Author Interview: Renee Frey

The Just-Us League is publishing its 9th anthology of short stories. Seeds of Lore is a collection of stories based myths and legends.

Renee Frey wrote Morgan’s Revenge, a retelling of the Cú Chulainn myth.

51v2bdjbo5l._sx313_bo1204203200_I asked, “What inspired you to retell this legend?”

Renee answered, “I’ve always loved my Irish heritage. One of my favorite authors growing up was Morgan Llewellyn, who wrote extensively on Irish mythology. I also loved the Prydain series, which uses Welsh mythology to tell an epic story. 

One day, while wearing my writer’s hat, I wondered what if we still had druids? Sort of like a Percy Jackson interpretation of Irish mythology. I plan to write the series, and when this prompt was chosen for a Just-Us League Anthology, I knew I could use it to create a prequel that would explain the world of Ancient Ireland and set up the rules for the modern world, where I’ll base the series. “

I asked,What draws you to retellings?”

61rop03nfdlRenee answered, “To me, stories are little pieces of magic that bring us together. Every culture has a creation myth, for example. Almost every culture has a great flood myth. When we find these things we have in common, it’s a celebration, a realization of the humanity we all share. Retelling these stories keeps them alive. For example, in writing Morrigan’s Revenge, readers may learn about and read about the whole Ulster cycle. By referencing other stories and works, we keep them a part of our identity, both our cultural identity and our personal heritage. 

On a more personal level, retellings are a puzzle, a challenge. I have to work with something that already exists to create something new and interesting, to be creative. The limits help me really explore and innovate the story. I’ve got a fairy tale retelling in the 4th Just-Us League Anthology of Legend and Lore. I also have a novel-length retelling of Arabian Nights coming out this fall. With both works, I explored new cultures and tried to imagine the story with our more global lens.”

I asked,What did you wish to accomplish with your retelling?”

Renee answered,I think first and foremost spark interest and curiosity about Irish mythology. There’s so much scholarship out there, and it’s a developing field, so interest in it can only help us understand it better. 

I also wanted to create something that would draw the reader into the world of the full length novels once they’re published. Basically, write something good that leaves readers wanting more. :)”

I think that’s the goal of all good stories, and this one is entertaining. But I wanted to know, what makes this story different.

22834c9ac3f5a8bb8257009a38ed2c00Renee answered, “Most of my retellings have been fairy tales, which rely a lot more on symbolism and cultural allusions than myths do. So I didn’t have the semiotic parts to dissect and reinterpret like I do in fairy tale retellings. Because mythology brushes up against history, I think there’s this very tricky fine line between retelling the myth and writing an alternate history. So it takes a little more nuance, especially because you are also limited more in how you interpret the characters. Too much change, and it’s no longer the myth. That said, it’s been fun to cast an ancient society into modern sensibilities. “

I asked, “So were there any difficulties in writing this piece?”

Renee answered, Oh, where to start? First of all, the myth I’m retelling, the Ulster Cycle, is MASSIVE. It’s an epic dedicated largely to the hero, Cu-Chulainn, and his exploits at the court of Ulster, known as the Red Branch. Distilling the story down to a short story instead of a novel was a huge challenge. I had to cut a lot, simplify a lot, and ultimately shift my focus to tell the story I actually wanted to tell, which was the Morrigan’s perspective of the story. The Morrigan was part of a triple war goddess, and as such was not the most sympathetic character.

That was my other challenge–making Morrigan likeable. In the original myth, she’s very much an evil stalker of Cu-Chulainn, and even curses the hero’s wife to never bear children. She’s very jealous of anyone who pays any attention to her hero. To make this work and set the stage for the series to come, I needed Morrigan to be someone we could root for, which wasn’t easy. 

I think the hardest part was cutting certain point of view sections. I’d written some sections from the point of view of Cu-Chulainn’s father in law (to be), and they were so much fun to write and so good. But ultimately, they distracted the reader from the story. I’ve saved them and hope to find a home for them some day. But man, cutting that hurt!”

Morrigan is certainly not the most lovable character, and I can see why you are talking about a series of novels instead of a single one. Where would a reader look if they wanted to know more about the legend you used?

51brjista7l._sy346_Renee answered, “I would definitely say look at Red Branch by Morgan Llewellyn. If reading a straight myth isn’t the reader’s thing, there’s also Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, which incorporates a lot of Irish myths into the story. I love pantheon.org because they have such a repository of mythology–much more extensive than Wikipedia. And a trip to Ireland itself is definitely the best way to learn more about the culture and the history behind the myth.”

I asked, “And what if the reader wished to read more by you, where would they find your writing?”

Renee answered, “Follow my website, which I update when I have updates. I co-own Authors 4 Authors Publishing, so my writing time is also spent editing, marketing, and working with other authors. If you like my writing, you should definitely check out The First Story, by C. Bradley Owens, and A Seer’s Daughter, by B. C. Marine. I have two other shorts in Just-Us League Anthologies 2 and 4. You can get them individually, but honestly, just get the anthology. All the stories are really good, and you might find another author you love!”

I asked,Are your other pieces similar to your legend?”

Renee answered, “The Princess and the Frog, in Of Legends and Lore, is a fairy tale retelling, so more inline with this. As I shared, I do have 1001 Days coming out this fall, and that’s a retelling of the framing story of Arabian Nights (the story of Scheherezade and the Sultan). Jump Discontinuity is more of an adventure flick, so the elements of betrayal and action are there. For that story, however, I based the main character on my late father, so it’s definitely more contemporary in feel.”

I asked, “What about your novels? What can we expect from your novels?”

Renee answered,I’ve got several fantasy series planned, it’s honestly just finding the time to write them. I’ve got one that’s going to be inspired by history, so a sort of retelling. I don’t want to say more, but I hope to have that available in the next 3 years or so. I’ve also got some more idea-based fantasy planned.” 

I’ve seen you keep progress bars on your website, so readers can follow along. While we wait, check out Renee’s website.

Renee has been published in two anthologies, and is currently working on multiple other projects. She is one of the owners of Authors 4 Authors Publishing. She enjoys reading and writing fantasy for both adults and young adults. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Mike, and their two dogs: a puggle named Ziggy and a chihuahua named Megatron. Renee graduated Summa Cum Laude from West Chester University with a BA in English Literature. When she is not writing, she makes her living in instructional design, technical writing, and teaching dance.

Visit Renee at https://www.reneefreyauthor.com/

This post is a series of interviews by other authors in this anthology. Check out interviews of:

Kristy Perkins

Kelsie Engen

Book Review: Dragon Blood by Eileen Wilks

Dragon Blood by Eileen Wilks

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My Summary:

Lily and Rule have been taken from hell into the Dragon home world to continue their hunt for the Tom Weng, the dragon spawn, and their rescue of the missing lupi children. Lily becomes captive in the city center while a severely injured Rule must make his way from the outer edges of the world to her.

 

My Rating: 4 stars for the series overall

 

Why I chose this novel: This is novel 14 of the world of the lupi. I remember reading this series the first time and really liking Lily as a strong character who could manage to be a love interest without becoming cliched or bending to her lover. So I reread this series looking for a strong character.

 

My Thoughts:

The characters are still solid and interesting on reread, but unfortunately I had forgotten that the characters slowly give up their careers because of their lives as a couple. That Lily, whose core is a police officer, gives up her homicide and then FBI career because of lupus issues makes her less strong. She never planed to be part of the lupi world and was dragged into it. By book 10 or so, Lily is working on lupi issues that she then uses her authority as FBI for or ignores the FBI in favor of the Shadow Unit so that she can continue working on lupi issues. She is no longer a police officer. She’s lupi with police authority. That’s frustrating to me.

However, the characters in this series have not fallen into the romance only trap. They still have full lives with concerns that go beyond each other’s emotional issues. There are themes of love, grief, developing relationships after the first blush, family discord, raising children, and balancing lives. Yet, the emotional stuff does not interfere with the plots. That balance and character growth across the series is still well done and intriguing.

The plots also vary enough this is not a series of repeats. There have been a lot of kidnappings by evil bad guys (by elves, chimeras, dragons, and demons) but there are also new elements and a variety of resolutions so the plots don’t feel too similar. For instance, the kidnapped children, which forced Lily and Rule into hell and eventually into dragonhome, is not resolved by negotiating with dragons like the time in hell, a massive attack like with the chimera, an escape and willing return like with the dragons, or the sacrifice of one of the captors like with the elves.

If I have any complaint about this series, it is character naming. Sometimes Rule becomes Rafe. Pat, a dead wife, later becomes Sarah. In this novel, Jasper is called Jason. half the secondary/tertiary characters are named Sarah. If they didn’t start out being named Sarah a lot of them are called Sarah at one point. There are also a lot of similar names. Lei Li and Lily, who are supposed to be similar because Lily is named after Lei Li, then all the Sarah’s, a couple of James, and a few other repeating names that I can’t remember right now.

I also would point out that this is not a series of stand alone novels. It would be difficult to pick up most of the novels in this series and simply read it without knowing the prior novels. To me, that is a sign of lots of world building, but it also means it is harder to pick up one of these books if you don’t have time to start at the beginning or a decent enough memory to remember stuff from the earlier novels.

Book Review: Serpentine by Laurell K Hamilton

51iv37oe7cl._sx166_sy265_Book Review: Serpentine by Laurell K Hamilton

Summary: Anita Blake travels to Florida for Edward’s wedding where half snake people are trying to hide their presence and where the bodies of dead wedding guests have been found.

My Rating: 3

Why I chose this novel:

So I’ve been rereading series that caught my attention the first time through. Anita Blake is one of those series. I think what caught me most about this series was the way the magic felt real and dark. Anita investigated crime like a cop. Her relationships with the other characters developed with her understanding of the world around her. Anita is not in a one-pantheon kind of world. The stories are not wholly modern, Greek, or Indian in nature. Also, I tend to like kick-ass and strong characters, whether they are women or men.

My Thoughts:

The problem I have with the Anita Blake series is two part: too much evolution and not enough evolution. Anita started out as very strict in her beliefs: she didn’t like vampires; shape changers were dangerous; she didn’t trust them; they were the enemy. Then she changed. She fell in love with both a werewolf and a vampire. Then the magic got out of control. Anita became part of the triumvirate, the power took control of everyone’s lives, and the books became about sex. Men came and went (don’t get my started on the Cynric plot which needs to be permanently cut from all the books). Then Anita attempts to cut me from her lives. While all the romance was, or was not, happening, Anita went from being aligned with the cops, to being the target of crime, to being a one trick pony who didn’t need to investigate. I was completely fine when there was positive evolution happening; however, the magic/sex overtook this series.

The romance with the core characters became overshadowed with the sheer numbers of new lovers. When the old lovers appear, there is no emotional development with them. Even in Serpentine, when Anita is with three of her core men (Micah, Nathaniel, and Nicky) there is no real deepening of that connection. Micah indicates he is will to try intercourse with Nathaniel; however, that is not an emotional deepening, just another area of sex to explore. Michah and Anita acknowledge that their work keep them from Nathaniel, but the resolution is to have more sex when together. Again, this doesn’t allow for the emotional connection I wanted, it allows for more sex scenes, which I don’t necessarily need. So the romance is being overshadowed by the sex, and unfortunately, the evolution of the magic kind of required it in someways because the core magical base became sex.

That magic also took over the investigative elements of the books. When I think back on my favorite Anita Blake books, I think of the story of: Raw Head and Bloody Bones, where Anita investigated the murder of the children, chased after fairies, fought off the evil developers, dealt with scary vampires that meant to take over, bullied her way into a local killing, and participated in a dangerous hunt; Obsidian Butterfly, where Anita investigated the walking dead, discovering the local legends, learned about necromancer black magic, dealt with would be gods, and battled the enemy; Burnt Offerings; Circus of the Damned; The Harlequin; and Skin Trade. Most of the Anita Blake novels I remember afterwards are ones with hunts that required investigation and a show of power. Serpentine doesn’t have that. It does have a tactical advance at the end and the interview of at least on suspect, but honestly, Anita was basically investigating the evil before there was a crime and there was ever only one group of suspects. There was no real mystery or suspense for me. If I had to guess, the overdeveloped magic took over this series and the underdeveloped mysteries and romance was abandoned.  Therefore, three stars.

This is one of those series where I might recommend specific novels but not necessarily the whole series.

Book Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews

Book Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews

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Summary: Nevada and Conner are getting married, but Nevada’s sisters are planning the wedding. Catalina is the head coordinator and must figure out who has taken the family wedding tiara before the ceremonies.

 

My Rating: 3 stars

 

Why I picked this novel:

This is part of the series I have been rereading. I reread all the Ilona Andrews’ series: Kate Daniels, the Edge, Innkeeper Chornicals, and A Hidden Legacy. At the point I reread the series, Sapphire Flames had not been released.

I chose to reread the Ilona Andrews series because each of them has captured my attention. They explore new and interesting worlds, where magic does not behave as expected. There are little hints of science behind the magic, like the genetic traits in A Hidden Legacy, that I enjoy.

 

My Thoughts:

First, the things I like best about this series are the types of magic, the genetic inheritance of magic, the tight-knit Baylor family, and the detective work. Each novel has a clear detective plot, and the characters actually investigate, such as in this novel where Catalina sets up cameras, questions potential suspects, and examines the crime scene.

However, I couldn’t give this story more than 3 stars. The stories have a tendency to become redundant. A larger than necessary number of the Andrews novels use similar plot devices and wording. So many of her characters are the type to stand in front of the window, watching the rain, holding a flower to their lips. What’s that about? No, thanks. Move on. She has strong women (which I applaud) and strong men (also, yeah) who have an immediate attraction then a misunderstanding, followed by a long resistance on the woman’s part while the man chases her down. At some point, the woman displays her personal power, the man acknowledges and is turned on by the woman able to stand up to him on her own. Then they get together. Rinse. Repeat. Instead of carrying on with Mad Rogan and Nevada, this series is switching to Catalina, so that she can go through the multi-novel love cycle. While I still enjoy the style of writing and the stories on an individual basis, these books don’t evolve beyond the initial romance. I hoped to see true development with Kate Daniels, but the novels skipped from falling in love to having a kid. Done.

So my recommendation is read the Ilona Andrews novels, but don’t read too many of them close together. The writing is entertaining, the characters are fun, but they are all very similar. So indulge in other stories between these series.

Book Review: Clockwork Dynasty

Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson

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Summary:

June inherits a ancient artifact being hunted by avtomat. Peter, an avtomat on his own mission to fulfill his soul’s purpose, protects and guides June as she reanimates the leader of the avtomats.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Thoughts:

This novel has one major flaw for me. Pacing. Three times, I put this book down. Once to read a book series about werewolves (to be reviewed later), a second time to read another book I picked up at random, and a third time to read a two book series. This novel did not have the high action, glued to the page feel that I typically look for.

I was also not thrilled by the world. I admit I picked this book up based on the cover. I was looking for a steam-punk, cogs and wheels, grimy feel. The book has some of that, but it lacks the punk: the grimy, steam driven, pushing the folds of acceptable feel. The core of the technology is alien-based magic that powers the mechanics of the robots. The 1700’s timeline is  less about the industrial movement and focuses on the science and soldiering (more Mary Shelly salons than Newcome’s engine or Fulton’s Folly). It wasn’t the world I wanted when I picked up the story.

The slow pace is out-weighed by interesting characters. This book follows two timelines (present and 1700-1950’s) towards the resolution of a plot that has been in play since long before either of the two plot lines. (3000 B.C.) Peter, who is reborn in 1709 struggles to find his identity within the dictates of his soul’s purpose, truth/justice. His understanding of truth and justice evolves in the timeline of 1700-1950’s. His friends and fellow avtomats evolve his understanding in an environment of war and massive losses of human life. At the same time, June is discovering the world of avtomat’s in present times. The actions of the avtomats in the present are both controlled by their actions in Peter’s timeline but also motivated by actions that occurred in 3000 BC. By the time the two story lines connect, the simple motivations introduced at the beginning (i.e. Peter’s justice was following the lead of his Tzar) have grown beyond the simple (i.e. Peter combining the need to protect with the need to elongate his people’s existence with happiness and a sense of purpose as elements of justice). The character developments are what pulled me back to this story.

This is a book a would recommend to someone who enjoys a slower pace and is looking for character-driven development.

Book Review: The Thief by J.R. Ward

91wm7gckhql._ac_ul436_ Book Review: The Thief by J.R. Ward

Summary: Assail’s mind is broken after withdrawing from cocaine, and his cousins have gone to retrieve his love, Sola. Sola returns reluctantly, fearing that she will be pulled back into the illegal life of drug trafficking and theft.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Why I chose this book:

So over the winter of 2018/19, I decided to reread  bunch of series that I have loved. The Blackdagger Bortherhood is one of those series. I hadn’t read any of this series since about 2012, so I had a lot to catch up on.

One of the things that pulls me toward this series is the family feel to the characters. This is not one of the series, where the reader falls in love with a couple then moves on. Instead, the characters layer on top of each other. When a new couple is introduced, the old couple is still there and dealing with their own problems, whether that is broken relationships, babies, or rekindling desire.

When I added this series to my list of rereads, I added it to my “dark romance” list, but after rereading it, I think I would remove it from that list. Yes, the series still has a gritty, street feel to the world. Yes, it deals with “dark” topics like drug addiction. Yes, the vampires are still drinking blood. Yet, overall, the good guy wins, there is a lover waiting in the wings for even the bad guys, and death does not truly touch the main group. I believe the “dark” part of this series is mostly in the earlier books with the major death in book 1.

My Thoughts:

I gave this specific novel in the series a 3.5 because the series has a couple of turning points that break my interest. For instance, from the early books in the series, John Matthew, Blay, and Quinn are major minor characters. Their love stories are drawn out over multiple novels and kept me very interested watching the developments while enjoying the other stories. Then each of them gets their featured novel, and it felt like the ending of an era. Then in the middle of the series, Layla finds the man she is drawn to, and there is some drawn out tension before her featured novel, but again her featured novel closed a big door on the building tension in the series. Next, we ran out of Black Dagger Brothers, and the series switched to the trainees. Again, it jolted the quality of development in the series. Then Saxton, who is broken in Lover At Last, magically finds his mate with no drawn out relationship for him. Anyway, all the little breaks make me less and less invested in the overall series, but the series is still great. Each novel gives the happily ever after for the core couple, which is what I want when I sit down to read a romance. The rest of the team is in each novel, so I get a “fix” of the characters I already love.

On a critical point, the novels are almost too much about the other characters. Each novel has less of the main couple, and the plot lines around the main couples are becoming very straight forward. However, I would still pick up this series and read it from book one sometime in the future.

Book Review: The Winter Riddle by Sam Hooker

51fexuz-tbl._sx326_bo1204203200_ The Winter Riddle by Sam Hooker

My Summary: The Winter Witch, formerly princess of Aurora, helps a god carry out a prank thereby starting a war, which explains why people don’t believe in Santa.

There’s more to it, but it’s one of those plots full or ridiculously fabulous twists that it’s best explained as stated above. IMO.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Thoughts:

This book is all about tone and humor. If you pick it up and read page one and hate the tone, don’t worry I did too. The novel starts with a dry pedantic tone similar to Mr. Norvel and Jonathan Strange, and I almost stopped reading. However, by chapter 2, the tone is much more entertaining. Volgha, the Winter Witch, teaches us many important things, such as “a hex for a vex,” the proper stews are inherited and then maintained by adding left overs; and that surprises are needed and cannot wait. Visual humor, which can often fade in written form, is well done in this story if sometimes too juvenile for me. In general, it was a fun read (after chapter 1).

This is a farce comedy and the characters are fun and whimsical. Actually, the most normal character in the book is likely Santa, who is an engineer with a warrior’s past who is trying to avoid violence. Volgha is a witch who wants to be left alone, but who used to be a princess, was apprenticed to the previous Winter Warden, and who tallies her bank account based on favors owed. The Winter Queen Alexis is a whack-a-doodle drunk, who eats sausages out of people’s pockets and enjoys being tickled as torture. Loki is naught but a court jester with god-like power and a five-year-old’s humor. There are talking birds, sentient trees, frost giants, vikings, elves educated in Applied Thinkery, an onionized staff, and a castle babysitter a.k.a. Lord Chamberlain. Somehow between the upraising, body splitting, and enchanted music, Volgha manages to travel from Asgard to Niemhan, visit Santa’s workshop, influence palace fashion, steal from the crown, bury a dead body, and talk to the wolves. She starts a war, ends a war, and takes over Winter.

The amount of stuff shoved into this novel at odd angles is impressive and it’s definitely a book I would recommend.

Book Review: Shadow’s Bane by Karen Chance — Dorina Basarab Series Book 4

I discovered this book in October 2018, and it started a flood of reading for me.

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Dory, new senator and equally as poor, is chasing down a smuggling ring and on a collision course with an evil faerie out to conquer the worlds. The fae king has his eye on kidnapping Dory into his warriors. Dory’s new family wants her to take charge and care for them. Marlow knows Dory is the source of his misery and is equally ready to kill her or use her as the case demands. Louis Caesar just wants to protect her.

My rating: 5 stars

My thoughts:

Let me start with, I have always loved this series. I started reading Karen Chance with the Cassandra Palmer series. Cassie is ok. She’s not my favorite, but she’s not bad. Dory, on the other hand, is my kind of girl.

I like Dory. Dory is straight forward. She wants something, say a giant teddy bear with double stitching for her kid; assesses the options available to her; and picks the potentially best solution, such as having Louis Caesar to win the bear in game of skill. As always, something goes wrong and Dory ends up running from one mess to the next.

There are no slow chapters in a Dorina novel. If Dorina isn’t running into a mass of court sycophants aiming to kill the Counsel, then she’s probably trying to escape an arena of trolls with two potential senate candidates aiming to eliminate her.

This series is getting tighter. In the earlier Dorina books, some of the action scenes have no purpose. In Death’s Mistress, for instance, there is a chapter about Dorina getting into the Counsel’s mansion across a field of sport spectators. There is a lot of flying cars and stand antics, but it’s all just a delay and doesn’t feel like there is a purpose. In Shadow’s Bane, each scene feels like it works for or against Dory. The writing is tighter, the action is more purposeful, and the book races from start to end.

This series always leaves me wanting more. This is so true that after reading (listening to) Shadow’s Bane, I started reading the series from Midnight’s Daughter through to the end of Shadow’s Bane again. I’ll probably do it again. I’m so glad to see another one of these books after the long six (?) year wait.