Interview with C. S. Marks
Fire-Heart: A Tale of Alterra, The World That Is Book II
Reviewed by for Reader Views (7/08)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview C.S. Marks, who is here to talk about her new fantasy novel “Fire-heart, A Tale of Alterra, the World that Is.”
C.S. Marks has often been described as a “Renaissance woman.” The daughter of academic parents, she holds a Ph.D. in Biology and has spent the past two decades teaching Biology and Equine Science. She is currently a Full Professor at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in west central Indiana. She began writing shortly after the untimely death of her father, who was a Professor of American Literature at Butler University. A gifted artist, she has produced illustrations and cover art for all three books. She plays and sings Celtic music and a few examples of her songwriting may be found within the pages of “Fire-heart.” She enjoys archery, and makes hand-crafted longbows using primitive tools. Horses are her passion, and she is an accomplished horsewoman, having competed in the sport of endurance racing for many years. One of only a handful of Americans to complete the prestigious “Tom Quilty” Australian national championship hundred-mile ride, she has described this moment as her “finest hour.” She has been happily married for nearly three decades. She and her husband, Jeff, share their home with ten dogs (predominantly Welsh Corgis) and five horses. They live deep in the forest, where there are miles and miles of trail riding to be had.
Tyler: Welcome, C.S. I’m excited to talk to you today about your new book “Fire-heart.” I understand this book is the second in the “Tales of Alterra, the World That Is.” Do readers need to read the first book before this one, and will you tell us a little about the first book, “Elfhunter”?
C.S.: Hi, Tyler! It’s always exciting for me to share information and insights with your readers. You are correct: “Fire-heart” is the second in a trilogy that begins with “Elfhunter.” Because the three books comprise one continuing storyline, it is almost a requirement that readers begin with “Elfhunter” (to do otherwise would be akin to figuring out old-fashioned computer software without a manual). “Elfhunter” begins the tale, introducing and developing many of the major characters, including Wood-elf Gaelen, whose fate becomes enmeshed with that of the Elves’ arch-nemesis, Gorgon Elfhunter. It is an intricate, character-driven adventure—occasionally romantic—the beginning of a great story. But, it is only the beginning! By the time you finish it, you’ll feel as if you know the characters personally…that you have been there with them.
Tyler: What is the situation when “Fire-heart” begins?
C.S.: Hmmmm….how to avoid “spoilers”? The story picks up right from the end of “Elfhunter.” In the early chapters of “Fire-heart,” we establish the Company’s plan to search for Orogond’s brother, Hallagond. Orogond is a major character in “Elfhunter,” and he plays a large role in “Fire-heart.” It is his great desire to learn more of his origins, and to know his family.
Tyler: Will you tell us about Orogond and Hallagond? I understand they are brothers. Why has Hallagond disappeared and what is the shame he carries?
C.S.: They are indeed brothers, but they have very different histories. Orogond is the younger brother; he was orphaned as an infant and raised among Elves. Hallagond grew up in one of the great cities of men, raised by his mother and father. Both ended up as rangers, though obviously by separate paths. Orogond is noble, upstanding, understated, introspective, and cautious in thought and action. Hallagond is equally talented, but considerably more prideful, headstrong, and impulsive. Both have been staunch defenders of the Light, but Hallagond has fled the northern lands, and is now a rogue.
The shame he carries is grounded in the realization that his insufferable pride once led him to a very bad decision, and he could not live with the result. I will say no more.
Tyler: What are some of the strange and exciting lands and people encountered in the book by the main characters?
C.S.: Oh, my! “Fire-heart” chronicles a journey of well over a thousand miles. The Company will re-visit some of the realms encountered in “Elfhunter,” but also will explore new ones. These include the cities of Dûn Bennas and Dûn Arian, the dwarven-realms of the northern mountains, and the vast southern desert. In the desert realm we will encounter many new cultures and customs of men, some of which don’t “set well” with some in the Company. I focused primarily on the Elven-realms in “Elfhunter;” in “Fire-heart,” we learn much more about men and dwarves. I had a great time imagining them! The Company deals with Fire-mountains, Plains of Dire Thirst, the Great Salt, The Sandstone (an amazing, bustling oasis-city in the middle of nowhere), the Stone Desert, the Mountains of Dread, and the great Silver City, an unknown, enlightened realm of men on the far southern coast.
As for people, we have something for everyone. There are the congenial Kazhi, who value their horses above all else; the terrifying and repressive Ballali cult of the Sandstone, who will eliminate anyone who challenges their beliefs; affable far-southern traders, mystics, merchants, lore-masters, and bandits. We meet the descendents of the lost realm of Tuathas: kings, scholars, and warriors. And, unfortunately, we meet a terrible army with a dreadful weapon.
Tyler: C.S., you say “unfortunately,” but after all that terrible army and its dreadful weapon is your idea. So where did you come up with the ideas for all these people and so much diversity?
C.S.: That’s true . I suppose it’s only unfortunate for the characters involved. It makes for an exciting read, though, and will challenge the characters to their limit. Most of the creatures and peoples of Alterra are inspired by those of our own diverse and intriguing world. As a biologist, I tend to create fantasy creatures that actually make evolutionary sense. The people are inspired by those I have read about, such as the Mongolians (Khazhi), primitive Middle-eastern and Asian cultures (Sutherlings and Anori-folk), and so on. Naturally, they are modified to suit the world of Alterra according to my own vision of them.
Tyler: Is there one part of this land and the many places the company visits that is your favorite?
C.S.: That’s an interesting question. There are lands the Company travels through that I am just as happy never to have seen, and there are those that I would love to inhabit for life. I love the eastern deciduous forests of the Greatwood, and the rugged waters and boreal forests of Mountain-home. Tuathas, in its day, was something to see! I would have been happy there.
Tyler: Let’s go back to the plot. What first gave you the idea to write about a being trying to destroy the elves?
C.S.: I have always loved Elves, even before I read LOTR at the age of twelve. In fact, I prefer Elves who are bit more “earthy” than those typically found in high fantasy. To me, Elves exemplify everything positive—they take the best human qualities and improve on them. In Alterra, they are immortal, semi-divine beings with varying degrees of “magical endowment.” They are not perfect, but we are not aware of any who have truly forsaken the Light—yet. The idea of a creature so filled with hate that it would desire to rid the world of these enlightened beings is intriguing…what would generate hatred so dark and all-consuming? What would cause such a being to exist? Would it be beyond redeeming? I decided to find out.
(And, by the way, Gorgon is my favorite character.)
Tyler: What about Gorgon makes him your favorite?
C.S.: I doubt I could come up with a better ‘villain’ than Gorgon Elfhunter. He is complicated, occasionally almost sympathetic, and totally cool! He is the deepest character, and in many ways the most interesting. If the readers stay with the trilogy all the way through, he is absolutely amazing (he really shines in “Ravenshade”). He is particularly engaging when he is arguing with the voice of his own self-doubt (who appears in Gorgon’s mind as the apparition of an Elf named ‘Gelmyr,’ dead and rotting no less). Gelmyr’s sense of humor gets me every time. If I were an actor, I’d fight for the chance to play Gelmyr in the movies.
Tyler: Do you feel this extinction of a people or their genocide has any social implications for today or did you find yourself influenced by anything in human history in writing the book?
C.S.: Yes, indeed. To give a complete response to this question will take more time than we have here, but I can say that there are several themes explored. The perils of stereotyping people, categorizing, de-humanizing, exploiting, and repressing them are touched upon. The idea of tolerance and the need for adaptability to and acceptance of others is brought forth in several contexts. There is a distinct lack of respect for the beliefs and ways of others in our world, and it has always been so.
Genocides have often begun through ignorance and dehumanization of a perceived “enemy.” Gorgon plays a fairly minor role in “Fire-heart,” but he conducts his relentless campaign against the Elves while knowing almost nothing of them (other than what he has been told by the Dark Powers). When he is given insight into their world, he resists. It is more difficult to hold mindless hatred for someone you know.
Tyler: What did you find most difficult about writing a trilogy?
C.S.: Well, I have a penchant for writing long books. “Fire-heart” actually might rise to the level of “furniture.” One of the reasons it is so long is that, in my opinion, any book needs to have a definite “ending-point”…the story should not be interrupted in the midst of the action, nor should it break off at a point that would be confusing, would disrupt the reader’s appreciation of the story, or would be a “let-down.” The trilogy could easily have been four books, or even five, but the story would not break well. It’s a trilogy because it took three long books to tell the story.
Tyler: Did you write all three books at the same time, or did you complete one and then go on to the next?
C.S.: One at a time. Had to be that way; I let the characters drive most of the time, and they needed to build on their previous interactions and experiences in order to drive well.
Tyler: C.S., would you say you have had any major literary or other influences in your writing?
C.S.: My dad was a professor of literature (American authors). I cut my teeth on the classics. I loved Emerson, Dickens, Chaucer, Cooper, Melville, Twain, and all those dark, depressing Russians like Dostoyevsky (you get the idea). I might have gotten my love of adventure from writers like Jack London and Rudyard Kipling. I used to enjoy a lot of classic science fiction, but I DEFINITELY came into the high fantasy fold with Tolkien. His influence and inspiration are apparent in the Alterran trilogy. To me, this is what fantasy is. I write what I like to read, and there are many influences deserving credit here.
Tyler: Will you tell us more about your artwork and the drawings of the characters you have done? Does drawing somehow inspire your writing or does it work the other way around?
C.S.: ALWAYS the other way around. I visualize and develop the characters before I ever try to depict them. Most of the drawings in my books are just sketches…if I like them, I might put them in. The depiction of Gorgon’s eyes was sketched while waiting for a doctor’s appointment. The portrait of Finan was rendered during a dull meeting.
A number of readers have requested full portraits of Gorgon, but I have resisted temptation, though I have several of them (in color, no less!). I don’t want to prejudice or interfere with the reader’s imagining of that character—I want whatever picture my words have painted in each reader’s mind to remain “unsullied.” Anyone else is free to depict Gorgon, but once I draw him, that’s what he IS.
Tyler: Are you able to give us a small preview of the third book in the series?
C.S.: You bet! “Ravenshade” is the third book, and it completes the story. It is the darkest and most intricate of the three books, and was the most difficult to write. I have already mentioned that Gorgon plays a relatively small (but important!) role in “Fire-heart,” but “Ravenshade” is all about him. If “Fire-heart” focuses on pride and redemption, “Ravenshade” centers on free will, and the nature of choice. It’s a thought-provoking adventure…and if you thought Gorgon was bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! One of the eldest and darkest beings in Alterra is brought forth for this one. It is the last, and it had to be the best. The biggest complaint expressed by readers is that they are sorry the story ends.
Tyler: C.S., do you plan to write any more series? Will you always write fantasy or would you like to try your hand at another kind of writing?
C.S.: I have done some non-fiction writing, as well as some romantic fiction, but I prefer fantasy. I do plan to write more books in Alterra, starting with a collection of shorter works entitiled “Tales of the Skulking Raven.” A new and expanded storyline, which will include some of the familiar characters, is also on the drawing board.
Tyler: What do you think is the most difficult part of writing fantasy?
C.S.: This might sound odd, but the most difficult part for me has been finding sufficient time. I immerse myself in Alterra when I write, and I don’t want to emerge as long as the story is flowing. That can be problematic sometimes (pesky day job!). As far as the story goes, I have not found the writing difficult. I let the characters drive the story, and they get me there every time. Sometimes we hit a bump in the road, I go do something else for a while, and come back later when the ‘muse’ is in.
Tyler: And what is the most enjoyable part?
C.S.: Everything about writing is enjoyable to me (can’t say the same for the endless hours of editing). Some of the most enjoyable moments come after the fact. There is nothing like the ‘high’ that comes with the realization that I have completely captivated my readers, swept them up in my world, and taken them on the journey with me. That alone makes it all worth doing.
Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, C.S. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information can be found there about “Fire-heart” and the other books in the “Tales of Alterra, the World That Is” series?
C.S.: My site is www.elfhunter.net. There, readers will find links to all three Amazon pages (where they may avail themselves of random excerpts, etc.), as well as the Elfhunter blog (planning all kinds of goodies on that one, including an Alterran languages lexicon.) Readers are encouraged to contact us! We love to hear from you. We also have a video trailer posted on all the common Internet sites, such as YouTube, Veoh, and Google videos (typing “Elfhunter” will get you there). Might want to get yourself some popcorn before you watch it!
Tyler: Thank you, C.S., for the interview. I hope you have many more books to come!
C.S.: Well, here’s a scoop for you--book four is in the works. It is the first in a new storyline in Alterra, and will feature many of the original characters as well as some grand new ones! Our journey through ‘The World that Is’ has only begun. Thank you, Tyler. It’s been a great pleasure, as always.