Friday, March 30, 2012

Still a Month to Submit!

Just wanted to drop another reminder about my Fan Art contest! Details here. The deadline for all submissions is April 24th, then three judges will score the pieces. The winner will receive signed copies of all three published Tales of Goldstone Wood! Second place will receive a signed copy of Moonblood.

I have received some fun submissions so far, including a particularly clever comic-strip done in stick figures, several lovely pencil drawings, and some beautiful photography. There has even been one Moonblood-related submission already! Looking forward to seeing more of this awesome creativity.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

X is for . . . X-tra!

Just like with Heartless last year, there really isn't a single X-related thing in Veiled Rose that I can write a blog post on. So X is, until further notice, becoming my wild card slot, and I will blog about whatever I wish to!

Last year, that meant writing a post about my foster kittens. So, hey! Why not make that a tradition too? Prepare to meet 2012's batch of rescue kitties . . . thus far . . .

For those of you new to my blog, I'll let you know that my husband and I do feral cat rescue and spay/neuter. Feral cats are wild animals that have had no domestication whatsoever. Most of them cannot be tamed. But if you catch them as kittens, it is possible to domesticate them . . . if you devote several hours of each day to their taming!

So, on to the 2012 batch. First, let me introduce you to Mo.

Yes, I heard your sudden squeal at the cuteness.

This little guy was very quiet and solemn when I first caught him. Other than a few pitiful "Merrrowls" to prove his Siamese heritage, he just sat in a lump for several days, unwilling either to fight or flee. This actually made his taming process easier since he didn't resist me. Within three days, I had him purring in my lap, and Mo proved to be just the sweetest, most thoughtful little kitty!

His sister, however, was MUCH harder to work with! Meet Muppet:

Don't let that image of furry sweetness fool you! When I first caught Muppet, it was like having a tiny, terrified tigress on my hands! She weighed scarcely more than a pound, but she was ready to FIGHT FOR HER LIFE! I had to wear heavy-duty gloves when handling her. She also proved remarkably adept at leaping and ended up spending a couple of days behind the light fixture above the bathroom sink, tucked away where I could not reach her (without losing a hand, that is). Long after I had Mo purring in my lap, I was wondering if I would ever make a break-through with his sister!

I did.

Snarling Tiger?

They say that the more terrified and wild a kitten is when you first catch it, the more thorough the breakthrough is when it happens. Well, it's true! Muppet turned into an absolute LOVE BUG, always wanting to be in my lap, purring and kneading the air with her sweet little paws.

Rescue babies!

Mo and Muppet have both gone to their new homes now. Mo went to a friend of ours who has renamed him "Stig," and Muppet went to a young lady I found through a cat-rescue organization. She has been renamed "Cairo" in honor of her Cleopatra eye-liner, and is a very happy snuggle bug. Hoorah for success stories!

After catching those two, I decided to pursue catching all the adult wild cats in the neighborhood and getting them spayed and neutered so that we wouldn't continue having this kitten problem. So I made an appointment at the vet, set my trap, caught a wild, snarling adult cat:
Actually, I caught this girl.

It was a fluffy female, one that I recognized. When I caught the litter of kittens last year, there was one that I never successfully trapped. The one girl in the litter. The one girl who was now . . . oh yes . . . hugely pregnant!

Turns out, along with being pregnant, she was also totally tame and loving. Which surprised me! Kitties that grow up in the wild practically never turn out tame. But this sweetie was the exception to the rule.

So, since she was tame, we decided to foster her and give her a safe place to have her kittens. Well, at least, I thought we would foster her! Instead, Rohan came home from work, she hopped in his lap, started purring, and he said, "Can we keep her?"

Yeah. Miss Magrat (Rohan named her) is now a permanent member of the Rooglewood menagerie. And she had her kittens last week!

Four kittens! Two black, two white.

Yes, we will be overwhelmed with felines for a little while. Say a prayer that the perfect homes will come around for all these bitties! In the meanwhile, we are enjoying our first newborn kitten experience. If you'd like to read more about it, you can check out Minerva's Blog . . . Minerva, being a cat, has a unique perspective on all the doings of this household.

Would you like to see last year's rescues in their new homes?

Mya and Max

Mr. Mycroft

And Monster! The one we kept.
Who is now 15 lbs and growing!

All right, sorry to any of you out there who aren't cat people! I'll be back to literary topics next week.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

W is for Wolf Lord

"Did you see the Wolf Lord's ghost? He was said to prowl these parts back in the day." (p. 13)

The Wolf Lord is dead. He has been dead for a very, very long time. By the time Leo comes on stage, there hasn't been any living sign of the Wolf Lord for approximately sixteen hundred years, in fact!

And yet, how many references are made to and about him? How often is his shadow glimpsed or his voice thought to be heard?

This monster of legends has cast a long shadow that extends through history and even now gives the people of Southlands shivers at the very mention of his name. But who was the Wolf Lord exactly?

We only get bits and pieces of his story through the course of Veiled Rose. Most often, riding in tandem with his name is that of his foe, Maid Starflower, Southlands' most famous heroine. These two--the maid and the wolf--are inextricably linked through history. In Southlanders' minds, they are as inseparable as Red Riding Hood and her wolf are to us! You cannot have one without the other.

But though Starflower is gone from the realm, living on only in stone carvings and classical Southlanders' art forms, the Wolf Lord is still glimpsed by those fearful souls who find themselves alone in the woods at night. Like Leo . . .

And Leo started to glimpse shapes that flickered on the edge of his vision, deep in the forest shadows. His heart beat faster and his pace increased. The laughter around him continued, and more and more often he kept glimpsing things not there. Or things he hoped were not there.
He saw a wolf.
It was as big as a horse, loping between the trunks. Faster and faster it approached, and Leo could not see its face, for it was nothing but a shadow, but he could feel eyes like daggers fixed upon him. Predator and prey. Yet Leo could not run. He came to a standstill and watched as the shadowed horror drew nearer. He could almost hear the panting of hot breath, could almost smell the musk of the hunter, until it was but a few feet away and leaping . . .
It passed through Leo's chest. Then it vanished. (p. 79)

The Wolf Lord is dead. It can no longer cause harm to the mortals of the Near World.

But it can certainly still prey upon their fears! In memory at least, Starflower's nemesis lives on.

We have an opportunity to meet the Wolf Lord later on in the story, for Rose Red, our intrepid heroine, finds herself venturing down into the Realm of Death where ghosts such as he still dwell. Rose Red carries with her the Asha Lantern, a gift of protection from her Imaginary Friend . . . and a gift that the Dragon does not want her to have. The Dragon commands all the creatures of his realm to take that light from her and destroy it.

But the gifts of the Prince of Farthestshore are not so easily taken. Though the Wolf Lord is as huge as he is brutal, his cunning alone will serve him in his attempts to carry out the Dragon's command. And Light of Lumé, is the Wolf Lord ever cunning! See his initial interaction with Rose Red:

"That cursed light," he snarled. His voice heaved as though speech gave him pain. But his eyes gleamed in the glow of the lantern, glaring at Rose Red with hatred and despair. "Who dares bring that poison light and shine it in my eyes? Have you no compassion?" (p. 257)

"Have you no compassion?" Not a very monster-like phrase, is it? This is enormous creature, this ravenous destroyer, this wolf of nightmares faces our little heroine and accuses her of cruelty! Rose Red, gazing at this terror of Southlands sees a wounded, frightened, suffering creature. And it is her compassion that is aroused, not her fear.

We learn more hints about the Wolf Lord's back story through this encounter with Rose Red. Half-hints and half-truths, to be sure, but we can pick out bits and pieces of the bigger picture. For instance, when he says:

"They tore into me! . . . My own! My own! She betrayed me, though I loved her. Yes, my love was all too violent, too terrible and great for her to comprehend. But she betrayed me, and they tore me to pieces." (p. 258)

We can guess that it is Starflower he refers to when he says "she." Whether or not there was "betrayal" involved, who's to say? After all, we only have his point of view on the subject. Who the "they" that "tore" him were, we don't know for sure. Perhaps the Southlanders themselves? After all, the Wolf Lord tells:

"I ate them; I devoured them, the mortal insects! I enslaved them with fear and worship, made them offer me gifts upon this stone. And they hated me . . . They hated me, though I loved them, the little crawling things. They were ignorant and dirty; they needed my guidance." (p. 259)

So perhaps the Southlanders of ancient days rose up against him? There is little else for us to go on as far as the "they" who "tore into me" are concerned!

Whoever they were, they destroyed the Wolf Lord beyond even Rose Red's aid, though she tries to help him even in his ghastly, ghostly state. But when the Wolf Lord tells Rose Red that she cannot help him, I can't help but wonder if he is refusing to let her help. If he has created a hell for himself in this place of death, and no ministering hand will reach him in that place.

His voice, though that of a wolf, came as a sob. "You see, you cannot help. You and your cursed light. It hurts beyond bearing. I beg you to stop." (p. 260)

A pathetic creature, this beast of legends. Not at all what one might expect to meet after hearing all those half-stories about him! But then again, the unexpected quality itself is terrible, perhaps more terrible than if he had been all wolf and ravening.

Personally, I find him quite horrifying!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

V is for Veils

It probably won't surprise any of you to learn that veils are my favorite literary symbol.

If literary symbols are something you have "favorites" of . . .

By "favorite," I mean, it's a symbol about which I have written several college papers, both for English and theology classes. One was for a class devoted to the study of Nathaniel Hawthorne (whose Scarlet Letter I have STILL not read, despite this class!) and Herman Melville (of Moby Dick fame. Which I did read. Yeah . . .). That paper was titled "The Choice to Unveil" and dealt with characters and themes from Hawthorn's lesser known novel, The Marble Faun. It began as such: 

"Throughout literary history, veils have been used as symbols to represent a variety of themes, including sin and repression, innocence and lies. In her article, “To Veil or Not to Veil,” feminist Marla Del Collins writes, “The veil has wound its way through . . . patriarchy, classism, sexism, colonialism, ethnicity, religious beliefs, national pride, extremism, modesty, shame and oppression” (14). No matter what it is used to symbolize, however, and no matter what context, the chief feature of the veil is this: The Prevention of Knowledge.
"Nathaniel Hawthorne in his final novel, The Marble Faun, makes use of veils in this sense. By comparing his two heroines, innocent Hilda and guilty Miriam, one may see both unintentional and intentional prevention of knowledge. Both heroines experience “unveilings” at traumatic moments that change their lives forever. One is forced into knowledge that she cannot accept; the other is forced to reveal knowledge she desired to remain hidden. When faced with the choice to either reassume their veils or live with revelation, these two characters, by their separate and surprising choices, illustrate the difference between innocence and true virtue."

I'm not offended if you didn't bother to read all that. Let me sum-up the gist for you: "Veils Prevent Knowledge."

If you did read that whole thing, however, you might be able to pick out similarities between Hawthorne's Hilda and Miriam and my Rose Red and Daylily. One innocent, one guilty . . . but which is which?

Of course in Veiled Rose, my main character, Rose Red, lives with a physical veil disguising her face . . . not to mention rags covering every inch of her body so that that knowledge of her true self is completely withheld from both the reader and the other characters. In fact, Rose Red herself is apparently unaware of her true face and form.

But could not the same be said, ultimately, for Lady Daylily? Have a glance at this scene:

"It's my secret," Rose Red repeated. She wanted to back away, but the baron's daughter held her locked in her gaze. So she closed her eyes behind her veil, hoping somehow to gain the courage to flee.
Daylily set her teeth. Then she reached out and removed the veil from Rose Red's face.
The fire crackled on its heart. Outside, the wind pressed up against the window, rattling the glass, then moved on its way with a howl. The Lady of Middlecrescent and the prince's chambermaid stared at each other in the dimly lit chamber, and in that moment, neither wore a veil. (p. 178)

We as the reader are not privy to the knowledge revealed in that moment. All we know is that right there, in that tense moment of time, Rose Red and Daylily saw each other for what they truly were. Knowledge was granted, knowledge that neither was entirely willing to give or accept.

There is another moment later on that contrasts this idea of veils between Daylily and Rose Red. It is the scene that describes their journey from the Eldest's House after the coming of the Dragon. They have the poisoned Lionheart on a horse and are struggling across deserted countryside attempting to get him (and themselves) to safety.

Nearly a week of this life would drive anyone mad, and Daylily's careful mask threatened to break with tears on more than one occasion.
All that kept her going was Rose Red.
Daylily could not see behind the veil. She could not tell how the smoke, the subtle poison, or the bone-weary journey affected the maid. Perhaps she too was crumbling. Perhaps she felt nothing at all. More than once Daylily longed for a veil to hide her own weakness. She could not let this person--this goat girl--see her break. (p. 198)

Here we have another case of the veil preventing knowledge, in this case, Daylily's knowledge of Rose Red's mental state. Rose Red's physical secret is out, but there is a deeper part of her that Daylily cannot penetrate . . . and because Daylily's soul has already been laid bare to Rose Red, it is Daylily who stands in the more vulnerable position.

Veils, of course, have a strong spiritual connotation as well. I wrote a paper for a theology class dealing with the passage in 2 Cor. 3:

"Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

But this discussion will better serve an article for Moonblood, so I won't pursue it now . . .

So yes. I really love the symbol veils which the genre of Fairy Tales allows me to deal with on an open level!

Allow me to take this moment to express a word of encouragement. I know that several (if not many) of my blog followers are college students, and perhaps some of you are pursuing an English major while simultaneously fostering a dream of fiction writing. I want you to know that I remember vividly that period of my life in school when everything was taken up with research papers and class assignments, and the opportunities for creative writing were few and far between. It  can be discouraging, I know, and it is easy to start thinking, "What am I doing here? I want to write! When will I ever get the chance?"

The writing will come. But your current opportunity--this chance to throw yourself into deep literary analysis, to learn what secrets the great writers of old have to share, to study symbols and themes and archetypes and all the brilliant ways they can transform a story from a mere story to a work of gorgeous, meaningful art--that is the opportunity of a lifetime! It's work, yes. But it's wonderful work!

That English Lit. 101 class might just hold the key that will unlock the mysteries of your future great novel. So keep your eyes open!

On a last (and slightly gushy) note.

Do you know, it's due to my love of the literary veil (and the fact that I had just drafted Veiled Rose in the months lead up to it), that I chose to wear a veil for my wedding?

While I understand that the traditional reason for a wedding veil was so that an unwary groom didn't run away at the first glimpse of his sight-unseen bride . . . I love the symbol of innocence revealed, of transformed glory, of a coming to true understanding in the context of a pure and godly marriage. Which is why, while I know many brides who raise the veil through the ceremony, I wore mine until we were pronounced man and wife, and it was Rohan lifted it to kiss me as his wife.

While I'm not terribly traditionalist when it comes to weddings, that's one tradition that I truly love! Especially as a former English major . . .  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

U is for Una

Okay, okay, I know I used this "U" for the last series of A-Z blog posts! But there really isn't another U to be had in all of Veiled Rose (unless you're aware of something I'm not . . . which is embarrassingly possible). Next A-Z series I promise to use a different "U," but this time around, dear reader, do please indulge me and let us consider Princess Una of Parumvir once more . . .

After writing an entire novel about her (Heartless), I was a little wary going into Una's scenes come Veiled Rose. She was no longer either my heroine or my view-point character, and I wasn't certain if that would make me like her more or less. I really enjoyed writing Una in her novel, but familiarity breeds contempt, and I was a little tired of her by the time Heartless had reached its bazillionth-and-one draft. What would it be like to revisit her--and some of those familiar old scenes--a full novel later?

 I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the experience! For one thing, we see Una entirely from Prince Lionheart's perspective this time around. And Lionheart is blessedly unaware of all the drama and turmoil going on in Una's girlish young mind. He sees simply a sweet, pretty girl with a good sense of humor and a bright smile. He sees a princess who is down-to-earth enough to walk in the forests alone with messy braided hair, unspoiled by pomp (unlike Daylily), but also still full of good breeding (unlike Rose Red).

To Lionheart, Una must appear the perfect combination of everything he's ever wanted in a prospective bride.

I found it interesting to watch (yes, I wrote it, but often times it seems as though the scenes simply play out before my eyes and I type what I see) Lionheart fall for Una so quickly. In Heartless, we aren't privy to his  side of the story and don't really know what he's thinking or feeling for her until pretty late in the day. Here, however, we see him basically fall in love with her at first sight . . . in a rather atypical moment for Lionheart!

It makes sense to me, however. Lionheart has been exiled for five years, separated from all warmth and comfort and sense of security. All he has is his jestering to support himself, and even that is not welcome everywhere he goes. But to have this sweet and pretty girl (he doesn't even realize she's a princess at first), laugh and enjoy his humor even when, just moments ago, he had nearly scared her out of her mind . . . well, that's got to be gratifying to a young man's ego!

 Perhaps not the most solid foundation upon which to build romantic love. But not an unrealistic one.

I found Una singularly adorable as seen from Lionheart's perspective. Though in Heartless, she can come across as a bit of a pill and very naïve, seen through Lionheart's eyes, we see a simple, sweet, straight-forward sort of girl, a little spoiled, but honestly so. There's no artifice to be had in her, no game-playing, no secrets.

 Can we really blame Lionheart for the promises and half-promises he made to her, right there at the end of his long quest? Do we not suddenly have more sympathy for the despised jester-prince from Heartless? I do, at any rate!

Friday, March 16, 2012


Don't forget about this contest! Details here. The grand prize is signed copies of ALL THREE Tales of Goldstone Wood . . . Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Moonblood.

I have already started receiving some awesome submissions. Would you like a sneak peek?

And there are plenty more! Keep up the creativity, my friends!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

T is for Throne

It was a hideous creation, up on a black marble pedestal and carved like intertwining dragon skeletons, polished and dreadful. Bloodstained, it stank of death. (p. 332)

This is Rose Red's first impression of the Dragon's throne when she, having ventured deep into the Netherworld, glimpses it. But at that time, she doesn't pay a great deal of attention to it. Oh, it's ugly enough, to be sure. But her eye is distracted by the sight of Daylily sitting before the throne, he feet dangling over the pedestal's edge. Daylily, whom Rose Red has come to rescue. Daylily, who wants to die.

Daylily has been experiencing a horrific downward spiral throughout this novel, especially once she enters the Netherworld. But I can't help but wonder if her proximity to the Dragon's throne might have affected her. Here the Dragon's poison must be especially strong.

 "I've watched my dreams die," Daylily says. "Every one of them, burned to oblivion. I will enver marry Prince Lionheart. I will never fulfill the expectations placed upon me. I wish--I wish you would go and let me die." (p. 333)

 Surely that awful throne must be the central apex of all the Dragon's power. It is there, before his throne that the Dragon nearly overcomes even Rose Red's indomitable spirit. Indeed, if not for the timely arrival of Beana (and the Prince of Farthestshore), we could not say that Rose Red would have survived that encounter, though she had been strong to resist the Dragon's persuasions up to that point. Did he lure her down here, to this seat of Death, in order to work the full power of his poison upon her? The novel never tells us for sure, but we certainly must wonder.

We have glimpsed this throne before when Una ventured to the Dragon Village in Heartless. Her experience gives us a slightly new perspective.

Weaving his way through the shadowy figures, her guide [the yellow-eyed dragon] led her to the very center of the cavern. There sat a giant stone throne.
It was covered in blood.
"This is his throne," the yellow-eyed boy said. "This is where we worship him, our lord, our master. Here he sits and judges us. And if he deems us worthy, we live. But if we have failed him in any command, he devours us."
The dragon girl felt a shiver run through the boy's arm. "Devours you?" she whispered.
"Us, sister. Yes, such is his right, for he is our Father. Sooner or later, we all fail and give our blood to him."
(Heartless p. 275)

We are definitely going to see more of the Dragon's throne. I hate to end every post like this, but . . . watch out for it come Moonblood!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

S is for Starflower Legend

There are actually several S-related legends through the course of  Veiled Rose. Just look at this passage!

He thought of the heroes that peppered his history textbooks. Most of the stories were complete nonsense, he knew, but even so! Had not King Shadow Hand bargained away his own two hands to a powerful Faerie queen for the sake of protecting his kingdom? Had not the child Sight-of-Day stood up in the face of the Dragonwitch even when those around her surrendered? Had not Maid Starflower--the nation's most famous and beloved heroine, for whom half the girls were named to this day--had she not done battle with the dreadful Wolf Lord and, well, if not lived to tell the tale, at the very least lived on in reverent memory? (p.22)

Lots of S's!  And I might have to touch on those other two a bit by the end of this post. However, we'll start with a closer examination of the Starflower legend for now since it is mentioned the most frequently throughout the course of Veiled Rose.

Little hints about this story are dropped here and there. From the beginning, we know that Starflower, the heroine of that tale, faced the Wolf Lord. The rest of the story we have to pick up as we go along. For instance, when Rose Red is making her dreadful journey into the Netherworld, she comes to the dreadful Place of the Teeth.

Rose Red stared. She knew the story behind the Place of the Teeth, a secret hollow somewhere on the slopes of Bald Mountain to which no one ever ventured anymore. It was a site of sacrifice . . . For here, in ancient days, the warlike elders had sacrificed ewe lambs to appease the Beast that was their god.
And here too it was that Maid Starflower had been bound and left under the cold light of the moon. (p. 257)

The Wolf Lord, then, is most likely the "Beast" mentioned in Rose Red's thoughts, a creature who makes itself into a god. A god who demands, upon occasion, human sacrifice. What a dreadful monster! And what a dreadful fate for that famous heroine.

But she must have faced the creature bravely to have gone down in legend as she has. There is even an enormous fountain built in her honor in the front courtyard of the Eldest's House.

It was two stories tall, a fantastic piece of workmanship carved in white marble, portraying Southlands' most famous historic heroine, Maid Starflower, Panther Master's daughter, wearing very little, truth be told. A tiny stone bird sat on one shoulder, a classic icon in every depiction of the maid, the meaning of which everyone had long since forgotten. The maid herself stood with one arm raised above her head, the other flung out before her as though to ward off the monstrous wolf that stood opposite her, baring its marble teeth. (p. 163)

 She did not face the Wolf Lord alone, then. Just as Rose Red hears the song of the wood thrush, her Imaginary Friend, even while traveling into the depths of the Netherworld, so Maid Starflower knew the company and help of the same.

But I hate to give away anything! Allow me merely to point out what has already been said, and you may draw your own conclusions. That, or wait for the release of Starflower later this year!

As to the other legends . . .  We get very little information about the child Sight-of-Day, even less about King Shadow Hand. We know Sight-of-Day faced the Dragonwitch, that awful creature we met soon after the Wolf Lord down in the Netherworld. A dragon without her dragon form, who did not die in fire but rather drowned. From the Legend of Ashiun, as related by Lionheart at the beginning of this novel, we know the Dragonwitch had three lives, two which she lost two the Faerie knight, Etanun. Perhaps the child Sight-of-Day was involved in her third and final death?

As to King Shadow Hand. I have very little I can say about that! Except that the working title of the book I am currently drafting is Shadow Hand. And the Faerie queen with whom he bargained is someone you have already glimpsed in Heartless. As a matter fact, you've already met Shadow Hand as well . . . but you'll never guess who!

I love enigmatic clues, don't you?

Looking forward to sharing more stories with you, dear readers!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Guest Blog Post for Speculative Faith

For those of you interested . . . here is a guest blog I had the opportunity to write for Speculative Faith. You can read the article here along with the lovely comments I received, or read it posted below.

I'll be back to regular A-Z posts later this week!


Bringing the Personal to the Universal

Hardly a fantasy author alive has not heard her or his work referred to as "Tolkien-esque."

You know what I'm talking about, fellow writers! "Tolkien-esque" or the "next C.S. Lewis" or some strange combination thereof. These days, there might be a few new names thrown in for good measure. "An epic romance reminiscent of Twilight." Have you written one of those? Or how about "fun and magic on a par with Harry Potter"?

The fact is, as great a marketing ploy as these comparisons might be, they are often nothing short of embarrassing. I know I've cringed when I've seen my work declared "Tolkien-like." Huh? How are my allegorical fairy tales for teens anything like that VAST adult fantasy epic?

Or, because it contains allegorical threads, my work must be "similar to C.S. Lewis's Narnia." What? Allegory aside, how are my romantic/comedic full-length YA novels even remotely comparable to those short classics written for children?

Worst of all was a big banner in a magazine calling my work: "A Tolkien-esque fantasy for the Twilight audience."

(Insert tears here.)                

"All that work!" I cry. "All those years of English major drudgery! All those carefully constructed literary themes! Shall I then be dismissed as a wanna-be copycat jumping on a popular bandwagon?"

So I take myself away to sulk about it for a while. When the sulking ends, however, I have to start thinking . . .

Great fiction is made up of themes: Love and longing, coming of age, voyage and return, fathers, sons, daughters, mothers, overcoming the monster, death, birth, and more. These are universals, themes that can be, on one level or another, understood by any man or woman. The fantasy genre is a place of extremes, thus these themes become even more dominant. The monsters to overcome are literal dragons or warlords. A maiden's love or a hero's longing means the binding of great alliances, the rise and fall of nations. Fathers are kings, sons are thieves, daughters are warrior maidens, and mothers are enchantresses. All these universals take on a proportion so much bolder than life that they become truly fantastic and unreal.

They can also start looking repetitive.

Because they drew us to fantasy in the first place, these extreme universals and archetypal characters are what we want both to write and to read. But in a sea of handsome Chosen Ones, feisty heroines, dark lords, and made-up names, how can our stories hope to stand out?

We must learn how to bring the personal to the universal.

My most brilliant plot-device, character arc, or surprise twist is never going to be original. Not on its own. All those universal themes have been done before and by better writers. But the one thing those authors (I'm talking to you Messrs Tolkien and Lewis!) can never bring to their work is . . . me.

Only I can do that.

The temptation, especially for young writers, is to ignore this. "After all," we tend to say, "what have I got that's interesting enough to live in the pages of epics? I'm too young. I'm too old. I'm too inexperienced. I'm too boring. That's why I write fantasy, to liven up my ordinary life!"

So we fall into clichés. We fall into cheesiness, writing about epic themes without the personal touch. We take ourselves very seriously and therefore lose credibility.

But I'm here today to argue that cheesiness and clichés need not be our fate! We can work with the brilliant, the epic, the universal themes so wonderful in the genre, but we can use our own experiences. For instance . . .

Did you ever have a first crush? For young and old, this is a pretty universal experience. But your personal experience of those first-time feelings--the sudden sense that maybe childhood perspectives on boys and girls are insufficient, that there might be more, that you might be more--is unique. Have you ever stopped to analyze that singular coming-of-age moment in your life?

Or how about this: Have you ever been assigned a task for which you felt inadequate? Babysitting three toddlers at once? Giving birth? Passing an algebra exam? Organizing a team that simply refuses to be organized? Ordinary experiences, to be sure, hardly the stuff of epics. And yet,  the very real and very stressful feelings of your personal experience are universals that carry over to the world of danger, dragons, and dire deeds that is the fantasy genre.

These are basic examples. Yet they translate beautifully into themes everyone understands! And when I began recognizing this notion of the personal/universal, I first saw my own work take on life.

Like the heroine in Heartless, I have foolishly built dream-castles on a young man who didn't keep his promises. Like the hero in Veiled Rose, I've struggled to redefine my identity and lost myself in the process. Like the hero in Moonblood, I have thought I could earn my own redemption. Like the heroine in upcoming Starflower, I have experienced having no "voice" simply because I am a woman. Like the hero in my recent work-in-progress, I have experienced my human limitations--lack of beauty, lack of brains, lack of respect--and despaired in inadequacy.

Like my characters, I have sinned, I have stumbled, I have made a hash of my life. And I have been the recipient of undeserved grace!

My life experiences have been simple enough. A sheltered child, an ambitious student, a hard worker at various jobs, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a wife, an animal-fanatic . . . Nothing worthy of epics. I am not a brilliant Oxford don with war-time experience and decades of classical and theological education under my belt.

But I have faced my own dragons. I have seen my own kingdoms rise and fall.

So let this be my encouragement to you: Use these universal themes of love and longing, death and life, monsters and kings and Chosen Ones. Use them with excitement, knowing they will touch the hearts of your readers. But remember that your personal experience of these universals will bring the originality, the freshness your work needs. Don't make your heroes Aragorns or Harry Potters . . .  make them you. Don't make your heroines Bella Swans or Lucy Pevensies . . . make them you.

For there has never been a “you” before now. Bring your personal to those classic universals, and you'll find you have something new. Yes, by pure virtue of being fantasy, it will be compared to Tolkien. But you will never be Tolkien. You will only be you.

And that, my friends, is true originality!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

R is for Rose Red

One of my favorite characters, Rose Red was loosely inspired by a girl I know (who shall remain nameless), a lovely girl with some seriously physical deformities who never let those deformities define her. The more I got to know this young woman, the more I thought, "Now she is a true heroine!"

And so I began to develop the initial ideas for Rose Red, the veiled, outcast goat girl.

While Rose Red is a straightforward personality--a spunky child with a lively imagination and a keen sense of fun--mystery haunts her footsteps. From the first moment we meet her, we are caught by that mystery ourselves. Such a strange creature she seems, swathed in veils, unseen, unknown, unfathomed! And Rose Red herself scarcely knows who she is.

All she has are the hints the Dragon breathes into her dreams.

 "Tell me, my princess. Why should we have secrets from each other?"
"You knows that you hadn't ought to call me 'princess,' don't you?" she says.
"That is what you are," speaks the one in the pool.
"That's a silly game from when I was a bit of a girl! I'm grown up now. I'm nearly ten! I don't need to play games no more. No pretend."
The one in the pool looks upon her with narrowing eyes. Then he says, "You will always be a princess to me." (p. 50)

We get a few more hints as to Rose Red's background as the story progresses. When she is lost in the depths of the Netherworld and encounters the dragons of the Village, she hears one dragon address the Father of Dragons, saying, "Is this not one of the Veiled Folk? Is she not Vahe's lost one?"
"Indeed," the Dragon purred.
"Does he know you have her?"
"Do you think he would have tried nothing by now if he knew?"
The ruby-clothed woman laughed. There was fire in her mouth. "He hasn't long until the Night of Moonblood. He must be anxious." (p. 319)

Oh, boy! Such more foreshadowing of things to come! But I really shouldn't get into that just now.

Princess or not, Rose Red is definitely an outcast. The village of Torfoot lower down the mountain sees her as some sort of local monster. In the real world, only the old man she calls father and her goat, Beana, speak to her. Otherwise, all she has are dreams and imaginary friends . . . until Leo finds her.

In Leo, Rose Red meets her first true friend. And see how childhood obscures complexities like social standing and outward appearance, allowing children to interact naturally. Leo does not have to worry about being Prince Lionheart with her. Rose Red does not have to worry about being a social reject with him. They simply are who they are with each other.

And they form a bond far more deep than either has ever known. A bond that leads Rose Red to defy the Dragon's wishes and follow Leo to the lowlands . . . with disastrous consequences.

Like all of my characters, Rose Red is a little piece of me. I really relate to her stubborn determination to do the right thing . . . but to do it entirely on her own strength. Though Beana offers her counsel, and though her Imaginary Friend lends her aid, Rose Red wants to manage her own life in her own way. And who can blame her? This poor rejected young woman must feel desperate to seize control any way she can!

But she cannot face the Dragon in her own strength. She will have to humble herself and call on a higher power if she hopes to survive. Sometimes that moment of falling to one's knees can be the most painful of all! That moment of admitting that my strength has run out and my ability to cope has ended.

But it is in humility that true strength may flourish.

Some have expressed interest in knowing how Rose Red came to be named Rose Red. Especially since the name is taken from the Grimm fairy tale, Snow White and Rose Red, and yet the story is dissimilar. It may interest my readers to know that I did not choose the name "Rose Red" as a reference to the classic story.

My Rose Red's real name is Varvare, as is hinted in the novel (and overtly stated in the prologue for Moonblood). When I was first developing the character, Varvare was the name I called her. But she needed to have a more "Southlands" appropriate name while living as the veiled goat-girl up in the mountains. Varvare is a name derived from the Armenian word "vard," which is "rose." "Rose Red" is a close translation of the name "Varvare," worked well as a Southlands name, and carried a strong fairy tale connotation. Thus it was chosen.

Roses, as you will soon discover, play a big role in the upcoming novel, Moonblood. We've already seen hints of this (both Heartless and Veiled Rose reference the lack of roses in the mortal world), and we will see that storyline developed.

I particularly like how the name in and of itself creates a link between my work and old fairy tales. The story Snow White and Rose Red includes a man enchanted into bear form. Men and women taking animal shapes is a recurring theme in the Goldstone Wood stories, and I enjoy having a subtle nod to the classic tales that inspired those ideas. Part of the fun of writing, for me, is making these "literary nods," so to speak. A reader with a quick eye might catch references to classic fairy tales, to Shakespeare, to Robert Browning, to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to Edmund Spenser, to George MacDonald, and so many more! It's part of how I like to connect myself to the writers of the past.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Q is for Queen Starflower

Okay, confession: I will probably have to resort to various queens for the Q post every time I do an A-Z series. Qs are difficult, my friends! And queens are so nice and handy. Especially when I have an interesting queen such as Starflower to write about . . .

Queen Starflower is the mother of Prince Lionheart, wife of Eldest Hawkeye, and a strong woman. Although she is not a ruling queen and, officially, never crosses her husband, she isn't above moving her own chess pieces across the board of politics and kingdom-keeping. Especially where concerns her son.

This queen is named for Southland's most famous heroine, Maid Starflower, of whom we get hints throughout the course of the novel (though we'll have to wait a few books to hear the whole of her story!). Starflower has become a remarkably popular Southlander's name by this time. But Queen Starflower is very little like the national heroine.

Queen Starflower stood beside her husband on the steps facing the fountain. She was not a beautiful woman like her namesake. But she was strong. King Hawkeye was proud to have her as his queen and depended on her in countless ways of which his subjects had no knowledge. The queen knew, however; she knew without question how indispensable she was to her husband. And she also know how important it would be for her son to have a capable wife. (p. 163)

The queen may seem a cold and even uncaring person at times. But ultimately, she truly wants what's best for her son. Or at least, she wants what's best for Southlands, and in her mind, those two are one and the same. And she worries about her boy.

Lionheart was a handsome boy but weak. Stubborn as well, which Starflower considered the most dangerous form of weakness. It would take a strong woman to manage him as he managed the kingdom. (p. 163)

And that strong woman, Queen Starflower has decided, is Lady Daylily of Middlecrescent. It is through the queen's manipulations that Lionheart finds himself spending the summer with Daylily up at Hill House. She and the Baron of Middlecrescent conspire together to see the strength of Middlecrescent tied to the strength of the throne.

Nothing, however, could have prepared Queen Starflower for the Dragon. And when he comes, we get our first real glimpse at the deeper secrets and fears in this strong queen's heart:

Queen Starflower sat before her long mirror in her private chambers, gazing upon but not seeing her own face. She was alone. She had always been alone. The others were all dead, she knew with a certainty beyond doubt. Perhaps they had never lived. Perhaps they too were nothing but a dream bound to die in this world to which she had awakened. Her husband, her son, her nephew . . . nothing but phantoms in this world, this dark, smoke-shrouded reality where dreams must die. (p. 217)

The strongest woman in all Southlands still falls prey to the Dragon's poison, the Death of Dreams. How then can a simple mountain girl with a hidden face hope to stand up against such a terror?

I quite enjoyed writing Queen Starflower. She is the first queen I have written about in this series so far, for Princess Una's mother is dead, and Queen Starflower has no role in Heartless (though I'll not give away why!).

I feel this woman gives us a more complete picture of Prince Lionheart as well. It's impossible to truly understand a person until you understand the family from which they have stemmed. Queen Starflower has pushed and manipulated Lionheart all his life . . . and, worst of all, she has generally been right about what's best for him! Is it any wonder that when given half the chance (and half the excuse) Lionheart runs away to become a jester and considers never returning?

But Queen Starflower does love her son, I believe. And when she believes he's dead, it leads to her undoing . . .