Monday, November 02, 2009

Guest - Elaine Corvidae

Good morning everyone! Today's guest, author Elaine Corvidae has been telling stories about faeries, elves, and dragons since she was a small child. Her dark fantasy novels have won numerous awards, including multiple Eppie Awards and Dream Realm Awards for Best Fantasy Novel. When she isn’t wandering the worlds of her imagination, she lives in Harrisburg, NC, with her husband and several cats. You can visit her on the web at www.onecrow.net, or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ElaineCorvidae.

She's also given us a terrific excerpt from her new book to enjoy AND she's offering a free copy of a book from her backlist so read all the way down to find out how you can be the lucky reader.

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Sympathy for the Devil

I'm very much a character-driven writer. If I know the characters well enough, and if I know the starting point of the book, then the rest of the plot should basically unfold itself based on what those characters would do in a given situation.

But sometimes I find myself stuck. I go back and re-think things, trying to figure out where I've gone wrong. Have I got a good handle on the heroine? Check. Hero? Check. So what's the problem?

Ah. There's one more important character, and I've forgotten all about him. I'm talking, of course, about the villain.

Villains don't often get much respect. By definition, the villain is the character who is going to fail in the end (most of the time, anyway), the one that the reader will spend the entire book rooting against, the one who does horrible things and causes no end of trouble for the hero and heroine. At the same time, however, the villain is generally the character who drives most of the action―he (or she) creates the problem the heroine and hero must solve, puts up roadblocks and complications throughout the plot, and gives the protagonists something to overcome. In most books, the hero and heroine spend a great deal of time reacting while the villain acts. Which makes the villain a darn important part of the story.

So it's no wonder that, when things stall or fall apart while I'm writing, it's inevitably because I don't understand the villain well enough. As you might have guessed, I'm not a big fan of the Snidely Whiplash school of villainy, where the antagonist is nothing but a cardboard cutout twirling his mustache as he ties the heroine to the train tracks. Give me a villain who is a complete person, someone who, although evil and wrong, has a real motivation outside of just “being evil.”

If I had to guess, I would say that some writers neglect this aspect of character development because it isn't always fun. Spending a lot of time in the head of a character who may be an extremely unpleasant person isn't generally a barrel of laughs. But for me, it's a critical part that I can't skip, at least without causing myself a major headache.

The best example is probably my Moon, Sun, Star series. The first book, Tyrant Moon, was a dream to write. Long before I typed out the opening sentence, I had a full understanding not just of the hero and heroine, but of the two main villains as well. Both of them had long and nuanced histories with the protagonists, and both of them had real human motivations for doing the things they did. It didn't make them any less wrong or evil, but it made them real enough to me that I knew what their next move would be throughout the story, without even having to think about it.

In contrast, the final book, Sorceress Star, was a nightmare to write. I kept getting stuck, kept having to do rewrites that still didn't work...until I hit upon the idea of writing the flashback scenes from the point of view of the novel's villain, the sorceress Melilandra. You see, I knew she and the hero, Thraxis, had grown up together, that Melilandra's mother had been in charge of raising both of them from the time Thraxis was five, and that they absolutely hated each other. But I didn't know why Melilandra hated Thraxis so much that she'd spent a great deal of time and effort tormenting him, until I realized that she felt he'd stolen her mother's affection when they were children. (The irony being that her mother didn't have any affection to give anyone, so Thraxis was just as miserable as she was.) In a roundabout way, everything Melilandra does is an attempt to prove that she's better than Thraxis, that she's the one who deserved her mother's love and attention. On some level, I think she believes that if she can just destroy him it will somehow ease her inner pain. Once I understood that, once I realized Melilandra's deepest motivation, the entire book opened up to me, and I flew through the rest of it.

So writers, don't neglect your villains in favor of characters you actually like. And readers, let's have a little appreciation for those dastardly villains, without whom the story would be about a pair of perfectly happy people with no obstacles to overcome. And who wants to read about that?

Elaine

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Tyrant Moon tells the story of a dying mage who must help a barbarian warrior in her quest to save her people. Thraxis is an Athraskani wizard who created a magic jewel that would gift any mage with enormous power. A rogue wizard stole the jewel, using it to cast a death curse on Thraxis before fleeing to hide among the barbarian tribes.

The Arrow that Flies the Farthest is the Champion of her clan--its most skilled warrior, whose ritual combats with other Champions were meant to prevent war among the clans. But war is unleashed nevertheless when her ambitious chieftain joins forces with the rogue Athraskani. Arrow's only hope of stopping the war seems to lie with Thraxis, who alone knows how to destroy the jewel he created. But can a pacifist wizard and a woman born to kill find the common ground needed to work together...before time runs out for them both?

Excerpt:

Thraxis drew a deep breath, then let it out slowly. The fire made strange shadows on his gaunt face. "You know," he said at length, "I had some doubts about this journey at first. But, really, this isn't so bad."

Nightwing let out a snort and lifted his head. Stalker looked up as well, suddenly tense. Even Shadow Lord left off grazing the tender leaves off the trees and tried to back away, hobbled as he was. Arrow let out a hiss of warning and drew her sword, motioning for her companion to get away from the fire.

"What are you doing?" Thraxis asked irritably. "And why on earth are you waving at me like that?"

Then the familiar thrum of an arrow in flight went past her ear, ending in an equally-familiar thok as it met flesh. Thraxis let out a wild yell and fell backwards, even as four shapes surged out of the dark wood.

Bandits, Arrow thought as she ran to meet them. And not ones that were doing very well as outlaws, by the look of them. Their clothing was a jumble of crudely-stitched hides, uncured furs, finely-dyed cottons, and silks. Hunger had thinned their faces behind thick beards, and she smelled the stink of malnutrition on their breath.

Arrow's heart sped and her body tried to kick into motion. Cursing mentally, she forced herself to hold back, fighting the instincts of a lifetime and praying that she could maintain her disguise of normality, yet still keep herself and Thraxis from getting killed.

Two of the bandits ran past, one made for the horses, and the other faced her. Surprise showed on his hollow features. "This one's a woman!" he shouted.

"Keep her alive," ordered another, presumably the leader.

The first fixed his eyes on Arrow, and she caught a glimpse of desperation and despair that bordered on madness. Whoever he was, she doubted that he had chosen this life willingly. It was even possible that he had done nothing to deserve it but had succumbed instead to bad luck or the ill will of others. For an instant, she wondered if her victims had seen something similar in her eyes.

Thrusting the thought away, she whipped her sword around in sudden fury. Her opponent clumsily lifted a blade green with corrosion, only to have it shatter as she met it with her own. For a moment he seemed confused, clearly having not expected such resistance from a woman. Then her sword clove his heart, and his eyes glazed over with death.

She turned as he fell, caught a glimpse of Shadow Lord rearing wildly, hobbles cut. "Nightwing! Stalker! Kill!" she shouted automatically, although the cousins probably didn't need her encouragement by now. Stalker whinnied shrilly, spun, and lashed out with his rear hooves at a shadowy form. The outlaw let out a strangled scream and tried to flail away, only to be knocked over by Nightwing's broad shoulder.

Satisfied that the horses would not be lost, Arrow completed her turn and saw that the other two bandits had cornered Thraxis. The Athraskani cowered back against a tree trunk, his hands half-raised as if he would cast a spell. One of the bandits laughed incredulously, bent over, and seized a handful of robe. "What the hell is this? A scribe? You should have stayed with your books, ink-eater."

A crude bone knife caught the firelight. Arrow swore and leapt over the fire, certain that Thraxis was beyond noticing whether or not her jump was inhumanly high. She came down lightly behind the one with the knife, her sword sliding through his kidney and up into his lungs. He made an odd, gurgling sound, then fell to the ground, vomiting blood. Putting her back to him, she prepared to face his companion, only to discover that the man had already fled.

The camp was a wreck, their dinner scattered into the fire and on the ground. The stench of blood and entrails fouled the night air. Stalker and Nightwing were too well trained to run, but their nostrils were flared and their eyes rimmed with white. Of Shadow Lord, there was no sign.

Fury slammed through Arrow, and she spun around and marched over to Thraxis. "Lady of Beasts curse you!" she shouted. "Why didn't you do something? You have magic--by the gods, use it, don't just sit there and wait to get killed!"

Thraxis lay propped against the tree, his skin pale as chalk. An arrow stood out from his left shoulder, and the front of his robe was dark with blood. The last bandit lay at Thraxis's feet, still moaning and blowing bubbles of blood from his nostrils. With a grunt of annoyance, Arrow leaned over and dealt the dying man a mercy stroke. Thraxis turned his head away from the sight.

"I'm hurt," he said at last. His voice was thin and weak.

Arrow sighed and knelt beside him. Her fingers probed gingerly at the protruding shaft. Thraxis winced and went even paler.

"I'm going to have to cut away your robe," she said, reaching for the knife sheathed on her left thigh.

"No."

Frustration went through her--couldn't he see that she was trying to help? "Fine," she said, gripped the arrow, and snapped off the haft. Thraxis yelped and tried to jerk away.

"Are you trying to kill me?"

"I'm trying to save your life, you ass!" Batting away his hands, she reached for the front of his robe. Although she found a seam, there appeared to be no laces or buttons anywhere. "Damn it, doesn't this thing open?"

Thraxis looked as though he was going to argue. She aimed a harsh glare at him, and he glanced down, glowering and muttering something about magic. At the touch of his good hand, the robe parted enough to allow her to pull it off over the broken haft. He wore a black shirt beneath, which she cut through quickly.

After a moment of examining the wound, she bit her lip grimly. "Can you use your magic to heal yourself?"

He looked at her warily. "Why?"

"Because the arrow severed the great artery going to the arm. You're bleeding a river, and it won't get any better after I pull the arrowhead out."

Thraxis closed his eyes in an odd gesture of defeat. "Are you certain that you can't stop it by more ordinary means?"

She sat back on her heels, staring at him. His reluctance this time went beyond simple pig-headedness. "Why don't you want to use your magic?" she asked. "You started to at the inn that night, but then dropped the spell. Tonight, you almost got your throat slit, but you didn't raise a hand. And now you want me to staunch the bleeding without your help. Why?"

Thraxis met her eyes for a moment, and then turned away. Something seemed to go out of him, like a man surrendering to an enemy. "BecauseI can't."

Arrow froze. "Can't what?"

"I can't use my magic," he snapped, as though she were being willfully obtuse. "I'm under a curse. When Balthazar turned renegade and fled, he left behind a trap on one of the spell books that I was studying. The moment I touched it, it unleashed a fatal curse. Anyone else, it would have killed instantly, but I was the greatest among the Athraskani, and my magic was enough to hold it at bay. Temporarily." He sighed and shook his head. "It takes every bit of my magic to keep the curse from killing me outright. But even my power isn't great enough to break the curse, only to slow it. It has been eating away at me for some time now. My hair fell out, I've lost weight, and my joints hurt like hot coals at the end of the day."

Arrow stiffened. "You're dying."

His mouth twisted wryly. "Yes. When we left the Sanctum, I thought that I might have six months left--but only if I retained my full power to battle the curse. Every time I cast another spell, though, I divert some of that power away. Essentially, my choice now is to either risk dying tonight if you can't staunch the wound, or else use my magic to heal myself. By saving my life today, I remove several other days from the end of my span."

Arrow winced, pity stirring her heart unexpectedly. "Not much of a choice."

His face closed to her, like a mask clicking into place. "I have no need for sympathy."

"Don't need it--or have never had it?"

TYRANT MOON is available in ebook, trade paperback, and hardcover here:
http://www.mundania.com/book.php?title=Tyrant+Moon
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-- Lynda Again

Elaine is offering one lucky reader a PDF version of any book from her backlist who leaves a comment and emails her at elainecorvidae@gmail.com (be sure to put Star-Crossed Romance in the Subject Line). Make sure you get your entry in by Friday when she draws the lucky reader's name.

Readers can find a complete list of her books here:
http://www.onecrow.net/Books.htm

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7 comments:

Judy said...

Tryant Moon looks like a great read. I really enjoyed the excerpt. I also enjoyed reading about your expereiences of writing and about how your characters come about. I enjoy fantasy novels.

Elaine Corvidae said...

Hi Judy! I'm glad you enjoyed the excerpt. Thanks for commenting! :-)

kevgooglegroup said...

Hi Elaine,

just thought i'd say what a great read TyrantMoon was. It was literally like watching an epic film, all the build up and the flash backs. the characters were all so real as well, you could literally feel Arrow's pain everytime she thought about what she'd done in the past. And the ending was brilliant, it brought the whole story together in like a full circle, what a great idea.

Loved every minute of it.

Kevin Gaywood

Elaine Corvidae said...

Hi Kevin, good to see you over here! I'm glad you liked Tyrant Moon so much. I think the flashback parts, such as the full-circle ending, are one of the things people either love or hate about the book.

susan said...

Hi Elaine, sorry to be late but just got home from the doctor's and wanted to drop in a say hello. Love the book excerpt ..sounds truly good. I love my books and always love meeting the authors. I am retired so contests and books are alot of fun to me. Have a good day. susan L.

Elaine Corvidae said...

Thanks to everyone for commenting and emailing me! I'm popping in from the hotel at FaerieCon to say that the random winner of the drawing is Judy. Congrats, Judy, and look in your inbox for my email. :-)

Lynda K. Scott said...

That's Elaine for being with us. I know I and a lot of our readers enjoyed your article and excerpt.

And congrats Judy! I'm sure you'll enjoy your prize.