Later in the year, Rebecca was my first mentoring student, and I was delighted to begin my job as writing coach on her work. The first chapter she sent me was full of beautiful narrative, lyrical prose, lovely scenery . . . and a fabulously eerie plot. I was hooked. And I suspect all of you will be as well!
Here is a little more information about Rebecca Fox:
A recent high school graduate, Rebecca Fox writes fantasy stories while simultaneously dreaming of traveling to Narnia, Middle-earth, and whatever fantasy world she is currently writing about. When she’s not lost in the pages of a book, she’s likely belting out songs from The Phantom of the Opera and Les Mis, rehearsing for a play, listening to her collection of soundtrack music, or cheering madly for her favorite college football teams. Rebecca lives in Iowa with her family.
I was excited to learn that Rebecca's major passion is for fairy tales. Here is a glimpse at her current work-in-progress!
The Summons Has Come . . . a Maiden is Chosen
Every Midsummer’s Eve, a maiden is summoned to the mysterious Castle Lamir, hidden upon a shadowy mountain. The girl is never heard from again. No one asks questions or tries to dissuade the villager elders from sending another maiden into the unknown, for all fear crossing the will of the infamous Lord of Lamir.
Desperate to prove her worth when the elders read her name from the summons, plain Estelle—the village outcast—ventures into the wild mountains only to discover that the enchanted Castle Lamir holds dark secrets. Caught between the warring wills of the Voice that hides in the shadows and the sorceress that dwells beneath the castle, Estelle becomes entangled in the search for an ancient and powerful legend. The Essence of Beauty may prove the key to achieving her heart’s greatest desire, but there are others who would use her and the Essence for their own ends.
I know, I know . . . you want to pick it up and read it right away! Sadly, it's not complete yet, so you'll have to wait a few years. But in the meanwhile, Rebecca has sweetly agreed to an interview here today!
Rebecca: Hmmm. Well, since it’s confession time: I tend to be an introvert; I adore mint hot chocolate; I have a sweet Australian shepherd with more than his fair share of personality; I’m an indoor girl in practice but love sitting on a porch in the mountains or watching the summer stars when I get the opportunity. Football, college football to be specific, is my absolute favorite sport. I—obviously—don’t play it, but I am a huge fan. I would love to study abroad in Great Britain, the land of so many incredible authors. I am working on my British accent imitation and hope my voice gets stuck like that. And last, but certainly not least, I went to the midnight premiere of The Hobbit last month in costume. I’m kind of a big fan. J There you have it, fair friends.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a novelist?
Rebecca: I think realizing that I wanted to be a novelist was gradual. I’ve enjoyed stories and writing since I was a little kid, but it wasn’t until the summer before my freshman year of high school that I started to actually do something about it. I wrote a novel (quite dreadful actually but someday I hope I can turn it into something worth reading) and loved the experience. When I finished, something had happened. When people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I started saying, “I want to be a novelist.” And that was that.
What was the first story you can remember writing down? Did you ever finish it?
Rebecca: In third grade the class was assigned to write a short, one-page story. Mine ended up being three pages. I can hardly remember that little tale; I’m sure it’s somewhere buried deep in the annals of my childhood, if it even survived our move five years later. But I do recall that it was a fantasy. So my course in fantasy was set nearly a decade ago.
What are some of your favorite books? Have they influenced your own writing?
Rebecca: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are my literary heroes. No matter what I read or how much I enjoy a new book, I always end up coming back to these two. I grew up on The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. Really, these authors were the ones who first inspired me to write. Their books provided fuel for my childhood play, textbooks as I first began to dig into and study literature, and now a guide as I started to create my own stories. They provide a wonderful example of what it means to be a Christian and a fantasy writer.
What is a one-sentence summary of the manuscript you are currently writing?
Rebecca: The outcast of a society that values physical beauty above all, plain Estelle is sent as tribute to the villagers’ infamous liege-lord only to become entangled in the search for the legendary power over beauty.
What is the most important lesson you've learned during these last few months of mentoring?
Rebecca: How can I choose just one?! I think the first major lesson I learned was to balance “showing” and “telling.” I had gotten bogged down in the show-don’t-tell maxim and my work was feeling stiff. Once I started “telling” emotions, thoughts, etc. in addition to all the “showing” my writing started to feel more comfortable. That was sort of a breakthrough lesson for me. I had more freedom to explore my characters, giving them an opportunity to come that much more alive in my mind. I could sit back and start enjoying the story!
What tricks do you try when you face writer's block?
Rebecca: In my experience, writer’s block tends to stem from too much pressure, often self-inflicted. When that happens I take a step back to relieve the pressure. Sometimes that means leaving the scene that I’m working on and jumping ahead (or backwards or to an entirely different project) and working on that for a while, just something new to stir my creativity. Often I’ll grab the nearest book and start reading. I find that it helps to get words and stories flowing through my mind even if they aren’t my own. In fact, when there’s a book I’ve been consistently reading, I’ve found that I am likely to have more success with my writing than when I haven’t read much in a few weeks. I guess it all comes back to the age-old advice: read, read, and read.
Who is your favorite character in your current manuscript and why?
Rebecca: I love all my characters from my bitter villainess to my tortured hero, but since I have to choose, I have to pick Lucia, a member of the supporting cast. She’s a fascinating character to write and she poses some unique challenges. She’s blind, but she hasn’t always had this disability so she does have some fading memories of what she saw long ago, some she treasures while others haunt her. She’s a sweet, innocent, naïve girl, but these traits are the very things that drew her into embracing, and remaining entrapped in, Darkness. Yet Lucia’s heart is golden, unspoiled by the enchantments and bitterness that surround her. She longs for beauty and truth and companionship. She has some very difficult choices coming up that will threaten her carefully constructed security.
Would you share an excerpt from your current work-in-progress?
Rebecca: Absolutely. This segment comes from Chapter Four of Beautiful, which includes some of my favorite moments in the novel thus far. Enjoy!
Estelle lifted her chin and looked into the mirror.
So then, dreams did not come true.
The same reflection as always stared back at her. The lank frame, the grim-set jaw and pale, thin lips turned slightly down, the too large eyes the color of smoke, the austere aquiline nose.
The image of that beautiful face, indelibly imprinted upon her memory, laughed at her.
See what you really are, foolish girl. You will never be me.
It was Liette. It was the elder. It was her mother. Their voices collided in her head, becoming one.
See what you really are. Nothing more. Nothing more. Never more.
Estelle ground her teeth together until a shooting pain lanced through her jaw. Heat rose up her neck and spread from her cheeks to her ears and over her scalp. It built behind her eyes and her vision tilted.
How dare the mirror tell her this? How dare these infernal enchantments tantalize her with the promise of such beauty only to repeal the gift, leaving her groveling and ashamed?
“Come away, Estelle.” The minstrel’s voice whispered at the edge of her awareness.
How could she have allowed herself to fall for the illusion?
It was the final straw. Estelle threw her head back and screamed. Long and loud, the sound screeched from her mouth. Like a wolf it clawed her throat as it passed and ravaged her ears once released into the open. Still she screamed, pouring every hurt and bitterness and rage into the noise.
Deep within the hidden corners of the castle, ancient enchantments stirred. The angels in the courtyard trembled as mists boiled up from the chasm and churned across the grounds. The gargoyles laughed, baring their fangs as they crouched among the eaves.
A wind, hot and stale, swept out of the shadows and raced through the halls and corridors. It barreled past the entrance to the Hall of Mirrors. It swept around Estelle, swirling her skirts and twisting her hair.
As the wind whirled about her, enclosing her, Estelle heard her scream magnified and multiplied, as if a hundred tiny voices had taken up her cry. A terrifying, heart-wrenching symphony.
Estelle felt something grab her from behind and jerk her backwards. The whirlwind of voices shattered like glass, and Estelle’s own voice faltered. She whirled and heard her palm crack against something. Someone.
The final remnants of her scream faded. All was silent. All was still. Estelle stood frozen, staring at the white mark of her hand on the minstrel’s cheek.
What had she done?
Already the place on his cheekbone was changing from pale white to mottled purple-grey with a streak of red through the middle. Could she have really assaulted him so viciously? The ache in her hand confirmed it.
What had happened to her? What had changed? She had never done such a thing before, had not thought herself capable. “I’m sorry,” she muttered, more for her own consolation than for the minstrel's.
The minstrel said nothing but continued to watch her. Estelle looked down and studied the parquet floor. With the toe of her shoe, she cleared away some of the pervasive dust, revealing the wooden mosaic. She had apologized. Now it was his turn to respond, but he persisted in his silent gaze. As each second ticked agonizingly past, Estelle felt the weight of her guilt grow upon her shoulders.
Still the minstrel did not speak.
Estelle released an exasperated huff. She didn’t deserve this. After all, he should never have intervened, startling her as he had. He knew nothing of her plight. He had never suffered like she had. He had never desired something so fiercely only to be rejected again and again. He deserved that mark for all she had endured because of him from the moment she had first laid eyes on him.
Estelle met the minstrel’s gaze with chin lifted. But she did not see in his weird, piercing eyes what she had expected, even wanted, to see. He harbored neither anger nor even disbelief. Estelle barely stifled her horrified gasp. He pitied her.
Pity! That insufferable, dreadful pity that made her skin crawl. It was far worse, Estelle decided, than scorn. She knew how to respond to derision, but this pity set her on edge. Was she helpless? No! She needed no one, particularly not him.
Estelle turned once more to the mirror. She looked into the face of the wild-eyed, red-faced reflection and hated what she saw. This image, this reality, had haunted her too long.
Casting aside the candles, Estelle grabbed a golden candelabrum. She would end that reflection’s constant mockery once and for all. She faced the mirror and hefted the ornately wrought candlestick.
“Estelle?” The minstrel broke his silence, but it was too late. “Estelle, wait. Be careful!”
Ignoring him, Estelle slammed the candlestick with all of her might into the glass. The crack exploded across the mirror, sending fissures towards each corner. Estelle smiled with grim satisfaction. She would have her revenge upon every mirror in the castle if she had to. Never again would these mimicking, glassy fiends taunt her. She would destroy them all until one showed her what she wanted to see.
Suddenly, Estelle felt a shudder ripple beneath her feet. It passed and she dismissed the sensation as a working of her imagination. But then tremors sped through the stones. Plumes of dust burst into the air like fountains of fireworks.
“Estelle!” The minstrel grabbed her arm and this time Estelle was too disoriented to push him away. The windows rattled; the chandeliers swung violently back and forth; the walls groaned.
“What’s happening?” Estelle shouted over the growing din.
Estelle fell to her knees and crawled beneath a table. She threw her arms over her head and squeezed her eyes shut. The tremors that shook the castle shook her as well. She felt them take hold, an invisible hand squeezing her heart and rattling her bones.
Crashes echoed and the castle seemed to wail in agony, lifting ever higher in pitch and ferocity. Then, without warning, just as she thought she could bear it no longer, the quake stopped, as if it had never been.
Estelle remained crouched beneath the table, the blood pounding in her temples. It was over? The minstrel stirred beside her and climbed back into the open. Estelle inched back against the wall. How could he be certain it would not begin again? It had come so suddenly. What could have provoked such a violent reaction of the earth?
Then Estelle realized. Could it have been her?
“Minstrel,” Estelle’s voice shivered as she spoke but it suddenly no longer mattered, “what have I done?”
He stopped for a moment and glanced up and down the hall. Estelle followed his gaze but saw nothing. The hall appeared as though the quake had never occurred; not a cracked vase or shattered window. At last the minstrel released a heavy sigh as if satisfied that the danger was past.
“You have disturbed her slumber.”
“Whose slumber? Who have I disturbed?”
“Why the Lady Lamir, of course.”
“I thought it was the Lord of Lamir. Does he have a wife?”
The minstrel fixed her with a quizzical glance and his green eye gleamed queerly. “A wife? The Lord of Lamir? No.” He spread his arms. “This is Lady Lamir.”
Estelle stared at him for a moment before understanding dawned. “You mean the castle.”
“Yes. I mean the castle. She is Lamir. His lordship, as you call him, may fancy himself her master, but—” The minstrel fell suddenly silent, his attention rapt upon a place behind Estelle. She turned and saw a figure moving towards them.
“She is remembering,” the minstrel breathed.
The figure stumbled forward, one hand pressed to his side and the other waving madly in front of him as though batting something away.
He drew closer and Estelle could hear the inane babble and the moaning. It was a man, she discerned. He was dressed in finery not unlike that which she had seen in her dream. But while he appeared real, he seemed also somewhat immaterial. Something like the women she had met in the banquet hall upon her arrival. Estelle chewed on her bottom lip. What did this mean?
The man was only a few yards away from where they stood when the suspicion came over Estelle that she knew him. His shoulders were hunched and his head bent low, hiding his face.
“I see you. I see you,” the man muttered. “They all see me. I hear them. I hear them coming. All around. From the skies. Spears. Splinters. Run. Cannot run. Hide. Cannot hide.”
The man halted, teetered, and then stumbled forward again, waving his arm even more furiously than before. Estelle wanted to reach out to him. What had this man suffered? What had he seen to reduce him to such a state? Estelle wrapped her arms about her. Was it this castle? Was this the doom that awaited the guests of the Castle Lamir?
“She’s here! She’s here! She’s here!”
The fear in the man’s voice escalated until he was shaking uncontrollably and he began to weep. Estelle wanted to scream, to turn away, to cry with him, but she couldn’t.
“She’s here!” he screamed, and then toppled forward, collapsed at Estelle’s feet.
When he rolled onto his back and stared unseeing at the ceiling, Estelle screamed. “Savion!”
He hardly looked the same person, but Estelle knew it was he. Just as she knew that the wound in his side, the one his pale, blood-covered hand failed to hide, was mortal.
Estelle tried to rush to Savion’s side, but the minstrel’s arms surrounded her and held her back. She struggled for a moment but gave up and stared in horror. He was stronger than she had thought.
“We all will die,” Savion rasped, his thin lips, now blue in color, hardly moved. His head lolled to one side so that his dead eyes seemed to stare straight at her. Nausea roiled in Estelle’s stomach and her legs gave way.
“Let us go away from here,” the minstrel said.
As much as she despised his assistance, Estelle leaned into the minstrel as he guided her to her chambers. Just before they crossed the threshold, Estelle glanced back over her shoulder and started. Savion’s body had disappeared.
Estelle sat upon the edge of her bed and gasped for breath as the minstrel shoved the door closed. How could she comprehend all that she had just witnessed? How could she bear the knowledge of it? What had the villagers’ condemned her to?
“Are you well?”
“I—I’ll be fine.”
The silence in the room was deafening. It pressed against Estelle’s chest until she couldn’t breath.
“Minstrel,” she said, “I don’t understand.”
The minstrel leaned against the window frame and watched her. His gaze was once more sympathetic but it did not bother her now.
I need him.
Estelle shoved the thought away.
“Neither do I, Estelle. Not entirely.” He sighed.
“But you do.” She straightened. This minstrel was hiding things from her. Things she desperately needed to know. Secrets she had a right to know. Secrets that might hold the key to her survival. And now, she would do anything to survive this palace of horrors. “You speak in riddles. You’re clearly acquainted with the mysteries of this place. Tell me everything, everything you know.”
“That I cannot do.”
“I don’t want to die here, Minstrel.” Estelle joined him at the window. “I want to go home.”
“I do not think you will die here.”
“Won’t I? What about the other tributes, the girls who came before me? What happened to them?” When the minstrel did not reply Estelle continued, feeling the heat of her fear igniting her passion. “Then help me escape.”
The minstrel lifted his eyebrows. “There is no escape from the Castle Lamir. Of that much, I can assure you."
And now, Rebecca has offered a fabulous giveaway. She has two wonderful bookmarks to offer to a lucky winner! Take a look at these pretties . . .