So, to learn more about Maggie, I've asked her some questions.
As a writer, Maggie Secara loves to explore the heroic ideal, to find the mythical in the every day, and discover the places where the realms of Faerie intersect the mundane. As a historian, she calls herself a gossip who just can’t stand that someone might have done something 400 years ago without her knowing about it, who else was there, what they had for dinner, and what they were wearing at the time.
Maggie is the author of A Compendium of Common Knowledge 1564-1603, both website (AD1558.com) and book, which she calls a handbook of Elizabethan daily life. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of little magazines on- and off-line. Most recently, her interests in history, folklore, and music have combined in a series of fantasy novels with a historical twist of which The Dragon Ring is the first in the Harper Errant series.
Maggie and her very understanding husband live with their cats in suburban splendor in Los Angeles, California.
1) What inspired you to write The Dragon Ring, combining fantasy with history?
Actually, it’s kind of funny, because in the end the inspiration had very little if anything to do with what I actually wrote. Fact 1: I’ve known children’s author Ari Berk since he was a teenager. Now he’s a professor of myth and folklore. He’s also a husband and the dad of a small boy. He’s simply one of the most interesting people I know and a dear friend. Fact 2: I also have studied myth and folklore. Fact #3, I love mysteries and have long meant to try and write one. One night, rather out of the blue I asked myself: What if Ari Berk had to solve a mystery?
Well, the concept was so intriguing, ideas just started popping. I stayed up all night scribbling notes in a notebook, until I had something I could start to work with. Oddly, it wound up having none of the usually characteristics of a mystery to it, and once the fae entered the picture, I knew it was going to be a fantasy—my other favorite genre. They say you should write what you know, and I do know a lot about Elizabethan England, and a good bit about medieval England, and have the resources for researching them. So chasing a missing artifact through the past evolved kind of naturally.
Alas, my hero, Ben Harper, didn’t come out very much like Ari, so that mystery remains to be explored.
2) You're a historian specialising in the Elizabethan era. Would you consider writing a novel set solely in that setting?
I’d love to, and I know eventually I will. I started something once long ago based on the life of the Countess of Southampton--the mother of Shakespeare’s patron, not his wife--a character I played for years at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in California. I was looking at it again recently and while I don’t think that book will ever work out, there is some potential for a few of the characters. I would like to write a ghost story, using some of the legends of the region. And I still want to write that mystery. There’s a story in my Countess’s life about a young man in the earl’s household that her husband accused her of being too familiar with, who then died under suspicious circumstances. One day, I’m going to have to find out what really happened.
3) What are you currently working on?
Harper Errant, book 2: King’s Raven. The story is more complex than The Dragon Ring, and it’s all but finished. I don’t want to say too much about it, of course, but’s there’s a chase scene through the Crystal Palace in 1854, and a consultation with Dr John Dee in 1589. Once Dragon Ring is well and truly launched into the world, I’ll be back at that project.
They rode out of Faerie through a riot of bluebells and hawthorn blossom that gradually gave way to an autumnal shower of golden leaves and a sky loud with migrating geese. Finally with some meandering they emerged on a hilltop at the edge of a frozen winter woodland stitched with barren trees, piled and layered and silent with snow. Nothing but foraging animals and a pair of red-eyed wolves would ever realize that their hoof prints had come out of nowhere.
Where the hill broke to a shallow cliff, the wood thinned and broadened out under layers of leaden sky into the tree-studded down lands of ninth century Wiltshire, at least Ben thought it was Wiltshire, where a light snow was falling. There they halted, surveying the land spread out below.
“Wow!" His voice shook with the sudden cold and the plain wonder of what he had done, and where he was. “Just, wow!”
“Well done, sir,” Raven said, drawing up beside him. “I’ve never come through the gates quite like that before.”
“You want to lead?”
They were a thousand years—a thousand years!—in the past, and he, Ben Harper, had brought them here! He couldn’t stop grinning. They were also, Ben guessed, another frozen hour’s ride from their goal—plenty of time to arrive as weary travelers in some plausible way at the fortified house or whatever it was. No, not a house exactly. A hunting lodge, or what his pioneer forbears might have called a fort. He had a sense of wooden palisades, but nothing more detailed. He only knew that somewhere down there in the densely wooded valley of the Avon, one fragment of the dragon ring had landed.
Clad now in the tunics and gartered hose of royal servants, armed for the road, both Ben and Raven were bundled in double layers of furs, woolen cloaks, hoods, and scarves appropriate to the age and the weather. Even their sturdy ponies had grown a shaggy winter coat, and their breath steamed under coarse blankets.
Ben puffed frosty breath and settled the reins in his gloved hands.
“Cold?” the raven boy asked.
“Kind of warm, actually,” said Ben, finally noticing the costume change. The history buff buried under the efficiency expert beamed with pleasure. “But good! Great, even! Good thing I’m not allergic to wool.”
“You have your skills, I have mine.”
Ben couldn’t stop staring around, though the pony was getting restive. The countryside lay so still and unreal, if it hadn’t been for the piercing cold, Ben would have thought they stood in a film set, or in a painting. He listened, really listened to the silence, and awe swept over him again. Except for the hiss of their breathing, and his own heartbeat drumming in his ears, nothing stirred, nothing at all. Nowhere in his own time was the mark of the modern world ever utterly absent—this absent. No underlying electronic hum, no distant highway rumble, not in the whole world. And when the winter night fell, it would be utterly dark under the overcast, lacking even starlight or moonshine or urban glow.
He sat back in the saddle with a dopey grin stretching his face in awe, touched with a little fear.
Raven noticed, and cuffed his shoulder lightly. “No gawking, sir, if you please,” he said. “Y’know, you might have brought us in a little closer to the mark, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
“Are you kidding? And miss this?” Ben pounded the saddle horn with sheer glee. “I mean, seriously! Wow!”
“The ponies are getting cold, sir.”
As they turned to pick a path down from the cliff edge, Raven added. “You do have some idea where we are, then?”
The shout of Ben’s laughter rang in the frosty air. “The Middle Ages?”
“It is, yes,” said the boy, patiently. “And we are in England. I believe that will be Chippenham.” He waved a hand in the general direction of a smudge away over the horizon, a smoky patch of sky, as always, indicating a living community. “If we can get down from here without breaking our necks, we’ll be somewhere on the Roman road from Bath—the A4, more or less. And it’s just about...” He drew a deep breath as if tasting the air. “Yes, Christmas Eve.”
Ben just kept grinning, though the snow was swirling and the temperature dropping, and Raven sighed. “Are we there yet?”
“Soon, yes. Very soon.”
When they found the road, they urged the ponies to a quicker step. He was humming the ancient tune that had brought them here, which wouldn’t be written for another 600 years, and was for a while completely, thoughtlessly happy.
The world was not only silent, he noticed, but remarkably empty. They passed now and then the odd steading dug in against the freeze, its presence betrayed only by a thin stream of hearth smoke. Here and there rose other signs of human use, sometimes no more than a herdsman’s bothy, abandoned for the season, squatting like a dirty snowball in a hazel break. But no traffic, no people.
Away south across the frozen river, clinging to the swell of a hillside, a monastery and its low, stone church huddled with its back to the road, keeping its stinks and its treasures to itself. A single iron bell clanged a few sorry times, breaking the air.
Raven flinched a bit at the sound. “They’ll be ringing for Tierce,” he muttered. “And what else?” He didn’t look happy.
“Is it true,” Ben asked, seeing the reaction. “That the fae can’t bear the sound of church bells?”
“Only when they’re out of tune. Stop talking, will you?” All the wry humor had gone from him like pinching out a candle.
“What? Why? I’m enjoying—”
“Hark!” the boy snapped, and Ben stopped, attention focused. They waited, Raven with his head tilted, birdlike, listening.
“What is it?” Ben whispered at last. “What do you hear?”
“Breathing, and something else.”
“Please, sir! Dogs, maybe. No, wolves—two or three of them. And the queen’s magic out of tune.”
“Quite.” The boy shook himself, took a long look back over his shoulder, humming a pattern of five or six notes breaking crisp in the crisp air.
Ben watched him, noting how the youthful patina fell away as one by one Raven threw off all the useless scarves and pelts, and the glimmer of Faerie intensified around him. And when he turned to look ahead again, three massive black wolves, red-eyed and grinning, blocked their way. His giddy happiness vanished, and his mouth tasted of ashes.
Sleek and well fed in spite of the bitter season, one paced the width of the road, whining, disturbed by the Romans’ iron road buried long beneath the snow. One hunkered down, as wolves do when stalking prey, one watching behind. The largest sat staring at Ben from the middle of the path, secure and quiet as a watch dog. Ben’s pony backed nervously.
“Do you know how they used to hunt the wolf, Ben Harper?” said the raven boy, drawing the shining long sword at his side.
“With traps and snares, and dogs. Today, I am your dog. Draw your sword.”
Fumbling briefly through the bundling layers, Ben felt the hilt come into his grasp with an ease he did not deserve. It had been too long since he’d last handled a sword, and never one like this. The blade gleamed as he brought it up into position, easier in the hand than he expected. Light spilled off its sharpened edges.
“I don’t know if I remember how.”
“I don’t expect you to use it.” The fae’s eyes never left those of the animal before them, though he had marked the other two to right and left. “But I want it in your hand. Your job is to find the artifact. Mine is to keep you alive to do it. So when I say ride, you ride, d’ye understand? You’ll hear things behind you, but do not look back. And whatever else you do, do not leave the iron road.”
“What about you?” Ben’s voice, unlike his companion’s, trembled more than he liked.