Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Welcoming aliens, and meeting the creator of the Shala

Today I get to interview Cathy Benedetto, author of  the fascinating Shala novels. Like me, the author loves Anne McCaffrey, Robert Jordan and Orson Scott Card, so I know I'm going to enjoy these books as soon as I find time to read them. But first, let me introduce her:

About Cathy Benedetto:
Ms. Benedetto is a writer, artist and avid reader. Her love of science fiction and fantasy inspired her trilogy about the mystical race of warriors known as Shala. Her favorite authors, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Jordan, and Orson Scott Card, have spun stories that shifted Cathy’s imagination into high gear.

The former Vice Principal and education consultant, Cathy was also a five time softball All-American, and AAU basketball All-American. She was a member of the U.S. Women’s basketball team that played in the World University Games in Czechoslovakia and the Pan American Games in Canada. While coaching, she was published in the Women in Sports magazine and wrote a column for the Bellevue Journal American.

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Cathy moved to Lexington, Kentucky in 2003. The former coach enjoys supporting the Kentucky Wildcats women’s basketball team, woodturning, lapidary arts, and loves fishing on her pontoon boat. A special joy is playing with David, Charlotte, Kendall, Lily, and Liz.

So Cathy, it's great to have you on my blog. Can I start by asking if you have a favorite McCaffrey or Scott Card series?

I loved McCaffrey’s ‘Dragons of Pern’ books. There was an element of fantasy but a stronger emphasis on science fiction, and being a former history teacher, I was enamored by the more medieval culture she chose to center her Pernese around. And, of course, the dragon lore and weyr rider personalities were fascinating. She’s been a big influence.

Orson Scott Card’s ‘Ender series’ is my favorite from his writing. His story is more complex than McCaffrey’s, his major characters are more cerebral and philosophically oriented, but I found Anne McCaffrey’s characters more endearing and authentic.

It sounds like we share the same favorite series as well as favorite authors. My son loved the battles and politics of the Endor novels, but I must confess one of the things I liked best was the feeling of a truly alien culture. I've often wondered where Scott Card's ideas originated but I don't suppose I'll ever get to ask him. However, may I perhaps ask you where your ideas for the Shala came from?

Quite a while ago I read Shogun and was impressed by the samurai desire to completely mask their emotions by presenting a ‘blank’ face to others. The goal was to be unreadable so rivals couldn’t figure out what you were thinking. The Japanese court at that time was filled with complex intrigue, plotting, assassinations and those who could play that game well were admired. This led me to wondering – what if there was a race of warriors who were the opposite? Instead of hiding their emotions, they radiated them through their eye colors. And, instead of embracing violence, these warriors sought a way to end the killing? Of course, in time these ideas expanded to encompass the trilogy and a lengthier saga.

That connection between shared emotion and violence sounds intriguing. Given how well(?) we humans have dealt with meeting neighbors on different continents, how do you think we'll cope should we ever really meet an alien species--or an alien mutation in our own species (I'm thinking X-Men and so on). 

I’m not hopeful. Fear and competitiveness are powerful motivators, so I can definitely see us being highly distrustful and afraid of such interlopers. While I believe there would be a percentage who would welcome ‘visitors’ and be excited about the possibilities, they would be heavily outnumbered by the majority. We humans seem to have a hard time accepting differences. We don’t tolerate going against the norm very well. We’re most comfortable when people look and act like us. Actually, this is one of the themes that appear in my stories.

I've not read the novels yet, but I'm guessing issues of trust and competition, together with a mix of battles, prophecies and aliens should make them appeal to both me and my (now grownup) son. Did you have any particular readers or types of reader in mind as you wrote?

Truthfully, I try to write what I like to read. First of all, I like stories to move fast and not be overly burdened by details (sometimes I don’t provide enough detail so I’m working on finding that happy medium). I like battles and action as long as they’re not overstated. Secondly, I’m attracted to characters that are flawed, and are forced to struggle with the right and wrong of things. Thirdly, I detest racism and presumptive ideas about the worth of another race, gender, etc. Those themes were present in my trilogy. I wanted my main female characters to be strong and opinionated and respected and my major male characters to abhor the violence of war and the seemingly insatiable greed that empire builders have. 

As a writer, my biggest struggle is with providing enough meat to bring those themes alive. It’s hard to find the correct level of complexity and detail. Without it, the story goes too fast, is over-simplified and readers find themselves wanting more.  But folks who like a faster read, and rather use their imagination instead of having the author tell them everything, seemed satisfied.

It sounds like a good balance. Here's one final question that I'd really like to know your take on: How do you think symbols, prophecies and myths all tie together?

Strongly! Prophecies lead to the creation of symbols that serve as a shorthand for all the prophetic details. Details might be lost or forgotten, but symbols serve as reminders or catalysts for future generations. As time passes, details can become skewed, or hazy, and story tellers who pass on lore from one from one generation to the next, can inadvertently and sometimes deliberately create myths to help people remember and not lose the complete memory of something over time. Prophecies are ‘fun’, because they are open to interpretation which can lead to taking sides, or cause the reader to go down the wrong avenue of thought. I think that’s a good thing. One of the hardest things I face as a writer is to not make plot outcomes obvious. Hopefully, some folks were surprised by the events that eventually unfolded.

Thank you so much for letting me interview you. I've really enjoyed "virtually" meeting you and I'm really looking forward to reading your books. Good luck with the blog tour!

The Eyes of Sandala http://www.amazon.com/Eyes-Sandala-Cathy-Benedetto/dp/1613181159
Book Synopsis:
Like the Navi on Pandora, the exotic warrior race called Shala dominates the continent of Sandala. Over seven feet tall and as strong as three men, the dark-skinned Shala share a life-long bond with wild felines. The fierce fighters are blessed with telepathic powers, and have eyes that radiate a kaleidoscope of colors.
The Shala live apart from the humans of Sandala, dwelling inside the crater of an extinct volcano. But when invaders appear, they must obey the prophecy and rise to defend the land. It will take all the cunning and guile of their young leader, Tahjeen Tier, to contend with assassination and betrayal, and a massive army poised to attack.

Book Synopsis:
Vigilance reader! There are more battles, more strategies, more Shala and Fels and most of all more mysteries! Many questions about the Shala from The Eyes of Sandala have been answered and many new ones arise. The most pressing question being who are the Dark Shala and what is their place in the war? But the mysteries do not end there, as new characters bring new questions and new prophecies as well. The back and forth battles cause each side to make adjustments in strategy which lead to more suspense and a strong desire to find how the future will unfold.

Book Synopsis:
In the exciting conclusion to the Shala Trilogy, Latiga is under siege, travel mirrors are lost, lovers have been torn apart by the ravages of war, and the King of the Fels is dying. These are the challenges that Tahjeen Tier, leader of the Shala, contends with as he confronts the King of the Fels to find out why he must sacrifice his own people to save the Sandalese. Is there something special about these particular humans? While Tahjeen demands answers, the Surmese invaders are poised to launch their own final two battles — one in the heartland’s frontier, home of the fels, and the other at Latiga, the capital of Palaton. As humans and Shala gather for the final battle, Tahjeen learns the truth about his unborn son.

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