[simpleazon-image align=”left” asin=”0985285109″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/414cZHjmaIL._SL160_.jpg” width=”104″][simpleazon-image align=”left” asin=”0985285133″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ZNaPmYZcL._SL160_.jpg” width=”104″]Please enjoy this excerpt from the exciting and beautifully written YA fantasy, [simpleazon-link asin=”0985285109″ locale=”us”]Mother’s Curse (Volume 1)[/simpleazon-link], by Thaddeus Nowak. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including a Kindle Fire, $450 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of each book.
Feeling slightly better for having a bit of light to keep with her, she continued down the street, occasionally looking through a window to see the remains of a room. After the third storefront she passed, she wondered at the reason all of the furniture and even drapes, carpets, and accessories had been left behind. Even in the desperate flight from Antar, people were still taking their belongings. They removed their drapes, even ones far less decorative then what Stephenie suspected were here. Why would everyone desert a city and yet leave almost everything behind as if they were simply going across town to visit a friend? She was hesitant to consider an answer. This city had been deserted and abandoned for a long time. Antar castle and city above had been there for as long as memory could recall and the original castle even before then. Had any of those above known about a city deep in the rocks under their feet, there would have been stories.
Stephenie used her stolen crystal to look into a shop that reminded her of a bakery, with a large oven in the back wall and the remains of shelves still partially attached to a side wall. The sparkle of something shiny and shaped like a pendant caught her eye. Looking closer at a mass on the floor, she paused and then stepped quickly away from the window as a shiver of fear rolled down her spine.
She closed her eyes, but the unmistakable image of a human skull laying on the floor would not leave her sight. She shivered again and looked up and down the street. Perhaps they didn’t leave.
Mustering her courage, Stephenie slowly approached the window again. She forced herself to look at the mass on the floor. Wiping away some of the dirt on the window, she could make out the arms and runners of a rocking chair mixed with what was likely clothing and the decayed bones of the person who’s head had rolled several feet away after the chair had collapsed. Bits of hair and desiccated skin clung to the skull, which was fortunately staring away from the window. The person died sitting in a chair and no one came to remove or bury the body?
Stephenie sniffed the air and thought about the strange odor she had been noticing since she had entered the city. It was a musty sweet smell. “Is this a plague city?” She felt her throat tightening with each breath and again quickly retreated from the window. She turned toward the way she had entered the city, ready to run back to the large doors and flee, but the dryness of her throat and the sound of water stopped her. If this is a plague city, then I am as good as dead and I might as well die after I’ve had something to drink.
Slowly, she turned around and continued down the street, no longer bothering to look into the store fronts. The rot and death they held did not interest her anymore.
She passed several side streets, but continued following the slowly turning main street because the sound of water was getting louder in the direction it was heading. After a short time, the street opened into another large plaza at least a hundred feet in diameter. Several streets exited the round plaza, but at the very center, lit with several points of glowing light was a fountain. Its water pushed up from a center mound and cascaded down several stone statues into a series of white marble bowls. The fountain was a dozen feet high and thirty feet across.
Drawn by thirst, Stephenie quickly reached the edge of the fountain and could feel a cool mist splashing over her. Knowing she would die slowly and painfully from whatever disease had killed the residents of this city, she did not care if the water was poison as long as it tasted fresh. Taking a small sip, she tested the flavor and found it cleaner than what she was used to in the castle. Scooping up more water with her hands, she drank deeply before noticing how dirty her hands had become. After quickly rubbing away the dirt, she moved a couple feet away and continued to drink until her stomach felt full.
Relieved of her thirst, she sat down next to the fountain and buried her face in her wet hands. She sobbed with frustration and relief in one confused wail. While she would not die of thirst, how was she going to get out and warn her father and Joshua about her mother’s betrayal? She cradled her cut arm in her lap and leaned back with her eyes closed. I’ve got light and some water, but what good would warning everyone do if I bring a plague to them? She shook her head. Damn it, why do the gods hate me so? Fundamentally, she knew her tie with Elrin, even if a result of her mother’s doing, was her real damnation. She could not bring herself to worship the demon god and she dared not seek out the other gods for fear the priests would sense her connection to Elrin.
Opening her eyes, she stared at her foot prints along the cobbled street. A lone trail to remind her that she had to do whatever it was she was going to do on her own. There was no one to help her.
She sat silently staring into the distance for some time. Then she blinked her eyes, uncertain that she was not imagining it, but after a moment, there was definitely a strange luminescence moving down the street. As it grew closer, she scrambled to her feet, recognizing the dim outlines of a human form. The apparition was moving in her direction. She quickly moved away from the fountain, but as it closed on the fountain, it appeared not to notice Stephenie at all. Instead, it held its, or her, hands as if carrying something. When it reached the fountain, it leaned over as if scooping up water.
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Mother’s Curse is a coming of age story about the youngest Princess of Cothel and her efforts to save her father and brother from her mother’s schemes, while at the same time, coming to terms with what it means to be a witch. Get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes.
Daughter’s Justice continues Stephenie’s journey of discovery, where she must overcome national opposition to her being a witch as well as lead her friends and protectors on a mission to stabilize her countries finances. Get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes.
Why This Male Reader Loves Strong Female Characters
A Guest Post by Thaddeus Nowak
I’ve mentioned it before, but my formative childhood years were spent with the neighborhood girls. My family had the only boys for many blocks and with my closest brother being four years younger than me, the only people my age to play with were girls. I learned all about Barbie and Ken and playing house. I’m not complaining, we also romped around the woods, got covered in mud, had snowball fights, and played ball just like any group of kids would. To me, they were just my friends. There were no boys versus girls attitudes between us (that concept came later when we went to different schools and I had to make new friends). And even when faced with that concept, I always preferred to be on the girls’ team, because that’s where the girls were.
Due to those early years–to this day–I always think of women as equals, and probably superior in many cases. So when it comes to reading novels or watching movies, I have no trouble identifying with a female lead. In fact, I think female leads actually make stronger characters than their male counterparts.
What is a strong character?
To me, a strong character is one who’s personality can be felt. They may have inner fears and concerns, but they make the hard decisions and are decisive when it counts. They know what they want and actively make plans to get it. A strong character is a leader, someone the other characters look to for guidance. That is not to say they are hard-headed and stubborn; they have to be smart enough to know when they need to ask for advice and be willing to admit when they are not able to do something themselves. Delegation does not have to be a weakness–when done right it is a strength.
It may seem counter intuitive, but physical strength and prowess do not make a character strong. In fact, it can make them weaker in the long run. A bully lashing out and attacking may be able to overpower and intimidate others, but they still lack the strength of character that someone standing up to them possesses.
For male characters, physical strength and skill in combat (especially in fantasy novels) is a socially expected norm. A male character, who is not stoic in the face of danger can’t overcome his foes and has to rely upon others, is perceived as weak. The problem is, being a stoic loner often overshadows some of the character’s personality and limits how dynamic the character can be.
Whereas a female lead, while she may be physically adept, is not expected to use brute strength to overpower her foes. Society accepts the fact that she can have doubts (which are perfectly human, regardless of sex) and allows her to use her mind and intelligence to overcome obstacles. She has to decide to stand up to the stronger bully. I personally feel it makes the character richer and more balanced–more human and more like the girls I grew up with.
It’s not what’s on the outside that counts
The other reason I prefer stories with strong female protagonists is that they do not usually feature the females as window dressing–on the cover or in the story. While I have my share of traditional fantasy art hanging on my walls, my childhood influences don’t align with the concept of the half-naked damsel in distress unable to do anything for herself. Too many of the stories with male protagonists tend to have the main woman of the stories hopping along on the man’s coattails, doting on his every action. The girls I grew up with definitely did not dote; they knew what they wanted and knew how to get it. So when I read a story, I want to enjoy a little nostalgia and see women as I know they are.
Please enjoy this interview with Thaddeus Nowak.
1. Stephenie surely defies stereotypes. Born a princess, but a tomboy. Cursed as a witch, but a likable relatable character all the same. How did you go about creating her character?
Stephenie was born in my imagination many years ago. It was during a time I was struggling with another story. To help “get my creative juices flowing,” I started to write random scenes with random characters. One scene I wrote was about a young girl who was alone in a public house where a conflict broke out, and she had to fight her way out.
Well, I kind of fell in love with the character and had to find out who she was, where she was going, and why she was alone in the world. In making that discovery, I crafted the current story arch that is the Heirs of Cothel Series. It took some time to work out her past and what her life would be like growing up as a witch and how the damaged relationship she has with her mother would affect her. Based on those factors, her break from what would be typical for a princess seemed natural.
Which then led me to think of the girls I had grown up with and the women I know today; many of them are tomboys and are not afraid of getting dirty and running about the woods. So it just seemed natural that Stephenie would be that way as well: a strong young lady who has her own motivations and agenda, but is compassionate and can sympathize with others, even if she cannot fix all of their problems.
As a bit of trivia, many aspects of that original scene are in Mother’s Curse.
2. Did you face any special challenges writing a female lead character, given that you are a male author?
Yes and no. I grew up surrounded by girls. My family had the only boys in the neighborhood for many years, so all my friends were female and that does give me something to draw from.
When writing Stephenie, I try to get into her head and see the world through her eyes. Occasionally, I need to refocus and make sure she would really react in a particular way. The good thing is I have had her in my head for so long that I usually have a pretty good idea of what to write for her. My bigger challenges come with some of the other female characters and making sure I am true to them.
3. The tension between Stephenie and Sergeant Henton is one of my favorite parts of the book. How did you develop their relationship using such subtlety and not hitting us over the head with cliché romantic dialogue?
I am glad the subtlety of their relationship is being noticed. I had one reader tell me they were worried that I might fall into one of the overused traps they see in so many YA novels. Once they realized I had not done that, they were ecstatic.
I can say this approach in the story is very much me. I am something of a romantic, but I don’t care for most of the stories dubbed as “romance”. Do people act in stupid ways when they are trying to attract other people? Of course, but too many stories seem to force stupid decisions upon the characters to ratchet up the tension. Too many times, that is done through obvious misunderstandings that could be resolved with half a minute of conversation that the characters work very hard to avoid.
My goal is to never have a character deliberately sabotage their relationships for stupid reasons (at least not a character I respect). If things work or don’t work, I want there to be more substance to the reasons. I want the investment in the relationship to be greater, and so the emotions stronger. Perhaps I’ve watched too many classic movies, but there is something very powerful about what is never said aloud between people.
4. The Kingdom of Cothel is at war. Could you tell us more about the front lines Stephenie is so desperately trying to escape to?
At the opening of Mother’s Curse, Cothel, and most of the other countries to the west, are fighting against an invading army that sailed in from the Endless Sea. These invaders have many witches and warlocks in their ranks and are overwhelming the holy warriors and soldiers of the people who live around the Sea of Tet. These Senzar invaders have killed royal families and left countries without rulers. Stephenie’s father was quick to join the battle because his oldest daughter was married to the crown prince of Esland and one of the first to be killed.
The Senzar spent most of their focus driving toward a prominent mountain range in the middle of the land between the Sea of Tet and the Endless Sea to the west. Their main forces have yet to cross over Cothel’s boarders. However, they are on the doorstep of the country and Cothel’s forces are low on supplies and reinforcements. Stephenie’s desperation is to reach her father and brother, the King and Crown Prince, because she fears her mother is plotting something that could put them and the people of Cothel at risk.
5. Although firmly rooted in the fantasy genre, Mother’s Curse and Daughter’s Justice remain quick-paced engaging reads not mired in the details of exotic lands or creatures. Why did you decide to depart from the genre with regards to this important aspect of storytelling?
While some fantasy novels feature lengthy descriptions and details about the various inhabitants, to me Mother’s Curse, Daughter’s Justice, and the subsequent books that will be in the series, are foremost about the main characters: Stephenie, Henton, and Kas. The backdrop of the world, while important, really is a backdrop and I have tried to embrace the idea of less being more.
I am proud of the world I have created, but I am also willing to let the nuances soak in over time as they become relevant to the story. For those who like to find out more about the lands Stephenie has to explore and the history I have created for those lands, I try to put some extra information up on my website. I’ve been adding to it slowly, but have had requests for more information and will work to increase the frequency of the postings.
6. Which authors, film makers, and other sorts of storytellers serve as your primary influences in crafting this book series?
This is a good question. In all my reading, I cannot recall consciously thinking I would like to expand on a specific idea in my own stories. I am certain all the things I have read have had significant subconscious influences. I grew up with a mixture of the classics (Isaac Asimov, Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, and Arthur C. Clarke) and contemporary writers such as Joel Rosenberg, Barbara Hambly, Jane Lindskold, and Kate Forsyth. There are, of course, many more I did not list.
From TV and movies, I would tend to pull more influences from the scifi realm. For conscious influences, I would say I really liked the whit and humor of Farscape and how the characters got along. The only thing I can say I remember the actual spark of the idea was from the movie High Spirits. That movie lent me the idea that over many years ghosts would fall into a trance and continually relive an aspect of their lives, no longer aware of the world around them until something disturbed their environment.
7. How did you write the interactions between Stephenie and her mother without wanting to strangle the latter? And how did you craft such a formidable villain despite her maternal relation to our loveable hero?
Well, first off, I love my own mother, so no parental issues there. I do know she got a few questions when other people first saw the title and read Mother’s Curse, but having been an early reviewer of the story, she’s also a strong supporter.
For Stephenie and her mother, I wanted the interaction between the two of them to be very toxic and antagonistic. Years of mutual hate meant they knew how to push each other’s buttons and get under the other person’s skin.
Some of it I think I may have pulled from my experiences working in sales and dealing with difficult customers, but mostly it came from the number of years I worked in what was effectively the advanced support team of a crisis management center. Our job was to help people recover large computer systems that were in real trouble. It was high pressure work and not everyone could handle the customers who were themselves under incredible stress. A big part of the role was simply human psychology, empathizing with the customer and helping to make sure they knew you had their best interests at heart. It was really more managing the people than actually working to repair and troubleshoot the databases.
A natural side effect of learning how to help reassure people in a crisis is an insight into how one could hurt people. Hopefully, I’ve managed to put those years of experience to good use in making believable villains.
8. Have any experiences, personal quirks, or people you know worked themselves into your writing? If so, how and where?
Well, not so much in Mother’s Curse or Daughter’s Justice. There is a lot of me in the characters, especially when it comes to the pragmatic nature of several of them, but I did not really draw from any other people. As a kid, I spent a fair amount of time gaming with my friends and that has lent me the ability to quickly imagine another person, craft some personality traits, and put on a different hat to play that part.
However, the next book, tentatively titled Daughter’s Revenge, will feature someone close to me in the pages. I’ve had numerous requests to include a character for our horse, Dollar (original show name was Silver Dollar due to a white mark on his withers about the size of a silver dollar). So, in book three, look for Stephenie and others to spend some time on horseback, and Dollar to be along for the journey.
9. When not writing, what do you like to do with your free time? Tell us something whacky and cool!
Free time? I don’t quite understand the question. 🙂
I have had to narrow down my list of hobbies and “want-to-dos” considerably over the years. There is just not enough time in the day. However, the primary activities I keep up with include:
Hiking. Though we lack any mountains to make it challenging, I try to spend time on a couple local trails. It is excellent time for working out specific plot details in my head. This year I have two different vacations planned, both of them involve a week of hiking with my wife. One will be in North Carolina, and the other will be on the west coast.
I often mix photography in with the hiking. My wife and I are generally landscape photographers who want trees and mountains in almost every shot, though I do like shooting soft water. I’ll definitely post a few shots of my vacations online after each of those trips.
I also try to keep fit at the gym, but that unfortunately slips from time to time. However, I need to get back into proper condition to hike 15+ miles a day in the mountains with about 35 pounds of gear (cameras, lenses, and a tripod gets heavy).
And of course, I read a lot of novels when I can. Though lately that has also been hit and miss. I always feel guilty reading something else when I can be working on my own novels. But sometimes I just have to take a day or so of solid reading and knock out a book simply for the joy of it.
10. What’s next for the Heirs of Cothel Series, and when can we expect book three?
Book 3 is tentatively titled Daughter’s Revenge. I will let the title imply what it will. As I have already alluded to, Stephenie and others will be going on another road trip, this time using horses. She will learn more about herself and continue to grow as a person. There will be a couple of new characters introduced, but aside from that, I don’t want to give too much away.
Regarding the release date, the first two books have released in the first quarter of the year. I am am aiming to move that up some, but a lot of things have to come together with the proper timing to make that happen. I will definitely keep everyone posted about when to expect book 3 on my website as things get closer.