by Sandy Wright
They say write what you know. The idea for my first novel, Song of the Ancients, came from my own interests and personal evolution. It started with a move from the cornfields of the Midwest to the rocky arid desert of Arizona.
The spiritual paths in the Southwest are so diverse, and some are so ancient they’ve become myths. I had always been interested in nature-based religions, so widening that study to encompass the Native American spirituality of the area seem a natural progression. Then I blended Wicca and witchcraft into my studies. I am currently the High Priestess of a coven in Phoenix.
My main character, Samantha Danroe, introduces the concept of witchcraft, seen through the eyes of an ordinary, non-magical woman. She moves to Sedona, Arizona to start anew after her divorce. Instead, she becomes the prey in an ancient power struggle to control the magic hidden in the Sedona red rock vortexes. To survive, she has to learn the rules of her new world, and readers get to learn earth magic and witchcraft along with her.
I have J.K. Rowling to thank for the character seed for my primary male character, Nicholas Orenda. I read the whole Harry Potter series and was deeply disappointed at how easily she killed off Severus Snape. I thought he was a fascinating, complex character, and then…poof! Done in by a snake without a fight. So I started fiddling around with that type of personality, a man who is infinitely talented, but flawed. A character who will consider bending the moral codes to accomplish his goals. Is he a villain? Uhm, no. Can you depend on him unconditionally? Double uhm. Nicholas is the thorn in my protagonist’s side. In her eyes—and maybe reader’s eyes also—he looks like that bad boy every mother dreads. He acts like the antagonist, ferreting out Samantha’s inner weaknesses. As their relationship progresses, however, when he’s satisfied she is worth saving, he will switch sides and root for her. Because really, is love ever straight-up easy?
The locale plays a big part in the book. But Sedona is but one earth “power point” in the world. I would like to include other sacred sites—the Mayan pyramids in Mexico, Machu Picchu, Rousanou Monastery in Greece, the round towers in Ireland, placed precisely on the earth’s ley lines. Each place of power is surrounded by its own history and myths, energies and sacred practices, but do we really know why these places are so venerated? There’s a wealth of material here for a series.
However, I’m veering from sacred sites and magic for my next book, tentatively titled Full Moon Crossing. It’s a suspense involving a philandering husband who plots to murder his wife and use the Arizona border’s human smuggling conflict as a cover-up. The topic is still so hot right now, I want to get the book out while the headlines support it. Plus, I get to work with a SWAT team member of my local police force who has agreed to be a technical source. There’s also lots of research on human and drug smuggling, as well as the ATF’s botched “Fast and Furious” sting operation. The murder weapon is actually one of the guns from Fast and Furious that got away from the Feds.
People often ask writers, “How do you write a whole novel? Do you write straight through? Or revise as you go?” I think it depends on the book. I’m a plotter but I tend to do my in-depth research as I go. As a journalist, research and fact checking is drilled into my training. Often that research changes the direction of the story. So I frequently go back and tweak earlier scenes to make them more authentic. For Song of the Ancients, I wrote chronologically. But my second book is murder suspense. For that one, I started with the crime, then put everything else in place to make the crime possible, adding many of the clues and red herrings in the second revision.
I’ve told you a little about how my fictional characters evolved. Now you tell me: As a reader, what makes a character interesting to you? Do you need a little bit of “bad boy” in your boyfriends?