Dark Moon of Avalon takes place in the shadow of King Arthur's Britain, during the mid 6th century, when invading Saxon armies were increasingly defeating Britain's forces and taking over Britain's lands. My Isolde is the daughter of Modred, great villain of the Arthurian cycle of tales. And she has lost everything, her old life, her family, her home, have all been destroyed by the constant battles and political intrigue.
My Isolde is also a healer, working with Britain's wounded soldiers. She doesn't yet know how she herself can find the healing she offers others every day. But she desperately needs to believe that recovery from trauma is possible, and so she throws herself passionately into her mission as a healer.
As you might expect, Isolde's passion for the healing craft sent me scurrying for the research books. I read medieval herbals and compilations of the folk remedies common to the British isles; I pored over Roman surgical texts. And I was absolutely fascinated to discover just how sophisticated a Dark Age healer like Isolde could have been.
Certainly our modern knowledge of germs and bacteria revolutionized the medical profession, as has anesthesia and modern surgical theaters. But for all that, medical practice in the Dark Ages was not as crude or as brutal as one might imagine. One ancient surgical technique--that Isolde herself uses to conduct an amputation in Dark Moon of Avalon--was a device called a 'soporific sponge.' Texts on the soporific sponge survive from as early as the 9th century, and direct the healer to soak a pad or sponge with black nightshade, hyoscyamus (henbane), the juice of hemlock, the juice of leaves of mandragora, and several other mild narcotics. The sponge was then held beneath the patient's nose during surgery, so that breathing its fumes would keep the patient unconscious.
In Dark Moon of Avalon, Isolde and Trystan are dispatched on a diplomatic mission through unstable and warring lands to persuade rulers of the smaller kingdoms surrounding Britain to join forces to protect the throne. Isolde's skills as a healer are more than once all that stands between success and failure of their mission. Isolde's greatest test as a healer, though, comes when she is faced with the fear that she may not be able to save the wounded man who matters to her most of all. And the most rewarding part of writing Dark Moon of Avalon for me was watching her find the courage to face that fear, and through it find the courage to also heal her own wounded heart.
Brought together under dire circumstances, Trystan and Isolde must confront their growing love for each other and face a battle that will test the strength of their will, their hearts, and the lives of all those in Britain.
To celebrate the release of Dark Moon of Avalon, I'm offering a free prequel short story, Dawn of Avalon, available for free download on my website here: http://www.annaelliottbooks.com/dawn.php
He would become the most powerful wizard in the history of Britain—Merlin. She would become Britain's most storied sorceress—Morgan le Fay. But before they were legends, they were young. And they were lovers. Together, in the sunlight of one day long ago, they saved a kingdom.
Dawn of Avalon. A stand-alone story from the universe of Anna Elliott's Twilight of Avalon.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Posted by BookBitch at 9/22/2010 11:20:00 AM
Monday, September 20, 2010
Writing the Paint trilogy
Turning family history and American history into fiction
It started with a box. A fairly large, unwieldy box, heavily taped and tied with grocer’s string. Sent, with love, from my mother in western Nebraska to me in New York City in 1981.
This time, it wasn’t a box of brownies. My mother, born Maxine Marguerite Morgan in a Nebraska sod house in 1910, had shipped our family history, or as much of it as a single box could contain. Letters, family portraits, fragments of diaries, and one fairly substantial memoir, thirty-five pages single-spaced on someone’s old typewriter, left by my great-uncle Eb Jones, pioneer and frontier character in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska.
Perhaps, my mother suggested in the accompanying letter written in her elegant hand, I could do something with all this. I don’t know what she had in mind: a family history to be circulated to the relations, perhaps? One of those Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill and the bear at the family picnic things, preserving all the family yarns for posterity?
I did read Uncle Eb’s memoir, pieced together from memory after the diaries he kept for forty years were lost in a house fire in the 1930s. It was lively stuff: frontier murders, a goldrush or two, the Civil War, a drive to bring a thousand head of buffalo from Arizona to Wyoming. The massacre at Wounded Knee, where he was a scout for the cavalry.
I put the box aside and forgot about it. Somewhere along the line, in one of my numerous moves, most of it was lost. Twenty years later, a conversation with my sister aroused my curiosity about those old letters and memoirs, because two things struck me: first, there was a doozy of a story in there, which I had been too obtuse to see the first time around. Second, there was a remarkable confluence, over a period of nearly 150 years, between the history of my family (or more specifically, my mother’s family) and the history of the United States.
The first members of the Jones family had arrived in the Boston area before the American revolution. They drifted south as far as Mississippi, where John Milton Jones was born in 1830. John Milton left the south to walk to California with seven or eight friends after gold was found on the West Coast in 1849. As far as we know, he was the only one to survive. He returned to the Mississippi River with enough capital to buy what he called a “store boat,” which he operated on the river in partnership with a freed slave until they came under Confederate fire during the Civil War.
John Milton sold the boat and moved north to South Dakota, arriving as one of the first pioneers in the Sioux Falls-Yankton area in 1863. He married a woman who was part Sioux and fathered several children, two of whom, Eb and his brother Squier, became the protagonists of my first novel, Sun Going Down.
Both boys were fluent in Lakota, but Eb was perpetually restless. He scouted for the cavalry, worked as a sheriff in Spearfish and elsewhere, tried ranching in a dozen locations at a dozen times. Squier settled down in Brown County, Nebraska and built a ranching empire, beginning with a 160-acre homestead.
It was on that ranch that the essential conflict of this trilogy was borne, when Squier’s daughter Velma, my grandmother, became pregnant by one of his bronc riders. Squier kicked the pair of them off his ranch and set them up in a miserable homestead with a tumbledown soddy. After my mother was born, the bronc rider broke her arm in a quarrel and Squier went a little farther: he drove the young husband out of the state, leaving Velma to try to figure out how to survive, along with her two small children on a desolate homestead.
She might have pulled it off, but Velma learned she had tuberculosis in 1915 and spent most of the rest of her short life in and out of the sanitarium in Denver while her children were shuffled back and forth among orphanages and various family members willing to take them in.
In historical terms, it was all there, a primer of American history in the story of a single family: the great Mississippi River and the steamboats, the California gold rush (and a later gold rush in the Black Hills) the Civil War, the westward expansion, the Indian wars, World War I, the Roaring 1920s, the Great Depression and World War II. Somewhere along the line, members of the extended Jones family were always part of it.
I set out to tell the story. Six years after I began reassembling the stories in the original box, with the help of sisters, cousins and aunts all over the western U.S., Sun Going Down was published by Touchstone Books.
The first novel began in 1849 and ended at the beginning of the Great Depression, in 1933. The second, Come Again No More, is set entirely during the Depression years and researching it was less difficult, because I heard much of it directly from my parents. They lost their farm in Nebraska during the 1930s and joined the great migration to the West Coast, moving to a small Oregon mill town where my father, a former boxer, had a job in the mill. After six months, he decided he couldn’t stand the rain and dragged the family back to Nebraska.
Like Sun Going Down, Come Again No More is an attempt to get at the general truth of our common history through the particular history of a single family. It is one thing to read the history of the 1930s or to review the painful statistics of a time when a third of the American work-force was unemployed. Those statistics come home, however, only when you find a way to bring alive the impact of hard times on ordinary folk.
There is an odd process a writer goes through when turning family history into fiction. The real characters fade and are replaced by the fictional characters who become as real, in the imagination, as living friends and relatives. Thus Squier Jones for me will always be Eli Paint, his fictional counterpart, and Eb Jones is Ezra Paint, Eli’s brother.
The character Emaline in both books is, of course, my mother. With her hot-tempered, quick-fisted husband Jake McCloskey (my father, the first Jack Todd) she is alive to me as both fiction and memory. In Come Again No More, I attempted to tell their story, the awkward marriage of the rather prim young woman who loved Chekhov and Balzac to a character so rough, he would drive a steel bolt with his bare fist.
As Come Again No More ventures into the world, I’m completing the third novel in the series, The Rain Came Down, set almost entirely during World War II and based, in part, on the letters of my mother’s younger brother Jimmy Wilson, a gunner on the battleship Tennessee from Pearl Harbor to Japan. The contents of another box, in other words.
A lesson for writers everywhere: beware the boxes you open. You may find yourself, years later, still entranced by the old stories, the characters who stare out at you from the black-and-white photographs, the hasty letters dated 1887 or 1910 or 1944. More novels, waiting to be born.
Jack Todd is the author of Sun Going Down and Come Again No More
Posted by BookBitch at 9/20/2010 03:26:00 PM