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Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Favorite Scene from Heart on Fire

I didn’t realize what a hard time I was going to have choosing just one scene when someone first asked me this question. There are a dozen scenes I’d like to mention for different reasons, and choosing one to talk about here came down to trying to avoid spoilers, which is really tough in a book that’s full of big reveals! The scene I ended up choosing is close to the beginning and a moment when Cat encounters someone important from her childhood—the man who used to be her bodyguard and friend before she left Castle Fisa. In previous books, Cat referred to Thanos and how he influenced, taught, and protected her. Along with her sister, Eleni, Thanos was a bright spot in Cat’s otherwise dark past.

What I especially like about this scene is how it reveals Cat’s core traits. She’s stubborn and tough, and there’s a reason for that: it was drilled into her by a person that cared about her future. We learn here that Thanos played a big role in shaping Cat’s attitude toward pain and survival and her unwillingness to ever give up, no matter how terrible the circumstances. Of course, these are brutal methods for a brutal world, and not something I’d ever want to experience outside of fiction. The root of Cat’s iron determination, though, can be traced back to Thanos, as we see in the excerpt below.


I was ten, small but fierce. He’d bested me on the training field—as always—but I kept fighting with a broken arm, cuts and bruises, and one eye swollen shut.
Thanos dodged every knife I threw at him, got behind me, grabbed my hair in his big fist, and then started dragging me toward the castle with a frustrated curse. But I wouldn’t stop. I kept hissing, spitting, and twisting like a slippery little snake, landing blows and shouting that I wasn’t done yet. I was never done, because I was so determined to beat him one day.

“Enough, little monster. Time to find the healer, or you’ll be weak for days.”

And that would have left me vulnerable to my brothers. To Mother.

I still wouldn’t listen. If I fought hard enough, I was sure I could finally win. He held on to my hair and pulled until my eyes watered. I wasn’t getting anywhere with my thrashing and yanking, so I drew the last knife I had in my belt and cut off my hair above his grip. The second I could, I spun around and plunged the dagger into his thigh with a bloodcurdling scream of triumph.

Thanos had looked at me then, with my long hair still clutched in his fist, like I’d just become an entirely different creature. One he liked even better. It was the first and only time I ever drew his blood.

The following morning, Mother had slapped me and said I looked like a boy. Father, a nonentity in my life, hadn’t recognized me for days. Thanos had given me a rust-colored scarf to cover the mess I’d made. He’d patted his thigh where I’d stuck him with my knife and told me he’d dyed the cloth in his own blood.

Remembering his pride in me that day, I get the most horrifying urge to cry. “You kept me alive all these years.”

He shrugs. “I was nowhere about after you left Castle Fisa.”

“No, you were here.” I press my hand to my chest. His training was never about hurting me—or my trying to hurt him back. It was about skill, yes, but also about perseverance, about finding inner strength, both mental and physical, when the wells of each seemed not just dried up but completely drained and destroyed. His often-brutal methods taught me that giving up is never an option. A true warrior fights through pain. Through anything. Through everything.

“You’re not dead until you’re on the far side of the Styx,” I murmur. It’s what he always said. And I know that better than anyone for having nearly been there. Until you’ve paid the ferryman and taken his boat, there’s always one more swing, one more kick, one more bite if it comes to that. That lesson never left me. Or failed me.

“I owe you my life.”


For Cat, this kind of perseverance doesn’t mean not having doubts or fears, and it doesn’t even mean winning every battle, but it does mean digging deep to go that extra mile. Happily for most of us, actual survival isn’t at stake, and we don’t need to be warriors in the same sense as Cat. But courage, grit, focus, determination… They are universal to success, even if they don’t guarantee it. Are we not warriors every day in our own right? Parents fighting for our children’s happiness and safety? Individuals striving to improve our own circumstances, and hopefully those of others? Human beings standing up for those less able to fend for themselves?

When things seem overwhelming in my own life, I try to remember my choices: fold or fight. It’s not always easy, but so far, I’ve managed to fight, and maybe that’s why I wrote Cat the way I did—to remind me of courage when I need it and to inspire my own resolve, because there’s always one more swing, one more kick, one more bite if it comes to that. Put into words more relevant to our own lives, this scene is important to me because it reminds me to never give up.

Are there any heroes or heroines in fiction, or even in real life, that have inspired you with their courage and resolve?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

On Cat and Courage

Catalia Fisa, the heroine of the Kingmaker Chronicles, is no stranger to adversity. In fact, it’s been the defining theme of her life. From betrayal, to loss, to pain, to fear, it’s fair to say that she’s been knocked down—hard and a lot. What makes Cat, or anyone who goes through hardship, a hero and a survivor is that she gets back up again. It may take time, nearly impossible effort, and completely redefined life strategies, but it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when, and how.

Everyone defines courage at least somewhat differently, with nuances that come from their own trials, successes, failures, and life experiences. For me, courage is often about not giving up and making sure I stay true to my own moral compass. In Breath of Fire, the Cat we see coming out of her shell and starting to take responsibility for her people and their future is a Cat who is beginning to understand a more layered meaning of bravery. Our heroine already has the type of courage it takes to fight monsters and stand up for herself. What she finds over the course of the trilogy is the courage to make the decisions she knows are right, even if they’re the hardest choices to make, and lead down the most difficult paths.

For Cat, moving forward is a choice, just like standing still or moving back. She chooses to fight for a better world, despite her fears and the inherent danger, and without any guarantee of success. There is only hope, and a true effort to achieve meaningful goals.

In the Kingmaker Chronicles, Cat faces mythological monsters, but she also has to deal with fighting her own inner beasts, just like we all must. In writing this feisty, flawed heroine, I came to understand that for me, courage is above all about rising up, rising again, and rising always, even if it’s difficult beyond measure, and even if the first try doesn’t always work.

Friday, April 21, 2017

What Makes A Heroic Heroine?

I’m thrilled that readers of The Kingmaker Chronicles have taken to Cat and enjoy following her adventures in both love and battle. With the stories told from Cat’s perspective, it’s easy to get inside her head and really start to understand what makes her tick—her humor and fierceness, her fears and hopes, her hard edges and vulnerable thoughts. If there’s one thing that Cat will never admit to, however—and especially not to herself—it’s to being a hero.

And why not? She’s a person of legendary proportions with magic and abilities beyond compare. She’s an accomplished warrior, with strength and courage, and her achievements and skills are already spreading far and wide. But a hero described like this seems almost one-dimensional and too perfect to be true—and would probably make for pretty boring reading in the end. I like to think that Cat’s doubts and fears balance her strengths, and that the fact that she’s not always sure she’ll win, or even live, but she tries her best and does what she needs to anyway, make her heroic and not just a hero.

So what makes a heroic heroine? I’m sure everyone would have their own thoughts on this, but here are mine.

1. Loyalty. Above all, loyalty is the key. Without it, what does the hero or heroine have to fight for? You choose your cause and you choose your people and then you fight with everything you have to keep them safe and happy. Anything else is a half-assed sham and when a Dragon is breathing down your neck, those without loyalty turn tail and run because their own hides are more important than yours. The hero sticks it out, no matter the cost.

2. Selflessness. In many ways, this goes hand in hand with loyalty. The heroic heroine puts others before herself, and she does it without thought, sometimes recklessly, maybe stupidly, but never with reflection or weighing the pros and cons. There’s never a question of who to put first. It just is.

3. Courage. Courage is what separates the heroes from the not. And courage can come in different forms. It might be courage in the face of terrifying danger. It might be courage to keep going when confronted with pain or loss. It might be the courage to fight for what you want or believe is right. It might even be the courage to tell someone you’re close to that you think they’re wrong. Above all, it’s standing up instead of backing down.

4. A little bit of crazy. In Cat’s case, anyway, a little bit of crazy goes a long way. It’s what makes it possible to throw caution and self-preservation to the wind and jump in front of the monster herself—and always first. But maybe heroes need that wild and passionate edge that makes it possible for them to accomplish the great deeds that most people can only dream of (and probably run from).

5. Humor. Maybe this goes with the crazy, but sometimes, when things look really grim, you’ve just got to make a joke, or else you’ll probably cry. So many people use humor as a deflector. The heroic heroine is no different—she is, after all, human, just like us. And isn’t it better to laugh in the face of adversity than to panic or show your true fear?

6. Fighting skills. Ah. The obvious one. But heroic fighting can come in many forms. In Cat’s case, it’s usually with blades, magic, brute force, and a lot of heart. But there are heroes in any world, real or fictional, and they fight with an arsenal that can include anything from words and ideas to selfless devotion to others to the more obvious deeds and swords and so much more.

7. Hope. And herein lies, in my opinion, the glue that binds all of the above. Hope is essential to any hero. It’s believing you at least have a fighting chance. It’s believing there’s something better. It’s believing that how you act and what you do can have a positive impact on other people. At the beginning of our story, Cat was short on hope. Now we’re two thirds into her tale, hope is alive in her, and she’s sharing it with everyone else. And what’s more heroic for our heroine than being a light for her people to follow in the dark?