Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Annie Douglas Lima and The Collar and the Cavvarach

My training year is coming to an end, and Spring has finally decided to show its pretty face...10 days ago it was -5C and snowing, and today we've reached 25 degrees celsius. I will hopefully be around a little more often, sharing the author tips and tidbits I've picked up these past few months. For now, I want you to head on over to Annie's in Taiwan...she's expecting us.

Could you share a little about yourself and what led you to become a writer?

I was born in Southern California but raised mostly in Kenya, where my parents were missionaries.  As an adult, I spent a year teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Indonesia after college.  Shortly after returning to the States, I married my husband Floyd, and the two of us lived in the States for several years.  Eventually all the details worked out for us to move overseas, and now we live in Taiwan.  It’s not where I thought I’d end up, but I love it here!

As far as writing goes, I’ve always loved books.  When I was seven years old, I had a sudden inspiration for a story and decided then and there that I was going to write a book and be the world's youngest author!  I ran to my room in great excitement, found an old notebook and a pencil, and started in.  Well, that first novel was never actually finished, let alone published, but it got me started.  After that I can't remember a time that I wasn't working on at least one book, with lots of poetry and short stories on the side as well. Now wouldn't it be interesting to read that first story. I hope you still have it squirreled away somewhere.

Do you write full time? How much of your life is set aside for writing?

I’m actually a full time teacher.  While I love my day job, unfortunately it doesn’t leave me with nearly as much time for writing as I’d like.  I mostly write on the weekends and on summer vacation, plus sometimes in the evenings if I don’t feel too brain-dead after a long day of teaching. I have yet to come across a writer who doesn't have writing/time constraints. 

Could you tell us a little about your novel?

In The Collar and the Cavvarach, Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse? As a martial artist, and MA instructor, I am so curious to see how you describe the tournament scenes :o)
Would you take us on a brief tour of your novel and the world you’ve created?

The story takes place in a world almost exactly like our own.  Although most aspects of the culture are just about what they are currently on Earth, a few sports are different, such as the martial art known as cavvara shil (more about that later).  The main difference, however, is that slavery is legal there. 

The Krillonian Empire rules much of the world.  An emperor, who is never named, governs from the capital city, Krillonia, on the continent known as Imperia.  Eight separate provinces (independent nations before they were conquered) can be found on nearby continents.  Each province, plus Imperia, is allowed to elect its own legislature and decide on many of its own laws, but the emperor reserves the right to veto any of them and make changes as he sees fit.  This seldom happens, however, and to most people the emperor is merely a vague and distant ceremonial figure.

Jarreon, where this story is set, is the second-largest city on the continent of Imperia.  It’s located on the coast and has a warm climate most of the year, though winter nights are cool enough that you would want at least a light jacket.

The prevalence of slavery is probably what would stand out the most to visitors from Earth.  There are nearly as many slaves in Jarreon as free people, and they are easily identified by their steel collars.  From each collar hangs a tag inscribed with the slave’s name, their owner’s name, and a tiny copy of their owner’s signature.  On the back of the tag is their owner’s phone number and a bar code that can be scanned to access additional information.

Many families own one or more slaves who do their housework and yardwork.  Businesses often own a large number of slaves, usually for manual labor, though some are trained for more complex tasks.  “Green slaves,” or those who were born free and enslaved later in life for one reason or another, are in high demand.  Often they have college degrees and the white-collar work experience so hard to find in the enslaved population.

People or businesses who don’t own their own slaves may “hire in” one belonging to someone else.  The accepted rate for an hourly wage is two-thirds the amount that a free person would earn for equivalent labor (the money goes to the slave’s owner, of course).
How awesome is it that as an author you have created all this??? Seriously! It's not just a new character or original story line...but a whole new world -right down to the political situation and social rules. I love it.

Tell us about the martial arts in the setting of your story.

A number of martial arts are popular there.  One kind is called kickfighting, which is similar to our kickboxing.  Another is cavvara dueling, in which fighters strike at each other with a sword-like weapon called a cavvarach.  The cavvarach has a hook about halfway along the top edge of the blade, and you win a duel by disarming your opponent: hooking or knocking the cavvarach out of his or her hand.  Contestants wear poncho-like padding that protects their torso and groin.

Cavvara shil is the most widely respected martial art in the Krillonian Empire.  It is difficult to master, since it is a combination of kickfighting and cavvara dueling, with a little wrestling thrown in.  You can win a duel either by disarming your opponent or by pinning his or her shoulders to the mat for five seconds.  In addition to the protective padding, you wear a narrow shield-like guard on one forearm, with which you can block an opponent’s blows or kicks.  Bensin, the main character, is particularly skilled at cavvara shil.  He and his owner/coach, Steene, each have their own reasons for hoping he will qualify for and eventually win the Grand Imperial Cavvara Shil Tourney.

Cavvarachs used by most martial artists are unsharpened and not very dangerous, though minor injuries can and do occur.  Only professional gladiators, who live and compete in Jarreon’s four huge arenas, use sharpened weapons and fight without the protective padding.  While not usually intended to be to the death, these duels can nevertheless end in serious injury, and all gladiators do die on the job eventually.  (Barely mentioned in The Collar and the Cavvarach, gladiators and the whole arena system play an important role in my not yet published book II: The Gladiator and the Guard.) Can't wait to read all about your martial art. I hold black belts in Kyokushin karate, Yoseikan karate and Tae Kwon Do. I am also a Tai CHi I love everything martial arts!

What is the message behind the story? Was it something you specifically wrote a story around or did it develop as your characters came to life?

I hope this story will make readers think about the value of human life and perhaps take a second look at some of the practices we accept or choose to turn a blind eye to in our own culture. Legalized slavery sounds so impossibly wrong that it’s easy to think we could never let it happen in this day and age, but how many other wrongs do we overlook just because it isn’t convenient to do anything about them? You Go Girl! How sad.

I didn’t plan to focus on this message ahead of time, but I think it developed naturally out of the setting and the situation my enslaved characters have to deal with.

Do you work from an outline or just go with the flow? If you use an outline, how detailed is it?

I always use an outline.  It starts off as a brief summary of the whole book (a page or two long), then at some point I usually divide it up chapter by chapter, with a few sentences about what will happen in each.  The details change as I go along, and I often end up with more chapters than I originally planned, but I really need that structure to get me started and keep me focused as I write. I prefer chasing my characters around as the story unfolds before me, but for my current WIP I will have to outline if I want to finish...and so NOW I regret not having done so in the beginning.
What is the time span in your novel, weeks, months, years? How much research went into it?
 The story takes place over a period of about three months.

I had to do quite a bit of research for this story, especially when it came to the martial art I invented, cavvara shil.  This was one of the most challenging aspects of writing this book for me.  I am not a martial artist myself, so it was all the more difficult to make sure cavvara shil (and the necessary training and practice for it, as well as rules of the tournaments) was feasible and would make sense to readers who practice “real” martial arts.  I spent hours researching online and in books, as well as talking to athletes I know, and I’ve been told that the end result in the book is believable and realistic.  Whew!

On a less complicated note, I also learned a lot about cars.  One of the main characters drives an old pickup truck, and I needed it to have some kind of mechanical trouble at one point.  I found out all about what is involved when a transmission needs to be replaced! LOL, better than having gone through it in this case.

Could you tell us how you go about your research, how you ‘catalogue’ information to make it all work?

When I come to a part of the story where I have to write about something I don’t know, I just stop writing for a while and research the issue.  I type notes by each chapter (Scrivener makes that easy), then when I’ve found out what I need to, I fit the facts into a coherent scene or into bits of information to be used in various scenes.
How does this book differ from what you have written in the past?

It’s quite different.  My first series, the Annals of Alasia, is action and adventure/fantasy.  True, The Collar and the Cavvarach involves action and adventure too, and they both take place in different worlds, but the similarities end there.  The Collar and the Cavvarach is darker, grittier, and intended for slightly older readers (I wouldn’t recommend it for kids below middle school).  Most elements of the story could be considered realistic fiction.

How have the changes in present day publishing impacted your schedule as a writer?

They haven’t.  My day job is the main thing that impacts my schedule as a writer! 
How do you handle marketing? Do you have a plan, a publicist or just take one day at a time?

I’m learning as I go along.  When I released my first book, my marketing was almost entirely word of mouth.  Now I’m a part of several very helpful online writers’ groups, and I know so much more about how marketing works than I did at the beginning.  Unfortunately, between my writing and teaching, I still don’t have a lot of time to invest in marketing.  But I’ve put together blog tours and giveaways and learned to harness the power of social media.  I’ve also searched out a lot of sites that will advertise for authors, some for free and some for a fee.  Most importantly, I’ve learned how important it is to work with other writers: tweeting for each other, sharing each other’s books on our own Facebook pages, and so on. Most successful writers set aside up to 20 hours a week for marketing, which puts a serious dent in writing and life, so it is important to be part of a great network. 
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Don’t try to write a scene perfectly the first time or get frustrated if it doesn’t turn out the way you hoped.  Just get your ideas on paper in whatever rough form you need to; never mind selecting just the right words or fixing any mistakes.  Leave the scene alone for a few days, and when you come back to it, read through it and smooth out the obvious errors.  Read through it again later and work on polishing it up a little more, and then a little more the next time, and so on.  If possible, read it aloud to someone; that will help you hear errors or issues you may not notice otherwise.  I’ve found that it usually takes lots of passes before I’m satisfied with something I’ve written. Trying to make it perfect the first time is stressful and next to impossible, at least for me. I use my Kindle (keyboard or Fire) and have it read aloud to me. Perfect for when I am cooking or allows me to multitask and edit. (And the Fire can read with a US, British or Aussie accent lol)
Could you tell us what you’re working on now?

I’m working on the sequel, The Gladiator and the Guard, which I hope to have ready for publication in the next year or so.  In addition, I’m trying to finish up the next book in the Annals of Alasia: King of Malorn.  If all goes well, it should be done before the end of the summer.

 About the Story:

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?

The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).  

Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with "have a rack"), an unsharpened weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

Want to Find out a Little More?

Click here to read a description of the setting and what life is like for slaves and others in that world.

Click here to read chapter 1 for free!

“Less than Legal”

Bensin took a deep breath. “I’m the one who called awhile ago to ask for directions, sir. Bruno sent me to ask for work.”
“Did he?” Wenn picked up a Styrofoam cup from the ground nearby and rose to his feet. He worked a wad of betel nut out from one cheek and spat it into the cup. “Well, do you know anything about engines?”
“Um — not really, sir.” Was it a legitimate question? Did the man expect him to actually do a job for him? Or was he just being careful about what he said in front of his coworker?
“Well, you can wash this other car for us.” Wenn indicated one of the two they weren’t working on. “Its owner is coming back for it pretty soon. Supplies are in that cupboard; faucet’s out front to your left. Make sure you dry it and give it a good wax when you’re done.” He set the cup down again and disappeared back under the car.
Maybe he’s waiting to talk to me when the other guy leaves. Bensin found the supplies where indicated and started in. He hoped this wouldn’t take too long; considering the length of the bus ride, he ought to be starting back pretty soon.
Eventually both men finished their tasks. Wenn propped open the hood of the other car and began to fiddle around under it, and the second man hung his tools up on the wall and disappeared through a doorway.
This is my chance. Bensin set down the sponge he had been using and approached Wenn again. “Sir,” he began, raising his voice above the blasting music, “the reason I actually came —”
“Shut up!” The man glared at him. Then he beckoned and pointed to something under the hood.
Uncertainly, Bensin stepped closer and bent to see what Wenn was pointing at. He didn’t know much about car parts, but he saw nothing that seemed out of the ordinary.
Wenn seized him by the collar and tugged his head in there above the engine, leaning in himself until their faces were only inches apart.
“We can’t talk here!” His voice was almost inaudible under the music. Bensin, clutching the edge of the engine compartment, stared at him in the gasoline-fumed shadows. “Didn’t you see the cameras?” the man demanded.
“Cameras, sir?”
“The video cameras installed up in the corners by the ceiling. No, don’t look now! They don’t pick up audio, but someone could read our lips.” At Bensin’s blank expression, he went on. “We have to have a special license because we keep tools like bolt cutters here that could be used for — you know — less than legal purposes.” He gave the collar a meaningful twitch. “So the government keeps an eye on us through the cameras, or at least they could be watching at any given moment. They ever suspect I use my tools to cut something I’m not supposed to and they take over the business just like that; and everyone who works here ends up on the auction block.” He released the collar. “So shut up. Be patient.”
Bensin nodded. Rubbing the back of his neck where the steel had dug in, he straightened up and went back to work on the waxing.
Wenn’s partner came in and out a few times, puttering around, and a third man appeared and joined Wenn working under the hood. Bensin wondered how long it would be until they left and where Wenn was planning to bring him to talk to him. He wished he could see a clock; it must be past time for him to head back. What am I supposed to tell Coach Steene if I’m late?

About the Author:

Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published ten books (one YA action and adventure novel, four fantasies, a puppet script, and four anthologies of her students’ poetry). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.

Connect with the Author Online:


1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for featuring The Collar and the Cavvarach on your blog. I really enjoyed the interview, and I hope your readers enjoy hearing about the book!