I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Desiree Finkbeiner, author of the recently released Morning Star, the first volume in the Ethos series. Ethos is a great new YA fantasy series that has inspired a lot of conversation between Desiree and I over recent weeks. Among the things that I find so intriguing about Desiree’s work are the many facets of her characters, particularly the villain Ellette. Because I had so many questions about the character, I asked Desiree to allow me to “interview” first her villain and then herself to learn more about the concepts behind Morning Star and the world that she has created.
First, I present the interview with Ellette, the fallen warrior of the Ethos series.
Gwen: Ellette, what is the strongest emotion that drives your actions?
Ellette: Fairness. Life is cruel and unfair to those who try to do the right thing. I did everything I was told to do; gave up my chance at happiness so that others could be happy, and look where it got me. What’s the point in sacrifice if it carries no reward? The universe is unfair to those who sacrifice, giving the spoils of their labor to schmuck who stands in line behind them with their hands out.
So I’ve taken it upon myself to be the great mediator, the one who makes it fair for everyone. Rather than a select few carrying the weight of the universe on their shoulders, why not force everyone to do their share? No one gets off without contributing to the greater good. Since life will be unfair to everyone, therein lies the fairness. No rich, no poor. Thus, no one will be special and no one will be left behind. I’ve a plan that will be the great equalizer of the people. In my name, all will be fair, unlike the balance of the so-called universe, which is really nothing more than the illusion of fairness.
Gwen: Creating a fair world, by any definition, is not an easy task and requires making hard decisions. I imagine that you’ve had to make quite a few in your life. If there is one thing that you regret, what is it?
Ellette: I regret the time I wasted in the service of others who didn’t appreciate the sacrifice I was giving for them. All the wasted time and life energy I could have used on pursuing my own dreams, wasted on ungrateful souls could who could care less.
Gwen: As you think about all of those that you spent your time on, was there someone who affected your life profoundly?
Ellette: Aziza. Her name meant, cherished, beloved. And love her I did, as if she were my own. I met her in Africa while I was on post to watch over the mushroom. Aziza was the daughter of a very rich man, from the tribe of the small village where I traded for supplies. He had six daughters, and she was the fairest, the youngest. Perhaps about four of your human years in age. Never had I met a soul so filled with life and adventure before Aziza. She had given me so much, and filled my heart with love, something I had never experienced before. Because she had given me the gift of trust and friendship, I responded to her love with a gift of my own.
One night, on a full moon, I came to her as the village slept, so she could see me in my true form. I took her for a night fly, soaring high into the sky so she could feel the wind in her face. It was to be our secret, something we shared between us. Each time the full moon came, we did this until her family grew suspicious. She had spoken of my magic to her sisters and made them promise not to tell, but she had broken my trust by breaking her promise to keep it secret.
It broke my heart, so to teach her a lesson about loyalty, I told her I would not be visiting on next full moon. But she came seeking me, snuck out in the night all alone. I told her never to seek me because the land had been plagued with cobras and jackals. She didn’t listen, and it cost her life. Of course, I was blamed for her death and they rounded up a posse of their best warriors to hunt me, calling me the white winged demon.
I was heart broken and I regret ever loving her… had I not loved her, she’d have grown into a beautiful woman.
Gwen: A tragic story. Have you kept anything of her–even something that remains secret?
Ellette: I still have a lock of Aziza’s hair, taken from her corpse, as a reminder why love is dangerous.
After hearing Ellette’s story, I asked Desiree to expound upon what her creation was like from an author’s perspective.
Gwen: One of the most difficult challenges a writer faces is creating a great villain. What was your greatest struggle as you developed her character?
Desiree: The hardest thing was looking back into my past at who I was when I was younger. I absolutely loathe who I was from about age 17 to 20, I was a terrible person and made some poor decisions (wrote a book about it in high school but deleted the file later on, now I wish I could go back and read it). I really do feel that I was a wicked young woman at that time in my life; manipulative, controlling, prideful, stuck-up, attracted to darkness, seduced by the occult and dark arts. I based my villain off of myself. It was a time in my life where I was estranged from God and sought after worldly aspirations. I was spiritually dead to light, lost in a very dark place. But it’s because I have experienced falling and losing my path, that I’m able to craft a dark character from a realistic perspective.
I know Ellette’s demons all too well, for I had created my own hell and it took a miracle (and a lot of prayers) to free me from the prison I had built for myself. And though those experiences are very personal, let’s just say, I’m grateful for those who didn’t give up on me. Ellette is my flipside… So the hardest part was revisiting my past to allow that character to live once more in my fantasy world.
Gwen: Did you find it easy or difficult to relate to the choices that Ellette made?
Desiree: Obviously, I relate completely. I understand heartbreak and what it’s like to desire power over others. I also understand how easy it is to let hatred and bitterness canker the soul. Luckily, I also know what it’s like to embrace light and let forgiveness heal the wounds of past transgression.
Gwen: How do you, as a writer, reconcile yourself to writing “evil” or “dark” characters?
Desiree: Evil is a part of us all. Some of us embrace it, and some of us seek to cast off works of darkness to embrace light. Unfortunately, sometimes life requires embracing darkness before we can appreciate light. One cannot know love and joy without first having passed through loss and sadness. So those two ancient enemies (good and evil) are necessary for us understand the universal question “Why?”. Without evil, there could be no good, and vice versa… so in order for there to be balance in the universe, the two must constantly oppose one another and stand for their cause.
I like to look at it this way. Wherever there is light shining its rays to illuminate an object, there is also a shadow cast by the object where light cannot pass through. In order for something to be completely filled with light, it must first become transparent. But when something is transparent, it no longer has visible form to be considered beautiful by the naked eye. So the shadows cast by light actually create beauty in the world around us. One simply cannot exist without the other. So in order for there to be a hero, there must a villain of equal power to oppose the goodness and light, otherwise, there’d be no adventure… and no point for anything to exist.
Desiree Finkbeiner attained a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Missouri Southern State University (2006) with a heavy background in business, marketing, music and fine art– She was heavily involved in campus affairs and served actively in several committees focusing on campus entertainment and events. She performed with musical acts/bands in rock and electronic genres, released seven studio albums, performed in 11 states and has written hundreds of songs. Her band, Carbon Star, was a finalist for VH1’s “Bands on the Run” reality TV show in 2000. Then she performed with Pointy Teeth until finally leaving the music industry for the quiet life.
Continuing education is a constant adventure for Desiree with topics of interest ranging from civil and corporate law, history, political conspiracy, homeopathic medicine and spiritual healing. She prefers to read non-fiction, especially on topics that educate and broaden her perspectives on controversial issues.
With thousands of completed art works in her archives, most of which appear in private collections worldwide, Desiree hopes to focus more on publishing, marketing and licensing her work so she can leave a legacy behind.