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Dance of the Rings FAQ

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Ring of Intrigue, the sequel to Ring of Lightning, hit the stands in late January 1997. Within days, I had received more response (all in the form of e-mail) than I'd had in my previous five years of publishing. (Despite the apparent neglect, I love my web page!) That e-mail, combined with the First Major Move created the First Major Delay in updating this page.

<<We will politely ignore the previous THREE MONTHS of inactivity.>> --->The Wesser's compliments.

<And we will politely ignore the Peanut Gallery, Smith.>

---As I was saying, I've received a lot of comments and since the ubiquitous "they" say that for every reader who writes to an author there are . . . well . . . lots who don't, I'm starting the Dance of the Rings FAQ pages.

But first, a word about my books and spoilers and answers to questions:

There was a movie made years back about Hans Christian Andersen, a musical starring the late, great Danny Kaye. The title song had a line: "You laugh, Ha, Ha, but you blush a bit, 'Cause you realize, while you're reading it, That it's also reading you."

I always loved that line. I'm no Hans Christian Andersen, but one reason I write is to explore human nature and I hope my books do raise questions, about the story, about human nature, and about the person reading the book. I have no desire to write in-depth Social Commentary, and certainly I don't claim to have all the answers to the Human Condition. But I found the stories I have to tell and especially the characters involved delve into areas that I decided I could not, ethically, treat lightly or toss off with simple solutions. It was either leave these topics out, or try to handle them with the respect and complexity I feel they deserve.

This means taking the reader on a voyage of discovery.  If the answers to the questions raised are only my answers, the reader's  kaleidoscopic exploratory voyage becomes a paddle-boat ride on a pond.

However, I hope to raise questions, not frustrate the reader, so there are very few questions regarding the books to which I won't respond honestly (though it's going to take a little time to get them up.)

The Ring books were structured as a true trilogy, not a series about the same characters. Issues are raised and characters are introduced in Ring of Lightning; those issues and relationships are developed in Ring of Intrigue; and the final resolutions are the substance of Ring of Destiny---

Well, that was the plan at any rate.  For those of you who have read Destiny, you know that's not quite the case.  I freely admit, this story grew on me, an aspect of writing I will eventually address in The Write Box.  The short version here is, there are some factors introduced that are not, in actual fact, tied off smoothly in Destiny.

However, that small caveat notwithstanding, the information flow and development of the concepts that are resolved in Destiny are based on that division. Certain questions are purposefully left unanswered at the end of each book not only in order to set up for the following book, but also to give the reader time to consider their own answers, and as the books' creator, I obviously suggest that if you have any inclination to read the books, you might not want to punch the FAQ-link button just yet, because I like to believe it will affect your reading experience.

<On the third hand (aren't aliens great?) she can't stop you, can she?>-->TW

A Few Introductory Ideas


-------------------------------------- Q: Where did the idea for the book come from?

A: My first series, the Groundties books, had been hard Science Fiction.   Hoping to avoid getting pidgeonholed and to expand my audience, I decided to write a fantasy.

The notion for the rings came from one of those little perpetual (with the help of a magnet) motion toys that's a bunch of concentric, randomly-spinning rings. I needed to come up with an idea fast. I had a contract almost settled with DAW, but I realized I just wasn't ready to write the book I'd proposed. I was sitting in my living room, staring out the window, and here was this silly little motion sculpture, doing it's flashy-thing in the sunlight. Add the old-world notion of lines of power, murfle a physical explanation, add a touch of attitudinal "Mother Nature" from the old 60's commercials, and you have Rhomatumin magic.

Then, I needed a setting.  Although I've studied ancient history (primarily the Romans and early Celts) rather extensively, I'm a science and anthropology major, not an historian.   I hadn't the background to step into the "Medieval" mindset, either for the "typical Medieval" fantasy novel or the real thing.  Since viewpoint is one of if not the most important factors in writing, and since nothing bugs me in a psuedo-historically set piece as a 20th century mindset in a viewpoint character, I prefer to leave that particular sandbox to those who have made a lifelong study of the era and can slip the reader gracefully and seamlessly into that mindset.  I decided I wanted a society on the brink of the electronic age, a "magic" that was one of practicality, not mysticism.  Hence, my light and heat generating leythium ... and Mother, certainly the least mystical pseudo-goddess I've ever encountered.

Then I needed characters (Mother, for all she'd tell you otherwise, doesn't count.) Still exhausted from my daily association with Stephen Ridenour (Groundties), I wanted to have an older main character, one with his/her life in order, whose primary complications in the story were outside his/her own head. Once I settled on Deymorin, still in search of contrast and since Stephen was an only child, I decided to plague ... er ... bless Deymio with siblings. I come from a large family myself and am fascinated by the ... um ... rather charming misconceptions many only children seem to have regarding that singular social structure.  (This is not to imply the Rhomandi situation is "typical"... no real relationship can be termed "typical", but from the reader response to the books, it is anything but atypical.)

Three is always a good number. Plenty of room for complications of relationships, not too many characters to follow closely, and like a three-legged stool, while it may tilt in every direction, always basically stable. Hence, we ended up with Khyel and Nikki. The other characters arose out of story need. ---Except for Dancer.

As for Dancer... Long before I ever started the Ring project, I attended a local production of "M. Butterfly." I exited the theater fairly indifferent to the obvious question of how a man could have a twenty year affair and never realize his lover wasn't a woman.  I could care less about the self-delusion of the so-called "victim" of the situation.  What caught my attention and had me wishing we'd seen/heard more from the man who had pretended to be a woman for twenty years was, what was the effect of those twenty years on his psyche? Did he think of himself as a man or as a woman? Was he in love, (as the play implies) and if so, was he in love as a man loves a man or as a woman loves a man or is that a completely irrelevant distinction?

Just as the sibling relationship moved rapidly beyond any pop-psych notions of first-child second-child, the question of Dancer and Dancer's self-perception soon passed beyond any resemblance to M.Butterfly. But that's where it began.

-------------------------------------- Q: From a Historical Romance reader: I'm not much of a "sci-fi" type, but I'm totally enjoying Lightning. ...I got to thinking about the SF/F aspects---Isn't fiction really just someone's fantasy? Granted ley and rings and nodes are a little harder to imagine than, say, a Barbara Taylor Bradford romance, but those books are still something of a fantasy. ... Actually, I can picture myself as more likely living in a controlled environment in the not too distant future than married to a super-rich man and sipping champagne on a yacht!

A: Genre divisions began as a marketing gimmick, not a reality.   What that marketing decision has done to the quality of writing within all genres is eventual fodder for the Write Box.  I don't really think of what I'm doing as "fantasy"---at least, as opposed to anything else. As the reader points out, all fiction is fantasy. A well-written, compelling story is a well-written story. Whether I'm writing (or reading) SF, Fantasy or Historical, the standards I apply to the story and the prose remain constant. There must be a well-conceived world, a solid plot and compelling characters with believable motivations.

The wonderful thing about SF and Fantasy as a genre is that its scope is so great, it's really every genre rolled into one heading. When I worked in the bookstore, I could generally send every customer out with at least one SF book, regardless of what was on their shelves at home. It's just a matter of finding the author who writes "your" kind of story.

The benefit I personally find in the SF/F created world format is that the created world and social structure gives me the freedom to deal directly with the human dynamic and not have to take precious word-count to explain 20th century attitudes. It allows me to deal with certain subject matter in a much less opinion-charged environment.

Unfortunately, within that very freedom lies the greatest gap between SF/F and mainstream.   Non-SF/F adult readers seem to have a difficult time making the leap into a created world.  This is more fodder for the Write Box, but in short, I find it both strange and a bit sad that the very essence of the Fairy Tales we all grew up with---Once upon a time, in a land far, far away---has been lost to so many.

-------------------------------------- Q: I'm an SF reader, not Fantasy, but I picked up Ring of Lightning because I enjoyed Groundties so much, and find, to my surprise, I'm really enjoying it. 

A:  See above.   Also, the mindset of these characters and this society is very "modern."  Their rational, scientific approach to their magic has much more in common with the 21st century than the 12th.  I think, perhaps, this makes them just a bit more "accessible" to the primarily SF reader mindset, while the lack of obvious tech keeps the exclusively fantasy reader comfortable. 

For all I've had readers who seem to like my books primarily for these secondary elements, in both series, the technology and magic, society and environment are all just backdrops against which the psychological/motivational play unfolds.  If you like one, chances are, you'll like the other.

-------------------------------------- Q: Interesting commentary on technology...Nikki muses on liking cats and dogs and horses and other things that one can't have Inside (the City), and on liking lights and sewers and things one doesn't have Outside. Sort of the tension between the comforts of the technological world and the pleasures of the natural world. (Am I reading too much into this?)

A: Nope. :-)

The long answer is, I'm personally a technophile. I love technology and humanity's endlessly capacity to manipulate the environment. However, I also feel that Nature keeps us humble---and human. I think both the Groundties books and the Ring books reflect that philosophy in varying ways.

-------------------------------------- Q: How are the character's names pronounced?
A: Any way you want.  I'm honestly not picky. I pronounce them one way; my editor put the accent on a different syllable, and it sounded fine to me. However, in my own head, they sound like:
Mikhyel=Mi-KHI-yel. (The kh is soft, aspirated as opposed to a really hard K.)
Kiyrstin=KEE-yrs-tin. (You really close your throat around the iy combination)
Anheliaa=an-HEE-lee-ah (Although some people say an-HELL-ee-ah, which seems singularly appropriate. )


For those who have read Ring of Lightning

Contains spoilers for Ring of Lightning

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-------------------------------------- Q: Nikki seems at his best when his brothers are not around . . . he seems more grownup without his brothers there to be the adults. At the end of RoL, it was a bit of a shock to see him suddenly being more childish.

A: It's something of a shock to Nikki. The climactic events of RoL have seriously undermined Nikki's delicately-balanced maturation process. The poor lad is finally getting a chance to grow up in the absence of Big Brother Deymio when suddenly, there's Deymio, back again, and to his rescue. It shoves poor Nikki right back into Baby Brother mode.

Notice that the first words out of Deymio's mouth include the term "boy". He's not consciously patronizing, it's just the unconscious sibling dynamic that has been established over the course of seventeen years of intimate association. It's a touchy relationship to write, and it gets worse in Intrigue. Imagine, if you will, being seventeen and having your oldler, oh-so-perfect older brothers able to read all your seventeen-year-old thoughts. One does have to feel sorry for the lad. :-)

Also, it's the first time we "see" Nikki through Kiyrstin's eyes, and while Kiyrstin is our most reliable viewpoint, in her lack of personal involvement, even she brings a biased opinion into the equation. She's met Deymio first, then Khyel, both of whom have put such high value on Nikki's safety. From their actions, she's expecting a paragon on death's doorstep. When she finally meets him, thanks to Khyel's empathic interferance, Nikki appears and acts much less damaged than he really is, and she makes a lot of assumptions about the brothers' relationship that necessarily color the reader's impression of Nikki.

And then, there's Nikki's point of view. He's been terrified, tortured, and survived it all. He's actually done himself quite proud. But he's still a captive, whom Big Brother Deymorin has "snatched from the jaws of death." He's naturally relieved. The pain he's been suffering has diminished markedly and without explanation . . . except that Big Brother Deymorin has returned to his life. And then Mother appears, and Dancer, and suddenly, Magic surrounds him. . .

And his brothers, for no apparent reason, reject him. He's frightened, to the depths of his soul, and seeks the most primal attention-grabbing techniques he knows, which do not interface real well with his increasingly opinionated adulthood. Rather like his voice breaking. ;-)

-------------------------------------- Q: I'm ambivalent about Mother showing up at the end and "rescuing" the brothers. Why did you do that?

A: If this were the third book of a trilogy rather than the first, I'd be ambivalent myself. I dislike "magical" solutions, however, the "magical" solution Mother provides is a solution to a very singular, (and "magically induced") problem that is (in my opinion) a side-issue of the actual story. (Though Mikhyel, whose hide is the object being saved might disagree.)  The psychological/personal relationship resolution is all through Deymorin's and Khyel's efforts (with a little help from Dancer). To me, this is the real story of the book.

Besides, Mother's interest in the brothers, more importantly, the response of the ley itself to the brothers' link, is clearly documented in the course of book.  Their paths had to intersect, and from the writerly viewpoint, they had to intersect at the climax of the book.

And as I said above, from the view of the overall story arc this is only the first book in a trilogy. The brothers have just come into their "magic". The climactic events are part of their introduction to the powers they now possess/control, and Mother is the manifestation of the ley which is an intrinsic part of that power. In Intrigue, their understanding of those abilities develops. By the third book . . . well, it is called Ring of Destiny!

Also, there's the issue of Dancer. The brothers' story is not the only story that needed climactic resolution.

-------------------------------------- Q: Why did you leave Dancer's gender unstated?

A: But I didn't. ;-) See the following from another reader:

-------------------------------------- Q: I found it fascinating that throughout the whole book, "he" [Dancer] remained genderless until the very end when "he" helped to heal Khyel (it was as if gender is one of the things which characterize a "human"[??] and because Dancer had acquired human emotions i.e. pity, sympathy, concern, love [??] for Khyel, Dancer essentially attained humanity and became a "HE".) Am I on the right track?

(For purposes of clarity, please note that "he" did not help to heal Khyel. Dancer aided Deymio's efforts. "He" only appears on page 564, after Khyel wakes up.)

Definitely on the right track, though I wouldn't equate gender per se with being biologically human, but rather gender identity as being a key aspect of social (as opposed to self) -awareness.  The essence of an individual is not only how s/he perceives him/herself but how others perceive him/her and what s/he chooses to project to the society through which s/he moves.  Since humans are (perhaps arguably) genetically hardwired to be social animals, it is an important --- and life-changing --- aspect of human psychological development.

Pronouns are a social, not a personal, language element.  It catagorizes an individual (and in some languages all nouns) into a greater subgroup that implies certain points of commonality.  First person viewpoint never refers to "self" as "he" or "she".  Using the third person intense viewpoint, the only way to project this same lack of catagorization is to avoid the pronoun altogether.  

Dancer doesn't care how the world perceives Dancer, and doesn't care what Dancer projects, genderly speaking, to the human society, and therefore a pronoun for self never enters Dancer's thinking.  Dancer is what Dancer is/wants to be: a Dancer. That social aspect of self-awareness is awakened at the end of Lightning, where, for the first time, Dancer is including in the gestalt that is Dancer, how others (the brothers) perceive him, and how he would have others (the brothers) perceive him.  Dancer had human emotions, love, hate, fear ... before the Boreton Incident.  What he didn't have were those other, interactive, sensitivities such as sympathy, concern ... empathy.

Throughout the book, Dancer has been focused on what Dancer is and wants to be: a radical dancer. It is established from the start that sexual awareness is considered a non-desirable and even fatal trait for a radical dancer. Until the end, we always see Dancer from Dancer's viewpoint, and until the end of the book, Dancer does not have a personal gender identity. Dancer's hormones have never even begun to rage, for all Dancer is 24. As we discover in Destiny, there are reasons for that quiescence within Dancer's chemical-body, but the end result is that gender-identificaton hasn't taken place, and for a radical dancer, this appears to be a plus, so why (in Dancer's view) mess with it?

Mother establishes her opinion about this human notion regarding sexuality and the Dance. Mother senses a lack in Dancer that lifelong association with her has simply reinforced, a shortcoming that affects Dancer's ability to reach Dancer's full potential---in every sense. Mother reflects the pattern/opinion of the ley itself, a pattern that includes, among other things, Dancer's subconscious.

Early in the book, when the brothers' pattern forms in the ley, Dancer is drawn to it.  Why?  Because it is yin to Dancer's yang, in a sense.  Dancer has used Mother's realm to escape the question of Dancer's own humanity.  The brothers' link invades that realm and ultimately, Dancer can't deny the draw.  Khyel's need triggers an empathy (not in the "telepathic" sense, but in the real, human-nature nurturing sense), Dancer answers that need, and that response indelibly links the brothers and Dancer.  That association with the brothers triggers self-awareness. With self-awareness comes (if you will) species awareness and acceptance of the importance of lives outside Dancer's own.

--------------------------------------  Q: My question here is why make Dancer male and not female?

A: Seemed like a good idea at the time? Seriously, there were many factors that came into play for this, but the primary reason was that the issues of perception of self and others that the books address would find greatest dramatic tension by Dancer's patterning male.

As to how I perceive the self-perception scale tipping toward "male" ... again, there are several possible explanations, all of which likely come into play in varying degrees.  Dancer has, in a sense, "patterned" his humanity off the brothers by "lurking" on the line between Khyel and Deymio at the end of Lightning.  There's also the question of what Khyel wants/needs the first time he truly contacts Khyel, when, via the leylines, he helps pull Khyel out of his suicide attempt. 

One of the more interesting (at least to me) aspects of human nature I've found myself exploring in both of these series is how the expectations and needs of those around us affect the decisions we make about our internal and external selves.

--------------------------------------  Q: Was it something that Dancer had control over? (i.e. to decide what gender he wants) Or was it the result of specific emotions that he felt at the moment that determined his gender?

A: Yes. And . . . yes. To which I add: Does that self-awareness accurately reflect Dancer's biology?  (See Destiny.)

I began developing Dancer with the notion of exploring gender and self-identification. How much of what we do and how we act is a reflection of that identification and how much a reflection of sociological expectations?

What was quite fascinating to me was, even with Dancer's exiting use of a pronoun, how readers had categorized him.  Even with the clues at the end, (or perhaps because of conflicting clues ... While Dancer uses "he", Nikki sees Dancer as male, Kiyrstin sees him as female) the split appeared about 50/50, with half the readers convinced Dancer was male, the other half equally certain Dancer was female. According to my exceedingly non-scientific polling methods, for some, it was simply "obvious". For others, they thought one thing from Dancer's behavior, and believed the other because they wanted Dancer to be one or the other. I did not see reader-gender as any sort of determining factor.

--------------------------------------  Q: Was Dancer in a way "in love" with Khyel?

A: Say rather, "In fascination." Dancer is very drawn to what radiates from Khyel's portion of the new pattern. Khyel's pride, his courage, his determination . . . and his alone-ness. When Mother forces Dancer to touch Khyel in the end, she forges an empathy Dancer has been able to avoid to that point. But even then, sexuality is so repressed in Dancer that sexual attraction is not a factor in this fascination. ---Yet.

-------------------------------------- Q: I have only sisters, so I don't know anything about how brothers interact with each other, but it seems to me that this is a atypical. The brothers are so obsessive with one another and so protective . . . and why is this so appealing and fascinating to us? (Well, at least to me.) I think what you've done is cast the brothers in terms that women can understand and would like our men to be . . .

A: Since I can only answer as the female I am, I cannot absolutely deny this possibility, however I have known men very much like all the brothers in these aspects. Also, the response from men to the books and the brothers has been very positive, and none have mentioned any problem with the brothers' interaction, except, oddly enough, one who does act very like Deymorin. I think that part of what we (in the US) might be seeing when we watch "normal" male-sibling interaction is (at least in adult siblings) the cultural overlay for men in general, which obviates against these "tender" behaviors.

Also, these are men in extreme circumstances. Their actions and the situations trigger somewhat more extreme responses.

With Deymio, I did have the underlying desire to present a masculine man without inhibitions against physical contact. We have an over-sensitivity to male-male contact in this country, and I think it hurts all of us, but I don't want to stop in the middle of the book and say: touching is normal and healthy, caring about each other is, so I make a character like Deymio who just does and is all those things, and because he is (hopefull)   internally consistent, throughout the book, he comes across (again, based on reader reaction, male and female,) as believable.

When I write, I'm in the mind and virtual body of the character. I don't consciously differentiate psychologically between male and female characters. Gender and body type change their physical options in any given situation (As Deymio notes when Kiyrstin helps him lift Khyel from the back of the cart, he's glad she's not a delicate type, like Mirym.) but their basic humanity---both in supply and demand---is fair constant. Deymio is by nature very physical and by the end of the book, he's feeling incredibly guilty about how he has misjudged Khyel over the years and how he abandoned him to Anheliaa. Khyel has been stripped down to mental basics, and the child he was is radiating need. Deymio responds to that need in an almost paternalistic overreaction.

Much to Khyel's disgust in Intrigue.

Also, because the book is heavily viewpointed, it's possible that much of the impression of over-protectiveness is created because of what the brothers are noticing about each other rather than what they are actually saying or doing, which might explain why they ring "true" to a lot of men, but seem "feminized" to some women.

This is also a culture that allows men to touch without guilt. This is one of those story-specific cultural aspects the reader has to pick up by what isn't explicitely mentioned. The very fact the characters do not comment on the physical contact implies that it's quite natural. This is one of those freedoms SF/F allows.

--------------------------------------  Q: Who is the red-headed ringdancer Nikki and Khyel see in the rings?

A: Heh. Heh. Heh.

Oh dear, I said I'd answer truthfully, didn't I?  The truth is ... I'm not sure.  I thought I knew, but I was wrong.  But I haven't forgotten her.  I suspect we'll actually find out in the "next generation" books.

--------------------------------------  Q: How can three people be a node? If leythium is a physical substance (as well as energy?) and runs under (?) the surface, how did the brothers become a node?

A: Mother would like to know the answer to that one as well.  

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