I met Pati Nagle at a Novelists, Inc. conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As a native New Mexican, this was just up the road for her. I first noticed her gorgeous, Pre-Raphaelite blond hair, which we romance writers often give to our heroines, but seldom see in real life. <G> Pati and I started talking, and haven’t stopped since. ( http://patinagle.com )
Pati’s first four novels were romantic historicals about the Civil War in the West, a large chunk of history that isn’t well known. She’s also written numerous science fiction and fantasy short stories. Her new romantic fantasy novel, The Betrayal, is just out in April, so she’s joining us for a chat.
MJP: Pati, tell us about your new book. I read it early to give a quote, and can vouch for the fact that it’s a fine read, and the romance is absolutely integral to the story. Tell us more!
PN: It's about elves (ælven), because they are one of my favorite aspects of fantasy. Often elves play only a secondary role in fantasy stories, but here they are the main focus, and the story comes from their unique culture and history. The romance grows out of the rare gift of mindspeech shared by the heroine, Eliani, and the hero, Turisan, who are strangers when the book begins. She is distraught when they discover their connection, because mindspeech is very intimate and she is still recovering from a past relationship that went sour.
MJP: Pati, what is the difference between elves and the fey? Are they different entities, from different mythic traditions, or the same guys with different names? And are all elves as good looking as Legolas? <G>
PN: Generally speaking (and please note that I am not a scholar), elves originate with Norse/Germanic/Scandinavian traditions of beautiful, magical, human-like beings. Fairy (faerie, fey) legends are more from Western European/Old French/Celtic myths and are more widely dispersed both in location and form.
Faeries are often shape-shifters, so they can appear any size, winged or wingless, and even as animals. They are also much more overtly malicious toward humans, luring them away to Faerie, swapping human babies for fairy changelings, and so on. Although there are occasional stories of elves doing that sort of thing, it's far more common with the fey.
Elves began as a class of minor deities, emphasis on nature and fertility, who were immortal and eternally youthful. They lived in forests, caves, wells, springs, etc. The earliest descriptions of elves are found in Norse mythology. An example is the Völundarkviða, or "Tale of Völundr." Völundr was a smith, and is called "prince of the elves" in the poem.
His legend was widespread among early Germanic peoples, and he appears in numerous stories, including Beowulf, in which he is Weland, the maker of Beowulf's mail shirt. In Britain he became Wayland the Smith, whose underground smithy is said to be near Uffington, Oxfordshire. Legend has it that if you leave your horse by the entrance to the smithy along with a silver groat, the horse will be shod by morning.
Tolkein popularized the Germanic-style elves for modern audiences, and they're now a staple of fantasy. Mine are a lot like his, because it was his elves I fell in love with in my impressionable youth.
Tolkein borrowed the name Gandalf from the Norse Völuspá, the story of the creation of humans, which included a catalogue of Dwarf names. "Gandalfr" was on that list, along with Bífurr, Báfurr, Bömburr, Dóri, Óri, Nóri, Fili, Kili…sound familiar?
I've always had a taste for elves. Witness this photo of my spouse in our wilder, younger, SCA days:
MJP: Very cool elven lore! And seeing your dh’s picture makes me wish I’d joined the Society for Creative Anachronism when I was single. <G> I’ve always wondered about the differences between elves and fey. Now I know why Tolkien’s elves were mostly blond: it’s that Norse ancestry. <g>
Pati, The Betrayal is the first of a series, though it ends at a satisfying spot. What future plans do you have for your characters?
PN: Hmm…spoiler alert? I'll try not to give too much away.
The ælven are being drawn unwilling into war, with all the sorrow and tragedy that attends it. Eliani and Turisan are the bright hope of their people, using their mindspeech to tip the balance, though this means they must make their own sacrifices. Shalár, the leader of the exiled alben, is gathering her own army to cross the mountains and take back their rightful home. The unresolved conflict between the ælven and their alben kindred is about to be reopened.
MJP: You’ve written historical novels, and now fantasy. These are very different genres. What differences did you find in writing them?
PN: The main difference is that in the historicals I was dealing with the real world and events that actually happened. In the fantasy I made up both. Less research, but more creation work. All told, about the same amount of work, though. With the fantasy I am less concerned about getting letters informing me that I have my facts wrong. <g>
MJP: You and I have both written romantic fantasy, but I come from the romance end and you come from the fantasy end. Do you think that makes a difference? Or is romantic fantasy a new blend that falls right in the middle?
PN: I don't know that it makes a huge difference. I'm a fan of romance, too. I devoured Georgette Heyer's work in my youth and while I haven't had a straight romance novel published, all my books have romantic elements. With romantic fantasy there's a little more of the classical fantasy worldbuilding and complexity, both of which I love. It's really just a shift of focus.
MJP: What was the biggest mistake you made when you first began writing?
PN: Waiting to hear back from an editor who requested the first book before starting another project. I wasted a lot of time that way. I should have put it out of my mind and written the next thing. Now I do.
MJP: What do you consider key elements of a great story?
PN: Characters I care about and can cheer for. Problems that bring out the best in those characters. A world that is three-dimensional and interesting, and fits with the characters and story.
MJP: What is the best part about being a writer? The most frustrating?
PN: The most frustrating has to be the business side of writing: contracts, tracking, paperwork. That stuff all has to be dealt with, and is as far removed from creativity as it can be. The reward for doing all that is the time I get to spend in my writing chair, playing in my fantasy world with the characters that I love.
As for the best part, there are a lot of wonderful things about writing, but I think the best for me is learning that the stories I've made up have given pleasure to other people. I still get that giddy, Sally Field “You really like me!” feeling when I receive a letter from someone who's fallen in love with my work.
MJP: Pati has two websites: http://pgnagle.com/ for her historicals, and for more about her ælven world, visit http://aelven.com. She has two excerpt chapters posted at http://aelven.com/thebetrayal-samples.html .
For updates and conversation about ælven books, join the online group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/aelven/?yguid=286211996
Pati and I are doing a session on the different kinds of fantasy and paranormal at the national RWA conference in Washington, DC this July (it’s called Hot Vampires, Demon Slayers, and Enchantresses: the Many Flavors of Fantasy). So tell us what you think to help us develop our presentation.
PS: YIKES! I forgot that Pati will be giving away a free, signed copy of The Betrayal to one of the people who leave comments between now and midnight Thursday, April 30. This proves that talk is valuable!