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I’m pleased to welcome back Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy. Nicole has been a guest here in the past when I interviewed her about her previous books in the series, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen. Reviews of those books and my previous interviews with Nicole can all be found here at ChildrenofArthur.com. Before we get into today’s interview, here’s a little background information about Nicole.

Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere trilogy

Nicole Evelina has spent the last nineteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome.

Nicole holds a BA in English and an MA in media communications. Her previous novels have won multiple awards, including two Book of the Year designations and the North Street Book Prize. Her non-Arthurian works include Madame Presidentess, a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, the first American woman to run for president way back in 1872, and Been Searching for You, a contemporary love story. Nicole is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. I’m delighted to have you back, and I have to say I was completely wowed by how you ended this trilogy. For starters, will you tell us why you decided to have Mistress of Legend continue Guinevere’s story beyond the Battle of Camlann?

Nicole: I’m so glad you liked it! My goal in writing the trilogy was to explore Guinevere’s whole life, not just the parts that include King Arthur. So, just like I covered her youth in Daughter of Destiny, I wanted to shed light upon her life after the fall of Camelot in Mistress of Legend. Guinevere was her own woman, independent of the men history associates her with, and it was important for me to show that in order to dispel the long-held belief that she couldn’t function once Arthur died. She still had very much living to do, thank you very much.

Tyler: To my knowledge, Parke Godwin’s novel Beloved Exile (1984) was the only other Arthurian novel to tell Guinevere’s story after Camelot’s fall. How would you say your book or your vision for Guinevere was different from Godwin’s?

Nicole: Oh, I loved that book! It was one of the two (along with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon) that really influenced my portrayal. I loved that Godwin made his Guinevere a strong, intelligent woman. It gave me the courage to do so as well. That being said, I didn’t think it very likely that the queen of Britain (SPOILER ALERT) would be taken captive as a Saxon slave as she is in Beloved Exile. The idea rang very false with me as a reader. I went in a different direction because of that, but also because of the backstory I had given Guinevere and her mother. I wanted to bring the series full circle by connecting her with her heritage. Also, it was important to me that she not seek the throne of Camelot, as she has done in other novels. After all she’s been through, my Guinevere is tired of politics and war, though she does get pulled back into both just by the nature of her former position.

Tyler: Your Arthur comes off looking somewhat weak and ineffective at the end of the novel? What were your goals in your depiction of Arthur, especially as a contrast or complement to Guinevere?

Nicole: I don’t know that I would necessarily characterize him as weak. He’s more lost and confused. Father Marius’ betrayal and its almost-deadly consequences have shaken him to his core, resulting in a king who is not only unsure of himself, he’s also for the first time being doubted and mistrusted by his people. We tend to think of Arthur as this superman, this all-powerful, almost godlike figure, but I wanted to portray him as very much human, prey to insecurities and crippled by pain just like everyone else. Whereas the events of Camelot’s Queen brought Arthur to a breaking point, Guinevere was able to use the calamity to strengthen herself all the more. In many ways, the series is about how two very different personalities process adversity. As we see in the previous books, Arthur can handle external political challenges just fine, but he is incredibly vulnerable when it comes to matters of love and emotion, especially where Guinevere and Morgan are concerned. Guinevere’s trial and sentencing and the role Morgan may or may not have played deeply affect both women, and in many ways that is Arthur’s Achilles’ heel. Guinevere, on the other hand, is more used to emotional upheaval, having dealt with so much of it in her past. As we see in Mistress of Legend, it is the external, political aspect of her role that she struggles with, despite her years of experience. If you think about it, that makes sense because she never intended to become queen, much less contemplated ruling Camelot without Arthur, so she wasn’t exactly prepared for the role fate thrusts upon her (once again) and we see her struggle with that.

Tyler: Did you find it easier or harder to write the parts of the novel that are not based deeply in the Arthurian legend?

Nicole: Easier. There aren’t nearly as many expectations involved in the parts of the story that aren’t part of the cannon of the Arthurian legend. That means I was able to let my imagination run free and use history as a guide to direct where Guinevere’s story went—when the characters weren’t totally throwing me for a loop, that is.

Tyler: I was fascinated by the role of religion in the novel, especially at one point when Guinevere decides to start praying to the Virgin Mary even though she doesn’t believe in Christianity. What kind of message about religion were you trying to convey in the novel?

Nicole: One of the things that was important for me to explore in this series is the conflict between paganism (in this case Druidism) and Christianity in the early Dark Ages. This was a very real, historical struggle that affected hundreds of thousands of people. I was able to use Guinevere’s paganism as a way to explore the old ways that were dying out and show the rise of Christianity through Arthur and his conversion from the cult of Mithras. It’s a well-established fact that in converting pagan peoples, the Catholic Church adopted or subsumed many pagan deities and traditions. One of these was the idea of a divine mother-figure. Paganism was polytheistic, and many versions included the worship of one or more goddesses, who were naturally identified with motherhood, given that is a uniquely female role. To lose that portion of their faith would be untenable to the people they were trying to convert, so the Church encouraged veneration of (although not officially, worship, but I suspect many common people did in fact, worship) Christ’s mother, the Virgin Mary.

Throughout the books in this series, Guinevere is highly aware of the similarities (and differences) between Christianity and her own faith. When she is at her lowest point, when she feels like everything and everyone she has ever loved has been taken away from her, including her own identity, she naturally turns to this mother-figure, just as we as children cry to our human mothers. At the time, she is in a Christian convent (and very hurt by what she sees as abandonment by her own gods and goddesses), so she seeks refuge where she can, at the feet of the Blessed Virgin. Some readers may note that in The Mists of Avalon, Morgaine has a similar experience, but I want to be clear that unlike Morgaine, Guinevere never considered converting to Christianity. She is very much aware that the Christian faith is not for her, yet she sees echoes of her own mother goddesses in the Blessed Virgin, and, therefore, finally gives herself permission to turn to her in time of grief, adding another goddess to her personal pantheon.

Tyler: Guinevere is not the only strong female character in the novel. She comes into conflict multiple times with other strong women, including Morgan, Evina, and Elga. Will you tell us why you included them in the novel, especially since the latter two are your own creation?

Nicole: While this book is Guinevere’s story, it would have been very boring if Guinevere was always right and always had all the answers. I’m seeking to portray her as human, so she has to have adversaries and foils, just like we all do. I also wanted to show that she was not the only woman to be reckoned with in Dark Ages Camelot, a time when respect for women was within bardic, if not living, memory. I also wanted to explore the different peoples of Britain at the time, so I needed a strong Saxon (Elga) and a strong Votadini (Evina) to compare and contrast with Guinevere. All three women have very different moral compasses and different approaches to power, which is part of what I think makes them work so well together, as well as what helps enrich the world of the book.

Mistress of Legend tells a new story of what happened to Guinevere after Arthur’s passing.

Tyler: Typically, after Camelot’s fall, we are told Constantine became King of Britain. You mention Constantine, but he plays only a minor role in the novel. What would you say was the state of Britain after Arthur’s death and what challenges did you face in depicting that situation?

Nicole: I think Britain would have been in total chaos. No one expected Arthur to die so young, and for his heir to die at the same time would have been unthinkable. There really would have been no blueprint for how to move forward. Add to that the fact that many, many power-hungry men (and maybe a few women) would have seen this as an opportunity for advancement, one which they would use any means to achieve, and you have a recipe for civil war.

One of the main challenges for me was that my story is one of women and they aren’t the ones history typically remembers, so I had to construct their story based on what might possibly have happened. Another challenge was helping readers to understand and remember the complex political situation of the time. It took me a long time to get it straight, and I have all the resources at my fingertips, whereas readers have only what I can reasonably put into the story without messing up the narrative flow. My answer to that was to try to simplify it down to a handful of key players and get readers truly invested in the roles that each person plays so they were more likely to remember who was who.

Tyler: I’m frequently asked questions about the Arthurian legend on Quora, and one question I was recently asked was “Why do you think so many retellings of the Arthurian legend fail?” How would you answer that question, and what do you think you’ve done to make yours succeed?

Nicole: Well, as with any type of book, some are just poorly written or constructed, but I think many fail because they simply retread the same old material over and over. That gets boring very fast. I have had purists criticize me for taking the story in another direction than the one they treasured/expected, but if you don’t add anything new to myth and legend, it can’t grow. As we see over and over in the evolution of the Matter of Britain, each author who has come down to us through time has added his or her own mark to the traditional story, fleshing it out, changing it to meet the needs and expectations of his or her time. This is what gives it life and keeps it from becoming irrelevant. As you can tell, I’m rather passionate on this subject; I actually wrote a book on how Guinevere has changed over time, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend.

Only time will tell whether my books succeed or fail, but I believe I have given them a strong shot at success by doing just that, taking the character of Guinevere—and with her, the rest of the Arthurian legend—to places previously unexplored. For example, few authors have asked the question “What was Guinevere’s life like before she met Arthur?” or “What did Guinevere do after Arthur’s death? What if she didn’t take the easy way out and become a nun?” I sought to answer those questions as my way of adding to the time-honored story.

I think two other things may help my books last. One is that I created a Guinevere who can stand up to the scrutiny of feminism and the #MeToo movement. She is a strong woman for a new generation. While she’s not perfect and she has her moments of being used (especially as a political pawn in Daughter of Destiny and Mistress of Legend), she certainly is no one’s docile doormat and she finds ways to make the most of what life hands her, which is something everyone struggles with. The other thing that I hope will help my books is that they are very much anchored in the history of the late fifth and early sixth centuries. That means they have a chance of remaining relevant as a way to experience and understand that mysterious time period, if nothing else.

Tyler: Now that you’ve finished your trilogy, do you think you’ll write anything more about the Arthurian legend, either in fiction or non-fiction?

Nicole: Yes, I do. I’m planning to eventually write Isolde’s story, which already has a good head start given that I have something like 40,000 words that I cut from Camelot’s Queen that help tell her tale. Sobian, my fictional pirate-turned-assassin, wants her own novel, so that is on the horizon, and I’m toying with the idea of telling Morgan’s side of the story, given that there is so much that happens with her off the page in this series. I’d also love to play with how she sees herself versus how Guinevere saw her, and I want to find out what else happens to her daughter, Helena, whom we meet in Mistress of Legend. I see each of those being their own book, so there may well be another trilogy in the future.

I also really want to do a series guide/companion guide that gives you a behind-the-scenes type look at the world of my Arthurian books and goes into detail about many of the aspects of my world and its characters. I think I likely will end up crowdfunding that one.

Unfortunately, none of these are top priority at the moment because I need to switch my focus to books that will hopefully land me a traditional publishing deal and finance these future Arthurian dream children of mine, which likely will all be self-published.

Tyler: They all sound like fascinating books, though, Nicole, and I’ll be eager to read them. But what projects are you currently working on?

Nicole: As I said above, I’m looking toward traditional publishing. I am currently researching sample chapters for a non-fiction proposal for a book on the history of feminism in the United States, which I’d really like to release in August 2020, to coincide with the centennial of women getting the right to vote in the U.S. On the fiction front, my next novel will be a biographical historical exploration of a little-known World War II heroine who was a French nun who worked for the resistance. I can’t wait to share her story with the world!

Tyler: Those sound awesome too. I can’t wait to read them. Thank you again, Nicole, for joining me. I have no doubt Mistress of Legend is going to be another award winner for you. Thank you for helping us see the Arthurian legend in new ways through Guinevere’s eyes, and best of luck with all your future books.

Nicole: Thank you. And thanks so much for your support and enthusiasm along the way. Friends and readers like you make the writing journey so much easier. I’m so glad we have been able to share our passion for the Arthurian legend!

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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If you only read one new Arthurian novel this year, make it Mistress of Legend by Nicole Evelina. Of course, since it’s the third in a trilogy, you may first want to read Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen. But what makes this novel stand out, besides Evelina’s wonderful writing abilities, is that it tells Guinevere’s story after the Battle of Camlann.

Mistress of Legend tells a new story of what happened to Guinevere after Arthur’s passing.

The novel opens right after Lancelot has rescued Guinevere from being burnt at the stake. Warning, there will be some spoiler alerts here, but I won’t give away the big stuff. Guinevere and Lancelot are pursued, and Guinevere is told she is pardoned and can return to Camelot. When she returns, she learns that Arthur had been poisoned so that he would not be in his right mind and aware of the “justice” being carried out. Arthur had not wanted a death sentence for Guinevere, but Father Marius went ahead with it. Once pardoned, Guinevere finds herself thrust into the role of being Marius’ judge, having previously dispelled justice at Camelot. Although she is more merciful than Marius, her mercy turns out to be for naught when Arthur must travel to Brittany, leaving Mordred in charge.

Of course, Camelot’s downfall follows, but despite the familiar trappings of the story, Evelina does a wonderful job of telling the novel through Guinevere’s eyes even when she cannot witness the events. We see the Battle of Camlann in one of the most moving and original versions I’ve ever read. I love how Evelina places Guinevere at the battle even when she is not really there—you’ll have to read it to understand.

After Camlann is fought, the novel is only about a third of the way through. Guinevere has many other adventures that follow. Yes, the traditional version is that she went to a nunnery, and Evelina does work that into the story, but we also see Guinevere return to her warrior-queen roots as outlined in the first novel. And while her husband, Arthur, is dead, other old loves are not. Guinevere discovers she is still a piece on a chessboard, her past making her a pawn to be played with by those now contending for power in Arthur’s absence and in the wake of Saxon invasions, and she learns how to control her destiny despite everything.

Not only does Evelina do a superb job of bringing life into all the Arthurian characters and often giving us new twists on their stories, but for plot purposes, she has also effectively introduced some new characters. Sioban, Galen, and Elga will long remain with me as favorite characters in this version of the Arthurian legend. Elga particularly fascinated me as a strong Saxon woman.

I completely enjoyed Evelina’s original take on the end of Guinevere’s story. She has given back to Guinevere, an often overlooked and derided figure, her dignity and endowed her with a true personality. While I enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy, I actually loved this one. In fact, I couldn’t put it down; I read it all in one day and was disappointed when I realized I was on the last page and there wasn’t still more. Evelina has accomplished what good Arthurian fiction should—not just a retelling but a reimagining that challenges and stretches the borders of Arthurian literature into new possibilities, granting it new meanings and new importance, and ensuring that the legend will continue to burn in our hearts for generations to come.

For more information about Nicole Evelina and Mistress of Legend, visit www.NicoleEvelina.com.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Today, I will be interviewing Arthurian novelist Nicole Evelina about her new book The Once and Future Queen, a nonfiction study of Guinevere as she’s been depicted in literature for the last fifteen centuries.

Nicole Evelina, author of “The Once and Future Queen,” is also the author of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy.

Nicole has previously been my guest when I’ve interviewed her about the first two books in her Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen.

Nicole 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 and Camelot’s Queen have already won several awards. But now she has come out with The Once and Future Queen, a nonfiction book about Guinevere.

 

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. I’m so pleased to be able to talk with you today. To begin, will you tell us what made you decide to write a nonfiction book about Guinevere?

Nicole: I was asked to give a presentation on Guinevere for Women’s History Month in March 2017 at a local library. I was thinking, “Ah, she’s not real. What am I going to talk about?” So I decided to look into how she has changed over time. The result was 30,000 words worth of notes—and a thesis that I thought was very interesting: the idea that Guinevere changes over time along with society’s views on women.

At a presentation the previous November, one of the audience members suggested I write non-fiction, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to take his advice. Besides, I was an English major in college so this was fun for me—like writing a really long research paper!

 

Tyler: Your book focuses on the literary record of Guinevere, but have you read any of the nonfiction works that try to pinpoint who the historical Arthur is, and even sometimes the historical Guinevere? How important do you think it is that we search for the historical counterparts of these characters?

Nicole: I’ve read a lot of books on the possibly historical nature of King Arthur as research for my fictional Guinevere trilogy. I particularly enjoyed Christopher Gidlow’s The Reign of Arthur, David Day’s The Search for King Arthur, and King Arthur: The True Story by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman, although I know that one is controversial. And of course, all of Geoffrey Ashe’s books. The ones on Guinevere are few and far between, mostly because it’s hard to prove she existed until we can prove Arthur did, as he was the doer of big deeds. I’m assuming you’re referring to Norma Lorre Goodrich’s book on Guinevere? I own it and I’ve read it (twice, actually) and I’ll just say it is best used to inspire fiction.

I do believe the historical research is very important. If nothing else, it sheds light upon a very mysterious and often misunderstood time period (the Dark Ages or early Middle Ages). It would be great if we can someday prove or disprove the existence of Arthur because that will give us clarity and, no matter what the answer is, will provoke additional research. Even if Arthur is historically disproven, I don’t think that will dampen the power of his myth. Look at Robin Hood; the best anyone can do is call him an amalgamation of historical people, but yet the lessons in his myth continue to inspire us. The same would be true for Arthur and Guinevere.

 

The Once and Future Queen offers an insightful look at Guinevere from medieval times into modern fiction.

Tyler: Who are some of the major and more traditional (pre-twentieth century) authors you discuss in the book and how are they different in their portrayals of Guinevere?

Nicole: Knowing that my target audience was non-academics who are interested in the Arthurian legend, I tried to pick works most people would have at least heard of and maybe studied in school. I touch on some of the key Celtic documents, like The Mabinogion and the Welsh Triads, and then cover the major medieval writers—Gildas, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, Layamon, Chretien de Troyes, the Vulgate Cycle, and Thomas Malory, among others. Then I moved into the Victorian Era with Alfred, Lord Tennyson and William Morris. T. H. White is really the one who straddles the traditional and modern for me, although he’s probably considered modern.

 

Tyler: Was there anything that surprised you about how Guinevere was portrayed in these earlier works?

Nicole: I think the inconsistency was the biggest surprise for me. While Guinevere is pretty much universally depicted as negative in the traditional texts, exactly how—her personality and motivations—and why—the author’s message and motives—often differ wildly, even among a single author’s oeuvre. Chretien de Troyes and Thomas Malory are examples of authors who depict Guinevere one way in one story or even a part of a story, and totally differently in the next or later in the same work.

 

Tyler: Who do you consider to be the first author to treat Guinevere in a truly revolutionary way and how does that author do so?

Nicole: There is more than one, and I think it depends on what aspect of the story and character you’re thinking about. I think Chretien was revolutionary in that he gave Guinevere and Lancelot a bit of a happy ending because Arthur never finds out about their affair in his version of the story. William Morris certainly was because he gave Guinevere a chance to speak for herself—although her “defence” really isn’t so much a defense as audience manipulation. Parke Godwin gave us the first truly intelligent and independent Guinevere in the 1980s. Sharan Newman was the first to depict Guinevere’s childhood and give her a fully-formed backstory. Of course, I like to think that my own novels have revolutionary elements as well—i.e., Guinevere being a priestess, Arthur’s marital situation in Camelot’s Queen, but I’m certainly not impartial. I’ll let time and reader opinion decide that one.

 

Tyler: You talk about Marion Zimmer Bradley in the book, although you don’t like her depiction of Guinevere, but would you agree with me that she is probably the biggest influence upon Arthurian fiction in the last forty years? How would you define that influence and do you think she influenced depictions of Guinevere also?

Nicole: Oh, most definitely. Even though others have done more for the character of Guinevere, Bradley turned Arthurian legend on its head by marrying it with feminism and focusing on the female stories. She also shifted the story from being solidly built on Christianity to being built on paganism with Christianity being a disruptive influence.

My books certainly would not exist without hers, and I’m sure she influenced at least two generations of writers who came after her. But I don’t know that that is true for most of the Guinevere novels that came out either in the 1980s or 1990s, at least the ones I examine in The Once and Future Queen. Looking at the timeline and the motivations of the authors, I think they would have written theirs anyway. Parke Godwin’s books came out either before or nearly at the same time as Bradley’s so unless the two were in correspondence (which I doubt), they wouldn’t have influenced one another. Likewise, Gillian Bradshaw’s novels and Sharan Newman’s first Guinevere book were published before Mists. The only authors who could have been reacting to Bradley would have been Woolley, McKenzie, and Miles. I haven’t read anything about McKenzie’s motivations, but I’m pretty sure Woolley and Miles both said their books were at least started before Mists. I think the trends that we see in the 1980s and 1990s to focus more on Guinevere and make her a strong female character were more motivated by the cultural shifts taking place and the influence of feminism than on Bradely’s work.

 

Tyler: I feel in the light of all the shocking revelations of sexual harassment and abuse coming out of Hollywood today that I should mention a similar charge was made about Marion Zimmer Bradley a few years ago—her daughter accuses her of sexually abusing her as a child. (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/27/sff-community-marion-zimmer-bradley-daughter-accuses-abuse) Given that knowledge, do you think it will or should make a difference in how we view her work and her influence? Do you think it will hurt her place in the Arthurian canon?

Nicole: I think it will affect how some people view her work, especially those who have been victimized themselves, and that’s perfectly acceptable. But I don’t personally think it should affect our views in the long term. Regardless of what Bradley may or may not have done, the work stands on its own. Its impact shouldn’t be lessened because of her personal life. The charge against her is disgusting, and I will admit it makes me wrinkle my nose at her name, but it doesn’t change how I view the story. If there was anything that smacked of child abuse in the story itself, I’d be giving you a different answer. Mists can be considered strange on many levels that don’t have anything to do with abuse but are related to sexuality, i.e. the Beltane ritual, the threesome between Guinevere/Lancelot/Arthur, Morgan’s lesbian encounter with the faerie, etc., but I don’t know that a logical correlation can be made between those plot points and the charge against the author. For example, you could argue that her depictions of sexuality were an attempt to modernize the Arthurian story and make it appealing to an audience in tune with the changing values of the time.

There are many other authors you could ask the same questions about, such as Orson Scott Card, but their personal views still don’t lessen their contribution to literature, except of course, if their storylines were to promote hate, abuse, or whatever they are charged with believing. If we took away all the art and inventions that were created by people who did terrible, sometimes unforgivable things, we’d be in a world of hurt. This is a case where separating the creator from the creation is necessary. I know not everyone will agree with that, and that is fine.

 

Tyler: You mention several other modern female novelists in the book, some of whom you think did nothing to help develop Guinevere’s character but others you find favorable. Can you give us some examples?

Nicole: I’ll give you one example on each side of the question. (You have to read the book for the others! J) I think Persia Wooley did much to advance the character of Guinevere. Her queen is equal to Arthur and very much knows her own mind. She’s even a sex-positive character without being portrayed as a whore.

On the other hand, Nancy McKenzie’s Guinevere is a throwback to the weak, indecisive character that we saw in Malory. Rather than acting from her own will and agency, this Guinevere is constantly reacting to the stronger characters around her, especially Elaine and Arthur. This dependence on the thoughts and deeds of others lessens Guinevere in the eyes of the reader, especially in light of the stronger Guineveres produced by other authors.

 

Tyler: As a male novelist of Arthuriana myself, I couldn’t help noticing the lack of reference to novels by male authors, especially the ones that are modern classics, such Jack Whyte, Bernard Cornwell, and Stephen Lawhead? Why did you choose to ignore many male authors?

Nicole: If I was doing an overall survey of Arthurian legend I would have included them—and I mean no disrespect by not focusing on their works—but this is specifically a book on Guinevere. My reason for not including them is that none of them really focus on Guinevere. She’s there, of course, but it’s easier—and I would argue more effective—to analyze changes in the character when she’s a main character as opposed to secondary or tertiary.

I do discuss T. H. White at length, as well as Parke Godwin, so it’s not that I abandoned male novelists when talking about modern books. But I believe the shift from male authors having total control over Guinevere’s story historically to female authors telling her story from a female point of view for the first time in the 1980s and 1990s cannot and should not be underemphasized. We know that men portray female characters differently than female authors do (just as female authors write their male characters differently than male authors do), so analyzing how she changed at their hands tells us a lot about society and the views of readers.

 

Tyler: You talk about how it’s too early to say what place your own novels will have in the Arthurian canon and whether they’ll have any influence, but how do you think your Guinevere is different from all the others?

Nicole: I feel like she’s built on the shoulders of those who came before me. There is no way my Guinevere could exist without those who broke the ground in the ’80s and ’90s and seeded reader acceptance of a strong Guinevere. And because I was raised in a family and society that taught me to the value of “girl power” (we can thank the all-girls high school I went to for a lot of that), I think my Guinevere is more aggressive than many others, much more empowered, and determined to have her own way. That is both a plus and a negative for her, as it also means she’s very self-centered. I also think the relationships she has with other characters in my books—especially Aggrivane and Morgan—help set her apart from previous versions because they put her in unusual situations and present her with challenges no other Guinevere has had to react to.

 

Tyler: When can we expect the final volume of your trilogy to be published? Any hint at how Guinevere will fare in it? Will readers be surprised by the end?

Nicole: I am determined that it will be published in 2018. I’ve had a partial draft written since 2013, but with my change from the traditional publishing path to independent publishing and all the work that has entailed, I haven’t had as much time to focus on it as I would like. Within the last year, I finally figured out what it was missing (oh you know, most of the middle of the book). Now I just have to make that happen, which is easier said than done, especially now that I know how much people like the first two books.

I will tell you that after the battle of Camlann and the fall of Camelot, Guinevere heads north into her mother’s native Votadini homelands to try to figure out who she is now that Camelot is gone. With her husband and many of her friends now dead, being a Votadini is the only bit of identity she has left, and it ends up propelling her into a new stage in life, where her skills both in the political arena and on the battlefield have the potential to change history. Obviously, Lancelot is a huge part of the story, as is Morgan, but you’ll also see a lot of characters reemerge that might not expect—Mayda, Elga, Accolon, and others who were bit players in previous novels now come to the fore. And there is one that I’m not going to tell you about, but I’ve been waiting years to write his comeback!

I’ve known all along how the series would end. I think some people will be surprised and possibly irritated by what happens, but I think others will find it very satisfying. Hopefully, more of the latter! I will say that despite all Guinevere has gone through and will go through in this book, Mistress of Legend has a happy ending…at least as happy as any Arthurian story can be.

 

Tyler: What do you think Guinevere will look like in future books and films?

Nicole: I think there is no telling, but that is a good thing. That means she can be anyone or anything society needs her to be. Personally, I hope she continues to be a strong woman who fights for herself and for what is right. I’d love to see more historical fiction/historical fantasy authors delve into what life was like for Celtic women in post-Roman Britain using her story as a basis, especially if archeology continues to point to that historical period being the most likely for Arthur to have lived. I’ve done that somewhat, but my skills and education have their limitations. I’d love to see what a true expert can do.

I do speculate a little on how Guinevere might change in the future in the conclusion to The Once and Future Queen. I can imagine her becoming a person of color (yes, I know, the TV show Merlin did that already, but I mean more regularly), perhaps even gay or transgender. For those of us used to traditional portrayals of her, that might seem like a leap, but for a long time so did a strong Guinevere. A friend of mine just posted on Twitter the other day that she’s reading a comic book called, oddly enough, The Once and Future Queen, in which Arthur is a gay woman. That means her relationship with Guinevere will be non-traditional. So in many ways, the evolution is happening right before our eyes.

 

Tyler: Thanks for all that information, Nicole. Since it’s so much fun to speculate, if the historical Guinevere could be here with us today and you could only ask her one question, what would it be?

 

Nicole: The first thing that popped into my head was “Was Arthur worth it?” but upon serious reflection, I think I’d ask her where it all went wrong. By that I mean the dream of Camelot and a united Britain, but she could take it however she likes.

 

Tyler: Thank you again for joining me today, Nicole. It was a very informative discussion. Before we go, will you let our readers know where they can get copies of The Once and Future Queen?

Nicole: Thanks again for having me. You are too generous with your time.

Here are the links to the major online retailers:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Once-Future-Queen-Guinevere-Arthurian/dp/0996763244

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-once-and-future-queen-nicole-evelina/1127289906

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-once-and-future-queen-4

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-once-and-future-queen-guinevere-in-arthurian-legend/id1314772771?mt=11

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Nicole_Evelina_The_Once_and_Future_Queen?id=nEM_DwAAQBAJ&hl=en

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/755384

 

Tyler: It’s been a pleasure, Nicole. Good luck with The Once and Future Queen, and I’ll look forward to talking to you again when Mistress of Legend is published.

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I absolutely love the title of Nicole Evelina’s new scholarly book The Once and Future Queen. Although there are no legends claiming Guinevere will return like there are of Arthur, she is Arthur’s counterpart and deserves equal treatment. To date, Guinevere has not received anywhere near the amount of attention, much less full-length studies of her character as Arthur has. In fact, the only full-length book on her I’m aware of, Norma Lorre Goodrich’s Guinevere, is a mish-mash of pseudo historicity that must be taken with a grain of salt. Nicole Evelina, however, doesn’t delve into trying to claim whether or not Guinevere was historical. Instead, she takes a more scholarly and practical approach by looking at how Guinevere has been treated throughout literature from the earliest Welsh Triads to present day novels, including her own.

The Once and Future Queen offers an insightful look at Guinevere from medieval times into modern fiction.

Evelina is herself the author of a trilogy about Guinevere, consisting of Daughter of Destiny, Camelot’s Queen, and the upcoming Mistress of Legend. Her interest in Guinevere, as she states, stems from a love for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel The Mists of Avalon and her treatment of Morgan le Fay, but also from a dislike for how Bradley portrayed Guinevere.

Evelina makes some fascinating points about how Guinevere has been depicted in literature, pointing out the significance of Guinevere from the early mention in The Welsh Triads where it is clear that one of the causes for the Battle of Camlann was the blow she struck to her sister Gwenhwyvach. Not surprisingly, as Evelina surveys the medieval works about Guinevere, she is struck by how frequently sexist they are.

One point she makes when she gets to the works of the Renaissance—or lack of Arthurian works for this period—is that the lack of work probably stems from the Protestant Reformation and the effort to rid England of all things that reeked of Catholicism. The Holy Grail legends would certainly be included there, as well as Guinevere and Lancelot ending up in a nunnery and a monastery. I have always been aware that the Renaissance didn’t know what to do with King Arthur, but I had never considered why before, so I thought this point was very illuminating.

Evelina goes on to explore Guinevere’s treatment in more recent classics like Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. For me, however, being a writer of Arthurian novels myself, the most interesting chapters were those on modern Arthurian fiction. While Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1982) may be considered the mother of feminism in the Arthurian legend, not surprisingly, Evelina faults Bradley for not presenting Guinevere as a strong female character. Evelina also points out that, surprisingly, some other women novelists of the late twentieth century also failed to provide a positive depiction of Guinevere, including Nancy McKenzie and Mary Stewart.

Although I try to read every Arthurian novel I can, there were some authors included whom I have not yet read, including Rosalind Miles, Gillian Bradshaw, and Lavinia Collins, so I am now looking forward to reading their works. While many of the authors Evelina treats, such as Persia Wooley, (to whom she dedicated the book) provide positive and strong portraits of Guinevere, I have to say I was surprised by Lavinia Collins’ Guinevere—her novels sound more like bodice-rippers than true Arthurian romance.

If I would fault The Once and Future Queen in any way, it would be that Evelina didn’t discuss more of the recent male authors. She does mention Parke Godwin, whose Beloved Exile (1984) was the first novel to depict Guinevere after the Fall of Camelot and give her a new story for that period of her life, but she does not discuss male authors like Stephen Lawhead, Jack Whyte, or Bernard Cornwell. Honestly, though, it would be impossible to discuss every treatment of Guinevere in modern fiction—countless Arthurian novels are now being produced every year—and I honestly can’t remember much, if anything, of the Guineveres in those authors’ novels—granted I read them all nearly two decades ago, but they were also all heavily written from the male perspective.

Overall, I think The Once and Future Queen draws a positive light upon the need for more research into how Guinevere has been depicted in the past and how the often negative image of her as just an adulteress needs not only to be reassessed but turned around to show that she can be a positive role model for women of how a woman can be strong in a man’s world. It would be wonderful if The Once and Future Queen would inspire future research, including how Guinevere has been depicted in film and on TV—Evelina even includes a little guesswork about how multiculturalism and other forces in our culture will influence Guinevere’s future depictions. I welcome this addition to Arthurian scholarship, and I think anyone who is especially interested in modern Arthurian fiction will find it engrossing.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s LegacyMelusine’s GiftOgier’s PrayerLilith’s Love,and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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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.

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Camelot’s Queen is Nicole Evelina’s new novel and the second in the Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy. Evelina’s first novel, Daughter of Destiny, introduced readers to a new version of Guinevere, focusing on a part of the story often ignored—her childhood and youth in the years prior to her meeting and marrying King Arthur. Evelina gave us many surprises in that novel, from a childhood spent in Avalon to a lover no one would have expected. Consequently, when Guinevere’s marriage to Arthur is arranged, she is not happy to be parted from the man she truly loves.

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.

Camelot’s Queen picks up with Guinevere’s wedding to King Arthur and covers most of her adult life. Never fear, she still has her love affair with Lancelot, is accused of treason, nearly burnt at the stake, and at the end of the novel, is rescued by Lancelot, leaving the door open for what will happen in the upcoming third novel. However, while Camelot’s Queen focuses on the more mainstream events of Guinevere’s life, Evelina clearly makes it her own, not only in her depiction of a feisty, sometimes hot-headed and selfish, sometimes wise, Queen Guinevere, but also in how she rewrites traditional parts of the legend such as Guinevere’s abduction by Malegant and the Quest for the Holy Grail. Evelina also creates new characters such as Guinevere’s new and unwanted female bodyguard, and she realigns other characters’ roles, especially that of Morgan, who is Guinevere’s rival.

For the most part, this is a realistic novel, although Evelina uses Celtic cultural influences in the story with just a touch of magic to them; for example, Guinevere’s training in Avalon allows her to have some small control over the elements, such as being able to create clouds and make it rain.

Evelina also gives a new spin on the conflict between Christianity and Paganism that has become mainstream to the legend in recent years, but no one would have suspected that Morgan, of all people, would convert to Christianity while Guinevere holds out against it—how that situation develops is quite stunning and to explain it here would be to take away pleasure from the reader. I will say, however, that I found this element the most interesting theme in the novel, and I was especially impressed by how Evelina treats the Holy Grail in relation to it.

An Author’s Note at the end gives some of Evelina’s reasons for the changes she made to the traditional storyline as well as insight into her extensive research into the Arthurian period, including visits to Arthurian places and consulting with Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe.

As an Arthurian novelist myself, I found Evelina’s interpretations sometimes surprising, but usually dramatically effective. Her choices were certainly interesting, and not being a purist—why read Arthurian modern fiction if you are?—I was often delighted with her choices and her imaginative realigning of many Arthurian characters and themes. I especially found the family lineages and characters’ relationships interesting because Evelina uses them to explain some often confusing aspects of the legend, including the connections between the different nobles and royals of Cornwall, as well as Arthur’s own family tree and his relationship to Morgan. The book also moves at a quick pace—in a few places a little too quick I thought where I would have liked more details—but Evelina provides plenty of details in the key scenes, and in some of the places where I wanted more, I suspect Evelina intentionally held back to build up suspense for the third book in the series, Mistress of Legend, which will be published in 2017.

Anyone who loves strong female protagonists—or let’s face it, the Arthurian legend—will find plenty to enjoy, ponder, and discuss in Camelot’s Queen.

For more information about Nicole Evelina and Camelot’s Queen, visit her website at www.NicoleEvelina.com

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, and the upcoming Lilith’s Love and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly work King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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