• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:


    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!

     

     

Writing the Timestalker series

People always ask me what it’s like writing the Timestalker series. It follows the adventures of a time travelling detective, Kannon Dupree, who solves exotic mysteries set in different times and places. And as the latest book in the series, Coyote, has just come out, I know I’ll need to hone my answer to that question.

But to complicate matters, each book has had its own special challenges. In the first one, Gladiatrix, Kannon journeys to Rome in 8AD and investigates the mysterious rituals performed by an Egyptian Isis-worshipping cult, which in the twenty-first century has become so powerful that it’s challenging Christianity for dominance.

That was a lot of work. I had to set up the foundation for a new series which used time travel, create an alternate present, plus do research on ancient Rome as well as mystical Egyptian cults. Then put it all together in an adventure story.

The next book, Hoodwink, is set in the golden years of Hollywood. After the body of a movie director is found covered in a Mayan occult tattoo and cemented into the floor of his own film set, Kannon Dupree is hired to discover who murdered him. Whilst on the set of Gone With The Wind she stumbles onto a mystery that stretches back to the Civil War.

My research load doubled in Hoodwink. It ranged from 1939 Hollywood, through to the Mayan civilisation via the American Civil War. And, as every good writer knows, you only ever put a fraction of the research you do into your book.

In the latest book, Coyote, Kannon is hired to find the missing diary of a Wild West hero. The chase takes her through the middle of an Indian War, via a mysterious convent of nuns banished to die in the desert and into an ancient pueblo city on a cursed mesa sacred to Coyote, the trickster god.

The photo of me frowning outside the town of Coyote in New Mexico, was taken when I was trying to work out where the hell to locate one of the only truly fictional places in the book – Big Sun Canyon. America’s Southwest is a patchwork of sites sacred to the local Native American nations. (The photo of mesas is from one of these sites – Monument Valley) So I had to work out how to respect their beliefs and still write an adventure story that roamed across their territory. (I’m smiling in the other photo because I’ve just worked out what to do.)

Looking at the series as a whole – all the Timestalker books are basically adventure stories where complex mysteries are solved. It takes a huge amount of planning to tell an exciting story and at the same time unveil clues along the way. Add time travel to that mystery setup and there’s another equally intricate layer of planning. You can’t turn the reader off by making them question why the mystery wasn’t solved in one quick visit to the past rather than a journey that takes around 150,000 words.

So I do the all the planning and research and then I let my imagination take over… You’ve got to love speculative fiction. It’s as exciting to write, as it is to read.

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Writing Coyote’s Sacred Landscape

I always try to visit the landscape that my characters explore if I can. There’s nothing like filling your senses with its unique essence. What does it sound like? Is the light the same as at home? And so it goes…

So far I’ve written three of the adventures of Kannon Dupree, the time travelling detective. In Gladiatrix, Kannon paced the streets of ancient Rome investigating a shadowy Egyptian cult. In Hoodwink she lurked around glamorous Hollywood in 1939, to find out who murdered a famous movie director and why he died with a Mayan occult tattoo engraved on his chest. And in Coyote, which came out this month, Kannon is hired to find the missing diary of a Wild West hero. The chase takes her through the middle of an Indian War, via a mysterious convent of nuns banished to die in the desert and into an ancient pueblo city on a cursed mesa sacred to Coyote, the trickster god.

Without a doubt, the fieldwork I did for Coyote will always be one of my greatest adventures. Coyote is set in New Mexico, one of the states that make up the USA’s famous Southwest. It’s an arid, sparsely populated state with natural wonders around every bend, sprinkled with the mysterious ruins of ancient pueblo cities, criss-crossed by the trails of gold-hungry conquistadors and home to some of America’s largest reservations including those of the Apache and the Navaho. It’s also a landscape marked by the roughest edges of the Wild West, holding the remains of besieged forts, the tracks of dashing stagecoaches and frontier towns once ruled by the gunslinger.

Travelling the Southwest filled every sense. The rough touch of the ancient pueblo walls at Bandelier and Aztec Ruins, the gritty taste of the sandstorm that over took me near Farmington, the sight of the incredible red pinnacles of Monument Valley, the smell from the bunches of chillis hung to dry over old Spanish balconies in Santa Fe and the chillingly sweet sound of a Native American’s flute in Mesa Verde.

However… As every writer will tell you, each book presents its own special difficulties. As I wandered around the Southwest, gasping in awe at the landscape and interviewing every different kind of inhabitant that would talk to me, I came to realise that I had a problem.

I could really feel just how sacred this land was.

The Southwest is sacred to many different Native American nations, some of whom have lived there since the last Ice Age, and every natural monument is part of a wealth of mythologies and religious beliefs. The more I was included in this world, the bigger the problem became. How to put an adventure story into a sacred landscape without being disrespectful of those who hold it in such reverence?

Now I’m certainly not saying that my solution is the only one, nor that it works perfectly. Just that it was right for me when I wrote Coyote. My resolution was to make the sacred location I wrote about in Coyote – Big Sun Canyon and everything in it – a fictional composite of impressions taken from different places across the Southwest.

But when I explain this to people, I’m always struck by the paradox in what I’m saying.

The nations of the Southwest hold their land as sacred, but in the end what place on our gorgeous planet shouldn’t be? I guess it all comes down to what each culture decides to hold as precious. I’d love to hear what place or landscape is sacred to each of you.

Life And Death In Sin City: The Mayan Tree of Life in Jungle Hollywood

I was thinking about death. Someone else’s actually… Earl Curtis, one of the main characters in Hoodwink, the latest book in my Timestalker series. You see he’s obsessed by a scary Mayan death goddess and…as you can imagine…it gets him into VERY nasty trouble indeed.

Not only that, he’s a sleazy, double-dealing scumbag operating in one of the most sinfully decadent eras in human history – Hollywood in the 1930s. And believe me he enjoyed every last lick of the forbidden fruit in that particular version of paradise.

Yep, no wonder Earl meets a most sticky end… Wonder what he was thinking as he breathed his last? Did he believe his fierce-eyed Mayan death goddess was going to save him?

What do you think’s going to happen to you?

Whether we admit it or not, everyone wants to know what happens after we take the biggest ride in the amusement park – death. And being the cheeky monkeys that humans are, every culture in history has come up with an intricate explanation about what happens after we step off that rollercoaster.

Many cultures actually map out their expected post-death journey…where you go, what you see along the way, such as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Tibetan Bardo Thodol (Book of The Dead).

One element that many of these ancient maps of the afterlife use is an axis mundi or cosmic axis – a detailed description of the centre of the universe. It’s the place where heaven and earth meet, where mortals and gods interact and where all compass directions start…

So it makes sense sticking one in a map of the afterlife because if you see death as a transition from this existence on Earth to another plane of being…whether it’s heaven or…er, cough, cough…somewhere a little less comfortable, then you’d damned well better know how to find your way to where you want to end up! There’s no GPS available on this stretch of the cosmic tour. J

And the axis mundi, which connects the earth to the sky, has been depicted as everything from a sacred ladder to a great tree to a lofty mountain… To some the great red rock of Uluru is the axis mundi of Australia.

Now back to the question of whether Earl’s Mayan death goddess is going to do right by her boy?

The Mayans, living in the middle of a hot, steamy jungle, picked a tree. They depicted the centre of their cosmos as the mightiest living being they ever laid eyes on – the ceiba tree, It’s literally the veggie version of a green whale.

The ceiba tree is gigantic with huge buttressed roots and a massive trunk that reaches up and out into limbs that form the rainforest canopy. It reaches down through its roots to connect Earth to the Underworld below and up through its limbs to Heaven above.

   But to the Mayans the mighty ceiba was not only their axis mundi it was also the Tree of Life – it connected all creatures. In the jungle the mighty ceiba tree forms its own micro habitat sheltering a multitude of plants, animals and insects in its leafy embrace.

But life wasn’t all the Mayans were interested in…

Death is so fearsome to most humans that just the threat of it wields great power. The power over life and death has been the cornerstone of many of our political systems and control over what happens after it is the foundation of many of our religions.

The Mayans, like the rest of humanity, cottoned on to the power that death wields and ran with it. Everyone has seen pictures of (if not movies about) the human sacrifices that were made by ancient cultures in Meso and South America.

And the awesomely, frightening temples that were used as the performance venues for these death-magic rites.

Which brings me to that infamous axis mundi of the West…where mere mortals are turned into stars and placed in the heavens for worship – Hollywood.

Frank Lloyd Wright (arguably the most famous American architect of all time) may’ve believed Sin City was the axis mundi of barbarism…because when he was commissioned to build several houses there in the 1920s he turned to the ancient temples of Meso and South America for inspiration.

The most beautiful one he built was Hollyhock House in East Hollywood, which is inspired by the Mayan city of Palenque. Now the Mayans liked to decorate their temples with all sorts of fierce motifs: snarling jaguars, writhing serpents, screaming gods, howling sacrificial victims…

You know the usual house decor…

But somewhere along the way Wright decided to create a Mayan-style hollyhock motif for his new house project instead – which must’ve have been a HUGE relief to the people who were going to live there!

In the alternate reality of Hoodwink, my sleazy character Earl Curtis was lucky enough to convince Frank Lloyd Wright to build him a house too. One based on a Mayan temple just like Hollyhock House, but decorated with the symbol of his Mayan death goddess – a ceiba tree.

You see the ceiba connects all beings, mortal and divine, good and bad…and Earl’s hungry goddess watches over all from her own, special branch on that mighty tree.

Or rather she waits for prey.

So what does happen to Earl Curtis? Does Kannon Dupree find out in Hoodwink?

Maybe…maybe not.

Time Travel, Tattoos & Gone With the Wind

     We’re such an ingenious species that the story of how we spread across the face of this magnificent planet reads more like a cross between science fiction and epic fantasy than real life. For that reason when it came time for me to write my series I knew it had to be based on time travel.

 I wanted to be able to send my intrepid heroine anywhere…to solve any mystery our cunning little human minds could spin! So, of course she had to be a time travelling detective…which opened up adventure in any conceivable time or place. When you throw a slightly alternate past and present into the mix, then the adventure gets really exciting because anything can happen – and frequently does.

 There are so many possibilities! What was Joan of Arc really like? What secrets are encoded in the Voynich manuscript? What were Buddha’s last words? What was written on the Mayan codices destroyed by the Conquistadors?

 So my Timestalker series is about a time travelling detective. The first book, Gladiatrix (2009) was set in ancient Rome, while the second, Hoodwink (out now) is set in Hollywood in 1939. Each book in the series solves a mystery set in a different time and place.

 Hoodwink starts with a body covered in a Mayan occult tattoo being discovered cemented into the floor of a Hollywood film set. It’s the body of a famous film director who went missing in 1939. Kannon is hired to return to 1939 to find out who killed him. While on the set of Gone With The Wind, mixing with the big stars of Hollywood, she stumbles onto a mystery that stretches back to the Civil War…

 ‘Why Gone With The Wind?’ you say. ‘Isn’t that just some old film about a Southern woman’s determination to survive the American Civil War and its aftermath?’

 Good question!

 Well…I wanted to write about a murder on a film set in 1939, the most glamorous period in the Golden Years of Hollywood. So I had to choose a movie that would give me the maximum room to explore the feeling of the 1930s as well as yield some interesting plot points I could play with.

 There was only ever one real choice…

 If you’ve ever seen any of the documentaries on the making of Gone With The Wind you’ll wonder why a murder didn’t actually happen… The producer, David O Selznick, was said to be a slave driver addicted to Benzedrine, who went through multiple directors to make the film – one of whom was supposed to have been driven to the brink of suicide. Most of the cast was hiding outrageous secrets, ranging from simple old adultery through to operating as a British spy in pre-war America.

 And that was just for starters.

 Some claim that Gone With The Wind is ‘the greatest film ever made’, whether that’s true or not it certainly seems to be one of the most watched in history. It’s still playing somewhere even as you read this sentence. Hell, the last time I caught a QANTAS flight to Los Angeles it was one of the choices on my personal viewing module…??? According to Wikipedia (with adjustment to 2010 prices) it is the highest grossing film of all time and stories abound concerning its influence on world culture in all sorts of unexpected ways… The book the film was based upon was banned by the Nazis during WW2 and was reportedly a favourite with the French Resistance who prized it as an example of courage under foreign occupation.

 But make no mistake Gone With The Wind is a paradox because it’s both incredibly inspiring and deeply racist. And such a flawed film is…of course, the perfect setting for a murder.

 A personal reason for the choice is that a key memory of my childhood is when my parents took me to see Gone With The Wind.  I was ten and at the time I wondered why they were so keenly affected by a movie that was about the American Civil War. I saw it again as a teenager and connected with the strong, central female character, Scarlett O’Hara, who out-survives all the macho men around her. But it was only when I became an adult that I realised that my parents’ attachment came from their experiences in WW2. Gone With The Wind was made in 1939 and its central theme is how ordinary people can endure and even triumph over unendurable tragedy.

 And that memory of triumph over tragedy is what my parents re-experienced when they sat there in the dark of that movie theatre.

 Who can not relate to that?

Rhonda Roberts is the author of Gladiatrix & Hoodwink, which is out now!

Rhonda Roberts talks Gladiatrix and news on Hoodwink!

Start Reading Now

Rowena Cory Daniells has posted a fab interview with our own Rhonda Roberts, author of Gladiatrix, where she talks about getting published, gender in fantasy and what’s coming up next for her time travelling heroine Kannon Dupree.

We’re thrilled to announce that Rhonda’s much anticipated next book Hoodwink will hit the shelves in January 2012.

Now we know it’s not close enough for some Gladiatrix fans so here’s a little bit more info to keep you going:

A perfectly preserved body, covered in Mayan occult tattoos, is discovered embedded in the concrete floor beneath the set of a teen werewolf TV series. The police identify the man as Earl Curtis, a famous director who went missing in 1939 while working on Gone with the Wind. Hired to investigate, Kannon returns to old Hollywood. But in the present someone is stalking the remaining witnesses.

Check out the interview here.

Where can a time-travelling detective go? Rhonda Roberts tells us

Gladiatrix is set in an alternate present and in this version Union Square in San Francisco, holds both the National Time Administration’s time portal as well as a giant pyramid Iseum used by the worshippers of the Egyptian goddess Isis.

I chose Union Square because of its rich history, which covers everything from war to earthquakes to flower children to crime and horrific murders. It’s a writer’s paradise, particularly if you specialise in time travel.

Union Square, where the NTA is located

Union Square, where the NTA is located

Union Square is roughly two and a half acres of concrete and gardens bordered by Geary, Powell, Post and Stockton Streets. It sits in the heart of old San Francisco once considered the most dangerous city in America. There are good reasons why many US detective novels and films are set in the steep hills of this fog-ridden city.

At the time when San Francisco was considered the most lawless city in the nation, Morton Street, just off Union Square, was the roughest part of all. Women and children naked to the waist sold themselves through the open windows of the pitiful one-room cribs, which lined the street. Men strolled through the area surveying what was available. The local police through corruption or fear refused to patrol the area and Morton Street’s homicide rate made it infamous.

The elegant St Francis Hotel on Powell Street survived the 1906 earthquake and fire only to become infamous in 1921 when the movie star Fatty Arbuckle held a wild party there. Three days later the party was still raging but Virginia Rappe an actress was dead. Hospital staff claimed she said Arbuckle had attacked her. Arbuckle was tried three times and eventually cleared of the charges but lost his career.

St Francis Hotel

In an interesting twist, Dashiell Hammett was one of the detectives hired to investigate the Arbuckle case. He became a famous detective fiction writer and in his novel the Maltese Falcon the St Mark Hotel is based upon the St Francis.

I can’t think of a better pedigree for inclusion in a time travelling detective series.

Neither can we. Where else would you like to see Kannon Dupree travel? Leave a comment below to let us know.

gladiatrixRhonda Roberts’ first book, Gladiatrix, is now available across Australia and New Zealand. Rhonda lives in the south of Sydney (as you might gather from this post – she certainly knows the area well!) and is working on the next book in the Time Stalker series, Hoodwink.

Visit Rhonda’s website

Kannon – about my main character – by Rhonda Roberts

gladiatrix

My main character, Kannon Dupree, is named after the Japanese Bodhisattva of Compassion. The Japanese words for Kannon actually mean ‘the one who hears all cries for help’ and a Bodhisattva is an enlightened being who has chosen to stay on Earth to help liberate all sentient life forms from suffering. She can be traced back to an earlier Indian Bodhisattva called Avalokitesvara and is known in China as Guan Yin.

Kannon Dupree was two years old when she was left for dead in a cave in the Kanangra-Boyd National Park and suffered extreme post traumatic stress syndrome. To help the little girl sleep at night Yuki, Kannon’s adopted mother, used to hold her and call on the Bodhisattva to heal her. Eventually the little girl thought that it was her own name.

I first came across Kannon, the Buddhist icon, when I was living in Nagoya, Japan. I’m not a Buddhist but I found her serenely smiling statues very attractive. She’s a very popular religious figure in Japan and there are temples to her everywhere. There’s a big temple to the Bodhisattva in Nagoya near Osu Kannon train station. When I was living there it was right in the middle of an old part of the city, full of little temples and tiny old markets selling antiques and kimonos. So whenever I’d visit the temple it would seem as though I’d travelled back in time.

It seemed natural to use the name for my main character.

Rhonda Roberts lives in the Illawarra just south of Sydney. She’s currently at work on Hoodwink, the follow up to Gladiatrix. Rhonda has a PhD in Science, Technology and Society and was an academic for eleven years. During this time she worked in Australia, the United States and in Japan, where she lived for three years. Visit her website at www.rhondarobertsauthor.com

Download a PDF extract from Gladiatrix