This week we have Karen Eisenbrey here to tell us about her novel Daughter of Magic.
Can you describe your world or setting?
Eukard is a small republic with varied geography and climate, exactly like the Pacific Northwest. It has a seacoast with islands, dense temperate rain-forest, rugged mountains (including volcanic peaks), and semi-arid sagebrush prairie. The main society is pre- or early-industrial, with metalworking and water-powered mills but still using horses and oxen for transportation and farm work. There is a large city as well as smaller towns and villages, with extensive farming and ranching in the rural areas. A smaller autonomous hunter-gatherer society, the Aklaka, exists within Eukard’s boundaries, keeping mostly to themselves in the mountains but with a small amount of contact along the fringes. After centuries of isolation, they have recently established official diplomatic relations with the government of Eukard. In the several stories I wrote prior to Daughter of Magic, political systems barely came up at all but early readers insisted I figure them out anyway. It turned out to be useful for this book, where political corruption and greed ended up being important themes.
How did you build this concept, what research did you do?
It began with an ironic idea for a place name: Deep River for a dry-land town whose river is dry due to past wizardly interference. In my mind it looked like where I grew up in Eastern Washington State. As I developed the setting, I added sites based on where I now live in Western Washington. Local travel turned into research for nature descriptions, especially to Mt. Rainier National Park. I didn’t want to burden this setting with a monarchy, so I made Eukard a representative democracy where the governing class tends to be wealthier and better educated than the common folk.
Why did you choose this setting?
Partly laziness and partly love for this area. I didn’t want to borrow a landscape I didn’t know or make up something wholly alien, especially when I live in such a beautiful and varied part of the world. I wanted to see my familiar world in a fantastical story. The more I learn about our planet, the more amazing it is, and I wanted to share that wonder with readers.
What’s unique about your world?
It has magic in it but no magical creatures. I didn’t feel confident to make up my own creatures and I didn’t want to do the usual types, which have been covered so well by other writers. It was a challenge to myself: can I make this story compelling without dragons, fairies or monsters (or kings or battles)?
How do you explain the science or magic in your world?
The human ability to do magic is innate and arises from atypical neurology, which also makes magic users a little (or a lot) weird. This can make them hard to live with, but if they form relationships and have children, magical traits are often passed on. Like autism, it exists on a spectrum: some practitioners are nearly “normal” with one or two minor unusual abilities, such as talking to animals or creating illusions. Others have more significant abilities, such as transformation into animals, mind-talking, and accelerated healing. Magic uses some physical energy, so the practitioner needs to remember to eat and take care of their own health. Magic can be worked with innate power alone but is easier and more efficient with the right words. The biggest person is not always the strongest in magic; sometimes a smaller practitioner is bigger on the inside.
What was the most surprising thing you found out while researching/writing your latest book?
The above similarity to the autism spectrum. I had been writing in this setting for 18 years and 5 books and did not see it until a beta reader asked, but it made a lot of sense. No wonder wizards seem so odd! And if magic arises from humans rather than existing as an energy in the world, that helps explain the lack of magical creatures. Another surprise had to do with dreams. This book begins with a dream scene and dreams are important throughout, but it didn’t occur to me how appropriate that was until two months after it was published: the whole saga began with an actual dream I had.
How do you handle the food in your world?
It comes up a lot. The protagonist’s grandmother is an innkeeper, so there is a lot of food prep and serving in that part of the story. People cook and eat meals, and have important conversations while doing so. They plan provisions for journeys, and make sure to have extra rations with them if they’ll be doing heavy magic. They don’t have electricity or gas ovens to cook with, but magic users can light a fire just like that—as long as they haven’t gotten exhausted or sick. It frustrates them when they have to light a fire the hard way. The food tends to be rustic and simple—a lot of soups and stews, bread, porridge—but hearty and satisfying.
Do you have a recipe that you could share, maybe one that our readers could try, based on the food in your world?
In an early scene, the main character Luskell helps her grandmother shape loaves of sourdough bread. This is the recipe I use, from a book my mom received as a gift in 1958:
¾ cup hot water
3 T sugar
2 T butter
1 T dry yeast mixed with ¼ cup warm water
1 ½ cups starter *
4-5 cups flour (I like to use a mix of white and whole wheat flours)
2 tsp salt
Pour the hot water over the sugar and butter. Stir to melt the butter. Cool mixture to lukewarm, then add the yeast/water mixture, starter, 2 cups of the flour, and the salt. Beat to blend ingredients.
Now stir in the rest of the flour, using just enough to make a firm dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured breadboard and knead very thoroughly (or use a dough hook and knead 10 minutes). Place in a buttered bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled. Punch dough down and let rise another 30 minutes (OR shape into 12 large or 24 small rolls and let rise 30 minutes.)
If making loaves, turn the dough out onto a floured board again and let it rest for 10 minutes before shaping. The dough may then be shaped into a large round loaf, an oval loaf, or a long, thin loaf (or 2 smaller loaves of any of these shapes), and placed on a greased cookie sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal. Or it may be put in a 10- by 5-inch loaf pan, also greased and sprinkled with cornmeal.
Let the bread rise until doubled and bake in a 400 degree oven for approximately 50 minutes (20 minutes for rolls). The dough is usually slashed in several places with a very sharp knife or razor blade just prior to baking. If a very sharp instrument is used, the bread will not fall.
The best glaze for any hard-crusted bread is an egg white beaten just to blend with 1 tablespoon cold water. Brush this on the bread several times during the baking.
*If you don’t already have a batch of starter going, find a friend who will give you some, or start your own! There are many recipes online so I won’t go into it here.
What was the most mundane item that you used that really has cool tech or magic behind it?
A wizard’s staff, which to non-magical eyes looks like a humble wooden walking stick, but is actually imbued with magic that tunes it the user’s power. It helps focus and control the wizard’s power, especially useful for a less experienced wizard. If another wizard tries to take it without permission, they will not be able to hold it because it vibrates out of tune with that person’s power and makes them feel queasy.
What did you include that you wish was real today?
Some of my characters can transform into animals. It would be so cool to experience the world from another animal’s point of view while keeping my own consciousness, and also fly like a bird.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
If you like stories about ordinary people with extraordinary abilities in a realistic natural world, I think you’ll enjoy Daughter of Magic.
- Amazon author link: www.amazon.com/-/e/B00I2BEAO6
- Goodreads author link:www.goodreads.com/author/show/7577611.Karen_Eisenbrey
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/KarenEisenbrey
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/KarenEisenbreyWriter/
- Website: https://kareneisenbreywriter.com/
- Bookbub: www.bookbub.com/profile/karen-eisenbrey