I'm fairly sure that after reading The Dragon Ring, the land of faerie - of Oberon and Titania - will never be the same if I go back and re-read Shakespeare! I've asked Maggie some questions to get to know her better and to find out more about how The Dragon Ring came to be written.
On my 'Promotions and Book Review Blog' you'll find my thoughts on- The Dragon Ring - and Maggie's given us a fantastic excerpt to enjoy.
I’ve read a little about where you live just now, Maggie, but where are your roots?
It would be charming, perhaps, to go all misty-eyed and say “my real roots are in Faerie” but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I was born in a college town called Evanston outside of Chicago, Illinois. We came to Los Angeles when I was about 6 years old, so that’s really my “home town.” My father’s parents were from Flanders, and my mother’s family was mostly English, though there’s some Chicago Irish in there, too. Otherwise, I’m a California girl through and through. If you’d asked where my heart lies, I *can* say that it’s in England. Or in Scotland. Or in Ireland. It sort of depends on which way the wind blows and what music’s playing.
I had a very fleeting visit to Los Angeles, many years ago (admittedly to do the 'kiddy' tourist stuff like Disneyland etc.) but there is so much more for me to still explore there. We visited some museums - The Getty is one I remember - but our list was too ambitious for a week's visit. Do you have an academic background in history, or is it a love that has transpired over the years?
Actually my academic focus was in English literature, but I did that because there was no way to major in British History in my university. Literature has to have a context, so the English department became my home My Master’s “thesis” on the quest hero in modern fantasy, was a way of combining that with my other love—fed by by reading a lot of Joseph Campbell—which was fairy tales and folklore.
If asked to name one particular historical era that fascinates the most, which would it be?
In a way this series of novels is the logical continuation of the previous question. The reign of the first Elizabeth (1558-1603) is my specialty, and has been for a long time. I first discovered Shakespeare, and a love of all things English, when I was in junior high. When I discovered the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (the original founding renaissance faire) in the mid-70s, it kicked the whole course of my life into the late 16th century. Among other things it resulted in a website here: http://AD1558.com and its home at Renaissance: The Elizabethan World, and the book that goes with it.
Having recently read The Dragon Ring, I have experience of how you relate elements of drama and folklore into it. I found I wanted to rush off - at some point when Queen Titania is particularly unpleasant - to re-read Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and ferret out any other classic that includes Oberon and Titania. Was Shakespeare’s comedy lurking at the back of your mind when you planned the novel?
A good question with a longish answer. Short answer: Yes, it really was, and not all that far in the back, for that matter. I have a long history with that play, and abiding affection for the language and the plot(s) and spent more time with it than any play in the canon. I even directed a gang of my friends in it once—an amateur production by the Guild of St Genesius in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) in 1988. When I was planning the novel, I hadn’t originally thought about Titania at all. I meant to use Aubrey (not Oberon) alone, but then I realized I had no villain, no serious challenge to Ben’s quest. The old argument between Oberon and Titania suddenly seemed so obvious
Which came first – The idea of the ring? Or, the urge to write a time-travel novel?
Actually… I started out to write a mystery! I usually complain that time-travel stories give me a headache. On the other hand, the urge to go back in time and just see how things really were is a strong one. So I suppose it was the ring that came first. I wanted to write a mystery, but I didn’t want it to be a murder mystery, so I needed some other kind object to be at the center of things. And then… well you know, I don’t remember anymore exactly where it came from anymore. There were so many ideas just swirling around as I started my first notes. An object, a magic object, a ring, no, that’s been done… an arm ring… a broken Viking arm ring that has to be re-assembled… A broken ring and the pieces are lost. Lost in different places in time. Broken because the hero broke it himself which is why he is the only one who can find it… And so on.
There's a whimsical tone to some of your characters. Who is your favourite in The Dragon Ring?
That’s a little bit like asking which of my children I love best. They all have their charms. Raven is adorable, and Ben probably most like me (but better at it), But all right, deep down, I’m probably most in love with Aubrey. A friend of mine who I hope will be able to narrate the audio book was talking about creating a voice for him, and said: Oberon is more of an attitude than any vowel or tonal changes. A more aristocratic rhythm. Nothing makes him hurry.” And that’s exactly it. Three thousand years crowned king of Faery, and he still has a sense of style.
I haven’t had time, yet, to read the sequel – King’s Raven – but when this series of books is completed, do you think you’ll still be writing in the same genre and sub-genre?
Oh, yes! For one thing, the idea that this is just a trilogy is a bit misleading. These first three may be a set, but the world is still there for me to play in. I have a fourth adventure for the boys in the planning, and might have started it already, except that Susan and Donovan from King’s Raven are insisting on a story of their own, a mid-Victorian paranormal mystery/thriller—although with little or no faerie involvement. I think one way or another there will be a mystery and/ or a quest, and some or all of it will task place in the past, and will include a fantasy element no matter what.
What's the preferred genre for your own leisure reading?
It changes. I used to read very little except fantasy and science fiction, and some classic historicals (Taylor Caldwell, Mary Renault, Rosemary Sutcliff, and so on). There are still fantasies that take me wonderful places, but also a lot of mysteries—especially in the British mode—that give me a puzzle to work on. Basically my go-to authors are Connie Willis, Marie Brennan, Lindsay Davis, Charles de Lint, Bernard Cornwell--and several of my colleagues at Crooked Cat, too!
I relate to quite a few of the authors you've mentioned there, Maggie, and in the past have read them, too. Do you enjoy any time used for researching your novels?
Very much! Sometimes I have to remind myself that tracking down some tiny fact, or getting lost in the streets of Elizabethan London, or compiling lists of Syrian goddesses isn’t really the object of the game. This novel isn’t going to write itself, you know! Actually, the Elizabethan is way for me, since I’ve done so much already
What hobbies do you indulge in outside of writing, and any other regular daily pursuits you might have?
Does television count? Facebook? I used to be deeply involved in the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, which is still where most of my friends are. (Faire does not release you!) But these days I’m content to advise and observe, and visit. I can’t both sew costumes and write novels, and I know which I’d rather be doing.
Thank you for those great answers, Maggie. I really enjoyed reading The Dragon Ring and wish you the very best with King's Raven, and any further books in the series.
Reality TV host Ben Harper has a problem: he owes the king of Faerie a favour. So now he has to track down the three parts of a Viking arm-ring, and return them to their place in time. This takes him through the wolf-haunted forests of Viking Age Wessex, the rowdy back streets of Shakespeare’s London, and a derelict Georgian country house. Partnered with caustic, shape-changing Raven and guided by a slightly wacky goblin diary, Ben must rediscover his own gifts while facing his doubts and the queen of Faerie’s minions, who will do anything to stop him.
Please remember to pop over to my Promotions and Book Review Blog to catch that fantastic excerpt Maggie has loaned us, today. (Click on the tab at the top of the page to access it.)