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Swords, Worlds, Compelling Stories: Part 2 of Interview with Fantasy Author Claudette Marco

June 20, 2013

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 2 of our interview with Claudette Marco, the author of the Satchel & Sword Trilogy of young adult fantasy novels. She continues to describe the behind-the-scenes process of writing The Search for the Saluka Stone, the first book, and also offers her insight on the craft of fantasy writing and her takes on a few franchises we’ve all seen or heard about – often.)

Author Claudette Marco

Author Claudette Marco

366WRITING: In The Search for the Saluka Stone, you use a wonderfully entangled family heritage to set up conflict – and fights to the death. Traditional family values – like commitment, devotion and courage – mix with wild generational pass-me-downs, like magic. Could you talk about how you handle family situations in fantasy worlds?

CLAUDETTE MARCO: The family unit will be part of many stories. It makes up the fundamental core of society. How the individual is raised in their particular family setting shapes her/his personality and how they will react to situations. With a character so young, Nevaline’s need to rely on a family as a rock for stability plays a deep role in her life. Her mother died at childbirth and her father disappeared when she was only eight, so she had to develop a unique courage in order to cope with the loss of that family structure. Luckily, Master Sjhong took on that role of family in her life. She relies on him heavily for support. He is not only wise in the ways of the world, but also in the ways of Mythics.

366WRITING: And Mythics is something that others in Nevaline’s family also practice, but not always in good ways, as Nevaline discovers.

CM: Yes. People in Satchel & Sword are able to wield Mythics, but must sacrifice much time in order to master it, so only a select few have been willing to do it. But she is willing to do whatever it takes to spend time with him, no matter how long it takes for her to learn Mythics. So mixing family with magic fit perfectly in Nevaline’s world.

366WRITING: What were your three favorite scenes to write in The Search for the Saluka Stone, and why?

CM: some of my favorites were the scenes with Master Sjhong. I have been a student most of my life, so it was a unique experience taking the place of the teacher. How would he react? What advice would he give Nevaline? A favorite movie of mine, which I have watched more than a thousand times, is Kickboxer with Jean-Claude Van Damme. As a child, I was so entranced with how Van Damme’s character trained in the art of Muay Thai with Xian, a teacher who used unorthodox methods of training. Not only did Xian train him physically, but also he was preparing Van Damme’s character mentally for his fights. Master Sjhong did not physically train Nevaline, but he prepared her mentally for more than just fighting… for life.

Other scenes I enjoyed writing are the ones with the character Farjon. He was a character with a totally different background than mine. I had to get into his mind, become him. How would he react to a particular situation? What are his motivations? I cannot describe more without giving too much of the story away!

366WRITING: You have quite a few fight scenes in the books. Looks like you have fun with those as well.

CM: I relished in writing the fight scenes throughout all of the books. I have always liked action movies and can feel myself fighting with the heroes. With sword fighting, there is a specific position, ways to hold the double-handed Claymore, and several strategies one must utilize during the actual fight that I had to keep in mind while writing them.

366WRITING: Readers wonder if you set the book in Brazil or the old European forests of the ancient Indo-Aryan world – you know, where some Amazon myths originate. Yet, the setting seems entirely made up. Can you talk the considerations you made to get the world right for your characters?

CM: The cultures of the Kordalis territories and the Caátlach Islands, their rulers, their societies, and the story of the Satchel & Sword Trilogy are new and unrelated to world historical events. Still, I styled and landscaped most of the territories of Kordalis and Feros Island in the Caátlach Ocean like Scotland would have been in the 14th century. Nevaline and Cairine travel across lush, green valleys, scale rolling hills, and trek over vast moorlands. Since the story is set in mid-autumn, the characters must deal with a lot of rain, as would also be prevalent in Scotland. Blackbern Forest is as how the magnificent Caledonian Forest would have been in that time, with an abundance of tall Scots Pine, silver and white birch, and oak trees.

In the second book, the reader is introduced to the Zoxica civilization. I styled and landscaped their island, Vusevala Island, like Tenochtitlán in the 15th century, with a very hot climate, palm trees, coconut trees, breadfruit bushes, and even maize fields.

In the third book, Nevaline and the others pass through the Chokunda Territory, which I styled and landscaped like Mongolia in the 14th century. The territory has a steppe climate, extremely cold with a brash, cutting wind. Not much vegetation.

366 WRITING: What are the challenges of creating dialogue in a world that doesn’t exist? How does the fact you love to write poetry help you with dialogue?

CM: Great advice I received was to tone down my dialogue in effort to make it more accessible to the reader. I worked hard in being more succinct with what I was trying to say through the characters. I avoided as much ancient terminology as possible. If I changed too much of the terminology, like names of foods or names of military ranks, then that would have slowed down the reader. But there is a different style to the book. The characters have their own exclamations, and the names of places, earthly and celestially, stand on their own. The reader can figure out what those exclamations mean and what those places are by the context.

366WRITING: You also wrote poetry through the characters, something Tolkien did, but with much different style and context.

CM: Since my background is poetry, I had to include some throughout the three books. Poetry adds depth to the character speaking it.

366WRITING: What can we expect to see in the next two books of the trilogy?

CM: Sea-faring battles! Political struggles! Adversaries of Mythical proportion! Nevaline grows from the trainee of the United Warriors Training Camp into more than just a conscripted foot soldier for the Amazonian army: she finds the path towards her happiness. To get there is the true battle!

366WRITING: What are four or five of the stylistic and technical “musts” writers  utilize to make fantasy work?

CM: It starts with Planning. You have the idea in your head. Great. Now, take the time to make outlines of how the story will finish, and the road the characters take to get to that end.

Time. Be ready to take a lot, I mean, a lot of time to work on your books. This is your passion so make it count.

Dialogue. Take every chance to describe your world in the dialogue, have somebody else tell the story as much as you can. When I read my manuscripts again, I noticed that it was troublesome when the narrator was dumping information without any connection to the action of the story.

Imagination. The greatest weapon a fantasy writer can have, or a writer of any other fiction genre, is imagination. A mind left to imagine greatness finds the path towards it.

366WRITING: For some reason, the easiest scenes to write in mainstream fiction often are the hardest in fantasy – love scenes. Any reason why you think that is?

CM: The fantasy genre plays to the imagination, and there is no better audience for that than children and young adults. Just as I will not write any profanity, I will not write any love scenes beyond the kiss. I prefer to explore the emotions of love and chronicle its development with different people that come across my characters’ lives. A writer must keep in mind who her/his audience is and write accordingly.

Nevaline grows in her understanding of love throughout the course of the three books. But, she must also contend with the high-stakes circumstances of her life. This adds a whole new dimension to the exploration of love and love relationships in Satchel & Sword.

366WRITING: Finally, Claudette, what are your quick takes on the three greatest sci-fi/fantasy franchises of the past 70 years, and how they influenced you: Star Trek, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings?

CM: Many would divide fans into either Trekkies or Star Wars fans. I think both franchises can coexist and be enjoyed by all! I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. I fell in love with the Star Trek franchise more and more after every episode. I also liked the Star Wars movies very much. Many have told me that they do not understand Star Trek, so they dismiss it. I tell them, “Love makes one do crazy things!” You can make yourself understand about the space-time continuum, sensor array sweeps, neutrinos, and warp cores if you love them enough. Science aside, the characters are memorable and their personalities accessible. What I enjoyed about Star Wars was the politics that saturated the Republic and, of course, the awe-provoking, memorable villain Darth Vader.

Star Trek and Star Wars are great science fiction franchises. My favorite fantasy franchise is Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. I had read the books in college and was excited when I found out they had been produced into movies. Once I saw them, I became completely enthralled. The artistry of the scenery, the perfection of the special effects, and the adherence to the story in the books more than gained my interest. I was so enamored that I even got a tattoo just like the actors did— the symbol in the Elvish language of ‘the nine sent out from Rivendell.’

366WRITING: Did that love of Lord of the Rings ignite your desire to write fantasy?

CM: No question. It was what influenced me the most. Just like Frodo, Nevaline is sent on a charge of monumental importance. Both stories contain magic used for good and evil, sword-fighting battles, and friends who help the protagonists throughout. But where Satchel & Sword breaks from Lord of the Rings is that Frodo and Sam go off on their own to try to complete their quest. Nevaline and Cairine always get sucked back into their society’s problems, making their charge much more complicated. Also, Frodo and Sam have somewhat of a guide in Gollum. Nevaline and Cairine travel by their wits.

 

 

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