Book Four, The Brigand’s Promise, until now, held the title of Toughest Book in the Series to Write, primarily because I made the villains the protagonists. It also contained a giant plot hole which plagued me for months and required me to introduce a new character in the fourth draft. Now, Book Seven, The Mystic’s Mandate, has stolen that dubious honor.
My protagonist, Maygan, did not exist at first. The initial idea for Mandate followed a lead character from Zandor, Brigid. Several plot attempts fizzled at the midpoint of the story—no climax or resolution, just a sad ending after a narrative of history.
That wouldn’t do at all. I relegated Brigid to a secondary and created Maygan, who would reach a satisfying conclusion and whom readers could root for. I rewrote the plot, and while still not pleased with it, began the first draft, figuring that the story arc was decent, and I would fix the details later.
The first draft was like pulling teeth. Maygan felt and worked like a last-minute addition. The other characters were uncooperative. My three “bad guys” were vying for the role of “Villain Supreme,” none of them willing to take a backseat to the others. The story was dark and rambling, and the extensive timeline plagued me. Upon completion of the first draft, I wrote yet another plot, attempting to crystalize the key points of the story so I could hone it and shorten it. The monstrous first, second, and third drafts reached more than 122k words—close to the size of The Curse of Caledon. Curse has the story to carry such a weighty length. Mandate was just long.
Subsequent drafts attempted to whittle the word count while intensifying the story, strengthening the characters, and making the narrative make sense. I couldn’t shorten the time span, but I worked on making the passage of years easier to follow.
After five drafts, the story had come together at last. The characters were cooperating, and I knew them well.
So began editing and more killing of the word count. In one infamous pass, I dropped over 12k words from the manuscript, losing none of the important elements of the story. By the time my editor got the manuscript, I had worked it down to 103k words—the length of Guardians—and I was pretty proud of it.
He made me cut two words from the very first sentence. Then followed more cuts: repetition, dragging scenes, character inconsistencies… damn, I thought I had found all those!
The story came together with our joint effort, and The Mystic’s Mandate is now a book I am proud of at 91,287 words. I hope nothing ever snatches its title of Toughest Book in the Series to Write, because I’m not sure I’ll survive another manuscript like this one!
Book Seven released November 5th. Do you have your copy yet?
I never expected to become a fantasy writer. As a child and teen, I wasn’t allowed to read or write fantasy books, except for the Narnia series by C. S. Lewis. Fairy tales, myths, and legends were taboo. My parents insisted that my books—on my shelf or in my head—be realistic and preferably religious.
In fourth grade, a creative writing assignment for Halloween revolved around the usual topics: ghosts, witches, haunted houses. I wasn’t permitted to dabble in such subjects, so I wrote a story about a plane crash. Everyone died. Suitably grim, I hoped.
My teacher was less than impressed, and she wrote in my report card that I had “no imagination.”
I had an imagination. When I wrote stories for myself, I could see my characters, and they talked to me. But when I told my parents that, their reaction was negative in the extreme, and I learned to keep the vibrant world in my head a secret.
In my forties, I discovered that I have a condition called hyperphantasia, or an overactive imagination. This explains the high-definition imagery in my mind and my ability to perceive places and people in my field of vision, superimposed on reality. Hyperphantasia also explains how real my characters and fictional worlds become to me. When I imagine a scene, I see and hear everything, and with less intensity, experience tastes, textures, and smells. The constant images and incessant internal dialogue in my brain are exhausting, especially when I try to process all of it alongside reality. Writing helps to keep the ideas in manageable order!
But as a child, I concealed all that, thinking something was wrong with me.
In my late teens, I started writing historical fiction. A novel I wrote in my early twenties, Fool’s Gold, was published online by Reconciliation Press circa 2000.
Many years later, when I began the Dragon’s Fire Series with what became the second title, The Rose of Caledon, I intended to produce more historical fiction. It bothered me, though, that I had set the story in a made-up land, instead of placing my characters in England or Ireland. A third of the way through Myrhiadh’s War, when James and Myrhiadh came up with the plot for Dragon’s Fire, a hint of magic crept into the book. I loosened the reins on my imagination that I’d stifled for so long and let it run.
I love writing fantasy. The Dragon’s Fire Series is low-fantasy, or magical realism. Through it, I’ve discovered who I am as a writer, and to a great extent, who I am as a person. I’m learning to embrace my imagination instead of viewing it as a disease or even a curse.
The novel I mentioned earlier, Fool’s Gold, will be re-released in print at a later date. An editor who went over the text, having never met me or had any interaction with me, commented, “She would make an amazing fantasy writer!”
Such a comment 20 years ago would have terrified me. When I wrote Fool's Gold, I didn't dare let my imagination take over, but the editor noticed it, just the same.
The Dragon’s Fire Series has taught me to embrace who and what I am, and to appreciate how fun a soaring flight of unhindered imagination can be.
I hope my fourth-grade teacher reads them.
(The following post appeared in a four-part series on Instagram.)
I never submitted Dragon’s Fire to an agent, but went straight to self-publishing.
I’ve been writing stories since first grade and submitting manuscripts to publishers from the age of thirteen. Back then, I didn’t need an agent, since many reputable companies took submissions from authors. Self-publishing was not yet a popular or affordable thing. I sent out paper manuscripts with self-addressed, stamped return envelopes.
I first tried to publish a cliché horse story titled Never Tamed. The manuscript included everything: the wild black stallion, the young teen girl he’d do anything for, the snotty rich neighbor girl with the fancy horse, the threatening, aloof owner of the big stable, the impossible horse race...
My stack of rejection letters grew while I kept writing, kept learning, and kept submitting new material. At fifteen, I changed tack and wrote a mystery. That flopped. I was too young to weave anything that would appeal to readers older than ten, and I didn’t write or pitch the manuscript as middle-grade fiction.
At sixteen, I tried my hand at a young adult novel of friendship and high school angst. Friendship bracelets were all the rage for teen girls in the late 80s and early 90s, and I titled my story The Friendship Bracelet. It was about long-distance friendships, new relationships, body image, eating disorders, and self-mutilation, told from the point of view of a plain-Jane main character plucked from a big city and dumped into a rural town and its high school where everyone else had known each other since kindergarten.
After several rejections, I got a letter. Not a big, thick, returned manuscript, addressed in my handwriting, but a letter!
I envisioned my published book before I even opened the envelope.
The letter from a submission editor read, “I love this story, and I want to present it to the senior editing team at our next meeting, but I’m embarrassed to say I’ve lost your manuscript. Would you be so kind as to print and send it again at our expense? I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”
I printed and mailed another copy with a bill and a thank-you note.
For the next several weeks, I lived on a cloud, convinced that if one liked the story, the rest would, too.
But after a time, that thick envelope I had learned to dread appeared in the mailbox. It contained my manuscript, a cheque for printing and mailing costs, and another letter from the editor who loved my book.
“In this case, we thought the book didn’t quite make it to a publishable level, but it was really quite good, about as good as a book can get and not actually get snapped up. Only a minority of the books we evaluate are as polished as yours. Thus we hope our rejection will not discourage you and that you will keep writing. We suspect you have before you a promising future as a writer.”
I was crushed. I cried for days. Then I sent the story out again.
No one else ever picked it up. I moved on, wrote new stuff, and the book died in a realm of outdated floppy disks and dog-eared, yellow pages.
In my early twenties, I produced a saga of slavery and the Underground Railroad. I shipped off a query and some sample chapters (via the internet!)
The prompt response came. “We’re sorry, but at 160,000 words, this manuscript is beyond our capacity to publish...” But this time, the editor included feedback. “We see point of view issues, consistency problems, telling instead of showing, and an overwhelmed plot, but we see a lot of potential in you as a writer. Would you be willing to consider...”
Warning bells clanged in my head. Scam! They’re going to ask for money to publish something! Run far, run fast!
But no. This publisher asked if I would work for them, producing writing to their specifications, in exchange for one-on-one mentoring. The man offering worked as a teacher of creative writing besides running his publishing house.
He asked for no money. I gambled only my time.
Best decision I ever made.
I worked with and for my mentor for five years, studying the craft of writing, learning to edit on-the-job, and writing historical fiction for children and young adults. I even made some money. This honest little company was the best thing that could have happened to my writing career.
I gained the equivalent of a college education in creative writing and editing, published several short stories and study guides, and released a full-length novel titled Fool’s Gold online (no longer available.)
I was a step closer to my dream. Someone had seen value in my work and published it for people to read.
I was so happy! Then motherhood hit, and the demands of babies swamped the writing. I knew things would get worse, not better, and in 2002, I resigned my position to focus on the challenges of being a homeschooling mom.
Fourteen years passed. I flexed my writing muscles by composing a creative Christmas letter every year. I taught my kids grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and critiqued their writing assignments, trying desperately to remember that they were children, not clients.
In the summer of 2016, I couldn’t hold back anymore. Even though I knew the writing urge would consume me, I gave in and started the Dragon’s Fire Series.
I loved the entire experience. I felt like I had found Me again after losing her somewhere in the diapers, dishes, and disasters. Nothing I’d written before had been so fun—my first accidental foray into fantasy (more on that next month). With each new story, the books got better.
When I decided to publish the series, I considered seeking an agent but ruled against it.
I didn’t want to put myself through the wringer again: the research, the querying, the endless strings of rejections, the trials of hoping today might be the day. Publishing is a subjective field. Your book has to be exciting and well written, and you need a generous dose of luck to hit the right editor on the right day.
I was having fun writing these books, and I didn’t want to kill that. These stories mustn’t die like The Friendship Bracelet in a stack of rejection letters and a crush of broken dreams. I wanted to share them. If they sold, great, if they didn’t, no harm done. So I self-published.
Readers love them.
It’s still my dream to do traditional publication one day. I’ve got a manuscript in the works that I might send to agents over the next year or two. On social media, I call it my Naughty Pleasure: a standalone, young adult novel with a unique twist that I think may sell very well.
But until then, I sit with my feet up on my coffee table, running my little publishing empire, and editing for a new publishing house and some freelance clients. I’ve got readers between the ages of nine and 84 begging for more, and I’m happy.
That’s what matters.
Some writers don’t plot. I am a confirmed plotter. I think that having a well-thought-out plot before beginning a book is almost always essential. Why?
Every writer has his or her own method for plotting. There is no right or wrong way to construct a plot, so long as it ends up following the basic plot diagram pictured here. However, I know some tried and true tricks that consistently result in exciting books. The Dragon’s Fire Series has gotten some rave reviews, including: captivating; shocking twists; gripping, fast-paced stories; thrilling.
Plotting is a skill I fine-tuned with my mentor about 25 years ago. He taught me:
No matter what genre you are writing, every story follows the same basic form: beginning, middle, and end. Each part contains certain elements that contribute to flow and drive the action forward.
The beginning must introduce a conflict of some sort—the protagonist must have a problem to resolve. A novel is not a memoir. The story must have direction and purpose.
The middle, or rising action, must show the steps the protagonist takes to solve his problem, building interest and excitement all the way through.
The end begins with the climax—a battle, a turning point, the most exciting part of the book. Does the protagonist win or lose? The story must then resolve satisfactorily. Your ending can be happy, sad, or something between, but the plot should conclude in a way that doesn’t leave the reader hanging, wondering what comes next.
There’s a difference between leaving readers wanting more and leaving them feeling cheated because there should have been more! Finish this story, even if you leave some dangling threads for a sequel.
Following a formula in writing a plot can be stifling to creativity. It’s no fun to shove your story into a box. The first step in plotting is to outline your story in point form. You don’t have to start at the beginning or work in chronological order. Write down whatever you’ve got and build on it.
Once you have the beginning, middle, and end outlined, you can flesh your plot out. Look for these key elements:
1.) Does your plot have an interesting/exciting hook? Grab your reader’s attention on the first page.
2.) Does your main character have a clear task or goal to achieve?
3.) Do you present that task or goal early in the story, preferably within the first chapter?
4.) Does your rising action follow a logical progression? It should build gradually, providing motivations for your protagonist to continue his journey and increasing tension as you head toward the climax.
5.) Is the climax exciting? Does it pay off everything you’ve built up during the story? Does your main character achieve his goal through his own merits?
6.) Does your story conclude reasonably quickly after the climax, providing a satisfying ending?
If your story is missing any of these things, tweak your plot until it includes all the elements.
Subplots should drive the main plot forward and tie smoothly into the ending. If they don’t, they probably don’t belong.
A fun element that I usually like to include is a plot plant. A plot plant is an almost-unnoticed element of the story that comes into play in a big way during the climax. A plot plant should appear early in the narrative without much fanfare so that the reader accepts its presence without paying it much attention. (E.g., Dorothy’s ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz.)
I also like to write an exciting, direct conflict between protagonist and antagonist toward the “end of the middle” of the story. For excitement and tension, this scene is almost climactic. At the end of it, things are usually looking bad—the villain has taken the upper hand and shoved the protagonist into a corner. It’s the point of no return. The protagonist is on an inexorable path to the end.
Once I’ve written down my story ideas, I check it with the plot framework for all the points I’ve listed above. What if the story doesn’t plug into my “master outline” correctly? In that case, I’ll change the order of events or strengthen my conflict or climax. Sometimes something is missing, so I add new ideas and scenes. Sometimes I’ll discover that an element I like doesn’t fit the story and needs to go. But after some tweaking, I end up with a plot that employs every essential component of great storytelling, makes logical sense, and makes me excited to start writing!
And then my characters change it. Your plot will change as you write your story, though the essential elements should still be present. You'll add things, and you'll take them away. Plots aren’t prisons. Use them as a road map. Explore, create, and have fun doing it!
My original plan for the Dragon’s Fire Series was five books. Books One through Five tell a complete story, and the series could have finished there.
But I was having too much fun in Caledon, and I wanted more! Readers did too. I was getting lots of questions.
Books Six through Ten are going to answer all those questions and more. Book Six, Guardians of Caledon, goes back in time to introduce a plot gimmick that will weave through the next five stories. Each of the new tales will interconnect with each other and with the first five books, enriching storylines and bringing commoners to the forefront as main characters. Some of them you will have met before, and others will be entirely new. Books Eight and Nine will be set in 1587 and 1603, respectively. The series will culminate with a grand finale in Book Ten that will tie everything together and finish things with a spectacular bang!
The dragons, Aderyntan and Cythraul, are coming back for one more fantastic appearance before the end of the series. Don’t ask me how I’m going to do that, because—spoilers.
With the cover and title reveal for The Mystic’s Mandate behind me, I’m looking forward to sharing the back cover copy and a sneak peek at the first few pages of the book. Set in the late 1200s, Book Seven tells an exciting story, details some relevant history, and gives more depth to several characters mentioned in previous titles, including Ciara Muerren, Adrian Zandor, King Laurence, and Ian Gadara. The Mystic’s Mandate contains numerous spoilers for earlier books, so make sure you’re caught up on the series before Mandate launches this fall!
Thank you for joining me on this adventure. A book without readers is never complete.
Meet some more characters from Book Six.
Marcus, Son of Berend
“Sorry to disappoint you, but I think anything would be better than becoming your next meal.”
Age at the time of this story: 24
Physical Characteristics: 6’0”; 168 lbs; brown hair; green eyes
Marcus is the son of a nobleman from the continent, tasked with captaining the voyage of the Valknut, a merchant trading vessel. Upon his return, with his holds full of gold, Marcus will gain the hand of the Grand Duke’s beautiful daughter, Claudia, and become an advisor to the king. Such a place at court is coveted and difficult to attain, but the best part about it, in Marcus’ view, is that it will be dry. Marcus hates being wet.
A privileged upbringing allowed Marcus an excellent education and plenty of sporting activities such as riding, swordplay, and sailing. Brave and energetic, Marcus was often found with his timid friend, Julius, lurking in his shadow. He met Claudia at a party at the Grand Duke’s home about six months before the Valknut sailed and won her affections despite other, wealthier suitors vying for her hand.
Determined to prove his merit to both the king and his future father-in-law, Marcus mapped out a bold trading route for the Valknut. He was returning home from a successful voyage when the storm struck that would change his life and fortunes forever.
“My opportunity to captain the merchant ship, Valknut, was a golden one. Her route was long and daring, the perfect chance to prove my merit to King Jannik. A bold journey of exploration and a return to port with my holds full of foreign treasures would secure me a high place in the king's court and the hand of the Grand Duke's beautiful daughter, Claudia.
My future was secure. Our journey went smoothly: we mapped, traded, made a considerable profit, and set sail for home.
But then the storm hit.
I'd never experienced a worse one. My crew and I barely kept the Valknut afloat. We lost our bearings completely, and we were forced to throw much of our precious cargo overboard to lighten the vessel.
Everything was soaked. I hate being wet. And I had the horrible premonition that something big was stalking the ship...
By the time the storm let up, we had lost several crew members, and the Valknut was battered and bruised. Our best hope was to find land to repair the vessel and reorient ourselves.
We drifted aimlessly and came upon the most inhospitable coastline I have ever encountered in all my days at sea.
We hoped to find a harbor, but the monsters found us first. I don't know how I'm going to explain this to the king. If I ever get home.
Caledon. Curse Caledon!”
Background Information—The Continent
“The continent” is mentioned several times throughout the series, initially as a vague place from which ships don’t dare to venture to Caledon, and then as a trading partner and source of royal spouses. I always had Europe in mind, and a specific European city gets its first mention by name in The Curse of Caledon.
Marcus is from the continent. European languages and borders were in a state of flux in 779, and obviously, nothing like they are today. Marcus comes from a nation on the north coast of Europe, which has a good dose of Roman influence prevalent in the culture. The Valknut’s trade route encompassed the shores of modern Denmark, Norway, and Scotland before she was blown off course, beginning Marcus’ adventure and unwelcome state of wetness.
“You tell me lies. Everyone says there is no Caledon.”
Age at the time of this story: 73
Physical Characteristics: 5’11”; 157 lbs; gray hair, blue eyes
The king of Marcus’ unnamed European nation, Jannik took the throne at the age of 34. Progressive and bold, his reign has been one of exploration and aggressive trading, as well as forceful military action. Jannik has expanded his borders substantially since becoming king, absorbing small tribes and nations, enslaving or enriching them to best benefit him.
Jannik loves stories. His favorites involve a mystical land named Caledon, said to be guarded by dragons and inhabited by races of faeries, giants, and monsters. The greatest of these tales are those of the Dragon’s Fire—a legendary marvel of tremendous value that would grant magic powers to whoever possessed it.
In 744, when Jannik had been king for four years, a band of tradesmen returned home after everyone thought them dead. They claimed to have seen an island called Caledon. They brought a man who could not speak their language, delirious with infection from a bad wound, who they said came from the place they had sojourned.
Jannik executed most of the returning band, refusing to believe their stories, for all the legends say that no one leaves Caledon alive. The remainder recanted. But the injured stranger, nursed back to health and held prisoner in the dungeons, learned to speak Jannik’s language and began communicating with him about Caledon.
Jannik sent an exploratory mission to search based on the man’s description of Caledon’s location. They found nothing. Disappointed, Jannik kept the prisoner alive so that he could tell more stories, and always wondered what the truth was.
“I like hearing stories. There's a fellow in my dungeon who can tell stories like no other. He probably figures that if he keeps me entertained, I won't have him executed.
There's some truth in that.
He tells me stories of a place called Caledon: an island shrouded in mist and guarded by fierce storms. And dragons. Of course, there are many stories of Caledon, but this fellow speaks as though he's been there.
Which is nonsense. All the legends say that one's chances of finding Caledon are slim to none and that if you are unfortunate enough to land there, you will never leave alive.
My prisoner tells me stories of the Dragon's Fire: a mystical light, visible only from the water after dark. The Dragon's Fire holds strange powers, and 'tis said that were it ever to leave the dragons' lair, the entire island of Caledon would be destroyed.
Nonsense, all. But he speaks as though he genuinely believes it. If only I could find someone to corroborate his stories, perhaps it might be worth sending an expedition to try to discover this elusive place.
I will not be posting character sketches for Book Seven until after its publication. So, I will come up with something different for the blog next month! See you then!
I started this blog series with my dragons, Aderyntan and Cythraul, who play a significant role in this book. You can find that post in the September 2019 archives.
Book Six in the Dragon’s Fire Series is the first of five companion novels. It launches a new set of characters on an exciting, interconnected adventure. Set in 779, it is the first in the series chronologically. However, the books should be read in numeric order to avoid spoilers.
Teifi an Gren Leigh
“They’re after the fish!”
Age at the time of this story: 17/18
Physical Characteristics: 5’7”; 130 lbs; wavy blond hair; blue eyes
Teifi lives with her older brother, Patrick. She enjoys making up songs and attending dances, and she loves dragons.
As a child, Teifi spent a lot of time outdoors. Well-schooled in avoiding Cythraul, she admired Aderyntan and played in the fields and woods around Empelfirth. Teifi has always wanted to learn to read, a skill denied to women of her class. When her brother aspires to join the Mystic Order, Teifi is fascinated by the books he brings home. She tries to decipher words based on the illustrations within.
Life as her brother’s housekeeper is lonely and dull, and Teifi is not a fan of housework. With Patrick gone all day, and her married friends busy with their homes and families, Teifi craves excitement and fun. Something new. But ships don’t sail to Caledon, for fear of the dragons. “New” seldom happens.
She knows that her brother would like to get her married off. However, most men consider her too old and irresponsible to make a good wife.
“Most people don't like dragons, but I do. Generally, I like dragons better than people. They've got more even temperaments. You always know where you stand with a dragon. It loves you, or it doesn't, and if it doesn't, it will either eat you or set you on fire. People are a lot less predictable.
Folks think I'm odd because I'd rather sit on the cliffs and watch dragons than marry and rear some man's brats. I'm a washed-up spinster at 17, you know. Most of my friends married three or four years ago, and people pity me—or despise me—for being alone.
I live with my older brother because my Da died in the plague a few years back, and I had nowhere else to go. Patrick would like to see me wed; he lost his wife in the same pestilence that took Da, and he says he'll never find another so long as she has to share her hearth with me. He can't seem to make any woman understand that I'll happily relinquish the home fires. I don't want them. Maybe they object to my presence at all. We do only have one room...
I make up songs, and I love listening to stories—‘twould be better could I read them, but few people in Empelfirth can read. Patrick can, but he refuses to teach me—says the Archmystic wouldn't like it, and I'm better off minding the house, anyway.
I don't fit in here.
Ships never come to Caledon, at least, none have in recent years. Foreigners fear our dragons. Sometimes I wonder whether I might find someone more like me if only I could sail away from here and discover new places.
But nothing changes.
I'm stuck. Dodging house chores by day, and running off to the harbor dances in the evenings. No one ever asks me to dance, but I can hear the music and the stories. It's far livelier than staying home where Patrick pores over his books and scolds me if I make the slightest noise. I'll stay out as late as possible tonight.
And maybe come home the long way…”
Empelfirth means “large harbor.” The Caledonian pronunciation is (EM pel fairth). The original settlers gave the area its name when they landed on Caledon’s shores in 358. Over time, the pronunciation was Anglicized to Ampleforth, and the city, Caledon’s capital, grew from a rough village to a thriving, modern metropolis.
Empelfirth lies in a valley at the edge of a vast harbor, with cliffs rising on either side. The castle is situated south of the town, and the Mystics and the Sacred Cliffs to the north. A series of streams from the cliffs connect and form a small river feeding the harbor, which is deep enough for ocean traffic. The beach at Ampleforth is long and sandy/pebbly, allowing for shipyards and space for recreation. From Caledon’s inception, the harbor has been the site of markets and entertainments; storytelling, music, dancing, and social interaction. The larger the settlement grew around it, the safer the beach became for such activities, as the dragons, naturally wary of humans, do not tend to venture into settled areas.
Patrick an Gren Leigh
“Aderyntans are everywhere. What is one less?”
Age at the time of this story: 27
Physical Characteristics: 5’10”; 162 lbs; wavy blond hair; blue eyes
Patrick is Teifi’s older brother. He was saddled with his sister’s care when the plague hit Empelfirth in 774, killing their father and Patrick’s wife of four years, Tara.
Patrick is studying to earn a place in the Mystic Order, aspiring to higher things than fieldwork. His position with the Mystics is precarious. As he has no Mystic blood or background, he must study hard, learn his lessons well, and behave acceptably.
Teifi's eccentricities, careless mannerisms, and incessant desire to learn to read could ruin him. If Patrick gets kicked out of the Order, he will have to return to the fields.
Patrick’s position within the Order grants him a modestly comfortable life. Rent and food are covered, and a Mystic rank guarantees a degree of respect and fear from the townspeople. Patrick wants to find another wife, but no one is eager to share a home with his sister.
"‘An Gren Leigh’ means ‘of Green Meadow.’ It's a surname carried by many of the serfs who labor year-round on Lord Galwell's estate. My da and granda worked there, as did every man in my family line for as far back as I know.
It's backbreaking work. Rain or shine. Six days a week. I wanted better. After I married Tara, I went against my da's advice, left Galwell's employ, and sought to train as a Mystic.
They say, "Once a serf, always a serf," but the Mystics must have seen promise in me, for they let me join them. Learning letters and understanding their spells and potions was as exhausting as fieldwork but in a different way. I always knew how precarious my position was since they had taken me on as a favor. I have no Mystic bloodlines. I work hard to please them.
Everything was going well. Tara and I were ready to move to the Mystic village so I could immerse myself in the practice when the plague hit Empelfirth. My beautiful Tara died in agony, and nothing I knew could help her. My da died, as well, leaving my sister, Teifi, to my care. She had no one else.
She was thirteen, then. She should have been married, but Da had spoiled her. She looked like my ma, you see, and Ma died birthing her. Teifi was his pet, and he let her run wild over the hills, indulging her passion for dragons, of all things, instead of making her learn skills that would make someone a good wife.
So I'm stuck with her. She's seventeen now, and still, no one will have her. Worse, no woman will have me, for no one wants to live with my eccentric little sister! Worst of all, the Mystics don't approve of her behavior, and she's liable to get me thrown out of the Order.
I love my sister, but if she destroys everything I've worked for, the gods help me, I won't be responsible for my actions.”
Once again, my post has gotten too long, so we’ll meet two more characters from Guardians of Caledon next month!
Many readers have told me that this book is their favorite. A book series can have a “plotline” just like each individual title, and in the Dragon’s Fire Series, Book Five is the climax.
“Where do you start looking for a legend?”
Age at the time of this story: 27
Physical Characteristics: 5’8”; 135 lbs; wavy blond hair; blue eyes
Lauryn grew up in Ampleforth, the only child of a naval engineer and a homemaker. Her mother took her frequently to see the exhibits at the local museum, and Lauryn’s fascination with Caledonian history and artifacts was born.
After graduating summa cum laude with a Master’s degree in Caledonian history, Lauryn became curator of Caledon’s foremost Living History Museum. She quickly earned the nickname “Queen Lauryn,” for her imperial manner of barking orders and glaring through people.
Never a fan of Caledon’s “magical” history, Lauryn would like to see the museum focus on the facts, not the faerie tales. The wars. The monarchy. Daily life through the centuries since Caledon’s founding. Visitors' fascination with Caledon’s legends and the mysterious Dragon’s Fire irritate Lauryn. So do their relentless questions about whether she is related to Caledon’s royal family—countless non-royals bear the Grenleigh name.
An introvert, Lauryn keeps her distance from her coworkers. She finds people irritating and turns her desk away from her office door, preferring her view of the castle graveyard to facing intrusions from her staff. The dead don’t cause problems.
Lauryn is married to her job, and in the evenings, after a workout at the gym, she goes home to watch TV with her cat. Routine and predictability are the hallmarks of Lauryn’s life. History stays in the neat little boxes she assigns it, indexed, categorized, and subcategorized. No surprises.
“I have a Master's degree in Caledonian history, and I am the curator at the Caledon Castle Museum in Ampleforth, Caledon's foremost historical institution.
I love history. Always have. Ever since I was a little girl and Mum would bring me to this very museum to see the exhibits. I knew the contents of every room in this castle.
I couldn't wait to study history at the University of Grymwalde. Finally, a chance to focus on names, dates, battles, coronations, and proclamations, and figure out how it all fits together.
They made me take a course on Caledonian legends and faerie tales.
I couldn't believe it when I saw that on my list of required courses. I knew Caledon was obsessed with its myths, but to make me waste my time studying dragons, faeries, Mystic lore, and ghost stories? Please.
And now I work at this Living History Museum, where the enactments all seem to revolve around the legends. We'd be better off sticking to facts. We need to show people what happened at a medieval coronation, not recite stories about dragons, crack-shot archers, rebellious princesses, and ghosts that haunt the turrets.
And the Dragon's Fire—that's the worst one—some long-lost, glowing ruby that used to light the dragon's lair on the northwest side of the island. So the stories say.
We’ve no documented evidence of such a thing ever having existed, and if it did—which I doubt—it's long gone.
I want every mention of that ridiculous ruby cut from the scripts, and then maybe people can start to focus on what really happened here. Names, dates, documents. That's history.
“If this thing comes true, millions are going to die. And you’re okay with that?”
Age at the time of this story: 30
Physical Characteristics: 6’0”; 177 lbs; wavy brown hair; blue eyes
Matthew Bramston grew up in a small town in Central Caledon and studied in Europe for a career in linguistics, translation, and encryption. He worked on the continent for several years before returning to Caledon. He now works as an actor at a living history museum.
Matt is loyal, possesses a good sense of humor, and enjoys technology. He likes to tinker with things and take them apart to figure out how they work. Handsome and cheerful, he is comfortable being the center of attention.
“My last job was... stressful. And that's really all I can tell you about it. When I finished that contract, I didn't feel like starting another in my field right away.
When I saw the opening at the Castle Museum, I applied. Spending my days strolling the castle halls dressed as some king or prince or guard is just what I need right now. Fun, lighthearted—the most stressful part of this job is making sure that the kids don't get hold of my sword.
History reenactments could be very dull. I mean, how many times can you reenact butter churning without going stir crazy? But Caledon's history is different. It's full of Mystic lore, ghost stories, myths, and romance spun between the dull, dry facts. Those legends are the part I love best.
If Queen Lauryn the Curator has her way, we'll all be churning butter, but I can work on her.
See, everyone in history has a set of dates: birth and death. And between those dates is a dash. That dash is where history happens. And the most intriguing parts of history are those that didn't get written on official government letterhead.”
“People are getting scared. Their lives are shutting down, and they’re not handling it well.”
Age at the time of this story: 52
Physical Characteristics: 5’10”; 240 lbs; gray hair; brown eyes
Titles: CEO Ulliac Resources, Chairman of the Executive Board
Lewis Ulliac, the CEO of Ulliac Resources, Caledon’s foremost mining company, also serves as the chairman of the board at the museum. Lewis’ interest in the museum centers primarily on a personal fascination of his.
He wants the museum to bring in more visitors, and regularly harps on the curator to come up with something new.
“The Castle Museum is losing revenue, a drain on investors and the taxpayer. The board has repeatedly told the curator that we need to revive the locals' flagging interest and bring in the tourists. She insists that she cannot produce new exhibits out of thin air—we need a new historical discovery. We’ll likely find some government decree about beheading people who refuse to pay their taxes. That won't cut it. People who seldom take their eyes from their phones need more than a piece of paper to snag their attention.
So we continue to enact faerie tales and give lectures about the Coronation War while our revenue charts tumble.
One legend, however, could make this castle buzz with excitement again. Unlike the others, this one is truth, guarded by the Crown and the Praeceptors for centuries. And something must be done about it soon, for Caledon's future rests upon its fulfillment. Time is running out.”
The Curse of Caledon was going to complete the Dragon’s Fire Series, but readers asked for more. A set of five companion novels is underway, containing further insights into the world of the Dragon’s Fire and a new, interconnected adventure! Book Six, Guardians of Caledon, came out in September 2019. Next month, we’ll meet some of the characters from the book I call “My Dragon Symphony.”
This month, let’s take a look at two more characters from the fourth book in the series.
“A revolution might take years, but a coup won’t.”
An ambitious man, with the endless energies and moldable minds of countless students at his disposal, Cullen is well-positioned to control kings and governments.
Age at the time of this story: 56
Physical Characteristics: 5’11” tall; 270 lbs; gray hair; brown eyes
The illustrious Professor of Mining Engineering at the University of Grymwalde, Cullen Ulliac has spent his life probing the heart of Caledon’s caves, cliffs, and mountains, but mostly in theory. In practice, he’s lobbying to have an elevator installed for easier access to his third-floor office.
“A man of my age, proportions, and experience deserves the deference and admiration of his students. Engaging the best and brightest in extracurricular activities is only doing them a service.
A man should involve himself in politics. The governance of the Protectorate of Zandor, and indeed, of Caledon itself, is of the utmost concern to me. My involvement in politics is not by traditional methods, however.
When Thomas proposed having his sister assist my specially selected group of students and me in our newest political endeavor, I was, at first, reluctant. Women and politics do not mix. But upon careful reflection, I decided, " Why not?" Sometimes women are far more perceptive than men, and they can come up with exceptional ideas.
They are also entirely expendable.”
“We cannot go back in time, only forward, and the only thing that applies is today.”
The Queen of Caledon at a pivotal point in history, but from a humble background, Gwyneth dreads provoking controversy. When the war forces her into a corner, she must direct the future to protect her family in ways she never anticipated.
Age at the time of this story: 21
Physical Characteristics: 5’8”; 145 lbs; dark blond hair; hazel eyes
Titles: Her Royal Majesty, Queen
The daughter of an Ampleforth shoemaker, Gwyneth has always loved music, making up songs and ditties as a girl, and playing on a five-note wooden whistle. After her marriage to the king of Caledon, she quickly learns to play the piano with the help of a skilled instructor, practicing for hours each day. She is not the most graceful of women, and her husband, Philip, takes amusement in tracking the number of times Gwyneth trips over her own feet.
Gwyneth is highly intelligent, and very much in love with Philip, but her change in station takes some getting used to. Sometimes the restrictions and the security of the castle grate on her nerves.
“How does a shoemaker's daughter catch the eye of a king? Well, she does something spectacularly humiliating, actually. Philip is probably keeping a list of all the times I've tripped over my own feet since we married, and that's nothing to what I did the night we met.
He warned me that the price of the castle was the loss of some of my freedom. He's worth it. But since the war with Langdon intensified, I can't even walk down to the city to visit my father without an armed escort.
I feel like I live in a cage. A beautiful cage, with every comfort, but sometimes I just want to fly - down to Ampleforth, out to sea, along the cliffs that rim the coast - without dragging one of Philip's Elite Guard along.
Times will be better when the war is over, Philip promised me. Until then, I am a prisoner of Caledon Castle. I watch the world go by outside iron gates that stand locked for my protection and hold me captive as surely as a vagabond in the dungeon…”
Next month, characters from The Curse of Caledon!
The fourth book in the Dragon’s Fire Series was, until Book Seven, the most challenging one to write, as I took a unique approach and turned the villains into the protagonists. So far, the technique is resonating well with readers.
“Don’t give me another innocent face to haunt me.”
Avalon Kearney, daughter of a successful Grymwalde lawyer, desires to compete in academia with her brother’s arrogant friend, Richard. Instead, she must content herself with devouring every title in her father’s expansive library, as well as every newspaper she can get her hands on.
Birthdate: October 1858
Age at the time of this story: 18/19
Physical Characteristics: 5’7” tall; 130 lbs; dark brown hair; chocolate brown eyes
Avalon is the second-born and only daughter in a well-to-do, progressive Zandorian family. An avid reader from a young age, Avalon benefits from studying under expensive private tutors. She appreciates order and planning, and presents a fashionable and business-like exterior, concealing a soft heart underneath. Ever the lawyer’s daughter, Avalon is careful to analyze everything people say, finding as much truth in words left unsaid as in what she hears.
Avalon has an intense fascination with history, particularly how politics in Zandor have affected its people.
She longs to further her education, but the doors of the University of Grymwalde are closed to females. So when Professor Cullen Ulliac grants her the opportunity to work with a group of student rebels, she jumps at the chance. She even finds a way to continue operations with them after the first job is over.
But her continued involvement comes at a high price. Avalon soon finds herself entangled in the rebels' lies and violence, too far in to escape when she wishes she could.
“The University of Grymwalde will not admit women to their programs of study, so you can imagine my excitement, and my trepidation, when Thomas told me that he had offered my services for a student project, and Professor Ulliac was willing to let me participate. Thomas won't tell me all the details yet. Still, he said that my involvement will help the students strike a blow against the autocratic tyrants who oppress the Protectorate of Zandor.
My brief moment of fear is long past. Whatever the rebels ask of me, I shall make them proud, and they'll rethink their chauvinistic opinions of ‘the fairer sex.’"
“I’m going to give you two words of ancient Zandorian advice. Don’t feel.”
Age at the time of this story: 25
Physical Characteristics: 6’1” tall; 175 lbs; brown hair; brown eyes
A descendant of Zandor’s now-powerless royal family, Richard is studying for his master’s degree in law at the University of Grymwalde. He works as a law clerk for Avalon’s father, with aspirations to become a partner in the firm eventually. Intelligent and crafty, Richard knows how to work any system to his advantage. He is a critical thinker, skeptical of anything without proof, and tends toward cynicism.
An ancient prophecy challenges Richard’s belief in only the things he can see and draws him into a scheme to change the course of the future. But when the plot turns and threatens the few things he cares about personally, Richard finds that the cost of his involvement might be more than he is willing to pay.
“I am working on my Masters of Laws degree at the University of Grymwalde while working as a law clerk at Kearney and Associates. Once I finish my master's, I'm set to take a position at the firm as an associate—might even make partner if I play my cards right.
But then Professor Ulliac challenged me to something more. He showed me a weird old prophecy written in an ancient language and told me what it said.
Apparently, I have a bigger role to play in the current political scheme than I thought, and possibly something far grander than a partnership in a law firm ahead of me.
I'm not one to rush into things. I think things through; I plan. I know how to place people where I want them and manipulate circumstances to benefit me—ha! I ought to. I'm a lawyer, for crying out loud!
But this plot's bigger than all of us and as unpredictable as a runaway train. We're playing with fire. Someone's going to get burned.”
Background Information—The Fire Tower
This mysterious, six-story stone tower was erected on a hill about four miles outside of Grymwalde around the time of Zandor’s inception. No one knows why it was built or what it was used for, though the general story is that it served as a lookout tower to spot hostile troops approaching from the west or to watch for forest fires.
Legends about the tower encompass wilder and often spookier ideas. Stories say that the place was used as a palace, a prison, and a sanctuary for pagan rituals. Some myths speak of a peculiar red light shining out from the top floor once upon a time. Others say that every night, darkness cloaks the tower, making it, and everyone within it, vanish from the face of the earth. In the morning, only the tower returns. Ghost stories, tortured souls, weird wailing sounds—the Fire Tower abounds in frightening legends.
When the surrounding lands were surveyed into private parcels in the 18th century and sold, the Fire Tower passed into private hands along with them. The new owner decided that tearing the tower down was more work than it was worth, and permitted it to stand.
Dark and lonely, this strange, mystical relic of the thirteenth century watched silently while the world developed and modernized around it.
Next month, Cullen Ulliac and Gwyneth Grenleigh!
Check out my interview with blogger Fiona Mcvie! https://wp.me/p3uv2y-75n