Revisiting Anarya’s Secret

During the recent World Science Fiction Convention, CoNZealand – the first virtual Worldcon – I discovered that my 2007 fantasy novel, Anarya’s Secret, is still available from Drivethru RPG. If it seems weird that a novel is available from a games company, that’s because the novel is a tie-in: it’s one of a series of novels written in the universe of the Earthdawn roleplaying game (Earthdawn is a prequel to the Shadowrun RPG.)

Anarya's Secret front cover

About Anarya’s Secret

Kendik Dezelek is a young Swordmaster. He’s tall, strong, and well-trained. But when he leaves his home village on the road to adventure, he soon finds that those things will only get you so far. In the land between the Tylon Mountains and the Serpent River, friend and foe are not always as they appear.

In a world still recovering from the Scourge, when Horrors ravaged the land of Barsaive, Kendik is soon forced to choose between a range of evils. He travels with the surly and disreputable Turgut brothers. He encounters the bloated tyrant Lord Tesek, ruler of the growing city of Borzim. And he is ensnared in the plots of the feared and mysterious House of the Wheel.

Most of all, he meets Anarya Chezarin, who enters his life from the depths of an ancient stronghold. Who is she, and what is her secret? It may cost Kendik and Anarya more than their lives to find out.

Buy a copy of Anarya’s Secret.

Like A Virgin, Published For The Very First Time

This is a post for New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week.

I think New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week is an excellent idea, but that hasn’t meant it has been easy to decide what to post for it. I started the week with a post advertising Fantastic Voyages, this Thursday evening’s speculative fiction event in Wellington, and I thought I might dip into nostalgia for my next post, and talk about the first time I had a speculative fiction story published.

The year was 1986 (and you can imagine for yourself a portentous voiceover in which I say things like “As the Voyager 2 space probe made its first contact with Uranus [I’m not making this up, folks], the Soviet liner Mikhail Lermontov sinks in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds”). By then, I was what might be called a “technical virgin” as an author of fiction: I had had several poems published, but no fiction, though I had written a few science fiction stories, and made a few unsuccessful submissions to overseas magazines.

Somehow – I no longer remember how – I discovered a call for submissions for an anthology of New Zealand science fiction and fantasy stories for high school students, edited by Bernard Gadd, to be called I Have Seen The Future. I had a story that fitted the word limit, called “Statesman”. I submitted it, it was accepted, and I became a published author of speculative fiction.

I was pleased to be published. I was pleased to be paid – from memory, $50. But my overall emotion, I recall, was relief. At last I could call myself a published author! It was a short but intense moment of excitement, over almost before it had started, but at least I no longer had that particular hurdle to overcome.

So the publication of “Statesman” went down as my first fiction credit, and, slowly at first, more credits accrued. “Statesman” didn’t fit the theme of my first short story collection, Extreme Weather Events, but, retitled “Going to the People”, it was included in my 2008 collection Transported.

Yet I hadn’t actually looked at I Have Seen The Future for years, and I had no memory of who else had stories in it until I opened the book when writing this post, and got some surprises.

The following authors have stories in I Have Seen the Future:

Michael Morrissey, Apirana Taylor, Owen Marshall, Bernard Gadd, Bill Manhire, Elizabeth Meares, J Edward Brown, Sally Whitlock, Dianne Armstrong, Tim Jones, Margaret Beames, Craig Harrison, James Norcliffe, Russell Haley, Albert Wendt.

At the time the book was published, the only names from this list that meant anything to me were Albert Wendt and Craig Harrison. But, looking back, I’m pleased to see that my first story was published alongside work by such a collection of New Zealand literary luminaries.

What’s striking is that many of these authors are best known as poets. Perhaps it was these writers that Bernard Gadd, a poet himself, knew best. But it does illustrate the point I make from time to time that there has never been such a hard and fast dividing line between speculative writers and literary writers in New Zealand as one might think. These days, science fiction stories are being published in The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories. It’s great to have speculative fiction work published outside New Zealand, or in New Zealand’s growing roster of speculative fiction outlets, but it’s not the only route to publication.

Fantastic Voyages: Writing Speculative Fiction: Wellington, Thursday 17 September

Many thanks to Fitz for the poster

That’s right! Helen Lowe and I are going to be getting together on the 17th of September, under the guidance and chairpersonship of Radio New Zealand’s Arts on Sunday presenter Lynn Freeman, to discuss writing science fiction and fantasy in New Zealand — and getting it published too. Unity Books will be there to help sell books, and I hope that, if you’re able to make it, you’ll be there too.

If you’re keen on reading and/or writing science fiction and fantasy yourself, this is your chance to discuss that topic with two writers who have been there and are doing that; and if sf&f are not genres you’ve previously paid much attention to, come along anyway and hear from two writers whose work spans genres.

I hope to see you there!

Helen Lowe
http://www.helenlowe.info/
Helen Lowe’s first novel, Thornspell is published by Knopf (Random House Children’s Books) in the United States. Thornspell won the Sir Julius Vogel Award 2009 for Best Book: Young Adult while Helen herself won the award for Best New Talent. Thornspell was also a Storylines New Zealand Children’s Literature Trust Notable Book 2009. Helen also has the first book in an epic Fantasy quartet, The Wall of Night, coming out with Eos (HarperCollins USA) in September 2010. She has had speculative short fiction published in NZ, the USA and Australia and is represented by Robin Rue of Writers House Literary Agency in New York.

Tim Jones
http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/
Tim Jones is a writer, editor and literary blogger whose recent books include short story collection Transported (Vintage, 2008), which mixes science fiction and fantasy with literary fiction and was longlisted for the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award; poetry anthology Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, co-edited with Mark Pirie (Interactive Publications, 2009); and fantasy novel Anarya’s Secret (RedBrick, 2007). Tim has had science fiction and fantasy stories published in the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and Vietnam as well as in New Zealand. His science fiction story “The New Neighbours”, from Transported, has been included in the forthcoming Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories, edited by Paula Morris.

Lynn Freeman
http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/presenters/lynn_freeman
An award-winning arts journalist, Lynn Freeman hosts Radio New Zealand’s Arts on Sunday programme (12 noon to 4 pm), which focuses on theatre, film, comedy, books, dance, entertainment and music. Lynn is an experienced and knowledgeable interviewer who is in demand to chair events for arts and literature festivals around the country.

We All Have To Eat: Anarya’s Secret Moves Home

My Earthdawn novel Anarya’s Secret, published in December 2007, now has a new home page on the revamped site of RedBrick, which has just released the Earthdawn 3rd edition. You can now find Anarya’s Secret here:

http://www.redbrick-limited.com/cms/index.php?categoryid=67&book_id=12

Here’s the first few paragraphs of Anarya’s Secret, to give you an idea of what the book, and Earthdawn, are about:

Anarya’s Secret – Prologue

We all have to eat.

Anarya grew up in a community sliding down the long slope to extinction. She played with toys handed down through the generations, and followed her parents from plaza to farm, from farm to market stall, from market stall to plaza, without wondering why there were so few other children, or why the lights were dim, or why so much of her world was shadow and silence. And as for the sun and the sky, she never thought of them, for she had never seen them.

Fifteen generations ago, the ancestors of her ancestors lived in the fertile valley of the river then known as the Volost, which rose on the northern flanks of the Tylon Mountains. There they farmed, and sometimes fought. They traded with the human communities of the Tylon and the t‘skrang of the Serpent River, and did not give undue thought to the future.

Then emissaries from the Theran Empire came among them and told them of the coming Scourge: the time when the magical potential of the world would be so great that Horrors from other dimensions would be able to enter and ravage it, devouring bodies, devouring minds. The people of the Volost took a lot of persuasion, but the Therans were persistent; and as the years went by, even farmers who never stirred from their soil could no longer deny the reports that reached them from north and south, of terrible things gathering at the margins of the inhabited lands, and breaking through to wreak havoc on the innocent and the ill prepared.

So the elders of the villages along the Volost swallowed their pride and began the construction of Kaer Volost within the mountains at the valley‘s head. They paid a high price in coin and freedom, but they built well, hewing as closely as possible to the Theran plan; and when the time came, they retreated behind their orichalcum doors and prepared to wait out the Scourge deep within the rock.

The doors and the barriers, both magical and physical, held against the worst that came to their world. Even as their valley was turned from fertile earth to Horror-haunted wasteland, its people survived deep within the kaer, and recounted their history in the plaza at night, comforting themselves with the hope that, though they would never again see the sun themselves, their far, far descendants would once more walk free on the surface.

But if Kaer Volost was a refuge, it was also a prison: a prison for the souls of the old, living out their days in a growing darkness, and a greater prison for the souls of the young, trapped in a cage they could not escape.

For the first ten generations after the doors were sealed it was, at least, a well-lit and well-provisioned prison. Using natural water and magical light, the people could grow all the food they needed, and though their skins became deathly pale from the absence of sunlight, and their bones were unduly prone to breaking, in most respects they were healthy enough in body.

Then the magic began to fade. Who can say why? It may be that a little knowledge was lost as each generation of magicians and adepts passed on its learning to its successors, until some irrecoverable threshold was crossed. It may be that the loss of magic within the kaer was connected with the loss of magic in the world outside, for it was at this time that the kaer‘s elemental clock first showed movement. The ball of True earth, suspended above its dish of True water, began, infinitesimally, to fall. The closer it got to the water, the less the level of magic was in the world outside; and when it reached the water and dissolved, then the magic in the world outside would have gone too, and with it the Horrors. Then all could rejoice, and throw open the doors of the kaer.

Eventually, the doors do get thrown open. It doesn’t prove to be such a good decision, because we all have to eat …

You can buy Anarya’s Secret online as a hardback, paperback, or e-book (via RPGNow or DriveThru).

An Interview with Lyn McConchie


Lyn McConchie is a New Zealand writer who has been published extensively, especially in the USA, in a range of genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror, humour, and mystery. Lyn was crippled in an accident in 1977 and forced to take medical retirement in 1988. She now owns and runs a small farm near Norsewood, where she breeds coloured sheep and tends her free range geese and hens. I talked with Lyn abut her career, the many genres in which she has written, her collaboration with Andre Norton, and her view on the future of publishing.


Lyn, you began your professional writing career in 1991, with short fiction sales to the US magazines MZB’s Fantasy Magazine and Strange Plasma. What got you started in writing short fiction, and had you been writing and submitting stories for long before you made your first sale?

Tim, actually it’s all Greg Hills’ fault that I ever started writing at all. At the time he was the WARP editor. He suggested one day that he’d appreciate it if I could find time to do a few book reviews and I did, then I was asked for an article, and provided one. He said later that I could probably manage a short story or two for the magazine? And I did. Natcons here were running a short story competition by then each Natcon, so I started entering. Culminating in winning the last two that I’d entered, so a friend suggested that I should try selling some of my work. Being the eternal optimist that I am, I did. I looked up markets in LOCUS, and another friend mentioned a children’s magazine (KIWI KIDS) that had just started here. So I sent out three stories, one each to MZB’s Fantasy Magazine, Strange Plasma and Kiwi Kids. I also offered poems to another market in the States. All three stories sold to my pop-eyed astonishment, and while the poetry magazine didn’t accept the poems I offered, they too found homes later and elsewhere. So no, I hadn’t exactly been submitting stories long before I made my first sale, and I’d only been writing fiction at all for about five years.

You have published 16 novels – which impresses me tremendously! How did your first novel come to be written and published?

Um. It’s 24 books now. I had a mad binge on acceptances last year and sold five, with another so far this year. The first however was a surprise. I’d been writing long letters to overseas friends about my farm and mad farm animals for several years. When at a writer’s group with friends I was asked to read one of the episodes, I did so and it was pointed out that this could be publishable. There was at the time a quarterly magazine here that specialised on the subject of lifestyle blocks/farmlets, and I offered them four humorous true-life articles based on my letters to friends. These were accepted, and some months later the editor came back to me asking if I had sufficient material for a book. I did, and the publisher for whom he worked accepted that. It appeared in May of ’93 and has been in print ever since. The series transferred to AVALOOK PUBLICATIONS in Australia in 2002, and since then it’s gone to four books with a fifth sold and scheduled to appear shortly

The next two books were sold in the UK from a small publisher. Again, by something of a fluke and originally because of an argument with a writer friend. To prove my point to her I sat down and wrote a 45,000 word book in three weeks. I won the argument and later Rod Marsden in Australia, who knew about this book, told me of a UK publisher who was taking that sort of work. I offered, they accepted, and asked for another, which I also wrote in around three weeks and sold to them.

Many of your novels have been written and published in collaboration with the famous science fiction and fantasy writer Andre Norton. How did this collaboration come about?

Andre was an old friend whom I’d known for some time before I began writing. When I did she encouraged me hugely, read some of my short stories, and was always very supportive. How the first book arose from that is a very long story, but its acceptance and publication was on her initiative.

It’s evident from your website that, for your books listed as co-written with Andre Norton, you did most or all of the work, either writing the book based on a brief outline she provided, or writing the book from scratch within a universe she had created. How do you feel now about the pros and cons of such an arrangement, where a better-known writer lends their name to a project mainly or wholly written by an initially less-well-known writer?

KEY OF THE KEPLIAN, CIARA’S SONG, THE DUKE’S BALLAD and SILVER MAY TARNISH, were all written completely by me with no input from Andre apart from approval. The three Beast Master books arose from a conversation when I was staying with her in 1995. She said that she felt she was out of ideas for the series, had never wanted to continue with it, but knew it was still very open-ended. Would I like to continue with it? There and then while eating breakfast we discussed possible ideas that I wrote down. These became two outlines (for the next two books,) one of almost two pages, one of one page. I can’t remember for certain whose the ideas they were, we were tossing them back and forth, but I believe the major plotlines of alien insects and the Thieves Guild circus both came from me. The third Beast Master book I wrote with no input, but Andre liked it, particularly my reversion to Beast Masters returning to be part of First in Scout Survey teams again.


In addition to the novels, you have had plenty of short stories, poems and non-fiction published. All that writing takes a lot of dedication. How do your schedule your writing day, and do you find it hard to fit in writing with your other commitments?

Every cloud has a silver lining. Being crippled, and not being able to work 9-5, I can write at any time just so long as I’m not in too much pain to concentrate. I’ve averaged two books, about 12 short stories, plus maybe 3-4 articles/opinion pieces, and a handful of poems every year. That adds up after 20 years. Since my other commitments are mostly the farm and animals, and it’s a very small farm, I manage without too many problems. One of my main advantages is that I don’t have problems if I’m interrupted. I can just return, read the last sentence and I’m away writing again.

You live on and run a small farm, and you’ve had a number of books about rural life published in the Farming Daze series. Do you find writing these books a refreshing change from writing the big fantasy novels? Does writing them present its own, separate set of challenges?

These books write themselves. Any time something peculiar or amusing happens on the farm I write it up. That goes into letters to friends, but at some stage when there’s enough material, I sort it out into the next book. Since it isn’t fiction it’s a huge difference from writing fantasy – although some of the farm stuff can cross over. For instance, the coloured sheep flock in CIARA’S SONG and DUKE’S BALLAD are my real sheep. And Andre borrowed my tales of them too for her book, THE HANDS OF LYR, where they became alien herd animals.



I hear that your current writing project is a Western. What got you interested in writing in that genre, and what’s the market like for Westerns these days? What are the key things a good Western needs?

Well, I like a good western, and one day I sat down and wrote one for fun. I then found that the market had gone south as publishers now didn’t want the standard shorter work. They wanted 120,000 word blockbusters and mine was around 70,000. So I filed it. Then I found that a USA publisher to whom I was selling short stories for her magazines, also had a western imprint. I offered, she accepted, and SOUTH OF RIO CHAMA appears later this year. What does a good western need? Same as any other book I guess. Good plot, character development, realist dialogue, and something that moves right along. Oh, and it helps if you are an expert in the Old West. I’m very definitely not, so it’s a learning experience.

There’s a flood of news at the moment about changes in the publishing industry, under the twin impacts of the recession and of changes in the ways books are produced, distributed and marketed. What changes have you seen in the publishing industry since 1991? Are you optimistic about the future of publishing in general, and science fiction and fantasy publishing in particular?

There’s been a huge impact on the market with many smaller publishers going into POD and download and the market expanding without the need to warehouse enormous quantities of printed copies. I would always prefer to see my books in print, the POD/download duo I find acceptable, but I don’t think I’d want to sell a book to a publisher that didn’t have that option. I’m old fashioned perhaps, but I like a book I can read in the bath, in bed, or while waiting in a car for friends. And no, I don’t find that the kindle cuts it. And I have the feeling that this won’t change for me.

Apart from the Western, what other writing projects do you have on the go?

I’m just waiting to see the cover for the new non-fiction book from Avalook Publications. RURAL DAZE AND (K)NIGHTS, is due out in a couple more months and the cover is being done by my regular artist who lives near me.

I have some revision still to do on the other book from Cyberwizard Productions. That’s SUMMER OF DREAMING, a supernatural fantasy for older children/YA and set in New Zealand. Sadly I couldn’t find a publisher here, so it was offered to Cyberwizard who liked it.

I’m gradually putting together a short story theme collection of SF stories I hope to offer a publisher late this year.

I’ve just completed first draft of a new fantasy, and at some stage must sit down and write several linked short stories that are harassing me.

I’m also expecting to have revision to do this year on the book sold to TOR, (THE QUESTING ROAD, set in my own world of Aradia) and my SF/disaster novel set in NZ, and sold to Daverana Enterprises, (VESTIGES OF FLAMES). With all that cleared I’ll begin on the next Aradian fantasy which I hope to have done by Christmas if none of the above holds that schedule back too far.

An Interview with Julie Czerneda


Former biologist and science writer, Canadian Julie E. Czerneda has turned her passion for living things and love of science fiction into a career as an awarding winning author and editor. Today, with thirteen novels in print from DAW Books, and six more under contract, she also keeps busy editing anthologies, when not doing workshops for educators and the public on scientific literacy and SF. Her latest anthology is Ages of Wonder from DAW Books, with co-editor Rob St.Martin, featuring stories with fantasy settings based in lesser used points of human history.

As for her novels, this summer sees the release of Rift in the Sky, the concluding volume of her latest trilogy, the Stratification Cycle of the Clan Chronicles. Which oddly enough, started with her very first novel, A Thousand Words for Stranger, the book that made Julie a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the last Australian Worldcon. Her Nebula-nominated Species Imperative trilogy was set in part in New Zealand and In the Company of Others was inspired by the introduction of non-native fauna to that country. And now she’s here at last, proving the world is truly a circular place.

Questions

New Zealanders are famous for asking visitors “What do you think of New Zealand?” as soon as they are through customs, to which the standard answer is “I liked the inside of the customs shed”. So, Julie: What brings you to New Zealand, and how did you like the inside of the customs shed?

Actually, I loved the inside of your customs “shed.” Especially the Biodiversity Beagle. Brilliant. And Auckland’s Airport is gorgeous. By the way, nice touch having passengers walk out through the duty-free shop.

What brings me to your magnificent country? The kind invitation to be the International Guest of Honour at ConScription, the New Zealand National Convention for Science Fiction and Fantasy. I still pinch myself, even though I’m here.

With Nalini Singh, you are running a three-day writers’ workshop before ConScription. What do you hope that the participating writers will get out of this workshop?

Excitement, enthusiasm, a new and/or renewed belief in what they want to accomplish, some practical advice and information. Being a writer – putting your dreams in front of strangers – is incredibly brave. Whatever we can do to help and encourage, we will.

You’re a Canadian science fiction and fantasy author, and a four-time winner of a Prix Aurora Award, which is the well-established Canadian equivalent of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Awards. Is the Canadian literary and publishing scene hospitable to science fiction and fantasy writers?

Yes and no. In young adult publishing, everything goes and speculative fiction across the board is sought by publishers in Canada because, in part, it has a readership they know how to reach. Recently there’s been a trend towards more SF and F from Canadian publishers. I think much of that is due to people who understand those genre and their readers becoming senior editors. In literary circles, though, as I’m sure is the case for other youngish countries trying to establish a national “voice,” we face an uphill struggle for recognition. Science fiction in particular is considered commercial or entertainment, rather than serious work, and you’ll see authors scrambling to distance themselves from that label even now. Which is silly. Hopefully we’ll grow up soon.

Do the Francophone and Anglophone SF communities in Canada work closely together?

Yes, in the sense of fan communities and connections between authors. Not directly, in the sense of publishing. Unfortunately work isn’t automatically translated into both official languages. Instead, there’s a bewildering array of options and government funding that usually puts Francophone work in French only and Anglophone work only in English. Then there’s the issue of publishing in France, which isn’t the same French or funding, so those titles tend to cost most of all. Where we do work closely together is in promoting science fiction, as you’ll find at Anticipation, the Worldcon in Montreal this summer, and in collaborations. I have many colleagues in Quebec, writers, artists, and editors.

When I think about other Canadian SF writers, the names Nalo Hopkinson, Robert Sawyer and Elisabeth Vonarburg come to mind – not to mention Margaret Atwood. Which other Canadian SF writers should we be looking out for?

Tanya Huff! She’s been around for over twenty years and writing marvelous SF and fantasy. Probably one of our best and yet most overlooked authors. Her contemporary fantasy is often set in Toronto, which makes them even more fun. James Alan Gardner, Douglas Smith are two to keep in mind for sure. Robert Wilson. Peter Watts. There are many more.


Do you have one novel, or one series, that is your favourite among all the novels you have written?

The one I’m writing now. ::laughs:: It’s always that way. I love them all, but the new face is the one that has all my heart.

Not all writers are willing to talk about their current writing projects, so feel free to disregard this question, but what are you working on at the moment?

My favourite! (I had to say that.) What I’m writing now is something I started 7 years ago. It’s a standalone fantasy novel called A Turn of Light. I’ve always enjoyed reading fantasy, but never quite dared write it. After all, I’m a biologist not a lyricist, and to me, great fantasy is about the words every bit as much as it is about the story. But an idea had niggled at me, so I took a fountain pen and a notebook and began writing a sentence here, a note there. When I realized I knew what the story would be, I mentioned it to my editor at DAW, Sheila Gilbert. I’m sure it was a surprise to have her hard sf author trot out a romantic story with dragons and spells and magic! She took it well. And took the book. Such trust. Now, of course, comes the part where I produce it. Wish me luck.

You are a science educator as well as a novelist. Do you find it easy to switch between the two types of writing involved?

I find it wrenchingly painful, like pulling off a bandage. Best done quickly, with grim determination. That would be when I have to put aside the fiction to write non-fiction. To go the other way is like going camping – you leave concepts like time behind and paddle into the wilderness, grinning like an idiot. When I was still writing a great deal of non-fiction, I had a separate office and computer, so I could focus. Now, I only do the occasional feature or special request, which makes it easier.

Not that doing both was all bad. Typically the research I’d do for a science article would also find its way into my SF.

Finally, Helen Lowe suggested that I ask you about your views on the capability of science fiction to develop readers, literacy and creativity. As a keen science fiction reader in high school, that struck a chord with me. Please tell me more!

There’s something that happens to people who stop reading imaginative works at a young age. Their ability to ask questions as adults is blunted. Worse, they lose the flexibility of thought that could help them find answers. We live in an age of technological and scientific change right in our homes, let alone all around us. Everyone needs to be able to speculate about possibilities, to reason from what’s before them to what might happen, to ask questions and find answers. The literature that promotes speculation and reasoning is science fiction. Change is what SF is about. You couldn’t ask for a better question than “what if …”

SF allows us to examine horrifying futures and the most dreadful consequences in utter safety. That’s important, especially when dealing with students. It allows us to leap past what we can do now, to imagine new applications or needs. That’s important for anyone, especially scientists. And science fiction rejuvenates the imagination in a way nothing else can do. That’s something we can’t afford to leave behind with childhood. Not and survive.

Plus being great fun. I did mention that part, I hope.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Julie is giving a talk at Manukau Libraries on Tuesday May 26th – thanks “Anonymous” for reminding me. Details are here, although I note registration closed yesterday.

My Earthdawn Novel “Anarya’s Secret” Is One Year Old

My Earthdawn novel Anarya’s Secret was published one year ago today.

It’s a fantasy novel, set in the universe of the Earthdawn roleplaying game – a game developed by FASA, and continued and expanded by New Zealand games publisher RedBrick.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Kendik Dezelek is a young Swordmaster. He’s tall, strong, and well-trained. But when he leaves his home village on the road to adventure, he soon finds that those things will only get you so far. In the land between the Tylon Mountains and the Serpent River, friend and foe are not always as they appear.

In a world still recovering from the Scourge, when Horrors ravaged the land of Barsaive, Kendik is soon forced to choose between a range of evils. He travels with the surly and disreputable Turgut brothers. He encounters the bloated tyrant Lord Tesek, ruler of the growing city of Borzim. And he is ensnared in the plots of the feared and mysterious House of the Wheel.

Most of all, he meets Anarya Chezarin, who enters his life from the depths of an ancient stronghold. Who is she, and what is her secret? It may cost Kendik and Anarya more than their lives to find out.

I had a great time writing Anarya’s Secret! It’s stuffed to the gills with plot, incidents, happenings, mysterious humans and even more mysterious non-humans. It’s got adventure, romance and tentacles. If you’re a gamer yourself, or there’s a gamer in your family, I think there’s plenty in Anarya’s Secret to keep them entertained.

You can buy Anarya’s Secret online as a hardback, paperback, or e-book (via RPGNow or DriveThru).

An Interview with Helen Lowe

Helen Lowe is a New Zealand poet and novelist. Her first young adult novel, Thornspell, has just been published by Knopf in the USA, and she has a further YA novel and a four-book series of adult fantasy novels accepted for publication in the US. I talked to Helen by email about her writing, her forthcoming books, and the process of getting published in the US.

First of all, congratulations on the publication of Thornspell. What can you tell me about the book, and where can interested readers find out more information, and copies to buy?

Thornspell is a Children’s/YA Fantasy fiction and at the most simplistic level it’s a fairytale retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story – but that’s where the resemblance to the traditional story pretty much ends, because Thornspell is all about the prince. In fact, that’s where the story started for me –with the question (while at the ballet, Sleeping Beauty): “What about the prince?” Other questions quickly followed: ‘What sort of person would he be?’; “Why would he even be bothered about some sleeping bint and an 100 year old spell?” And I had this mental ‘flash’ to a boy, around about eleven at that time, growing up in a small castle next to a mysterious and forbidden wood – and to his name, which was Sigismund and instantly linked me—and I hope the reader—into a world that is very ‘Holy Roman Empire’ in feel. But very soon after “what about the prince”, a second set of questions arose: “What about the evil fairy? Would she have just been sitting around happily accepting that her death spell had been converted into the one hundred year sleep?” (I didn’t think so, not if she was really wicked.) “And what was her real agenda?” Those two sets of questions were the beginning of Thornspell and the rest evolved from there and very much in the style of the Fantasy fiction I like, which is plenty of adventure, plenty of mystery and plenty of magic.

In terms of more information, I have an “official” website, http://www.thornspell.info, where visitors can read a synopsis and the first chapter of the book (or download it in pdf format). I have also taken the images from the cover and made them all (double)”clickable”, taking the site visitor to a quote that is relevant to that character or image. The Thornspell site also links (through “About Helen Lowe”) to http://www.helenlowe.info, which contains information about my other books as well as my short fiction and poetry.

RandomHouse USA have arranged for the distribution of Thornspell in Australia and NZ and it should be available in bookshops here from early October – Madras Café Bookshop here in Christchurch already have it featured on their electronic catalogue.

You’re following up Thornspell with an adult fantasy series – four books. How far through writing these are you, and is everything that remains to be written carefully mapped out?

Actually, I’m following Thornspell with another Children’s /YA fantasy, working title YRTH, and have just finished the first draft. Like Thornspell, YRTH is a standalone book but it is not a sequel—it is a new story set in a completely different world. The broad synopsis is at http://www.helenlowe.info/yrth.html.

But I will have to get into THE WALL OF NIGHT (WALL), the 4 book adult series, as soon as YRTH is done. I have written the first book in the series (titled WALL, too) and am about a third of the way through the second book—but because it is a series I did a detailed outline to show potential publishers that I knew how the story would play out. I think the writing will pretty much follow that story arc, but I am also quite an organic writer so things may change as I go along—they have with both Thornspell and YRTH—although I always seem to start and finish as originally envisaged.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about the setting and storyline of that series?

At face value, I would describe WALL as classic epic fantasy—with forces of good and evil, action and alarms, swordplay and sorcery, set in the alternate fantasy world of Haarth and on the bleak and wind blasted Wall of Night itself. But within that framework, WALL examines the themes of good versus evil in the context of a society that believes it champions good and yet is divided by prejudice, suspicion and fear. It also explores the consequences of the cataclysmic arrival of two alien and warring cultures on another world, both in physical and cultural terms. The central purpose of the overall story, as told through the four books, is to force the protagonists to examine their understanding of the nature of good and evil, both in their own society as well as that of their enemy. Given this, you won’t be surprised if I tell you that it is as much character as plot driven—although I think that this kind of story needs a strong plot structure—and also explores a number of different landscapes and cultures as part of the story setting. My favourite, beside the Wall itself? Possibly the city state of Ij—but then there’s also the Emerian knights . . . Oh yes, and there’s a great map as well (drawn up from the hieroglyphics I fondly refer to as “drawing”) by my friend Peter Fitzpatrick, which can be seen (although only in small scale at this stage) on the Wall of Night page at http://www.helenlowe.info/wallofnight.html

I first came across your work when editing JAAM 26, and I was struck by the expert use of classical themes in both your fiction and your poetry. It’s clearly a period you have a deep knowledge of. Where did this interest start, and does it underpin all your writing?

It began when I was 8 years old and my teacher had a poster of the 12 Olympian gods up on her classroom wall. I loved that poster and it inspired me to read every book I could find on the Greek myths and legends, including junior versions of the Iliad and Odyssey (I read the real thing later, but I was only little back then!). From there I progressed to Norse, Celtic and Egyptian myths, folktales and legends, amongst others—but also to the history of the ancient Greek era, including both the archaic and 5th century BC periods, and of course, Alexander the Great. I’ve also read a fair bit about the Roman Empire at different periods, but the Greek era, including its literature and philosophy is my first love. The stories and poetry just come out of that, and so—I suspect—does the Fantasy fiction.


Who are your favourite writers, both novelists and poets?

Ah, the pressure of the favourites! There are so many! But books I have loved, besides all those collections of myths and legends . . . well, I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe about that time, as well, and I really loved it. The Lord of the Rings (of course) and Dune was also formative about the same time (my early teens). I’ve always loved Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy and also The Left Hand of Darkness and sticking with SciFi-fantasy, I also rate Patricia McKillip’s Riddle Master of Hed trilogy and CJ Cherryh’s Downbelow Station. (And, and … McKinley, Pullman, Wynne Jones, Pierce, George RR Martin, Erikson . . . and . . . )

I have just realised that you said “novelists” and not “books” but I’ll stick with the books for the moment: Mary Renault’s 5th century BC Athenian “trilogy” (The Praise Singer / The Last of the Wine/ The Mask of Apollo) and Gillian Bradshaw’s “The Beacon at Alexandria” (amongst her others). And I always have to include Pride & Prejudice, Aldous Huxley’s Eyeless in Gaza and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In terms of NZ writers, I read Witi Ihimaera (Whanau) when I was living overseas and it was the first time I had ever read a NZ novel where I thought, yes, I’m home . . . I also like Patricia Grace and Fiona Farrell and I loved The Bone People . . . and yes (defiantly) I rate Mansfield: I still think Miss Brill might be my personal ‘best ever’ short story. Having said that, I couldn’t put Charlotte Grimshaw’s Opportunity collection down either.

But I think I’ve really run out of room for poets—because the list is pretty much as long again!


I suppose the question every writer will want me to ask is: how did you go about getting a US agent?

I used the web, by looking at writers I thought had written books of like kind to Thornspell, eg YA Fantasy, fairy tale retellings etc and tried to find out who their agents were—and several of the arrows (eg Pullman, Paolini, McKinley, Lisle) led me to Writers House in NY. After that I just followed the guidelines in their FAQ to the letter, eg inquiry letter & synopsis first, then first 3 chapters on request, then full manuscript etc. I also addressed my letter to 1 person (rather than sending to all the agents at once as I understand some writers do) which I found out later was a “good thing” as Writers House do circulate the queries around the different agents and their assistants anyway. As it happened, I wrote to the “wrong” person, in that this was an agent who represented YA, but not Fantasy, but her assistant screened to first 3 chapters level and then circulated to another agent (Robin) who did look after Fantasy. And first Beth, Robin’s assistant, and then Robin herself, liked Thornspell straight off, so I guess I was lucky in that respect.

You are in the unusual position (at least among writers of my acquaintance) of being contracted four books ahead of the book that’s about to be released. Does that free you from a lot of the pressure felt by writers who need a success with their current book to make sure the next one gets published, or does it create its own pressures?

I think it creates its own pressures, because for the first time I am writing to external deadlines, and I am a bit of a perfectionist so I want to get the story ‘right’ to my satisfaction before putting it “out there” … but it is nice to have the contracts there. But I also think that it’s important to remember that WALL is a 4 book series, and not 4 standalones, so it is logical that the publisher would want to contract all 4 ahead and protect their investment in the first book, since they are taking on the upfront work of bringing out a new author.

Will you be hitting the science fiction convention circuit to promote your books? If so, can we hope to see you as a guest at forthcoming New Zealand conventions?

Well, I have joined SFFANZ and it would be fun to get along to their next convention in any case, as well as being very keen to do all that I can to promote my books. And I understand that Worldcon will be in Melbourne in a few years and that is not so very far away distance-wise, but as with all these things it comes down to timing (re events and promotions) and available funds at the time. But I would love to ‘be there’ whenever I can. As for attending as a guest, well, first I would have to be invited (!) 🙂

A tough one to end on: if you had to choose three words to describe your writing, what would they be?

Hmm, that is tough … three words … (ok, I borrow from my initial reviews): authentic, rich, human.

New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors

My fantasy novel Anarya’s Secret, set in the universe of the Earthdawn roleplaying game, was on the ballot for Best Adult Novel at the 2008 Sir Julius Vogel Awards, New Zealand’s local equivalent of the Hugo Awards. The award was won by Russell Kirkpatrick’s novel Path of Revenge, and I was impressed by the quality and range of the novels and other works up for awards, and the number of them that had found international publication.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand (SFFANZ) has provided a measure of this upsurge in New Zealand science fiction and fantasy by listing books in the field by New Zealand authors. The listing was based on one created by Jack Ross, subsequently updated by Alan Robson.

Although the listing (split into A-L and M-Z) is short on bibliographic detail in places, it does show that a lot more New Zealanders have successfully written science fiction and fantasy than is commonly assumed by those outside – or inside – the field.

There’s more to come, too – for instance Helen Lowe’s forthcoming YA fantasy novel Thornspell, about to be published in the US, and her subsequent fantasy tetralogy for adults, Wall of Night. Although it has flown mostly under the radar so far, New Zealand science fiction and fantasy is becoming hard to ignore.

UPDATE: There’s more about Helen and her new book on the HarperCollins (Eos) blog.

Scriptwriters Wanted

From the NZ Society of Authors (NZSA) weekly email newsletter* comes this snippet, which I’ll post here as I know I have some scriptwriters among my readers:

Writers Wanted for Two Animated TV Series

“Currently in development are two concepts for separate animated TV series
primarily targeting boys aged 8-12. Script writers are being sought. The
first is a fantasy series based in colonial NZ; the second is a sci-fi
series. Expressions of interest emailed to nika (at) huntdigitalmedia.com”

I have no connections with these projects, so I can’t vouch for their chances of success – but if you’re interested, go to it!

*This newsletter, emailed each week to NZSA members, is a very valuable source of market information: I have made several sales, especially of poetry, to magazines or anthologies I first saw advertised there. Membership of the NZSA isn’t cheap, but it can [so I believe] be claimed as an expense against taxable income, and it’s definitely worth considering if you’re a New Zealand writer.