Spotlight & Author Interview: Charm Wars + Excerpt

Charm Wars

Charm Wars Book Cover

Charm Wars
By Dan Lutts
Genre: Young Adult–Fantasy, Dystopian

Welcome to Caldon, a land of mages and magic, where the noblesse possess massive political and magical power and destroy anyone who threatens the noblesse way of life—especially the commoners.

Rill Larkin, the son of a commoner blacksmith, has high ambitions. To be a mage, join the exalted ranks of the ruling noblesse, and establish his own noblesse family. Defying both the system and his family, Rill becomes the apprentice of Deuth Estati, a powerful archmage. But appearances deceive. As training progresses, Rill learns of decades-long secrets and manipulations that threaten his dream. And Deuth might not be as benevolent as Rill thought.

Alyse Dejune despises magic, even if she does belong to one of the oldest and most powerful noblesse families in Caldon. The deceits and treacheries of noblesse life and the loveless marriage alliances among the noblesse families disgust her. Her family however has high expectations: that she fulfill her role as a noblesse girl by marrying Troy Estati, an arrogant, selfish noblesse boy she does not love. And Alyse harbors a secret—the potential to become one of the most powerful mages in generations and wield forbidden magic—that, if revealed, could mean her death.

In this deadly game of ever-shifting alliances, where the state wages perpetual war against an ancient enemy, Rill and Alyse are thrown together in a land where magic is failing. And as greedy noblesse families raid surrounding family compounds for powerful charms, Rill and Alyse are left standing at a terrible crossroads.

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Excerpt:

“If a charm seeker did open this tomb, why did she take the charm from that one Old Mage but not his staff? And why did she leave all the other charms and staffs behind? I wonder—”
“How fortunate for me she did,” a voice said behind them. “And how unfortunate for you.”
Rill and Jedd whirled around.
Just inside the entrance stood a skinny, middle-aged man of medium height. His gray tunic and tan pants were dirty and patched and his boots old and scuffed. Oily, unkempt hair framed his pockmarked face. In his right hand, he held a staff. The light from Rill’s and Jedd’s torches danced shadows across his face, making his malevolent grin appear even more evil.
A blacksmith’s vise clamped Rill’s chest making it hard for him to breathe. A rohan! A backwatcher or protector—either a mage or a bladeswoman or bladesman—who had been expelled by a noblesse matriarch for breaking her oath to serve and protect the matriarch’s family. An outcast from society no other noblesse First or Lesser Family would touch. A woman or man who was lower even than the criminals, dagger women, and prostitutes living in Caldon’s most dangerous neighborhood, The Slums.
Rill’s gaze fastened on the rohan’s left hand that clutched something beneath his grimy tunic.
A charm.
“Actus,” the rohan mage said, his sinister smile showing he’d deliberately spoken the word loud enough for Rill and Jedd to hear.
Rill eyed the staff, his stomach paining him. The rohan had activated his charm. All he had to do now was point the staff at a target and cast a spell. Rill’s gaze slid to Jedd, who appeared as rigid as a marble statue.
With exaggerated slowness, the rohan aimed the staff at the gap between Rill and Jedd, then deliberately moved it from one to the other. His lips drew up into a cruel smile, making Rill feel like a mouse being toyed with by a cat.
Rill choked on a lump of regret. Why didn’t I listen to Jedd and leave the coffins alone? We could of been partway home by now. I could of been a mage. But now I never will be.
Slowly and deliberately, the rohan inhaled a mouthful of air and said, “Luco!”
Rill’s frightened breath blended with Jedd’s when the crystal burst into life, and white mage light flooded the tomb.
The rohan laughed as if he’d just watched a first-rate comedy routine as he stepped several paces forward. “Scared of a little light, boys?”
Rill’s gaze jumped to Jedd. His cousin was glowering at the man, his hands balled into fists.
The rohan smirked at Jedd.
Slowly, keeping his eyes on the rohan, Rill moved his hand toward his sword’s brown leather grip.
The rohan must have had invisible eyes in the side of his head. With a chuckle, he casually pointed the staff at Rill. “Foolish boy. I can kill you before your sword’s half out of its scabbard.”
Rill let his hand drop to his side.
“Tsk-tsk,” the rohan said, drawing closer. “Naughty boys charm seeking. That’s a death offense. Unless you’re mages, of course. Are you mages, naughty boys?”
“You know we ain’t,” Rill said through clenched teeth.
The rohan stepped forward a few more paces until only a staff’s length separated them. “When I came across your well-fed and groomed horses a while ago, I thought that maybe their owners came from good families. Families with money. So I went looking for you. My goodness, you weren’t hard to find. Not with all that racket you made in here with the cougar. Boys with horses and swords. And purses hanging from their belts.” His gaze riveted itself to Rill. “And with such interesting things inside.”
Rill’s heart froze into a lump of ice as he forced himself to return the rohan’s stare. He saw me take the charm.
The rohan flashed them both an evil smile. “So I said to myself, ‘Self, I bet those naughty little boys are carrying some nice shiny gildas in their purses. Or maybe even a goldie.’ You got any?”
“Why don’t you come closer and find out?” Rill said. He’d tried to sound cocky, but his voice broke halfway through the question.
The rohan grinned, obviously enjoying himself. He pointed the staff at Rill. “Naughty boy. I hope you don’t melt.”
Terror ripped through Rill like a barbed arrowhead.
He had only moments to live.


Author Interview:

Question 1:
What inspired you to write this book? OR Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?

Answer:
The inspiration for Charm Wars came one day when I thought up the ending of the book. (You’ll have to wait until Book 4 in the series to read that.) I don’t recall what sparked the thought, but I immediately began thinking about the characters, their world, and a rough plot.

I love YA fantasy and dystopian novels. But most of the ones I’ve read, even when they have strong female characters, take place in mostly male-centered worlds. So I developed a female-centered world: Caldon. (Hence the saying, “The men receive the honors, but the women have the power.”) I even went a bit further by using female-centered phrases and words, such as “women and men” instead of “men and women,” “she and he” instead of “he and she,” and “woman made” instead of “manmade.” (In Book 2, Revenge of the Estati,” Caldonians won’t say “humanity,” but “huwomanity.”) When I first met the woman who would become my wife, she was heavily involved in the Goddess movement. She inspired me to have the Caldonian religion center around goddesses instead of gods. The world of Charm Wars continues to be a work in progress, and I’ll be interested to see what other ideas my mind comes up with.

Question 2:
What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?

Answer:
Phew! I learned a lot of things, and am still learning. I’m a self-published author. I revised Charm Wars five or six times before publishing it. That was a challenge in itself. But I also faced a host of other challenges, some of which were quite frustrating until I successfully learned them. I already knew editing is important, and part of my regular job involves editing. But I never realized how crucial editing was until I received my marked-up content edit from my main editor, along with a few books on writing she recommended I read before revising the manuscript. Her suggestions, content edit, and line edits made a huge difference in the book’s quality. The line edits and proofreading by yet another editor did too. I also had to learn how to put the manuscript into a book template, which filled me with frustration for weeks and weeks until I finally figured out how to do it properly. Now that I have all that experience and knowledge under my belt, dealing with Book 2, Revenge of the Estati will be easier.

I also learned that, besides writing Charm Wars, I also have to promote the book, as I’m doing now on this blog tour. Promotion can be a full-time job in itself. I had to research best ways to promote the book and then identify promoters I wanted to work with. All that costs money, and I had to determine how best to use it.

In short, I had to learn four basic things: how to create a compelling book, how to market it, how to finance it, and how to track expenses. That’s an awful lot to learn. A friend of mine has been successfully self publishing books for four or five years. I mentioned to her that doing all this was, from my own experience, a steep learning curve. She responded, “Yes it is. And I’m still learning.”

Question 3:
What surprised you the most in writing it?

Answer:
What surprised me the most in writing Charm Wars was how heavily involved I became with the characters. I actually found myself crying when I was proofing some of the scenes. I mean, I’ve done that with some books other authors have written. But my own?

Question 4:
If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?

It’s not a spoiler, but part of the Charm Wars world. From the very beginning of Caldon’s founding, there has been a huge shortage of charms and staffs. The reason is simple. During the Great Destruction, the refugees from Euloria could bring only a limited supply of charms and staffs when they fled across the Rocky Strait to the territory that became Caldonia, and the city of Caldon. The continent they fled from is now called the Forbidden Lands, and Caldonians who went there to gather more charms and staffs never returned. But charms and staffs are vital to the survival, prestige, and power of Caldon’s First and Lesser Families. They strive to amass as many of them as they can. To do that, they stage charm raids on enemy First and Lesser Families’ fortress-like compounds.

Question 5:
Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?

Answer:
No. Real people didn’t inspire any of my characters. I determined what each major—and some minor—characters wanted, which was a job in itself. I wrote biographies of each one.

Question 6:
Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?

Answer:
While the big moral lesson will come in Book 4, Charm Wars has at least three moral lessons. First, wanting something badly enough can lead to moral corruption. Second, stick up for what you think is right, despite the consequences. Third, strong friendships are important.

Question 7:
What is your favorite part of the book?

Answer:
I have several favorite parts of the book. One of them is the bond of friendship that slowly develops between Livia and Rill.

Question 8
Which character was most challenging to create? Why?

Answer:
I think creating Rill Larkin was extremely challenging. He has a lot of good qualities, but his overpowering ambition to become a mage at any cost often overwhelms them. He hurts a lot of people, including his family, in trying to achieve his goal of becoming a noblesse and starting his own commoner-noblesse family. But I didn’t want to make him into a bad or evil person, just a misguided one. I hope I succeeded.

Question 9
What are your immediate and future plans?

Answer:
My immediate plans: I want to complete Revenge of the Estati and have it ready for release by the end of 2022. I also am fleshing out the third book in the series. Plus, I need to continue marketing Charm Wars.

My future plans: Write the third and fourth books in the Charm Wars series. I also want to come up with ideas for YA fantasy and dystopian novels after the Charm Wars series. I already have some themes in mind. Plus I also want to work on an adult book that I started some years ago that deals with the son of a Nazi war criminal and his relationship with a female Mossad agent.


About the Author:

Dan Lutts, the author of Charm Wars, was brought up in Quincy, Massachusetts, and began addictively reading Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman comic books at an early age, much to his mother’s distress. In junior high school, he switched to reading science fiction novels. While in high school and college, he wrote science fiction short stories.

Dan taught history and archaeology in high school for ten years. After being laid off because of budget cuts, he used his love of writing to retrain and became a software technical editor and writer. He worked for several computer companies, taught technical writing at the college level, and worked as a freelance writer. Now, combining his love of history and writing, he works at a World War II museum doing research and writing.

Dan loves to read and has varied tastes, including Young Adult, historical fiction, mysteries, 18th-century sea epics, and history. He especially enjoys Young Adult fiction and decided to try his hand at it. Charm Wars, Dan’s first novel, is the result.

Dan lives in rural Maine with his wife, Lisa. When he’s not working or writing, Dan can be found reading, making and shooting medieval arrows with his longbow, or playing with his two dogs and two cats—all rescue animals.

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Spotlight & Author Interview: The Seekers’ Garden + Excerpt

the seeker's garden

The-Seekers-Garden-Kindle

The Seekers’ Garden
By Isa Pearl Ritchie
Genre: Women’s Fiction

If you stand still for long enough, the past catches up with you…
Leaving behind the fragments of her old life, Marcia Reed-Wilton crosses the world to return to her dilapidated childhood home and dig up the weeds of the past.

Next door, Mrs Everglade struggles to maintain her independence in spite of her increasing frailty.

Sixteen-year-old Lea escapes into her poetry to cope with depression until meeting Alex, a much more potent distraction.

Meanwhile, Iris leaves her career on a whim to embark on an adventure of an entirely different kind, moving to a sleepy seaside town to write a book.

On the other side of the world in opposite seasons, Zane, vocalist for a popular band is haunted by cryptic dreams that lead him home.

A few twists of fate and a buried secret leave these individuals deeply and unexpectedly connected.

The Seekers’ Garden is a lush and captivating exploration of loss, growth and spirituality, revealing the way connections form in unlikely places.


Excerpt:

If you stand still for long enough, the past catches up with you. The phrase came back to Marcia Reed-Wilton as inevitable as the sun rising. She took one final look around her home. Her eyes came to rest on the wall clock, its antiqued second hand obscuring the view of the first as it struck VII. She listened to its grandfather in the hall chime seven times as she assessed the things that were left in the room, relics from the past twenty years of her life: her mahogany furniture and beautiful hand-sculpted pottery in bright turquoise, olive, tamarillo, butternut, all of these familiar, comforting things.

William’s possessions were still scattered deceptively here and there: car magazines on the coffee table, overcoat hung next to the door. She was afraid to touch them. Anyone looking at the scene would assume it was a home in which a man and a woman lived. How wrong they’d be; he hadn’t lived here for months, and she hadn’t felt alive since his death.

She said goodbye to the Impressionist paintings she loved and that he had gently mocked although he had surreptitiously relegated his grandmother’s flowery watercolours to the guest room and hung her bolder tastes on the proudest walls in the main living spaces. She focused her attention down at the suitcase at her feet, packed with bare essentials, tools and trinkets small enough to carry halfway around the world. Something stirred in the back of her mind.

Marcia had dyed her long, dark hair with bright red henna, leaving the grey streaks a striking garnet. She brushed it away from her tear-stained face, walked towards the cherry-wood hallway table, pulled open the lowest drawer, and extracted a small wooden box. She opened the lid, revealing beautifully painted cards. She cut the deck and stared for a moment at the picture: a young, vibrant being playing a pipe and walking merrily off a cliff over a ravine, a dog following happily behind. The card was numbered 0, the Fool.

An obviousness dawned on her, painted lavishly over the calm façade she had been wearing these past months. At some point, fear becomes irrelevant. You have no choice but to trust the universe and take the leap: surrender. It was something she had been telling herself for years, but at that moment, it was real. She looked back down at the printed card in her hand. This is the first step in a journey. She spilt the cards out on the floor and selected the twenty-two major arcana. Then she quickly put them in order, back in the box, and into her bag as she heard the horn of her taxi sound outside. She hurried out into the thick London summer night, all sentimentality forgotten.

Marcia clutched her boarding pass tightly as she walked through the terminal. She distracted herself by gazing at the horizon out of the wall-to-wall airport windows where she was confronted by a ghost. Every time she recognised his jacket, his cologne, his hair cut, she was faced with the impossible reality of William’s presence. For the first few months, she had seen him everywhere, as if her mind was reaching out for the familiar, trying to fill the space that he used to occupy, which was now a bottomless pit, a black hole that destroyed and consumed everything around it until she felt it was all she was. The figure stood at the airport window, silhouetted in a posture that was as familiar to her as breathing. Something irrational stirred in the back of her consciousness, hope that was buttery and light, but as he moved, the glitch in her mind vanished, and she was empty again. How long will it take…? She wondered, before all the pieces of me realise he’s gone forever?

She felt her nervousness building as she boarded the plane, flanked by blank-faced flight attendants. As she took her seat, the anxiety was unbearable. What about her herbs? What about the mail? She comforted herself in the knowledge that she had good friends who she could call upon, understanding friends who knew the importance of her leaving even if they could not understand her motive. They thought she was running away from her grief, and indeed, this did feel a bit like running away, but where she was going, she had no friends or comfort, nothing. She was not escaping the past but following her intuition, and, holding tightly to the last shred of sanity she had left, she was going to face her past head-on.


Author Interview:

1.What inspired you to write this book? OR Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?

The inspiration for this book came to me one day as I was gardening in the front yard of an old family house. I was digging up old bottles and unidentified chunks of metal from decades past and it struck me that there was an apt metaphor here about the old baggage that families often carry and try to bury, but that burdens later generations. The idea came to me for Marcia, a character struck by sudden loss who crosses the world to confront her family’s past and finds herself in her old childhood home, digging up weeds. The weeds themselves are a metaphor for different kinds of emotional issues.

The characters and plot came together, sparked by my own curiosity about people in different life-stages, and about how people utilise spirituality to get them through hard times, and to help themselves to cope, grow and thrive.

  1. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?

I learnt a lot about character development when writing this book, and about how to weave multiple stories together to create one big story.

  1. What surprised you the most in writing it?

It surprised me how the characters seemed to appear in my mind, like imaginary friends with whole personalities. I also was surprised when writing this book how it almost seemed to flow through me at times, as if it came from somewhere else.

  1. If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?

It’s a bit of a play on “The Secret Garden” but the relevance is that in this book, the characters are all seekers, they are all searching for something, for purpose.

  1. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?

Aspects of characters come from people I have known. They kind of get smushed together into their own person. One minor character is based on a friend and I let her name her character.

  1. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?

I think it has quite a few lessons and morals, not just one. There are lots of ways of looking at a situation.

  1. What is your favorite part of the book?

I love the part when all the stories in the book converge into one big story.

  1. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?

Probably Mrs Everglade because she’s quite different from me. I find characters like that more challenging.

  1. What are your immediate future plans?

I have another book coming out soon, a non-fiction called Food, Freedom, Community, which draws on my PhD research into food sovereignty. I have a few other projects on the go but none are quite ready to share yet.


About the Author

Isa Pearl Ritchie is a New Zealand writer with a PhD in social science. She writes novels for adults and for young people. Her novel Fishing for Māui was named one of the best books of 2018 in The Listener Magazine and was a finalist in the NZ Booklovers awards2019. She has also written articles for The Spinoff, Pantograph Punch and Organic NZ. Isa lives in Wellington.

isa pearl ritchie

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