Archive for July, 2010

Character Interview — the antagonist

July 30, 2010

Today I’m interviewing Commandante Drago Zagdorf, the Empire’s chief investigating officer, who is the antagonist of the Iskander series novels.

TWV: Welcome to The Wildcat’s Victory, Commandante.

“I am pleased to speak with you, but do not like the venue nor its name.”

TWV: Yes. I’m sorry about that, but she did get the better of the Skathian Crown Prince and the Imperial forces she met in that novel. I accept that you were never in a position to be able to prevent those losses.

“It was very vexing to me. I had the responsibilities of an Imperial envoy but little power to go with the title.”

TWV: But I believe you were never blamed for any of the reverses.

“(Sardonic laugh) One must learn how to avoid blame if one hopes to advance in Imperial service.”

TWV: One thing that happened at that time, that have been a matter of some interest to me, were your contacts with Major Matah during the Novrehan Peace Conference. How well did old enemies work together?

“We were jointly responsible for establishing the security at the opening of the conference, She acted for Iskander, Tarnland, Lubitz and a few others, while I was responsible for the safety of the delegations representing the different provinces of the Empire. We had a common purpose in ensuring no one came to harm.”

TWV: But you left Novrehan before the end. Why was that?

“I could see that she was also exerting a great deal of influence over Crown Prince Jeury. He seemed to accept her guidance in matters that were to her and Iskander’s advantage.”

TWV: Good work on her part.

“I don’t dispute that, but something I didn’t want to remain associated with. Skathia has since accepted many Iskander products and armaments that are denied to the Empire. I saw that coming and feigned ill health to be recalled to the Empire.”

TWV: Perhaps a very good move on yours. You’re both equally devious in your dealings with your superiors.

“I deny that … categorically.”

TWV: Fair enough. But tell us more of your social contacts with Gisel at Novrehan.

“We were working late a few times. Several times we had dinner together in the Conference Staff dining room.”

TWV: I’d love to know what you two spoke of at those times.

“Soldiers’ stories mostly … a bit of our family backgrounds … We kept clear of secrets and delicate matters.”

TWV: Over the years you’ve both suffered wounds at the other’s hands. Did you mention that?

“I think we had a laugh about our attempts to use Jeury against one another during that precarious night of wrangling in his yurt – after the fight at Abersolm River.”

TWV: Who had the better of that?

“(Chuckle) We both survived.”

TWV: Over the years, have you learned anything from her …? Perhaps envied some modern knowledge she has?

“I’m sure she has far more resources that I do – except perhaps in manpower. But I am envious at some of the tricks she’s been able to pull.”

TWV: Such as?

“At the Novrehan conference she controlled a system supplied by Iskander security, and it turned out to have far more features than she originally described. It was to be as simple as a security badge that everyone had to wear, both delegates and staff. She presented it as a means of controlling who had access to the conference.”

TWV: Seems straightforward.

“On the face of it. But I learned that the badges could be traced by some advanced equipment in Iskander’s security control centre. There was a situation when a suspected assassin was prevented from getting into shooting range of the Archduke of Novrehan – the host of the conference. It turned out that these badges told Iskander Security where everyone was at all times.”

TWV: And the would-be assassin was arrested.

“Yes. He was.”

TWV: That was good, wasn’t it?

“Of course, but how did that seem to the delegates and to their people at home? Here was an Iskander device of great utility, that the Empire was unable to understand and duplicate. It was a huge black eye for us.”

TWV: More Iskander technology that people wanted for themselves.

“Yes. As if they do not already overturn our influence with the remarkable products they sell. I forecast this when I had my first clashes with Gisel Matah – I even told the Emperor as much. If we fail to control Iskander they will overwhelm us.”

TWV: What did he say to your prediction?

“He wasn’t pleased, but he didn’t have me thrown in a dungeon for sedition.”

TWV: No. Didn’t he eventually reward you with a title and an estate? Baron Zagdorf of Mallovik?

“Yes, I have an estate in Illyria, but I have been Ambassador to the southern Inland Sea nations ever since and have never been able to visit it.”

TWV: So you don’t know much about it … how well it’s looked after?

“It is close to my ancestral home, so a cousin is acting as bailiff and has written letters to inform me of its situation and needs. It is a quiet region of the Empire – I expect I will retire there to a peaceful old age.”

TWV: (Uh oh! I’d better not let him see my smile. He has a surprise about Illyria to come.) “I hope you have a comfortable retirement, Commandante. Thank you for allowing me to interview you today.”


Character Interview — Gisel Matah

July 20, 2010

For the next character interview I’ve managed to have Major Gisel Matah, the protagonist of my Iskander series novels pay a visit.

TWV: Welcome to The Wildcat’s Victory, Gisel. Appropriate to interview you here, since it’s about your victory.

“Yes, perhaps. But I have to tell you that I don’t do interviews. Most of my career is recorded in confidential reports in Iskander’s database. I may well be involved in covert operations again in the future, so the less my enemies can learn, the better. Those pieces of information you have included in your writing must have been leaked to you.”

TWV: Ahem. I see. I must point out that I have them on very good authority.

“I suppose Dirk Scopes may have leaked them. It’s just the sort of PR coup he likes to pull.”

TWV: You’ve never got on well with President Scopes, the head of Iskander’s Administrative Council.

“If you say so.”

TWV: I believe it’s well recorded. He seems to think you are engaged in a series of covert activities outside of your official capacity. You have been assiduous  in cultivating support among Iskander’s rank and file, as well as other peasants and workers. Do you see Iskander abandoning his policies of maintaining friendships with the monarchs and aristocracies of Gaia’s nations in favour of popular democracy?

“No comment.”

TWV: Many people suggest you will become a contestant for the President’s position in the next Iskander elections.

“Ha! That’s rich. When the Iskander journey started I was put down as ‘the Matah brat” who was only aboard because my father wangled it with the planners of the N-3 colony.”

TWV: You were very young – the youngest aboard. It was your wits that got you to your present position. Your wits may well take you further – you’ll still be young when all the present Iskander leaders of the arrival are retired or infirm. President isn’t out of the question.

“I’m a junior member of the Council today only in acknowledgment of my responsibilities as Skrona’s governor. When Skrona reverts to the Tarnlish crown … I’ll be moved to an entirely different field of responsibility.”

TWV: But you’ll still be Iskander’s representative in the Felger-Iskander Partnership – along with your husband.

“That’s not certain. He is being groomed to take over as head of the Felger Mercantile Corporation – the Baron is in poor health. If that happens, the Iskander Council will very likely opt for a new Partnership administration. It’s more about money and trade now, and not the revolutionary enterprise that it was in the beginning.”

TWV: And not as interesting for you.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

TWV: Let’s face it, Gisel. You are a classic stormcrow – you are your best when confronted by difficulties and dangers. I visualize you in Colonel M’Tov’s job in a few years – singlehandedly working Iskander’s covert operations to overthrow the Trigon Empire.

“(Laughs) If only the Iskander Council would give me a free hand! But it’ll never happen. Dirk Scopes would never trust me with the power M’Tov has. Let alone what it would take to even scratch the Empire. ”

TWV: But it wouldn’t be a bad fit with your own secret plans, would it?

“No comment. No bloody comment. If you’re going to lead the interview into international minefields I’m leaving.”

TWV: Don’t go. I’ll change the topic. You can play back the whole interview and delete what you don’t want made public.

“Change the topic to what?”

TWV: (Phew, that was close.) How about telling us a bit about your Iskander compatriots? The readers have met a lot of them, but sometimes they wonder what experience they had before the Iskander was stranded at Gaia. Some details about the Gaians that hasn’t come out in the stories would be good, too.

“You want secrets, I suppose. I’m not going to tell anything juicy about my colleagues.”

TWV: Well … there’s always the backgrounds to your relationships –

“Like Hell! You want to hear about my love affairs? Dream on.”

TWV: Whoops, she really did leave this time. I’ll see if I can calm her down and get her back for some backroom gossip about Iskander. Any readers have anybody they’d like to get the goods on?

Character Interview – Jady from my fantasy “Rast”

July 15, 2010

Since I need a need a new  tack for this blog, and I’m busy with my editor preparing “Rast” for release by MuseItUp Publishing in March 2011, I thought it was time to interview some characters from my fiction. It also serves as a way to show those of you, who’ve offered my writing  encouragement after reading the sorry tale of  “Nothing Venture” and the true story behind it, that I did persevere beyond those disappointments.

Before I start I should mention a few things about Rast. To my mind it stands out from other fantasy in a couple of ways. Firstly it deals with a conflict, setting a simple folk dependent on magic to order their world against a materialist invader – a disbeliever in magic, bent on imperial conquest. Moreover, it takes the side of the invaded party. When I mention that this was mostly written in 2001 – 2003 and the imperialist invaders are treated with a strong satyrical bent, you may get a sense of the author’s voice behind the story.

Secondly, the magic in Rast is not a jolly party trick, an easy crutch that might embolden some weaker soul to challenge the darker forces. Magic is one of the darker forces; or at least it can be if it’s not kept under control by the Drogar, the sorcerer king of Rast. It is also fatal to its wielder, building up harm against him like the over-dosages of radiation that killed the early experimenters into radioactivity.

So, on with the interview.

TWV: Welcome to The Wildcat’s Victory, Jady. Would you care first to tell us a little about yourself?

“Yes. I am Jady, of the family Soule,  the lineage of the Guardians of the Silent Forest. People call me the Soulingas, which means ‘the people of Soule’ which, in a way, I have been ever since my father and brothers were killed by Krachins in the forest. If I have no sons, the line of the Guardians will come to an end.”

TWV: The position of the Guardians sounds rather dangerous, particularly for one so young as I sense you are.

“It can be. The Krachins are simple creatures, but fully four parts human. They are too weak to resist magic influences that can turn them from their slow animal natures into mobs of savage beasts.”

TWV: To which the fate of your family can attest. Is that the duty of the Guardians … to keep the Krachins in check?

“To keep them from spreading their nests into the lands of Rast, yes, but that is not the most perilous duty.”

TWV: There’s more?

“Near the southern edge of the Silent Forest, up against the flanks of the mountains, lies a hidden valley wherein lie the magic Deepning Pools. No one knows what gave life to the strange fluids that lie in the hollows of the valley, but when the magic influences become powerful these living substances can organise and work to increase their fell powers. The best known of the threats are from the Siren Spells that fly out from the surface to look for conscious life and sting it into a trance. The possessed creatures will then brave any danger to reach the Pools and submerge themselves within its substance.”

TWV: Sounds horrible. What happens then?

“Excuse me, (shudders) but I’d rather not think about what happens when one is absorbed into the magic creature. One of my duties is to visit the Pools on the sacrificial nights to prevent the Krachins from offering themselves in sacrifice to form an alliance against the people of Rast.”

TWV: You have to go to these Pools?

“Yes. I must use my bow to prevent the living sacrifice from submerging into the Pool.”

TWV: That sounds frightening. Do you have any weapons or magic charms to help you in this duty?

“I have one family heirloom, the Gossamer Veil, that I can wrap about me to prevent the Spells from touching my bare skin. It’s origin is lost in the distant sands of time. Then my crystal tipped arrows have been enchanted by the Drogar so that they fly true to the target I aim at.”

TWV: That’s it? Nothing else?

“My pride, my sense of duty. Should there be more?

TWV: I suppose not, but clearly you are a heroine from a world far different than ours…
I hear a summons in the distance …
Yes. It must have been for Jady – she’s gone. I’ll try to get her or someone else from Rast to come and tell us more. Next time.

“Nothing Venture” 10

July 5, 2010

This is the last installment discussing what I learned from the writing and trying to find a publisher for the novel named above. The second version of “Nothing Venture” is the only copy I have. It sits on the very top of my bookcases where it cannot contaminate any of my other writing. I dragged the stepladder over and climbed up to fetch it down for a look. I was rewarded with a paper cut as I stuffed it back in the typing paper box – I guess it’s still resentful of its shabby treatment.

The opening chapter was the first problem I saw, it seems to present the whole introduction of the challenge to big oil through the eyes of a bystander. Instead of setting up the conflict, chapter one deals with the day to day routine and sometimes dangers that come from working with explosive mixtures and toxic chemicals. Could be exciting, but it’s not advancing the story.

I looked at a few more places in the manuscript and it did seem rather boring to a reader who’d not been involved in the effort. The arguments and political implications outweighed the characters, who were not presented in a way that made them seem alive. There was no internalisation that made the reader feel a part of the issues. Well, it was my second novel and reads like it. I hadn’t learned very much from writing the first.

Considering all its faults, it didn’t have too bad a run. After failing to receive any interest from larger publishers, who used to accept submissions over the transom in those days, it was appreciated by a small independent publisher based in Winnipeg. The lady who ran the company offered a contract and said she’d try to raise the money to print the novel.

This was definitely an earlier age – of innocent endeavour and honest toil. No Internet; no print on demand; no e-books and e-readers; and no pirates – but everything had to be financed at full business rates, editing. typesetting, printing, and distribution. My new publisher operated with money granted to the arts by provincial governments. Two years passed without a release date … the problem, she said, was that she was applying for money from the Manitoba government who balked because I lived in Alberta. Applying to Alberta ran into the wall of the publisher being in Manitoba.

Don’t you love all this ridiculous balkanisation? I came to Canada and became a citizen of Canada, not of Alberta. Too bad. Federal systems have to be the most small minded, parochial administrations in the world. Even today the attempt to create one single stock market regulator for the whole country – large enough to have real teeth, and no different in operation than every other jurisdiction in the world – runs into roadblocks from Alberta and Quebec. Encroachment into provincial rights! This from people who seem to care nothing for the general public’s rights.

Anyway – back to novel writing. After two years of this charade I asked for the manuscript back. Having run out of publishers, I entered it into the next “Find a New Alberta Novelist” contest and sat back to wait for the judges’ decision. This contest was real support for the arts provided by the first Conservative government under Peter Lougheed. It was one of the first things cut under the Philistine regime of Ralph Klein.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the next new Alberta novelist. Not that year; not any year. The arts scene in Alberta is heavily weighted in favour of the university art departments – but I have to agree that the judges were right in finding Nothing Venture less than compelling. It came home and hid in a corner. The copy I just looked at had a revision started and not completed. The ending climax this time was properly dramatic and concerned the real issue – here, the workers actually did refuse the shut down the refinery. I’m not sure what this last revision was intended to do to the assault by the police to evict them from Imperial’s premises, as the pages are too muddled and incomplete to tell what I intended. Someone was hurt in a fall from a refinery tower – perhaps the managers’ quisling who had been the antagonist.

I would advise writers to think twice before writing a novel that attempts to build up a local issue into a serious campaign against Big Power. Think twice about how they tackle a political issue that half their potential readers have already made peace with – and the other half have an opposing opinion. Make sure they write within their current level of competence – clearly I had many lessons to learn before I could have made Nothing Venture work as a novel.

I moved on to write novels that now interested me more. The Iskander series gradually took shape, and in an alternate world were far enough from current controversy and set opinions that their craft issues could be easier defined and resolved. As the writing of “Iskander’s Wildcat” progressed I decided to seek expert advice. The late Joanne Kellock was both editor and literary agent, and her critique pointed up a number of issues I wasn’t aware of. The one I remember most clearly was my overuse of passive voice. Overuse? I was addicted to it, a legacy of reading English tomes of earlier times, when the indirection was considered polite. I still relapse into it at times and need fresh eyes to find it.

We discussed my hoped-for writing career by phone and she remarked that my name was familiar. Surprise. How could she know of me? It turned out that she had been a judge for the Alberta novelist competition the year I had entered Nothing Venture. She remembered the story in some detail, certainly far more detail than I remember today, and it wasn’t even good enough to become a finalist. Perhaps the story had something to say about the world – or perhaps she had a photographic memory.

We discussed where it had failed. With the lapse of a few more years I had been able to look more dispassionately at the plot. I offered, “I think I wrote it from the wrong POV. I wasn’t well disposed toward Bill, our company president, and avoided much of his contribution. But it really should have been his story.” “Yes,” she said. “He was the one with the driving ambition and a future at stake. His passion for the project was greatest. I think writing it as his story might have made all the difference.”