• 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!

     

     

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.

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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

Adventures in Japan – Rhonda Roberts

The castle at Nagoya, where Rhonda lived

The castle at Nagoya, where Rhonda lived

Japan is a floating theme park full of cherry blossoms, samurai castles, ancient temples and the best and worst in us all. I love it. And it’s been a key inspiration for Gladiatrix. Kannon Dupree was raised by Yuki, her half-Japanese foster mother, she is trained in Japanese martial arts and like the Japanese she places a premium on loyalty and honour.

I first lived in the Land of the Rising Sun back in the 1980s. I intended visiting for six months and left two years later… And I certainly got my fill… I probably averaged four hours sleep a night through those years.

I lived in the foothills of Mount Fuji, learnt martial arts and tea ceremony, climbed through Ninja strongholds, woke up screaming in the middle of a midnight earthquake, sweltered through summer and froze in the snow in winter and celebrated a new festival with my neighbours every month. Just the leaves changing colour meant an instant shindig and a new set of kimono.

You’ve got to love the Japanese will to party.

Every person I met and every place I visited turned up riches I still draw on. From the island of the Goddess at Miyajima to Hiroshima Ground Zero, from flower-arranging to sword festivals, from drunken businessman climbing telephone polls in cherry blossom time to bald-headed monks watching baseball under the counter while they served in a magnificent Buddhist temple, I was constantly astonished and intrigued. And I’m writing about them still.

The temple at Kyoto

The temple at Kyoto - a perfect place to travel back in time

Rhonda Roberts is the author Gladiatrix, the first book in the Time Stalker series. She lives in south of Sydney, Australia. She’s currently at work on Hoodwink, the follow up to Gladiatrix. Rhonda 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

Rhonda Roberts on time travel

Time travel became a passion for me when I was a kid growing up in Western Australia. In my school holidays we used to visit these old towns left over from the Gold Rush, full of huge ornate marble pubs and grand post offices.

Talk about ghost towns… You could almost hear the rowdy miners laden down with gold dust and nuggets bellying up to the bar for a beer on a Saturday night. But when I saw them the towns were deserted and choked with dust and weeds.

A decade or so later I spent nine months living with a family in a quaint little Bavarian village in the shadow of a ruined castle. They told me about the great battle that had been fought there two hundred years before that was so brutal a river of blood had flowed. The village observed the seasons, holding beer fests in summer and dances in winter; there were deer and other game in the local forests… It felt like I’d gone back to an older, agrarian time.

I love travel and every different culture I’ve visited has presented me with glimpses of a past world and past way of life. It was this passion with different histories and different cultures that led me to become an academic specializing in cross-cultural analysis of knowledge systems. And time travel just had to be a key part of the Time Stalker series too.

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

Rhonda Roberts: Creating Ancient Rome

gladiatrixI started writing Gladiatrix one summer when I had two weeks of vacation left and nothing much to do. I’d been looking around the bookshops for a good read and couldn’t find anything that suited so I decided to start writing the book I wanted – a feisty heroine who solves a mystery in an exotic far away place.

I wanted to send her to ancient Rome so then time travel became a part of the plot. That’s when the research started …

I try to visit the places I write about but I’m afraid Rome is the one spot I’ve never been. I visited northern Italy while I was living in Europe, but not Rome. So the ancient city of Gladiatrix is all my research and imagination. I have a bookcase full of maps of Augustan Rome, archaeological texts on the place and a head full of old movies.

I chose ancient Rome because years ago I tutored in a course called ‘Man, Women and Deity’. The subject examined the different forms of deity worship over the ages and there was a fascinating section on the Isis cult and its spread outside Egypt. I was so intrigued by the fact that an ancient Egyptian religion almost took over the Roman Empire that when I decided to write on time travel Rome was the place I wanted to send my heroine.

I like writing about history because in my academic life I specialized in cross-cultural analysis of knowledge systems, that is what passed for science and technology in other times and places. So I did a lot of research for Gladiatrix and then tried to make sure the story hung together and that the reader liked the characters enough to suspend disbelief and come on the adventure with them.

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

See the maps used in Gladiatrix