Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ep 8 - Maegan Beaumont & The Hero and the Crown


Life-Changing Book

by Robin McKinley

The Hero and the Crown
by Robin McKinley

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Aerio Ingram Spark


Maegan Beaumont is the author of the award-winning Sabrina Vaughn thriller series. Her debut novel, CARVED IN DARKNESS, was awarded the 2014 gold medal by Independent Publishers for outstanding thriller as well as being named a Forward, book of the year finalist and Debut novel of the year by Suspense Magazine. And under her penname Megyn Ward, she is a USA Today Best-Selling author of Smart, dirty, romance. When she isn't locked in her office, torturing her protagonists, she's busy chasing chickens (and kids), hanging laundry and burning dinner. Either way, she is almost always in the company of her seven dogs, her truest and most faithful companions and her almost as faithful husband, Joe. 

Megyn Ward - Facebook, Instagram, Website
Maegan Beaumont - Facebook, Instagram, Website

Carved in Darkness 
by Maegan Beaumont

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Pushing Patrick 
by Megyn Ward

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Aerio Ingram Spark




Article: Dragon-Slayer vs. Dragon-Sayer: Reimagining the Female Fantasy Heroine
Instagram: Maegan at the bar with Sunshine
The Hero's Journey
The Heroine's Journey


Denise: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Heart-Shaped Books Podcast where storytellers pour out their hearts about books that have changed their lives. I'm your host Denise Ganley. As with any Heart-Shaped Books episode, there might be some spoilers, but don't let that stop you from listening. This is episode 8 and my guest today is Maegan Beaumont. We'll be discussing The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.

But before we kick off, let me introduce you to Maegan. Maegan Beaumont is the author of the award-winning Sabrina Vaughn thriller series. Her debut novel, Carved in Darkness, was awarded the 2014 Gold Medal by Independent Publishers for Outstanding Thriller as well as being named a Forward Book of the Year finalist and Debut Novel of the Year by Suspense Magazine.
And under her pen name Megyn Ward, she is a USA Today Best-Selling author of smart, dirty, romance. When she isn't locked in her office torturing her protagonist, she's busy chasing chickens and kids, hanging laundry, and burning dinner. Either way, she is almost always in the company of her seven dogs, her truest and most faithful companions, and her almost as faithful husband Joe.
Thanks for joining me today, Maegan.

Maegan: [00:01:18] You're welcome.

Denise: [00:01:19] I appreciate you coming to talk to us about The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. It was released in 1984, but it was a Newberry winner in 1985.

Maegan: [00:01:29] Yes.

Denise: [00:01:31] Newbery Medal Award winner. I'm not that familiar with the original press name Green Willow books. I don't know what else they've published or if they've been absorbed into...

Maegan: [00:01:41] I think, I think they've been absorbed into, I want to say Random House.

Denise: [00:01:48] Puffin.

Maegan: [00:01:49] Is it Puffin?

Denise: [00:01:50] Puffin has it now.

Maegan: [00:01:51] But who just Puffin belong to?

Denise: [00:01:55] That's a good question. I don't know.

Maegan: [00:01:58] They belong to Penguin. And who does Penguin belong to? Random House.

Denise: [00:02:03] It all traces back to Random House.

Maegan: [00:02:10] Puffin belongs to Penguin. Penguin is an imprint of Random House.

Denise: [00:02:18] Good call, good call. Okay, let's talk a little bit about what your life was like before you discovered the book.

Maegan: [00:02:31] Before I discovered the book. I read it, I want to say, it was 85-86 ish. I was 10, 11 years old. My life was, my childhood would be probably best described as chaotic. My parents divorced when I was two. A lot of stepfathers, a lot of stepmothers, step-siblings. Life wasn't always great. So, at the time we were living with my grandmother. So technically we were homeless.  It was just, I would say probably the best way to categorize my life, my childhood, in general would just be chaotic. I was really struggling at that point to find my voice as a person. You know, when you live like that as a kid, you kind of get lost in the shuffle and you don't feel like you have a say in anything. As a kid, you usually don't feel like you have a say in anything but even more so when the adults in your life aren't even in control of the situation. You feel completely powerless and completely out of control. You just kind of feel swept away and kind of you're drowning in circumstances that are surrounding you. So that's kind of how I felt. I was just struggling to stay afloat. For the first time in my life when I read I read this book and I felt a connection to the main character because she was not so much the same situation, but she was also struggling to find her voice since she was struggling with feeling like she was an outsider and like she didn't belong. And watching her find her voice and coming into her own really, really spoke to me and it was really powerful for me.

Denise: [00:04:27] How did you find the book?

Maegan: [00:04:29] I lived in the library. I was always at the library. If it was my school library or the library that was within walking distance to my house. And when I say within walking distance, we're talking a couple miles and I was at the library every day. The librarians knew me. At the public library, I sat there and read until closing and then I walked home again.

At school, my librarian, she would let me sneak in at lunch time. She would let me, you know, sneak in before school and after school and so I want to say that I found it at the school library. I own the book. I've been trying to get my kids to read the book for years. I'm just read the book.

Please just read the book. I've offered them money to read the book and they won't have anything to do with it. But that's how I found it, was at the library.

Denise: [00:05:20] So the main character in the book, I think she feels like an outcast within her own family because they kind of question that she even belongs there. So that's kind of something that you identified wih then?

Maegan: [00:05:33] Absolutely. Absolutely. Her mother was an outsider. She was not a part of it, I think she was from the north. Yeah, people were afraid she was a witch they were afraid that she had somehow enslaved her father, the main character's father into marriage.

And yeah, so when her mother died all of that kind of passed down to her and she was viewed as- she was accepted but not really. She was accepted because she was the King's daughter but there was always a part that she was not really a part of the royal family. And yeah, I felt that growing up I felt.

I felt like I was an outsider an outcast even with my own family, kind of held at arm's length a little bit. Yeah.

Denise: [00:06:23] So let's talk about the plot of the book. Aerin is an outcast in her own father's court, daughter of the foreign woman who it was rumored was a witch and enchanted the king to marry her. Like you were saying. As she makes friends with her father's lame retired warhorse, Talat, and discovers an old overlooked and dangerously imprecise recipe for dragon fireproof ointment in a dusty corner of her father's library, two years many cantor circles to the left to strengthen Talat's weak leg and many burnt twigs, and a few fingers, secretly experimenting with the ointment recipe later, Aerin is present when someone comes from an outlying village to report a marauding dragon to the king.

Aerin slips off alone to fetch her horse, her sword, and her fireproof ointment. But modern dragons, while formidable opponents fully capable of killing a human being, are small and accounted vermin, there is no honor in killing dragons. The great dragons are a tale out of ancient history. That is until the day that the king is riding out at the head of the army, a weary man on an exhausted horse staggers into the courtyard where the king's troop is assembled.

The black dragon is come, Maur who has not been seen for generations. The last of the great dragons, great as a mountain. Maur has awakened. Dun dun dun.

Maegan: [00:07:35] Dun dun dun.

Denise: [00:07:36] That's exciting! A girl going out to fight dragons.

Maegan: [00:07:39] Yes.

Denise: [00:07:40] With a fireproof ointment, no less, and a retired warhorse that she rehabilitated.

Maegan: [00:07:46] And I think what appealed to me, as I'm reading this, the description of the book as an 11-year-old girl, I'm thinking, whoa, she's a dragon slayer. That's not something that you saw. I kind of dipped my toe in the high fantasy. I didn't read Tolkien. I read Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron, Book of Three, Castle Llyr. While I loved those books, they were very much male-driven stories. You didn't have - Are you squirting your cat?

Denise: [00:08:19] Yes.

Maegan: [00:08:23] Sorry.

Denise: [00:08:25] No, it's fine. He's misbehaving and getting in the away.

Maegan: [00:08:30] Naughty naughty. So, this was something new for me a strong female protagonist that wasn't the Damsel in Distress? She didn't need to be rescued. She didn't look to a man for help or to protect her or take care of her and that was something that I really needed to see at that particular moment in my life. And it's like female dragon slayer. I was like, kick-ass. I'm reading this book.

Denise: [00:08:55] Yeah, I would have totally loved this book back then and, somehow, I never read it until you recommended it. I'd actually never heard of it. I was like, where was it, I mean it was there it was there how did I never come across it. I was reading fantasy at that time. I was probably reading Mercedes Lackey,k Anne McCaffrey, and Terry Brooks around then.

Maegan: [00:09:16] I read The Blue Sword, which was, I believe, a prequel to The Hero and the Crown. I've read a book of hers rather recently in my adult life called Sunshine. Sunshine is like Twilight on steroids. This book, I mean, there's no sparkly vampires in this book, but it is at its core a love story between a mortal and a vampire. It's got a lot of other things in it and again you have this young woman who is coming into her own power and she's realizing that she's very powerful and she's not just a mortal, she's other things also. It seems to be a theme with Robin McKinley as she writes really, really strong female characters.

Denise: [00:10:03] Well, and she, I saw an article that was talking about her inspiration. She was looking for a character, girls who do things, she wanted to write girls who do things. And she mentioned that she used to read Tolkien, like you mentioned, but her first role model, was Eowyn.

Maegan: [00:10:21] Yeah.

Denise: [00:10:21] From The Lord of the Rings, but she was dissatisfied with the character's lack of development. So, she wanted to have more doing.

Maegan: [00:10:29] Right and I think it's fine to look pretty and let the boys handle it. But at the same time that's, that's not every girl.

Denise: [00:10:38] Yeah.

Maegan: [00:10:39] That's never been me. I've never been the pretty stand to the side, let the boys handle it, kind of girl. I think that's where other books, I don't want to say failing me, but I wasn't feeling the connection with those characters in books that I did with Aerin.

Denise: [00:10:54] I think it's good to have options, like have multiple different kinds of portrayals of characters. Girls who do this, girls to do that, girls who do something else. That really like gives you a broader perspective of who and what you can be.

Maegan: [00:11:08] Yeah, and that's exactly the kind of message that every girl needs, and you don't have to be one and stay in that box forever. You can be, you can be all of those things. You can slay dragons and still be pretty and you can want to have kids but still be a police officer. You don't have to be just one or the other.

Denise: [00:11:32] Right. And it's good to also know how other people live or choose because that's part of like how we develop our empathy. So even if you want to be this you can respect somebody else's choices to be that or like you said, we could all be pieces of things. Different pieces.

Maegan: [00:11:51] Yes.

Denise: [00:11:51] So tell me a little bit about how you felt while reading it the first time and what kinds of things have changed for you. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Maegan: [00:11:57] When I first read it, I don't think that I caught all the nuances. A female dragon slayer. She was an outcast from her family, and I think I kind of glossed over the relationship with her father, glossed over with the love interest, I mean, there's a love triangle in this book.

I don't think I really realized that as the 10 or 11-year-old girl. I was more enthralled with the action of the book. As I read it as an adult her relationship with her father was very troubled. He loved her but he didn't know how to love her. He wanted to protect her. But he also, I think, was a little bit afraid of her and so there were dynamics in that relationship that came across to me as an adult that I didn't pick up on as a child. But also, like I said, the love triangle. As a girl I read it and I'm like, okay, so she likes this guy, but I don't think that I really caught on to what was going on, you know. Until I read it like oh, oh.

Yeah, those were the main sticking points for me was her relationship with her father and then the love triangle that kind of became clearer as an adult versus the kid.

Denise: [00:13:21] Yeah, and it's not, it's not what I would call a typical love triangle these days because it didn't feel like they were directly competing for her.

Maegan: [00:13:29] No, and when you say love triangle, Bella, Jacob and Edward, it's not like that. She was in love with two different people. She was in love with two men. Because of the events that happened in her life or in the process of fighting the Great Dragon, she, - can I spoil it for people?

Denise: [00:13:52] Yeah.

Maegan: [00:13:54] So she becomes maybe not immortal but her life, her life expectancy, her lifespan lengthens exponentially so she can have she can have both. She doesn't have to choose. She can have, I forget his name.

Denise: [00:14:11] Luth is the immortal who heals her after the dragon. And then Tor is the one that's the heir to the throne.

Maegan: [00:14:20] To the throne. Yeah, so she falls in love with Luth, but she realizes that her life and her duty, and she is in love with Tor. Maybe not in the same way she is with Luth, but she realizes that she has things that she has to do and that she doesn't have to choose.

She can have Tor and because her life expectancy is so much longer than it should have been because of how he healed her when that part of her life is done. She can go back to Luth. That, in itself, you don't have to choose you can have both, that was something that you don't see in your traditional love triangles. You don't see that it doesn't have to be a choice.

Denise: [00:15:03] Right, and they're patient. They're like look, I love you, I know you've got to go do your thing, I'll be here when you get back.

Maegan: [00:15:10] Right.

Denise: [00:15:10] Basically for both of them.

Maegan: [00:15:12] Right there was no angst. I should-

Denise: [00:15:13] Yes, exactly, angst-free book.

Maegan: [00:15:16] No angst, you know, everybody was mature about it. Everybody understood, everybody was accepting. And that's great. I mean, I know that as a teenager and less that you thrive on angst, but it doesn't always have to be like that.

Denise: [00:15:31] I mean, I think she does have angst but it's not about the relationships. It's about who am I going to be? Am I going to be able to kill these dragons or recover from these dragons and who am I kind of angst? It's not who do I feel for and what do they feel for me kind of angst?

Maegan: [00:15:50] Right. Who am I going to be with? That's the kind of angst that a lot of books, a lot of YAs and middle grade books that kind of edge toward the YAs, that's who, it's almost like girls find their identity in who they decide to be with. You know, and that was never the case with this book. You're right. She did have some anxiety and there was some angst, but it was more about who am I going to be? How am I going to be both? How am I going to be this dragon slayer? And how am I going to fulfill my destiny, but still live up to the expectations and obligations as the king's daughter.

That was the source of the angst and I like that. I like that. There was no chest-pounding. There was no pick me. There was no overt alpha B.S. It was, everybody was focused on her, helping her, and wanting her to be her best person and that was nice. Every girl should read this book.

Denise: [00:16:59] Yes, definitely. Would you would you say that book has had an impact on you throughout your life or is it something you've returned to?

Maegan: [00:17:06] I would say as a writer, as I've developed as a writer, I gravitate toward strong female characters and I think that it kind of steered my writing even at, you know, maybe a subconscious level. I don't think that I could write a weak female character to save my own life. Not to say that there's no vulnerability. Weakness and vulnerability, those aren't the same things.

Denise: [00:17:33] Tell me what you mean by a strong female character or weak female character.

Maegan: [00:17:37] I'm gonna get in so much trouble. You know a lot of your traditional romances and the focus of the woman is very much the Damsel in Distress. It's the man that saves the day, the man who rescues her whether it's, you know, emotionally or financially or even physically. It's the man who comes in and saves the day. He's responsible for her sexual awakening. He's responsible for all the good things that happen to her during the course of the book.

And for me, I guess maybe I perceived that as a weakness because why isn't she doing these things for herself? She's perfectly capable. So, I think that reading those books bothered me and as I got older and as trends started to move toward more fully developed realized female characters, that has changed. You have female characters in all genres that are strong and can take care of themselves and don't need a man or a male character to define them and do those things for them. That's what I mean.

Denise: [00:18:52] I mean because there's a lot of talk about what a strong female character is these days and I don't think there's one way to be a strong female character. I just was curious how you defined it.

Maegan: [00:19:04] Well, I guess maybe for me a strong female character someone who looks to herself to solve her own problems. She doesn't have to be Lara Croft or somebody who can kick ass physically. Somebody who can stand up for herself and say no I don't want those things or no you can't do that to me, or I can do this myself. Well, I appreciate your help, but I'm fully capable of doing this on my own and even though it's a struggle I can do it and maybe even if she fails she still tried, you know, she still stood up on her own and she still said I'm gonna do this for myself. That to me is strength.

Denise: [00:19:45] How many times do you think you've read the book?

Maegan: [00:19:48] I have read the book probably half dozen times over the course of my life. I read it a couple times in high school. I read it several times in grade school. I've read it once or twice as an adult. So, a lot and every time I read it, I think I see something different. I feel something different, which is great, which is what a book should do. As you evolve the book should evolve.

Denise: [00:20:18] What characters did you identify most with? I know you mentioned identifying with Aerin.

Maegan: [00:20:23] I don't think anybody else.

Denise: [00:20:25] I was kind of thinking did I identify with Talat because I kind of really liked Talat's rehabilitation and coming back from his war injury. He feels a little bit more than just a horse in the book.

Maegan: [00:20:37] Yeah. Yeah.

Denise: [00:20:38] But it's not like he talks or anything, but he definitely has a journey and an arc, I think, in the story.

Maegan: [00:20:46] Absolutely he was broken down and after he served his purpose who is put out to pasture and he was, physically, he was not able, but his spirit and his will would not allow- He was not happy with that. He was not happy with being put out to pasture. At the beginning of the book he was nasty. He was not a nice horse. You know because he I think he turned bitter and you're right, you know, he wasn't just a horse, he had attributed real human feelings to him, you know, jealousy and pride and bitterness and anger. So even though he actually wasn't a talking horse, he was very much a character in the book.

Denise: [00:21:31] Yeah, and I think he felt really ignored. He was loyal to his King and then as soon as he got injured it was like he was thrown away and I could really- not that I have felt thrown away- but like I could really feel that Journey for him. Like hey, just don't give up on yourself. It's an aging thing, right? It's an aging metaphor in a way where you're like just because you're not in your prime, it doesn't mean you don't have anything left to give or anything else you can offer. And that was a really satisfying storyline for him because he helped save the day in so many ways.

Maegan: [00:22:07] Right, and he still had- he maybe wasn't fit to carry the king and go to war, but he still had a lot to give and you know, and he did. He was as loyal to Aerin as he ever was to her father.

Denise: [00:22:22] Maybe more so, I think.

Maegan: [00:22:23] Maybe more so because she saw the value in him when the other people didn't, you know. So and as we're talking about this, I think maybe as an adult I might identify a little bit with Aerin's father in the respect that when you're a parent you have you have fear for your children, fear that they're not going to accomplish what they want in life, fear that they're not going to maybe live up to your own expectations. I try really hard not to put expectations on my kids. So as long as they're happy and healthy and not in prison, I'm good. Those are my, that's my criteria. Not actively committing crimes and healthy. As a parent you do have fear and sometimes you connect with one child more than you do with another and sometimes it's hard to get those fears and those feelings across to a child that you don't necessarily connect with on the same level that you do other children.

Denise: [00:23:24] I kind of felt like Arlbeth would be, the king, he was trying to balance what was good for his daughter and what was good for the kingdom. And they were clearly not open to accepting her and he almost didn't want to draw a lot of extra attention to her either because then she could be, who knows, ostracized even more or they could have rebelled and hurt her. And so he's trying to find that balance of keeping the kingdom happy and healthy and also keeping her happy and healthy and that in the way it is tricky and it sucks because as a king he couldn't just be like you guys have to accept her, she's my daughter and you know, screw you.

Maegan: [00:24:04] Right. And I think when it became obvious to everybody that Tor intended to marry Aerin. She was obviously passed over for the throne. People started talking about how she had done the same thing to Tor that her mother had done to her father which was enthrall him. She was a witch and I think that made her father nervous because he was trying to keep her a safe distance from the throne too so that it was not going to draw attention to her and it's not going to cause problems in the kingdom and here it is. She's right back where she started. Right back in the crosshairs of everything.

Denise: [00:24:50] Yeah, definitely, and then especially when Galana her, I don't know if she's her cousin, I think she was her cousin.

Maegan: [00:24:57] Yeah. She's her cousin.

Denise: [00:24:59] She wanted Tor and Tor didn't want her and Galana would probably be more of the traditional beauty of the culture there  and so she I'm sure made everything worse for Aerin and not weighing only because there was a antagonism but there, you know the jealousy to and then making her the villain. She's like the ultimate mean girl.

Maegan: [00:25:23] Yes, yes, but toward the end of the book, I don't want to say she gets her comeuppance, but she doesn't- she kind of mellows out. And she's kind of like- she never apologizes and she never takes responsibility for what she did, but she's no longer actively an asshole.

Denise: [00:25:45] Yeah, she's kind of like, eh, I guess you've got something worthy. I guess you did okay for us. That's right. I guess you freed the country. I guess that's all right.

Maegan: [00:25:55] Right. I guess I'll not actively hate you. Right, and again she was the traditional beauty. She wasn't- I think she had black hair, a traditional beauty in their country, in their homeland. You know, she was small. She was pretty she was petite. She's very much a lady. And Aerin was none of those things. Right. Which how in the world could Tor want someone like Aerin over her, it must be witchcraft.

Denise: [00:26:28] Yeah. So, what was your favorite part of the book?

Maegan: [00:26:34] I like her first encounter with the dragon. And the reason was because she was so confident going in and she was so sure of herself and nothing went according to plan and she realized, okay, I'm not I'm not I'm not as ready as I thought I was. But she persevered and that's when Talat really stepped up to the plate and protected her. You saw their relationship solidify and I like that part.

Denise: [00:27:06] Yeah, I love when she, well, you know, I almost I think I've said this before, but I think of this as like almost a STEM book in a way. She's like a little scientist because she's- the fireproof ointment takes her two years to develop because she only has a somewhat intact recipe, like ingredients, but not the amounts of the ingredients and so she has to keep testing and retesting and she keeps a journal about what works and what didn't work until she finally gets it right.

Meanwhile the whole time she's training Talat and then she goes to try to dispatch one of the little dragons as her test and she's all over that. She's like I got it. I'm great. And she almost doesn't really tell any I don't think she tells anybody about it. I don't think anybody really knows about the ointment either.
They just think she's riding the horse. So anyway, so she does that and then has a little bit of trouble with the first one but takes care of it. And then she becomes the dragon slayer for all the little ones that are like, I guess rat size or something. I don't know.

Maegan: [00:28:11] I think dogs-

Denise: [00:28:13] Dogs. Yeah, so they're smaller, but they're-

Maegan: [00:28:17] They're nasty.

Denise: [00:28:19] But they're nasty and they're still dangerous because they still breathe fire and all that. But yeah, and then so I like that whole journey where she's doing that, I like the scene. Honestly, I like the confrontation between her and Galana, and Galana is like, you can't eat this plant because you're not royal and it'll kill you. And then she eats the surka plant and then she eats all of the branch and overdoses on it and it nearly does kill her. But it does also prove that she has magic because she survives it. She wouldn’t have been able to survive at all.

Maegan: [00:28:52] Right.

Denise: [00:28:52] She's like I'll show you, and I really like that attitude and I do think it was a little overkill for her, but you know, she survived and learned from it. And then, of course, fighting the big dragon, that's Maur, the big dragon when she goes out to save the kingdom and she barely survives that. And just how Robin McKinley doesn't pull any punches. She's burnt. The kennet only, the fireproof ointment only lasts a little or like works just so much for this giant ancient dragon and then you know, it takes a while for her to stab him with the- I think she's gotten the sword from Tor at this point.

And so, she does kill him but she nearly killed herself. She breaks her ankle. She's laying on the side of the path or whatever and then has to pull herself into the water to like stop the burn. And that whole part and then eventually she gets herself on the road to where her dad and Tor can collect her. They run into her and find her. Like that whole part, it's grit. It's total grit, she's just surviving, you know. She doesn't give up at any point. She just keeps trying to fix the situation.

Maegan: [00:30:07] Well, she saves herself. I mean, and that in itself, what she went through she, what she persevered. And you're right this dragon almost killed her, and she knew that it was almost going to kill her. That was the thing. Is she she was pretty sure she wasn't going to survive. But she still felt like she had to do it anyway because nobody else would do it. Yeah, and so she went with what little tools she had knowing that it wasn't going to be enough. That was amazing to me.

Denise: [00:30:40] And the fact that it takes her a while to heal both from eating the plant and recovering from the dragon. In fact, she doesn't really heal from the dragon until Luth magically calls and says, hey I can help you out. But both times, I mean like that's legit like recovering from something so severe as those injuries, and I even think there's some depression in there for her. I feel like this book talks a little bit about it without really saying that, without labeling it.

Maegan: [00:31:09] Yeah.

Denise: [00:31:10] And so you see a lot of inactivity but also activity, like she's clearly dealing with the fallout from these things and the healing but still trying to do stuff in the meantime, but she's not up to a hundred percent and quite a while.

Maegan: [00:31:26] Well, and you know, I think the depression, I kind of always had the feeling that while Maur wounded her physically, he also wounded her spiritually. He very much scarred her emotionally where she was not, she would not have recovered from that. Even if she had recovered physically, she would never have recovered from that. He would have eventually killed her that way. So yes, maybe that was a metaphor for depression or PTSD.

Denise: [00:32:00] Yeah, maybe PTSD. Well and part of it was the skull, they took this skull of the dragon back to the house and that have like a negative aura about it. So there was other- I think that exacerbated everything on top of it. But yeah, and the book kind of just- I think there's two sections but it's definitely feels like two sections. Like the first section leads up to that and then the second section is when she goes to find Luth and gets healed and then finds her uncle magician, evil magician, and then comes back to save the country from potential usurpers. I guess you would say.

Maegan: [00:32:45] Yeah, who were under the control of the uncle.

Denise: [00:32:51] Did he call them?

Maegan: [00:32:52] Yeah. I mean it was the demons. Her uncle's influences very much infected these people and I think that that's where all the upheaval and and the civil war came about.

Denise: [00:33:07] Yeah, and then she finds allies in the mountain cats and the mountain dogs that are magical as well and help fight for her. The whole battle with the uncle was kind of weird to me.

Maegan: [00:33:21] It was weird because it was so, it almost felt anti-climactic to me.

Denise: [00:33:28] Yeah, no, I agree with that.

Maegan: [00:33:30] She climbed the tower stairs forever. It was like forever forever. It was like centuries.

Denise: [00:33:40] Yeah.

Maegan: [00:33:42] She climbed his tower stairs forever, and then there was some back and forth smack talk. And she put the dragon stone in the surka wreath and that was it. And maybe it's, I don't know, maybe I'm used to Braveheart and all these long drawn-out like epic- I've been watching Game of Thrones. Maybe that's what it is.

Denise: [00:34:09] Yeah. 

Maegan: [00:34:09] And by the way Arya Stark, hello.

Denise: [00:34:13] I love her.

Maegan: [00:34:15] Right she is, her and Aerin are like kindred sisters.

Denise: [00:34:20] They are, yeah.

Maegan: [00:34:21] So and then the uncle was dead, and I was like, oh okay. Maybe as a kid it didn't hit me as so anticlimactic, but as an adult, I kind of felt like- and maybe even as a writer I would have written it differently.

Denise: [00:34:40] Oh for sure because I was just thinking you go for the first half of the book you don't even know the uncle exists. You know that there's rumors of threats out there and that somebody in the north is causing problems and might challenge Arlbeth for the throne or something, but you don't know where it's coming from.

You don't know there's some evil magician behind all of it. You don't know that any of that's happening and so it does feel kind of weird. While, whereas the battle with the dragon is set up from the beginning. She's learning her fireproof ointment. It's foreshadowed or whatever.

Maegan: [00:35:14] The dragon's on the cover, you know, and she slays him two-thirds of the way through the book. There again, you know her battle with him is not over. It's not over until the end, you know her real battle with Maur the dragon is not over even though she slays him. But he's still gone. And then, you're right, all of a sudden there's this powerful mage, and you're like what where did this guy come from?

And he's responsible for waking the dragon and he is responsible for the civil unrest in the country and he's responsible for all these things. And okay, so now we see that the dragon was just a just a pawn and we're going to go to the real battle now. And again, we're climbing some stairs and we're throwing a wreath and that's it.

Denise: [00:36:10] I'm sure it feels a little more dramatic in the book but when you say it like that, it's like yeah, that's what happened basically.

Maegan: [00:36:23] Right? That's what happened. And maybe it's because it is a kids’ book.

Denise: [00:36:30] Maybe. But I don't know because there's sex in there.

Maegan: [00:36:36] It's not overt. It's very much innuendo. It's very much not- there's no bump and grind going on. But it is there, you're right. And as like I said as a ten-year-old that totally went over my head. I remember thinking he's like super old and she liked him? That was that was my takeaway as a 10-11 year-old girl was, he's really old. What is she doing? But I don't know, as a writer, I would have written it differently.

Denise: [00:37:13] You're right though that it's really she has to slay the PTSD Dragon at the end. And I mean, I like that she shows the after-effects of something like that and how it impacts you and changes you. But the uncle's part has just felt kind of out of place for me, even though he instigated a lot of it. And I guess maybe I'm just used to it in other stories he would have been more prevalent throughout the story. Yeah, you would have found his fingerprints earlier on you would have known the prophecy earlier on you would have read all of those things I think and that's doesn't mean that this story didn't work as well or didn't work at all. It doesn't mean that it just was, oh like you, say anti-climactic.

Maegan: [00:38:00] Right.

Denise: [00:38:00] And the first chapter. I don't know how you felt about the beginning but the first chapter when I was reading, I did have a little bit of a trouble with it. I was kind of like. I don't know if it was the way it was written, I just had trouble getting through it. Maybe it was because it was oddly vague and disjointed and then I was like, okay, but there's something here because that's where we meet Tor and her and their relationship and their friendship and it's that relationship that pulled me through that chapter and then kind of story stabilized after that. And so, then it was fine. And I've heard other people talk about that for Robin McKinley. In the beginning she has a very different style, so you have to adjust to that a little bit.

Maegan: [00:38:46] Yeah, she is very almost stream of consciousness when she writes. It's like it's in her head and it comes out and I don't think that she really takes a lot of time to structure it, you know what I mean. And as she's writing it's almost like it structures itself. And all of her books are like that. Sunshine was very much like that, very much stream of consciousness, disjointed, head hopping. You have multiple points of view in the same paragraph, the same chapter, and I think that as writers, Newbery Medal winners can get away with that. They can do whatever they want. JK Rowling can do whatever she wants. So these rules that we learn as writers, one POV at a time, structure your story, inciting incident, first act, second act, third act, conclusion, is these story rules that we learn as writers and we adopt and make a part of our craft. They're not really rules. And if it works but it doesn't always work. Robin McKinley can obviously break these rules and she can make it work and people will read her books and buy into it. For writers like me who don't have a following and don't have a Newbery Medal, I got to stick to the rules, man.

Denise: [00:40:19] For now. Or maybe not.

Maegan: [00:40:20] For now, or maybe not. I don't know. When I started writing, it was very much structured third person, past tense. Very much one POV at a time. Not more than three POVs in the story or two to three POVs in the story and now I'm writing almost exclusively in first person present with the alternating POVs. And that's almost easier for me now. It was a struggle at first. I'm breaking a lot of rules that I learned as a writer just starting out.

Denise: [00:40:56] Huh interesting. So, what did you feel about the ending or how do you think you would write it differently?

Maegan: [00:41:04] You mean with the battle with her uncle?

Denise: [00:41:07] Well, yeah or whatever you had said earlier when you said I would write it differently, were you talking the whole book or just that battle?

Maegan: [00:41:13] No, just that scene in particular. Like you said, I would have made her uncle more prevalent in the story. She would have learned about him sooner. Maybe she would have learned about her mother's role. In fulfilling this prophecy that we would have known about the prophecy may be a little bit sooner. It was just kind of thrown in there in the middle toward the end of the book.

So I think maybe I would have liked to see more of a- obviously she couldn't have a relationship with her mother, but maybe she could come to some kind of understanding about why her mother did the things that she did. And you know, maybe find some closure that way with her mother. And maybe her father also because I think that that was also unresolved.

You know, how the father felt about the mother. Obviously he loved her, but I think at the back of his mind he probably did always wonder did she use magic on me? Did I fall in love with her or was it something else? And I would like to see those things resolved. And also, the thing with the uncle there was no- usually, traditionally, there's many battles.

There's a confrontation. Your antagonist and your protagonist, they see each other, they size each other up. They know about each other even if your protagonist doesn't win that battle or nothing comes of it. They're still very aware of each other and they are the driving force in each other's story.

It wasn't like that. He almost felt like an afterthought, which didn't feel right to me. I would have liked to have seen a little bit more build up. And the final battle, something more than just she really just put the dragon stone in the surka wreath and threw it at him and that was it.

Denise: [00:43:02] Yeah. Yeah.

Maegan: [00:43:03] I mean, and I get maybe that was instinct and it was intuition when all those things came to her. I get that but at the same, you know, she didn't try anything else before she did that. I don't even think it was explained why she had the surka wreath in the first place. The dragon stone I get because that was the last drop of blood from Maur's heart. So that was something that she carried with her.

Denise: [00:43:29] I think the surka wreath help tamp down some of that power or something like that. I think it was.

Maegan: [00:43:36] Well, I always took it as it was a combination of her royal magical power, you know, her power as the princess of the king and her strength as a dragon slayer. I always took it as combination of those things, but I don't know why did she have it with her physically? Why did she take it with her?

Denise: [00:43:57] I don't remember.

Maegan: [00:43:58] Right. It just kind of felt like there was no there's no reason for it. It was growing on the outside of the tower. She wove it into a wreath and carried it up the stairs with her for a million years. It wasn't in the prophecy. So, it just kind of felt like she knew who he was all along. You know I guess maybe it felt like Robin McKinley had a secret and she didn't share it with the reader until the very end. And that kind of feels like a cheat to me.

Denise: [00:44:30] Well and I think part of it is like you said, it was anticlimactic because we didn't really have the strife that she had when she was fighting the dragons. With fighting her uncle there was very little, I mean aside from the climbing, it felt like a lot less strife. And so I would have liked to see more strife because usually your challenges get more difficult throughout the story and you build up to the really big deal and that one felt like a lesser deal and then back to a big deal when she has to ride into the  battle.

Maegan: [00:45:09] And I think you have this sandwich. You have the dragon you have her uncle you have the war. The uncle in the middle was the cause of everything but he was the easiest to defeat which doesn't, I don't know, doesn't make sense.

You know, it's an awesome book and everybody should read it. But and again, I wonder you know, I wonder if reading it she feels that way that she would have written it differently.

Denise: [00:45:37] Well, and part of me is wondering if I'm just trying to pigeonhole it into some of those tenants of storytelling that I'm used to like you said or if it was just an alternative… There's so much for the hero or the hero's journey, but then there's also heroine's journey that has all these rules for writers and stuff. I don't know very much about it. But I know it's different and so I was thinking well am I just trying to put it into this box is that the problem and it doesn't really belong in this box. And it's okay that it's not in the box, but am I just trying to put it in this box.

Maegan: [00:46:13] She has a very different writing style. You know, I'm sure that if she were here and we could ask her if she has she has some very definite reasons why she did what she did. Cause as writers we always do and yeah, maybe we are just trying to put it in a box and make it the way we want it to be but it's still felt that the battle with her uncle still really felt anti-climactic to me. Like there should have been more.

Denise: [00:46:43] Wherever you put it, there should have been some more strife.

Maegan: [00:46:47] Right.

Denise: [00:46:48] I would say that if this book was written today, I mean it might still not be, because not everything is, but I think that they would have tried to make this a trilogy instead of just the one book story.

Maegan: [00:46:59] Yes. Yeah, and and she like there was a prequel it's-

Denise: [00:47:04] But it was written before this one, but it actually takes place after this one.

Maegan: [00:47:11] Yeah, yeah. The Blue Sword was written before the Hero and the Crown, but the Hero and the Crown comes before. So, The Hero and the Crown is the prequel. Yeah. I think that they probably would have. Most of her books are set up to have potential sequels. I know Sunshine was very much set up to be a series and she does not like to write series. So yeah, I think if it were written in present day they would have wanted more.

Denise: [00:47:44] I think she liked to write fairy tales because I think, well she did the Sunshine, which is a vampire story, but I feel like... These are somewhat fairytale-ish and then she did Beauty and the Beast retelling and a whole bunch of other fairy tale story lines.

Maegan: [00:48:03] I think Sunshine is her only contemporary. I haven't read or heard of another contemporary from her.

Denise: [00:48:11] Yeah, she did a Sleeping Beauty one. She did Robin Hood one. And a couple others. And I mean there are a lot of them are straight up fantasy. But there's a lot of fairy tales and folk tales in there.

Maegan: [00:48:25] She wrote a book called Deerskin which was very weird. Well, the premise was the father- the main character had to run away because her father wanted- her mother died and her father had plans to marry her so there was some weird incest going on there. But that I believe that was an adult novel. I don't know that that was a YA.

Denise: [00:48:53] It's based on an old French fairy tale.

Maegan: [00:48:56] Deerskin is?

Denise: [00:48:57] Yeah, by Charles Perrault called... I'm not going to be able to say it...Donkey Skin. It's another one but it's looks very dark and it said contains adult themes of incest rape and miscarriage and psychological stuff. I don't think I've read any other stories of hers. I thought maybe I'd read the Outlaws of Sherwood, but when I tried to read the plot line, it didn't sound familiar. But I wanted to read Sunshine. I know that one's been referred to me and I love vampire books. I'll always try anything vampire-y.

Maegan: [00:49:33] Yeah, I liked that book because and again it's very much stream of consciousness, and it's kind of hard to get into, but I like that book because it's not the traditional vampire, he's so handsome. He is not. He is not. He is not in any way Edward from Twilight, but she loves him anyway. And he pretty much tells her it's never going to happen, you know, and he and he even though he loves her too. There's no I'll turn you. Even as you're reading it and you're hoping that you're going to find a way for them to be together, you know, there is no way it's gonna happen. And I like that. I like that again you're taking your stereotypical romance plots and turning them into more realistic, it's never going to happen. It can't. You'll like it. I have it if you want to borrow it.

Denise: [00:50:38] I can't read anything that's not ebooks these days. I keep trying and I keep buying books at events and they sit there and I'm like, I'm going to have to rebuy it in ebook. I can't seem to crack it open and hold it in my hands anymore. I don't know what's wrong with me.

Maegan: [00:50:55] I bought that book at the Strand when I went to New York. I bought that book and I read it in a bar in New York. All my friends are running around and I'm like leave me alone, I'm busy. There's a picture, an Instagram photo of me somewhere reading in a bar.

Denise: [00:51:16] That's awesome. I think this can be made into a movie. Do you think- I think it would still play today?

Maegan: [00:51:23] I think so, especially with the Game of Thrones thing or maybe a TV series. I think that it could it has has strong themes. Absolutely. I think so.

Denise: [00:51:36] You can easily flush out the side characters. And that would be interesting, and I think when anytime you get a young adult character, I almost want it to be an unknown actor. I can't even think of who I would want to play any of the characters. I just wanna meet the horse.

Maegan: [00:51:58] Not, what's her name? Not the chick that plays Bella.

Denise: [00:52:01] Oh well, Kristen Stewart is much older at this point.

Maegan: [00:52:07] I don't, I don't know who I would... nobody... nobody that I can think of.  Yeah, it would have to be somebody unknown. Yeah, definitely younger actors.

Denise: [00:52:19] Was there anything else you want to say about Robin McKinley?

Maegan: [00:52:22] I wish she'd write more. She hasn't written anything in a while. I wish she would write more. She has a definite knack for writing strong female characters and taking situations that as readers we're used to in making them into something completely different and I really appreciate that as a reader and a writer.

Denise: [00:52:44] So you had said earlier you would recommend this book to every girl or anyone. Anything else you want to expand on that?

Maegan: [00:52:51] If you're not going to read this book, read a book. Just read a book. Out of four of my kids, only one of them is a reader. Which I guess one out of four isn't horrible, but still not what I was hoping for. I know that young people are struggling these days. I know that from personal experience you struggle as a child. You struggle as an adolescent, and as a teenager, you struggle to find yourself and to find your voice and to be independent. And I'm not going to say that the answer to every problem is in a book, but you can find solace there.

You don't have to rely on social media, and you can find those things in yourself. I found those things in myself and I found it through a book. It's not like the book gave these things to me, but the book awakened something in me. And you know, that sounds cheesy and dumb, but that's what happened.

It's very much. It's possible for everybody. I think I read somewhere that people who read are more empathetic and I believe that. I worry about my kids. I've worried about kids in general these days. Because I don't think that they have the empathy that we did. I did. Just read a book. Just read a book, man.

Denise: [00:54:23] I agree with that though. Like I think that books helped me figure out who I was and developed a lot more, you know, feelings of identifying with other people. I definitely think they are core to who I am today. I was lucky I read some very inclusive storytelling and books, and maybe part of that's just what I was drawn to as well, but like storytelling and books that helped me feel stronger as a person.

Maegan: [00:54:58] Yeah, absolutely. Books that validated you and validated your feelings and your views of the world or maybe changed your view of the world. When you read these books, you realize maybe I wasn't right about that or that's how somebody in the same situation I am or might feel differently or react differently. And you learn that both reactions are okay and it's developing empathy, developing an understanding of other people and an acceptance of other people. I very much attribute books and my reading growing up to the fact that I can do that.

It's a great book. It's a good book even though I picked it apart a little bit. It's an awesome book.

Denise: [00:55:47] It is an awesome book. I really wish I had found it when I was younger, although I appreciate it now and I'll try to put it in the hands of people that I know but I really do wish I had had found it.

Maegan: [00:56:01] I have bought this book for strangers' children before. There was a woman in a writing group on Facebook and she was talking about her daughter and how she was really struggling, and she was being bullied at school and she felt different like an outcast. And I messaged her and said I'm buying your daughter this book. I need her to read it. Please, please have her read it and I sent her a physical paperback copy and I never heard from her again. There was never a thank you. But knowing that I was able to send that out and hopefully, hopefully, this little girl read this book and felt even a little bit of what I felt.  I know, again, this sounds cheesy and stupid, but I really feel like this book, if it didn't save my life, it changed my life. It opened up and made me realize things that I might not have realized, or it would have taken me years to figure out on my own. Whenever somebody says what book changed your life or what was your favorite book? This is it, this is the book. This is the book that changed the course of my life.

Denise: [00:57:14] Especially kids. We can tell them things, and we can give them the message directly, but they don't hear in the same way that you would get it from a book. From a third party that was completely separate from you, and I think that's why books will never go away. The storytelling that comes from books is different than the storytelling that comes from other sources.

Maegan: [00:57:38] Absolutely.

Denise: [00:57:39] There's so much more internal work that's done.

Maegan: [00:57:43] Right and I think that's the difference between lecturing our children and telling them things and them reading it and absorbing it and internalizing it, and it becomes a part of them. And even though they don't know it, it's inside. It's in their brains. It's in their minds and it's very slowly, very gently changing. Sometimes it's a lightning bolt of change. But sometimes it's just subtle shifts in the way you think and the way you feel. And sometimes those subtle shifts, they make a hundred times more difference than a lightning bolt of realization and that's kind of where it was.

You know, I did feel this immediate connection with Aerin, but at the same time, you know, there was a there was a shift. It doesn't have to be this way. The life you're living now doesn't have to be the life you always live. Who you are now doesn't define who you're going to be. You have a hand, you have a say in where your life goes and who you are as a person and that gentle steering towards something different was what really changed my life.

Denise: [00:58:57] Yeah, that's awesome.

What are you reading right now? And do you have any book recommendations for people?

Maegan: [00:59:03] What am I reading right now? I am not reading anything currently. I am so under deadline, I cannot read anything right now.
I'm looking around trying to see- see all my books? I'm actually getting ready to read- I just bought Shannon Baker's The Desert Behind Me, and I'm interested in reading that. It's a different kind of book for her. It's a lot darker. Her protagonist struggles with the death of her sister, I believe, and there's some psychological issues going on. So, I'm interested and I'm excited to read that. The Desert Behind Me by Shannon Baker. That's on the top of my To Be Read list. Matt Coyle writes a great series. It's the Rick Cahill series. The first book is called Yesterday's Echo. Very hard-boiled Raymond Chandler-esque style of writing. I really enjoy his books.

What I read personally, aside from Shannon and Matt Coyle. I like Harlan Coben. I'm a huge Stephen King fan.

Denise: [01:00:11] What's your favorite Stephen King?

Maegan: [01:00:13] It's a book called The Dark Half. It's not a well-known book of his although they did make it into a movie. And it's about a writer who has a pen name, and he becomes so enmeshed with this pen name that it endangers his life and his family and his happiness as a married man and father. So, he decides to stop writing in this pen name. The name comes to life basically like terrorizes everybody.

Denise: [01:00:46] Oh my goodness.

Maegan: [01:00:47] Yeah, but I really liked that book called The Dark Half by Stephen King. That was a good one. And the protagonist, his name is Thad Beaumont. So, there's that. I also like Dean Koontz. My favorite book by Dean Koontz is called From the Corner of his Eye. I really liked that book. Dean Koontz, his books have become more emotional and more personal as he's gotten, you know, he doesn't just write the horror anymore. And From the Corner of his Eye is very much an emotional book. I really enjoyed that.

Denise: [01:01:20] And do you have any podcast recommendations?

Maegan: [01:01:24] Matt Coyle has a podcast called, I think it's called, Crime Corner. It's more geared toward mystery and thriller writing.

Denise: [01:01:33] Is it a writing podcast or is it for readers? Like who's the audience?

Maegan: [01:01:37] I think it's for readers. He interviews authors.

Denise: [01:01:41] So let's talk about your books. Tell us what you write.

Maegan: [01:01:45] Okay, I write two completely different genres. I write hardcore thrillers, and I also write super steamy contemporary romance.

Denise: [01:01:55] Yay.

Maegan: [01:01:55] Yay. That's Maegan Beaumont, which is the name I write my thrillers under, which is actually my name. I've written five thrillers in the Sabrina Vaughn series. Expect at least three more books in that series.

My pen name is Megyn Ward. Under Megan Ward I have released 15 romances ranging from 30,000 words to 90,000 words and they're all super steamy hot contemporary romance. I have 4 series in the works right now. I'm very, very busy with that, writing 3 thrillers a year in addition to six romances. I'm really busy. I write a lot.

The romance thing I started writing romance as a way to keep writing and maybe generate some income and I really wasn't into. It was kind of like whatever I'll do it, you know because I did research and 70% of all readers read romance. There are genres that are easier for a woman to break into. Thrillers are the hardest and romance is the easiest. So, I wanted to give myself a break. Really wasn't particularly jazzed about writing romance, but I'll give it a shot. Whatever.  What's the worst that can happen, right? Turns out I love it. Turns out I'm good at it. I really enjoy myself. I enjoy the characters. I enjoyed the writing. I enjoy everything about it.

So, when the deal came up for the Sabrina series, everybody's like oh, that's great. Are you gonna stop writing romance? And I'm like, nope. No, I'm still going to do that. Nope, I'm not giving that up, you know. And there is kind of a stigma attached to writing romance. And you know, it kind of bums me out a little bit because even I feed into it. I've had people ask me, when are you going to start writing real books again, that's not nice. I write real books. You know, they have words and everything. So, I feel that and I fed into that for a very long time, because I didn't want to tell people that I wrote romance. Almost felt like something that I should be ashamed of but I'm not anymore. Yay. I'm out of the closet. You know, I hit the USA Today bestseller list in February. So, that was a thing. As Megyn Ward. I'm doing it. I got the USA Today Bestseller tag as Megyn Ward. And as Maegan Beaumont I've won the Gold Medal for Independent Publishers. You know, different, but still good.

Denise: [01:04:42] And where can people find you online?

Maegan: [01:04:44] They can find me... I'm on Facebook. Most prevalently on Facebook as Megyn Ward, and Maegan Beaumont on Facebook. Also, I'm on Instagram and Twitter. I'm not so active on Twitter. I really choose Facebook and Instagram as my platforms. I also have websites MegynWard.com and MaeganBeaumont.com, and you'll find all the good stuff on all my releases and whatnot.

Denise: [01:05:21] Well, thank you so much for sharing your story.

Maegan: [01:05:22] You're welcome.
Denise: [01:05:23] And the book. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have read the book and I'm so glad that I read the book.

Maegan: [01:05:29] I'm glad that I- Yay!

Denise: [01:05:31] And hopefully other people who are gonna be listening will also go out read it.

Maegan: [01:05:35] Hopefully! They're going to say what are these ladies talking about, what's so great about this book? And then you're going to find out.

Denise: [01:05:40] Aerin Dragonslayer. Yes. I'm in! If you like Arya Stark, you're gonna love Aerin Firehair.

Maegan: [01:05:48] Absolutely one hundred percent. They are soul sisters.

Denise: [01:05:52] Thanks for listening. You're the best. As usual, you can find the books we discussed in the show notes at HeartShaped books.com. If you enjoyed the episode, please share the podcast with other book lovers and add a review wherever you listen.

If you plan to buy these books, please consider purchasing them using our affiliate links through Indie Bound, Aerio Ingram Spark, and Amazon. You can also support the podcast via Ko-Fi And Patreon. For all the details go to HeartShaped books.com. Be sure to connect with me on Twitter @HSBpodcast or via email at Denise Ganley at gmail.com. You can even leave a voicemail for the show via Speakpipe, which I might share on the podcast.

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