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Bound A-Z: U is for Ulric

“You know, your father was a hard, cold man, but there were a few years when he wasn’t so.”

“Because of my mother?” My heart skipped, though I couldn’t say why. Anything I thought or felt about that part of my past had been long since walled away. It didn’t matter anymore.

“Hmm.” Xaven turned his attention back to me. He seemed troubled. “You know about their situation?”

“Little enough, I suppose. Were you there when she lived in Luid?”

“No, I never met her. I heard things later, some from your father. He cared for her quite a lot.”

“If he cared for her at all, he wouldn’t have killed her, would he?”

Aren does have a point, doesn’t he?

Stories and characters are such strange things. In both, there’s a lot going on beyond and beneath what we see on the page. There’s the history of events that came before the story. Important things, but perhaps not relevant enough to warrant taking up space in the book. There’s everything happening off-page to characters who aren’t featured in a scene, whether that be what the villain is up to while the heroes are dealing with something else, or minor characters who may only have a small part to play in the plot, but who have full stories of their own.

And then there are the people and events who shaped the characters.

Or their parents.

Ulric (King Ulric, technically, at least for the moment) is Aren’s father. I thought I knew everything I needed to about him. Hard, occasionally cruel, especially when it suits his goals. Driven, and never one to let sentimentality get the best of him.

But there’s always more to the story, isn’t there?

You might think you know a character, and then you get the bright idea to do a prequel. You meet a character as he was almost 30 years ago, before the greatest tragedy of his life. You learn that he has reasons for being the way he is that go way beyond “he’s a dick” or “good king, bad father.”

You learn the depth of his regret and fear, how he hates himself for the weakness that once brought him a few years of joy.

And you realize that this stiff, cold guy was actually super hot at one time.

*cue discomfort in the author*

It was a story that needed to be told, but Uric’s not the kind of man to be able to put his feelings into words, or to want to open up old wounds just for the sake of gaining sympathy. The story of his romance with Magdalena wasn’t one he was going to tell us properly.

We needed to hear it from her.

And so you shall.

I’ve mentioned this project a few times, but we’ll call this the official announcement:

At Any Cost, the project I’ve been working on while Sworn is away for edits, is the story of Aren’s parents. How they met, how they fell in love, the challenges they faced so they could be together.

It’s a romance, of course. And though it ends before the worst times, it’s a tragedy. When you’re writing a prequel there’s not much you can do to change the future.

Here’s the cover copy I’m working on:

“How can a woman with no magic enchant a Sorcerer?”

Maggie Albion grew up in the shadow of great people. Sorcerers from across Belleisle came to her father’s school for training, and she watched them blossom while she remained as she was born: ordinary and unexceptional. Now she loses herself in history books, dreaming of being one of the great people. The ones who change history.

It seems that Maggie’s dreams of greatness are not destined to come true–at least, not until a chance meeting with a soldier from an enemy nation changes the course of her life. Though she knows he’s the last man in the world she should want, the powerful connection between them feels more like fate than a decision she’s free to make.

Even with her heart bound up tight, Maggie still has a choice: a life of safety and peace, or a chance to follow her heart and change the world.

Sound interesting? I have good news. As part of the lead-up to the release of Sworn (Bound Trilogy Book Three), this novella will be available FREE for newsletter subscribers. It’s my way of thanking everyone who has supported this story and my work over the past year and a half.

Click here to be connected before what should be a December release on this one. You’ll also get a free download of The Binding (the first prequel short story), plus more bonus content in the future.

(author’s note: this prequel can be read at any point in the series, but my preferred reading order places it between Torn and Sworn. What lovely timing!)

AAC cover test 3

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Bound A-Z: T is for Tiernal

Who’s up for some history?

*crickets*

Oh, come on. It’ll be fun.

Okay, you in the back. You’re excused. But for anyone who’d like a little more information on Aren’s family history and maybe a hint about a project I’ve got in its earliest stages, you’re in the right place. Please forgive me if my dates end up being a little off. Or way off. It’s not easy to get this information around here, and my characters are just rolling their eyes at me when I pry. I reserve the right to revise dates and facts before future publications.

We good? Good.

Aren, stop smirking.

Hundreds of years before the Bound trilogy starts, the last line of kings fell. If you want to know a little about how that happened, check out the “D is for Dragons” post from a few months back. A decade of chaos followed, with several Sorcerers aiming to take control of the country. That’s a story all on its own, but not one I have plans to tell.

The ultimate victor in that struggle was Galyg Tiernal. I wish I could say he was a good man or a good king, but he was neither. He held onto power, save for a brief period around years 86-89, but Tyrea fractured into the lands that had been brought together under the old dynasty: Tyrea (south and central, containing the new city of Luid), Artisland (east), Cressia (north), Tauren (west), and a smattering of smaller areas that were generally absorbed into the larger ones. It was a time of war, of poverty for many, and darkness. Magic was a cruder thing then, used mainly for survival. It was more spread out through the population than it is now, but generally weaker in humans.

It was Galyg who focused on the practice of choosing his wives and companions based on their potential to produce heirs with strong magic rather than marrying for reasons of political strategy. He decided that with enough magic in his line, he would take the other lands back by force rather than treaty. He was ruthless about destroying those who opposed him–and if those enemies had magic of their own, he killed their families, as well.

Not one to take chances over potential competition was Galyg.

He had many children, and his plan to produce children with strong magic worked. In the year 102 (his reign started the calendar over), a daughter was born. People overlooked her for many years, as it was well known by then that males tended to carry stronger magic. But over the years, Avalyn proved herself. She laid low, keeping out of her more powerful and ambitious siblings’ sight. She witnessed the fall of the rival nation of Ferfelle in the year 127, and played a part in it. This was her first step toward taking the throne after the death of her father and brief (and eventually painful) reign of her eldest brother.

But that really is a story for another time. A story with murder and betrayal and love and more murder and treachery and power and sex and magic and did I mention revenge? and… we’ll get to it. Some day. If I can work out some huge problems. Avalyn went through some rough spots that might throw a wrench into actually writing her story, but here’s some of what I know:

Avalyn, the first queen of Tyrea in her line, took the throne in the year 141. For those counting, that made her 39 years old–terribly young for a Sorceress to have that sort of a role. Her reign was not an easy one, and her hold on power was never secure. She had many husbands and several children. The strongest of her sons was Ulric, who most of you have heard of (and who we’ll discuss another day). Her reign ended in the year 255, when she stepped down from the throne.

The rest is familiar history, at least in part. Ulric ruled from 255 and finished the work his mother started in bringing the nation back together and fixing what was screwed up so long before his birth. He disappeared around the year 375 and his son Severn took the throne. As of right now (writing between Torn and Sworn), we’ve nearly reached the point where Ulric will be declared dead and forfeit his right to the throne, even if he returns.

So what does the future hold? That remains to be seen. Thus far the Tiernal line ends with Severn, Wardrel, Dan, Aren, and Nox, and there’s always the possibility of someone more powerful swooping in to challenge whoever holds the throne.

Hmm…


Bound A-Z: S is for Severn

Okay, so we’re most definitely NOT attempting a character interview this week. He and I aren’t on speaking terms, and quite frankly he scares the bejeezus out of me.

Instead, I’m going to offer a rough (unedited) few paragraphs from Sworn. This is obviously spoiler territory, if you don’t want to know anything at all about what’s coming. I won’t give context or even point of view, and I’ve removed a few telling details, but you’ve been warned.

I stopped breathing, as though stillness would hide me. I didn’t dare look any higher than that hand.

Don’t make eye contact. Think only of the present. I checked my mental defenses and tried not to think about them.

The long, elegant fingers tightened, and [she] winced.

“Your king’s magic was never as weakened as you might have suspected based on your assignment,” said a cold voice. It was strong, not nearly matching what Aren had told me about Severn’s physical condition, but I had no doubt about who it was.

The potion’s light left me, leaving only fear. “Your highness,” I whispered, and dropped into a curtsy. I looked up enough to meet [her] gaze. Her face had turned into a blank mask.

“Look at me,” he ordered.

[…]

His eyes grabbed my focus and prevented wider inspection. Glacier blue and filled with confident authority, they cut through me. I let my fear take over to a degree that seemed reasonable given my story and focused on his face, allowing nothing else into my conscious mind. If he could see deeper, there was nothing I could do about it.

He released me and took a moment to glance over the rest of my face, my hair, my body. I did the same to him while I had the chance.

Aren had described him to me as he was before his encounter with Rowan. He’d also told me that Severn as he’d last met him was a shadow of his former self, weak and bent, shuffling and thin. This man was none of those things, and no description of Severn’s old appearance had prepared me for this. I saw Ulric in him, in the strong jaw and straight nose. His mouth was harder than the old king’s, and curved up slightly, pleased at what he saw. He stood tall and straight, slim yet strong, and he radiated power from every part of himself. Had I not known what he truly was…

I shuddered and looked away. I should have been accustomed to being around beautiful people by then. Appearances meant nothing, and I knew that. But his eyes, his voice, his very posture drew a person in with magnetic force that surpassed anyone I’d ever met, and I imagined it would be hard to deny him anything if he ordered it. I wondered how Aren had ever found the strength to defy him.

BONUS CONTENT:

A lovely friend and reader took a road-trip detour to get this picture. Made my day.

Okay, my month.

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Bound A-Z: R is for Ruby (or: How to offend a dragon)

R

No sudden moves, guys.

I’ve invited Ruby here for an interview. This may have been a mistake, but we’ll see how it goes. We’re going to head out to the back yard now, as she definitely doesn’t fit into my office. Just walk quietly, stay behind me, and observe.

Oh. For anyone just joining us, Ruby is a dragon. A big, red, hot-and-smoky, not-quite-trustworthy (but kind of interesting), four-legged and two-winged dragon.

Let’s go, before the neighbours start to complain.

SCENE: backyard with a white picket fence. A massive dragon, her back rising higher than the neighbour’s bungalow roof, lies curled on the grass.

Ruby: *snorts, filling the air with the scent of wilting grass* What do you want now?

KS: Just a few questions. I asked readers in my Facebook group what they’d like to know about you, and–

Ruby: Your what group?

KS: It’s a human thing in this world. You can talk to people who aren’t there, see pictures and know what’s going on with them.

Ruby: I thought that was what you did for a living.

KS: No, it’s… Huh. Actually, I guess I do. Shall we get started?

Ruby: If it pleases your imaginary friends. *stretches, claws outstretched, digging deep paths into the lawn*

KS: Okay, then. Um… Kathy D wants to know about the father of your dragonlings. If the topic isn’t a sensitive one, of course.

Ruby: *chuckles* Of course not. Strange how humans are so easily offended by things as natural as producing young. This clutch, or the ones before them? Or the ones before them? Or–

KS: Any would be fine, but I think she meant the current… batch.

Ruby: Clutch, if we’re speaking of egg-laying. I don’t care enough to remember. He didn’t have a name, of course. Most dragons don’t have hapless young humans wandering into their private caves to bestow them. He was blue, with green eyes like mine. A handsome creature and strong, but quite young. He tried to lurk in my territory after I was done with him. We couldn’t have that, of course. He might have been a threat to the young ones when they hatched. I took care of the problem.

KS: *shuffles through notes* Okay, we’ll just leave that one alone. Maggie V wants to know whether you like ketchup.

Ruby: I like to catch up to what I’m hunting. Is that what you mean?

KS: There’s some quote about “beware of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup,” or something like that. It’s a seasoning sauce. With tomatoes.

Ruby: How horrid. *tilts head* I might try it, though.

KS: Maybe later, then. I have a request from Jennifer C about your past. How old you are, why you’re bothering to talk to humans. Anything.

Ruby: *narrows eyes* Now that is offensive. What have you heard?

KS: Nothing that’s not in the books. *moves chair farther away* We know it’s unusual for a dragon to take an interest in humans, that only older dragons can speak, and that most wouldn’t let humans go after interacting with them.

Ruby: *smiles* Then how do you know more don’t talk? Perhaps we just destroy the evidence of conversations like this one.

KS: *wipes sweat from brow* Fair enough. Would you rather move on?

Ruby: It doesn’t matter. I have found myself in a strange position these past few years. As I grow older, my mind is changing. Humans seem to think that becoming more like you should be desirable, but it’s not so. Internal conflicts and unanswerable questions and motivations that go beyond the basics of survival and procreation…

*shudders*

KS: You’re saying your life was simpler before?

Ruby: Infinitely.

KS: So why take an interest? Why not cling to what you once were, which as I understand it is the dragon ideal, instead of letting tasty humans live in exchange for stories and such? It’s almost as though you want friendship.

Ruby: Mind your words, human. *drums claws on the ground* The truth is that I don’t know. I’m hardly a respectable dragon anymore, I hate what I’m becoming, and yet it fascinates me. I want to know more about the lives of other creatures, to see what happens in the world and what effect I have on it with my actions or non-actions. It’s disgusting. Move on.

KS: You didn’t say how old you are.

Ruby: *glares*

KS: Moving on. Stephanie S says, “you’re a very seasoned dragon–”

Ruby: I’ll season you for supper with that catch-up stuff if you don’t drop it.

KS: Hey, it’s not my question. Be nice, or I’ll find a Sorcerer who can turn you into a salamander. The last book’s not out yet. I’m sure we could fit it in.

Ruby: You wouldn’t dare.

KS: Try me. Stephanie wants to know whether there are any memories you’d like to share.

Ruby: Oh, certainly. I’m thinking now of back when the people of Darmid arrived in my lands, after they overthrew the magic-wielding humans who ruled them in the west. *chuckles* They were determined to rid their land of magic, and thought themselves so prepared to do so after their little scuffle. A group of them settled not far from my old home. I left them alone for the most part, but they insisted on hunting me. I moved on eventually, though never far enough for their liking. But before I left, I crept into their town in the middle of the night and set fire to a string of houses. You should have heard the screams. And one who fancied himself a proper magic hunter chased me with a long sword. Again, this was early days, and they were hardly refined in their techniques. I pinned him down, and with one claw opened his torso like I was removing his clothing. His innards–

KS: You know, that might be enough memories. Emma C wants to know your favourite colour, and Shannon A wants to know what you wish you’d done differently in your life.

Ruby: *rolls eyes, feigns choking to death, then lifts head* Are we talking about regrets, now? I’m not that much like you people. And I like chartreuse.

KS: Really?

Ruby: No. Red. And gold is so pretty…

KS: Shannon also wants to know what you’d like as a present, but I’m guessing gold would be the answer to that, too.

Ruby: No.

KS: No?

Ruby: I want the rest of the magic hunters who killed my young one not so long ago. Alive. They have much to answer for.

KS: We’ll have to look into that, though a few have been taken care of. Sarah H asks what you like to eat when humans aren’t available, and whether men or women taste better.

Ruby: *laughs* That’s more like it. Actually, humans aren’t my favourite meal. I prefer horses or deer. Fleet-footed herbivores in general. As to the other part of that… Women. But I’ll tell you that humans with magic in their blood taste better than those without.

KS: *absently* I’d heard that.

Ruby: From whom?

KS: *looks up* Um. Humans. From your world.

Ruby: *perks up* Were they consuming the flesh of their enemies?

KS: What? No. It’s… never mind. *clears throat*

Ruby: Do go on.

KS: Oh look, another question. Is there any creature you don’t like? This is from Shannon again.

Ruby: *scowls* Shannon’s nosy. I don’t like most creatures. It would be faster to list those I do like.

KS: Would you?

Ruby: No. And you’re not on the list. Last question, now.

KS: Scott H wants to know when you’re going to take over the world.

Ruby: YES. *slams fist on the ground* That’s a proper question. And the answer is “when I choose to.” *stretches her head high to look over the fence* Actually, I might take this one. Now that you mention it…

KS: Annnnnnd that wraps up my interview with Ruby. Ruby the wonderful and benevolent and not-taking-over-the-world dragon. Anything else you’d like to add?

Ruby: Yes. Tell your minions that if they ever encounter a dragon they should leave it alone. As I said, you’re not all that tasty, but we do what we must.

KS: Okay, then. Thanks for coming.

Ruby: And thank you for not making this the least interesting day I’ve spent in recent years. It was close, but you pulled it out at the end. Now, speaking of not tasty, tell me more about these humans who you claim told you–

Kate: *approaches cautiously, whispers in Ruby’s ear*

Ruby: *wrinkles snout* That’s disturbing on so many levels.

Kate: Goodnight, folks!

Big thanks to everyone on my Facebook page and group who provided questions for the interview! I hope the answers were satisfactory.

If you don’t want to miss out on future fun, join us at http://www.facebook.com/katesparkesauthor


Bound A-Z: Q is for Queen

Hmm. This is awkward.

I had the loveliest image I wanted to share for this topic, relating to future events in the trilogy, but I can’t find the original source to credit them. Since I don’t want to be Stealy McThievypants, we’ll have to do something else.

*shuffles through files* Queen, queen, queen…

We haven’t really heard much from them in the Bound trilogy, have we? We know Severn’s mother is the queen of Tyrea, and that Ulric hardly ever spoke to her again after Severn’s little stunt regarding Aren’s mother. We know she has no magic. Aren explained to Rowan in Bound that Sorcerers and Sorceresses can’t have children together, and the king certainly wanted strong potential heirs. The queen of Tyrea has a strong influence over her son (or she did, once), but she hasn’t showed up on the page.

I do have a little something in the works, though. A prequel novella that takes place a few decades (or a little more) before the start of Bound, and this one set in Belleisle and Tyrea. This one won’t be going up for sale when it’s finished, but will go out to newsletter subscribers as a special bonus to say thanks for supporting my work.*

So just because we’re talking about queens today, and because it’s been so long since I got to participate in WIPpet Wednesdays, here’s a thin slice of description from the rough draft of that novella.

 

A broad pile of ornate fabric and curly brown hair swept into view, an astonishingly corseted lump of woman escorted by a white-haired young man. Jewels twinkled in her hair, crowning a face that was somehow round and pinched all at once, as though a generously endowed and once-beautiful lady had caught the middle part of her face in a slamming door. The rich brocade of her many-layered skirts brushed against the floor with every tiny step she took.

 

It’s not much, I know. Can’t spoil things, though, and I think you guys are going to like this one.

Well, if you like romance and danger and forbidden love and origin stories (sort of) and seeing established characters when they were younger and very different from how we’re used to seeing them.

It’s been a bit of a shock, actually.

So there you have her, the current queen of Tyrea.

Next week: R. Hmm. If only I had a character or two whose name started with R…

*sign-ups are free here, and new subscribers get a free download of The Binding, the existing prequel short story.


P is for Potioner

Alas, we find ourselves at another entry that leaves me struggling to not post spoilers. And man, does this topic develop in the next book.

One of the interesting things about writing a series is how things develop in unexpected ways. I don’t remember when I decided that there were two types of magic in the world I was creating, or when I realized how very different they were. It was one of those things that just seemed to exist, a discovery rather than an idea.

I’m afraid I’m as guilty of underestimating Potioners as some of my characters are, though. You see, when things started out, I thought there were strict divisions. A Sorcerer’s magic is internal, whereas a Potioner uses her perceptions and skills to manipulate magic outside of herself. They were healers, typically. Important people in their way, but nothing on the level of a Sorcerer.

Not real magic.

My characters showed me differently as I wrote their stories. It wasn’t until I drafted The Binding that I realized a Potioner was responsible for Rowan’s condition–I’d assumed it was a magical curse of some sort. But Elisha showed up with her ointments and herbs, and I learned that healing isn’t the only thing a Potioner is capable of.

Emalda introduced me to the range of skills a Potioner might have, but it wasn’t until I slipped into Nox’s mind that I truly understood the experience. I learned what it’s like to feel magic pulsing through a plant, to hear them calling silently, to sense the potential of a thing. I understood then that Potioners are far more than the glorified chefs or chemists that Aren (and so many people like him) take them for. Their magic might not flow through them as it does a Sorcerer, but it’s there.

And now we come to SPOILERTOWN, so I won’t say much. I will tell you that I’ve met another character who changed everything. Actually, she showed me something that was in front of me from the beginning, and I had overlooked it.

You see, there are several levels of skill when you’re a Potioner.

There are those with basic skills, mostly learned from books with a little kick of natural talent thrown in. They may be competent craftsmen, but there’s little art to it. Little of themselves thrown in.

There are the gifted ones, those like Nox and Sara who sense the power and potential in everything around them, who work from instinct as much as from lessons. They are the artists, using their gifts to build on learned skills and create something entirely new. They’re the innovators.

And then there are the truly great ones, who can–

No, I’m not telling.

All I’ll say is that though Nox thinks she’s mastered her art, she still has a lot to learn.


O is for Orim (factoids for megafan show-offs included within)

O

Orim.

Not a familiar word?

It shouldn’t be.

“Orim” was the name of the country of Darmid when I sent Bound off for edits. When my editor got the twelve-year-old giggles over the fact that “Orish” sounded like “whorish,” I figured I should change it. It wasn’t easy. By the time I settled on something that wasn’t too hard to remember or pronounce and that I didn’t hate too much, I barely had time to do a find-and-replace before I sent the thing off for formatting.

There have been a lot of things like that during the writing process. See, I’m bad at naming stuff. We’ve talked a little about this before, so I won’t go too much into it. But the fact is, a book you hold in your hands on release day (bless you) is likely not the one the author first imagined months or years before, when it was just a bright bit of inspired magic with huge potential. Much as we like to think of stories as things we discover or living beings that grow organically*, there’s as much construction involved as there is discovery.

Disclaimer: Look away if ye wish not to see behind the veil.

Character names change. In the first draft of Bound, Rowan’s name was Abra (yoinked from my favourite book, East of Eden). That one got canned as soon as I realized that HEY, MAGIC. ABRA CADABRA.

*headdesk*

Aren went through at least four names before I found one that suited him perfectly–one I found by picking nice syllables and smashing them together rather than just changing the spelling of a common name, because I have to do everything the hard way.

Aren and Rowan were different people in early drafts, until Rowan grew a backbone and Aren embraced the fact that he’s kind of a dick. Romantic things happened earlier in the first drafts, because MAN can characters be hard to handle when they both know what they want.

And here comes the trivia for anyone who’s read this far:

The entire backstory of Darmid (or Orim… and other things before that) was different. Until edits, the reason the people of that land feared magic was because their ancestors came from our world. Their horses were average because they came from here, too. People feared magic because it was a danger to them when they first arrived, and because they carried prejudices about witchcraft from our world to that one. They set out to destroy it in their land, and within a few generations they almost succeeded. In previous drafts Kel talked about how the merfolk could come to “Oldworld,” while the people were trapped on land (though if you asked around in Ardare, you might find that there were occasionally recent arrivals via the mountains).

It was cool. It was interesting. And it totally threw off the story when I had to weave it into the narrative. That’s not the kind of thing you want to just infodump, and it became confusing when spread out. In the end, the story wasn’t about that. So I dropped it.

This origin of humans in Serath has not been completely abandoned. There’s a reason for little idiosyncrasies and apparent anachronisms, and they all have roots in our world. There’s a reason so many species that originated in that world may have occasionally been spotted here, once upon a time. There’s a reason the merfolk have fashions that might seem more at home in our world, why their library holds so many treasures unknown in Tyrea…

…but the humans no longer know about it. Instead of Tyreans arriving a few thousand years ago (hence the developed magic in their bloodlines) and the Darmish just a few hundred (hence their weaker magic and how rare Rowan’s gift was), it’s all been pushed so far back into the past that no human remembers it. The stories are generally dismissed as myth, especially in Tyrea. Only the merfolk still know, and they don’t tell.

What does this mean? Nothing on a practical level, at least for now. If Niari’s fascination with human culture has ever led her to our shores, she won’t be telling Aren or Rowan. If there’s sheet music for the Beatles in the Grotto’s library, Aren won’t know what it is if he ever gets a chance to bang it out on a piano (and he’d probably think it was weird, anyway).

Unless I write more about the merfolk, this little fact will probably never come up. Even then, it might never make it onto the page.

But now you know.

Feel free to be all hipstery about it if it ever does make an appearance. 🙂

Tell me: What one thing are you such a mega-geek about that you absorb obscure bits of trivia like you’re a sponge in a puddle?

*Okay, maybe it’s like this for some writers, and their first drafts are unplanned, inspired, just-as-they-imagined gifts from the muses. Most of us have to work harder, especially if we want our work to appeal to anyone outside our own heads.


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Welcome to my mind... Blog for fantasty author Jen Wylie