Exclusive Interview: Barb and JC Hendee

Barb and JC Hendee are the authors of the fantastic Noble Dead saga. Through Stone and Sea releases next month from Roc Books.

What can you tell us about your upcoming release, Through Stone and Sea?

Barb: This is the “fattest” book our publisher has let us get away with to date. Hah! It’s an exciting tale. Wynn, Chane, and Shade travel to Dhredze Seatt, the mountain stronghold of the dwarves, looking for the ancient texts that Wynn’s superiors confiscated. Unexpected threats and mysteries quickly arise.

JC: Along the way, the readers will be introduced to a new race as well as a new culture, with a long history that most of the world doesn’t know about. In addition some characters who appeared briefly in the first book play some startling, more active roles. There is lot more going on in Wynn’s world than even she ever knew about, and perhaps the royal city of Calm Seatt isn’t as calm as everyone thought.

How did your ideas/thought process for Magiere and Leesil come about?

Barb: One night, we were researching another project when we came across an interesting entry in a book called The Vampire Encyclopedia by Mathew Bunson. It related information regarding the origins of the “dhampir,” a name given by Slavonic gypsies to the child of a vampire. In medieval Serbia and Yugoslavia, charlatans took advantage of this myth by pretending to be dhampirs. They would convince a troubled village that it was beset by a vampire, and that only a dhampir could see the undead creature. Then they would stage elaborate “battles” and claim they had destroyed the vampire—and charge the village quite a fee. This is what sparked the original idea, and the story of Magiere and Leesil began to grow.

JC: From there, we considered the fantastical possibilities. We asked ourselves “what if one charlatan had to face the concept that vampires were indeed real—and that she was a true dhampir?

Our aim was always to write fantasy, not vampire fiction, and we wanted to write a female protagonist living the more active side of action fantasy in a role most often reserved for male characters. And so Magiere came into being. Leesil followed quickly, first shown only to the reader as a sidekick, but it wasn’t long before everyone (including the readers) saw how he would shape – and perhaps had always shaped – the story and Magiere’s world in new ways.

Magiere, the dhampir, has such a complex back-story. Did you plan it out ahead of time, or was it a gradual process?

Barb: Yes, Magiere and Leesil both have complex back-stories—but so do many of our characters. Magiere was probably the most “pre-developed” with Leesil (as the tragic ex-slave assassin) next.

JC: We knew Magiere’s dark origins and the reason for her creation in the first place. We didn’t have the whole story of her birth mapped out until we wrote Sister of the Dead, but we did have “most” of it. Chap was probably the biggest surprise for us. Much of his character was constructed along the way—aside from some core influences we wanted him to have. He became so much more, and he’s one of our all-time favorites.

You mentioned that this will be a trilogy featuring Wynn and Chane. Will there be another offshoot series? Will you write more for the original Noble Dead series?

JC: There is no offshoot and no original series; this is all the same “saga” in chronological order. Just as each book follows the previous in a series, each of our series follows the previous series in order. There is book story, series story, and then saga story at the largest level. Once readers have finished Series 2, it should be clear that what is happening with Wynn, Chane, and Shade is not something separate from what took place in Series 1. It is most definitely another “chapter” in the saga.

It will take far more than just our first trio of protagonists to uncover the secrets necessary to face what is coming. No one is safe down to the very end of the saga, but Wynn was planned as major player from the start. We had always wanted to do more with Chane, but some of what he’s become grew along the way.

Barb: We just signed our contract for Series 3. We were kind of keeping this quiet, but we’ll let your readers know first. Magiere, Leesil, and Chap will be back soon (wink), but that’s all I can say. JC’s is already giving me his death glare for revealing that much.

The Blood Memories series is another vampire series. How did that series come about?

Barb: Long story.

Gosh . . . okay, I wrote Blood Memories about fifteen years ago, while I was still in graduate school. It was my first novel. To my shock, I sold it to a small press called Vision Novels. While in theory, the book was published, it never actually saw the inside of a bookstore—and the cover was just god-awful. The situation was a disappointment to me. Later, with the explosion of the Noble Dead novels, I sort of forgot about Blood Memories.

In 2007, our agent, Ashley Grayson, showed Blood Memories to our editor, and she loved it and made an offer to properly publish it—even allowing me to do a revision in order to set up a series. I was stunned at the time, but the idea of doing some independent projects sounded like fun, so I launched in. I’ve had a blast! The new covers are so pretty (my cover artist Gene Mollica), and the books are really fun to write. It’s very different to write stories in the “real world” as opposed to the Noble Dead world that JC and I created.

How many are planned for the Blood Memories series?

Barb: That’s a tough question. As with all things in the publishing industry, it depends on how well the books sell. So far, Hunting Memories seems to be doing well. I’ve completed book three, Memories of Envy, and that will be released in October 2010. I just submitted proposals for two more, In Memories we Trust and Ghosts of Memories, to my editor. We’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll keep folks updated on my website.

What do you attribute to the recent explosion in popularity of vampire novels?

JC: I am always at a loss on this one. We were big Buffy and Angel fans in general, though I prefer the earlier years of Angel. I’ve written short works in the far past dealing with the undead and have been interested in exploring such creatures in general more than just the typical modern vampires. Buffy and Angel certainly contributed to the popularity of such fiction.

Beyond this, I’m not really sure what it’s all about; my background in the undead is more on the myth, legend, and arcane side, which is vastly different than what people see in pop culture media. However, at a young age I was entranced with such works as Kill the Dead by Tanith Lee. From there, my curiosity with existence across—or directly on—the border between life and death merely grew.

Barb: I never know how to answer this either, but the wild, wild, wild popularity of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series genuinely qualifies as a cultural phenomenon. I’ve just watched this play out with a kind of fascination. Urban fantasy in general has taken on a new life its own, and I’ve become friends with several writers in the genre. Most of them incorporate vampires in one way or another.

We make jokes about our covers and call this trend, “The sexy lady syndrome,” ala dozens of covers with a slender, pretty woman in low-rise jeans, her denim-clad backside pointed toward the camera, and often with a tramp stamp tattoo.

But at heart… most of us like these covers (smiles). Throw in a Harley and a shotgun, and you’ve got a winner. Bahahahahahaha!

Who are some of your favorite authors? What books do you love?

JC: This is hard one for me to answer as well. I used to read fantasy (and some SF) in my younger days, but I don’t read much fiction any more. I liked the earlier works of Tanith Lee, including her series Tales from the Flat Earth. Also William Horwood’s Duncton Wood. I had a fascination with Gene Wolfe’s character, Severin the Torturer from his Books of the New Sun. But there is also a little known pulp SF writer named Cordwainer Smith who penned tales that sparked thoughts at the deepest levels.

Smith was not a very good with the “writing” but he had a knack for “story” and character that many of his better known contemporaries borrowed from (sometimes too literarily). His little tale called “The Game of Rat and Dragon” is burned in my brain and heart forever. Simple as it might seem to those who can find it, it had the impact of a silver bullet for the era in the USA in which it was written. It may have been the first spark of the tragically romantic within me.

Barb: Strangely, I don’t read a lot fantasy—but I read fiction all the time. My current favorite authors are Anita Shreve, Philippa Gregory, Tracy Chevalier, and David Guterson. But my all time favorite novels are: Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, and Richard Adams’ Watership Down.

I also recently read The Help by Kathryn Stockett and was blown away. It is a deep and startling read. I think all of the writers I mention here have influenced me regarding the concept of “story” and “character.” Unless the writer develops characters that feel real—like people you could encounter and get to know—the book has not succeeded.

What do you do when you’re not writing? In your spare time?

Barb: Two years ago, we bought a twenty-year-old house south of Portland, Oregon. Since then, we’ve spent a lot of our spare time either remodeling the house or re-landscaping the yard. JC ripped up a good deal of the back yard, and he created brick gardens for me to grow organic vegetables. We’re both into gardening and preserving food. But here, in the winters, it’s pitch black outside by 4:30 in the afternoon, so we spend a lot of winter nights playing board games like Talisman and Runebound.

JC: I used to be a regular practitioner of Chen Taijiquan and even taught Standardized Taijiquan at the U. of Colorado in Boulder. Over the last half year my practice has fallen off do to limited places to train and some surprisingly chill winter weather (even after ten years in Colorado). I’m currently trying to insulate the garage to get back to that. I spend a bit of time reading in Taoist philosophy and modern occult paradigms, messing probability analysis of fantasy board games, and generally lurking in unknown corners of the Internet. But as to time when we’re not writing, well, what time? Mostly I just hang out with Barb and guard the peace of our homey little burrow like ornery badger… or dragon who doesn’t have time for some cocky treasure hunter. That is, if my little fairy of a partner doesn’t turn that interloper into a toad.

Thanks to Barb and JC for their time! And don’t forget to check out Through Stone and Sea when it releases in January.

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