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Eberron Author Marsheila Rockwell
By Pat Ferrara
August 09, 2007
With two Award nominations for her speculative poetry, a batch of current projects in the works, and her first novel having debuted earlier this summer, longtime writer, first time publishee Marsheila Rockwell is taking her fantasy writing career into full swing.
Marcy’s ideas and concepts found a home with Wizards of the Coast this past June when her first published novel, Legacy of the Wolves, was released as part of a stand-alone new series set in the campaign world of Eberron.
Filled with shifter conspiracies, macabre plots, and a Sherlock Holmes approach to investigative deduction (with magic), Legacy makes for an impressive opener to a rising author. Marcy Rockwell got a chance to talk to us last week about the novel, her career, and what it’s like to write in one of the fastest-growing, shared-world fiction series.
Mania: So first of all Marcy tell us a little bit about your writing career, what kind of formal training or education have you had?
Marcy: None, actually. I majored in civil engineering in college (Montana State – go Bobcats!), and worked as a professional engineer for several years before deciding to hang up my slide rule, stay home with my kids, and write in my spare time.
Like most writers, I’m self-taught. I learned the craft primarily by doing a lot of reading – not just the sorts of things I wanted to write, but books on science and politics, biographies, comic books, even romances and thrillers. I learned something from everything I read (even if it was just what not to do). Then – and this is the point where many aspiring writers get derailed – I actually sat down and wrote. Stories, poems, whatever. Then I researched appropriate markets and sent my little darlings out into the world to find work. And every time they came back home, I kicked them out again. Lather, rinse repeat.
Have you always been a fan of fantasy?
Oh, definitely. The first book I can remember reading was Frank L. Baum’s Ozma of Oz. That was when I was three. I was hooked. I’ve branched out into other genres from time to time – right now I’m reading James Patterson, Jodi Picoult and Janet Evanovich, for instance – but I always come back to fantasy.
As an author, who has influenced your writing the most? Are there any particular books or series that have noticeably shaped the way you write?
All the usual suspects – Tolkien, Howard, Leiber, Bradbury. But some newer voices, too, like Stephen R. Donaldson (Chronicles of Thomas Covenant) and Guy Gavriel Kay (Fionavar Tapestry). And some you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like the Brontë sisters and Thomas Wolfe. And then there are the myriad Newbery Award winners I grew up reading – L’Engle, Alexander, Speare, Paterson. A good book stays with you long after you’ve put it back on the shelf, and there are stories I read over twenty years ago that still affect me today. That’s the sort of legacy I hope to leave with my own writing (no pun intended).
You’ve been nominated for a Rhysling Award two times thus far in your career, and I must confess I’ve never heard of the award until now. What exactly is it and what were your nominated poems about? Where can we read these?
Every year, the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) recognizes achievement in the field of speculative poetry by presenting the Rhysling Awards (one for long form and one for short form). The award is named after the blind bard protagonist of Robert A. Heinlein's "The Green Hills of Earth" and is basically the speculative poetry world’s equivalent of the Nebula.
The annual Rhysling Anthology collects all the nominated poems, and is available from the SFPA website (http://www.sfpoetry.com/) or Amazon.com. My nominated poems, “Fairy Tale Ending” (Mytholog, Spring 2005) and “Pilate’s Wife” (The Sword Review, April 2006) are available for reading online at http://www.mytholog.com/poetry/rockwell_fairytaleending.html and http://theswordreview.com/item.php?sub_id=312, respectively.
How did you get involved with the fine people at Wizards of the Coast?
A few years back, Wizards put out an open call for one of the books in the Forgotten Realms The Priests series, called Maiden of Pain. While I didn’t win that open call, my writing did bring me to the attention of the Wizards’ editors, and I continued to submit to them over the next several years until my Eberron proposal caught their eye, and they offered me a contract. So, basically, they let me write a book just so I’d stop bugging them. ;)
Okay let’s get down to brass tacks: In your own words what is Legacy of Wolves about?
On the surface, it’s a murder mystery. People are dying in the Thranish city of Aruldusk, and my inquisitive – a dwarf named Greddark d’Kundarak – is hired to figure out who is doing the killing, and why. But the novel’s tagline is “We are all forged in the fires of our past,” and it’s also about the legacies our families leave us, how we can either choose to be defined by the past, or to break free of it…and what happens when we do, because it’s never as easy to walk away from our history as we think it’s going to be, and sometimes that history doesn’t want to be left behind and comes looking for us.
It must have been quite a shock going from writing poems and short stories to penning an entire novel. Was it a smooth transition your first time around?
I’ve written novel-length work before, so it wasn’t the word count but the deadline that was hardest to adjust to. As a freelance fiction writer and poet, the only deadlines I generally have are self-imposed ones – which basically means, whenever I get around to finishing. With Legacy of Wolves, I had to be much more disciplined about writing every day and making a certain word count. Some writers find it easy to get 3,000 words in one sitting, but for me, since I can generally only write after everyone else is in bed, 1,000 words a day is a good goal. Engineer that I am, I had a spreadsheet that kept track of my word count, my daily average, my average per chapter and my running total. It would recalculate for me at the end of every day how many words I had to average from that point on in order to finish on time. It was alternately a source of great comfort and mind-numbing terror.
The four-volume Eberron: Inquisitives series contains stand-alone novels which are all based in some way on the Inquisitive character. Who are these characters and how does one fit in your story?
Inquisitives are basically fantasy investigators who augment their wits with magic (either their own spells or enchanted items) in order to solve cases – think Harry Dresden, only operating in Waterdeep, not Chicago. My Inquisitive, Greddark d’Kundarak, is also an Artificer – an inventor who uses his abilities to fashion unique items that assist him in his detective work. Unfortunately, those items don’t always work quite as planned, a fact that creates some interesting back story for the character.
Did the rough “Inquisitive” guidelines set by Wizards reassure or chafe in writing this novel?
I didn’t find the guidelines too restrictive at all – Eberron is still a new setting, so there was plenty of room to create people, places and items that I needed to make my story work. Keith Baker and the other designers have given the Eberron authors so many cool toys to play with that the hard thing is limiting yourself to just a few!
Your fellow authors in the series, Paul Crilley and Edward Bolme, each sketch out Inquisitive characters ranging from a self-absorbed bachelor to a seductive, headstrong elf. What attracted you to the persona of Greddark d’Kundarak?
Well, first off, the fans are always clamoring for more dwarves and none of the other Eberron authors had used a dwarf as a main character yet, so I knew I wanted to go that route as far as race. That choice gave me certain “standard” characteristics to work with, but of course, a stereotypical dwarf would be boring to write (let alone read about), so I added a few quirks. For instance, one of the things that was in my proposal but didn’t really get much play in the book itself is Greddark’s gambling addiction. I like to think of Greddark as a bit of a cross between Gil Grissom, Artemis Gordon and Briscoe County, Jr.
Was it difficult being the new kid on the Eberron block? How did you prepare yourself for writing in a universe with so much back story?
Eberron has a lot of first-time authors, including Paul Crilley and Jeff LaSala (author of the upcoming fourth book in the Inquisitives series, The Darkwood Mask), so I was in good company. Plus, the more established Eberron authors were always willing to answer questions, and Elaine Cunningham (of Forgotten Realms fame) especially was a huge help.
As for preparation, I read every Eberron novel that had been published, and the manuscripts of a few that hadn’t yet been released. I also bought all the sourcebooks, bugged Keith Baker and James Wyatt for information on specific points and got help from the knowledgeable fans over at Online Eberron (http://worldsofdnd.com/forum/). That’s one of the great things about writing shared-world fiction – as an author, you have a ton of resources available. The hard part is keeping everything consistent with all the sourcebooks, the other novels, and the game rules – something I think the Eberron authors have done a pretty good job of so far.
Having finished Legacy do you feel there’s a lot you’ve left unexplored? Do Greddark, Irulan Silverclaw, and the rest of the gang ever pop into your head unexpectedly, begging to be heard?
I definitely have more stories to tell about all of them. There’s a certain bounty hunter who has a score to settle with Greddark, and Irulan’s back story (found here on the Wizards of the Coast website: http://ww2.wizards.com/Books/Wizards/?doc=eb_legacywolvescp) is just begging to be explored further. And Andri is fast establishing himself as one of the Keeper of the Flame’s trusted confidantes, so you can bet she’ll be calling on his services again.
Will we get chance to hear more of their stories?
I certainly hope so! I’ve pitched a few more ideas to my editor, Mark Sehestedt, so hopefully I’ll get the green light to start working on one of them soon.
Do you have any other projects currently in the works? What’s next on the horizon?
I’m always working on something. I’ve got a YA novel loosely based on the life of St. Catherine of Siena that I’ve been researching for a while now. I have another traditional fantasy manuscript that needs a bit of rewriting before it starts making the rounds to agents/editors. And I’m currently working on a poem for Elaine Cunningham’s Bound is the Bewitching Lilith anthology (http://www.elainecunningham.com/lilith.htm).
Well Marcy on behalf of myself and Mania.com thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Those of you interested in Legacy of the Wolvesshould stay tuned on the site for a full review coming up later this week. If you’re interested in hearing more about Marcy and her past and present work can find out more here: http://biodegradable.blogspot.com/.