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Interview: May 5, 2014

What do you get when you combine one part Celtic fantasy and two parts action-oriented epics? THE OATH OF THE BROTHERHOOD by C.E. Laureano, the first installment of The Song of Seare! As C.E. tells Teenreads, she was reading (and adoring) books that fell into these two categories, and knew that combining the themes --- and adding some evil faeries, fast-paced battle scenes, ancient religion and a beautiful harp –- would make for an unforgettable series. C.E. tells us more about her inspiration below, along with her fascination with Ireland, the novel she wrote when she was 16-years-old and her favorite fantasy authors. What was your inspiration for THE OATH OF THE BROTHERHOOD and The Song of Seare series?

C.E. Laureano: At the time, I was reading a lot of Celtic fantasy like Juliet Marillier and working my way through the epics of Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind, among others. I loved the Celtic setting of the former and the action-oriented storylines of the latter, but I hadn’t yet seen anyone combine the two. The warriors of ancient Ireland were celebrated and feared, so it seemed a natural conclusion to meld the two types of fantasy fiction.

TRC: We found it interesting that you chose Ireland as your historical backdrop and influence for this book. Why Ireland?

CEL: I’ve been fascinated with Ireland since I was a little girl, though I’m not sure why, other than the fact I have Scots/Irish/English heritage on one side. When I first visited Ireland at 19, I was struck at how ancient and spiritual it felt. The place just has a weight to it, as if stories lurk in the old ruins and the lonely landscapes.

When I first thought of working within a Celtic setting, I started reading Irish mythology, much of which involves faeries. That started the “what-ifs.” What if the Fair Folk weren’t just legends? What if they weren’t benign or merely tricksters as some of the legends paint them, but had an actively evil agenda? The mythology of Seare just developed from there.

TRC: You include a lot of really interesting Irish names. How did you come up with them?

CEL: I went through the traditional Celtic mythology like the Ulster and Fenian Cycles and pulled out some of the character names. I also combed through modern Irish name lists and followed them back to their original Gaelic roots. Some of them, like Conor, Eoghan, and Riordan, haven’t changed much over the years. Some of them have only persisted as Anglicized versions of Irish surnames. Online genealogy records are my best friend!

TRC: How did you conduct your research? What was the most interesting thing you learned?

CEL: I managed to track down P.W. Joyce’s out-of-print A Social History of Ireland, which is the most comprehensive resource on ancient Ireland I’ve found. It was written in the 1920s, so some of his conclusions have been debunked since then (Irishmen did not wear kilts), but for the purposes of writing a Celtic-inspired fantasy, it was invaluable. I cleaned out most of the local universities of relevant books via interlibrary loan, and whatever I couldn’t find or decided didn’t fit with the story, I made up.

Probably the most interesting thing I discovered was how forward-thinking ancient Irish society really was. Women could own land and seek divorces; capital punishment was uncommon; and most disputes were actually settled by brithems/brehons (traveling judges). It actually wasn’t until English common law that the more familiar and oppressive rules of medieval Irish society were instituted.

TRC: Do you have a favorite character in THE OATH OF THE BROTHERHOOD? If so, who is it and why? Also, who was your favorite character to write and did any present challenges?

CEL: That’s always the toughest question! I’ve spent the most time with Conor, so he’s probably my favorite. He shows the most amount of growth in the book, and even though he’s fictional, I feel a little bit of pride over how he went from a perpetually uncertain boy to a very determined and talented man.

Aine was the most fun to write, because she’s this petite, thoughtful young woman who finds herself commanding men in the field based on her abilities and sheer force of will. She shows that a strong woman doesn’t have to wield a sword to get respect.

Eoghan, Conor’s best friend and mentor in the brotherhood, was probably the most challenging. He’s very private and a touch brooding, and he didn’t reveal his secrets willingly, even to me.

TRC: Balian, the religion in THE OATH OF THE BROTHERHOOD is modeled after Christianity. Share with us why you chose to have religion woven into your story.

CEL: My own Christian faith is important to me and it shapes the way I look at the world, so even when I try not to include religion, it sneaks its way in there! I also wanted the series to have a true to life historical feel. Christianity was arguably the single biggest influence on Western culture, and eventually, it melded with Irish myth and tradition to make its own form that differed from its Roman Catholic roots. Since I was sticking relatively closely to authentic Irish culture, it made sense to incorporate a form of Christianity.

TRC: You say on your website that you wrote your first book when you were 16 and suffering from a dance injury. Can you tell us about that book? How has your writing changed, since then, and how has it stayed the same?

CEL: The novel was a historical romance set during the French and Indian war, and it was terrible. I mean, truly awful: derivative, formulaic and just all around lame. But it showed me that I had the discipline to complete an entire book. I hope I’ve learned a lot about writing in the last *cough20cough* years, but I still love writing about characters who find themselves in impossible situations and how they deal with them. Plus I have an enduring fondness for epic battle scenes!

TRC: You’ve written both fantasy and romance books. Do you have a different writing process for each genre?

CEL: Each book has its own writing process, and every time I think I’ve gotten “The Process” down, the next book upends that. I do work from a general plot outline, but with the romances, I write by the seat of my pants and let the characters dictate the plot. The fantasies are a lot more complex and require far more research and planning. I still end up surprising myself in the process, though.

The one thing that is true for both genres is that I write a lot of drafts. It’s not unusual for me to rewrite a book from scratch two or three times before I’m satisfied with plot and characters, and then revise that a half-dozen times afterwards. I think I give my editors heart palpitations every time I announce I’ve tossed out a draft and started over. But it all works out in the end.

TRC: Who are your favorite fantasy authors?

CEL: Currently, my favorites are Guy Gavriel Kay, Juliet Marillier, Patrick Carr, Karen Hancock, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Robin La Fevers, Tahereh Mafi and A.G. Howard. Yes, I sneaked some dystopian/urban fantasy writers in there too!

TRC: Do you have advice for aspiring fantasy writers?

CEL: Read, read, read. Not just fantasy fiction, which is important --- you’d be amazed at how much you unconsciously pick up about genre expectations, story structure and character development --- but all sorts of writing. History, philosophy, religion, biography, classic literature, old dime store novels. More than any other genre, fantasy is concerned with what it means to really live, the heights to which we can climb and the depths to which we can sink. The more you understand about people in general, the better rounded and more realistic your worlds and your characters will be. The best fantasy writers are students of humanity.

The second piece of advice would be to have confidence in your own vision. So many times we want to reproduce our favorite or best-selling authors. But the world doesn’t need another Tolkien or Martin or Collins. It needs your story, the particular way you see the world, your unique ideas. Don’t be afraid of what you want to say.

TRC: Can you give us a hint about what we can expect in the next book in The Song of Seare

CEL: OATH OF THE BROTHERHOOD was about Conor and Aine discovering the extent of their abilities and the purpose behind them. The second book, BENEATH THE FORSAKEN CITY, will see them and their resolve put to the test. It’s darker and grittier and filled with things like Vikings, mercenaries, court intrigue, sacrifice, evil faeries and epic battles. And we’ll finally get a look into the head of my favorite secondary character, Eoghan!