Interview with Sandy Lender
Always. I think I was writing in the womb…
I got started writing because my great grandmother, to whom Choices Meant for Gods is dedicated, encouraged me. When I graduated from the cute little stories about mice picking berries and getting frightened by cats, I started writing books with chapters. But to do that, you need a table of contents. So I used to write books, starting with the TOC, where I very primly wrote in page numbers where I believed each chapter should begin.
Do you have a set writing schedule? How do you balance your writing time with your personal time?
The only real schedule is to get home from work, turn on the computer, and start typing. (although I update www.todaythedragonwins.blogspot.com every morning like clockwork—that's on a schedule) My writing time is my personal time. My muse shackles me to the desk and away we go!
What would you consider your major life achievements so far?
I'm only 36. So far, my major life achievements would be rescuing a disoriented baby sea turtle near Bonita Beach Road, and seeing Choices Meant for Gods published.
What 5 words most sum you up and why?
Impulsive—I make decisions (a lot of them sound) quickly and firmly
Obsessive—Once I get taken with an idea, I don't let go easily; I've been a Duran Duran fan since 1983, a St. Louis Cardinals fan since 1982, a Charlotte Bronte fan since I first read Jane Eyre
Conservative environmentalist—I am obsessed with protecting sea turtles and our oceans. You'll notice that a majority of Choices takes place at an estate that overlooks the Meredore Ocean; that's not an accident.
Imaginative—I built a fantasy world and have a language for the Ungol that I'll be unveiling in the second book of the Choices trilogy
Exhausted—I get about three hours of sleep a night these days, sometimes four
If you get to Heaven and the gatekeeper informs you that you forgot to do one thing and sends you back to earth to do it, what would that task be?
That's going to depend on when and how Jesus calls me home, but if I get to play around with the space-time continuum, I need to go back to the '70s and do a better job of hiding Grandma's cigarettes. I failed her there. But when I get to the gates, St. Peter will probably tell me I left the stereo on. (And the neighbors are complaining about how loud it is.)
What is your favorite colour and what does it remind you of?
Lavender, of course! Seriously, I've always been fond of purple and lavender, so when I looked at Chariss, I saw her eyes as lavender and I saw the gem on her cheek as an amethyst. Now I find myself surrounded by purple and lavender things because I'm in full-out marketing mode for the book and it's all about her beautiful eyes and that beautiful gem that seals her fate.
Many authors often put traces of themselves into their characters. Which character in Choices Meant for Gods is most like you and why?
You know, I realized when I was working on marketing materials that I'd put poor Chariss through something that I'd been through in my life without realizing it. You see, I was born on Homestead Air Force Base and had moved about 18 times prior to going to college, so I was "on the move" a bit during my childhood. Without realizing it, I put Chariss and Hrazon through that by putting them "on the run" from Drake for 16 years. Now, I didn't have an evil sorcerer chasing me with the intent to kill as I was growing up…
As for characteristics, I've given Chariss some of my cynicism (see the balcony scene in chapter 22), which is a shame, but I think it contributes to her flawed and faulty life view. And she needs that for her overall arc through the trilogy. I think I gave both Chariss and Nigel some of my "just-get-it-done" attitude.
You have also mentioned a…fondness…for Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Has Jane Eyre influenced Choices Meant for Gods?
Go ahead and call it an obsession. The thing is that my obsession isn't just with the novel Jane Eyre—it's with the whole Bronte family. Expensive, let me tell you. I've been informed that my Bronte reference library is more impressive than that of a nearby university library's. I don't have the first edition of Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte, but I have a third edition two-volume set, and I think I'm going to give up and say that's as close as I'm going to get. I was really trying to get that first edition because I wanted the original references to the Cowan Bridge School and Branwell's "affair" with Mrs. Lydia Robinson, which Elizabeth was forced to change after the first edition came out and people started flipping out and threatening her publisher.
Anyway. Your question was how has Jane Eyre influenced CMFG? Greatly…and mostly subconsciously, which I found intriguing, and I'll explain. But Charlotte's life also influenced the novel, and I'll explain that, too.
First of all, Jane Eyre includes a fabulous gothic mansion called Thornfield Hall with a deep, dark secret fastened away inside, protected by its dark and mysterious master. As I wrote CMFG, I realized I painted Nigel Taiman as my Edward Rochester, so I had to be cautious not to mirror the gentleman too closely, but I didn't realize until the novel was complete that Hleo-Arcana mimicked Thornfield.
The moment that I realized I had basically written Rochester's proposal to Jane for Nigel and Chariss (see the balcony scene in chapter 22—it's not a proposal, but it's close enough), I nearly came unglued. I feared the Bronte Society, of which I'm a member, collectively appearing on my doorstep with a cease and desist order of some kind. Needless to say, I did some heavy editing to adjust that scene. The savvy Bronte fan will still recognize it, and probably send me a chastising note unless they realize I adore Charlotte. The Jane Eyre reference that truly caught me off guard, though, and the one that should have been the big, neon, flashing sign, is Chariss's status as an orphan seeking refuge at Arcana and discovering her attraction to the master of the house. How insane am I that I didn't recognize this parallel until years after the novel was complete? I was writing some snazzy text to include on a bookmark for marketing purposes and I referred to Chariss as an orphan, and all those thoughts fell into place.
As for Charlotte's life, there is at least one little piece of the story that brings me this incredibly sad feeling, and it's influenced by Charlotte's real-life experience during her mid-twenties. Charlotte and Emily Bronte had gone to Brussels to study at the Pensionnat Heger when Charlotte was 26 years old (Emily 24) and Charlotte fell in love with her professor M. Constantine Heger. The gentleman, to his credit, appears not to have led her on, for he was married with a gaggle of children. When Charlotte returned to Haworth, she absolutely pined for this man she adored yet could not be near. She wrote to him concerning a boarding school endeavor she and her sisters wished to undertake and he offered her a recommendation, but when her letters became too frequent (or too flowery, who knows?), he wisely suggested she could only write to him once every six months. It was like a punishment to her, and her notes prove it. In CMFG, Abigail Farrier literally pines for Nigel Taiman, living on another continent where she fantasizes and dreams and builds the man into something ultra-heroic that even our amazing Mister Taiman couldn't possibly measure up to. Or could he? Abigail grieves for this man she can't have, and when she finally sees him, finally lays eyes on this creature she's obsessed over for years, she learns that he's on a quest to assist another woman who's essentially preparing for war—and a woman that he intends to marry because he's so much in love. Abigail is crushed. As I wrote those scenes, I could feel Abby's heartbreak and I could feel the influence of Charlotte's experience with her professor.
Where can readers buy your book?
Right now, Choices Meant for Gods can be ordered at any book store you walk into, if it's not sitting on the shelf. I know of three stores in the United States that have it on the shelf, but unless you're near the Borders in downtown Tulsa, the Barnes and Noble in Chesterfield, Missouri, or the Barnes and Noble in Naples, Florida, I can't make any guarantees. But you can always order it online at http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?z=y&EAN=9781595071651&itm=1 if you want to use your Barnes and Noble membership card. You can also shop online at Amazon to get the free shipping option at http://www.amazon.com/Choices-Meant-Gods-Sandy-Lender/dp/1595071652/ref=dp_return_1/104-9089752-5140754?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books&qid=1175821346&sr=8-1.
Tell us about your debut novel, Choices Meant for Gods.
Choices Meant for Gods is an epic fantasy tale about a young lady who's been on the run from a madman all her life. To make it worse, the madman is an evil sorcerer. When Chariss finally chooses to stand and fight, she discovers she's wrapped in centuries of prophecy that demand she protect the gods of her society. It's a tall order for an orphan who doesn't, at first, believe in herself.
But her mentor/guardian wizard believes in her. And that's the dear and tender storyline in the novel. This powerful and amazing wizard Hrazon of Mon'dore, who once collected the four-year-old Chariss when Jamieson Drake murdered her family, and fled with her, has raised her for sixteen years, taught her how to use the geasa, which is a form of "magic" that I created for this world, taught her how to take care of herself, taught her how to survive, and taught her how to fulfill her destiny—to be the protector of an arrogant god that Hrazon doesn’t think deserves his girl's sacrifice.
Of course, it's not as simple as that. She doesn't just stop running from place to place, figure out she's supposed to protect a god, and, pow, we're done with the tale. No. The sorcerer teamed up with an evil goddess as old as time itself and they're coming after Chariss, who, by the way, is no longer a moving target. But where did Chariss stop? She stopped at an impressive, gothic estate on the southeast border of Onweald where her latest benefactress reveals a few secrets...
It's the kind of fantasy story that involves a map, which my amazing artist friend Megan Kissinger provided for me, even though the majority of the action takes place in the same corner of Onweald.
How long did it take you to write Choices Meant for Gods?
It's kind of strange to fix a time on this because I first met Chariss back in about 1982 or '83. I saw her standing on Lord Baine's balcony with her arms open, holding back the curtains, as if embracing the morning. I didn't realize at the time that I was viewing her through the bad guy's eyes. I was seeing her as Jamieson Drake saw her. Drake actually spoke to me before any of the other characters, and neither he nor I knew Chariss's name at that time. So I began meeting the characters and sketching out little ideas and little scenes years ago. It wasn't until 2000 that I sat down and started typing. I pounded out three chapters on the keyboard, printed them—double-spaced, of course—and took them with me to get the tires replaced on my car. Yeah, I had to sit at the mechanic's shop for this interminable block of time one Saturday, and I knew it, so I took the beginning of Choices Meant for Gods with me and just sat there writing like a fiend. They had to think I was crazy… I finished the first book—more than 270,000 words—in June 2003.
How did you get started on Choices Meant for Gods?
The process began when the main female character, Amanda Chariss, appeared to me on her benefactor's balcony. I didn't know it then, but I was watching her from the vantage point of the bad guy that morning. I fell in love with her instantly, which is probably why the dragon in the story cares for her as deeply as he does.
You've stated on your Dragon blog at www.todaythedragonwins.blogspot.com that there are Old English and Anglo-Saxon themes in Choices Meant for Gods. Can you explain that?
First of all, a lot of the strange words that you can't pronounce (and you're welcome to make up whatever pronunciation you want for them) in Choices Meant for Gods probably start out with an Old English root. All during this online tour, I'm featuring those words in the Word of the Day section on my blog at www.todaythedragonwins.blogspot.com, so I encourage folks to jog over there to check that out. Words like Wepanchiele and Freotho and Dreorfahn all have meaning other than being a river, a mountain, and an army, respectively.
Next, there are elements of Anglo-Saxon society and literature that are fascinating to me so I couldn’t help but include them in a medieval society like the one Chariss lives in. The mead hall is one item that intrigues me. I love the idea of a bunch of burly ol' warriors gathered around a huge wooden plank of a table slogging down mead and telling riddles and challenging each other to stupid drunken broad-sword fights. So I made a mini-mead hall in the family's dining room at Hleo-Arcana (and hleo-burh is another Old English word). Now, the Taiman family doesn't get rip-roaring drunk and challenge one another to crazy duels, but they do have a huge wooden plank of a table and they gather around it in a sense of camaraderie that makes this author happy.
Then there's the introduction of Sergeant Brendan Naegling. Can any of you visitors guess where his name came from and what his purpose will be?
I've got a Middle English reference to Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde in there as well.
There are other elements, but folks will have to read the book to pick them out.