Wednesday, June 29, 2011

U is for Una

Time for Una’s own personal little article. She has been mentioned on numerous occasions throughout this series, but as the heroine, I think she does deserve a little special mention. So here we go!

Poor Una tends to get a bad report from fans. And understandably so, of course, there’s no point in trying to defend her. She is sweet enough, but immature with a naïve perspective on love and a healthy dose of selfishness to boot. In fact, she is very like your average teenage girl thinking that romance and marriage will solve all her problems and forgetting to focus on big picture stuff . . . like character and growth and concern for other people.

Una is a very real person, for all she is a princess. She has a distinct personality, but she also acts as a fine universal representation, not only of girls in general, but also of humanity. You see, the thing with Una isn’t that she is overtly evil. She doesn’t, on the surface, look like the sort of person the Dragon would want for his brood of transformed children. She’s just a silly, somewhat emotional, slightly nervous-tempered girl.

But look around you. How many people in your life do you know whom you think of as evil. We’re all just people, struggling through our daily lives, tending to put more emphasis on ourselves than on others, but then everybody does it, so what’s the big deal? And if we want our fair piece of the pie, well, we only want what’s fair, right? Don’t we all deserve to have our own personal Dream Come True?

The answer is no. For even by insisting on our own way, our own will, we demonstrate the sordid nature that hides just beneath our everyday veneer. We really are selfish to the core. Even our most unselfish acts are motivated from selfish desires . . . the desire to feel good about ourselves because we’ve done our good deed for the day. And perhaps the hope of seeing someone reciprocate because we deserve it, right?

We human beings are all about our rights and our just desserts. And we fail to look at ourselves—to look truly at the reality of our nature—and see the dragon inside.

Una is just a simple girl with a simple wish. She’s a princess and she wants her prince. What’s the harm in that? But by her consistent insistence on her own will and her own way, rejecting the truth of real love when it is gently offered her, Una opens herself up to the Dragon’s work and poison. And after the Dragon arrives, it is a matter of mere days before Una gives in to him and takes his kiss!

For Una is a young woman without foundation. Her own strength of will can only carry her so far. Then it must crumble, and she must face the consequences.

I love this story. When I wrote it originally, it was a very personal endeavor. I really felt that I was going through many of Una’s struggles . . . an outwardly picture-perfect, church-going, Sunday-school teaching girl, but with inner sins and struggles that were tearing me apart. I have been the dragon. Many of you have been the dragon yourselves. And if you haven’t yet, be sure that you will someday.

But True Love is ever ready to step in and save the day. Not in the form of Prince Charming the way we think of him. Romance, no matter how sweet, will never solve the deepest problems of the heart. Nor will success or “good works” or any of the things this world looks to as most important. Only the grace offered through Christ’s sacrifice. And that grace is completely undeserved. There is no “good deed” we can do to earn ourselves a place in Christ’s love. That love is a free gift and must be accepted freely.

No more than Una was worthy of Prince Aethelbald’s love. Even after Una realizes that she loves Aethelbald, as we hear her saying on the shore when she speaks to the Ocean Sprite, she still thinks it is up to her to make things right. She thinks to be worthy of his love, she must face the Dragon and solve her problem of sin. Then she will have earned her place, she will deserve to be Prince Aethelbald’s bride.

But this is impossible. Una cannot kill the Dragon. She cannot work out her own salvation and transformation. No matter how sincere her intentions, her own strength and power are not enough. Instead, she must come to a place of absolute humiliation. Only there can she finally see Aethelbald’s offered love for what it is . . . an undeserved gift that can only be accepted as a gift, never earned. Only then can she face the death of her old self and the renewing of her spirit and body.

Poor Una. She really is the most humiliated of all my characters. Which is difficult in a storybook heroine. People want strong heroines who can solve their own problems . . . I do too! But this is no more than wish-fulfillment. It isn’t truth. We cannot solve all our own problems, we cannot fight all our own dragons, and we certainly cannot earn love.

Love must be a gift freely given. It can never be deserved.

On a side note: Una’s name comes from Edmund Spenser’s epic poem Faerie Queen. The Princess Una in that story represented the Church in a highly allegorical context. My Una plays the same role, representing the Church or the Bride of Christ. Unlike Spenser’s Una, who is serene and brave and lovely, my Una is a representation of the contemporary church, easily distracted from the truth of the gospel, looking for quick-fixes, running after the next new and exciting idea, and falling into traps of worldly thinking, forgetting the truth of grace and love.

That’s a tough role for one little heroine . . . not only serving as the main character in a story, but also bearing the weight of that much symbolism! So thanks to you, dear Una. I appreciate your efforts within this debut novel of mine. May you find a readership that understands your role and appreciates the purpose you serve in the story! And in the meanwhile, I love you dearly.

Monday, June 27, 2011

T is for Torkom

Torkom is a goblin. But he doesn’t always look like one.

Torkom’s role in this story is not large, but it is important. We meet him in chapter 1 and see him again only briefly in chapter 2. He is a fortune-teller, a merchant of predictions . . . and he deals in dark practices. Torkom owns one of the Dragon’s scales.

With it he gives Una a glimpse of her future. Not a scene from her future, so much as a glimpse of the future coming to her. When she agrees to let Torkom show her his wonders, he leads her into a perfumed tent, opens a secret box, and tells her to take hold of the “shield” she sees there. Una, demonstrating one of the great hallmarks of her character, trusts the dealer and does as he bids her.

And the Dragon momentarily storms her mind.

Thanks to Torkom, Una is plagued by dreams through much the rest of the story, nightmares of the Dragon and his Dark Sister as they search for her. But what does Torkom hope to gain from all of this?

Una’s ring.

“My lady must pay,” he said. “My lady must pay for the vision.” He lifted her hand toward his face, licking his lips as she drew her fingers toward his mouth. Her ring gleamed in the rose-colored light, reflecting back into his white eyes. “Worth so much,” the fortune-teller said. “Worth so great a price—”

Torkom recognizes the value of Una’s ring. He realizes what it represents. And perhaps he too knows that the Dragon seeks it? Who can say. Either way, Torkom is more than happy to accept any payment that will give him control over his clients . . . as we will see demonstrated yet again in Moonblood, so watch for the return of the charlatan Faerie dealer!

Do we know any more practical information about Torkom, however? He calls himself, “Torkom of Arpiar.” Later in the story, Felix mentions Arpiar, calling it the kingdom of goblins. So Torkom is a goblin after all, though his face doesn’t always reflect this truth. Why the half-hearted disguise, we must wonder? It’s not a very useful one, considering it only works in little flashes. Is Torkom disguising a face that is truly beautiful and it keeps slipping through the cracks? Or is he wearing an ancient beautification spell that hardly works anymore, so we only see flashes of beauty?

And for some reason, Torkom does not want to return to Arpiar, the land of his birth. See what Prince Aethelbald says to him:

“If you dare lure another into your lair, Torkom, I will personally see you returned to Arpiar. And this time you will not leave.”

This threat works a swift result on the ugly dealer. He bows them out of his tent and tries no more to wrest Una’s ring from her. The damage is already done, however. Una’s dreams are forever more plagued, and on many dark nights she suffers burns on her hands from where she grabbed the Dragon scale . . . burns that she forgets by the next morning.

Torkom has his own name for Prince Aethelbald. “Eshkhan,” he calls him. This means very little to us in the storyline of Heartless . . . but watch for it in Veiled Rose. The person who uses that name for the Prince of Farthestshore must have some connection to Arpiar and the kingdom of goblins.

And the strange enchantments which are either disguising beauty or ugliness. Which? We do not know.

Thank you, Torkom, for lending an air of mystery and creepiness to the opening of Heartless! We look forward to seeing you again come Moonblood.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

S is for Sacrifice

Ultimately, Heartless is a story about undeserved grace. This is the theme at the core of all Una’s adventures and perils. It is impossible to tell a story of undeserved grace without the theme of sacrifice playing a dominant role.

To sacrifice is to give up something, something we value highly, usually to gain something we want more. It isn’t quite the same bartering or bargaining, though it is similar. Think of the Old Testament sacrifices of long ago. The people of that day and age would sacrifice their best lambs and goats on God’s alter as a demonstration of honor and love. This was often in hopes that God would respond to their gift with blessing . . . but the proper form of sacrifice wasn’t this “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” deal. It was an outpouring of thankfulness. Gratitude for God’s bounty, for His provision. They were willing to give up valued livestock in order to better express their thanks.

We don’t usually think of sacrifice in this context, however. It is much more natural for our selfishly human minds to think in terms of, “Well, if I give this up, do I get something better in return?”

But the sacrifice that is made purely for love, with no expectation of return, is the rarest and most beautiful.

We see sacrifices being made on a lot of levels throughout the tale. Almost all of them are selfishly motivated. Lionheart sacrifices his honor in return for safety. Una sacrifices her heart in hopes of gaining a forlorn dream. The yellow-eyed dragon, Diarmid, sacrifices his freedom for the sake of choosing his own form of slavery.

In the end, only one sacrifice makes the difference. Aethelbald offers his life in the very jaws of the Dragon in order to reclaim Una’s heart. Not for himself! No, for when Aethelbald comes to Una in the second-to-last chapter, he has the opal ring that represents Una’s heart in his possession. But he does not keep it. He gives it back to her. He has fought the good fight, reclaimed what Una so foolishly tossed away, sacrificed everything for the sake of giving her back what no longer is truly hers.

Una knows it. That is why, she is the one to make the final sacrifice. She gives Aethelbald her heart. And here, we see her giving a sacrifice in the old context. Not in hopes of getting something she wants . . . no, for she has finally learned to forgo her stubborn self-will. She gives Aethelbald her heart because she knows it is what he longs for. And out of gratitude, out of love, out of pure joy in the goodness that is the Prince of Farthestshore, she offers him her heart.

What a long journey my foolish young Una went on. But I believe, to learn the true meaning of sacrifice, it was worth every painful step.

Hebrews 13:15: “. . . let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name”.

Friday, June 24, 2011

R is for Rogan

Oh, dear! If I don’t get cracking, I’m not going to finish this series by the end of the month, am I? Well, I stalled a little on this one because I couldn’t think of a fantastically good “R” to do. But at last I settled on a character with as little role or good luck as he can possibly have . . . Sir Rogan, knight of Farthestshore, one of Aethelbald’s entourage.

Poor Rogan. He really doesn’t get a whole lot of page time. And then he appears to serve no other purpose than that of ‘Red Shirt.’ He’s there at a battle to die dramatically, and everyone (except the reader) sheds a tear because everyone (but the reader) cares.

But when you’re fictional, you really want your readers to care whether you die or not. I mean, it’s a lot of work, taking part in a book . . . probably took him years of training and applications to get accepted even in such a minor role! And then, pfffff. Dead. Years of training and preparation, all eaten up in one ill-fated moment with a Dragon. And nobody even cares!

So I’m going to give Rogan a bit of credit here on my blog so that he can feel better about himself, poor man.

Rogan hails from Rudiobus, same kingdom from whence the famous Bard Eanrin sprang. As such, Rogan is bright and golden (he has red-gold hair, if I remember correctly) with green eyes. I get the impression that he’s a bit devilish in personality, ready for a fight. When he and his companion, Sir Imoo, are guarding King Fidel in the Northern Mountains, Rogan gets the first sense of approaching danger. He “smells it,” he says. And the notion seems to excite him! He hums to himself and even begins to sing a battle-song.

There is some implication that he, like Eanrin, might also take cat-form upon occasion. But he is no housecat like Monster . . . I imagine Rogan is much more of the alley tomcat, looking for a scrape!

This doesn’t mean that he is a particularly brilliant warrior. Earlier in the story, we see him and Sir Oeric sparring together. Rogan uses steel since his sword cannot hurt Oeric’s stony hide. Oeric uses wood, but it is still poor Rogan who seems to come out the worse for wear. Not that anyone cares . . .

Poor Rogan.

Well, someone at least seems to care a bit when Rogan meets his fiery end. Sir Imoo and Sir Oeric witness the brief encounter between the young knight and the Dragon. And Imoo is so distraught by what he sees that he nearly gets himself burned to a crisp swiftly after! Instead, the Dragon sweeps him away with his arm, and Imoo, though probably bruised and bloodied, survives the night.

Imoo and Rogan are friends, obviously. Two very different people, but friends even so. We know little about them in Heartless, and next to nothing is said about either of them or their history. But perhaps one day I’ll have the opportunity to tell a story . . . a story about a lost slave with no memory, a band of minstrel-spies, a secret passage, and a ruthless queen . . .

Someday. And perhaps after reading that story, poor Rogan will find some sympathy among the readers and move up from “Red Shirt” status into that place reserved for legitimate characters!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Interrupting Briefly:

Let me interrupt my A-Z postings briefly to alert you to a new interview I recently did over at this blog! Fun interview and a giveaway for both Heartless and Veiled Rose. Be sure to check it out!

Q is for Queen

While planning my course of action for this series of posts, I came to “Q” and went, “Oh, that’s easy! I just did ‘Princess’ and now I’ll do ‘Queen.’”

Then I realized . . . there is a distinct lack of queens in Heartless. They all seem to be dead! Una has no mother, no Queen of Beauclair is ever referenced, and Lionheart goes home to a crippled father, but there isn’t a queen in sight!

Not that there aren’t references. In the perfumed tent of Torkom the fortune-teller, we get our first glimpse of Una’s opal ring. Torkom admires it, recognizing something in it that Una’s probably hasn’t yet.

“Such a lovely piece,” he said. “Opals, yes?”
Breathing in roses, Una nodded. “My mother gave it to me. Before she died. I wear it always.”
“Ah!” Torkom’s smile grew. “Such a gift. A gift of the heart. Not one to part with too soon.”

I love the symbolism here. Later on, it becomes clear that this particular ring is a physical representation of Una’s heart. I love that it was her mother, the most powerful influence of love in her life, who gave it to her.

Not that King Fidel doesn’t love Una. He obviously does very much with a fiercely protective love. And Felix adores her, albeit from a little-brotherly perspective. But there is no love in this world quite like Mother-Love. Self-less to the point of death, giving so much of her body for the sake of the child, nurturing and loving even when the object of that love deserves nothing . . . no, there is nothing like Mother-Love.

It is one of the great tragedies of Una’s life that she has no mother with her during this most formative stage of her life. One wonders what different guidance she might have received. Her father gave her good advice, but it would be easy to brush that off saying he “doesn’t understand.” But a mother would be different. The Queen representing everything Una is striving to grow into would have had more influence, perhaps, on Una’s strong-willed decisions.

But the Queen is dead. Still, she gave Una the ring, a most beautiful and powerful gift that has the ability to change the fates of entire nations, though Una does not realize it. She wears it so thoughtlessly, never considering the value of what she holds.

How often do we do that with our own hearts? How often do we value the valueless with never a thought for those beautiful things in life that truly matter? I, for one, more often than I like to admit!

So Una devalues her mother’s gift by passing it off with scarcely a thought to Prince Lionheart, who trades it to the Dagon in exchange for his own life.

The only other role the dead Queen of Parumvir plays is to have stitched a canopy for Una’s bed years ago. I like this little bit as well, for she stitched Lord Lumé, the sun, and Lady Hymlumé, the moon. These figures play little role in Heartless, but as the series progresses, we see more and more what a huge influence they have upon the Near World and the Far, singing the Sphere Songs with the chorus of stars.

I think Una’s mother was trying to convey to Una a sense of bigger things. Of a world more important than Una’s small conception. She did not live to tell Una of these things herself, but she left behind hints to guide her daughter in that pictures of the Sun and the Moon.

I think the Queen of Parumvir was a good woman, a wise woman, though she must have died young. And perhaps silly Princess Una, given time and maturity and a couple of hard knocks (which she receives in plenty through the course of Heartless) might become a wise queen herself.

Interesting Notes: There WILL be a queen in Veiled Rose, so watch for her. She doesn’t have a large role, but she has an important one.

Also, in Moonblood, we will learn that Una’s mother’s name was Estara.

Monday, June 20, 2011

P is for Princess . . . or Prince, if you like!

Would you believe me if I told you that, not all that long ago, I determined to never write a story about a princess?

I didn’t think so.

It’s true, though. Back in high school, in particular, I was very against the notion of making my storybook heroines princesses. I always thought, “Hey, why does she have to be royalty? Can’t ordinary girls have fun or adventures?”

I still think this is a legitimate point. And I have every intention of writing many novels that do not feature princesses (or princes) as the main protagonists. But what made me change my mind for my very first novel?

Easy. It’s a Fairy Tale.

Granted, not every Fairy Tale features as princess heroine. There are those precious few that don't (though, I’m racking my brains right now and can’t think of a single good one). All the best Fairy Tales have princesses or Deserving Merchant’s Daughters who become princess in the fullness of time.

I, in my early excursions into the realms of Fairy Tale writing, did not at first understand the reason for this. Why princesses? I mean, think about all those great Fairy Tales . . . Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Glass Mountain, Twelve Dancing Princesses (TWELVE of them, no less!), The Goose Girl, The Little Mermaid . . . all princesses.

And when I sat down to pen the first short-story version of Heartless, it didn’t make sense to write: “Once upon a time, there was this girl.” It was meant to be: “Once upon time, there was a princess.”
I broke my anti-princess vow that day, and the rest is history.

But still, I have to ask myself: Why princesses? What makes them so special?
Here is my current theory on the topic, and granted, it’s just a theory. But I think it’s because Princesses are on their way to becoming Queens.

It’s a subconscious connection. We know that a princess is in a state of transition. She is born into this position, but she is not meant to remain there. She is a idealized representation of Girlhood growing into Womanhood. We put it in romantic terms like “Princess” and “Queen,” and our imaginations can immediately latch onto the concept.

A princess is automatically associated with growth. It’s not that she isn’t interesting and beautiful and romantic as she is. But despite everything she is now, she will have to grow into completion.

Fairy Tales are all about symbols. I’ve already written about the importance of True Loves First Kiss . . . Princesses are another symbol kind of like that. The idea of a princess is very little like reality. The idea of a princess is a girl who is the center of her world, just as we are the center of our perceived worlds. Everyone in the story revolves around the princess, but she is the core. So we relate to that. But to be a princess means to be in a transition of youth to maturity. A princess must grow to become a queen. We relate to that as well.

In the case of my Una, she has to grow out of herself, out of this fixation on her own desires. When she finally reaches that point of humility, she steps out of childish girlhood into the beginnings of real womanhood. She empowered by means of humility.

Technically, Una’s story would work well in the context of any strong-willed young lady wanting her own way. But by making her a princess, I grabbed hold of the universal connection we feel to Fairy Tale princesses. I felt the bond myself as I wrote her. I hope my readers will feel that bond too and recognize the ways the Una, while a distinct personality, represents all of us.

So there you have it. Princesses = Growth Symbol. It’s a theory anyway!

Note: I think this theory works pretty well with princes too. They, too, are in a state of transition and growth. But for some reason, I never really minded writing about princes like I used to mind writing about princesses . . .

Sunday, June 19, 2011

O is for Oeric

At least seven feet tall with skin like granite, Sir Oeric, knight of Farthestshore, is far and away the ugliest character in the book. His skin is so hard that it would turn the blade of a sword, we are told several times. He is so ugly, in fact, that Felix asks Aethelbald if Oeric is a goblin. But, though Aethelbald says that Oeric hails from the legendary realm of Arpiar, land of the goblins, Oeric himself is no goblin.

So who is Sir Oeric exactly? Ugly as sin, but loyal at heart, he serves Prince Aethelbald loyally, forming part of the Prince’s entourage when journeying to Oriana Palace. He maintains a quiet and withdrawn presence during their stay at Oriana. We see him sparring with Sir Rogan, another young knight. We see that Eanrin, even as a cat, probably outranks him since it is massive Oeric who gives way when the cat passes by (though he rolls his eyes in the process). But do we really know anything about this knight?

The most revealing scene as to Sir Oeric’s history comes late in the book. He, along with Sir Rogan and Sir Imoo, has traveled north with King Fidel to a fastness deep in the mountains. Nevertheless, using evil Faerie paths, the Duke of Shippening and his men attack, overwhelming the fort. Oeric hastens to Fidel’s side and leads the king out into the courtyard, intending to escape. That’s where they meet the Dragon.

And we catch a snippet of a most interesting conversation.

“Well met, sir knight,” says the Dragon. “It’s been a while since last I set eyes upon you.”

So, these two know each other. And, as tall and terrible as Oeric is, as bravely as he stands before the Dragon’s wrath, the Dragon isn’t in the least afraid of this knight. And the continues to say:

“Found yourself a name yet, goblin?”
Obviously, the Dragon’s view of Sir Oeric is very different from Prince Aethelbald’s. He is more than willing to call him ‘goblin’ to his face, and has many more disparaging remarks up his sleeve.

“I owe you too much to crisp you to cinders . . . I do not forget a service rendered, however unwillingly. If not for you, little knight, I might yet be bound to the Gold Stone!”

So many hints, so many possibilities within this short statement. The Gold Stone, perhaps for which the Wood is named? And do you recall the portrait mentioned in Oriana Hall which pictures the Dragon in a man’s form asleep on a golden altar? And three brothers with the same, beautiful face . . .

Sir Oeric’s tale is caught up in this bigger, more complicated drama. Sadly, only bits of it fall into Heartless. But that is the joy of a series, right? Always room for embellishments, always room to follow side trails and discover new worlds of intrigue.

In the meanwhile, valiant Sir Oeric must remain shrouded in mystery.

Friday, June 17, 2011

N is for Near World

This is more a quick discussion on the various worlds to be found within the Goldstone Wood series. Technically speaking, there are three: The Near World, of Mortals, the Far World of Faerie, and the Between.

In Heartless, we never see the Far World. All the action takes place in the Near World and then briefly in the Between, also known as the Halflight Realm or Goldstone Wood. Una, Felix, and the other mortals of this story aren’t entirely convinced that there is anything beyond the Near World. Of course, they have heard stories of the Between and the strange peoples of Faerie. But they are entering a day and age when these stories are considered more legend than history. They don’t overtly disbelieve them . . . but they simply haven’t seen much sign of Far World activity in many generations. And there certainly haven’t been any dragons.

But Una and Felix live much closer to the Far World than they realize. There own Goldstone Wood is part of the Between World that borders both realms of reality. And the old bridge they are forbidden to cross? Well, we don’t know where that leads exactly . . . but might it be a crossing from the Near World to the Far? Perhaps, perhaps.

We certainly get a good glimpse at a number of people from the Far World. And some strange people they are! Remember the gentleman selling “unicorn fry” at the Twelve Year Market? Or the green man who tries to sell Una fey flowers in exchange for a strand of her hair? And don’t forget the mystic dealer, Torkom, who may or may not have been a goblin, with his fancy tent and his evil visions.

Prince Aethelbald himself steps out of the Far World. This does not mean that he necessarily comes from there, however. He claims to be from Farthestshore, but it’s not clear whether or not Farthestshore is part of any of these worlds.

Felix’s sojourn into the Between gives us a clearer view of what that realm might hold. As he takes shelter in the Haven under Dame Imraldera’s care, he keeps seeing crossover visions. Sometimes, his room is a beautiful chamber with carved moldings and paneled walls. Sometimes, it’s a forest grove. Both are true, neither dominant. Sometimes the view out his window is nothing but forest. Sometimes it overlooks a fantastic drop over a river. Again, both are true. The Haven, situated as it is in the Wood Between, can give glimpses into the Far World beyond.

So we know of at least three realms of existence, three levels of reality. Might there be more? Quite possibly! But we have plenty to explore with these three for now. In Veiled Rose we shall plunge deeper into the Wood Between. In Moonblood, it will be high time to cross the Old Bridge and see what lies in the Far World of Faerie . . .

Thursday, June 16, 2011

M is for Monster

I have already written an article on Sir Eanrin, the blind poet-knight. Nevertheless, I felt that his other nature, the cat named Monster, deserves a bit of a spotlight himself!

Monster had a nameless bit in the short-story draft of Heartless. That is, it was mentioned in passing that the princess had a cat: “She was a rather lonely princess, but happy on the whole. She had a family who loved her, a royal cat to serve, lands over which to preside, subjects to oversee.”

And that was the extent of Monster’s role. I really didn’t think anything of it, but when I started expanding the book into a full-length novel, I automatically kept the cat. Still no specific reason. He was just there. I named him “Monster” because my family has a tradition of naming all our cats ‘M’ names: Marilla, Montgomery, Myles, Mimi, Molly, Minerva, Marmaduke . . . etc.

Monster was a natural choice, though I did have a few early readers ask why I would give such a mean name to the cat! I had no real answer. He was just a black cat who shadowed my princess around, sat on her lap, sometimes tangled her embroidery threads, and otherwise had very little role in the story.

Except . . .

Except when the Dragon came, Monster kept cropping up in places. I didn’t plan it and didn’t have any real explanation for it. I figured it was simply my Crazy-Cat-Ladyness coming to light. But there were little things that may or may not have been important. For instance, it was Monster who first recognized the Dragon for exactly what he was. It was Monster who found Prince Felix on the hillside after the Dragon’s attack and led him to safety. When Felix returned to Oriana later on, it was Monster who found him a way inside.

Yet he was nothing but a cat? Hmmmm . . .

It was after Heartless had already sold that Monster really got a chance to expand into his full glory. My editors particularly liked the cat and suggested that I expand his role, make him more obviously part of the action. They suspected, even from that early draft, that he must be Faerie or at least highly intelligent, but there was nothing specifically said. Their comments got me thinking.

I already had Sir Eanrin as a character saved up for later books. I was even in the midst of writing a story that featured Sir Eanrin (an as yet unsold novel called Goblin Son . . . I hope you’ll get to read it someday!). And, as I considered my editor’s comments, I thought, “Why couldn’t Eanrin be the cat?”

The rest of the character exploded from there. Significant changes had to be made to the original Monster, of course. Eanrin was golden, so the cat became a big orange tomcat with a plumy tail. Eanrin, by this time, had also met with a terrible accident that cost him both his eyes, so suddenly Monster had to be blind. Eanrin also could not have been Una’s pet for very long . . . He is a knight of Farthestshore. It’s not as though Una could have picked him out of a litter of kittens!

He must have been sent by his Master, the Prince of Farthestshore, to guard Una against the oncoming attacks of the Dragon. So I reworked the story to make the beginning be when Monster arrives, walking out of Goldstone Wood and establishing himself as Una’s pet/guardian. Proving that Prince Aethelbald was concerned for Una’s safety long before he arrived in person.

But also proving how powerful the Dragon is, for there was only so much Monster could do against him. When the Dragon sent terrible nightmares to Una’s subconscious, Monster could smell them but could not block them. He could only wake her up. When the Dragon arrived in Parumvir, Monster could recognize him and do what he could to guide and protect the royal family . . . but Una had left him inside when she went down to the bridge that day! He couldn’t prevent her from inviting the Dragon inside.

Nevertheless, though cats are renowned cowards, we see how brave Monster is. He makes certain Felix and Fidel are safely removed from Goldstone Hill and taken to the town of Dompstead. Then he goes at once to report to Prince Aethelbald and make him aware of the doings in Sondhold City. When the Prince sends him back, Monster at first believes the Prince wants him to face the Dragon. And, though he knows he would die in such an encounter, he says, “As you wish, my Prince.”

Monster certainly has an embellished role in Heartless, serving the family he’s been sent to protect even in the most difficult times. And even when Una is safely married, he seems to be sticking around Parumvir. After all, Prince Felix was poisoned by dragon claws and did not receive his full healing. Somehow, I don’t think Monster is going to abandon Felix to his fate.

But will Monster be able to protect the young prince when dark forces deep in the Wood desire to make use of Felix's poisoned body? Watch for Moonblood, coming April 2012, to find out!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

L is for Lunthea Maly

Again, I wasn’t entirely certain what to do for this post. Lionheart would be an obvious choice except I already had J is for Jester. Hmmmmm.

So I decided to write a short article on Lunthea Maly, the City of Fragrant Flowers in the Noorhitam Empire.

Which, most of you probably don’t even remember.

Lunthea Maly has a significant role in Veiled Rose, but only gets a brief mention in Heartless. It is one of the many exotic places Leonard claims to have visited during his jester years. As he lovingly says, “I dwelt four years in Lunthea Maly, the City of Fragrant Flowers, which indeed is as fragrant as squashed daisies left rotting in the bottom of a wheelbarrow on a summer’s day.” Charming.

Of course, we have no idea how true this may be. Leonard the Jester will say anything for a laugh. Is the City of Fragrant Flowers truly so foul, or is it merely strange to Leonard? After all, anything that is different may be weird to us. I remember a time when I could not stand the smell of curry or saffron . . . they were such horrible, pungent odors, strange in my nose, which was more used to basil or oregano. Now days, I can scarcely think of scents I love better than the scents wafting from my kitchen while my husband makes me authentic Sri Lankan curries and saffron potatoes over rice.

We tend to like what we know. When we allow our knowledge to grow, our likes grow right along with them.

Anyway, that’s about as much as we know of Leonard’s travels to Lunthea Maly. We know the emperor dwells there, one Khemkhaeng-Niran Klahan, for whom Leonard performed at some point in time. And we know Leonard was given a peacock, which was required back from him soon after. Otherwise, his visit to that land remains an enigma.

I hope you will pick up Veiled Rose and journey with me to Lunthea Maly for a short sojourn soon. And I do hope that one day I’ll have a chance to make a longer stay there, for mysteries abound in the City of Fragrant Flowers which we have scarcely begun to sniff out!

After all, it was in the east that Leonard learned how dragons might be fought . . .

Saturday, June 11, 2011

K is for Kiss

Everyone knows that True Love’s First Kiss is a classic symbol in fairy tale literature, possibly the most important symbol of all. It is a powerful thing, this kiss, able to break enchantments and conquer enemies all by virtue of its purity, its selflessness. Before a prince can win such a kiss, he must brave untold dangers. Before a princess can win such a kiss, she must experience sorrow and, usually, near-death.

Both characters symbolically cross that barrier from childhood to adulthood by these rites of passage. Only then do they earn the right to that first kiss, which marks the beginning of a new stage of life . . . a stage of life that can no longer be about the autonomous self. A stage that suddenly must put the other person first, which is the first sign of true maturity.

Heartless takes that kiss and twists it.

Una, a dreamy romantic, is ready to meet her Prince Charming and to be swept away in haze of butterflies and rainbows. But she has not yet become a woman and left childish ways behind her. She is still selfish, focused more on her own desires than on the needs of those around her. In no way has she been made ready for True Love’s First Kiss . . . but she does not see it that way. She is determined to have her dream-come-true, no matter how foolish her decisions might be, refusing to see the value of real love in place of some idealized fancy.

Thus the Dragon steps in. And it is his kiss that Una receives. Not true love, but true selfishness which, more than hate, is the opposite of love.

The Dragon tells her, “I’ve released you, my sister, my child! I’ve allowed you to become what you truly are, what you have been all this time. Now you may embrace the freedom of your spirit unbound!” (p. 227)

The Dragon’s kiss does not mark a progression for Una, moving from girl to woman. Instead, it marks a deepening of her already natural tendencies. Rather than growth, Una experiences death. The Death-in-Life, in one fell swoop, destroys those small shoots of new life that might be growing from her infatuation with Lionheart and makes her now live a life totally focused on herself, her hurts, her fire. The kiss of the Dragon is the antithesis of True Love’s kiss in every way.

The question of the kiss came up a couple of times in the later stages of drafting this novel. Particularly the scene where Lionheart takes of leave of Una and asks for her promise to wait for him. Several readers felt that they needed to share a kiss to seal their vows. Instead, Lionheart takes Una’s ring and only touches her cheek gently before leaving. Was this enough, people wondered? Was this strong enough to bind Una’s heart to the prince?

I knew, however, that this could not be Una’s first kiss. This is a fairy tale, not real life, and in fairy tale, symbols like that are of utmost importance. To trivially give away the first kiss simply to make a scene more romantic . . . no, no! Such would be a crime against the genre! Her kiss with Lionheart could not be True Love’s kiss, for Una, as much as she thinks she loves the jester/prince, is still focused on herself and her desires. Until she comes to a place of humility and can learn to set herself aside for the sake of another, she will never know True Love’s kiss. It would just be a kiss. Nothing symbolic. Just a kiss.

That is why the Dragon’s kiss becomes so important! It is the culmination of everything Una has been working toward so far. It is the just reward for her selfishness, the twisted Fairy Tale Ending. She has made her world entirely about her, and now the Dragon will let that become her reality.

But that doesn’t mean Una never experiences True Love’s Kiss. Those of you who have read Heartless probably remember. It is, quite possibly, the most important scene in the story. Not exactly romantic, at least, not in the sense Una always considered romantic up until then. But it is the offering of true, unselfish love. And it marks the beginning of Una’s transformation into someone who lives, not for self, but for the sake of others, for the sake of her Beloved. She is no longer a small, self-centered creature, but is becoming something bigger by releasing her right to her own will.

Ah, the power of symbols in Fairy Tales! And this is possibly one of my favorites.

Friday, June 10, 2011

J is for Jester

I knew all along that he would have to be a jester. Someone unexpected and yet intriguing. Someone who would take my princess completely by surprise. I knew that their meeting would include an apology. I knew she would “fall in love with him” because he made her laugh.

So the character of Leonard the Jester was born. Loosely based off someone in my own life who, on the surface, was all laughs and jokes, but, underneath a few thin layers, was hiding secrets and deep insecurities.

I think those are the things that make my jester both individual and universal all at once. He is an archetype in the “tragic clown,” sense. The man who makes it his business to amuse other people, to deceive them into thinking him nothing but a fun-loving fool because he is so afraid they will see him for what he truly is.

My jester gives Una small glimpses of his true self. He tells her of his desire to return to Southlands, though it might be a suicidal wish. And later, he tells her his greatest secret, the truth of his identity and heritage. Una, being a simple soul, believes him implicitly . . . Despite the falseness she just experienced from Prince Gervais of Beauclair, she doesn’t think anyone would deceive her like that twice. Surely, that was a fluke, not the standard!

I don’t know that Leonard meant to mislead Una. He certainly appears callous enough by the end of the story, and is cold as ice to her when she comes to him for the truth. But that last scene . . . I think we get a true glimpse into the jester’s heart in that last scene of his. When he is insisting he had no choice, that he did what he had to do.

And the seductive voice speaking in his head promises to make all his dreams come true.

I really fell in love with Leonard the Jester while writing this story. Especially the first draft. When drafting the novel-length version of Heartless for the first time, everything went very smoothly up to a point. Then suddenly I hit a rock wall.

I didn’t want Leonard to be false!

I really, really, really didn’t. I liked him. Very much, in fact. I had purposefully written him to be as likeable as possible because otherwise Una’s disappointment wouldn’t mean a thing. So I had done everything in my power to make him someone the reader would fall in love with.

But I fell in love with him myself. And I wanted him to come through as the hero!

So, for about two months, I set aside my manuscript and focused on other things. But in the end, I loved my story more than I loved even dear Leonard the Jester. It was too good to abandon. Even though it meant sending Leonard a direction I did not wish to send him, I needed to finish the story. So I picked up the manuscript, wrote the confrontation between Una and the jester back in Southlands, and moved on with the story.

But when Heartless sold, and my publishing house said they wanted two sequels, I knew at once that these two stories would belong to my jester.

I hope you will all enjoy reading Veiled Rose and discovering more facets of the jester’s story, things my dear Princess Una could never have known. People are always more complicated than we think. There are always more sides to every story . . .

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I is for Imraldera

Another character who went through a drastic evolution. And another character I have written about since long before Heartless was dreamed up.

The first time I wrote a story about Dame Imraldera was my sophomore year of college in a creative writing class. Short stories are never my “thing,” so to speak. I've always preferred the novel format. But whenever I got the chance, I would try to tell one of the many stories I had noted down about my world. The time for a short story assignment came around, and I would turn to my files or handy-dandy red-spiral notebook and see which of the dozens of histories and legends I had jotted down inspired me this time.

Of course, the one titled Imralderé and the Wolf Lord stood out as the most intriguing.

Classmate: “I’m trying to pick a topic for my short story.”

AE: “Yeah, me too.”

Classmate: “You know, everybody talks about how you should write what you know, and stuff. I think I might write about my high school prom. How about you?”

AE: “Hmmm. I’m thinking about writing something on ritualistic human sacrifice . . .”

Imraldera's story opened like this:

Let me tell you a story.
They led the girl up the winding path, slowly, in a long fluid line. Four men headed the procession, solemn torchbearers armed with daggers. Behind them came three men and a woman in robes of deerskin dyed brilliant scarlet, their faces smeared with black streaks like streaming tears. After them, the elders, somber in gray cloaks. The Eldest followed these, and his face was that of a man who died long ago.
In their midst walked the girl robed in white. Black hair, her only hood, hung over her face, shielding. Her feet were bare but uncut. In her hands she held a wooden bowl filled with blood. Imral flowers adorned her head, a circlet of red stars . . .

Moody. And a bit belabored. But I do love this introduction of the character!

So, the story was written, enjoyed by my professor and a handful of students then shelved for several years. But when I began expanding Heartless into something much more complicated than a fairy tale, I decided I wanted to connect it to that older, more complex world I had long been inventing. Which meant, it was suddenly connected to the world of Imraldera. Which gave me the perfect opportunity to bring Imraldera back into my stories once more!

Let me just say up front that I love Imraldera. I really do! I’m not saying I don’t love the other girls in my series, because I do. I enjoyed writing my Una, who is funny and heartbreakingly real in her naivety and selfishness. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Rose Red (whom you are about to meet when you pick up Veiled Rose), who appears simple and straightforward at first glance but lives with a world of secrets.

But I really love Imraldera.

She is everything a heroine wants to be. She is beautiful. She is wise. She is experienced yet innocent. She holds secrets and great responsibilities of which we can only begin to guess in Heartless. She is kind and she is firm.

And she has crooked teeth. Which I really love about her. She is beautiful, but she is not perfect. What is more, she is immortal, but she is not Faerie.

And she is a Knight of Farthestshore, Lady of the Haven and, we learn late in Heartless, current keeper of the sword, Fireword. Whether or not she has always been this keeper . . . well, we’ll learn of that in more books, won’t we?

I find I cannot expound on my dear Imraldera as much as I should like. I don’t want to give away anything! Watch for her come Moonblood. We’ll learn a little more of her secrets then . . .

Oh, and did you notice her at the end of Heartless? When she makes an appearance at the Prince’s wedding? When she calls Monster a wretched beast? *smile* That is one relationship I look forward to developing with great anticipation!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

H is for Heartless

I’m embarrassed to say, I actually had to think a while about that one.

AE: “What am I going to do for H in my A-Z Heartless posts?”

Rohan: “Hmmmm. That’s a tough one. What about . . . Heartless?”

Oh. Yeah.

So anyway!

Titles are not my very favorite thing in the world. I’m sure plenty of authors know what I’m talking about. And it is such an important part of your story. It’s the name! It’s the definition! It’s the forever word association! Pick a bad one and you’re stuck.

But it’s just so beyond reason difficult.

This one started out with the title Dragon Princess. It is still filed under Dragon Princess in my computer, actually. But I never intended to give the story that title. For one thing, it gave away too much. For another . . . I mean, seriously . . . Dragon Princess?

After much thought, hair-pulling, digging around, etc. I came up with another real winner: The Heart of Goldstone Wood. Except . . . what did that mean?

Maybe Aethelbald’s true heart? But he comes from Farthestshore. Stepped out of the Wood yes, but comes from Farthestshore. Well, maybe it could refer to the Gold Stone for which the Wood is named . . . which is referenced maybe twice. And doesn’t have anything to do with this story. Um. Could it be Princess Una’s stolen heart? But why would that be of Goldstone Wood?

That title lasted about a week.

Eventually, my publishers recommended the title Kiss of Fire. That made me think of this, this, or this. So we didn’t go with that one . . .

I went through lots of other even less favorable options. I tried quotes from Shakespeare having to do with fire and hearts. There are plenty. None of them fit. Besides, it always seems like cheating to fall back on Shakespeare to provide you with a decent title.

At long last, after many ups and downs and turn abouts, Heartless was settled upon. Yes, it’s a title we’ve seen before, and yes, it’s been especially popular among tawdry romance books. But it did fit the major themes of the story. It was simple and direct. I original called it Heartless: A Fairy Tale, but my agent recommended removing the tag line. Which was wise, since it would not have fit with a whole series.

I can’t say that I was ever thrilled with this choice, even though I came up with it. My sister-by-selection (not born into the family, but might as well have been) particularly disliked it, saying it was too cliché for an original story. I had to agree, but it was still the best title anybody had come up with. So it stuck.

And in the end, with that stunning cover and the pretty font that BHP came up with, I have to say I like it pretty well!

So there you have the saga of the title.

I really have been fortunate in that, so far at least, I have gotten to choose the titles of my novels. A lot of authors don’t. Publishing houses will often select a title since it is their job to do the marketing anyway, and a good title goes a long way for good marketing. But for Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Moonblood, my publishers liked the titles I suggested. I really can only say that I love the title for Veiled Rose. The others . . . meh. They work. They suit the stories. Maybe I’ll get better at it as I go?

G is for Gervais

The first of Princess Una’s ill-begotten suitors.

My favorite aspect of Prince Gervais of Beauclair is the fact that he is not handsome. In fact, I picture him as being distinctly plain. But this does not prevent him from thinking himself very fine indeed! He is described as having an “air of graciousness with perhaps the smallest hint of disdain about the corners of his mouth.” This hint of disdain says it all.

Prince Gervais thinks he’s quite the catch. And no facts the contrary are going to lessen his opinion of himself. At least, as far as he projects to the world.

I had a blast writing this character. He is, at least in this novel, more of a caricature than most of the novel’s cast. But I suspect he does that on purpose. I suspect he makes himself a caricature for purposes of his own. He certainly takes him ever-so seriously, both in his romantic endeavors and his little sparing match with Prince Felix! But is this the true Gervais, or is he as much in disguise as the mysterious jester from Southlands?

When we snippets of overheard conversation (via Una’s ears later in the story), we get hints that perhaps Gervais doesn’t value himself as highly as he pretends to. He knows he’s made a hash of it. And, for all his charm, he has not had as much success with the ladies as we are at first led to believe. There is an “heiress of Milden” mentions who apparently turned him down. Who was she, we must wonder? Why did she not accept his suit? Was it another case of a father finding out about gambling debts and sending him packing? Or was she perhaps a little more astute than my naïve heroine?

Perhaps a later book will provide revelation someday.

In the meanwhile, poor Gervais is left with only his slowly fading charm to recommend him.

Gervais started out the first novel-length draft of Heartless with the name “Gallant.” That story was still more fairy-tale and allegorical, so the characters had names that fit the allegory style (save for Aethelbald which, as I have already said, was purely chosen to be funny). Unlike John Bunyan with his always-appropriately named characters, however, I chose to work in opposites. Gallant and Lionheart are brave titles . . . but their bearers reflect the opposite traits. Neither prince is courageous, thoughtful, or chivalrous. Their natures belie their names. Poor lads.

But as Heartless developed into a more classic adventure novel with a little less emphasis on the fairy-tale, I decided that Gallant was probably an overkill. I was reading Rafael Sabatini’s marvelous swashbuckler, Scaramouche, at the time, and the villain of that story, the marvelous Marquis La Tour d'Azyr sported the first name “Gervais,” which I really liked. Thus was my Gallant rechristened.

Fun trivia: The hero of Scaramouche is named Andre. Which is also the name of Gervais’s friend/attendant later on when we see him at the tavern. A tiny (and probably unnoticeable) literary nod to Sabatini, whose wonderful swashbuckler inspired my own attempts and fencing scenes.

Monday, June 6, 2011

F is for Felix

A character to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude.

He started out with the names "George" and "Gideon" and was, in fact, two brothers. That didn’t last very long. Within a few hand-written scenes of the first draft, I realize that I didn’t have enough material for two brothers, so George was X-ed out.

Under the guise of Gideon, the younger brother of the princess continued his minor role in the story, appearing here and there as needed for a snarky remark then vanishing for vast portions of the manuscript (not that the first draft was anything like vast, finishing up at about 40,000 words).

When the Dragon arrived, I chased poor “Gideon” out of the palace, quickly wrote him off as having gone into hiding up north, and proceeded on my merry way, following the adventures of the princess. Near the end of the drafting, I felt guilty for neglecting the little brother, So I had Una make a brief visit to “Gideon” before finally going to confront the Dragon.

Heheheh, I just dug up a portion of that long-forgotten scene! Have a look:

I want you to tell all of them that I came to you and . . . and give them my . . . my best." She could not give love, not without her heart. Her voice darkened. "Tell them I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?" Gideon rolled his eyes and clenched his fists. "Bother it all, Una, why must you be so mysterious? Just tell me, what are you doing here?"
"I came to say good bye." She sighed. "I wish I could speak plainly to you, Gideon! Please, it will all be made clear in time!"
"Oh, it's pretty clear right now." He hated himself for snapping, but it was that or cry, and he could not stand to cry. "My sister who was dead is—surprise!—alive, and speaking to me from the shadows and won't tell me a thing! Surprise again. No one tells me anything. I'm convenient to keep around and not tell things to, you see. You know, I haven't seen or heard from father in six months? Can't, because knowledge is dangerous or some such nonsense, they say. Six months, Una! He's going to be pretty hard to get a good-bye message to."
"I hope you'll be together again soon," she said. Her voice sounded closer behind him now, but he refused to turn. "I want you to be able to go home. Gideon, I hope to make things right, and you and father won't have to hide any longer. But I doubt I'll be able to return to you."
"More mysteries," he growled.
"You'll understand later, I think. And if not, perhaps it's just as well."
He was quiet, scuffing his boot in the powdery snow.
"I must go now,” she said.
"So soon?" he said dryly. Gritting his teeth, he whirled about, but not fast enough. A dark shape darted back among the trees, rustling the concealing bracken.
"Una, wait!" he called after her. "I'm sorry. Please, just tell me what you're doing to do!"
For a long, dark minute he thought she had gone. Then he heard her say:
"I'm going to kill the Dragon."
"What?" He thought he would choke on his own surprise. "Una, you’re not fit for that!"
"I'm better fit than you think."
There was a burst of hot air and a powerful wind. Gideon gasped and fell back. He heard Monster growling in the treetop. The boy scrambled up from the snow and pine straw, gazing into the darkening sky.
A great heavy shape on spreading wings disappeared into the night.

And that was the last we saw of poor Gideon for the rest of the draft!

I got to the end of that first round, however, and read the thing through. I liked the overall flow of it. I liked Una’s string of unsuitable suitors. I liked the dynamic between her and the Dragon. I liked how unexpectedly heroic Aethelbald became (in the original draft, Una sent him away, and we don’t see him again until he shows up suddenly in the Village of Dragons).

But I said to myself, “Half the story is missing!”

I needed more perspectives on Prince Aethelbald (since I wasn’t getting into his point-of-view). I needed someone with whom Prince Aethelbald could make a friendly connection so that we would have a chance to get a little attached to him even before he began to show his true colors.

Thus Gideon—renamed Felix—came into play. I revamped him into an entire character with a plot arch. We actually see his side of the story after fleeing the Dragon, and we see him come back at the end and do what he can to help in the climax. I gave him a hobby, fencing, which would give him an opportunity to interact with Prince Aethelbald.

And thus the favorite “fencing scene” was created. I really enjoyed that scene. I don’t think it’s difficult to see while reading it how into the action and interaction I got. I loved how Felix and Aethelbald related to each other, I loved seeing Aethelbald in a firm but patient teacher’s role. I loved the swashbuckler quality it created, with the budding young hero and the experienced instructor.

But when I finished and sat back with a satisfied sigh, it suddenly struck me . . . I knew nothing about fencing.

So it was that I signed up for my first round of fencing classes. And met a handsome young stranger with black eyes. And was married less than a year later.

Thank you, Prince Felix, for insisting on needing a larger role! I shall remain forever in your debt.

But alas! Poor Felix doesn’t end Heartless on a high note. There are more adventures in store for the prince of Parumvir before he can have his happily ever after . . .

Sunday, June 5, 2011

E is for Eanrin

Ah! The enigmatic blind knight of Farthestshore.

This character was a later insertion into my debut novel. The original draft or two of Heartless did not include him. In fact, he wasn’t even in the draft of Heartless that first sold to Bethany House Publishers. He did not find his place in the Tales of Goldstone Wood until much later.

Oddly enough, however, this character is the oldest in the story!

What do I mean by that? Well, I have been developing the world of this series, the histories and back stories, since I was about 17, I think. Plenty of references made in Heartless are actually being made to much older stories. Things like the Flowing Gold of Rudiobus, King Abundiantus V, the goblin realm of Arpiar, etc. And of all these references, Eanrin is the oldest.

His first appearance was simply in a long series of notes (which I made in a red, spiral-back notebook during my final year of high school). I was reading extensively in mythology and classic Faerie Tale literature at the time, including a fun legend called The Leprecaun. This story told of King Iubdan and Queen Bebo of the Leprechaun folk. I’ve never been wild about the modern vision of Leprechauns. The notion simply does not intrigue me . . . little green men with pots of gold? No, thank you. But this story portrayed them in all their fey glory, older and wilder and perhaps a little mad. That was a vision of the Faerie realm that I could grasp and, perhaps, embellish.

And how intriguing was the portion of the tale devoted to Iubdan’s chief poet, Eshirt? I didn’t care for the name. But I did so enjoy the scarlet-clad character!

It was a few months later before my slowly-developing character of Eanrin found his way into any creative work. This was my first (and only) attempt at a long ballad. This attempt was made soon after reading the wonderful ballad, Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, in my first college English class. I just loved the ballad form and wanted to experiment with it myself.

Here I will (very bravely, I might add) include a short passage from the longer work, the bit where I first introduced Eanrin (and illustrate once and for all why I pursued prose rather than poetry!).

Iubdan Black Beard wise did rule
With Bebo his fair queen,
And laughter filled the Merry Land,
Song filled the Hall of Green.

Strange guests from many far off realms
Were treated by the king,
And when at last they journeyed home
Amazing tales they’d bring

Of Iubdan in his great hall
All hung with pine and holly.
Of Bard Eanrin, Chief Poet
Who told them tales so jolly.

They spoke of maiden Gleamdrené
Who stood by Bebo’s chair.
At every feast in Ruaine Hall
The queen’s gold cup she’d bear.

How silently she stood on hand
E’en when the company,
When led by Eanrin, would raise
A joyous harmony.

And yet this maiden standing still
Would smilingly look on
The dancing, whilst her golden eyes
Were filled with golden song.

“And though she raised no voice to join
Her sisters and her brothers,
Oft’ was her silence sweeter than
The singing of the others.”

They spoke of Glomar, Stony Face,
His mouth so set and grim.
“And not in all the ages has
A song been heard from him!”

At watch he stood o’er Ruaine Hall,
Before the golden door,
To serve his king by life or death,
In peace as well as war.

Eanrin, clad in scarlet, would,
Arm’d with his poet’s rod,
Dance ‘round about in front of him
And mercilessly prod.

“Leave me in peace, you plague, you wretch!”
The guard at length would cry.
“No, no!” the poet laughed with glee,
“Not ‘til a grin I spy!”

And Glomar stern would fold his arms
And set his bulldog chin.
“Only a fool like Eanrin
Would dare to sport with him!”

Wow. Special. But I had fun playing with the form, so I suppose that’s what counts!

This original version of Eanrin is quite the pest. Not nearly so enigmatic as the blind knight we see later in his life. Though plenty of his playful side remains by the time of Heartless, there is a much more serious edge to him now. After all, since his early existence as Chief Poet of Iubdan, Eanrin has become a knight.

And he has lost his eyes.

Watch for him as the series progresses. He may have a few surprises up his sleeve.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

D is for Dragon

Of course it is.

And not just any dragon, but the Death-in-Life or the Death of Dreams . . . which are only two of his many names. He is also called the Father of Dragons and the Dark King. But for most people he is known simply as the Dragon.

I really loved writing this character. Here is one reason why:

This image was from Trina Schart Hyman’s glorious picture book St. George and the Dragon, which was my favorite story around age 5. It had everything. An enigmatic hero, a beautiful, brave heroine, a sweet wooly lamb, a dwarf, and most of all, The Most Amazing Dragon since Maleficent (possibly more amazing, though I do love Maleficent).

Later on, when the story of Heartless first began stirring in my brain, it made perfect sense for me to go back to favorite images and storylines from childhood. The princess’s sweet wooly lamb became a blind cat, and a little brother was substituted for the dwarf. But Princess Una retained her role as the symbol of the Church (although a very different portrayal of the Church . . . more on that later). And the enigmatic hero, of course, we have already discussed.

But O! That Dragon!

I love a truly frightening dragon. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with tame dragons, or friendly dragons, or wise and helpful dragons. I’ve read books I’ve enjoyed featuring each of these. But tell me, dear reader, what dragon compares to Tolkien’s Smaug? Or to classic Disney’s Maleficent? And, especially, to Ms. Hyman’s terrifying portrayal of Spenser’s Dragon of Error?

I loved studying Spenser’s Faerie Queen in my first college English class. It was wonderful to see that picture book I had loved fleshed out in its entirety. Something about the symbol created by the Dragon has always intrigued me. It’s a biblical symbol to be sure. And it’s a classic symbol throughout literature.

So when I began writing the Dragon in the very first short-story version of Heartless, I wasn’t surprised when his voice was the strongest. He was a completely and frighteningly natural character to write. While the other characters in the short story were very basically drawn, fulfilling their roles without embellishment, the Dragon had color. He had fire. His seductive and deadly voice spoke lines that breathed with life.

I definitely wanted to write him on a larger scale.

So I took to the novel with a will. In that first draft, I hastened through the opening passages of Una’s encounters with her suitors, scurrying as fast as I could to that moment when, down by the old bridge, she would come face-to-face with the ultimate evil. That scene still gives me shivers. The insidious poison the Dragon breathes into my heroine, whispering half-truths and outright lies and even (upon occasion) the truth, as it suits him.

I don’t know that any other character gave me so much satisfaction to write. Maybe Lionheart, but probably not.

I have had people ask me since the book’s release what I did to get myself into the proper frame of mind to write such terrifying scenes. I never quite know how to answer that. The scenes with the Dragon were frightening, yes. Some of them even frightened me while I wrote them (the scene where Una flees through the house, pursued by a predator she cannot see). But, because of the very nature of the Dragon, they were completely natural scenes.

Just as Una swiftly discovers, I believe it’s true that we all have dragons in our hearts. We are all totally depraved, and even the good we do is often done for selfish reasons. Thus the need for grace! And the need for complete transformation. But we know the depths to which our thoughts may sink. Our insecurities, our anxieties, our selfish desires . . .

And the Dragon takes those and makes what he wills of them.

So, yes. The Dragon of Error, or the Death-in-Life. A seriously creepy and fascinating character to write and (I hope!) to read.

Friday, June 3, 2011

C is for Captain Catspaw

Here is an unusual character to write a post about. Unusual for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that he has such a VERY small role in the novel. But he was the only aspect of Heartless I could think of that starts a “C” other than the cat . . . but Monster needs to wait until the “M” post, so Captain Catspaw it is!

Despite the fact that he actually serves an important and interesting role in Heartless, it won’t surprise many of you to learn that I almost wrote him out. He has one scene in which he is the POV character, one more scene in which he exchanges a brief dialogue with Prince Lionheart, and then he’s gone. No more to be heard from for the rest of the book. I really wrestled with the decision whether or not to keep him (poor man).

But the role Captain Catspaw serves is really not that of a character. He is purely a point-of-view.

The scene in which he features isn’t about Catspaw at all. It’s a scene about Aethelbald. It shows, through Catspaw’s eyes, that Aethelbald is more powerful and more mysterious than we realized. That he knows more about the workings of both the Near World and the Far than does any other man. And this knowledge terrifies Catspaw.

Catspaw’s first impression of this Prince had been . . . well, mild at best. He agreed to go with him on his mission, of course, but that was out of deference to his own prince’s wishes. He says to Aethelbald, “We will follow you. For the honor of Southlands.” To which Aethelbald replies, “It is not enough.”

And indeed, it is not. In a day’s worth of travel with this stranger, Catspaw sees more marvels than all the five years of his captivity under the Dragon. And he is scared. This man, walking while others ride yet still maintaining the lead, takes Catspaw and his men through strange Faerie paths that Catspaw never realized existed. Aethelbald proves his strength and proves his capability to these men.

But when he asks them to follow him into the Red Desert to rescue Princess Una, Catspaw balks. It is all too much for him! He cannot bear the thought of venturing into dragon country. He senses that Aethelbald is someone he could follow, someone he could trust. In the end, however, he cannot make that leap of faith. He is, like all those in Southlands, still living in fear of the Dragon. He cannot permit himself to trust.

This scene, on the surface, is all about Catspaw’s own inner turmoil. But do you see what else it does? It serves as an all new insight into the character of Prince Aethelbald. Insight that could not have been had any other way. Prince Lionheart refuses to follow Aethelbald but sends others in his place (typical!), so his point of view was unavailable. And how would I have accomplished that sense of mystery had I given the scene to Aethelbald himself?

Not once in the course of Heartless did I give the Prince of Farthestshore a point-of-view scene. I always portrayed him through the eyes of others. I let his character be established from other people’s perspectives of him all the while maintaining the mystery of his inner nature. Sometimes I used a more omniscient narrative approach to create this affect. In the case of Captain Catspaw, however, I wanted a more personal touch to really drive home the truth of who Aethelbald is: A man who can be trusted, but who some choose not to trust no matter what.

Catspaw, in his own way, is a reflection of Una and her refusal to trust Aethelbald with her heart. She misjudges him even when she knows she’s mistaken. She sees early on the kindness in his eyes. On many occasions, she sees his faithfulness and his true concern for her presented in sharp contrast to the thoughtlessness of other suitors. Yet she insists on her own way out of fear. Fear of losing the dream she has clung to, her foolish dream of “romance” that Aethelbald doesn’t quite fit.

In his small but important role, Catspaw brings that theme up again, but from a new angle, thus giving us that much bigger of a picture of Prince Aethelbald.

I seriously did toy with the notion of getting into Aethelbald’s mind for this scene so as to avoid the awkwardness of a POV character who comes and goes in the course of one scene. But I would have lost a great deal had I gone that direction. For one thing, it would have been insanely difficult not to write him as a “Romance Book Hero.” Not to delve into his “feelings” for Una. Not to start turning his love into something earthy and sensual, or, at the very least, something gushy.

The last thing I wanted was to turn Aethelbald into a hero like that. An allegory with the Christ-figure taking the role of the romantic lead is tricky enough business as it is! But how much more difficult that task would become as soon as I started prying into Aethelbald’s mind. We would have lost the Christ-figure in place of a “good man.” Which would have destroyed the story down to its core.

I’ve definitely had a handful of critiques from various readers, saying that they would have liked more romance and less allegory. I think this is a legitimate critique considering the genre of YA fantasy romance, which is what Heartless has been predominately marketed as. This question of romance vs. allegory was something I went around with my editors about many times over. But ultimately, I am so thankful that I stuck with the original plan for the story. That I focused on the savior role for Prince Aethelbald, not the romance.

The story of Aethelbald and Una is a love story . . . but not in the “romance book” fashion. No, it’s a higher and more powerful sort of love. Una’s “romance” happened with Prince Lionheart. But true “love” happened when she gave her heart at last into Aethelbald’s keeping. This was the harder story to write . . . but, I believe, more satisfying in the end.

So, yes. Catspaw is my letter “C,” and he does serve an important (if tiny) role in the novel. So good for him! Way to make himself necessary all in the course of one scene! How many characters can boast that?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

B is for Beauclair

Of the many locations mentioned in the world of Goldstone Wood, Beauclair comes across as perhaps the most light-hearted. We only get glimpses of it in Heartless. We see its crown prince, Gervais, who is currently banished from his father’s house for excessive gambling debts. We hear rumors of Amaury, the palace where Gervais’s father, Grosveneur hold’s court, and we know that Grosveneur is famous for being a patron of the arts. Even Leonard the jester performed in Amaury and has letters of recommendation from King Grosveneur when he decides to try his luck at Oriana.

But really, do we know anything more about Beauclair?

Beauclair has a rich history in the world of Goldstone. Unfortunately, very little of this history gets mentioned in Heartless, and we only have bits and pieces to guess from. We see the town where Una, in her desperation, finds Prince Gervais and seeks his help and mercy. It is a rundown, dirty sort of town full of rundown dirty sort of people. Not quite what you would expect after all the rumors told of Amaury Palace’s opulence.

We also know there is a place called Gris Fen somewhere in the kingdom. An enormous swamp from the way Gervais describes it, solitary and uninhabitable. Again, not what one would expect in a nation acclaimed for its love the arts and its wealth.

And there certainly is wealth to be had in Beauclair. We know that from our overheard conversation between Prince Gervais and his man, Andre. There is a widow looking for a new husband who has enough money to tempt even the crown prince to turn to her as the solution to all his money problems (though he’d rather face a dragon than marry her . . . What a charmer she must be!). She is, in fact, rich enough to stop and consider whether or not she wants to marry a prince. Gervais may be her favorite, but when he slips away, she is more than happy to consider one of her ten other ardent suitors.

Beauclair is a bundle of mysteries and apparent contradictions. A peaceful nation at present, but perhaps not always so. There’s a gaudy veneer over some deep-rooted problems . . . that is, if Prince Gervais is any indication of the true state of things!

On to the basics. How did Beauclair come by its name?

Hmmm. Well, its origin is of much less interest than the actual kingdom, I'm afraid. When I first began writing Heartless as a short, stand-alone fairy tale, I had no interest whatsoever in delving deeply into the histories or politics of the world. I simply wanted to write a fairy tale! So I named the various kingdoms simple names. Parumvir was called Greenhills. Beauclair was Bluegrove. The only nation that kept its name through every draft was Southlands!

Later, I decided to make Heartless part of a much more complex series of stories I had been working on for several years . Once that decision was reached, there came the question of renaming the places. Parumvir was not a difficult choice for me. It is based off of the Latin word for “little, or insufficient” and the word for “man.” “Little Man,” or “Small Man.” (Mind, I’m no Latin scholar, so this is not a direct translation, merely the roots from which I got the name!) Later on, in Moonblood, it is revealed that the first king of Parumvir was also nicknamed the Smallman King.
Beauclair, alas, has no such interesting history.

I knew I needed a distinct sound and feel for the nation from which Prince Gervais stems. I needed it to be similar to Parumvir, due to its geographical proximity, but it also had to be different.

I blush now to admit it, but Beauclair got its name simply because French was the language I studied in school. I always liked the name “Fairlight,” who was a character from Catherine Marshal’s novel, Christy, and thought “Beauclair” a close enough translation of that name. Also, I liked keeping it a “B” name. I was pretty used to Bluegrove by that point, and Beauclair was a natural switch.

So, yes. Although the nation itself has a rich history (at least in my mind and notes) of kings and betrayals, uprisings and intrigues . . . its name was purely a matter of convenience!

Thus are the author’s secrets revealed.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A is for Aethelbald

Inspired by a handful of other blogs I’ve seen doing an “A-Z challenge,” I’ve decided to do A-Z posts related to Heartless for the month of June. This is, in part, just to see if I can do it! It's also to celebrate the upcoming release of Veiled Rose (hoorah!). Here you will find interesting anecdotes and histories for many of the characters, settings, and themes of the first Goldstone Wood story.

The first one is a no-brainer. A is for Aethelbald. Who else could get this prestigious position?

Aethelbald’s name was a bit of a spontaneous choice for me. The very first (unfinished) draft of Heartless was written as a short story for a previous blog, posted in fragments. In that original story, nobody had names. Una was simply the princess, Gervais was simply the first suitor, and Leonard was simply the jester. Even the Dragon was just the dragon (no caps).

Aethelbald, poor fellow, didn’t exist at all. At least not in a recognizable form—though the wood thrush made a brief appearance.

But when I began the first novel-length draft of the story, I knew the character of Aethelbald would have to exist. I distinctly remember contemplating what was to be the third and final installment of the short story and realizing that . . . well, I’d left out the heart of the entire tale! Without Aethelbald, there was no hope for my poor little princess.

Perhaps she could save herself, but I didn’t believe that. I could certainly see her trying to . . . but could she work in herself a real, inside-out transformation? Could she forgo her true nature? I just didn’t see her having the ability to do that. Not on her own. So I considered having one of her former suitors return and save the day. Maybe the first suitor reformed? Or maybe the dragon had deceived the princess, and the jester wasn’t truly treacherous?

But that ran me right into the theme I most wanted to avoid in this story: The princess’s problems are all solved by finding a good man. Ugh. What a message!

Thus the short-story came to a screaming halt and the novel was begun. And this time everything started with the first appearance of Prince Aethelbald in Una’s life. I knew that I wanted him to be a Christ-figure in this fairy tale. So I based his character and appearance off this verse in the Bible:

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men . . .” Isaiah 53:2-3

Prince Aethelbald is not a romantic figure. He is not handsome or dashing or charming. He is unnoticeable in a crowd, especially when compared to flashy characters such as Prince Gervais, or witty characters such as Prince Lionheart. He is easily passed over by my heroine as he doesn't fulfill her simplistic dreams of “romance.”

And he needed a name to go with that role. A name as unattractive as anything I could find . . . a name that was noticeable only in that it was laughable.

The first that came to mind was Ethelred . . . as in, King Ethelred the Unready. I mean, seriously? Do names get any worse? But I didn’t really want people associating this character with that historic king. So I took the next best one, which was Aethelbald.

Which actually means, “Noble and Bold.” Both of which are qualities that Prince Aethelbald has in abundance. He is noble and true, and he is bold in declaring his love for Princess Una and in facing all manner of dangers to rescue her. But he is also quiet. And he is steadfast in his love. He is willing to wait, no matter how harshly Una rejects him, for he knows the pain her rejection will cost her. He knows the price she will have to pay for insisting on her own will and her own way.

Aethelbald, despite that terribly unromantic name, is the ultimate hero. He is willing to abase himself for the sake of his Beloved.

Did you notice the scene at the end of Heartless when he finally confronts the Dragon face to face? The Dragon does not at first recognize him. “How can that be?” you might ask. Isn’t Aethelbald the “Enemy” the Dragon refers to on more than one occasion? Why wouldn’t the Dragon recognize someone he hates so violently and has plotted so long to wound?

But one word from Aethelbald is enough to scare the Dragon. He instantly recognizes that voice! Then he begins laughing and says:

What are you made up as? Look at you, pathetic creature, a little man-beast! Never thought I’d see the day that you, my Enemy, would reduce yourself to such a state.” (Heartless, p. 344)

Later on, in the same section, the Dragon goes on to say:

I am stronger than I once was, and you . . . Ha! You are nothing but a man!

Obviously, Prince Aethelbald is not wearing his natural form. And I’m not talking about his switching between human wood thrush shape . . . After all, why would the Dragon call Aethelbald’s man form pathetic when comparing it to something so frail as a songbird? There is something more to this Prince Aethelbald than meets the eye. Something Una has not yet begun to realize. He has other forms, other aspects he has worn in the past, much more powerful than his current, humble state.

He also has other names, as evidenced by Chapter 2 during his brief exchange with Torkom, the goblin dealer. Torkom calls him "Eshkhan," which means "Prince". How many other names might this ageless being, who is neither mortal nor Faerie, possess? Perhaps more Tales of Goldstone Wood will reveal them.

He is “Aethelbald” for his incarnation as a man, however, a name which first inspires laughter but which means so much more.

By the by, I usually pronounce it “Athel” in my head. But this, for all it is familiar to me, is incorrect. The real pronunciation of the first syllable would rhyme with “day.” Felix pronounces it like “Apple” himself, so obviously Felix thinks the same way I do! Surprise, surprise . . .