I have the pleasure of hosting fantasy author extraordinaire, Emily June Street, on my website today, where she discusses her latest novel, The Cedna, with me–its magic system, which of her characters she relates to most, and why she’s put out with me for making her answer the last question. 😉
Come read what she has to say, and then do yourself a favor and look up her books on Amazon. Besides The Cedna, she also has The Gantean for sale, and other works such as The Velocipede Races. I highly recommend all of them; Emily is one of the best there is. Follow her on her website or connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.
1.) In three sentences, tell me what The Cedna is about.
The Cedna is the second book in an epic fantasy series that explores intersections of women, fantasy, and magic. In a world governed by the magical powers of blood and light, a rebellious woman selected to serve as a sacrifice desperately seeks a different solution to save her waning culture. When she travels south to save herself and her people, ethnic prejudices, old animosities, and a handsome stranger quickly overturn her plans, leading her on a world-shattering adventure of love, heartbreak, and war.
2.) Every good story has a protagonist and an antagonist. Tell me about the character, the Cedna. What characteristics of each of these does she carry in her? How does she reconcile the two?
A big part of the exploration I am doing in my series, Tales of Blood & Light, is about perspectives. Each book is told from the perspective of a different character, and my hope is that each book acts as a puzzle piece to fit into a larger whole that tells a broad and deep story. So each volume in the series lets the reader take another step back and get a wider view on the world and the story.
The Cedna was one of the antagonistic characters from the first book, The Gantean, though she was kept a bit in the background, in the wings, waiting for her entrance. We knew she had abandoned her people in a time of need, and we knew she had done some terrible deeds that affected the first book’s narrator, Leila.
Book Two is the Cedna’s bold entrance, where we finally see what her motivations have been for everything she has done. She becomes the protagonist of her own story, and it’s left for the reader to decide whether she is good, evil, or simply human.
I haven’t written typical protagonists and antagonists in these books, for a few reasons. First, so much of how people frame conflicts has to do with perspective, so this series, as an exercise in perspective, has a lot of “grey area,” rather than the clearer “black and white” of a standard story conflict. There is a lot of fluidity in my characters in terms of whether they are serving as protagonists or antagonists, depending on which character is the current narrator.
The other aspect of the books that makes discussing protagonists versus antagonists tricky is that in both The Gantean and The Cedna (and in subsequent books) I’d say one of the central conflicts is an internal one: the characters versus themselves. That isn’t to say that there is no external plot conflict—there is, but each character has a war going on within herself where she’s playing both protagonist and antagonist, and I think this is true of the Cedna more than any of the other narrators I’ve written for this series.
The Cedna is the figurehead of a desperate culture whose leaders will kill her to protect their livelihood. She has been told for her whole life that this sacrifice is natural and that she should be accepting of—or even honored by—her role. In direct conflict to that we have her very natural feeling that she would prefer to live, and live on her own terms. This conflict within her gives rise to a whole bunch of choices that spiral out into other conflicts—setting her at odds sometimes with her own people and sometimes with the southern culture her Gantean people hate.
I don’t want to discuss how the Cedna reconciles these internal conflicts, because that’s really the crux of the book and the conclusion of her story. I guess you’ll have to read it to find out!
3.) Was this book harder to write than the Gantean, or easier? Why?
In terms of time, it was easier. The Gantean took me decades to write, partly because I started it when I was really young, and then I had to rewrite it over and over again as I became a more skillful writer. The Cedna only took me years, maybe five or six. With The Cedna, I had a better idea of where the story was headed, although there were a couple of big issues I had to figure out—one example is that for the timeline to work and to have the Cedna’s story dovetail with the story of The Gantean, I needed a large chunk of time to pass without having a lot of action occur, so I had to hide her out somewhere for a decade or so. That was a tricky decision and a tricky portion of the book to write.
4.) Your magic system is so elaborate in this book so that I was gaping in awe at parts. How did you conceive of the system? What went into its development?
The magic system developed very organically out of my imagination. I knew I wanted it to be partly emotion-based—the “matter” of the magic was what I might call psychic energy or the energy of emotion. That energy is also connected to the earth—crystals, to be specific—and relies on those crystals to be focused and channeled.
I wanted to have magic be a predictable force that was the same across cultures, but I wanted the two cultures (Gantean and Lethemian) to approach its use and maintenance differently. The Ganteans use the life energy in blood to maintain magic, whereas the Lethemians use the life energy from reproduction (sex) to maintain it. So the Ganteans’ relationship to magic is one of pain and darkness; the Lethemians’ is one of pleasure and light. How they relate to this power tells us a lot about their cultures.
Conceiving of the system took years but had no particular plan. I talked about it a lot with my husband while we walked our dogs. We often talked about altered mind states and how reality is perceived differently when your senses are altered by ecstatic experiences or psychedelic drugs. I wanted the magic in these books to be like that, an altered state in which practitioners can perceive and affect parts of reality their regular senses can’t normally observe.
The magic system is really one of the centerpieces of the whole series, I think, and if you can stick with all seven books, you’ll probably see the magic system getting more and more involved in the plot. Everything in these books gets developed very slowly over the course of seven books; they are definitely written for patient readers. That was a conscious choice on my part, even though I recognize that most people these days prefer fast, straight-forward reads. I let myself write the books I wanted to write with the Lethemia series, and one of the things I like best about them is how they really are like a jigsaw puzzle, and no single book in the series can tell the whole story. I figure if a reader is too impatient to enjoy a slower process of discovery, so be it; there are plenty of other faster-paced books for them to read!
5.) What’s your favorite name of a place or a character that you made up for the story? How did you arrive at these names? Did you just open a dictionary and close your eyes and point, or was there a method? (Hint: my favorite is The Hinge; what an awesome place/entity name!)
I loosely organized the naming conventions of the cultures involved in the story by existing nationalities and then made certain kinds of tweaks. The Gantean names are based on Inuit languages, though I added a few additional syllables that I liked so I could use certain names I came up with that I wanted to use (Mikien, Ikselian). Careful readers may notice that Gantean women’s names often end in –ian, and the men’s names often end in “-ien, –at, or –uq.”
The Lethemian names are split into three regions: the northern region of the country uses slightly Gaelic-tinged names (Malvyna, Culan); the central regions use Greek names (Costas, Mydon, Stesichore); and the southern regions use Arabic names (Laith, Jaasir) There is some overlap and crossover, since Lethemia is one country and one culture. I tried to make the naming conventions a bit organic all around, so the place names are a mix of names taken from ancient Greece (Amphicylix, Hemicylix) and names that are more conventional or descriptive (Queenstown or Orioneport).
The eastern culture that emerges in this book, the Vhimsantese Empire, is sort of a mash-up of Ancient Rome and the Russian Empire. So they have Russian or Roman-sounding names, like Vilanov or Proseri.
I have to acknowledge that when I first conceived of this world, I was twelve years old and really unorganized and uninformed about stuff like naming conventions or geography. So some of the most flowery and extravagant names are holdovers from that era of the story’s existence (Vhimsantese, Lysandra, Ricknagel). Those came straight out of my imagination or from bizarre and random sources I was into when I was twelve. I could have changed them but I guess I wanted to honor my twelve-year-old self and keep a few of them in there to add a touch of random, childish spice.
The Hinge is a one-off name that I have to admit is an unkilled darling. I probably should have given it a more Gantean-sounding name, but I just couldn’t because I like the idea of a place that is the Hinge or the crux of all magic in the world. The world hinges on the Hinge.
6.) How many books do you plan to write in this series? Must we be content with only The Cedna and The Gantean, or do you have more of this world to unravel and feed to our grasping fingers?
There will be seven books. Book Three, Sterling, is drafted, and I hope to release it in 2016. The next four books are all also drafted but they are rather a mess. I expect to take a while to untangle those knots. So yes, there is a lot more of this world yet to be revealed. So far, we’ve only had Gantean narrators. The next three narrators are Lethemian, or at least they grew up in Lethemia. We’ve also thus far only heard from women. There will be some male points of view in later books.
That’s a really tough question. I think if you asked other people, they’d say I’m more like the Cedna—headstrong and apt to make my own independent choices, however deviant they may be. I like to go my own way, and I tend to do it without much remorse.
That said, Leila’s inspiring element was water; the Cedna’s is fire. I actually feel that if I had to pick an element for myself it would be air. (An air character is coming, and she is probably my true secret Mary Sue in this series.) So Leila’s approach to life is to “flow like water.” The Cedna’s approach is more destructive. Fire eats what it touches, and whatever choice she makes, it seems to end up being ruinous.
I hope both Leila and the Cedna are complex characters, nuanced enough that readers can relate to both of them, or at least understand why they make the choices they make, even if the readers themselves might make different choices in the given circumstances.
Leila is softer, more adaptable, and perhaps more typically feminine than the Cedna. The Cedna is angry, impulsive, and strident—characteristics that our culture has a hard time with in a woman. This was one reason I started out with Leila’s book, even though chronologically the Cedna’s story comes first. I think Leila is a more immediately likeable character to a wider range of people. But what do I know, really?
8.) You obviously are an extremely skilled fantasy writer. Just for kicks, what would TC look like on the extreme opposite end of the scale… as a romantic comedy? Let’s have it–a five sentence synopsis of a romantic-comedied The Cedna. 😉 (I’m really excited to see your answer to this one.) 😉
Oh dear. Oh dear. This is just the worst. I can’t believe you are making me do this, Tamara. I’ve never been able to write comedy. And I struggle with romance, too. I have about six half-written romance manuscripts, and all of them “turn dark” at some point. I have to hide them deep in the bowels of my laptop.
But here goes:
The leader of a harsh, northern culture escapes a dire fate and stumbles—quite literally—into the arms of an unrepentant rake while she poses as a southern housemaid. Unused to southern customs, the Cedna cannot help but draw notice as she flagrantly fails at her housemaid duties. Some women just aren’t made for keeping house.
Lord Onatos Amar is not amused as his newest housemaid bungles her duties and his palatial Alcazar begins to crumble around him.
Soon the Cedna’s secrets are revealed, and Onatos must decide between saving his troublesome housemaid and sending her back to her fate in the cold north.
The Cedna available on Amazon: