Interview with Dora Machado, author of Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone
Dora Machado’s debut novel, Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone, is an accomplished adult fantasy, entertaining and thought provoking in equal measure. Due out in June, this is a page-turner with heart and deserves to find a wide readership. Read our review of the novel.
Through the generosity of Mermaid Press and Dora Machado we have two signed copies of the novel to give away. Details of the competition can be found at the end of this interview.
The novel raises many interesting questions and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to put some of them to the author:
|GW:||Dora, thanks for your time. Having greatly enjoyed Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone I for one don’t want to keep you from working on the next instalment in the story, so I’ll get straight to it!|
Stonewiser is variously described as a debut novel and a breakout novel; either way it is an accomplished piece of writing that suggests considerable writing experience. So here’s my (tongue-in-cheek) theory: Dora Machado has written under a different name and, I suspect, in a different genre – I’m leaning toward Romance. Feel free to pull the rug out from under my feet.
|DM:||The rug’s out from under your feet. I’m delighted that you like Stonewiser, and I won’t deny that I’ve been writing in the privacy of my own home for many years now. But no, I haven’t published before. As thrilling and terrifying as it is, this is my very first incursion into the publishing realm. And no, there’s not a romance pen name lurking in the background to account for my preference to include a strong sense of relationship in my work. And why not? Fantasy is as rich as life itself. It deserves the depth and dimension that fast friendships, strong bonds and enduring affections bring to our lives. It’s fitting and complementary.|
|GW:||While I’m picking myself up from the floor and dusting myself down, tell us how Stonewiser came about, and why a work of fantasy?|
|DM:||I’ve got to blame Stonewiser on an odd combination, a clash of worlds, if you will. I’ve always straddled very compelling but different worlds. I’m an American of Hispanic descent, who grew up on a Caribbean island and loves history, especially medieval history. For me, the fantasy genre is a perfect fit. What other genre can provide me with the freedom and opportunity to explore the intricacies of my worlds within such rich, imaginative settings? I think that Stonewiser is an expression of that ongoing exploration.|
|GW:||The novel does explore a number of interesting ideas, but what would you say is its seminal idea?|
|DM:||I think it goes back to my appreciation for books and, especially, primary sources. I started to think: what would our world be like without the history and assurances that those sources provide us? What would happen to our sense of self, to our culture, to our institutions, if we didn’t have any reliable way to trace our past? What would happen if our history was erased, if we had to recreate an existential framework for ourselves, relying on fragments of uncorroborated knowledge?|
That’s how I got to the concept of the stones. I imagined this world devastated by a pervasive rot, where the only way to preserve a record of the past was to rely on the sturdiest available materials. To retrieve those tales, you needed a stonewiser, a person born and trained to see the story in the stone. Naturally, stonewisers would have been highly valued in this world. They would have to be properly trained for the job. Thus the Guild. Finally, I needed a character who by virtue of both her strengths and weaknesses was going to be able to stand up to the Guild and discover the lies in the stones.
|GW:||This idea of the stones as repositories for information is very similar to that of computer memory, with a particular nod to virtual reality: data is written to the stones and can be retrieved as a virtual experience. Information is quite literally written in stone – which carries the connotation that it is somehow inviolate. The stones, of course, are proven to be unreliable but only to the extent that bad data (lies) are written to them. All of this says something about the fragility or vulnerability of information to manipulation.|
|DM:||That’s very interesting. I really like the way you put it. I think I came to the idea not from a technical perspective, but rather from a conceptual point of view. I often think about the world we live in today, about our increasing reliance on information and technology to make decisions every day. Look at identity theft. Isn’t it a lot like corruption in the stones? Do you know how many people I know who completely rely on something, like, let’s say, Wikipedia for the bulk of their research? And yet the information that can be found at the site can be easily edited or corrupted.|
I thought about the media, the news, the internet, about how difficult it is sometimes to ascertain the objective truth of the situations that confront us. Is there such thing as objective truth? And if there is, could you find it?
Stonewiser begs answers to those questions.
|GW:||It’s very much an adult novel. Sariah’s personal relationships are complex and very physical. Beyond that, this is an action packed, plot driven fantasy, that also focuses on character in the portrayal of a young woman’s personal growth; and to top it off there is a strong element of romance to it all. There is a question in all this, I promise: given this thematic and stylistic breadth, who do you see as your readership?|
|DM:||Is this a trick question? Here’s my shingle: all readers welcome! I think that Stonewiser’s universal themes have a wide-range appeal. As you mentioned, I think fantasy readers will find their thirst for fast-action, twisting plots, adventure and creativity satisfied when they’re done with Stonewiser. And I’ll confess to a secret hope that one day, the setting and the tone will attract cross-over historical fiction readers to the genre. God knows, I’m always recruiting for the fantasy and science fiction genres. And yes, I would be honoured, happy and proud if women looking for a smart novel with a heart enjoy it as well. Do you remember a time when most famous fantasy writers were men? I happen to think that the whole genre benefits from the addition of women readers and writers.|
|GW:||Not to mention complex female heroines! You’ve said elsewhere that Sariah, the heroine of the story, is fundamentally flawed. Her choices and actions certainly have dire consequences for herself and others, consequences of which she is often ignorant until it is too late and yet you clearly have a lot of affection for her.|
|DM:||You’re right. Sariah is a flawed person, a bundle of contradictions, a tough cookie, a troubled soul. Sound familiar? Sariah is just like you and me, as complex and unique as we are. Have you ever done something you believed good, great, maybe even charitable, only to find out you’ve done terribly wrong? Have you ever believed in something fiercely, only to discover that it wasn’t true? Have you ever tried your best and yet failed? That’s Sariah for you.|
But what sets her apart is the way she deals with her own failure. Brought up in a den of lies, she still gravitates to the truth’s cause. Even though she has been abused, suppressed, and betrayed she can still find ways to learn compassion and trust. Stubbornness becomes grit and then perseverance. Servitude transforms into duty and then into choice. She understands something that eludes many of us: we can only survive, grow, evolve and endure if we learn from our mistakes.
|GW:||This touches on one of the strengths of the novel – that it is both plot driven – it’s a page turner – as well as an intimate portrait of a young woman’s painful journey toward maturity. Perhaps this is a chicken and egg question, but here goes: did you conceive of the plot as a device for pursuing Sariah’s growth or is her growth a happy consequence of her adventures?|
|DM:||No happy consequences in my little corner of the world. Complexity goes hand in hand with character depth. In my view, a complex character can only shine against the background of a complex plot, and a simple plot, well… is it worth your time?|
|GW:||Sariah’s world does have a complex political, social and ethical reality. The Old Blood have betrayed the goddess Meliah’s work ethic, forsaking labour and sweat and becoming exploitative, basically morally bankrupt. The New Blood – victims and outcasts – are the salt of the earth. The Old Blood own and exploit others; the New Blood lead communal, or at least traditional lives.|
Would it be reading too much into this to see a political or social agenda to the novel?
|DM:||As a reader, I’m always wary when an author tries to impose his views on me either openly or surreptitiously. As a writer, I strive to respect my readers always and foremost. I know my readers are intelligent, well-read, opinionated, passionate and, in many cases, worldly. I relish that.|
There’s also the issue of craft and mechanics. I’ve learned that when you’re being true to your characters, to the world you have created, ideology per se is just an untimely intrusion in the text and an unwelcome interruption to the story.
I don’t seek to advance any particular point of view in my novels. I have no hidden agendas. But I’ll be honest with you. I realise that there’s a social conscience to my work. How could there not be? I grew up in a very poor country. I’ve witnessed terrible disparities close and up front. I’ve also been fortunate to witness humanity’s efforts to address those disparities, to cope with its effects, to be generous even in the face of helplessness and despair. I can’t imagine that’s not part of who I am. I think I wrote Stonewiser with an ever-present sense of those very real disparities, about characters who suffer them, battle them, and in counted occasions, find redemption in those battles.
|GW:||I’d like to take this idea in a slightly different direction: family bonds and by extension, service and loyalty to the community, are championed by the New Blood. Much fantasy is nostalgic: would you say that there is something nostalgic about Stonewiser or idealistic in the championing of labour and sweat and family and community?|
|DM:||I had to think about that one. Idealistic, I think. At the end of the day, Stonewiser comes down squarely on the side of hope.|
|GW:||There’s a striking similarity between your New Blood and Frank Herbert’s Fremen: labour and sweat are a moral imperative for both. More pronounced is the shared ecological mission they have: the Fremen strive to bring life to the desert planet Dune, the New Blood to repair the damage caused by the Rot, which has turned their land into a watery desert. Ecological issues are clearly key to the novel.|
|DM:||Wow. I take any comparison with Frank Herbert’s outstanding classic Dune like a huge compliment. Thank you for that. You are right. Ecological issues are key to Stonewiser, just as they are to all of us, one of those universal themes that run deep in all the expressions of our race, including fantasy.|
In Stonewiser, the Rotten Domain is a place of contrasts. It’s a compelling setting where we can easily spot our contradictions. Do we choose to build or destroy? Do we perish or adapt? Do we surrender or persevere? Ultimately the Rotten Domain, decaying as it is, is the embodiment of hope, the idea that good can thrive from bad, and that despite the triumph of the bad, good is still possible.
|GW:||Although we’re never in any doubt about who the good guys are, you do play with our perceptions and judgements: the New Blood might have the moral upper hand in the present but their past is far from untarnished.|
|DM:||Who owns the truth monopoly? Who goes out to do harm from the outset? Don’t we lie often to make it easier for others? Don’t we all set out with the best of intentions? Think about it. Do you know right and wrong all the time? In Stonewiser, evil is not a purpose, it’s a consequence of righteousness, and nobody has the moral upper hand.|
|GW:||A few quick questions to finish off. It might be presumptuous to ask about the sequel before the first part is released but I’m sure many will be impatient to know what happens next, so, when can we expect to see part two?|
|DM:||I’m in the last stages of the editing process right now. In fact, I should be working on it as we speak!|
|GW:||Who do you read and why? When you read fantasy, what are you looking for?|
|DM:||I read all the time, everything and anything, including fiction and nonfiction. But I love reading fantasy and historical fiction the most. It’s what I choose when I’m prepared to truly enjoy myself. I look for engaging stories populated by enduring characters that make me care. I want a page-turner, and I want something smart, something that challenges me in a fundamental way.|
|GW:||And finally, if you had to choose one theme of the novel that is closest to your heart, what would that be?|
|DM:||Redemption—The idea that even when you’ve failed, when you’ve done wrong, when you’ve lost the way and made a mess of things, you can still find the courage to try again, to fix wrongs, to make good, to become better.|
|GW:||Dora, it’s been a real pleasure. SFFMedia wishes you all the best with your novel, Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone, and I for one am eagerly awaiting the next instalment. Thank you.|
16 June 2008
Congratulations to Belinda Y. and Linda D., winners of the Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone competition. Signed copies of the novel are on the way! The answer to the question (what is the name of the novel’s heroine?) is Sariah. Everyone got it right but sadly only two could win (picked randomly). Thanks to everyone for entering and thanks to Dora Machado and Mermaid Press for supplying the signed copies.
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