Today I am so excited to welcome the lovely Shira Anthony to the blog. Shira is here as part of the Rainbow Con Countdown and will be talking to us more about her Mermen of Ea series (I totally loved the first one). She also has an excerpt and a great giveaway. So please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Writing the Mermen of Ea Series
Thanks, Jay, for inviting me to blog as part of Joyfully Jay’s lead up to RainbowCon 2014. Please be sure to read to the end for a special giveaway open only to people who comment on this blog post! You’ll also find an excerpt from the second book in the Mermen of Ea Series, Into the Wind, below—the exciting opening scene, a battle at sea.
It’s hard to believe RainbowCon is about 6 weeks away now. It’s also hard for me to believe that the release of the second Mermen of Ea Series book, Into the Wind, is only about two months away (May 2014). So as I’m working on edits for the book, awaiting the next Anne Cain cover with bated breath, I thought I’d talk a bit about the series and the slippery men who inhabit it.
One of the RainbowCon panels I’ll be sitting on addresses series and sequels. A good match for me, since I’m in the midst of writing two series: Mermen of Ea and Blue Notes. And while I love writing the Blue Notes books, writing an interrelated, “spinoff” type of series is very different than writing a sequel series like Mermen of Ea. Anyone who has read my books knows that I love to explore characters even more than I love to write plot. The Blue Notes books are all about character growth. The Mermen of Ea series is heavy on both plot and characterization and, honestly, about ten times more difficult to write because of it. But I like a challenge!
Musician that I am, I like to think of the mermen books as something like a song, or even a symphony, written in movements. Each book is a phrase, a smaller piece of the whole which, at its heart, is one unified creation. One very long story with three subparts: Stealing the Wind, Into the Wind, and Running with the Wind. Thinking of it this way helps me to see the big picture, tie the plot together, and, most importantly, grow my characters over the series so the men you see at the end are familiar but irrevocably changed.
If Mermen of Ea is a piece of music (and musician that I am, I always think in terms of music!), then Taren Laxley is the soloist. The story begins with Taren living as little more than a slave, with no hope of realizing his dream of sailing aboard a great ship. He aches to be on the water, never knowing that this urge is something primal. Part of his soul. The soul of an Ea, a merman/shifter. So when Taren learns he is Ea, but that his body has hidden this secret since his birth, his entire world tilts on its axis. Taren is a follower, used to serving others, never asking for what he wants. Even when he learns the truth of his birthright, he has no idea what to do about it. He still looks to others to make his decisions, even when it becomes clear that he will be forced to make his own decisions about the future.
The wonderful part of writing a character like Taren in a three book series? Watching him grow and change and having the time to do it gradually, with lots of bumps and dips in the road along the way. At his side, his soul mate, Ian Dunaidh must also weather these changes. And it’s not easy for Ian, who is used to being in control and is over-protective of Taren. Without spoiling the story, suffice it to say that both men will have to change by the end, or they won’t survive.
And while Ian and Taren are struggling with change, they will meet mythical creatures, learn to wield a powerful weapon, learn about their pasts, survive battles at sea, and fight their own people for the future of the Ea race. Add a dash of magic and mysticism, some hot sex (yes, mermen have sex in their shifted forms!) and you have all of the elements that combine in the Mermen of Ea Series.
Comment on this post to be entered to win a copy of Stealing the Wind or your choice of another of my Dreamspinner Press books in paperback, or for non-US readers, your choice of one of my Dreamspinner Press books in ebook format. We’ll choose one US and one non-US winner. Good luck, everyone! –Shira
You can find Shira on:
Since learning of his merman shifter heritage, Taren has begun building a life with Ian Dunaidh among the mainland Ea. But memories of his past life still haunt him, and as the threat of war with the hostile island merfolk looms ever closer, Taren fears he will lose Ian the same way he lost his beloved centuries before. Together they sail to the Gateway Islands in search of the fabled rune stone—a weapon of great power the Ea believe will protect them—and Odhrán, the pirate rumored to possess it.
After humans attack the Phantom, Taren finds himself washed up on an island, faced with a mysterious boy named Brynn who promises to lead him to Odhrán. But Taren isn’t sure if he can trust Brynn, and Odhrán is rumored to enslave Ea to protect his stronghold. Taren will have to put his life on the line to find his way back to Ian and attempt to recover the stone. Even if he does find it, his troubles are far from over: he and Ian are being stalked by an enemy who wants them dead at all costs.
Deafening cannon fire rang out from the port side of the ship. Ian braced himself against the stair railing to keep from falling backward as the ship leaned deep and heeled hard to starboard. He heaved himself upward and crested the stairwell to the deck as the ship pitched again, forcing him to grab one of the barrels lashed to the deck to remain upright. Cannon shot landed off the bow, sending water over the forecastle and cascading down the already sodden deck. The acrid smell of gunpowder stung his nostrils and burned his eyes, and the familiar scent caused his adrenaline to skyrocket and set his mind racing.
“Renda! What the hell is happening?”
“She’s fired on us with no warning shot, Captain!” Renda, the ship’s quartermaster, barely looked at him as he struggled to steer the Phantom out of the line of fire.
“What colors does she fly?” Ian shouted as he ran toward the helm and lifted a spyglass to one eye.
“None, Captain! Her crew’s human! Navy ship!” Renda shouted above the cannon fire.
Ian felt it too. There were no Ea aboard the attacking ship. An entirely human crew? Only the Derryth navy sailed brigantines. But if he and the crew of the Phantom were fair game for the king and his navy, why didn’t they fly Derryth’s colors? They’d appeared out of nowhere. Had the mist been so thick that the men on watch had missed her?
Renda ceded the helm before Ian could think much more about it. For now, he needed to focus on their attackers and on gaining the upper hand. It had been more than twenty years since Ian had taken his ship into battle, but his crew was well seasoned. He prayed silently to his goddess that the winds would favor them.
“Derryth?” he asked Renda as he steered to avoid another blast from the enemy’s cannons. “Aligned with the Council? Or is this just a coincidence?” He’d expected to face the island Ea in battle eventually, but never had he expected them to use humans to chase them down.
Renda scowled. “No coincidence. Magic, seeing as the fog cleared just in time for them to attack. They had help tracking us down. A mage, no doubt.”
Humans did not possess magic. When had the island Ea recruited the humans to their cause? The thought made Ian’s blood boil. Humans had nearly wiped out their kind hundreds of years before, looking for the fabled rune stone, a weapon more powerful than the Derryth Kingdom’s largest cannons. Had someone told the humans they were heading to the Gateway Islands to find the reclusive pirate, Odhrán, and recover the very weapon that had nearly been the cause of their destruction?
No. He mustn’t think about that now. He needed his wits about him to keep his ship safe. Then he could think more about the implications. He focused once again on the ship and her crew. The feel of the wood beneath his hands and the stiff wind against his cheek always warmed Ian’s soul, even in the midst of battle. The bright, crisp scent of the salt spray awakened his senses and mind. He’d been born for this command, although he’d paid a stiff price for it. His father before him had been a sailor, although he’d long given up the seafaring life by the time Ian had learned to sail in the Derryth navy. Sailing was in his bones and his blood. The only thing he loved more than sailing on the water was swimming in it.
Renda shouted more commands to the men manning the ropes, then turned back to Ian and scowled. “Their ship is fast. She’s shooting the sun and she has the weather beam.”
Stealing our wind! Ian cursed beneath his breath. With the enemy positioned between them and the wind, the Phantom could do little to maneuver. If he hadn’t been forced to stay within the Council’s reach, tied to the island, he’d have long before found the best clockmaker in Derryth and purchased a sextant. He was tired of others sighting guns upon the Phantom so easily. Their ancient astrolabe might have sufficed twenty years ago, during the civil war that cleaved his people in two, but it was useless against a better-equipped navy. As things stood, Ian could only guess at the angle of the enemy’s guns and what direction he might be able to steer the Phantom to avoid them.
He glanced skyward and was momentarily blinded by the sun’s brilliant reflection in the lookout’s spyglass. He moved his gaze to the mainsail and the seagulls that rode thermals alongside it. It had been a calm day until the enemy appeared. Now the wind raced the heavens. The telltales on the sails fluttered frantically with each powerful gust of the wind, making it difficult for Ian to determine the wind’s direction. He fought the helm in an effort to maintain their course as the sea swelled and the ship bucked. Worse yet, the Phantom was poorly situated in the wind on a close reach that placed the ship at a crucial disadvantage.
The enemy’s guns belched again and cannonballs spun past, spitting fiery tar and narrowly missing the main mast. The flames that licked from the metal nearly set the mainsail afire.
“They’re using pitch!” Renda shouted as the pungent smell of burning pine reached Ian’s nostrils.
Ian heard his father’s words echo in his mind. “There is nothing as deadly as fire at sea.” If one of those cannon blasts hit the Phantom, she’d go up in flames.
Heeling starboard as the Phantom was, her portside guns aimed high above the waterline. Each cannon shot fired was nothing more than wasted ammunition. They were outmanned, outgunned, and out-positioned in the wind. Damn. Ian considered his options quickly, mulling their position relative to the enemy and eyeing the wind in the sails. He had no choice but to bring the ship about and take aim with the starboard canons. Yet if he turned and lost the wind, they’d end up in irons and stalled in the water.
“Are the starboard gun ports open?” Ian shouted.
Another blast from the enemy ship’s cannons landed within a yard of the Phantom. The ship shook with the impact, and several crewmembers scrambled to better tie down some of the supplies on deck.
“Aye, Captain! Ports open, guns loaded!”
A quick glance around the deck told Ian that his beloved Taren was not there. He reached out first with his innate senses and was relieved to feel Taren’s strong heartbeat as if it beat within his own chest. Their connection had continued to grow stronger over the past few months. Among Ea, a bond like theirs—what their people called soulbound—was rare. Where most Ea could only sense that one of their brethren was near, Ian and Taren could sense each other’s presence in particular. Sometimes Taren’s fear became Ian’s, and although Taren had not spoken of it, Ian guessed his own anger and frustration sometimes became Taren’s.
Ian looked up, searching the mastheads and rigging with his eyes, and found Taren atop the main mast. He worked furiously, tying Turk’s heads in the rigging as fast as he could and adjusting the sails to compensate for the heeling Phantom.
“Trim the sails! Man the starboard cannons and tell the gunners to fire when I come about!” Ian knew it would do little good. If they headed farther into the wind, they’d lose speed and stall. “Tell the gunners to fire when they can!”
“Aye, sir!” Renda barked commands and the boatswains flew into action with whistles and hand signals. When Ian saw that Taren had acknowledged his orders, he brought the Phantom hard about. She bucked the squall and swell as Ian fought the wheel to turn her, and she listed her worst yet, her masts lying but thirty degrees off the water.
At midturn, a volley of cannon fire caught the Phantom’s bow, causing her to shudder angrily as wood splintered and flew, mortally wounding one of the crew in the chest. Bright-red blood splashed the deck to mingle with salt water and run past the smoldering pitch.
Crian! Renda ran to help the injured sailor. Perhaps he could help the man long enough that he might transform and heal his wounds. But Renda’s slight shake of his head and icy expression told Ian there was nothing to be done. Crian was dead.
Ian’s gut clenched when he thought of Crian’s family. Why was he so surprised that he’d lost a man? Had he really believed this voyage would be anything but risky? He’d naively hoped their mission would be a simple one: find Odhrán, retrieve the rune stone, and return it to Vurin, the leader of Ea’s mainland colony, so he might better protect their people.
He searched the rigging for Taren again and couldn’t find him. He’d felt Taren’s steady presence only moments ago, but he’d been too preoccupied with the battle to keep track of him. At least he could still feel the steady beat of Taren’s heart. He finally spotted Taren aft, now atop the mizzenmast, clinging to guy ropes and swinging wildly with each turn of the helm.
Taren had left their cabin at dawn to work on the sails with the intention of increasing the ship’s speed. He loved to toil on the rigging, and Ian knew how his spirits soared with the feel of the wind on his face. Taren’s acrobatics never ceased to amaze Ian, but they nonetheless left him cold with fear. Taren was nothing short of a long-tailed monkey in the rigging.
Ian’s shouts went unheeded—Taren couldn’t hear him over the chaos of the battle. Ian only hoped Taren had guessed what his next maneuver might be, and had good purchase on the ropes to keep him from falling.
The navy ship tacked in tandem with the Phantom and now aimed its sights at her stern. Ian couldn’t risk a blow to the most vulnerable part of the ship and had no choice but to adjust course again to avoid a hit. He spun the wheel the hardest yet to starboard.
Hold on, Taren!
The ship protested the quick maneuver, her teak wood groaning and creaking under the strain as she stalled in irons. In his quick decision to turn hard, he’d been reckless. They were headed directly into the wind now and were dead in the water.
Ian looked up and found Taren as he kicked out like lightning and baffled the aft sail to back the ship. An eerie silence descended, and they waited to see if the Phantom would catch her wind speed. Not a whisper of wind touched the sail. Taren reached for the rigging and swung out hard, kicking angrily at the sail once again. The sail billowed once, twice, and Ian’s breath stuttered, his warning shout lodged in his throat. He knew precisely what the aft sail would do. With a whoosh and an earsplitting snap, she filled and the Phantom regained her air once again, leaping to top speed.
Ian watched in admiration as Taren swung down on the ropes just in time to avoid the snap of the sail. He landed gracefully on the deck a dozen feet away.
“Ian!” Taren shouted as he ran over the wheel. Another shot from their attackers landed close to the Phantom, causing Taren to grab a hold of one of the nearby rails.
“Excellent work,” Ian said as he adjusted the ship’s heading. “Now if we can only make some headway—”
“Why don’t you send a few men down?” Taren panted hard, clearly winded. Ian sensed his excitement and his fear. No. Sensing wasn’t quite right. Ian felt Taren’s emotions as if they were his own.
“Send them down with axes. Crowbars. Something. Anything. Have them transform and attack from below.”
Ian frowned. “It won’t work.”
“Why not?” Taren demanded. “If we could—”
Taren’s words were cut short by a volley that landed even closer to the ship. Ian fought to maintain his course. “It doesn’t work that way,” he shouted over the din of the waves crashing over the bow. “It’s far more—”
But Taren was already halfway toward the bow before Ian could finish.
“No! Taren! You don’t understand! You can’t just—” Ian had no one to blame but himself for Taren’s lack of knowledge of Ea battle tactics. He glanced around, hoping to find someone to take the wheel. He needed to stop Taren before he did something dangerous, but before he could call out to Barra, the Phantom’s guns fired and missed. The navy ship returned fire, and a loud crack sounded from overhead as the shot hit the mizzenmast and the aft sail caught fire. The mast shattered, sending beam and splinter out at light speed. The sound of the mast breaking into smithereens was the last thing Ian remembered before his world grayed, then faded to black.
Shira has brought two great prizes to give away to two lucky readers. U.S. readers can comment on this post to be entered to win a copy of Stealing the Wind or your choice of another of her Dreamspinner Press books in paperback. For non-US readers, your choice of one of of Shira’s Dreamspinner Press books in ebook format. We’ll choose one US and one non-US winner. Please indicate in your comment if you are U.S. or non-U.S. The contest ends on Sunday, March 9th at 11:59 pm EST.
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