Romance author Erin O’Quinn visits the Plain of Shining Books today to tell us about her exciting Dawn of Ireland trilogy, Storm Maker, The Wakening Fire, and, debuting next month, Captive Heart.
Welcome, Erin! Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
My home town is a tiny afterthought in the mountains of Nevada, 300 miles from everywhere in every direction. My upbringing was thus very parochial, and I still feel like a small-town kid in the big city. Sometimes, referring to myself as a romance writer, I say that I feel like Raggedy Ann in Barbie-ville. My father was a self-employed miner, and we lived in a pine-timber cabin high on Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in White Pine County, Nevada, until a truant officer hauled my young bum off to first grade and we had to move into town. As you can imagine, that kind of fiercely independent, half-wild youth has served me well as an author of like-minded heroines, all living in a rough-hewn environment.What sparked your interest in writing?
I have been writing since I was really young. Remember that cabin in the mountains? The inside walls were lined with cardboard for insulation, and they became my blackboard long before those truant officers showed up. When I got to school, I found that I could already write better than my peers. Even when I went from the small high school to the Univ. of So. Calif., I found that my writing was pretty darned good, on a par with the honor students in my English classes. So I wrote about everything imaginable, and I ended up with a BA in English and a MA in Comparative Lit. But my "real" writing had to wait until I was older, when my husband and I got an iMac just about 14 months ago. I sat in front of the screen and proceeded to write one million-plus words in that time period—ten novels, six of them contracted. Wow, I had a lot bottled up in my brain!What components, in your opinion, make a great story?
First-rate writing is an absolute must. Follow that with engaging characters involved in an interesting plot that comes to a smashing climax and a logical resolution. That’s all. ;)How would you generally categorize the books/stories you write?
So far, they have all been romances that reach beyond the strictures of the genre into areas like history, religion, poetry, and folklore.A deep well of inspiration indeed. Do you set your books/stories in your home town, or do you prefer more exotic locations?
As a change from my non-erotic romances, I am halfway through with a novel of Manlove set in a fictitious town called Noble, Nevada. But I think that the older denizens of my home town would recognize it. Otherwise, Pat, my novels are set in Éire, first and foremost; and in Britannia, Cymru (ancient Wales), and the area dangerously close to Hadrian’s great wall that separated Britannia from Caledonia (Scotland).What inspired you to write Storm Maker?
The characters and events of my books were begun somewhere in that first 300,000 words I told you about—a set of YA fantasies called The Twilight of Magic, a collaboration with my husband Bil. But when the heroine Caylith reached 18, and the men started getting more than just doe-eyed, she became a romance character; and my husband went back to his SF/Fantasy reading. The last of the YA series, Where Wild Ponies Ran, leaves her in Éire where she has followed Father Patrick. Storm Maker picks up from there, where chaste kisses and hand-holding begin to develop into something a bit more mature.How did you come up with the titles?
The answer to Storm Maker lies in the sensuous mouth of Caylith. To put a rather coy spin on it, I’ll quote her suitor’s cousin Ryan, a homespun philosopher:
". . .[M]e cousin Liam says ye’re his storm-maker."
I looked at Liam, puzzled, and he lightly traced my mouth with his index finger.
"A woman’s mouth can be a man’s downfall—or a way to stand him up again."
And now we have come to The Wakening Fire, just published, that tells of the fires searing across Éire—the ritual fires of paganism, the Easter fires of St. Patrick, the passionate fires of Caylith, Liam and others—and above all the quickening fire inside Caylith as she discovers that she will soon be a mother?Was there much research involved?
Yes, I did a tremendous amount of research, both on the web and in bookstores. I had to familiarize myself, first, with the country of Ireland. Then I had to learn about ancient Ireland—quite different, at least geopolitically. I studied the history, the people, the language, the culture, the folklore, you name it. And I’m still researching.Is there a message in your stories you want readers to grasp?
That’s a good question, Pat. In Storm Maker, my editor is convinced I am trying to tell the story of "the historical tension between paganism and the rise of Christianity"; and that the main characters are on a quest for justice and forgiveness in the turbulent atmosphere of Old World Ireland. Yes, I very much wanted to explore the ironic disparity between the morals of saintly Father Patrick and the free-wheeling, almost dangerous moral perspectives of the rough clans of ancient Éire. I wanted Liam to "see the light" and for Caylith herself to begin to see the tremendous worth in other people outside her own self-absorbed inner universe. Readers will judge whether I succeeded. In The Wakening Fire, the subtext of Christianity vs. paganism is even stronger, as Liam and his close family get nearer to accepting the godspels of Christ—all except Liam’s father, who is the high king himself, Patrick’s most powerful enemy.Heady stuff. What do you feel is your biggest strength as a writer?
I will list a few strengths: An ability to write very quickly and yet see the whole chapter, even the whole book, as I write. A good grasp of metaphoric language (born of my poetry-writing days). An invariable sense of the rhythm and cadence of language itself. An ability to capture speech patterns and dialects. Notice all those sentence fragments? Will anyone believe they’re deliberate in a paragraph devoted to strong writing?I suspect you can pull it off. So, give us a mini-tour of your writing space.
You would not want to share it! I have a space about 5’x5’ carved out in our living room with a wide-screen iMac, a printer, a bookcase and two curious, keyboard-loving cats. Pinned to the long-suffering wallpaper are various print-outs, mainly from the web, of neat maps and pictures—my book cover, a certificate from NANOWRIMO, a rendition of the cartoon character Stitch (one of my cats), roads in ancient Britain, a toy Thor’s Hammer (my cat punisher). Add to that a sagging and cat-scratched office chair, and you have my work space.I love the idea of a cat punisher! (Just kidding.) Which authors do you feel have influenced your writing most?
My favorite writers are the ones who haven most influenced me: Vladimir Nabokov, Michael Chabon, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Séamus Heaney.Name a few titles I’d find if I browsed through your personal home library.
Hmmm. Between my husband and me, we own probably upwards of 10K books. In the little bookcase next to my computer, you will find several books on the Irish Gaelic language, seven or eight books on mythology and a few on Irish folklore. Add to those general books The Art of War, The Encarta Dictionary, Campbell’s Creative Mythology, Celtic Names, Zen Kitty and (to strike an odd note) The Elegant Universe.If you could go back in time, what author would you most like to invite to share a chat and a bottle of wine?
I would definitely sit down with a dainty cup of dandelion tea (or maybe dandelion wine) with Emily Dickinson. We would chat about the infinity of the "now," about the cosmos on a blade of grass, about the inevitability and ultimate graciousness of death.You’re marooned on a desert island. What’s the one book you’d want with you, and why?
Probably the whole Bible with the Apocrypha as an epilogue. So much of the history of the last two thousand-plus years has been linked directly to those voices from the past, those multiple-pov people like Saul and David and Paul and Matthew, not to mention the big guys Moses and Christ.Talk about inspiring. What’s next for you? Can we look forward to a new story in the near future?
Very diverse work. Who supports your writing activities most?Coming up around June 12 is the last of the trilogy, Captive Heart. After the Dawn of Ireland trilogy, Pat, I have one more M/F novel set in that universe called Fire & Silk scheduled roughly for July 10. And then I depart not from the familiar setting but from the mode of writing in a Manlove (erotic) series—The Iron Warrior, called Warrior, Ride Hard and Warrior, Stand Tall. These books are set for a rough pub date of August 9 and September 6. And after that, I mentioned the book I’m working on set in the small Nevada town. Looking even beyond, I have been searching for a home for The Twilight of Magic series, so that Caylith and her friends’ story can be fully told at last.
My husband is very giving and very forgiving. He, above all, is my staunch supporter. I have met some outstanding people through my yahoo groups—you, Lindsay Townsend, Miriam Newman, Jan Bowles, my own little writer’s group—who have been my spine when I needed one and my balm when I needed sleep and reassurance.Tell us a little about Storm Maker and The Wakening Fire.
The more she tries to stay chaste, the more her passions increase. The sexual tension builds as she faces the clash of her desires and her promise to Patrick--to remain a virgin until marriage. When an old enemy seizes Liam as hostage for all her lands, she first confronts the scheming druid brothers Loch and Lucet, pagan priests of the high king himself; and then she faces the malevolence of her old nemesis Owen Sweeney.
Finally, on the verge of marriage, Caylith is confronted by the other man who loves her. Now she must choose between the lover who has waited for her and the untamed, mysterious Liam.
The Wakening Fire:
Even though married life for young Liam and Caylith is just as sensuous as their stormy courtship, both of them still need to learn a whole new language--how to teach each other their deepest, most secret passions. Liam finds ingenious ways to instruct his still naive wife about his urgent needs, and she surprises him with her own teaching of him.
In the mist of their quest of each other they find themselves on a more deadly search--for the dark secrets of their old enemy Owen Sweeney, confined to an invalid’s cart and seemingly just as dangerous as ever. Their search for the truth of the brooding half-man leads them back to the history of Ireland’s most famous high king, to the deadly vengeance of a jealous woman, and finally to the hills of sacred Tara, where a high king and St. Patrick himself compete for men’s hearts and souls while ritual fires rage around them.
EXCERPT (The Wakening Fire, from the chapter called "Burning and Scorching")
After witnessing Father Patrick's deliberate Easter fire that has enraged the high king, Caylith sits with other witnesses in King Leary's mead hall as Patrick himself is brought before him to answer for his crime.
It seemed hours, though I knew it was only fifteen or twenty minutes, before the armed men at the door stiffened, and I heard a shout from the other side of the portal. A guard opened it, and into the immense, gleaming room strode my friend Father Patrick.
His head was high and his blue eyes were snapping with purpose. His hands were bound behind him, and his prayer shawl hung almost raggedly from his neck. One of the guards reached out as though to touch his shoulder, and he drew back with a quick, almost rough movement.
"Leave him alone," said Leary. [The king's son] Torin stood at the king’s side, repeating his words for those of us who would not understand his tongue.
"Ye stand while I sit," said the king, his dark-brown eyes stabbing into Patrick’s. "And yet the laws of hospitality require me to bid ye sit, and partake of me repast." He reached out a languid, ring-filled hand and poked at a trencher on the table. "Will ye?"
Patrick’s childlike, round face seemed to lengthen and age at that moment. He knew the Gaelige tongue like a native, and yet he spoke the tongue of the Britons, punctuated here and there with an apt word or two of Gaelic. "B’fhéidir when you release my bonds, O Leary. So that I may then hold an eating knife." His blue eyes were flint cold.
Torin repeated Patrick’s words so that Leary could understand. "Me druids tell me ye would usurp the laws of our land. Ye would defy the ancient Brehon precepts, an’ ye would replace our gods with yours. How do ye plead on those counts?"
"I plead only to my God," Patrick said evenly. "I speak to kings, and to common men alike. But I plead only to Christ, that he forgive your ignorance and hold you to his bosom in his mysterious love and compassion."
I felt warm admiration for Patrick. In all the time I had known him, I had rarely seen even a trace of anger. But now I saw it slowly building in his eyes, and in his very demeanor, in spite of his mild words.
"Then I must bid me guards take ye to confinement."
"Even as Herod did, would you so dismiss me?"
I saw Leary’s face change then, and a flicker of fear or alarm in his eyes. "If I but believed the lies ye spread about a man who died an’ walked again, then yes. Even as Herod."
Patrick’s tone changed then, and for the first time he spoke softly, in the fatherly tone so familiar to me. "Thousands of your subjects believe those lies, O King. Would you call them foolish? Misguided? Or do they see something that perhaps you are missing? That Christ is love. Is é grá Chríost. That he asked not for special treatment. That he sought only to teach others about God’s love and forgiveness. That he did indeed die and live again, even as your own god Bel, whom you celebrate as the sun. And so I also celebrate Christ, also the son—the son of God."
Leary’s voice was almost pleading now. "Then why do ye flout me laws, priest? Why do ye set your own fires to be higher than me own? How does that show love?"
"I must love all men, even as my Lord Christ loved. I cannot show you more love than I show your worthy fair-faced advisor." And he gazed directly at one of the most ugly men I had ever beheld, a hairy-faced druid whose lower lip seemed to emit a constant stream of dribble. A ripple of laughter drifted through the room.
* * * * *About Erin O’Quinn
I earned a BA in English and an MA in Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California. After thus proving to the world that I could write, I went on to promotion and marketing for a large newspaper...selling Volvos and Saabs deep in the forest near Frankfurt, Germany...teaching remedial English to college freshmen who never learned it in high school...waiting on tables in an IHOP...winning salesman of the year in a good-old-boy car dealership in Abilene, Texas..hauling pallets of mulch and manure for a big-box store’s garden center. Only after all those mini-careers did I begin to find my true calling in December 2010, when I sat down to co-write my first YA fantasy Hidden by the Rose.
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Available Now from Book Strand
Storm Maker, Book 1 in the Dawn of Ireland Trilogy
The Wakening Fire, Book Two in the Dawn of Ireland Trilogy
Coming Soon from Siren Book Strand
Coming Soon from Siren Book Strand
Captive Heart, Book Three in the Dawn of Ireland Trilogy