Friday, December 27, 2013

Historical Perspective in Fantasy, A Guest Post from Tonya Cannariato

First, I want to thank Tara for the opportunity to stop by her blog and chime in on two of the themes we’re apparently both fascinated by: Strong female characters and historical settings.

My Red Slaves series was inspired by the six years I spent living with my family behind the Iron Curtain, first in Moscow, and then in East Berlin from 1978 to 1984. My father was a diplomat, so our regular supper conversations were sprinkled with the meaning of representing American values in countries that had different views on personal liberty and possibilities than the idealized American vision of those. So culture clash and what you could grow up to become were never far from my thoughts as a little girl.

My mom, in particular, always reminded me of my five-year-old response to the question of what I wanted to be when I grew up: I had said “a nurse.” When she asked why not a doctor, I had said “because only little boys can be doctors.” I’m not sure what inspired that very young view, but my mom and dad made sure I understood those limitations were not in their world view, and they hoped I would aspire higher than they could imagine.

For some reason, this translated into a female protagonist who grabbed on to that aspiration and hardened herself against anything she perceived might hold her back from her ambition. My protagonist was also imbued with my love of books and reading, so she became a researcher—not exactly a power profession, though it does come with its own kind of cut-throat competition. Her inner demons meant she fought against her emotions, focused on a scientific approach, and was rather an abrasive character who had a lot of growing to do.

While Anne’s strengths are non-traditional, they are also rooted in the time from which she springs. Born in the 60s, at the height of flower-power, she tries, still, to embody the 80s power woman, setting aside emotions and pretending like she can be a man. Her path is not easy, yet she plows forward with determination and loyalty.

The other half of the story’s drive comes from what Katherine Kurtz dubbed crypto-history. I love the concept that if we had a slightly more magical perspective, there would be hidden explanations for the reason behind certain historical events. The clash between magic and science, then, is one of my major themes. Could it be that there was an arcane reason Communists were able to maintain their repressive holds on their people? If that was the reason, what would happen to those magical beings when the Communist leash was broken?

With those two questions, my imagination has taken flight. The world you’ll see in Red Slaves is not that far distant in time, and should be recognizable to people born even in the early 80s who have some memory of the bipolar world the US and the Soviet Union had constructed. The immediate post-Soviet economic difficulties and cultural realities were as true-to-life as I could make them based on my own memories and research. The pure fantasy about dragons, was, I’m sure, sparked by my life-long love of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern. Mash those up, and you find something I haven’t seen anywhere else, and has been a lot of fun for me to imagine and write.

Your turn: How do you identify strength in abrasive characters? How much of what you lived as a child could you replay in a historical fiction setting?


A voracious reader since she was a toddler, and an ordained spiritualist, Tonya Cannariato has now presided over the marriage of her love of reading and her love of writing. She's lived a nomadic life, following first her parents in their Foreign Service career through Africa, Europe, and Asia, and then her own nose criss-crossing America as she's gotten old enough to make those choices for herself. She's currently based in Milwaukee with her three loves: her husband and two Siberian Huskies. She suspects her Huskies of mystical alchemy with their joyous liberation of her muse and other magical beings for her inspiration. She loves to sleep, to watch her interesting dreams, some of which are now finding new life in written form.

Dust to Blood:

Sparks are flying between researcher Anne Crosby and no less than nine men--but it's not what you think. Whenever these nine amnesiacs touch anyone, electrical mayhem results. More surprising: all of them have dust instead of blood in their veins, even though they're quite alive. It's Anne's job to track down who and what these men are, even though she takes a dim view of the supernatural.

Her research takes Anne to Russia and the discovery of the devastating magical source behind the former Soviet Union's power--a source the resurrected KGB wants back. Anne must stop them, and they'll do anything to stop her.

Blood to Fire:

Researcher Anne Crosby came to Russia to solve the mystery of amnesiac Ivan Krempenski. Instead, she became part of the mystery. Never a believer in the paranormal, Anne discovers Ivan's true dragon form-and her own.

The old Soviet Union once held Russian dragons captive, siphoning off their magic to cement their power. The resurgent KGB believes enslaving them again will return the Communists to their former might.

New mates Anne and Ivan must learn to control their bewildering new abilities, stay one step ahead of the KGB, and restore their kind before dragons slip into myth...or slavery.


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