JM Reinbold of the Written Remains Writers Guild interviewing Sherry Thompson, author of the recently published epic high fantasy, sword and sorcery Earthbow.
JM Reinbold: Hi, Sherry! Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Sherry Thompson: I’m in my sixties, retired, and fairly unconventional. Storytelling is my second career but my first love.
I’m servant to two cats. Khiva, the seal-point Siamese was considered unadoptable by her breeder–terrified of all humans–but we’re good buddies now. Vartha is a black foundling with some Maine Coon mixed in. She’s no longer a kitten but she still acts like one. She’s goofy over cardboard boxes. Khiva comes and tells me when Vartha is misbehaving.
I have a variety of hobbies, though it’s hard to make time for them with writing. Amongst these are jewelry-making (making beads, beading, wire jewelry) and interesting stones which sometimes end up in the jewelry.
I love filk, world, and folk music. Filk music is the folk music of the SF and Fantasy community. I am not knowledgeable about world music, but I like Putumayo recordings especially music of the Caribbean, Africa, and crossovers between them—CDs like “Music from the Coffee Lands”, “… Chocolate Lands”, “Wine”, “Tea”, etc. My fascination with traditional folk music is very old, stretching back to singers like Jean Ritchie, and moving forward through Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Stan Rogers, Gordon Bok, and Robin & Linda Williams. I also like virtually all forms of guitar music, Celtic music, and most forms of Christian music. Actually, it’s hard to name a type of music I dislike–Maybe bluegrass vocals and really angry raps.
I love birds and animals, especially the furred ones and as long as they have no more than four legs. I love trees and plants, though I know next to nothing about them. I can stand and stare up the trunk of a tree for a half hour in complete fascination, unless someone interrupts me. This last interest is echoed by my enjoyment but lack of knowledge about modern sculpture.
Back in the late 80’s or early 90’s, I was introduced to my first labyrinth. (A labyrinth is not a maze–it has one path and is used for meditation, prayer, relaxing or centering.) Even though that first labyrinth was just traced on newsprint, I became enamored of them. I even slipped hints about labyrinths into “Seabird” and a partially-completed manuscript titled “Marooned”.
Foods, television programs and films? Yes. Love them all. Okay, seriously, I love ethnic food of virtually every description. Unlike Cara in “Seabird” I love sushi.
In TV shows and film, I prefer mysteries, suspense, and psychological thrillers, plus the better SF and Fantasy films. I’m particularly fond of The Princess Bride, Alien and Aliens (film #2), Raiders of the Lost Ark, Groundhog Day, LotR (#1), Grand Canyon, Memento, Charade (orig), The Haunting of Hill House (orig), Blade Runner, Brazil, The Lion in Winter, The Shawshank Redemption, The Others, Galaxy Quest, Krull and Max Dugan Returns.
I watch CSI, CSI:Miami, Bones, and I am still decompressing from the end of Lost.
JMR: How did you get started in writing?
ST: When I was in late elementary school, I would tell myself stories after I went to bed. I never wrote any of these down, except for the first two or three pages of a time travel story in which the heroine (me) worked for the U.S. government as a secret agent. I was sent back to various time periods to fill in the details missing in historical records or to check out the truth behind legends. Generally, I got into terrible trouble and rather handsome young men would rescue me. Then I would rescue them. And like that.
JMR: What is your writing process? How do you work as a writer?
ST: I come up with the essential premise of a story—the skeleton of a plot. In the case of the Narentan books, I choose an Alphesaic weapon, and decide what kind of crisis or situation would be solved by that weapon. I may work briefly on setting as well.
Then, I put all of this aside, and begin to think about my characters—all of my characters, good, bad, undecided, human and animal. I spend a lot of time with my characters in thought, jotting down “discoveries” about their personalities and appearance. For example, during this getting-to-know-you phase, one character “told me” he was a poet. I told him he would have to be a bad poet, since that’s not my forte.
Do you think I’m nuts yet? Let’s try this. Back when I was writing Seabird I created a character meant to be cannon fodder so that his or her death would have devastating effects on another character. That was set for a while—until a different supporting character told me that he/she was the one who needed to die. They were right, too. I made the change in my notes. When I got to the scene, I cried so hard I could hardly write it.
JMR: Your book, Earthbow, has been getting some excellent reviews. What is your book about?
ST: Well, half of Earthbow has been getting great reviews, because half of it is out. Gryphonwood Press decided that Earthbow was too long to be published in one volume. Consequently, the book was semi-literally cut exactly in two, and the first half was published in late March. This half is titled “Earthbow Volume 1”. I am currently making final revisions to Earthbow Volume 2, which should be published some time this summer.
But that doesn’t answer your original question. What is “Earthbow” about?
Earthbow tells the story of the 2nd Narentan Tumult, just as Seabird related the story of the 1st Narentan Tumult. Tumults are cataclysmic periods of plotting, murder and battle during which parts of Narenta are threatened by various forces of evil. Frequently, these include sorcerers, and the 2nd Tumult is no exception. Madness, the blind striving for power, the possible destruction of whole ecosystems are also involved.
Because the Earthbow story is so complex, parts of the tale are experienced by certain characters while other parts are experienced by others. Consequently, Earthbow has an ensemble cast and several plot threads. It all comes together near the end of Earthbow Volume 2. Well, that’s the general idea. Maybe the whole planet will implode when the Death Star reaches it. Just kidding.
JMR: Can you tell us a little about the history of Earthbow and your experience writing this particular book?
ST: The first draft of Earthbow was written during a very dark time in my life. My beloved grandmother had just died. Added to that, I was determined to make sure Earthbow got off to a lively start, so I brought in a young fighter as a supporting character. When I began writing Coris’ first scene, I learned all sorts of things about him. Gulping, I had to rework my plot. I wrote for quite a while, and decided that the story was too dark. Enter Khiva the Stoah, meant to be comic relief. Khiva tried at times to make away with the whole story. So did Cenoc, Harone, Coris, etc. I had to keep reminding myself that Earth hadn’t sent Xander to help Narenta for nothing.
Massive rewrites later—with gigantic chunks of story being jettisoned and parts switching position, the story begins with the Outworlder Xander, then Coris comes in and the next thing you know, there’s Cenoc. Thus were my three original plot threads created. Slightly different character mixing-and-matching takes place in the second volume.
JMR: Earthbow is high fantasy, is that right? Could you describe what high fantasy is for readers who may not know?
ST: Backtracking to my first book, Seabird is high fantasy because it is set in a fictional location. In the case of Seabird, this other world of Narenta may or may not be part of our universe. Occasionally Earth inhabitants or people from other worlds are brought to Narenta—otherwise Earth would know nothing about it. Seabird is also “epic” in that a major part of the plot involves two or more forces struggling against each other.
Earthbow certainly fits these definitions – up to a point. That particular point is when the sorcerer, Mexat, and a young fighter named Coris strolled into my group of characters. Coris took a nearly instant dislike to Cenoc and Beroc, while they didn’t much like him either. In the meantime, Harone (an initiate enchanter) caught on to Mexat’s machinations and knew he had to be stopped. Voila: Sword and Sorcery
So just to confuse things, I look at it like this: the world of Narenta is definitely an epic high fantasy setting. However, the plot of Earthbow has strong characteristics of Sword and Sorcery, in which individual battles between wizards and/or fighters take place.
JMR: What drew you, as a writer, to fantasy as a genre?
ST: Wow! I think I was born this way. Okay, when I first started inventing stories, I was very into horses, and cowboy shows were the most popular genre on TV. Except weekends, when Ramar of the Jungle, Buck Rogers & Flash Gordon serials were rerun. I also loved fairy tales. Add my early interest in time travel to the ancient and medieval past. Mix it up all together in some proportions or the other, and out comes a fantasy author. Do it the “wrong” way, and you get space opera writers. (I’m saying this just to rile up my friends over at the Lost Genre Guild.)
JMR: Earthbow and its predecessor Seabird are also categorized as Christian fantasy. Can you tell us a little about Christian fantasy and how it differs from other categories of fantasy? What similarities might readers find in Christian fantasy and other types of fantasy?
ST: Speaking of the Lost Genre Guild, we’ve debated this one a few dozen times. You see, the LGG is made up of Christians who write speculative fiction, i.e. fantasy, SF or horror. Very little of our writing overlaps anyone else’s in any significant way. Except the base assumption of Christian principles. In most other respects, our work fits comfortably next to any fantasy, SF or horror you might find in any brick-and-mortar store. Actually, where LGG books are less likely to be found is in family Christian bookstores. We are, as a whole, too edgy.
JMR: What inspired you to write Earthbow?
ST: I was inspired to write Earthbow at the same time I was inspired to write Seabird. I had finished reading Tolkien’s LotR & the Hobbit and C.S. Lewis’ Narnia and Space Trilogy. I was just starting on the other Inkling, Charles Williams, with his seven urban fantasy novels and his Arthurian poetry. But I was running out of fantasy to read. (That was a long, long time ago.) Since I was in danger of running out of fantasy, I wrote some. For myself at first, just as I used to tell myself stories. I very specifically began with an audience of one in view, then allowed as to how other people like I was might like the stories too.
JMR: Can you tell us any interesting or unusual “facts” about Earthbow?
ST: Let’s see. Coris started off to get some tension into the early scenes. Khiva, as I think I mentioned, came in as comic relief, and will now definitely be in the sequel to Earthbow. I had decided on an Earthbow as the weapon for the second tumult just as the Sword of Living Water was involved in the first Tumult. (One ancient “element” per Tumult). In both Seabird and Earthbow, I had no idea what the weapon would do when I started writing.
JMR: To a greater or lesser degree all authors write from personal experience. What part do your own personal life experiences play in Earthbow?
ST: Probably the chief one is my close observation and love of animals, particularly cats. (This does not make Khiva “actually a cat”!)
I’ve known people with thought processes rather like Cenoc’s. Not a particularly nice personal experience.
JMR: What other authors or books have significantly influenced your writing?
ST: George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams. Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. Madeleine l’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series. Barbara Hambly’s excellent and out of print fantasy series, Lewis Carroll, Poul Anderson…
JMR: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had related to the writing of Earthbow?
ST: Finding what certainly looked like one of my Narentan plants in a private garden. I went back and checked, and sure enough.
JMR: Earthbow is the second in your Narentan Tumults series. What next? What do readers have to look forward to from you in the future?
ST: The next thing is getting Earthbow, Volume 2 out, so that readers can read the whole book straight through, as originally intended.
Logically, I should continue with the story of the 3rd Narentan Tumult. The title for that one is variously, The Gryphon and the Basilisk, The Behemoth, or The Book That Intends to Eat Delaware. It’s over two-thirds done and, oh yes, large.
Alternatively, I would like to work on Marooned, which incidentally is four-fifths done but runs only a quarter of The Behemoth’s total word count. So, now you’re probably thinking that Marooned is about the 4th Narentan Tumult. Not so much. Marooned is set roughly between the 1st & 2nd Tumults, and it follows the adventures of a minor character from Seabird.
JMR: What kinds of books other than fantasy do you enjoy reading?
ST: Mysteries. I like a number of both old and new mystery authors: Ellery Queen; Agatha Christie, Tony Hillerman, Barbara Hambly and Elizabeth Peters.
JMR: What has been your experience of the publishing world and what advice would you give writers, especially new writers seeking publication?
ST: If I may put the cart before the horse, which is the way most new authors think; do not expect publication. You had better be writing because you love to write and can’t envision ever stopping, since you may be the only person who ever reads your work outside of your family.
My second piece of advice is the well-worn BIC: Butt in Chair. My third suggestion is find yourself some willing beta readers who are NOT friends or family. While you’re at it, find yourself a writer support group. Or maybe a mental health support group. We’re all a little crazy to keep doing this with little promise of any monetary reward or acclaim. Taking classes can accomplish several of these suggestions simultaneously, at least if you have a good fiction-writing professor.
JMR: What writers organizations do you belong to and how have they helped you on your path to publication and in general as an author?
ST: Critters is an online group for speculative fiction authors, designed to facilitate the exchange of critiques. It is run by Andrew Burt of SFWA (Science Fictin Writers Association) and is probably one of the oldest such groups on the web.
OWW (Online Writing Workshop) is a group similar to Critters, originally sponsored by Del Rey.
WRWG is the Written Remains Writers Guild. I’ve been a member since 2003. Originally serving as a local critique group, it has expanded its function in recent years with emphasis on serving the needs of professional Delaware authors and their associates. Please check out our website for more information!
BU is short for Broad Universe, an online and in-person group designed for the needs of female professional speculative fiction writers. BU sponsors rapid fire readings by its members at conferences nationwide, creates and maintains catalogues of members’ work and has a lively mailing list, amongst other functions
LGG is short for the Lost Genre Guild. Members are Christians who are actively writing speculative fiction of all kinds, or who have an interest in promoting this type of fiction. Increasingly our membership has welcomed publishers, editors and reviewers.
Path2Perf is a newly created subset of the Lost Genre Guild, and serves a function similar to Critters and OWW (See above.)
Coinherence is a mailing list for people interested in the Inkling, Charles Williams. It isn’t specifically for authors, though many members do write. Most of the membership are involved in the scholarship or study of the Inklings, with particular emphasis on Charless. Williams.
“How have they helped you on your path to publication and in general as an author?”
In ways too numerous to recall or mention. I’ll go with camaraderie, encouragement and the exchange of expertise in writing and in related fields like publication and research.
JMR: Is there anything you’d particularly like to say to your readers, those who are familiar with your work and those new to world of Narenta?
ST: Buy copies of my books. Give them away for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, graduations, Arbor Day, or whatever you’ve got.
Seriously, if you have read Seabird, I would love feedback. The same is true for Earthbow, Volume 1. Negative, positive, in the middle. Writers type alone but that doesn’t mean we like to live in isolation. We really want to know what people think—even about that picky little bit of dialogue on page 392.
JMR: Do you have a website? Do you blog, Twitter, or post on Facebook? Where can you be found on-line?
ST: You can find me on-line at these locations:
JMR: Thank you, Sherry!
Interview by JM Reinbold