July 10, 2021 • No Comments
Today, we’re here to interview Kifi, the temple cat who joins the cast in Smolder, the third novel in the Crown of Fae series. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Kifi: Delighted to pull up a cushion and entertain.
Q: To begin with, what is the role of a temple cat?
Kifi: That is like asking the purpose of water in the sea. We keep the memory of the fire fae, for the tribes of the Flame do not rely on written language. The history and wisdom of all things is ours to preserve, and what one cat knows, we all know.
Q: So cats know everything?
Kifi: Is that a question?
Q: I see. Moving on, how did you come to be involved in the story of Leena and Morran?
Kifi: Leena’s journey took her near the Great Temple. I seized the opportunity to join her, for the Temple is sacred to my kind. It was lucky that I was available to assist my two-legged companions. Such foolish creatures, always in need of rescue. One should never leave home without a cat.
Q: What hardships did you experience along the way?
Kifi: Monsters, bad food, and far too many smelly werewolves.
Q: Audiences have responded to you as a character. How have you dealt with sudden fame?
Kifi: Such adoration is the fate and burden of felines. I bear it with humility. I’ve even forgiven the artist for leaving me off the book cover.
Q: Yes, that is quite a glaring oversight.
Kifi: Indeed. One might think the story is all about the love story between my friend, Leena, and the Phoenix Prince. Who would want to read that?
Q: One last question. Despite your experience, you’re still young for your kind. Is there any advice you could give to other junior temple cats wanting to follow in your pawprints?
Kifi: Accept the challenge of the journey and treasure those who walk at your side. Most of all, realize that not everyone is lucky enough to be one of us. Be kind to the poor two-legged creatures.
June 26, 2021 • No Comments
Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world. ― Voltaire
Fire is light and movement and passion. It comforts and terrifies, gives life and destroys it. To embody this element, my heroine of the fire fae had to be a creature of contrasts, so it seemed natural that she’d be a dancer. Few things demand such primal abandon and rigorous discipline at once.
Where do characters come from? It’s one thing to imagine the type of character we want—a fire fae, a spunky barista, a master thief. However, creating a protagonist who can lead a complex story goes beyond a simple archetype. We need broad strokes, but we also need emotions, contradictions, history, and a deep well of desires that are completely unique to that individual. Real people are messy and complicated. Characterization should capture some of that, even if the heroine is a paranormal being.
My characters come to me in many different ways, but in this case Leena and Smolder arrived through three inspirations. The first came from Stravinsky’s 1913 ballet, The Rite of Spring. At the time of its premier, both the music and choreography shocked audiences—a lusty depiction of ritual sacrifice was just too distant from the floaty tutus usually seen on the Paris stage. But if anything could summon flame from the core of the universe, it was this creation, and I loved its strangeness and power at first sight. Stravinsky also wrote The Firebird, so my subconscious clearly owes him a debt for my book about a dancer and a phoenix.
So, I had my concept of what a fire fae should be—the flavor or keynote of her nature. But Leena is a person and not a ballet, so I used a writing meditation to find the core of her psychology. It’s perfect as a second step, when an author knows the basic facts about a character and it’s time to find out more:
Imagine yourself in a character’s room. What is there? What does it tell you about the character?
Leena’s room in the poorer district of Eldaban has little in it, but I found a woolen shawl woven in a pattern that is typical of her mountain tribe. What does it say about her? A shawl is used to keep warm, but it’s also good for carrying possessions, gathering apples, making a baby sling, or as a shroud. The wool would come from the family’s sheep. The women of the tribe would spin and weave it. A mother might make a shawl as a gift for her daughter as a sign that she was ready to forge her own future. That told me a lot about Leena’s people—humble, independent, and steeped in the love of their home and family.
I did a similar exercise around Leena’s chatelaine, which she carries with her in Smolder. (For those who don’t know, chatelaines were a short of tool-holder that clipped to a belt. Here is a beautiful example of one from the nineteenth century.) At first, I didn’t know how Leena would use the chatelaine in the story, but she insisted on having it. It turned out to be essential to the plot, so sometimes the character knows best!
So now that I knew who Leena was, I had to know how she finds the courage to walk into extreme danger. My third inspiration was Fionn, her brother. She held his hand when they fled the destruction of their homeland. She raised him from the time they were orphaned children, but now he’s a grown man with ambitions of his own. When he makes a terrible choice, what’s a big sister to do? Try to save him, of course, even if it’s a task far beyond anything she’s braved before. This was the motivation that launched my story’s plot.
So, to return to the initial question of where do characters come from–mostly they walk into my head fully formed, but once in a while I get to know them in a more organized way. These three steps describe how I discovered enough about Leena to begin writing her adventure. I found the inspiration, developed her backstory, and gave her strong motivation. They helped me find her spark at the start.
As befits a fire fae, she needed no help from me to set the rest of the story ablaze.
June 20, 2021 • 2 Comments
Never work with animals or children. – W.C. Fields
Pets steal the show, whether at a family picnic, in a meme, or as part of your story. Thousands of cat videos prove the magnetic attraction of furry characters, the more ridiculous the better. As a case in point, readers of Smolder, third in the Crown of Fae series, talked as much about Kifi the talking temple cat as the hero, heroine, and villains combined. Small, sassy, and very much the star of her own story, she got to be outrageous in ways that human characters could never pull off.
Writing such characters well isn’t always easy. Stage management is a constant problem. If your book is a romance, Fido has to be parked before the humans can have alone time. If it’s an action-packed thriller, one is in a constant state of saving the cat. As a rule, I carefully control the amount of time the little scene-stealers are on the page. Otherwise, as the storyline becomes a logistics nightmare, dog-napping starts to look like a practical plot twist. Plus, while any side character can hog the limelight, animals are the worst. Don’t give them all the best lines.
So why include an animal as a side character in your book? The cute factor wears off eventually, but pets can be effective character extensions of their humans. What does it say about the lumberjack when it turns out he picks a goggle-eyed pug over a pit bull for his rescue project? Have you noticed how many B-movie villains own smug felines? The Game of Thrones series (especially the books) used a litter of wolf puppies as shorthand for the lives and fates of the Stark children. Through their presence, animals can contrast or comment on the rest of a narrative and its characters.
Or, they can level up and play a role in the action. Murder-solving pets are a staple of the mystery genre. A favorite of mine is Monty the golden retriever and his handler, Sarah Patrick, in Iris Johansen’s mysteries. Monty is a cadaver dog, which gives him an important role in the stories. He knows his role and understands when he’s done his job—or when he’s failed—in a very realistic way. An animal’s vulnerability naturally heightens the emotion of a situation, whether that’s for laughter or nail-biting drama.
Integrating an animal character into the plot can mean giving them a story goal and character arc. In Smolder, Kifi joins the quest so she can meet her queen, a decision that turns out to have important consequences for the human characters. Kifi is also a feline, with all the sassy good and bad that entails. There is a temptation to make pets too adorable, and a dash of naughtiness avoids sentimentality.
The gold standard, in my opinion, remains the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. He writes about talking animals, but they are memorable creations with personality, flaws and a purpose. The author treats them as fully formed characters and so makes them integral to the story. No one who has met Reepicheep or Mr. Tumnus will soon forget them.
Even if that’s going deeper into fantasy than is appropriate for your story, it’s worth considering what’s on your fictional pet’s mind. The trick is to make those fuzzy characters work hard for their time on stage and deliver good story value. When W.C. Fields warned that animals can easily steal the show, he understood their power to entertain.
March 6, 2020 • 2 Comments
Here is the map (beautifully done by Zenta Brice) for the Crown of Fae series: