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The Collar and the CavvarachThey hurried on in silence, Bensin darting wary glances at the houses on either side.  In addition to the glowing New Year decorations, many had porch lights on for safety, with an occasional nightlight gleaming through bedroom curtains.  But as far as he could tell, no one was awake; no one heard them pass.  Probably they were all dead to the world in their beds, sleeping off their New Year’s dinners, dreaming about the gifts they had received from friends and family and their hopes for the coming year.
I know what the year 154 will hold.  Freedom for Ellie.  Bensin could endure anything himself if only his little sister could be free and safe.  That was the best, the only New Year’s gift he wanted.

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire’s most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie’s escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

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Above is the cover, an excerpt, and the blurb for a fantasy novel that just went live yesterday. It’s by indie author Annie Douglass Lima, speculative fiction author of the ANNALS OF ALASIA series (middle grade, fantasy).  I have an interview with Annie today. We hope it gives you insight into her new story. Information on where to purchase is at the end of the interview.

Here we go:

Mirtika: What is the genre of this novel and what would you say is the main theme?

Annie: The genre is young adult action and adventure. It could also be considered speculative fiction, because while the setting is very much like our world, it’s not. You could consider it alternate reality. There is a strong theme of social justice, as well as family loyalty and courage.

Mirtika: The topic of slavery: What is slavery in your fictional work like and how is it unlike slavery as we’ve read about it in history books or seen in films?

Annie: It’s pretty similar in many ways, except that it takes place in what could almost be described as our world in the modern day. Slaves in The Collar and the Cavvarach must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  From each collar hangs a tag inscribed with the slave’s name, their owner’s name, and a tiny copy of their owner’s signature.  On the back of the tag is their owner’s phone number and a bar code that can be scanned to access additional information. Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).

Another difference is that slavery is not based on race. Anyone from any race can be enslaved as punishment for certain crimes, if they are captured as prisoners of war, etc.

Similar to slavery in our world’s history, slave owners can legally treat their slaves however they like – with a few exceptions, however. Recent legislation requires owners to give their slaves one day off a week, and slaves under the age of 18 cannot be required to work more than eleven hours a day.

In addition, owners have the option of enrolling their slaves in free, public “slave school”, which meets only in the mornings and involves reading, writing, and arithmetic.  This is considered all that most slaves need to know for their daily tasks, though some owners pay extra for them to receive additional education or specific vocational training.

Mirtika: How did you research slavery for this story?

Annie: To be honest, I didn’t. It wasn’t my intention to keep it similar to how slavery has worked in our world. I just took the basic concept and shaped it into a practice that I felt would be realistic for the culture I wanted to set it in.

Mirtika: The martial arts tournament–what martial arts are involved? Did you have to do a lot of research for the actions scenes?

Annie: The martial art is one I made up, called cavvara shil. It is fought with a cavvarach, an unsharpened weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.

You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

Although it is imaginary, creating cavvara shil (and the necessary training and practice for it, as well as rules of the tournaments) took a LOT of research. This was one of the most challenging aspects of writing this book for me. I am not a martial artist myself, so it was all the more difficult to make sure this martial art was feasible and would make sense to readers who practice “real” martial arts. I spent hours researching online and in books, as well as talking to athletes I know, and I’ve been told that the end result in the book is believable and realistic. Whew!

Mirtika: Is there a strong spiritual or religious thread or theme in THE COLLAR AND THE CAVARRACH?

Annie: Not directly, no. But there’s a moral thread, and as I see it, morality is always connected in some way to spirituality. I hope this story will make readers think about the value of human life and perhaps take a second look at some of the practices we accept or choose to turn a blind eye to in our own culture. Legalized slavery sounds so impossibly wrong that it’s easy to think we could never let it happen in this day and age, but how many other wrongs do we overlook just because it isn’t convenient to do anything about them?

Mirtika: Is there one particular villain? What is the particular trait that is most evil or dread-inducing or frightening in this villain–be it human or institutional?

Annie: There are several human characters who stand in the main character’s way. For example, Jayce Torro is Bensin’s rival in cavvara shil; he is arrogant, cruel, and looks down on anyone he sees as inferior, such as slaves and less talented athletes. Overall, though, society is the main villain. The whole institution of slavery is what really stands against Bensin, keeping his little sister in danger and preventing him from being able to take the steps he otherwise could to protect her.

Mirtika: Where did the idea for the novel come from, that is, did anything you may have read or seen inspire its concept?

Annie: Not really. I’ve had the idea growing in my mind for the last few years. It started as just a picture of the setting and its culture (with legalized slavery), and the plot and individual characters emerged little by little.

Mirtika: Who is the ideal reader for this story? For example, age range or reading preferences. What other works might you compare it to that you could say, “If you loved THIS, then you’ll love THE COLLAR AND THE CAVARRACH?”

Annie: I would say, anyone in middle school or above who likes action and adventure. Sports or combat fans might be particularly interested. Although this is not specifically a dystopian novel, fans of that genre would probably appreciate it. One beta reader told me it reminded her of The Hunger Games (but she liked this one better!).

Mirtika: Can you tell us what the cover elements represent?

Annie: The collar represents slavery – Ellie’s slavery in particular. The cavvarach represents strength, skill, and hope – Bensin’s in particular, as cavvara shil becomes the means with which he hopes to free her.

Mirtika: Is there a character you love most in this novel? And is there a line of dialogue that is especially dear to you? Would you share that?

Annie: All my characters are special to me in different ways (every author has to say that, right?).

One that was especially fun to write, though, is not actually even a real character. Steene Mayvins, Bensin’s owner and coach, is constantly arguing with his conscience over the issue of owning a slave. He imagines his conscience’s exact words as it responds to him, complete with body language. I enjoyed giving his conscience a little personality of its own. For example, after one particularly lame argument on Steene’s part, “his conscience rolled its eyes and refused to dignify that with a response.”

Mirtika: Is there a link for readers to sample your first chapter or get more information on you and the story?

Annie: Yes! The first chapter is available here. Or, you can get more information about me and about the world of the story here.

The Collar and the Cavvarach is available for Kindle on Amazon here and for Nook or in other digital formats on Smashwords here.

I’d like to thank Annie for visiting and answering my questions. Hope you enjoyed this time with us and, if you buy and enjoy the novel, please remember to leave a review. Authors welcome (and need) those good words.

Till next time.

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