(Hi. It is my privilege to welcome author Elizabeth Hull, who writes under the pen name of C.N. Lesley. Today, Elizabeth will be talking about her new novel, “Shadow Over Avalon” (Kristell Ink, 2013). I enjoyed Elizabeth’s previous novel, “Darkspire Reaches,” and I continue to enjoy Elizabeth’s subtle and sneaky sense of humor.)
Welcome, Elizabeth. First, can you tell us why you use a nom de plume?
I didn’t have a choice over a byline. I wanted to use my legal name, but this was already taken by a very nice lady, who also writes fantasy. She even has the same middle name as me, Anne, spelled with an “e.” It was a no-brainer that I could not use the same publishing name as Fred Pohl’s wife.
Where are you from? Where are you living now?
We moved from Barrie, Ontario, to Alberta about twenty years ago. I can’t say I miss the humidity and I love the mountain air. We drove across Canada with three small children and a cat in the year where flooding had just knocked out the road between Sault St Marie and Thunder Bay. Dipping down into the States wasn’t an option as we didn’t have paperwork for the cat. It meant a huge detour into Northern Ontario, where the worry is not finding a gas station before the gas dries up.
Tell us about “Shadow Over Avalon,” something that’s different but not much longer than what’s on the back of the book.
“Shadow Over Avalon” started off as simple fantasy story and then grew branches. I got the craving to write a book that people could read again and find something new each time. I wanted the same sort of intricate plotting and clues found in an Agatha Christie book combined with the world building, characterization and mysticism found in Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” Along came the science fiction element and then the mysticism with the inclusion of the Arthur legend.
One of the big things for me is to create believable characters. I have to be able to see out of their eyes to see what impact the various pitfalls have on them. Every character has a back story, even the antagonists. Just as in real life, there are no perfect people, or bad guys without some redeeming qualities. Everyone has their own wants, wishes and needs.
What inspired the book?
While this might have started as a fantasy, the driver was the premise of the legendary King Arthur’s promise to come back to save his people in the time of their greatest need. This generated a futuristic dystopia with some scary antagonists.
I write by the seat of my pants, (known as a “pantzer” style), so I do not outline as I write. It evolved gradually into the story it is.
I understand “Shadow Over Avalon” is the first in a series. Tell us what you can about the whole series, from start to conclusion (the inevitable “no spoilers, please” goes here).
There is a need to recreate Arthur. Since he disobligingly left no living offspring, this then creates a situation of genetic engineering. Here is where the science fiction element comes in. Obviously, if one splits off part of the human race, one would expect the language to become very different in the various sub-species. This does not happen due to factor X. (Spoiler).
There is a general theme of the tarot running through all of the books in this series. “Shadow Over Avalon” represents the wand of the mage. “Sword of Shadows,” already with Kristell Ink, is self-explanatory, as is the “Chalice of Shadows.” This is about mankind meeting the unthinkable. The options are to evolve or die.
When you wrote “Shadow Over Avalon,” did you already have a series in mind? If not, when did the series idea enter your mind and why?
I think I might have been half way thought the first book when people started bugging me about a series. I had intended this to be stand-alone, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense, particularly when I got to the natural end of the first book and realized I had to continue with this world.
What was your favorite part of researching and writing this book?
I already have a scientific background, so the science fiction element was not a problem. Where the extensive research did occur was on the Arthur myth. I was not, and never have been very happy with the squinky aspect to that story. It took months of intensive research to go back into the old Welsh records, most of which had been taken from oral teachings. What I got was a huge education into how the politics of the time alter the historical perceptions of the past. Way back in the thirteenth century, this monk called Geoffrey of Monmouth was commissioned by his superiors to write what amounted to a tourist brochure for Glastonbury Abby. Bear in mind pilgrims were a huge revenue source and the Abby had just dug up the grave containing what they broadcast as the remains of King Arthur and Guinevere. Oh, cha chink. Instant gravy train. The monk’s greatest problem was the references to the old religions, where women held power and Morgan le Fay was a priestess. Obviously, this didn’t jive well with the Christian concept of women at that time, so he had to discredit her. This is where the incest story first emerges. I have no idea what a chaste monk was thinking to come up with those sorts of thoughts, but they caught on and were repeated by Thomas Mallory. The plan was successful and pilgrimages commenced.
I was relieved to be able to debunk this nastiness for my own peace of mind. I have always felt Arthur was a bigger man than that. I just couldn’t see such a great soul being blindsided in such a silly way.
In what ways is this book and series a departure from your novel, “Darkspire Reaches”?
Oh, about a million miles in difference. “Darkspire Reaches” is pure fantasy. What is similar is how characters grew through adversity. Take a regular person, doing own thing and minding their business and then chuck a few huge spanners into the works. How do they cope? How do they evolve to deal with what has happened? This theme is followed through in both books.
Now tell us more about yourself: favorite authors, favorite movies, family life, pets, anything you like, etc.
Glup. I am not really that interesting. I suppose I could say I have designed several tree-scapes for my town. I used to do a lot of volunteer work and this was part of it. It does give a particular buzz to now drive by one of these and notice how they are maturing.
Favorite authors? In no particular order, Frank Herbert, J.R.R Tolkien, Michael Moorcook, Ann McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Ilona Andrews.
My daughters are all grown and married now. Three weddings in a year have left me shell-shocked, but I have three great new sons out of this and a wonderful new grandson.
Pets are always cats and are always rescues. We started out like this in the first week of our marriage when a four-week-old kitten was hucked over our backyard fence. I will never understand how some people will be mean to something so much smaller and so helpless. Our latest “boy” came via the Edmonton Humane Society at around one year old. Like all the others over the years, he is very spoilt and very much loved in his new forever home.
What are your writing habits like?
Now? I wake up naturally around 6 a.m. and then start with answering emails. I currently have three works in progress, so I open up three split screens. Each project is loaded to Scrivener as the chapter is completed and then I also load them onto Dropbox. Given that I have either temporarily, or permanently, lost parts of books because of PC malfunctions, I am now hot to save on secure locations.
What advice would you give to aspiring novelists?
Join a writing group. For me, this was the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. I joined back in the good old Del Rey days, when this site was free, and I have subscribed until very recently. This is where I really learned how to write and where I met wonderful writing friends.
And if you can tell us, What can we expect from C.N. Lesley next?
Kristell Ink already has “Sword of Shadows,” to be published sometime in 2014. I am currently working on the sequel to “Darkspire Reaches” for them.
Thanks for coming into Dean’s Den, Elizabeth. Any closing thoughts?
Thank you so much for this opportunity. It has been a blast.