Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Arthurian Fiction’

Today, I will be interviewing Arthurian novelist Nicole Evelina about her new novel, Camelot’s Queen, the second of three books in the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy following Daughter of Destiny. (You can also read on this blog my review of her two novels Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen and my previous interview with her about Daughter of Destiny.)

Nicole Evelina, author of "Camelot's Queen" about Guinevere's years married to King Arthur.

Nicole Evelina, author of “Camelot’s Queen” about Guinevere’s years married to King Arthur.

Nicole Evelina has spent the last fifteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. She is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.

Nicole holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in media communications, as well as accreditation from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a distinction that tests writing and communications skills, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide. Her goal in writing Arthurian fiction is to create a strong female protagonist in the person of Guinevere in the series. And it looks like she’s succeeded because Daughter of Destiny has so far won:

  • Book of the Year – Chanticleer Reviews
  • Gold Medal – Next Generation Indie Book Awards
  • First Place, Legacy/legend category – 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Women’s Fiction/Romantic Fiction

Short list – 2015 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction

SelectedLibrary Journal’s curated SELF-e Select module

Hopefully, we’ll find out Nicole’s secret for writing great Arthurian fiction here today.

Tyler: Welcome back, Nicole. I’ve been anxious to find out what happens to Guinevere, and I wasn’t disappointed in the second book in the series. The first book, Daughter of Destiny, focused on the years leading up to Guinevere’s marriage, which are usually fairly ignored by Arthurian writers, but this second book follows the main tradition from her marriage to King Arthur until Lancelot rescues her from being burnt at the stake. Consequently, you had a lot more material to work with here, but also less license to be wholly imaginative, so would you say writing Camelot’s Queen was easier or more difficult as a result?

Nicole: Thanks for having me here again. Always a pleasure! To answer your question, it made it easier and harder. Having more source material gave me more to work with, but I also had more to cull through and in the early drafts, I had a tough time bringing focus to the book because I wanted to cover everything. It also means readers have a lot more expectations coming into this book than they do with the others, so I had to keep in mind both the story I wanted to tell with what most people would expect, and if I was going to change something, give them a darn good reason for it.

Tyler: One of the most detailed sections of the book concerns what happens when Guinevere is abducted by Malegant. You made a lot of interesting changes to the story in this section that I thought made it very powerful. What made you decide to tell the tale in the way you did here?

Nicole: I felt like it was part of the tradition that couldn’t be ignored. Here I am telling this woman’s life story from her point of view, so there’s no logical way to skip over it without the gap being really obvious. I kept in mind the tenant that “every villain is the hero of their own story” when creating Malegant and defining his personality and back story. I wanted the reader to be able to understand why he did the terrible things he did and that in his mind, he was in the right. He wasn’t just some mustache-twirling villain who was there because tradition dictated it; he had an untapped back-story, just like Guinevere.

As for the changes around Arthur and Morgan’s roles, without spoiling anything, I’ll say I did that because I wanted to do something other than have her be his sister. When I eliminated that possibility, I had to think hard about what their relationship would be and how that would impact the rest of the story. What would make these characters still act in accord with tradition? Luckily for me, Celtic law provided the perfect answer.

Tyler: Did you have a favorite scene or section in the novel that you enjoyed writing?

Nicole: The whole section around Guinevere’s kidnapping is my favorite, hands down. But I also love three of the scenes with Aggrivane: when he and Guinevere talk after he comes back to Camelot, what happens after Lancelot is invested as champion, and their scene together right before the burning.

Tyler: While most of the characters will be familiar to readers of Arthurian books, you do introduce some new characters such as Sobian. Why did you decide to create her?

Nicole: She created herself, believe it or not. Originally, she appeared when Arthur, Guinevere and a group of knights were traveling around the kingdom, visiting all of the people, much like the famous progress Queen Elizabeth I made around England every year. When she popped into my head she was very mysterious, and much like I had to do with Arthur, I had to force her to open up and give me a clue who she was. Obviously, that section evolved over various drafts, but Sobian remained. I think that it is important for you to see someone from Arthur’s past and know that he had a life, lovers, friends, before he became king. She’s also an incredibly strong woman, one who adds to the court tremendously, while also helping keep the men in check.

Tyler: I think one of my favorite scenes in the novel was how you treated the Holy Grail when it is first discovered. Will you tell our readers a little about that scene and what your goal was with it?

Nicole: Do you mean the scene where they all see it for the first time? For those who haven’t read it, the grail changes form so that everyone sees it according to their own faith or cultural tradition. So a Christian sees the traditional chalice, while a pagan sees a cauldron or a drinking horn, depending on their background, etc.

It was important to me that whatever I do, I not take away from or slight anyone’s personal idea of the grail. It has been so many things over the years—a cauldron, a drinking horn, a stone, a chalice, a cup, even Mary Magdalene—that I wanted every reader to be able to see their own beliefs reflected in it, just as the characters do. Regardless of whether or not the grail actually exists, it’s a powerful symbol to so many people and I wanted my version to represent unity through diversity.

"Camelot's Queen," the second book in Nicole Evelina's trilogy about Guinevere, covers the years of Guinevere's marriage to King Arthur.

“Camelot’s Queen,” the second book in Nicole Evelina’s trilogy about Guinevere, covers the years of Guinevere’s marriage to King Arthur.

Tyler: I was struck that Bishop Marius plays a rather villainous role in the novel. It seems quite common in Arthurian literature, at least since Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, for Christianity to come off negatively. Do you think that’s a fair statement and why do you think the negative depictions of Christianity in the legend are so popular today?

Nicole: I love Bishop Marius. He is so much fun to write.

I do think it’s a popular way to portray Christianity. I’m not sure what reason other authors have for that, but I would guess it may have something to do with Christianity representing the establishment and people being tired of it. Therefore, they glorify the other, which in this case is paganism.

For me it was more a matter of exploring the tension between pagan religions and Christianity at the turn of the fifth/sixth century, which is when these books are set. Yes, Marius is evil, but that’s because there have always been orthodox and power-hungry men in the Church, no matter the time period (Cardinal Richelieu in the 1600s comes immediately to mind as an example of the power hungry). With the conflict between the old and new religious being what it was, there no doubt would have been those zealous souls who wanted to wipe out all trace of the old religion.

That doesn’t mean that all of them are evil, however. That’s why you see a bit of Father Dafydd, who is one of the good men of the Church. He originally had a larger part, but even with what remains in the story, I hope you can see that he represents the positive side of the Church.

Tyler: I also find Morgan a fascinating character, and I love how she continues to thwart Guinevere throughout the series. Will she continue to play a role in the third novel, and will we ever find out the secret of her parentage?

Nicole: Yes, she’s definitely in the third book. As of right now I do plan on revealing who her parents are, but because the book isn’t finished, I can’t 100% guarantee that will stay in. But I bet it does.

Tyler: I hope you do leave it in. I can’t wait to find out. You’ve also stated that you wanted to create a strong female protagonist in this series, but at times, I admit that Guinevere seems a little too hot-headed and even childish, and I think as the author you were aware of that since even Merlin tells her she’s selfish at one point. Do you feel like she’s always justified in her behavior, or is she just fallible like the rest of us?

Nicole: Oh no, she’s not always justified. She’s flawed just like the rest of us, which I hope makes her more relatable. If you think about the way she was raised, her selfishness makes sense. She was the treasured only living child of parents who suffered much disappointment and loss as they watched a dozen children die at various points in life. So from the beginning she had only to think of herself. Then she was sent to Avalon, which was an honor not bestowed upon many. Granted, while she was there she had to learn some humility and how to live with others, but not long after she leaves she becomes queen. This role elevates her above all others and helps her default selfishness kick back in again. It’s only over time that she matures and learns to see beyond her own nose.

Tyler: I know you have another book coming out soon not on an Arthurian topic but on Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for U.S. President, back in the nineteenth century. I admit I never heard of her until I heard about your book, so will you tell us a little about this other book and why you chose this non-Arthurian topic since I suspect you see Woodhull as not too dissimilar from Guinevere as a strong woman?

Nicole: Sure. I picked Victoria exactly because she is a strong woman and those are the type I aim to portray in my writing. I found out about her by accident. I saw a pin on Pinterest of a beautiful woman who caught my eye. When I read the caption, I knew I had my next book subject. It said “Known by her detractors as “Mrs. Satan,” Victoria Claflin Woodhull, born in 1838, married at age fifteen to an alcoholic and womanizer. She became the first woman to establish a brokerage firm on Wall Street and played an active role in the woman’s suffrage movement. She became the first woman to run for President of the United States in 1872. Her name is largely lost in history. Few recognize her name and accomplishments.”

I hadn’t learned anything about her in school, and I suspected many others hadn’t either. So I wanted to do what I could to restore her to her rightful place in history by telling her story. She’s a woman of many accomplishments including being the first woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street, the first woman to testify before Congress, one of the first women to run a weekly newspaper, and the first female presidential candidate. Her family is crazier and pulls more stunts than I could ever make up. (Truth really is stranger than fiction.) And while Victoria is certainly no saint, I think people will enjoy reading about her.

Tyler: Nicole, for authors, writing can be a lonely task and you work on your books for years hoping people will like them. How has your view of writing changed since you’ve now published these first two Arthurian novels and have you learned anything from the feedback you’ve received from readers?

Nicole: It’s been a while since I’ve thought of writing as lonely, thanks to the amazing writing online community, especially on Twitter. But I will admit to feeling a bit more pressure now that I know people like the first two Guinevere novels. I always wanted to end the series strong, but now I feel like I owe my readers a great story, rather than just owing it to Guinevere or myself. That’s both good and bad in that it’s motivating, but could turn paralyzing if I think about it too much.

I’ve learned from readers that there has been a thirst for stories about Guinevere that’s gone untapped for a long time. My story has been what a lot of people were looking for. But not all. That’s another thing I’m learning—no book can satisfy everyone. Readers will sometimes read things into books that aren’t there or that you don’t intend; that can color their feedback and there’s nothing as the author you can do about it.

Tyler: Thanks again for joining me today, Nicole. Before we go, will you remind us when the last book of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy will be out, and what your website is so we can watch for it?

Nicole: Thanks again for having me! The last book in the trilogy, Mistress of Legend, will be out in early 2017. I don’t have a firm date yet. My website is http://nicoleevelina.com/. I’m always happy to hear from readers by email, snail mail or on social media.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

In one word, my answer is sadly, “No.” A couple of months ago, I published a glowing review of Ravens of Avalon which I thought had redeemed the series for me, and I also liked Priestess of Avalon quite a bit, but I just could not get very attached to Sword of Avalon.

Sword of AvalonInitially, I was excited about reading this book. After all, it was going to tell me how Excalibur came to be, and I thought we would be making progress in the series. One aspect of this series I don’t understand is that there is no progression to the books. They are written to jump about in time. Priestess of Avalon takes place in the third century, then Ancestors of Avalon is centuries earlier, then Ravens of Avalon is set in the first century, and now Sword of Avalon takes place around 1,000 B.C. I just don’t get it. What’s the point of all this jumping around? Why wasn’t the sword then in Ravens or Priestess? There’s no real overarching plan to this series. I keep thinking each successive book should move chronologically forward, bringing us up to The Mists of Avalon, but there is no such plan. And I keep hoping for a sequel to The Mists of Avalon—I want to know what happened to Morgan le Fay, but no satisfaction there either.

But I was excited to read this book when I saw that part of the story would take place in Greece a generation or two after the Trojan War. I thought, “Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote The Firebrand about the Fall of Troy, and after The Mists of Avalon, it’s my favorite of her books. Will Diana Paxson connect the stories, maybe play off the interesting twist at the end of The Firebrand that Cassandra lived and had children—so that maybe she is also an Ancestor of Avalon? But no—no such connection.

Instead, there’s a boy named Mikantor who is saved by the Lady of Avalon during the burning of a village in Britain. She must hide Mikantor because he’s heir to the sacred kings descended from Atlantis, placing this books timeline after Ancestors. That’s basically the story. There’s also a bad guy named Galid, a chieftain who suspects Mikantor is alive and wants him dead. When Mikantor is a young man, he is kidnapped by pirates and ends up in Greece where he befriends the man who will one day make Excalibur. Together they will return to Britain. You can guess what happens when they do.

Galid is one of the least inspired villains I have ever experienced. Other than one or two successful dramatic scenes, there was nothing about this book that interested me. I found myself struggling to get through it. Every time I sat down, I tried to get back into it but after five or ten pages I was bored. The last couple of hundred pages, I could do nothing more than skim through and just read the dialogue, to see how it would all turn out, which was quite predictable.

I hate to say it, but Marion Zimmer Bradley is dead. So is this series. I hope this book has put it to rest so Marion can rest in peace. The Mists of Avalon was a tremendous achievement that changed modern Arthurian fiction—in fact, it is my all time favorite novel, which is saying a lot since I love Dickens, Trollope, Galsworthy and so many other great authors—but even though a couple of the other books in this series have been enjoyable, none of them are really very relevant to Arthurian fiction. I respect Paxson as a writer because I know she has skill from what she showed in a couple of the books, but I can only thinks she is just as bored with this series as her readers. No one will ever write another The Mists of Avalon, so it’s time to accept that and move on. Since it’s been three years since this book was published, I’m hoping Paxson and her publishers have realized that too.

________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

Read Full Post »

I have probably forgotten more Arthurian novels than I can count, so while I know there are dozens if not hundreds out there, and I’ve read a fair number of them, I’ve tried to pick the novels that have remained in my head for years, and those I see as extremely significant in shaping the legend in new ways even if I didn’t particularly enjoy them. Placing them in an appropriate order was also difficult. I’d be interested in hearing from readers whether they feel I left any significant books off the list or if they feel I should have placed them in a different order since I spent many hours debating this list and most I think could be considered classics of modern Arthurian fiction today, or at least of significant influence.

10. The Coming of the King (1988) by Nikolai Tolstoy. This book was supposed to be the first in a trilogy of books about Merlin, but Tolstoy never published the rest of the series, or wrote it perhaps. And admittedly, it was not a well-written or engaging novel, but Tolstoy did a superb job at trying to recreate the Welsh world that Merlin and Arthur would have lived within. He was obviously influenced by The Mabinogion, and is one of the few novelists who has used those most ancient of Arthurian legends as his primary source. It is worth a read for that reason alone and hopefully future novelists will come along to give us authentic feeling Welsh Arthurian worlds in the future.

9. The Once and Future King (1958) by T.H. White. I’ve always felt this novel was highly overrated and its writing style less than engaging, but it’s influence on the great musical Camelot which in turn inspired John F. Kennedy and is my all-time favorite film and musical makes it worth mentioning. Its merits lie in its humor, its fantasy, and its presentation of Arthur as a child, which also inspired Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. White is also the first novelist to suggest homosexual attraction as having a role in the legend, particularly in the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot triangle.

8. King Arthur’s Daughter (1978) by Vera Chapman. I believe this was the first novel where a child of Arthur, and a girl at that, plays a significant role in the storyline. Many other novels of Arthur’s children, and especially daughters, would follow and other novels suggesting that Arthur’s descendants live to the present day. This young adult novel is engaging and fun for all ages.

7. The Road to Avalon (1989) by Joan Wolf. Contains a love story between Arthur and Morgan, but also, it contains an interesting twist on the Fall of Camelot. Overall, this was one I couldn’t put down and thoroughly enjoyed. It’s historical and fast-paced and has an interesting take on Mordred and Constantine.

6. Merlin Novels (1970-1983) by Mary Stewart. More than any other novelist, Mary Stewart brought Arthurian fiction into fashion. Her three Merlin novels (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment) and The Wicked Day about Camelot’s Fall were a wonderful historical rendering of Arthurian times told from Merlin’s point of view. I read these books as a teenager twenty-five years ago, and there are scenes from them that are still vivid in my head. I reread very few books, but these would definitely be books to read time and again. (But avoid Stewart’s later pseudo-Arthurian novel The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995)—boring.)

5. The Pendragon Cycle (1987-1989) by Stephen Lawhead. The first three novels of this series Taliesin, Merlin, and Arthur are phenomenal books—I read all three in a week. Lawhead’s other three novels are a bit disappointing but don’t miss the beginning of the series. They begin in Atlantis and then follow characters to Britain and build toward the reign of King Arthur. The story is engaging and captivating throughout. Other novelists have also linked the Arthurian legend to Avalon, but none in such an entertaining and complete way.

4. The Camulod Chronicles (1992-2000) by Jack Whyte. Whyte went farther than any other novelist in trying to recreate the Roman world in the decades before King Arthur. He depicts how Camelot was founded by Arthur’s ancestors in the time when the Romans were departing and brings the story up to Arthur’s birth. I could not put these books down and read each one—they’re all around 500 or more pages, within a few days. There are six novels altogether, but Whyte also wrote Uther, and the two Golden Eagle novels about Lancelot, which were disappointing by comparison.

3. Sword at Sunset (1963) by Rosemary Sutcliff. This book is the grandmother of modern Arthurian fiction. It is the first historical treatment of the Arthurian legend depicting King Arthur not as a fantasy figure but trying to place him in his historical context as a war leader. I found the book rather boring, actually, but many people have enjoyed it and its importance cannot be denied. Sutcliff was also the first novelist to create a child other than Mordred for Arthur (a daughter actually, even predating King Arthur’s Daughter, although the daughter dies as an infant).

2. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) by Mark Twain. I’m not a huge Mark Twain fan, but this book is brilliantly written. In my opinion it leaves Huckleberry Finn in the dust. It is one of the first “time travel” novels in literature while also serving as a social commentary on nineteenth century America. More than any other Arthurian work, it has been retold in plays and films and spinoffs. But while many of the versions of it, ranging from Spacemen to baseball playing boys in King Arthur’s court are silly, the book itself is fascinating. Hank Morgan is truly one of the great characters of literature.

1. The Mists of Avalon (1982) by Marion Zimmer Bradley. No doubt, The Mists of Avalon is the best known modern Arthurian novel but it is fully deserving of that designation. Bradley took the legend to new lengths by retelling the story from the woman’s point of view and introducing the Celtic religion and its aspects into the novel to an extent not previously done in Arthurian fiction. As a novelist myself, this book had a huge impact on me, both in my writing and my spiritual beliefs. It’s one of those books that stays with you for life, and it may well be my all-time favorite novel.

Remember, I would love to hear about your favorite Arthurian novels!

________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

Read Full Post »