Interview with authors Heather and Christopher Dunbar
Today we are thrilled to have authors Heather Poinsett Dunbar and Christopher Dunbar back with us. They’re here today to talk about their series Morrigan’s Brood and their latest release, Dark Alliance.
For those who are new to your books, who (or should I say what) are the Lamia and Deargh Du?
Heather - Hmmmm… first off, I’d say that we write about blood-drinkers. Every different ancient culture has a ‘vampire’ myth. The Lamia are the classical (Greco-Roman) vampire myth. The Deargh Du are an Irish type of blood-drinker. Some researchers believe that Bram Stoker got most of his ideas about Count Dracula from the old Deargh Du stories that his Irish mother told.
Christopher – Both “Who” and “What” apply. With regards to “What”, the Lamia are a race of blood-drinkers derived from the Greek goddess Hera, whereas the Deargh Du are a race of blood-drinkers derived from the Irish goddess Morrigan; as they are derived from Morrigan, they are considered Her children… or brood… hence “Morrigan’s Brood”.
With respect to “Who”, Lamia are manipulators and game players. They do not seek power… in the public eye; rather, they seek to become the power behind kings and popes. Lamia do not play to win, whether in contests of chance, skill, politics, or life; rather, they play to play. Lamia will give up obvious means to win in favor of continuing the game. Also, while Hera created the Lamia, they do not venerate her and instead worship Ares / Mars and Aphrodite / Venus.
Deargh Du, however, have been given the mandate to maintain the Balance, a Celtic belief that all of existence lies on a single fulcrum and that forces are at work to topple the balance and send existence into the abyss. Morrigan’s Deargh Du seek to maintain the Balance by righting wrongs, but also by performing “evil” acts to balance excessive “good”; even too much “good” can disrupt the Balance.
The Triscelle Publishing website offers further descriptions of the Lamia, Deargh Du, Strigoi, and other blood-drinker races from the Morrigan’s Brood Series.
Heather – Hmmm, two sides of a similar coin perhaps. Basically, we wanted two groups that were culturally distinct and the opposite of each other. Romans are very much into ‘good of Rome’ and the rights and desires of individuals matter little. Gaels (the Irish) and Celts at large were very much the opposite in that individual needs and desires were considered tantamount. In many ways, their ‘barbaric’ culture was quite advanced in terms of rights of women and children. What we thought might be entertaining was to take two people and throw them into the opposite culture and see how they might change and adapt.
Christopher – In the previous two novels, Deargh Du and Lamia were adversaries, with the exception of a few characters, but in book 3, a common enemy has united them, but it isn’t easy to turn your back to a former enemy and trust him or her not to take your head from behind.
The Deargh Du represent the old ways, the old religions before the dominance of Christianity. They maintain the old traditions of the Irish, such as respect for nature, affinity for the magical, and balance between the sexes. They are the maintainers of the Balance. However, many of them have become isolationists, turning away from the world beyond the shores of Éire. They are themselves becoming unbalanced. In addition, those few Deargh Du seen by mortals are often believed to be angels, as they can fly and use their glamoury to bathe themselves in brilliant, white light.
The Strigoi play the role of the unwashed masses, the scourge of Christianity, as at first they only seem to target churches. They are seen as demons brought down to earth to wreak vengeance for those who stray from the Church. The murders the Strigoi commit en masse become the wedge that divides the emperor from the man who crowned him.
The Lamia have the closest ties of any other blood-drinking race to the seats of mortal power. It was revealed in Madness (one of the short-stories from Madness & Reckoning: Stories of the Morrigan’s Brood Series) that Mandubratius’ sponsor, Felician, was instrumental in coaxing the Romans to adopt Christianity and became the power behind the pope. They influence Christian doctrine and reap the riches that the Church collects in its conversions, conquests, and tithing. However, something more “evil” than they presents itself, and they feel they must seek an alliance with their former foes.
Would you label one race the so called “villains” and the other the “good guys”?
Heather - It really depends. The Deargh Du in the first two books could be called the good guys, but they were also insular and isolationist in those books as well. It will become a bit more complicated as the series progresses.
Christopher – I feel that the words “villain”, “hero”, “good”, and “evil” are subjective words, at least when applied to the early Dark Ages, which is where most of our series takes place. Besides, what is perceived as “good” or “evil” changes with the ebb and flow of the tides and varies from person to person. Are the Deargh Du good? Yes. Are the Deargh Du evil? Yes. Are the Lamia good? Yes. Are the Lamia evil? Yes. Also, are the Deargh Du more villainous or heroic than the Lamia? Ask an Ekimmu Cruitne, an Algul, a Strigoi, and an Ouphe that question and you will get different answers.
Can you tell us a little about your latest release, Dark Alliance?
Heather – Dark Alliance is the first of a trilogy that takes place some two hundred plus years after Crone of War ends. The king of the Franks, otherwise known as Charles the Great or Charlemagne is now the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. A fearsome enemy that mortals see as a demonic presence attacks his empire, but these “demons” are a blood-drinking line that can bring nightmares to reality and infect both blood-drinkers and mortals with madness. So, enemies must become allies to defeat this enemy.
Christopher – What scares you most when you are trying to go to bed at night? What terrors wake you up once you have managed to fall into some semblance of sleep? The Lamia and the Deargh Du, as well as other blood-drinker races, fear the madness of the Strigoi. Madness, delirium, and waking nightmares are the hallmarks of the Strigoi’s piercing call. Mortals become so crazed from the Strigoi’s madness that they wound themselves in horrendous ways to try to stop they nightmares they see, feel, hear, smell, and taste; soon after, death follows. Are you scared?
Dark Alliance is the first of a trilogy of novels that takes place in 801 CE, the year after Karl der Große is crowned Imperator Romanorum (December 25, 800 CE).
Will fans see any familiar faces in this book?
Heather – Oh my, yes. There will be familiar Deargh Du, Sugnwr Gwaed, Ekimmu Cruitne, and Lamia as well.
Christopher – Most of the immortals are back… Marcus Galerius Primus Helvetticus, Mandubratius, Máire, Claudius, Mac Alpin, Sáerlaith, and Caoimhín, to name a few. Of course, the mortals are long since dead… 276 years is quite a long time in mortal years. But do not worry… readers will be able to meet new characters they will grow to love and hate. Some will die. People who have read our works know that we love killing our characters. Who’s next?
What’s the most challenging part about writing a series that takes place over centuries and has so many characters?
Heather - I would say the research, but for me that’s also the most fun. Also, one has to make sure new characters are era appropriate. Not every Frankish man will be a God-fearing man who believes women should be pregnant and at home, but that was the prevailing viewpoint at the time. If a character deviates from the cultural norm, the author needs to explain why.
Christopher – Maintaining the historical context, depicting how people change over the centuries, and being true to each character’s voice are significant challenges. Conducting research is often the best way to maintain consistency with historical events or what is sometimes known as “life and times” information… such as what people ate and drank, what they wore, how they traveled, what their music was like, what they believed in, and so forth. When you cover centuries within the span of a few books, it means broadening the research to include those additional periods and uncovering all of those historical events and life and times information. It can become daunting, but Heather loves the challenge.
If you became a Deargh Du, Lamia, or some other blood-drinker and lived for hundreds of years, how would relationships change over time? For instance, your spouse also became a blood-drinker at the same time… how long would you stay married? One century? Two? Three? For another situation, let’s say a man, who had seduced you in the past, also killed your father and was directly or indirectly involved in the deaths of two of your betrothed and other family members; how long would the hate for this person last? One hundred years? Two hundred? One thousand? What if events forced you to become allies with him? Would you still want to kill him? Would you? Also, how do they keep up with changes in politics, clothes, language, technology, customs, and other things that change with the times? While it is challenging to address these kinds of questions about the “human” condition of long-lived people, it is one that we face with gusto.
In epic fantasy, which the Morrigan’s Brood Series straddles, a cadre of characters goes on a quest together, and each character has her or his role in the story. It is a challenge, working with so many characters, keeping straight which character would do or say what and when in a scene, but we manage to maintain consistency of voice from book to book. We are able to tap into the psyche of a character in order to come up with dialog and actions, and then the next minute, tap into another character in the scene. Since we write each scene from the perspective of one character, it is difficult to enter the mind of another character in the scene, so we have to have scene persona pickup on body language and other tells in order to interpret motivations and musings.
Has your series taken any unexpected turns that you didn’t originally plan for?
Heather – Actually, we thought it would be a urban fantasy trilogy when we started, so it veered quite far from it.
Christopher – Heather and I are both plotters and pants’ers… for those not familiar with writing, plotters are those who, in advance of the story, outline and otherwise structure the story, whereas pants’ers write by the seat of their pants. We have a broad plan for getting from beginning to end, and we know the general milestones along the way, but we let the story tell us how to get to the end… and sometimes, unexpectedly, the story tells us to go somewhere else than we had originally planned. On a smaller scale, when writing a scene where we want a character to say “no”, we sometimes find ourselves hear the character screaming “yes”, so we must bear the consequences, and the re-writing, for the snap decision of a character. These aren’t our words…
What can fans expect to see next?
Heather - Travel, angels of a sort, a magic mirror, and a rather irate character named Irene.
Christopher - Our readers will be able to visit their nightmares and say “hello”. They will be able to delve deeply into the character of the first post-Roman emperors, seeing him in a different light than that shone by history, as we know it. Readers will be able to witness first hand a battle between Church and Empire unfold, as both sides respond to the overwhelming fear of murderous “demons”, who they feel have crawled up from Hell to punish non-believers. In between them stand a mix of blood-drinkers, “angels”, who try to combat these “demons” while attempting to prevent full-scale war amongst the mortals. The irony, of course, is that one of these three parties will inflict far more death to mortals than the demons alone. Can you guess which party to which I am referring?