Tuesday, January 31, 2012

J is for Jester

But we're not talking about just any jester. The time has come for us to discuss the strange jester-slave in the house of Duke Shippening.

First, however, let me take a moment to remind my dear blog readers that this A-Z series contains many SPOILERS! So if you have not yet read Veiled Rose, you might want to steer clear of this particular series so that key plot points and surprises aren't given away!

Okay, moving on . . .

Early on in his exile, Lionheart finds himself in Shippening, the Duchy just north of the isthmus separating Southlands from the Continent. The Duke of Shippening (whom some of you might remember as one of Una's suitors in Heartless) is a despicable man, the last work in classic barbarous villain-types. But it is in his household that Lionheart, newly robbed of what money he brought with him from Southlands, finds work.

And there, Lionheart meets the duke's jester-slave.

This Fool was a strange person . . . He was abnormally thin, too thin, really, to continue living. His jester's garb of brilliant colors sagged on his frame; yet his wrists, though tiny and more delicate than a woman's, were not emaciated and bony. He was an albino, whiter than snow, and rather beautiful in a way. (p. 237)

Lionheart's earliest memories of this jester date back from his childhood when Duke Shippening sent the strange man to the Eldest's House. There Lionheart saw him perform, and thus was born his lifelong ambition to become a jester himself.

Seeing the same jester now, many years later, Lionheart is less thrilled. He finds the man strange, otherworldly, and not a little mad. He is deformed as well: Each of his fingers boasts an extra joint. One day, when the jester wanders out to the kennel grounds, Lionheart approaches him and hears him with his eyes closed, speaking in a strange language.

"Els jine aesda-o soran!"

When he opens his eyes and looks at Lionheart, he switches to a language Lionheart recognizes, saying, "I blessed your name, O you who sit enthroned beyond the Highlands."

This creature, Lionheart begins to suspect, is not human.

For those of you familiar with fairy tales, Lionheart's suspicion must be swiftly confirmed by the jester-slave's reaction to iron. "If you will break my chains, I will grant you a wish," he tells Lionheart. When Lionheart protests that the jester has no chains, the strange man indicates an iron collar around his neck. It is not locked; in fact, there as an easy, workable latch, and anyone could easily remove it. And yet the poor Fool touches it only with pain. "Iron," he says, "Iron chains."

Faeries, you see, have an aversion to iron. In most ancient folklore, fairies avoid iron and are harmed by even the smallest touch. And the jester-slave of Duke Shippening is no exception.

Lionheart is not so quickly convinced. Despite his recent experience with the Dragon, his mind is still fairly rooted in the realities he has always believed. But there is one who recognizes the truth of the jester-slave on sight: A merchant named Sunan.

This merchant, a guest of Duke Shippening, took one look at the jester and exclaimed, "Your lordship, who is this person?"

"My idiot, of course," says the duke.

Sunan is impressed. As he later on tells Lionheart, "He [Duke Shippening] is not the buffoon he projects to the world. And his alliances are powerful, though even I cannot guess at them."

Sunan knows that for Duke Shippening to command a Faerie slave, he must have very powerful connections indeed.

Even a slave, however, may rebel. And so does this jester when ordered to sing for the duke and his guests. He steps forward and sings a song of Fireword . . . the sword that can slay dragons.

Infuriated, the duke orders his men to beat the poor jester. But Lionheart, in a moment of pity, steps in to the rescue and, though he doesn't know what good it will do, snaps free the iron collar.

What happens next I cannot say, for I would hate to give away a good plot point, even with the spoiler warning at the top of the page!

I will say that I enjoyed very much inventing this character. He is the classic image of the weeping clown, a strange contrast to the idealized dream of a jester that Lionheart has in his head . . . and foreshadowing of the darkness to come when Lionheart at last achieves that dream. But the jester himself, while otherworldly, is not evil. He speaks warnings to Lionheart and, when his warnings prove useless, gives him hope of where he might find the answer to his great question.

"I need to know how to kill a dragon," Lionheart tells the jester.

"I must remain in your debt," the jester replies. "That knowledge I may not impart to you."

I believe a Faerie such as he will see to it that his debt is repaid. Maybe one day we will meet the liberated jester-slave again in the twisting paths of Goldstone Wood?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Winner of the Unicorn Caption Name Drawing!

Let me announce this winner by listing the caption along with the photograph:

It serves one master, I am sure-and lives forever to serve him/her. Perhaps it is a creature that one cannot see with mere mortal eyes. For all you know, it could be standing next to you, but blind as you are, you would never see it, never hear it - except for those whose eyes have been stripped from their scales by overcoming great adversity beyond one's imagination.

Congratulations, Eszter! The winner of this name drawing!

Please send your address to me: aestengl@gmail.com. I will be certain that you get your free copy of Moonblood as soon as it prints (and before it even hits the shelves!).

Great job to the rest of you. There was some pretty tremendous imagination at work here, and if I'd had to pick a favorite, it would have been impossible. Keep your eyes open for more opportunities in the near future, and thanks for your participation!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I is for Imaginary Friend

For the most part, the allegory in Veiled Rose is not as emphasized as that in Heartless. However, at the time when I wrote Veiled Rose, the spiritual themes present were much more personal to me. So let's take a moment to analyze the spiritual twists of my second novel, starting with Rose Red's Imaginary Friend.

Rose Red has several strange influences on her life, several voices that speak to her and draw her various ways. The first of these is Beana, her goat, who is a voice of practicality and homey love to the poor, rejected girl. The second voice is that of the Mountain Monster in the cave. This is a far more seductive voice, whispering lies and half-truths, working guileful persuasions to manipulate the girl according to his will.

But the third voice is that of Rose Red's Imaginary Friend.

He was a prince, of course. Rose Red, being a romantic child at heart, would hardly imagine anything less. But he always appeared to her in the form of a wood thrush (p. 44).

She assumes he must be imaginary, however. Just as she assumes that she must imagine Beana's talking, and that she only dreams of the Mountain Monster. But all these various voices are so real and so strange, poor Rose Red must sometimes wonder if she is a little mad.

But they make a distinct three-way influence on my little heroine's life. Beana speaks to the practical, the earth-bound, the sensible side. The Monster speaks to the dangerous, the lurking evil that hides in the heart of every living creature. And the Imaginary Friend calls to the spiritual heart of her. These three influences, while three distinct characters on their own, also form for us a complete picture of the girl herself. Through these influences we see Rose Red in her entirety, simple country girl, dangerous goblin, and spiritual warrior.

But especially the voices of the Monster and the Prince grow confusing in her mind as time goes on and the dangers mount.

"You left me alone," Rose Red accuses the Prince at one point.
You are not alone, my child, he assures her.
"You're no better than the Dragon," she says. "You want me for yourself."
I want you for yourself, he replies. I want you to be everything you were intended to be before the worlds were formed. Everything this death-in-life has prevented you from becoming
"You sound like the Dragon. He calls me a princess."
I call you my child.

There is a distinct difference between the Monster and the Imaginary Friend. Both call her to walk certain paths, both urge her to live a certain life. But the Monster constantly demands something from her, he demands that kiss. While the Imaginary Friend, by contrast, gives her protection, first in the form of Beana (whom we later learn is one of the Prince's knights), and later in the Asha lantern, a gift of Faerie make that protects her in the dark places of the Netherworld.

We both want your love, your loyalty, the Prince tells her. And you cannot give it to both of us.

Nevertheless, Rose Red struggles to believe that the Prince can be anything more than imaginary. How often have I too found myself in unhappy circumstances and immediately leaped to the conclusion, "God doesn't care," or even, "God isn't there." It is the most human (and most sinful) reaction, and it doesn't matter in the moment how many times God may have proven Himself to me in the past. My human nature still rallies to fight the spiritual nature being nurtured in me.

The same is true for Rose Red. Even as she journeys through the Netherworld with the protection of her Imaginary Friend actively surrounding her, she still doubts. And her doubt leads her to the point of desperation and even despair.

The beauty of the story is the way in which the Prince doesn't abandon her, however. Even when she rejects him, basically throws his gift back in his face, he remains constant, true, and present, though she cannot sense him. Hers is a story that reflects the truth of:

"Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil." Psalm 23:4

In the end, the Prince whispers encouragement to Rose Red once more, and she knows at last that he is not imaginary.

"I will always protect you," he promises. "But that does not mean you will not know pain." (p. 339)

In the struggling times to come, we must hope that Rose Red will remember that moment, when she was rescued from the clutches of the Dragon in the very stronghold of his kingdom. We must hope that when the darkness descends once more, she will know the truth of the Prince's promise and there find comfort and strength. But it is a hard lesson for any of us to learn, a battle that must be fought again and again . . .

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

H is for Hill House

Hill House, though abandoned, had remained unscathed during the years of the Dragon's occupation.

Thus begins Veiled Rose, book 2 in the Tales of Goldstone Wood. It is, I think, one of my favorite opening lines I've written.

As a comparison, would you like to read some others?

Two children, a brother and a sister, played down by the Old Bridge nearly every day, weather permitting.

The unicorn stood before the gates of Palace Var.

Once upon a time, great Etalpalli, the City of Wings, was ruled by a Faerie queen.
(Starflower--most recent draft, subject to change)

Let me tell you a story.
(Book 5 draft--subject to change)

The Queen of Arpiar bore twin sons, but only one could inherit the kingdom, so she was faced with a choice.
(Goblin Son. Sorry, this one's unsold, so you don't get to read it. Maybe someday!)

First lines are important. Not as important as first chapters (sometimes, I think beginning writers are told to place too much emphasis on a killer first line), but important nonetheless. It sets the tone of everything to follow. Often (though not always!) it is the first thing the writer puts down on paper for the particular story in question, so it is equally important for that first sentence to catch the writer's attention as the reader's.

Veiled Rose was a difficult story for me to pin down. Second books often are. While this was not the second novel I had ever written (nor was Heartless the first), it was the first sequel. They say the strength of a writer can be told, not by their debut, but by their follow-up novel. Does Author In Question have more than one story to tell? Or will he/she merely rehash the old one in a new setting with different eye-colors for the leads? It's a question far more significant to the writer than to the reader. It's a question that every writer must answer by the all-important labor of writing that second book.

So, knowing only that I wanted to tell a story about Lionheart (a hero/villain from Heartless) and with the character of Rose Red alive in my brain, I set to work on penning a sequel.

The first one I wrote was deemed un-publishable by my editors.

Yikes! I have to tell you, that is not a response any writer likes to hear on their first-ever sequel! While I had honestly believed that I had penned a story alive with great characters and significant plot-threads, my editors, alas, saw only caricatures and rambling rabbit-trails.

I was devastated. I really thought I had something in that original draft of Veiled Rose. But, looking it over a month or two after receiving their comments, I had to admit that, yes, the plot really was rambling around and, due to that rambling, the characters were  not coming across as vividly as I had believed.

However, I also saw potential. So after a certain amount of pleading, my editors did the unthinkable: They told me I could have a second stab at it.

Looking back on it now, I'm nothing short of amazed at the trust they demonstrated by going ahead with the project. After all, I had done nothing to merit that trust! But by God's good grace, they signed off on a hastily-scribbled synopsis and moved on ahead with production . . . leaving me with approximately two months to come up with something they could truly love and get behind.

Two months.

May I just mention that those were two months during which I was becoming engaged, moving all my worldly goods to my fiancé's house, and moving myself temporarily to Wisconsin to plan a wedding? While simultaneously trying to work two other jobs?

Yeah, definitely dropped the two other jobs during that time. The cats and I lived on starvation rations.

So it was that, with an un-publishable first draft under my belt, a handful of notes in my hand, and my head desperately whirling with thoughts of weddings and movings and all sorts of major distractions, I sat down at my desk and wrote that first line:

Hill House, though abandoned, had remained unscathed during the years of the Dragon's occupation.

I won't say it was magic. I won't say that suddenly all my writerly problems were solved.

I will say that God's grace poured down on me in that moment.

When I wrote that line, suddenly scenes, once elusive, took shape in my brain; scenes and characters and twists of a far more focused plot. I saw Hill House where the boy Leo spent an incredible, life-changing summer. I saw the mountain cave where an isolated goat girl was tormented by a manipulative monster.

A whole new story--scarcely recognizable from the original draft I'd written the year before--took shape in my mind. And a book that should never have been written poured from my heart.

I met the deadline by God's power alone. And my editors were pleased.

I came down ridiculously sick (Rubella. Bleh.) a few weeks later, breaking out in red rash all over my body with two weeks to go before I was supposed to walk down a certain aisle wearing a certain white dress. But the book was finished, the rash disappeared, and at the end of the craziest summer of my life, I found myself married and the author of a publishable sequel.

And it all started with that first line.

Hill House was a fun setting for me to invent. The name itself was inspired (as some of you may have guessed) from a famous novel I had read in college, the one-and-only horror story to have crossed my literary path: The Haunting of Hill House. An excellent book, but not one I'll recommend unless you really want to scare yourself out of some sleep.

Hill House in my story is significantly less haunted, though there are plenty of secrets and mysteries in the countryside surrounding it. It belongs to Leo's aunt, Dame Willowfair. When Leo and his cousin, Foxbrush, fought as boys, Foxbrush often planted a winning blow by declaring, "This is my mother's house, so you have to do what I say!" (p. 14). Nevertheless, it is at Hill House that young Leo finds more freedom than he has previously known in his life. Freedom . . . and a true friend.

I hope you found yourself swiftly pulled into the story of Leo and Rose Red when you read that opening line and the scene following. And I am more thankful than I can express that I had the opportunity to share it with you! Personally, I like it even better than Heartless.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

And Now . . . UNICORNS!!!

Briefly interrupting my A-Z series to give you an opportunity to win a copy of Moonblood, due to hit the shelves this coming April. Are you interested?

Moonblood is a story of many dangers, frightening monsters, and epic stakes. And one of the most fearsome characters of all is the unicorn:

Here's a nice picture of a scary unicorn! If you would like to have your name entered in the drawing to win a copy of Moonblood, write up a caption for this picture in the comments section below. Let your imagination fly! Tell me who this unicorn is, where it comes from, what it wants. Is this one good? Is it bad? Is it an indifferent elemental spirit? Be creative!

I'll look forward to seeing what you come up with. I will announce the winner of the name-drawing next Sunday!

Isn't it nice to have a non-Dragon-related contest for once?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

G is for Goldstone

Of course, the whole series is named Tales of Goldstone Wood, so Goldstone must be a remarkably important part of the series. And yet, we don't see a whole lot of Goldstone in Veiled Rose.

Or do we?

We know for certain of one important moment when Lionheart, having made the long trek to Parumvir, finds himself turned away at Oriana Palace's gates. Dejected and frustrated after all the long years of his exile, he makes his way down the hill and approaches the Wood.

The shade cast by the trees looked inviting. Any relief from this blistering heat would be welcome. Lionheart doubted any of the fabled monsters that purportedly lived within that shade would suddenly creep to this portion of the wood to devour one rejected jester. So he flopped down with his back against a tall, spreading maple at the edge of the forest . . . (p. 306).

Of course, he falls asleep.

Any one of you, dear readers, would be perfectly able to appraise Lionheart of his error here. I mean, seriously. Who takes a nap in a Faerie forest and doesn't expect to suffer consequences?

Consequences Lionheart certainly does suffer in the form of a terrifying dream. Some strange Other comes to him and sings into his mind in a dark voice.

You know the Princess Varvare . . . When you see her, you will send her to me. I will wait in the Wilderlands (p. 306-307).

This is, I believe, one of the strangest little interludes in the novel. What, by Lumé's crown, is this creature? And who, pray tell, is Princess Varvare?

So must Lionheart himself have wondered when he startled from uneasy sleep. After all the bizarre sights he had witnessed over the last several years, this one must have neared the top of his list for bizarreness. And he won't receive any answers concerning that mysterious vision through the course of Veiled Rose's storyline. He will have to wait for Moonblood . . .

Later on, Lionheart spends some time with Princess Una in Goldstone Wood, down by the old bridge. Nothing particularly untoward happens during that visit, and as far as Lionheart might surmise, the Wood isn't nearly as strange as reported.

But is this episode in Parumvir the only time we saw Goldstone Wood?

Maybe not.

Remember back the summer of Lionheart's eleventh year. Remember how he slipped out of the house late one rain-soaked afternoon and became lost on the mountain. He climbed all the way above the tree line, and when he entered the forest again . . . it wasn't the same forest.

The difference was subtle. One would hardly notice it at first. Leo was several paces in before he realized the smell was wrong. It didn't smell like rain. And though he could see the undergrowth spreading thick beneath the spreading trees, where he walked, there was none (p. 78).

The familiar forest of his summer surroundings has vanished, and in its place stands a malevolent Wood. A Wood that laughs at him and draws him down into its depths where he glimpses a phantom wolf and a ghostly woman with hair of fire. Terrified, Leo runs, and realizes that even the mountain is gone, given way to a flat forest.

But when he calls to Rose Red, she finds him and leads him out once more.

We wonder, following this strange adventure: Is Goldstone Wood perhaps much bigger than the stretch of forest seen in northern Parumvir?

Again, we might just have to wait to learn a little more on this subject come Moonblood.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

F is for Foxbrush

Here's the thing about Foxbrush . . . I don't think he is anywhere near as obnoxious as Lionheart thinks he is.

I'm not saying that he isn't obnoxious, at least to a certain extent. He's an egghead, not to mention a snob, and he wears oil in his hair.

But let me, here in this article, make a defense of young Master Foxbrush of Hill House.

He is, if you remember, Prince Lionheart's cousin, son of Dame Willowfair. It is to Willowfair's home, Hill House, up in the mountains, that Lionheart is sent to spend the summer of his eleventh year, thus necessitating a great deal of time spent with Foxbrush.

Foxbrush and Lionheart have almost nothing in common.

They are about the same age and, we learn later on, look remarkably alike. But that, we swiftly learn, is where their similarities end. When we meet Lionheart, he has just stuffed a bunch of chess pieces into a satchel, intending to use them as battling soldiers in a garden war. When we meet Foxbrush, he is reading a book called Economic Concerns of the Trade Merchant's Status. And they're both eleven.

See a difference there?

Foxbrush is also far more concerned with his own dignity and appearance than Lionheart. While Lionheart is perfectly willing to attempt fire eating in the stables or upside-down lute-playing, Foxbrush prefers to keep his clothes straight and his cuffs clean. While Lionheart does everything in his power to avoid any summer classes (to the extent of ambushing the postmaster's boy to intercept a letter from his mother), Foxbrush does long algebraic equations for the fun of it. While Lionheart likes to push the limits of authority, Foxbrush prefers to be every adult's favorite child.

Where Lionheart is willing to give the ostracized Rose Red a chance, Foxbrush thinks it far better advised to stick the general opinion surrounding the girl, to label her a monster, and to run.

And aside from all that, Foxbrush is such a perfect know-it-all!

Foxbrush's face emerged from behind the book, this time wearing his patient expression, the one that made Leo want to poke him in the eye (p. 15).

Yes, from Lionheart's (and indeed, from Rose Red's) perspective, Foxbrush may appear nothing less than loathsome.

But then again, isn't that just the point? We only see Foxbrush from Lionheart's, Rose Red's, and occasionally Daylily's perspectives. What might we see, however, were we to take some time looking at the world from Foxbrush's point of view?

A very different story, in fact.

Foxbrush is, in fact, quite a good boy. He follows the rules down to the letter, and is very hardworking, especially when it comes to his studies. Yes, he is remarkably concerned with his dignity, but is that really so dreadful a trait? And he's a bookworm.

Now, I certainly never would have the guts to tackle Economic Concerns of the Trade Merchant's Status as my summer read. But I can appreciate that young Foxbrush is doing what he can to better his mind. And while I couldn't do long algebraic equations to save my life anymore, there was a time (back in college algebra class) where I found them rather intriguing and even enjoyed myself while studying for that class. So Foxbrush and I do share a bit of sympathy.

Confession time: I'm also a know-it-all.

Maybe it comes from being a Big Sister. Or possibly just a former homeschooler. Might be genetics, I couldn't say for sure. But know-it-all-ness definitely runs through my veins, and I have a "patient expression" of my own that I'm sure drives more than a few of my acquaintances nuts.

But from my perspective, that expression is, in fact, quite patient. If somebody is doing or saying something I consider particularly idiotic, is it not better to resort to patience rather to angrily explode? So might Foxbrush argue when faced with the frustration that is Lionheart, his cousin, and his polar-opposite.

And seriously, readers, didn't you feel at least the tiniest bit sad for poor lovelorn Foxbrush when he watched Lionheart pursuing Daylily? Daylily who looks on him with about as much disdain (possibly more) as Lionheart does? Can he really help it if he's naturally such a bookworm and . . well, let's be honest . . . a nerd?

This, then, is my defense of Foxbrush. Hardly what you'd call a romantic hero, no. But not necessarily such a bad guy. It's hard to remember that when we see his harshness toward Rose Red, especially when, coming out of a dragon-poisoned slumber, Foxbrush catches up a poker and attacks the poor girl.

Despite this violence, however, I stand by what I say: I don't think Foxbrush is really such a bad guy. He's simply slumped into himself and his books and never had the opportunity (or taken the opportunity) to discover the man he might be.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

E is for Eldest

"Tell me what you want."
In the end, there is only one choice he can make.
"I will be Eldest of Southlands," he says.

The Eldest of Southlands has been a position of ruling since the most ancient times of Southlands' history. Through the course of Veiled Rose, we get a brief glimpse of one of the very first Eldests during Rose Red's journey through the Netherworld. A portrait hanging in the gallery of the Eldest's House depicts Panther Master, who ruled Southlands in the age of the Wolf Lord. It is a romanticized portrait of him, painted several hundred years after his lifetime. But it demonstrates just how old the office of Eldest is.

Back before the Eldests ruled a unified Southlands, the land was broken up into various warring tribes, ruled by tribal elders. But that was long ago, back when Southlands was cut off from the rest of the world, hidden behind its ringing mountain range, secluded and isolated. Since then, roads have been carved through the mountains, and Southlands began to trade with other nations and to assume more of the cultural norms of their more powerful nations. The surviving elders, now united under the Eldest, became barons instead.

But the Eldest, though called king as well, retained his ancient title.

At the time of Veiled Rose, Southlands is ruled by Eldest Hawkeye, Lionheart's father. At his right hand stands Queen Starflower, however, and one cannot help but wonder how much power she actually holds over the nation, possibly as much or more than her husband. For the last many generations, the Eldests have all been men. This (as we will learn in a later book) was not always the case. Long ago there were female Eldests, powerful sovereigns in their own right.

The concept of the Eldest was one I toyed with back in my sophomore year of college. For a creative writing class, I wrote a short story version of Starflower (now set to release in novel-length form this October), and invented the title "Eldest" for that story. Since then, the history and culture of Southlands has expanded significantly. But I maintained the office of Eldest over time. It's interesting to me seeing the kings of a far more contemporized Southlands called by the title of their ancient tribal rulers. It shows a proper spirit of connectedness to the past.

But will Prince Lionheart succeed in gaining his dream come true and step into that honored office, succeeding his father to the rule of Southlands? We will have to wait and see . . . .

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

D is for Daylily

The prince raised a hand to salute the crowd, then reached behind and drew someone up beside him. She was radiant, smiling, dressed in elegant fur wraps against the winter cold. She seemed ready to burst with joy as she waved to the people and clung to her prince’s hand.

The picture we get of Lady Daylily of Middlecrescent is a strong one when we first glimpse her in Heartless. From Una's perspective, we see a beautiful, blushing bride, a young woman deeply in love and anticipating a blissful wedding.

A rather stark contrast to the Daylily of Veiled Rose.

Lady Daylily is a young woman of rare beauty (a redhead in a country of dark complexions) and intelligence. She is the only child of the powerful Baron of Middlecrescent, and is introduced to us as a willful child, a child full of potential. She is no more than two years old when her father begins to formulate his Plan: The plan to marry her off to the crown prince of Southlands.

Daylily, is not too keen on the notion when first informed. At age sixteen, her willfulness has cooled into a cool, calculating mind, but she is not without an opinion.

"You like the boy, don't you?" her father asks.
"He's a blessed idiot," she replies.

But when Lionheart (under duress) invites her to join him for a summer holiday in the mountains, Daylily, ever the dutiful daughter, agrees. She packs up her belongings and heads for Hill House with every intention of bewitching the Prince of Southlands and securing a fine match for the house of her father. And no one looking at her could possibly guess how little she liked the notion.

So we are introduced to the most distinctive part of Daylily's character. She, more than anyone else in this novel, wears veils, wears masks. One must wonder if she herself knows her true heart and mind. For when she meets Lionheart for the first time since he was ten and she was nine, her impression is of a gawky clown, and she dismisses any possibility of ever loving this man she must make her husband.

Yet, two weeks later, when she learns of his determination to find Rose Red once more, is that jealousy we see flashing from her?

And later on, when Daylily meets Rose Red and sees her covering veils for the first time, she begins to wonder. What secret is Rose Red hiding? Why does this goat girl with her country accent and awkward ways seem to enchant Prince Lionheart in a way that Daylily herself, with all her beauty and grace, cannot?

Why should she care?

We are never entirely certain what Daylily's feelings are toward Lionheart. Does she love him? Does she hate him? Does she want to marry him for himself or for his position? Her father has his own suspicions following his daughter's holiday at Hill House:

"Iubdan's beard," he exclaims, "you've gone and fallen in love with the boy."
To which Daylily, with a contemptuous look, replies, "You think you know me, Father. But you don't." (p. 169).

But perhaps the baron knows her better than she knows herself. She has so long hidden behind veils of decorum and flirtatious manipulation, perhaps she has lost the truth of herself.

It isn't until the Dragon comes to the lowlands, and his poisons invade Daylily's every waking sense, drawing forth the true dreams of her heart and slaying them before her eyes, that we begin to see the first honest glimpses of her true nature. This young woman is not the confident beauty we saw briefly in Heartless. Sitting at the very foot of the Dragon's bloodstained throne, she is broken, and in her brokenness, we catch a glimpse of real honesty.

"Do you think Leo cares for me?" She asks Rose Red. "I've watched my dreams die. Every one of them, burned to oblivion. I will never marry Prince Lionheart. I will never fulfill the expectations placed upon me. I wish--I wish you would go and let me die" (p. 333).

Even here, though, she holds onto her mask. Is she despairing because she knows she cannot have Leo's heart? Or is it simply the knowledge that she will never be queen? Does she even know? She is so lost in her own disguises that even here, at the point of death, she cannot find herself.

In the end, however, the Dragon's poisonous nightmares prove false. Daylily, returned to the mortal world, lives to see Lionheart return and ask for her hand in marriage. It isn't the Death of Dreams, but the Lady of Dreams Realized who commands Daylily's fate.

Lionheart left her. He did not see her sink to her knees. He did not see her weep. No one did. And when she finished, Daylily vowed it would never happen again.
She had her dream. And it was dust and ashes (369).

I have had several fans write and tell me that they thoroughly despised Lady Daylily, considering her the villainess of this novel. While I completely understand this sentiment, I must confess that I actually like this troubled young woman. I find her very real and relatable, tragic and pitiable, but not unsympathetic. Like Princess Una, Daylily is a slave to her own desires, but unlike Una, Daylily isn't even certain what those desires are. She has set herself up in the role of strong, unreachable beauty, and she desperately clings to that role, afraid of the vulnerability should she allowed herself to truly love or truly be loved. She is insanely jealous to the point of cruelty, and yet, one cannot blame her. She is everything Prince Lionheart should want in a woman, a brilliant match . . . and yet it is Rose Red he always turns to for friendship.

So yes, I like her. I found her fascinating to watch as she moved across the pages of this novel, taking on a life of her own and a real vitality that added to the story in ways I could never have predicted. And her story isn't finished yet . . . no indeed. There is plenty more to tell about the Lady of Middlecrescent.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

C is for Cave

There is a cave at the top of the mountain that no one can find save Rose Red and her talking goat. But when Rose Red, one summer day, leads Leo up the mountain to show him this secret place, Leo recognizes it immediately. The cave features in a legend told in Southlands: A legend of two brothers, one of whom kills the other.

"The Legend of Ashiun," Lionheart tells Rose Red, "is one of the oldest Faerie stories there is. I have it in a text back home. One of the engravings shows the older brother approaching the gateway to Death's Path. It was a cave that looks exactly like this . . ." (p.35).

A wolf's head, shaped in stone, uncarved. That's what the cave on the mountaintop looks like.

But it was still just a cave. Leo sagely stated as much.
The girl tilted her head at him. "Shows what you know" (p.34).

Rose Red, even at that young age, is aware that there is much more going on with this cave than Leo realizes. But it is Leo who first gives her some idea of how old this secret, nearly inaccessible place might be. He tells her the Legend of Ashiun, and how two Faerie brothers passed into this cave, the one searching for the Dragon himself, the other, seeking to save his brother. The lost brother was at last saved, but only after he had killed the other.

A sad fate for two famous warriors, servants of the Prince of Farthestshore. And a tale to which Leo knows no happy ending.

But the story continues for the cave at least. For though knowledge of its workings has passed into nothing more than myth, it is still what it has always been: A gateway between the mortal realm and the realm of Death.

Every night, when Rose Red dreams, a dark voice calls to her. And she rises up in spirit and, flowing through a dreamlike landscape, she climbs the mountain to the cave and enters in. There, in a pool of hot water, she sees the face of the Dragon, disguised in a man's form. There, every night, he tries to convince her to take his kiss.

What becomes of Rose Red at her continued refusal, you will have to read for yourself. For the moment, at least, we will consider only the cave.

Though at first the cave may seem to have a set location, we quickly learn that the gateway to Death's Realm is not so limited as all that. As the story progresses, and Rose Red leaves the mountain to serve as a chambermaid in the house of the Eldest, she incites the wrath of the Dragon. He comes down to the lowlands, takes the Eldest's House, and grafts it onto his own, otherworldly domain.

So it is that Rose Red finds herself standing in a doorway of the House that should lead to a simple servant's stairway. Instead:

It gaped like jaws, and there was no stairway spiraling up. Instead, a tunnel lay beyond the door, a tunnel leading down, down, into darkness. As Rose Red stood in that doorway, her hands clutching the frame, she  thought she heard a trickle of water, a stream, deep inside.
It was the mouth of the mountain monster's cave. Here, in the Eldest's House. A stench like death rose up to meet her (p. 231).

No matter where she runs or how she tries to hide, she cannot escape the darkness pursuing her. She cannot flee the path she is called to walk.

But there is more to the story than destiny and doom. Though the Dragon may do all he can to convince her that this gateway and this darkness belongs solely to him, he is not so powerful as he portrays himself. Even in Death, hope may be found . . .

The development of the mountain monster's cave came from short stories set in this world that I wrote back in high school and early college. Originally, this cave played a key role in the Legend of Starflower, though, oddly enough, it doesn't feature even once in the novel Starflower coming out later this year. But it survived to have a role in Veiled Rose and a small  but important part in Book 5, which I am currently drafting.

I always enjoy seeing which aspects of those original stories I invented so many years ago make it into my professional work. Rose Red herself and the whole story of Veiled Rose developed much, much later. But they move and breathe very naturally in the original world I was writing about at age 17!

So the moral of this story is: Never throw out any of your writing, no matter how simplistic or silly it might seem to you. Sometimes all it needs is to sit a few years, giving you time to experience the life you need to in order to tell the story the way it really wants to be told. But in the meanwhile, let it sit, let it marinate.

Oh, and work on other projects!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

B is for Beana

Pronounced like a bean, as in the legume.

I have heard people refer to her as Be-ANN-a. Which, yes, is significantly prettier. But not very Southlands and not very goat-like to me. So no, it's just Beana, a humbler name, feminized a little bit, but basically just the name of a little smelly goat.

Which is what Beana is. The goat and primary companion of my little heroine, Rose Red, who lives high in the mountains. But of course, this is a fairy tale, and even a goat may be much more than she seems.

Beana makes her appearance in the first chapter of Veiled Rose when poor Leo, desperate for adventure, goes monster-hunting in the forest of the mountain home where he's been sent to spend the summer. With her yellow eyes and little horns, Beana is surprising enough to give Leo a bit of a start when he bumps into her . . . but then, she's just a goat. Quite the disappointment for a boy expecting monsters!

Beana, however, might be more exciting than most monsters. We learn pretty quickly that she possesses the power of speech. Just why and how, we don't learn for quite some time. But we can see that she is devoted to Rose Red, and while, technically speaking, she belongs to the girl, we can't help but think that Rose Red belongs equally to her goat.

Beana is a dry soul, to say the least. Dry and a bit over-protective, perhaps. Rose Red is not allowed to go down the mountain near where other people live. Rose Red is not allowed to climb up to a certain cave above the tree line by herself. Rose Red is not allowed to run about without her veil, and she is certainly not to think about leaving the mountain! All this bossiness does get a little bit trying sometimes, and leads Rose Red at least once to stake up her goat and leave her in the yard while she sneaks off to play with Leo.

"Bah!" said the goat. She stamped and shook her little horns. "What's eating me, she asks? Cruel, cruel girl! Running off like that without so much as a by-your-leave, and leaving me tied to a stake all day! In the rain! Like some animal!"

"Beana, you are an animal."

But for all this bossiness, Beana is a loving goat. She truly cares about Rose Red and wants what's best for her. She tries to convince her that he friendship with Leo will lead to hurt . . . and, sadly, is proven right again and again.

Beana does not realize, however, the dreadful dreams under which Rose Red is suffering. When Leo offers for Rose Red to join him off the mountain, coming to the lowlands to be his servant so that he can watch out for her, Beana is dreadfully against it! She is terrified about something down in the lowlands . . . something she wants to keep Rose Red away from at all costs. But she doesn't understand how equally desperate Rose Red is to escape the Dream that comes to her most nights and plagues her, asking her for a kiss.

It isn't until the Dragon, furious at Rose Red for leaving the mountain, comes flaming down into Southlands, killing as he goes, that Beana begins to realize what Rose Red has been enduring all these years.

But Beana is not afraid of a dragon. No, as stated above, we have to remember that in fairy tales there can be much more to even a goat than first meets the eyes! When Rose Red is imprisoned within the walls of the Eldest's House, held captive by the Dragon himself, Beana, all alone, storms the gates, demanding the vast monster let her through!

"Don't try these silly games with me!" she shouts at him. "I'm not afraid of you."

"I know you're not," the Dragon replies. "What you have failed to consider is whether or not I am afraid of you."

How can a Dragon be afraid of a simple little goat, talking or otherwise? This Dragon who destroys where he wishes, laying waste to nations, devouring warriors, decimating even into the depths of mortal dreams. In Heartless, we saw him defeat and even kill three of the brave Knights of Farthestshore without even a trace of effort. How could he possibly fear little no-nonsense Beana?

And yet, the Dragon, speaking from the safety of behind the gates, says to her: "I do not forget an offense such as yours so quickly, Lady of Aiven. Thief. Trespasser."

So. More to the story than we perhaps realized. The Dragon and Beana have a history of some kind. A history which the Dragon remembers with at least a certain measure of trepidation. So Beana was once known as the Lady of Aiven. She once stole something of value from the Dragon, and trespassed within the borders of his dreadful Netherworld domain to do so.

And, as she reminds him even now: "You know your own doom. I spoke it myself all those centuries ago."

Centuries? Beana is one old goat!

But who might she have been, this strange companion and guardian of little Rose Red? We don't get a great many hints within the context of Veiled Rose. We only receive one good piece of information, and that is in the context of an enigmatic song sung by an enslaved Faerie whom Lionheart meets on his many travels. Part of the song goes like this:

She stood upon the shadowed hill
And downward turned her glist'ning eye.
She looked on Aiven great,
Upon the closed gate,
But saw the Final Water flow,
The darkened water flow.

I saw her watching from the hill,
Fair Aiven, burnt so red and sore
Before the bleeding sun.
So strong the spells were spun!
The clouds could never stem the blood,
Not catch nor stem the blood. 

And in the end, the song concludes with this sad stanza:

The trees alone stand on the hill,
For she has passed along her.
The veil is o'er my eyes:
Who speaks of truth or lies?
For Fireword has gone from Aiven,
Borne away from Aiven.

Fireword, as you may remember, is the name of the sword belonging to the Prince of Farthestshore; the same sword which this woman--presumably the Lady of Aiven--carries away in this song.

Yes, indeed, there is much more to this goat than meets the eye. Which means, in turn, that there must be much more to this humble goat-girl whom Beana guards so jealously! But just what that might be, you will have to wait and find out . . .

Note: Beana was named for the only goat I have ever known personally. My wonderful pal, Manda, and her family up in Wisconsin had a veritable farm full of various animals, including one crooked-nosed goat named Sabrina, called Bina for short. (And when I say crooked-nosed, I do mean crooked-nosed . . . her nose had been broken, and was set at a distinct angle.) She was cute and quirky, and when I started writing the initial draft of Veiled Rose, Bina's name immediately jumped to mind for the goat character. Respelled Beana, it seemed a perfect fit to me!

When I first began writing the goat into the story, I actually didn't intend for her to be the Faerie knight that she turned into. She was just going to be Rose Red's goat. But before I'd even gotten through a chapter, Beana opened her mouth and started talking. "Oh," I said to myself and gave a little shrug. "So it talks! I wonder why . . . ?"

I love it when my own books take me by surprise like that.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A is for Ay-Ibunda

Here we are, at the start of a New Year and a new blog series from yours truly!

2012 is a busy writerly year for me, including the release of Moonblood fast approaching. To celebrate that upcoming release, I am going to write a new A-Z blog series for Veiled Rose. Those of you who have already read the novel can use these for a refresher in preparation for Moonblood. Those of you who haven't . . . well, you might want to be careful! There will be spoilers throughout this blog series as I write up articles on various aspects of this novel. You have been warned.

So to begin, let's look a little more closely at that mysterious local find within the pages of Veiled Rose . . . the temple, Ay-Ibunda.

"Go to Lunthea Maly and seek out the Hidden Temple of Ay-Ibunda. The oracle there . . . she will tell you what you wish to know."

Thus says the otherworldly sylph to Prince Lionheart when Lionheart asks him how to defeat the dreadful Dragon. The sylph himself does not know the answer to Lionheart's question, but he knows who might and where she might be found.

The problem is, Ay-Ibunda is the hidden temple. There is only one mortal man alive who knows where it may be found, and that man is the Emperor of Noorhitam, a vast, multi-cultural empire in the Far East. And how can Lionheart, a disguised and exiled prince, hope to speak to an emperor?

That is all part of the story you must read for yourself. But let us look a little more closely at what can be known about Ay-Ibunda.

There are  three primary people groups who make up what is now known as the Noorhitam Empire: The ruling Pen-Chan people, who are recent conquerors (as in, within the last five hundred years); the Kitar, who are the old conquerors (since conquered by the Pen-Chan); and the Chhaya, the original people of that land who ruled it long, long ago.

The Chhaya were, for the most part, a nomadic people, but they did establish a handful of fine cities. The first and foremost of these was Lunthea Maly, the City of Fragrant Flowers, built in a sheltered cove on the coast. There, this peaceful people fished and traded with those who passed that way, and developed a fine and elegant culture.

But then, the Kitar swept through (this was all many hundreds of years before Veiled Rose). They conquered the Chhaya and took over their city. Using this city as their capital, they established a powerful kingdom and called Noorhitam. And, somewhere in the midst of Lunthea Maly, they built a temple: Ay-Ibunda.

Since then, many rulers have come and gone from Noorhitam. The Pen-Chan, after a long and brutal struggle, finally bested the Kitar on the battlefields, and placed one of their own emperors upon the throne. To this emperor was passed down many strange secrets about the realm he know mastered. And one of those secrets was the location of Ay-Ibunda.

Ay-Ibunda is no normal temple built upon mortal soil, as we swiftly discover in our reading of Veiled Rose. By the time this novel takes place, the boy emperor of Noorhitam has only just come into his rule, and his uncle, a Kitar noble by the name of Sepertin-Naga, would like to keep some of the secrets of Noorhitam from him. Little does Sepertin-Naga realize how closely linked to his city the boy emperor is. Though he has never seen the Hidden Temple before, the young emperor has no trouble navigating the strange, twisted streets of his city and, at last, coming to gates.

"There was no lurch. There was no flash of light. There was no discernable sensation. One  moment they were walking up the market square, listening to the shouts of fruit sellers and fishmongers; the sun was swiftly climbing and shining hot upon the streets, baking those who moved about their lives.
The next, the world was shrouded in mist, and they stood at the gates of the temple" (p. 289).

Ay-Ibunda, it would seem, was not built upon mortal soil. It was, perhaps, built somewhere in the Between . . . a dark region of the Between.

When we pass through those gates and see what Lionheart and the young emperor see, we begin to learn what sort of temple this is. It is no holy place, devoted to pure worship of a Creator. Instead, it is a place of darkness, strange chants, and secret ways. There are statues in the courtyard, statues that are simultaneously man and woman, or dragon and bird. They are beautiful but grotesque, frightening.

This is a temple devoted to the service of Death and Life-in-Death, the Dragon and his Sister.

Those Kitar conquerors brought more than new rule to the old Chhayan kingdom. They brought the secret worship of dreadful things.

And yet it is here that Lionheart is told he might discover the secret to the Dragon's demise.

I had a wonderful time inventing the Noorhitam Empire and the variety of cultures that make up its life and dynamic. Just before writing this novel, I had the opportunity to travel to Okinawa and there visited Shuri Castle and many beautiful gardens and jungles. This inspired bits and pieces of Noorhitam, though it has since morphed into something altogether its own. I would like to think that some of the flavor of the beautiful Asian nations permeates  this part of Lionheart's travels. It was one of my favorites to write; I hope you enjoyed reading it yourself!

And I also hope to one day tell you much more about Noorhitam, the hidden temple, and the brave boy emperor. But we shall see . . . we shall have to wait and see . . . .