It’s finally ready!

Hello my lovely readers, I have some excellent news on this fine fall day. I’m a bit late with this blog post because I’ve been working over the weekend to polish up Draft Two of The Enduring Flame for beta readers. I am so glad to say that it is finally ready!

I have some excellent readers already, but if you’re interested in trying your hand at critique, please email me at vistamcdowall@gmail.com. In exchange for your honest thoughts and timeliness – I am asking readers to be finished by the end of October – I would send you either a signed copy of The Lantern-Lit City or The Fading Glow, OR a free epub of the finished version of The Enduring Flame once it’s ready. Your choice!

As a thank-you for your patience as I deal with my personal issues, here is the very first scene of The Enduring Flame.

*Please note that this scene is not the final, polished version, and is subject to changes made during the last editing phases.


The Enduring Flame, Chapter One: Seanna

Snow fell continuously. It would have been peaceful, had Seanna been able to watch it from the warmth and safety of the keep in Con Salur. She held baby Landin close, her hands bundled in whatever cloth she could find to cover them. Her breath steamed in the winter air, and shivers passed over her. After days of walking, her feet ached and her still-healing body burned with pain. A hidden root caught her shoe, and she stumbled in the snow. Portia was by her in moment, her strong hands helping Seanna to right herself.

“Thank you,” Seanna said through chattering teeth.

Ahead of them, Dyle Belrose and Gavriel Ropaz pushed doggedly through the snow, leading the way to some unknown destination. The wizard and predicant walked side-by-side, their forms identical in the blizzard. Behind Seanna came a small group of straggling people: rustics, nobles, and servants from Con Salur, all that were left of the mighty city. Barely a hundred had managed to escape the siege. Seanna gritted her teeth. It won’t matter if we all die in the cold.

Belrose and Ropaz stopped, their heads bent together. Belrose turned to Seanna. “Your Grace, we think we’re near the borders of Lord Felder’s estate. The town of Larthearth is a few miles past it.”

“Lord Felder is obligated to help us,” Seanna said, her shivering making it hard for her to think. “We’ll go there first.”

Belrose nodded. He and Ropaz continued to plunge through the swirling white, and Seanna followed, hoping for a hot meal and a blazing fire. She blinked away the snowflakes on her eyelashes. When she glanced behind her, she saw that some of her people struggled as much as her. Though it was hard to pick them out in the storm, she thought that the nobles stumbled and straggled the most, while the rustics looked forward with determined gazes. We nobles have been spoiled our whole lives. We’ve never had to brave a storm, yet these rustics have known such hardship every winter. She bit her lip and adjusted her grip on Landin. The baby’s face was pale, his lips turning blue. If they didn’t find shelter soon…her heart clutched at the thought.

Wrought iron gates loomed out of the white. No one manned them. Ropaz pushed them open, and the refugees slowly moved up the long drive to the manor house. Seanna could already imagine the meat and wine and her feet drying by the fire.

A few lights shone from the manor’s windows. Seanna surged forward, ready for the warmth. The rest of the refugees huddled in the yard as she, Belrose, and Ropaz made their way to the doors. Belrose pounded as hard as he could on the fine timbers.

After a few moments, a servant carefully opened the door. He stared out at the bedraggled group.

“Rustics are not welcome here,” the servant said frostily.

Ropaz stepped forward. “I am the High Predicant, Gavriel Ropaz, and I escort Her Grace Queen Seanna Bergfalk and His Grace King Landin the Third, heir to the throne of Dotschar.”

The servant paled. He stepped aside, and the three entered. Though the stone halls were chilly, Seanna was grateful for the reprieve from the wind and snow. She and the others followed the servant through a set of rooms to a cozy dining hall where a great fire roared. Seanna edged toward the fire as the servant bowed and went to find his master.

Just as Seanna began to thaw, Lord Felder entered. His gaze darted between his guests, and he licked his lips nervously.

“Your…Your Grace,” he muttered, giving a perfunctory bow. He didn’t even address Ropaz. “I-I’m afraid…I mean, I didn’t–”

“We need food and shelter,” Seanna said. “Our people are freezing outside. And whatever furs and cloaks you can spare for the road ahead.”

Lord Felder licked his lips again. “Ah. Well, I-I-I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

Seanna drew herself up, though she was still shorter than every man in the room. She turned so that Felder could see the infant’s face. “This is your king, Lord Felder. Would you really–”

“Shh!” Felder put a finger over his lips. He turned frightened eyes to the doorway. “They could hear you!”

Ropaz and Belrose glanced at the door. Seanna stared at Felder. “You don’t mean…?”

“Yes!” Felder spoke in a low, furtive voice. “The elves are here! Why do you think I’m still alive? I surrendered the moment they came through. They left a few of their own to keep an eye on me.”

He tried to shoo Seanna and the others back to the door, but she didn’t budge. “Lord Felder–”

Seanna’s objection spluttered to silence as three elves ducked into the room, looking cold despite the many furs slung over their shoulders. The air in the room dropped to an icy tension.

“Felder, who are these people?” asked the first elf in a lilting accent. His eyes lingered on Seanna.

“R-r-rustics begging for some food and shelter,” Felder stuttered. “I was just sending them away.”

“And where do these rustics come from?”

Felder sputtered, but Ropaz stepped in. The polished edges of his words dropped into a slur, rounding into any rustic’s speech. “From Haverly, sir. West o’ the capital. We’ve been walkin’ for quinns and deshes, an’ with the snows–”

“Enough.” The elf waved him into silence. “Give them some food and send them on their way.” He swept from the room, the other elves following him. Lord Felder let out a deep breath.

“I’ll give what we can spare,” he said. “You may have better luck in Larthearth. The elves don’t care to guard the rustics.”

He looked at little Landin. “And I’ll provide something warmer for the child.”

He scurried from the room before Seanna could ask for more. When he disappeared, she slumped into a chair in front of the fire. Her vision blurred, and she angrily wiped away her tears. Ropaz put a hand on her shoulder.

“We’re still close to the city,” he said. “I doubt any nobles in this region could help us. Be grateful for what he can give us.”

“I know,” Seanna said. “At least we weren’t recognized.”

“We’ll have to be more careful,” Belrose said. “They’ll send word to all their soldiers once they realize our escape. It’ll take days to search the whole city, but they’ll come into the countryside eventually.”

Seanna nodded. “Distribute the food to the children and elderly. We’ll see if the village can give us shelter for the night.”

“Of course,” Ropaz said. “And you need to eat, too. You must keep your strength if the child has a chance.”

“I know.” Seanna looked to Belrose. “You sent word to the prince in Rengu Forest, yes?”

Belrose nodded. “I used my fastest messaging spell. I’ve received no word in return.”

They went quiet as servants bustled in with packages of food: bread, dried meats and fruits, and cheeses. One of them brought a fur to Seanna, which she wrapped around Landin. She nibbled on some cheese and meat as they went back out into the cold. Her belly ached with hunger, and the skies were beginning to darken, but they had to make it to the village before they could rest again.

The weary band pushed back out into the storm.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

August was a strange month for me. The mental/emotional turmoil lessened, but only because its cause was resolved, though not necessarily the way I wished it would. With that resolution came a cascade of other changes: I have left my teaching position; I recently started a new, part-time job at the local library; and I’ve moved out of my shared home into a small apartment (the cats came with me). With all that busy-ness, I’ve still left The Enduring Flame on the back burner.

I am optimistic for September. Living on my own again will mean a quiet, dedicated writing space. A part-time, low stress job means I have more energy to pursue my own passions. While I am still healing from the summer’s difficulties and coping with my new life circumstances, I feel good about moving forward. I am ready to tackle the trilogy’s end, and I still think I can get it out there by December.

Looking past the end of The Sovereigns of the Dead, I have some standalone novels, a novella, and a few short stories kicking around in my head. I love the idea of retelling classic literature through a fantasy lens, as well as exploring folklore-based fantasy.

My TBR for this month includes Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier and Piranesi by Suzanna Clarke. With more time to write, I’m also hoping for more time to read. My new apartment has a perfect nook for cozying up with a book and a cup of tea.

Sorry it’s another month with no fun blog content. But things are looking up, and I’m sure I’ll bring something interesting for September’s end-of-month blog.

Short Update

Hello my lovely readers,

I wish I had better things to share this month: a complete second draft, more sewing, a fantasy review, or something fun. Unfortunately, it’s been all I can do to stay afloat these last couple of months.

This summer, I was blindsided with a heavy, life-altering situation. Nearly every day for the past two months has been emotionally taxing and mentally draining, and I don’t know when these personal issues will be resolved. I have desperately tried to throw myself into writing as a distraction, and some days I’m successful in editing or rewriting chapters. Others, it’s all I can do to get out of bed.

I am still hoping to have the book out before the end of 2021, but I do have to put my mental health and emotional wellbeing first. The characters are in rough positions right now, and sometimes it’s difficult for me to write their conflicts without bringing up my own pain.

I hope to have some more done by the end of August, as well as a more interesting blog post, but I won’t make any promises at this point in time.

For now, I’ll recommend a few books that I’ll be rereading soon that always make me feel warm and happy by the end:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden

Any of the Redwall books by Brian Jacques

Stay safe out there, and I hope you all have a wonderful rest of your summer.

My writing assistants, Tish and Ricki, who are also on duty in helping me get back to a better place.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Happy (belated) Pride Month! For all my LGBTQIA+ readers, I hope you find love and joy not just in June, but every day. You are beautiful and wonderful.

I had a fairly eventful June, including a two-week honeymoon during which our car broke down (but hey, we saw whales, so everything’s fine really), and I participated in my first author event! Last weekend, I was one of 16 authors that was part of the Art Walk in Salida, CO. It was a blast meeting some other local authors, talking with readers, and even selling a few books!

I am still working hard on making edits for The Enduring Flame, and will hopefully have a call out for beta readers in late July or August.

Now, I promised a couple of months ago that I’d talk about my other main hobby: sewing. I thought it would be fun to reflect on some of the outfits I’ve made over the years, both cosplay and everyday. Instead of going chronologically, I’m going to go in order of my favorites (either to construct, wear, or both). I have more outfits and pieces that I’ve made, but I think I’ll just focus on the best of the best.

Outfit #7: ’70s Jumpsuit (2021)

This jumpsuit was made to wear on my honeymoon. I used a vintage pattern I found in a thrift shop, but modified it to not have a collar. The fabric was also thrifted (lucky find), and was a stretchy knit that was easy to sew, but didn’t quite have the drape I was hoping for. I’ll probably make the pattern again sometime with cotton or linen.

Outfit #6: Modern Jumpsuit (2020)

This jumpsuit I made last summer from a pattern purchased online. It was very simple, and the printed cotton fabric was super easy to sew. I didn’t have a long enough zipper, but improvised with a tie-back between my shoulder blades. Unfortunately, I gained a little pandemic weight, and it’s a bit tight now! Hopefully I’ll be able to fit back into it after some biking and hiking.

Outfit #5: Greek Island Dress (2021)

The other of my main honeymoon outfits, this was made from a Folklore pattern that I fell in love with. I adore the flowing sleeves on the tunic and the simple dress underneath. The tunic is made from a light rayon while the dress is a white muslin, both purchased at a local fabric shop. This was another quick and easy project, with the only time-consuming part being the hemming of the tunic sleeves.

Outfit #4: BBC Maid Marian Cosplay (2013)

This cosplay holds a special place in my heart, as it was my first real foray into cosplay using a combination of pre-made patterns and draped patterns. It was also my first project on my sewing machine. The design is based on my favorite dress of Maid Marian’s from the BBC Robin Hood show that ran back in 2006-2009 (and was one of my first obsessions).

Through this project, I met the costuming director for my university’s theater program. She taught me how to drape, which is the process of making a 2D pattern from the 3D dress form by marking seam lines on the form and draping fabric on it. After this, she hired me, and I worked for the rest of my university years in the costume shop! Though I don’t wear this dress often, I remember it fondly because of how much I learned from this project and the connection I made with my mentor.

Outfit #3: Kahlan Amnell Cosplay from Legend of the Seeker (2016)

I know, I know, Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series is pretty derided now (and rightfully so), and the show made from the book series wasn’t exactly Game of Thrones, but I adored them both as a high schooler. My best friend and I had always talked about doing a cosplay of Kahlan and Cara (you see, I loved the series so much I used that name), and my friend ended up gifting me the actual prop knives that were used on set, so how could I not make the outfit? The knives came with the metal accents featured on the actress’s costume, and so I incorporated those as well.

By this time, I was fairly comfortable with modifying patterns and draping my own. I made this entire ensemble in about two weeks, just in time for Denver Comic Con. It’s still fun to wear at Renaissance festivals!

Outfit #2: Historical “Wishing Gown” from The Phantom of the Opera (2015)

During my last semester in college, I asked my costume shop mentor if she could lead me in a costuming independent study. She agreed, with the caveat that I record and reflect on all steps of the process. I’ve always loved the costumes in The Phantom of the Opera (also my favorite nostalgia musical), and so I chose Christine’s “Wishing Gown.” I researched real gowns from the early 1880s and modified the show’s costume to have some more historical elements.

Nearly every pattern piece for this project was draped. It took four months with biweekly work times, and includes a petticoat, pillow bustle, underskirt, aprons, panniers, train, and bodice, most of which are lined and with hand-sewn accents. I made the cape after graduation, though by comparison it was the simplest part of the whole ensemble.

Though I don’t wear it often – it’s hard to find an excuse to pull out a Victorian gown – I do fondly remember this project as the one that truly taught me the most about sewing. It gave me the courage to do the next, and final, project on this list.

Outfit #1: My Wedding Dress (2020)

This is it. The big one. The most ambitious and stressful solo project I’ll probably ever take on: my wedding dress. Many amateur seamstresses want to make their dress, but it’s daunting even for those with a lot of experience. Having made the Wishing Gown, I felt confident in undergoing this process.

It…did not go so well at first. My initial ideas proved too difficult for me to drape, and I went back-and-forth on many design choices. The fabric shop ran out of the purple floral silk I was using and only sent 12 yards instead of 18, forcing me to rethink my entire design. I even redesigned and reconstructed the bodice entirely after it was finished, as I was so unsatisfied with the first one!

I thought I knew a lot about sewing after my previous outfits, but I learned so much about couture sewing, hand-stitching, draping, sizing, fitting, and more after this beast of an ensemble. It ended up being three separate pieces: bodice, skirt, and train, the latter being removable for ease of movement after the ceremony. The skirt had pockets (of course) and the bodice had a total of four layers of fabric, including hidden boning and corset laces.

Would I do it again? Maybe I’d choose a simpler design, but I would still tackle this project again, because there’s nothing like spending 160+ hours on your own wedding dress and getting to see your husband’s expression.

Thank you for indulging my non-writing hobby! I won’t make posts like this often, but I thought it would be fun for you to see what else I get up to in my spare time.

And who knows, maybe someday I’ll write a book about a tailor weaving magic into their clothes, and this will all turn out to be completely relevant research.

My thoughts on Shadow & Bone

Hello my lovely readers. I’m sorry for the late posting for May; as a teacher, the end of the school year is always hectic. I wish I could say I’ve made more progress on editing The Enduring Flame, but all of my time went to dealing with last-minute preparations for end-of-year activities. I also didn’t complete the sewing I wanted to do, so that exploration into my other main hobby will have to wait as I feverishly spend this week sewing outfits for my honeymoon.

What did I do this month? I managed to find time to read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom so that I could watch the Netflix show Shadow and Bone. I had read the Shadow & Bone trilogy in 2020 right at the start of the pandemic, and mostly enjoyed it. I loved the world, the magic, and the villain, but was lukewarm on Alina and Mal, our main protagonists. I rated each book a 7/10. The Six of Crows duology succeeded in some ways for me, but fell flat in others; I also rated it a 7/10.

Spoiler warning for the show and books.

Before I delve into the show, let me say what I enjoyed about the books and what fell flat for me. For S&B, all those things I mentioned above were the highlights. I absolutely loved the Darkling, and honestly, I wanted Alina to go with him, then proceed to thwart him via manipulation of his loneliness and odd vulnerability toward her. Fighting darkness with darkness, if you will. I also enjoyed some of the side characters, like Nikolai and Zoya, and the creative use of the world’s elements. However, Mal was not a character I enjoyed at all. He was rude to Alina and seemed to serve no other purpose than as a half-baked love interest. To be fair, Alina wasn’t a very active protagonist, so I also struggled to like her as much as I did the other characters.

For the duology, I still loved the world and seeing new parts of it. I liked the politics within Ketterdam as well as the other countries, being shown Fjerda and having glimpses of the Zemeni and Shu peoples. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the various heists. But, just like S&B, I struggled a lot with the characters. I enjoyed the main PoV characters, but I had trouble connecting to them. This is a critique I often see: the characters are supposedly teenagers, and act that way in some regards (especially romance), but are then hyper-competent in the heist. That disconnect never really went away for me, and it soured the reading a bit.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I still enjoyed these books. I’ll reread them at some point, probably before Season 2 of the show. I’ll recommend them to fans of YA Fantasy. The flaws were not enough to make me stop reading or dislike the experience, and only took away from what could have been 8/10 or even 9/10 ratings.

With such neutral feelings toward the books, I was intrigued by the show. I’ve grown from a child who despised any changes in an adaptation into a person who understands the necessities of the transition from page to screen. I enjoyed the books, but I’m not a Grishaverse die-hard fan. I watched with an open mind, curious to see what changes would be made.

I wasn’t disappointed. The show managed to thread a fine line between honoring the source material, radically changing backstories and interactions, and making subtle changes. The world came to life with incredible sets, costumes, and effects, the actors all did an incredible job (especially Jessie Mei Li and Ben Barnes), and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching it. The creators also had a great eye for detail, bringing in elements of the books with a subtle wink and nod instead of drawing attention to them.

But did the show correct the flaws of the books? In some ways, yes. In others, no. Alina became a more active protagonist, even driving her own romance with the Darkling. Certain elements, like the “mean girls” of the Little Palace, were toned down or glossed over completely, which was fine by me. I work in a middle school, I don’t need to see that drama in my entertainment.

Yet even with showing us Mal’s PoV – his friends, his hurt at Alina’s leaving, his hunt for the stag – I found myself still disinterested in his relationship with Alina. We had more glimpses into his character, but I realized that he had no motivation other than finding and helping Alina. The reason I like the Darkling so much, other than having a fondness for villains who seduce heroines, is that he’s motivated. He wants something, and he’ll stop at nothing to get it. If Alina is gone, what does Mal want? It’s unclear, even in the show, and I hope that we get more development for him in later seasons.

On the other side of the coin, we have the Crows interfering with S&B’s plot. The characters are much the same, though their circumstances are different. However, all of them are aged up: Kaz is a few years older than Alina, while Inej and Jesper appear about Alina’s age (early to mid twenties). This helps resolve the competency issue while still allowing for them to be immature in their relationships.

I really enjoyed how the Crows were brought into the show. I kept guessing how their heist might align with Alina’s plot and how they would be brought into the climax. This is a massive change to both source materials that I found extremely well done. I was rooting for them and their one million kruge job, while also wanting Alina to find her way out of her bad situations. The ending, where the crew helps Alina to escape Ravka, sets up more interactions in the future while still adhering to character motivations.

One element that was extremely rushed in the show was Alina’s training: we have one scene of her fighting Zoya in physical combat, but that’s it. One montage of her preparing to train with Baghra. I wanted more. I wanted to see Alina hone both her body and her magic, and I felt that this area was sorely lacking. We also don’t have a great idea of the other Grisha and their various alliances and perspectives. Fyodor and Ivan are fun, but not seen often. Genya and Zoya receive some development, but not David. We also have less of a sense of the greater politics with the Apparat and the king, which are vital later on in the story.

Is the show perfect? No. It has its flaws, but overall, it’s clear that the writers gave a lot of thought to how they would move this story onto the screen. I don’t know if I would rate the show higher than the books (7/10, maybe an 8/10 depending on how they adapt later on), but it certainly matches its source material.

What are your thoughts?

Some fun news, and final reflections!

Hello my lovely readers, I come today with a couple of great announcements as well as the conclusion of my reflections blog series.

First of all, I am so proud to say that my short story, “Through the Blackthorn,” will be one of 12 stories in the anthology We Cryptids edited by Vivian Caethe. Each one is a noblebright urban fantasy story about cryptids finding their place in society and dealing with their relationships with humans. “Through the Blackthorn” is about Beitild, a huldra who is isolated from and harassed by humans due to her tail and hollow back. When a human asks for her help, Beitild is hesitant, but learns that not all people are the same.

You can preorder either an ebook or print copy, which should be released in September. Check it out here.

My next announcement concerns the third and final book in my Sovereigns of the Dead trilogy, The Enduring Flame. I met my goal for finishing the first draft by the end of April, and am now working toward edits. The editing process is always laborious, and with my upcoming honeymoon (and subsequent sewing projects in preparation of it), I’m not expecting to have the book ready for beta readers until July. I’m hoping that the readers will finish it within a month or two, leaving me time to get the cover and final edits done before November/December. I can’t make any promises at this point in time, but at least I have a completed draft and notes for the first round of edits.

Alright, let’s move on to character reflections! Last month, I talked about Cara’s progression and changes. The other main POV characters had far fewer changes, so I’m going to talk about them all this month: Gwen, Sandu, Seanna, and Jagger.

Jagger, as I mentioned last month, was originally a teacher of sorts at Cara’s school. He was a master spy, and this pretty quickly turned into him being an assassin-for-hire. The Nightcats morphed into Fauste’s Shiv, and Jagger’s relationship with Raven solidified into a loving marriage. Jagger’s always been a surly bastard, and he’s always had a soft spot for Sandu. Many of his chapters remained consistent throughout multiple drafts of The Lantern-Lit City.

Gwen was a bit odd for me. She started out sweet and naïve, then became a little more petty and childish, then ended up somewhere in-between. Her marriage to Druam fluctuated throughout the drafts: in some, he kept putting off the wedding that she was begging for. In others, she tried to escape said marriage. Her magic always played a role, but it grew over the course of many drafts until it became her defining goal.

Fun fact, in one draft Gwen falls in love with Mavian and tries to run away with him instead of marrying Druam.

My initial drawing of Gwen.

Seanna’s progression was fairly quick. In the first couple of drafts, she was a kind, compassionate queen who wanted to help Druam with his lady drama (this was the same draft where Gwen tried to leave him). By the third draft, Seanna became the petty, conniving queen. She was always going to be pregnant, but the fact of her sexuality came in a bit later. Originally, she was straight and into one of the male characters. However, it never sat quite right with me, and I realized that Seanna was really a lesbian. This influenced a lot of her other character beats, and ended up one of my favorite changes in the whole series. Sometimes, you have to listen when a character tells you who they are.

Finally, we have Sandu. Tied with Druam, he’s my personal favorite character (though don’t tell the rest that), a happy-go-lucky guy with a tragic past. Despite his rough life, he somehow manages to find a way to get through it and still come out smiling. He has always functioned as the character who brings Cara out of her shell and grounds her in reality, serving as the straight man to her supernatural abilities.

In early drafts, Sandu was a graduate of the Nightcat school and served as a spy. He was also in love with Renna, who tragically died in a fire. Later on, after I scrapped the Nightcats and tried to figure out how Sandu would come into contact with Cara, I found the perfect way to tie him to both her and Jagger: Sandu as a bounty hunter. I gave him a gambling background and family issues, which drive every decision he makes, and voila, we have the Sandu that comes into the published manuscript. He’s the rogue with a heart of gold, and though he may not steer the plot, I see him as the emotional through-line of the entire series.

Just look at this fella. He’s the greatest.

That’s it for this week. Hopefully it’s been interesting for you to see how the characters grow and change throughout the writing process! Which character’s progression did you enjoy the most? Which of their arcs in the published books is your favorite to read?

Next month, I’ll likely do something a bit different and show you some of my sewing projects. Happy May!

Reflections: Cara’s Evolving Journey

A month ago, I wrote about my completely abandoned ideas for The Lantern-Lit City. Today, I want to examine the story changes that Cara went through before the final manuscript.

Before that, though, some good news: I have finished the first draft of Part 1 of The Enduring Flame (approximately 65,000 words)! Unlike The Fading Glow, which had three parts, The Enduring Flame will be like the first book with only two parts. As I draft the second half of the book, I’ll be simultaneously editing the first part while submitting to a critique group, hopefully shortening the process and involving beta readers faster than usual. If all goes well, the book will be ready for release by the end of the year.

Now, onto Cara. I’ll admit, she’s the character I struggled with the most throughout the entire writing process. As one of the two chief protagonists, it was essential to get her story just right…and that proved a chore.

In the earliest drafts, Cara was a student of a school founded by Earl Hawk. As she drew close to graduation, she discovered that the Archmaster and other teachers wanted to recruit her to the Nightcats, an organization of spies.

In these early drafts, Cara actually leaves the school to return home to her ailing “father,” a nobleman who would have later been revealed to not be her biological father. At home, she reunites with her brother and his family. When Jagger comes to collect her, there’s a mixup, and the brother’s wife is killed while wearing Cara’s cloak. This leads into a whole mystery that sets up one big question: who wants to kill Cara and why? 

After this, Cara and Jagger return to the school, and Sandu is assigned to help Cara with a mission in Riverfen. They travel there, the Masque happens, and Cara learns more about being sulpari.

In subsequent drafts, Cara was demoted from noble’s daughter into watchman’s apprentice. Renna, rather than dying in a fire at the school, was kidnapped, spurring Cara into action. While the shape of her story was firming up, the details had to be constantly amended up until the very end.

After Renna’s kidnapping, the next major event was Merick’s death. While I knew it had to happen fairly early on, the “how” and the “when” kept tripping me up. At one point, he was killed by Mavian’s soldiers on the road after Cara makes a stupid decision to attack them. At another, I think he was killed by prowlers after escaping the infested tower.

As Cara’s journey progressed, I found that she was sort of being strung along by events rather than making choices that shape her own journey. In one draft, Cara and Sandu come across Alex’s destroyed caravan. Then, she falls down a ravine, breaks her leg, and faces the prowler child while alone. In the Cascade Palace, Cara is aimlessly wandering about when she stops the attack on the queen, and it’s another aimless wander through the city that leads her to discovering Alex’s secret.

A lot of small tweaks had to occur in order to give her more agency: rather than finding Alex on the road, Cara goes directly to Mott and meets him while pursuing her own goals (e.g. finding a cure). On the road, Cara kills the prowler to defend her team. At the palace, Cara is actively searching for the Hooded Man and Renna, and so is placed with the queen during the attack rather than stumbling upon it. She also learns about the tavern and seeks it out.

There are a lot more changes that were made for her, but all of them contributed to a much stronger character. Of course, those were all for Book 1. Book 2’s events came much easier to me, and I knew where Cara was headed even before I published Book 1.

Another Bonus Drawing: This is, again, from when I was writing the very first draft in 2012. Cara was much more outwardly edgy. This isn’t at all how I picture her anymore. How do you imagine her?

Reflections: Abandoned Ideas

As I revise the outline for my third book and am preparing to draft it, I want to look back at the many years between my first inklings of The Lantern-Lit City and today.

When I first brainstormed ideas, maps, and world-building for the series, I was still in high school (this was 2009/2010). Some ideas managed to make it from these very first notes all the way to the end: character names, plot threads, general world elements. Most were scrapped after the first draft (written around 2012), while others made it to final edits before being discarded.

Today, I’m going to dive into my old notes and drafts to examine my favorite elements that had to be left behind, many of which I’d forgotten about over the years. It’s an exploration into a much more juvenile me, with all the edge and tropes that a teenager can produce.

Let’s start with characters. In early drafts, there were many more factions and characters that I tried to weave into the storyline. This, of course, led to a disjointed mess.

One of the characters that wasn’t scrapped, but had his part severely cut down, was Olfrick Kron. He’d always been plotting against Wullum, Gwen’s brother, but he used to be an entire Point-of-View character that schemed against Wullum and worked with Mavian. Once I realized that his part was redundant and bloated the whole book, I minimized him to “distant threat” and catalyst for Gwen’s storyline.

It may be surprising to hear, but Cara once had a brother: Jer’my. He was married to Tambrey and had twins named Eaton and Elvy. He was spurred to hunt down the man who murdered Tambrey at the start of the book, as well as reclaim his missing children. He didn’t add much to the main plot, so I gave his family to Sandu and cut him completely. If you’re wondering about how much Cara’s backstory changed, I’ll get to that in another post.

Finally, there were the Nightcats. These were later renamed Fauste’s Shiv and became a background organization for Jagger. In early drafts, though, they were a school and spy society working in the service of Earl Hawk. Many characters were directly involved with them: Jagger, Raven, Sandu, Renna, and Cara. Their purpose was to recruit Cara as a spy, send her on a mission with Sandu, and have Jagger figure out the mystery of yet more murders. However, they dragged down the action of the first third of the book, and I eventually remade them into a more sinister group that remained firmly in Jagger’s backstory.

Some cool world elements that I had to scrap include a race of goblins that turned out to be half-elf, half-dragon hybrids that lived underground (these were gone by Draft 2). There was also a beautiful, magical forest right outside Riverfen called the aratire. It was a sacred place for the Valadi and was involved with an abandoned plot thread for Sandu, Alex, and Cara. Many of its mystical elements were reworked into the Whispering Woods.

While it’s been fun to look back at Drafts 1 and 2, I’m so happy I had brutally honest beta readers who told me what was and wasn’t working. All the above ideas have some merit to them, but just weren’t right for the story I ended up telling. What surprised me the most, though, were all the changes that occurred with the main characters, especially Cara and Gwen. Stay tuned for posts devoted to these ladies and the other PoV characters, as well as updates for the third and final book of the trilogy, The Enduring Flame.

Bonus: here’s a drawing I made back in 2012 when writing the very first draft. What part do you think she would have played? (And please forgive the less-than-stellar artwork: I quickly discovered that my talents lay in the written word and not in visual arts.)

The Fading Glow Preorders!

After a chaotic year, I am so happy to announce that The Fading Glow, the sequel to The Lantern-Lit City, is finally finished! It will drop on January 31st, 2021, with the ebook available to preorder if you want it the moment it becomes available. Check it out here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08T4N1S8X 

Thank you to everyone who read and loved The Lantern-Lit City. If you get a chance, please leave a review either on Amazon or Goodreads, as it helps the books to gain traction and a wider audience.

I’m so excited for you to continue the journeys of characters I love so much. What better way to start the new year than with a new book?

Bonus: Here’s some art of a scene from the book created by a Reddit user who wanted to practice his artwork. You’ll have to read it to discover this character and her strange journey.