Tell us your latest news.
The last book in the trilogy, WATERSPELL Book 3: The Wisewoman, has just hit the shelves. The paperback came out in April, and the Kindle edition is up at Amazon. Trailing behind both is the Nook e-book. Barnes & Noble is way slow.
Also, I’ll be signing books and doing readings June 22–24 at the Roswell International Sci-Fi Festival (Ros-Con). Readers and fans of fantasy will discover much to love in Roswell, New Mexico. If it fits your summer travel plans, please join me there!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I can’t remember when I wasn’t writing. No one in my family was a talker. I grew up surrounded by the proverbial strong, silent type. For me, writing always came more naturally than talking. I wrote letters to relatives, kept a diary, did “on-the-spot reporting” for family newsletters. In school, I didn’t dread writing essays or reports. At college I majored in wildlife science, but eventually switched to journalism when it became clear that jobs were scarce for park rangers and wildlife biologists. After graduation, I worked as a magazine editor and feature writer. My first three books (history and biography) grew out of research I did for magazine articles.
So maybe the question is: When did I get brave enough to switch from nonfiction to fiction? I wasn’t sure I could write fiction. For a long time, I didn’t try. I suspected that writing fiction would be all-consuming: Once I started, I wouldn’t be able to do anything except write the story that bubbled up inside.
That’s exactly what happened. After my third book of nonfiction was published, I dedicated myself to writing the WATERSPELL trilogy. It ruled my life. For more than 10 years, I did almost nothing except work and worry and sweat over my novels. Writing is fun, that’s true. But it’s also incredibly hard work when a writer pushes herself to discover and achieve all that she’s truly capable of.
What inspired you to write your book?
The WATERSPELL story has been percolating since I was a teenager, or younger. Everything a writer reads, experiences, learns, or enjoys will influence her writing. Growing up, I read English Lit: Alice in Wonderland, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, The Once and Future King. I also devoured Edgar Allan Poe. Among my favorite SF/F authors were Anne McCaffrey (Dragonriders of Pern) and Andre Norton (Witch World). When I wasn’t reading, I was outdoors communing with nature. WATERSPELL reflects all these influences and more. It’s a sword-and-sorcery tale with a science-fictional twist. And between my two central characters—homeless Carin and dangerous Lord Verek—a romance blossoms. At first, their relationship may seem unlikely. But by the end of the trilogy, neither can imagine life without the other.
Maybe that’s a metaphor for the relationship between WATERSPELL and myself. It may seem unlikely that someone who once wrote history and biography (books with footnotes! books that some called scholarly) has produced an intricate, multilayered, romantic fantasy. But now that Book 3: The Wisewoman has been published, it feels inevitable. I wrote the story I had to write, and now I hardly remember what my life was like, pre-WATERSPELL.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I know what I strive for: sharp, clear details; lots of action; a proper pace (mostly fast but with slower parts as needed); and realistic, sympathetic, believable characters. I know that verbs are a writer’s best friends and I try to use them well. A carefully chosen verb can convey as much as a paragraph!
A literary agent said of my work: “I was very impressed with the tautness of your writing—your avoidance of clichés, your fresh similes, your strong verb choices. You also seem to have an innate sense of rhythm, as well as a solid sense of when to employ intentional repetition and when to avoid it.”
If I had to describe my style in a single word, “Brontian” might work. I greatly admire Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights. My leading man, Lord Verek, owes aspects of his personality to Heathcliff and Rochester. And in Carin are echoes of a famously strong female character: Jane Eyre. Writers are shaped by what we read.
How did you come up with the title?
Stand beside a thundering waterfall, walk in the rain, or listen to ocean waves pound the shore, and you’ll fall under a “water spell.” Water is magical. In the mythologies of many cultures, rivers and other bodies of water are sacred. Fantastical beings live in water: mermaids, sirens, the Lady of the Lake. In my story too, water has magical properties. For my characters, water is both a portal and a source of power. At one point my emotionally scarred sorcerer, Verek, says to his lady love, when he thinks he may lose her: “Here is water … I have seen that you need only that to make your magic. I expect you can go back to your world today, if that is what you wish to do.”
Carin (she’s a Pisces) is in her element in water. Scorpio is also a water sign, and Verek is the quintessential Scorpio: dangerous, secretive, proud but loyal, and passionate. The “water” in the title reflects the oceanic symbolism in my trilogy.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The subtext is that things which are harmless or even benign in one setting may cause great harm in an environment where they are alien. I’ve watched imported fire ants drive out native species like horned lizards—fire ants will kill young lizards and even the adults. Rats introduced into Hawaii threaten the native flora and fauna. West Nile virus has spread across North America. Every summer we hear of people and horses dying from it. I could go on and on: Pythons in the Everglades. Here where I live, kudzu, “the plant that ate the South.” The point is that a nonnative, invasive species can devastate an environment, creating a catastrophic natural disaster.
That’s what happens in WATERSPELL: Our heroine, Carin, is shanghaied from her natural home by a wysard who doesn’t grasp the enormity of the ecological damage the magical kidnapping will inflict upon a medieval world. The kidnapping triggers a series of plagues that threaten to destroy civilization. Nature is badly out of whack, and it is up to my leading lady and her man—Carin and Lord Verek—to restore balance.
What books have most influenced your life?
I fell under the spell of the English Lit I read as a child. Although I grew up on the Great Plains of the United States, books allowed me to spend a big part of my early life on the Yorkshire moors.
Also I must credit the science fiction/fantasy novels of Barbara Hambly. To quote her Wikipedia profile: “Although magic exists in many of her settings, it is not used as an easy solution but follows rules and takes energy from the wizards.” That’s my approach, too. In the world of WATERSPELL, magic is NOT easy.
The books of Barbara Hambly were my trigger. It was while reading her Sun-Cross books that I decided I, too, could write fantasy. I recognized something in her style that spoke to my own writerly inclinations. Reading her work gave me confidence in myself. Thank you, Barbara!
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Actually, my choice for mentor would be Mr. L.H. Blocker, my high school English teacher. He was tough to the point of ferocity. Very demanding. And scary. He taught me respect for the English language.
My mentors today are my critique partners and beta readers. With some, I’ve done long-distance manuscript exchanges. I’ve joined others for leisurely strolls in the park, during which we work out the kinks in our muscles as well as our stories. Twice monthly, my fabulous critique group meets for concentrated work on one another’s manuscripts. I am lucky to have many professional writers and talented editors in my life, and from them all I constantly learn. They’ve helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses.
What book are you reading now?
Oh gracious! So many to choose from. On my Nook I’ve got Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Complete Works of Jack London, The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, An Antarctic Mystery: A Sequel to Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Jules Verne, and scores of others. When my life settles down a little and I actually get time to read, I will probably start Graceling next. One editor said my story reminded her of Graceling.
Are there any new authors who have grabbed your interest?
Because I don’t want to be subconsciously influenced, I tend not to read many contemporary authors. Mostly I read the classics. I understand that Graceling is a debut novel, making Kristin Cashore the first new author I will have read recently.
What are your current projects?
My work in progress is called “Out of Mind.” It’s a story of the paranormal set in the American West of the far future. I’ve also got a collection of short stories that I’m trying to shape up for publication.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Gladly! :-) Here’s the opening scene of “Out of Mind.”
Vapors billowed into the chamber in thick masses of orange. Devin choked on the sickly sweet odor.
"Don't fight it, child," came the voice--equally cloying--from the darkness beyond the gas chamber. "Give yourself up to it."
The gas surged into Devin's face, blinding, gagging her. She made it go away. With a flash of her will, a mental reflex, she flung it back.
Cool, fresh air flooded her nostrils and drove out the syrupy stink. She sucked in a clean breath.
"No!" the voice snapped. "You must not."
The therapist dropped her with fifty thousand volts. Devin collapsed to the floor, her body jerking, nerves on fire. The pain was beyond enduring. A pain this intense must be lethal. As she convulsed, her muscles in spasms, she could not scream. No part of her being, not even her voice, was under her voluntary control.
"Try it again, child," said her therapist, saccharine once more. The shock ended, the pain faded. "Stand up. And this time, do not fight it. Or your punishment will be the same: swift, sure, and severe."
Devin struggled upright. She had to brace against the wall of the gas chamber to keep on her feet. Her muscles were jelly.
An orange cloud flooded the chamber and filled her nose with the stink of rotting fruit. "Breathe it," her therapist instructed. "You must."
But again, Devin reacted by instinct alone. No conscious thought interposed between stimulus and response. The cloud approached; she pushed it away. Pure reflex, action of mind: act of self-preservation. The gas held back, suspended in midair, kept at bay solely by her force of will.
On the instant, fifty thousand volts knocked her to the floor. The pain that must be lethal, but that wouldn't do her the service of killing her, flooded Devin's tortured flesh. She writhed, silent and barely conscious.
Her therapist withdrew the punishment. Devin remained on the floor, curled in the fetal position. Her body was hers to command once more, but her muscles had no strength to obey.
"You give new meaning to the word persistent, don't you, girl?" muttered the disembodied voice. Then, more forcefully: "The first step toward healing is to admit you are diseased. Miss Perridin, you have an illness. A mental disorder. I am offering you the cure for your illness--in a pleasant aerosol spray that you need only breathe. Once inhaled, the drug acts quickly. But you must take the first step and acknowledge that you want to be cured."
The voice grew soft, sugary. "Child, for as long as you hold to the notion--the mistaken notion--that your disorder is in some way a benefit to you, you will continue to fail. And you will suffer the consequences of that failure. We can't have that, can we?"
Devin gathered the remnants of her strength and rolled onto her back. To stand was impossible; she could barely shape a word. "No," she whispered. She wasn't speaking to her tormentor.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Wordiness! I’m on a perpetual quest to eliminate unnecessary words. Time and again in revising, I look for cuts. I’ll share a “finished” chapter with my critique partners and almost invariably they’ll tell me to tighten it. I love words and enjoy using them: “Succinct” is not my natural state. Multiple passes are required to tighten my manuscripts.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Ursula K. Le Guin leaves me breathless. Her characters are so real. Her settings jump off the page. Here’s an example from the prologue of The Tombs of Atuan, the second book of Earthsea:
“Come home, Tenar! Come home!”
In the deep valley, in the twilight, the apple trees were on the eve of blossoming; here and there among the shadowed boughs one flower had opened early, rose and white, like a faint star. Down the orchard aisles, in the thick, new, wet grass, the little girl ran for the joy of running; hearing the call she did not come at once, but made a long circle before she turned her face towards home. The mother waiting in the doorway of the hut, with the firelight behind her, watched the tiny figure running and bobbing like a bit of thistledown blown over the darkening grass beneath the trees.
* * *
Isn’t that beautiful? And more than beautiful, it’s clear and evocative, filled with precise details that pull readers in, putting us in that deep valley, in the twilight, with the thick, wet grass under our bare feet. Ursula Le Guin is an inspiration to me. Every few years I reread her Earthsea books.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Getting past Chapter 1 of Book One. I wasted months, or a year, fiddling with Chapter 1. Finally I cried aloud in frustration and charged ahead, to complete Book One, then Two, and eventually Three. It wasn’t until I finished WATERSPELL Book 3: The Wisewoman that I really understood the layers of the story. At that point I began again from the beginning. With my fresh, new, clear-eyed grasp of the whole complex series of events and all the characters’ relationships, I was able to fine-tune the trilogy and declare, at last, that it was finished.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Years. Books 1 and 2 of WATERSPELL took about five years each. Book 3 went faster—maybe two years—because I’d learned enough by then that I could avoid my earlier mistakes. For one thing, I’d learned to write spare! It’s MUCH easier to flesh out spare writing than to tighten verbose writing.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
Insane. I’m a binge writer. When I’m in the zone I’ll pound the keyboard for hours, never coming up for air. Parts of WATERSPELL were written while I lived in the tropics, in an open house on a high mountain lake. I’d work late into the night, while all around me fell silent except for the splash of the waves and the occasional hoot of an owl. In the garden were night-blooming flowers, and their perfumes wafted in through the screen doors. An unearthly experience. Magical!
When I’m not writing, I’m editing. As an editor, I keep normal, boring hours: 9-to-5.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I’m told I have Anglo-Saxon sensibilities. That is, I write in direct plain English. I favor those punchy one-syllable words that derive from Old English, like gut, grip, lock. A writer friend who’s far more linguistically knowledgeable than I am told me my words tend to end with hard consonant sounds: gut, grip, lock. Whereas her writing favors the softer end-sounds of languages developed from Latin: balance, circumstance, mercy. I’d never analyzed my word choices from that angle, but I do consciously rely on those short, punchy words to power my writing. If that’s a quirk, it’s mine. :-)
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I love this quote: “The soul that has no fixed goal loses itself; for as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.” —Michel de Montaigne, a French essayist of the 1500s
I advise everyone to have a fixed goal in life. It does wonders for organizing your time. You will be too busy getting “somewhere” to ever end up languishing “nowhere.”
Thank you for reading this far!
Castles in the cornfield provided the setting for Deborah J. Lightfoot’s earliest flights of fancy. On her father’s farm in West Texas, she grew up reading extraordinary tales of adventure and reenacting them behind tall ramparts of sun-drenched corn. She left the farm to earn a bachelor of science degree in journalism and write award-winning books of history and biography, including The LH7 Ranch (University of North Texas Press) and Trail Fever (William Morrow, New York). High on her Bucket List was the desire to try her hand at the genre she most admired. The result is WATERSPELL, a complex, intricately detailed fantasy that begins with Book 1: The Warlock and Book 2: The Wysard, and concludes (for the present) with Book 3: The Wisewoman. But a legal pad filled with notes and tucked away in a desk drawer suggests a possible Book 4 before the saga may fairly be said to be finished.
Deborah is a professional member of The Authors Guild. She and her husband live in the country south of Fort Worth, Texas. Find her online at www.waterspell.net.
LINKS TO BUY
Drawn into the schemes of an angry wizard, Carin glimpses the place she once called home. It lies upon a shore that seems unreachable. To learn where she belongs and how to get there, the teenage traveler must decipher the words of an alien book, follow the clues in a bewitched poem, conjure a dragon from a pool of magic -- and tread carefully around a seductive but volatile, emotionally scarred sorcerer who can't seem to decide whether to love her or kill her.
WATERSPELL Book 1: The Warlock
by Deborah J. Lightfoot
Chapter 1. The Swordsman
It happened too fast to hurt at first. But, oh! the blood—lots of it, streaming from a gouge that crosscut her knee.
She hunched over the wound, her masses of unkempt hair tumbling around her face, strands of it trailing in the gore. Blindly Carin fumbled in her belt-pouch for something to stanch the bleeding. Her fingers met only flint and steel for fire-making, pebbles for arming her sling, and a length of twine that was useful for everything from tying back her shaggy auburn mane to rigging a brush shelter.
Abruptly a hand grasped the shank of her leg, and another shoved at her shoulder. “Straighten up,” her captor snarled.
Carin threw back her head and flung the hair out of her eyes. “You!” she gasped. “But—” She hadn’t heard the swordsman’s approaching footsteps—a seeming impossibility through the crunchy carpet of autumn leaves. Yet here the man was, crouched beside her and brandishing a dagger. Carin’s hand flew to shield her throat, but it was her knee he put the blade to.
Stay away from me! she wanted to shout at him. She couldn’t get the words out—not in a way that made sense. As sometimes happened when she came unglued, Carin lapsed into a language of her own. The sounds that passed her lips weren’t gibberish, but no one ever understood a word she said when she got like this. Carin yelled at the man, in her own private language, and tried to wrench free of his grasp.
“Stop your noise,” he barked. He held her leg tighter and waved his dagger in her face. “If you can’t be quiet, I’ll cut out your tongue.”
Copyright © 2011–2012 by Deborah J. Lightfoot. All Rights Reserved.
Sample Chapter 1 in full at www.amazon.com/dp/B00686UIFW