[This issue, we sit down for a Fast Five with Deborah Davitt, author of the alternate history Saga of Edda-Earth series. Here, she discusses how her Earth diverges from our own, the hard part about being a self-published author, and the many many projects she has in the works.]
Eternal Haunted Summer: Your Saga of Edda-Earth series takes place on an alternate Earth where the historical divergence, as it were, centers around Julius Caesar. Why that point in history? What drew you to that event and era?
Deborah Davitt: The current series, including Ave, Caesarion, is a set of prequels to the main Edda universe, which is set in the twentieth-century, and shows the results of a world in which Caesar never died, and his son, Caesarion, is born of the line of Isis and Osiris on Cleopatra’s side, and the line of Venus and Mars on Caesar’s; he is truly god-born, expressing the powers of the gods of both lands. That world developed in such a way that Rome never fell, and all the gods of the ancient pantheons remained worshiped and respected — which is, of course, the source of their enormous power.
I’d wanted to go back and write the story of the inception of that universe for a long time, but I needed a tour guide to the information. Fortunately, one of my long-time readers was working through his Master’s degree in classical studies at a UK university, and was always on hand to say, “Hmm, you’re reading sources derived from Suetonius? Keep in mind, that dude was the National Enquirer of ancient Rome. Take what he says with a grain of salt.” “Salt taken, aye.”
EHS: Magic and science co-exist on Edda-Earth, but magical practitioners are divided into three groups (sorcerers, ley-mages, and summoners). How did you develop the magical system and divide practices into these three groups?
DD: I have a background in D&D, as quite a lot of people do, but the system is frustrating for writing, because it’s highly arbitrary, and sort of ignores physics — all game systems do, really. You can be running along the corridor of a space-ship in a sci-fi game, and no matter how big the boom you set off, the bulkheads always hold, because, well, the game designers don’t want you to end the game prematurely –that’s not an optimal gaming experience. While I did lean on the Wild Talents system for ensuring checks and balances to characters’ powers, I determined early on that there would be three main types of magic in the series.
1) Summoning. The power of what we’d call shamans and warlocks, it’s also essentially the power of priests, as well. Calling on the Name of an entity from the aentropic universe contiguous to ours — the Veil — and either bargaining with the entity for a service, or compelling it from them by force of will. Spirits from that realm have been dealing with humans for thousands of years — they have either good memories of that interaction, or bitter ones. Some of them are intensely malefic, and like hunting us; others are beneficent, and derive joy from helping us. In all cases, belief in them makes them stronger, and they all enjoy coming to this world because, while it carries the inherent risk of death — something unknown to them in their universe — we have linear time and entities can grow, change, and develop based on experience in a sequential environment — something unknown to them before coming to our world.
Priests are just summoners who have a connection to an enormously powerful entity; the average summoner can be considered a priest of little gods. Or, if ill-intentioned, something else entirely. Everything depends on context and intent. A good summoner is part wrestler, part union negotiator, part lawyer, and part priest.
2) Sorcery. People in Edda will argue till time ends, if sorcerers are just god-born who’ve had their power diluted for generations, or if the power within them comes from will-power or belief. They don’t have that answer, and might never find one that satisfies them. However, they all started off with the basics of science as it was, oh, two, three thousand years ago. With Aristotle’s system of four elements in the West (air, earth, fire, water, and maybe a quintessence) or five in the East. Over time, some people stayed in the traditional schools — tradition is a powerful force — but as people’s understanding of science became more advanced, some sorcerers began to manipulate matter and energy in different ways — learning to store their energy when not in use in crystalline matrices, using chemical reactions to allow their spells to have a greater effect, calculating the physics of their spell effects with greater and greater precision. By main-line Edda, they’re just starting to use computers to assist in the development of spells, but back in Ave, Caesarion, Caesar had to lift the laws passed by Sulla banning magic, just to allow Cleopatra to live at the outskirts of Rome legally.
3) Ley-magic. I wanted something that could tie into druidic traditions, and the concept of power in the earth. By main-line Edda, people have come to understand that ley-magic is the manipulation of larger-scale cosmic strings, and where strings come together, or resonate with each other, a ley-mage is at his or her most powerful. Many buildings and cities in Edda are built at the confluence of these cosmic strings, and again, by main-line Edda, ley-taps have been driven into the ground and power several civilizations in place of electricity. Back in the time of Caesar, however, ley-magic is the sole purview of the Gauls, particularly the druids of Britannia. Even most of the gods don’t want to meddle with this power, because it’s something of this universe that they don’t have in their own, so they’re leery of tampering with it. But the gods of the Gauls have put that power into the hands of their priests, for the betterment of their people.
It’s an enormous equalizer against the incredible precision and discipline of the Roman army, particularly when it’s led by the god-born Caesarion.
DD: *chuckle* It varies. Most of my notes, I often take in wiki form, because it’s simply easier to link, link, link to stuff on a webpage than to try to remember which file I stuck something in, or continuously search my Word file for the last mention of what color someone’s eyes were. That being said, if I don’t write something down when it occurs to me, it’s gone, so there’s a loose heap of post-its and scrap paper near my monitor with scrawled notes on them. I do have to keep the mess more or less contained, because I also work from home as a technical writer, so the work laptop can’t get buried.
. . . which might just be my desk’s salvation, now that I think of it.
EHS: How did you go about publishing The Saga of Edda-Earth? And what advice can you offer other authors who are just getting into the publishing game?
DD: I tried getting ahold of agents, and sent the manuscript of the first book, The Valkyrie, out for consideration to a couple of publishers. No nibbles. Finally, I’d made the decision published by 40 or bust, so I released the first book to Kindle the day before my fortieth birthday. I’d been fortunate enough to have had a lot of interest in a fanfic I’d written — 25,000 emails from all over the world arrived in my inbox about that fanfic before I diverted the flow to a different email account — so I knew I had something that people would want to read. It’s . . . just a question of helping people find it. Which is harder than it sounds.
Advice to other authors? It’s uncomfortable to toot your own horn. We’re all taught from childhood that it’s unbecoming. If you’re writing independently, you have to get past that discomfort and do it. Reaching out to people whom I’ve never met and asking them, “Would you be interested in interviewing me on your podcast?” is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I keep reminding myself, “The worst they can do is laugh, and they probably won’t do it to your face. So really, the worst they can do is ignore you. So ask.”
EHS: What other projects are you working on?
DD: Er, lots. I’ve been a little derailed due to some issues with my son of late, but there are two more books in this series ready to go to CreateSpace, and I’m about halfway through the fourth — though it needs work. I’ve had a short story published this year in Intergalactic Medicine Show #52, and, to my great astonishment, I’ve had poems published in ten venues in the last year. (That’s honestly the last thing I ever expected to be able to say.) In fact, I’ve prepped a book of poetry for a competition that I’ll submit to in January, and I’ve finished and submitted a novella set in the mid-fifteenth century, in the Inca region of Edda, for consideration elsewhere. I’ve got more notes about stuff I want to write, than I have time to write, sadly, given that I do have a day job, and a son, and a husband. *chuckle*
Thank you for having me! It’s been a pleasure talking to you!