Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

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In just the last few hundred words of our work in progress, THE LAST FAERIE GODMOTHER, my daughter and I moved our heroes and our story from modern day America (with fairy-tale creatures) to Northern Ireland in 1507 (chock full of faeries).

From a writer’s standpoint, this is like waking up on Mars.  Without a spacesuit.

How did people talk?  I don’t mean just how to write an Irish accent, but what words do they use?  Many, many turns of phrase we take for granted when writing modern dialogue didn’t exist 500 years ago.  And things had different names.  Not to mention, they had an entire vocabulary of words for objects and activities that no longer exist today.  They had different greetings, different common expressions, different superstitions.  And they surely talked about other things than we do today.

What did people wear?  Believe it or not, there are not a great deal of books with pictures or descriptions of what average people wore in Ireland in the 16th century.  I know; I’ve looked.  I can tell you what nobility or soldiers wore in England in the early 16th century, but that doesn’t quite work, does it?  I’ve read that the Irish of that time wore yellow, since the association of green with Ireland is a much more modern occurrence.  But I need slightly more detail to describe what my characters are wearing than “yellow.”

What did they eat?  What was their daily routine?  How did they travel?  Where did they sleep?  How did they treat strangers?  What did a house look like?  A castle?  A dungeon?  What did they buy and what did they make themselves?  Where did they get money?  What did a market look like?

I was so excited when we finally got to this much-anticipated point in our book.  This is the “inciting incident” that sets up the whole rest of the book, in which our heroes must pass for natives and figure out a way to get home to the present.  But as my fingers hovered over the keys, itching to write the next scene, I found I could not make them type.  I don’t know where I am!  I can’t describe anything, write any dialogue, or even understand what my characters should see upon waking up.

Gah!  It’s like being a virgin writer all over again, except without the benefit of that cocky naivete that lets you just bully your way through a story despite your utter ignorance.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: virginity [in a writer] is overrated.

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Joustorama

Posted: February 17, 2016 in Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

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I believe I’ve finally heard enough times that we should cut almost an entire early chapter from our book. I’ve rejected this notion for a year or so, because 1) it is among the best writing in the book  (I think), and 2) because I have rationalized that it is an important (although admittedly lengthy) setup to the tone of the rest of the story.

i think I’m finally ready to admit it doesn’t need to be there, and that it slows down the book too much.

So, before one of my favorite scenes is lost to the ravenous beast known as “#amediting,” here it is – one more “lost scene” for you to enjoy (I hope) that the rest of the world will never see.


 

“Catherine?”

I looked up from my history textbook. “Yes, Mom?”

She lifted the book out of my lap and sat down on the couch next to me. “Enough homework for today.” Mom smiled and stared into my eyes, brushing a lock of hair out of my face. “I’m very proud of you. The way you’ve shown how grown up you can be. And you are a beautiful girl, Catherine; I don’t tell you that enough.” She kissed me on the forehead and it turned into a hug that felt like sleeping in on a Sunday morning.

“Thanks, Mom.” I smiled into her shoulder. The hug made the last twenty-six and a half days without my fantasies feel a little less heartbreaking.

“Your father and I have decided to give you a reward for all of your hard work.”

“We have?” Dad looked up from where he was building a LEGO spaceship with Thomas. “What was it we decided, again?”

“We decided to take Cat to Joustorama for dinner, tonight.”

“You did?” I beamed. “Excellent!”

“And,” Mom continued smoothly, “because it will help with your studies of medieval England.”

“Right.” Dad nodded. “That’s exactly why I suggested it. Because, homework. Did I make reservations, Adelle?”

“Of course, Richard.”

Joustorama has got to be the coolest single place in the whole world to eat dinner. Outside, it’s a castle with a real moat and drawbridge and everything. And inside knights in armor actually joust each other on horses, just like in medieval times. While you watch the show, serving maidens bring your dinner on metal plates. And the best part?

“Do we get to eat with our fingers?” Thomas jumped up and down with a grin as big as his head. He’d been a toddler the last time we went, but he remembered that.

“Yes,” I said. “We all get to eat with our fingers.” Because they don’t give you any silverware. Just lots and lots of napkins.

As soon as we walked through the giant double doors it felt like we were in a different world. All of the people who worked there were dressed like maidens and courtiers, with long sleeves and big belts. Swords and spears and other old weapons hung on the walls between suits of armor.

My older brother, Alex, stood looking at a wall covered with photographs of young women and girls, each posing with one of the knights. “What’s this about, Cat?”
“Oh. Each knight chooses a girl from the audience to be his lady fair, and if he wins the tournament she becomes princess of the realm.” Most of the pictures had either the red knight or the green knight, but I thought the green knight was definitely more handsome.

“You should be up there. You’re into princess stuff, right?”

“I used to be.” I shrugged. But my eyes lingered on the green knight and all of the smiling girls wearing their golden crowns.

When the serving maiden led us to our seats I got the same thrill I got every time I came here. We stepped out of the tunnel into the stadium, and it was huge! There was the great big dirt floor in the middle – big enough for horses to run at full speed toward one another from opposite ends – and hung all around were banners and pennants of different colors. The seating went all the way around the dirt floor, and rose row after row like the bleachers at a football game, but here they were divided into six sections, each one with different colored pennants representing one of the knights. We were in the green section.

The serving maiden saw my excited grin. “The green knight, Sir Reginald, is always a favorite to win, M’lady.” The small, blonde girl handed each of us a green paper crown.

Pixie, I thought automatically, then glanced at Mom, who didn’t seem to notice my backsliding.

The maiden smiled at Alex as she left and his eyes followed her. But as soon as we heard horses’ hooves, he turned back to the arena. The knights were walking their horses around the outside of the dirt floor, smiling and waving at the guests who had already arrived. We were in the front row, so Sir Reginald came right by us.

“Wow!” Thomas shouted, and he climbed onto one of the chairs for a better view. Sir Reginald spotted him in his cape and reined his white horse to a stop right in front of us. My heart sped up. Sir Reginald was even more handsome in person, and both he and his horse wore green and black. He had a dark beard and curly mustache, and a green cape of his own that matched his eyes.

“What is thy name, young master?”

“I’m Thomas.”

“I see thou dost wear a cape of red. Art thou a knight?”

“What?”

Alex leaned closer and said, “He thinks you’re a knight, buddy, because you’re wearing a cape like him.”

“Oh.” Thomas grinned and struck his warrior pose with fists raised. “I am a knight!”
Sir Reginald chuckled, “Aye, ye must be, stout lad. But red is the color of Sir Frederick, my mortal enemy. Are you sure thou art not a spy?”

“No. I’m a good guy.”

Sir Reginald nodded gravely then turned toward me. I felt my face grow hot, but my smile never wavered. It might have looked a little manic, though. “And who is this young vision in pink?”

That did it. I was definitely blushing now. “I-I’m Cat. I mean Catherine.” I curtsied.

“Surely you mean ‘Lady Catherine’. For thou must be of royal blood.”

“I guess,” I said shyly.

“With you cheering me on, I am sure to triumph.” He snapped his reins and shouted,

“Enjoy the revels!” as his horse galloped away.

People were really starting to fill up the seats now, and the stadium became more colorful with all of the paper crowns in each section. I felt especially grown up after my “interlude” with Sir Reginald, so I took my seat as gracefully as possible.

“Thomas, may I help you with your napkin?”

“Yeah. Tuck it in my shirt.”

Dad leaned over. “What do you say to your sister?”

“Please?”

“Of course, Thomas. You’re very welcome.” I tucked the corner of his napkin into the collar of his shirt.

A couple of tables over in the red section, a family of three made their noisy entrance. The girl was having her thirteenth birthday and made absolutely sure the serving maiden and all of the tables around her knew it. Her parents had their arms full with gift bags and brightly-wrapped presents. When the birthday girl saw me staring, she made a smug face, turned up her nose, then flipped her dark hair dismissively.

Ohhhh-kay. She’s a charmer.

The serving maiden brought buttered rolls and pewter mugs of tomato soup. I remembered from before that the mugs were called tankards, and they had lids so the soup stayed hot and you didn’t need a spoon. Thomas and I got cold milk, which tasted funny in a pewter goblet, but Thomas thought it was the neatest thing he’d ever seen. “Mommy. Look, my glass is made out of metal!”

The soup was very good, and it was fun to drink it out of a mug and not feel guilty about slurping. When I looked over at the birthday girl, I noticed she had dribbled tomato soup onto the front of her white party dress. The old me would have burst out laughing, but I promised myself I would behave like a perfect lady, tonight. No way I was going to let a month of hiding my heart under a rock and biting my tongue go to waste.

“I want pizza,” the birthday girl yelled at the serving maiden. Her bottom lip stuck out and she crossed her arms.

“I’m sorry, M’lady. We’re serving roast chicken, potatoes and corn. If you don’t like chicken, I can bring you steamed vegetables.”

Princess Pouty-puss barked, “I hate vegetables. This place is stupid.” She made a talk-to-the-hand gesture and turned her back on the serving maiden, who apologized and left. The parents rewarded their daughter by handing her presents and telling her they were sorry there was no pizza. No wonder she acted like that. Plus, I would’ve bet money she was a sprite. Sprites were always causing trouble in fairy tales.

No. I shook my head. No more fairy tales.

Four men dressed in yellow and red blew a fanfare on long horns and people started clapping and cheering. A man with white hair and wearing official-looking clothes strode out to the middle of the arena carrying a big scroll, which he unrolled and read in a deep, serious voice.

“On this day, the king did command that there shall be a contest of arms between his sons to determine who among them is the bravest and strongest knight in the realm. Whosoever does triumph this day shall win the hand of his lady fair and together they shall rule the kingdom as prince and princess. Knights of the realm, come forth and present your ladies fair!”

The trumpeters blew their horns again and six knights on horseback, each dressed in a different color, came galloping into the arena to great cheers and whistles from the audience. They carried their lances – the really long wooden spears they used when they jousted – and each lance had a colored ribbon tied to the end. Together the knights rode around the outside of the arena until each one came to their colored section, and halted.

The herald began reading again. “Sir Charles the Brave. Present your lady fair.”
The blue knight lowered his lance until the tip was level with a young woman in the front row, who grinned and took the blue ribbon. Sir Charles bowed his head and turned to the crowd. “I present the Lady Angelita.” People clapped, especially the people in the blue section.

Then came Sir Anthony the Swift who handed his yellow ribbon to a little girl who looked about seven. Her mom had to take it because she was shy, and Sir Anthony announced, “Lady Tabitha.”

And so on with Sir Edmond the Cunning, in black, and Sir Kent the Strong, in brown, and their ladies fair. As the presentations went around the arena closer and closer to our section my heart began beating faster and faster. Who would Sir Reginald choose? There were a lot of pretty girls in the green section.

“Sir Frederick the Fierce. Present your lady fair.” The red knight – our knight’s mortal enemy – edged his horse closer to the railing, but even before he had lowered his lance Princess Pouty-puss shot to her feet and shouted, “It’s me! Ashlyn! I’m the lady fair!” She stuck her hand out for the ribbon.

I gasped, and the arena got very quiet.

Sir Frederick hesitated. I think he had been about to give his ribbon to someone else, but all eyes were on him – not the least of which were Ashlyn’s. I think he realized if he didn’t give her the ribbon she would jump over the railing, climb up his horse and wrestle him for it. He trotted forward and lowered the ribbon to her waiting hand. “I present Lady Ashlyn.”

I was pretty sure Princess Pouty-puss was fiercer than Sir Frederick, and I smiled. Plus, the red ribbon went very well with the soup stains on her white dress.
“Sir Reginald the Valiant, present your lady fair.”

Finally. I turned and looked at the other people in the green section. Surely Sir Reginald could find somebody better than Lady Ashlyn of the Scarlet Stains. If Princess Pouty-puss became the princess of the realm, I would just die. Or at the very least go somewhere private and scream something quite unladylike.

“Hey, Sis.” Alex nudged me.

“Huh?” I turned toward him and saw the tip of Sir Reginald’s lance and the green ribbon lowering right in front of me.

“Hey, Cat. It’s you!” Thomas was standing up in his seat, vibrating with excitement.

Me? No way! I gulped and carefully pulled the green ribbon off the end of the lance. My hand shook as I held it, as if it might fade away or possibly explode if I took my eyes off of it.

Sir Reginald nodded and smiled, flashing his teeth, then turned with a flourish. “I present Lady Catherine, future Princess of the realm.”

My heart pounded and Mom flashed me a smile, surprising me.

“Nay, braggart,” bellowed the blue knight. “Lady Angelita will be the Princess of the realm, when I best you in battle.”

“You may best our brother in battle, Sir Charles,” exclaimed Sir Edmond the black knight, “But I shall win the tournament. And Lady Elizabeth and I shall rule the kingdom.”

All of the knights rode into the center of the arena, yelling and shaking their fists, much to the delight of the audience who cheered their own champions loudly. Through all of the noise and waving of paper crowns I caught a glimpse of Ashlyn glaring at me with hatred in her eyes.

I smiled sweetly. Bring it on, sister.

The trumpeters sounded their horns again and their fanfare silenced the quarreling knights and cheering people. The herald declared, “Let preparations commence.”
The knights broke up and rode out of the arena to get ready, while pages carried in sections of a wooden railing and set them up down the center. I remembered from the last time I’d been here that this railing was called a “tilt barrier.” It was there to separate the horses as they ran toward each other so they didn’t crash and get hurt. More pages assembled a stand that held six colored flags, one for each knight.

During all this our serving maiden brought our dinner. My big metal plate overflowed with a half of a chicken, corn on the cob, and cheesy potatoes still in the skin. Both of my brothers started grabbing food with their fingers and wolfing it down. Dad, too. I wanted to do the same thing because everything smelled heavenly and I was starving. But after seeing Lady Ashlyn and her unladylike tantrum and her soup-stained dress, I couldn’t exactly eat like a troll. When Sir Reginald beat Sir Frederick and won the tournament, I wanted to be an example of a perfect princess. This was probably the only chance I would ever get in my entire life to be a princess, and I was going to do it right.

I looked over at Mom. She managed to use her fingers, take human-sized bites and not have food on her chin – a proper lady. I copied her and ate careful bites, using my napkin frequently.

The herald walked to the middle of the arena again and raised his arms for silence. “Our first contest shall be between Sir Edmond the Cunning and Sir Kent the Strong.” The black and brown sections erupted in cheers as the two knights positioned themselves at either end of the arena, now wearing metal armor and helmets. Even the horses wore armor on their heads. Squires surrounded each knight, tightening straps and handing them their shields and lances.

When both knights reached their starting position and signaled readiness, the herald dropped his hand and the knights spurred their horses into action. The two horses thundered toward one another kicking up dirt, and the knights leaned forward and lowered their lances as they got closer and closer. The cheering became frantic.

I held my breath and forced myself not to close my eyes.

Sir Kent’s lance struck Sir Edmond’s shield and shattered into flying splinters. But Sir Edmond’s Lance struck true, and Sir Kent sailed backward off his horse, landing with a crash in the dirt. In an instant it was over, the two horses stirring up more dust as they slowed at opposite ends of the tilt barrier. The crowd gasped, cheered, and booed in equal measures as Sir Kent’s squires rushed to help the fallen knight to his feet. When he slowly stood and waved to his section, their cheers drowned out the rest of the crowd.

But being unhorsed in a joust meant instant defeat, and Sir Kent had been eliminated from the tournament. A page solemnly took his brown flag down.

All through dinner we watched as knights’ lances splintered and points were awarded depending on where they struck. Sir Charles the Brave was eliminated. Sir Anthony the Swift proved not swift enough, and he too was unhorsed. Through all of it my heart never slowed.

Soon, just Sir Reginald and Sir Frederick remained. Only the red and green flags still flew. And Ashlyn actually bared her teeth at me, as if intimidating me would somehow help her champion win.

Oh, you want to compare attitudes, little sprite? Maybe if an entire shaker of salt “accidentally” spilled in her soda it would erase that smirk. I pushed back my chair to get up, but Mom’s gentle hand touched mine and she gave me a Look.

I swallowed. Right. Wrong attitude. Instead I lifted my goblet of milk to her in a silent toast and smiled like a perfect princess. Lady Ashlyn scowled like a villain.

I couldn’t eat any more – I was too excited. Mortal enemies Reginald and Frederick stood at the ready on either end of the arena, their lances pointing up and their horses pawing the dirt. The herald dropped his hand and I heard Sir Reginald shout, “Hyah!” as he kicked his great white horse into motion. The red knight slapped the hinged visor of his helmet closed and urged his own horse forward.

“Get him, Freddie!” Ashlyn screamed, standing and cupping her hands around her mouth like she was at a football game.

The red and green lances both lowered at almost the same moment and the snorting horses raced toward each other. Both shields lifted and CRACK! Wooden shards exploded as the two knights passed, both still firmly in the saddle.

But Sir Reginald had lost his shield. It lay in the dirt surrounded by red and green hunks of wood.

“Point for Sir Frederick,” barked the herald, and the red section swelled with cheering and waving red crowns. Ashlyn leered and shook her tankard at me.

Idiot, I said to her silently. You don’t toast with a mug of soup. But I remained poised and nodded back at her with no emotion on my face. I was determined to live up to my title, Lady Catherine. I forced my teeth to unclench.

A burst of inspiration struck me as I remembered my favorite stories. As Sir Reginald passed below us on his way back to his starting point I stood up and threw the green ribbon as hard as I could. He had the visor of his helmet raised so he spotted it as it flew toward him. He leaned over and snatched it out of the air in his metal-gloved hand and halted his white horse, looking into the stands. I waved and he pulled off his helm. He had the worst case of helmet-hair ever, but it made him no less handsome. He grinned up at me, nodded, and tied the ribbon loosely around his neck. “I shall win this bout for you, M’lady.” He put his helmet back on and spurred his horse toward his starting place.

Moments later Sir Frederick and Sir Reginald were bearing down on each other again at break-neck speed. I could see the ends of my green ribbon flapping behind Sir Reginald as he rose and fell in his saddle. I crossed my fingers and held my breath as their lance tips pointed straight forward.

Sir Frederick’s lance-tip glanced off Sir Reginald’s shield, but Sir Reginald’s lance struck Sir Frederick squarely in the chest and broke in two. Sir Frederick leaned back in his saddle and nearly fell. But he righted himself and was rewarded with loud shouts of encouragement and applause from the red section.

“Two points for Sir Reginald the Valiant!” declared the herald.

“Yes!”

Surprised, I turned and stared. Alex whooped and punched the air, a big grin on his face. He glanced over at me. “What?”

I raised my eyebrow. Alex liked football and working out at the gym – I didn’t think knights of the round table were his thing.

“I just want you to be the princess of the realm, that’s all.” He sniffed. “No big deal.”
Now it was my turn to grin. “You like this stuff as much as I do!” I punched him in the arm.

He shrugged. “It’s all right. I could probably do it. How hard could it be?”

“Yeah, okay, Sir Alex the Overconfident.” I patted him on the shoulder. “Have you ever even been on a horse?”

Chanting and stomping drowned out any further talking as the combatants took their places for the final charge. The score was 2-1 in Sir Reginald’s favor. Victory was just moments away, and then the prince and princess of the kingdom would be crowned. And it could actually be me. Really, really me.

Mom reached over and grabbed my hand and smiled. I couldn’t hear her over the noise, but I saw her lips say, “Good luck.” I squeezed her hand back. Thomas stood in Dad’s lap so he could see better, and Dad winked at me and gave me a thumbs-up.
I felt light-headed as the herald raised his hand into the air, then dropped it.

It seemed like slow motion as Sir Reginald’s heels kicked his white stallion into action and he leaned forward into the charge. The stallion’s neck stretched forward with every graceful stride as the two knights arrowed toward each other and the final collision. I could feel the hoof beats pounding in my chest. Like lowering drawbridges, the red and green lances swung down until they were level. Neither horse nor knight flinched as the distance between them vanished.

Sir Reginald’s lance struck true and clean on Sir Frederick’s shield.

But Sir Frederick’s lance found Sir Reginald’s breastplate, wrenching the green knight from his saddle with the force of the blow.

The horses passed in a cloud of splinters and thundered onward to the opposite ends of the arena. The cheering died and the audience seemed to hold its breath as the herald made his way to the center of the arena.

“Sir Reginald has been unhorsed.” He pointed toward the red section. “Sir Frederick the Fierce is the victor!”

I couldn’t breathe. I felt the color drain out of my face as I just stood unmoving, staring at the broken pieces of red and green lances scattered around the center of the arena. The squires were helping Sir Reginald to his feet. I didn’t hear the shouts of triumph and defeat erupting all around me, but I did hear one shrill taunt: “Fierce is better than valiant any day, you green loser!” And I saw Ashlyn – Princess Ashlyn – throw a half-eaten chicken leg toward the green knight as he limped toward the exit.

My throat hurt and my eyes blurred as I watched a page take down the green flag.
I felt a tugging on my sleeve and I shook myself. Thomas in his red cape stared up at me. “Hey, Cat. Did the good guy win?”

I swallowed. “No, buddy. The good guy didn’t win.”

We didn’t stay for the crowning ceremony. Dad said it was so we could beat the crowd, but I think he understood what I was feeling.

I don’t remember walking to the car. My mind wouldn’t stop wrestling with itself.
I had tried to be the perfect lady. I’d held my temper, used my manners, kept my feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds. I’d completely changed my entire attitude and given up my favorite things. For four whole weeks! I’d done everything I was supposed to do. And what happened? The other girl got to be princess. That whiney, bratty, sprite bully. I should have thrown a chicken leg at her. Ashlyn was right: fierce was better than valiant.

During the quiet drive home, I made the decision that would change my life forever: I wouldn’t – I couldn’t – be the person my mother wanted me to be.

Mini rex rabbit appearing from a top hat, isolated

About 35 years ago, when I was in high school and just beginning to think about writing seriously, I remember reading an article in Starlog magazine. It may have been written by David Gerrold, who had several columns in Starlog over the years. But the piece I remember talked about the difference between science fiction and fantasy. The author pointed out that science fiction had rules – that was the “science” part – whether the story involved science or technology or whatever. In science fiction, if a character can read minds or levitate objects, there must be rules about how that skill can and can’t be used, its limitations, etc. Whereas in fantasy, you can say the character can simply blink his left eye and levitate something. Fantasy needn’t have rules.

Immediately this bothered me. Oh, I saw the truth of it in the stories I read at the time. On one hand I had Larry Niven and Robert Heinlein with their hard science fiction that always made sense and was always internally consistent. And on the other hand I had Piers Anthony with his pun-filled Xanth books where nothing was sacred and anything seemed to be possible because of wild magic. I saw something then that I have always held onto in my writing (and reading), and that is that fantasy aught to have rules, too. After all, magic is really nothing but science we don’t yet understand. Science we understand perfectly will appear as magic to someone who does not understand it.

So I set out to write my Great American Overlong Fantasy Epic with this radical idea in the front of my mind: the magic has to make sense, it has to be internally consistent. I would treat it like science as if I was writing a science fiction novel.

Years later I began to realize that I was not the only person to do this, and if you listen to any successful fantasy writer or writing instructor today, they will tell you that your magic system must make logical sense, be internally consistent and have clear limitations and consequences. Many people still equate sci-fi with space ships and ray guns, and fantasy with dragons and wizards, ad leave it at that. But, in fact, Star Wars is pure fantasy. It’s like the Xanth books; there is no attempt to define or quantify “the Force” and the technology – while it looks fantastic – is based on no science anywhere. A planet that is a ball filled with water, where you can pilot a submarine from one side to the other by going through the middle? Giant tanks that walk on four legs? A spherical space station the size of a small moon? Whereas books like The Dresdon Files, a series about a wizard who lives in present day Chicago, are more like science fiction than fantasy, because Harry Dresdon’s magic is tightly defined, internally consistent, and its limitations are an integral part of the character and plot. Harry’s magic is as much science fiction as the transporters on Star Trek. Neither happens to exist, but if you accept that they do in their respective universes, they are both utterly reliable (or predictably unreliable) every time.

I am involved in a summer critique group for authors with finished manuscripts. One of those manuscripts is a middle grade of great promise that happens to deal with several kinds of magic. However, in reviewing it I found that I was vexed by the complete lack of differentiation between the different kinds of magic. One was witchcraft, another was priest-based magic, and the third was wizard-type magic. But in practice, they all worked exactly the same. In my view, if a character casts a spell, the reader should instantly be able to tell what kind of magic it is. The thing that really put the nail in the coffin for me was the priests were accusing a main character of using witchcraft, when that character was actually a wizard (and being accused of witchcraft was apparently a great insult). But the wizard in question was actually using priest-based spells against the priests! And the priests still thought they were dealing with a witch.

Audiences are much more sophisticated now than they were 35 years ago. Because authors and filmmakers have realized that any skill set – magic, technology, super-powers – must be defined, have limitations and remain consistent. And if there are more than one in a given story, they must be distinct. In The Avengers, we have four super-strong heroes: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk. But their super strength is different in every case, and each has their own limitations. Thor is an alien, whose race is generally stronger than humans, while Iron Man wears a suit invented by Tony Stark. Both Captain America and the Hulk are strong because of gamma radiation (under very different circumstances), but the Hulks strength is Bruce Banner’s weakness, and the Hulk is a beast with little or no control. And Captain America is a man out of his time with strong values which severely limits what he is willing or capable of doing. Of all of these strong men, only Thor can lift Thor’s hammer.

All four of these men have very distinct kinds of physical strength, which are used in different ways under different circumstances. The book I mentioned above is more like a superhero movie with three Supermen, each wearing a different colored cape.

So if you are writing speculative fiction, and your story contains some special skill or technology, it will pay to make it believable. I don’t mean possible. Science fiction has never been limited by the possible. Only the believable. Faster-than-light travel is not possible. But it is readily accepted in science fiction as long as it is treated like an existing science. In today’s market, magic is the same way. Even for children. Because the competition is fierce and readers of all ages are less forgiving than ever.

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The other day I read a blog by a fellow writer, who posed the rather intriguing question: “How do you behave when writing using the POV of a character that’s not the same sex as you?” I thought it was a brilliant question. And while she made some excellent points and gave some wonderful literary examples, she never really quite answered the original question.

So I thought I’d take a crack at it.

I speak from some experience; the main character of my latest novel is Cat, a twelve-year-old girl. And before we go any further, I can assure you that I did not start behaving like my daughter while I was writing it. But I did learn to think like her, or like a variation of her. Really, the challenge wasn’t to think like a different gender; Cat is something of a tomboy and is unconventional is other ways. She likes to sculpt clay with her dad, she thinks princesses are supposed to be leaders not clothes-horses, and she wins the day by punching the villain in the nose. No, the challenge was thinking like a twelve-year-old.

In retrospect, I suppose, this seems a little odd. After all, I have never ever been a girl. I have been twelve. But I was twelve almost 40 years ago, and most twelve-year-olds today would not relate to who I was then. The coolest toy I had was Hot Wheels, and the only time we ever rented a movie, my dad brought home a movie projector and an 8mm Pop-eye short. Star Wars and VHS wouldn’t happen for several years. On TV we had three channels — plus PBS if we were lucky and the weather was good.

My behavior didn’t change. But I was fortunate enough to have a real live twelve year-old-girl living in my house who I could observe and ask questions. It really didn’t seem like that big of a challenge. Perhaps because of my fondness for Robert Heinlien. Of course he wrote many of his young adult novellas with female lead characters, but I didn’t get into those until later. I started with the adult novels. I Will Fear No Evil caught me out and fascinated me right from the start, because here was the story of an old man who used his wealth to move his intellect and personality out of his dying body and into that of a vibrant young woman. And Heinlien writes as if he has been a woman. Then came Friday, and The Number of the Beast, both told from the points of view of strong female characters. And Heinlien doesn’t just write female characters, his characters explore their femininity and sexuality. But when To Sail Beyond the Sunset came out, it was a revelation. This book is a first-person (fictional) autobiography of a woman, starting with her childhood in Missouri in the 1880s and through her entire remarkable life of 100+ years. And it is utterly believable and satisfying.

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So when the idea of me writing a female lead character in first person occurred to me, it did not seem like an impossible hurdle. For inspiration I re-read the entire 13 book Hollows series by Kim Harrison, about a kick-ass bounty-hunter/witch in her early 20s. Those books, along with my own daughter, gave me insight into my character’s motivations, attitude, likes and dislikes, and priorities in life.

But for most science fiction, fantasy and horror writers, the idea of merely writing across genders must seem pretty mild. I know a woman who is writing a novel about a teen dhampire – a vampire/human hybrid. In this kind of book her gender could very easily take a back seat to her other qualities and motives. In my own book, The Last Princess, Cat encounters people who have interbred with dwarves, pixies, brownies, gnomes, ogres, elves, and even jinn. So I had to showcase their fae qualities in the way they acted and the way they spoke. Incidentally, I’ve never been any of those things either. And I did not, as it turns out, need to start living in the woods or start pounding swords on an anvil to get into character. There’s yet another dimension to these characters, too: I gave them foreign accents coinciding with the country of origin for their particular fae race. A German dwarf, a Cockney brownie, a French ogre, etc. Some of them are friendly, others are sinister, and that colors their character, too.

The bottom line – the answer to the question, “How do you behave when writing using the POV of a character that’s not the same sex as you?” – is this: I behave like a writer. I do my research, I collect my notes, and fill out my characters with qualities appropriate to their race and age and motives and profession and country of origin – and gender. Their gender is only one of many qualities or “categories” one needs to think about when writing a character. This way I avoid stereotypes and banal, flat characters. One’s gender almost never defines a person, nor should it define a character.

But what about you? Do you find your behavior changes when writing outside of your own person “box?” What are some examples of characters that you have written that are utterly unlike yourself?  And what was your experience while writing them?

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The theme of my first book, The Last Princess, boils down to “be yourself.”  12-year-old Cat learns she may be a princess and spends a good part of the book trying to conform to a stereotype — and failing.  Only when she embraces her utterly unprincess-like normal self does she triumph.  And furthermore, she bucks tradition and appoints an ogre-born to her counsel (in this world, many people are descended from ogres or elves or faeries who interbred with humans hundred of years ago).  She trusts this man because he, too, has learned to be himself and not to be like his vile ancestors.

I’m working on the sequel now.  And in this book, The Last Fearie Godmother, Cat is wished back to Ireland around the year 1500.  When ogres where still particularly vile.

So now I’m faced with de-evolving my ogres.  And every other kind of fae I introduced in the first book (as mostly-human hybrids).  It shouldn’t be too difficult — fun, even — because, after all, I adapted my fae-born characters by toning down the original stereotypes in the first place.  I just have to go back to their roots.

Humans are proving to be more difficult.

I mean goblins and ogres in the Middle Ages are basically the goblins and ogres we are familiar with from fairy tales.  Beastial, vicious, and cruel.  Monsters in the true sence of the word.  Ogres with green skin covered in coarse black hair, with claws and sharp teeth, living in caves and cooking children who strayed too far from the path fit right in to 1500 Europe.  And the contrast to the toned-down, mostly human version Cat knows from her own time will be clear and shocking.

But humans were mostly the same as today, at least physically.  However I’m learning that attitudes, beliefs and values were very different 500 years ago.  Obviously life was very different then than the one 21st century Cat is familiar with.  But if I thought writing in the point of view of a 12-year-old girl (while being myself a 50-year-old man) was a challenge, populating a book with people from the late Middle Ages is going to be much more  difficult.  After all, my daughter was a 12-year old girl from the 21st century less than two years ago.  Where are my examples going to come from, now?

I haven’t settled on a theme for the sequel, yet, but it might very well be something like “people change,” and let the stark contrasts speak for themselves. There’s going to be some pretty serious reverse-stereotyping going on when Cat expects ogres to be like her mostly-human friend and they utterly fail to do so.  Nobody will be like she expects, not even the humans.

And the best part will be when she finally returns home after her adventure and is never quite able to look at her ogre-born friend the same way again….

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My first book, The Last Princess, is about a 12-year-old girl who discovers that she’s descended from faeries, and that her mother is really a 500-year-old nymph princess. In the sequel, The Last Faerie Godmother, a botched wish sends the girl back 500 years into the body of her 13-year-old mother, in 1500’s Ireland.

This presents something of a problem. I have never been to either Ireland or the 1500s.

While she’s there, she finds herself caught in the middle of a familiar story she can’t quite place. It will turn out to be the story of Cinderella.

But not quite.

A few weeks ago I shared the story of Fair, Brown and Trembling, a traditional Irish fairy tale. With a few minor differences and the addition of a whole new (and rather brutal, if not unlikely) ending, it is basically the story of Cinderella we are all familiar with. Three sisters, the oldest two eager to marry a prince and both of them jealous of their younger, prettier sister, who they bully and oppress.

The Names

I’ve been taking great pains to learn everything I can about the period so that I can paint a fairly accurate — or at least convincing — picture. One thing I can tell you with certainty is that there were never three Gaelic princesses in the Middle Ages named “Fair,” “Brown” or “Trembling.” So the first thing I did was try to find traditional Irish or Gaelic names with those meanings.

The first two were simple enough. Fiona is derived from Aoife (pronounced ee-fa), meaning “fair or radiant.” Ciara (pronounced ki-ra) means “dark or brown of hair and eyes.”

“Trembling” turns out to be more problematic. Bheith ar crith (veth er crith) is Gaelic for trembling, but there are no names derived from it. Nor does it make a very convincing nickname. Delilah is a biblical name, originally meaning “delicate, weak and languishing.” But I need to work on that nickname.

The Kingdom

The fairy tale takes place in the kingdom of “Tir Conal.” There was, in fact, a territory in ancient Ireland – a kingdom, actually, from 464 to 1607 – called Tyrconnell or Tír Chonaill, which is now part of a larger territory called County Donegal, in Northern Ireland. This was one of the last of the many, many small kingdoms of Ireland, most of which fell to the English well before the 1500s. However there was still a King of Tyrconnell at the time my story takes place.

The king in Fair, Brown and Trembling is King Hugh Cúrucha. My search yields no such king in the historical records. However, to my distinct advantage, there seems to be a gap in the records between King Máel Sechlainn mac Domnaill in 1247, and King Manus Ó Donnell who died in 1564. Although I did learn Manus’ father’s name was Hugh. Again, I’m not trying to tie this story to a particular king, and I doubt Hugh O’Donnell had three daughters named Fiona, Ciara and Delilah. But it’s nice to know I’m not too far from reality.

The Castle

For this story, since Delilah is going to be the primary servant in the household, I imagine a fairly intimate castle.  A number of actual castles used by the kings of Tyrconnell (mostly the O’Donnells) still stand today. But several of note were in use at the time my story takes place. In fact, the story specifies that the king and his girls lived in Ballyshannon, which is a real place that still exists, and there are ruins of a castle known to have been occupied by the O’Donnells there.  The ruins are very minimal — none above ground — so I’m going to have to make my castle up.  But there were over 1,500 medieval castles in and around Europe that still exist in one form or another; I think I can find enough details to create my own.

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The Fairy Godmother

Trembling’s “fairy godmother” is described as a henwife, which as I understand it is a servant who would have been in the employ of the king to take care of the live poultry. She does seem to have magical powers, however. But her origins, her relation to Trembling and her motives are never revealed. This is where my story will intersect. In my story the henwife will actually be my villain, a high faerie (Sidhe) who wants to rule the pesky humans and put them in their place.  At first she tried to seduce and marry the king (the father of our three princesses), but he jilted her and now she is bent on revenge. Her plan is to destroy the kingdom by manipulating the pliable youngest daughter into marrying a prince she can control (more on this below). So, in the greatest fairy tale tradition, she will have disguised herself as this old woman and pretended to be Delilah’s friend and confidant. Her faerie godmother, to be precise.

The Prince

The prince, in Fair, Brown and Trembling is never named.  He is only ever referred to as “the son of the king of Emania” or “the prince of Emania.”  The only references to Emania I can find is “Emain Macha” (Old Irish), currently called Navan Fort.  According to Irish mythology it was one of the great royal sites of Gaelic Ireland and the capital of modern Ulster.  Emania is mentioned most prominently in the Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, an epic hero similar to Hercules.  This has suggested to me that in my story, the prince will actually be a false prince, invented by the villain and based on this legendary hero.  He will, in fact, be a goblin with a glamour cast over him.

The Story

Instead of the traditional Royal Ball, where all of the single women of the kingdom are invited to meet the prince, in Fair, Brown and Trembling the princesses hunt for husbands at Sunday Mass. The Church was very big in Ireland at the time of my story, and great cathedrals abound. So this fits quite nicely.

Three times the henwife dresses up Trembling in amazing outfits she creates with magic, and sends her to Mass on beautiful horses, to be seen.  But she must not enter the church, and must race home before anyone gets too close.  She even loses a shoe, and everything.

The ending gets tricky, however. In Fair, Brown and Trembling, the young bride is betrayed by her older sister (who had been engaged to the same prince before he met Trembling). She pushes Trembling off a cliff into the sea, where she is swallowed by a whale with dubious magic and odd eating habits. According to the story, the whale comes in on three consecutive tides and throws Trembling up on to the beach, where she can’t leave due to the whale’s “enchantment,” then the whale swallows her up again each evening. She has to convince a young lad who wanders by to tell her husband, the prince, to come kill the whale.

I need to change this  to something more believable, more workable as a plotline, but still something that might be “interpreted” by a storyteller as written.  I also need to incorporate my main character, and I want very much to have them both end up in a castle dungeon together.  If I put the villain’s castle on a cliff (like many actual Irish castles), the dungeon could be at sea-level, and she could escape onto the secluded beach, but be unable to climb to freedom.  She could get the attention of the boy, and make up the story about the whale to explain her presence.

It’s all coming together quite nicely, and I think I’m off to an excellent start. I can weave this narration quite neatly into the major plotline of my novel, which is about a war between the light fae (led by my girl in her mother’s body) and the dark fae, led by my villain with her goblin minions.

Watch this space….

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While my first book (middle grade urban fantasy) is out with my Beta Readers, I’ve begun outlining the sequel. In this book our hero is wished back to early 16th century Ireland and finds herself in the middle of a traditional fairy tale. And while I love this idea on the surface, actually finding the right story and making it fit the time and place as been rather difficult.

So I’ve been scouring books on traditional Irish folk tales and fairy tales, as well as reading every book I can find on what life was like in Ireland 500 years ago, and I think I endearthed a real gem.

I think you will find this story charmingly familiar. Please tell me in the comments what you think, and if you think contemporary pre-teens will get it.

FAIR, BROWN, AND TREMBLING

KING HUGH CÚRUCHA lived in Tir Conal, and he had three daughters, whose names were Fair, Brown, and Trembling.

Fair and Brown had new dresses, and went to church every Sundav. Trembling was kept at home to do the cooking and work. They would not let her go out of the house at all; for she was more beautiful than the other two, and they were in dread she might marry before themselves.

They carried on in this way for seven years. At the end of seven years the son of the king of Emania fell in love with the eldest sister.

One Sunday morning, after the other two had gone to church, the old henwife came into the kitchen to Trembling, and said “It’s at church you ought to be this day, instead of working here at home.”

“How could I go?” said Trembling. “I have no clothes good enough to wear at church; and if my sisters were to see me there, they’d kill me for going out of the house.”

“I’ll give you,” said the henwife, “a finer dress than either of them has ever seen. And now tell me what dress will you have?”

“I’ll have,” said Trembling, “a dress as white as snow, and green shoes for my feet.”

Then the henwife put on the cloak of darkness, clipped a piece from the old clothes the young woman had on, and asked for the whitest robes in the world and the most beautiful that could be found, and a pair of green shoes.

That moment she had the robe and the shoes, and she brought them to Trembling, who put them on. When Trembling was dressed and ready, the henwife said: “I have a honey-bird here to sit on your right shoulder, and a honey-finger to put on your left. At the door stands a milk-white mare, with a golden saddle for you to sit on, and a golden bridle to bold in your hand.”

Trembling sat on the golden saddle; and when she was ready to start, the henwife said: “You must not go inside the door of the church, and the minute the people rise up at the end of Mass, do you make off, and ride home as fast as the mare will carry you.”

When Trembling came to the door of the church there was no one inside who could get a glimpse of her but was striving to know who she was; and when they saw her hurrying away at the end of Mass, they ran out to overtake her. But no use in their running; she was away before any man could come near her. From the minute she left the church till she got home, she overtook the wind before her, and outstripped the wind behind.

She came down at the door, went in, and found the henwife had dinner ready. She put off the white robes, and had on her old dress in a twinkling.

When the two sisters came home the henwife asked “Have you any news today from the church?”

“We have great news, said they. “We saw a wonderful grand lady at the church-door. The like of the robes she had we have never seen on woman before. It’s little that was thought of our dresses beside what she had on; and there wasn’t a man at the church, from the king to the beggar, but was trying to look at her and know who she was.”

The sisters would give no peace till they had two dresses like the robes of the strange lady; but honey-birds and honey-fingers were not to be found.

Next Sunday the two sisters went to church again, and left the youngest at home to cook the dinner.

After they had gone, the henwife came in and asked “Will you go to church to-day?”

“I would go,” said Trembling, “if I could get the going.”

“What robe will you wear?” asked the henwife.

“The finest black satin that can be found, and red shoes for my feet.”

“What colour do you want the mare to be?”

“I want her to be so black and so glossy that I can see myself in her body.”

The henwife put on the cloak of darkness, and asked for the robes and the mare. That moment she had them. When Trembling was dressed, the henwife put the honeybird on her right shoulder and the honey-finger on her left. The saddle on the mare was silver, and so was the bridle.

When Trembling sat in the saddle and was going away, the henwife ordered her strictly not to go inside the door of the church, but to rush away as soon as the people rose at the end of Mass, and hurry home on the mare before any man could stop her.

That Sunday the people were more astonished than ever, and gazed at her more than the first time; and all they were thinking of was to know who she was. But they had no chance; for the moment the people rose at the end of Mass she slipped from the church, was in the silver saddle, and home before a man could stop her or talk to her.

The henwife had the dinner ready. Trembling took off her satin robe, and had on her old clothes before her sisters got home.

“What news have you to-day?” asked the henwife of the two sisters when they came from the church.

“Oh, we saw the grand strange lady again! And it’s little that any man could think of our dresses after looking: at the robes of satin that she had on! And all at church, from high to low, had their mouths open, gazing at her, and no man was looking at us.”

The two sisters gave neither rest nor peace till they got dresses as nearly like the strange lady’s robes as they could find. Of course they were not so good; for the like of those robes could not be found in Erin.

When the third Sunday came, Fair and Brown went to church dressed in black satin. They left Trembling at home to work in the kitchen, and told her to be sure and have dinner ready when they came back.

After they had gone and were out of sight, the henwife came to the kitchen and said: “Well, my dear, are you for church today?”

“I would go if I had a new dress to wear.

“I’ll get you any dress you ask for. What dress would you like?” asked the henwife.

“A dress red as a rose from the waist down, and white as snow from the waist up; a cape of green on my shoulders; and a hat on my head with a red, a white, and a green feather in it; and shoes for my feet with the toes red, the middle white, and the backs and heels green.

The henwife put on the cloak of darkness, wished for all these things, and had them. When Trembling was dressed, the henwife put the honey-bird on her right shoulder and the honey-finger on her left, and, placing the hat on her head, clipped a few hairs from one lock and a few from another with her scissors, and that moment the most beautiful golden hair was flowing down over the girl’s shoulders. Then the henwife asked what kind of a mare she would ride. She said white, with blue and gold-coloured diamond-shaped spots all over her body, on her back a saddle of gold, and on her head a golden bridle.

The mare stood there before the door, and a bird sitting between her ears, which began to sing as soon as Trembling was in the saddle, and never stopped till she came home from the church.

The fame of the beautiful strange lady had gone out through the world, and all the princes and great men that were in it came to church that Sunday, each one hoping that it was himself would have her home with him after Mass.

The son of the king of Emania forgot all about the eldest sister, and remained outside the church, so as to catch the strange lady before she could hurry away.

The church was more crowded than ever before, and there were three times as many outside. There was such a throng before the church that Trembling could only come inside the gate.

As soon as the people were rising at the end of Mass, the lady slipped out through the gate, was in the golden saddle in an instant, and sweeping away ahead of the wind. But if she was, the prince of Emania was at her side, and, seizing her by the foot, he ran with the mare for thirty perches, and never let go of the beautiful lady till the shoe was pulled from her foot, and he was left behind with it in his hand.

She came home as fast as the mare could carry her, and was thinking all the time that the henwife would kill her for losing the shoe.

Seeing her so vexed and so changed in the face, the old woman asked: “What’s the trouble that’s on you now?”

“Oh! I’ve lost one of the shoes off my feet,” said Trembling.

“Don’t mind that; don’t he vexed,” said the henwife; “maybe it’s the best thing that ever happened to you.”

Then Trembling gave up all the things she had to the henwife, put on her old clothes, and went to work in the kitchen. When the sisters came home, the henwife asked: “Have you any news from the church?”

“We have indeed,” said they, “for we saw the grandest sight today. The strange lady came again, in grander array than before. On herself and the horse she rode were the finest colours of the world, and between the ears of the horse was a bird which never stopped singing from the time she came till she went away. The lady herself is the most beautiful woman ever seen by man in Erin.”

After Trembling had disappeared from the church, the son of the king of Emania said to the other kings’ sons I will have that lady for my own.”

They all said: “You didn’t win her just by taking the shoe off her foot; you’ll have to win her by the point of the sword; you’ll have to fight for her with us before you can call her your own.”

“Well,” said the son of the king of Emania, “when I find the lady that shoe will fit, I’ll fight for her, never fear, before I leave her to any of you.”

Then all the kings’ sons were uneasy, and anxious to know who was she that lost the shoe; and they began to travel all over Erin to know could they find her. The prince of Emania and all the others went in a great company together, and made the round of Erin; they went everywhere,—north, south, east, and west. They visited every place where a woman was to be found, and left not a house in the kingdom they did not search, to know could they find the woman the shoe would fit, not caring whether she was rich or poor, of high or low degree.

The prince of Emania always kept the shoe; and when the young women saw it, they had great hopes, for it was of proper size, neither large nor small, and it would beat any man to know of what material it was made. One thought it would fit her if she cut a little from her great toe; and another, with too short a foot, put something in the tip of her stocking. But no use; they only spoiled their feet, and were curing them for months afterwards.

The two sisters, Fair and Brown, heard that the princes of the world were looking all over Erin for the woman that could wear the shoe, and every day they were talking of trying it on; and one day Trembling spoke up and said: “Maybe it’s my foot that the shoe will fit.”

“Oh, the breaking of the dog’s foot on you! Why say so when you were at home every Sunday?”

They were that way waiting, and scolding the younger sister, till the princes were near the place. The day they were to come, the sisters put Trembling in a closet, and locked the door on her. When the company came to the house, the prince of Emania gave the shoe to the sisters. But though they tried and tried, it would fit neither of them.

“Is there any other young woman in the house?” asked the prince.

“There is,” said Trembling, speaking up in the closet. “I’m here.”

“Oh! we have her for nothing but to put out the ashes,” said the sisters.

But the prince and the others wouldn’t leave the house till they had seen her; so the two sisters had to open the door. When Trembling came out, the shoe was given to her, and it fitted exactly.

The prince of Emania looked at her and said: “You are the woman the shoe fits, and you are the woman I took the shoe from.”

Then Trembling spoke up, and said: “Do stay here till I return.”

Then she went to the henwife’s house. The old woman put on the cloak of darkness, got everything for her she had the first Sunday at church, and put her on the white-mare in the same fashion. Then Trembling rode along the highway to the front of the house.

All who saw her the first time said: “This is the lady we saw at church.”

Then she went away a second time, and a second time came back on the black mare in the second dress which the henwife gave her. All who saw her the second Sunday said: “That is the lady we saw at church.”

A third time she asked for a short absence and soon came back on the third mare and in the third dress.

All who saw her the third time said: “That is the lady we saw at church.” Every man was satisfied, and knew that she was the woman.

Then all the princes and great men spoke up, and said to the son of the king of Emania: “You’ll have to fight now for her before we let her go with you.”

“I’m here before you, ready for combat,” answered the prince.

Then the son of the king of Lochim stepped forth. The struggle began, and a terrible struggle it was.

They fought for nine hours; and then the son of the king of Lochim stopped, gave up his claim, and left the field. Next day the son of the king of Spain fought six hours, and yielded his claim. On the third day the son of the king of Nyerfói fought eight hours, and stopped. The fourth day the son of the king of Greece fought six hours, and stopped. On the fifth day no more strange princes wanted to fight; and all the sons of kings in Erin said they would not fight with a man of their own land, that the strangers had had their chance, and, as no others came to claim the woman, she belonged of right to the son of the king of Emania.

The marriage-day was fixed, and the invitations were sent out. The wedding lasted for a year and a day. When the wedding was over, the king’s son brought home the bride, and when the time came a son was born. The young woman sent for her eldest sister, Fair, to be with her and care for her. One day, when Trembling was well, and when her husband was away hunting, the two sisters went out to walk; and when they came to the seaside, the eldest pushed the youngest sister in. A great whale came and swallowed her.

The eldest sister came home alone, and the husband asked, “Where is your sister?”

She has gone home to her father in Ballyshannon; now that I am well, I don’t need her.”

“Well,” said the husband, looking at her, “I’m in dread it’s my wife that has gone.”

“Oh! no,” said she; “it’s my sister Fair that’s gone.”

Since the sisters were very much alike, the prince was in doubt. That night he put his sword between them, and said: “If you are my wife, this sword will get warm; if not, it will stay cold.”

In the morning when he rose up, the sword was as cold as when he put it there.

It happened, when the two sisters were walking by the seashore, that a little cowboy was down by the water minding cattle, and saw Fair push Trembling into the sea; and next day, when the tide came in, he saw the whale swim up and throw her out on the sand. When she was on the sand she said to the cowboy: “When you go home in the evening with the cows, tell the master that my sister Fair pushed me into the sea yesterday; that a whale swallowed me, and then threw me out, but will come again and swallow me with the coming of the next tide; then he’ll go out with the tide, and come again with tomorrow’s tide, and throw me again on the strand. The whale will cast me out three times. I’m under the enchantment of this whale, and cannot leave the beach or escape myself. Unless my husband saves me before I’m swallowed the fourth time, I shall be lost. He must come and shoot the whale with a silver bullet when he turns on the broad of his back. Under the breast-fin of the whale is a reddish-brown spot. My husband must hit him in that spot, for it is the only place in which he can be killed.”

When the cowboy got home, the eldest sister gave him a draught of oblivion, and he did not tell.

Next day he went again to the sea. The whale came and cast Trembling on shore again. She asked the boy: “Did you tell the master what I told you to tell him?”

“I did not,” said he; “I forgot.”

“How did you forget?” asked she.

“The woman of the house gave me a drink that made me forget.”

“Well, don’t forget telling him this night; and if she gives you a drink, don’t take it from her.”

As soon as the cowboy came home, the eldest sister offered him a drink. He refused to take it till he had delivered his message and told all to the master. The third day the prince went down with his gun and a silver bullet in it. He was not long down when the whale came and threw Trembling upon the beach as the two days before. She had no power to speak to her husband till he had killed the whale. Then the whale went out, turned over once on the broad of his back, and showed the spot for a moment only. That moment the prince fired. He had but the one chance, and a short one at that; but he took it, and hit the spot, and the whale, mad with pain, made the sea all around red with blood, and died.

That minute Trembling was able to speak, and went home with her husband, who sent word to her father what the eldest sister had done. The father came, and told him any death he chose to give her to give it. The prince told the father he would leave her life and death with himself. The father had her put out then on the sea in a barrel, with provisions in it for seven years.

In time Trembling had a second child, a daughter. The prince and she sent the cowboy to school, and trained him up as one of their own children, and said “If the little girl that is born to us now lives, no other man in the world will get her but him.”

The cowboy and the prince’s daughter lived on till they were married. The mother said to her husband “You could not have saved me from the whale but for the little cowboy; on that account I don’t grudge him my daughter.”

The son of the king of Emania and Trembling had fourteen children, and they lived happily till the two died of old age.

Reprinted from Celtic Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs, (1892).

Yeah, me either. And that’s a problem, because in the sequel to The Last Princess, I’m sending Cat Brökkenwier back there.

Book Two of the series* is tentatively called The Last Faerie Godmother.

 

Last FG Cover

 

The premise I’m building on is that a botched wish sends Cat back 500 years to the rein of the previous princess of the fae, where Cat must take her place. In this time, the fae are still mostly pure, although their numbers are dwindling, and so much of the story will take place in the wilds where the fae dwell.

But I also anticipate that there will be a great deal of interaction and mixing with the local humans, including kings and sheep farmers, and so forth. I’d like to incorporate a traditional Irish fairy tale into the plot, and have Cat get mixed up in that, as well.

What I’m missing is a feeling for what life was like in the late 1400s and early 1500 in Ireland. How did people live? What were their homes like? Are we talking Brave, or something else entirely? What was your daily routine if you weren’t living in the king’s castle? What did people believe?

I’ve been reading Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, and it has been quite instructive, but it gives very little detail about daily life and what things looked like and so forth. If you can recommend some resources I would be most grateful.

I also need to understand the politics and economy and so forth. I understand that Henry the VIII declared himself ruler around 1530, and everything changed. Before that I understand there were lots of local kings who were more like clan chiefs (again, think of Brave), and that’s the period I’m looking for.

Oh … who’s the last faerie godmother, you ask? The picture on the cover mock-up I’ve created is meant to be Cat’s elderly dryad mentor when she was young, coincidentally at the time to which Cat is sent back. But as Mrs. Dalyrimple tells Cat: “A fearie’s about the worst choice for a godmother you could possibly pick.” And in The Last Faerie Godmother you’ll find out exactly why. Think of Cinderella with political intrigue thrown in, and a faerie bent on revenge who meddles in the affairs of kings. And their daughters. Specifically a beautiful young girl named Trembling….**

I will be sending out copies of The Last Princess to those of you who have signed up to be Beta Readers later this week. So if you’re interested there’s still time to sign up! In the meantime, all of your Irish historians out there, your comments and suggestions are most welcome!

 

 

 

* I don’t have a name for the series, yet. I’m aiming for probably 5 books total. Perhaps the “Cat Brökkenwier Series” or the “Fae-Born Series.”

** There’s an Irish version of Cinderalla called Fair, Brown and Trembling, which could very well be the original version from which all later versions evolved.

Last Princess Cover 3

 

The time has (finally) come. We have finished and polished a complete and cohesive first draft of The Last Princess, and it comes out to just over 65,000 words. This is slightly long for typical middle grade books, but allowances are usually made for fantasy books.

In case you’re not familiar with my daughter’s and my WIP, here is a brief description:

Cat Brökkenwier has a secret — the ability to see that the descendents of faeries and elves and ogres still walk among us.  With the help of an ancient diary she learns she may be the last princess of all the fae.  Now Cat must learn all there is to know about the secret world of the fae-born and earn the crown before another, more sinister candidate beats her to it.  Or worse, before her mother finds out.

But before we start sending this out to agents, we need feedback from readers like you. Obviously we want this to be the best book it can be, and to make this happen we need to know what people who read think of it.

When you sign up below (or above via the Beta Reader Sign Up tab) we will send you the complete manuscript plus a few questions. These are easy questions; we certainly don’t expect you to write an in-depth page-by-page analysis. We just want to know if there are any major issue or rough spots that need to be smoothed. Of course, we also want to know what you particularly liked. So you know what you’re signing up for, here are the questions we’re asking:

1) Did you enjoy The Last Princess? Would you buy the sequel if there was one?

2) Was the language easy to follow and enjoyable to read? Did you have difficulty with characters’ accents?

4) Were you able to identify with the characters and did you find them interesting? In what way?

3) Were you able to “see” the locations? Did you feel they were overdescribed? Underdescribed?

4) Did the story make sense? Was there any point when you were confused? Please explain.

5) Was any part of the story boring? Was there any point or any characters that you did not like? Why?

6) Were you satisfied with the ending? Were you surprised? Were you expecting something different?

7) Were there any loose ends that we did not tie up for you?  (Obviously, some things were left up in the air for a possible sequel).

8) Do you have any questions for us?

If this book appeals to you and these questions don’t seem too daunting, we’d be delighted to share our manuscript with you. Please provide your contact information, your real name (in case we wish to acknowledge you in print), the kinds of books you typically read, and when you think you will be able to get back to us with your answers. Then get ready for an adventure (we hope!)

Thank you in advance!

Beta-Reader

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Well, The Last Princess, my daughter’s and my middle grade novel, is finished. Finished in the sense that is now has all of its chapters. I suppose that’s a bit like saying a wedding dress is finished as soon as all of the pieces are sewn together.

167922480If you’ve ever been a bride or known one, you’ll know that there are probably a hundred things on a wedding dress that might need to be tucked or replaced or tightened or let out or upgraded or resewn before the bride is completely happy with it. Well, so it is with a novel.

The chapters are all there, but a million new ideas and altered plans have happened to the story in the time between when we wrote chapter 1 and chapter 14. Not to mention we’ve grown as writers and refined our style and fine-tuned the voice of our story, such that going back and re-reading our earlier work sounds a bit off.

To quote from one of my favorite books, Dune: “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.” I’ve never been completely satisfied with the beginning of our book, and I have a file with no fewer than five different attempts to get it right. But by the time we had about five chapters written I settled on one that was good enough and it gave me the confidence and a good foundation on which to build the rest of the novel.

Somewhere around chapter 12 I hit upon a completely new way to open the book, with a new scene that not only foreshadows and supports everything that happens in the climax, but is a perfect showcase for our main character’s personality. And, a pretty good hook, if I do say so myself.

Tell us what you think. Here are the (new) first 464 words of The Last Princess:

How’s a girl supposed to get any serious daydreaming done with a little brother on the rampage? It was hard enough trying to do my seventh grade history project without him ricocheting off the walls like a caged dragon.

I know, there’s no such things as dragons. My mom told me. Pfft. How would she know?

I blew a strand of frizzy hair out of my face and picked up the brown pencil from the floor beside me. Hoping for just five minutes of peace and quiet, I leaned over my sketchbook and started coloring in the tallest tower of Windsor Castle. Where my room would be….

“Princess Brökkenwier! You must leave here at once!”

“Nonsense, silly servant. My father is the king. And he said I could have this tower for my very own.” I waved an imperious hand at the little man with puffy pantaloons and ringlets in his hair. “Now go and tell my maid I’m ready for breakfast.”

“No, Princess! The king sent me! We’re under attack!”

“Again?” I put down my silver brush with a sigh. “What is it this time?”

“Dragons, m’lady! Please, it’s not safe in the tower.”

“Whatever.” I stood and adjusted my gold crown. “Take me to my father.”

“At once, m’lady.”

Spiral staircases were so thirteenth century. That’s why I’d had Daddy install an elevator. And a fireman’s pole for quick escapes. The little servant screamed like a girl the whole way down.

As we ran through the courtyard I heard the shouts of the panicking servants and felt the chill of a huge shadow passing overhead. We ducked into the castle proper and secured the large wooden doors. We had almost made it to the great hall when a sound like thunder rocked the passageway and pieces of ceiling rained down. The dragon had landed in the courtyard behind us. I could already smell its awful, smoky breath. The doors slammed open revealing the courtyard on fire, and my brave little servant fainted dead away. But I stood my ground. An enormous yellow eyeball peered at me through the ruined doorway and I desperately wished I had one of the elf archer’s bows. One shot and this would be over.

“Princess!” my dad’s voice bellowed. I spun and there he was. Tall and muscular, bound from head-to-toe in golden armor. He clutched a dwarf-made axe in both fists, ready to rescue me or avenge my death. “Step aside, Princess. This is going to get messy.”

That’s when my little brother landed right in the middle of my drawing, sending pencils and glitter pens flying.

“Look at me! I’m a superhero!” He had jumped off the couch in a heroic leap, still wearing the red cape he’d gotten for his fourth birthday last month.

We still have a long way to go before this wedding dress is ready for the Big Day. But we’re definitely getting there!

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