Thomas M. Kane - Author
The Witches of Crannock Dale—Book One of Mara of the League
When an enemy army threatens eleven-year old Mara’s home, she makes up her mind to save her family, one way or another. But when the knights protecting her village arrest her favorite aunt for witchcraft, she discovers that the difference between friend and foe may not be as obvious as she once thought.
This is a story of war and espionage, set in a low fantasy world. It is also about a child getting to know her mother and father in a new way.
Cover painting by Robin M. Birrell. Design by Tallulah van der Made.
The Rebels of Caer City—Book Two of Mara of the League
Now available in paperback and as e-book—The Rebels of Caer City!
Throughout five years at a strict boarding school, Mara has turned to her friend Annie-Rose for comfort. Now Annie has disappeared. Mara teams up with two other students – bold Gretchen and soft-spoken Ginny – to find her missing friend. Together, Mara, Gretchen and Ginny take on a conspiracy involving some of the most dangerous people in their world.
Mara of the League revisits the Cold War in a medieval fantasy setting. Writing about that period in this way seemed like an appropriate thing to do, because the Cold War seemed a little fantastical all along.
I’m writing about it through the eyes of a child who is just becoming aware that the knights who claim to be protecting her village may not have her best interests at heart. In that process – in addition to telling a good story – I’m inviting readers to reconsider what actually happened in a time which may not be so far behind us as many people think.
For more detail, see my guest post on David Bridger's blog.
I, like so many, was saddened this month to learn that author Anne Rice had died. She has left a tremendous legacy. One of the best ways in which we can pay tribute to her memory is to do our best to carry this legacy forward. Not only may we emulate her storytelling, we should emulate her stewardship of the craft of writing itself.
Perhaps the most important way in which Rice practiced this stewardship was by acting as a mentor. Like many authors, Rice publicly offered other writers her advice. One of the central themes of her advice was to tell one’s own story in one’s own way regardless of admonitions to the contrary. She described her art in the same sensual language she used in her fiction, speaking of pain, pleasure, and a world crying out for new ideas.
Rice’s recommendations stand out because many advice-givers take the opposite approach. Where Rice declares that there are no rules, others present checklists of instructions on topics ranging from adverbs to omniscient third persons. Where Rice speaks of ignoring critics, others speak of learning from criticism. Where Rice speaks of new ideas, others speak of conforming to genre expectations. Where Rice is passionate, others urge professional detachment, and where Rice urges following one’s enthusiasms, others urge doggedly adhering to a work ethic.
Here one must acknowledge that the second kind of advice is often more useful. No one is born capable of putting their ideas into words lucidly or profitably. Writing is a skill which one must develop. To do so, one needs direction. One most certainly needs feedback, and feedback is useless unless one is at least provisionally prepared to revise one’s work in response to it.
Thus, rules have a purpose. The reason why Rice’s advice is uplifting has less to do with her attitude toward method than with her attitude toward people. A phenomenal amount of writing advice is given in peremptory, patronizing, psychologically undermining tones. Through word choice and framing, it slides aspiring writers into the role of weak-willed dabblers, and it presents likely objections to its teachings as the feeble excuses of losers. It does indeed offer beginners examples of how to use language subtly and powerfully, but only if one treats it as a case study in manipulative speech.
One may, perhaps, learn from a domineering teacher. Whether one can do so while maintaining one’s personal integrity is another matter. It is, however, harder to learn from multiple domineering teachers’ frequently conflicting observations about general topics. Those who attempt to submit to even a fraction of the diktats one encounters while reading writing advice will quickly find themselves too bogged down by mandates and taboos to write anything at all. At some point, all writers must take matters into their own hands, and if they have internalized the disempowering messages which suffuse so much of the writing self-help literature, they may benefit from having someone like Rice to reassure them that they can.
Rice’s encouragement, however, is more than a coaching technique. Her concern for nurturing genius puts the focus back on the reasons why we became readers and writers in the first place. Her readiness to credit us all with the capacity to set our own creative course suggests a generous conception of what it is to be a thinking, feeling being. I would venture to say that we should accept this generosity gratefully, that we should make the fullest use of it, and that we should offer it freely to others. We should also admire it, for generosity is among the highest expressions of greatness.
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One can find Anne Rice’s writing advice at the following sites.
Anne Rice’s official website.
“Give me the summer and I will give you the continent.”
–Un-Jargal, Supreme Commander of the Waanling Host
Chief spy Mara Bennet’s worst fears come true when the Commonwealth of Waan invades her homeland. To complicate matters, Mara and her country’s ruler are stranded in a remote northern realm. The two of them must outrun enemy warships on a perilous sea voyage home. Meanwhile fourteen-year-old Princess Deborah finds herself unexpectedly on the throne.
Can Deborah learn to rule in the midst of treachery? Can Mara use her strategic skills to turn back the Waanling onslaught? Will pillaging armies reduce the land to famine? Find out in The Rending of the World.
Rending features seven maps detailing battle plans and troop movements.
This book completes the Mara series.
E-book now available. Paperback coming in late October or early November 2021.
Book 3 of the Mara series is now available!
After surviving a fiery assassination attempt, the League’s honorable ruler tries to end a long war. Mara, now head of the League’s spy services, warns he is walking into a trap. As her advice becomes increasingly ruthless, she asks herself whether she likes the person she has become.
This is a tale of war and intrigue, featuring a campaign map to help strategists follow the military action.
Honored to introduce author Athena Matthews! I admire her work for its originality, its believable characters and its attention to its characters’ emotional lives. In this interview, she talks about her writing career, her books, and her plans for future work!
Please tell us about your books!
I currently have two stories published, one is called Rightful Place’s and the other Death Sails Among Shadows. I tend to write adult high fantasy, focusing on characters and their emotional and physical struggles throughout my books. Common themes in both stories are that you aren’t your circumstance, you don’t have to let your trauma, or your past define you. Another common trope is it’s alright to ask for help if you need it, requiring help doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human.
Please tell us about your latest book.
My latest book, which will hopefully be ready for publication in July of 2021, is tentatively called In Fate’s Hands, it is about a group of strangers who come together to fight against their tyrant queen. They all have different motivations that drive them, that force them into this fight, but together they hope to make a difference, even as they fight against their internal urges to fight alone.
What inspired In Fate’s Hands?
I’m not entirely sure what inspired this story exactly, it was probably a weird dream of a magical plague destroying a town, I started with creating these characters and then the story fully came together after that.
Who are your favorite characters in In Fate’s Hands, and why?
Favorite characters would be Kegan and Tatianna, Kegan is the first protagonist you meet in the story, and he is just hopeful yet really dumb at times. His motivations in the story is this powerful urge to be a hero, to be able to make a difference for the people of his home town, but he doesn’t care if he dies completing that goal.
What topics will In Fate’s Hands get readers talking about?
Mainly I am hoping to get the readers focusing on everyone’s different motivations, what drives everyone to do what they feel is necessary. I hope they get the importance of trusting those around you, and relying on your allies when in need, but most of all I hope they talk about Tatianna.
We’ve been talking on Twitter about Tatianna, the villain of In Fate’s Hands. She does some pretty awful stuff. What was the pivotal event that turned her toward evil?
Tatianna has probably been the most enjoyable character I’ve ever written, and she not physically in many scenes throughout the story, you just see the destruction and terror she causes. Tatianna was born with magic abilities in a part of my world that had forsaken it, and her father let her know very early on that it made her a monster. Being the first born she was the crowned princess, until her abilities showed, having her title stripped and given to her younger sister, slowly caused Tatianna to go resentful. She tried to learn how to use her abilities for good, but her father pushed into darker forms of magic. The beginning of her downfall to evil was her attempted assassination of her sister, after that fail, she knew what she had to do.
What is your writing process like?
How I usually write a new idea is I write a few just rushed chapters, get a feeling for the characters and build the plot, but mostly it’s just me trying to get an idea on paper. If I still like it within the first few chapters I stop, plot it out, make notes how to correct and fix things, then I rewrite and continue on. I sometimes jump around a lot with chapters, for one story I’m almost finished the first draft I had the ending written before I even reached the half way mark. Sometimes I just get scenes in my head and I can’t focus on anything else until I get that scene on paper.
What was it like to work with editors, designers and other members of your team?
Stressful to say the least, I’m still building my perfect team, I’ve struggled with both books to find adequate editors, and beta readers who can actually give me helpful feedback, but even so I’m very grateful for who do help me throughout my process.
What are your plans for future books?
I have so many books in the works right now its been difficult to keep track of them all. I have at least three more stories based around the same world as Rightful Place’s, Death Sails Among Shadows and In Fate’s Hands, and I am finishing up the first draft of the first book in a trilogy right now. Also, I have many side projects that are plotted out and waiting for me to actually have the time to focus on them, hopefully keeping me busy for a quite a few years.
Who are you? Please tell us a little about your background.
I’m Athena Matthews, born and raised on Vancouver Island Canada, the youngest of four siblings, I’ve always been an introvert, struggling to make friends, or speak my mind in general, I just liked to keep to myself and my small group. If you asked my parents, I was an angel growing up, my sister being loud and difficult made it very easy for me to get away with a lot of terrible habits that no kids my age should have been getting into. I met my now husband in carpentry school at sixteen, and we’ve been stuck together ever since. Now happily married with a sassy, ambitious three-year-old and just living the dream.
What are some interesting places you’ve traveled to? Do any of them appear in your novels?
I haven’t gotten to travel much in my life yet, but I did travel to England for a month when I was fourteen with girl guides, we traveled all over. It was an amazing experience, without my parents and with two of my best friends who we’ve literally been friends for twenty-two years now.
None of my few world adventures will show up in any of my work, I like building my own world and mapping out strange places.
Where can we get updates on your work?
Mostly your best bet to catch me will be Twitter, I’ve been neglecting all my other media trying to get back into it, but my links for my Twitter and Facebook are here.
Did your father have a favorite book? Do you have a favorite book which reminds you of your father? What books do you think about on Father’s Day?
Those who knew my father may expect my Father’s Day book to be the collected works of William Shakespeare. My father could recite a substantial portion of it from memory. Nevertheless, without taking anything away from the Bard, I would select Lionel Ruby and Robert E. Yarber’s The Art of Making Sense. Throughout my childhood, my father kept this book on his shelf, and when I got to be around thirteen or fourteen, he suggested I borrow it. I could tell he really wanted me to.
Ruby and Yarber’s book sets out the principles of logical argument. It is a humorous book, and not only does it teach one how to express oneself sensibly, it empowers one to demand sensible explanations from others. An early chapter presents Rene Descartes’ claim that all knowledge, even calculus, quantum physics and anime fandom, consists of compilations of simple propositions. If one accepts Descartes’ claim, and The Art of Making Sense explains it persuasively, it is reasonable to ask authorities of all kinds to explain themselves simply.
Later chapters explain common logical fallacies. I was gratified, in my early teens, to have someone verify that an analogy is not a substitute for an argument. It was also liberating to learn, once and for all, that shifting from one definition of a word to another in the course of a conversation proves nothing about the original topic. A rose by any other name, to return to Shakespeare for a moment, would smell as sweet. The expression non sequitur is a useful one. These are but a few of the things the book taught me.
One reason why I valued this knowledge was that I sensed my father himself had built much of his life around it. Another was that I sensed the book was important to my father for personal reasons, and that it came with a story. (I still do not know what the story was, although I have theories.) A third reason was that awkward as this may seem to recall on Father’s Day, my father had an argumentative side to his personality. The book which he had recommended taught me how to hold my own. And I discovered in years which came that my father would accept well-reasoned arguments from others, and that he would engage reasonably with them.
Approximately thirty years later, I was living in England and working as an academic. On a visit home, I asked my father if I could borrow The Art of Making Sense to use in my teaching. When my father agreed, I mentioned that I felt slightly guilty about taking it, since we both knew it might be a long time before I would be able to bring it back. My father responded that maybe it was time for the book to become mine. Although my father was always generous with me, I do not remember him ever using words quite like that about anything else that he gave me.
Two years after my father passed, I left England forever. I have – like my father – always tried to be careful about acquiring possessions and equally careful about looking after them. When I cleaned out my office, I determined that I still had every book I had ever brought into it – except for The Art of Making Sense, which was gone. Even when every shelf was bare and every drawer was empty, it did not turn up. It would be nice to imagine that it was time for the book to become someone else’s, and that that person is now making good use of it.
Currently working on book three of Mara of the League. Since this book includes princesses, I decided it should also include a dragon. Princess-consort Cordelia Aurellius-Maxwell has a pet lizard named Horace. I have been researching what it is like to raise lizards in real life.
It turns out that there is a debate about how domesticated lizards feel about their people. Scientists have traditionally discouraged the idea that animals – and especially reptiles – have emotions. Nevertheless, many lizards and snakes behave in ways which show they recognize human companions. Certain species (e.g. bearded dragons) are visibly affectionate. This suggests reptiles have feelings after all.
Apparently, since there are opposing points of view, some experts have decided to look for middle ground. I have read a number of articles saying that bearded dragons do feel love, but that since they are reptiles, they do not feel it deeply.
This leads me to ask, if we agree reptiles have feelings, who are we to say how deep their feelings are? Feelings, more or less by definition, are meaningful. Reptile feelings feel important to reptiles. Compromises sound reasonable, but they are not always right.
And bearded dragons are really cute!
This was originally written as a guest post for David Bridger’s blog, which is sadly no longer live.
I was fortunate enough to meet David when we discovered that both of us explore real-life politics while writing speculative fiction. He was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to continue that conversation in this forum. We were discussing my upcoming novel series The Mara Chronicles. This series revisits the Cold War in a medieval fantasy setting. Writing about that period in this way seemed like an appropriate thing to do, because the Cold War seemed a little fantastical all along.
We did not have nuclear bomb drills in school when I was a child in the late 1970s. We did, however, have black and yellow signs on public buildings reading “Fallout Shelter.” When I was perhaps six, I asked my parents what the signs were for. They had to explain.
There were alternate reality civilizations on either side of the globe. One of the last great wildlife preserves in Europe was the death strip that ran between them. Some people said one side was good and the other was evil. Other people said it was the other way around.
It was all very strange, and all very ominous. You could interpret it in many different ways, depending on your political outlook. If you lived in what was then known as the First World, you were also generally able to ignore it. Most of the time, most First-Worlders did.
Today, it all seems very long ago. You can buy Fallout Shelter signs as “genuine collectables” on Amazon. Nevertheless, important things happened during the Cold War – things which lead directly to important things which are happening now. By writing about an imaginary version of the Cold War, I hope to recapture the frequently bizarre feelings of the real-life original. I’m writing about it through the eyes of a child who is just becoming aware that the knights who claim to be protecting her village may not have her best interests at heart. In that process – in addition to telling a good story – I’m inviting readers to reconsider what actually happened in a time which may not be so far behind us as many people think.
I have written eight scholarly books in the fields of international relations and strategic studies, nineteen books on role-playing games (including supplements for AD&D, Shadowrun, Cyberpunk and Ars Magica) and numerous shorter works. More details coming soon!
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