Hello everyone. It's the Myth Master here with a newcomer to our Interview Booth, Debra Kemp, whose first book which takes a look at the legend of King Arthur from a decidedly different perspective, has been recently published.
M.M.: I would like to welcome Debra Kemp to 'The World of Myth' and also
congratulate her on the publication of her book, "The House of Pendragon
Book I : The Firebrand." Debra, perhaps you can give our readers just a
hint of what your book is about.
D.K.: Hi! Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here and I really love to talk about my book. You might not get me to shut up. LOL
Let’s see. I used Dark Ages Orkney as the main setting for "The Firebrand" and Sir Thomas Malory as the springboard for the Arthurian elements of my story. Very basically, "The Firebrand" is about a young slave-girl named Lin who refuses to accept her status in life. But it isn’t really freedom that she wants. All Lin wants is to be treated with simple dignity as a person, not an animal. And unbeknownst to her, the blood of kings flows through her veins.
Enter Modred, her master. He is determined to break Lin’s spirit and quell her stubborn defiance. To Modred, Lin is nothing but property and demands the utter subservience due to him as a prince.
(I can hear Lin chuckling over my shoulder right now—“bow to that toe-rag? I think not.”)
No matter what Modred does, she defies him. Beatings, rape, it all makes her more determined to win the battle of wills—or die trying. (And she does have a death wish.)
But it isn’t always so grim for Lin. Dafydd, her brother and friend, feeds her hope through dreams and stories—especially of her hero, Arthur the Pendragon.
The reason Lin and Modred seem so alike despite their opposition becomes apparent when Lin is eventually sold from Orkney and finally learns her true identity.
M.M.: How was it you decided to write a book about Arthur's daughter and as a second part to this question, how did your interest in the Arthurian legend come about?
D.K.: These two questions are intertwined. The interest in Arthurian lore came at about the same moment as the idea for Lin. But the simple answer as to why I wrote what I did was because King Arthur commanded me to. (True, I swear!) I saw the movie CAMELOT, and it changed my life. I mean, who was I to disobey Arthur’s command at the end of the movie—“. . . don’t let it be forgot . .”? I went home and began wondering—what if he had a daughter? What would she be like? The concept for Lin as a character was conceived that very night. She developed over a period of 17 years while I did other things in life before writing. But Lin was always there—I always kept trying to work her into the framework of the accepted Arthurian stories—not easy to do because giving Arthur and Gwenhywfar a daughter really changes things. But I’ve enjoyed the challenge and working with such a dynamic character. Interesting that someone who only existed in my mind is so utterly fascinating.
As I said above, I saw CAMELOT in the mid-70’s. I must have been about 14 or 15 at the time. Darn, I wish I could remember such an important date in my life! There’s a brief part in the movie when Arthur has a private moment, then the music swells and the camera draws back and guards open these huge doors and men file in and then the camera draws back even more until finally we get this awesome visual of the massive Round Table and all the knights around it. That single visual seems to embody the ideals of the Arthurian legends for me.
I had to know more! So I started reading everything I could find in my high school’s library, as well as in my home town library, about King Arthur. And of course, I had to read “The Once and Future King” by T. H. White since that novel was the basis for CAMELOT. I still have the first paperback copy of “The Once and Future King” that I ever bought. The very beginning of my collection. It cost $1.75! The poor thing is so ragged and tattered, but it is in a place of honor in my barrister bookcase right next to a copy of The Firebrand.
M.M.: How is book two in this series progressing and can you tell us a
little about what it will contain?
D.K.: I am pleased to announce that book 2 in The House of Pendragon series, "The Recruit," is scheduled for release in January 2007.
"The Recruit" picks up where "The Firebrand" leaves off; Lin going to Camelot for the first time with her dad. (Others may consider it blasphemy to call King Arthur “dad," but I think I’ve earned the right after all these years of working with his daughter. These characters are just all real to me. They have to be, I guess. Otherwise no one else will care.) Anyway, Lin meets her mother and of course there are serious issues between mother and daughter. Plus Modred’s four eldest brothers—Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris and Gareth—make Camelot their home, and we all know how Lin feels about them from The Firebrand! But they are her kinsmen, so she must face them. What a family. I did have great fun with Lin and Gareth though. She’s always surprising me. And just as important, "The Recruit" deals with Lin’s early days in her father’s army. I’m just so excited—after all the work and agonizing over the manuscript—to finally have it as a real book.
M.M.: Congratulations, again, on that publication as well. How has "The Firebrand" been received by the public, thus far?
D.K.: I haven’t gotten any hate mail for changing the Arthurian legend--yet! LOL! So far the reviews have been quite positive. And I'm very proud of the EPPIE and Dream Realm nominations. Also, earlier this year "The Firebrand" was selected for discussion by an on-line Arthurian reading group. That was quite fun. I even answered some questions in character! They all seemed quite accepting of what I've done with the legend. Even Geoffrey Ashe, "the man"--I greatly admire his work--even Mr. Ashe gave a nod of approval, calling "The Firebrand" original and Lin a "fascinating newcomer to the legend's immortal company." I try not to let that go to my head though.
M.M.: And how does your family feel about your writing success?
D.K.: The once and future family is my group of #1 fans. Both my children are grown and married now, but they grew up with my obsession of the Arthurian legends and are just now realizing that I used them as models for Lin and Dafydd at times. And my husband has always been supportive and is proud that I’m achieving my dreams.
M.M.: Were there any special authors or legends which early on influenced
your own style of writing?
D.K.: I draw heavily on Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur” for Lin’s and Arthur’s family tree and that basic story-line—the incest between Arthur and Morgause to conceive Modred, all that . . . But the other medieval texts have tons of stuff to use, too. Some purists may cringe that I use Lancelot in what I call historical fiction. But for me, the fun of the Arthurian stories is their adaptability. Lancelot can coexist on a page with Culhwch and other Welsh heroes. I can make it work and seem totally normal. Who am I to question Lin? It's her story, after all. I'm always asking--"What would Lin do?" Or if I read a passage in "Le Morte d'Arthur," I ask, how would Lin fit into this?
M.M.: What else might our readers look forward to reading from you in the
D.K.: As I said before, "The Recruit" is set for release in January 2007. Yea!! There is much rejoicing about that. Now that I can finally let it go, I’m starting to turn my thoughts to book three in the House of Pendragon series. It seems that like will be taking me on another roller-coaster ride of emotions.
Some day I would like to write a novel from Dafydd’s point of view. A lot of my readers love him so and ask for more of his stuff. I did experiment a little in NaNoWriMo 2005 with his point of view, but I didn’t have his voice right. So I’ll need to work on that and see if I can make it happen.
Another project I would love to pursue is Morgause’s story—her childhood and the events that might have caused her to turn so nasty (as in my version).
And there are hundreds of little side stories in the medieval texts that would be fun to turn into fiction.
M.M.: And what do you do with your spare time when not researching and
writing historical novels?
D.K.: I am hopelessly addicted to the Food Network, the Cartoon network, the Travel Channel and the History Channel. “Good Eats”, “No Reservations”, "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends", and “Most Haunted” are some of my favorite shows. I also love the new incarnation of Doctor Who—I recently attended InConJunction here in Indianapolis and spent most of the weekend in the Doctor Who room.
I enjoy all sorts of music—from Celtic to heavy metal to classical to classic rock. I HAVE to have music while I’m writing. Usually Metallica or Godsmack or Soulfly when Lin and Modred are together on the page. Collective Soul is a great “soundtrack” for writing scenes with Lin and Gareth. Van Morrison and Chris deBurgh are great for tapping into Dafydd. OK, that's not really spare time! Oops--writers are always on the job.
M.M.: If you can find time in your busy schedule to read for simple
enjoyment, who are some of your current favorite authors?
D.K.: I consider the research fun! But I occasionally need to break from the Dark Ages and step away from the Round Table! I have recently been reacquainted with horror thanks to Terry D. Scheerer. Stephen King has always been one of my all time favorite authors, I just haven’t kept up with his work lately. And it has been fun “watching” Harry Potter and friends grow and mature through Rowlings’ books.
My reading is rather eclectic—I never know what I’ll like until I read it. Part of this was born from the 10 years I spent working in a used bookstore—I could select whatever I wanted. Russian lit one week to a self-help book on Tai Chi the next to a history of the pencil (there is such a book!) to Garrison Keillor to a mystery by Lori Armstrong . . .
As far as Arthurian authors are concerned, you can’t go wrong with Mary Stewart, Rosemary Sutcliff, Gillian Bradshaw, Bernard Cornwell, and Gerald Morris amidst so many!
M.M.: Where might our readers find out more about you and your books?
D.K.: My web site is: www.telltalepress.com/debrakemp.html It has a link to contact me via e-mail. And I have a blog going at MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/debrakemp Stop by and leave a note. I love to hear from my readers.
M.M.: If you had one piece of advice to give fledgling writers, what
would that be?
D.K.: Write what you are most passionate about; it will shine through on the page. It’s a tough business—the odds are against a writer ever seeing publication. (It took seven years and more than 200 rejections for The Firebrand!) You might as well at least be writing something you like. And love what you write so much to get it well critiqued. (Was that more than one?)
M.M.: Yes, but not to worry. And is there anything we did not cover about yourself or your work that you would like to convey to our readers?
D.K.: Wow! That went fast. I really enjoyed our talk. Those were some great, in-depth questions. I certainly know myself a lot better now! Thank you so much for having me here. I had a wonderful time Peace to all for the New Year.
M.M.: All right. We would really like to thank Debra Kemp for sitting down with us today and we wish her continued success with her books. Be sure to let us know when "The Recruit" becomes available.
And to all of ye lords and ladies out there, have a safe and sane Holiday season and best wishes for the New Year from ye olde Myth Master! Ho, Ho, Ho!