Saturday, May 16, 2020

Ep 9. Christina Hoag & The Feast of the Goat


Life-Changing Book 

by Mario Vargas Llosa

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Aerio Ingram Spark



Christina Hoag is the author of two novels Girl on the Brink, which was named to Suspense Magazine’s Best YA list, and Skin of Tattoos, finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for suspense, and co-author of the nonfiction book Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence (Turner, 2014). A former journalist for the Miami Herald and Associated Press, she reported from Latin America for Time, Business Week, Financial Times, and other media.

Aerio Ingram Spark
Shop your local indie bookstore

Shop your local indie bookstore
Aerio Ingram Spark




The Tudors
The Borgias
The Crown
Peaky Blinders
Out of Africa


Warning: The book itself does have some graphic depictions of torture and sexual assault, but we tread pretty lightly over those.

Denise: This book was dark, which was okay. It was definitely different than the other books from people I've interviewed so far. But that's good. Change of pace. It was good for me to also break out of my comfort zone. I've been reading a lot of comfort reads lately, so this took me to a new place I haven't been in a while. I always think that's good and that's kind of why I do the podcast is so that I can read stuff I might not normally have read on my own. I had not heard of this book. I think I had heard of Mario Vargas Llosa.

Christina:  Llosa.

Denise: And, I thought I had heard of him, but I haven't actually read anything by him, so, so that's all good.

Christina: That's what I figured. Yeah. I figured probably no one was going to propose this book or even this author or a Latin American author, and that's why I sort of switched. I thought, huh? You know, I had Steinback at the beginning and I was like, Oh, it's so high school, you know? And I was just thought, let me go with something a little bit different.

But then it also impacted me, you know?

Denise:  Yeah, absolutely.

I know that there's multiple books that can impact a person in a lifetime. I think some of the trends in the other books were coming of age stories. I don't think this is a coming of age story, but no less impactful.

Christina: Yeah.

Denise:  So how did you find this book?

Christina:  Well, I'm sort of a Latin Americanist. I was a foreign correspondent and I covered Latin America for about 10 years. I lived in Guatemala and in Caracas, Venezuela, and I traveled all over Latin America covering stories for different outlets like, Time Magazine, Business Week, Financial Times, New York Times, Houston Chronicle and Miami Herald and a bunch of other smaller business publications. I covered the shipping industry, the advertising industry, anything that would basically pay me. I would write.  So I was well acquainted with Latin American authors and read quite a few of them.

And this, I think of all the books, of Latin America, you know, there aren't a huge number of Latin American authors, but of all, this one's the one have impacted me the most, The Feast of the Goat.

Denise:  I liked reading a little bit more about it and how the title has a lot of different meanings, and then the intro, there's a epigraph of the Dominican merengue the people celebrate and go all the way for the Feast of the Goat, the 30th of May.  That was interesting.  What was your life like right before you found this particular book?

Christina:  When I read this book, I think I read it actually in Spanish first when it first came out. I guess that was the late nineties or maybe around 2000 I can't remember what exact a year it was, and I had read other stuff by Mario Vargas Llosa. He's actually from Peru, and he was a presidential candidate in Peru, and I think he's won the Nobel prize. He's very awarded. So, I'd read other things.

I picked this up and what's interesting that he's a Peruvian author, but he wrote about the Dominican Republic, and I didn't really know anything about the Dominican. I had been to the Dominican Republic twice, but I didn't know a ton about the history and whatnot. I just sort of pick this up, book up and read it, and I was just like, wow.

So at the time, I was a young mother living in Caracas and working as a journalist.  It tells the story, dramatizes the assassination of the dictator, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic for about 30 years with a very iron fist and his final demise.

It just really impacted me cause I was covering a lot of Latin America at the time and could see how different styles of government, there's a lot of autocrats that get into government. They're very sort of very strong leaders that just say, this is the way it is, and that's it. The president is sort of the big cheese, the legislature doesn't do a whole lot, it's whatever the president wants. So this really impacted me and just how he impacted the life of every single Dominican. His control and power over the country was so absolute.  It came at a time when I was into that, cause I was also covering the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, who was a leftist, a president, very socialist. And he was sort of the same style, not nearly as bad as Trujillo, and so these kinds of presidents had cropped up a lot in Latin American history.

So to me it was just like a story of power run amuck, how power corrupts. And it's just a prime example of that. So I was just blown away by this, and I just thought the way that the story was presented was just really well done. And I was like, Oh, I want to write something like that myself, that just inspired me to write.

Denise:  He's interesting in his style that he took because he took a very personal level story for Urania and also explored the whole regime in several different ways with several different perspectives. And one of the things I kept noticing was in Urania's chapters, it's not just third person, it's suddenly second person. Somebody is talking to her. Well, I don't even know if it's second person because it's not talking to us, but someone's talking to her, so I don't know if it's her talking to herself or the narrator just talking to her. Do you have an idea about who's talking to her?

Christina: He sort of, with the chapters, with her, it's told through her. She's a fictional character. And so in the book, she's at the age of 14. Her father is a politician, a member of Trujillo's cabinet and falls out of favor. And Trujillo has this insatiable appetite for young girls, and basically he would go around the Island, just point his finger and that whoever the father or the husband or whoever had to give, the woman had to sleep with him.

So the father sort of offers up Urania as the peace offering, his virginal daughter who was 14 or 15 at the time to Trujillo, as an appeasement to try and get back in his good graces. That was a fictional character, but he chose this because obviously this was just a horrific aspect of the regime.

And so he expertly does this weaving in the past and the present. So you're almost in the past without even a double space, it just went straight in and all of a sudden you were back in the past. You had to really pay attention to where you were in the story, and just say, Oh, okay, now we're back, in 1962 or something.

Yeah, it was very, very finely done, but it generally seemed to work, but you did have to pay a lot of attention to the story, the movement, and sometimes you didn't get to a couple scenes, oh, okay, now we're in the past, or now we're in the present.

Denise:  So when you were saying you wanted to write a story like that, are you talking about an epic like where it's multiple perspective, or the examination of power? What about the story specifically?

Christina:  Yeah, I think the examination of power. I was covering the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and I just. Oh, it'd be great. And then in 2002, there was a coup attempt against him, and it failed, ultimately failed. But it was a pretty rocky time. Three days there was no government, I mean, it was just crazy. And I just wanted to write something like that. And that was actually the first novel that I attempted, but it didn't really work. You know, as many first novels, don't work. And that's still the novel that I have in the proverbial drawer is that novel that I sort of said, Oh, I want to write a Feast of the Goat, a sort of fictionalization of a real political happening. So some point I want to resurrect that some, some stage, I don't know. But you know, maybe it's only a Vargas Llosa can carry that off. I don't know.

Denise: Definitely not. But it did sound a little ambitious for a first book.


I actually wrote quite a lot of it, and it just sounded like a reporter writing a book. But that's sort of inspired me to write my first novel, I guess, this book. So I sort of took that as a model. And it's got these multi perspectives. So you've got the fictional Urania, then you've got the true dictator himself, Trujillo, and you're in his mind and in his head, and then you've got, the guys, I think there were six of them sitting in a car or two cars along a highway waiting to kill him. They were going to carry out the assassination, and their stories.

So it kind of weaves between these, these three parties as we go through. And, we get a good sense of how the regime was and real figures, those were real people.

Denise:  It was very interesting to jump into each person's head, see their experience with the regime, how it was okay at first for some of them, and became not okay. It was also interesting just to see the different ways that they felt wronged by Trujillo. I think the most interesting perspective for me was the President Balaguer.

Christina: Balaguer. Yes. And he is a real-life guy. And then he went on to, take over and he was president for, again, another 30 years or 35 years or something, but elected. But yeah, he's a very interesting character and everybody thought he was weird. Who is this little man? And he didn't drink, he didn't womanize. Never lost his temper or composure. Just fascinating. And yeah, you're right he really was a fascinating character.

Denise:  I definitely, after reading the book, I was like I want to know more about this guy. I also wanted to know more about the U S perspective of this whole regime cause I haven't looked into that that much. Actually, I knew a little bit about Trujillo just because I had read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Junot Diaz talks a little bit about that. I almost wished briefly for footnotes, like he has in his book, so I can understand some of the historical references, although I don't think you needed them on this story, but I just kind of was curious. But I also was like, okay, but you're going to just deviate and you're never going to get back to the core story if you start chasing all these rabbits cause you want to know more about it.

So just get through this story, then you can go back and look at the most interesting things. So there's so much stuff and I think in a way that almost only a based on true life story could be with a lot of documentation. Like there's so much that he just drops and doesn't actually pursue. But you know that a lot of it's based on the facts,

Christina: Right, on history. Yeah. There's so much in there. And as I was reading, I'm like, Oh, you know, she probably doesn't know that much about the Dominican Republic., maybe this'll lose her. But as you say, you can skip over it and you still are in the story.

But yes, there are a lot of historical references. The stuff with Haiti, for example, and the massacre, the Dominicans and the Haitians don't get along. They share a border on their Island. And there was a huge massacre, I forget what year it was. So that's mentioned in there massacre of Haitians by the Dominicans, and different other things.

But, but it's funny when I, I've been to the Dominican twice and, and people still, when you drive along that highway with a taxi driver, they still, "Over here. That's where Trujillo was shot." They still point that out. At least they did when I went there.

It's a while ago now. A good 15-20 years ago. But it still lives very much in the Dominican mind. So that's why like writers like Junot Diaz still refer to it because I think it's still very much present. Cause he was in recent history, in the 1960s.

Denise: And the scars that he left behind, this is going to impact a few generations really, so you can see how that might be the case. I studied a lot of Spanish in high school and college, but not so much the history of any of the Spanish speaking countries. But I did get some, but this is not something that I studied, like the only real reason I heard about it, like I said, was that book. So, so I knew a little bit.

You would think, as far as dictators go, you would hear more about him too. We seem to rely on just the standard Hitler, Stalin. You know, you don't always hear about the others.

Christina: Well these are little tiny countries, nobody pays too much attention to them. They've got a bunch of sugar and banana trees. But, yeah, there are a lot of pretty interesting dictators, Tito in Yugoslavia is another one, Ceaușescu in Romania. I mean, there's a lot of them in history and they're all really interesting.

Denise:  So that's why I was thinking. Yeah, I think people have fascination with dictators for sure.

Christina:  It's sort of a weird type of personality, I guess. A certain charisma. You have to have this ability to get people to follow you, in some way.

Denise: Yeah. And then you wonder, why didn't anybody say stop or no, or-

Christina:  Right. I know. Or stand up to him. And then they start with the fear. Anyone who opposed him as it was referenced in the book a couple of times , they just bundle them in a car, drive them out to a cliff and throw them off where the sharks were waiting in the sea below. They'd just disappear. So it was a rule by torture and fear kind of a thing.

Denise: And it starts small, which is why it happens. It starts with little decisions that you make and suddenly you're in so deep, there is no going back. So besides making you want to really write a book like this or about power, what other ideas or new perspectives did it give you?

Christina:  Just again, how human nature and just how power really corrupts people. and how people, if you don't stand up to them, just get away with it and it just builds. And Trujillo, I mean, it lists there one point in the book all the companies he basically controlled, the whole Dominican economy with all these companies. And then he would, you know, build the followings, cause he would put all these people in charge of these companies. And so everybody had a stake in seeing him continue. And, he controlled like everything in the economy. So that was pretty, pretty interesting. That really was an eye opener. And then these personal predilections of going after young girls or sleeping with other men's wives and, sort of added this little really weird element to it, like the character study. So again, it just struck me as how lucky we are to live in a democracy where this hopefully won't happen.  Power just runs amuck, gets out of control.

Denise:  Yeah. And being on such a small island, even with another country next to you, but who's basically most people's enemy in a lot of ways, there weren't a lot of escapes I imagine either. It wouldn't have been easy to get out of there if they wanted to, if they had the funds or means to do so as well. I'm sure that all the transportation was under his control on top of everything else. Military, businesses, farms, you just couldn't exist without his blessing.

Christina: Yeah. I mean he just controlled everything, and at one point when Urania after she has the incident with Trujillo she gets whisked off to the United States. The nuns ask somebody, I think it was Balaguer actually, for permission for her to leave the country. Trujillo finds out and he's like, what he shouldn't have let her go? Or something like that. So, I mean, even to leave the country to go study at a school, a teenager, they had to get his permission and government permission to leave. I mean to us, it's just mind-boggling, how that could happen. How so much control could be concentrated in one man. It just struck me as a political lesson of control and power. And, democracy may be messy at some point, but there are checks and balances. There were no checks and balances on this dictator. He was completely, out of control, wild.  It's just like kind of a lesson of looking at some horrendous piece of history that, as you say, isn't well known.

Denise:  Have there been times in your life where you've gone back and reread the book or thought long and hard about it? Like something came up and you're like, Oh, this feels like something happening now.

Christina:  Not really. The other thing that really struck me was the, the courage in both the six guys who ended up assassinating, they formed this plot to assassinate him, and also in the book it references the Mirabal sisters. Julia Alvarez, who's another, a Dominican American writer. She wrote a book called In the Time of Butterflies that's a story fictionalization of these three sisters who were against the regime.

And just the courage of them to stand up and do the right, to get the Goat, as they called him the goat and, and how the, you know, incredible sacrifice obviously. Cause there was a huge witch hunt at the end of the book to find them and they were tortured and just, that was the other thing. I mean, the torture methods were just like, Oh my God, you know? It's pretty dark.

Denise:  I had to slightly skim over. I'm like, skip a couple sentences. Ok skip a couple more.

Christina:  It's pretty rough. People sit around thinking about how to intentionally inflict cruelty on someone, what else can we do to this guy as punishment or to make them talk and that kind of thing. So that was another thing that I thought, the cruelty of human nature, it just that to me it was a sort of a lesson.

Denise:  Part of me definitely appreciates the unflinching realistic look at it, because I think it's also a warning and a reminder like, Hey, these kinds of things can happen if we let them.

I do appreciate that to a certain extent, but part of me is like, but I know this. And then it's like, no. Do you really know? I don't think you do. That's kind of what he's telling me.

Christina: Right. And it's just, yeah, it's just sort of, we live in a time where you can't let one person have too much power, kind of a thing.

And so you always, it's just sort of a lesson. 

But it's written in a very realistic, very, like, you're right, sort of there way. And the detail is just incredible too.

Denise:  So were there any characters that you identified with?

Christina:  Mostly I would say Urania and in the book, she never got over her father sort of giving her to Trujillo and she never talked to him again. And, she comes back to the Island because he's dying and he has had a stroke, so he can't talk. So he's got to sit there and kind of, she's talking at him and, and I just thought, wow.

You know, it's just how things can happen in our childhood and adolescence that we never really recover from, and I just thought, wow, you've gotta be able to move on. Cause obviously this had impact. She became a very well-respected, I don't know, I forget what she did. Lawyer a professor.

It was a lawyer, was it? Yeah. But she never married she never had children or anything like that. And I just thought, if she had dealt with it more, she could've had a more, a happier life. So I just thought, wow, it's just a kind of a lesson in, you have to deal with stuff, not just let it fester.

Denise:  Yeah. That's true.

Christina:  Ghosts of childhood or adolescence and stuff. And so to move on, cause it seemed like she never moved on. She was just stuck. And then she came back and everybody wondered, why did you never come back? Why don't you want to talk to your father. And then she starts telling the story to her aunt and cousin.

At the beginning, we don't really know what happened to her. We were aware something happened to her. And as the story progresses, finally, towards the end, like two thirds of the way in, we discover what happened.

You know, the whole incident with Trujillo. And I thought that was really well done too, this sort of dropping little hints through her story and then we find out, okay, that's why she never, married. Why she hates her father with a vengeance. I thought that was well done, but yeah.

So I just identify with that and I just thought, we've all had to deal with stuff from childhood in order to move on. But I think also in previous generations, people didn't do that as much. They just sort of, you know, sucked it up and carried on.

Denise: Yeah, so there's a part of her that moves on and became this other person and boxed up all the stuff in the past, but then at the same time  that box is always sitting there present because she didn't let herself have any relationships with anybody really, or anything intimate.

And even her family, she almost doesn't want anything to even do with them because it's all related to her home, her home life, the Island. All of that is, is tainted because of that memory and everything that happened there. So I, I felt like on the one hand, I appreciated that the author did not make it, Oh, it's okay. It's fine. That whole episode was fine. She was fine, and just gloss over it. Those things don't usually let us be fine. We have to work through them like you said, and so I appreciate that, but I did want a little more hope at the end. He only gave us a very small glimmer I felt like, of where she might write back to her niece if she writes her. I was like. Okay. Kind of wanted a little bit more than that, but that's just me as a person and as a reader.

Christina: It would've been nice that she sort of felt like a little more resolution or a little more, she was through it after going back and retelling the story and reliving it . Yeah, you're right. I mean, it would've been nicer, more satisfying to the reader to have a little more hope or something good came out of the whole thing.

Denise: She didn't have to have full closure. That's tough to get. But I just wanted a little, maybe it was more hope for not just her, because there wasn't a whole lot of hope for... Well, there were two assassins that survived and weren't really brutalized so much, but you don't really know what happens to them. You assume that they get to live okay. A nd the president pretty much gets away with his part, whatever that might've been. And I'm all, he has to work for it really hard and you just see him manipulating and trying to weed out the presences that are going to make it hard for the country and also for him to rule the country basically. So now when you tell me he was president for another 30 years, I'm like, Oh, wow.

Christina:  Yeah. Right. And he was sort of the antithesis of Trujillo, you know what I mean?

Again, he was very straight-laced. He didn't drink or womanize. He never married, very Catholic, devout, so I guess, you know, they went from one to the other, but again, he just stayed in power until he was like, I don't know well, into his eighties. I think he went blind and he was still in power. And then finally when he stepped down, they could move their economy further on and stuff.

Denise:  You said you'd been to the Dominican Republic. How'd you feel about the setting? Did it feel like when you were there, did it feel like the same place in the book?

Christina:  Yeah, it did. I mean, he doesn't go too much into description say, but yes, it did. The tropical setting, the heat, the highway where the assassins are waiting goes along the border of the sea along the Island and just of course, the immense poverty.  People are just living in desperate poverty Yeah, it was pretty realistic. The author must've spent a good deal of time there too, to research.

Denise: This is kind of a strange question. Would you be friends with anyone in the book?

Christina:  You know who I kind of liked her was the aunt who was a secondary character, but she seemed like a really nice woman and the cousin, and they meant well to Urania. Urania herself doesn't seem that nice. You know? 

Denise:  Very closed off.

Christina:  Yeah. And incapable of forgiveness or whatever. She just didn't seem very giving. And then some of the assassins, they, they seemed okay, you know, pretty nice men in other circumstances if they hadn't been harmed by Trujillo. But I liked the aunt, you know, she seemed like she meant well.

Denise:  I liked her but part of me was like, stop excusing people's behavior.

Christina:  Yeah. She did do that. Yeah. She was trying to find some kind of justification and excuse for, for,

Denise: Her brother. Yeah. Part of her was trying to give her brother the benefit of the doubt, especially since the brother couldn't say his side of things and he had never told his sister anything about it. So she, and they had no idea.

And then he never really got to talk to his daughter. She didn't read anything, any letters he sent. And when she did see him face to face, of course he was, it was after the stroke and he couldn't really talk to her. She wasn't even sure he was listening. They all said, Oh no, he hears you, we know. And I thought, okay, that's interesting.

In a way, she got to say her thing, but we don't really know what he did to help. He made a really bad decision, but did he also try to help her out of it? I dunno. Like it's really unclear if he helped pull strings to get her to the U.S. I mean, he must've agreed with the nuns in order for the nuns to have been able to send her.

And then what was the president's part in that? Did he lose that note to Trujillo or did somebody else lose that note to Trujillo about her leaving? You know, like it felt very much like it was a concerted effort by multiple people to help her get out of there. So. I just keep wondering, but I also don't want to just let her father off the hook if he did, you know, like I'm like, okay, what really happened? But you never really know. And then just like in real life, you might never know.

Christina:  Right. And the other thing, I mean, why didn't he just get his daughter and both of them leave?

Denise: Yeah.

Christina: I mean, he had means. He seemed to obviously have means, I don't know. He was running out of money or something, but it seems like he had some friends or he could've gotten out of the country somehow.

Denise:  I don't know about that. I mean, I think it might've drawn more attention to it and to his daughter. So maybe he was sacrificing himself cause he knew he couldn't, or maybe he was just like, no, I'm gonna to fix this. This is going to be fine. It'll just take a little more effort.

Christina:  Yeah. He seems sort of resigned to this. He was going to have to do it because, el Jefe wanted it or something, but yeah, it's not well explained. I would have liked that.

That would've been a really good thing to know what, how the father felt and why he did that exactly. And did he consider other options or-

Denise: And since Urania and Agustin Cabral were both not real people, we could have found out, but I think that the author's really kind of like, ah, there's too much. I want to make it more unclear, or I'm not sure. But it was definitely very interesting to see all the motivations. Or the different reasons or ways people try to protect themselves, including him and his daughter. There were many parts where I did feel like he did care about his daughter, so I don't know.

Christina:  Yeah. He seemed very sort of like ineffectual as a father, and let me see, the mother had died. But, it's an interesting choice to make him have a stroke so we couldn't speak or defend himself. And it would have been interesting if he had been able to speak or even write messages or whatever to see what he would have said. So we, he, he kind of is let off the hook a little bit cause we don't know.

Denise:  Well, I think that's a storytelling device. Cause how else was Mario going to be able to put her there to tell her story. You know? And in a lot of ways, I definitely think that was the reason why it was straight up storytelling device. To craft the story he didn't want to give away too much either. So, he's not going to let him respond cause then that tells us the answers.

Christina:  Right. I'll have to, I'll have to remember that. You know, have someone have a stroke and they can't speak back, but yeah, exactly. Just sort of X them out, make them a sort of a presence, a non-presence.

But it would've been the really interesting thing to have heard his side of the story or if the aunt had known and presented his side of the story a little more or something, you know? Yeah.

Denise:  Like it was going to be the lesser evil to let you get sexually assaulted by Trujillo.

You would have, sure. You would have had to deal with that. You would have been alive. They both would have been alive. I mean, I think somebody could try and make that case .

Christina:Right, exactly. So that would've been an interesting, added an interesting twist to have that. But yeah, as you said, that there was so much else going on and so many other characters speaking maybe that was it. But that was kind of the framework again, for the whole story was framed around this Urania coming back, coming home and confronting this. And so then we go into the whole thing.

Denise:  So he couldn't kill him off. He had to bring her back home in some way and what else would have pulled her back home? That would have been the hard part to do to get her to talk to her, her family. So I think that's part of it, is he had to be alive because, Oh, I guess it could have been his funeral, but why would she have gone. No she wouldn't have gone to his funeral. 

I was just going to say if even if he had been dead, but he was sort of half, half dead, you know, he's half alive and he's in this vegetative state, so she could still talk to him and vent her anger, but he couldn't defend himself kind of thing.

Christina:  Although he seemed to, as you know, some points, his eyes widen and he seemed to understand what she was saying or something like that. And if he'd been alive, maybe she wouldn't have had the guts to say anything, you know, she never said anything to him about this.

Denise:  Did you have a favorite part of the book? It's a dark book. It's kind of hard to-

Christina:  I know it's such a dark book. When they go on the run and after the assassination and they're hiding, and again, it amazed me too, that so many people did give them shelter. A couple of them were hidden by, this one couple hid one of them for quite some time. And again, the courage that they showed to hide someone. So that was kind of exciting because you knew that some of them were going to get caught in some not. I didn't know which ones. What else? I, you know, the other interesting characters are Trujillo's sons who just seem like, Oh, just the most awful people. Really horrible people. Even Trujillo didn't like them. He would be like, oh those good for nothings and, but they were just terrible. As I said, there's not a lot of likable people out of all the cast of characters, but they were just terrible. And apparently Radhames and Ramfis or something. These two sons that were just Playboys, I mean, they just looted the treasury. They would say, I need, $15,000 , it would just come out of the government, the treasury, the main central bank.

Denise:  Oh, and the parts where they're like, Oh, they slept with this actress and this actress. I was like, wait, really? He gave Zsa Zsa Gabor some kind of expensive gift. Oh my God.

Christina:  I know. I know. It's just amazing. And yeah they got around. I mean, they were just the quintessential Playboys,

Denise:  But they weren't just, cause man, they were torturers too. And they seemed to really enjoy it.

Christina: Yeah. They were just, again, just completely corrupted by the way they were brought up.  They don't go into the mother, the wife that much, Trujillo's actual wife. They don't, she's just a sort of this bystander there.

Denise:  There's no love lost there.

Christina:  Yeah.

Denise:  She just wants all the money. She doesn't even tell her kids about it. I wouldn't either if I, my kids turned out that way.

Christina: Hmm. Yeah. Just horrible.  I think when the assassination finally happens and then you see some goodness sort of come out with other people, hiding them and, giving them shelter, the assassins. I think that was some like redemptive qualities of human nature finally come out cause it's been pretty dark the whole way through.

Denise:  I liked that Urania tells her story and doesn't let her aunt tell her to stop or let her aunt stop her. Well, doesn't let her aunt twist it from the way that she wants to say it.

I also really just enjoyed that whole really big chapter, just from the president's point of view, because he just fascinated me. I'm like, okay, I don't know what it is about manipulation or getting people to do your bidding. And he didn't do it in a cruel way that I could see, you know, just calculated and calm.

And I was like, I want to see this on the big screen. I want to see an actor do this so I can like picture it a little bit more. I know this was made into movie. Did you see the movie?

Christina:  No. No, I didn't.

Denise: Yeah, I guess, I want to say Isabella Rossellini was in it.

Christina:  No, I wasn't even aware of a movie, actually. I'll have to look that up. Yeah, it would be interesting to see that.

Denise:  Well, she's described as very, very pretty, which is why she got the attention of Manuel and Trujillo.

So, aside from what I had said about the ending, needing a little more hope, how did you feel about the ending?

Christina:  I mean I kind of wanted to know a little bit more like a, like an epilogue, like what happened. Like they have at the end of the movie or something cause these were real people, I wanted to know a little bit more what happened.

Also, how Balaguer I know got into power, but obviously they must've been going back and forth. Johnny Abbes the head of the secret service and this really dark character. What happened to some of these people? So I would have liked more of a wrap up at the end, just like a little synopsis of what happened after, and what happened to some of these people.

Denise:  So in my copy of the ebook, right after the last few words, it says Morgana Vargas Llosa, which is Mario's daughter's name. Why? Do you know why? I'm so curious about this. It's not, it doesn't say dedication doesn't say anything like that. It just has her name right after the, after the chapter.

Christina:  That is odd. I don't know what that means then. Yeah, it wasn't in the copy I had, so I don't know what that is.

Denise:  It could just be a formatting issue, I suppose, since it's an ebook.

Christina: Yeah. A lot of eBooks have different little glitches in them.

Denise:  So that's probably what it is. Maybe it was a dedication, just got moved to the wrong place. I don't know. It makes sense that he would write a book for his daughter, I guess. I don't know why he would dedicate this one.

Christina:  This particular book. Seems a bit of an odd dedication.

Denise:  Yeah. Hopefully, there's a message just to her that she's like, it's cool. One of the other things I thought was really interesting. There were a couple of moments where they kept talking about Peron and how that's what brought him down and the church and that don't let the church bring you down. And he kept talking about, what should I do with these bishops and should I kill them, should I not kill them? What should I do? And there's a lot of political stuff with that because the U.S. Was like, don't touch them. One of them was an American, and I think the other was a Spaniard. And they will bring the U.S. military to your door if you do that, but then it was like, well, do we send them back? Do we imprison them? But you know, like, what do we do? And I just kept thinking about that. Is that, is that what brought down Peron? I don't remember if I actually ever heard that. All I can think of is Eva Peron. She's bigger in my life than he is. The musical Evita.

Christina:  Right. Don't Cry for Me, Argentina and all that. Yeah, yeah, exactly. They, yeah, they were, I mean, he was another example of these larger than life, kind of a leader in Latin America was Juan Peron. Yeah. And, but it also underscores the Catholic church had a very checkered career in Latin American.

You know, at some points they were supporting the regime, these totalitarian regimes. Then in the 60s, they started to, with the liberation theology, some of them were involved in sort of the start of Marxist guerrilla movements in Columbia in different other areas as well.

And again, because the church had such a sway over the people, so that was the threat to his power and to leader's power. So, the church needed to be on their side, but sometimes they weren't, you know?

Denise:  The Church has a huge history, the Catholic church has a huge history of being in the power squabbles and exerting their power or not exerting their power and making sure that they have a say in who is in power when they want it.

So I definitely had a lot of curiosity about this. I think it's also because it's history, historicallly based, that there, these are real things that happened where I might not have some of the curiosity if it was just a completely fictional book. I'd be like, yeah, well that's happens in our history too.

So you said epilogue. Normally in fiction I would say, what's the epilogue and I think we can still do that because Urania was not a real person. What would you say is going to happen to her in the next 10 years or so after this book and does she, she get better at like relationship?

Christina:  I don't know. I, you know, cause he's, she's pretty old. She's in her forties when she's comes back or fifties maybe, I forget.

Denise: No, I think she was like 46.

Christina:  I would say she stays unmarried and then just, continues on with her career and, and has this brilliant career working in New York or whatever. Yeah, that's what I would say. I don't see her as a character getting married or as a family, as a mother, motherly type.

Denise:  Yeah. I wonder if, well, I think she's still going to live in New York, but maybe she comes back and she becomes a doting aunt or grand aunt to her niece's family or something like that.

Like I see her being more involved with them, especially the women in her family, and maybe maybe she can open up to them a little bit even more. I agree though. I don't necessarily see her having a romantic relationship with anybody. I don't, not even just to get married, but even just at, you know what a, we'll be together, but not all the way.

Christina:  So, yeah. I just wondered if she would go back more, you know, if he felt like she had reestablished the connection. Cause I thought that was kind of sad too, that she just left her Homeland and never gone back in 40 years or whatever. It was, 34 years, 30 years I guess. And so I always thought that was kind of, Sad to me.

Denise:  Yeah. But she wanted that connection cause she kept reading all the books and had that whole library and stuff. That's like what she did as a hobby.

Christina: I could see her now going back more often.  Being now that she's with the aunt and niece and that kind of thing.

Denise:  Yeah. She really seems to connect with the niece, especially since the niece had a little bit of, she wasn't involved at all. She wasn't even born yet, so she was a complete innocent.

Christina:Right, exactly. She couldn't hold anything against her.

Denise: Yeah. Not that her cousin knew or did anything either, but even her aunt didn't, she was just oblivious, blind eye. I kind of think maybe.

So do you know very much about Mario Vargas Llosa?

Christina: He's one of these super intellectuals of Latin America, Peruvian. He ran for president, I don't know, a number of years ago, and he lost. A number of writers in Latin America tend to be very big political figures as well.

They make a lot of political statements and whether it's Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Columbia and some Mexican writers, Carlos Fuentes.  Cause there's not too many of them, they tend to become very venerated intellectuals whereas writers here don't really get too politically involved, and they do, they become a little more politicized.

So he's been very outspoken on political things and has written political columns and that kind of thing. so that's, that's, yeah. I don't know much more about him. I don't know where he lives. I wonder if he still lives in Peru or. He lives in New York, or where.

Denise:  I saw his daughter when I was looking up Morgana, she was born in Spain. So he must've done some traveling.

Christina: When you get to that point and if you're politically outspoken, you get enemies and they usually end up moving somewhere, Europe or the United States

Denise:  A little safer.

Christina:  Right, right. Yeah.

Denise: Okay, that makes sense.

So who would you recommend this book to?

Christina: I would say anyone who's interested in history, especially, contemporary history, anybody who's interested in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Americas in general, and just, anybody who's interested in literary books

But I think mainly history fans, people who like historical fiction.  I just love historical dramas on TV. So I guess it makes sense that I would love this book. Yeah. I think, you know, historical fiction fans where if you have any kind of interest in Latin America, Caribbean history, that kind of thing.

Denise:  What's your favorite historical drama. Or what's one you would recommend?

Christina: Hmm. Wow. I love The Tudors and The Borgias. Vikings is great too. I've been watching every season of that. I think that's really a well done show. The Crown on Netflix has been great. I've been following that.

Outlander's fine.  It's a little bit, a little lighter of fare . I liked the stuff in Scotland better than now it's moved to North Carolina, Claire and Jaime in North Carolina. So I liked the Scottish stuff better. Peaky Blinders is sort of a crime, historical crime drama in Northern England in the 1920s or 19-teens. I guess that's kind of a fun .

Denise:  I have only watched out of all those Outlander, but I've been meaning to watch The Crown, and, not so much The Tudors. Cillian Murphy, who's in Peaky Blinders. I haven't watched yet and I'm a fan of his and I kept going, Oh, I should probably try to find that and check it out. Cause especially since it sounds like he's complicated, dangerous kind of character and that intrigues me, so.

Christina:  Yeah, he's really good. He's the lead guy. The first season I think is the best season. I think it's on Netflix. So, yeah, I love the British, you know, sort of historical dramas and things like Out of Africa

Denise:  What are you reading right now?

Christina:  Right now I'm reading My Dark Vanessa, and it's a new book and another dark book... I've just started, it's just been published. Just came out a couple months ago, and it's about a woman who had an affair with her teacher when she was in high school. Anyway, it's got a lot of buzz about it.

And I just finished American Dirt, which has been very controversial. I wanted to read it because it was set in Mexico, cause I'm interested in Latin America. And that's the story of a mother who has to flee the drug cartel from Mexico and trying to get into the United States.

Denise:  Do you listen to podcasts at all?

Christina:  Yeah, I listen to a number of different podcasts, whether it's TED Talks or a meditation, sometimes Oprah has interviews on, or sometimes writing podcasts.  True crime podcasts have been good.

Denise:  Do you have any recommendations for us?

Christina:  What was it called? The Vanishing? It was a story of a woman, and it's, it's told from the, the daughter of a serial killer who tries to track down her father, who had moved around the country under assumed names, and he was actually a serial killer. And it's, so it's a daughter trying to come to terms with, her father, what's it called...

Denise:  interesting!

Christina: Yeah. It was pretty interesting. It was, it was a little different of an angle than the usual.

Denise:  This is fictional or based on-

Christina: No, it's a true thing. This one's called, The Clearing. Yeah. And it's about April Balascio, daughter of American serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards. That was really good cause I liked the different angle of it and cause of his daughter and how was it to have a serial killer as your father.

Denise:  I know!

Christina: He goes off and starts killing all these women all over the country.  That was one that, I stay up listening, you know?

Denise:  Yeah. That sounds fascinating.

So let's talk about you more. Tell us about your books.

Christina:  I have two novels, and I'm working on a third, which is more of a mystery. But my two novels, one's called Girl on the Brink, and that's about, it's a YA book, although adult women buy it and read it, and it's about a girl who gets involved with the wrong guy.  The girl in question is 17 and she meets this guy and he seems perfect, and they just had this mad summer romance, and then he gradually starts turning, very smothering. He's very jealous and possessive and controlling. It escalates to some physical violence and then she's got to break away from him. Finally, she breaks away from him and then he doesn't let her go so easily. So, it's kind of based on an abusive relationship that I was in, not as a teenager, but, later on in life.

So it's loosely based on that. But I wanted to write something in an entertaining way that would show teen girls as they're starting their dating lives what an abuser looks like. Cause then you can mistake the signs very easily. So, yeah, and that one's done pretty well. It was named best of YA by Suspense Magazine and got some pretty good reviews.

And then my other one is called Skin of Tattoos. That's also kind of a dark story. I covered a lot of gang issues in El Salvador and here in Los Angeles where I live. , And I wanted to tell the other side of sort of the gang guys,  when you talk to them in person, they're covered in tattoos and they look pretty menacing and real tough guys, but they're often just kind of lost,  they just need jobs. They just seem like regular people when you talk to them in person when you get to know what's under the skin of tattoos. And that book was a finalist in the suspense category for the Silver Falchion Awards at Killer Nashville a crime writing festival. So those are my two books, and I've written a bunch of short stories and essays and some poems and different things.

Denise:  And what are you working on right now?

Christina: It's a mystery and it's got a podcast in it, actually. There's a true crime podcast kind of woven into it. And then a girl coming to terms with things. I'm about two thirds of the way, or maybe halfway through the first draft, so I've got a while to go, but it's coming along. I feel pretty good about it.

Denise:  You seem pretty firmly in the mystery suspense area.  Was that also your first one that you trunked kind of a mystery? You were an exploring the power, but you didn't-

Christina: Yeah, that would be more of a suspense thriller, I guess. But I meant it more as a literary novel of what happened with the coup, leading up to this coup. So, one of these days I'll find a way to get it finished. I don't know. The great thing about fiction is it doesn't go out of date ?

Denise: That's true.

Christina:  And you can pick it up at any time. Yeah. 

Denise: Anything you're excited about besides finishing that third book?

Christina:  I was awarded a writers' residency on the Island of Jersey in the English channel. It's an English Island, but it's right off the coast of France. And I was set to go there, but the Coronavirus pandemic has kind of ruined that put a little monkey wrench into those plans.

So I'm hoping to do that later in the year. We'll see how this whole pandemic thing goes.  But that was cool. I haven't done a writer's residency, so I was kind of excited about that.

Denise:  Me neither. That does sound like a really good experience and it's interesting to think of how you would write when you're away from your norm and in a place dedicated to that.

So I hope you get to do it after all, and it's just a little delayed.

Christina:  Everything's kind of on hold, until we see how we get through this. this thing.

Denise: [ Yeah. It's a first for all of us.

Christina:  Whether it'll spawn a whole new generation, a whole new genre of books, coronavirus pandemic books or something.

Denise:  Yeah. Apparently pandemic movies are all the rage right now and I don't understand, and I just want to avoid it.  

Do you think you'll use anything that we're going through right now in a future book, or is it too soon to tell?

Christina: Yeah, too soon to tell. Probably not I, I dunno, I tend to be more in that mystery crime scene but you never know. Things kind of work themselves into plots or characters. Maybe somebody could be an epidemiologist, for example, studying viruses or something.

Denise: I could see that.

And if people wanted to find you online, how would they do that?

Christina:  You can go to my website, I'm also on Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn and all of the social media. Twitter. And the whole nine yards. You can sign up for my newsletter, which is very infrequent, on my website. Or like my author page on Facebook. Then send me a note there.

Denise:  Well, thank you for your time. Thanks for being on The Heart-Shaped Books Podcast.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, HSBP will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thank you for supporting the podcast!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ep 8 - Maegan Beaumont & The Hero and the Crown


Life-Changing Book

by Robin McKinley

The Hero and the Crown
by Robin McKinley

Shop your local indie bookstore
Aerio Ingram Spark


Maegan Beaumont is the author of the award-winning Sabrina Vaughn thriller series. Her debut novel, CARVED IN DARKNESS, was awarded the 2014 gold medal by Independent Publishers for outstanding thriller as well as being named a Forward, book of the year finalist and Debut novel of the year by Suspense Magazine. And under her penname Megyn Ward, she is a USA Today Best-Selling author of Smart, dirty, romance. When she isn't locked in her office, torturing her protagonists, she's busy chasing chickens (and kids), hanging laundry and burning dinner. Either way, she is almost always in the company of her seven dogs, her truest and most faithful companions and her almost as faithful husband, Joe. 

Megyn Ward - Facebook, Instagram, Website
Maegan Beaumont - Facebook, Instagram, Website

Carved in Darkness 
by Maegan Beaumont

Shop your local indie bookstore

Pushing Patrick 
by Megyn Ward

Shop your local indie bookstore
Aerio Ingram Spark




Article: Dragon-Slayer vs. Dragon-Sayer: Reimagining the Female Fantasy Heroine
Instagram: Maegan at the bar with Sunshine
The Hero's Journey
The Heroine's Journey


Denise: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Heart-Shaped Books Podcast where storytellers pour out their hearts about books that have changed their lives. I'm your host Denise Ganley. As with any Heart-Shaped Books episode, there might be some spoilers, but don't let that stop you from listening. This is episode 8 and my guest today is Maegan Beaumont. We'll be discussing The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.

But before we kick off, let me introduce you to Maegan. Maegan Beaumont is the author of the award-winning Sabrina Vaughn thriller series. Her debut novel, Carved in Darkness, was awarded the 2014 Gold Medal by Independent Publishers for Outstanding Thriller as well as being named a Forward Book of the Year finalist and Debut Novel of the Year by Suspense Magazine.
And under her pen name Megyn Ward, she is a USA Today Best-Selling author of smart, dirty, romance. When she isn't locked in her office torturing her protagonist, she's busy chasing chickens and kids, hanging laundry, and burning dinner. Either way, she is almost always in the company of her seven dogs, her truest and most faithful companions, and her almost as faithful husband Joe.
Thanks for joining me today, Maegan.

Maegan: [00:01:18] You're welcome.

Denise: [00:01:19] I appreciate you coming to talk to us about The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. It was released in 1984, but it was a Newberry winner in 1985.

Maegan: [00:01:29] Yes.

Denise: [00:01:31] Newbery Medal Award winner. I'm not that familiar with the original press name Green Willow books. I don't know what else they've published or if they've been absorbed into...

Maegan: [00:01:41] I think, I think they've been absorbed into, I want to say Random House.

Denise: [00:01:48] Puffin.

Maegan: [00:01:49] Is it Puffin?

Denise: [00:01:50] Puffin has it now.

Maegan: [00:01:51] But who just Puffin belong to?

Denise: [00:01:55] That's a good question. I don't know.

Maegan: [00:01:58] They belong to Penguin. And who does Penguin belong to? Random House.

Denise: [00:02:03] It all traces back to Random House.

Maegan: [00:02:10] Puffin belongs to Penguin. Penguin is an imprint of Random House.

Denise: [00:02:18] Good call, good call. Okay, let's talk a little bit about what your life was like before you discovered the book.

Maegan: [00:02:31] Before I discovered the book. I read it, I want to say, it was 85-86 ish. I was 10, 11 years old. My life was, my childhood would be probably best described as chaotic. My parents divorced when I was two. A lot of stepfathers, a lot of stepmothers, step-siblings. Life wasn't always great. So, at the time we were living with my grandmother. So technically we were homeless.  It was just, I would say probably the best way to categorize my life, my childhood, in general would just be chaotic. I was really struggling at that point to find my voice as a person. You know, when you live like that as a kid, you kind of get lost in the shuffle and you don't feel like you have a say in anything. As a kid, you usually don't feel like you have a say in anything but even more so when the adults in your life aren't even in control of the situation. You feel completely powerless and completely out of control. You just kind of feel swept away and kind of you're drowning in circumstances that are surrounding you. So that's kind of how I felt. I was just struggling to stay afloat. For the first time in my life when I read I read this book and I felt a connection to the main character because she was not so much the same situation, but she was also struggling to find her voice since she was struggling with feeling like she was an outsider and like she didn't belong. And watching her find her voice and coming into her own really, really spoke to me and it was really powerful for me.

Denise: [00:04:27] How did you find the book?

Maegan: [00:04:29] I lived in the library. I was always at the library. If it was my school library or the library that was within walking distance to my house. And when I say within walking distance, we're talking a couple miles and I was at the library every day. The librarians knew me. At the public library, I sat there and read until closing and then I walked home again.

At school, my librarian, she would let me sneak in at lunch time. She would let me, you know, sneak in before school and after school and so I want to say that I found it at the school library. I own the book. I've been trying to get my kids to read the book for years. I'm just read the book.

Please just read the book. I've offered them money to read the book and they won't have anything to do with it. But that's how I found it, was at the library.

Denise: [00:05:20] So the main character in the book, I think she feels like an outcast within her own family because they kind of question that she even belongs there. So that's kind of something that you identified wih then?

Maegan: [00:05:33] Absolutely. Absolutely. Her mother was an outsider. She was not a part of it, I think she was from the north. Yeah, people were afraid she was a witch they were afraid that she had somehow enslaved her father, the main character's father into marriage.

And yeah, so when her mother died all of that kind of passed down to her and she was viewed as- she was accepted but not really. She was accepted because she was the King's daughter but there was always a part that she was not really a part of the royal family. And yeah, I felt that growing up I felt.

I felt like I was an outsider an outcast even with my own family, kind of held at arm's length a little bit. Yeah.

Denise: [00:06:23] So let's talk about the plot of the book. Aerin is an outcast in her own father's court, daughter of the foreign woman who it was rumored was a witch and enchanted the king to marry her. Like you were saying. As she makes friends with her father's lame retired warhorse, Talat, and discovers an old overlooked and dangerously imprecise recipe for dragon fireproof ointment in a dusty corner of her father's library, two years many cantor circles to the left to strengthen Talat's weak leg and many burnt twigs, and a few fingers, secretly experimenting with the ointment recipe later, Aerin is present when someone comes from an outlying village to report a marauding dragon to the king.

Aerin slips off alone to fetch her horse, her sword, and her fireproof ointment. But modern dragons, while formidable opponents fully capable of killing a human being, are small and accounted vermin, there is no honor in killing dragons. The great dragons are a tale out of ancient history. That is until the day that the king is riding out at the head of the army, a weary man on an exhausted horse staggers into the courtyard where the king's troop is assembled.

The black dragon is come, Maur who has not been seen for generations. The last of the great dragons, great as a mountain. Maur has awakened. Dun dun dun.

Maegan: [00:07:35] Dun dun dun.

Denise: [00:07:36] That's exciting! A girl going out to fight dragons.

Maegan: [00:07:39] Yes.

Denise: [00:07:40] With a fireproof ointment, no less, and a retired warhorse that she rehabilitated.

Maegan: [00:07:46] And I think what appealed to me, as I'm reading this, the description of the book as an 11-year-old girl, I'm thinking, whoa, she's a dragon slayer. That's not something that you saw. I kind of dipped my toe in the high fantasy. I didn't read Tolkien. I read Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron, Book of Three, Castle Llyr. While I loved those books, they were very much male-driven stories. You didn't have - Are you squirting your cat?

Denise: [00:08:19] Yes.

Maegan: [00:08:23] Sorry.

Denise: [00:08:25] No, it's fine. He's misbehaving and getting in the away.

Maegan: [00:08:30] Naughty naughty. So, this was something new for me a strong female protagonist that wasn't the Damsel in Distress? She didn't need to be rescued. She didn't look to a man for help or to protect her or take care of her and that was something that I really needed to see at that particular moment in my life. And it's like female dragon slayer. I was like, kick-ass. I'm reading this book.

Denise: [00:08:55] Yeah, I would have totally loved this book back then and, somehow, I never read it until you recommended it. I'd actually never heard of it. I was like, where was it, I mean it was there it was there how did I never come across it. I was reading fantasy at that time. I was probably reading Mercedes Lackey,k Anne McCaffrey, and Terry Brooks around then.

Maegan: [00:09:16] I read The Blue Sword, which was, I believe, a prequel to The Hero and the Crown. I've read a book of hers rather recently in my adult life called Sunshine. Sunshine is like Twilight on steroids. This book, I mean, there's no sparkly vampires in this book, but it is at its core a love story between a mortal and a vampire. It's got a lot of other things in it and again you have this young woman who is coming into her own power and she's realizing that she's very powerful and she's not just a mortal, she's other things also. It seems to be a theme with Robin McKinley as she writes really, really strong female characters.

Denise: [00:10:03] Well, and she, I saw an article that was talking about her inspiration. She was looking for a character, girls who do things, she wanted to write girls who do things. And she mentioned that she used to read Tolkien, like you mentioned, but her first role model, was Eowyn.

Maegan: [00:10:21] Yeah.

Denise: [00:10:21] From The Lord of the Rings, but she was dissatisfied with the character's lack of development. So, she wanted to have more doing.

Maegan: [00:10:29] Right and I think it's fine to look pretty and let the boys handle it. But at the same time that's, that's not every girl.

Denise: [00:10:38] Yeah.

Maegan: [00:10:39] That's never been me. I've never been the pretty stand to the side, let the boys handle it, kind of girl. I think that's where other books, I don't want to say failing me, but I wasn't feeling the connection with those characters in books that I did with Aerin.

Denise: [00:10:54] I think it's good to have options, like have multiple different kinds of portrayals of characters. Girls who do this, girls to do that, girls who do something else. That really like gives you a broader perspective of who and what you can be.

Maegan: [00:11:08] Yeah, and that's exactly the kind of message that every girl needs, and you don't have to be one and stay in that box forever. You can be, you can be all of those things. You can slay dragons and still be pretty and you can want to have kids but still be a police officer. You don't have to be just one or the other.

Denise: [00:11:32] Right. And it's good to also know how other people live or choose because that's part of like how we develop our empathy. So even if you want to be this you can respect somebody else's choices to be that or like you said, we could all be pieces of things. Different pieces.

Maegan: [00:11:51] Yes.

Denise: [00:11:51] So tell me a little bit about how you felt while reading it the first time and what kinds of things have changed for you. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Maegan: [00:11:57] When I first read it, I don't think that I caught all the nuances. A female dragon slayer. She was an outcast from her family, and I think I kind of glossed over the relationship with her father, glossed over with the love interest, I mean, there's a love triangle in this book.

I don't think I really realized that as the 10 or 11-year-old girl. I was more enthralled with the action of the book. As I read it as an adult her relationship with her father was very troubled. He loved her but he didn't know how to love her. He wanted to protect her. But he also, I think, was a little bit afraid of her and so there were dynamics in that relationship that came across to me as an adult that I didn't pick up on as a child. But also, like I said, the love triangle. As a girl I read it and I'm like, okay, so she likes this guy, but I don't think that I really caught on to what was going on, you know. Until I read it like oh, oh.

Yeah, those were the main sticking points for me was her relationship with her father and then the love triangle that kind of became clearer as an adult versus the kid.

Denise: [00:13:21] Yeah, and it's not, it's not what I would call a typical love triangle these days because it didn't feel like they were directly competing for her.

Maegan: [00:13:29] No, and when you say love triangle, Bella, Jacob and Edward, it's not like that. She was in love with two different people. She was in love with two men. Because of the events that happened in her life or in the process of fighting the Great Dragon, she, - can I spoil it for people?

Denise: [00:13:52] Yeah.

Maegan: [00:13:54] So she becomes maybe not immortal but her life, her life expectancy, her lifespan lengthens exponentially so she can have she can have both. She doesn't have to choose. She can have, I forget his name.

Denise: [00:14:11] Luth is the immortal who heals her after the dragon. And then Tor is the one that's the heir to the throne.

Maegan: [00:14:20] To the throne. Yeah, so she falls in love with Luth, but she realizes that her life and her duty, and she is in love with Tor. Maybe not in the same way she is with Luth, but she realizes that she has things that she has to do and that she doesn't have to choose.

She can have Tor and because her life expectancy is so much longer than it should have been because of how he healed her when that part of her life is done. She can go back to Luth. That, in itself, you don't have to choose you can have both, that was something that you don't see in your traditional love triangles. You don't see that it doesn't have to be a choice.

Denise: [00:15:03] Right, and they're patient. They're like look, I love you, I know you've got to go do your thing, I'll be here when you get back.

Maegan: [00:15:10] Right.

Denise: [00:15:10] Basically for both of them.

Maegan: [00:15:12] Right there was no angst. I should-

Denise: [00:15:13] Yes, exactly, angst-free book.

Maegan: [00:15:16] No angst, you know, everybody was mature about it. Everybody understood, everybody was accepting. And that's great. I mean, I know that as a teenager and less that you thrive on angst, but it doesn't always have to be like that.

Denise: [00:15:31] I mean, I think she does have angst but it's not about the relationships. It's about who am I going to be? Am I going to be able to kill these dragons or recover from these dragons and who am I kind of angst? It's not who do I feel for and what do they feel for me kind of angst?

Maegan: [00:15:50] Right. Who am I going to be with? That's the kind of angst that a lot of books, a lot of YAs and middle grade books that kind of edge toward the YAs, that's who, it's almost like girls find their identity in who they decide to be with. You know, and that was never the case with this book. You're right. She did have some anxiety and there was some angst, but it was more about who am I going to be? How am I going to be both? How am I going to be this dragon slayer? And how am I going to fulfill my destiny, but still live up to the expectations and obligations as the king's daughter.

That was the source of the angst and I like that. I like that. There was no chest-pounding. There was no pick me. There was no overt alpha B.S. It was, everybody was focused on her, helping her, and wanting her to be her best person and that was nice. Every girl should read this book.

Denise: [00:16:59] Yes, definitely. Would you would you say that book has had an impact on you throughout your life or is it something you've returned to?

Maegan: [00:17:06] I would say as a writer, as I've developed as a writer, I gravitate toward strong female characters and I think that it kind of steered my writing even at, you know, maybe a subconscious level. I don't think that I could write a weak female character to save my own life. Not to say that there's no vulnerability. Weakness and vulnerability, those aren't the same things.

Denise: [00:17:33] Tell me what you mean by a strong female character or weak female character.

Maegan: [00:17:37] I'm gonna get in so much trouble. You know a lot of your traditional romances and the focus of the woman is very much the Damsel in Distress. It's the man that saves the day, the man who rescues her whether it's, you know, emotionally or financially or even physically. It's the man who comes in and saves the day. He's responsible for her sexual awakening. He's responsible for all the good things that happen to her during the course of the book.

And for me, I guess maybe I perceived that as a weakness because why isn't she doing these things for herself? She's perfectly capable. So, I think that reading those books bothered me and as I got older and as trends started to move toward more fully developed realized female characters, that has changed. You have female characters in all genres that are strong and can take care of themselves and don't need a man or a male character to define them and do those things for them. That's what I mean.

Denise: [00:18:52] I mean because there's a lot of talk about what a strong female character is these days and I don't think there's one way to be a strong female character. I just was curious how you defined it.

Maegan: [00:19:04] Well, I guess maybe for me a strong female character someone who looks to herself to solve her own problems. She doesn't have to be Lara Croft or somebody who can kick ass physically. Somebody who can stand up for herself and say no I don't want those things or no you can't do that to me, or I can do this myself. Well, I appreciate your help, but I'm fully capable of doing this on my own and even though it's a struggle I can do it and maybe even if she fails she still tried, you know, she still stood up on her own and she still said I'm gonna do this for myself. That to me is strength.

Denise: [00:19:45] How many times do you think you've read the book?

Maegan: [00:19:48] I have read the book probably half dozen times over the course of my life. I read it a couple times in high school. I read it several times in grade school. I've read it once or twice as an adult. So, a lot and every time I read it, I think I see something different. I feel something different, which is great, which is what a book should do. As you evolve the book should evolve.

Denise: [00:20:18] What characters did you identify most with? I know you mentioned identifying with Aerin.

Maegan: [00:20:23] I don't think anybody else.

Denise: [00:20:25] I was kind of thinking did I identify with Talat because I kind of really liked Talat's rehabilitation and coming back from his war injury. He feels a little bit more than just a horse in the book.

Maegan: [00:20:37] Yeah. Yeah.

Denise: [00:20:38] But it's not like he talks or anything, but he definitely has a journey and an arc, I think, in the story.

Maegan: [00:20:46] Absolutely he was broken down and after he served his purpose who is put out to pasture and he was, physically, he was not able, but his spirit and his will would not allow- He was not happy with that. He was not happy with being put out to pasture. At the beginning of the book he was nasty. He was not a nice horse. You know because he I think he turned bitter and you're right, you know, he wasn't just a horse, he had attributed real human feelings to him, you know, jealousy and pride and bitterness and anger. So even though he actually wasn't a talking horse, he was very much a character in the book.

Denise: [00:21:31] Yeah, and I think he felt really ignored. He was loyal to his King and then as soon as he got injured it was like he was thrown away and I could really- not that I have felt thrown away- but like I could really feel that Journey for him. Like hey, just don't give up on yourself. It's an aging thing, right? It's an aging metaphor in a way where you're like just because you're not in your prime, it doesn't mean you don't have anything left to give or anything else you can offer. And that was a really satisfying storyline for him because he helped save the day in so many ways.

Maegan: [00:22:07] Right, and he still had- he maybe wasn't fit to carry the king and go to war, but he still had a lot to give and you know, and he did. He was as loyal to Aerin as he ever was to her father.

Denise: [00:22:22] Maybe more so, I think.

Maegan: [00:22:23] Maybe more so because she saw the value in him when the other people didn't, you know. So and as we're talking about this, I think maybe as an adult I might identify a little bit with Aerin's father in the respect that when you're a parent you have you have fear for your children, fear that they're not going to accomplish what they want in life, fear that they're not going to maybe live up to your own expectations. I try really hard not to put expectations on my kids. So as long as they're happy and healthy and not in prison, I'm good. Those are my, that's my criteria. Not actively committing crimes and healthy. As a parent you do have fear and sometimes you connect with one child more than you do with another and sometimes it's hard to get those fears and those feelings across to a child that you don't necessarily connect with on the same level that you do other children.

Denise: [00:23:24] I kind of felt like Arlbeth would be, the king, he was trying to balance what was good for his daughter and what was good for the kingdom. And they were clearly not open to accepting her and he almost didn't want to draw a lot of extra attention to her either because then she could be, who knows, ostracized even more or they could have rebelled and hurt her. And so he's trying to find that balance of keeping the kingdom happy and healthy and also keeping her happy and healthy and that in the way it is tricky and it sucks because as a king he couldn't just be like you guys have to accept her, she's my daughter and you know, screw you.

Maegan: [00:24:04] Right. And I think when it became obvious to everybody that Tor intended to marry Aerin. She was obviously passed over for the throne. People started talking about how she had done the same thing to Tor that her mother had done to her father which was enthrall him. She was a witch and I think that made her father nervous because he was trying to keep her a safe distance from the throne too so that it was not going to draw attention to her and it's not going to cause problems in the kingdom and here it is. She's right back where she started. Right back in the crosshairs of everything.

Denise: [00:24:50] Yeah, definitely, and then especially when Galana her, I don't know if she's her cousin, I think she was her cousin.

Maegan: [00:24:57] Yeah. She's her cousin.

Denise: [00:24:59] She wanted Tor and Tor didn't want her and Galana would probably be more of the traditional beauty of the culture there  and so she I'm sure made everything worse for Aerin and not weighing only because there was a antagonism but there, you know the jealousy to and then making her the villain. She's like the ultimate mean girl.

Maegan: [00:25:23] Yes, yes, but toward the end of the book, I don't want to say she gets her comeuppance, but she doesn't- she kind of mellows out. And she's kind of like- she never apologizes and she never takes responsibility for what she did, but she's no longer actively an asshole.

Denise: [00:25:45] Yeah, she's kind of like, eh, I guess you've got something worthy. I guess you did okay for us. That's right. I guess you freed the country. I guess that's all right.

Maegan: [00:25:55] Right. I guess I'll not actively hate you. Right, and again she was the traditional beauty. She wasn't- I think she had black hair, a traditional beauty in their country, in their homeland. You know, she was small. She was pretty she was petite. She's very much a lady. And Aerin was none of those things. Right. Which how in the world could Tor want someone like Aerin over her, it must be witchcraft.

Denise: [00:26:28] Yeah. So, what was your favorite part of the book?

Maegan: [00:26:34] I like her first encounter with the dragon. And the reason was because she was so confident going in and she was so sure of herself and nothing went according to plan and she realized, okay, I'm not I'm not I'm not as ready as I thought I was. But she persevered and that's when Talat really stepped up to the plate and protected her. You saw their relationship solidify and I like that part.

Denise: [00:27:06] Yeah, I love when she, well, you know, I almost I think I've said this before, but I think of this as like almost a STEM book in a way. She's like a little scientist because she's- the fireproof ointment takes her two years to develop because she only has a somewhat intact recipe, like ingredients, but not the amounts of the ingredients and so she has to keep testing and retesting and she keeps a journal about what works and what didn't work until she finally gets it right.

Meanwhile the whole time she's training Talat and then she goes to try to dispatch one of the little dragons as her test and she's all over that. She's like I got it. I'm great. And she almost doesn't really tell any I don't think she tells anybody about it. I don't think anybody really knows about the ointment either.
They just think she's riding the horse. So anyway, so she does that and then has a little bit of trouble with the first one but takes care of it. And then she becomes the dragon slayer for all the little ones that are like, I guess rat size or something. I don't know.

Maegan: [00:28:11] I think dogs-

Denise: [00:28:13] Dogs. Yeah, so they're smaller, but they're-

Maegan: [00:28:17] They're nasty.

Denise: [00:28:19] But they're nasty and they're still dangerous because they still breathe fire and all that. But yeah, and then so I like that whole journey where she's doing that, I like the scene. Honestly, I like the confrontation between her and Galana, and Galana is like, you can't eat this plant because you're not royal and it'll kill you. And then she eats the surka plant and then she eats all of the branch and overdoses on it and it nearly does kill her. But it does also prove that she has magic because she survives it. She wouldn’t have been able to survive at all.

Maegan: [00:28:52] Right.

Denise: [00:28:52] She's like I'll show you, and I really like that attitude and I do think it was a little overkill for her, but you know, she survived and learned from it. And then, of course, fighting the big dragon, that's Maur, the big dragon when she goes out to save the kingdom and she barely survives that. And just how Robin McKinley doesn't pull any punches. She's burnt. The kennet only, the fireproof ointment only lasts a little or like works just so much for this giant ancient dragon and then you know, it takes a while for her to stab him with the- I think she's gotten the sword from Tor at this point.

And so, she does kill him but she nearly killed herself. She breaks her ankle. She's laying on the side of the path or whatever and then has to pull herself into the water to like stop the burn. And that whole part and then eventually she gets herself on the road to where her dad and Tor can collect her. They run into her and find her. Like that whole part, it's grit. It's total grit, she's just surviving, you know. She doesn't give up at any point. She just keeps trying to fix the situation.

Maegan: [00:30:07] Well, she saves herself. I mean, and that in itself, what she went through she, what she persevered. And you're right this dragon almost killed her, and she knew that it was almost going to kill her. That was the thing. Is she she was pretty sure she wasn't going to survive. But she still felt like she had to do it anyway because nobody else would do it. Yeah, and so she went with what little tools she had knowing that it wasn't going to be enough. That was amazing to me.

Denise: [00:30:40] And the fact that it takes her a while to heal both from eating the plant and recovering from the dragon. In fact, she doesn't really heal from the dragon until Luth magically calls and says, hey I can help you out. But both times, I mean like that's legit like recovering from something so severe as those injuries, and I even think there's some depression in there for her. I feel like this book talks a little bit about it without really saying that, without labeling it.

Maegan: [00:31:09] Yeah.

Denise: [00:31:10] And so you see a lot of inactivity but also activity, like she's clearly dealing with the fallout from these things and the healing but still trying to do stuff in the meantime, but she's not up to a hundred percent and quite a while.

Maegan: [00:31:26] Well, and you know, I think the depression, I kind of always had the feeling that while Maur wounded her physically, he also wounded her spiritually. He very much scarred her emotionally where she was not, she would not have recovered from that. Even if she had recovered physically, she would never have recovered from that. He would have eventually killed her that way. So yes, maybe that was a metaphor for depression or PTSD.

Denise: [00:32:00] Yeah, maybe PTSD. Well and part of it was the skull, they took this skull of the dragon back to the house and that have like a negative aura about it. So there was other- I think that exacerbated everything on top of it. But yeah, and the book kind of just- I think there's two sections but it's definitely feels like two sections. Like the first section leads up to that and then the second section is when she goes to find Luth and gets healed and then finds her uncle magician, evil magician, and then comes back to save the country from potential usurpers. I guess you would say.

Maegan: [00:32:45] Yeah, who were under the control of the uncle.

Denise: [00:32:51] Did he call them?

Maegan: [00:32:52] Yeah. I mean it was the demons. Her uncle's influences very much infected these people and I think that that's where all the upheaval and and the civil war came about.

Denise: [00:33:07] Yeah, and then she finds allies in the mountain cats and the mountain dogs that are magical as well and help fight for her. The whole battle with the uncle was kind of weird to me.

Maegan: [00:33:21] It was weird because it was so, it almost felt anti-climactic to me.

Denise: [00:33:28] Yeah, no, I agree with that.

Maegan: [00:33:30] She climbed the tower stairs forever. It was like forever forever. It was like centuries.

Denise: [00:33:40] Yeah.

Maegan: [00:33:42] She climbed his tower stairs forever, and then there was some back and forth smack talk. And she put the dragon stone in the surka wreath and that was it. And maybe it's, I don't know, maybe I'm used to Braveheart and all these long drawn-out like epic- I've been watching Game of Thrones. Maybe that's what it is.

Denise: [00:34:09] Yeah. 

Maegan: [00:34:09] And by the way Arya Stark, hello.

Denise: [00:34:13] I love her.

Maegan: [00:34:15] Right she is, her and Aerin are like kindred sisters.

Denise: [00:34:20] They are, yeah.

Maegan: [00:34:21] So and then the uncle was dead, and I was like, oh okay. Maybe as a kid it didn't hit me as so anticlimactic, but as an adult, I kind of felt like- and maybe even as a writer I would have written it differently.

Denise: [00:34:40] Oh for sure because I was just thinking you go for the first half of the book you don't even know the uncle exists. You know that there's rumors of threats out there and that somebody in the north is causing problems and might challenge Arlbeth for the throne or something, but you don't know where it's coming from.

You don't know there's some evil magician behind all of it. You don't know that any of that's happening and so it does feel kind of weird. While, whereas the battle with the dragon is set up from the beginning. She's learning her fireproof ointment. It's foreshadowed or whatever.

Maegan: [00:35:14] The dragon's on the cover, you know, and she slays him two-thirds of the way through the book. There again, you know her battle with him is not over. It's not over until the end, you know her real battle with Maur the dragon is not over even though she slays him. But he's still gone. And then, you're right, all of a sudden there's this powerful mage, and you're like what where did this guy come from?

And he's responsible for waking the dragon and he is responsible for the civil unrest in the country and he's responsible for all these things. And okay, so now we see that the dragon was just a just a pawn and we're going to go to the real battle now. And again, we're climbing some stairs and we're throwing a wreath and that's it.

Denise: [00:36:10] I'm sure it feels a little more dramatic in the book but when you say it like that, it's like yeah, that's what happened basically.

Maegan: [00:36:23] Right? That's what happened. And maybe it's because it is a kids’ book.

Denise: [00:36:30] Maybe. But I don't know because there's sex in there.

Maegan: [00:36:36] It's not overt. It's very much innuendo. It's very much not- there's no bump and grind going on. But it is there, you're right. And as like I said as a ten-year-old that totally went over my head. I remember thinking he's like super old and she liked him? That was that was my takeaway as a 10-11 year-old girl was, he's really old. What is she doing? But I don't know, as a writer, I would have written it differently.

Denise: [00:37:13] You're right though that it's really she has to slay the PTSD Dragon at the end. And I mean, I like that she shows the after-effects of something like that and how it impacts you and changes you. But the uncle's part has just felt kind of out of place for me, even though he instigated a lot of it. And I guess maybe I'm just used to it in other stories he would have been more prevalent throughout the story. Yeah, you would have found his fingerprints earlier on you would have known the prophecy earlier on you would have read all of those things I think and that's doesn't mean that this story didn't work as well or didn't work at all. It doesn't mean that it just was, oh like you, say anti-climactic.

Maegan: [00:38:00] Right.

Denise: [00:38:00] And the first chapter. I don't know how you felt about the beginning but the first chapter when I was reading, I did have a little bit of a trouble with it. I was kind of like. I don't know if it was the way it was written, I just had trouble getting through it. Maybe it was because it was oddly vague and disjointed and then I was like, okay, but there's something here because that's where we meet Tor and her and their relationship and their friendship and it's that relationship that pulled me through that chapter and then kind of story stabilized after that. And so, then it was fine. And I've heard other people talk about that for Robin McKinley. In the beginning she has a very different style, so you have to adjust to that a little bit.

Maegan: [00:38:46] Yeah, she is very almost stream of consciousness when she writes. It's like it's in her head and it comes out and I don't think that she really takes a lot of time to structure it, you know what I mean. And as she's writing it's almost like it structures itself. And all of her books are like that. Sunshine was very much like that, very much stream of consciousness, disjointed, head hopping. You have multiple points of view in the same paragraph, the same chapter, and I think that as writers, Newbery Medal winners can get away with that. They can do whatever they want. JK Rowling can do whatever she wants. So these rules that we learn as writers, one POV at a time, structure your story, inciting incident, first act, second act, third act, conclusion, is these story rules that we learn as writers and we adopt and make a part of our craft. They're not really rules. And if it works but it doesn't always work. Robin McKinley can obviously break these rules and she can make it work and people will read her books and buy into it. For writers like me who don't have a following and don't have a Newbery Medal, I got to stick to the rules, man.

Denise: [00:40:19] For now. Or maybe not.

Maegan: [00:40:20] For now, or maybe not. I don't know. When I started writing, it was very much structured third person, past tense. Very much one POV at a time. Not more than three POVs in the story or two to three POVs in the story and now I'm writing almost exclusively in first person present with the alternating POVs. And that's almost easier for me now. It was a struggle at first. I'm breaking a lot of rules that I learned as a writer just starting out.

Denise: [00:40:56] Huh interesting. So, what did you feel about the ending or how do you think you would write it differently?

Maegan: [00:41:04] You mean with the battle with her uncle?

Denise: [00:41:07] Well, yeah or whatever you had said earlier when you said I would write it differently, were you talking the whole book or just that battle?

Maegan: [00:41:13] No, just that scene in particular. Like you said, I would have made her uncle more prevalent in the story. She would have learned about him sooner. Maybe she would have learned about her mother's role. In fulfilling this prophecy that we would have known about the prophecy may be a little bit sooner. It was just kind of thrown in there in the middle toward the end of the book.

So I think maybe I would have liked to see more of a- obviously she couldn't have a relationship with her mother, but maybe she could come to some kind of understanding about why her mother did the things that she did. And you know, maybe find some closure that way with her mother. And maybe her father also because I think that that was also unresolved.

You know, how the father felt about the mother. Obviously he loved her, but I think at the back of his mind he probably did always wonder did she use magic on me? Did I fall in love with her or was it something else? And I would like to see those things resolved. And also, the thing with the uncle there was no- usually, traditionally, there's many battles.

There's a confrontation. Your antagonist and your protagonist, they see each other, they size each other up. They know about each other even if your protagonist doesn't win that battle or nothing comes of it. They're still very aware of each other and they are the driving force in each other's story.

It wasn't like that. He almost felt like an afterthought, which didn't feel right to me. I would have liked to have seen a little bit more build up. And the final battle, something more than just she really just put the dragon stone in the surka wreath and threw it at him and that was it.

Denise: [00:43:02] Yeah. Yeah.

Maegan: [00:43:03] I mean, and I get maybe that was instinct and it was intuition when all those things came to her. I get that but at the same, you know, she didn't try anything else before she did that. I don't even think it was explained why she had the surka wreath in the first place. The dragon stone I get because that was the last drop of blood from Maur's heart. So that was something that she carried with her.

Denise: [00:43:29] I think the surka wreath help tamp down some of that power or something like that. I think it was.

Maegan: [00:43:36] Well, I always took it as it was a combination of her royal magical power, you know, her power as the princess of the king and her strength as a dragon slayer. I always took it as combination of those things, but I don't know why did she have it with her physically? Why did she take it with her?

Denise: [00:43:57] I don't remember.

Maegan: [00:43:58] Right. It just kind of felt like there was no there's no reason for it. It was growing on the outside of the tower. She wove it into a wreath and carried it up the stairs with her for a million years. It wasn't in the prophecy. So, it just kind of felt like she knew who he was all along. You know I guess maybe it felt like Robin McKinley had a secret and she didn't share it with the reader until the very end. And that kind of feels like a cheat to me.

Denise: [00:44:30] Well and I think part of it is like you said, it was anticlimactic because we didn't really have the strife that she had when she was fighting the dragons. With fighting her uncle there was very little, I mean aside from the climbing, it felt like a lot less strife. And so I would have liked to see more strife because usually your challenges get more difficult throughout the story and you build up to the really big deal and that one felt like a lesser deal and then back to a big deal when she has to ride into the  battle.

Maegan: [00:45:09] And I think you have this sandwich. You have the dragon you have her uncle you have the war. The uncle in the middle was the cause of everything but he was the easiest to defeat which doesn't, I don't know, doesn't make sense.

You know, it's an awesome book and everybody should read it. But and again, I wonder you know, I wonder if reading it she feels that way that she would have written it differently.

Denise: [00:45:37] Well, and part of me is wondering if I'm just trying to pigeonhole it into some of those tenants of storytelling that I'm used to like you said or if it was just an alternative… There's so much for the hero or the hero's journey, but then there's also heroine's journey that has all these rules for writers and stuff. I don't know very much about it. But I know it's different and so I was thinking well am I just trying to put it into this box is that the problem and it doesn't really belong in this box. And it's okay that it's not in the box, but am I just trying to put it in this box.

Maegan: [00:46:13] She has a very different writing style. You know, I'm sure that if she were here and we could ask her if she has she has some very definite reasons why she did what she did. Cause as writers we always do and yeah, maybe we are just trying to put it in a box and make it the way we want it to be but it's still felt that the battle with her uncle still really felt anti-climactic to me. Like there should have been more.

Denise: [00:46:43] Wherever you put it, there should have been some more strife.

Maegan: [00:46:47] Right.

Denise: [00:46:48] I would say that if this book was written today, I mean it might still not be, because not everything is, but I think that they would have tried to make this a trilogy instead of just the one book story.

Maegan: [00:46:59] Yes. Yeah, and and she like there was a prequel it's-

Denise: [00:47:04] But it was written before this one, but it actually takes place after this one.

Maegan: [00:47:11] Yeah, yeah. The Blue Sword was written before the Hero and the Crown, but the Hero and the Crown comes before. So, The Hero and the Crown is the prequel. Yeah. I think that they probably would have. Most of her books are set up to have potential sequels. I know Sunshine was very much set up to be a series and she does not like to write series. So yeah, I think if it were written in present day they would have wanted more.

Denise: [00:47:44] I think she liked to write fairy tales because I think, well she did the Sunshine, which is a vampire story, but I feel like... These are somewhat fairytale-ish and then she did Beauty and the Beast retelling and a whole bunch of other fairy tale story lines.

Maegan: [00:48:03] I think Sunshine is her only contemporary. I haven't read or heard of another contemporary from her.

Denise: [00:48:11] Yeah, she did a Sleeping Beauty one. She did Robin Hood one. And a couple others. And I mean there are a lot of them are straight up fantasy. But there's a lot of fairy tales and folk tales in there.

Maegan: [00:48:25] She wrote a book called Deerskin which was very weird. Well, the premise was the father- the main character had to run away because her father wanted- her mother died and her father had plans to marry her so there was some weird incest going on there. But that I believe that was an adult novel. I don't know that that was a YA.

Denise: [00:48:53] It's based on an old French fairy tale.

Maegan: [00:48:56] Deerskin is?

Denise: [00:48:57] Yeah, by Charles Perrault called... I'm not going to be able to say it...Donkey Skin. It's another one but it's looks very dark and it said contains adult themes of incest rape and miscarriage and psychological stuff. I don't think I've read any other stories of hers. I thought maybe I'd read the Outlaws of Sherwood, but when I tried to read the plot line, it didn't sound familiar. But I wanted to read Sunshine. I know that one's been referred to me and I love vampire books. I'll always try anything vampire-y.

Maegan: [00:49:33] Yeah, I liked that book because and again it's very much stream of consciousness, and it's kind of hard to get into, but I like that book because it's not the traditional vampire, he's so handsome. He is not. He is not. He is not in any way Edward from Twilight, but she loves him anyway. And he pretty much tells her it's never going to happen, you know, and he and he even though he loves her too. There's no I'll turn you. Even as you're reading it and you're hoping that you're going to find a way for them to be together, you know, there is no way it's gonna happen. And I like that. I like that again you're taking your stereotypical romance plots and turning them into more realistic, it's never going to happen. It can't. You'll like it. I have it if you want to borrow it.

Denise: [00:50:38] I can't read anything that's not ebooks these days. I keep trying and I keep buying books at events and they sit there and I'm like, I'm going to have to rebuy it in ebook. I can't seem to crack it open and hold it in my hands anymore. I don't know what's wrong with me.

Maegan: [00:50:55] I bought that book at the Strand when I went to New York. I bought that book and I read it in a bar in New York. All my friends are running around and I'm like leave me alone, I'm busy. There's a picture, an Instagram photo of me somewhere reading in a bar.

Denise: [00:51:16] That's awesome. I think this can be made into a movie. Do you think- I think it would still play today?

Maegan: [00:51:23] I think so, especially with the Game of Thrones thing or maybe a TV series. I think that it could it has has strong themes. Absolutely. I think so.

Denise: [00:51:36] You can easily flush out the side characters. And that would be interesting, and I think when anytime you get a young adult character, I almost want it to be an unknown actor. I can't even think of who I would want to play any of the characters. I just wanna meet the horse.

Maegan: [00:51:58] Not, what's her name? Not the chick that plays Bella.

Denise: [00:52:01] Oh well, Kristen Stewart is much older at this point.

Maegan: [00:52:07] I don't, I don't know who I would... nobody... nobody that I can think of.  Yeah, it would have to be somebody unknown. Yeah, definitely younger actors.

Denise: [00:52:19] Was there anything else you want to say about Robin McKinley?

Maegan: [00:52:22] I wish she'd write more. She hasn't written anything in a while. I wish she would write more. She has a definite knack for writing strong female characters and taking situations that as readers we're used to in making them into something completely different and I really appreciate that as a reader and a writer.

Denise: [00:52:44] So you had said earlier you would recommend this book to every girl or anyone. Anything else you want to expand on that?

Maegan: [00:52:51] If you're not going to read this book, read a book. Just read a book. Out of four of my kids, only one of them is a reader. Which I guess one out of four isn't horrible, but still not what I was hoping for. I know that young people are struggling these days. I know that from personal experience you struggle as a child. You struggle as an adolescent, and as a teenager, you struggle to find yourself and to find your voice and to be independent. And I'm not going to say that the answer to every problem is in a book, but you can find solace there.

You don't have to rely on social media, and you can find those things in yourself. I found those things in myself and I found it through a book. It's not like the book gave these things to me, but the book awakened something in me. And you know, that sounds cheesy and dumb, but that's what happened.

It's very much. It's possible for everybody. I think I read somewhere that people who read are more empathetic and I believe that. I worry about my kids. I've worried about kids in general these days. Because I don't think that they have the empathy that we did. I did. Just read a book. Just read a book, man.

Denise: [00:54:23] I agree with that though. Like I think that books helped me figure out who I was and developed a lot more, you know, feelings of identifying with other people. I definitely think they are core to who I am today. I was lucky I read some very inclusive storytelling and books, and maybe part of that's just what I was drawn to as well, but like storytelling and books that helped me feel stronger as a person.

Maegan: [00:54:58] Yeah, absolutely. Books that validated you and validated your feelings and your views of the world or maybe changed your view of the world. When you read these books, you realize maybe I wasn't right about that or that's how somebody in the same situation I am or might feel differently or react differently. And you learn that both reactions are okay and it's developing empathy, developing an understanding of other people and an acceptance of other people. I very much attribute books and my reading growing up to the fact that I can do that.

It's a great book. It's a good book even though I picked it apart a little bit. It's an awesome book.

Denise: [00:55:47] It is an awesome book. I really wish I had found it when I was younger, although I appreciate it now and I'll try to put it in the hands of people that I know but I really do wish I had had found it.

Maegan: [00:56:01] I have bought this book for strangers' children before. There was a woman in a writing group on Facebook and she was talking about her daughter and how she was really struggling, and she was being bullied at school and she felt different like an outcast. And I messaged her and said I'm buying your daughter this book. I need her to read it. Please, please have her read it and I sent her a physical paperback copy and I never heard from her again. There was never a thank you. But knowing that I was able to send that out and hopefully, hopefully, this little girl read this book and felt even a little bit of what I felt.  I know, again, this sounds cheesy and stupid, but I really feel like this book, if it didn't save my life, it changed my life. It opened up and made me realize things that I might not have realized, or it would have taken me years to figure out on my own. Whenever somebody says what book changed your life or what was your favorite book? This is it, this is the book. This is the book that changed the course of my life.

Denise: [00:57:14] Especially kids. We can tell them things, and we can give them the message directly, but they don't hear in the same way that you would get it from a book. From a third party that was completely separate from you, and I think that's why books will never go away. The storytelling that comes from books is different than the storytelling that comes from other sources.

Maegan: [00:57:38] Absolutely.

Denise: [00:57:39] There's so much more internal work that's done.

Maegan: [00:57:43] Right and I think that's the difference between lecturing our children and telling them things and them reading it and absorbing it and internalizing it, and it becomes a part of them. And even though they don't know it, it's inside. It's in their brains. It's in their minds and it's very slowly, very gently changing. Sometimes it's a lightning bolt of change. But sometimes it's just subtle shifts in the way you think and the way you feel. And sometimes those subtle shifts, they make a hundred times more difference than a lightning bolt of realization and that's kind of where it was.

You know, I did feel this immediate connection with Aerin, but at the same time, you know, there was a there was a shift. It doesn't have to be this way. The life you're living now doesn't have to be the life you always live. Who you are now doesn't define who you're going to be. You have a hand, you have a say in where your life goes and who you are as a person and that gentle steering towards something different was what really changed my life.

Denise: [00:58:57] Yeah, that's awesome.

What are you reading right now? And do you have any book recommendations for people?

Maegan: [00:59:03] What am I reading right now? I am not reading anything currently. I am so under deadline, I cannot read anything right now.
I'm looking around trying to see- see all my books? I'm actually getting ready to read- I just bought Shannon Baker's The Desert Behind Me, and I'm interested in reading that. It's a different kind of book for her. It's a lot darker. Her protagonist struggles with the death of her sister, I believe, and there's some psychological issues going on. So, I'm interested and I'm excited to read that. The Desert Behind Me by Shannon Baker. That's on the top of my To Be Read list. Matt Coyle writes a great series. It's the Rick Cahill series. The first book is called Yesterday's Echo. Very hard-boiled Raymond Chandler-esque style of writing. I really enjoy his books.

What I read personally, aside from Shannon and Matt Coyle. I like Harlan Coben. I'm a huge Stephen King fan.

Denise: [01:00:11] What's your favorite Stephen King?

Maegan: [01:00:13] It's a book called The Dark Half. It's not a well-known book of his although they did make it into a movie. And it's about a writer who has a pen name, and he becomes so enmeshed with this pen name that it endangers his life and his family and his happiness as a married man and father. So, he decides to stop writing in this pen name. The name comes to life basically like terrorizes everybody.

Denise: [01:00:46] Oh my goodness.

Maegan: [01:00:47] Yeah, but I really liked that book called The Dark Half by Stephen King. That was a good one. And the protagonist, his name is Thad Beaumont. So, there's that. I also like Dean Koontz. My favorite book by Dean Koontz is called From the Corner of his Eye. I really liked that book. Dean Koontz, his books have become more emotional and more personal as he's gotten, you know, he doesn't just write the horror anymore. And From the Corner of his Eye is very much an emotional book. I really enjoyed that.

Denise: [01:01:20] And do you have any podcast recommendations?

Maegan: [01:01:24] Matt Coyle has a podcast called, I think it's called, Crime Corner. It's more geared toward mystery and thriller writing.

Denise: [01:01:33] Is it a writing podcast or is it for readers? Like who's the audience?

Maegan: [01:01:37] I think it's for readers. He interviews authors.

Denise: [01:01:41] So let's talk about your books. Tell us what you write.

Maegan: [01:01:45] Okay, I write two completely different genres. I write hardcore thrillers, and I also write super steamy contemporary romance.

Denise: [01:01:55] Yay.

Maegan: [01:01:55] Yay. That's Maegan Beaumont, which is the name I write my thrillers under, which is actually my name. I've written five thrillers in the Sabrina Vaughn series. Expect at least three more books in that series.

My pen name is Megyn Ward. Under Megan Ward I have released 15 romances ranging from 30,000 words to 90,000 words and they're all super steamy hot contemporary romance. I have 4 series in the works right now. I'm very, very busy with that, writing 3 thrillers a year in addition to six romances. I'm really busy. I write a lot.

The romance thing I started writing romance as a way to keep writing and maybe generate some income and I really wasn't into. It was kind of like whatever I'll do it, you know because I did research and 70% of all readers read romance. There are genres that are easier for a woman to break into. Thrillers are the hardest and romance is the easiest. So, I wanted to give myself a break. Really wasn't particularly jazzed about writing romance, but I'll give it a shot. Whatever.  What's the worst that can happen, right? Turns out I love it. Turns out I'm good at it. I really enjoy myself. I enjoy the characters. I enjoyed the writing. I enjoy everything about it.

So, when the deal came up for the Sabrina series, everybody's like oh, that's great. Are you gonna stop writing romance? And I'm like, nope. No, I'm still going to do that. Nope, I'm not giving that up, you know. And there is kind of a stigma attached to writing romance. And you know, it kind of bums me out a little bit because even I feed into it. I've had people ask me, when are you going to start writing real books again, that's not nice. I write real books. You know, they have words and everything. So, I feel that and I fed into that for a very long time, because I didn't want to tell people that I wrote romance. Almost felt like something that I should be ashamed of but I'm not anymore. Yay. I'm out of the closet. You know, I hit the USA Today bestseller list in February. So, that was a thing. As Megyn Ward. I'm doing it. I got the USA Today Bestseller tag as Megyn Ward. And as Maegan Beaumont I've won the Gold Medal for Independent Publishers. You know, different, but still good.

Denise: [01:04:42] And where can people find you online?

Maegan: [01:04:44] They can find me... I'm on Facebook. Most prevalently on Facebook as Megyn Ward, and Maegan Beaumont on Facebook. Also, I'm on Instagram and Twitter. I'm not so active on Twitter. I really choose Facebook and Instagram as my platforms. I also have websites and, and you'll find all the good stuff on all my releases and whatnot.

Denise: [01:05:21] Well, thank you so much for sharing your story.

Maegan: [01:05:22] You're welcome.
Denise: [01:05:23] And the book. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have read the book and I'm so glad that I read the book.

Maegan: [01:05:29] I'm glad that I- Yay!

Denise: [01:05:31] And hopefully other people who are gonna be listening will also go out read it.

Maegan: [01:05:35] Hopefully! They're going to say what are these ladies talking about, what's so great about this book? And then you're going to find out.

Denise: [01:05:40] Aerin Dragonslayer. Yes. I'm in! If you like Arya Stark, you're gonna love Aerin Firehair.

Maegan: [01:05:48] Absolutely one hundred percent. They are soul sisters.

Denise: [01:05:52] Thanks for listening. You're the best. As usual, you can find the books we discussed in the show notes at HeartShaped If you enjoyed the episode, please share the podcast with other book lovers and add a review wherever you listen.

If you plan to buy these books, please consider purchasing them using our affiliate links through Indie Bound, Aerio Ingram Spark, and Amazon. You can also support the podcast via Ko-Fi And Patreon. For all the details go to HeartShaped Be sure to connect with me on Twitter @HSBpodcast or via email at Denise Ganley at You can even leave a voicemail for the show via Speakpipe, which I might share on the podcast.

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