Published by Penrose House Press, LLC on 9-19-2012
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A captivating debut that promises to delight general readers and fantasy fans alike. Magic, adventure, mystery, romance... Gift of the Phoenix does not disappoint.
A prince is murdered.
An island sinks into the sea.
A thousand-year-old ritual foretells great evil.
A nation’s fate rests in the hands of three strangers, thrust together by their common destiny to protect the Phoenix, and their world, from destruction. The Three must learn to unite in spite of what separates them, and unlock the magic of three stones that seem to harm as much as they help.
Their journey leads through unexpected doors. Along the way they encounter a cursed people, a haunting vision, a woman on the run.
It all begins and ends with the gift of the Phoenix.
“An incredibly impressive book that grips you from the very start. There is plenty of action in the story, some wonderful characters and magical, atmospheric settings. Donna has created a fascinating realm in this story which, even if you don’t consider yourself a fantasy fan, you’ll definitely enjoy.” – Excerpt of Stephanie Dagg’s review at Books Are Cool.
“As an avid reader of fantasy, I often encounter boring or overused plotlines—this was neither! With a fresh new take on fantasy adventure, Cook constructs an enchanting world of magic, kingdoms, rebirth, and death.” – Excerpt a review by Artemis at Fantasy Book Lovers Unite
“Gift of the Phoenix reminds me of a mix of Paolin’s Eragon and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but stands on its own as a unique fantasy-adventure. Cook creates a magic system that is intricate and unique, which can be hard to do in a genre littered with magic. The story is very complex, and yet very easy to follow… layers upon layers of intertwined plots that all culminate to a fantastic ending. I would recommend this book to anyone of any age.” – Excerpt of a review by Will Wortner at Zero2Fiction
Interview with Author Donna Cook
Can you talk a little about what the book is about?
There is only one Phoenix in this world. Every time it regenerates, it rolls its ash into an egg and delivers it to a secret society of witches and wizards who use the ash in their magic. This time, the Phoenix brings the ash but something goes wrong. They learn someone is going to steal the magic and immortality of the Phoenix for themselves. Thus begins an epic adventure to defend the Phoenix from the Cunning One, but it is only the beginning.
A prince is murdered. An island sinks into the sea. A nation’s fate rests in the hands of three strangers, thrust together by their common destiny to protect the Phoenix, and their world, from destruction. The Three must learn to unite in spite of what separates them, and unlock the magic of three stones that seem to harm as much as they help. Their journey leads them through unexpected doors. Along the way they encounter a cursed people, a haunting vision, a woman on the run. It all begins and ends with the gift of the Phoenix.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
The primary idea about a battle over the Phoenix came to me after reading a book about mythological creatures around the world. I knew our Western version of the Phoenix (a myth that has always fascinated me) but this book detailed the variations in the Chinese and Egyptian Phoenix myths as well. Suddenly the mythology of the Phoenix became more fluid. I adopted some of these variations, added my own, and created an entire society built around the magic of the Phoenix’s ash. I had a blast doing it!
What message do you want readers to get from reading the book?
Gift of the Phoenix falls into the category of epic or heroic fantasy. Think Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings (I’m always incredibly flattered when reviewers draw comparisons between these books and mine). What do we gain from reading books full of magic and wonder? (Besides fun!) Fantasies and fairy tales have always had a place in cultures around the world and in every era. Even in our high-tech, fast-paced world, we love fantasy. Sometimes stories simply offer us a healthy break from the harsh realities of life. There is real value in that. But fantasy often does more than entertain. These are the kind of stories that remind us of our humanity. That look at the stark contrasts of good and evil and remind us why we believe in things like loyalty, sacrifice, honor, and courage. I wrote Gift of the Phoenix because I wanted to go on a fun adventure of my own design. After writing the first draft, I realized my personal experiences and values leaked into the book of their own accord. I think readers may have a similar experience: an exciting adventure that happens to showcase some of our most cherished values.
How long did it take to write the book?
For. Ever. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but it felt that way at times. I spent a solid 18 months on the principle writing, editing, and revising. I wrote several hours a day, every day except most Sundays. Don’t ask me how I pulled that off because I have no idea. After that, I worked more sporadically. I spent the next year working on and off with my editor and responding to feedback from beta readers. The manuscript sat in a drawer for a few years, due to some family issues that took over just about everything. Later I pulled it out, dusted it off, gave it the once over with fresh eyes, and spent another several months fine-tuning. It was a lot of work. Based on how the book has been received, it all paid off. I’m so glad I didn’t try to rush the process or publish it before it was ready.
Who is your favorite character, or what character was the most fun to write?
Oh, I love so many of these characters. That’s like asking me to pick my favorite kid. (That would be my middle child. No! I’m just kidding!) My favorites are the three main characters, Corren, Marcellus, and Nicolai. Also Janus. I adore Janus.
Can you talk about how you wrote it? Did you do any outlining? Did it take you in any unexpected directions?
I worked in plain spiral notebooks initially, plotting, brainstorming, world building, and developing characters. I jumped around a lot and let my imagination go wherever it wanted to go. I’d say I probably discarded about a third of the ideas I came up with. Once I had a solid story in place, I decided to outline the material, just to get it organized. As I did that, I’d frequently write whole scenes, followed by a place holder (i.e. “This is the scene where Corren and Nicolai go to the Bridge of a Thousand Ages” or something like that). So my outline was more of an outline/hybrid draft of a few hundred pages. From there I went back and wrote scenes I skipped, fleshed out existing scenes, moved things around, deleted, rewrote, and on and on. The writing process always has the potential to take you in unexpected directions, which is half the fun. 🙂
If you could go back and change anything in the novel, what would it be?
Oooh, can I pretend you didn’t ask that question? It makes my perfectionist tick kick in. 🙂
How did you come up with the cover?
Isn’t it lovely? My husband happens to be a professional artist so I didn’t have to look far for an illustrator. 🙂 The original vision for the cover was the opening scene in the Rock of Light. It would have included wizards in the foreground, and the rough openings of the Rock of Light revealing the night sky in the background. We soon realized the image of the Phoenix is so awe-inspiring, that was really all we needed. The egg of ash in its claws adds a touch of mystery. The illustration evokes the kind of emotion readers are likely to experience when reading the book, so all the way around, the cover does a great job drawing people in.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was young and learning how to read. One day after my mother read me a story, I asked about the names on the cover. She explained the difference between the author and the illustrator. I looked at her, wide-eyed, as I realized there are people whose jobs are to tell stories. I thought, “I want to do that!” I still feel that way.
What was the first story that you ever wrote?
I don’t remember. Isn’t that sad? I know I wrote stories, but my early years were primarily littered with plot ideas that never developed into anything. Even as a kid I tended to come up with novel-length ideas, but I had no idea how to turn those ideas into actual books. In college I majored in creative writing, added a whole bunch of short stories to my arsenal, and continued to struggle with full-length manuscripts. I didn’t complete the draft of a novel, beginning to end, until I was in my thirties. It was a huge accomplishment, but the story was so bad I’ve officially dubbed it The Boring Book. Still, it was a breakthrough in my skill level. Everything I’d been working on for the past many years finally came together. I abandoned The Boring Book halfway through the second draft and started Gift of the Phoenix instead. A wise decision if ever there was one.
What are your favorite books and authors?
I really don’t do well with favorites questions. My mind freezes up. I start to worry. What if I leave out something important? What if I mention Bridge to Terabithia but accidentally leave out Jane Eyre? What if I add Kate DiCamillo to the list and forget Megan Whalen Turner? I’ve read These Is My Words half a dozen times and The Pearl only once, but I treasure them both. How could I say which I like best? Plus, my affection for books and authors is very fluid and open to new discoveries, and new favorites.
What are you working on next?
I wrote Gift of the Phoenix as a stand-alone, so it won’t leave you hanging. However, I purposely left some doors open for myself in case I wanted to write a follow-up. I do and I am. The sequel is another massive undertaking, but like Gift of the Phoenix, it has been such a joy to work on. Also, I fell backwards into a series of novellas centered around Nashua, an important minor character at the beginning of Gift of the Phoenix. A reader requested more about her, which led to Nashua’s Choice (a novella currently out in eBook formats). I had so much fun and find her story so intriguing, I feel compelled to tell more. There will be three more novellas (the next is Nashua Alone), which I’ll release as eBooks as I complete them. I’ll then release the entire series in print. Just as a note, while Gift of the Phoenix and its sequel are appropriate for(and read by) both teen and adult readers, the Nashua novellas are more suited for adults.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
How much time do you have? I think much of the advice to writers can be summed up in two general statements. The first is, Do all the work necessary to master your craft. The novel is a complex, advanced form of writing. Learn as much as you can about it. Learn from people who have mastered it. That includes reading lots of books. Practice, practice, practice. Writing is not a spectator sport. Be prepared to work hard. The second statement is, Don’t give up. If it’s important to you, that is all the reason you need to keep going. Forget about the overnight success stories. The person who’s never written anything before, has a dream, writes a book in a few months, and then goes on to become a huge bestseller is an anomaly. You will drive yourself bonkers trying to duplicate that particular lightning strike. For pretty much everyone else, your success will be the result of years of hard work. Diligent, blissful, infuriating, chocolate-addiction-inducing hard work. (See statement #1.) Don’t give up just because it doesn’t come easy, or because someone is discouraging you, or because the publishing business is brutal, or because you fear failure. Do you want to be a writer or not? Yes? Then keep writing.
How do you juggle writing with family time?
Don’t I wish I knew. It’s a challenge. I try to divide my days into broad sections. When the kids are at school, that’s when I work. After school and in the evenings, that’s family time. After the kids go to bed, that’s couple time, unwinding time, writing time, or some variation (but always at least couple time). I try to get a good night’s sleep, otherwise I’m not a fun person to be around the next day. Saturdays are for play. Sundays are for worship. That’s the ideal and sometimes it works that way. Other days I’m editing while the kids are doing homework, or running kids to the doctor when I should be working, or letting my trip to Costco take way more time than necessary because, well, it’s Costco. Family demands often cut into my writing time. Sometimes severely. Truthfully, that can be frustrating at times, especially when I get questions about the release date for the sequel. But in the end, it really is okay. My kids won’t be home forever, and I feel incredibly blessed that I’m able to be with my kids as much as I am.
The man’s eyes narrowed and he leaned in. “Have you ever seen the waters swallow an island?”
“What?” Nicolai asked.
He pointed to what Nicolai knew to be the Pearl and Crescent Islands, only a few miles out from the coast. They were uninhabitable rock for the most part, notable only because one island was shaped like a crescent moon while the other circular shaped island sat within its gulf. Only Nicolai didn’t see two islands. He saw only the crescent-shaped island.
“What happened?” Nicolai asked.
“I’ll tell you what happened. The Pearl is gone! Sank right into the sea it did!”
Nicolai tried to imagine an island in the cove of Crescent Island’s bay, then tried to imagine that island sinking into the sea.
“My brother says a monster ate it!” the little girl said.
Her mother hushed her. “Don’t listen to his tales.”
“It was an earthquake,” the first man said kindly, bending his reddened face down to her. He put his hands together and slid them back and forth. “The earth shook under the water and made the water come sloshing up over the edge. Just like shaking a cup.” She looked at him skeptically. Nicolai gathered she thought a monster sounded more credible.
“It wasn’t a monster,” said a frail voice. They all looked around to see a withered woman resting on a bench next to the wall. “It wasn’t an earthquake either. What took that island was the same thing that made it.”