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Friday, May 31, 2013

Welcoming Rayne Hall: The Author

Rayne Hall wears many hats: author, instructor, journalist, editor, moderator of the Professional Author's Group and Fantasy Fiction Forum. For as long as I've known her, she's been nurturing the cast of interesting and complex characters in Storm Dancer. I'm delighted to welcome her this week while she has a special 99c offer until June 5 for those of you who like your dark fantasy meticulously researched.

Rayne, how did you choose the title Storm Dancer for your book?

Storm Dancer was the first title that came to my mind, even before I had written the first chapter. Although I played with several other title ideas, this one just felt right. The two leads are both storm dancers, in different ways.

Dahoud is a troubled hero with a dark past seeking redemption. In the metaphorical sense, he is dancing in a storm of violence and temptation.

Merida is a magician who can change the weather by dancing. She's on a mission to bring rain to a land in the grip of drought and starvation. Her dance rouses a violent storm and unleashes the events that of the story.

Which characters did you enjoy writing about?

I loved - and still love - all my characters,  especially Dahoud. He's a dark, flawed hero, yet he fights his demon with integrity and courage, and I respect that.

Writing Merida was fun. She's a lovely woman, warm, compassionate, serious, honest and resourceful, but also tight about principles and prudish. I had wicked fun putting her principles to the test and making her do the things she swore she would never do.

The villain was fun to write, too. Many readers tell me that Kirral is their favourite character... although they wouldn't want to meet him in real life.

Yora is a spunky adolescent girl with a passion for knife fighting. She craves action and is unafraid.

Tell us about the world you've created for this book.

I had fun inventing the world, a fantasy world loosely based on the Middle East in the Bronze Age period. That's roughly the time when the Greeks besieged Troy and King David ruled in Israel. The cultures are inspired by ancient civilisations, especially Egypt, Greece, Persia and the Hittite Empire.

I enjoyed making the scenes come alive with intense atmosphere, so readers experience the story as if they were there and can smell the desert and feel the sand between their toes.

Dahoud is a fascinating character. Tell us more about him.  

He is a troubled hero with a dark secret. 
He needs to atone for the atrocities he committed as a siege commander. He works to build a new life, but his dark past won't let him go. Ruling the land he once devastated, how can he keep the secret of who he really is? He is possessed by a demon that tempts him back into his old ways. How long can Dahoud resist the lure? He fights to shield his people from war's violence - but the worst danger comes from himself. How can he protect the woman he loves from the evil inside him?

Are parts of the book based on real experiences?

The places and characters exist only in my imagination; I like making things up.

However, many inspiration come from real life. For the fantasy world, I've drawn on places where I've lived and travelled - Asia, Europe,  North Africa, the Middle East. Some of the characters have personality traits I've observed in real life people, although I like to mix them up so no real person finds their way into my books.

My own experiences are fertile material for fiction. I used to perform semi-professionally as a bellydancer, so I could write with authenticity about how the heroine in Storm Dancer learns the dance and performs it in a tavern.

Years ago, I went on an assignment as a development aid worker to a remote part of northern China. I had been promised a heated, furnished flat with running water. When I arrived, the flat was a ruin, the windows broken, no water, no furniture, no heating, and a blizzard was raging outside.  I survived the freezing night by piling all my clothes on top of me. In the morning, I confronted my employer and requested that he honour the contract. He shrugged. “I'm a busy man. I don't have time to keep my promises.”

I adapted this experience for Storm Dancer.  Merida is a weather magician, sent by her government to bring rain to a distant, drought-parched country. When she arrives, she finds the promised private apartment doesn't exist. Instead, she has to sleep in a grimy, noisy dormitory. She complains, and is told: “I am a busy man.” His voice had the low-humming hiss of a wasp hovering over rotting fruit. “I do not have time to keep promises.”

This was just the start. Things got worse for me in China, and they get worse for Merida in Quislak.

You write British English. How does it differ from American?

Some words vary. For example, Brits often use which or who when Americans use that.  In British English, we talk about autumn, lift and suspenders when Americans use fall, elevator and garter belt - not that those words are common in Storm Dancer. More significant are the spelling variations. British English words often have more letters than their American equivalents: honour, colour, jewellery, travelling instead of honor, color, jewellery, traveling, and s instead of z, for example in realise. Grammar and punctuation rules also differ a little.

Most readers enjoy a book regardless, and some even appreciate the variety. However, I've had emails from Americans who complain about spelling “errors” and demand that British authors give up their “inferior” English in  favour of “proper” (American) English. If anyone really can't bear British English, I suggest they avoid my books.

I actually love British English so that's something I really don't understand. Anyway,  who painted the cover?

The cover is a collaboration between two artists, Paul Davies and Erica Syverson.
Paul Davies is a professional illustrator specialising in fantasy,  He painted most of the character and some of the background. Erica Syverson is an art student who studies at Kendall College of Art and Design, majoring in Digital Media. Fantasy, horror and supernatural images are her speciality. . She painted much of the background and some of the character.

And you made the trailer, correct?

I had fun creating it myself. I think it captures the mood, intensity and excitement of this dark epic fantasy novel. 

How dark is Storm Dancer? Why the R-rating?   

Storm Dancer contains some dark elements which can be disturbing - war, violence, rape, treachery, human sacrifice, demonic possession. Most readers take these aspects in their stride, but some find them distressing.

There's no graphic sex, but the erotic tension is sometimes intense, and not all of it is of the consensual kind. Some of the temptations are vivid. The violence is not excessive, but in places it's graphic.

I recommend downloading the free sample pages to see if it's your kind of book.

You can also read the first six chapters free here:

Where can we buy the book?

The ebook is available here:

Storm Dancer is also available as paperback. It's a big fat book for many hours of reading pleasure.

Thanks, Rayne. I hope you'll come back another time as Rayne Hall: The Editor, perhaps to reveal the cover of your next Ten Tales Series book?

Of course, I'd love to. Thanks for having me.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Celebrating Beltane with The Ten Tales Authors--Welcoming Karen Heard

I'm always amazed at how all religions seem to celebrate similar feasts at about the same times. The Jews and Christians celebrated Passover and Easter in late March, just as the Spring Equinox occurred. The Orthodox Christians are in the middle of Holy Week, with their Easter this coming Sunday. I shouldn't be surprised since we're all descended from the ancients who adopted new customs and beliefs as the wheel of time turned.

 Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft was assembled with great care by Rayne Hall to celebrate a varied interpretations of  witches and witchcraft by different authors, some of whom are witches, and others like myself  who know, love, respect, study, and write about them. I've made many friends on this journey to understanding and appreciation of the Craft, and welcome fellow Beltane author Karen Heard to tell us a little about herself and her writing.

With gratitude to Rayne and Deborah for all they have taught me about magic, witchcraft , and writing I wish all of you bright blessings no matter of which ilk they may be.

Most of my short stories can take months to write. However when Rayne told me she needed a final story as soon as possible, I knew I e to produce something of quality in a very short space of time. From contributing to Scared: Ten Tales of Horror, and reading the other work in Rayne’s collections, I knew that she set a high bar for the quality of work she accepts. I knew it had to be something special.

I didn’t have any suitable ideas in my head, and so thought I was going to have to decline the offer. However, as I was walking home along the Southbank, looking at the patterns in the river-side sand, an image came into my head of a strange ethereal girl floating across the sand. She had long white hair and instantly I knew her name would be Alba: a girl with a secret identity. I saw her stumble across a body lying in the sand, but that only Alba, with her secret knowledge, could sense that some unnatural force had killed the girl. I knew instantly that I had to write that story.

Sometimes, it helps with the creative process to have a loose brief. Not only did the theme of witchcraft inspire me, but as I knew the story would be part of a collection, it encouraged me to come up with an idea slightly different to the other stories. I wanted to describe Alba in the language similar to that used for magical realism to evoke the mystical quality she possessed. However, as soon as I saw Alba on that beach - the only person able to see what had happened - I knew she would have to be the one to solve the mystery herself, and so wanted the story to be, at heart, a detective story. I hoped this would be an unusual twist on the witchcraft theme.

I wrote the outline of the story in half an hour, as I walked along the Thames that first day, stopping every few minutes to scribble down another scene whilst the lunchtime workers rushed around me. Rewriting then took me quite another couple of weeks, with the occasional nudge from Rayne to keep me motivated.

I wanted to make the work evocative by capturing the smells and feelings that Alba experiences. However I also wanted to show Alba from an outside point of view, as, with her secret past, she is as much of a puzzle as the murder. In the end I introduced a detective: Sergeant Taylor, to also investigate the murders from an official point of view. The two narratives hopefully complement each other and towards the end, when the two stories combine, they help the reader make sense of what each person finds out.

Part of the joy of writing for a collection is when the finished version comes out and you can read the other stories and enjoy being a part of something. When I read Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft I felt proud to be included among so many other varied and thought provoking tales. I really enjoyed reading them all, and I hope you will give them a chance too.

Amazing story, Karen. It illustrates how authors come up with story ideas--and how our muses make their wishes known. Thanks for sharing.

Be sure to join the blog hop and check in on all the other Ten Tales author's Beltane Blogs. I will post the links as soon as they are live.

Here's the link to my post in celebration of Beltane, both the day and the book!

Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft is available on Amazon  

To read more dark short stories by Karen Heard, check out her Amazon Author Page and  new collection: It’s Dark Inside