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Satchels & Swords, Amazonia, and a Dynamic 15-Year-Old Lead Character: Interview with Fantasy Novelist Claudette Marco

June 18, 2013

ALSO READ THE WORD JOURNEYS BLOG

Here’s the thing about fantasy novels: they touch the entire reading public in one way or another. We either love them or stay away, although if we’re being honest with ourselves, we have all been touched profoundly by fantasy stories at some point in our lives.  And still are – ever been to Comic-Con? A Trekkie convention? A Lord of the Rings movie? Or followed a Merlin story? No group of readers is more dedicated to their genre than fantasy readers. Why? Because the stories truly take us out of our world – and the craftsmanship involved in creating those adventures, predicaments and characters is expert.

ClaudetteMarco1Which is why Claudette Marco is well on her way to becoming a top-flight fantasy novelist. In her Satchel & Sword Trilogy, she has created a captivating world, some elements derived from 14th century Scotland, Central America, and Mongolia. It draws us in, gives us enough touchstones and references to match our imaginations with some “familiar” territory, and then her strongly defined characters deliver the goods with intrigue, adventure, suspense, powerful magic and a few surprises. She does it with a refreshing take on core values and principles, and with characters we will never forget. In the case of her Satchel & Sword Trilogy, that means irresistible 15-year-old Amazonian protagonist, Nevaline Scarcliff, a testament to well-rounded teen empowerment if ever one existed. “It’s like the Lord of the Rings meets a teenaged Xena: The Warrior Princess,” Claudette explains.  

Claudette has written all three novels in the Satchel & Sword Trilogy: The Search for the Saluka Stone, The Caatlach Islands, and The Fate of Kordalis.  Her first work was among the most compelling novels at last weekend’s Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference.

You can read an excerpt of Satchel & Sword I: The Search for the Saluka Stone on www.scribd.com. She also belongs to the fantasy-faction.comwww.trekbbs.com, a sci-fi and fantasy discussion board, and the feistier www.rantingdragon.com.

366WRITING: Tell us a little about your writing background, and how it brought you into writing fantasy novels.

CLAUDETTE MARCO: Growing up an only child, an impatient loneliness followed me like a trailing predator. I yearned for an escape. I found that escape in writing poems. It came so easily to me, and I felt relieved of a burden. However, I stopped writing poetry because many had mentioned the saying “Starving Artist” to me, insinuating that people who pursue a career in the arts are more likely to find themselves without money and without stability, if it works out at all. So I was discouraged from pursuing it. Along the way, I wrote short stories in school and I found those very enjoyable.

366WRITING: When that happened, didn’t you turn onto a career path about as far away from the inventive world of fantasy novels as you can go?

CM: I thought becoming a lawyer would be a stable, “slam dunk,” path. Of course, anything that seems too easy is often the incorrect path to follow, and it was. After I failed out of law school twice, I was burned out. I wanted to do something fun, so I became a dog trainer. But when the economic recession of the late 2000s hit, lessons came few and far between. I studied to become a high school Spanish teacher, but realized that I felt whole only in researching, synthesizing the researched data, and producing a written product.

366WRITING: And so you returned to writing.

CM: I started writing Satchel & Sword as a hobby, but I quickly fell in love with the process of creating characters, planning a story, and researching details in creating a new world. I also started writing poetry again.

366WRITING: Who/what were some of your literary and movie influences as you became enamored with writing fantasy? What did you draw from reading/watching some of them?

CM: When I was a little girl, my mother would take me to the local bookstore and I would get many fantasy books like Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy and Raymond E. Feist’s Magician Series. I, like many others, was, and still is, so fascinated with the Arthurian legend. Since the Merlin Trilogy is written from Merlin’s perspective, I learned that each character carries her/his own perspective of the story and that, as a writer, one must be conscious that every character will react differently to the story’s circumstances.  In Feist’s series, I was introduced to the theme that a seemingly unimportant person, an orphan named Pug, could influence the lives of those in power, and actually make a difference in the lives of many others.

Growing up, I was also very enamored with fantasy movies like Labyrinth, Return to Oz, and Teen Witch. I learned that a fantasy story could actually teach something to the viewers, and, that even though fantasy films are made to take us away from reality, it was important to show that the moral of those stories could carry over into our daily lives.

366WRITING: The planning and development phase for a fantasy novel is totally different, and more intense, than for every other novel genre. How did your process work to develop your worlds?

CM: When I decided to write the book, I sat down at my laptop and began typing. I have always been attracted to the idea of the Amazon society, a matriarchal society that worked towards a united society fostered by equality and the strength of the individual. But, that is the ideal, or, the last stage of a society’s development. So to create conflict, I began the story somewhere in the middle, when the Amazonian government has gained much military strength and territorial power, but whose leadership is problematic. Then, I told the main story from the point of view of someone in the lowest level of that government for the reader to gain a different perspective of the circumstances in the story. I wrote the bare bones of the three books in 6 months, and then spent 2 years editing them.

366WRITING: Briefly tell us about the story, without giving away too much.

Claudette Marco's hand-drawn map of Kordalis, the setting for the Satchel & Sword Trilogy

Claudette Marco’s hand-drawn map of Kordalis, the setting for the Satchel & Sword Trilogy

CM: Satchel & Sword I: The Search for Saluka Stone is part one of a young adult epic fantasy trilogy about the struggles and perseverance of Nevaline Scarcliff, a fifteen-year-old foot-soldier in the Amazonian army. She lives in a time of war and territorial unrest. She struggles with feelings of self-doubt and battles towards achieving her life’s fulfillment: to live the rest of her days out of the Amazonian army and in peace.

Nevaline and her best friend, Cairine, another trained foot-soldier, must wield their Claymores against mercenaries, enemy soldiers, and otherworldly. They also encounter a group of malevolent sorcerers called the Sables. If circumstances could not get any more distressing, Nevaline discovers her true destiny: she must kill the God of Verahain (Purgatory), Micdian, who descended to earth to enslave all in the continent of Kordalis and the northern islands of the Caátlach Ocean. To do this she must retrieve the Saluka Stone and use it to awaken and destroy him. Will she recover the Saluka Stone? Will she claim justice and destroy Micdian? Will she reach her life’s goal?

366WRITING: Your trilogy revolves around a 15-year-old warrioress, Nevaline Scarcliff? Why did you go with a young teenager as your heroine/protagonist instead of someone older?

CM: Generally, that is the age in which we begin to explore who we are. At this point, we have had some schooling, and we can begin to test our resolve when life’s big problems arise. Personally, I felt like I was beginning my life again when I began writing these books. I was going back to a time when I first began writing, my childhood, and I had truly found who I was and began exploring my potential, like a teenager. So writing my main character as a young adult was fitting.

366WRITING: Even though your protagonist is 15, everyone around her is older – sometimes, much older. What has been the trick to making this adult fantasy even though your protagonist is young adult age?

CM: I tried to make the core circumstances close to how they would happen in reality. Nevaline, though smart and resourceful, often needs help from those much wiser, and older, than she. Master Sjhong is a man who raised her since she was 8 years old after her father disappeared. He is a very wise teacher and shows her great kindness. He also teaches her how to open up her abilities in wielding Mythics, or, the magic of the Goddesses. He represents one, or all, teachers who have touched our lives for the better. These teachers have taught us how to handle the problems the world throws upon our shoulders. They guide us towards finding ways to fix them. This is not a story of child characters, for example, forced to organize themselves in a situation of haphazard self-governance without any adult presence, like Lord of the Flies, which was a great book. Satchel & Sword has adults influencing major parts of the story, which can create its own problems.

366WRITING: You also have incorporated cultural references known to our world, in sometimes surprising, always deeply satisfying ways.

CM: In the Satchel & Sword Trilogy, I touch on many different cultures of our global society which have historically been conquered, like the Scottish culture in the first book, the Mexica culture in the second book, and the Mongolian culture in the third book. I take some of the cultural aspects and a lot of geographical aspects of each, and interweave them into the body of the story. I will talk in more detail about this later.

366WRITING: You’ve noted that sharing touchstone themes with readers provides reason for writers to join online forums.

CM: It is a great reason for writers to follow forums, to share themes that people want to see more of. I belong to many fantasy/sci-fi/writer groups on Facebook like “Fantasy Writers” and “Women YA Fantasy Writers Writing About Girl Heroes”. It is exciting for writers to have a forum to meet other writers at various stages of their careers. It is insightful talking to them about their experiences.  It is easy to get lost in our work. Our eyes move down to the keyboard and then we look up… it is seven hours later! Talking with other writers is exciting. There is a great support felt with one another.

(WE WILL CONTINUE our conversation with Claudette Marco on Thursday, June 20, during which she goes into greater depth on the development of the Satchel & Sword Trilogy, her skillful use of historic cultural references when visioneering Kordalis, and the reasons why fantasy is such a popular genre … and always will be)

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