Returning Strength to the Character of Guinevere

daughter-of-destiny-ebook-cover-iAs many of you know, I made the decision back in August to self-publish the four books I’ve written to date. I’m glad to report that three months later I’m happier than I’ve ever been and am having a ball with the process.

I just got my cover yesterday, so I wanted to share it with you here and let you know a little about the book. Yes, it’s shameless self promotion, but that’s how new authors get exposure, right?

One thing I do want to note is that in setting out to write this trilogy 16-odd years ago, I had one major focus in mind: to rescue the character of Guinevere from the docile, blonde-haired, blue-eyed victim she’d become in popular culture (especially in the Mists of Avalon, but in other works as well).

I think you can see from the cover (she’s got dark hair, if nothing else) that I’ve given her some serious agency, not to mention mystical Avalonian powers. My Guinevere begins the book as a scared young girl and ends it as a future queen who is following a fate decreed by the gods. In essence, the trilogy unfolds as Guinevere moves through three phases of life: priestess (book 1), queen (book 2) and warrior (book 3). I didn’t intend that, it just happened. But every step of the way, she is fighting for her rights as a Celtic woman – something I think readers, especially women, will be able to relate to even 1,500 years later (and Celtic women were strong, so that part is historically accurate).

Here’s the back cover copy:

Before queenship and Camelot, Guinevere was a priestess of Avalon. She loved another before Arthur, a warrior who would one day betray her.

In the war-torn world of late fifth century Britain, young Guinevere faces a choice: stay with her family to defend her home at Northgallis from the Irish, or go to Avalon to seek help for the horrific visions that haunt her. The Sight calls her to Avalon, where she meets Morgan, a woman of questionable parentage who is destined to become her rival. As Guinevere matures to womanhood, she gains the powers of a priestess, and falls in love with a man who will be both her deepest love and her greatest mistake.

Just when Guinevere is able to envision a future in Avalon, tragedy forces her back home, into a world she barely recognizes, one in which her pagan faith, outspokenness, and proficiency in the magical and military arts are liabilities. When a chance reunion with her lover leads to disaster, she is cast out of Northgallis and into an uncertain future. As a new High King comes to power, Guinevere must navigate a world of political intrigue where unmarried women are valuable commodities and seemingly innocent actions can have life-altering consequences.

You may think you know the story of Guinevere, but you’ve never heard it like this: in her own words. Listen and you will hear the true story of Camelot and its queen.

Fans of Arthurian legend and the Mists of Avalon will love Daughter of Destiny, the first book in a historical fantasy trilogy that gives Guinevere back her voice and traces her life from an uncertain eleven year old girl to a wise queen in her fifth decade of life.

And the prologue:

I am Guinevere.

I was once a queen, a lover, a wife, a mother, a priestess, and a friend. But all those roles are lost to me now; to history, I am simply a seductress, a misbegotten woman set astray by the evils of lust.

This is the image painted of me by subsequent generations, a story retold thousands of times. Yet, not one of those stories is correct. They were not there; they did not see through my eyes or feel my pain. My laughter was lost to them in the pages of history.

I made the mistake of allowing the bards to write my song. Events become muddled as ink touches paper, and truth becomes malleable as wax under a flame. Good men are relegated to the pages of inequity, without even an honest epitaph to mark their graves.

Arthur and I were human, no more, no less, though people choose to see it differently. We loved, we argued, we struggled, all in the name of a dream, a dream never to be fulfilled. Camelot is what fed the fires that stirred us to do as we did. History calls it sin, but we simply called it life.

The complexity of living has a way of shielding one’s eyes from the implications of one’s role. That is left for others to flesh out, and they so often manipulate it to suit their own needs. To those god-awful religious, I have become a whore; Arthur the victim of a fallen Eve; Morgan, a satanic faerie sent to lead us all astray. To the royalty, we have become symbols of the dreams they failed to create and Arthur is the hero of a nation, whereas to me, he was simply a man. To the poor, we are but a legend, never flesh and blood, a haunting story to be retold in times of tribulation, if only to inspire the will to survive.

We were so much more than mute skeletons doomed to an eternity in dust and confusion. We were people with a desire for life, a life of peace that would be our downfall. Why no one can look back through the years and recognize the human frailty beneath our actions, I will never understand. Some say grace formed my path; others call it a curse. Whatever it was, I deserve to be able to bear witness before being condemned by men who never saw my face.

It ends now. I will take back my voice and speak the truth of what happened. So shall the lies be revealed and Camelot’s former glory restored. Grieve with me, grieve for me, but do not believe the lies which time would sell. All I ask is that mankind listen to my words, and then judge me on their merit.

Ready to read more? All you have to do is sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll get the prologue and first chapter for free.

Want to pre-order on Kindle? You can do that here.

Waiting for another ebook format, paperback or audio book (voiced by Hollywood actress Serena Scott Thomas)? Those will be available January 1, 2016. But you can still mark Daughter of Destiny as “want to read”on Goodreads.

So what do you think? What do you want to know? I’m open to any and all questions (but I won’t give away the ending!)

HNS 2015 Conference Wrap Up

HNS2015-logo_nd-300x102Hard to believe that the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference (in Denver) started a week ago today. Talk about a jam-packed four days! I learned so much and met so many wonderful authors. This was my first one and I will forever treasure it.

Here’s a rough idea of how the conference went and my personal highlights:

Thursday – Travel day and dinner at the fabulous Oceanaire restaurant (foie gras, stuffed sole and Prosecco). Went to see the one-man play Defending the Caveman. So hilarious! I recommend it to anyone!

CW Gortner giving the opening speech
CC Humphreys giving the opening speech

Friday – Eight hours of pre-conference workshops with Larry Brooks on story structure. It didn’t occur to me until the workshop started that he’s one of the authors whose books I’m reading as part of my DIY MFA program. This man is amazing. His theories, along with those of Michael Hauge, have finally gotten me to understand the craft part of writing. I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned to my next book!

The highlight of the evening was getting to hear Shakespearean actor/writer C.C. Humphreys read his poem “We Are Historical Novelists.” I’m going to frame a copy of it and may even get part of it tattooed on me eventually.

Saturday – The day of many workshops began at 7 a.m. These are the ones I attended:

  • A special session on how to build an audience before you get published, which had some great marketing ideas.
  • Primary sources beyond Google for American histfic, where I learned about census records, city directories, newspapers, databases and archives and how to access them. Very cool! I know I will use this for my next American novel (which will be the novel after this one)
  • Right to left -GJillian Bagwell, CW Gortner, Margaret George, Patricia Bracewell
    Right to left – Gillian Bagwell, CW Gortner, Margaret George, Patricia Bracewell

    How to write historical fiction without the famous. I won’t be doing a lot of this because I don’t use many fictional historical characters, but it was still interesting to learn what readers want vs. what writers want to write. After this one entered the Q&A stage, I popped into the agent/editors panel where they all talked about how much they want WWI and WWII era books, hence I’m focusing on my WWII book next. (Wait until I can give you the synopsis. I don’t think this angle has been done before.)

  • Taking biography and turning it into historical fiction. This was one of my most highly anticipated sessions, as this is how I write my histfic. I didn’t take many notes, which must mean I’m doing something right, but the big highlight was hearing Margaret George speak.
  • An author I'd never heard of gave me this!
    An author I’d never heard of gave me this. Definitely a sign from the Universe!

    Selling historical fiction: the good, the bad and the ugly – This was by far my favorite panel, mainly because the panelists were so honest.  C.W. Gortner, whom I love, talked about how it took him five agents and 15 years to get published. Donna Russo Morin, whom I fell in love with, talked about her agent/publisher horror stories. These all made me feel my better about my own bumpy journey. My biggest takeaway was that there are no “overnight” or “out of the blue” success stories. Those books have $100,000 marketing budgets behind them that the houses keep quiet about.

  • Midwifery – this panel was really cool. Got to hear how it evolved (or not) from the 15th century BCE to the 17th century CE. This was the most factual and the one I took the most notes on that day. Diana Gabaldon moderated the panel. I didn’t meet her, but she seemed very nice and was gracious with everyone.
  • Keeping historical fiction real and relevant – I finally got to meet Patricia Bracewell before this panel! We’ve been friends on twitter for ages, but to finally meet her was a dream come true. She is so kind and supportive! The panel was great. Key takeaway: do your best to get rid of your hindsight and live the story as your characters do, biases, worldview and all.
Patricia Bracewell and I - I love this lady so much!
Patricia Bracewell and me – I love this lady so much!

After this was the author signing, were over 50 authors gathered and you could buy their books and talk with them. I bought about 10 books, plus the three I had with me to get signed. Highlights were hanging out with Patricia Bracewell (she asked me to!), meeting CW Gortner and finally getting to meet online friends JF Ridgley, Helen Hollick and Allison Morton in person.

Author Stephanie Carroll and me
Author Stephanie Carroll and me

We had a formal dinner with an awards ceremony, period costume pageant and sex scene readings that night. One of my fellow speakers at a St. Louis festival was one of the finalist for the awards! The highlight of my evening was meeting author Stephanie Carroll when she sat next to me at dinner. She taught me a lot about self-publishing and made it seem really doable. I’m not ready yet, but I’m more open to it than I’ve ever been. I hope she and I can stay in touch!

Sunday – I attended only one workshop, Writing Women in the West, as my next book (after the WWII one) will be a quasi-western. One of the speakers was really good, giving lots of detail on the different types of boomtowns and gamblers in the west. Next, I attended a Q&A session with an agent, which was not as helpful as I would have liked.

My carry-on - about 12 books, weighing in at about 15 lbs!
My carry-on, about 12 books, weighing in at about 15 lbs!

After that, my introverted self was done. I had to take a nap and get some alone time. Then my roomate, Tessa, and I went into downtown Denver to hang out. We visited the famous bookstore Tattered Cover, and of course, bought more books. Then on our way to a wine bar, I tripped over the sidewalk and came down hard on my already bruised knees (did a faceplant at work the week before). So we ended up eating at a local Italian place that was amazing.

I had to leave at 6 a.m. the next morning. I honestly haven’t really downloaded all the information I acquired at this conference yet. It was well worth the time and money and I will definitely be attending next year’s conference in Oxford, England. I already have my first $50 put away!

I have handouts from most of the workshops, so if you want any of them, just let me know.

What conferences have you been to as a writer or reader that you particularly enjoyed? How do you maximize your time there? What’s your favorite part?

Bon Voyage!

New Orleans
Is it possible to have a crush on a city?

By the time you read this, I’ll be in New Orleans. It’ll be my first visit, and one I’ve been looking forward to my whole life – or at least since I read The Vampire Lestat. While we’re there, I want to walk along Bourbon St and see Marie Laveau’s grave and eat bignet’s and drink chicory coffee.

Wow! Travel cliché much?

Seriously, though, I told my daughter yesterday to expect me to move slowly so I’d have a chance to absorb as many of the sights, sounds, and smells as I could. So I’d have time to talk to the person serving my coffee, to memorize their accent (unless of course they’re a college student from Brooklyn, which could also be cool, but in a different way). And so I’d have time to learn by heart the place I fall in love with a little harder every time I read about it.

I’m not 100% sure, but I think my first literary exposure to New Orleans did come from Ann Rice. (And yes, going past her house is definitely on the to-do list.) The city is almost another character in Lestat and in Interview With A Vampire, and it’s an even stronger presence Feast Of All Saints, her novel about the gens de couleur libre, or free people of color, a class of black and mixed race people who carved out their own cultural place between the white upperclass and slaves. The city in that story is gorgeous and mysterious and vicious, a perfect fantasy to fall in love with. (Apparently it was made into a movie in 2001…might have to check that out…)

Another of my favorite series set in a similar version of New Orleans are the Benjamin January books by Barbara Hambly. The first, A Free Man Of Color, tells the story of a physician and music teacher whose skin color makes him particularly vulnerable to a murder charge because the document declaring him a free man is as fragile as the paper it’s printed on. The mystery is well-constructed and the period details are amazing. I almost want to go back in time and live in that Creole world.

Almost.

A more recent – and tremendously fun – New Orleans appearance happens in Definitely Dead, book six (I think) in Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire mysteries. Sookie’s cousin Hadley is killed (and that’s in the blurb so not a spoiler) and Sookie inherits her estate, which turns out to be more than she expects. New Orleans is hot and sexy and so is Quinn, the were-tiger who’s along for the ride. This is one of my favorite Sookie books. Hmm…might have to bring my copy along to read on the airplane.

And I can’t forget one of the best books of any type describing Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson begins a couple days before Katrina hits, and gives you an insider’s view of the storm and the people who survived it. The paranormal elements are fun (especially the very crushable take on Jean Lafitte!) but the real story is the city and her resilience. Royal Street is the first in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, definitely in the auto-buy section of my bookshelf.

So even if you’re not lucky enough to have a midwinter trip to The Big Easy planned, put some Kermit Ruffins or Harry Connick, Jr on your stereo and crack open one of the books on my list and have your own little vacation. And if you have a favorite New Orleans book that I should take a look at, leave a recommendation in the comments. Or tell me about a city you’ve got a crush on…

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Liv