for as long as I’ve had a presence on the Internet.

The girls who strolled onto the stage as the eight main protagonists of “Secrets of Jin Shei” – the poet, the healer, the gypsy, the warrior, the alchemist, the sage, the rebel leader, and the Empress who dreamed of immortality and nearly destroyed them all.

Or the one who followed them, the many-times-granddaugther of my little poet from the first book, and the other characters who shared her story in “Embers of Heaven”.

My girl-mage, Thea, from the Worldweavers trilogy, and the people who helped shape her world.

The five people who make their choices on the eve of the projected end of the world in “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”.

I didn’t create any of those people. They had stories they wanted told. They came, they introduced themselves to me, and they began to talk. It was all I could do to keep writing fast enough to keep up, sometimes.

For me, that is what it comes down to. It’s a question of character, in a HUGE and important way, and it’s the character who drives the story arc forward. The arc that Londo Mollari took to its extreme – the arc of going from the beginning, where you have all the choices in the world, to the end, where all the choices you have made have herded you into a place where there is only one way forward, only one thing left to do, and there are no choices left other than that one. For better or for worse.

A story is simply and solely an account of the winnowing of those choices – and the writer can only hope that the character who is making them will be strong enough to pull in the reader right along, strong enough to trigger strong emotions, because those emotions will serve to make that reader remember that character – remember some of that character’s lines of dialogue, even, verbatim sometimes – long after they have closed the book of that character’s story.

Because they live on, in our memories. All the characters who once walked down the roads in that strange country in our mind’s eye, and let us follow them on their journeys. It is the privilege of the writer to create characters like that, the ones who live long after a particular snatch of their story which the reader might be privileged to directly know is done and dusted. It is the privilege of the reader to find such characters, and to treasure them, to keep them alive, to keep them immortal, to shield them from the fading and the oblivion which comes with the passing of the years.

I hope that some of my own characters will live on, in YOU, the readers. It is only then that my work here will be done.

(See my books here)