The Faery Queen

At the beginning of April, I submitted draft 3 of my Tam Lin prequel/faery queen origin story EYES OF WOOD, HEART OF STONE to my agent. It was about 8 months of hard work, overhauling much of the second draft and doing additional research into 14th century Scottish life (which was not fun during a pandemic, let me tell you). As a reward for finishing the draft, I commissioned this portrait of the Faery Queen from Dae Nir (www.etsy.com/daenir), who did a wonderful job! The physical painting is on its way to me as well.

If you write, have you ever commissioned a character portrait? If you’re a reader, do you appreciate character art?

Writer in Motion, Week Four

Today I post my final draft of my Writer in Motion story. Week 4 is a second week of swapping manuscripts with critique partners, and I had the pleasure of working with Jeffrey Ricker and S Kaeth! I enjoyed reading both their stories, and my own manuscript has definitely benefitted from their insight! I feel like my aged sorceress is much cannier and my prose much smoother thanks to their help. So here’s the final (ha!) version :

Exiled

High up in the hills, where the wildflowers bloomed and the grass grew tall and brown, there lived a boxy little woman in a boxy little house. Both appeared ordinary and undistinguished, but appearances lie, for this was no mere dwelling, and she was no simple crone.

Once she’d been the most powerful sorceress in seven worlds.

And once she’d had the freedom to come and go at will.

Now here ye sit, the old woman said to herself,  forgotten by all. She gulped down what she hoped was wine, not some toxic elixir she’d brewed and forgotten. It hardly mattered any more.

Not long ago, she had joined a band of rebels locked in battle against a tyrannical king. Rumor had it, he practiced black magic, but the rumor was wrong. Madam Sorceress could have told the rebels that. But their money was good, their motivations were noble, and she was beguiled by the youthful vigor with which they spoke of their cause. She had once been so idealistic herself.  So, she brewed up a potion, with frog livers and bat wings, the last breath of a condemned man and the first tear of an abandoned bride and served it up to the rebel leader.

He grimaced at the smell. “This will grant me invisibility?”

“Much more than that.” The sorceress pitched her voice low, spreading her fingers before her and widening her eyes. “Drink it and you shall disappear completely. Your footfalls will be as silence. No hound will smell you and raise the alarm. No guard will feel the breeze as you sneak past.”

The young man lifted an eyebrow. “If it’s even half as effective as you say . . .”

Young jackanapes like this one never did take such threats seriously. “Heed my words,” the sorceress said darkly. “The potion will perplex all the senses, even your own. Keep in mind both your purpose and your name, else your mind shall weaken, and you will disappear even to yourself.”

“Dangerous magic indeed,” the leader had said, an unreadable look in his eyes. Yet he drank the potion in one gulp, and promptly vanished from view.

Should’ve suspected right then and there. Who would drink that noxious brew without a second thought? The sorceress took another swig of wine and moved her hand in lazy circles at the wall before her, which swirled in shades of purple and green.

The rebel had snuck into the tyrant’s palace, made quick work of the king and slew the queen, ending the dynasty before she’d even a chance to scream.

A week later, the new king had summoned the sorceress before him. Lad wants to thank me in person, since he’d never have won the throne were it not for me. So, she dressed herself in her finest garments, mustering as much elegance as a squat old woman could and stood before the new king seated on the ancient throne.

How the zealous young rebel she had lent her magic to had changed! He wore dark robes, and an inklike black stain crept across his golden crown. His eyes still shone, with a fervor she’d taken for idealism, which now seemed feverish, not quite safe.  

A chill crept over her heart. You wanna see one what works in black magic, that’s him right there.

Beside the king stood a mirror, the full-length kind in which noble ladies oft liked to admire their fancy gowns. Full of himself to boot, the sorceress thought. She swallowed and curtsied as best as she was able, arthritic joints and all.  

The king inclined his head. “Sorceress.”

She tasted her doom as she rose and met his eyes. “To what do I owe the honor of this summons?”

He clasped his hands and leaned back on his throne. “You’re here to discuss your new accommodations.”

She cocked her head, dread pooling in her belly.

“I’m afraid I cannot allow you to remain in my kingdom. You are far too dangerous.”  Though the young king looked as handsome as ever, his voice creaked worse than the sorceress’s old joints.

Tyrants oft replaced tyrants, it seemed. And yet, his manner spoke of more than simple despotism, of something toxic, rotten at the core. The sorceress stepped back, glanced discreetly behind her to see the guards blocking the door.

  “Nothing went wrong,” she protested, a rising squeak in her voice. “You got your throne. I never asked for more than what was fair.”

 The king looked down, almost chastened, humble. “That potion I drank could have cost me my soul.”

She eyed him warily. I’m not so sure it didn’t.

The king snapped his fingers and a flame arose in the palm of his hand. “It is a magic I have yet to master myself.”

The sorceress’s mouth dropped open. She’d been played a fool. He didn’t need me; he was testing me. And now that I’ve passed, I fail.

The king gestured grandly at the mirror. “Behold your new home.”

The sorceress crept forward, squinting. Then her eyes grew wide. The mirror did not reflect her surroundings. Instead, it showed an unfamiliar land, hilly, with brown grass and wildflowers . . . and a tiny boxy house.

An old sorceress is nothing more than an old woman. Both are easily tossed aside. Well, not if she had anything to say about it.  She scrunched up her face. “Can’t live in a tiny place like that.” It was humiliating, that’s what it was. Sent away to live in a box. Pet toads and mice got more respect. She crossed her arms. “You’ll never make me go.”

“You may fight me, if you wish,” said the king. “I am younger than you, and stronger. I will take your magic, your will and your life. Go, and your magic remains to you—if only inside the house.”

Something rattled in her chest; her extremities suddenly went cold and dry. Yet there remained a spark of hope inside her, waiting to be stoked into a flame. “I can keep my magic?”

The king nodded slowly, his face a mask.

While I have magic, I have hope. She pulled her shawl about her, and hunched over, her steps halting and slow. Let him think she was cowed, let him forget she was aught but a retiring old woman, no fight left in her. He underestimated her at his peril.  With a deep breath, she entered the mirror, and walked towards the house little than more a casket, more a prison than any home she’d ever known.

From that day forth, she lived there, the greatest sorceress in seven worlds, now forgotten and ignored by eight. She spruced up and stretched the interior with her charms, so it was spacious as a sprawling manor. Her magic was her only companion as she schemed inside her heart.

Until there came a knock on her door.

Writer in Motion, Week 3

Welcome to Writer in Motion Week 3!

This week we were to send our edited drafts of our short story to two different critique partners, randomly chosen from members of the Writer in Motion community. My two critique partners were HM Braverman, and Melissa Bergum. I also shared the story with my in-person critique partner, Karen Engelsen. Their feedback was invaluable in helping me give my protagonist more agency, cutting down on unnecessary description and dialogue tags, and incorporating some of the exposition more fluidly into the text. So, without further ado, here is Exiled, Draft 3:

Exiled

High up in the hills, where the wildflowers bloomed and the grass grew tall and brown, lived a boxy little woman in a boxy little house. To all appearances, they were well-suited, but appearances lie, for this was no mere dwelling, and she was no simple crone.

She was the most powerful sorceress in seven worlds.

But she had not the freedom to come and go at will.

Now here ye sit, forgotten by all. The old woman swallowed down what she hoped was wine, not some toxic elixir she’d brewed and forgotten. It hardly mattered any more.

Not long ago, she had joined a band of rebels to take down a tyrannical king. Rumor had it, he practiced black magic. Rumor, as it turned out, was wrong. Madam Sorceress could have told the rebels that. But their money was good, and she was beguiled by their earnest manners, the youthful vigor with which they spoke of their cause. She had once been so idealistic herself.  So, she brewed up a potion, with frog livers and bat wings, the last breath of a condemned man and the first tear of an abandoned bride. She served it up to the rebel leader, with these cautionary words: “Drink and ye shall disappear completely. Your footfalls will be as silence. No hound will smell you and raise the alarm. No guard will feel the breeze as you sneak past. Twill perplex all the senses, even your own.” Her voice grew quiet, and she locked him in her gaze. “Hold tight to both your purpose and your name. Else your mind shall weaken, and you will disappear even to yourself.”

The leader swallowed, ran a finger around his collar. “Dangerous magic indeed.” Yet he drank the potion in one gulp, and promptly vanished from view.

She should have suspected something right then and there. Who would drink her noxious brew without a second thought? What cause was worthy to risk one’s very soul? But the young believe they are invulnerable, and perhaps she overestimated his devotion to the cause.

The rebel had snuck into the tyrant’s palace, made quick work of the king and slew the queen, ending the dynasty before she’d even a chance to scream.

A week later, the new king summoned the sorceress before him. She dressed herself in her finest garments, mustering as much elegance as a squat old woman could and stood before the new king seated on the ancient throne.

It was the zealous young rebel she had lent her magic to, but oh, how he had changed. He wore dark robes, and his golden crown seemed darkened to black. His eyes still shone, but the fervor she’d taken for idealism now seemed feverish, not quite safe.  You want to see someone what works black magic, that’s him right there. A chill crept over her heart.

The sorceress swallowed and curtsied as best as she was able, arthritic joints and all.  “Your Majesty.”

The king inclined his head, so young and handsome. “Sorceress.”

She tasted her doom as she rose and met his eyes. “To what do I owe the honor of this summons?”

He clasped his hands and leaned back in his throne. “You’re here to discuss your new accommodations.”

She cocked her head, confused.

“I’m afraid you cannot be allowed to remain in my kingdom. You are far too dangerous.”  Though he looked as handsome as ever, his voice creaked worse than the sorceress’s old joints.

Tyrants oft replaced tyrants, it seemed.  “Nothing went wrong,” the sorceress protested. “You got your throne. I never asked for more than what was fair.”

 The king looked down at his lap, almost chastened, humble. “That potion I drank could have cost me my soul.”

She eyed him warily. I’m not so sure it didn’t.

The king snapped his fingers and a flame arose in the palm of his hand. “It is a magic I have yet to master myself.”

Her mouth dropped open. He didn’t need me; he was testing me. And now that I’ve passed, I fail.

The king gestured grandly at the mirror. “Behold your new home.”

The sorceress crept forward, squinting. The mirror did not reflect her surroundings. Instead, it showed an unfamiliar land, hilly, with brown grass and wildflowers . . . and a tiny boxy house.

An old sorceress is nothing more than an old woman. Both are easily tossed aside. Well, not if she had anything to say about it.  She scrunched up her face. “Can’t live in a tiny place like that.” It was humiliating, that’s what it was. Sent away to live in a box. Pet toads and mice got more respect. She crossed her arms. “You’ll never make me go.”

“You may fight me, if you wish,” said the king. “I am younger than you, and stronger. I will take your magic, your will and your life. Go, and your magic remains to you—if only inside the house.”

Something rattled in her chest; her extremities suddenly went cold and dry. Yet there remained a spark of hope inside her, waiting to be stoked into a flame. “I can keep my magic?”

The king nodded slowly, his face a mask.

While I have magic, I have hope. She pulled her shawl about her, and hunched over, her steps halting and slow. Let him think she was cowed, let him forget she was aught but a retiring old woman, no fight left in her. She knew better. With a deep breath, she entered the mirror, and walked towards the house little than more a casket, more a prison than any home she’d ever known.

From that day forth, she lived there, the greatest sorceress in seven worlds, now forgotten and ignored by eight. She spruced up and stretched the interior with her charms, so it was spacious as a sprawling manor. She practiced her magic and she schemed in her heart.

And then came a knock on her door.

Writer in Motion, Week 2

Welcome back to my Writer in Motion posts! We’re in Week Two now, which means I get to share the second draft of my story “Exiled.” It’s been a challenge for me, going back to short fiction after a long time away, and writing new words after spending a long time revising. But it’s fun, and my main character has rather charmed me, so yay for that!

For this challenge, since we are seeking critique partners and each draft is meant to take a week, our drafts are supposed to be no more than 1000 words. My first draft came in at 1192 words. So I had a bit of pruning to do. I knew even as I was writing I was including too much description for a work of flash fiction, so my main goals as I revised were to tighten my prose. Cutting adverbs, choosing stronger verbs, and focusing on one or two salient details rather than lengthy description was how I chose to go about it. So here are the results:

EXILED

High in the hills, where the wildflowers bloomed and the grass grew tall and brown, lived a boxy little woman in a boxy little house. Her straw-like hair was gray as stone; she had a pinched little face, like one of those high-strung dogs heiresses carry around in their bags. To look at her was to overlook her, and for most of her life she had preferred it that way.

But now, living on this lonely hilltop, she who was once the most powerful sorceress in seven worlds had been forgotten by all.

Not long ago, she had joined a band of rebels taking down a tyrannical king. Rumor had it, he practiced black magic, and any subject who dared appear before him quaked in their shoes.

Rumor, as it turned out, was wrong. Madam Sorceress could have told the rebels that, had they bothered to ask. But their money was good, and they thought they needed sorcery to defeat sorcery, so she agreed to work on their side. She brewed up a potion, with frog livers and bat wings, the last breath of a condemned man and the first tear of an abandoned bride. She served it up to the rebel leader, who grimaced at the smell, but gulped it down.

Then he vanished.

This was not a potion of invisibility; oh no, it was so much more. This potion perplexed all the senses: enveloped him in silence; stole away his scent. As he snuck into the palace, no dog would smell him and raise the alarm; no guard even feel the breeze as he passed by. Until he slit the king’s throat, there would be no sign of the rebel leader at all.

“Be careful,” the old sorceress warned. “Keep in mind both your purpose and your name. This is powerful magic. Should your mind weaken, you will disappear completely, as if you never were.”

And so, the rebel snuck into the tyrant’s palace, murmuring his own name as he crept up the stairs into the king’s bedchamber, where he made quick work of the tyrant and slew the queen before she had time to scream.

Thus, the dynasty ended. The leader took the throne and vowed to rule his people with fairness and respect.

Sometimes, even rebel leaders lie.

A week later, the new king summoned the sorceress to his presence. Lad wants to thank me in person, she told herself. Knows he’d never have won the throne were it not for me. So, she dressed herself in her finest garments, mustering as much elegance as a squat old woman could, and stood before the new king seated on the ancient throne.

Behind him stood a figure in dark robes, his hood pulled down to shield his face. Now, you wanna see one what works in black magic, thought the sorceress, that’s him right there. She dared not look at him, nor at the large mirror standing at the king’s right hand. Instead, she curtsied as best as she was able, arthritic joints and all.  “Your Majesty.”

The king inclined his head, so young and handsome, but she tasted her doom as she met his eyes.

. “I’m afraid,” he said, “you are far too dangerous to be allowed to remain.”

Tyrants may replace tyrants, the sorceress thought.  “Well, what’d you summon me for, then?” She meant it as a joke.

No one laughed.

“Not in the palace,” said the young king. “In this very kingdom.”

“In this world,” said the figure behind the throne, voice creaking worse than the sorceress’s old joints.

The king tilted his head, a cruel smile on his lips. “Did you really think we would only have one sorcerer on our side? Oh no. That’s much too dangerous. You’re much too dangerous, you and that spell. We needed a check . . . in case something went wrong.”

An old witch is nothing more than an old woman,  thought the sorceress, easily tossed aside. “Nothing went wrong,” she snapped. “You got your throne. I never asked for more than what was fair.”

“I know,” said the king. “Which is why you shall live. But not here.” And he gestured grandly at the mirror. “There.”

The sorceress crept forward, squinting at the mirror. Then her eyes grew wide. The mirror did not reflect her surroundings. Instead, it showed an unfamiliar land, hilly, with brown grass and wildflowers . . . and a tiny boxy house.

“Your new home,” said the king.

The old woman scrunched up her face. “ Can’t live in a tiny place like that.”

“Any sorcerer worth their salt could surely shape it to their needs.”

That wasn’t the point. It was humiliating, that’s what it was. Sent away to live in a box. Pet toads and mice got more respect.  And after all she had done.

The dark figure spoke again; this time his voice roared like flame.  “This world is bereft of magic. Yours remains at your disposal—but only inside the house.”

Something rattled in the old woman’s chest; her extremities suddenly went cold and dry. “I must live there. Surrounded by my magic. Completely alone.”

The king’s face was a mask. “It is better than losing your life.”

The sorceress swallowed. There wasn’t much to say to that.

The dark figure came forward, reaching for her. The sorceress edged away from him and towards the mirror. Breathing deep, she entered it, walking towards the little box, the house little than more a casket, more a prison than any home she’d ever known.

From that day forth, she lived in that tiny box house, the greatest sorceress in seven worlds, now forgotten and ignored by eight. She spruced up and stretched the interior with her charms, and she practiced her magic, because if she wasn’t a sorceress, she didn’t know who she was.  As the king had told her; it was better than losing her life.

Until the day there came a knock on her door.

Writer in Motion, Week 1.

So here we are! Week 1 of Writer in Motion. The week we get to share the messy, mucky, wonderful first drafts of our Writer in Motion projects! Kind of terrifying, ain’t it? The impostor syndrome is strong in me today.

As a reminder, the prompt was to write a story inspired by this photo:

Small house on hillside with mountains behind it. Photo by Rahul Pandit.

So this image didn’t immediately grab me. The mountains are pretty, but I’m more of an ocean person, or perhaps a forest gal, as long as there are no bugs. And maybe there is a forest somewhere, down that hillside to the left, but everything also looks pretty dry. It also seems very isolated, and I’m a big introvert, so you might think that I’d welcome the isolation, but I also don’t drive, so this image really says one thing to me: trapped. Yes, the view is great but if I lived here, I could never leave. Which probably explains the title of my story, come to think of it. So, without further ado, I present the messy first draft of my Writer in Motion story:

EXILED

High up in the hills, where the wildflowers bloomed and the grass grew tall and brown, lived a boxy little woman in a boxy little house. Her hair was grey like stone and dry as straw; she was short and had a pinched little face, like one of those high-strung dogs heiresses carry around in their bags. To look at her, was to immediately forget her; rather, to look at her was to overlook her, and for most of her life she had preferred it that way.

From appearance alone, you would never know she was the most powerful sorceress in seven worlds.

She’d have far comfier housing had she not been.

Not long ago, she had joined the band of rebels taking down a tyrannical king. Rumor had it, he practiced black magic; he’d certainly looked the part, with his flowing robes, pointed beard, and beetle-black brows.

Rumor, as it turned out, was wrong. Madam Sorceress could have told the rebels that much, had they bothered to ask. But as long as their money was good, and they thought they needed sorcery to defeat sorcery, she was willing to work on their side. She had brewed up such a potion, filled with frog livers and bat wings, the last breath of a dying outlaw and the first tear of an abandoned bride. In a vessel shaped like a dragon’s claw, she served it to the leader of the rebels. He grimaced at the smell, but gulped it down quickly, almost immediately vanishing from view.

This was not a potion of invisibility. The sorceress would never lower herself to use such as that. The potion did not only shield the rebel from view, it enveloped him in silence, and stole away his very scent. No dog would ever smell him, no guard so much as feel the breeze as he passed them by. Until he slit the king’s throat, there would be no evidence to any of the senses that the rebel leader had even passed by.

“Be careful,” the old sorceress had warned him. “Keep in mind both your purpose and your name. This is no mere hedge witch’s brew. Should your mind weaken, you will disappear completely, as if you never were.”

And so the rebel snuck into the tyrant’s palace, murmuring his name as he snuck past the guards and their dogs, up the stairs into the king’s bedchamber, where he made short work of the tyrant and slew the queen before she had even a moment to scream.

The dynasty was all but ended. The throne went to the rebel leader, who vowed to rule his people with fairness and respect.

Twas a week later the new king summoned the sorceress to his presence. She had expected as much, though she had already been paid. Lad wants to thank me in person, she told herself. Knows he’d never have won the throne were it not for me. So she dressed herself in her finest garments, mustering as much elegance as a squat old woman could, and stood before the king in the throne room.

Behind the throne stood an ominous figure, clad in dark robes, with his hood pulled down to shield his face. Now, you wanna see one what works in black magic, thought the sorceress, that’s him right there. But she did not look at the figure, nor at the large mirror that stood at the king’s right hand. Instead, she curtsied as best as she was able, arthritic joints and all, and tasted her doom as she met the young king’s eyes.

“Your Majesty,” she said.

The king inclined his head, and she noted again how young and handsome he was, but there was not a hint of warmth in his eyes. “I’m afraid,” he said, “you are far too dangerous to be allowed to stay.”

Tyrants may replace tyrants, the old sorceress thought, and a witch is nothing more than an old woman, easily tossed aside.“Well, what’d you summon me for, then?” It was meant to be a joke. No one laughed.

“Not in the palace,” said the young king. “In this very kingdom.”

“In this very world,” said the figure behind the throne. Its voice was dry, and creaked, worse than the sorceress’s old joints. D-d-d-death? she thought but pressed her lips together so it would not come out.

The young king tilted his head, a cruel smile on his handsome lips. “Did you really think we would only have one sorcerer on our side? Oh no. That’s much too dangerous. You’re much too dangerous, you and that spell. We needed a check . . . in case something went wrong.”

“Nothing went wrong,” the old woman snapped. “You got your throne, and I ain’t never asked for more than what was fair.”

“I know,” said the king. “Which is why you shall live. But not here.” And he gestured grandly at the mirror.

The sorceress peered at the mirror, scowling. “What am I supposed to be seeing?” The mirror did not reflect her surroundings. Instead, it showed a different land, hilly, with brown grass and wildflowers . . . and a tiny boxy house.

“Your new home,” said the king.

The old woman scrunched up her face. “It’s too tiny. Can’t nobody live in a place like that.”

 “It does not have to be,” said the king. “Any sorcerer worth their salt could surely shape it to their needs.”

That wasn’t beyond her capabilities, it was true. She had raised palaces for third-born sons, made bridges appear overnight, just with a flick of her wand. “I suppose I can work with it, spruce up the place a bit . . .”

“Only on the inside.” The dark figure spoke again; this time his voice sounded like roaring flame.  “This world is bereft of magic. All of yours is at your disposal—but only inside the house.”

The sorceress felt something rattle in her chest; her extremities suddenly went cold and dry. “I must live there. Alone. All the magic I ever had at my disposal, but I can never leave.”

The king’s face was a blank mask. “It is better than losing your life.”

The sorceress swallowed. There wasn’t much to say to that.

The dark figure came forward, reaching a hand to her back. The sorceress recoiled, wanting anything other than to feel that dreadful touch upon her skin. Breathing deep, she entered into the mirror, walking towards the little box, the house that seemed more a casket, more a prison than any home she’d ever known.

From that day forth, she lived in that tiny little box house, the greatest sorceress in seven worlds, now forgotten and ignored by eight. She charmed the interior so it wasn’t too unbearable to live in, and she practiced her magic, for something to do, and because she didn’t know who she was if not a sorceress. It was all she had ever been. And if the sorceress was not entirely happy, the king had been right; it was better than losing her life.

Until there came a knock on her door.

Writer in Motion, Week Zero

Hello, and welcome!

I write this, my inaugural blog post, because this month I am participating in Writer in Motion, round three.

Writer in Motion is a challenge meant to show how much our written work transforms between first and final drafts. You can learn more about it here: https://writerinmotion.com/about/

Basically, the idea is to take a writing prompt, which was revealed today, and write a short story inspired by it, around 1000 words or less. In week 1, we are to share our unedited first draft of it (gulp). For week 2, we will revise the short story on our own and post the revised story. Week 3, we revise our story with the aid of critique partners, or CPs, and we post the final version of the story in week 4. Week 5, will be our final thoughts, what we learned from the experience, and so on.

I thought joining in Writer in Motion would be a fun exercise for me, and a great way to give my blog something to do. Some of my online writing buddies are already involved, and as I seek out feedback and new critique partners in the forums, it could be a great way to make new writing friends!

So, without further ado, here is the prompt for this round:

(Photo by Rahul Pandit on Unsplash)

Right now, I don’t know what to do with it. Here’s this little tiny building up in the hills, with the beautiful mountains behind it. Who lives there? How do they get from place to place? I don’t see any roads, and the house seems quite small. What do they do for groceries, going to work, or school?

I mostly write fantasy, so there are all sorts of intriguing possibilities swirling around in my mind. Stay tuned this week to see where I decide to go!