The Arban and the Saman
by Laurel A. Rockefeller
Genre: Mystical Historical Romance
It is the year 1211 CE. Five years after being declared "khan," Chinggis Khan and his invading hordes are sweeping across the north China plain, right into the nűzhen heartland. Their objective: conquest of the mighty Jin Empire.
Among those sent into Liaoning is a low-ranking officer (an arban) named Mongke Nichan, a spiritual man on a personal quest to find his soulmate and fulfill a prophesy long lingering in his heart.
But finding his twin flame and convincing her are two completely different matters in this wartime romance that takes you into the very heart of Asian mysticism and deep into the ranks of the powerful Mongol Horde.
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With her lyrical writing style, Laurel's books are as beautiful to read as they are informative.
In her spare time, Laurel enjoys spending time with her cockatiels, attending living history activities, travelling to historic places in both the United States and United Kingdom, and watching classic motion pictures and classic television series.
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I HATE shoes. I have a very narrow heel and ever widening (thanks to age) balls to my feet. This makes finding properly fitting, let alone comfortable shoes extremely difficult for me to find and often way too expensive for my budget. When I am at home I am barefoot as much as I can. There’s rarely a shoe created that doesn’t hurt to wear, even ballerina flats which generally I gravitate towards because I like to ice skate sometimes and need to keep my weight centered in the middle of my foot.
I challenge shoe designers to create something that won’t hurt me, is comfortable, easy to take on/off, and helps me keep my weight centered properly.
Ironically enough ice skates don’t give me nearly the fitting issues that normal shoes do thanks to the heavy socks I wear with them and the way you adjust the fit from toe to shin. And while I’m not good at skating, I do enjoy it as long as I have someone to guide and steady me on the ice and serve as my eyes for me.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
I have the distinction of being the only 1995 initiate into the Alpha of Nebraska chapter of Phi Beta Kappa to do it with three majors. Plenty of double majors in my initiation class at the University of Nebraska, but I was the only triple major.
For the record those majors were: Integrated Studies in Writing (which I usually simplify to “writing”), Psychology, and History. Of the three my GPA was highest in psychology: 3.96.
What are some of your pet peeves?
Wade-Giles romanization for Chinese, especially on words like Tao, chi, and Tofu. That’s because Wade-Giles is not an accurate rendering of how words in Chinese are pronounced. With every consonant and vowel sound requiring precise accuracy to keep the meaning of the word intact, using Wade-Giles means you think you are saying one thing but in fact are saying something else. For example, “tao” is most often used to single that you have a group of something. “Yi tao hua” 一套花 means a bouquet of flowers. But when most people say “tao” what they mean is “dao” 道 which means “way” and is part of the word zhidao 知道 meaning “to know.” Another big one is “chi” in which they intend to mean “spirit.” That word is properly pronounced “qi” 气 and that character is also used for air – as in the weather. When you see “chi” spelling for a Chinese word there’s actually an r sound at the end. The most common word spelled “chi” is 吃 and means “to eat.”
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
Authors: JRR Tolkien, Dorothy “DC” Fontana, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Frank Herbert, Gene Roddenberry, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Books: The Letters of John and Abigail Adams, The Mists of Avalon, Dune, The Lord of the Rings, and Guide to a Well-Behaved Parrot by Mattie Sue Athan.
What inspired you to write this book?
Many of you know I believe in reincarnation. It’s a theme you see in the “Peers of Beinan” Series, especially in “Ghosts of the Past.” As a rule, my spirituality is pretty vague in terms of mythology, but I am wholly convinced that after we die we are reborn elsewhere. Not always into the same species as our previous life, but reborn nonetheless.
Since my university days when memories of my most recent past life first surfaced (with the unintentional consequence of making me an Asian specialist in my history major), I’ve often recognized people from previous lives. It’s a bit like when you run into an old classmate. You don’t always remember her name or any time with her spent in the past, but you know you recognize the name and/or face. Pretty much like that.
This October after finishing assorted writing I needed to do for the launch of “Hypatia of Alexandria” I felt a surge of past life memories hitting me. One was two lives ago for me ending in 1901 (I seem to regularly take breaks between human incarnations to live as other animals). But the other big one was eight hundred years ago and it was really weighing on my mind, heart, and imagination. With few around me who believe in reincarnation as I do, I needed a healthy outlet for these memories, a way to share them and express them that wouldn’t ruin personal relationships or hinder future ones. Writing this book was the obvious way to go about that. Much of what you read in this book (but not all) is my recounting what I remember of that life and how I felt at the time and still feel about it now. It’s the most intimate book I’ve written to date because I tap into my spirituality a great deal as I convey Biya’s struggles as a shaman priestess (“saman”). In many forms of shamanism, you heal by confronting the source of illness on the spiritual level and Biya struggles with that. Those struggles in pursuit of Enlightenment and spiritual growth were prime territory for me. So, the book is really a fusion of current spirituality and past life memory. If you want to understand how I think and how I experience the world, this is the book to read.
What can we expect from you in the future?
In January, 2018 the plan is to begin work on the next Legendary Women of World History biography, “Cleopatra VII” before heading back to the middle ages with Hildegarde von Bingen, the scientist, herbalist, and mystic explored in the beautiful film “Vision.” After that, who knows? Perhaps I’ll tackle Abigail Adams! Abigail Adams would make a nice November 2018 release as her story affords the opportunity to explore and explain colonial America and hopefully debunk a few myths about Mass Bay Colony in the process.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
There is a wonderful side story that develops towards the end of the book while Biya (the Saman) is searching for Mongke Nichan (the Arban). She falls into a trance and takes a journey to the far north, to the mountains in what is now called Heilongjiang (Black Dragon River) province. There she encounters one of the Amur and converses with it. Was it real? I let you decide. But it’s a wonderful journey into the beliefs of the nűzhen (Jurchens) and what they believed about those mountains, mountains that are home to the majestic white gyrfalcons that figure prominently in both their religion and history. This is why the novella fits the category of “paranormal romance.” What is real? What is not? Do the Amur actually exist or are they fantastic, legendary creatures?
This book also makes you think about our definitions towards soul family and soul mates. So often we are taught that once you meet a member of your soul family or meet your soul mate that everything is happily ever after. But these people are not really any different than other close relationships we have. As much as we love someone, we are not promised to get along with them. In fact, our relationships with our soul family members often start off on rocky ground. As it should be. Soul family means we love them and our souls travel together. That doesn’t mean we like them or like them every moment. People are people no matter when or how you first meet them. Relationships take work and that includes with your soul family. Happily ever after is a lovely line for a story ending, but it’s not real. I wouldn’t have it any other way, would you?
Where were you born/grew up at?
Lincoln, Nebraska USA.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
I would give a lot of attention to my cockatiels. They are absolutely my best friends in the entire world. In addition, if that “tomorrow” were to come after I am finally reunited with the souls who love me best (soul family) I would hope I would have the opportunity to spend some time talking and resolving any lingering conflicts so that they don’t transfer into future lives.
What book do you think everyone should read?
“Hypatia of Alexandria” which I published on 10 November, 2017. Though all the Legendary Women of World History biographies are important to read and explore, Hypatia’s story is especially poignant in our current political and social climate. Though Hypatia lived from 355 CE to 415 CE, her life and story resonates in the challenges so many of us face today.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
A fun question because after I complete the Legendary Women of World History Series (about 30-50 individual biographies) I would very much like to throw my hat into the political ring as a Liberal Democrat. I would like to represent either a Welsh or a north English constituency, preferably from the front bench. Policy-wise, I believe taxpayer money should be invested in public works and services like roads, bridges, world-class schools, public transportation, libraries, and quality food and housing for the poor. Putting me in charge in government means pursuing fairness for everyone and making the rich pay their fair share in taxes. I’m not impressed by wealth or power or trinkets or pedigrees. Fancy titles and accolades mean nothing to me. What I care about is making sure everyone is able to live a quality life with protections for workers and real penalties for domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. I will actively purge government corruption and punish companies for tax evasion, discrimination, and polluting the environment. As a white poppy pacifist, my foreign policy will always make war the absolute last option considered and tried. Instead of investing in weapons, I will urge investment in environmental rebuilding, green energy, and environmental protection. We will make food, housing, and healthcare affordable to everyone, and improve the quality of life for all life on this planet.
Tell us about a favourite character from a book.
Nice question. Instead of going for the obvious, I’m going to pick non-fiction this time and someone you probably would not expect: my cockatiel Mithril who makes numerous appearances in “Preparing for My First Cockatiel.” The book is more than your traditional guide book to pet care. It’s also filled with a lot of fun stories about my oldest and dearest friend. Mithril has been part of my life since July, 2003. I met her when she was just four weeks old and before her first feathers had fully grown in. She was the runt of her clutch and not expected to survive. Her parents and clutch mates were all lutinos; she was the only whiteface lutino. But no one knew that at the time I first met her and bonded with her. I took her home at seven weeks (a month before cockatiels wean) because her mother tried to kill her. That meant hand-feeding which was quite the messy experience since I’d never done it before and because Mithril has always hated water – even today she gets enraged if her feathers get wet for any reason.
Handfeeding Mithril helped her and I become very close friends very quickly. She loves to spend time perched on my body and she often enjoys being physically pet and cuddled. I can even hug her sometimes. Like anyone, she has her moods and has bled me several times with bites that haven’t always seemed provoked. She’s not a morning bird; she needs about an hour to wake up before she wants to interact. But when I’m sad or distressed, she’s always there for me. She will fly to me when I’m distraught and give me hugs and kisses – even when that means her feathers getting wet from my tears. Life is never dull around cockatiels and Mithril has always proven that rule. But I would be lost without my girl and I’m so thankful she’s stayed in my life, survived all those illnesses and chances when a door was left open or her travel cage walls broke off from the base. It is my pleasure to share my journey with Mithril in “Preparing for My First Cockatiel.” I do hope you will read it and share in some birdy love.
Describe your writing style.
Lyrical is probably the best word for it. I am a natural songwriter gifted with a lovely soprano voice you can hear across many of my videos on YouTube, including the book trailer for “Hypatia of Alexandria” in which I sing “Dona Nobis Pacem” (https://youtu.be/5zWE1jL5ePA)
What makes a good story?
A good story should touch your heart, enlighten your mind, and make you a better person for hearing it.
What are you passionate about these days?
England! With all my heart I want to move to greater Manchester so I can access the best academic and cultural resources in the world for my books. I’m a very hands-on historian and writer. Guessing is not good enough for me. I want to walk the places where history happens and know from the tips of my fingers and toes what a setting for a scene in one of my books is like. True, I could fly out from the USA and go to these places as a tourist—but at great expense in terms of time, money, and advanced planning. In practice, that does not make nearly as much sense as moving to England and taking the train or ferry for half a day and maybe £50 for transportation costs in order to conduct my research. England for me represents the opportunity to do the best possible work I can so I can continue to bring these stories of forgotten women to life. Every time you read one of my books, write a review, and/or tell others about these stories you help bring me closer to that dream. I believe together we can make this happen.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I love to play with my cockatiels. They really do bring joy to my life. Never a dull moment around them!
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
I grew up in an extremely violent home where my mother and I suffered not only from the direct assaults at home, but from an oppressively misogynistic religious environment. It was the stuff few people can understand unless they’ve seen it or experienced it first-hand. With no one to turn to except myself, I survived by connecting with animals and by expressing myself in first song and then later through poetry and writing once I became old enough to read and write. Reading, writing, and singing empowered me to weather what I could escape. In time, it became very clear that I have a real gift for both music and writing stories. Though I always wanted to pursue a career as a writer (I even took on an interdisciplinary major in writing in university), it really was not until 2011 that I decided I had nothing to lose by going for it. I started work on “The Great Succession Crisis” (which was meant to be fan fiction for an obscure 1983 scifi series) and self-published the novel in August 2012. Though it was a commercial failure, I kept writing and publishing and never gave up.
In March 2014 I found my niche when I wrote “Boudicca, Britain’s Queen of the Iceni” in response to history illiteracy, particularly towards women’s contributions to history. Boudicca found its audience and I finally found my voice and my passion. Today you can read Boudicca in English, Chinese, Welsh, Welsh-English, Italian, German, Portuguese, and Spanish along with a stage adaptation in both English and Spanish. Boudicca is proof that it pays to be stubborn and never give up on your craft. Sometimes it takes a while and sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone. But if you want this enough, keep an open mind, and keep honing your craft, I believe anyone can succeed at this business.
Most people have never heard of the Jin Empire. Why did you choose it as setting for this book?
There are several reasons. The first and probably most primary reason is this book’s basis in one of my past lives. Although I cannot always pin point time and place for these memories when they surface, certain big picture details like country or nationality are usually evident for me as a history literate person. Indeed, it is probably not a coincidence that I moved from a history minor to a history major when my first past life memories initially surfaced. I needed to understand the sights and sounds I was remembering and I could only do that through additional history coursework and research. Without that education, it is very easy to mislabel the details and misunderstand what your unconscious and subconscious are trying to tell you. I was less motivated by professional interests than I was spiritual growth when I declared my history major.
From my memories I knew that I was a nűzhen saman (shaman priestess). I knew we were at war with the Mongols. I knew about the encounter with the arban and the very strange early days of the relationship which many readers might find shocking, especially as the story unfolds. A modern woman would never respond this way. Except of course she was not a modern woman, but a young priestess ordained before she was ready because Chinggis Khan was invading the homeland and the areas facing imminent attack needed shaman healers. Think “Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman” with a decidedly East Asian twist and set in a time of war against the most powerful military machine of the middle ages.
Details like character names come from my many years I spent as the only nűzhen persona in the Society for Creative Anachronism before I retired in 2012. My society name was Biya Saman and in 2007 I was awarded arms in the SCA (an AOA) to make me LADY Biya. I used SCA naming guides for the Mongol names. And in one case I honour someone who was nice to me in the SCA household called Silver Horde by naming a character in the book after him.
Advice you would give new authors?
Practice makes perfect. There is no substitute for practice and no short cuts. Your first book will always be rubbish relative to your tenth or fifteenth. It takes time to hone your craft. Yes, this is a learning process and a rather lengthy one. I look at my student stage play and student screenplay written when I was 19-21 years old and I cringe because my writing has significantly improved over the 20 years since I wrote them. This is natural and inevitable. Don’t let that daunt you and don’t expect a masterpiece the first time out. Stay humble. Stay grounded. Listen and learn. Keep writing and eventually your craft will match your aspirations.
What are you currently reading?
Most authors love to read books. I prefer to read online newspapers, blogs, and related news content. With the world becoming increasingly turbulent, I think it is important to keep up with current events and take action (such as phoning elected officials) to make your voice heard. There is a lot of crazy, almost impossible stuff happening in the world. I like to stay current so I can do my part to make the world a better and many times safer place to live.
How long have you been writing?
My whole life, really. I started as a songwriter and poet making up songs to help me deal with a violent childhood and it went from there. My first publications were all poetry and I’m still very proud of my January 1992 publication of my sonnet “Why Bilbo?” in the American Tolkien Society’s Minas Tirith Evening Star. I spent my summers as a teen writing novels on my brother’s Apple IIe computer and really never stopped. In 2011 I was inspired to begin work on what became the Peers of Beinan Series, self-publishing the first novel in August 2012. Though the Peers of Beinan Series was not commercially successful, I kept on writing it and finished the series with “Princess Anyu Returns” in January 2015. In March 2014 I ran an informal poll in celebration of Women’s History Month asking people to name women from history who made a real difference in the world. When fewer than 10% could name even five, I channelled my anger and frustration into doing something about it. “Boudicca, Britain’s Queen of the Iceni” marked a change in direction for my writing and is my most commercially successful book across all my book series.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in The Arban and the Saman?
Mongke Nachin (eternal falcon) is a deeply spiritual man. The titular “arban,” he commands an arbatu of ten Mongol warriors. When his arbatu rides into Liaoning as part of General Jebe’s invasion of the nűzhen homeland (1211-1214), Mongke thinks very little at first of his assignment to pacify the towns and villages near Liaoning’s capital city of Mukden.
That is until the gods intervene, twisting his assignment into a personal quest for his soul mate, a woman he discovers is the local shaman priestess (saman) of the community he must pacify.
Biya Saman naturally sees Mongke Nachin as an invading enemy warrior. Originally from Mukden, Biya spent the last few years of her life training for her ordination in the Jin capital of Zhongdu (modern day Beijing). Biya’s training was cut short by Chinggis Khan’s unification of the Mongol tribes under his leadership in 1206 and the inevitable demand for talented healers able to save lives in times of war.
But while Biya is talented in herb lore and a skilled surgeon when she needs to be, she lacks the spiritual training and maturity to function well in the priestly parts of her duties. When she meets Mongke Nachin she is not able to sense their spiritual connection nor is she able to foresee the future that he sees.
It’s a recipe for conflict and unexpected twists and turns in this paranormal historical romance set during the most violent and intensive years of the war between the Mongol and Jin empires.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
The characters mostly come to me as I write, especially the supporting characters like Biya’s daughter Gufan and her Chinese friend, Mei Niang.
The name “Mei Niang” is a subtle hint to the character’s spirituality. Readers of my best-selling “Legendary Women of World History” series know that “Mei Niang” was the nickname given to Wu Zhao (Empress Wu Zetian) by the Taizong Emperor when she was his cai-ren (fifth rank concubine). The choice of the name here is meant to signal to readers that this character is the reincarnation of Empress Wu. Mei Niang’s presence is part of the overall theme of soulmates and soul family and the many ways that our relationships with soul family express themselves in each life.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Animal-lover, liberal-progressive, spiritual, inquisitive, and generous.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
The “Arban and the Saman” is first and fore mostly a recollection of a past life. My primary reason for writing this book was to record who I was and what I experienced in the early years of the war between the rising Mongol Empire and the Jin Empire. In October, 2017 these memories were at the forefront of my daily life and I felt this intense need to write them down and share them. Why exactly, I still do not understand. But I trust myself enough to know that if my spirit says write it down and publish the story then that is the right thing to do.
So, the core characters of Biya Saman (the name was not remembered; Biya was my Society for Creative Anachronism name) and Mongke Nichan were people I remember as actually living. The rest of the characters came about organically as I filled in the memory gaps fictitiously. So not everything in the book is directly from life. The vision of the Amur late in the book is completely imagined and is there for dramatic purposes. Mei Niang is in the book to make a point about reincarnation and soul families. Was the reincarnation of Empress Wu Zetian the best friend to Biya back then? I really truly do not know. But it works well for the story and so she’s in there.
Mongo Chinua and Atai Sama were both unintentional in design. Mongo Chinua is named for a very nice member of Silver Horde, a household within the Society for Creative Anachronism. Though the character plays a villainous (but not malicious) role in the book, the real Mongo Chinua is a really nice guy with a beautiful Mongol name I couldn’t resist using. Atai Sama (a sama is a male shaman priest) came about when I needed someone to help Biya and Mongke Nichan out of a difficult situation. In many ways he’s the perfect contrast with Biya in terms of his skills. Atai is a master of all the parts of nűzhen shamanism that Biya is weak at. And though I do not remember anything directly, it is entirely possible that after this story ends Atai actually became a mentor to Biya, helping her survive the war so that she lived to see her grandchildren grow into spiritually strong and prosperous adults.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
If any book I’ve ever written satisfied a genuine need for me personally, it is this book. Sometimes it’s easier and better to share with strangers things that you remember or think or feel than it is to share them with people you know and interact with in your daily life. I couldn’t tell the person I sensed as the reincarnation of Mongke Nichan about what I was remembering so the next best thing was to write it down as historical fiction and share the story with you. The person in question does not know this story and he may never know this story, let alone that it is about who he was and what he did eight hundred years ago. And you know what? I’m fine with that. It’s a beautiful historical romance and I’m very happy with the final book.
Specific things I enjoyed about writing this book: it was lovely to finally get to write about early 13th century Jin Dynasty. I specialized in East Asian history in university and from 1996-2012 I played the only nűzhen persona in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I got to know this time and place very well. The song “Spring in Luoyang” featured in the book is an actual period song from 11th century China that I first learned in the late 1990s and sang often in public performances in both English and Chinese. It’s probably the song I am singing in the photo used on the book cover (yes, that’s me as I was singing at an event circa 2004 near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania called “Noisemakers”).
Do you have any advice to give aspiring writers?
Study everything. The subjects you think are a waste of time in school are often the ones most critical to your writing down the road. Remember that to be believable, you have to know your stuff and get the details right. You can’t get those details right, however, without a strong and broad educational foundation. To ask a question you have to know something about the subject in the first place. That is why it is so critical that you study and read broadly. You never know when something is going to be important, even if it takes 30 years before it becomes so.
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