Thursday, April 15, 2010

Welcome Guest Author Laura Bickle – EMBERS: A VERY New Take on the Goddess of Love Myth

embers-250 I’ve heard so many great things about EMBERS, the new release from Laura Bickle, that I couldn’t believe I got the opportunity to host her here at Cheeky Reads. Look for an upcoming review of EMBERS and be sure to enter the giveaway below!

Take it away Laura!

I've always loved reading about powerful heroines, women who are in charge of their own story. I grew up reading Robin McKinley's heroines, like Aerin in THE HERO AND THE CROWN, who slew their own dragons. I was even sympathetic to the legend of Medusa - in my eyes, she was a tragic figure who turned all her lovers to stone. Myths are rich in stories of women who have attempted to balance power and love. I quickly learned that writing a powerful heroine is a whole different kettle of fish than reading about one.

One of the myths I was drawn to was the myth of Ishtar. Ishtar is the Babylonian goddess of love, war, and sex. Her love was known to be fatal. In the Epic of Giglamesh, Giglamesh tells her:

“Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured roller, but still you struck and broke his wing… You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong... You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks."

One of the most famous myths about Ishtar involves her descent to the Underworld, in pursuit of the soul a lost lover. She descends through the gates of hell, shedding her weapons and clothing as offerings, until she reaches Ereshkigel, Queen of the Underworld. Ereshkigel poisons Ishtar, dooming her to the Underworld. She can only be freed if someone will take her place.

Ishtar returns to the surface of the earth, in the company of demons, to find someone to take her place. She finds that her husband, Tammuz, has not mourned her. In a fit of rage, she sends him back to the underworld in her place, with the demons.

The myth fascinated me, the idea of a mythic heroine who was a love goddess, who could also be so ruthless. She wasn't like any of the other love goddesses I'd studied. Ishtar didn't recline prettily on a fainting couch, twirling her hair and awaiting her destiny; she picked up her sword and fought for who and what she wanted. I was eager to recast a bit of her in a modern image.

“You have the eyes of Ishtar.”

This is what the heroine, Anya, of EMBERS, is told. She doesn’t want to believe it. She’s got enough on her plate: by day, she’s an arson investigator on the trail of a serial firebug. By night, she works with a group of ghost hunters as a Lantern, a medium capable of seeing and devouring spirits. Anya’s responsible for keeping her fire salamander familiar, Sparky, from chewing on electrical cords. And she’s confused by her feelings for a fellow ghost-hunter, Brian, attempting to keep her distance.

A serial arsonist, Drake, tells Anya that she has the Babylonian goddess’s terrible gaze. He should know -- he’s a fellow Lantern, the only other one she’s encountered. And he tells her that she has much more than Ishtar’s gaze…

A character patterned after the Ishtar archetype was a challenging one to write. She’s not the usual heroine who always makes the morally-correct choices. She has a dark side, and she must struggle with it. She’s somber, angry, and is confused about her feelings. Though she’s emotionally armored, she’s very human. She loves, and aches to be a part of something larger than herself. But she’s an outsider: she’s apart from the world of humans, and even the ghost-hunters don’t fully trust her powers. Like many of us, she wants to be understood. And the only person who fully knows what she is, what she’s capable of, is another Lantern: Drake, the man determined to burn a city to the ground.

As Ishtar did long ago, Anya finds herself in the company of demons. While attempting an exorcism, Anya absorbs an ancient Babylonian demon, who works to possess Anya. The demon manages to gain a toehold in Anya’s own darker impulses, driving her into the arms of evil.

Like Ishtar, Anya must surface from the Underworld victorious, rescuing the souls she’s descended to rescue. And she must decide which sacrifices to make, who will remain in the Underworld behind her.

Anya is more human than Ishtar. She's reluctant to use her power, and tangled in her own feelings of guilt. But, still, she has some of the imprint of Ishtar upon her, the desire and the power to act on it. I think that there's something inherently interesting about how people deal with power and love that gives them a story, something to struggle against.

Check out more about Laura and EMBERS at these links:

laura-bickle Website: www.salamanderstales.com
Blog: www.salamanderstales.blogspot.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/laurabickle
Link to the first chapter of EMBERS : http://www.juno-books.com/embers-excerpt.html

Laura has graciously offered a copy of EMBERS to one of our U.S. readers today! Tell us, Do you like your heroines powerful? Love the characters who struggle with the the underworld? Is there another myth you love seeing rewritten into modern stories? Tell us and enter to win!

30 comments:

  1. Thank you Laura for this in-depth post on Ishtar and the myth behind her and thanks Sabrina for having Laura over! :-)

    I love mythology and reading about myths, so I'm eager to see how you incorporated mythological tidbits into Embers! I agree with you, I haven't heard of any other goddess of love who was at the same time goddess of war! Usually love goddesses are just beautiful and kind, and they don't do anything in particular. It is interesting to see a goddess having the 2 faces of the coin: love and war. Can't wait to read Embers, congratulations on its release!

    ps: don't enter me, I just wanted to comment.

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  2. Thanks for having me, Sabrina!

    Stella, I agree that Ishtar is pretty unique among goddesses. Love goddesses often seem, well...passive to me. Their beauty often inspires fantastic and horrific acts by men in tributes declarations of love, and they tend to look on. The thing I like about Ishtar is that she's acting in her own fantastic and horrific way, rather than necessarily inspiring that behavior in others.

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  3. Hi Laura,
    I have heard great things about this book on some of the other blogs! I would be excited to read. I have to be honest I am not that into mythology as much until I started reading Gena Showalter a couple years back. I do love characters who stuggle with the underworld, but I like the mix of humans and mythical characters combined. I would love to hear more about dragons really, I think they are so magnificent and beautiful and not to mention powerful!

    Brande

    bookjunkie@ymail.com

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  4. Brande, I couldn't resist putting a dragon in EMBERS. The Sirrush was a dragon-like creature from ancient Babylon, depicted on the Ishtar Gates. In EMBERS, I've made him the king of salamanders, and he's sleeping in the salt mine beneath the city. The serial arsonist is attempting to summon him to burn the city. Sirrush wakes up cranky, so bring marshmallows!

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  5. Hi Laura! Wow let me first say Embers sounds fantastic and congrats on the release! I'm so excited to read it:) I love strong characters especially when they are women then add little underworld with goddesslike ability and you had me at Hello, LOL! Sounds truly great. Not to mention I'm a huge fan of mythology and legends because they just have an interesting essence about them that really I can't help but love. I heard the term DemiGod and I find that theme pretty interesting being both mortal and immortal and their constant struggle to mantain their own humanity. I would like to see more of that. Anywho your book sounds great *sorry said that like so many times,lol* and I can't wait to read it. Thank you so much:)

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  6. Wonderful!! I've had Embers on my TBR list since first spotting it last month. I think I was in my twenties when I became disenchanted with all the male protags in SciFi/Fantasy. It was then I began searching for books with strong, female characters--heroines! There's been a huge resurgence in the retelling of myths--I think it's awesome! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and offering this giveaway. My fingers are crossed. :)

    ~Amanda

    makepeace.arts[at]gmail[dot]com

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  7. There are sooo many myths and legends out there to be mined. It's really an exciting time for the genre, I think! And I think that the idea of the demigod really has a lot of currency today. Humans are more powerful than we ever have been, and we've got more conflicts than ever before, too. But they're a lot of the same conflicts that the ancient Greeks wrote about. Humanity hasn't changed much, over all that time.

    Amanda, the first strong heroine I read about was Aerin in Robin McKinley's HERO AND THE CROWN. Before that, all I'd read were male protagonists, and they really didn't appeal to me. That book hooked me on the genre and opened up the possibility to me that chicks can kick ass and slay their own dragons.

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  8. I love a strong heroine. She need to be able to do the impossible and enjoy herself while doing it also adore stories written with myth and legend!

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  9. Great post. I love strong heroines. A heroine who can kick butt and take care of herself is great to read.
    Embers sounds amazing. I love the cover.

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  10. Thanks, folks! I love watching how myths evolve over time, and begin wearing the faces of modern people and situations.

    The cover artist is Chris McGrath, who did the covers for Jim Butcher's DRESDEN books. More of his work is here: http://christianmcgrath.com/

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  11. I do like a strong heroine. I like them to be able to handle themselves and the situations they get involved in. I dont mind if they can admit they need help or cant handle it alone. But I hate for them to be weak and whiny. And stories involving the Underworld are always great. My favorite myths are the Greek ones, I love when they are intertwined into the story.

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  12. For more art, a sneak peek at the cover for the sequel, SPARKS, is here: http://juno-books.com/blog/?p=913

    The theme of the Underworld becomes more important in SPARKS. Like Ishtar, Anya finds herself traveling through the underworld in the company of an avatar of Charon, the ferryman from the old Greek myths. This Charon isn't what Anya expects, though. She thinks he looks like a 1980's album-cover throwback in a black trenchcoat and Flock of Seagulls hair. He's still a psychopomp, but he's thoroughly annoyed off that people are pissing on his turf. He challenges Anya a good deal on her beliefs about what she is and her role in devouring the dead.

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  13. I do like a strong heroine. But not overpowering. I do like a male lead to come help her. Struggles with the underworld are always good.

    lizzi0915 at aol dot com

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  14. Embers sounds fantastic! Anya sounds particularly wonderful - strong, but flawed and struggling with herself.

    I'm quite fond of myth retellings, especially non-Western myths (as those tend to be the most overdone).

    penrynsdreams at gmail dot com

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  15. Jen Fagabank4/15/10, 1:40 PM

    I love when a heroine can stand up for herself. I get tired of always seeing tbe man save the woman, sometimes its nice to see her take charge and kick butt!

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  16. I love a strong heroine, I get impatient with herione's who wait around for someone to save themselves from their situation. I am also a Robin McKinley fan but my favorite is The Blue Sword, I love Harry and her surprise when she realizes she is capable of performing difficult things. Embers sounds great and I have added it to my TBR list.

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  18. THE BLUE SWORD was excellent, as well. The amount of character development Harry goes through in one book is just amazing. :-)

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  19. No matter what the genre, a woman who can stand up for herself is worth the read. I also like a story that dips into the mythical and magical realms. This book is on my "pick up" list

    Thanks for offering one up for adoption!

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  20. I've seen other sites with great reviews of this book - must have it!

    Love myths wound into the story becuase it makes the story seem timeless.

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  21. my fella , if i had borned a son, he was going to name him LOKI

    so we love all the myths from all greeks, vikings, vahalkla

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  22. I love Ishtar! I took a lot of Ancient Near Eastern history classes in grad school and wrote a paper on the Ishtar/Dumuzi marriage cycle. The oddity of being both love and war goddess was really apparent in those! But Ishtar is great!
    I love a strong heroine, whether she's a good fighter, has magical powers, or a little bit of both. For me, "strong" doesn't always have to mean physical strength; I like a character who can fight, but I also like one who knows how to find edible plants in a forest, or who can get herself out of prison.I think resourcefulness is under-valued sometimes, but I'm always thrilled when I find a character who has life skills as well as magical and physical strength.
    Thanks for the great giveaway!

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  23. This looks interesting. I love strong women and I'm a big fan of mythology and the underworld.

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  24. I love strong female characters - don't mind a few flaws here and there, as long as they have the strength to overcome them. I enjoy stories that are basically good over evil, and of course fighting the underworld is usually just that.
    Embers sounds like a great read, I'm going to be checking it out next time I'm book shopping.

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  25. Thanks for the kind thoughts, folks! I really hope that you enjoy the book. :-)

    Kimberly, I would have loved to have taken that history class. Actually, if I could have taken a class from anyone, in any time and place, I would loved to have listened in to one of Joseph Campbell's lectures. He's the king of myth.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with you that "strength" has many meanings. I'm reminded of the Tarot card, Strength, which shows a slight woman closing the jaws of a lion. It speaks of the power to accomplish things using internal resourcefulness and fortitude

    Blackroze, I love the name "Loki." :-)

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  26. I like a strong heroine but she must also be flexible. And strong character is as much about compassion as anything else. A thinking strong heroine is a must! Thanks for the giveaway!
    Darlene
    wrig9945@charter.net

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  27. i love strong heroines and i think it is great when it is combined with mythology. I feel like I ambeing entertained and learning something at the same time.

    meaghan_koci (at) yahoo (dot) com

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  28. I think characters who don't always make the morally correct choices are the most interesting. It shows they're not perfect and if there's going to be a series, it provides a lot of room for character growth.

    I've read a lot of alternate world books that have imperfect women in them. It's good they don't need to be saved by a man.

    amber at amberstults dot com

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  29. Would love to win this book. A strong heroine makes the story so much more interesting and it's about time!

    Eileen
    wiseowlreviews@aol dot com

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  30. Amber, I think you're right. Most people IRL don't always make all the morally correct choices, and I think it's more realistic if characters don't, either. If they make mistakes, I think it makes them more human.

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