Welcome, Janie, to my blog today. Tell us a bit about The Bowdancer, The Wayfarer’s Road, and Warrior Women—all part of The Bowdancer Saga.
Janie: The Bowdancer: Jan-nell, a young healer and keeper of village lore, despairs of ever finding the child who will be the next bowdancer or a man worthy enough to love. When a village wedding is interrupted by four strangers, Jan-nell treats the injuries of one of them. The leader of these men, Bastin, is an arrogant, intelligent rogue who also is searching for an equal. His presence questions the bowdancer's life choice and stirs more than her mind.
The Bowdancer Saga continues in The Wayfarer’s Road. Jan-nell, now a woman traveling alone with her young daughter on the Wayfarer’s Road, meets a handsome wandering bard who is carrying his own secrets and offering her the hope of belonging.
Warrior Woman: Jan-nell the bowdancer, now pregnant with her second child, and her daughter, Mira-nell, trek up a mountain where bards’ tales have said a village of warrior women exits. Jan-nell makes this trip in winter and in her condition in order to find a place for Mira-nell where the child’s precocious abilities will be accepted. The women on the mountain, though, are not fighters or even man-haters. They have chosen to live apart from the world in a village of only women, led by a sisterhood of hunters. Chandro, a beautiful trackfinder, rescues Jan-nell and her daughter, offering them a home and the promise of love.
Katie: These books sound really interesting! I see that they are fantasy romances geared towards adult. What prompted you to write in this genre?
Janie: That’s really ironic because I don’t read or review romance very much. My preference has been mystery thrillers with lots of action and science fiction and fantasy. But as I was unearthing some old material, looking for the start of a novel I wanted to work on, I realized that I’ve been writing romance in some form since I was a teenager. As I expanded The Bowdancer Saga, though, I had a lot of fun exploring different kinds of relationships than those in normal romance and fantasy allows me to create my own worlds while also commenting on some contemporary social issues and different concepts of family. This series also has allowed me to dip into spirituality as well as presenting an adventure story.
Katie: What prompted you to write a series? Is each book able to stand alone, or does the reader have to depend on the previous book to understand the current one?
Janie: I’m hoping that each book is a stand alone. I’ve tried to give enough background in each one to understand what has come before. It was a bit of a struggle to do that in The Lost Song trilogy, which are books 4, 5, and 6 because that one was written as one gigantic novel that had to be divided into three books because of its sheer size.
As for writing a series, when I first wrote The Bowdancer, I envisioned it as a trilogy. I had notes and the first chapter of The Wayfarer’s Road written but only had a vague idea what the third book would be about. As I got into The Wayfarer’s Road, I realized that I was laying the ground work for a completely different third book. When Warrior Women was finished, I cried for three days because I didn’t want to leave these characters I had come to love so much. My wise daughter suggested I write more books about them. And so The Lost Song trilogy was born—but again I had laid the ground work for that book in Warrior Women and hadn’t realized I had.
Though I am pausing with this series for a few months, I do know that there will at least be two more books coming in The Bowdancer Saga, and possibly a third or fourth.
Right now, I’m working on a futuristic time warp romance about a woman archaeologist of this century who is brought into the distant future after a great calamity and finds herself in an agrarian feudal society. Right now, I see at least two books there. When those are done, they will be offered to my current publisher.
And, I’ve started a new paranormal series that has no romance in it at all. It’s about a contemporary Appalachian herb woman who comes to North Dakota to battle some paranormal beasties.
I also have a contemporary adventure romance trilogy that I’m working on, as well as several other short contemporary romance books.
Katie: What was your inspiration for The Bowdancer series?
Janie: I always smile when asked this question. Jan-nell the bowdancer came to me in a lucid meditation. I saw her in the first scene of the book and saw that she was troubled and asked her why. When I was looking for my notes on The Wayfarer’s Road, I found the notes I’d made right after that meditation. The book was all there, except for Bastin the bandit, which I added later.
Katie: Why did you decide to make up a world that seems to be geared towards the Middle Ages instead of using current times?
Janie: I like the simplicity of a pre-industrial time. It also allows me as an author to create new social constructs and cultures, as well as to comment on modern social issues, which I do bring up. Sometimes, when we get into another world, we can look back on our own easier. Good speculative fiction does that. Star Trek was noted for focusing on social issues and offering sensible commentary about attitudes and ways to resolve problems.
When I created this world, I could borrow from ancient and contemporary cultures to define new lifeways and social taboos. I also would not have to accurately portray a contemporary culture and therefore would not be presenting it in a way that might not be sensitive. What I have used, I hope I have blurred where it came from. Those cultures, however, are not as prominent in the first three books, except for Jan-nell’s village, as they are in The Lost Song trilogy.
Katie: When world creating, what specific things did you have trouble with, and how did you make the world realistic for your readers?
Janie: Two common elements run through all six books: herbs/food and music/songs. I tipped my hat to Tolkien when I started The Wayfarer’s Road because he wrote a lot about food in The Lord of the Rings—Hobbits were always hungry. This became a way to show that Jan-nell still used her herb lore and I thought it added a realism to the story.
Writing about food and culinary herbs was easy since I use them often. I did have to research the medicinal uses of some herbs and make sure that what I was writing about was relatively safe to use or had some cautions. I didn’t want to write about something and have some reader try to find the herb and use it to his or her regret.
The other challenge I faced was incorporating different musical styles into the series. I’m a world music lover so I was able to bring in some of that by talking about rhythms and dancing. But the real challenge was writing some of the songs themselves. I had my husband, Ron Franz, who is a singer/songwriter, look over my doggerel. He approved it for the most part. That’s really hard to write, especially when you’re trying to write spiritual chants and what Jan-nell calls story songs. My husband did edit one of them for Warrior Women because he wanted to write the music for that one and it fit what he was working on. [Eventually, he will write a song cycle and record it for the series. Chris O’Brien from Enchanted Ape and Matthew Probst from Gypsy Lumberjacks (two Minneapolis bands) recently wrote the music for my first music trailer, which I’m hoping will be ready very soon. Chris wants to help my husband with the song cycle, also, but he is willing to write more music for future book trailers.]
Katie: How has your anthropological background helped in writing this book?
Janie: With a background in anthropology, I am very sensitive to co-opting other cultures, especially spiritual practices. Jan-nell’s village and the role of bowdancer is similar to many other indigenous cultures that rely on a spiritual healer to also be historian and teacher for a village. Her particular spiritual practices are a combination of earth-based paths and the herb healing she does is common among many peoples, including my own Appalachian ancestors.
For the women’s village in Warrior Women, I drew from other isolated cultures and a lot of science fiction books and movies, especially after the Bomb kind of stories (Mad Max, Canticle for Leibowitz, etc.)
The Lost Song trilogy, however, was the biggest challenge because I was creating completely new cultures: the bee spinners, the desert beast trainers, the sword dancers of the Sea Islands, the court life of the Prylimar Trifectorate. All of them had social restrictions, spiritual practices, and lifeways that were different. Those lifeways were basic- foods, how to herb them, how to cook them, songs, music, etc. And of course, the spiritual practices. For all of this, I dipped into the cultures of West Africa, the Bedouin, India, Pacific Islands, as well as my own Celtic/gypsy roots. What I borrowed, I tried to alter for this world so that readers would not say that these practices came from a specific culture. I have mixed West African creation concepts with Tantric practices from South Asia, tying them all up into meditation exercises used by ancient shamans and contemporary New Agers. It’s a mix.
Katie: Who is your favorite character in these books, and why?
Janie: You’d think it would be my main character, Jan-nell, but it’s not. Though I identify with her, I am totally fascinated with Bekar, one of the famed warrior women in book three. She appears in The Lost Song trilogy that follows. I am intrigued by her strength, the size of her heart, and the bit of mystery about her. She also says what she thinks—damn the consequences.
Katie: What three pieces of advice would you give to an author who is wanting to write in the fantasy romance genre?
Janie: Read a lot of fantasy first. Then create a world that is unlike those that have already been published—either in its landscape, its social construct, or its characters.
The other suggestion I have is about the romance in the book. Make sure it’s sensual, tasteful, and believable—even if what you write is on the edge.
The Bowdancer, her first published work of fiction, launched the Bowdancer Saga, published by Breathless Press. The Wayfarer’s Road will be out in August and Warrior Women will be released in the fall as part of Breathless Press’ new sub-genre
genre of f/f romance. Learn more about her and her books at www.thebowdancersaga.wordpress.com and http://www.breathlesspress.com/erotic/romance/fantasy/the-bowdancer.html .