Q&A with Lorina Stephens discussion

Questions for Lorina

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message 1: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
Welcome to all of you!
I formed the group thinking this might be a good venue for people to ask questions about
1. the genesis of my books
2. the writing process
3. the publishing process
4. the writing life

Generally there isn't much I won't answer, beyond the usual standards of decorum.

Look forward to chatting with you.


message 2: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Okay, first question. Which of your three books is your favorite? (No fair saying "the next one").

message 3: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
That should be an easy question to answer. It's not. 'Shadow Song', for me, is a heart-wrenching story that took up so many years of my life. Not only was I involved in a lot of research for the novel, but I sweated over so many of the scenes, wanting to capture just the right balance between a love-story, tragedy, and gritty reality.

In the first incarnations of the novel the story was quite twee, quite sanitized. I realized this wasn't doing justice to either the characters, history, or the story.

Having said that, I very much like my latest release, 'From Mountains of Ice.' It was important to me to have Sylvio, the protagonist, be a middle-aged man, a dedicated fellow who lived his life by certain principles, and ended up being a victim of those principles. I liked the irony of that, the way it could reflect any ordinary man's life, caught in extraordinary circumstances.

In a way, I suppose, you could say that both my male protagonists, Shadow Song and Sylvio di Danuto, are somewhat similiar: two men caught in evolving societies, trying to uphold the precepts of honour, loyalty and love, in the face of overwhelming odds.

Perhaps it's difficult for me to choose between the two novels because I very much enjoy not only creating strong characters, but interesting milieu, interesting cultures. On the one hand the novel 'Shadow Song' required that I research, and get right that research, the world of 1830s Upper Canada, as well as the world of the Ojibwa people. 'From Mountains of Ice' allowed me to draw from all manner of real cultures and create something new. That was fun, to watch this world evolve and shape under my fingers.

In the latter novel the concept of death and mourning rituals fascinated me, not in a macabre sense, but rather from the point of view of reverence of our ancestors. Again, there are similarities between the two novels. It's just that in 'From Mountains of Ice' the concept is overt, a crucial thread in the fabric of the story.

The easier question might have been, which short stories in the anthology are my favourites.

message 4: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Okay, I'll bite. Which short stories are your favorites?

message 5: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
That wasn't meant as a lead-in, although when I read my comment it definitely looks that way.

My favourite stories in the anthology, 'And the Angels Sang' are 'Over Exposed' and 'For a Cup of Tea'.

The part of my brain that is sensitive to people and the impossible decisions they're somtimes forced to make is one of the reasons I wrote 'Over Exposed'. If I'm going to be honest I'll have to admit I based the character on my own husband, Gary, who is a very loving, dedicated, committed father, a man who is capable of seeing the hard truth of things and despairing of the decisions he sometimes has to make. Not that Gary's ever done anything as drastic as the father in my story, but I wondered what might happen if a good man, like my Gary, were placed in a no-win situation like the fellow in my story. Could he, or anyone, love someone enough to put them out of their misery before the situation became impossible?

I know the answer is very much, yes, people are capable of that kind of extraordinary, selfless, no-holds-barred love.

I also thought it would be interesting to have a somewhat distanced feeling in this story, a sense of disconnect, facilitated by the perspective of a dedicated photographer. Life is celluloid -- that sort of perspective. By playing that view off the horror of the situation, and what the main character ends up having to do, I thought would make the story even more poignant. Not pleasant, no. A lot of my stories aren't pleasant, but then neither is life. But certainly a window on the world, an attempt to illuminate for my readers the grey areas of so much of life.

'For a Cup of Tea' is the light to the darkness of the story above. I've always been enamoured of the great age of sail, especially the tea clippers, and the men who sailed those ships, the sense of community and order. In particular the famed tea clipper Cutty Sark has always sparked my interest. And so I thought it would be rolicking good romp to write a story about that famed race, but in my version have Cutty Sark win, and not just win, but win through extraordinary circumstances.

Plainly On Spec agreed with my thoughts when they published it, oh, way back in the 1990s sometime.

Always thought that short story would have made a good launch for a series. But I could never come up with a sequel that would be as compelling as the original.

message 6: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Okay, when I asked, "which o your three books is your favorite" you answered in terms of the the two novels. Why didn't you count the anthology? Do you not think of it as 'a book' but only as a collection of stories? Does putting together an anthology feel different?

message 7: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
I didn't count the anthology because I don't consider it a whole entity, rather a collection, like a whole cake as compared a box of cupcakes, to use a food analogy.

Putting together the anthology was far different, to be honest. And if I'm going to be honest I'll admit I loathe writing short stories. I find the medium so restrictive, although it's excellent discipline, because you have to be sure of every single word. There's no latitude for long exposition. It's all about impact.

And, for me, this anthology was more a retrospective, if you will, than the creation of something new, as in the creation of a novel. The stories were written over the past 25 years, mostly attempts to break into, and gain a presence in, the science fiction and fantasy market.

That was a dismal exercise, trying to gain a reputation in the genre. I never did learn the art of writing a story for a specific market. I was always writing outside of the parameters, and consequently received a lot of rejections that said, 'Not suitable for our market.' No kidding. It never occurred to me there was a formula. I always thought the point of writing well was to write what no one else had written, or if it was a classic tale, to tell it in a way no one had.

There are some stories in the anthology that were previously published. I'm not sure why they were accepted and others, which in my opinion were superior, were not. But then I've never been a particularly good judge of what a broad readership wants.

In that regard putting together the anthology was a bit of a risk. I honestly wondered who on earth would want to read these stories? Especially as some of them are so relentless and dark. Apparently some people do want to read them, given the reviews I've had here at Goodreads.

message 8: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments I know you to be a basically optimistic person. So why is so much of what you write "relentless and dark"?

message 9: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
I write about 'relentless and dark' so much because that's what life can be about, a great deal of it. There are so many people with so many very tragic, sad stories in their lives, and it's about people I write, whether those people are in a spaceship or a wigwam.

This is going to sound awfully cynical, but I'm always surprised by the terrors humans can inflict upon one another. I think we're the only species that does that, that tortures our own kind for no obvious or logical reason, not that torture is ever logical.

And it's this predisposition to tear down, to destroy, rather than to build up and create in so many people that fascinates me. I know there will be huge dissenting opinion about my statement, but I think if people are really honest, really look at their own lives, and the lives of people even within their own circle, they will see tragedy, ironies.

All of what I've said sounds as though it refutes your statement that I'm basically an optimistic person. It's not really. I think all that's required is to modify the statement by saying I'm a cyncial optimist. I do very much believe in dreams, in hope, in the power of the positive. But I also know that up the road there will be problems, and those problems all require solutions.

message 10: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments So, if you're intrigued by people, why not write straightforward contemporary novels? What draws you to fantasy?

message 11: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
I suppose I'm drawn to fantasy because I'm also fascinated by the mythology we, as a species, have created. There are such rich gleanings there. It's important to remember that every myth has some kernel of truth or reality, and it's that nut, that core, that lies at the heart of what I write.

I'm also fascinated by the spiritual, not in the religous sense of the word, but by the metaphysical, if you will, of the power of the imagination.

This is going to come off sounding completely insane, but I think there's some truth to the Irish belief that if you step to the right a wee bit, you'll slip into another world. Let's face it, people have been doing that all over the world for centuries, even millennia. That's part of what dream-quests are about, whether you're Native North American or Australian Aborigine, or Inca descendent, or Buddhist monk. We seem to want to pierce the veil of reality, slide through dimensional space and bring to life string theory.

And sometimes using an alternate world as a vehicle for my story allows me to better facilitate the telling of that story, because through the mirror life is reflected. If I'm successful, I've blindsided my reader. Caused them to go, "Oh!" And if I can do that, well, then I think I've succeeded as a story-teller.

message 12: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Your first novel, Shadow Song, was based at least in part on an actual historical event. Your current novel, From Mountains of Ice takes place in a fictional setting -- so what was the initial stimulus for that novel?

message 13: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
That's easy to answer: honour. More specifically, a man's honour, what it means, how it defines a man, how it places him in his society.

That probably sounds pretty esoteric, angels on the head of a pin thing, but when examined from a larger social point of view, I think fairly relevant to modern readers.

We've been going through this whole feminism thing for decades, even a century now, and along the way somehow I cannot help but feel men have become stereotyped, boxed, so that I think a lot of younger men have difficulty defining exactly what it is to be male, and to feel comfortable in their roles, even finding their roles.

I'm putting forward the rather grey-haired notion that it's okay for a man to be bound by a code of ethics.

As a vehicle for that rather broad theme I incorporated another fascination of mine, that of death and mourning rituals. All over the world people and cultures go to elaborate and sometimes extravagant ends in order to mark a death and sometimes on an annual basis to celebrate those who have departed.

While the connection of a man's honour and funeral customs may not immediately seem apparent, I hope I've managed to connect some dots in 'From Mountains of Ice'.

message 14: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Okay, given that you started with the themes, why did you choose an Italian Renaissance setting?

message 15: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
The Italian Renaissance was a period of remarkable exploration, both geographically and intellectually, a very dynamic, politically charged era in which to live. Even though there were city states instead of the great Roman Empire, it was almost as though the people of the Italian peninsula woke to their heritage. The romance, the history, all of it lends itself beautifully to the story I wanted to tell.

From a personal perspective, I suppose it was in a way an exploration of my own roots, my father being an Italian immigrant.

message 16: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Let me rephrase the questions slightly -- given your expressed intent to address issues of male honour that would be 'relevant to modern readers', why a fantasy novel set in an imaginary, historical world? Why not the same novel set on Bay Street or government, or some other contemporary setting?

message 17: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
I tend to enjoy approaching reality obliquely, and the story you're describing has been told many times by writers far more skilled than I. Sometimes a message is better carried in metaphor. And in this case I felt I would be allowed greater latitude to examine the concept of honour in a fantasy setting than in a contemporary.

There's also the whole archery aspect of the novel; that is, the fabrication of the arcossi, a variation of a longbow made with laminations of human bone, and bows that, because of my fantasy world's sympatico (albeit rare) with the dead, are sentient. This is plainly a complete fantasy on my part, one I would be unable to tell were I to choose a contemporary setting.

It's not that I avoid contemporary settings; rather my setting has to mesh with my story. For example, 'Shadow Song' has an historical setting, just as the new novel on which I'm now working is a contemporary setting with allegedly fantasy elements.

message 18: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Where did the complex characters come from in this novel? Did you model the characters on people you know, or are they entirely from your own imagination?

message 19: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
Writers, at least this writer, always draw from life. Having said that, the characters in 'From Mountains of Ice' aren't specifically based on any real or historical characters, rather an amalgam of characters, and so therefore completely new. Although I do hope people will find the characters familiar to some degree, enough that empathy can be felt.

message 20: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments I certainly empathized with the protagonist, Sylvio. It was refreshing to read a fantasy novel with an older, more thoughtful hero. And I particularly liked his relationship with his wife. So often in fantasy novels, the romance focuses on the young hero/heroine completing the quest/slaying the dragon, and winning the prince/princess. At best, after their first kiss, the scene fades to "happily ever after." It was great to get a novel in which the protagonist and his wife have been married for 30 years... to see a portrayal of romance and passion over the long term. It made me feel like I was finally reading a fantasy intended for adults.

Was developing this relationship necessary to the development of your central theme about honor -- e.g., forcing Sylvio to choose between keeping friends and family safe or doing the 'right thing' and/or having his wife as an alternative view point character when Sylvio is out of the picture there for a bit -- or is it just a bonus piece of backstory/character development?

message 21: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
I'd have to say that very little in what I write is 'bonus backstory'. I think very carefully about how I'm going to develop character, justify every action so that it passes the 'oh yeah?' factor (as in suspension of disbelief.) The characters in my stories have to be credible, else, in my view, the story won't hang together. Plot and character, for me, are hinged one upon the other.

As to your primary question, indeed yes developing the relationship between Sylvio and Aletta was crucial to the central theme of honour. If Sylvio had been a jerk in his relationship with Aletta, then what credibility would he have when chasing after lost honour? However, if it becomes apparent that home and hearth and the love of his life are his raison d'etre, then by example he becomes a man of integrity and therefore one of honour.

Exploring Sylvio through Aletta's point of view I also felt was necessary to the plot. Here is a woman with power of her own, a complement to Sylvio in so many regards. She's intelligent, capable, in no manner a trophy wife. In fact she doesn't need him. But she does, in an ineffable matter of the heart. He trusts her not because of her special abilities, but in spite of them, and that trust has become a circular thing because he is the one person upon whom she refuses to use her talents. And Aletta, being who she is, realizes that delicate balance she and Sylvio have maintained.

I think of that as sacred trust. It's rare to find in reality, I believe. But it can be fostered, made a harbour and strength in life. And here, once again, I try to bring my own paradigms, my own realities, into fiction.

message 22: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Okay, change of pace. Let me ask, if they were making a movie based on From Mountains of Ice, who would you cast for the lead characters. (I'm thinking Charlton Heston for Sylvio, but he's no longer available....)

message 23: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
Charlton Heston? Are you kidding me?
No, no, no. This is how I envisioned, sort of, my characters.
Sylvio: Ciaran Hinds or Craig Russell
Aletta: Ilaria Borrelli
Vincenze: Robert Downey Jr.
Portelli: John Rhys-Davies
Carmelo: Clive Owen
Aldo: Liam Neeson
Passerapina: would have to be an unknown, dark-haired sprite
Ó Leannáin: Ioan Gruffudd
Violina: Helen Mirrin

message 24: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Ciaran Hinds, certainly. But Craig Russell the famous Canadian female impersonator?! Apparently there was a whole subtext there I missed!

And isn't Liam Neeson way too young for Aldo? and Ilaria Borrelli, too young for Aletta? I was thinking Judi Dench for Aletta.

But John Rhys-Davies is who I had for Portelli too! That's definitely who I saw when reading the novel.

What about Violina's butler?

message 25: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
Ooops, Russell Crowe, not Craig Russell! I'm always confusing the names, but certainly not the men!

Liam Neeson, yes too young for Aldo, but I wasn't sure Peter O-Toole would give a creepy enough presence. On second thought, he very much would. Or Derek Jacobi? He would be great as Aldo as well. Nope, Peter O'Toole. He has such presence, can command without uttering a word.

Judi Dench for Aletta? No, not quite. Close, but not quite. To be honest I haven't seen the actress yet that would suit. I sort of thought of Polly Walker, but she's too young and way too sensual.

John Rhys-Davies would just make the greatest Portelli, yes! That wonderful blend of rascal and staunch companion.

Oh, Julio, Violina's butler? Hhhmm, don't know. He has to be acquline, feline, gracious, witty, about 50ish and of course interestingly bald. There was a fellow who played a small role in the HBO series Rome, a servant to the senator played by Derek Jacobi. Cannot remember his name. On the other hand, someone older, like David Thewlis, although not matching my description at all, would give a very credible performance.

And now that I'm thinking about it a bit more, Simon Woods would play a delicious Carmelo as well. There's something just a bit too beautiful about that face, and certainly he has presence. Of course, we'd have to dye his hair a dark chestnut brown.

Anyone else have suggestions?

message 26: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Oh, Russell Crowe! That makes better sense!

I agree that Judi Dench isn't quite right, particularly if one is thinking of the James Bond movies -- I've seen her in some British shows where she would have been closer. But it's hard to think of appropriate older actresses because -- how many older actresses are there available? Hollywood figures women are over the hill at 35, and the number of roles for older women is vanishingly small.

That's one of the reasons I enjoyed From Mountains of Ice so much...that there were so many interesting older characters. Usually in fantasy, the only older characters are stereotypical doddering wizard mentors or cackling crones. It was so refreshing to have protagonists over 25! Indeed, the Adonis figure in your novel is the bad guy! Its great.

Of course the character of Passerapina is also one of the most interesting children to pop up in a long time -- she's tons of fun! I wish we could have seen more of her in the novel.

Indeed, the cast of From Mountains of Ice is so wonderful, I'd love to see more of them. I know you have written elsewhere your distain for the neverendingFantasySereies or publishers' insistence on everything being a trilogy, but have you considered doing a sequel?

message 27: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
Not only are the roles for older women vanishingly small, but North American society has a prejudice that older women are no longer attractive, and those who are attractive often remain so because of invasive procedures. Very sad.

I am, of course, very pleased you enjoyed my departure from the typical genre archetypes. Those archetypes drive me crazy, to be honest, which is one of the many reasons I wrote the short story, Dragonslayer. But I digress.

The way I see it readers, or at least this reader, look for characters with whom they can identify, so why create all these young, braun, beautiful people? A bit boring. Once you've read one of these novels you've read them all. And who could possibly have any empathy with these characters? I don't want my stories to be a light summer read (although certainly I want people to enjoy cuddling up with my books). What I want is for people to go away and months later remember a character or a scene and have that emotion and inner world sweep over them again. Perhaps a bit ambitious on my part, but I always figure if I'm going to do something, go all out.

I think one of the most interesting characters to come out of pulp, genre fiction is that of Raistlin from the Dragonlance series. Not beautiful. Not entirely evil. Redeeming traits. Very powerful wizard but racked by physical infirmity.

And of course so very pleased you enjoyed my wee Passerapina. She is one of those rare characters that pop into a writer's life every now and then, a gift from the ethos or the muse or whatever. She was meant only to be a fleeting figure, a child Sylvio meets to illustrate the devasting want of the common people. But she turned into more, very much more.

I must admit I wept when I wrote certain passages involving Passerapina. In a way I think she's a metaphor for innocence.

A sequel? Oh, you are an evil man, Robert Runte. I would resist, very much resist. I haven't ruled it out, but to be honest writing a sequel is about as appealing to me as a root canal.

message 28: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Hmm, well how about you franchise it out to other writers? I could see a lot of fan fiction coming out of this novel, because one's fingers just itch to type those characters into new situations....I must say, one sure sign that a book is exceptional is not just that desire for more, but the sense that the characters have more to do and say -- have lives that started before the book in front of us and that their story/lives continue on even after we close the book.

And it's not just the complex and compelling characters. You've also created a world with real depth here. One of the things that struck me about the world that Sylvio moves through is the sense that it extends beyond the immediate description of where your characters happen to be standing. I always had the sense that there was a whole city/countryside full of life just off stage. There's one scene, for example, when Sylvio is listening carefully for the voices of the dead he thinks maybe he can hear, but instead hears the voices from the market next door, and someone handling a horse, and so on, so we have this whole panoramic description of everything within a couple of blocks radius, even though its all off stage and out of Sylvio's sight. So there is a 'depth of field' here that I don't remember encountering before in a fantasy novel.

message 29: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
Oh, I think I know the passage to which you refer. I've quoted it here:

He set down his water and turned his back to the room, unsure of what he was about to do, unsure of this whole series of events. Lost, he slipped out to the atrium where the sounds of the fountain and birds drifted by, out to the courtyard and the dust and noise and heat of a stunning autumn day where the servants and escort of the Breenai mingled with the staff from both Danuto and Portelli’s household, and from there into the gloom of the warehouses where his arcossi were stored.

Here there were no people. Here all was quiet, but for the faint whisper of sound only he could hear.

Hush, he thought to himself. Be still. And ran the palm of his hand across the lid of the top box of arcossi.

How could he put such a boon into the hands of a nation bent on subverting his people?

Gods, help me, he thought.

He heard whispers, dry and chittering, looked up sharply into the dust and gloom of the warehouse. Only the scuttle of a mouse. In the distance a horse whickered, followed by the firm but gentle command of an ostler. A burst of laughter then, plainly from the traders viewing Danuto’s horses. Whispers again beneath his hand, fading like a breeze lost in leaves. A swallow swooped along the vaulted ceiling, blade-like wings almost silent. Almost. Like the voices in the boxes beneath his hand.
Descriptive passages like that come from my own sensiblities, how I fit in my environment. I find I'm often atuned to my surroundings, so that even now I hear the clatter of the keys, the chickens (budgies) chattering, Louis Armstrong growling out a song. There's a warm, woodsy smell up here in the loft where I work, likely from the old beams that stand darkly and exposed. So, for me, writing this way is simply a way of painting the world I see for my readers, guiding them in, giving them very elemental landmarks.

As to franchising, hhhmmm. As if I'd ever have enough of a following to garner fan fiction. That makes me smile. I like to paint with a large canvas, big brush and lots of colour, but I think even that is a bit beyond me. Because I'm an indie author, and an indie publisher, it's unlikely the world you describe is one in which I'll have an incarnation. But it's nice to dream.

message 30: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
Patrick Stewart -- that's who should play Julio. Perfect fit.

message 31: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Patrick Stewart would be good. Though it would be hard not to think of STNG.

So what's the significance of the title?

message 32: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
Or X-men.

The title significance? Because the mountains of ice transform Sylvio in so many ways, not just physically, but psychologically. In a way I sort of thought of his sojourn in the mountains as his 40 days and 40 nights in the Sinai. And so from the mountains of ice comes this new man, this unwilling saviour.

message 33: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Speaking of his unwillingness to take immediate action... I kept thinking how we're taught in school that Hamlet's hesitation/indecision over whether to take action to avenge his father the king is Hamlet's 'fatal flaw'. Here, on the other hand, we have a similarly honourable individual hesitating to avenge a regicide he similarly suspects, tipped off like Hamlet by ghosts, but here, delay and hesitation turns out to have been the right thing to do. I'm guessing you didn't set out with that parallel in mind or to refute Hamlet, but it's interesting how you've set up a hero who has to resist the easy way, the way to quick action urged on him by everyone, assumed by everyone to be the only course open to resolve the nation's difficulties. You painted a hero in which it takes more courage to do nothing than to do what is expected. And in the end he chooses a path that is more difficult, more personally demanding of him, but which ensures the integrity of his nation and its culture,

message 34: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
Interesting that. I could never figure out why Hamlet's hesitation was a fatal flaw. People have tried to explain it to me over and over again; I nod. I smile. But in the end I shrug my shoulders.

In a way I think Shakespeare wanted to illustrate that no matter what Hamlet did he'd be doomed, that fate is inexorable. Wasn't, and still isn't, a particularly popular or accepted view of the Bard's work.

And I'm ever so chuffed you've compared my novel with Hamlet. Good heavens!

That I painted Sylvio as a cautious man was a conscious decision, an attempt to illustrate a personal belief that rash decisions and people of 'action' aren't always the best choice. That sometimes, despite urgency, we need to sit back and consider things, weigh options, develop a plan that will benefit the greater good and cause the least damage.

Those kinds of people, and those kinds of decisions, aren't wildly popular among humans. We always want the quick fix. And quick fixes are what cause wars, terrorist attacks, all manner of ill-considered and devastating results right from our emergence from the caves.

It's always interesting, however, that the people who have the courage to follow a careful, considered plan are the ones who end up canonized in some form or other. Just look at Ghandi. An entire nation wanted violence. He kept saying no, there's a better way. And when they broke into petty squabbling and caused bloodshed he'd go on a hunger-strike, in fact telling them, smarten up or you loose me as well. That takes guts, and an unfaltering belief not only in the virtue of humankind but the justice of a passive protest to an injustice.

I've had some people say Sylvio is an anti-hero, somewhat despicable because of his hesitation, even compared him to Thomas Covenant of Stephen R. Donaldson's series, and because of that have dismissed Sylvio and the entire novel. But, again, I believe those readers want the action hero figure who goes in with swords flashing, blasters blazing, slaughters the evil villain and stands in a brilliant spotlight.

My take? How boring. How unrealistic. And how sad because look at all those innocents who have been slaughtered along the way. Because it doesn't matter how the writer writes that scene, how antisceptic and allegedly 'surgical' that strike has been, experience tells you that 'surgical' strikes usually result in 'collatoral damage'. In real-speak that means the gung-ho general bungled the operation, hit a school, and 500 children died.

So, yeah, I don't write easy characters or easy stories. Yeah, not everyone will like my work, and it's going to take a reader who is willing to be challenged, who is willing to have their heart and mind engaged, sometimes tissues to hand, to read my work. But, I hope, they will come away feeling they've been sated and will remember that story for a very long time.

message 35: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments One of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much. I saw your depiction of the protagonist(s) as very Canadian; and there were a number of very Canadian themes that really resonated with me. The setting is the Italian Renaissance, for example, but I really identified with a country of artisans overrun by its larger militaristic neighbour: the issues of national identity and betrayal by one's own leadership, the depiction of a liberal from the imperial power who feels the takeover is a mistake -- so many parallels with contemporary politics that made the whole book feel 'relevant' and powerfully evocative, without any of that being 'in your face' the way it would be in a contemporary novel. Similarly Sylvio's character and the solution he comes up with are very Canadian -- I love that the climax of the book is a proposal for a committee on parilmentary reform! How Canadian! (How wonderful!)
Can I ask, how conscious were you of writing a Canadian novel, and how much is it just a matter that as a product of Canadian culture, your writing (if it is to be authentic) cannot help but reflect that culture? Or do you not buy any of that?

message 36: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
I was very conscious of writing a Canadian novel, partly because I think Canada's culture has very much affected my personal paradigm, and partly because I wanted to create a novel that is a metaphor for the Canadian/American relationship.

message 37: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments So who then are the big influences on your writing? Who do you read? Mostly Canlit? Mostly Fantasy? or do you read a variety across genres?

message 38: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
Who influences my writing: Margaret Atwood, Guy Gavriel Kay, Thomas Hardy. The first because of her incisive writing. Nothing's wasted. Every word has import and is fitted to the next like Inca masonry.

The second because of his lush writing and worlds, his usually excellent characterization.

The third because of his genius with mood and character development through environment. Way ahead of his time.

Obviously I read those three. For pure escapism I read Pauline Gedge's historical novels, as well as Bernard Cornwell and Alexander Keith. I do like Dorothy Dunnett, and some of Orson Scott Card's work, but not so much his newer work. I think he's lost something essential that was very apparent in Songmaster and Ender's Game.

I'd have to say I read a broad spectrum of work, both fiction and non-fiction, literary to pure pulp. Depends on my mood, what I'm reading for and why. Right now I'm ready C. June Wolf's anthology 'Finding Creatures & Other Stories' and very much finding a kindred spirit.

message 39: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Yes, I love Wolf's stories too, and see her as another archetypal Canadian author -- in a good way!

(And my daughter's name is Tigana, so I'd have to agree on Kay. I guess I should get around to reading some Hardy!)

So what about media? Watch any TV shows regularly? Any memorable movies? Or are your mostly a reader?

message 40: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
TV is mostly a bore for me, to be honest. I find the majority of the shows predictable and not worth the weekly investment in time.

Having said that both Gary and I love watching Time Team. It's a BBC production, for anyone who isn't familiar with the program, and features a team of British archeologists who have three days to investigate a site. Some truly fascinating stuff there.

And for pure entertainment I have to admit to being addicted to So You Think You Can Dance, particularly the Canadian broadcast which features some simply stunning talent both in dancers and choreograhers. Also like the fact there are no politics on the show, no back-biting the way so many competetive shows make their ratings. This is done purely based on artistic merit. And wow do we have some artistic merit in this country.

There were some shows I really used to enjoy and catch whenever I find reruns:
Absolutely Fabulous
Red Dwarf
Monty Python's Flying Circus

Movies, yes, love watching movies. But there again I'm somewhat picky. Our children detested from an early age watching anything historical with us because we'd snipe at inaccuracies in costume or facts.

Films I'd watch again and again:
Absoulute top of the list is Out of Africa. I think I've seen this film at least a dozen times and I still weep, am still enthralled. I love the character portrayals, the struggle, the fabulous cinematography, score -- all of it.
Thereafter, depending on mood:
Persuasion -- with Ciaran Hinds
Lord of the Rings
Pan's Labyrinth -- stunning, absolutely fabulous film -- screenplay, score, acting, cinematograhy, all of it. If you haven't seen it you should.
Master and Commander -- Gary made the cooperage for this film
Pride and Prejudice -- with Kiera Knightly
Pursuit of Happyness
A Beautiful Mind
Six Degrees of Separation
Big Kahuna
Sophie's Choice
Last of the Mohicans
Rob Roy
Black Robe

Mostly, I suppose, I'm a reader. I probably read 30-40 books a year, not including what I read for research or training. Very often of an evening, if Gary needs to blow his brains out exploding tanks in an MMPORPG (Battlefield Europe), I'll retire early for the day and read and let the book fall on my face. Gary often has taken the book from my hand, tucked me in and turned out the light.

message 41: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Interesting list, and not necessarily what I would have expected.

I get about the picky response to historical movies, because it's pretty obvious that you research the heck out of your books. One of the things that drew me into your first novel, Shadow Song, was the completely detailed historical setting -- it was fascinating to me how you were able to bring the period alive for the reader and really make them experience being there -- the level of detail on every level, from social mores to milling technology to transportation to being in the bush was exquisite without ever getting in the way of the story. Similarly, even though the setting in From Mountains of Ice is imaginary, it's also obviously very well researched and consistent within a Italian Renaissance framework. How much time do you invest in research for each book, and how much is just your general knowledge of these periods? (I take it that you and Gary are something of experts on topics such as cooperage -- you used to give demos for museums and such, riight?

message 42: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
I'm chuffed you find the detail in my books appealing. For myself, when I'm reading a novel, I love it when an author seamlessly integrates that sort of information into dialogue, action, plot.

The amount of time I invest into research for a book depends on the book, to be honest, so there's no formulaic answer. I suppose I'd have to say: as much research as it takes.

Shadow Song involved years of research, and pre-dated the ability to easily access information via the Internet. I purchased scores of books from a fellow I happened to chance upon who had North America's largest library of First Nations literature. I read voraciously. Took pages and pages and pages of notes. In the afterword of the novel I touch upon that research, for anyone who is interested.

From Mountains of Ice required less specific research, simply becuase I had already done the research in one form or another. There's a benefit to conducting a lifelong quest for knowledge, whether academic or historical makes little difference. It's all fascinating stuff. There's just simply so much to know.

As to being an expert in cooperage, to some extent, yes, Gary is, in that his avocation is that of an historical cooper. He produces some of the best historical cooperage in North America, and has taught himself the skill by reading what few texts there are on the subject, and by pursing a standard of excellence that's pretty hard to follow.

He has also pursued the art of the bowmaker, certainly not to the extent of the stunning Mongolian laminated C bows. His love has always followed his own heritage of a Gloucester-man and his Welsh ancestry, so he crafted several English longbows, one which is 110 pounds, which would be right in keeping with what an English longbowman would have pulled.

And just because he wanted to, he's also made all his own arrows, right from log and goose-wings, although he had a skilled friend and blacksmith forge the bodkin points. Oh, and in the novel when I speak of glue being an assault on the olfactory sense -- that's right from experience, when Gary took one of saucepans and sacrificed it to the making of hide-glue. Dear blessed saints what a stink!

And yes you're correct that Gary and I used to hire out as professional demonstrators for museums and living history sites -- he as the cooper, me as the embroiderer/seamstress. Was a lot of fun.

So the fact I can write about these things with a degree of authority simply speaks to a life filled with quirky, pleasant past-times.

message 43: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments But where did you learn how to write like that? Any English degrees or journalism classes we should know about? Some inspiring high school teacher? Or is it just from being an intense reader?

And as an aspiring writer myself, I have to ask -- have you ever read any of those "how to write your novel" type books? Or workshops? Useful or a waste of time?

message 44: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
Trust me my first novel remains a very sad, ugly, troll of a creation. The story is good. The words are all wrong.

I think the light went on for me when I started submitting short stories to Marion Zimmer Bradley's fantasy magazine and empire. At first I received standard form rejections. Then she'd pen a small suggestion. The last rejection I received from her was a very long, hand-written critique which ended by saying, "Stop trying to impress me, Lorina." And she went on to say that I could write; I just needed to do it from the heart. I sold her my next story, Smile of the Goddess.

I also studied a lot of writing, and read articles in Writer's Digest, articles I went on to use in later in life when teaching creative writing through the local continuing education program. Orson Scott Card's book on character and viewpoint is an excellent book for anyone starting out.

Mostly, I'd have to say, examine the authors you enjoy reading. Start asking yourself why a particular story or passage resonates with you. Is it emotional? If so, how did the author set about writing something that would touch that personal experience of yours? Is it the words themselves? If so, examine how the writer crafted the passage. Is it the environment? If so, examine how the writer made real that environment.

Workshops, well, I think it takes a certain character-type to find workshops of use, whether online or a retreat. I've been part of several and mostly found them a dismal, frustrating experience. But that's because I'm probably just a wee bit too anti-social.

I formed a critique circle back in the 80s in the area I lived. Mostly writers would make tremendously useful comments like, "Oh, that's such a wonderful story," and of course I'd wade in, pen slashing, saying, no, this word, this phrase is redundant. This is clumsy. I think you could have used less exposition here and more action (show don't tell). Too many passive verbs. Too many adjectives; try choosing one, precise word over several. I think you've started your story at the wrong point, and all this back-story you've presented up front could have been filtered in through dialogue.

Needless to say people didn't like me much. Mind you, out of that group came Barbara Kyle who now teaches writing at University of Toronto, and continues to write historical novels.

For a brief (one week) period I was part of an SF&F group out of Toronto, loosely affiliated with Rob Sawyer. But I met with such resentment and foolish comment with regard to my application story that I didn't bother to return, which was met with more resentment.

And I did do three of the six week alleged boot camp of SF&F, Clarion, which then ran a workshop at Michigan State University in East Lansing. By the end of the third week I'd had enough of adolescent frat-house commentary and writing that I packed my bags and left. And, yep, once again met with resentment and anger.

Do you see a pattern here?

So I pretty much decided to go it on my own, write my stories in a closet and shove them out under the door in the hope someone on the other side might find them compelling enough to actually read, dare I hope, even enjoy.

Were all those workshops a waste of time? I used to think so, but in retrospect I think not. It helped me to realize I don't write stories that are hugely commercial and likely won't find a broad audience. It also taught me that my stories tend to evoke strong emotion, and when I started examining the critiques I'd received there was little by way of common thread. Mostly it was nit-picking. But I did read carefully for those common threads, realized the story had a flaw, and I revised carefully to correct that flaw.

From that, and from some very excellent teachers I had as a kid (who very much believed in cultivating inquiring minds), I learned to remove myself from my work and examine with a critical eye.

Are workshops and books on writing useful or a waste of time? I think it depends on the person. For one person they're going to be a tremendous boon. For another, like me, a complete waste of time. Just as in life, I don't think there's any one hard and fast rule.

message 45: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments "Is it the environment? If so, examine how the writer made real that environment." Well, I have certainly been examining the heck out of how you manage to pack in so much description without actually having pages of description -- I can't remember the last time I have seen the setting so integrated into the action, or so few words providing such a detailed world. It's mind boggling to me how you manage to make the setting so real to the reader without any digressions.

Do you rewrite/polish as you go, or do you let a story sit for awhile between re-writes so you can come to it with fresh eyes? How many rewrites do you usually do?

message 46: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
I do what all the writing books say not to do: I rewrite and polish as I go, because if I don't it drives me crazy to the point I can't submerge into the story and let it flow when I'm working on first draft.

That said, I do make it a rule not to continually go back over what I've written, otherwise I'll never finish the novel. There does come a point when you have to discipline yourself. Sometimes if I remember something that needs addressing, I'll jot it down in the notes I keep to hand as I'm working, but will continue to plough through that first draft.

I do revise afterward, yes. How many times? Depends on the work, how satisfied I am, how tight I feel the whole fabric is.

Shadow Song underwent many revisions, mostly to add historical and environmental detail, although I did alter those early chapters considerably, adding scenes to develop Danielle's relationship with her family so that when she looses them the impact would resonate stronger. I also wove in far more reality than I had, because the original draft was just a bit too twee and sanitized. It's a gritty story, set in a gritty era, and that needed to be reflected.

From Mountains of Ice underwent a few revisions, mostly to flesh out the entire culture of the cucullati, and to address a few plot problems with the climax. Sometimes it's hard to see the entire picture when you're in the middle of it and you need to step back.

message 47: by Casey (new)

Casey Wolf (caseywolf) If you couldn't write ever again, what would you do to take its place?

message 48: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
You have no idea what a deeply traumatic question that is. In fact, it's one I had to face during the recession of the Nasty Nineties.

Our family was hit very hard during that recession, to the point I couldn't afford paper and postage for submissions when faced with the pressing need to keep hearth and home secure and safe for our family. So for 10 long years I put aside writing, all but gave up. I'd had modest success as a writer, more as a journalist. I'd sold a few short stories, had two non-fiction books in publication, but couldn't seem to break into the fiction market. I was constantly being told my work and writing was good, but not speculative enough, or not quite suited to a specific market.

It was a decade of terrible identity crisis.

When we were finally able to crawl out of the financial devastation of that recession, I turned again to my second love -- painting, but found my heart really wasn't in it. What sold were pretty pictures of flowers, which I utterly loathed painting.

I delved deeper into historical textiles and mastered the art of the drizzler (an embroiderer who works with real gold thread), working on a reproduction 18th century embroidery frame (huge!) and created several magnus opi. I taught. I lectured. I learned how to do textile restorations. But, again, this just didn't do it for me.

And then a colleague of mine (Paul Lima) encouraged me to explore self-publishing and the quiet revolution that was occurring in print on demand technologies. And because of distribution streams open to the average person, I was able to once again take up the pen (figuratively) and pursue my first, best destiny.

What would I do if I couldn't write? Die a slow, withering death of the spirit. Writing is who and what I am. It's my raison d'etre.

message 49: by Robert (new)

Robert Runte (robertrunte) | 24 comments Oh oh! Is the current recession a similar problem for you?

Do you think the recession is having an impact on book sales, or does that only apply to book sales in airports and drug stores -- i.e., the impulse buyers? My theory is that the type of reader likely to be attracted to your novels is the type of reader for whom books are not a luxury, but a necessity like food and shelter.( In my family we currently have a moratorium on buying anything in order to cut back -- but it doesn't apply to books. Well, I've had to cut back on the limited editions, but that's a different category.) But I could see that if people had less disposable income, they might not be seeking out new books on line quite as much as before, which would clearly slow down the sales of your books and the growth of your press. So what's it been like?

message 50: by Lorina (new)

Lorina Stephens (goodreadscomlorinastephens) | 29 comments Mod
Funny thing that. To be honest we've had nothing but steady increase in sales of Five Rivers' books, my own titles included.

I watch the trends pretty closely, and strangely enough book sales through booksellers and indie publishers have increased during this recession, so Five Rivers' experience is pretty much in keeping with what's going on in the larger market. The fact that legacy houses are screaming apocalypse is something quite outside this current recession, I believe. It's my theory, mooted by others with far greater knowledge than I, that the legacy houses are experiencing a meltdown because they have committed to a publishing model that would eventually feed upon itself and fail, whereas indie presses are holding their own or burgeoning because they've paid attention to better economic models, greater selection of titles and aggressive alternate forms of marketing.

I see nothing but steady growth ahead for Five Rivers, to be honest.

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