I’m fantasy author Sarah Ashwood, and I have a confession to make: I’ve only written a couple of blog posts before, so please bear with me as we go through this. When Lindsey kindly offered a spot on her blog for me to chat about my new book, I struggled with what to say. Of course, I could try to tell you the plot without giving away spoilers. (Unless you happen to be like me and actually like spoilers. I admit it, I’m that person—that horrible person who loves spoilers! I always read the end of the book before I reach it to see what happens.) Confessions aside, it was suggested I highlight what’s unique about this book and hopefully makes it stand out in the fantasy genre, so let me go there.
To begin with, Aerisian Refrain is the first book in a brand new series called Beyond the Sunset Lands. It’s a planned four book series, and it’s a companion series to my Sunset Lands Beyond trilogy. It’s set in the same world, but you do not have to have read the first trilogy to read Aerisian Refrain. I tried to include enough information in Aerisian Refrain that readers new to my world wouldn’t be lost. So, these books, the first trilogy and this new series, are epic fantasy and portal fantasy, but they’re also heavily tinged with a fairytale influence, because I grew up on fairytales and still love them. You’ll meet characters and races in my books that you may not see as much in standard epic fantasy, like fairies and giants and unicorns. I enjoy mixing it up: I also have pirates based off 18th century buccaneers, as well as an army patterned after the military of ancient Rome. (Ancient Rome is another obsession of mine.)
Those are some of the fun features of my world building. As for Aerisian Refrain itself, what makes this particular book unique is that my MC, Annie Richards, is from Oklahoma and is part Cherokee. I’m a lifelong Okie myself, and grew up in the part of the state where the Cherokees have their capital. I’ve always been intrigued by Cherokee history and culture. I didn’t actually set Annie where I’m from, however. I had her grow up out in the panhandle of Oklahoma, which is sparsely populated. I’ve driven through there a couple of times, and thought it was such a wild, beautiful place. It was very inspiring to the background of this book, and formative to Annie’s character.
Now, Native Americans are not heavily featured in epic fantasy literature or art, the latter of which was a little frustrating when I was writing this book. I like to create Pinterest boards for each of my books and save pins for characters that I find inspirational. It drove me crazy that I had such a difficult time finding any epic-fantasy-type art featuring Native Americans. I wanted so badly to find a picture of a Native American girl with a dragon, and never did. One of my favorite scenes of Aerisian Refrain is where Annie sings a Cherokee lullaby to a dragon. I would’ve loved a pin that resembled this scene in any way. Couldn’t find it, but in my searching I ultimately did discover the art of Traci Rabbit, a Cherokee artist from Oklahoma. That’s a whole ‘nother story, but I mention it because I fell deeply in love with Ms. Rabbit’s work, with its blend of heritage and fantasy, and I think it’s well worth mentioning.
But back to what I was saying. When I realized in the course of plotting that Annie was going to be from Oklahoma and that she was part Cherokee, I knew I had to delve into Cherokee culture and heritage and weave elements of that into my book. Cherokee mythology and folklore are chock full of interesting characters and stories. Honestly, it was very hard to narrow them down, but I finally settled on three prominent figures that absolutely fascinated me. The first was a Kâ'lanû Ahkyeli'skï: a Raven Mocker. This creature is scary. I mean, scary. I read up on stories about Raven Mockers that had me looking over my shoulder at night. (I get spooked easily.) Check out this moment from Aerisian Refrain when Annie first encounters the Kâ'lanû Ahkyeli'skï :
I would’ve run, but where could I go? There were probably still people on the road, people to whom I couldn’t risk leading the Raven Mocker, a creature so powerful that, according to the Cherokee legends I’d heard, other witches flee before their kind. The raven-like cry of a Kâ'lanû Ahkyeli'skï, which is where the Raven Mocker earns it name, means someone is going to die—much like banshees in Irish folklore. Often, they appear when a person is dying to steal and consume the liver or the heart. Sometimes they torture and kill their victim by cutting open the head, then eating the heart. A year is added to their life for every year their victim would have lived, making a Raven Mocker almost immortal, and accounting for their appearance as an old, wizened man or woman when in human form. They can fly through the air in fiery bird shape, trailing sparks while in the sky, which is what confirmed the identity of the woman standing in front of me. They are usually invisible, except to the most powerful of magic workers. Like me. Only a medicine man or woman of much training and strength can stand against them, which meant I was in serious danger.
The other two characters I chose to feature are a little more benevolent. One group are the Thunderers, who Cherokee believe are storm spirits that live in the sky. Thunderers are usually benevolent to humans, and sometimes even helpful. The same with the last figure from Cherokee folklore, a Stoneclad, or rock giant. I loved the Stoneclad. He almost made me think of a Marvel character. There weren’t tons of descriptions of Stoneclads, but most of my research indicated they are giants that wear a suit of armor fashioned from stone. Like the Thunderers, they aren’t feared by the Cherokee—certainly not like the Raven Mockers. In fact, there are stories of them coming to the aid of the Cherokee. As Annie explains in Aerisian Refrain when she’s discussing her people’s folklore,
“I remember Grandma telling me about the Stoneclads: rock giants, and the Aniyvdaqualosgi or Ani-Yuntikwalaski. Those are the Thunderers, or powerful storm spirits. If they took a shape, it was usually human, and they were okay with people. I guess it’s no wonder we’d have legends about great storm spirits, living in Tornado Alley.”
At this point in the book, Annie has no idea she’s going to actually encounter rock giants or storm spirits, and she’s in a for a big surprise when she does!
So there you go—a little peek into what I feel makes my book baby unique. I hope you’ll check out Aerisian Refrain, and, if you do, I hope you enjoy it! I had so much fun researching the stories of the Cherokee and weaving just a few elements from their rich traditions into this novel. If you’d like to research any of this further, some of my favorite sources were http://www.native-languages.org/ and www.cherokeeregistry.com and www.firstpeople.us and http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/index.htm. Also, if you’d like to see the art of Traci Rabbit, this is her website: https://billandtracirabbit.com/ .
Thanks for reading my blog post and giving me a little of your time. Have a great day!
Don’t believe all the hype. Sarah Ashwood isn’t really a gladiator, a Highlander, a fencer, a skilled horsewoman, an archer, a magic wielder, or a martial arts expert. That’s only in her mind. In real life, she’s a genuine Okie from Muskogee who grew up in the wooded hills outside the oldest town in Oklahoma and holds a B.A. in English from American Military University. She now lives (mostly) quietly at home with her husband and three sons, where she tries to sneak in a daily run or workout to save her sanity and keep her mind fresh for her next story.