Author’s Note: This excerpt from THE HEIR AND THE SPARE is subject to change. Please excuse any grammar errors, typos, etc. that I haven’t caught yet.
Only two people had to die for Princess Iona to become queen: her father King Gawen, an aloof figure whose passing she would one day mourn, and her older sister Lisenn, whose grave she would gladly dance on should the occasion arise. Of course grave-dancing was frowned upon in Wessett and the likelihood of Lisenn dying first was minuscule, but that didn’t stop the younger sister from sheltering such an inclination in her heart.
And it had nothing to do with wanting the crown, because she didn’t.
“You look exceptionally nice today,” said a voice behind her.
Iona glanced up from the tray of art supplies she had been arranging—oil paints, brushes, pencils, rags—to her cousin leaning against the door casing. Aedan wore a kind expression in his drooping eyes, his brown hair framing his face in waves, perfect for a portrait. Shame he was supposed to be on the other side of the room, positioned between a pair of faux-marble columns instead.
“Thank you…?” she said, her intonation rising as though she were asking a question rather than accepting his compliment.
He pushed away from the jamb and strolled fully into her studio, hands in his pockets and a casual air about him. His dark eyes swept from the top of her head to the tip of her toes. “It’s your hair, I think. Your maid put in some extra effort this morning.”
Her fingertips ghosted against the style. Bina had insisted on working braids into her usual upswept knot, and Iona had been too sleepy to protest. While she preferred to keep her long blond hair in simple order, the occasional elaborate variation wouldn’t kill her.
Aedan shifted his focus elsewhere. “Sticking to your usual somber colors, though. You always seem like you’re in mourning.”
She looked down at herself and pitched her words to sound innocent. “The smock is white.” As if that counteracted the slate gray of the exquisitely tailored dress beneath it.
His mouth pulled to one side and he leveled her with a piercing stare. “Your sister doesn’t own the rainbow, you know.”
Iona suppressed a laugh and motioned him onward to his waiting perch. “I like my grays and browns.” When he made no move to ascend the set of his portrait, her nerves manifested in a warbling chuckle. “Bina did try to dress me in blue today. Heaven knows where she got the gown, but it was the color of a summer sky.” Wessett was barely halfway through spring, but the pale, incomparable blue had called to her nonetheless. It invoked warmth and brightness, a far cry from the thread of cool, damp breeze that wafted now from her row of open windows. Her studio, tucked into the ground floor of the castle’s eastern wing, had only an hour or two of good natural light in the morning, but never the warmth of the sun.
“You should have worn it,” Aedan said, with something akin to sorrow on his face.
Again she shooed him toward the set, impatient. “Why? I’d only get paint on it by day’s end.”
He gave her an odd look but finally walked on, hopping up onto the low scaffold to take his place between the columns. Iona, satisfied that they were beginning their session at last, picked up her palette and selected a long, thin brush from her collection. Before she could so much as touch it to paint, her cousin asked,
“What was the name you used when you were living in Capria?”
Her hand froze. A series of unpleasant memories flashed before her eyes. Carefully she broke the momentary trance and lifted her gaze to meet his. “Why do you want to know that?”
“Were you keeping it secret from me?” he asked, off-hand, and she had to concede the point. She’d told him four years ago, upon her abrupt return from the mainland, but she hadn’t spoken of Capria or her experiences there in ages. Plague her memory though they might, she refused to let them govern her life. Only her lady’s maid knew the full extent, and only because she’d witnessed it firsthand.
But refusing to speak of it when directly asked would only arouse suspicions. Even though Aedan knew a fraction of the truth, he needn’t suspect it still bothered her.
So, Iona focused on the half-finished portrait and quietly said, “I called myself Yanna of Ghemp.”
She leaned closer to the canvas, adding daubs of white to highlight the yellow-gold of her subject’s sateen breeches. “Because it lies in the furthest corner of their kingdom, with only a lower set of nobles who rarely sent their children to the Royal College. Why the sudden curiosity?”
Aedan didn’t immediately answer, and she might have let the conversation drop if not for the charged silence that possessed the room. After three more daubs of white, she stepped backward and to one side, the better to scowl at him.
“You don’t keep up with anything that happens at court, do you,” he said.
She huffed a laugh and resumed painting. “Why should I? I’m just the spare, here to ensure that my father’s bloodline continues on the throne into the next generation. If you want to speak of court, go find Lisenn.”
She didn’t miss the sneer that crossed his face, nor could she blame him for it. Had they been anywhere but her studio—had someone passed the open door to the hall or observed from the garden through the open windows—she might have rebuked him, but since they were alone and she shared his opinions of her sister, she merely allowed herself a wan smile and continued working.
His sudden interest in her time at the Royal College of Capria—four years, starting at age twelve—niggled at the back of her brain, but Aedan often wondered aloud about random things. Surely her parents weren’t considering sending her back, even if it was safe again. She dismissed the very idea.
The breeze helped dissipate the scent of turpentine, but it also worked a chill into Iona’s fingers. She had to pause to rub some warmth back into her joints. Had Aedan’s father commissioned the portrait later in the year, they might have set it in the garden instead of using the lavish backdrop of drapes and columns and worldly gewgaws angled in artistic opposition to one other, but the older generation loved their pomp and polished mementos. Perhaps she would propose a more casual study once this official one was complete. Aedan had an excellent face for painting.
But not, perhaps, a mind for tact. He abruptly said, “They’re coming to negotiate a treaty.”
Iona, absorbed now in the interplay of light and shadow on his canvas double, asked, “Who?”
“Capria. They sent the request last month. Their ship docked in the harbor this morning.”
She frowned, the words tumbling senseless against her own thoughts. Capria had fallen into civil war, the cause of her abrupt removal from its shores when she was sixteen. Of course she knew that conflict had resolved—such news traveled even to her neglected corner of the castle—but that had been more than a season ago. Wessett had helped the Caprian nobles with only a pittance of support during the worst of their battles, but the pair of countries had a troubled past so that hardly surprised anyone.
“Why would they want a treaty with us?” she asked.
“Probably to preempt your father from invading and taking them over when they’re already at their weakest.”
“Io, sometimes I can’t tell if you’re truly oblivious, or if it’s all an elaborate act,”Aedan said. “Capria has proposed a marriage alliance, their new crown prince with your sister, and the two thrones to combine in the next generation. They’re coming today to negotiate.”
Her chest constricted tight. She sucked in a controlled breath, torn between alarm and a strange, blossoming hope. “They’re marrying off Lisenn?”
“They’re negotiating it, I said. You little fool, do you understand what that means?”
The epithet didn’t bother her. Aedan used it more as a term of endearment than a malicious slight. His question, however, spiraled her into visual confusion.
Her cousin released a long-suffering sigh. “They’re sending their crown prince. He’s only a year or two older than you. That means you probably know him, and your parents will expect you at court as a member of the royal family to greet his entourage.”
Again she blinked, several times in rapid succession. Who was the new crown prince of Capria? The former prince’s assassination had kicked off their civil war, and his younger brother had died within a year. Both had been in their thirties, already married with small children, but traitorous militants had targeted their whole families. It stood to reason that the crown had fallen to another noble house.
But who? Someone near her age…?
The elite of the Royal College paraded through her thoughts, a catalog of proud and callous youths, scornful faces that delighted in tormenting their lesser peers.
In tormenting a nobody from backward Ghemp.
She almost flung her palette to the nearby table, fingers quick to work the buttons at the back of her smock. “Help me out of this,” she said on a gasp.
Aedan darted to her aid, deftly freeing her of the over-garment. “Are you going to wear the blue dress after all?” he asked, a gleam of approval in his eyes.
“What?” Iona peered past him to the open door. From further down the hall a set of footsteps echoed against stone walls.
“To court, to greet the—”
“I’m not going to court!” She shoved the wadded smock into his hands and bolted for the nearest window.
Aedan followed her to the sill. “But your parents—”
“I don’t care! I’m not going!” She was already slipping past the leaden frame, intent upon the narrow space between the bushes and the castle wall. As she dangled her legs off the ledge above the gravel four feet below, she glimpsed a figure in her studio door, and the voice of her father’s steward, Kester, filled the room she was in process of vacating.
“Your Highness, your most noble parents, the king and queen, request—”
Iona hit the ground running. If she never received the summons, she didn’t have to obey it. No one would expect her to attend the actual treaty negotiations. Or if they did, she could make her absence more prolonged. Perhaps she could masquerade as a dairymaid in one of Wessett’s far-flung valleys, or help with the early-season planting. The island was certainly large enough to hide her for a solid week or two.
Regardless, she could not meet the Caprian delegation. The nobles at the Royal College had prided themselves on who lay closest to inheriting the throne, and the lower that number, the more insufferable the bully. The worst of the lot, nine places removed from his illustrious birthright, had spearheaded every horrible movement within the school.
The war may have wiped out Capria’s royal family, but it had gutted their noble houses as well. Maybe he was dead. Maybe the crown had fallen to the twelfth in line, or the thirty-seventh. It didn’t matter. If they had a number, they behaved as monsters.
Kester shouted behind her. She glimpsed his more robust figure struggling through the window as she rounded the corner and passed beyond his line of sight. If she could reach the stable and commandeer a horse, she’d have much easier luck getting away, at least as far as the forest. The stablehands wouldn’t know she was expected at court.
Bina must have realized, though. That would explain the more elaborate hair and the plea for the sky-blue dress. Iona would have stuck out like a crocus in a snowdrift wearing such a color, and her sister would have wrung her neck. She thanked the heavens for keeping to her sedate gray, which might have passed as a servant’s garb if its make were not so fine.
Skirts hiked in her hands, she dashed across the back aspect of the castle. Gardeners lifted their heads from among the rose bushes and the flower beds, but she paid them little heed. The stable, with its long gravel courtyard, lay beyond the next corner. If she was lucky, Kester would give up pursuit and return to report her absence.
But luck eluded her, as it ever had. His shout echoed, the words lost on the wind between them.
Perhaps she would have to bypass the horse and rely on her own two feet. She barreled headlong around the next corner, into the shadowed porch that lay across the courtyard from the stable, only to collide with a body—or a whole collection of them. Swift hands grasped her upper arms to steady her.
“I’m so sorry,” she blurted, but as she lifted her gaze to the nearest face, the rest of her apology stuck in her throat.
She registered dark brown hair—cut close to the sides of the head in the Caprian style—along with an angled jaw and a pair of fine, hazel eyes she could never mistake. It was a face from her nightmares, Jaoven of Deraval, formerly ninth in line for the throne of Capria. He opened his well-formed mouth, presumably to inquire whether she was all right, but his initial concern melted into recognition.
A chill shot down Iona’s spine. The grip on her arms tightened.
“Yanna of Ghemp,” said her captor through gritted teeth. The flurry of movement her abrupt advent had created suddenly stilled, the air around her stiff and crackling.
“L-let me go,” she managed to say, but she only feebly struggled. She couldn’t escape his grip. She already knew as much. A fleeting glance toward the others of his party revealed more familiar faces, men and women who, though four years older than her last encounter with them, she could never mistake. She fixed her eyes on the most sympathetic of the lot, Neven of Combran, a brunet who had shared several of her art courses so many years ago. “Please.”
He offered her no help, though remorse practically bled from him.
“The rats always abandon a sinking ship,” Jaoven hissed, leaning in close. “So you fled to Wessett? And you’ve been living a safe and pampered life here ever since, while your countrymen fought and suffered and died—?”
Iona, cringing from her captor’s accusations, wedged open her eyes. Her father’s steward stood panting at the corner of the porch, one hand propping him against the stone wall as he gaped at the scene before him. His gaze traveled from Iona’s face to the hands that gripped her arms and then back.
Jaoven thrust her half-behind him, keeping a firm hold upon her as he said, with feigned cordiality, “Yes. I’m Prince Jaoven of Capria. We had the fortune of meeting one of our countrymen just now and were reacquainting ourselves.”
Kester’s attention flitted past him to Iona, a question in his eyes. She minutely shook her head, a silent plea for him not to name her as the true recipient of his message.
“You’re wanted at court,” he faintly said.
“Excellent.” A smile tinged Jaoven’s voice, his diplomacy on full display. “Do you lead us there?”
“Ah.” Kester looked again to Iona, but finding no command or contradiction, he skirted forward through the Caprian party. “Yes. Allow me to show you, please.”
Once the steward’s back was turned, Jaoven leaned close to her ear and whispered, “We’ll deal with you after this first introduction is over. You’re coming with us, but if you say a word out of line, you’re a dead woman.”
Then he passed her off to Nevan’s keeping with a muttered, “Do not let her out of your sight,” and pushed through his entourage to take the front position.
As the party moved together, bodies surrounded her on every side, men and women alike sparing her bitter glances. She didn’t recognize all of them. Some were certainly servants who would fall back before the official delegation crossed into the great hall, and others envoys who would participate in the negotiations but not this formal greeting. She picked out the nobles among them by the finery of their dress, six in total including Neven and the newly crowned prince. She could name five of them, fellow classmates from Capria’s Royal College.
Near the front, Elouan of Dumene—number twenty-four, in former years, and still as broad of shoulder and golden of coloring—pitched his voice low. “Jove, don’t let this put you out of temper. We need to make a good first impression on the royals here.”
“It won’t be a problem,” Jaoven replied, but the clenching fists at his side told another story.
Iona swallowed against a lump in her throat, her mind racing for any exit strategy she could formulate. To Neven she whispered, “You have to let me go.” As art students, they had shared many of the same woes four years ago. Surely he of all this group might sympathize with her.
Instead he dashed her fledgling hopes. “I can’t.” His attention flitted to the delegates and servants around them. “If your family abandoned Capria in its time of need, you have to face your punishment.”
With increasing dread, Iona buttoned her lips and marched. Strictly speaking, her family had abandoned the embattled noblemen of that land. What punishment it merited, though, was up for debate.
Neven’s hold upon her arm remained loose, but if she tried to break away, the others would dog-pile her. If he would only move to the edge of the group!
Ahead, Elouan and Jaoven continued their consultation. “Do you remember everyone’s name?” Elouan asked.
Jaoven snorted. “Please. I’ve recited them a hundred times since we got on the boat.”
“Say them again. If your mind goes blank at the wrong moment—”
“King Gawen, Queen Marget, Crown Princess Lisenn, Princess Iona. Happy?”
“I will be once this blasted meeting is over.”
“Because you’re looking forward to the days of negotiations yet to come?”
“Your father gave us very strict instructions.”
“Enough, Elou. I have too much on my mind already.” He cast a scowl over his shoulder, briefly meeting Iona’s gaze before resuming his purposeful stride.
Morbidly she wondered how his posture would change in the moments shortly before them. It was almost worth provoking Lisenn’s wrath.
They crossed the main courtyard and arrived at the entrance to the great hall. The Wessettan royal guards in their signature red cloaks lined the way. If any of them recognized Iona’s presence in the foreign delegation, they only raised their brows and shifted their attention elsewhere. No one meddled much with her doings, and because Kester led the group, her inclusion in it could invite no comments.
The steward paused on the threshold, turning back as though to speak. When his gaze met Iona’s her scowl prompted him to look elsewhere. “If you will wait here but a moment,” he said delicately to Prince Jaoven. Then, after a slight bow, he proceeded into the vast and airy room without them.
A crowd of Wessettan nobles lined the walls leading up to the central dais, where four thrones awaited the delegation.
“One of the princesses is missing,” said Elouan with a frown.
“Which one?” Jaoven asked, peering from the raven-haired young woman at the king’s right hand, then over to the empty chair at the queen’s left.
“The younger. That’s Lisenn next to her father.”
“Perhaps the other one’s absence explains the delay. They certainly left us waiting long enough.”
“Perhaps. Or she might not be in town. Our informants said they’ve housed their daughters in different areas of the country before, as a safeguard against any attacks upon the crown.”
Jaoven grunted. “Would that our people had been as wise.”
Iona bit her lips to contain a bitter laugh. She glued her eyes to Kester as he lightly hopped up the stairs to her father’s side and whispered in his ear. Lisenn’s pretty face contorted, proof that she overheard the hushed confidence, but she schooled her ire away again as her father responded.
Kester returned. He gestured inward with a grand, sweeping arm. In a voice that echoed from the vaulted stone ceiling, a cryer announced, “The crown of Wessett welcomes emissaries of Capria into its hallowed halls: Crown Prince Jaoven; Elouan, Duke of Dumene; Lady Denoela of Rosemarch…”
True to Iona’s expectations, the servants and untitled diplomats peeled away, leaving her and Neven near the back of the group, with only one man behind them. The list of names and titles continued as the official delegation processed across the checkerboard marble floor toward the waiting monarch. A murmur arose among the Wessettan nobles who noticed Iona in the foreign ranks. She resisted the urge to shrink out of sight, but it didn’t fully leave until she met Aedan’s gaze near the front of the room. He had every right to attend an assembly such as this, of course, but he must have bolted straight here the instant Kester followed her.
Which meant he either figured she’d get caught or else was curious about the Caprians himself.
When they locked gazes, he tipped his head, his brows cinched as though to ask if she had gone completely mad. She squared her shoulders and glowered at him.
The cryer finished his list of names and the delegation stopped ten feet in front of the dais. Prince Jaoven bowed and then straightened, waiting for his host to speak.
King Gawen, one hand tracing patterns on the arm of his throne, looked past the newly crowned royal to lock gazes with his own daughter.
“Iona, what are you doing?”
A stricken hush fell across the hall. The Caprian delegates exchanged confused glances, and Jaoven actually turned as though to discern where the king’s attention lay.
Iona, resigned to her fate, calmly extracted herself from Neven’s lax grip and skirted by the rest of the delegation. She spared Jaoven only a grim, sidelong glance as she passed, then she mounted the three dais steps and swept into the empty chair at her mother’s side. The fair-haired queen favored her with a smile.
Straight-backed and stoic, the second princess of Wessett met the horrified stares of her former classmates.
And she might have relished this wordless comeuppance had Lisenn’s glare not been drilling into the side of her head.
Thank you for reading Chapter 1! The Heir and the Spare releases February 19, 2021.
Greetings, my friends! It’s time for a few project updates. Some bad news, some good news, maybe…? Idk. So, as Li Shang says, let’s get down to business.
First of all, I want to give a HUGE thank you to everyone who has read Soot and Slipper, double-thanks to those who have recommended it to others, and triple-thanks if you took the time to rate and/or review it on the venue of your choice.
Full disclosure: as a general rule, I don’t read reviews. My mother does, though, and she thinks it’s fun to pull them up and read them aloud to me as I hastily vacate her presence. You, my lovely readers, have been SO NICE.
Thank you. I am overwhelmed and humbled and grateful that you have found value in my work. You are awesome and amazing.
And speaking of value…
(Terrible segue, I know.)
Around the time I released S&S, I had multiple people tell me I need to up my ebook prices (including a couple of commenters on my own blog, haha). I’ve kept my prices low as a courtesy, but those discussions have left me with a lot to ruminate on. After several weeks of wishy-washy contemplation, I’m ready to capitulate. Sort of.
Over the next few months, my ebooks that are 50K words and above will all get a price update to $2.99. For Tournament of Ruses, The Legendary Inge, and Namesake, this is no increase at all. The Annals of Altair series, Kingdom of Ruses, and Goldmayne will each go up $2.
I did look into upping the price on the longer books (90K+ words) to $3.99, but price increases statistically lower sales. Basically, I’d be charging more for fewer people to buy, to the benefit of no one. So that’s been shuffled to the side for now.
For the time being, my two fairytale novellas will remain at $0.99. I know I could probably raise their prices as well, but I like them as introductions to my writing, so the low courtesy pricing makes sense to me.
It’s not that big of a difference on most of these, but hopefully the new prices will better signal that yes, I do value my work and I want readers who value it as well. I don’t have an exact timetable for when each price increase will happen (see below for why), so this is your courtesy notice that if you want any of my books at their lower price, grab them sooner rather than later.
And that brings us to…
When I created my imprint (Eulalia Skye Press) a couple years ago, I intended to transfer my earlier titles over. It hasn’t happened for a number of reasons.
Or, well, mostly because of all the paperwork involved. I’m using a different trim size under ESP than with my earlier titles, so transferring over means re-typesetting six books, which also means new covers. And that in turn means updated ebooks, which would ideally correspond with the aforementioned price hikes. In short, it’s a lot of dominoes that have to be lined up and tumbled, and since I’ve already been through the process with these books, I’ve dragged my feet on doing it again.
But I finally learned InDesign (as the print version of Soot and Slipper will attest, yeehaw), and I really ought to use that subscription to its fullest. So.
Annals of Altair Books 1 – 3
The print versions for A Boy Called Hawk and A Rumor of Real Irish Tea are no longer available. They will return shortly. This series gets the least amount of traction in my collected works, so no great loss.
For the ebooks, the price increase is effective immediately. I’ve uploaded new covers and reformatted book files for a nicer reading experience. Because these were my first books published, I’ve also done a medium-light edit (cleared out excess verbiage, cleaned up the writing style, etc.).
The stories are the same. They’re just not quite as wordy.
For those who want a hard copy (Hi, Mom!), the typesetting for the print versions is complete. I just have to upload files, order proofs, and make sure everything is pretty. My self-imposed deadline is the middle of September, for Reasons.
Ruses, Goldmayne, and Inge
I’m not messing with the wordiness of these books. Goldmayne is meant to have a folksy fairytale voice, so my older style of writing still works. The same goes for Inge and the Ruses books, to a lesser degree.
Kingdom of Ruses, however, will get the addition of a bonus short story, “The Prince among Men.” It’s roughly 4K; I wrote it a few years ago to answer that burning question, “But where did Will go?” And then I had nowhere to publish it, because it was too long for a blog post and too short for a standalone novella.
L O L
Since I’m adding a short story to the end of Kingdom, I think I have to dis-enroll it from Kindle Unlimited so that it doesn’t look like I’m trying to game the system for more page-reads. There were shenanigans to that effect a couple years back, as I recall, and I’d rather not chance having a book flagged because previous readers are skipping to the end for some added content. So whenever that update happens, no KU for a few months. (Sorry, my lovely KU readers. It will return eventually.)
These four books will update in the following order (theoretically): Goldmayne, Inge, Kingdom, Tournament.
And now we arrive at the elephant in the room. “Wasn’t there supposed to be a sequel to Namesake, like, a year ago?” Why, yes. Yes there was. And then it turned into two sequels and I threw a creative tantrum.
I have a hard-and-fast rule of not publishing a book that needs a sequel written. Namesake can stand on its own, so I waffled over whether even to write the follow-up. When it split into two, that waffling doubled. I am still working on them, but there’s no timetable for completion.
Just, when you see Goddess (Book 2) finally make its appearance, you can rest assured that Eidolon (Book 3) will be close on its heels. I won’t leave you hanging from that cliff for long. Pinky promise.
A disproportionate amount of my writerly life has been me feeling like I fall short of other people’s expectations. I lack follow-through, I disappear for weeks or months on end, I hoard creative control, and I happily nest down in my comfortable corner of obscurity. The truth is, I only ever wanted to write. It was never my dream to publish a book.
So here I am, ten titles down the road and wondering how the heck this all happened. It has been a long, meandering path, and there is still so much meandering yet to come.
Long story short, thanks for joining me on this journey. Life is full of surprises, y’know?
Dear Readers, I come bearing gifts.
Well, just one gift, actually. And I made it myself, and it’s not a cat sweater.
It is a writing tool extraordinaire (if I do say so myself), dedicated to my dear friend Jen and offered to all. I’ve worked on this thing off and on since May, and there’s a backstory that inspired it, but in the interest of brevity (too late), I’ll let the graphic speak for itself.
May you enjoy it, but never put it to practical use.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
DISCLAIMER #1: I do not write modern romance. This is satire, and any resemblance to any existing modern romance heroine or tag line is purely coincidental. (That sometimes happens when you’re playing with clichés, haha.)
DISCLAIMER #2: This graphic is BIG, and I am not tech-savvy. I muddled over the best way to present it but decided just to toss it up on this post. Good luck. (Protip: Click on the picture to get at the larger version, Mom. It should open in a new screen.)
DISCLAIMER #3: I do have a PDF version, if anyone is silly enough to want a physical copy of this. Sized for A2 paper. (Closest American equivalent is 18″ x 24″.) It cost me $20 to get a draft copy, but the result was delightful. Uhh… leave a comment if you’re interested?
I’ve had more than a usual amount of reading time lately (*coughprocrastinationcoughcough*), which has reminded me of why I previously took a time-out from reading. My mother says I’m a snob when it comes to books. And she’s probably a little right.
Okay, a lot right.
I’ll be blunt: a lot of common literary tropes get under my skin. I’m guilty of some of them. They’re so inborn to our writing culture that they creep into the draft before we even realize it, with their eely assumptions and biased presuppositions oozing all over everything. On one hand, we have archetypes that act as a starting point for characters to grow and develop. On the other, there’s this sinister narrative that some negative traits and quirks are natural, normal, or even desirable.
Women in literature have an exceptionally difficult role, I think. It’s bad enough that a female protagonist hallmarks a “girl book” (but male protagonists are for everyone, amiright?), but I’m increasingly disheartened by how women—especially when written by women—are portrayed. Fellow writers, “The Girl with Low Self-Esteem” stereotype has got to go. We want the reader to relate to the main character, but is this really a characteristic we should encourage? “Look! She feels like crap about herself! She’s just like you!”
How common is this story line: Girl is plain, overlooked, unloved. Girl meets super-spechul hot guy who inexplicably likes her. Girl is suddenly worth something because a man took notice of her.
Pardon me while I rigorously barf up my lunch.
Not every female protagonist fits this stereotype, thank heavens, but there are far too many that do. (I’m giving you the squinty eye, Romance genre. You know exactly why.) There’s a flip-side of this equation, too. Often, the literary woman with self-esteem is a barracuda, seen as aggressive, and ultimately she gets humbled or changed to a more submissive persona by the end of the book. And we, the readers, applaud. Or rather, we’re supposed to.
In the real world, it’s possible to have self-esteem and be normal. In the literary world, that type of character is almost like an ivory-billed woodpecker, elusive and critically endangered. (If you find one, please broadcast her existence to everyone who will listen. We need to protect her habitat with lots of readers.) Instead of “She feels like crap about herself! She’s just like you!” a better message would be, “She’s confident and knows her worth! You could be just like her!” Alas, how rarely this message gets communicated.
I know, even as I express these frustrations, that some people will dismiss me as a feminist. Because this sort of discontent could only be harbored by someone marginalized into an -ism that is as much derided as it is espoused, right? Wrong. Good literature has good female characters. If Elizabeth Bennet had low self-esteem, she would have burst into tears at that first dance and run into a back room to sob over how the rich, handsome hot guy considered her only “tolerable.” If Jane Eyre had low self-esteem, she would have groveled to her abusive aunt and everyone at Lowood. If Cathy Earnshaw had low self-esteem… Well, maybe people wouldn’t have been so miserable. BUT THE BOOK WOULD HAVE BEEN TOTALLY
Anyway, long story short, I’ve harbored my feelings on this subject for years. Decades. Ever since the first time I read a book with a simpering heroine and internally thought, “Oh, that’s awkward. Why is she behaving like that?” The harbored feelings grew into conversations with myself. The conversations have now morphed into cartoons—rudimentary in drawing, but the message is more important than the art.
I’m poking fun at my hated literary tropes. “The Girl with Low Self-Esteem” gets the first skewering.
And thus I give you The Adventures of Average Everygirl.
Enjoy! Or not! I don’t really care!
PS—My recent readings did yield a couple of ivory-billed woodpeckers: Polyhymnia from Spindle by W.R. Gingell and Rosemary Mayfield from The Villain by May Nicole Abbey. Click the titles for links. Protect the habitat.
“And now, Beowulf, best of men, I wish to love you in my heart as my son. From this time forth, keep well this new kinship.”
(Beowulf, lines 946b-949a)
My grandmother is a full-blooded Swede and an avid genealogist. The daughter of immigrants, she honored her heritage throughout her life and distilled drops of it upon her children and grandchildren. Her garden had tomten instead of elves. Her house had orange dala horses and blue-and-yellow motifs. Christmas Eve with its smorgasbord was the focal holiday instead of Christmas Day. And Denmark was inherently inferior. (I’m sorry, Denmark. I’m sure you and Sweden are on much better terms now than you were a hundred years ago.)
We ate Swedish pancakes, and pepparkakor, and meatballs. A badge of honor went to anyone brave enough to try the pickled herring. We celebrated St. Lucia’s day with saffron buns and candle wax in our hair. Sweden, or an echo of it, was in our blood.
When I was in my early teens, Mormor took a handful of us cousins with her to the family history library, there to search out a collection of missing great-something half-uncles. Their father’s surname had been Kjallstrom, but the army changed it to Valler or Waller. One of the sons, as Valler/Waller, enlisted as well, only to be given the surname of Holst. The three brothers had immigrated to the Midwest, where their trail went dry.
Mormor didn’t know whether to look under Valler, Waller, or Holst, or even Magnusson (the patronymic of their father’s given name). We found them under Holst (all three of them, despite only one of them having received that surname from the army), in Iowa.
What, you might ask, does any of this have to do with Beowulf? All through my formative years, I was taught to value anything even remotely Scandinavian. The Old English epic takes place in Denmark and Sweden (or Geatland, as it’s called in the poem, and Götland, according to modern maps). In my years as a Beowulf skeptic (described in this post), its connection to Sweden was probably the only thing I thought worthwhile about it.
Except that it mostly took place in Denmark. See the above note. (I’m sorry, Denmark! I really am! You are wonderful in your own right!)
So, growing up, I was programmed with elements of Swedish culture and tradition—elements a hundred or more years removed. Thus, when a handful of lines from Beowulf spawned a story idea, and then that idea jostled around in the mental cocktail of my brain, what emerged—almost immediately—was heavily influenced by that Scandinavian heritage. It was as though all those childhood ghosts rose up as one and said, “This story is ours. We claim it.”
And, ultimately, I wrote it to entertain my grandmother.
She turned 90 on March 26. Happy Belated Birthday, Mormor! This one’s for you!
Plagued by misfortune, Ingrid Norling treks into the woods to clear her head. She emerges a monster-slayer, the shaken executioner of a creature so ferocious that even the king’s strongest warriors could not destroy it. In a land that reveres swords and worships strength, this accidental heroism earns Inge an audience at court and a most ill-fated prize: King Halvard impulsively adopts her and names her as his heir.
Under constant guard to prevent her escape, Inge confronts the ignoble underbelly of the royal court: a despotic king, a clueless princess, a proud warrior, and a dangerous intrigue. As secrets unravel around her, the castle threatens to become an elaborate deathtrap. Inge must keep her wits close and her weapons closer. The monster in the woods was only the beginning.
Despite the Scandinavian and classical literary influences, this book is firmly planted in the fantasy genre. Look for it in June. Probably.
Happy April Fools’ Day!
“That’s the ending? You can’t just end it there!”
These are the words my mother uttered when she finished reading my first draft of Kingdom of Ruses. It has a sort of open ending, I’ll admit, but intentionally so. The major plot points are resolved, the hero has triumphed, and all is well, so the story ends. (Sorry for the spoilers, all ye who have not read it: Surprise! It’s not a tragedy!)
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
I try to obey one basic philosophy when it comes to grammar and usage mistakes: “Be gentle with others; be strict with yourself.”
Over the course of my life, I’ve compiled a sort of Writing To-Do List. I would encounter a genre or general type of plot and think, “Oh, I’d like to write something along those lines someday.” And just like that, the item in question would hop on to my mental list.
It wasn’t a serious list at first, of course. I’ve treated my writing very casually and for the greater part of my life never believed that I could finish even one book, let alone an assorted spectrum of them. (This is foolishness, of course, but I labored under it for probably fifteen years, and I still battle with a variation of it to this day.) Recently, though, as I’ve been taking a more serious look at this my chosen pastime, I decided it was time to define and review that list.