Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Picks of 2012

In honor of the closing year, I decided to quickly insert a post of my top three favorite reads of 2012. I don't believe any of these actually released in 2012, but 2012 is when they came into my life, so that's what that is . . . .

Anyway, at the very top of this prestigious (in my mind) list is a novel you have heard me mention once or twice . . . Jasper Fforde's incomparable Shades of Grey.

Welcome to Chromatacia, where the societal hierarchy is strictly regulated by one's limited color perception. And Eddie Russet wants to move up. But his plans to leverage his better-than-average red perception and marry into a powerful family are quickly upended. Juggling inviolable rules, sneaky Yellows, and a risky friendship with an intriguing Grey named Jane who shows Eddie that the apparent peace of his world is as much an illusion as color itself, Eddie finds he must reckon with the cruel regime behind this gaily painted facade.

This book is a dystopian to beat all dystopians. The first three chapters I spent scratching my head going, "Whaaaaaa . . . . ???" And then I stopped trying to make everything make sense and just allowed myself to be pulled into the world. Eddie and his dad open the novel on a tour, planning to visit the Last Rabbit? Okay. One of the most common forms of death are deadly swan attacks? Okay. Spoons are the most valuable trading commodity? Okay.

And, weirdly enough, it all made sense another few chapters in. I was part of Eddie's world and totally caught up in the bizarre and compelling plot! And that kick-in-the-gut ending? Absolutely pitch perfect. This book, despite all the fabulous reads of this last year, easily took First Place as My Number One Pick.

Warning: This is not a YA read. I would rate it at least PG-13. All of you younger readers should make certain you have parental permission before you pick this one up. Fabulous as it is, I would caution discretion to teen readers.

My next pick is a very recent read, but I did read it before the end of 2012, and it more than deserves its second place standing. This is The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

In 1558, while exiled by Queen Mary Tudor to a remote castle known as Perilous Gard, young Kate Sutton becomes involved in a series of mysterious events that lead her to an underground world peopled by Fairy Folk—whose customs are even older than the Druids’ and include human sacrifice.

That summary swiped from Amazon really does not do this amazing book justice. I was particularly interested to read it because I heard it was retelling of the Ballad of Tam Lin. My untitled Book 6 is a very loose retelling of Tam Lin as well. I wondered if I would like Elizabeth Marie Pope's version, or if I would find it a little disappointing after my recent forays into that famous legend.

IT IS NOT DISAPPOINTING. It is rare that I come across a hitherto unread YA author whom I truly look upon as a master and a mentor. Elizabeth Marie Pope is one of those rare writers. I want to sit at her metaphorical feet and drink in whatever she might teach me! I adored this book . . . it kept me up until 2:00am, and then I needed another hour to unwind after the breathtaking finale!

This is a YA appropriate read, and one I highly recommend. There are some very frightening passages, particularly toward the end that gave me real chills. But in a good way. This book is my Second Pick of the Year

And then last, but never least, Sir Terry Pratchett's Snuff stole my readerly heart.

At long last, Lady Sybil has lured her husband, Sam Vimes, on a well-deserved holiday away from the crime and grime of Ankh-Morpork. But for the commander of the City Watch, a vacation in the country is anything but relaxing. The balls, the teas, the muck—not to mention all that fresh air and birdsong—are more than a bit taxing on a cynical city-born and -bred copper
Yet a policeman will find a crime anywhere if he decides to look hard enough, and it's not long before a body is discovered, and Sam—out of his jurisdiction, out of his element, and out of bacon sandwiches (thanks to his well-meaning wife)—must rely on his instincts, guile, and street smarts to see justice done. As he sets off on the chase, though, he must remember to watch where he steps. . . . This is the countryside, after all, and the streets most definitely are not paved with gold.

I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan, so I knew I was going to love this book. I'm also a particular fan of his character, Sam Vimes . . . who really might be my favorite Pratchett character of all time. I was not expecting this book to take me so much by surprise, however! But then, that's my own fault. Terry Pratchett always takes me by surprise. This is an action packed and yet thoughtful novel, with tender moments, tragic moments, laugh-out-loud moments (by the dozen), and even a few tearful moments. And Lady Sybil is just awesome. No two ways about it.

I always know a book is going to be a favorite if I walk away from it inspired about my own writing. Even if the stories I write are nothing like what I just read, a good book will feed my creative soul. Snuff did that for me. I really loved it! It is my Third Pick of 2012

I recommend it to fans of Sir Terry Pratchett. If you have not yet read any Terry Pratchett, I would recommend starting earlier in his series, however. Perhaps with Guards! Guards! which first introduces us to Sam Vimes. These books are adult, not YA, and though I don't recall anything inappropriate (Pratchett is not given to dirty writing), there is definitely some innuendo and more "mature" humor in places.

So there you go! Let me know your top picks of the year, and if you've listed them on your blog, send me a link! I'd love to see.

Happy end to 2012, dear readers!

Read-along: Chapter 29

And the end of the year is upon us. What a year it has been! But there is still much more to come . . . as there is for Princess Una in this story we are reading together. So, despite what it says on the banner, we will go ahead and keep up this read-along into January until we are through. It won't be too much longer now! And there's a big giveaway at the end of it, so be sure to keep commenting, faithful readers.


An eclectic chapter. Wow, this chapter covers a lot of ground! It also jumps to a variety of points-of-view. We start out with Prince Lionheart, from whom we have not had a point-of-view scene up until now. Then we move back to Una, deep in the Dragon's Village. And then we end up in the point-of-view of an entirely new character, Captain Catspaw of the Southlands guard.

You will notice as you read Heartless that we never once get a scene directly from Prince Aethelbald's point-of-view. This was an intentional choice on my part. For one thing, it keeps him much more mysterious to the reader, which I like. And this mystery, I think, adds to the romance. We don't know anything of him that he does not reveal to other people. But we do enjoy a variety of perspectives on him, including Lionheart's perspective in this first scene of Chapter 29.

The Council of Barons. We learn in this scene that the Council of Barons is watching Prince Lionheart. It's merely a brief mention, but becomes so much more important in later books. In fact, reading this book again after Moonblood gives you a very different perspective on this whole scene!

The addled Eldest. I think the Eldest's greeting to Aethelbald is proof of how dragon-poisoned he really is. He makes the comment, "I cannot remember the last time I beheld a man from Farthestshore." The fact is, he has probably never seen a man of Farthestshore, because very few people believe Farthestshore even exists! It is hard to disbelieve Prince Aethelbald when he is standing right in front of you. But I can imagine that more than a few of the courtiers gathered that day thought it was all some sort of hoax, some cruel trick being played on their sickened king.

Prince Lionheart doesn't doubt him, though. He merely dislikes what he knows to be true.

Aethelbald's Purpose. I think this scene is yet another example of Aethelbald caring for more than just Una. He came to Lionheart, not for Una's sake . . . as we see later on, he does not need Lionheart's help, or the help of Lionheart's men. He is not so limited.

But Lionheart desperately needs Aethelbald's help. He needs to turn from this path he has chosen. And Aethelbald, full of compassion, comes and offers him an opportunity to forsake his own will and journey with him into the heart of dragon country. A journey which would, I believe, have changed Lionheart's life forever.

Lionheart, however, is unwilling to accept Aethelbald's offer. He is full of more excuses, more common sense, more good reasoning. And sends others in his place, somehow hoping to atone for his own reticence. It's not enough, of course. It never will be.

I don't believe that Aethelbald has given up on Prince Lionheart. I don't think he's the sort to ever give up.

The dragons of the Village. This scene actually gives some insight into the Dragonwitch character from Starflower (those of you who haven't read it, feel free to skip this section!). We see the dragons in their former forms pacing to and fro in the darkness. Una watches them as they pace, crawl, and mutter to themselves. We can only imagine that they are going over and over in their minds the hurts that led them to this place of evil fire. Just as Una thinks over and over of Lionheart and her heartbreak. When the fire mounts up too great, they burst into flame, transform into dragons, and race up the tunnel to go vent that flame on the worlds beyond.

The Dragonwitch can't do this.

Because of what she rebellion, the Dragon King took away her wings and her dragon form. Thus she is a dragon, but trapped in the body of a woman. When her fire mounts up, she cannot take relief in transforming to the body of a dragon, which can stand the violence of that flaming furnace. Her immortal woman's body  does not die, but the fire consumes her, burning her mind, taking her memory and driving her insane.

The Dragonwitch, firstborn of all the Dragon's children, truly is the most cursed of them all.

Do you wish to burn? The yellow-eyed dragon asks Una this question as she stands at the base of the upward tunnel. He tells her about his last time, burning soldiers in Parumvir . . . and Una does not realize that he also burned and poisoned her brother. I don't know if she would even truly care at this point, so lost as she is in her flame.

Dragon skin. The yellow-eyed dragon gives Una a black robe made from dragon skin. (Shudder!) He tells her to hide her exposed humanity.

And Una, thus clad, retreats back into the cavern. She's not ready to face the worlds above again. So she hides herself in the darkness, knowing that she can never be truly hidden. And she slips into dangerous dreams . . . .

Captain Catspaw. Poor Catspaw and eleven others are selected by Lionheart to travel with Aethelbald into the Red Desert. And the poor men have no idea what's coming! But things start out weird enough when Aethelbald asks them, "Will you follow me?" then proceeds to walk out of the gates without a horse! Worse still, he leads them away from the city, over the King's Bridge, an on at last . . . to one of the gorges.

He then leads them down into the Wilderlands.

None of them want to follow him in there. It is an unspoken rule that no one enters the Wilderlands. That's why they have bridges, for Lumé's sake! And there's a little reference saying: "No one climbed down to the Wilderlands below unless banished in cruelest punishment for the most vile of deeds." Foreshadowing!!!! But not until a later book . . . .

The Red Desert. The men follow faithfully enough, however, stepping onto the strange Faerie path behind Aethelbald. And they cover leagues upon leagues in mere strides! And when at last they emerge, they find themselves no long in Southlands at all. They've crossed to the Continent, over Chiara Bay, without so much as dampening their feet!

 Now, then men are truly terrified. And when Prince Aethelbald asks them to enter the Red Desert behind him, they cannot bear to. Not even the honor of Southlands is motivation enough! A Catspaw himself says, "We have all of us breathed in dragon fumes and lived under the shadow of dragon smoke for five long years, and it's a miracle any of us is alive."

And so Aethelbald enters the Red Desert alone.

My Personal Favorite Lines

1. "Their hearts fear us even if they don't know why. I hate their fear. Nothing incites my fire more. I find I can scarcely enter a town before the fire bursts out of me now. So I come here when I need quiet. Here among my family." (p. 283)

Questions on the Text

1. This one is for your writers out there. Have you ever tried refraining from giving a main character a point-of-view in order to contribute to the mystery of that character? Have you maintained this mystery through an entire manuscript before? Do tell!

2. What difference do you think it might have made in Lionheart's life had he agreed and followed Prince Aethelbald?

3. In honor of the coming New Year . . . what book or books are you most looking forward to reading in 2013? Have any of you made reading lists?

4. Any favorite lines?

Reader Questions

1. I also think I discovered another literary nod within this chapter. Una's attempt to brush her hair and the resulting hurling of the shell-edged comb at the mirror. "The mirror cracked". Alfred Lord Tennoson's "The Lady of Shalott?" Una, too, is waiting for her love just as Lady Elaine pines for Launcelot. "Out flew the web and opened wide ... The mirror crack'd from side to side. "A curse has come upon me!" cried The Lady of Shalot". Just a thought. -- Meredith

Good spot, Meredith! I am impressed! I do believe this was a little nod to Tennyson. I memorized most of the "The Lady of Shalott" when I was in high school, and I like to reference it here and there in my writing.

One thing you'll notice in all of my books is a tendency for my characters to make "three paces" here, there, and everywhere. This is an unintentional nod! Everytime I need them to take a step or two, the line from "The Lady of Shalott" comes to mind: "She left the web, she left the loom/She made three paces through the room." In fact, when I was doing a final read-through edit of Moonblood, I had to  very consciously go through and take out several "three paces" references! They just keep slipping in. A case of a literary nod gone wild . . .

2. Do most of the characters represent fallen humanity in this way? I mean do all have the possibility of becoming dragons? Yet some are given to the sister of the dragon. If I have this correct - The dragon represents dreams that are destroyed (so dismay over what can not be) and the lady represents dreams that have been fulfilled (dreams that consume the heart of man). So depending on which way the character's life is going they will end up meeting with one of the two Fates? Do the people under the lady's power have a physical transformation as well? Lionheart did not so I am guessing no. Do only certain characters represent humanity? I noticed some characters, like Starflower, did not really go through this process. -- Courtney

Good questions! I don't think all of the characters represent fallen humanity in the same way Una does. Una is a very distinct representation of the church. Even her name, "Una," is taken from the princess in the St. George and the Dragon legend, who is said (by some) to represent The One Church. Thus she is fallen humanity, rescued by the blood of Christ in a very specific way.

The other characters are all flawed and fallen in some way, but they aren't such distinct symbols as Una is. They are more personal, less universal . . .

Some of those taken by the Lady undergo a pretty drastic transformation, but it's a much slower process than what we see in the Dragon's children. She is far more subtle and insidious than the Dragon is, so the transformation worked on her victims is also more subtle. If you read Veiled Rose you'll get an eyeful of one of her servants deep in transformation, however. I don't know if that character reflects the coming fate of all the Lady's children or not, however it is a possibility.

I see the Lady and the Dragon as two sides of the same coin. They have their own personalities, but they are basically just two different anthropomorphizations of Evil.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Read-along: Chapter 28

And here I am, rather late, but back with today's write-up for the read-along! This chapter was quite long and quite full to the brim of interesting little details. I hope you'll enjoy exploring it more deeply along with me . . .

Don't forget to continue leaving comments! At the very end of the giveaway, all of you who comment will be entered in a drawing to win a grand prize of Veiled Rose, Moonblood, and Starflower. You don't want to miss out!


Glimpse into the Far World. We never actually see the Far World of Faerie within the pages of Heartless. At least, not up close. The closest we get are Felix's glimpses as he stands in the Haven, which is built in the Wood Between. Looking out from his chamber, he glimpses a vista of mountains and a snaking river . . . the mirror images of the mountains and river of his own mortal world, except much bigger and more wild and strange. The Far World of Faerie seems to lie right over the top of the Near World of mortals, sharing much of the same topography.

It's quite a staggering sight--and still more staggering concept--for recovering young Felix.

Imraldera's Outfit. I had fun inventing this style for Imraldera . . . or rather, not inventing. It's inspired by a salwar kameez my Pakistani friend, Aqsa, gave to me. Aqsa loves to host enormous banquets for all her Pakistani friends, and she would invite me to attend. I would wear salwar kameez and say, "Assalamu alaikum," to anyone who spoke to me, and most of them believed I was Pakistani . . . until they asked me questions in Urdu which I could not hope to understand! But I really enjoyed those epic evenings, surrounded by the beautiful sights, sounds, and smells of a culture very different from mine. And Aqsa's traditional Pakistani cooking was to die for!

I ended up collecting quite a few salwar kameez outfits, including a red one embroidered all over with tiny mirrors, and a gold velvet and black one with "bangle" trousers. But my favorite was a green and lavender ensemble with a lovely matching headscarf, or "dupatta." Maybe I'll dig it out and model it for you one day . . . .

Imraldera's age. One of the first mysteries surrounding Imraldera is her age. At first, Felix assumes that she's right around Una's age, maybe a little older. But then he believes she might be quite old indeed, despite her youthful features! We learn in a later book that Imraldera is actually over 1600 years old . . . but aged physically since she was about sixteen, younger than Una, in fact. But Felix, who doesn't know this, is understandably baffled.

The silver pitcher. Imraldera offers Felix drink, and the poor boy immediately asks, "Will it . . . do anything to me?" He is in a strange new world now, where his room is both a room and a forest grove, and monsters snuffle on the fringes of the night. And here is this girl who is both very old and very young, offering him drink. What's he supposed to think?

Crooked Teeth. Felix wonders if Imraldera is a Faerie since she is able to the invisible attendants surrounding him. "Mortals cannot see Faeries within the Wood," she tells him. But she obviously can, proving that she is not mortal. But neither is she a Faerie.

This is further proven by one little physical detail added in about Dame Imraldera . . . she has slightly crooked teeth. Now an immortal Faerie would not deign to suffer such an imperfection! If nothing else, it would probably cast a glamour so that all who looked upon it would see nothing but perfection. But Dame Imraldera, with her lovely face and features, smiles and displays her crooked teeth without shame and without glamour. Clearly not a Faerie!

And Felix thinks this imperfection of hers somehow makes her more beautiful. I think someone might be smitten! Just saying . . . .

Invisible Attendants. It pleases me to read this scene with Felix trying to catch a glimpse of his invisible attendants, Faeries of the Haven who will not show themselves to him. For one thing, I just finished drafting the novel where we learn who these invisibles are and where they came from! But here in Heartless they are just one more little enigma experienced by my characters . . . and by you, my dear readers.

The vista vanishes. Felix glances back to look at that sweeping view of mountains and rivers . . . only to discover that he is now looking on a forest of thick trees! The great view is gone, as though it has never been. More than a little terrifying for our poor addled prince!

But, Imraldera carefully explains to him that the Haven rests in the Halflight Realm between the worlds. It chooses what view it wishes to look upon for itself, be it the Between, the mortal world, or the Faerie Realm. And poor Felix had better get used to it or just not look!

Poisoned Wound. We also learn that Felix has been badly poisoned by the yellow-eyed dragon in the Wood. Those claws pierced him deeply. Imraldera's not even entirely certain that it will be safe for Felix to ever leave the Haven, so deep is that wound . . . which notion does not please Prince Felix in the least!

Strange names. Felix thinks Imraldera's name is strange . . . and is strange, being one of the few "made-up" names in this story! Most of the names in my world are derived from real-world sources. Even outlandish names like Aethelbald and Vahe (the goblin king briefly mentioned in an early chapter) come from our own world. But Imraldera's name is derived from a Faerie language and spent a good bit of time in high school inventing . . . with the foolish delusion that I would somehow prove a skilled linguist!

Heheheh. Skilled linguist I am not, but there are many hours of creativity sunk into those grammars and dictionaries, so I make use of them now and again. "Imral" is my Faerie word for "star," and "dera" is the feminized version of "flower."  The gender-neutral version is "deri," and the masculine form is "deru." Which is why, in Starflower, when Eanrin first references the blossoms growing on the vine, he refers to them in the gender-neutral form, imralderi. But when he names Imraldera, he gives it the feminine form. (Yeah . . . way too much time spent on that!)

"Felix" is a Latin name that means "happy," and Imraldera is right when she says the name suits him, somehow.

The Prince is my master, Imraldera tells Felix, mentioning that Aethelbald once rescued her from "an evil such as I will not describe to you here and now." FORESHADOWING! I had written copious notes and even a longish short-story version of the novel that became Starflower years before drafting Heartless. So, of course, I wanted to drop a mention here and there of that story!

Meanwhile . . . Una flies from Southlands in her dragon form, seeking nothing. By some unknown instinct, she makes her way to the Red Desert . . . the world of dragons, as she believes.

It is interesting to note at this point in the story, Una is not referred to by name anymore. She is merely "she" or "the dragon-girl" or sometimes "the dragon-princess." But her name is gone. This is something that happens to most dragons when they are transformed.

Names are one of the most important elements in Starflower, but it's interesting to me to see a similar theme running through  Heartless. I'd almost forgotten about it! But names have always been important features of fairy tales. Look at Rumpelstiltskin as a prime example.

Meeting in the desert. When I first drafted this novel, I had a short, chapter-by-chapter outline which I followed to keep me focused. Only a sentence or two described each chapter, but for the most part I followed it fairly closely.

When I reached this scene of Una in the desert, everything took an unexpected turn, however. Out of the blue, the yellow-eyed dragon (who in the first draft hadn't shown up yet) appeared on the scene, calling Una "sister" and offering to take her to the Village of Dragons. As intrigued as Una herself, I allowed the scene to keep playing out, following the yellow-eyed dragon down that twisted path. And there we met the oft-mentioned Bane of Corrilond and saw the dreadful squalor in which the dragons lived, as they suffered the burning of their own spirits. A living hell, full of torment and vengeance and sorrow . . . and the loss of names.

The one thing they have is their kinship. They are a hell-bound family of monsters, united in hatred and in flame.

None of this scene or the ensuing scenes of the Village were planned in my outline. But outlines are merely guidelines, not set in stone!

The Bane of Corrilond. And so at last we meet the figure from Una's tapestry, and from the little marble statues down in Oriana's gardens. A giant of a dragon-woman with a harsh, almost manly voice. Long ago, she was betrayed by her lover for a chest full of rubies . . . but there's much more to the story than what the yellow-eyed dragon tells Una here. Much more, which you will have to wait until later to read! But I do hope one day to be able to tell the whole of that tale. Then we can learn more about Destan, Aysel, and the Queen's City of Nadire Tansu, and the last Queen of Corrilond, lover of riddles . . . betrayed and forgotten.

With my uncle. The yellow-eyed dragon claims to have seen Nadire Tansu destroyed. He also mentions his uncle and how the Queen's was more beautiful than the halls of Iubdan Rudiobus. Can some of you figure out who his uncle might be? If he is familiar with Iubdan Rudiobus, perhaps this yellow-eyed dragon was once a Rudioban himself . . . .

The throne of the Dragon King. The yellow-eyed dragon shows Una the stone throne, covered in blood, from which the Dragon King reigns and devours his own children. The Dragon has been a fierce foe up until this point . . . but here, in this scene, even though he is not present, I think we finally get a true glimpse of just how horrible he really is.

Home. So Una finds herself in this hell of a village, and she tells herself that it is her home. All she can now hope for is to make a infamous name for herself, a name that will not be forgotten . . . .

My Personal Favorite Lines

1. "Will it . . . do anything to me?" he asked.
She laughed. "If you're afraid it will doom you to an eternity as my slave or something along those lines, no, it will not. It is water, nothing more." (p. 266)

2. "But you must listen to me and do as I ask, or things may go the worse for you."
He scowled a little. "I'm not a baby," he muttered, low enough that he didn't think she would hear. But the corner of her mouth lifted, and he knew she had. (p. 268)

3. Soon she would have to rest. But if she rested, she might have to think, and that would be unbearable. (p. 270)

4. "No one understood me before, you see," he said. "Tried to control me. But I showed them."
She did not answer.
"Here they understand," he said. "No chains, no obligations. That's what I like."
She remained silent.
He squeezed her hand almost encouragingly. "And you?" he asked.
"Forgotten," she said.
"They always forget as first," he said. "But they won't later. He will show us how to make them remember." (p. 272)

Questions on the Text

1. What do you think it means that the dragons all lose their names soon after their transformation?

2. Both the yellow-eyed dragon and the Bane of Corrilond make comments about "always being forgotten at first." How do you think the Bane of Corrilond and Una might be similar, based on the information we are given? Do you think the yellow-eyed dragon might have a tale similar to theirs? Why are they so determined not to be forgotten?

3. Favorite lines?

Read-along: Chapter 27

So sorry I missed posting yesterday! I had every intention of getting a chapter in, but the day just swallowed me. I'm going to make up for it with two posts today, I hope. This one is a little bit shorter than usual, and done in a slightly different format. I hope you will find it interesting even so! Check back later today for chapter 28.


The Chapter that almost ended Heartless . . . and my writing career as we know it.

So many of you know already that I started out writing this story in a much shorter version, by hand. The first novel-length version of Heartless was no more than 40,000 words long, and it was entirely focused on Una's part of the story. I penned it in a selection of spiral notebooks and my leather-bound journal of the time.

During that summer of composition, I took a trip out to Oklahoma to visit my USAF brother, Tom, who was at flight school at the time (he's now a decorated search-and-rescue helicopter pilot). Anyway, I took along my notebook on the airline flight to have something to do. I had written all the way up through Una's escape from Oriana in dragon form, her flight across country, all the way to Southlands. Indeed, I had come all the way to the point of Una's confrontation with Prince Lionheart . . .

And sitting there, at 4:00 in the morning (I always purchase early tickets. Saves money), my knees tucked up to my chest, waiting to board my flight, I stared at my page and thought, I can't write this.

I just couldn't bear the thought of Lionheart betraying Una so utterly! Up until this point, I, along with Una, could tell myself that the Dragon was a liar. That it was all part of his wicked ploy to transform Una according to his will. But that maybe . . .  just maybe . . . Una would come to Southlands and discover that it was all a trick! That Lionheart was indeed faithful, that he had not betrayed her as she thought!  That something else had kept him back, but he all along intended to come through, to find her, to fight his foe, to liberate the captives and become the hero!

I wanted it almost as badly as Una did. I had fallen head-over-heels for Lionheart myself, after all. He's so charming! He's so funny! And he has suffered so much. I knew when I started out writing him into the story that I had to make him convincing. I had to make the reader fall for him as hard as Una did . . . and in my case, at least, I succeeded!

So I put aside the notebook. I knew deep down in my heart that this scene had to play out the way it did. But I put aside and for about a month tried to consider some alternate path. Tried to tell myself that there was still some way I could rewrite the novel, making Lionheart the hero.

I even considered not finishing the book entirely.

Which, of course, in retrospect would have been disastrous. Heartless was the book that got my career up and running. I had written other things and toyed around with other ideas, but most of them were too complicated for my skill-level. Heartless struck the perfect balance of being a simple enough plot for my writing skills of the time, while maintaining some complexity and depth that can surprise the reader. It was the perfect gateway story into this series, and the perfect gateway story into my career.

I knew this. I knew God had planted this story in my heart for a purpose, and I suspected that part of that purpose at least was getting my longed-for writing career started. But I had to finish the book first . . . .

It took some time and some prodding. I kept starting and stopping this scene again, unwilling to watch the conversation play out as I knew it would. I focused on developing my teaching studio, taking on  art students and taking another teaching position at a local learning center. I sketched and painted and pretended that the story just wasn't as important as all that.

But it was. So eventually, after some serious prodding from God during moments of prayer, I picked up the notebook, and I finished this scene. Along with Una, I experienced the heartbreak of rejection, of final rejection. Of knowing that those little lies I've told myself can never become truth. Of knowing that those dreams I cherished were truly dead and burned.

Lionheart was indeed the antithesis of his name. Lionheart was the coward.

But, because of his cowardice, this book came to life with a story that resonates. And just a few months later, God opened doors for me. I signed with an agency, and soon after, signed with Bethany House Publishers.

And to think, I might have missed all of that because of this one scene!

My Personal Favorite Lines

1. "There is something odd about your face, something not--"
"Again, I could say the same," Una replied, and a tiny smile lifted the corner of her mouth. "That beard . . . " She reached out a hand to his face, but he caught it and pushed it away. (p. 260)

"This is no time for jokes," he said.
Una drew back and wrapped her arms about herself, still keeping the scale-covered hand hidden. "Then it is true," she said. "You have killed him."
"Killed whom?"
"My jester." (p. 260)

"I must do what's best for my kingdom. That includes not being devoured by monsters. Can you understand that? My people need me alive, not roasted." (p. 263)

Questions on the Text

1. Lionheart spends a great deal of his time in this chapter making excuses. But don't you think that some of these excuses might be valid? What are your thoughts on Lionheart's explanations to Una in this chapter?

2. What do you think of Una's reaction? Should she (if she weren't a dragon) have been more understanding? Do you think this reaction of hers is understandable? How would you have felt in her place?

3. Favorite lines?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Read-along: Chapter 26

A bit shorter of a write-up today. Sorry about that! I'm afraid yours truly has sunk into major Vacation Mode, and is finding it difficult to be motivated this week. I'll be getting back to work next week, however, and plan to catch up on all the questions then. So many good questions pouring in, I'm looking forward to answering them!

But today, I was drawing a picture for my Untitled Book 6. I hope to be able to share both the title and the picture sometime in the next few months . . . .

Meanwhile, back to the story!


Dragon-girl. Trying to hide what is becoming increasingly more apparent (her dragon nature), Una determines to climb to the top of the high gorge and find word of Prince Lionheart. At the thought of him, her fire keeps threatening to mount up and explode out of her, but she is still able to control it, at least a little. So she swallows it back and begins her climb.

Strangers on the path. Perhaps one of the most awkward things to do in a novel is to introduce random new characters who then never reappear in the story. If you are an aspiring novelist, don't do that. Keep your novel trim and tidy, free of superfluous characters.

Basically, do as I say . . . not as I do.

Here in this scene we are briefly introduced to the veiled girl and her goat. It was, of course, necessary for me to include these two characters considering the events of Moonblood . . . We learn in that novel that these two characters are much more deeply embroiled in the story than we can guess from their bit-parts in Heartless.

Still, I confess, I kind of wish in retrospect that I had handled Rose Red and Beana's involvement in the scene a little differently. They are interesting little glimpses here, but since they don't actively contribute to this novel, they feel more than a bit random.

Oh, well.

It's nice to see someone, even a complete stranger, extend grace to our poor little princess at this juncture. The goat doesn't seem too happy about it, but the nameless veiled girl seems to feel a certain sympathy with Una and her plight.

But you'll have to read on in the series to find out just why!

Una in the city. Una manages to slip through the city gates, despite the initial heckling from the guards. At first they think her awkward movements are due to drunkenness . . . but when the guard gets a good look in her eyes, he hastily passes her through, trying, I believe, to pretend he did not see what he saw. These are a people recently plagued by the Dragon, still full of his poison. I cannot imagine how awful the notion of another dragon come into their midst would be!

Thus, whenever anyone makes eye-contact, they duck their heads quickly, telling themselves they are mistaken. So Una passes into the crowded streets and loses herself in the merry-making throng. And she learns why the city is decked for celebration.

It is Prince Lionheart's wedding week.

The kitten. I like the little moment when Una sees the orange kitten in the alley. Cats are not so easily deceived as humans, nor willing to deceive themselves! It recognizes her in a moment and flees, snarling. Poor Una! This can only be testimony not only to how Monster would react were he to see her again, but also to how her own dear family would react.

But she tries to tell herself that Lionheart will know her, and Lionheart will not be afraid.

Lady Daylily, the Baron of Middlecrescent's daughter, is mentioned by name for the first time in this scene. She becomes a major character later on in the series, but here in this book, she has only one brief scene. Una glimpses her on the balcony, smiling at the crowd, smiling at Lionheart. She is beautiful, clad in furs, crowned in red hair. She has won the prince of Southlands for her husband . . . why should she not be joyful?

And Una, watches Lionheart bestow smiles upon Daylily that should have been hers.

Leonard. Una shouts the name of her beloved jester, and I'm sure the very sound of it, nearly forgotten, must have rung loudly in Lionheart's ears, despite the noise all around. And when he looks down into the crowd, he spots Una at once.

But he is not glad to see her.

My Personal Favorite Line

1. Blood like lava pounded in her veins, and she panted with the terror of it. For Una felt, in that moment when she saw the look on his face--not a look of joy or delight, as she had so long dreamed of seeing when at least reunited with him, but of pure surprise and, an instant later, pure horror--that she would burn him alive with the heat of her eyes if she could. (p. 258)

Questions on the Text

1. What do you make of the merrymakers of Southlands? Do you think they are truly happy on this day?

2. What do you think of Una's reaction when Lionheart is so horrified to see her? Do you think this was the dragon inside her reacting, or simply the hurt young woman? Or both?

3. Favorite lines?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Read-along: Chapter 25

A little later posting than usual! I'm in such a vacation mode of mind at the moment, it's easy to let my work back up a bit. LOL. But I do enjoy doing this read-along with you, so here we are, back to Chapter Twenty-Five.

I will still be answering all of your wonderful questions sometime in the next few days. Not today, but soon, I promise. And be sure to keep commenting for a chance to win the Grand Prize of all three other Goldstone Wood stories!


Fidel and the Prince. After all the drama in the previous chapter, this scene creates a much-needed moment of rest. It's also contains a few important details. For one thing, we learn through the context of Aethelbald and Fidel's conversation the significance of the partially-overheard conversation Una encountered several chapters back. We learn that Aethelbald warned Fidel of the very doings which have taken place.

We also learn that, despite Fidel's disregard of those warnings, Aethelbald continued to work for his good. He saved his son from the yellow-eyed dragon, and we can surmise that he has also been helping others in the midst of the terror wrecked by the Dragon.

Aethelbald has received some flak from a few reviewers who claim that he "only cared about the royal family." I don't think this is just. We, as the readers, are only privy to the events occurring to our main characters. But does that mean Aethelbald was neglecting all the other mortals suffering in Parumvir (and across the Near World) during this dark time? He is currently clad "in the form of a man" at the moment, so he's not omnipresent. But he is obviously traveling through the Wood and serving those in need.

And yes, he sets out on a journey to save Una. Does that mean that his servants aren't dispersed about the nation, helping others? I like to think that Aethelbald is very much involved and invested in the lives of all those in Parumvir. I really loved several of the stories sent in for the fan fiction contest (Meredith's winning piece being a particularly fine example), which speculated on other characters to whom the Prince of Farthestshore was ministering through the events in Heartless.

Affects of the Poison. We do in this scene get a little more picture of the kind of influences dragon-poison has over mortals. Fidel was not an old man when we first met him in this book, but he is quite broke and weak in this scene. Given time, I believe he recovers most of his former vim (come Moonblood, he seems practically back to normal), but it's a process.

And he wasn't so deeply poisoned as Felix was. The young prince was pierced by dragon claws . . . .

Una in Flight. We get a brief glimpse of Una continuing her journey following her encounter with Gervais. I believe when she first fled the Dragon and Oriana, she didn't have a direction or purpose in mind. But that brief encounter with Gervais has sent her onward with more determined purpose. Has Lionheart forgotten her as thoroughly as Gervais? She needs to know how much worth she might still have in his eyes. Or is she really so worthless?

Poor Una. The fire inside her has mounted so hot, she is swiftly losing all that was good and worthy to begin with. Everything that was immature and selfish is rising to the surface and overwhelming her. Though the results of that overwhelming will prove different than what has transpired with other dragons . . . but we'll look into that later.

Felix, poisoned. We also get a glimpse of Felix, wracked with fever in the Haven. The dragon poison is still thick in his veins, and he is only mortal, and just a boy at that. I think it must be testimony to Dame Imraldera's skill that Felix did not succumb to that poison and perish.

The Haven. We learn more about the Haven in later books, but we do get a few interesting glimpses of it here in Heartless. Because it was built in the Between, the stretch of existence separating the Near World of mortals from the Far World of Faerie, it a part of both and of neither. Thus, sometimes Felix believes himself to be in the middle of a forest . . . and other times, lying upon a soft bed in a sumptuous chamber. Both are true, and neither.

In his fevered state, you can imagine how frightening and disorienting that must be!

A corridor of trees. Have you ever walked in a moonlit forest? I have. Up in my hometown in Wisconsin, I've gone walking in the forest many times at night, through tall arched hallways of regal trees, lit only by the moon up above. In the winter, the moonlight reflects on the snow until it is so bright you can walk almost as easily as in daylight.

I like picturing those moonlit walks as I read this scene of Felix wandering the corridors of the Haven, sometimes believing himself surrounded by trees, sometimes believing he walks in a walled passage lit by pale candles. It's a lovely, moody scene, and I like it well even now!

The sword. Later on we will learn its name. Later on still, we will learn its history. But here, in this scene, we get our first glimpse at Prince Aethelbald's sword. The sword which can slay dragons . . .

Felix, of course, wants to know right away why Aethelbald does not carry it even now and venture forth on a dragon-slaying quest. But Dame Imraldera, who has served the Prince of Farthestshore for a long time (centuries, as we later learn), has learned that his time is not her time . . . and that his time is always best. So she gently leads Felix away.

The roar behind the wall. This is a frightening little bit. We never learn what it might be, snuffling at the wall of the Haven, seeking a way in. Something "inhuman yet not quite animal." By not seeing it, we are more frightened of it, even as Felix is. But they are safe, as Imraldera tells him, within the walls of the Haven, which nothing can breach without the Prince's leave.

The gorges of Southlands. A number of important firsts occur in this chapter! We see the sword, we hear of the little "pricks" that pester Felix as he walks in the Haven, and we also see the gorges of Southlands. We never learn why these are important in this book, but this distinctive aspect of Southlands' landscape is a vital part of the later storytelling. So keep an eye on those gorges and don't forget them as you read on in the series! Or those fantastic bridges spanning them either . . . .

The palace of her nightmares. Una, flying into Southlands, sees the Eldest's House in person for the first time, and she recognizes it. The dragon-ravaged house she had seen and hated in her nightmares. But does it deserve its sorry fate? Any more than Oriana did?

But Una's dragon spirit cannot think or feel as the soft-hearted girl Una might. She knows only that she must find Lionheart, and learn whether or not he has forgotten her.

The scale-covered arm. This chapter ends with Una's second transformation back into her human form. But this time, one of her arms is covered in dragon scales. She has lost so much more of her humanity, and the dragon inside is beginning to show even in her mortal form.

My Personal Favorite Lines

1. Trees stood on either side like walls in a corridor, and moonlight shone on the path like a carpet unrolling at his feet. Felix followed it. Tiny pricks touched his arms and face like biting bugs. He slapped at empty air, and the little pricks stopped. He followed the moonlight, his fevered eyes scanning the trees and the arch of branches over his head. Stars glimmered between the branches like candles in sconces. He could not tell whether he walked in a forest or in a grand manor house. (p. 247)

Questions on the Text

1. If the sword Felix found in the Haven can indeed slay dragons, why do you think Aethelbald has not used it already?

2. What kind of creature do you think might have been trying to get into the Haven that evening? And why? (There's no "right" or "wrong" answer to this question . . . this is where you get to write the story!)

3. Any favorite lines?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Read-along: Chapter 24

Hello, my dears! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas holiday, surrounded by those you love and the beauty of the season. Rohan and I had a lovely time. We hosted a small party on Christmas Eve, cooking a fabulous meal (courtesy of Rohan) and a dessert (courtesey of yours truly). I made a Tiramisu Toffee Torte, and it turned out remarkably well! And Rohan gave a dramatic reading from A Christmas Carol, to the delight of all. It was very lovely.

We are now continuing our read-along. I've realized that there is no way we are going to finish before the end of December, having only just come to Chaper 24 out of 39. But that's okay! We'll just continue on into January until we're through.

I think, for the sake of sanity, I'm going to stop doing weekly giveaways. I'm simply scrambling around to keep up with all of these packages to mail out! However, there is still going to be a big giveaway opportunity. On the last day of the read-along, those of you who continued commenting will be entered in a Grand Giveaway to win all three books--Veiled Rose, Moonblood, and Starflower at once!

So those who won last week will get their prizes soon, and the rest of you keep on commenting for a chance to win the Grand Prize. Sound good?

Oh, and here's a bit of Christmas cheer, sent from talented artist, Hannah! I thought you would all enjoy it.

From left to right: Sir Oeric, Beana, Lionheart, Varvare, Aethelbald, Una, Felix, Imraldera, Eanrin, Iubdan, and Bebo.

And now, back to the story!


Una in the farmer's field. I'd actually forgotten about this scene, just after Una flees Oriana in her dragon form. The agony of her transformation, the burning inside, and the wound at her neck, is all very gruesome and sad. But more sad still, the reaction of those who find her in the field.

Can you imagine how terrifying it must have been for the little child? Walking in a familiar field around her home, and suddenly coming upon the gnarled and awful form of a dragon, lying sprawled out and smoking. I cannot conceive of how frightening it must have been!

But how much more frightening for Una . . . to discover herself to be, indeed, an object of abject terror.

You can really see the dragon side of her taking over in this scene as well when the fire inside her things, "Mindless creatures. I should burn them all!"

But she still has enough of herself inside, not entirely burned away. So for now, she does not destroy and ravage. But it's only a matter of time . . . .

Once more a girl. So we learn at the end of this scene that the transformation into dragon form is not permanent. She still returns to her human shape. Alone, cold, on winter night, lying in a stream.

Fidel, alone in the dark. The dragon smoke that had poisoned Fidel a few nights before is still deep in his lungs. And as he sits in darkness, knowing his daughter is lost . . . and then learns that his son is lost as well, presumed dead . . . we can see the poison eating him alive.

Una in Beauclair. I have a vivid memory of composing this scene! It was another one that I wrote by hand while sitting out in the forest. This time, I was sitting on my own little plank bridge, and rain was coming on. It was a summer rain, and not cold like that which Una experiences in this scene. But that probably inspired the gloomy atmosphere. It also meant I had to get up and hurry back home before my pages were ruined! But I got through the bulk of the scene while sitting out there, and ran home and finished it up quickly on the computer.

Inspiration. It's a little bit random, honestly, bringing Gervais back in this late in the game. But I decided to add it in because of a comment I got on the original short-story version of Heartless that I posted on my blog earlier that year. Someone had suggested that, as the climax to the story, I should have the jester-prince show up and try to hunt the princess, mistaking her for the original dragon.

It was such a chilling and depressing suggestion!

I could really do that in the novel version, however, having a very different plan in mind for Prince Lionheart. But I still liked the idea, and I thought it would be interesting to see Una's former suitor, Prince Gervais, show up on the scene and try to kill her.

The scene is made all the worse for the fact that he doesn't even recognize her in her human form! Here she pleads with him for help and shelter, but he just shrugs her off. She's obviously not dressed up in princess garments, and he obviously cared nothing for her to begin with. She's just a random girl, and he doesn't care at all.

Then, of course, she overhears his plan to try to hunt the Dragon up in Parumvir and win himself a bounty. Such a foolish man! As if this was even remotely a possibility. But he's desperate for money, and still more desperate to not have to marry the "widow," whoever she might be.

And poor Una, overhearing all of this, is cut to the quick. How quickly she was forgotten! How little she mattered to begin with.

Una flames.  In the violence that ensues upon the innkeeper discovering her lurking, Una begins to transform back into a dragon. She tries to fight it, but the fury at being so completely forgotten by Prince Gervais is too much for her. The fire roars to life and spills from her mouth, and she would kill him . . .

If not for the silver voice of the wood thrush that returns suddenly to her mind. And gentle words asking, "Una, where are you?"

My Personal Favorite Line

1. This time of year, all one could expect in Beauclair was rain, rain, and more rain, with the occasional sleet for added interest. It put everyone in such a sour mood that even friends refused to make eye contact with friends. (p. 235)

Questions on the Text.

1. Were you surprised to learn that Una was not permanently trapped in the form of a dragon? What do you make of this switch back and forth between her two forms?

2. When Una whispers, "Please don't forget . . . ." who is she talking to do you think?

3. Favorite lines?