The Big Idea: Erika Lewis
Posted on February 28, 2017 Posted by John Scalzi 1 Comment
Ghosts! How do they play a role in the genesis of Erika Lewis‘ new novel, Game of Shadows? Lewis is about to tell you. You’ll just have to imagine her telling you, in the dark, with a flashlight illuminating her face from under her chin…
It all started when I was seven. I remember how cold the graveyard felt in the middle of that hot and sticky summer day. Not the entire yard, mind you, but one particular spot. The marker said his name, which I can’t remember, and his age, which I can’t forget. He was seven when he died. Seven. And he died fighting in the Civil War. That’s when it happened. The gentle wave of a little hand that wasn’t really there. Or was it? I ran that day. Scared of what I saw. But that moment was enough to keep me curious for the rest of my life. Did the boy have something he wanted to say? Was that why he was still in that graveyard so long after he’d died? Obviously, I believe in ghosts. Could that incident have been a figment of my imagination? Maybe…
I lost my stepfather when I was seventeen. We were close but I hardly saw him the year he died. So much time spent in and out of hospitals. We never got to say too much, and there were things left unsaid after he was gone. And I wondered if he, like the little boy in the graveyard, would ever wave at me. Or whisper in my ear, letting me know that he was still around, hearing me tell him the things I never got to say, like thank you for being there when others weren’t. But he didn’t. And at seventeen, I stopped believing…for a little while.
Larger than life, my grandmother was my hero. She made life look easy, even when it wasn’t. She never minded a midnight call during my turbulent college years when I needed to bend her ear. She was always there. Always up! The woman never slept until after 3 a.m. After I moved to California, and she became ill, I knew she didn’t have long. I had visited, but she was so sick, it was hard for her to talk. Then one morning, a few months later, before dawn, I knew her soul was moving on. How did I know? Because she told me. Do you know that feeling between sleep and awake, when you don’t know if you’re dreaming or hearing voices? Maybe that’s just me. I doubt it though. That was the last time I saw her, well, heard her. She said, “Lovey,” that’s what she called me, “I have to go now. I want you to know I love you and am so proud of you.” Me, being me, asked, “Is Grandpa here?” Grandma giggled. She did this from time to time, not often, but every once in a while, particularly when she talked about my grandfather who had died when I was eight. So she giggled and said, “oh yes, he’s over there. See? The one with the sexy legs.” Seriously. Sexy legs. God, I loved her.
As you can see The Big Idea behind Game of Shadows was something percolating for a long time. An emotional journey that felt like it needed to start from where we all did, in our youth. Right in the middle of those golden years when you feel invincible. Unbreakable. A time in your life when you never think that anything bad could happen—especially to you. After all, when you’re young, it could never be you who had something left to say, and now can’t, right?
Ethan Makkai is a freshman at Venice High School. He’s in that sweet spot, feeling immortal, but he has something that grounds him. Ethan can see ghosts. He knows life goes on in some form or fashion. Life and death is the ultimate great divide, but is it when you can still talk to those you’ve lost? Can still feel their presence blanketing you, giving you warmth and comfort when you need it them most? Ethan Makkai’s life is touched by death all the time. But it isn’t until he’s dying that he realizes what death would mean, that there would be things left unsaid—by him.
In bringing Game of Shadows to life, I wanted to combine Ethan’s personal story with something else that I found incredibly interesting: Irish Celtic mythology. During the first cycle of Ireland’s history, the Mythological Cycle, bards passed on legends of tragic heroes and great loves. A time when the Tuatha De Danann, the gods and goddesses, walked the Emerald Isle, and their seat of power was at the Hill of Tara, not far from Dublin. It’s still there. You can wander through it if you like. I don’t recommend getting too close to the hawthorn trees through, not without a fairy offering! Anyway, in the legends, when the Tuatha De Danann lost the war with the Milesians, the humans, they departed through the mounds to the Otherworld. But I always wondered: what ever happened to the mythical races and magical Druids that lived in Ireland with them? Well, that’s when I got to thinking. Maybe they’re still here…
Welcome to Tara, a hidden continent where, post losing the war, the Irish god of the sea sailed their kind, and magically hid the lands so humankind could never, ever find them…
I spent a few years writing, and researching, then writing some more, and then researching some more. I wanted the lands to feel unique, but also connected to what I love so much about the Irish myths, and about Ireland itself. In building out the realms, the landscape, the inhabitants, and magical rules in this new Tara, it all had to be tied to their ancient past, and yet different, brought into present day.
After making the biggest mistake of his life that allows his mother to be kidnapped, Ethan Makkai leaves Los Angeles, the only home he’s ever known, on mission to get her back or die trying. In an epic journey through unfamiliar lands Ethan must rescue his mother before a murdering sorcerer can kill her. He is the quintessential reluctant hero. Not that he’s unwilling to do whatever it takes to save Caitríona Makkai from her terrible fate, but rather unwilling to take on his new destiny, a destiny shaped by the fact that he can see ghosts…
It’s rather amusing in a chilling kind of way that The Big Idea for this story all started with the simple wave of a ghost-boy’s hand that may, or may not have been in that graveyard at all… but it did!
Game of Shadows: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s page. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
At first glance I thought the rider was wielding a polo mallet! But only for a moment. Irish mythology. Stan Lee endorsement. What’s not to like?