beth_bernobich: red mushroom (snobbish pig)
Two more days until Allegiance is officially released.

*pause to gibber in excitement*

As part of my Book Day celebration, I am doing a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Tuesday, October 29th. If you feel so inclined, stop by and ask me a question or two or ten. Please tell your friends and encourage them to join the conversation.
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (sepia woman)
Last week, I talked about stories and books set in Erythandra's past. What about stories that take place in its future?

I've said more than once that ALLEGIANCE marks the end of Ilse and Raul's trilogy, and with that in mind, I tried to create a satisfying conclusion for these characters. However, I have written two more short stories about them. One is a guilty pleasure story, involving Ilse, Raul, and a great deal of melted chocolate. The second is more like a coda to the trilogy. I hope to publish that within the next year.

But long before I sold PASSION PLAY, I had notes and outlines and drafts for two novels after ALLEGIANCE. They're tucked into a folder on my hard drive called "Aftermath Stories," and they're about what happens in Károví and Morennioù in the wake of Ilse's story. The king is dead, after all. Long live the new king. But who should that new king be? And what if he has his own ideas about Károví's future?

Then there's the matter of Valara Baussay. Does she finally get home and claim the crown? What happens if she does? Her father died over six months ago, and she was carried away by the invading soldiers. What will her people think when she reappears in the company of the man who led that invasion?

So many what ifs. I know some of the answers already. I'll find out more when I write them.
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (celestial map)
Way back in 2010, when Passion Play was set for release in October, my editor asked me if I could come up with a short story set in the same world.

I wasn't so sure I could, but I fiddled around with various ideas. Most of them didn't make it past the "What if" stage, but then I got the idea of writing a story about Ilse's favorite poet, Tanja Duhr. River of Souls appeared on in September 2010. It not only gave its name to the series, it helped widen my own perspective on the world.

At that point, I had already written one novel set in Erythandra's past, about Ilse and Raul in one of their previous lifetimes. Now I wanted to write other stories about other characters who also played important roles in history. That's where Thief of War came from—showing a pivotal event that I'd referenced throughout Passion Play and Queen's Hunt, but from the perspective of someone entirely new to the series.

That's the tricky part of writing stories set in the "past" of your series. Readers already know in general know what has happened. However, you can still surprise the reader by delving into the unwritten parts of history, or the parts with gaps and inaccuracies. The official record, after all, is colored by the politics of the historian.

So will there be more stories from the Empire days? It depends on time and opportunity. I do have notes for a companion novel to EMPIRE. And there are other lands, other centuries, other people with stories of their own.
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (Rose Fractal)
The River of Souls series is epic fantasy, but it's also the love story of Ilse and Raul, two people who have crossed paths over many centuries, each time as actors during some key historical event. It's their love and trust for each other that gives them the courage to continue, even when they are separated, even when their cause seems hopeless.

But they aren't the only lovers. When I wrote these books, I wanted to create characters with all kinds of passions—passion for independence, passion for glory, passion for political power, passion for justice and peace, even ugly little passions for domination and cruelty. Included in all this is passion of the heart.

So while the series is not A Romance, there's lots of romance wandering through the plot. Some of these love stories are simply mentioned in passing, some play out over the trilogy, some have roots that will sprout in future books and stories.

Not all of them run smoothly or easily, however. Another pair of characters has also met throughout the centuries, sometimes as lovers, sometimes as enemies, often simultaneously. Valara Baussay first encountered Miro Karasek five hundred years before, when he came to Morennioù as a representative of the Erythandran emperor:

Miro stood a few paces further off, by the horses. One butted its head against his chest. He laughed—the change was so startling, she nearly exclaimed. When had she last heard him laugh? Not for a dozen lifetimes. Not since. . .

. . . since their lives together in Morennioù, when she took him into her bedchamber and they made love. The next morning, a ship had arrived with orders from the emperor, demanding his return to the continent. (—Allegiance)

Some are stories about those living in important times, even if their own lives are ordinary:

Asa's pulse beat faster with anticipation. Once he had lived as a woman, a soldier of the Empire. Once, he and Tanja Duhr had been lovers. For so long, he had not allowed himself to believe it. Poets and scholars both talked of souls meeting again and again throughout time, but it was a rare thing, almost impossible that the one who died and was reborn rediscovered the still-living heart-mate.

Tomorrow, I will see you again. (—River of Souls)

Not all the love stories are fraught with grand historical significance. Some of them are quieter:

Kathe approached Gerek and knelt in the grass a few feet away. He was a large man, built like an ox, as his mother often said. Brown and sturdy. Very clever. Dependable. Until she came to know him, she had not realized how much she wanted a man she could trust. Oh, to be sure, Kathe loved his intelligence, the warmth and passion and tenderness of his embrace, but the matter of trust was like a key to the entire treasure of Gerek Haszler. (—Allegiance)

Some are moments of passion and tenderness, taken when a future together seems impossible:

And so we progressed, kiss by kiss, touch upon touch, throughout the evening and the night, until we lay entangled in each others arms, having taken love and given it in return a hundredfold. Even as I lay drifting into sleep, I knew I would not forget Taavi Matlik, nor this night. He was as tender a lover as I had imagined, and with him, laughter came easily, and passion followed soon after, a quick flame burning hot and bright, until it ebbed to a warmth that eased us back to laughter and then a silence that fell soft and slow. Poised on the edge of sleep, I could only think that he had fitted to me, in body and spirit, so perfectly, it was as though he and I had been fashioned for one another. (—Thief of War)

And sometimes the love changes its nature and becomes friendship:

"Someday, you must tell me the story," Nadine said to Ilse. "Everything that has taken place after you left Tiralien. Until then, remember that you are my first true love, if not my last." (—Allegiance)

Romance can be a beautiful thing when it's done right. Not every story needs love. (Or passion. There is a difference.) But don't be afraid to include romance when the story calls for it. Write what you care about, write it well, and the rest will follow.
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (sagittarius)
So what do my characters look like to me? As a writer, I use words, but when I'm searching for those words, I sometimes look around the internet or in magazines for photos that "remind me" of my characters. So here are some words and pictures** for a few of the characters in River of Souls.

Ilse Zhalina...
Therez paused and blinked at the long mirror. At first she saw only a swath of colors—the silken gown the color of ripe apricots, the pale golden lace of her over gown, her long black hair gathered back with ribbons that matched her gown. Pearls glinted in the lamplight when she moved her head. Only when she blinked again did she see herself clearly. A small slim figure, very much like her mother in that, if nothing else. Everything else belonged to her father—her dark eyes, canted above full cheekbones, the same coppery-brown complexion of the borderlands of Veraene and Károví.

Raul Kosenmark...
He was as handsome as all the reports claimed—golden-eyed and fair, his pale brown skin almost luminescent against his blue-black hair. Sculptors who followed the classicist school might use him as a model for Toc, the brother-god and consort of Lir, except that Toc was blind, and this man's eyes were whole, unnervingly bright and direct.

Nadine stretched out in one languorous movement. She was like a wild cat, Gerek thought. A panther from the mountains, strong and lovely and dangerous. Apparently his expression betrayed his thoughts, because Nadine paused in mid-stretch and drew her lips back from her teeth, which showed white and sharp against her brown skin.

Arbija Ismaili...
I never really describe Arbija in words. The story is written in first person, for one thing. More important, she spends most of the story magically disguised. Recently, however, I came across this photo that captures not only Arbija's features, but a bit of her attitude as well.

** These are approximations, of course. Raul, for example, can't have a beard.
beth_bernobich: alice (alice)
Long before I sold Passion Play to Tor Books, I had a novel draft that included pieces of the story that eventually became Allegiance. Back then, the book was part of a much longer story arc, and I happily meandered along, not worrying about tying up plot threads.

Then Passion Play sold.

*wild cheering*

Then my editor told me I had to deliver a Grand Climax within three books. It didn't matter if the series continued, she said, but readers would not be happy if I didn't give them a solid resolution Soon.

*picture me running in circles going eep, eep eep*

She was right, of course.

Which then meant I was writing a trilogy, not an open-ended series.

After revising Passion Play and Queen's Hunt, I launched myself into what would be a completely new version of Allegiance.

And I do mean completely new. By this point, many characters had died or disappeared entirely, most of the plot threads in the original opening were gone, and the second half was completely new territory. None of which was daunting by itself, but all I could think was that I had to nail the plot and the climax and the resolution within 100K words.

I froze.

Then I flailed, producing five or six different openings. All of them were okay, but none of them right. The only thing I did know for certain was how the book and the trilogy should end. But every time I tackled the opening chapters, or the middle chapters, I ended up in a pit of despair and loathing.

I froze again.

Then I did the sensible thing and talked to Delia Sherman, who is wise and kind and used to explaining things to panicked new writers.

"Of course it's hard," she said. "It's the last book of of a trilogy."

Then she went on to explain how trilogies were like rivers. They liked to spread their plots into different channels, exploring new side stories and new characters, which is a fine for books #1 and #2, but with book #3, you need to drive the channels back together before your story empties into the sea, or you run the risk of having your plot disappear into a swamp. And forcing strong currents back together takes effort.

She said all this so calmly, that the gibbering in my brain quieted and I was able to start thinking clearly at long last.

So for my next writing session, I decided to try something new.

I wrote the last set of chapters. (Easily! Quickly!)

Then I wrote a few chapters in and around the middle that I had a clear fix on. (Mostly easily!)

Then I picked away at chapters here and there until I had a draft that ran, more or less, from end to end.

Then I sat down and examined what I had.

It was a mess, but it was a mess with far more structure than I had feared. It still wasn't there yet. At this point, I talked with a number of friends who had read the first two books. The glimmering of a theme appeared, and as I worked through the next draft, I began to get a clear picture of what this book was really about, and how it fit into the larger story of the trilogy, and into the even larger story of the series, written and unwritten.
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (spouting whale)
I am pleased to announce the winners for my super special triple giveaway:

[ profile] ej_in_nyc is the grand-prize winner and will receive a signed copy each of Passion Play, Queen's Hunt, and Allegiance.

[ profile] avidreadergirl and DJ Davis are the runners-up and will each receive an ARC of Allegiance.

Congratulations! Please email me with your mailing address, and I will get these prizes to you right away.
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (Rose Fractal)
As you know, I'm running a giveaway for Allegiance ARCs. (Details are here). Excerpts from the first two books are here and here. This week, as part of my Sunday Essays, I'm offering the opening to Allegiance:


Endings, the poet Tanja Duhr once wrote, were deceptive things. No story truly came to a final stop, no poem described the last of the last—they could not, not until the world and the gods and time had ceased to exist. An ending was a literary device. In truth, the end of one story, or one life, carried the seeds for the next.

The idea of seeds and new beginnings offered Ilse Zhalina little consolation.

It was late summer, the season tipping over into autumn, and dawn wrapped the skies in murky gray. Six weeks had passed since she had abandoned Raul Kosenmark on Hallau Island. Her last glimpse had been of him fighting off an impossible number of enemy soldiers. Ten days ago, Leos of Károví, once called the immortal king, had died, and she had witnessed Lir's jewels re united into a single alien creature, who then disappeared into the magical void. Endings upon endings, to be sure, and some of them she had not yet begun to comprehend. And yet she lived on, she and Valara Baussay.

...Read the rest of chapter one...
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (sepia woman)
This is my super special triple giveaway to celebration the release of Allegiance, the last book in my River of Souls trilogy, coming out October 29th.

What is this series all about?

River of Souls is about one young woman's journey to independence. It's also about fate and free will and three kingdoms on the brink of war.

Therez Zhalina is the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Hers is a privileged life, but one filled with constant warfare between her father and her grandmother. A promised journey with her older brother to Duenne, the capital city, offers her the chance to meet someone outside her father's influence. Or so she hopes.

Her expectations are overturned when a powerful member of the shipping guild offers to marry Therez in return for favorable shipping contracts. Therez has met the man once, but her instincts tell her that he is cruel and possessive. She panics and flees from her father's household. Changing her name to Ilse, she buys a passage with a caravan heading to Duenne, where she hopes to find employment. Her plans soon fall into pieces, however, and after a harrowing journey, she ends up taking refuge in the household of Lord Raul Kosenmark, an exiled prince trying to save the world that rejected him.

You can read more about the series in my blog posts marked sunday essays.

Entry Dates: 9/1/13 – 9/14/13

Restrictions: US & Canada residents only

Prize: There will be one winner and two runners up. The winner receives all three books in the trilogy: Passion Play, Queen's Hunt, and an ARC of Allegiance. The runners up will each receive an ARC of Allegiance. Winners are selected using

How to Enter: Post a comment here, or leave a post on Facebook, your own blog, or Twitter, linking back here, and let me know you've done so.

I will announce the winners Sunday, September 15th.
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (arrow)
As I've mentioned several times, the River of Souls books went through many transformations over the years. Earlier versions were horribly simplistic, whether we're talking about characterization, world-building, or plot, but most especially the treatment of gender and sex. The version that the readers see? Better, I hope. Still flawed. I grew up in a culture that saw no difference between sex and gender, where sex was a binary and heterosexual was not only the default, any other orientation wasn't even mentioned. I try to work against my ingrained thought patterns, with varying success.

So what about sex and gender? )
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (three stars)
Everyone in River of Souls has lived multiple lives, including Leos Dzavek. He was once a priest serving an Erythandran chieftan, back when Erythandra was little more than a collection of nomadic clans. He captured a magical entity named Ishya and imprisoned it inside a stone, calling it Lir's Jewel and claiming it was a gift from the goddess.

Arbija, in Thief of War, witnesses that in a life dream:

I dreamed I was a child, wrapped in furs, and peering through the slit of our tent. Our magic maker, a man so ancient, he was more ghost than living soul, crouched before our fire. He cupped his hand, as though to capture a spark from the fire itself, but as I looked, I saw a splinter open between the worlds. A speck of light drifted close. He snatched it from the void...

I bolted upright, sweating in terror. Those were the jewels, I thought. The jewels, as they once were...

Centuries later, he served Erythandra once again... )
beth_bernobich: petal twigs (petal twigs)
When we first meet Valara Baussay, she's a prisoner of the Veraenen army. This is in the second book of the trilogy, Queen's Hunt.

But it's not the first time she is mentioned. In Passion Play, Dedrick Maszuryn gives Raul Kosenmark the memoirs of a man who had once served as a professional interrogator for Leos Dzavek. The book includes a passage describing the author's conversations with one particular prisoner:

Benacka must been half mad with fear already, the same fear that drove him to suicide. He talked, according to Simkov, obsessively about Dzavek, rambling on how it was his destiny and his doom to chase after Dzavek, just as Dzavek had chased after him through Anderswar and then Veraene, when Benacka had leaped across the void in the flesh to escape. He had not succeeded.

Baussay knows her own past lives very well. )


Jul. 14th, 2013 09:00 am
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (cat on a wire)
No Sunday essay today. I'm at Readercon this weekend, meeting new people, catching up with old friends, and talking about books.

In the meantime, here is the cover art for my novella, "Thief of War," forthcoming in September on

beth_bernobich: red mushroom (Rose Fractal)
Once, when he was a young child, six years old, Gerek Hessler had asked his great-grandmother about her life dreams, those vivid imaginings of past lives that came like nightmares upon a person in their sleep. Though she no longer saw anything but shadows, she swung her head around and stared at him, her milky eyes like pale moons in her dark face. Nothing, she whispered. I dreamed of nothing, little man.

But when he asked again, she sucked in her lower lip. For a moment, her eyes brightened, her gaze turned inward, as if recalling those dreams. Then her mouth twitched in an unhappy smile, and she touched his cheek far more gently than she used to. Live blind and you die blind, she said in swift soft tones. One day, Blind Toc himself makes sure you see the truth about yourself.

Everyone in River of Souls has lived multiple lives... )
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (arrow)
First a brief summary of the man.

Lord Markus Khandarr first came to court when Baerne of Angersee was king. He was in his early forties at the time, but already an acknowledged master of magic. Not many people knew about his background, however, and Khandarr preferred it that way. He came from a poor family, and having earned a degree from Duenne's University, he worked his way up from minor mage, to minor functionary at court, finally receiving the courtesy title of Lord. From there, he gained the trust of the king's grandson, Armand of Angersee, and stepped into the role of King's Mage and Senior Councilor when that same young prince inherited the crown.

All that is backstory. It doesn't really tell us about Markus Khandarr the man.

So who is Markus Khandarr?

Read more... )
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (arrow)
So who is Raul Kosenmark anyway?

Just as Ilse was once a minor character, Raul had an even smaller role. In the much earlier draft of Queen's Hunt, Valara Baussay escapes from Osterling with Galena as her guide. Ilse stays behind to confuse the trail, but she sends them to her friend and advisor Raul (no last name) in Tiralien. He provides them with disguises and some proper gear, and sends them on their way. Possibly some snark was involved.

But just as Ilse took over the series once I wrote Passion Play, Raul became much more than a bit player. He's an influential noble and major player in high stakes politics. To Ilse, he is also employer, teacher, friend, and lover.

Read more... )
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (apples)
Today I had planned to post the first of a series of character studies for my on-going River of Souls entries, but I had surgery on my right hand on Friday and won't have full use of it until Wednesday or so. (I am typing this left-handed.)

So instead of fun facts about Raul, I'll list a few contests and such that will be held over the next few months.

This week, Tynga's Reviews is hosting their Summer Solstice event, with interviews, stories, and giveaways. Next Thursday is my slot. I'll be giving away paperback copies of Passion Play and Queen's Hunt to a lucky winner. Keep an eye out for a brief excerpt from Allegiance.

Upcoming4.e has graciously invited me to participate in their Story Behind the Story feature.

I have my own giveaway scheduled for September, with not just one but all three books in my River of Souls trilogy going to the winners. More details as I figure them out.
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (Rose Fractal)
Magic, that rare and dangerous current, and yet the ordinary world was filled with reminders of its presence. Crushed grass, the tang of forests, the rich perfume of new blossomed wildflowers. Was it, as the old scholars insisted, only a matter of setting your gaze in the right direction? And if that were true, why were so many blind to it? (— Queen's Hunt)

When I set out to create the magic system for my River of Souls books, I wanted something different from the rules-and-regs kind of magic, where you memorized spells or gestures. Or the kind where you created magic through special ingredients or with magical implements such as wands. There's nothing wrong with the spellbook and potions kind of magic. I just wasn't interested in using that.

At the same time, I also didn't want magic to be an inborn quality, or gift. Nor did I want the magic to be a force inside the user, something you could run out of, like physical strength. Again, there are some nifty books with these magic systems, but I wanted something else.

So if it's not either of these, what is it, then? )
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (tea cup)
The paperback edition of Queen's Hunt will be released this Tuesday, so I thought I'd share a few of my favorite snippets from the book...

"He drugged my wine," Ilse said. "Then he kissed me. No, I kissed him. I'm sorry." "For what?" Raul asked. "For kissing Alesso? I would have kissed him, too, no doubt, if he had poisoned my wine."

I am an ox, he thought, recalling his mother's words. His mother had always used the name with affection. Even so, Gerek hated how it made him feel—large and awkward, a lumpish beast. But today the sky was bright, the breeze clean and brisk. And there was Kathe, holding out her hand.

Miro lifted his gaze to the king's. They were of a height—both tall and lean, both with dark, deep-set eyes, black with a hint of indigo, like the storm clouds in summer. Karasek had seen portraits of the king through the centuries, before the deep lines marked his face, before his eyes turned cloudy with age. The resemblance was strong between them. More than once, Miro had wondered if they shared an ancestor. Or was the king himself Miro's ancestor?

Even through the enveloping magic, she could hear the wind thumping against the Mantharah, like a vast fist hammering on a door. Or like an angry supplicant, demanding satisfaction of its god.

I love him, Ilse thought. He does not come to rescue me. He comes to deliver me weapons.

What about you? What are your favorite snippets or scenes from Queen's Hunt?
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (celestial map)
Last week, I talked about the kingdoms and other lands of Erythandra and beyond. This week it's about Ilse's journey through those lands.

When we first meet Ilse, when she still calls herself Therez, she lives in her father's household in the city of Melnek. Melnek is a major port city on the eastern coast of Veraene, close to the border with Károví, so there's a constant flow of ships from other provinces and kingdoms. (And some less official overland connections with smugglers who travel the more dangerous mountains passes.) Her world is the wealthy merchant class, the talk mainly of ships and fees and contracts. Salt tang permeates the air, and the eastern horizon is the open sea.

Therez herself has never lived anywhere but Melnek, but she's heard stories of the larger world since childhood. Her father and grandparents came to Melnek from Duszranjo, an isolated province in western Károví. Her brother, Ehren, spent a year at the university in Duenne, in central Veraene. She too hopes to spend a year with relatives far, far away from her father's household.

So when she runs away, she aims for Duenne. )


beth_bernobich: red mushroom (Default)

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