I am using the last several weeks of the year to feature a select group of authors in what promises to be a truly exciting series. Several have earned one or more Readers Favorite book awards this year. Two will be of very special interest. I begin this series with Patricia Reding.
Patricia Reding leads a double life. By day, she practices law. By night, she reads, reviews a wide variety of works, and writes fantasy. She lives on an island on the Mississippi with her husband and daughters (her son having already flown the nest), Coconut (a Westie) and Flynn Rider (an English Cream Golden Retriever), from whence she seeks to create a world in which she can be in two places at once. She took up Oathtaker as a challenge and discovered along the way, the joy of storytelling. Currently, Patricia is working on Select, the first sequel to Oathtaker.
Oathtaker’s description is as follows:
An Oath Sworn. A Struggle Engaged. A Sacrifice Required.
When Mara, a trained Oathtaker, is drawn by the scent of the Select to battle underworld beasts summoned by the powers of evil to destroy the guardians of life, she swears a life oath for the protection of her charge.
Armed with a unique weapon and her attendant magic, and with the assistance of her Oathtaker cohorts, two ancients and a spymaster, Mara seeks safety for her charge from one who would end Oosa’s rightful line of rule and from assassins who endeavor to bring ruin to the land.
As Mara puzzles to decipher ancient prophecy concerning her charge, as she is haunted with memories of her own past failings, she discovers the price her oath will exact.
To renounce her word would be treasonous; to fail, ruinous; to persevere, tortuous. Abiding by an oath requires sacrifice.
Patricia, I’ve had a chance to glimpse Oathtaker’s opening pages and found it hard to step back out into the “real” world. It’s a captivating read. Further, your readers rave about what a wonderful story it is, but I’m wondering if there is a story behind the story.
I will age myself here and probably open a wider window into my soul than I might intend, but the inspiration for Oathtaker was my longing to return to the world as I saw it as a child. Perhaps it is just that my parents sheltered me more than I thought, but I recall a world in which people said what they meant and meant what they said. People entered into agreements with a handshake. Children knew that if a parent said “no,” it didn’t mean “no” only until the child overcame the parent with begging. People in relationships worked hard to walk through the difficult times together. Their behavior, their choices, came with consequences. I longed for that world because today it seems so easy to go back on your word. This is true across the board—of parents, teachers, politicians, and more. I think that our young people in particular, suffer as a result. They crave continuity and truth and something they can count on to be and to remain true. In many ways I think society has failed our youth in this regard, and I wanted to help to make up for that failure.
With all that in mind, I sought to create a world in which one’s word mattered, and in particular, to examine what someone might do if she found something that, or someone who, pulled her from her path—if she found her love—a moment after swearing a life-oath that forbid her from attaching herself to him. Thus, Mara came to be. Her situation is made more difficult by the fact that in Oathtaker, the man she comes to love, Dixon, is released from his vow only moments before Mara swears her oath. From that premise, Oathtaker was born.
Why have you chosen your particular genre?
There are two main reasons I write fantasy. The first is that I think it is the hardest. You see, I read a fantasy series some years ago that I found utterly genius. I sought to know how the author accomplished what he did. After reading it, I then went through a period when, notwithstanding the many, many wonderful works out there, I struggled to find stories that engaged, entertained, uplifted and challenged me. I had to see for myself what the process included. I had to know more. Thus, I started this writing venture as a challenge to myself—and writing fantasy was the greatest challenge I could conceive of. It requires the creation of a new world and a magic system. Such features must make sense to the story and must be internally consistent. Those are not easy tasks. Along the way, I discovered the joy of storytelling. I also discovered that writing a story that is new and different is very difficult. Perhaps of most importance, I developed a strong understanding of and for other authors. I am much more forgiving of mistakes than I once was.
The second reason I chose fantasy was because I wanted to explore a concept that I felt might seem “preachy” if I approached and discussed it through a story set in our modern world. Specifically, I wanted to present a story in which the main character was faced with choosing between honoring her word and following the path her heart begged her to pursue.
Your Readers Favorite award sets you apart from the herd, but in your words, why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?
Actually, this question makes me laugh. You see, I’ve discovered that there are many who would consider themselves “fantasy aficionados.” These are people who, it seems to me, have preconceived notions of what a fantasy story should do, how it should be told, that all the names should be unpronounceable and include apostrophes, and so forth. For example, some think a fantasy author can only teach about his world and how it works by having the main protagonist begin the venture in some kind of training. In this way, the reader learns along with the character. Some think that the world has to include so many “made up” things (that bear some loose resemblance to things in our world) that the reader has to learn an entirely new vocabulary in order to follow the story or constantly refer to the back-of-the-book glossary. Sometimes I read about how a fantasy work is “set” into some time period in our world (such as medieval, for example). But it makes no sense to me to say that because some features of a fantasy world are “medieval,” that as a result some other features or things can or cannot exist or happen. For me, that is the whole idea behind a fantasy world—it is made up. It can be anything. Thus, I am willing to give the writer the freedom to include or not to include anything in that author’s world that he or she chooses. This includes language used, gadgets in existence, and so forth.
Of course, people can have whatever thoughts they like about the fantasy genre, but I think having preconceived ideas about how a fantasy should be told, is a bit short-sighted. If all authors followed that train of thought, new ways would never come about. For example, where did steampunk come from, but that someone decided to do something different? What about gaslamp fantasy? I found a great list of fantasy subgenres to which I refer from time to time. The titles are intriguing. Consider, for example, the following: hard, gritty, dark, urban, dying earth, new weird, and so on. See: http://bestfantasybooks.com/fantasy-genre.php. A reader with preconceived notions might be disappointed when they encounter these works. By contrast, I appreciate a writer doing what has not been done before. I’ve read of wizards and elves and fairies. I want something new.
With those ideas in mind, I decided I would create the world I wanted—regardless of what someone else thought it ought be. My world does not fit any particular era in our own world history. The names do not begin with “de” or include apostrophes—and they are pronounceable. In most cases, I chose names because of the meanings behind them or, where I wanted to avoid drawing any connection to a meaning, I made them up. Several readers have told me that they’ve never been able to get into fantasy before—but that they enjoyed my work. Perhaps this is because, as one reviewer of my work suggested, I wrote Oathtaker “from the outside looking in” (see http://joshuagrasso.booklikes.com). I believe he was on to something . . .
Why should someone buy your book?
Oathtaker is a story that is challenging and uplifting. It offers heroes, secrets, magic, and an adventure. It is appropriate for readers 13 and older.
Tell us about the awards you’ve won.
To date, I’ve only entered one contest and that was the Readers’ Favorite 2014 International Book Award Contest. The winners were announced September 1, 2014. I was delighted to be awarded with an Honorable Mention Award in the Young Adult Fantasy category. This is quite something for a “first work.” I note that while my story may not be a standard “young adult” tale, in that it includes significant characters of a wide range of ages (and does not include “insta-love” or a love-triangle), it certainly poses a challenge to young readers and it speaks to issues important to them. Best of all—young readers have enjoyed it.
The Readers’ Favorite contest also includes a connection with WindDancer Films (at http://www.winddancer.com), the production company behind such movies as “What Women Want” and such television series as “Home Improvement.” Of the thousands of entrants in the contest, Oathtaker was chosen as one of ten works about which WindDancer Films would like to learn more.
What is your day job?
Goodness, where does one begin? In addition to being a wife and mother of three (two of whom are still “at home”) I also practice law. My main practice area is Intellectual Property. Intellectual Property includes assets of value that cannot be touched—trademarks, patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and so forth. In particular, I handle trademark matters, including registrations and infringement, domain name infringement, and so forth. (Have you ever received a cease and desist letter from me?)
I think the practice of law makes for good training for writing fantasy—a genre that requires that the author keep numerous balls in the air at the same time. My experience with questioning people, collecting facts, looking for alternative ways to resolve matters, negotiating, drafting, and counseling, serves me well when it comes to writing.
Alright then, would you tell us about your dream job?
More than anything, I would like to teach. I would enjoy mashing some first year law students’ brains, as was done with my own, but even more, I think I would like to teach political science at the undergraduate level.
My undergraduate degree was in Political Science, with a minor in Philosophy. I concentrated on studies relating to what was then the Soviet Union, including history and philosophy courses pertaining to the USSR. Today, I am a 24-7 political news junkie. (The funniest stories my children tell me are of their bringing their teachers, unaware of details about which my children are well-versed, up to speed.) There are so many issues, aside from simple civics details, that would be great fun to explore with young minds. Some themes I know I would concentrate on would be how to be good consumers of information, how to “read between the lines,” how to identify when someone is not answering the question asked, how to spot an ideological bent, and so on.
If I spoke to your closest friend about you, what would she or he would tell me?
She would probably tell you that I have a knack for asking questions—questions that will unearth issues not previously considered and/or that will move you from problem to conclusion. She might also tell you that I truly do believe that “chocolate” is one of the four basic food groups, that I salt things way too much (because “salt” is another of the four basic food groups), and that I am bilingual—sarcasm is my second language.
Do you have a favorite quote?
There are so many. In particular, I love Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain quotes. But with a philosophy background, I find myself thinking of this, from John Stuart Mills: “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” In many ways, these words seem to sum up life and the state of the world at any given time.
What are your favorite authors?
I adore Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I think it is the most beautiful thing ever written. It is more than a story—it is poetry. I am also a big Charles Dickens fan. It took me some time to catch his rhythm, but I now find him positively hilarious. Once, I sat and read aloud to my then middle-grade daughters, the opening chapters of Great Expectations. Honestly, we laughed until tears ran. I love his descriptions of everything from people, to dead and scattered bugs on the floor. As to more contemporary works and/or those in my own genre, I am a big fan of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of the Truth series.
It’s time for the Lightning Round. Brief answers please!
The one thing I cannot do without is:
music. I especially enjoy movie soundtracks, Celtic works, and Broadway shows (in particular, Wicked, The Pirate Queen, Phantom and Aida). My family and I have also performed for almost 20 years now, in a Christmas musical, Two From Galilee, so I love participating as well as listening.
In one or two words, what is your defining trait?
Hard copy or ebook?
Preferably hard copy. I love the feel of the book in my hands.
Vice: Louis Vuitton handbags. If I ever go broke, I will have to auction mine off. Virtue: Can I think about this for a while?
Hah! Favorite book:
Oh . . . this is so hard. I love the Lord of the Rings movies, but probably not for the same reasons as many others. Truthfully, I find the story a bit difficult to follow. My favorite parts are the background music and the lighting—which in some scenes is true genius.
Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?
Don’t limit yourself—and don’t allow anyone else to do so either.
I asked Patricia to provide an excerpt from Oathtaker. This is the gem she provided:
“What have I done?” Mara crouched down, pulled away the blanket that covered Rowena, then carefully took into her arms first Reigna, then Eden. She stood up, holding herself as tall as she could. She glared. “What have I done? Oh, nothing! Oh, well that is, except—ahhh . . . well . . . let me think here—.”
She hesitated, playacting. “Oh, yes, I remember now. I took down a full pack of grut, helped Rowena birth these beautiful children, accepted them as my charge, saw to it that she released her power with her dying breath, comforted her in her last moments—. Shall I go on?” She took a deep breath. “What have I done? Who are you to accuse me of anything? I have done my duty!”
“I am her Oathtaker. That’s who I am!”
“Were,” Mara snapped. “You were her Oathtaker. She’s dead. Or did I forget to mention that? So I might ask—what have you done? Where were you when she so clearly needed you? The truth is, if I hadn’t arrived when I did, I expect we would have lost them all!” Her eyes remained fixed on him.
After some seconds, he looked away. “Dead.”
She could not tell if he was stating the fact or asking if it was true. Considering the shock he must be feeling, she decided that arguing with him would not be in anyone’s best interests. She recalled that above all, she must get the girls to safety quickly.
“I’m sorry. I did all I could. Rowena had lost too much blood before I arrived. She . . . she was a fighter, I know.”
He did not take his eyes from his former charge. He dropped to his knees at her side. Taking her hand into his own, he lifted it to his cheek and closed his eyes. His breathing slowed. His jaw set. Mara sensed he fought back tears. Slowly, he leaned forward to stroke the woman’s cheek, then her hair. Finally, he bowed his head and audibly exhaled.
Mara watched his easy touch, saw his shoulders sag and his eyes pressed closed. She knew that look.
“You loved her.” She had not intended to speak the words out loud, but there they were—hanging in the air.
“Well,” he said, clearing his throat, obviously restraining himself, “of course I cared deeply for her. She was my charge. She’s been my charge for . . . for some time now. I’ve forgotten what life is without her.”
“No, that’s not all. You . . . you loved her. I can see it in your eyes, in your touch, in—”
“She was my charge!” He held Mara’s gaze, as though daring her to challenge him further.
She said nothing. Perhaps he was trying to convince himself, but she wondered.
“You do understand the significance of the oath you just swore?” he asked, scornfully.
Of course she did. An Oathtaker’s vow came with commitments. Mara hadn’t given it much thought earlier, but when she swore her oath, she had sealed the deal. Her word bound her to the twins for so long as they lived. She could no longer follow another path.
In the moment she took her vow, Ehyeh bestowed gifts upon her, attendant magic and continued youth. She would not physically age until the death of her charge. Only then could she begin her life anew, follow other dreams. The same had been true for Dixon while his charge had lived. But what did his denial mean? What was he trying to imply? That because he’d sworn to accept Rowena as his charge, he had not still been vulnerable to his own feelings, longings, desires? Had he been one who had fallen into the state of pain that came with loving someone while subject to his oath?
“Of course I do,” she confirmed.
If you’d like to read more, or learn more about the author, here are some links to help you:
Links to website, blog and online social accounts:
Website and blog: http://www.oathtaker.com