Tuesday, April 24, 2012

INTRODUCING ERIN O'QUINN


 

Today it's my pleasure to introduce a brand new Celtic genre writer, Erin O'Quinn.  I have had a chance to browse Erin's first book, Storm Maker, and I can only tell you this is an extraordinary first work.  Let Erin tell you some background, in her own words (and mine, of course!):

Q: What is your background, Erin?
A: I earned a Bachelor’s degree in English, then a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California. You might say that I’ve had a long and varied career--from university teacher to newspaper marketing guru, from car salesperson deep in the forests of Germany to hauling pallets of freight for a big-box store’s garden center. All of it has in some way prepared me for the life of a writer.
Q: Have you been a writer for many years?
A: Quite the contrary. In December of 2010 my husband and I bought an iMac. Only then did I start writing. And thirteen months later, I had written over a million words and ten books. I guess the muse wasn’t just on my shoulder--she had descended to my very gut, even to my soul, and she was beating the daylights out of me.
Q: How did you come to choose Ireland as the setting for your novels?
A: My husband is a fanatic reader of historical fantasy. He wondered aloud to me one day why he had never read any accounts of Ireland at the time of St. Patrick. It seems that everyone loves St. Paddy, and almost everyone fancies himself or herself to have Irish clans in their family somewhere. So the subject matter should be a rich mine for an author. But I found that he was right--hardly anyone has ever written fiction about Ireland in the 5th century AD. So I could fill a niche that no one else had yet attempted to fill.
Q: Your characters seem to have a deep and varied background--from the central heroine Caylith to her best friend, her mother, her Gaelic clansman lover, his own family, the high king of Ireland, even St. Patrick himself. How did all these characters begin to live in your imagination?
A: The main characters, outside of the Irish ones, were born as characters in a young adult fantasy series called The Twilight of Magic. So when someone begins to read STORM MAKER, he or she is reading about a character who already has at least three novels worth of back story!
Q: You say “at least three.” Is there another novel lurking back there somewhere?
A: For last year’s NANOWRIMO, I wrote a 50,000 word novel or novelette called MARRIE APPLESPROUT’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, about Caylith and her aged great aunt from Lindum, Britannia (modern Lincoln). In that book she is fifteen, and she is quite a spoiled, self-absorbed brat. By the time of STORM MAKER, she has grown up a bit, although she is still pretty naive!
Q: Where do you find your inspiration for your plots and characters?
A: I hope that this doesn’t sound crazy—they are all in my head, clamoring to be let out. All my books are character-driven. The plots are ones that the characters force on me, whether I want to go there or not.
Q: What other novels may we expect after STORM MAKER?
A: I feel like a child who has glutted on all the candy in the bag, and who must now pay the consequences. I turned in several novels all at once, and all of them were accepted. So I have a novel coming out every four weeks from now through the end of August. The next two novels complete The Dawn of Ireland Trilogy--THE WAKENING FIRE and CAPTIVE HEART. After those, I turn to one of the characters from CAPTIVE HEART, another interesting redhead--but this time a male named Flann O’Conall, and I introduce his love interest, a virginal young woman named Mariana, in a tempestuous book titled FIRE & SILK. Following that are two “ManLove” novels in The Steel Warrior series. These characters are from some of the earliest books, but no one (especially the reader) has an inkling that they may be attracted to other men, much less to each other. Life happens.
Q: Would you say that your historical romances pass the test of being suitable for a general audience?
A: No. Siren has placed the first four in the category of “steamy,” and the ManLove novels are even more explicit.
Q: Would you say, then, that your historical romances are heavy on the romance and light on the history?
A: That’s a good question. Readers of course expect romance, and I give it to them. Caylith has just begun to feel the stirrings of womanhood, and Liam is a lusty young suitor. But I have to warn readers that there is also history, and folklore, and religion, and Gaelic expressions, and a host of other areas that I explore in every one of my books. St. Patrick himself is a character who appears in some of the novels; and many of Liam’s kinsmen are actual historical characters, including his own father, the High King Leary.
Q: Which other characters are based on actual historical figures?
A: Liam’s father Leary had seven brothers, all uncles of Liam, and some of them are important characters in later novels. The character Murdoch Mac Owen, the poet- scholar Dubthach, Liam’s oldest brother Torin--all these, and more, were real figures in the history of Ireland and become crucial characters in the later novels. The reader will even meet the O’Cahan clan later--this was the clan who were the ancestors of the man sung about in the famous Irish song “Danny Boy.”
Q: Give the readers an idea of the story of STORM MAKER.
A: It is a novel of the clash of opposites--of passion and chastity . . . evil doing and forgiveness . . . storm and calm. Caylith has brought a group of immigrants to √Čire following the charismatic Father Patrick. She is not especially religious, but he is a friend whom she had met earlier, in Britannia; and she has pledged to him that she will not commit the sin of fornication. Much of the novel centers on that lightly given promise and the difficulty of actually carrying it through, as Caylith and Liam discover how difficult it is to hold back their impetuous passion until marriage.
There is another maelstrom brewing outside of the storm of young passion. Caylith has already gained an implacable enemy in the form of the brooding cripple Owen Sweeney, who manages to have Liam captured and held for the return of all his rich cattle lands. So part of the novel is devoted to Caylith’s rescue of Liam, and Liam’s slow conversion to Christianity and to the forgiveness of his enemy.
Q: Why do you write from the first-person point of view--through the eyes of the heroine?
A: From the beginning, back when she was fifteen years old, Caylith began to tell her own story. And from the beginning, she was a rather self-centered and naive person. So it became more and more fun for me to put her through her first kiss, and then make her go beyond that, to sensual craving, and finally to her marriage bed. I wanted to know how it felt through the eyes and senses of a young girl beginning to mature into a woman. By the way, the novels after the Liam/Caylith trilogy are not written from this very specialized point of view.
Q: Where did you learn the necessary background for your historical novels?
A: Mostly two places:  the internet and actual, page-turning books.  I have probably bought more than twenty books on every subject from Roman Britain to Gaelic Grammar, and I have read probably fifty more in libraries and bookstores. Yipes!
Q: Are the places in your books just made up to fit your plot?
A: To the contrary--most of them are places that existed 1500 years ago in Ireland. There were no such things as “cities” in √Čire back then, only settlements and a few monasteries. But places like Tara, Derry, Limavady, Tyrconnell, the huge lake called the Neagh, the river and lake called the Foyle--all are authentic. I do make up a few places, usually the name of a character preceded by the word “bally”--Ballysweeney, Ballyconall--as people in Ireland do to this day.
Q: Many of your books take place in what is today Northern Ireland.  Aren’t you afraid that people may think you have a hidden political agenda? Or even a religious bias?
A: Wow, I hope not. I am the most un-political person I know. . .  and not much of a church-goer either! People have to remember that the action takes place 1500 years ago. Back then the politics were all about clan vs. clan, provincial king vs. king, cattle barons vs. cattle rustlers. The religion was 99% druidic influenced, almost a nature-based theology; and the “gods” were bigger-than-life warriors with bad-hair days.

* * * *

EXCERPT:

Later that day, walking to our seven-lake haven where we had left our horses, Liam and Ryan and I found ourselves walking close to Sweeney’s crude chariot.
Liam said something to his cousin, who turned to me. “Caylith, think ye the bindings are tight enough to cut a man and sorely wound him?”
I knew what Liam wanted, but I held back. “He bragged to me of the fools who made his ropes too loose, how stupid the people were who tied him into the currach.”
“And yet he is surrounded by stalwart warriors, not herders of sheep.”
I stopped in my tracks and talked to Liam through his cousin. “Liam, I take your meaning. Here—hold my pouch of healing powder. Go to your merciless captor. Do whatever you feel is right.”
He silently took the pouch, and I signaled for the attendant Keepers to stop the horses. Our entire party stopped then, while Liam approached his sworn enemy.
He walked to the wheeled cart and stood looking down on our trussed-up prisoner. The disheveled Sweeney slowly raised his head and glared at Liam, then spat at him. Liam did not even look at the spittle running down the leg of his breeches. He knelt and began to untie the ropes holding him to the invalid’s chair.
Sweeney’s arms and hands were . . .  bleeding where the harsh tarred ropes had bit into his flesh. I quietly drew the dried headband from my belt and squeezed water onto it from my wineskin and passed it to Ryan. He stepped up to Liam and handed him the soaked cloth.
Liam began to wash Sweeney’s wounds, slowly and carefully. Then he drew forth the pouch and poured healing powder where the wounds were deepest. All the time he was ministering to Sweeney, the brute jeered and taunted him. “You lumpkin—you addle-pated fool. I want not your gentle care. I would rather you keep grinding me under the wheels of my mobile throne. If I had a knife, you would be repaid in stab wounds. Leave me alone.”
Sweeney did not know that Liam understood not a word of his tirade—though I knew he was smarting from the ferocity of Sweeney’s rantings. When he had applied enough powder, he tied Sweeney back into his chair, avoiding the places where the wounds were still fresh. I saw that the brute was well fastened to his own chair, but he was no longer in pain. Indeed, the rope cuts and burns had begun to disappear completely.
Liam signaled for the horses to move again, and he walked back to me. He handed me first the pouch, then the soiled cloth, and I saw that his face bore a radiant smile. I stood on tiptoe and brought my lips to his. I kissed him as though for the first time, sweetly, searchingly, trying to understand this half-wild young man.