(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!
Once again, the post got too long, and I had to split it into two, so this month, we’re revisiting Myrhiadh’s War and two more of my favorite characters!
“I wish that I could instantly destroy everything and everyone who has ever hurt you.”
The heir to Caledon’s throne, Prince James chafes at his father’s requirement that he stay safely at home in Ampleforth instead of joining the troops marching east to battle Zandor. Work in the shipyards barely placates him until an unexpected development brings the war to his doorstep.
Birthdate: September 1578
Age at the time of this story: 25/26
Physical Characteristics: 6’0” tall; 175 lbs; blond, wavy hair; blue eyes
Titles: Crown Prince, His Royal Highness
Nickname: Jae, though he only allows a select few of his friends to call him that.
Prince James is a typical young man who is looking for adventure and excitement. Fiercely loyal, with a strong sense of duty and a determination to see Zandor defeated, James works in the shipyards, helping build warships. His father considers this a “suitable” position for the heir to the throne, who must be protected at all costs.
James prefers to spend as much time away from the castle as possible. Thus, he spends most evenings at the Brass Rebel Pub, where his down-to-earth attitude and athletic abilities make him a popular friend and drinking buddy.
Though groomed from infancy to take the throne, James does not expect to shoulder the responsibility for many years. He wants to enjoy his freedom as much as possible before that time.
James enjoys riding, archery, chess, backgammon, and darts. Well-read and well-educated, he has a working knowledge of the dying Caledonian language and the ancient legends associated with the history of his country.
“My father likes peace treaties—when they work to his benefit. If Zandor were landing ships on our shores, he would quickly demand that Langdon come to our aid. Since Zandor is currently stomping all over Langdon en route to our borders, he refuses to risk his precious troops in Langdon’s service. Reminding him that we cannot afford to anger Langdon’s king helped but a little.
Only when I threatened to lead troops myself to reinforce Langdon did Father bend and agree to mobilize his generals. He is determined that I shall not put myself in harm's way. When I argued that I was tired of sitting at the castle, useless, he sent me to work in Ampleforth's shipyards. Better than nothing, but not nearly so satisfying as plying steel to take down Zandor!
‘Don't sail away on any of those ships,’ he said when he dispatched me.
I make no promises.”
“We can and will protect you, Sire!”
The Captain of the Elite Guard answers directly to the king of Caledon. He is responsible for guarding the royal family and for overseeing the soldiers who are in charge of protecting the castle. Responsibility for any failure of the Elite Guard to meet their obligations falls directly on his shoulders, and the burden is a heavy one.
Date of Death: 1636
Age at the time of this story: 39
Physical Characteristics: 5’10” tall; 175 lbs; brown hair; brown eyes
Malik applied to join the Royal Elite Guard at the age of twenty-one, after serving three years as a soldier in the army. He worked his way up through the ranks to become the captain in 1598.
Malik is staunchly loyal, practical to a fault, and suspicious of everyone outside of his troops and his charges. Diligent in his duty to protect the royal family, Malik sometimes struggles to remain patient and respectful around a rebellious princess, a militant prince, and a narcissistic king.
“The housemaid fainted when she saw all the blood. Even when she came to, the mere thought of cleaning the mess sent her into hysterics. One of my men had to do it.
An assassin breached the castle last night, in spite of guarded gates and doors, and came within a hair's breadth of killing the king. The villain vanished with the dawn, but no one knows where. I strongly fear that he may still be inside the castle, moving among us like a ghost.
I have armed the king and assigned a 24-hour security detail to him. He is unimpressed. He called my unit useless, and I fear he was thinking words far less complimentary.
I will not fail my sovereign. I will find this ghost and destroy him—before he takes another life.”
Background Information—The Royal Elite Guard
The Caledonian Royal Elite Guard stands separate from all other troops, charged with the protection of the king and his family, as well as Caledon Castle. The Elite Guard is a highly trained set of (usually) 40 men skilled with all sorts of weaponry and prepared to die to defend the king.
A man must serve a minimum of three years in another branch of the Caledonian army or navy before applying to become part of the Royal Elite Guard and must prove his mettle in a series of skill tests employing archery, swordsmanship, and horsemanship, and by the early seventeenth century, riflery as well. If he shows suitable aptitude, he will be initiated to the force in a traditional ceremony. He may only exit the unit via an honorable discharge or death.
While ordinary troops might also be deployed to defend the castle, any member of the Elite Guard outranks them on castle grounds. The Elite Guard members may serve as escorts for any member of the royal family on any occasion and always accompany the king when he goes out. The Elite Guard is entitled to enter and exit the castle at will, though, outside of emergencies, only the captain has access to private rooms, and then only with permission.
A position in the Royal Elite Guard is a coveted one and one that comes with a long history of honor and respect.
Myrhiadh’s War is the only title in this series that I wrote without any planning beforehand. No plot outline exists, and the first draft (79k words) was finished in 33 days. Out of the hundreds of characters I have created over 40 years, Myrhiadh Eathain is my favorite.
“Wars are for kings and soldiers, Maeve. Life goes on.”
Myrhiadh has known wars and shifting borders her whole life. Still, her little village of Whitereach, near Zandor’s capital of Grymwalde, has rarely seen the horrors of battle firsthand. The Crown’s troops never let enemy forces approach Grymwalde. Therefore, in Myrhiadh’s opinion, Zandor’s declaration of war against Caledon and Langdon—again—is an eye-rolling nuisance, rather than a life-changing event.
Birthdate: August 17, 1584
Age at the time of this story: 18/19
Physical Characteristics: 5’4” tall; 110 lbs; golden-brown, wavy hair; green eyes
Myrhiadh is the eldest daughter of Michael and Molly Eathain. Michael, a hunter, passes away when Myrhiadh is 12, leaving her to provide for her younger sister and her mother, who is going blind. The responsibility weighs heavily on Myrhiadh, who perfects her skill with the bow and arrow so that she won’t let her family down. She soon learns that she can make far better money competing as an archer, but only in violation of Zandor's Moral Laws.
Left-handed, green-eyed, with interests and skills outside of Zandor’s "approved" accomplishments for young ladies, Myrhiadh has never felt like she fits in. But one day, the Praeceptor offers her a chance to serve the Crown directly. If she can accomplish what he asks, her family will never go hungry again.
“I never expected to serve the Crown like this. When the Praeceptor arrived with his proposal this afternoon, I was stunned. But I can do what he asks, no question.
Mama fears that I will die. It is the highest honor to die for the Crown, but now that I face the possibility, she has lost confidence in the principles she has drilled into my head for years.
She needn't worry. Only two people are going to die in this venture, and they won't be me.
Like the Praeceptor said, who's going to suspect a girl? I can ride, and I can shoot, and I can run under the noses of the entire Caledonian army without raising a single eyebrow.
Besides, I never miss. Unless I want to.”
Background Information—Zandor’s Moral Laws:
The Moral Laws became the basis for Zandorian justice in the thirteenth century. They are founded upon the Seven Failings: Avarice, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Gluttony, Lust, and Pride. People who report offenders to authorities are rewarded monetarily. Punishment for failing to adhere to Zandor’s moral code is swift and severe, and the dungeon beneath the palace in Grymwalde is notoriously empty, for prisoners never stay long.
Many of Zandor’s strictest laws apply to women. Women are not equal to men, and they may not impersonate men to gain rank or privileges. They must adhere to strict codes of modesty in their dress and appearance. They are not permitted to ride horses or participate in gaming of any sort. In a room or at a table, they must sit in a lower place than men, and not intermingle with them socially. No physical contact is permitted outside of the marriage bedroom. Husbands sleep separately from their wives, and the act of procreation takes place in her bed so that his remains undefiled. Women are encouraged to stay at home, and if they leave the house, they should have a male escort. A woman walking down the street with a man must walk three paces behind him, never alongside.
Perfection is the ideal under the Moral Laws. Failings are to be concealed or punished. Guilt and fear are the prime motivators in striving for Zandorian perfection. In an attempt to achieve flawless, undistracted service to the Crown, colors other than grey and brown are discouraged in clothing and decor. No embellishments, extra comforts, or extravagances are permitted.
And children are taught from infancy that their highest honor in life is to die for the Crown.
The Praeceptor - Calvin Ulliac
“Lies are relative, not absolute. A successful lie depends upon the perception of those who hear it. Anything true can become a lie, and any lie can become truth if the hearer only believes it.”
For centuries, the Praeceptor has been the closest advisor to the Zandorian Crown, and the Crown’s connection to the people. The Praeceptor is the wielder of power and the enforcer of laws.
Age at the time of this story: 58
Physical Characteristics: 5’11” tall; 263 lbs; grey hair; brown eyes
Calvin Ulliac’s family possesses a unique title, one that is a tremendous source of pride for him. Since the first king of Zandor, Ulliacs have had significant influence over royalty. Calvin’s power is second only to the king, and the people fear and revere him as a man of wisdom and authority. Calvin is masterminding the war between Zandor and her neighboring nations. He is always looking for ways to gain an advantage over the enemy.
Calvin was groomed for his position at court from a young age while living on his family’s expansive estate in Grymwalde. Upon his father’s death in 1575, he moved into the palace. He took his place at the king’s side, assuming all the responsibilities and privileges that went along with his position.
Calvin is very fond of spouting Zandor’s Moral Laws and the Failings to the people, and ensuring that the laws are strictly enforced and swiftly punished. His devout devotion to Zandor’s Crown and abhorrence of the Failings are legendary among the people. He is trusted to a fault by Zandor’s loyal citizens and presents himself as their loving guide and leader.
"I will keep my mind from evil thoughts,
My lips from speaking guile,
My eyes and ears from unclean things,
My heart I shall ne'er defile.
My worth is found in Zandor's Crown,
None in myself I see,
For service I surrender true,
And sacrifice what's left of me."
“The child shall repeat the Creed daily, morning and night, from the time he can lisp the words at his mother's knee. In time, he shall learn that everything in his person must be given over in complete service to the Crown. To give his worthless life for the Crown is the highest honor to which he may attain.
The child shall learn to avoid the Seven Failings, and shall be severely punished for any indulgence of any of them after he attains the age of one year.
The child shall recite his transgressions at his father’s feet each evening, accepting without question or excuse the consequences of his shortcomings.
The child shall never steal, covet, express anger, be lazy, overindulge, nor express longing for carnal pleasures. He must never be allowed to believe that he possesses any worth outside of his service to the Crown, lest he succumb to the Failing of Pride.
And he must never, never lie.”
Next month, Part Two, where we'll take a closer look at James Grenleigh and Captain Malik!
Check out my interview with blogger Fiona Mcvie! https://wp.me/p3uv2y-75n