Yesterday, you saw my review of Rue the Day. Today’s the chance to chat a bit with the author, Cat Muldoon:
DE: Rue the Day’s mythological inspirations were intriguing. Do you find Celtic mythology particularly inspiring? Do you have a favorite myth, either in the Celtic or another pantheon?
CM: Oh yes I adore the Celtic stories, culture and music. It is difficult to choose only one story from that tradition. The music inspires me (when done well). While writing Rue the Day, I always had Celtic music going: Iona, Silly Wizard, Clannad, piobrach, Lorena McKennit, and others. That’s not mythology, you say? But often the songs are based on the old stories. As a matter of fact, a song about a human man taking in a wounded Selkie female and tending her wounds inspired my short story “Seal Skins” in WomanScapes, which got published on its first venture through the mail.
I love the Selkie. They are often called the sealfolk. They have a seal skin for water, and they can zip it off and take on human form. They often do this to enjoy … shall we say dalliance… with humans and known to be ardent lovers and fierce protectors. I have never lived near an ocean and cannot give any explanation (in terms of here and now) that I would find the Selkie so engaging, but there you have it. In Faerie (in my books) there are selkie as well, but they do not slip out of their skins as in the human world. They shimmer from one form to the other.
Celtic knotwork (interlace design) appears on the surface to be merely artistic, but there are deeper layers of meaning to it which I enjoyed playing with in the novel. The Faerie castle is an interwoven knotwork design, but spiritually, it speaks of the interconnectedness of all life. So although this is not from a specific story, it is part of the Celtic magical and mythic culture.
DE: Why do you think myths speak to us so deeply?
CM: Stories touch our soul and myths even more. They speak to us on a deep primal level. Also I believe they touch us because no matter who we are or where we live, the stories are similar. Oh certainly they have cultural differences and such, but they are uniting. Joseph Campbell studied the legends and myths of the world for decades, and he discovered that there is a common story among all humanity, which he called the “monomyth” or the hero’s journey. All the heroes of the world tread the same path of self discovery, and it is the same path that you and I walk when we accept the challenge and allow ourselves to become the hero in our own life. If this touches you, read The Hero with A Thousand Faces or The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell.
DE: Are you a trained herbalist, or did you research extensively for the book? What were some of your favorite sources on herbalism?
CM: I am self-trained, and I did no research for the book, which goes to say that so much is already within me that I did not have to look things up. I did check out some photos of rue and double-check my memory on a couple things, but that was it. I have no formal training. A brush with death from medication given me as a child caused me to seek out natural remedies. At the time, there was no internet and there were precious few books on the topic – and no, I am not THAT old. Also my spiritual tendencies to follow the seasons and honor the land and its creatures have led me to a curiosity about plants.
You asked for herbalism references, which I provide below, but there is a great deal of healing work in the book, so I am including some other references that may be of value. Also you can truly learn a method of personal shielding from the book.
Hands of Light by Barbara Brennan and Jos A. Smith
Magical Aromatherapy by Scott Cunningham
Complete Aromatherapy Handbook by Susanne Fischer-Ruzzi
The Aromatherapy Bible by Gill Farrer-halls
Energy Medicine by Donna Eden, David Feinstein and Carolyne Miss
Anything by Carolyn Myss
Magical Herbalism by Scott Cunningham
Practical Herbalism by Philip Fritchey
The Herbal Handbook by David Hoffman
The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism edited by Malcolm Stuart
DE: Will we learn more about Lynx magic in the next books? Will Aislinn have the opportunity to learn it and use it? The choice of Lynx as Aislinn’s house and the use of Bree are interesting.. In the Medicine cards, Lynx is the secret-keeper, and in the Druid Animal Oracle, Cat is a guardian, and I like the way you layered those associations in the book.
CM: Oh my, I am deeply impressed. There are so many interwoven aspects of the book that may go unnoticed by most. I appreciate your perceptiveness. In my version of faerie, the people are organized into clans which they call Households. Some are named after animals, such as the Lynx, and some after trees, such as the Willow. Faeries do not all look like shrunken Irishmen. They are as diverse as humans. There is a reason for this that I hint at in the book. But I digress.
I chose the Lynx consciously because of their association and also because Aislinn, our heroine, shows the catlike traits of her Household even though she has never known her true nature. Bree has a special role which I will not reveal. You know this already, Devon. Your readers will find out about him when they read the book. It will not be until the third book that she discovers how to use the magic peculiar to her Household. She will fight against learning how to use any magic at all in the second book.
DE: What kind of process did you use to world-build and create this particular land of Faerie and Selkie? Do you outline, do you create collages of visuals, and how did you put it together for this particular story?
CM: I created the world in my head and in my senses. Writing a book is a total experience for me, and I believe this comes out for the reader. I am mostly blind, so collages are a bit of a challenge, but I waited until the aspects of the world became clear to me before writing them. According to “the way it’s done” in typical fantasy, I suppose I should create a map, but if I did it would look a mess, and I feel my location kinesthetically. This also allows me to let you feel along as you see, smell and hear the world around you. I have notes about the land just as I do about the characters.
The castle is something I am particularly pleased with. Pity is that I’m not allowed to share that excerpt (at least not in written form) because of the publisher’s rules, but you can listen to me read that section on my website. The castle is a living organism, not a “building.” It also has an unusual shape. Rather than having the typical floors with stairs, it depicts Celtic knotwork. There appears to be no beginning or end. You know by the plants covering the walls where you are in the castle. The various rooms do not have printed signs, but there is a piece of what on this side of the mists we would call Celtic Knotwork with a design in the center. The kitchen door has a design of a pot artistically woven into knotwork, for example.
The first book takes place mostly around the castle and in the sea, some distance away, as well as at the elusive boundarylands between the human world and Faerie that are only perceptible when the mists are up.
The undersea world of the Selkie is hinted at in Celtic lore but not described. I had great fun considering what the needs of a sentient underwater species would be in terms of shelter, food and so forth as well as their sensibilities and artistic nature. So when you read about the Selkie home, you can gain a great deal of insight into them as a people, just as you can when you read about the Faerie castle.
DE: What is a typical writing day for you? Is it difficult to set boundaries, or have you organized your life to support the writing?
CM: I have another life outside of writing, so it is generally late at night that I get the chance to write, and I’ve been known to be typing while half asleep. Of course, since I use a speech program to hear what’s happening on the screen, this works out reasonably well. My dream is to be able to support myself from my writing and speaking .
DE: What advice would you give to writers early in their careers, who are having trouble making the time to write?
CM: I’ve certainly made the mistake of letting life get in the way. Goodness, I never even meant to write a novel when I wrote one! But even at that I did fairly well at my goal of producing a short story a month. Now for 2008 I’m going for 2 short stories a month written and circulating plus the 2 next books in the Undercover Heir series.
I would say set a goal and figure out what you need to produce each week to make it. Also be sure to read good quality books, some in your genre and some things you would probably never imagine yourself reading, because that way you can improve more skills and broaden your horizons.
I believe that the reason my book appeals even to people who would never consider picking up a fantasy novel is that I read other kinds of fiction, from horror to romance to children’s books to science fiction to the occasional mundane book (not my favorite generally), and it makes my writing stronger. I never lock myself into “the fantasy formula” or any other, because I read diversely. But it is only once you understand the structure that you can break the rules successfully.
And in case you’re wondering how I read books as a blind person, I get books on audiotape from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. They’re great but very behind. I’m still waiting for book 7 of the Harry Potter series and the last book in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. However, if you know anyone in the states who is losing their vision, please get them hooked up. http://www.loc.gov/nls/ will get you to the appropriate branch for your state.
DE: How does your tai-chi practice influence your writing practice?
CM: What I do most of the time would better be called energy-centered movement than the true practice of tai chi. When I take time in meditation to breathe or breathe and move, wonderful ideas present themselves to me. I have dreamed stories before. Two of those are currently in circulation (seeking a publisher). A “daydream” (waking meditation) also inspired some of “Seal Skins,” which will be a 3-part set of short stories that form a novel once I get the other two finished.
I take some deep breaths and expect a story before bed, and I always get them, occasionally in dreams, but one way or another the ideas are flowing more than I could possibly ever have time to write them all. I laugh at writer’s block, because I think it is something writers talk themselves into when they don’t know how to jumpstart their brain.
Breathing and feeling the connections between all things, such as experiences that happen to me, people I meet, nature, etc., I open myself to abundant creativity.
DE: Rhoedrie and Eliatha are two of my favorite characters in the book, and I hope to see more of them in the next two books of the trilogy. Would you ever consider placing Rhoedrie at the center of his own book, such as his time away from his homeland during his training? The hints about it in Rue the Day are intriguing. Or would you consider short stories with some of Eliatha’s previous experiences?
CM: Ooh you just made me smile big. Thank you! Yes I have considered both those options. The characters are so real to me that if the readers are willing, I could easily write a number of spin-offs. Both characters will appear in the next two books. Most of the people you have met in Rue the Day will be in the next books, plus of course a few new ones.
Let me pause here and mention that Rhoedrie is a healer who has spent time away from his people (who scarcely EVER travel away from their own) to pursue new methods of healing. He is just returning to Faerie as the events of the story unfold. He is an Empath, which for the uninitiated means that he feels the emotions and pain of those around him. Rhoedrie very much likes the idea of a book centered around his adventures.
Eliatha is the premier Bard. A bard in Celtic tradition is a musician-storyteller-historian. If you look to the tales of Taliesin (often called Merlin), you will see an example of a bard. She keeps the history of Faerie and has a love interest in one of the other characters. Although she may seem to be a bit of a “hot house flower,” she has a bold spirit.
Devon, what is it about each of these characters that captivates you?
DE: Rhoederie’s spirit is captivating. He’s an empath, but he doesn’t let strong emotions or his reactions to those emotions stop him in his tracks. He finds a way to keep going, to overcome obstacles, in order to find a positive solution. He’s not afraid to think outside the box, to find out how things really work rather than sticking to the status quo, and that’s something I find appealing both in fictional characters and in people. Eliatha intrigues me not just because she’s a female bard, but because I feel we haven’t yet seen the full range of her intelligence and resources. A bard has to have an extraordinary memory and the ability to communicate sensory details and enthrall an audience. Those gifts can be used in many ways. I want to see her actively using them more. So often in this book she is reacting instead of initiating, and my sense of her is that there are so many more layers that we have yet to see, which I assume will come forward in the two next books! After all, you can’t put it all in the first one, can you? 😉
CM: One of my favorites is Fiona, who is Aislinn’s bodyguard and helper. She has definitely had some adventures that I would love to let her tell. I am also quite fond of the Selkie Corlath, who at first has little use for Faeries but because of knowing Aislinn he must face his disgust.
DE: Fiona cracks me up because she’s part warrior, part favorite aunt, and that combination makes her endearing. I’m looking forward to seeing how Corlath develops. Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview!
Upcoming author visits:
Jan. 9 & 10: Hazel Statham
Jan. 17 & 18: Colin Galbraith
For the daily ups and downs of one freelance writer’s life, visit Ink in My Coffee.
If you need help in setting the goals for your writing career, check out the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions for 2008 up on Wordish Wanderings until the 31st of the this month, and join us in the journey meeting them in 2008 on Ink in My Coffee.