At the same time, I was back-and-forthing with my young niece, Alena, who loves to write. She was in seventh grade at the time, I think (and also 1100 miles away). This was back when she wasn't too busy with high school, homework, marching band and a social life to hang with me, and we'd chat a lot on Google or Facebook.
Well, I knew that Lynda liked to write fantasy, which was one of the big things she and D2 had in common. I liked to read fantasy, although I'd never tried to write any. Given my success with Alena, I thought pooling our imaginations might work with Lynda as well. You learn a lot about a person by the things they invent in their heads. We could open a dialog.
So, I sat down and wrote what started out as a setting, a planet (or maybe a bit more. I can't recall), then shot it off to Lynda and D2 to see where they would go with it. Here's a snippet:
The gleaming spires of the palace reached skyward, long and sleek and sensual. They shot past the canopy of the towering trees which surrounded it as if some legend beast had there gasped its last and its bones remained to bleach in the sun while the winds of time all but buried the remains.
Of shining stone highly polished, the palace yet appeared organic from its place atop Hurthra’s Hill, the tallest of all those scattered about the countryside. Ronan always thought of a rotted old tree stump when he beheld that hill from afar, one strangled with ivy and bracken and scarcely recognizable as itself any longer. He saw the palace as the young saplings which burst from the ancient roots, those which sprouted from the stump’s death with the promise of new life.
Although it dominated the countryside, the palace of Osea-hurtha was a thing of beauty. Ronan marveled that it had there remained for more than a thousand years — that those who built it left no scar upon the earth because the palace had sprung from its soul, a gift to those stewards who so protected it. He had seen images of what Onisea became in the days of the ancients who wrestled nature into their control rather than live together in harmony and mutual benefit. When he considered those images, he marveled that the ancients had not murdered the planet. He knew one day he would understand the secrets of the Fathers, those secrets which created symbiosis between earth and man. He knew knowledge would be his, but somehow he knew that understanding would but magnify his awe.
Turk rattled his bridle with impatience, and Ronan patted the massive neck of the dappled stallion. He easily understood his eagerness to get home. The spires of the palace reached out and caught the dying rays of the setting sun and their west faces blazed a brilliant scarlet. On the east, the soft light of the rising moons added their own swirling indigo and violet to the stone. The icy rings of Arcturis acted as prisms splintering the light as they hurtled through space on their endless orbit. The placid lake which embraced the base of the hill reflected all in perfect symmetry and proclaimed Onisea’s glory.
As he gazed upon the breathtaking beauty, Ronan knew the Fathers had built the palace just there on Hurthra’s Hill for that very purpose, that short span of days when Arcturis appeared and scuttled around the southeastern horizon, only to vanish and then return after another year had been presided over by its lesser brothers. They built Onea to capture the sun breaking over the horizon and blasting through and around the spires as it reached its summer equinox, the palace awash in the richest of gold. With their knowledge of the earth, a living, breathing thing, they enlisted its services and brought the heavens within reach of mortal man.
As it turned out, college students are even busier than high school students and have less inclination and patience than tweens to humor middle-aged women. Nothing came of it—at least, my little get-acquainted project fizzled.
Even so, I was quite taken with myself and went back and finished out the 4000-word chapter, then went back to my work-in-progress, The Famous Mrs. Darcy. Even though I abandoned that project, I haven't done anything with Onisea for the past five years, but I couldn't bring myself to throw it out. Lately, it's bounced around in my head ever since I went on my Robert Jordan marathon in the spring, but I haven't been able to figure out what to do with it. I couldn't figure out how to make this idyllic world truly sinister.
It's funny how inspiration works. Last night, as I made my 45-minute drive home from my #1 son's house after dinner and fireworks with his family and friends, I muddled on Onisea some more, and all of the sudden it all came flooding in: the theme, the true conflict vs. the characters' perceived quest, the secrets and conspiracy, the back story which becomes the inner turmoil.
I sit here and try to figure out why, all of the sudden, it came to me. I think it's two things: first, I feel a pressing need to find my own voice, my true voice, not my "Regency" voice that more and more is sounding stilted and laborious to me. Second, I have been following the advice of just about any author I can think of: read, read, read, read, read. The imaginations of great writers stimulate my own. Their thoughts spark arguments in my head whether pro or con or both. They're like pointers, sending me down paths I might never have otherwise wandered. Those inner debates find their way into my characters and become what I need to write about. How cool is that?
Here's the last bit of the chapter that I wrote back in 2007. I'm tickled pink that I now actually know where to go with it. I can't wait to talk to D2 about it.
“This is not about Yarnan’s approval, nor leaving Broden behind, nor even concern for the Twelve Tasks, is it? This is about Osinea-Bryn.”
Ronan ducked his head, but he knew any attempt at escape futile. Brennar’s uncanny ability to read his deepest, most private thoughts had taught him to unburden his heart more sooner than later, for his mentor always got to the truth.
“I would make her my wife,” he confessed softly. “She is first in my heart. She deserves to be first in my household — in any household. She should be head, not dust of the feet.”
“Osinea’s mother was of common blood. She could never receive the mark of Companion.”
“She is your granddaughter. That is high-born enough for me.”
“You better argue the truth of the matter. The Companion comes from the female line, always. Her three generations removed from the Protector further disqualifies her. Surely you see her blood is not strong in the Fathers as it needs be to produce the Chosen. You should have heeded me and never allowed yourself to consider her. She came to Onea-hurthra for her education, to learn from her grandmother, not to become the Companion.”
“She is young yet. She could be Companion. She could yet bear the Promise. The Fathers have not yet spoken.”
“Ronan, I understand —”
“No you don’t! You took the wife of your own choosing. She was not some stranger singled out by the Omens, forced upon you whether or not you desired or even liked her. You have not been made breeding stock by the Fathers.”
“Why do you suppose Protectors take Helpmeets and Ladies?” Brennar asked, his tone as soft and empathetic as Ronan’s was antagonistic and accusatory.
“To keep the common in their proper place,” the boy spat bitterly. “To ensure they remain under the heel of the high-born, where they belong.”
“You cannot believe that. Your disappointment speaks.” Ronan glared at him for the comment, but Brennar refused to be affronted. “My mother was only a Lady. I was born second son but into the lowest strata of Yarnan’s household. I was worthy to be numbered only because of his love for my mother. But I never felt cheated. Rather, I felt Aldred’s loss. He was banished from my father’s presence from the day he was born, just as you were. All those of high birth were. They must be kept apart just in case calamity befell the Onea-hurthrinestra. The blood line must go on. The Onii must be preserved.
“But I learned at my father’s knee. I learned to know and to love him. He opened his mind and his heart to me as he has none other. None but you will ever know him better. He entrusted you to me, Ronan, rather than burdening me with the governance of a planet. He placed your future and the future of his people in my hands. Tell me I am less than my brothers.”
“And Lady Brynethra? How thick had grown her skin before she sought her early grave?”
“My mother knew the protection of the Onii must come before all other consideration. She knew the Wisdom flows only through those of highest birth — that one woman in the Protector’s lifetime with the ability to produce the Chosen son. She knew Ronithea of the line of Enistrea, eldest daughter of Heth. She knew whom would bear the Chosen before any mark ever appeared.”
“And she journeyed to the Fathers just as soon as my mother came of age. She would not hinder my father’s ‘duty’.”
“Ronan, my mother knew her place in Yarnan’s heart, as surely as she knew her place in his bed. Despite the daughters she gave him, he scrupled not in siring sons of others while she lived. She journeyed to the Fathers because it was time.
“As Yarnan knows, the Protectorate must be your bride, son, both your wife and your mistress. The Onii are your sons and your daughters. You are the Chosen. For four thousand years the Fathers have guided us all to this day because naught but you can save us.”
“There will be others. I will not hide away as did Karlon. Yarnan yet has another century before he even approaches the age of Heth. I will allow my sons to choose.”
“Yarnan may have time, but the Onii do not. Each Protector sees the Wisdom through the lens of his own experience. It changes the chemistry of the thing. The quest of each Chosen is unique to himself. You will not simply carry on Yarnan’s work. You will make it your own. You must see something Yarnan has missed, as the Fathers surely know.
“It comes to this: unless you can turn the course of the heavens, every man, woman and child of the Onii will be lost in three hundred years. It is you, Ronan — you or no one.”