An Interview with Author and Editor, Danielle Ackley-McPhail / Part 3 of 6

Presenting part three of my interview with Danielle Ackley-McPhail, digging deeper into the elements of the Eternal Cycle characters and the series themes of growth and sacrifice. (Read Part 1 and Part 2.)

All of the characters in the Eternal Cycle series are changed by the events of the story, but Kara undergoes the most dramatic of transformation. She’s impulsive and willful, and there’s a good amount of spontaneity in her. Was it a challenge to balance your goals for the story with the course of Kara’s experience? Did you ever find her taking you in a different direction than you’d intended?

I had to be very careful when I wrote Yesterday’s Dreams. Certain things needed to take place as the story unfolded and I discovered that Kara was weak and whiny, without much development from there. This was one case where I consciously progressed her away from those personality traits. After that point it was just a matter of letting the story develop and focusing on the choices being made and who the characters became. Once I was aware I could back off on guiding and go back to discovering. As for divergences….most of my characters pulled those pranks on me at one point or another…some died when they weren’t supposed to, others hung around long after they were meant to go away. Some grew close to one another despite my intentions. I found that if I followed their lead, though, the story became richer with layers of flavor I couldn’t have anticipated or planned. On the rare occasions I tried to force them away from the path they were determined to follow it stole the very breath from the scene. No…things didn’t go the way I had intended, but I wouldn’t change one thing of how they did go. It would rob the story of its magic.

Kara’s evolution from a humble young lady, lacking self-confidence to an assertive and self-assured woman in control of her powers is a fascinating element of the series. In particular, I enjoyed how Kara’s ability to use and control her power is sometimes contingent on her acceptance that she does possess it and should use it. Would it be too much of a stretch to consider this authorial commentary on how we all come of age and grow into our own?

Oh! I would love to take credit, I really would, but I really didn’t put that much planning into how the personalities developed. Like any good parent I let them figure out who they were, even when I didn’t like the choices they made. I gave gentle nudges, making sure whiny Kara didn’t surface for too long, but mostly I paid attention to the choices available and the impacts they would have. I gave them consequences and I strove for my good characters to grow and respond to those choices and consequences. Sometimes reality is harsh, sometimes it is chancy; I strove to capture that in the story.

Was it a conscious decision that Kara has no romantic interest at the outset of the series or simply a reflection of where you saw her at this stage in her life?

It wasn’t a conscious decision, but several things came to play here that made that development logical. One, the book takes place over only three days’ time and Kara’s attention was definitely not on things romantic during that time. Two, the main crux of the novel is the sacrifices Kara is making. Multiple jobs, financial burden…those things don’t generally leave time or energy for boyfriends and dates. Three, by the time I was about two thirds done I was starting to think about the rest of the books in the series and had some ideas regarding romantic entanglements possibly to be developed. Those didn’t turn out precisely the way I expected they would, but there is enough there that would have made any pre-existing romance inconvenient.

DAMInt_TodayAnd as the story grows and Kara continues making sacrifices, for the sake of others or for her own sake—simultaneously, she seems to awaken to the possibility of a relationship, almost as if she’s maturing into it. Did that come about organically or did you have to play matchmaker?

It is a combination of the two. Kara’s choices throughout the story arc led to several possibilities and even I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to pursue. While I wanted to show that Kara had a future that could include romantic love, in the end I felt it wasn’t really a part of her current journey. She was still discovering who she was so how could she be ready to discover who she could be with another? I chose to give the hope of a romantic future, while showcasing the maturity and responsibility she worked so hard to refine. In the Eternal Cycle series we see her scarred and damaged and healed and growing. Her journey has been tumultuous and brutal, to have given her a sweet, pat, Happily-Ever-After would have been wrong.

The name of Maggie’s pawn shop—Yesterday’s Dreams—is deceptively melancholy. It suggests that the things stored there represent abandoned dreams, but dreams that might yet be revived if their owners only reclaim the object they pawned, however unlikely that may be. Can we read that as metaphor for how we all live our lives by bargaining our dreams for existence, sacrificing aspirations for practical concerns?

Instead of thinking of the name as a grim omen, think of it as a mission statement. Maggie is a protector, and her chosen profession allows her to protect the dreams others find themselves forced to give up. There is a quote in the book that has actually become quite popular on the Internet. Every so often someone posts it and it makes the rounds again. The quote is: Because dreams are the difference between living, and existing. If this is the only thing I am ever known for when I am gone from this earth, I will count it well done. In the context of the novel, this is something Kara’s father says to her when he discovers she has pawned the violin. It is not uncommon in life to have to let go of certain of our dreams. This is to be expected. Some are impractical, others are unwise…harmful, some are set aside so that we can reach for something greater. Other dreams we set aside out of necessity. Maybe we can come back to them; maybe they are gone forever. It is an act of faith that we make such sacrifices. The dream itself does not matter. What matters is that we keep dreaming; it is when we give that up that something in our soul dies.

Kara’s connections to her music run deep. Music ties her to her family. It also sustains her family and sustains her spirit and perhaps helps her balance her soul. As an author, how does your creative work fit into your life?

I coined a phrase a while back. It sums it all up: Words are the closest we can come to creating something from nothing at all.

I won’t say that I have a god-complex, but there is something phenomenal about being able to create people and worlds that would never have otherwise been introduced to humanity. When I write I am revitalized by the intricate nature of what I do and in awe of the inspiration that leads me to visualize the wonders I have seen, even if only in my mind. Each time I learn of someone who has seen the vision I have tried to convey…there are no words. I tell tales because my mind insists on seeing them. I share them because it is a gift I have been given that I want to explore to its fullest, the beauty, the wonder, the joy of it. Passion feeds the soul…and not just your own. Our souls could stand to have a better diet.

One of the main themes in the Eternal Cycle series is regeneration and renewal and the consequences of failing to renew one’s existence or purpose. The Tuatha de Danaan recycle the souls of the fallen, and many of your characters—human and Fae alike—must revise their concepts of reality as the story progresses. This affects protagonists and antagonists. It is both external, for example, contemporary minds accepting the existence of gods and mythological beings, and internal, such as characters accepting truths about their own nature. What interests you about the cycle of renewing and reinventing one’s self?

I think it’s very important that we be open to possibilities, whatever they might be in life. We grow. We change. We find ourselves in different situations, not necessarily of our choosing. If we resist adapting in the face of all of that we remain brittle and often bitter. We lose out on so much in life when we are not open to the prospect of change. If we do not change we stagnate, we become victims of entropy. My husband and I have had many lives together since we linked our fates. Each major change we have embraced marks a new beginning, a new existence. We bring elements of the old ones with us into the new, but like the rings denoting the years a tree has lived, our landmarks in life show how we’ve grown and changed. Better yet, they are examples of how we have survived. This is the very essence of being alive. Though the changes in real life are more often less extreme they definitely bear kinship to the triumphs and torments I inflicted on Kara and the other characters in the series.

Goibhniu, the leader of the Tuatha de Danaan, is a fascinating character. His people love and fear him at the same time—yet we see repeatedly that he seems to have only their best interests at heart, and he hints at possessing powers greater than what is revealed in the course of the story. Is there a dark or more dangerous side to the Smithgod we haven’t yet seen? 

We have already glimpsed some of the darkness in this fae. No matter his finer points, there were times in the books when his flaws were evident as well. In my perception, though, the longer a being has been alive the more likely they have worked past the petty little flaws many of us still struggle to recognize in ourselves, let alone overcome. I am sure we will see more of Goibhniu at some point and very likely the very awe-inspiring nature of him, in the truest sense of the phrase. But at the heart of him is good and that will always shine through.

Everything gained by the characters—human, Fae, or demon—in the Eternal Cycle comes at a cost. No one is left unscathed or unchanged by their experiences, their decisions, their growth. Often the price paid is a heavy one. Does this reflect your personal view of how we exist in the real world?

In most instances we are very fortunate. While uncomfortable, many of the costs we pay for our decisions are not lasting or gradually lose their sting over time. In the high-pressure, high-paced setting of these books the stakes were high, the forces faced of supernatural power, and so the costs were in proportion. When you are battling to save the world, few consequences are small. There are those who in their day-to-day lives face such conflicts and sacrifices. Every day police and fire-fighters and soldiers wake up knowing this could be the day they die…or someone else will if they don’t make the right choice. For the most part the characters in the Eternal Cycle series are or become warriors on par with these real-world heroes so what I have depicted is an extreme, but yes. If we are not changed by life we have not lived. Sometimes those changes are positive, sometimes they are not. What is important is how we allow them to shape us. What lesson do we take away from the experience? Have we made our choices count? Our scars might fade quicker than Kara’s…or they might not, but we all have them.

Next Week: We wrap up talking about the Eternal Cycle series and touch on the stories of the Wild Hunt MC.

To follow Danielle’s projects, learn more about her, or buy her books, please check out her website and visit her Amazon author page. Also, look for her on the convention circuit where she’s a steadfast con presence up and down the east coast.

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