C.N. Lesley Discusses Her New Sci-Fi Fantasy Series on King Arthur Legend

(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?

Elizabeth Hull, aka C.N. Lesley

Elizabeth Hull, aka C.N. Lesley

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.

Shadow Over Avalon

Shadow Over Avalon

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.


‘In the Shadows’ With Mystery Novelist Susan Finlay

Hi, let’s welcome author and blogger Susan Finlay to Dean’s Den. Susan is a special friend of mine, and I’ve enjoyed reading excerpts from her mystery novel series. The first of these mysteries has finally arrived, and I can’t wait to read it. It’s called “In the Shadows.”

Susan Finlay

Susan Finlay

Susan, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and then explain the concept for your new mystery series?

Hi, Dean! Thanks for talking with me today. I’m a former banker, turned novelist. I was born in Germany. I mention that because I am only half-American, as is my book’s protagonist, Dave Martin. My other half is German. I grew up in the U.S., but I’ve traveled back to Germany three times to visit grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I’m sure I’ll go back there again since my son moved to Germany a little over a year ago. Perhaps it’s my heritage that makes me interested in foreign places. I set most of my novels in places outside the U.S. Hearing that, you might expect I chose Germany for my new novel’s setting. It actually takes place in France and England. Don’t worry, I have another series I’m working on that is set in Bavaria!

In my new novel, “In the Shadows” (An Outsiders Mystery), Dave Martin’s other half is French. Like me, he was raised in the U.S. As the story begins, he is visiting his French grandmother in the cave-riddled troglodyte village of Reynier, France. While running errands for his grandmother, Dave bumps into a beautiful stranger, Maurelle Dupre. After Maurelle flees at the sight of gendarmes, Dave wonders what she is hiding. His curiosity deepens when he hears that the locals think she’s a gypsy, a thief. Knowing that people are often misjudged, he isn’t convinced she’s either of those. But he still wonders why she seems so frightened and distrustful. Everyone tells him he shouldn’t get involved. They may be right. The last time he got involved, back in Chicago, and trusted a woman he lost his detective’s shield. But, as always, he can’t seem to leave well enough alone.

“In the Shadows” (An Outsiders Mystery) is a story of trust, belonging, and murder.

In the Shadows by Susan Finlay

In the Shadows by Susan Finlay

What a cool setting. Caves are dark and naturally daunting to us; at a primal level, I think. I’m sure the village is lovely. Tell us about the community, and illuminate some of the characters in the town and “In the Shadows.”

I have been fascinated with caves since I was a little girl, and my family went on a tour of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Back when I first began writing, I saw photographs of troglodyte cave dwellings in France. I knew then that I would someday write a book set in a troglodyte village.

As I began creating my fictitious village of Reynier, I had to learn about the French way of life, attitudes, etc. so I could create believable people to populate Reynier. I tried to make sure my characters weren’t stereotypes or cardboard people. Central to the book are two grandmothers who are lifelong best friends. The women are quite different from each other, and each has her own interesting back story, which will come out more in the second book. One of the women has a granddaughter, Simone, and the other has a grandson, Dave. It’s only natural they would try to pair them up as a couple. But then, a mysterious English woman appears and stirs things up.

What makes the setting so important in this novel, and does it act almost like a major character in itself?

As I researched, I learned that many French villages have troglodyte cave dwellings (known as troglos). From what I can tell, most troglos are centuries old. Many have been refurbished and are still lived in as either full-time residences or part-time holiday homes. Some are used as hotels, restaurants, or storage. Not all troglos are old, though. I saw a website that gives information about brand new troglos that are being built in France.

Troglos typically started out as primitive cave homes. Back in the 1800s, thousands of people in France lived in cliff dwellings, caves, or chalk pits. In some areas, whole hillsides were dug out, creating subterranean apartment blocks that were home to hundreds of people. Bureaucrats were horrified by the underground lifestyle and referred to the dwellers as troglodytes.

In more recent years, façades were built on the outside of some cave homes. Some facades are simple, with only a wall, door, and maybe a window. Some are quite extravagant, with large picture windows, and even patios, gardens, etc. In some rural French villages, many of the houses that appear ordinary from the street, have caves at the rear.

In my fictitious village of Reynier, there are houses and troglos of all varieties. Reynier’s cave system, a place of safety, runs beneath much of the village, and is cherished by the locals.

When can we expect the second and third novel in this series, and are you writing other novels?

I’ve already written the second book. It’s in the early stage of editing. The book, tentatively titled Where Secrets Reside (An Outsiders Mystery), takes place a year later. It’s shorter because the majority of characters are already familiar, so there’s less set-up, and yet it’s more complicated because the number of viewpoint characters is much greater. Expect a few new people—in particular, a gendarme captain who will be a main character. Also, expect some flashbacks and a lot more scenes inside the caves and troglos. The basic story is this: The close-knit village of Reynier, France, is victimized by a serial killer, a puzzling criminal whose actions force the residents to look at themselves in a new light. Is the killer one of their own? Who will be the next victim?

I’ve written a short outline/plan for the third book. The story begins when a secretive family moves to Reynier and their young child disappears.

I really dig your blog, and you’re not only a terrific person but an impressive networker (folks, this is not a bad thing), both online and off. I already know this, but can you share with our audience how you mostly self-taught yourself a number of things which enabled you to become a semi-powerful online presence via your blogger site and author page?

Thanks, Dean! I started learning when I joined the online website, Authonomy. That was where I began meeting other writers, such as you, and I learned how to connect via online forums. From there, two author friends, Zoe Harris and Sammy Smith, introduced me to Robert Peett. Robert helped me grow as a writer by working with me on some editing projects. He, along with Sammy and Zoe, also encouraged me to join Facebook and to start a blog. Sammy even helped me set up my blog site. I was insecure about blogging and about Facebook, but decided to take the plunge. I’m glad I did. I now love connecting with people on Facebook and through my blog. Of course, I must also say that Author Mary Fan interviewed me earlier this year and encouraged me to try interviewing other authors.

The interview with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest was interesting. Without calling them favorites, would you care to share some anecdotes from some of your more memorable interviews?

I’ve interviewed over eighty people (authors, editors, publishers), and they’ve all been interesting. One of my favorite anecdotes is from Robb Grindstaff:

‘Picasso learned the basics first. He studied the masters and practiced his craft and his art for years before he broke all the rules, broke new ground, and created a whole new ‘genre’ of art. The most natural and gifted athlete in the world will train and practice basic techniques for years. Writing is no different.’

Another of my favorites is from Shelly Lowenkopf:

‘My favorite part of writing is the stage I’m involved with at the moment, thus it might be first-draft, revision, polishing. If I’m editing, I like getting down to the hairsplitting of the line edit, where sometimes a matter of a missing word or a superfluous one is enough to send the entire paragraph rushing home to Mother for help.’

I’m so happy for you. I’ll be purchasing my copy of “In the Shadows” soon. And I want it signed.

Thanks, Dean! I’ll be happy to sign. I hope you (and your readers) like the book. It’s been great chatting with you. Your questions were wonderful and thought-provoking. Talk to you again, soon.