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Friday, April 22, 2011

Northlight: Book Review and Interview with Deborah Ross

If you like a strong female lead character and beautiful landscapes, you'll love Northlight by Deborah J. Ross, "a tale of healing and adventure and some very cool horses" (Northlight Introduction).

Northlight is a science fiction/fantasy novel by Deborah J. Ross (writing as Deborah Wheeler). Ross cares deeply about her characters, and this is clear in her writing. The main protagonist Kardith is a tortured but beautiful soul that your heart will ache for. Kardith and her beloved gray mare take us on a journey through rich landscapes and deeply experienced life-altering events.

Ross has a colourful and unique way of leading you into the world she has created. In the opening chapter, the character Kardith of the Rangers describes the landscape: "Where [the river] dumped into the Serenity, colder than winter snot, the trees bunched up as if they'd scrambled up on each other. Buildings hid among them, glass and rock as pale as weathered bone." I read this passage and felt chills up my spine.

Product Description from Amazon.com:
She's a Ranger, a wild and savvy knife-fighter, determined to get help in finding her partner who's lost on the treacherous northern border. He's a scholar who sees visions, eager to escape the confines of city life and the shadow of his charismatic mother. With the assassination of a beloved leader and the city in turmoil, the two have only each other to turn to. What begins as a rescue mission turns deadly as together they unravel the secret that lies beneath Laurea's idyllic surface.
Please enjoy my interview with Deborah Ross. You can purchase Northlight at Amazon.com. Additional purchasing options can be found following the interview.


Cookie’s Mom: Deborah, thank-you for speaking with me today. Would you tell your readers a little about yourself? How did you come to be a writer?

Deborah: My misspent youth was passed in California and Oregon, growing my hair long, protesting everything and gathering useless academic degrees before realizing the true "work of my heart" was storytelling. I have been writing science fiction and fantasy professionally since 1982. I served as Secretary of SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) and have taught writing (at Learning Tree Adult Education and other venues) and led writer's workshops. I'm a member of the online writers' collective, Book View Cafe.

As Deborah Wheeler, I wrote 2 science fiction novels, Jaydium and Northlight, as well as short stories in Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science fiction, Sisters of the Night, Star Wars: Tales From Jabba’s Palace, Realms of fantasy, and almost all of the Sword & Sorceress and Darkover anthologies. My most recent projects -- under my birth name, Ross -- include Darkover novels with the late Marion Zimmer Bradley: The Fall of Neskaya, Zandru’s Forge, A Flame in Hali, The Alton Gift, and Hastur Lord, and an original fantasy series, The Seven-Petaled Shield, based on my "Azkhantian tales." I made my editorial debut in 2008 with Lace and Blade.

I live in the redwood forests near Santa Cruz with my husband, fellow writer Dave Trowbridge, three cats, and a German Shepherd Dog. In between writing, I've lived in France, worked as a medical assistant to a cardiologist, revived an elementary school library, studied Chinese martial arts, Hebrew and yoga, and have been active in the women's martial arts network and local Quaker community.

Cookie’s Mom: That sounds like a full and satisfying life.

Deborah: I’m never bored!

Cookie’s Mom: I enjoyed reading Northlight and getting to know it's characters. Where did this beautiful story come from?

Deborah: It started as an expansion of my first professional short story, then I had to throw out a whole lot of misdirection and lifeless prose, and I just followed my heart from there. From the Introduction to the e-book: Kardith's twisted past pushed the story in new directions. Terricel opened his heart to me as I watched him grow from a young scholar to a visionary leader. The horses, especially Kardith's nameless gray mare, carried me through a landscape I'd never guessed was there. When I stood with Terricel in the northern light, I had no idea what would come next. I typed as fast as I could, just trying to keep up with the unfolding scenes.

Cookie’s Mom: Northlight is classified as science fiction, yet it feels more like fantasy to me.

Deborah: So often, the distinctions between science fiction and fantasy or fantasy and horror are for marketing purposes only. Like the novels of Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Darkover" and Anne McCaffrey's "Pern," Northlight falls into the borderlands, just barely on the science fiction side, but on a technology level that feels to most readers like fantasy. Whereas Darkover and Pern are Lost Colonies in space, Harth is a Lost Earth in terms of parallel universes.

Cookie’s Mom: Do you write primarily fantasy and science fiction? Are there similarities between Northlight and your other works?

Deborah: Northlight was my second published novel, and it came out from DAW in 1995. My first novel, Jaydium, was science fiction of the "adventures in parallel universes with really cool aliens" variety, but I've always loved to write across genres. Northlight is closer in that sense to Darkover, in that both are technically science fiction but have a strong fantasy flavor. My short fiction ranges from space opera to dystopic science fiction to humorous vampire tales to urban and classical fantasy. I've done a few stories for Bruce Coville anthologies (middle school age) and am working on some YA science fiction that's definitely not grimly political.

Cookie’s Mom: How do you view Northlight in terms of your other writing? Is this your best work?

Deborah: Northlight was a breakthrough in several ways. I'd written a really awful first-attempt a number of years before, which received a thoughtful rejection letter from Sheila Gilbert at DAW, and set it aside. Then I joined a Clarion-style writers group and worked like a maniac on Jaydium. That's where I learned the basic novel writing skills. When I went back to that draft of Northlight, I tried to start with Terricel's story; I still laugh at the response: "this is very well-written and very boring." I realized that the story didn't come alive for me until Kardith arrived and then she just ran away with the story. So I ripped out 150 pages of sedate Laurean politics and just let Kardith run with it. In doing so, I found a way of circumventing my internal critic and letting my own passion and enthusiasm pour out on to the page.

Over the years, I've noticed recurrent themes and elements. I studied Chinese martial arts for over 30 years, so strong women characters, women who are often martial artists, pop up regularly. I also love horses and look for ways to make them characters in themselves, not just animate motorcycles to get the hero from one place to another. I deeply believe in the healing power of love and you'll find that in some form in almost everything I write. Northlight has all of these; it's the place I hit my stride.

Cookie’s Mom: Northlight has a very warm enveloping feel to it. I think this must be the healing power of love you speak about coming through.

Deborah: That’s quite a compliment. It tells me that I succeeded in creating characters worth caring about.

Cookie’s Mom: In particular, I feel very connected to the main character, Kardith. I'm trying to find the words to describe her. She is reserved, speaking only when necessary, and seems to have an inner strength requiring little support from others. How did you come up with this character? What does she mean to you?

Deborah: I'd written a bunch of strong, competent women in my stories for Sword & Sorceress (ed. Marion Zimmer Bradley) and I'd spent a fair amount of time hanging around with other women martial artists. In the '80s and '90s, there was this amazing network of women writers who also practiced martial arts. I didn't base Kardith on any one person, but I did learn about how women make their way in a man's world (the dojo, the physics laboratory, etc.). But characters who are always strong get boring quickly, and from the first, I realized there must be something really dark in Kardith's past life to make her so unafraid of physical risk. What's the opposite of physical risk? Emotional risk. And why would she be so terrified of it... ?

Cookie’s Mom: The story’s other protagonist Terricel is very much the opposite of Kardith. At the outset he seems to have a weak constitution. As the story unfolds we see a different Terricel emerge, strong in his own ways. Was there some inspiration for this character?

Deborah: One of the subtle points in Northlight is that physical might isn’t necessary to change the world. That’s Montborne’s way of thinking. I wanted a hero who had spiritual strength, who could inspire people rather than intimidate them. Initially,Terricel is coming from a lifetime of resisting being molded to other people's expectations. His fear is not so much that he will be hurt as that he will never get to live his own life at all. Coupled with that is his extraordinary ability to see the larger whole, even the passageways between parallel worlds. His compassion balances Kardith's physical assertiveness. They each complete the other. This reversal of the usual roles (the warrior woman, the sensitive visionary man) is a lot more common now than it was 20 years ago, when I was writing Northlight, but it's still one that I love. The more role models we have, the more freedom we feel to be everything that we are, not just what society expects of us.

Cookie’s Mom: Deborah, fans often want to know what their favourite authors are reading. Can you tell us about some of the books and authors that have left an impression on you?

Deborah: (glances up at my bookshelf). Different books and authors have been important to me at different times. I’m an inveterate fan of both J. R. R. Tolkien and Jane Austen, but I also love contemporary authors like Barbara Hambly, Lois McMaster Bujold, Vonda McIntyre… it’s a long list. I read mysteries and classics and some mainstream fiction, and I also try to balance my fiction reading with nonfiction, just to keep my brain working in different ways.

Cookie’s Mom: Can you tell us what you are working on now?

Deborah: I'm currently working on the next Darkover novel, The Children of Kings, a YA science fiction series, and getting my backlist available in ebook form. A few short stories are in the works, too!

Cookie’s Mom: Thank-you for talking with me today, Deborah. I look forward to reading more of your work.

Deborah: Thanks for asking me!


Northlight is a science fiction/fantasy novel by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler. Deborah Wheeler is the name under which she began writing professionally in 1982. Deborah changed her name legally back to her birth name, Ross, about the time she began collaborating with Marion Zimmer Bradley on her Darkover series. She has kept the name Wheeler for those novels she published under that byline in order to make it easier for fans to find her. More information can be found at her blog.

Both Jaydium (1993) and Northlight (1995) are now available in multi-format ebook editions through Book View Cafe (www.bookviewcafe.com), and also in Kindle and Nook editions. 

You can learn more about what Deborah Ross is up to at her website. You can also visit her blog where she discusses books and writing.


Anonymous said...

Another great interview! This book sounds fascinating, I am putting it on my wish list!

Linda Mc

Cookie’s Mom said...

Thanks Linda. I loved that Deborah was willing to share the process that she went through in writing Northlight. I found it very interesting.

Deborah J. Ross said...

Hi, Linda! Anything else you'd like to know?


Anonymous said...

Deborah I read the reviews on Amazon for Northlight. They all sound like you have a very good book (not to say Sue hadn’t sold me on the book already), but none of the reviews are from Amazon verified purchases. Have you considered promoting your books on the Amazon Kindle discussion forum? There are a few indie author friendly threads Al’s Place and The Spinning Wheel are long standing and very friendly. Noah’s Bomb Shelter is relatively new and very author friendly, Sue and I both hang out there, you should drop by. If you start your own promo thread you need to let it be known in the thread title that it is a promo for your books. Put links to your books and stick around to talk to the other posters. If you decide to put your books on sale please let Sue know. I prefer to buy my ebooks at Amazon because I share my account with my daughter and granddaughter; it just makes access so much easier for all. Thank you for the wonderful interview and I look forward to reading Northlight!

Linda Mc

Cookie’s Mom said...

Hi Linda. Do you see a link above to buy the book from Amazon.com? It is available there. The price right now is $4.99.

Deborah J. Ross said...

Linda, thanks for the pointers. I noodled around the Kindle boards a little while ago, but didn't see book promo sites.

Some of the reviews were from readers who purchased the old print version, or ebooks through Library Thing Early Reviewer program or Book View Cafe.

Ebublishing is such an exciting development, with the potential to make so many wonderful books available to many more readers. Amazon.com is certainly the heavyweight player in the game, but not the only choice. Some folks prefer Nook to Kindle just in terms of a physical device. Book View Cafe offers multi-format ebooks that can be downloaded to either device with the appropriate (free) app, plus a greater percentage of the price goes to the author.

Anonymous said...

Deborah, I think Kindle boards are different than from the Amazon discussion site. I had never seen the Book View Cafe, but it looked like a very nice site. I am looking forward to reading your book. It really sounds like the kind, I am just now learning, that I love to read! Thank you for letting Sue interview you.

Anonymous said...

Dang, I forgot to sign my post! Sorry Sue! That Anonymous wazi me! LOL

Linda Mc

Cookie’s Mom said...

No problem, Linda. Thanks for your feedback.

Deborah, the Amazon Kindle discussion forum is located here: http://www.amazon.com/tag/kindle/forum

Julie Musil said...

This book sound amazing! And I love author interview. It's fun to learn how the story idea came about and what their process is like. Thanks!

Cookie’s Mom said...

You're welcome, Julie. I agree with you. It's adds another layer to the book, doesn't it? Thanks for your comments.

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