Why Write: Arthurian Fiction with Nicole Evelina

Readers, today we have one of my writing buddies, Nicole Evelina, here to talk about Arthurtian fiction! This is a genre dear to my heart, because I went through a very long period of Arthurian-obsession, and I’ll admit—that obsession persists today. Nicole has some great things to say about historical fiction and fantasy, mythological settings, and strong women in history. Check it out!

Hello, Nicole! You’re one of my #teamawesome buddies, but this is your first time here at the blog, so welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

Thanks, Kristin. I’m a historical fiction writer. I’m currently writing an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view. I’m also planning a book about Tristan and Isolde, who are part of the Arthurian legend.

You write Arthurian novels! That delights me — my ten-year-old self desperately wanted to write Arthurian fantasy. What made you decide to write tales of Camelot?

It sounds like you and I had a lot in common growing up. Guinevere was one of my childhood heroes. I always liked her more than Arthur or Merlin. As I grew and read more and more, I realized that Guinevere really isn’t portrayed well in these stories. She’s pretty much known for being a faithless wife who is sometimes kidnapped, and often fought over. When I read The Mists of Avalon in college, I really disliked Marion Zimmer Bradley’s portrayal of Guinevere (I loved the book overall). (I had the same reaction to The Mists of Avalon. Her Guinever? BLECH!) So I started thinking, what is her story? We only hear about her while she’s with Arthur, but surely she had to have done something before and after him. In many ways, I’m doing for Guinevere what MZB did for Morgaine/Morgan in Mists.

What types of stories does the Arthurian setting make possible?

Oh, there are so many possibilities. We don’t know for sure if King Arthur existed, and if so, when or exactly where. Some stories are set in the Middle Ages, but I’ve chosen to go with current theory on Arthur’s life and set mine in the late Celtic era, roughly 480-530 AD. That’s the tumultuous time after the Romans left Britain, but before the Saxons gained power. It enables me, as a writer, to tell the stories of many different peoples: the native Britons, the Romanized Britons, Saxons, Irish, Picts, lowlanders (known as the people of the Gododdin), the Bretons, Christians and Druids. Plus, there are all the stories that traditionally go with Arthurian legend: the great battles, Camelot, Merlin, The Grail Quest, the Knights of the Round Table, the isle of Avalon, just to name a few. I could honestly write in Arthurian legend for the rest of my life and never run out of material.

Some of these stories are so familiar to many people — how does that influence your writing?

It’s an interesting situation to be in. There’s a certain amount of expectation on the part of the reader when they go into a story with which they’re already somewhat familiar. So, to an extent, I’m constrained by tradition. But I’m also free in many ways, simply because the story has been told so many different ways over the years. I feel a duty to stay true to the basics of the story, while free to put my own spin on it, just as those who came before me did. I love the idea of taking something familiar and turning it on its head in way that reflects my unique perspective, as well as the sensibilities of modern readers.

What audience do you think Arthurian novels attract? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

It really depends on the focus of the story. Usually stories focused on Arthur, Merlin, the knights and the battles attract a male audience, whereas those focused on the chivalry and courtly love themes attract women. I’m writing a story about an Arthurian woman – the Arthurian woman – so I expect to attract a mostly female audience. Because of this I’m careful to have strong, intelligent women in my books. I want Guinevere, Morgan, Elaine, Isolde, and the other women of Camelot to be role models that women of all ages can look up to (even if some of the characters are less than virtuous). Throughout history, they’ve often been portrayed as weak and docile, but if they truly lived in the Celtic time period I’ve set my books in, they would have been fierce women. So I try to make sure I’m true to that cultural aspect, while still staying true to the core of who they’ve always been.

How does the mythological setting affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

Mythology opens up a wealth of possibilities in these stories. There are a variety of traditions to draw upon when telling the story, and it frees me to add an element of fantasy to my novels. I made a choice early on that I would portray Merlin as the Archdruid of Britain, rather than the traditional idea of a wizard.

The same goes for Morgan. She, like many of my female characters, is a priestess of Avalon. But you won’t find Merlin hurling lightning bolts or fireballs at anyone (much as he might wish to), or see Morgan putting spells on people. I’ve chosen to portray a type of magic that is much more subtle and was very much a part of Celtic life. This means manipulation of natural energy and connection to the elements and their power. Some characters have Second Sight, while others are gifted storytellers. These are all abilities you see throughout early Welsh and Irish literature, the exact stories that today we call myth, but which the people of the time would have grown up hearing – just as I grew up hearing about Arthur and Guinevere.

Why do you think people love to read Arthurian stories? How do you think these stories affect their audience?

Everyone needs a hero and Arthur has filled that role for centuries. He’s the “once and future king,” the unifying savior of a people who is promised to come again. When times get tough, we turn to stories such as these to escape reality, to live in someone else’s world for a while. We read them to feel hope.

Camelot is a powerful symbol of the peace and unity we all seek. It’s the perfect kingdom, the utopia we all strive to create in our own lives. But what’s interesting is that even within its own story, it doesn’t last. It’s never quite as perfect as it could or should be, because it is the creation of human beings with weaknesses that ultimately cause its destruction. I think that as much as we yearn to create its perfection, we also identify with its downfall because we see the same thing played out in our own lives. We try to be good, but often, we fail. Yet, that’s never the end of things. Camlann may have killed the king, but he’s not really dead. Even as Arthur lies sleeping, waiting to be awakened when the time is right, Camelot and Arthurian legend show us that we’re never at an immutable end either; we can always try again.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

On my gosh. I read all kinds of stories, from historical fiction to urban fantasy and paranormal romance. I even enjoy light murder mysteries. I guess if I had to pick one, it would be tied between historical fiction and fantasy (including all of its subgenres like historical fantasy, urban, dystopian). I love reading historical fiction for the same reason I love writing it: you get the chance to tell or read the story of someone who otherwise may have been lost in the pages of history. I read fantasy because I love stories involving magic. I’ve always wanted supernatural powers and when I’m reading a fantasy book, I get them, even if only for a short time. I also have thing for elves and faeries, but that’s a story for another day.

How can readers get in touch with you?

My blog is http://nicoleevelina.com. I share new tidbits of Arthurian and Celtic history or musings on being a writer once a week. I’m on Twitter at least once a day at @nicoleevelina. I’m also on FB, Pinterest, Push Pages and Goodreads as Nicole Evelina. You’re welcome to look me up and follow/friend me.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

Why Write: YA with Shauna Granger

shaunagWelcome to another episode of Why Write! Today we have Shauna Granger, whose new book, Spirit, just came out yesterday! Shauna’s here to talk about Young Adult fiction, and why so many people of so many ages love to read about teens.

Hello, Shauna, and welcome!

Thanks for having me!

For those of you who don’t know, Shauna is a fellow Spellbound Scribe and one of my #teamawesome writing buddies.

Woot! Go #teamawesome!

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

Talking about myself always feels so awkward, lol. But seriously, I’m the author of The Elemental Series, a five part young adult paranormal series. My books follow the lives of three teens who have the abilities to control and manipulate the five elements of our world. The fifth and final installment, Spirit, comes out April 30th, 2013. (That was yesterday, guys!!) I live in Ventura in Southern California, where my books are also set.

What made you decide to write YA / write for teens?

I didn’t really set out with the purpose of writing YA when I first started writing. For me, it’s all about the main character and the voice of the story that comes first. For this series, the voice of Shay, the main character and narrator, was incredibly loud in my head and I knew she was in high school before I ever started writing. But age doesn’t really define whether or not a book is for a younger or older audience, it’s the voice of the book and the voice of my Elemental Series was very much Young Adult.

What types of stories does YA make possible?

I think every type of story is possible in YA. I think teens today are very lucky to have such a wide and prevalent genre at their fingertips, featuring characters their own age and dealing with the same trials and tribulations they are going through.

It hasn’t been that long since I was in high school myself, but even that short amount of time ago Young Adult wasn’t a category in your local bookstore. The closest I ever remember reading was R.L. Stine and Catcher In The Rye, the former being in the Children’s section and the latter in Classic Fiction. And I did enjoy those books, but I would’ve killed for an entire section at a bookstore dedicated to me at that age.

Having a Young Adult genre as an accepted genre now, means that teens can read about characters going through the same things they are going through. They can see that it is possible to live through the hell of being bullied, or depressed, or a horrible breakup, or school-wide gossip. Anything really. When you’re a teen you’re often terrified that you’re alone in your struggle; that no one else is dealing with issues that you’re dealing with. That maybe you’re the class freak and you can’t talk to anyone about your problems. With YA you have someone, or someones, who know exactly what you’re dealing with. And more than that, with the resurgence of the Fantasy genre, teens have a chance to escape their day to day lives.

When I was younger, the only books I could escape into were classics or more adult books. I read a lot of Anne Rice and Mercedes Lackey as a teen but I would’ve loved to have gotten my hands on Beautiful Creatures, The Madison Avery series, The Hunger Games, The Darkest Powers series, and so many more.

Aside, from the obvious, what audience do you think YA attracts? Lots of adults read YA — why do you think that is?

As a matter of fact, according to my Facebook Fan Page stats, the largest demographic for my readers is 25-34, this is my age bracket as well. I think this goes back to my comment about there not being a Young Adult genre when I was in high school, but because that wasn’t too long ago, I still enjoy reading these books. High school was a bitch for a lot of people, me included, so to be able to read about high school, in a fantasy setting, without actually dealing with high school now, is kind of nice. I’m sure that’s part of the reason so many adults read YA now. But more than that, I do have a lot of readers who are parents now and they are pre-reading books their kids are interested in to make sure the content is appropriate for their kids. I think this awesome. For one, it shows responsible parenting and two, many of those parents have reached out to me to tell me that, because they read my book to approve it for their kid, they in turn have become a fan of mine. Awesomesauce all around.

How does the broad audience alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

It doesn’t. I do not write to cater to an audience. I have had many readers tell me that some of the actions of some of my characters have driven them crazy, but they keep reading. And that’s all that matters. Yes, writing is a business and we all want to make money, but first you have to write a good story. Readers are smart, they can tell when they are being pandered to and I won’t do that. The most important thing is to write a good story, and it is impossible to please every single reader. So I just write the story I want to write and I try to make it as good as possible and hope for the best.

How does the age grouping of the characters affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

Now that is something to think about. In YA you have to remember that there are parents at every turn. A tired trope is to kill off the parents or make them absentee. I don’t like to do this because it isn’t as common as some people think.

In my books my characters sneak in and out of their houses and school on occasion. This was real when I was teen. I remember my mom reading my books and laughing at a point where the main character sneaks out of her bedroom in the middle of the night to go out. She really didn’t think that was something I ever did. Then I told her how I did it, which was the exact way my character did it in the book. Of course my character is scared of getting caught. She has moments where she thinks, “My parents are going to kill me,” because that is what I remember thinking as a teen. And my characters lie to their parents about where they’re going to be so they could go do their epic paranormal battles, but if their parents caught on, they would get grounded. You do have to steep your fantasy in reality if you want people to buy your fantastic stuff.

So in YA, your characters aren’t just worried about getting killed (if your subgenre is Paranormal/Fantasy/Sci-Fi/etc); they’re also worried about their parents, teachers, and principals catching them breaking the rules. You can’t forget about these factors in YA because it’s always in the back of your readers’ heads.

How do you think the teen characters and their stories affect your audience?

You know, one of the most gratifying things I’ve experienced since publishing my first book, has been the reaction of my readers. I was shocked when readers started reaching out to me to talk to me about my books and my characters. I set out to write a fun story with the sole purpose of entertaining people, and maybe remind them that magic was real if we only choose to remember to believe in it. But since publishing readers have reached out to me and told me stories about my books giving them strength and courage to be who they want to be, rather than who their friends, family and other people expect them to be. That has meant the world to me. My characters might frustrate readers from time to time, but to know they also inspire people? I couldn’t ask for more.

For funsies, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

Urban Fantasy, all the way. My favorite series is The Hallows Series by Kim Harrison. I heart Rachel Morgan so hard! I’ve always been a fan of Fantasy, as you can see from my earlier references, but I really love Urban Fantasy and I’m so glad it’s so prevalent now. I do enjoy Swords and Sorcery books, but I love modern day, city life fantasy so much more. Maybe because it’s more relatable? Maybe because I can envision myself as the main character and because it’s set in a real city, in my time, there is that tiny possibility that I really could be the main, badass character.

How can readers reach you?

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorShaunaGranger
Twitter: @dyingechoes
Blog: http://shaunasspot.blogspot.com
Barnes and Noble

Thanks for stopping by, Shauna!

Thanks for having me! This was fun!