Beyond the Fifth Gate
Interview with Donna Sundblad Author Beyond the Fifth Gate
You clearly demonstrated for readers that you are a true lover of fantasy. Could you tell us how your deep appreciation for this genre came about
I don't remember not loving fantasy and Sci-fi. As a child I enjoyed stories like The Little Lame Prince, about a boy who could not walk but was given a magical cloak that carried him on various adventures. Fantasy opens the door to possibilities beyond our everyday reality. It creates unique avenues of adventure into the unknown, with plenty of twists and conflict along the way.
What's funny is people who say they don't like fantasy and will watch The Wizard of Oz every time it comes on television. Within the genre there are several sub genres. Within each of them, magical components combine with the human element to create fertile ground for the fantastic. My father loved fantasy, and I think that rubbed off on me. He was the first person I knew who read Tolkien's Trilogy.
Beyond the Fifth Gate has a very powerful revolutionary spirit of the trodden-down masses feel in it. Could you describe for us how the basic story formed, Was there a certain experienced that fostered the thought, before you actually wrote anything down?
The first seeds of an idea for this book came about through a "flip side" exercise from my writing book Pumping Your Muse. It required me to take a current scene and flip details. The result found Elita standing in a cavern before a pulsating light she believes will guide her on her quest, but the star explodes into thousands of pieces. At the time, I didn't know the rest of the story, so I worked on details that would have led her to that cave. The result is a journey of faith, and like real life has its ups and downs which brings about growth and change.
I continued to follow writing exercises to help develop ideas and scenes for the rest of this story, and another resulted in a scene where characters lived in a hive-like complex. Humans were not allowed to communicate verbally and their overseers were large insectoids which I based on praying mantises. The humans communicated through writing in the dust and sign language, and I learned through their exchange that the plan for freedom included killing the queen. This scene helped define the purpose of the quest—freedom.
I'm a history buff, and I'd say that influences my writing, too, though you wouldn't probably tie this story with the work camps of World War II. That played a role in the development of this story. The unfair treatment of the humans, their rights stripped away as they are forced to live enslaved to serve the mantids. In society, we often think majority rule is the way to go, while a handful of people who see the truth are ignored as fanatics until it is too late. Or we give more credence to a person with "credentials" than we do to someone with practical experience, such as Elita's father because he was a farmer. I hope this book will help people to think beyond media hype and peer pressure.
There are so many interesting characters in your novel. Yet, of all the actions of those under Alien rule, it was the idea of the "Mantids" which I found to be both frightening and interesting. I wonder why you chose to use an insectoid race as the masters over an enslaved humanity. Did you chose this alien form because it scares you or because of a respect of such critters' tenacity and strength?
Actually, I used an insectoid race to bring in elements of mistrust and prejudice that were not directed at humans. This makes it easier for everyone reading the book to relate without pre-existing beliefs or traditions dictating their feelings or response to what is happening in the story.
At the start of the story lines are drawn and the readers take sides. It's easy to hate the mantids, and then circumstances beyond the first gate start to blur that line. Exchanges between characters create thought provoking situations which reflect the fact that stereotypes do not take into consideration an individual and their value. I'd like to think that perhaps it could cause my readers to rethink their own prejudices.
The concept for the mantids stemmed from the work ethic of ants. They are industrious, hardworking, and of course in fantasy fiction they become quite interesting when you throw in some human-like characteristics to give them personality.
Elita shines throughout the book, to say the least, and carries the story to an excellent conclusion. Could you describe if the character of Elita was patterned after anyone you know?
No, Elita is her own person. At first, I imagined her as a Lara Croft type character, but as the story developed I realized she was more vulnerable. She came from humble circumstances and was taken from her family at the age of 12. All she had was the foundation her parents had laid and her knowledge of the prophecies. But she uses that, and while living in the work camps is amazed that people look to her for answers. Her faith is strong until it is tested. She is selected as The Chosen to be the one who brings freedom to her people. It is then that doubts and fears gnaw at her resolve. She's definitely a strong character with flaws…I guess she is part of me.
Do you believe a future similar to that which you described in your book is actually a possibility for the human race?
Not with an insectoid race, but yes. If people are willing to sit back and embrace evil in the name of tolerance, the evil may befall us and we'll be almost powerless to stop it. It doesn't seem possible, but consider what happened to the Jews, gypsies and other "undesireables" who lost not only their rights and property to Hilter, but many of them lost their lives. You never know what criteria will determine who is undesireable. In our country right now, those who are wealthy are being targeted. You can always spin a story to make any one look like the bad guy. It's when people believe it without thinking for themselves that you run into trouble.
If you had to described the most important message from your story, what would it be?
That's a hard one. I guess I'd say it is to not judge others based on what someone else has to say about them. And not to judge an entire race or group based on what one individual does. Prejudice and stereotypes lead to unnecessary hatred.
A second theme I also think important is faith. We often hear of blind faith, and while true faith is in things unseen it's important that you base that faith on facts rather than feelings because when the going gets tough feelings can't be trusted. You need an anchor that doesn't move. Elita's faith wavers at times when she doubts herself, but it is renewed when she trusts the prophecies. It is the core of her strength.
Will there be a sequel to Beyond The Fifth Gate?
Yes, I've started the sequel. The working title is Lost Cantos. I can't tell you too much about it because it could be a story spoiler for people who haven't read Beyond the Fifth Gate yet, because it picks up where the story ends. Let me just say, we'll be learning much more about the purple planet, and we will be seeing more of Elita, Terril and Vilama as well as new characters my readers haven't met yet.
Finally, would you tell us what drives you to such a powerful exercise of creativity, in writing such a book that fundamentally paints a different world than any of us have imagined?
Part of it is the powerful imagination God blessed me with, but to discover these worlds within my imagination the key was writing exercises. My first book, Pumping Your Muse, is a creative writing book. It's not an academic approach to creativity, but a more tactile approach to the creative process. If you're a creative type and want to harness that creativity, this book takes your imagination on a roller coaster ride. Through these exercises I not only learned how to develop worlds, but actually created new worlds which made it into the pages of my first novel Windwalker and then through flip side exercises, also became part of Beyond the Fifth Gate. My challenge in Beyond the Fifth Gate was to tie the different worlds together through the use of mystical gates. The writing of it was a great journey and I've had a lot of positive feedback. I can't ask for more than that.
A Review by
In this world that often keeps us so busy that we scarcely have time to breathe, it is wonderful to sit down and read a book that takes us out of this world and into another, a world that is in dire need of "Chosen One" to lead us out of despair. I know you'll love this story and I hope you will get a copy and read it to the end!
Steven Clark Bradley
Author of Patriot Acts Nimrod Rising StillBorn! Probable Cause
Beyond The Fifth Gate
Elita sat at her father's feet among a small group of locals meeting within a tiny cottage nestled in the rolling foothills. His finger traced the words on the ancient scroll. "Did you hear me? Listen to these words," he repeated in his teaching voice. "It doesn't say we who live in the country will be exempt. It says, 'Every town and village,' and that means us. We can't hide from the widespread 'increase in evil propensities.' I've heard they've taken over the cities and it's just a matter of time. . . We have to fight back while we have the chance."
* * * *
A few of the men and women who had gathered in the small room nodded. Others looked with blank expressions out the windows facing north as if studying the nearby mountains. Elita stifled a yawn. The other children no longer attended. She wanted to ask what propensities were, but from the looks on the adult faces now was not the time. Not everyone had patience for her questions, and some thought she was too young to participate at all at times like this.
Too young. The very words irked her. After all, at age 12 she was only three years from marrying. Not that she knew anybody who wanted to marry her. Things had changed so much since the mantids' arrival. Her father restricted her comings and goings. He believed the mantids were trying to take over the world. It was their fault she had to sit through these teaching times without a playmate. Her father insisted that the prophecies be handed to the next generation to prepare them to recognize and fight the evil presence.
"The Chosen One," he said looking up at an invisible presence with a hint of awe, "will save our world." He placed his hand on Elita's head and smiled.
Torkel, their closest neighbor, from a farm five miles down the road, shifted on his hard chair next to the fireplace. "How will we know who this Chosen One is? What is the sign so that we will not be misled?"
"Good question." Elita's father looked down into her eyes. "Elita, would you like to answer Torkel's question?"
Elita glanced at the floorboards and pulled in a deep breath, but nodded. She looked at the men and women gathered with them. Some were friends, others strangers. "We'll know by the alignment of the five planets." She glanced toward her father who tipped his head for her to go on. He knew this aspect of the prophecies fascinated her. "Kamali will appear in the east marking the first gate. The Chosen One will see his light and has one week to travel through all five mystical gates and return to our world. Upon their return, the Chosen will carry with them something from each gate. Something to save us. . ." She looked to her father for affirmation.
"Thank you, Elita."
Her chest swelled with pride, and he turned his attention back to his guests. "Those living in the time of the alignment will know who the Chosen One is. It's not important that we know now, unless. . ." He leaned and stared into the sky through the window. "No, I don't see anything other than our sun setting in the sky, and it tells me it's getting late."
A few of the people chuckled. Elita shifted her weight on the wooden floor and rubbed her knees through her trousers. Her mother walked into the room balancing a tray of crisp sweets and bent to offer one to her husband.
He plucked one of the honey-sweetened treats from the tray and while her mother served the others, her father snuck his crisp into his daughter's hand. She sat up a little straighter and sucked the golden treat. It lasted so much longer that way.
The people exchanged farewells at the door until the last of them left the small family to the peace Elita enjoyed. The size of the gatherings had diminished over the last couple of years. It hurt her father so she didn't talk about it. Many called him a fanatic.
"Elita, you did well this evening. Before our next meeting, I'd like you to make a list of the prophecies you know." Her father walked across the small square room to rekindle the fire in the fireplace.
Elita's heart dropped. Not another child in the province has to complete assignments like this. It's not fair. "Why can't I just tell you?"
He brushed soot from his hands and propped them on his thighs as he knelt before the growing fire. "Very well, what can you tell me?" He placed a log on the flame.
"Well. . ." She played with the dark braid draped over her shoulder. "There will be deceit, lying and criminal activity."
"Very good. And what do you think that means?"
She shrugged. "I guess it means by the time the conjunction of the planets happens this world won't be a very nice place to live. Is that why you want to fight back?"
Elita's mother looked at her father and swallowed hard. She wiped her hands on her apron out of nervous habit.
"Can I ask a question?" Elita asked.
"Of course, and please sit in the chair." He pointed.
She scurried to the chair and sat while searching for the right words. "It's . . . well . . . there's five planets and five gates, right?"
"And there's seven days to complete the journey?"
"Here's what I don't understand. Why is it seven days when there are only five gates?"
"That's a good question, a perfect example of how people misread the prophecy. It is true there are five gates and five planets. However, when the planets align it marks the fact that the Chosen One will have seven days to make it through all five gates. What if it takes three days to find the first gate? How many days are left?"
The realization of her father's words brought new understanding. "You mean if they don't see Kamali's light for the first three days they only have four days left to make it through all the gates?"
"That right." He nodded. "And once the Chosen One enters that first gateway there is no turning back. The gate closes. It's a one-way journey."
"That's scary. The Chosen One will have to be brave."
"Another thing to realize is that if there isn't faith enough to see Kamali, the alignment of the planets will come and go without the journey taking place."
"Part of me hopes that none of this happens until I'm old."
Elita's mother chuckled. "I know what you mean." She patted the seat beside her and Elita moved to sit beside her mother, who started to unbraid her long hair.
Her father shook his head. "It's not about us. It's about all of mankind."
In her heart, Elita trusted the prophecies, but they also scared her.
"Why would people miss the coming of Kamali? He is to shine like a bright light in the east."
"Those who are not looking for him will not see him."
Her mother brushed her hair. "Go to the well and wash while I set dinner on the table."
Elita stepped into the twilight and wandered to the well at the back of the clearing. A cacophony of birds called to one another as the sun slid toward the horizon. I love this. She missed being outside, riding her horse freely and hunting with her bow. Even though she'd never seen a mantid, part of her already hated them. It was their fault she had to stay with her parents all the time.
The cool water refreshed her. She dried her face on her sleeve when an odd sense of foreboding stopped her. Silence. Not a bird or cricket sounded. She hurried toward the cottage, the crunch of long grass beneath her feet. Smoke scented the air. In the distance she saw the glow of a large fire. The village!
She turned the corner to the front of the cottage and skidded to a stop. Large ugly creatures hunched to fit through the door. They stepped outside dragging her parents with them. "Father!" she ran toward him when something cool and hard clamped her forearm and scraped her skin as she struggled to free herself.
The diminishing sun highlighted the horror on her mother's face. Her usually happy eyes widened with fear.
The mantid dragged Elita toward a cart without a horse or oxen hitched to draw it. A large cage filled with young people lay on the bed of the cart. She kicked and screamed, but to no avail. The monster threw her into the cage. She stumbled and landed face-to-face with a boy; his red-rimmed eyes stared at her blankly. Elita scrambled to her feet, pressed her face to the bars and stretched her arm toward her parents. "Mother! Father!"
Her mother broke free and ran to the cart; her fingers grasped Elita's and held tight. "Elita, do not forget. . ." Four mantids rushed toward them. One of them ripped her mother's hand from hers and yanked her mother to the ground where two others dragged her toward her father.
"What are they doing?" Elita's voice tore at her throat. "Father! Father help me! Don't let them take me!"
Her father struggled against the mantid, but they outnumbered him. They blocked his way like an armored wall. He shouted over them. "Elita, the oracle is the answer--" A sharp sickle-shaped mantid claw clamped around her father's bicep cutting his words short. His arm dropped to the earth with a sickening thud. Blood spewed across his shirt, shot into the mantid's face and sprayed her mother's tunic. Her father's eyes rolled, and he crumpled to the ground.
Stunned, Elita shrank to the floor of the cage. Evil propensities. The cage-cart moved under its own power further into the country. At each home, the mantids collected the young. Her eyes drifted from face to face in the dim light and then to the sky. She prayed to Kamali hoping to see the planets appear. Instead only the moon climbed into the sky. How could she get free and help her parents? For now, in her mind, she did the last assignment her father had given her. He'd be proud of her. Mentally she made a list of the prophecies she knew.
The sun melted into the horizon. An eerie twilight cast elongated shadows across the crying children. Elita looked away from the misery; an emptiness sought to fill her. She watched the sun disappear and wrapped her arm around the little girl beside her. Beyond the horizon dawns a new beginning. That was her mother's favorite prophecy and now she claimed it as hers. It gave her a little hope. The wheels of the mechanical cart churned up a cloud of dust. Elita closed her eyes and prayed to Kamali. Her father's words echoed in her mind. "It's not about us. It's about all of mankind."
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