We're in Alberta, Canada this week with Lavinia Thompson, author of "Spellbound by Fire", a dark fantasy novel and "She Wasn't Allowed to Giggle", a book and journal of poems. As you can see Alberta is a beautiful area to explore. We've set up a campsite and will build a fire just before evening sets in, near the water's edge, to chat with Lavinia. We have plenty of chairs, blankets and flashlights to go around. So pick a spot, pitch your tent and come join us for a spell.
Reader’s Haven: Welcome Lavinia and thank you for inviting us up here! It's so peaceful and calm. Tell us a bit about yourself that our readers might not know.
Lavinia: One thing most of my readers know is that I grew up in a home where domestic violence and abuse was prevalent. It was always there, up until about 2004 when Mom’s abusive ex burned the house down. In that house fire I lost my original draft of my novel, Spellbound by Fire. I didn’t start it over seriously until about 2008, about the same time that I realized just what kind of power writing can have if utilized properly. I wanted to write to send out the message that violence towards women, children and spouses in general, male or female, should not be tolerated. Abuse is terror. It is a horrific display of power that when disabled, reveals the monster as it is. Once I had Spellbound written, I started on my poetry book, She Wasn’t Allowed to Giggle. A “personal purging,” as one reviewer called it, of my abusive childhood.
Reader’s Haven: What made you want to become a writer?
Lavinia: When I was younger, writing was an escape from the every day terror I lived with. I’d sit in my basement bedroom, listen to the screaming and fighting upstairs, then eventually turn on my music as loud as it would go and I would write. Spellbound originally wasn’t a serious project, it was just a fantasy world where I lost myself. At the same time that the abuse was happening at home, I was also bullied at school, so writing became the only happy place I had. So I never necessarily said “I want to become a writer.” It was always just there, it was my escape. That escape turned into a life ambition and a dream. And here I am!
Reader’s Haven: Kudos to you for following your dream and not letting your past drag you down. We see your experience has definitely made you a stronger person! Do you write under a pen name?
Lavinia: Yes I do.
Reader’s Haven: What type of hero or heroine do you like best?
Lavinia: I like a strong female character- not the damsel in distress types. I like a female who can stand up for herself, defend herself, persevere, but at the end of the day is still a woman who can love. I like male characters that aren’t too masculine, one who isn’t always the hero and has believable flaws. I like heroes and heroines who are believable characters, no matter how much of a fantasy the world itself is.
Reader’s Haven: How many plots do you include in one of your books?
Lavinia: Many. In Spellbound, I think I finished with about 16 plots. There is such a thing as having too many plots, but having the right balance keeps things interesting.
Reader’s Haven: And to entice the readers, we've included an except of "Spellbound" below. Tell us about a typical day in your life as a writer.
Lavinia: I’m not a full time writer yet (unfortunately) so I do have what some people would call a real job. Yes, one of those places that pays you for doing stuff. I clean hotel rooms during the day and write in the evening. I am usually nocturnal but having a job screws that up a little. While I am writing in the evening, I am usually simultaneously on Facebook and Twitter doing some book marketing as well, looking for reviewers and interviews and so on.
Reader’s Haven: Do your books have a common theme or are they all different?
Lavinia: Right now my books have a common theme- stopping and preventing violence against women and children. It is the focus of the Spellbound series and it is what I was purging when I wrote my poetry book. She Wasn’t Allowed to Giggle is a compilation of a bunch of old poems that survived the house fire and poems I wrote in the last few years as well. I included some journal entries in prose form as well, bringing together my life as a terrified little girl growing up to be a haunted woman. I have a few more stories in the planning stages right now that steer away from that theme though. Currently, aside from the Spellbound sequel, I am working on a short novella (Working title: “Abrianna.”) that focuses on the bullying of gay kids in light of the string of suicides that has been in the media lately. Gay rights and discrimination is another issue I have at heart, as many of my friends are LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender).
Reader’s Haven: How long does it take you to write and then edit a story?
Lavinia: Well, Spellbound took me almost ten years but that’s because of circumstances. When I really got down to writing it full time in the summer of 2009, it took me about three or four months. Editing took me about four or five more months as I was in college full-time that autumn. So just under a year, I’d say. The Spellbound sequel has been slower, but I intend to get right back to that after Abrianna is completed. I work on several projects simultaneously, so the amount of time it takes to get one done varies.
Spellbound is an adult fiction novel that explores the cycles of violence against women and the lives it affects. Janey loses everything she has ever known in one day when the Black Guards execute the aunt who raised her, after making a fateful promise to her aunt Olivia that she would never give up. She finds herself alone until she is rescued by chance by a witch rescuer named Shane and taken to a witch refugee camp. Soon, Janey is helping rescue tortured witches from the infamous Warbeck prison and learning the truth behind her own past from Jill, an old friend of her aunt’s. Janey discovers the legacy her aunt left in helping create the series of underground tunnels and portals that saves the lives of women and children everyday right under the noses of the Black Guards. Through the agony of torture and bloodshed she is shown the humanity of love and kindness; how it is the key to breaking the cycles of hatred and violence. Even in Billy Eagle, the man she loves, there is a child who never got to grow up, his own innocence shattered after witnessing the death of his mother as a seven year old. They both find themselves stranded, with only each other to count on in spite of their reckless flaws.
Through the despair and hopelessness that seems to hang like a black cloud over Nevermore, Janey needs to find a way to survive and live on through her aunt’s lasting and impacting legacy, to find the day when the two words would be the one thing to bring down the Black Guards… Never again.
Reader’s Haven: Wow! That's a strong excerpt and will certainly draw the readers in to the story. Do you have to be alone to write?
Lavinia: Most times, yes, though right now my fiancé and I share our writing and editing space, so often he is right beside me while I am writing. I don’t mind it too much.
Reader’s Haven: How do you go about naming characters?
Reader’s Haven: How do you go about naming characters?
Lavinia: Depends on the character. Main characters get a bit of thought put into their names. I look through name books or websites until a name will just jump out that fits that character, and then sometimes I take the name’s meaning into consideration. For secondary characters, I usually just a pick a name.
Reader’s Haven: Is it easier to write about the characters if you find pictures of them before you write or do you write then find character pictures?
Lavinia: I write and then find character pictures. A character starts forming in my head weeks before I start even planning. The main character is usually the first thing to come to life from a story. I get into their head, place them in potential scenes, get their voice into my head and picture them. And then when I feel comfortable with them I create their character profile and the story goes from there.
Reader’s Haven: How do you pick locations for your stories?
Reader’s Haven: How do you pick locations for your stories?
Lavinia: I created the fantasy world for Spellbound. I don’t even remember when I did that. It just seems like the world was always in my head. Nevermore is a place I go to when I need to escape. For my other stories, it’s really just a matter of which location seems to fit the story. My crime-fiction, Magic Touch, is set in Vancouver because of certain places in the city that fit the story.
Reader's Haven: This is why writing is so fun; describing these settings in a story so the readers can escape there too. Lavinia, thank you again for visiting with us this week.
Readers, Lavinia is giving a copy of Spellbound, winner's choice of eBook format, to one lucky commenter. Please be sure to leave your email address in your comment so Lavinia can contact the winner. We'll draw the winner on Jan 28.
You can find Lavinia hanging out on these sites:
Twitter - @LaviniaThompson
Excerpt: "Spell Bound by Fire" - Chapter 11
Before the first tear could slide sorrowfully down Janey's cheek, someone tapped her on the shoulder. Jill stood above her, a sweet smile across her face as she sat down in the grass beside Janey. Gertie stood up and wandered off wordlessly towards where other women and children were waiting for care.
“Well, you're alright,” Jill said without asking, though Janey wasn't so sure. Taking the deepest breath she had in what seemed like days, she set her head in hands.
The screams still resonated through her mind, screams of the one she couldn't save, from somewhere in the dark where she shrieked something unbearable. The growls that lurked in the bushes before the yellow eyes showed themselves as what they really were, encircling the girls in a protective pack around the blood stained dirt, then the howls that resonated through the night, the mourning in their cries for the ones who were suffering. They were beautiful in their brutality, stunningly sombrous with the blood glinting off their sharpened teeth...again and again it flashed through Janey's mind...the mutilated bodies of the Black Guards, the horrid ripping of skin and the morbid tearing of hearts from their chests, torn to pieces and avenged with the blood spilled in savagery.
“I guess,” Janey replied dismally.
There was an inconsolability like that of a child forced to look at her life ahead without her mother, the unbreakable bonds forced to snap in one unexpected moment. It left her hollow within, the wounds that wouldn't heal like the punched-out holes in the moon. The wolves had saved her life but she was staring down a lifetime ahead of her and she didn't know what to do with it.
Live your life, be happy...remember me as you loved me...
Jill sat silently for a few moments, as if debating what to say. Her hazel eyes saddened at the sight of Janey, one more girl brutalized by the Black Guards. Gertie had bandaged Janey's wrists again, did what healing she could, but as Janey rubbed her arms she knew that some wounds wouldn't be healed.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” Jill asked. Janey shook her head.
“I don't know. I don't even know what to do,” she said, the harrowing hurt tearing at her haggard heart in ways she never knew she could feel. Jill put an arm around her shoulder.
“The hardest part is moving on. It's not something that's easy to get past. But I'm here if you need anything, OK?” Jill told her. Janey bit her lip.
“Really?” she asked as that weak, unprotected feeling washed over her again. She never knew just how safe she had been with Olivia, not until she was gone and the fact she was never coming back was as real as the life before her.
“I would never let Olivia's niece go undefended. Your aunt meant a lot to me. I don't have the conscience to simply let you go it alone,” Jill told her. Janey pulled her knees up to her chest, hugging them close with every memory slipping into the atrabilious corners of her soul.
Dark nights when Janey would wake up, screaming from her nightmares, that dim candlelight in the darkness when she would awaken and Olivia would be at her bedroom door to ensure she was alright. Olivia's soft hands would wipe away the tears as Janey cried at one more hurt in this life. They'd sit up nights on end to talk, laugh, cry or just be with each other. As much as Janey told herself it couldn't be true, the loneliness tearing her up inside was the livid truth showing itself as a reality. Closing her eyes, she could feel her aunt's hands on her face one last time...
“I'm so sorry...”
“Janey, some things will never heal. It's a fact we have to face. You may never be completely healed of this ordeal but you have to move on. I knew Olivia well enough to know that's something she would have taught you. It's what she did after Wolfe died. It's all you can do now,” Jill explained.
“So what do I do?” Janey asked, fallen so far in the downcast of emotions she felt as if she’d never be able to move from there, as if she’d stay forever where she could be miserable with herself. Jill let out a little smile.
“Janey, dear...stick with me. I'll find things for you to do.”
“There you go, bring your elbow up just a little more...perfect...” Jill said patiently, adjusting Janey's arm up by her face.
Janey stared into the middle of an old navy blue Nevermore flag, a great silver unicorn prancing in graceful ripples across the old silken fabric. The bow sat intently by her face, her dark hair flowing all around her and her elbow high as she glared down the middle of the elegant body, the sharpened point of the arrow a deathly edge in the radiant sunlight.
Gracefully, Janey released the arrow. The bow sat empty in her hand as the arrow plummeted the invisible heart of the exquisite creature on the flag, pegged viciously to the tree. Janey let out a breath at the same time.
“Excellent! You are a natural, my dear,” Jill commented with an approving smile, stroking Janey’s matted hair.
“Thanks, gets easier every time,” Janey replied, staring into her target.
“Indeed, and we've only been at this for just under a week. Good skill to know, though. You can be as discreet as a wolf and just as swift to the attack,” Jill told her.
“Nice,” Janey said, lowering the bow to her side as she strolled to the tree and roughly pulled the arrow from the unicorn's fabric chest. The flag blew back to life briefly upon the warm breeze before settling against the tree trunk again. The navy blue of the flag was faded to a shade that nearly matched Janey's eyes. She sauntered back to Jill, her bare feet brushing the fresh green grass beneath her and the tiny yellow wildflowers that were showing their happy faces in the daylight.
“That looks like a pretty old flag,” Janey remarked offhandedly as she reached Jill's side. Jill stared into the stunning creature prancing, its left leg lifted regally and its spiral horn dangerous and mystical.
“So it is. It'd be over forty years old. It was the nation’s flag before the Black Guards took over Nevermore and changed it,” she explained with a subtle sigh. Janey frowned curiously.
“What do you mean?” she questioned. Jill looked over to her quizzically.
“Do you not know of the takeover years ago?”
“Not much besides the fact that the Black Guards rule Nevermore right now,” Janey replied. The story had never really mattered much back in Tia Justace. All anyone knew was that it was happening and there was little they could do to stop it.
“Well, my dear,” Jill started as she pulled an arrow from the grass beside her and set it delicately in her bow, “this whole ordeal with the Black Guards started forty years ago, by a man with the name Ulric Al Tedesco. He was a vile man, loathed women with every ounce of his filthy being. I remember the rise of the Black Guards, starting out as just a small political group out to put witches and, in my opinion, women in general, to shame. No one knows a lot about his upbringing, but most figure his father had a lot to do with his prejudicial views. Yet, as the nation would soon find out, he would drive what was then a mild witch scare into complete hysteria.”
As she spoke the last few words, with her bow raised and ready, she released the arrow to watch it dig itself bitterly into the wood. Janey watched her wander over to the tree and yank the arrow from it. Janey bit her tongue thoughtfully as Jill rejoined her.
“In the beginning, the Black Guards mainly staged protests, had some witch burnings and otherwise sorry excuses for witch hunts that gradually become more severe. King Terence and Queen Alanis had a horrendous time keeping them at bay,” she continued as she stared into the flag again. Her reddish-brown hair fell brightly around her shoulders. It blew ever so slightly on the breeze whispering through the trees, her dark brown eyes glaring darkly as she spoke.
“Then, 35 years ago and five years after Tedesco started the Black Guards, that all changed. On the wedding night of the King and Queen's only son, Prince Noah, the Black Guards attacked the palace. King Terence was captured, unarmed and unguarded, forced to watch the Black Guards burn his wife alive before they murdered him too. Prince Noah and his bride, Kassandra, escaped that night, to this day rumoured to be in hiding,” Jill explained nonchalantly. It must have been a story she knew all too well, reliving the day often and wondering if Nevermore would ever have a rightful king again.
“Wow...” Janey pondered for a moment. Tapping an arrow on her shoulder, Jill continued.
“Tedesco took over the palace after that. No Prince or Royal Family left meant that the kingdom was free to take. Massive witch hysteria followed. Thousands of women were arrested, put on ridiculous trials, tortured and executed. Trivial gossip became enough evidence to arrest a woman. Under torture these women would name names to avoid more suffering, and those women would name names for the same reason and it would go on, each woman putting more women into the same position; can't blame them. As you and I know, torture is unbearable enough let alone being asked stupid questions at the same time. Been through pretty barbaric torture myself, stuff I won't even get into. But I couldn't tell you how many met their execution as a result of me. I don't remember the names I've named, nor what happened to them. I sure feel terrible though. Nothing will bring them back. Their families have to live without them but I live on because I implicated them into something they never did. It never ends...” Jill explained quietly. Janey thought she saw a hint of shame flicker in her eyes, but she wasn’t sure.
Watching Jill's aging face in the flickering sunlight, Janey could see the years of agony, guilt and fatigue dripping through the lines on her fair skin. She was no older than Olivia had been but her ongoing fight against the Black Guards seemed to age her faster. Janey was beginning to understand why the woman did what she did. Janey herself knew that she never wanted to be the reason another woman died senselessly.
“Tedesco was killed by Prince Noah about six years after the royal wedding. Noah barely made it out of there alive. He disappeared once again, leaving the kingdom this time to Tedesco's right hand man and best friend, Norbert Bagan, who, four years later, was killed by Olivia. Now the kingdom is ruled by Norbert's good for nothing son, Marcus Bagan,” she explained with a dull tone to her low voice.
His presence dominated the room, his black hair sweeping his shoulders menacingly. His dark eyes were intent upon Olivia.
“So...you killed my father, did you, bitch?” he said slyly.
“I met him...in the prison, right after Olivia confessed,” Janey blurted suddenly, the shadows of her bruised and agonized face darkening to a vengeful anger. The very memory of his sly, drawling voice as he stared down Olivia with despicable hatred brought back the anguish boiling in Janey's blood. Jill glanced at her with an expression that was not surprised at all.
“Well,” she sighed, picking up two more arrows, handing one to Janey before setting one in her bow, “of course he would have wanted to at least look at the woman who killed his father before she was executed.”
Jill drew the bow again, setting it beside her thinning face. She let it go, with a dramatic pull back of her hand in the air, her eyes glowering intensely as the arrow shot the heart of the fabric unicorn one more time. Janey sighed as she drew her bow and arrow, staring straight at the heart of the ragged and frayed flag rippling softly on the breeze. Her hands were shaking as she envisioned Marcus standing in place of the tree, his cold heart the middle of that flag, her fingers swiftly let go of the arrow as her eyes followed it straight to the heart of her vision. Silently, she made herself a vow.
Take what you want from me, Marcus. You will suffer for this I swear...I have a promise to keep.