Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Chatting in Character: The Seal Queen

This week we're part of a blog tour for Sandra Saidak as she introduces her latest historical fantasy novel The Seal Queen, set in Bronze Age Ireland. Now the usual thing would be to interview the author, ask about the book and her writing background, and where she gets her ideas (when do I ever ask that?)

Personally, I've always been fascinated by Irish myth and folklore myself—and I do have an old connection to a family with a selkie on its bannerso this seemed the perfect opportunity to explore it with someone who lives there: the Seal Queen's protagonist, Briah.

MSW: Briah, I know your story, and it is harrowing. What would you like people to know about your life?

Briah: I was born in a small farming village, in the foothills of a mountain range you would call the Swiss Alps. My first eleven years would never have made a bardic tale: they were normal, happy, and completely ordinary. All of that changed when raiders attacked my village and carried off several women and children—among them me. For the next three years, I was a slave to a man of great power and great evil. Lir was said to be a demon, although to the children he used as toys—and often broke with his style of play—he was a

god. When I grew too old to amuse him, Lir sold me to traders who traded me all the way to the end of the earth. That was when I saw the ocean for the first time, and when I first met creatures called seals. And that was when I learned that there was good magic in the world, as well as evil. Because from the moment I touched the salt water, and looked into the eyes of that first seal, I’ve been protected—along with the child I was carrying. That magic helped me find the strength to escape from slavery, make a life for my son and me, and even heal from the horrors of the past. And someday, I hope to heal others. 

MSW: It must have taken great strength of character, and of purpose, to endure so much. Where do you think that strength came from?

Briah: I never thought of myself as strong—and certainly not as any kind of hero, which some people, ah, creatures, are calling me now. When I was taken from my family and sold as a slave, all I thought about was staying alive. After awhile, that became my whole world; everything else inside of me; everything I had ever been, just disappeared. Then, when I learned I was pregnant, something happened. It was as if those things began to come back, and some new things besides. This island I live on now, rightly called the Emerald Isle, gave me strength as well. From the moment I stepped ashore, I could feel the magic, calling to me. It told me that I could one day be free again, and that I could keep my child—something any

slave woman can tell you is impossible. Yet I began to believe it. And once I started to believe, I started to make it happen. Although I know I had help—in the form of shape-shifting seals and enchanted beaches. By now, you probably think I crazy, and I may well be. But I’m also happy. 

MSW: Will you share something about your relationship with your son?

Briah: I never expected to love Kamin. After what Lir did to me, I never thought I could love anyone ever again. I was terrified when I first discovered I was pregnant. Lir, my…master…did not want to have children. I’m only alive now because he sold me before anyone knew I carried his seed. The strange thing is, as soon as I was far enough from Lir to begin to feel safe, I began to love my unborn child. And that love is what gave me the strength to escape from slavery, start a new life, and, well, everything I’ve done since then.

MSW: What can you tell us about the roane?

Briah: The roane are seals who can shed their skin and assume human shape. They are similar to selkies. Both races have tales of being trapped in human form when a human steals and hides their fur. When they find their hidden fur, they return to the sea—often with children in tow, and broken hearted mortal husbands left behind. Unlike selkies, who often avenge the death of one of their own by raising terrible storms and wrecking whole settlements, the roane are much kinder and gentler. In fact, many of their tales focus on forgiveness and redemption. I was fortunate enough to witness one such story myself.

MSW: What do you really know about Taran? What is he? Where did he come from?

Briah: (grinning): I don’t really know yet, but there are days I can’t wait to find out! Other days, I want him to stay as he is: a mystery that haunts my dreams. And what beautiful dreams they are. So far, I’ve only caught a glimpse of him, out in the water. I know he’s some kind of merman, and I know his song is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. He also brings me gifts. Feathers and flowers from strange lands across the sea; exotic seafood. Once, when Kamin and I were both sick, and I couldn’t go out to find food, he brought us a huge fish—with successively smaller fish tucked inside. It was quite a feast. And we were both well by the time the last of it was gone. Coincidence? I think not.

MSW: How does love fit into your life, after all these trials?

Briah: I know that I love my son, Kamin. And I loved my late father, for whom my son is named. I love this beach where I live, and the seals who are my friends. But if you’re asking about the love of a man…That is not something I’ve ever known. And what I had instead makes it hard for me to trust any man. Perhaps that is why I like the way things are right now. I have a mysterious magical lover out there in the sea. I have his song and the gifts he brings, and wonderful dreams. But I don’t have to face the reality of love. I don’t have to risk my heart—or risk discovering that I’m too damaged to ever find pleasure in a man’s touch. For now, the fantasy is enough. Maybe someday, I’ll be brave enough to try the reality.

MSW: Thanks so much, Sandra Saidak, for giving me a chance to explore this fascinating character from the inside out, as it were. I asked Briah to look into her future, now please tell me about yours.  What's on your horizon?

SARAH: Briah’s story is now complete, but I am working on several exciting projects right now. My next book, Keepers of the Ancient Wisdom will complete my Kalie’s Journey trilogy. The first two are currently available on Amazon, and I hope to have book three out in December. I am also working on an alternative history novel dealing with World War II—but not the kind that’s ever been done before, as far as I know. However, the research on Irish and other mythologies I did in writing The Seal Queen has been so fascinating that I fully expect to use many more of these stories in future writing. That was not something I expected when I sat down to write The Seal Queen, but I’m glad it happened, and I can’t wait to see what my always active imagination settles on next.

Learn more about Sandra Saidak

Sandra Saidak is a high school English teacher by day, author by night. Her hobbies include reading, dancing, attending science fiction conventions, researching prehistory, and maintaining an active fantasy life (but she warns that this last one could lead to dangerous habits such as writing). Sandra lives in San Jose with her husband Tom, daughters Heather and Melissa, and two cats. Writers she counts as her greatest influences include Jean Auel, Spider Robinson, Zena Henderson, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Ursula K. Le Guin.
Sandra’s prehistoric fiction series, Kalie’s Journey began with the novel, Daughter of the Goddess Lands, an epic set in the late Neolithic Age, and published in November 2011 by Uffington Horse Press. Book 2 of the series, Shadow of the Horsemen, was released in July of 2012. A story set in the Kalie universe can be found in Sandra’s short story collection, In the Balance. Sandra loves to hear from her readers, so feel free to post a comment on her Author’s Page, or her website at Or of course, right here on Maggie's blog.

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