Merlyn MacLeod, Author

Merlyn MacLeod, Author

Two wenches writing as one. Named after the falcon, not the mage.


27 September 2013 | Comments Off on ONGOING Q&A

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Ongoing Q&A

Where do your ideas come from?

Everywhere. A single line of song will inspire me, or a paragraph in a biography on Richard III will make my imagination spiral off into something entirely unrelated to the medieval age.

I was listening to NPR the other day, and someone remarked that in a very few years we’ll be able to talk to a computer online and won’t be able to tell it’s not human. I think there’s definitely a book in that. I mean, if someone isn’t talking to a human, and they’re also not talking to a computer…then what or who are they talking to? How would they react once they found out? Betrayed? Stalked? Indifferent?

I usually spark on a situation, then ask who the character is in the situation. Most of the time, I have to do a character profile on the hero or heroine to find out who I’m going to write about.

Other inspiration will come from a magazine or news article. Someone will say something that’s only peripherally related to the article’s topic, and my muse grabs at it.

Music will spark additional ideas once I have a central idea, which is why sites online like Pandora and YouTube’s (specify style or period) searches are invaluable.

Musicians that have sparked me include Corvus Corax, Gregorian (the group, not the religious music: check out this video and you’ll see why), Within Temptation, Epica, Abba, Secret Garden, The Cruxshadows, Aeoliah, Andrea Bocelli, Loreena McKennitt, Heather Dale, lyrics by Tim Rice…there are too many to list them all.

I find a lot of ideas in non-fiction books. I’ve learned to carry a journal with me and scribble down everything, and get far more ideas than I’ll ever be able to get to in this lifetime.

If I’m having trouble sorting out a particular scene, I’ll turn the iPod on to eRa, lie down and let the scene spin out like a movie behind my eyes. The group’s lyrics are written in pseudo-Latin and English, which seems to feed some of the strange stuff I write.

Peoplewatching at malls, Scottish festivals and renaissance fairs have offered more than a few ideas. Peoplewatching in general will give you a lot of ideas if you stop and stare.

Why do you write fantasy?


  • Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka was right: “There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination…living there, you’ll be free if you truly wish to be.”
  • When I want to read about reality, I read non-fiction. When I want to write about reality, I bitca (sic) in my journal where no one can see. When I want to have fun, I write fantasy.
  • Archetypes fascinate me, and I love using them as foundations for characters. That said, I’d rather write about an archetypal angel and give him human frailties/vulnerabilities and then see what happens, than write about the real-life manager at work who told me he wants to give full rein to my creativity as I create ad campaigns for him, only to have him beat me up the next day for “noodling around too long” with an assignment I’ve had for four hours. That doesn’t mean I won’t cast that manager as a bullying centaur in a future book. It just means…see next bullet.
  • I am required to live in reality. I refuse to waste my time writing about it.
  • The handsome Nordic aliens haven’t landed in my backyard, so I’m reduced to immersing in fantasy worlds whenever I want to go elsewhere.

Who are your favorite writers/books?

The longer I live, the longer this list gets.

  • Anything by Irving Stone
  • Jeffrey Russell Burton’s five-volume history of the concept of the devil
  • Judith Tarr’s A Wind in Cairo
  • Robin McKinley’s Beaty and the Beast, and Sunshine
  • T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and The Book of Merlyn
  • Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy (read them in order)
  • Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water and The Rocks Remain
  • Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind
  • Piers Anthony’s “Incarnations of Immortality” Series
  • St. Exupery’s The Little Prince
  • Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sun in Splendour
  • Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time
  • Freda Warrington’s Court of the Midnight King
  • Sharon Shinn’s Archangel (and her other fantasy angel books)

How long have you been writing?

The oldest relic of my writing is an essay I wrote when I was in the 5th grade. The theme was, “I love trees, I hate pollution.” Very druidic and naive for a ten year old.

I was fanatical about books from the time my parents began reading to me as a toddler. I can remember making up stories in my head for Barbie and her Troll-Doll husband, so I think I might have been creating plots from the time my mother handed me a cloth book. (Do they even make cloth books any more?)

What inspired you to write Priestess of Briares?

Back in the Dark Ages when the Internet hadn’t yet taken over the world, I was nineteen and majoring in Creative Writing with an extended major (no minor), which meant I was constantly looking for ideas. One day, I was noodling around at the university library, skimming books on Greek/Roman mythology, reference books on British Heraldry, and a couple of fascinating accounts of medieval alchemy. I was also deep into Manly P. Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages, which took forever to read and which I’m still working on understanding.

Anyway, the foundation began there, including Seleni herself and most of the backstory, Tammerlane and Dane. Corbeau was a gift who sprang out of nowhere. I remember gathering an armful of foreign language dictionaries just to look up “raven” in each language.

The Shenstone evolved from stuff I read about the medieval Philosopher’s Stone–how most people thought the alchemists were attempting to transform lead into gold, when they were actually trying to transform themselves through ancient philosophy and transmute the lead in their souls.

I created Nightshade for a different fantasy world, then pulled him over into Briares where he fits better and has more to do.

I still have all of the original stories, but cringe when I look at them.

Priestess of Briares went through so many incarnations over the years–including having a publisher that was raided by the FBI–that I’ve come to feel the book had to be finished before I could close the door on it and go on to other stuff.

What was the hardest part about writing Priestess of Briares?

It was hard going back to it after all these years, knuckling down, and revising it from start to finish. I’m not the same person I was at nineteen, which made it both easier and harder to revisit Briares.

One good thing was that I could see where I’d gotten lazy, where things didn’t work. I had to do an extensive edit and write three or four new scenes. That was humbling, and I hope I got it right.

When you’re twenty, you think you know it all. When you come back years later, you realize how ignorant you really were and still are about the craft of writing. I think it’s definitely a better book now, but the final edit was the longest slog I’ve taken in a long time, and I’m certain there are still typos in the blasted thing. So please accept my apologies for that.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

  • Never surrender. Never sell yourself or your dreams out and “settle” for not writing.
  • If you’re obsessed with writing, you’re meant to write. So write. Every day. Do the work, learn your craft, and trust the process. Don’t worry about how awful the first draft is–all first drafts are awful.
  • Trust your instincts. If something is telling you a scene is weak, or you don’t even know how to craft a scene, listen to that inner voice. That voice knows things you don’t consciously know.
  • Realize there are multiple ways to write. Research and study those ways, then decide what works best for you. Usually the only way to know what works for you is to try different things. But never, ever give up. If you do, you’ll never be satisifed with your life.

What books would you recommend to your readers?

I’m weird in that I like older writers who have a totally different style than what’s happening today.

If you’re talking about today’s writers, Nalini Singh is someone whose style I really like in her angel/vampire series. There are more angel/vampires out there than anything else these days, it seems, but I lose patience with most of them because they won’t let me walk with the character, or the heroine is someone I can’t stand, even as the hero is someone I adore.

I feel like there’s more outlining than emotional layering going on in fantasy these days, and that frustrates someone like me who wants to know what the character is thinking and feeling. I want to think and feel it with the lead.

I’m a dinosaur that wants and needs depth in what I read. So I love reading Ray Bradbury, T.H. White, Irving Stone, Anne McCaffrey, Sharon Shinn, Tolkien, Robin McKinley, and Sharon Kay Penman. When I need the comfort of words, I’ll go straight to Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour or Capote’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Both are completely character driven. At the same time they’re cleanly written. There are no extra words, but the paragraphs are packed with emotion.

I’m so very grateful when an author makes me feel something while I’m reading their book.

What is your favorite quote?

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

It’s the first line of Scaramouche, and what the author’s wife had inscribed on his headstone. You can read the book at Project Gutenberg if you like. Or you could watch the old film, which has the longest swordfight in cinematic history.

What is your favorite place in the entire world?

London, England.

If you could meet one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

I can’t whittle it down to only one. A few would be…

  • The hero of the fantasy novel I’m currently working on
  • Richard III and his wife, Anne Neville
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Azrael (the Angel of Death)
  • My ancestor who left Wales and never went back

There are so many. If you’re talking about imaginary people, I’d like to meet Elrond and Captain Gregg (from The Ghost & Mrs. Muir — another wonderful old book.)

If you could be an animal, what would you be?

A raven (they’re so independent and do exactly what they want…and it would be wicked cool to be able to fly) or one of my mother’s house cats (who get to do exactly as they like all day, every day).

What is your favorite movie?

Only one? Either The Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Great Race. Or Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, or Jonathan Livingston Seagull, or Independence Day, or 1776, or…what’s on now?

If Priestess of Briares was made into a movie, who would be on your dream cast?

  • Alan Rickman as Morven
  • Jeremy Irons as Leron
  • Brian Blessed as Dane
  • An unknown for Seleni
  • Jon-Erik Hexum (regardless he’s passed on) for Taloth
  • A night-black Friesian stallion for Dark
  • As for the voice of Corbeau…in my imagination, he always sounded like I thought Oscar Wilde would sound.The closest to that I think would be Michael Gambon, who actually portrayed Oscar in an old BBC mini-series.
  • Nightshade? Bill Nighy, because I think he could do some lovely things with the homunculus’ voice that I could never think of.

How would you spend your last day on earth?

Hanging out with friends.

How can we get your books?

  • The eBooks (in all formats for all readers) are available through Amazon.
  • The paperbacks are available at Amazon as well, through their Smashwords subsidiary.
  • I’m working on getting them out to other sites online.

Thanks so much for your support, because it lets me write more books for you.