How long have you been homeschooling?
I taught our two sons (who are eight years apart) for 20 years and kept teaching other people's children for four more years. Since we basically had two "only" children, I always taught classes in our co-op and in our home so the boys didn't feel like they were alone, including creative writing, Shakespeare, Latin, and science (biology, chemistry, and *gasp* physics). I even directed a homeschool band for 16 years.
How long have you been writing?
Since second grade, but writing for publication since 1987, when our oldest son turned five. Both our sons thought writing was a normal part of life because they always saw Mom doing it. As a bonus, they're both excellent writers, and our oldest son just got his first check for a writing project (a contribution to San Antonio Spur Tim Duncan's biography).
What gave you the writing bug?
I loved reading good stories and wanted to make my own magic.
Do you remember the first story you wrote?
I remember one of the first. A 37 page epic science fiction story (illustrated even) that my third grade teacher had me read to the class, though I whispered to her that I needed to "go" first. She didn't believe me, and I wet my pants in front of the whole class....that didn't discourage me from writing long stories, however!
What type of books do your write?
Mostly fantasy, but also historical fiction. I have also published a nonfiction book on the Navajo Code Talkers and two early readers.
How do you find time to write?
While homeschooling I scheduled writing time just like everything else. I still write best first thing in the morning.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
When the boys were young, I wrote mostly for magazines, which meant I had deadlines. Sometimes it was a challenge to submit the piece on time if an emergency came up. Many times I ended up taking one or both of the boys with me when I did interviews. My oldest got to hang out with an autistic boy and his horses while I interviewed his mother (SF writer Elizabeth Moon), and my youngest got to shoot arrows when I interviewed a bow maker.
Do your kids help with your creative process or give you ideas?
Being surrounded by children and teenagers during those years was a constant source of ideas! I really miss it! Thankfully they gave me fodder enough to write for the rest of my life.
What is the single most significant thing you can tell us about your writing career?
When I first began, I hoped to eventually make enough money writing so my husband could retire early. A cancer diagnosis at age 46 derailed that dream. After chemo I never could get back in the "groove" of writing for magazines. Now I just write the stories dear to my heart, hoping to encourage or inspire a few readers before I can no longer write. I had my "15 minutes of fame" with my nonfiction book and no longer feel the need to be successful, as the world defines success.
Can you tell us about a character in your current work in progress?
One of my favorite characters ever is Kieran MacLachlan in the He Who Finds Mercy series. I'm currently writing the fifth and last book. It has been quite a journey for Kieran as he's matured through his experiences, good and bad. He is loyal to a fault but also a talented musician and dancer. I wish I had a fraction of his energy!
Read an excerpt from Mercy's Prince.
A heart of peace in a time of war
|Click cover to go to Amazon|
While a traitorous knight schemes against him, Valerian meets Mercy, a pacifist Healer with whom he can speak mind-to-mind like the great dragons. Their bond emboldens Valerian to seek out the legendary dragons and ask for their help against the monsters who killed his brother.
Can Valerian survive the traitor's assassins long enough to find the dragons? And if he does, can he convince them to lay aside their hatred of humans and help him save the land from destruction?
Something scaly crawled across Valerian’s cheek. He startled awake, shivering in his cloak where he lay curled up on the bare ground. Late summer predawn in the foothills of the Dragon’s Backbone was cold, especially since Valerian wasn’t accustomed to sleeping out of doors.
A small warm body slid inside his cloak. Valerian flinched and managed to catch the creature, careful not to squeeze too tightly. As he suspected, it was a young burrowing dragon. Its heart fluttered against Valerian’s hand.
“You must burrow elsewhere,” he whispered to the dragon. “And don’t let my brother or Sir Caelis find you.” Valerian slipped the creature into a fissure of the smooth rock that was his pillow. Its long tail grazed his hand as it disappeared.
“Get up, you wretch.” A boot nudged his back, hard.
Valerian sat up and pushed his long dark hair from his face. Crown Prince Waryn towered over him. The dim light of a gray dawn silhouetted his brother’s form.
“A squire anticipates the needs of his knight. He does not oversleep.” Waryn pointed to the faint orange glow in the nearby fire pit. “Kindle the fire. Now.”
Valerian scrambled to his feet, avoiding another of Waryn’s kicks. Blinded by tears of disappointment, he stumbled to the stack of wood he had collected the previous night, envying the men-at-arms still asleep in their tents.
With a grunt, Valerian lifted a heavy armful of wood and carried it to the fire pit. He arranged the firewood over the glowing coals and then used a stick to stir the embers to life. While he fed bits of dried grass and twigs until the logs caught fire, acrid smoke assaulted his nose. The warmth dried the dew from his face. He stared into the flames, grimacing. No matter how hard I try, I will never prove my worth to Waryn, not as long as he remains under the influence of Sir Caelis.
When he stood, Valerian turned and gasped. Sir Caelis stood uncomfortably close, staring at him. The knight’s eyes glittered in the firelight, cold as his chain mail, and an unpleasant grin distorted his handsome features.
“Was there something you needed, sir?” Valerian forced calm into his voice. He knew not to complain, though it went against his sense of fairness that a royal squire should be required to assist any knight, especially when Caelis took advantage of the situation.
“Yes, boy, I am hungry.”
Valerian bit back a retort. It was too early in the day to run afoul of Caelis. Besides, hadn’t Valerian painfully learned how useless it was to fight back?
Waryn returned to stand beside Caelis. They formed a solid wall of contempt, as if daring Valerian to report their treatment of him to the king. They knew, of course, that he never would.
“I am also hungry, squire.” Waryn’s malicious smile mirrored Caelis’ own. “But I tire of camp food. I wish fresh meat on this evening’s table.”
Caelis folded his arms across his chest.
“Fetch your bow, whelp, and find meat while your betters break their fast.”
“Yes, sir.” Valerian sighed and went to collect his bow and quiver.
The rest of the camp stirred to wakefulness while Valerian left with his bow. The glow of the rising sun barely penetrated the morning mist, making the world appear contained in this one valley. He climbed the hill. Perhaps, from its height, he could emerge from the damp fog and spot a deer or other animal grazing nearby.
Upon reaching the summit, the sun’s harsh light temporarily blinded him. When his eyes adjusted, Valerian first glanced back down toward the camp. The fog was beginning to dissipate. He could make out the shapes of Waryn’s men waking and milling around. Drew, Waryn’s junior squire, darted toward the stream to refill water skins.
Shading his eyes from the rising sun, Valerian turned his gaze to the east. Just beyond the blood red hills lay the desert
and the mysterious Horde. The
king’s scouts had found evidence of raids on outlying farms, and the garrisons
had sent reports of Horde activity, but no one Valerian knew had actually seen
a Mohorovian. land of Mohorovia
Movement caught his eye. Valerian whirled to face a copse of trees, and the bark of the nearest one shimmered. With a rustling sound, a scaly tree dragon unfurled its wings and took flight in a westerly direction. Several more flew from the other trees while Valerian watched, enthralled. He never tired of seeing these tiny cousins of the great dragons. Hoping there might be a few more, Valerian scanned the trees.
There, in the distant shadows of the wood, another movement, a blur. Had he imagined it? No, there it was again. Sunlight flashed on large burnished scales, and Valerian glimpsed multiple battle-axes.
Ambush! Valerian shouted the word inside his head, but his mouth would not open, his throat ceased to function. He managed to unlock his legs, and they propelled him down the hill at breakneck speed. He nearly knocked over Drew in his haste to reach Prince Waryn.
“There are, there are—” he said, gasping for breath.
Waryn grabbed Valerian’s arms and scowled. “Spit it out, squire.”
“Ambush!” Valerian pointed to the trees.
Waryn’s eyes scanned the hills and widened.
“To arms,” he bellowed. “Enemy sighted! Positions, all!”
They had no time to pull on surcoats or fasten greaves. Valerian gathered Waryn’s helmet and shield, then his own. A bone-chilling howl filled the air. The sound vibrated down Valerian’s spine, and he cringed. Clutching his spear, he heard the first clash of weapons and turned to face the enemy.
The Mohorovians were man-sized lizards striding upright on muscular back legs. Each carried a battle-ax with a razor-sharp flint blade. The spear Prince Waryn hurled at the advancing creatures bounced off their thick scales. Valerian gripped his spear more tightly, but he couldn’t stop the trembling of his hands.
Every scream, every thud of battle-ax into unprotected flesh magnified itself inside Valerian’s head. An arrow grazed his helmet. Blood spurted from the severed arm of the knight in front of him. In three years as Waryn’s squire, the ordered drills in the castle yard had not prepared him for this melee of screaming, howling butchery.
“Caelis,” Waryn shouted. “Take care of those archers before they wipe us out!”
As the best bowman among them, Caelis hurried to obey. Poison. The Horde used poison on their arrows. What little courage Valerian possessed shriveled.
Grunting, Waryn deflected one of the Horde’s axes. He dropped his shield, gripped his spear with both hands and yelled as he shoved it between the scales on the creature’s chest. The Mohorovian roared as it fell back, lashing out with its tail, but Waryn leaped aside. The creature thrashed on the ground, pulling at the spear. Green stained its fangs and it lay still.
Snatching up his shield, Waryn deflected another battle-ax, grabbed the weapon from the surprised Mohorovian and swung it around in a crushing blow. The creature’s green blood spattered the air.
Waryn had been born for this moment, had dreamed of war all his life. Valerian stood on quaking legs, paralyzed. Bile rose in his throat. He wanted to throw down his spear and shield and run from the battlefield. Ashamed, he looked away from his brother, but his gaze drifted to the first Mohorovian felled by Waryn. The monster opened its eyes.
To Valerian’s traumatized senses the surrounding sights and sounds moved more and more slowly, as if time prepared to stop. The Mohorovian shoved itself off the ground and snapped the shaft of the spear imbedded in its chest, then picked up a fallen ax and swung it toward Waryn’s exposed side.
Valerian opened his mouth to shout at Waryn, but nothing came out. Why couldn’t Valerian make his feet move? Why, oh why wouldn’t his sweaty fingers tighten around the spear? If he could just lift his arm, he could strike down this threat to his brother’s life.
The Mohorovian’s muscles tensed. The flint blade glinted in the sunlight. Finally the horror of it loosened Valerian’s tongue.
His brother would not be able to turn quickly enough. The ax blade swung down, down toward his blood-spattered chain mail. Waryn began to lift his shield, but the blade pierced the coat of mail and tore into his chest.
“No!” Valerian’s scream released him from his paralysis. He let his shield fall and grasped the spear with both hands. He stabbed the point into one of the reptilian eyes, ramming it to the bone. The force of the blow jarred down his arms to his shoulders. The creature’s hot blood spurted over him as it fell.
Valerian backed away, searching for another spear, desperate now to protect his injured brother. But the battle had moved away from them.
“Waryn!” Valerian knelt beside his brother. Waryn lay gasping. Blood seeped from the terrible chest wound, his life kept from gushing out only by the imbedded chain mail.
Valerian pulled off his gloves and pressed on the wound. He had to stop the flow of blood, or Waryn would die. In moments Valerian’s hands turned red. His brother’s face went white, and his skin grew cold.
“Waryn, please don’t leave me.” Even if Waryn heard him, he could no longer answer.
Valerian lay beside his brother, to keep him warm, to take hold of his fading life. One last breath gurgled through the ruin of Waryn’s chest, and his heart stopped beating. A wail escaped Valerian’s throat. How could someone who seemed invincible be so easily cut down?
“What have you done?”
Valerian sat up. Sir Caelis ran toward him and dropped to his knees.
“You could have saved him, craven whelp.” Caelis clenched his fists. “You were beside him, close enough to help him. Why didn’t you cut down that Mohorovian?” His eyes glared through the slit in his helmet.
Before Valerian could think of a reply, he met Caelis’ stare, and a veil parted between them. Without knowing how, he could See the knight’s desire to destroy him as if Caelis’ mind was laid open, exposing his secrets. Caelis’ thoughts and emotions bludgeoned him, making his head spin and his empty stomach heave.
“He died because of you.” Caelis picked up Waryn’s body and struggled to stand. “You are no warrior. You belong in a monastery. I will not be ruled by such a weakling.”
“I wish someone else could take his crown.” Valerian choked on a sob. “I never wanted it.”
“Be careful what you wish for, boy.” With one last glare at Valerian, Caelis strode away, carrying Waryn in his arms.
When Valerian turned away, the body of the Mohorovian with the spear protruding from its bloody head was a stark reminder of his costly timidity. Death lay all around the quiet valley. The stench of it hung in the air. Where was the glory of war celebrated in the bards’ songs?
Valerian pushed himself to his feet. Were there any Mohorovians left to strike him down? He had no right to live now that Waryn had died. How could he be crown prince? No one could take Waryn’s place, Valerian, least of all.
“Please, take me now.” He flung his arms wide to welcome one of the Horde’s poisoned arrows.
No arrows came. Valerian could not escape by his own death.
One moment of Valerian’s cowardice had changed everything: Waryn the Invincible was dead. That left him, Valerian the Unready, heir to the crown of Levathia.
How could he rule a warrior kingdom when he hated war and killing?