New Release!!! Get Your Dragon On!

dragonssleepxlgDragons Reign Supreme

Mankind had no place in a world where dragons reign supreme. In fact, they were considered little more than a distraction for the young or bored, insignificant insects to be manipulated for entertainment or destroyed as pests. All that changed when Thytira, one of the greatest mages of dragonkind, discovered that the magic of man may have merit after all. After living among humanity for centuries to learn their lore and increase his own power, he emerged as the most powerful dragon of his generation. But all knowledge has a price, and years spent among mankind cursed Thytira with the greatest liability a dragon can have: a conscience.

Now as war drums sound and a new, terrifying threat arises from humanity, Thytira alone stands between the wrath of dragonkind and the total destruction of humanity. However, the fate of men and dragon alike may ultimately depend upon the decisions of a young woman who long ago denied the birthright of her race. But that is only if Thytira can find her …

http://darkoakpress.com/dragonssleep.html

Author Interview: Kathryn Hinds

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Dark Oak Press recently released Kathryn Hinds‘ latest young adult, fantasy novel, The Healer’s Choice. She was kind enough to sit down with us for an interview about her writing process and her works.

What genres do you enjoy writing? Fantasy (mainly epic fantasy and historical fantasy/alternate history), steampunk, poetry, and nonfiction

Tell us about your latest book: The Healer’s Choice is an epic fantasy novel that might be described as Game of Thrones meets The Mists of Avalon. It’s a very human-based fantasy (no elves, goblins, or dragons) with a naturalistic approach to magic—in fact, the characters who use magic don’t even think of it as such. The story centers on a healer and a warrior, both driven by ideals of honor and commitment to duty, whose countries are at war. Under other circumstances, these two might be friends, or more, but the war stands between them. Moreover, the war forces each of them into unfamiliar and uncomfortable roles. The healer in particular must confront aspects of herself that she has long buried, and she learns that unless she can reclaim these lost parts of her identity, she will never be able to achieve the one thing she desires above anything else: to save her people.

What inspired the story? Where did you get that first bit of “aha” inspiration? In a lot of ways, the original Star Wars movie was the initial inspiration. My favorite character was Obi-Wan Kenobi, but I really wanted him to be a woman! I felt much the same way about Merlin when I read Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave. My teenage musings over what if Obi-Wan or Merlin were female eventually joined with another what-if (a result of some of the Women’s Studies classes I took in college): What if there really was a functional matriarchal society; how might it run? Then there was a period in which I found myself copy-editing a lot of books on World War II and came to the realization that I was not, as I’d always thought of myself, a pacifist, and my ponderings on the limits of pacifism combined with the other threads to manifest my protagonist, the Kel Nira, and the situation in which she finds herself.

Give us an insight into your main character. What does she do that is so special? As chief of the Healers’ Order, the Kel Nira is a member of her country’s ruling council, but she’s not all that interested in ruling–her devotion is to her Order and its compassionate mission above all. She has defined herself completely in terms of this vocation for a long time, and it’s a shock when circumstances awaken her to a new understanding of herself. So not only does she have to contend with the invaders of her country and conflicts with other members of the ruling council, but she also finds herself facing some very uncomfortable personal truths.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why? Definitely the Kel Nira. She embodies a lot of the qualities I admire (but don’t actually possess, at least nowhere near as much as I’d like)–emotional and physical strength, grace under pressure, discipline and dedication–but she also has vulnerabilities and challenges ranging from dyslexia to workaholism to major identity issues.

How about your least favorite character? What makes them less appealing to you? My antagonist, Prince Dursten, has an extreme us-versus-them worldview (among other issues). If you’re part of his “us,” he is the soul of charm, generosity, and nobility. The problem is that his “us” is very small–and that, I think, is the reason for so many problems in the real world, too.

How much research did you have to do for this book? Any travel involved? I had already done a lot of research on pre-industrial cultures, since I’d written a number of nonfiction books about various ancient and medieval societies, and that research definitely fed into The Healer’s Choice. None of the peoples in the book are entirely analogous to any specific historical groups, but the Kel Nira’s people have some similarities to ancient Germanic and Celtic cultures, while Prince Dursten’s have elements drawn from the Roman Empire, ancient India, and a few other times and places. Most of these similarities, however, were not included deliberately; they just filtered through my subconscious as I was writing. The two areas I did have to deliberately research were medical procedures and military techniques, neither of which are areas in which I have any sort of expertise.

What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book? Aside from just sticking with the whole process, I think the most challenging thing was the world building. Perhaps because of my background of researching and writing social history, I always thought of The Healer’s Choice as a historical novel in a way–and it really would have been one, if I had been able to find a historical time and place in which my characters could have played the roles they play and been in the situation they’re in. It would have been much easier for me to research a particular culture’s games, dances, funeral practices, and so on, than to have to make all of that up!

Which writers inspire you? The big three for me are Terry Pratchett, Jane Austen, and Shakespeare; after that, in no particular order (except that I’m listing novelists first, then poets), are Charlotte Bronte, Tolkien, Patrick O’Brian, Elizabeth Peters, Lois McMaster Bujold, Isabel Allende, Philip Pullman, Marian Zimmer Bradley and Diana Paxson, Marie de France, Sir Philip Sidney, William Butler Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Dylan Thomas, and A.E. Stallings.

What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter or a pantser? If I’m writing nonfiction, I do quite a bit of planning and formal outlining. My fiction, though, generally starts with some situation with a character or two and then grows from there. It’s a kind of organic cinema: after the initial idea grabs me, I see various scenes playing like a movie in my head, and I do my best to transcribe the dialogue and describe the action. I often have an idea of the direction the characters are going, but I frequently have to run to keep up with them, and they sometimes head off in directions that completely surprise me.

Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)? I drink a lot of coffee while I’m working, which is not so strange for a writer, except that I stick with mostly decaf. Also, I tend not to visualize the physical appearance of my characters in detail, but I do “voice-cast” most of them–for example, I hear the Kel Nira’s voice as Cate Blanchett’s in the Lord of the Rings movies or as Mira Furlan’s in Babylon 5.

What are you working on at the moment? My main project is a follow-up to The Healer’s Choice, currently titled The Healer’s Curse. I’ve also got a few steampunk stories in the works.

How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend? I have always loved names–their meanings, their history, their connotations, their sounds. As a grade-schooler and teenager I checked baby-name books out of the library all the time, just because I was so fascinated by names, and I was always envious of the girls in my class who had unusual ones (Zane, Darcy, Chloe, and Eleni are some I remember). It’s not surprising, then, that I take a lot of care with naming my characters. In my epic fantasy, part of the world building I do is setting up language parameters and naming conventions. Within those guidelines, I then create names that I like the sound of. For example, one of the cultures in The Healer’s Choice has an important legendary figure named Vallar, and so “Val,” from his name, turns up as an element in the names of my secondary protagonist, Corvalen, and his heir, Torval. Names are also significant in The Healer’s Choice by their absence: the leaders of Sharhaya, the country at the center of the novel, relinquish their names and go by title alone, similar to the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama in our world.

When did you decide to become a writer? I started writing poems and stories when I was seven because I just couldn’t help myself, and I’ve never stopped. As with most writers, I think, there are stories and characters in my heart and head that I’ve just got to get onto paper (or into pixels), or I feel I’ll burst. At some point, though, I suppose we do make a more or less conscious decision to publish our work in some form. With me it started by passing out stories to my friends in junior high and then submitting to magazines in high school. In college I had an interdisciplinary arts major with a dual concentration in music and writing, so I suppose that’s when I really decided that writing would form a major component of my professional life.

Where do your ideas come from? I get ideas from all over the place: history, folklore and mythology, dreams, random encounters with strangers, odd situations with friends, interesting quotations, overheard conversations, works of art, and all manner of musings on what-ifs.

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you? I generally have some sense of where the plot is going to go, or at least I have certain “marks” that I think I want to hit as the plot progresses. Mainly, though, I focus on developing the characters and their relationships, and let the plot take shape as a result.

Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why? I really wish I had been able to meet Terry Pratchett. His Discworld novels have meant so much to me, in so many ways, and I would have liked to thank him in person.

Tell the readers something about yourself that has nothing to do with writing. My favorite desserts are creme brulee, tiramisu, and key lime pie. If a dessert menu has all three, I will never make up my mind.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Keep reading, both inside and outside of the genre you’re writing in. And while the only way to get a book written is to sit down and write it, you do need to get up out of the chair and go out into the world, too. Pay attention: to nature, to landscapes and cityscapes, to current events, to weather, to words, to history, and, above all, to people and what makes them tick.

KHinds(color)scaledDo you have any tips for readers or advice for other writers trying to get published? Write the stories you need to tell; don’t worry about labeling or selling them until later. Get the story down, get it polished (revise, revise, revise!), and then you can deal with the rest of the process.

How can readers discover more about you and you work? Visit my website (kathrynhinds.com) and follow me on social media–I’m currently on Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest, and maybe one of these days I’ll finally start Tweeting, too.

Website: www.kathrynhinds.com
Blog: www.kathrynhinds.com/blog
Facebook: www.facebook.com/kathrynhinds.author
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/kathrynfhinds/
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/Kathryn_Hinds
Zazzle: www.zazzle.com/hermiasemporium

Dark Oak Sample Sunday: M. B. Weston’s A Prophecy Forgotten – Chapter 1

Fall is here! It’s the perfect time for curling up with a cup of spiced cider and a good book. Look no further than M. B. Weston‘s epic fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason, The Elysian Chronicles. Here’s part of the first chapter  of book one, A Prophecy Forgotten, to get you started:

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Chapter 1: A Message of Hope

Hoof beats pounded against the forest floor. Alexor concentrated on keeping himself upright on Jeleth’s back as they galloped through the woods. With each stride, the herald grimaced. The damp soil did little to mute Jeleth’s steps. Anyone a mile away could hear the clamor, but they needed to forego stealth for speed. Though a soft mist had settled around them, Alexor could see darkened shadows darting through the trees above. The odor of rotten garbage and burning sulfur—the familiar stench associated with their enemies, the mornachts—began to spread throughout the forest.

“They’ve found us,” Alexor muttered. He chastised himself for choosing a path through the woods. He knew better. The southern front was infested with mornachts waiting to ambush a single cherubian like him. He should have sacrificed time and ridden around the forest instead of through it.

An arrow whistled near the herald’s head and imbedded itself deep inside a tree. The prickle of adrenaline coursed through Alexor’s body, numbing him to the autumn chill that only a few minutes ago seemed to seep through his black breastplate and tunic.

Jeleth neighed and veered left around a massive trunk that blocked their path. The herald leaned into the turn. His sweaty palms gripped the silver-white, almost iridescent strands of hair that flowed from Jeleth’s mane.

Three more arrows screamed past. One nearly hit Jeleth’s long neck.

Jeleth took another sharp turn—this time to the right—to avoid another tree. Alexor struggled to stay on his back. His thighs stung with exhaustion from gripping Jeleth’s sides. Riding bareback on a unicorn who made his own decisions was no easy task. Normally, the herald could have used his wings for a balance. Unfortunately, his caramel-hued wings extended to twice his body length and made excellent targets.

Alexor’s hand involuntarily patted the brass cylinder that jostled around in the pocket of his maroon kilt. The buttons would keep it secure, but he still worried. Did their enemies know about the scroll locked inside the cylinder? Did they see Ahimus, the head of the scribes, hand it to him? If he died, would the mornachts search his body and find it?

They must not get this scroll.

If the mornachts found the scroll before he could deliver it to Seraph Zephor, it would destroy everything his people had fought for during the past 3000 years and endanger those under Elysia’s protection. Dying in this ambush was unacceptable.

For a tempting instant, Alexor considered leaping off Jeleth’s back, hiding in the trees, and then soaring into the sky. Though many frowned upon it, Elysia did not penalize soldiers who abandoned a unicorn who had agreed to bear them. Protecting the scroll was paramount, he tried to reason.

Alexor clenched Jeleth’s mane harder, resisting the temptation to bolt. He would rather die with honor than live as a coward.

The few moments it took for the herald to make up his mind were the only moments he had to flee. The mornachts’ sulfuric smell increased. Several of them scurried through the limbs above them. He could not escape through flight now; they would surely shoot him down once he left the shelter of the trees.

A shower of arrows flew past them. One embedded itself in Alexor’s leg. He let out a sickening grunt and twisted Jeleth’s mane in his fingers as acidic poison from the arrow’s shaft leaked into his flesh. He reached for the poisonwood arrow with his right hand. If he could remove it, he might survive.

He pulled his hand back. The wound was too deep. The poison had already burned into his skin, and its sting coursed through his bloodstream. The arrow’s effects would be irreversible at this point. Removing the barbed head would only damage his leg more, and he would lose his hand if he touched the shaft.

Conserve energy. Live as long as possible.

Reaching Seraph Zephor before he died was his only option. Alexor might have fifteen minutes, thirty if he was lucky.

“How much longer?” he yelled, hoping Jeleth would hear him over the wind rushing past their ears and the thundering hooves.

“Twenty minutes,” neighed Jeleth.

With one hand holding Jeleth’s mane, the herald reached into his pack and yanked out his long cloak. He risked half-way extending his wings for balance. What damage could an arrow in the wing do now? He ignored the throbbing in his leg while he wrapped the cloak around Jeleth’s long neck, tying himself to his steed.

“Take my body… to Seraph Zephor,” said Alexor. Both the race through the woods and his wounds had drained him. “Tell him that… the message from the scribes is in my left pocket.” He braced himself as Jeleth bounded over a fallen tree. “Tell no one but the seraph.”

“Or the officers?” asked Jeleth, displaying a unicorn’s typical lack of emotion.

No officers!” panted Alexor. “Zephor only. Alone.” The scribes had warned him about a traitor within the Elysian military and instructed him to tell no one but Zephor about it—not even the unicorns. Their desire for such secrecy confused Alexor. He would rather have announced the traitor’s name to all of Heaven’s Realm and bring him to justice, but he trusted the scribes.

“My mission was secret,” Alexor explained, “but the mornachts were waiting for us…” He took a few breaths. “…after we left the scribes’ library.” He groaned. The arrow’s poison was traveling up his leg. “Someone put them on our trail. Someone… with access.”

An arrow buried itself in Jeleth’s right hindquarter. The stallion whinnied but continued to run.

“Can you make it?” asked Alexor. Pain and fatigue muted his voice. Jeleth’s survival was now Elysia’s only hope.

Jeleth grunted. “I can make it as long as my horn stays attached.” Unicorns’ horns possessed healing powers so great that an enemy could only kill one through crushing, drowning, or burning.

“They won’t take your horn,” said Alexor. “Not while I’m alive.” He took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, and pulled his sword out of its sheath. The sword felt heavier than usual, and the herald knew he could not fight in his weakened state. He thrust the sword in the air, hoping a show of valor would encourage the mornachts to stay hidden in the trees. He adopted his fiercest glare, staring up the tree trunks that disappeared into the fog above.

The fog has thickened, he realized. The mist might hide them long enough to escape the forest without attracting more arrows.

Jeleth continued galloping, but Alexor could feel him favoring his back leg. The herald’s head fell to his chest. Exhaustion overcame him as the poison spread throughout his body. He worried for his guardian, Arch-Seraph Zephor—the only father he had known. Zephor had taken him into his service after his parents were killed in a mornacht raid when Alexor was just a boy. He wished the scribes had written down the warning for Zephor instead of just telling him.

“I feel you fading,” said Jeleth. “I can run faster once we leave this wood. Lean up against me.”

Alexor had heard that unicorns’ sweat contained some of their healing power. Maybe Jeleth’s would help keep him alive long enough to find Zephor. He leaned his head and body against Jeleth and wrapped his arms around his warm neck. In a few moments, the pain lessened and his muscles relaxed.

Soon, the swirling mist around them turned from dark grey to light grey. They had escaped the forest. Every part of Alexor’s uniform felt damp, and beads of dew dripped off his helmet onto his nose. The sword fell out of his hand. Jeleth’s speed would be more effective than a weapon at this stage. He shivered and tightened the cloak that held him to Jeleth.

“Hold on,” said Jeleth. His iridescent horn glowed bright red as he accessed his stored energy. He took off in a gallop most cherubians had never experienced. The herald felt as though he was soaring down the mountainside, something he never expected to feel on the back of a unicorn.

Alexor tried to control his breathing as they ran. He needed to keep his heart rate low to slow the poison.

A few miles later, the red glow in Jeleth’s spiraled horn began to fade, and his breathing sounded labored. Jeleth was losing his stored energy, especially now that he needed it to heal himself. Alexor hoped they would make it.

“We’re approaching the tower,” said Jeleth.

Even without Jeleth’s words, Alexor knew they were close. The fog may have hidden the southern front’s charred, leafless trees, but it could not block out the territory’s smoky stench or the scorched grass under Jeleth’s hooves.

Through the haze, they finally beheld the Southern Command Tower, an obelisk encircled by a gated wall. They were close enough for Alexor to see a lone figure pacing along the parapet. For the past few months, Zephor had been pacing more than usual, and Alexor knew his tidings would only burden the seraph more.

Alexor leaned against Jeleth’s neck, unable to move. Bodies of fallen cherubians, his people, lay strewn across the ground. Healers and other soldiers knelt beside the wounded. He and Jeleth must have missed the battle by half a day.

Jeleth’s gait slowed, and Alexor could feel the unicorn’s body quiver as he hobbled to the tower.

Just a few more minutes and we’ll be there, he thought. He felt too weak to speak. Hold on for a few more minutes.

Jeleth, sensing the herald’s urgency, let out a neigh and fought on until they reached the tower gate where he collapsed. Alexor, still tied to Jeleth, fell with him. He lay on the ground with his leg trapped under Jeleth’s body. He kept his hand close to the scroll in his left pocket.

Alexor, lacking the strength to twist his neck up, saw only a sea of soldiers’ black boots and maroon and black kilts surrounding them in frenzied commotion. Suddenly, the soldiers hushed. Their boots parted, creating a path. The soldiers’ fists hit their breastplates in salute to the officer who walked toward them. The black leather trim on the officer’s silver seraph’s kilt swished about his knees faster than usual. Seraph Zephor, Alexor realized with relief, was only a few paces away.

Zephor knelt next to Alexor. His face was as stoic as usual, but the creases around his brown eyes had deepened with worry. “Get me a healer!” Zephor yelled. The silver star on his black helmet flickered in the sunlight.

The soldiers stayed put, staring at the wounded herald with pity. They knew healers would be of no help.

Zephor’s nose flared and he flashed the soldiers a snarl only an unlucky few had ever seen. “Quickly!” he roared.

Zephor yanked a knife out of his boot and slit the cloak that tied Alexor to the unicorn. He pulled the herald out from under Jeleth and laid him on the ground. Only then did Alexor notice the damage Jeleth had sustained. Not one, but three arrows stuck into the unicorn’s side, and blood striped his white coat. Jeleth’s eyes were shut. He barely breathed.

Alexor turned his gaze back to Zephor. Rarely did unicorns die, and he did not want Jeleth’s death to be his last sight. He struggled to lift his right hand and crossed his fist over his chest.

“Seraph,” he gasped. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the scroll. “From the scribes…. Davian…was right.” His vision blurred. Only Zephor’s face remained in focus. He felt Zephor’s strong hands grasp the scroll.

“Tell the High Seraph…” He tried to finish the scribe’s warning, but his lips fell silent. Alexor, herald to Elysia’s second most powerful military leader, died with honor in his guardian’s arms. The name of the traitor died with him…

*****

Click here to find out more about A Prophecy Forgotten and its sequel, Out of the Shadows.

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