Sunday, July 22, 2012

Heron's Path by Alethea Eason: Interview & Excerpt

Heron’s Path, an eBook published by Spectacle Media Publishing Group, is a young adult fantasy novel for all ages. Set in an alternative universe of northern California at the start of the twentieth century, Katy and Celeste believe they are fraternal twins. They have grown up listening to the stories that belong to their native step-grandmother, Olena, and the world of her people, the Nanchuti, is more real to them than that of the civilization their parents chose to leave behind. Celeste undergoes a frightening transformation, and Katy must decide what her love for Celeste means. Heron’s Path is both a spiritual journey and an exciting adventure as the girls travel upriver to the deep wilderness to discover the truth of the path that is Celeste’s destiny.

This selection occurs after Celeste, Katy’s sister, has participated in a Nanchuti ritual in which the world needed to be “recreated”.  Things go wrong.  As this scene opens, it’s later on and Katy wakes to find Celeste is missing. Matai is a half-breed boy the girls have befriended. 
Tree limbs lapped over each other like coils in a basket. The Talum’s rapids were scales of frothing white water. I followed the river’s descent toward the ocean and saw how it had cut through the land over time. There were shadows on the land, shades of all the people who had ever lived along the river: settlers, Nanchuti, and Old Ones.
I called out for Mama, Papa, and Celeste, but the wind roared in my ears. It tore at me until I was neither girl nor bird. Then I heard tapping like mice stepping on glass. I struggled to awaken and then realized someone was outside my window.
“Celeste, do you hear that?” I asked sleepily.
She didn’t answer. I swung myself out of bed and stumbled over to hers. The covers had been thrown back, and the bed was cold and empty. I reached for the bedpost and found her medicine bundle hanging there.
The tapping continued, more urgently now, so I walked to the window. Matai had frosted the glass with his breath. I pushed the window open.
“I can’t find Celeste,” he said.
The room pulled the frigid air inside freezing everything, including my brain. Matai had to repeat himself for me to understand.
"We were at the circle on Ntlata. She was there, and then she was gone.”
“How long ago?” I asked.
“An hour, longer maybe. I searched everywhere for her, Katy, but she just disappeared.”
Oh, Celeste, I thought. The cold took bites out my skin. “Give me a minute.”
Matai slid down the wall and sat below the window while he waited. My gut still ached. I threw on my clothes as fast as I could, grabbed Celeste’s bundle, and crawled out the window.
“We should tell someone,” I said as soon as I was outside.
My lungs hurt as I breathed in. I waited to see what Matai would say, but he just stood there. What would people do if they found out Celeste and he had been alone? What would Papa do? I tried not to think about how long it took to find Celeste the last time she had disappeared.
“We’ll go look, but if we don’t find her by the time the sun’s up, we’re going to get help,” I said.
The moon was only a little above the horizon, but it was almost full. We’d have light to see by. Matai took my hand. When we got to the hill, we climbed it faster than I thought possible, calling her name all the way up.
Matai led me to the circle. The embers left in the fire pit glowed like the tobacco in Olena’s pipe. I squatted down and warmed my hands wishing I had insisted that we wake Mama Hank. Celeste could have been anywhere. I forced myself to think.
“What were you doing right before she was gone?” I asked.
“Standing here.” Matai position himself in the same spot Old Tayees Man had stood on the night of the dance. “I began praying, and she started to sing.”
“Then what?”
Matai ran his hand through his hair. “The wind picked up, and the fire looked like it might go out. I went to get more wood, and when I turned around she was gone.”
I walked around the circle, and something caught my eye. “Matai? Did you bring the heron capes?”
“No, Sandila has them. She made them.”
I picked up a long blue feather.  “Is this from one of the capes?”
Matai walked over and studied the feather. ”I don’t think so. The quill hasn’t been worked on.”
I held on to the quill. Where was she?
The only answer was a squirrel that I had startled somewhere in the dark. It scolded me and then went back to sleep. I was just about to tell Matai that one of us had to go back and get people when I had an idea.
“Can you start the prayer again?” I asked.
“Please, just do it.”
Matai and I walked back to the fire and stretched out our hands. He closed his eyes and began chanting the same words I had heard Old Tayees Man use.
“Louder,” I said.
Matai shouted the words. I strained to listen, but there was nothing to hear. I caught the rhythm of what he was saying and joined in when I could. It was then we heard the singing.
“Where’s it coming from?” I asked.
Matai hushed me, listened for a few moments, and then pointed to the west. The singing stopped, and he began the prayer again. He continued saying the words, and Celeste answered in her high haunting voice.
The moon was high enough now to paint the whole world silver. The trees shimmered under its light. Beneath them, the rough edges of the ferns brushed our hands like cat tongues.
We found her huddled like a small rabbit next to a fallen tree, her clothes flung over branches and ferns, her pale body shimmering in the moonlight. Before we could step closer, though, a howl tore through the woods, its tone felt like acid on my skin. Then a blast of air hit us hard, and the moon was suddenly eclipsed. The roar drowned Celeste’s song.
But the louder the wailing became, the less scared Celeste seemed to be. Her head came up, as though she were watching for something. The trees moaned as though they were being pulled out of the ground, and yellow shadows emerged from them, poisonous clouds surrounding Celeste.
“You’re here,” she said, in a high voice. “I didn’t like being alone.”
She’s talking to us, I thought, and started to answer, but Matai shushed me.
“The wei-ni-la,” he said in my ear. I tried to run to her, but he caught hold of me. “If we go any closer, they’ll take us, too.”
Celeste reached out. A shadow floated toward her. She touched it like it was a priceless piece of cloth she wanted to adorn herself with.
“I’ve missed you,” she said. “You haven’t come to see me since the day Katy and I were in the woods last summer.” She seemed to listen to an answer. “Yes, yes, you are beautiful.”
What looked like an arm, or a bent branch of a tree, reached toward her, and then Celeste’s body went limp.
I shouted her name like hurling a rock. The shadow turned toward me. For two breaths I thought I was looking at an angel’s face set in radiant light. The large eyes seemed to understand everything about me, and I wanted to let down my guard to become a part of its light. But then the image slowly darkened, and I was looking into pure evil.

Tell us about HERON’S PATH, your current release?

HERON’S PATH is the first novel I’ve written, the second to be published, the first being HUNGRY (HarperCollins, 2007). The story is told by Katy Farrow, a girl who lives with her settler family in the wilds of an alternative northern California setting in 1908. Her sister Celeste has always been a strange one and as the story unfolds Katy discovers that Celeste is to play a pivotal role in fulfilling a prophecy of the Nanchuti, the native people in the region. Katy and Celeste are like any sisters; they have rivalries and arguments, but they still love each other deeply. The story shows the effects that the settlers had on the Nanchuti, how their way of life becomes compromised with the expanding settler population. In the midst of this, the girls are mentored by both grandmother/shamanic influences of two elderly Nanchuti sisters, Olena and Sandila, as well as a spunky school teacher named Sarah Price, who opens the doors to a life beyond the river Talum.

         What has the response to HERON’S PATH been so far?

Reader reviews have been positive. The one area of controversy has been my use of a Native American group. On a recent radio interview, a caller stated she felt since I am not Native American, I should not write about them. Other readers have said they wished I had used a real tribe. I chose not to as a simple matter of respect. I did use the Yurok tribe in my first draft, but after speaking to a tribal member and a professor at U.C. Arcata, I realized that I could not represent the culture accurately. The Nanchuti, the tribe in the book, comes from my own imagination, for better or for worse. The story, though, is told from the perspective of a 12 year old white girl, who  respects and loves the Nanchuti people she has grown up with, sbut who is ultimately an outsider to their most sacred ways and traditions.

 Say your publisher has offered to fly you anywhere in the world to do research on an upcoming book, where would you most likely want to go?

Southern France. I’m very interested in the Mary Magdalene archetype and am planning a workshop using it as a theme.  Legends say she spent the last part of her life there. Whether true or not, from what I have read about her story, the Cathars in the Languedoc region, the place where the idea of courtly love and troubadours originated, and from the description of the climate, I’d love to go to soak up the atmosphere. The Jesus/Mary Magdalene story has been rewritten over and over, but I’ve just begun to toy with the idea of writing using their archetypes in a modern day novel. I may pursue it if I feel I can with a fresh approach. 

How would your friends describe you: introvert or extrovert?

Definite introvert. I need a lot of quiet time alone to find energy to be out in the world. And I need to “sit” with my writing, do a sort of inner listening, while I’m working on a project, and especially as a new piece of writing is forming. I have a small group of very good friends who all seem like sisters to me who sustain me in many ways. I have never liked crowds, noisy parties, and I’m not that great at chatting just for chatting’s sake.

The idea of a Tanatu, a totem animal runs through HERON’S PATH. Do you have one?       

When I was younger, I felt spiders and ravens were both totem animals. I once woke up to find about 30 spiders bites all over my body, and I thought, “Hmm, maybe this is a type of initiation,” you know, the analogy of weaving webs and stories. Ravens just appealed to me, supposed messengers from one world to another, their intelligence, and their bravado. Just coming back from Costa Rica, however, I’ve decided to add the sloth. My friends and I have had a joke about needing to be “sloth women” from time to time. Allowing myself to enjoy having free time and the value of doing nothing and not having an agenda to fulfill is a lesson I need to learn.

Are you currently working on any new project?   

I’m picking up a novel I started years ago that I’m simply calling “The Mermaid,” another young-adult novel about a girl who undergoes transformation. I have a lot of material and may have either a novel for adults or some short stories regarding mermaids, as well.

Alethea has published stories in several anthologies for children including A Glory of Unicorns, edited by Bruce Coville, Stories have also appeared in New Moon Magazine and Shoo-Fly Audio Magazine. She also writes for adults and her work has appeared in Sweet Fancy Moses, Radiance, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, among others. She won the Eugene Ruggles Poetry Award, sponsored by The Dickens, published by Copperfiled Books of Sonoma and Napa Counties.

As a reading specialist, Alethea has taught grades kindergarten through eighth. She spent a year and a half at St. Margaret’s British School for Girls in Concon, Chile where she worked in literacy in the junior school and as an IB English teacher at the senior school. She now teaches at Minnie Cannon Elementary School in Middletown, California.
She lives in Cobb, California.
Two Winners.  Enter to win a Print or Digital copy of Heron's Path.
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This Giveaway ends August 18th 11:59PM Central Time.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your interview with Alethea Eason almost as much as I enjoyed reading the book!

Jennifer Haile said...

This book sounds really intriguing! Thank you for the giveaway!

Anonymous said...

S- i really want this book for my sis. She wants it.