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Monday, May 9, 2016

Interview with Annie Douglass Lima, author of The Gladiator & the Guard

Since the 1990’s, a surge of fantasy writing has established new categories such as paranormal and dystopian. Dystopian is somewhat the opposite of utopian in that there are horrifying features in the fictional landscape. At, a site HarperCollins maintained for book writers, I read the first chapters of many such novels, usually vampire, zombie, and apocalyptic scenarios. These imaginative ventures made me curious about the popularity of the genres and why young authors chose them or were driven to write the stuff that nightmares are made of.

Annie Douglass Lima interviewed me about my fantasy, The House in Windward Leaves, at her blog, Letters from Annie (Douglass) Lima. In her Realm Explorers weekly interviews, the blog covers a variety of fantasies and science fiction novels. These interviews are intriguing in that authors answer questions about their speculative world.

I’ve interviewed Annie in this post. Published in April, The Gladiator and the Guard is the second book of a series. The series presents a dystopian society that might be startling because such societies have taken hold in human history, and to the demise of the society. Yet the fight against slavery continues as a concept.

Annie's first book from this series The Collar and the Cavvarach was recently reviewed in Publisher's Weekly! She gives more information about that book after the interview.

Interview Questions

Congratulations, Annie Douglass Lima!   You published your book The Gladiator & the Guard on April 22nd.
1) Could you give a synopsis or some words about your book? 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?

This is actually the sequel to another book, The Collar and the Cavvarach. Here’s the synopsis of that first book:
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

2) Where can the book or information about it be found?   Links?
The Collar and the Cavvarach is available on Amazon here.
The Gladiator and the Guard is available on Amazon here and Smashwords here.

3) Thinking on your book, how do you remember its beginnings as an idea?   After you decided to do this book, how did it proceed?

I’ve had the idea growing in my mind for the last few years.  It started as just a picture of the setting and its culture: a world almost exactly like ours, but with legalized slavery.  The main characters, Bensin (a teenage slave and martial artist) and Steene (his owner and coach) emerged gradually, along with the plot (Bensin’s struggle to protect and free his younger sister, and then later his struggle to survive as a gladiator).
4) How did your fantasy panorama develop? Would you describe it as a parallel reality or as a place of its own? 
You could say it’s a little of both, actually. Though the Krillonian Empire, where this story is set, is a world of its own, I purposely made it almost exactly like our world. I wanted it to seem so real and immediate that readers would be able to relate to it all the better – and be all the more disturbed by the injustice of slavery there. To read more about the culture of the Krillonian Empire, take a look at this post on my blog.)

5) Did you understand the characters in your book at first or did they reveal themselves as you wrote the story?  Did they respond to your plot as you planned?

I planned out all my characters beforehand, and for the most part, they cooperated with my ideas. But some of my characters seemed to take matters into their own hands and decide they wanted a different role than the one I had planned for them.  For example, City Watch officer (the equivalent of a police officer) Kalgan Shigo ended up playing a much bigger part than I had anticipated.  While still a minor character, he is a more important one (in both books) than he was originally supposed to be, and he plays a different – and much needed – role in Bensin’s life.  I loved watching him take charge and step into the position he wanted!
6) Why did you choose the fantasy genre?

Reality just doesn’t offer me enough freedom as a writer!  I like to be able to make the rules.  When I read, I like knowing that things could happen that just can’t in the real world.  Having said that, The Collar and the Cavvarach isn’t really fantasy, at least not in the typical sense. If you were to step into that world, you would probably assume you were still in our own world – except for a few key details, like the prevalence of slavery.
7) How do you like to describe your background? How has that affected your imagination and your writing?

I have an international background! I was born in Southern California but raised mostly in Kenya.  As a young adult, I spent a year teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Indonesia, which was an incredible experience.  Shortly after returning to the States, I married my husband Floyd, and the two of us lived there for several years before moving to Taiwan, where we live now.

I’ve been privileged to visit or live in a total of twenty different countries so far, and those experiences have definitely played a role in my writing. I love getting to know different cultures and the differences between them, and I was glad for the chance to illustrate this in my recent fantasy novel Prince of Malorn (part of my Annals of Alasia series). Prince Korram has to deal with when he travels into the Impassables to seek the help of the Mountain Folk.  In Malorn, Mountain Folk and Lowlanders tend to distrust each other and avoid contact whenever possible, and both sides claim that the other mistreats them.  I wanted to show that often, it just takes better understanding to lead to acceptance and appreciation of another culture.  That, and the willingness to learn new ways of doing things and respect others’ customs even when they’re different.

I’ve based a few details of Jarreon’s culture on the culture here in Taiwan. The convenient boxed meals and the importance of New Year, for example. In addition, competition winners receive award money in red envelopes. As in Taiwan, some in Jarreon’s lower class chew betel nut, a legal drug sold in shops decorated with flashing colored lights.
8) What books in the genre of yours were your favorites?  Did they inspire you to write?
I’ve always enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings series. More recently, I’ve grown to love the Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. They didn’t really inspire me to write; I’ve just always known I wanted/needed to write. I started my first novel (never finished) at age seven. But those books, and many others, have definitely fueled my imagination.

9) During the times when you’re not writing, what sort of activities feed into your imagination?  Do you take walks or talk with others in person or on the internet?
I love to read; that definitely feeds my imagination, as mentioned above. When I’m stuck on a scene, I often talk it over with my husband, who is usually able to give me good ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. Sometimes I ask for suggestions on Facebook, especially if I’m trying to come up with a name for a character or place. I have lots of online friends who have enjoyed giving input into my books like that.

10) Do you have another job?  It seems that some jobs work better with writing than others.  Is yours compatible?

Yes, I’m a 5th grade teacher in an international school. Though I love my job, I must admit I wish it left me with more time for writing.  In the evenings my brain is often so fried after a long day that I just can’t get much done, so most of my writing happens in the early mornings or on weekends or school holidays.  But one thing I really enjoy is the fact that my students are at the right age (though at the younger end of the spectrum) to enjoy most of what I write.  I read one or two of my books aloud to my class every year, and their feedback helps me polish and improve them.  It’s really helped me see what kinds of scenes and characters appeal to readers of that age.
11) What are your plans for writing?   Will you write another book in this series or strike out into another direction?
There will probably be one more book in this series, though I’m tossing around ideas that may eventually lead to other stories set in the same world. In the meantime, I’m working on a final book in my Annals of Alasia fantasy series, which should be ready to publish in the next few months. I also have a science fiction novel that I drafted for last year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, in November). I hope to have that one polished and ready for publication in another year or so. Lots of irons in the fire!

Thank you, Annie!
It’s my pleasure. Thank you for letting me visit your blog!

From Annie
I'm excited to announce that my young adult action and adventure novel, The Gladiator and the Guard, is now available for purchase! This is the second book in the Krillonian Chronicles, sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach

First Things First: a Little Information about Book 1: 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?

The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).  

Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with "have a rack"), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.