Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Days of the Dead" Blog Tour: Kick off with some magic

October is the most spiritual month since the dawn of religions, hosting celebrations of All Hallows Eve, Halloween and Dia De Los Muertos, which all in their essence honor the dead and are rumored to be the time the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest. What better time to host a blog tour dealing the dead. I am quite pleased to be the first blog on Gail Z. Martin’s crusade called “Days of the Dead Blog Tour”, where she will talk, promote and explain the inner mechanics of her Necromancer Chronicles and the world of her books.

So to set the mood my “Interrogate the Author” virtual chair becomes “Mister Markov’s Magic Mausoleum” to host Gail and the magic of her writings properly. And since many other blogs have had the opportunity to discuss her works, I will look at Gail’s work from another angle, from behind the scenes as some people say. I want to learn what makes her world tick and how she constructed the home for her characters and their adventures.

So stay tuned for a thrilling ride through the creative process behind the Necromancer Chronicles and you can have the chance to win your own signed copy of the “Blood King”.
Let’s get started now, shall we.

Harry: As we all know The Necromancer Chronicles are heavily populated by people with magical talents, enchanted objects, dangerous magic and creatures. Some writers start a story with the world and through world building built a story of grandeur to match. Others figure out the story first and then pluck randomly at their imagination to create a world and then work out a symbiotic relationship. How was it in your case?

Gail: I’d say that the major characters became clear to me first, and then as I got to know them, I learned about their world and their stories. I will form a clear mental image of the character and then ask him/her questions about what they’re doing, what they like or dislike, what they will do next in a given situation, how something works in their world. I find that by doing that, my imagination works more organically in the story setting than if I sit as an outsider and try to figure out the plot from a mechanical approach.

Harry: What was your first encounter with magic and how did you become hooked of the mystical arts? Do you by any chance have any particular religion in mind while devising the mythology of the Winter Kingdoms?

Gail: I have loved stories about magic since I was a kid. One of my favorite TV shows as a pre-schooler was Dark Shadows, a 1960s soap opera about a family of witches, werewolves and vampires in New England and its hero, Barnabas Collins, who had become a vampire and desperately wished to be human again. When I was about six years old, I bought a book of regional ghost stories while we were on vacation and re-read it until the cover fell off. From then on, I read anything I could about ghosts (reportedly true stories, not fiction), magic and vampires. It sometimes got me into trouble. I went to a very strict parochial school growing up and had to hide these interests. Once, I checked out a book from the library called “A Cavalcade of Witches” and the teacher had a fit! (Far from being a grimoire, it was a children’s book of not-so-scary Halloween stories.)

As for any basis in real life, I intentionally do not base the mythology of the Winter Kingdoms on any particular real religion because I wanted to be free to explore ideas without anyone emailing me to correct me on points of dogma. Having said that, I have been a long-time reader of folklore, mythology, spirituality, the paranormal and theology for cultures across the world and a broad range of religions, and I am always struck by the parallels among ideas. So I draw from those commonalities—the threads that seem to pop back up in almost all cultures even though they are separated by time and space.

H: Now let’s get straight to the point. In your blog you say that the majority of what you devised as a religion for the Winter Kingdoms has been extracted from a different mesh of cultures. Can you share the recipe with us and list some examples what piece came from where and served for inspiration? Perhaps the scrying of Kiara something similar with the duty of the oracle in Delphi?

G: There isn’t really a “recipe” so much as a fascination with archetypal elements and characters. The mythology I draw from isn’t just Greco-Roman, it includes Celtic, Norse, Germanic, Native American, Eastern European and Asian. I’m just blown away at how the same stories and characters show up in all those very different cultures—as if there is really something to the idea of a shared subconscious. I’ve been influenced by Carl Jung’s work as well as that of Caroline Myss, both of whom identified archetypes and their deeper meanings. So while there isn’t a “recipe” per se, I feed all of this raw material into my mind and then allow my imagination and subconscious to blend it. I usually go to bed thinking about the next scene I’m going to write, and I try to give it over to my subconscious to work on while I’m sleeping. It’s amazing how well that works for me. When I sit down to write, plot twists and dialogue just starts to flow that I had not consciously identified prior to beginning to type.

H: Now let’s get to the good stuff. Namely the goddess and her many faces. Now why did you choose a female deity and how did you decide to split it into two pairs of four faces, each opposing each other. And did you know from world mythologies that in China gods did have four aspect or that there were gods in India like Kali, who was both creator and destroyer of worlds? How does a goddess with eight aspects exist? Does she shift from one to another or are they like eight pieces of a whole with a hive mind? Can two faces be in the same place at once and what can possibly be the outcome from that? Of course I also want to ask how such different in their mentality nations adopted a single religious concept, although they worship different aspects. Have the Winter Kingdoms been one before to know there is one goddess in eight disguises.

G: You’ll actually see more about the Lady and find out about the beliefs that preceded her in Dark Haven and book 4. So maybe that’s something to look forward to!

Why female? Well, having grown up in the American/European tradition of a patriarchal view of the Deity, the whole thought process around a female deity is interesting because of the potential differences. There are a host of characteristics we often don’t ascribe to a male deity because of perceived gender roles, although an incorporeal being can’t really have gender as we know it. (That’s a metaphor that has been taken way too seriously over the past few millennia.) The rituals, the design of sacred spaces, the concept of monuments would all be different with a matriarchal deity. I wanted to explore that.

Yes, I’m aware of those multi-faced goddesses from history, as well as many others that had three faces. They were inspirations, but the Lady isn’t meant to be any of them. The Aspects of the Lady are the face of the Deity needed to speak to that person or people based on where they are and what they can accept. Consider that within any organized religion, there is such a broad spectrum of differing views on what the Deity is like that an outsider might wonder if they are all talking about the same being. And within any single religion, practitioners may differ with each other to the point of violence over what appear to be insignificant details in the perception of the Deity.

Each Aspect is as real as the others according to the way reality is perceived by the person or kingdom. And the Aspect manifests itself in reality through the perceptions, actions and repercussions of the actions of its followers.

Think about this. One person can be a mother/lover/wife/daughter/friend/employee/boss/neighbor. Which is the real person? The answer is—it’s all one person, differently perceived by people whose needs, maturity and relationship vary. A small child can’t imagine that “mommy” has a first name and a life other than being that child’s mother. Hopefully an adult child can understand that mother has an identity and a life beyond the role of parent. Which is the “real” mother? It depends on the perception of the viewer, but the woman herself didn’t change.

In the Winter Kingdoms, there were old ways before the Goddess. There were other understandings of a female deity as well as male animal spirit gods. When the Winter Kingdoms were conquered by outside forces or when one group inside the kingdoms prevailed against another, the beliefs of the victor forcibly overwrote the beliefs of the loser. But in fiction, as in real life, giving lip service to a “new” god doesn’t mean the old practices or beliefs really change. I’ve always been fascinated by the stew that makes of real world traditions where so many very, very old elements remain up to the present day with a thin veneer that makes them acceptable to the current dominant power structure.

H: Now as we have covered the deities, let’s move onto magic and its users. How does magic work in your world, how is it explained and perceived. From what I could extract from your stories it usually runs in the family and can skip generations? How does a magical gift manifest, is there any logic or is it random. Is it a blessing from the goddess or simply a talent? What’s in a spell and do different magical talents require different casting?

G: Magic is a natural force, like magnetism or gravity. It is morally neutral. Whether it is good or bad depends on what you do with it. There are rivers of magical energy called the Flow that lace across the world on which mages of power can draw—either consciously or subconsciously. There is a limited amount of magic a mage can do drawing from his/her own life energy.

The core ability to use magic is genetic. You have it or you don’t. That makes it stand to reason that it would run in families, but (to use modern terminology unknown to the Winter Kingdoms), it could be latent or recessive. Obviously, it can pop up in a “new” family if new genetic material is introduced, whether the parents knew about their magical genetics or not. (I’ve deferred to modern wording for clarity—the characters would see this entire process as much more mysterious and capricious.) So while magic is a genetic predisposition, it can be perceived by its owner as either blessing or curse depending on how it affects his/her life. (In Nargi, for example, having magical talent will get you either killed or forced into the Crone’s priesthood. Probably a curse. Elsewhere, it opens opportunities if it doesn’t make you dangerous enemies.)

As for spells—as Royster once tells Tris, a spell is just a way for a mage to remember the sequence of what to do. Someone without magic could repeat it all day long and not have anything happen. While magical power is an inborn talent, like perfect pitch, it takes a lifetime to learn how to use it (similar to learning to play a musical instrument). With magic, there’s the additional caveat that if you use it unwisely, you can end up dead or possessed by dark forces.

H: Have we seen all the magical disciplines in your world and will there be more? Also what are the laws and principles, physically and ethically that the spell casters use. I also have noticed some talents come in cycles like a time where summoners have been many and now have perished. What sets the rules to this domination of a talent at certain times?

G: There are four basic traditions of magic, based on the four classical elements—earth, wind, fire, water. There are related offshoots, such as healing and psychic skills (reading runes, scrying and clairvoyance). Some of the royal families have a limited type of inherited magic that seems to go along with investiture with the crown and manifests in useful things such as truth sensing, weather magic, scrying, and prophetic dreams. As you can see in the books, no magic is 100 percent reliable and any attempt to predict the future is especially subject to problems.

There is really only one magic, but the ability to use magic tends to align itself with one of those elements. (So is it really a limitation or a perception that, when believed, becomes limiting? Hmm....that could be interesting.) As for laws and principles, the essential law for ethical magic using is “do no harm.” So an ethical magic user won’t abuse his/her power to dominate someone, curse or kill except in self defense, mislead, defraud or take advantage. An unethical magic user is only out for self interest and will use his/her power to cheat, possess, alter memory, kill or steal. In blood magic, the life energy of one person is forcibly drained for the advantage of the mage. Often, this kills the unwilling “donor.” At best, the “donor” becomes an energy food source. That’s why blood magic is condemned by all ethical mages—but it persists because it is effective in the short term and someone who is obsessed with power, vengeance or personal gain will not let ethical considerations get in the way.

I haven’t really gotten into the concept of types of magic being cyclical in terms of there being a lot of one kind of mage at one time and then fewer at another. If that were to be the case, I’d expect it would have a genetic component to it, the way animal populations fluctuate based on temperature, magnetic field distortion and famine. I think we’ll see more along these lines when I get to explore the time of the Mage War, when Tris’s grandmother was a young mage.

H: I am also curious about the vayash moru aka the vampires. Why did you involve one of the most popular and modern supernatural icon into such a world? Do you plan into transferring other well known creatures back? How do the vayash moru fit in this world, what is their role and how did they officially came into existence? How are they blessed from the Dark Lady and what is her plan for her children?

G: Vampires are really as old as recorded human stories. My understanding is that there are tales in every culture, and what’s interesting is that the tales have an uncanny similarity, even though they originated among peoples who at the time were completely out of touch with each other due to geography. They’ve always fascinated me, so I wanted to write about them. And with a main character who is a necromancer, it seemed like the undead should have a place between the living and the dead.

How do they fit into the world? They have always been there. I haven’t done the origin myth yet, but I probably will at some time. New vayash moru are brought across in the conventional manner—by being bitten by a vayash moru and then drinking the blood of that vayash moru. So you can be bitten and not be brought across if there isn’t an exchange of blood. It is an intentional act. For the first several lifetimes, there is a very strong bond between maker and fledgling, to the point where if the maker is destroyed the young fledglings will also die and will psychically experience the maker’s death. As a vayash moru grows stronger, the fledgling usually wins his/her independence. Sometimes this involves destroying the maker and surviving that destruction. Sometimes makers and fledglings can coexist in more of a family situation.

What’s unique in the Winter Kingdoms is that, at least in the more tolerant areas, vayash moru can continue to live among mortals, be part of their mortal families, even remain with a mortal spouse or partner without repercussion. Of course, there are areas, such as Nargi, where the vayash moru are hunted and persecuted. But in Dark Haven, we’ll get a look at an area where the living, the dead and the undead peacefully coexist in an intertwined social matrix.

The abilities and limitations that come with being vayash moru is the Dark Gift. It is seen as both blessing and curse. The vayash moru, if they retain faith at all, often gravitate toward the worship of Istra, the Dark Lady. While a vayash moru could certainly worship whatever Aspect he/she chooses, including the Aspect most popular in their birth lands, over time, the Dark Lady’s role as protector of the outcast seems to appeal to vayash moru, as it does to mortals who find no other home. So while most mortals may refer to Istra as the Demon Goddess, we’ll see in Dark Haven that the vayash moru know a very different side to her as a protectress of the persecuted.

H: As a finishing touch I wanted to ask you, what your personal favorite magical ability is and what powers you would want to command.

G: Well, from a practical side, as a mother with three kids, I’ve always thought that teleportation or the ability to be in more than one place at the same time would come in handy! Actually, all magical powers, at least to my way of thinking, come with a tremendous burden and responsibility, so I’m not sure that I envy any of them. I’ve talked with friends who have different degrees of clairvoyance or other psychic talents, and while I am in awe of what they sense, I don’t envy them the burden. So I guess I’ll just have to settle for multi-tasking!

And there you have it people. More thorough than this you can’t possibly get and as you can see Gail sets for some more practical than showy. My personal choice, would be the power to control and transmute soil, sand and rocks. Or may be cast lighting. But before listing every magic ability, let’s get to the good stuff here. Pen down a comment what you enjoyed in this interview most by October 31st and hope that the spirits at midnight like your comment best, for one person will be chosen for their comment. And one more thing. If want to know what happens during the next six days of “Days of the Dead”, this is Gail’s official blog schedule courtesy of “When Gravity Fails”. Tune in and keep commenting.

Oct. 25 Temple Library Reviews (Bulgaria)

Oct. 26 When Gravity Fails, (UK)

Oct. 27 Pat’s Vampire Notes (US)

Oct. 28 Boris Legradic (Bulgaria)
Wayne Kelly (Canada)

Oct. 29 (US)

Oct. 30 Speculative Horizons (UK)
AsIf DreamHosters (AU)

Oct. 31 Chronicles of the Necromancer Blog.


ediFanoB said...

Excellent Job Harry and thank you to Gail Z. Martin for her interesting answers.

I'm not a fan of vampire stories but I like the concept of the vayash moru.

So far I read THE SUMMONER.
THE BLOOD KING is on my shelf and today I preordered DARK HAVEN which will be availableat on 27th of January 2009.

daydream said...

Thanks Michael, it was a great pleasure working with Gail.

tanabata said...

Really wonderful review, Harry, and Gail!
I like how she said we all have different faces, whether wife, daughter, friend, etc. because it really is true.
And I've only started reading vampire novels in the last year but, again like she said, it's fascinating that they appear in so many cultures in a very similar fashion.
The books sound great, I'd love to have my name in for a chance to win.

BTW, since I was catching up today, glad to see you're settling into life at uni. :)

daydream said...

Sure thing! You go and win now and if you like. Mention it here and there! Vampires do come in all shapes and sizes and in this world they are totally out of context.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

No need to enter me, Harry. I'm just dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book.

It's a fabulous interview. Kudos to Ms. Martin and you both!

rb said...

Interesting interview! I love mean the books. :D

King Rat said...

I don't see in there how to actually enter for the giveaway, what the deadline is, etc. Email? Comment?

daydream said...

Susan, you are very welcome to join in on the fun. Thanks fore posting and the support.

RB: You will have vampires in those books alongside fireballs and elementals.

King Rat: A comment here suffices. Just tell what you liked from the interview or what excites you about the book.

King Rat said...

Ah, I see it now. Buried in the bolded text.

Beawhiz said...

As a writer as well as a reader, I enjoyed reading about how Gail came up with the religious canon for her book. Great interview--and the books have been added to my to read pile!

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