Monday, December 19, 2011

M.R. Interviews...the creators of the Morrigan’s Brood series

Please Welcome the writing team of  Christopher Dunbar and Heather Poinsett Dunbar

 What is your most recent project?

Heather:         Our most recent projects are books 6, 7, and 8 of the Morrigan’s Brood series, plus a novella anthology that we’re putting together with some other authors.  However, our current project for sale is Dark Alliance, which is book #3 in the Morrigan’s Brood series.

Christopher:  I recently finished getting our first novel, Morrigan’s Brood, ready for a re-release through Triscelle Publishing’s new printer and distributor; it should hit on-line markets all over the world in six to eight weeks.  Like Dark Alliance: Morrigan’s Brood Book III, it will be available for printing in the USA, UK, and Australia.  The new Morrigan’s Brood: Morrigan’s Brood Book I incorporates many of the new improvements in interior content, typesetting, and layout that we had incorporated into Dark Alliance.  For instance, we added character bios, including pronunciations, an expanded list of gods and goddesses, and even a map guide.  We also touched up the content a bit, adding some polish where we needed it.  Because we were able to reduce the page count from 336 to 312, and because of the print pricing of the new printer, Triscelle Publishing was able to drop the retail price from $18.99 to $15.99.

I do more than just write… I am also responsible for the overall look of the inside and the outside of the book, in conjunction with our cover and interior artist, Khanada Taylor; however, I have also contributed to the drawing of some of the graphics, such as our triscelle, and for editing the maps.  I also handle the bookings for our book signings and design and print (or order) our marketing materials, such as our chapter books, bookmarks, posters, and post cards.  Aside from that, as Heather mentioned, I am helping her write books 6, 7, and 8, with two of the titles being Odin’s Chosen and Dynasties of Night… haven’t yet decided on the third.  Oh, and Curse of Venus: Morrigan’s Brood Book IV will be released in 2012 around Q3 or Q4, and Shards of Light: Morrigan’s Brood Book V will be released in 2013.

What is the strongest appeal for readers of this most recent project?

Heather:         I think the appeal might be that it involves beings that consume the life essence of mortals who do not sparkle.  I loved discovering all the different stories and ‘vampire’ mythologies from around the world, and I thought that it would be far more entertaining to look at history through their eyes than, say, the typical urban fantasy involving vampires, or Gods forbid, vampires that stalk teenage girls.  Then again, lots of authors say that they have a different take on vampires, but we tend to focus on how their hidden deeds could have created our current world.  Also, we like our history and mythology gritty and dark. 

Christopher:  Clearly, mythology, folklore, and history are appealing subjects for would-be readers.  Few stories take place during the Dark Ages, so our books present something novel.  I also believe that, once someone begins reading our books, they will realize and appreciate that we spend so much time with character development, enriching our characters such that, to the reader, they almost seem like real people, even though this one is levitating, that one is mesmerizing, and they all drink blood.

I think we also take a different approach to vampirism (yes, every author says that these days…), in that we don’t focus too much on what they are, but who they are and what they do.  So they drink blood… so what.  Does that make them monsters?  No…  Their deeds determine a good, evil, or gray bent.  They also don’t kill their victims, typically, and most victims don’t even remember the experience or have bite marks afterwards (some races heal their victims afterwards).  Since our blood-drinkers (most) don’t kill indiscriminately, and therefore do not suffer guilt or angst from blood-drinking (those who do kill indiscriminately know naught of guilt or angst), we can focus on more aspects of their character.

What can readers expect from your series?

Heather:         A lot of action, blood, political intrigue, and what we feel is an entertaining, historical backdrop.  Chris gives a better idea of what can be expected from the Morrigan’s Brood series.

Christopher   Our characters live in a brutal world… a world of our past; a world where mythology and reality collide.  What if blood-drinkers, beings derived from the gods and goddesses of cultures from around the world, were real and manipulated the events of mortals from night’s sweet embrace?  What if nothing were written about them or their influence on how events in our history unfolded because they wanted no knowledge of them recorded?  Why did Gaius Julius Caesar lead an expeditionary campaign to Britannia in 55 BCE?  Why was Pope Leo III persuaded to crown Charles, King of the Franks, as Imperator Augustus on Christmas Day, 800 CE?  Why did the Vikings begin raiding Ireland around the late 8th century CE and increased their raids dramatically for the first three decades of the 9th century CE?  Why did the French lose the Battle of Agincourt 25 October 1415 CE?  The answer to these questions, and more, is that a blood-drinker did it.  Interested in reading more?

What is the process you use when crafting your tales?

Heather:         Usually, we’ll sit together, after dinner, during lunch meetings, or while sipping on coffee, and we just sort of talk out various events and piece together dialog.  Then I go back home and start typing it out.  The strange thing is that the manuscript usually gets split into two or three books.  I know some authors who swap chapters or characters, but to me that confuses the voice a little.  If we write together, it feels like it’s OUR story, not my chapter, my character, my idea.

Christopher:  We don’t use an outline, though we do document our main plot points and where we would like to end, though the journey there grows with the characters, and sometimes we find that we end up in unexpected places.  While writing the first pass, we also sometimes follow a single thread of a plot line, though in the second and third passes, these single threaded plot lines will become woven into a tapestry, with each strand in its place.

What is your favorite character that you created?  Do you love or hate him/her?

Heather:         Probably my favorite brat is Mandubratius.  I guess you could say I love and hate him.  He’s such fun to write, but he’s also very demanding and wants to take up all my time.  I pretty much love any character that is complex and enjoys manipulation as a hobby.  Then again, I kind of love them all for different reasons.  It’s a little like being asked to pick a favorite child.  I’ll have an answer and then a few minutes later I remember why I love another ‘child’. 

Christopher:  Mandubratius (aka ‘Awvarwy’) would be too easy of a choice for me, so instead, I shall choose Maél Muire (aka ‘Máire’ beginning in Crone of War [book 2]).  Consider the role of women in 6th century CE Ireland, a strong Christian Ireland…  demure, married at a young age, devout Christians, husband comes first, a woman’s place is either the hearth, the nursery (raising the kids) or in bed making more babies, and a woman’s role was either as a wife and mother, a nun, or a whore… you get the idea.

Yet, her father, the chieftain of her clan, raised Maél Muire in the manly arts (fighting, leading, being assertive, etc.), which was contrary to the role of women at the time, though before Christianity, many women in Ireland were warriors.  In addition to her upbringing as a warrior, her aunt Sive and her uncle Fergus taught her the ways of the Druids.  During the story, this defiant woman refuses to marry, if not for love, and her role must be equal and not subservient to her husband’s, which both contribute to why at 26 she remains unwed and childless… much the ‘young crone’ in that day and age.

Since she is brought up believing that the gods and goddesses of their ancestors are real, she adapts when the supernatural is revealed to her.  She has a strong moral code, and she is not afraid to use force when necessary.  She does not fear the unknown, but embraces it.  Maél Muire also makes a great third point to the trinity created by Marcus, Mandubratius, and herself.  I love writing for Maél Muire / Máire, and I love equally how she has evolved over the next several books (we are writing books 6, 7, and 8 right now, and boy does she evolve…)

What are the advantages to crafting a series over a singular novel?

Heather:         I guess it gives an author more time to allow characters to grow.  Plus, you already know the characters, and it allows you to play with the world and how time and place can affect characters and their beliefs and viewpoint.  I remember once discussing this with Chris, and how after a few centuries, alliances would shift simply because what seemed important one year is a trifle a decade or a century later.  Writing different books with different universes would be a lot of work too.  I just sort of like building on what we’ve already created and making it a richer universe.

Christopher:  I’m lazy, and I would rather not create an entirely new universe complete with a different array of characters for each new book.  (I am laughing at my own half-truths…)  Seriously, though, to what my esteemed colleague / co-author / wifey wrote, having multiple books in the same universe with many of the same characters presents the opportunity to see relationships evolve, and perhaps die off, and for the reader to experience different periods in history.

When Heather first got me involved in what became Morrigan’s Brood (meaning the Children of Morrigan, as in the Deargh Du), we had envisioned several books spanning history, encompassing major milestones in the development of the global society, from pre-Roman times through to the modern era.  With books 6 and 7 being in the early 9th century CE, we still have a long way to go.

Will we write single-novels?  Sure, we plan to write a few, A Year and a Day being one, but I think even these individual novels will tie in, somehow, to this universe of blood-drinkers we have created.

What do you feel separates fantasy from fantastical horror?

Heather:         That’s a really good question, and I’ll have to go into my genre studies from my masters work to really fully answer that, or at least to give an answer that makes some sense.  Hopefully, that won’t be too dull.  Let’s see… according to my resources in reader’s advisory, horror is supposed to produce fear, involves a monster, whether it is physical and based in reality or is imaginary and exists purely within the characters’ imaginations, and there is a foreboding atmosphere that is supposed to make a reader feel ill-at-ease.  Classical fantasy fiction usually involves a magical battle between good and evil.  Good wins, and it’s fairly obvious who’s good and who’s evil.  Both genres have developed and changed a great deal in the last few decades.

Fantastical horror isn’t as cut and dry as horror or fantasy.  I think that the genre of fantastical horror involves a combination of these descriptors.   So, there may not be a clear cut team of good guys versus evil guys.  Everyone could be ‘gray’.  There may be a foreboding atmosphere permeating the story, and magic may be involved with defeating the ‘monster’ who may not be a monster at all.

Christopher:  I see fantasy as being more of a feel-good story, even inspirational, showing the growth of characters over a difficult and change-inducing journey; the end is generally happy.. again… feel good.  I think fantastical horror, which I believe is sometimes called ‘Dark Fantasy’ (at least we call Morrigan’s Brood Dark Fantasy, among other genres), intentionally leaves the reader feeling dread, fear, and perhaps questioning one’s sanity, or at the very least challenge perceptions they might have taken for granted.  Fantastical horror is still a journey, but it is one fraught with peril, and sometimes it is not clear whether those upon the journey do so for noble means.  Distinctions between good and evil are distorted, mottled, such that there really is no distinction.  I feel there are seldom happy endings in Fantastical Horror… though perhaps bitter-sweet ones.

What are your future writing aspirations?

Heather:         To be able to write and research fulltime again.  Short of that, I do love moving a group of characters through history, and I think we’re both ready to expand the Morrigan’s Brood universe a bit and involve some mortals and the fae.

Christopher:  In terms of what I can control, I would like to see how many books in this series Heather and I can dish out… can we eventually get to the modern era in Morrigan’s Brood?  In terms of what I cannot control, my dream is to see our series grow into other mediums, such as graphic novels, role playing games, tarot cards, and perhaps even a TV series on one of the premium stations… now I am really dreaming (more laughter ensues).

What author do you feel most influenced you?  How?

Heather:         Probably Morgan Llwellyn.  Before I read her books, I had no idea anyone was interested in reading about Celtic mythology, besides me, anyways.

Christopher:   It wasn’t just one author, but one series, the Forgotten Realms Series, I think, that has most influenced me.  Authors like Douglas Niles, Ed Greenwood (the key creator of the universe), and especially R.A. Salvatore (the creator of characters like Drizzt Do’Urden, Bruenor Battlehammer, Wulfgar, Cattie Brea, Artimes Entrerie, and many others), have inspired my interest in the Epic Fantasy, which has had a strong influence on Morrigan’s Brood.  In his Icewind Dale Trilogy, his Dark Elf Trilogy, and more recent, related works in the Forgotten Realms universe, R.A. Salvatore has brought together a motley group of characters from vastly different backgrounds who manage to avoid killing one another upon their many adventures across the rich tapestry of the Forgotten Realms universe.  I feel that by engrossing myself in his works and the other authors I mentioned (and those to whom I eluded), my reading experience has left an indelible mark on my story-telling.

What is the most influential literary character to you personally?  Why?

Heather:         Probably the Cheshire Cat.  There’s just something very complex and wonderful about him.  I pretty much love any character that embodies the mythical trickster.  I also remember loving Crowley from Good Omens.  Llwellyn’s vision and characterization of the god, Lugh Lamfada, and his son, Cu Chullain, are also faves.   Hey, does Ripley from Alien count as a literary character?  She’s pretty kick-ass.

Christopher:  How could it not be Drizzt Do’Urden?  A Dark Elf, born into existence, with lavender and not red eyes, while his mother, Matron Malice, casts a powerful spell; he only lives because one of his brothers dies in battle (matriarchal society, you see).  So, as this boy grows up, he begins to have an ill-effect on the society around him.  He must escape into the unknown vastness of the Underdark or die.  He finally makes it to the surface, but everyone fears him and / or hates him because of what he is, not who.  So he finds a far-flung place in the world and forms what will become life-long friendships with the most unlikely of beings, but all the while, he is hunted.

I think what impresses me most is the depth of his character, as written by R.A. Salvatore, and how his development is not an even curve… there are many, rather large, bumps on his development line.  I haven’t read any of the recent Drizzt books in about 14 years or so, but when I have a breather, I shall definitely pick up where I left off (my last book was The Two Swords).

Yes… I think I borrowed a few elements from Drizzt and the Drow in general, but these elements were also common with mythology from which much of the universe and the races of blood drinkers have been based.  Marcus uses two gladii, for instance (Drizzt fights with two scimitars), Deargh Du can draw down the darkness as part of their glamoury (Drow can bring forth an inky blackness), Deargh Du can fly (Drow only levitate, and not very often), and, under Felician’s leadership, if a new Lamia is sponsored, an older Lamia must die to keep the numbers balanced (similar to the Drow keeping control of the number of living male siblings, as I had described earlier).

If you could take the reins of writing for any existing franchise, which would you choose and why?

Heather:         I don’t think I’d want to take over someone’s universe or franchise, because I’d wind up changing their universe, and as fun as that could be, I could potentially ruin it for their fans.  That’s way too much responsibility!  I would feel the same way if someone I didn’t know entirely took over our little world.

Christopher:  I agree with Heather, in that I don’t see myself taking over someone’s universe or franchise.  However, I do see that I could benefit a franchise or universe if their more recent product has seemed stale.  I tend to bring an off-the-wall creative element to story-telling, pitching ideas left and right, and then ironing out the best ones of the group.

At some point, we may be in a position to expand our universe beyond ourselves through some kind of writing franchise.  The Morrigan’s Brood universe carries many possibilities for great stories, and Heather and I may only be able to scratch the surface in terms of what she and I together can write.  I wouldn’t be surprised if, in five years or so, that we might have a small franchise within a similar context as Forgotten Realms.  Who knows… (yes… dreaming again.  Keep dreaming…)

2012 Book Signing Event Schedule Thus Far

·         2012 ConJourConfirmed (Clear Lake, Texas from January 27th – 29th, 2012)
·         2012 Houston St. Patrick’s Day Parade FundraiserConfirmed (Houston, Texas on February 11, 2012)
·         2012 North Texas Irish FestivalConfirmed (Dallas, Texas from March 2nd – 4th, 2012)
·         2012 AggieConConfirmed (College Station, Texas from March 23rd – 25th, 2012)
·         2012 San Antonio Highland GamesPossible (San Antonio, Texas from March 31st to April 1st, 2012)
·         2012 Houston Indy Book FestPending (Houston, Texas on April 14th, 2012)
·         2012 Houston Highland Games and Celtic FestivalPossible (Houston, Texas from May TBD to May TBD, 2012)
·         2012 ComicpaloozaConfirmed (Houston, Texas from May 25th – 27th, 2012
·         2012 ApolloConPending (Houston, Texas from June 22nd – 24th, 2012)
·         Other events TBA

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