goals of science
Waldo Emerson said:
What is Waterspell? Where did the idea come from? How are magic and science linked? How were the books researched? What do they owe to Celtic mythology? How were pivotal plot elements created? How long did it take to write Waterspell? Who are the main characters? What was the writing process like? What is the appeal of fantasy/science fiction? Whats next? How did Jabberwocky become a magical incantation? How can Deborah J. Lightfoot, author of Waterspell, be contacted? (Author Bio) (Frequently Asked Questions)
A: Its a feudal fantasy with a science-fictional, save the planet(s) from ecological disaster twist.
That's my one-line summary of an epic story. The longer setup goes like this:
A million people got cholera and 10,000 died of it when a foreign freighter, discharging ballast water, fouled the coastal waters of Peru in 1991 with an Asian strain of Vibrio choleraelaunching the first cholera epidemic in the western hemisphere in more than 100 years. (Segue:) Its not an alien ship carrying disease that the inhabitants of Ladrehdin need to worry about. Their potentially lethal problem is an adolescent girl who washes up on the shores of their world, shanghaied from her natural home by a wizard who doesnt grasp the enormity of the ecological damage that the magical kidnapping may inflict upon medieval Ladrehdin.
A: No. I didnt hear about the cholera epidemic there until after Id written WATERSPELL. When I came across an account of that incident, I realized it was a real-life example of exactly the premise I was putting forth in my trilogy. But the underlying ideas of traveling to other worlds or alternate realities have been with me, in one form or another, for years. Ive been a voracious reader since childhood, and fell under the spell of the fantastic upon discovering C.S. Lewiss Chronicles of Narnia, J.R.R. Tolkiens wonderful work and, of course, Alices Adventures in Wonderland. I grew up on a farm and always had an appreciation for nature; at one time in college, I studied to become a park ranger or wildlife biologist. But the desire to write won out. I ended up with a degree in journalismnot a fine arts degree, but a bachelor of scienceand have since managed to work into my writing both my appreciation for science, nature and environmental concerns, and my fascination with things magical and supernatural.
A: Not really, when you consider thatto the unlearned common folk of the Middle Ages, for instancescience was magic. The two have always rubbed shoulders. Alchemy was a blend of philosophy, mysticism and chemistry. The Druidsthe original wizardswere the intellectuals and learned professionals of ancient Celtic society. I suspect they got their reputation for working magic from their knowledge of astronomybeing able to predict eclipses, alignments of the planets and suchand their skill as physicians, curing the ill with herbal remedies. Such knowledge was potentrevered and feared. They took pains to preserve their mystique by keeping their lore secret. Knowledge was not written down, but was passed orally to new initiates. Druidic poets, for example, spoke in a dark tongue so that the uninitiated could not understand. Its easy to see how and why the ignorant masses would begin to think that these learned professionals were actually working magic.
In fact, the English language still reflects this connection in the words grammar and glamour. I read in David Crystals fascinating Encyclopedia of the English Language an etymology of the two words that shows the close ties between science and magic. Grammar had come into the language by the early 14th century. To the illiterate, the word came to be identified with the mysterious world of the scholar, and therefore developed the sense of learning in general, and then of the incomprehensible, and even of black magic. Later, in 18th-century Scottish English, a form appears that is spelled with an lglamourwhich retains its magical sense. Mr. Crystal points out that the Scottish poet Robert Burns links the two words in referring to gypsies who deal in glamour and those who are deep-read in hells black grammar (1781). Glamour developed the sense of enchantment or charm. Katharine Briggs, in An Encyclopedia of Fairies, defines glamour, in terms of fairy-lore, as an enchantment cast over the senses, so that things were perceived or not perceived as the enchanter wished. By that definition, I can certainly claim that theres a good deal of glamour in WATERSPELLand good grammar, too!
A: Yes, I made a deliberate effort to pay my respects to those great old Irish and Scottish storytellers who are a link to the Celtic mythology that underpins much of the genre. Readers who are familiar with Irish Fairy & Folk Tales (1892, edited by William Butler Yeats) may recognize some of the uses Ive made of the vernacular and common sayings or figures of speech. For instance, at one point my melancholy sorcerer, Lord Verek, tells Carin: It's a long lane that has no turning. Thats an adage taken from The Kildare Pooka, by Patrick Kennedyone of the selections Yeats included in his anthology. Sharp eyes may also notice that Ive adapted to my purposes that old saying: Rowan, amber and red thread / Puts witches to their speed.
A: Broadly and indirectly, yes. When I started reading the early Irish legends and Celtic myths, I was looking mainly for the telling detailauthentic figures of speech, colorful descriptive terms, gritty background textures. But as I read, I noticed that aspects of the mythology had their counterparts in this fantasy I was writing. Or vice versa. For instance, water often has mystical qualities in the legendsIrish rivers like the Boyne were held sacred. Its pretty obvious from the series titleWATERSPELLthat water has magical properties in my story, too. The traditions tell of quests, leading into the Otherworld and back. Other worlds figure prominently in WATERSPELLthe premise that whats harmless in one world or reality may prove deadly if it arrives, whether innocently or by skullduggery, where it doesnt belong. Also central to my work is the heroic quest, undertaken to gain information or wisdom, to bring healing, or to find or restore lost objects.
I am by no means an expert on Irish legends. Given the huge number of books that have been produced on the subject and the very few of them that Ive read (see Books), I can barely claim a nodding acquaintance. My sole aim, in working into my writings details from the legends, is to make WATERSPELL fit into the world of Celtic mythology the way Tolkiens Lord of the Rings fits with traditional Scandinavian mythology. Katharine Briggs said of Tolkiens work: The whole was not decorated but deepened by the use of traditional folklore which gave it that sense of being rooted in the earth which is the gift of folklore to literature. Thats what Im after: to create a fantasy world thats rooted deeply in an ancient tradition.
While Im giving credit where its due, I must mention The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom (Caitlín and John Matthews) and The Druids (Peter Berresford Ellis). From the latter I gained a much better understanding of why the modern-day view of Druids makes them out to be powerful magicians and soothsayers, supplying magic potions from mystical cauldrons, and how it was the Christianizing of Ireland that made this class of intellectuals into wizards. And the Matthews book was the inspiration for the two narrative lays or poems that figure in Books 1 and 2 of WATERSPELL. The Matthews encyclopedia contains lots of excerpts from incomprehensible Celtic poetry. After reading enough of it to blur my brain, I decided to write my own incomprehensible poemsthough I hope that, by the time the reader has reached the end of Book 2, both poems will make perfect sense.
A: It was eerily simple. I think Stephen Hawking is right with his theory of alternate universes. At least, I think thats Hawkings theory! Anyway, its been treated in enough episodes of Star Trek that I expect everybody reading this will know exactly what Im talking about: the notion that everything that could have happened, has happened, with the result that all these other realities are playing themselves out in alternate universes. As an example, think of the forks in the road of your own life. Havent you wondered how your life would be different if youd taken the other fork? Well, the alternate-universe notion suggests that some other you is in fact living the life that would have resulted from making that choice.
What all of this has to do with the poems in WATERSPELL is this: Its become simple for me to think that this story has actually happened, to real people, in some other universe because, in the course of writing it, none of it has felt contrived. Each scene or episode has fallen into place with what seems very little nudging from me: Ive been the scribe, taking down what the characters are saying and recording the action. Each of the poems came in a flash of inspiration, as the cliché goes. And they both arrived well before I had reached the point in each book where they were to be included. I mean, it wasnt a matter of writing up to the point where the poems went, and then crafting them line by line. Each of them came all-of-a-piece at an unexpected moment.
I was very impressed with the tautness of your writingyour avoidance of clichés, your fresh similes, your strong verb choices. You also seem to have an innate sense of rhythm, as well as a solid sense of when to employ intentional repetition and when to avoid it. And I love the way you drew readers immediately into the story with your opening line. It definitely hooked me and made me want to keep reading.
An Agent who critiqued the first few pages of Book 1, at a conference
lovely to know the
has always been a
steelmaking, a blast
is the great
I dont remember the exact circumstances of the first arrival, but I recall grabbing a notepad and locking myself in the bathroom to make sure I wasnt disturbed. I sat on the toilet (lid down) and scribbled out the first draft in longhand. What appears in the book is very little altered from that longhand version. The second poem came to me one morning while the maid was at work in my house. She had the vacuum cleaner going; the stereo was onit was quite noisy, and Im a writer who generally likes it VERY quiet when I work. But in the midst of the racket, I wrote the second lay, again getting the poem down in longhand, in a form that was essentially final in its first incarnation. It was a pretty weird experiencealmost as if the poems actually existed out there, and I was just writing down somebody elses words. Thats been among the most gratifying aspects of this years-long effort: getting better in touch with my subconscious mind, learning how it works and learning to make good use of it. Because, of course, for all my talk of other universes and writing down what the characters are saying, I know that whats really going on is my subconscious creative mind creating, and my conscious mind getting it down on paper.
A: I stopped counting at ten! In self-defense, let me say that in the first few years of my work on WATERSPELL I didnt get much donejust a few chapters. I tell myself it was because I was busy making a living and didnt have time to write an epic, but deep down I know I was procrastinating for fear of failure. Self-doubt must be a writers worst enemy. Id already published three books, all of them award-winners, all of them well-received by readers and critics. And one of them was over 100,000 words, so Id demonstrated that I had the persistence and patience to keep going on a project of that length and see it through.
My first three books, however, were nonfictionhistory and biographyand so there wasnt as much of my own heart and soul in them as appears in the WATERSPELL books. Beyond the obvious differences between fiction and nonfiction, the distinction thats perhaps the most important is: When youre writing nonfiction, youre writing about a person or a subject outside yourself, and youre expected to keep yourself out of it as much as possible. I studied journalism, remember; it was pounded into me to be objective. Writing fiction is truly sitting down at the computer and opening a vein. Even if your story is the wildest flight of fancy, you cant help but put a good bit of yourself into it. Your likes and dislikes, your attitudes and opinions, your sensibilities and personal traits will all be reflected, at least to some extent, in your characters and your story.
Certainly I relate strongly to the viewpoint character in WATERSPELL, teenaged Carin. I have heror she has myinnate suspiciousness of others and mistrust of authority, my pride, self-reliance and desire for self-determination, tempered (I hope) by a sense of honor, justice, and compassion. In many ways Im still her ageand, no, I cant say just what her age is. I deliberately left it vague, for two reasons. First: Theres really no way to say for sure, because she doesnt remember her childhood. She knows only that she came to the world called Ladrehdin (pronounced LAD-ruh-din) as a half-grown child. When we pick up her story, its five years later. Whats a half-grown child? Age 10 or 11? That would make her 15 or 16 now. But she exhibits traits both younger and older than that. Shes impulsive, not entirely logical sometimes, and so boyish in her figure that the sorcerers housekeeper likens her to an elf, and the sorcerer himself decides she can pass for a servant-lad instead of a serving-maid.
On the other hand, shes articulate, an analytical thinker, self-possessed when she needs to be, and uncomfortably aware of hormones stirring. She most definitely notices that Lord Verek is all man. So I think of her as being at that awkward ageneither child nor woman. She's a teenager on the cusp of womanhood. And different girls mature at different rates.
A: Every day that I could, and every night that I could squeeze some hours out of, too. Writing WATERSPELL became an obsession. I couldnt let it alone. Id be up until 2 or 3 in the morning, then spring out of bed after a few hours sleep and start pounding the keyboard again. It was an exhilarating experience. Theres something mystical about being awake in the middle of the night, hearing voices in your head as the characters talk to each otheror shout at each other, as is often the case with Carin and Verekand typing as fast as you can to get the whole confrontation down on paper in real time, while the characters are speaking.
A: Absolutely. What I always wanted to do when I grew up as a writer was to write science fiction and fantasy. But I had such respect for the genre that I put those sorts of books up on a pedestal and feared to approach them, except as a reader. I was afraid of failure. What if I tried to write a fantasy, and failed utterly? Could I bear the disappointment, if I discovered I wasnt capable of it? I had to do other sorts of writing until I got enough self-confidence and maturity to tackle the big one, the fantasy saga Id always dreamed of producing. Now that Ive given it my best shot, theres no going back. I intend to write more in this genre, and maybe Ill inspire some new writer to give it a tryas Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lewis Carroll inspired me.
Let me also mention some of my other favorite writers, in no particular order: Frank Herbert (Dune), Anne McCaffrey (The Dragonriders of Pern), Ursula K. LeGuin (Earthsea), Edgar Allan Poe and Andre Norton (anything they ever wrote), Nathaniel Hawthorne (Twice-Told Tales; I only recently discovered these short stories of his, and theyre wonderfullike genteel, deceptively mild-mannered versions of nightmares as bad as anything Poe conjured up), Barbara Hambly (Darkmage; The Rainbow Abyss), Roger Zelazny (The Chronicles of Amber), Isaac Asimov (The Foundation Trilogy), Madeleine LEngle (A Wrinkle in Time), Ellis Peters (any and all of the Cadfael mysteriesa rich source of medieval vocabulary and great fun to read), Jack Finneys Time and Again, Walter Millers A Canticle for Leibowitz, Carl Sagans nonfiction as well as his novel Contact, and a few dozen others I cant call to mind just now.
A: Yes. Im planning a YA novel that will be a little shorter than the three books of WATERSPELL. Maybe Ill produce a regulation length 200 pages! The novel that's percolating is a story of the paranormal set in the American West of the far future. Ive got the characters and the plot sketched out.
But first there may have to be a WATERSPELL Book 4. Careful readers will note, by the end of Book 3, The Wisewoman, that subtle threads are leading toward new developments in the characters lives. I cant go into detail without giving too much away to those who havent read it yet, but you wont be very far into Book 1, The Warlock, before you realize that the Jabberwocky poem from Through the Looking-Glass possesses some rather odd properties when transplanted to Ladrehdin. Why? That's a question which begs to be explored further, and digging into it will require a Book 4.
A: Well, it reads like one, doesnt it? Twas brillig, and the slithy toves ... The language is as strange as any of the real magical incantations that I read in books like Irish Fairy and Folk Tales or The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom. And it fit beautifully with the overall theme: That things which are harmless or even benign in one setting may cause great harm and injury in an environment where they are alien. But thats enough of that! I want people to read the books!
A: Just that Id love to hear from people with their comments or questions. E-mail me, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Ill do my best to answer, either by private e-mail or, for the questions or comments that I think would be of general interest, on my blog, A Little Light Blogging by Deborah J. Lightfoot. So check in from time to time, here or there, and see whats new.
Q: Well do it.
Deborah J. Lightfoot has been writing since childhood and seeing her work in print since college. Her first sale to a paying market was in 1980. A few thousand news stories, a hundred magazine features and three books later, shes come back to the genre she loves and reached a personal best with her new YA/crossover fantasy, the WATERSPELL trilogy. (For more biographical info, please see Frequently Asked Questions and see her main website, www.djlightfoot.com.)
© 2009-2011 Deborah J. Lightfoot / All Rights Reserved
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