My first foray into writing was when I was six years old, believe it or not. I was desperate for a pet rabbit, so I wrote and illustrated a “book” called My Take Care of Bunny Book in order to convince my parents I was responsible enough to have one. It didn’t work out—I did draw a picture of me walking the bunny on a leash, after all—but I’ve never really stopped writing. I started my first fantasy novel when I was 19 and I’ve been at it ever since.
My amazing husband has helped me turn the spare bedroom of our house into an office, and him and my dad (an amazing carpenter) worked all summer making me a giant writing desk. It’s my own private space where I can think and work, and I only have to share it with the kitties. I’m so blessed to have it.
I do my best writing when I’m half asleep, funnily enough, so I try to get to work as soon as my husband leaves for work. 2-3 hours 5 days a week is usually my standard writing schedule. Too much more than that and my creative juices run dry, and that’s just ugly.
When I grow up I want to write like Brandon Sanderson. His Mistborn novels, and more recently his Stormlight Archive books, are sheer brilliance. But my very first writing inspiration and still one of my all-time favorite novels is The Demon Awakens by R.A. Salvatore. There’s something magical about that novel that just gets me all excited, no matter how many times I read it.
Oh goodness. I love all my characters, but I do have a bit of a soft spot for the villain of Soul of the Blade. He’s just really, really evil and loves it.
I write a lot about overcoming inner darkness, breaking out of what the world expects you to be, and finding your true self and living the life you want. Soul of the Blade has a running theme of trust and acceptance, while No Hill Without Treasure strongly focuses on creating your own destiny rather than following what fate seems to have set out for you.
Aeo stormed into the king’s dining hall, sword bared, a trail of muddy footprints in his wake. It had taken little more than a glare and a grimace to send the ornamental guards scurrying away. Pathetic. They were supposed to protect the king? They were a waste of good armor and steel.
The massive table, a single slab of cedar polished to a mirror shine, was set with a feast that could have fed a small village. Haunches of meat, loaves of bread still steaming from the ovens, bowls of custards and more things Aeo didn’t care enough to identify. The smells combined until it was a sickening mixture of grease and sugar.
Fewer than a dozen posh noblemen were seated around the table. Aeo’s sword-arm itched to slay these gluttons like the stuffed and basted carcasses they gorged on.
He lifted his sword, letting the gleaming steel reflect the firelight. A few of the men glanced at him, but the meal continued more or less uninterrupted.
Aeo walked up to the table and dropped his sword directly on its center. Metal clanged against wood and table settings, upsetting several goblets of wine and splattering pudding on the nearby nobles.
The decadent meal was forgotten. Conversation hushed as every eye turned to him.
“Next time you send me on a contract, at least make it a challenge.”
He pulled a nobleman’s scarf, emblazoned with the crest of Halkron, soaked in the wearer’s blood, from his pocket. It followed his sword onto the table. Aeo smirked as the noblemen around the table blanched and fingered their own scarves.
He turned his eyes back to his employer’s. The man was short and pudgy, soft from a life of rich food and richer pockets. Aeo could reach him and slit his throat before he even realized he was in danger.
The king of Arata dabbed at his chin, leaving a smear of oil on his face. He tried to intimidate Aeo with a steely look of power and control. Aeo did his best to contain his laughter. That might work on politicians and sycophants, but Aeo was an assassin. The world’s best assassin. Empty threats didn’t scare him. But then again, not much did.
The king waved his guests away. They tried to maintain their composure as they scurried away from Aeo. Aeo just smiled. He could smell their fear even through their suffocating perfumes.
When they were alone, the king leveled his gaze at Aeo. “Do the words ‘secret mission’ and ‘tell no one’ mean nothing to you?”
Aeo stepped around the table, helping himself to tender duck and soft, fresh bread. “Please. Anyone could have infiltrated that camp. Your nephew may have been the prince of Halkron, but he was a miserable strategist and an annoying little twit. No one will miss him.”
“My sister may!” the king replied, slamming his ham-sized fist onto the table. A moment later he winced and rubbed it. “Don’t doubt the harlot’s love for her son. He was the closest thing she had to civilization in that barbarian’s court.”
Aeo rolled his eyes. The king acted like Halkron was some gods-forsaken land filled with heathens and animals, when all that separated its people from Arata’s was a river and a slightly darker shade of hair.
“That boy was her life.”
“And now he’s dead.” Aeo licked grease from his fingers.
“If anyone were to find out I was involved …” The king stood and started pacing, pausing to pick up the bloodied scarf with two fingers. “You were supposed to eliminate my nephew and make it seem as if another Halkronian was to blame. How can that plan work if you show evidence such as this to anyone you run across?”
The scarf fluttered back to the table.
“Are you saying you don’t trust those whom you dine with, Your Majesty?” Aeo teased.
“I can’t afford for this plan to fail,” the king replied. He fiddled with his many rings, sending flickers of gold and gems sparkling around the room. “Arata desperately needs a reprieve from this war. Halkron’s first strike caught us off-guard, and we’ve yet to recover from it. If it became known I had my nephew killed, Halkron will hit us with everything they have. Our army can’t stand against that.”
Aeo snorted and reached for a goblet of wine. “Families.”
He continued to pick at the nobles’ plates while the king paced and muttered. Aeo ignored him. The man may be ruler of the richest nation on the continent, but he was an idiot. The only reason he still held his throne is because of Aeo’s subtle political influence. Or his blade. Whichever.
While Aeo enjoyed eating the king’s feast and watching him sweat, another man entered the dining hall. He was close to Aeo’s own not-too-impressive height, but where Aeo had the solid look of a well-muscled warrior, this man was thin like a scholar. He held himself rigidly, as if the serenity plastered on his features masked the tension of a drawn bow. Aeo kept himself calm by sheer willpower. There was only one person in Arata who could make Aeo feel like a guilty child, and this was him.
Even the king, who was supposed to be the ultimate authority in all of Arata, did his best to remain invisible around this man. “Mage General,” he greeted.
“Your Majesty,” he replied. Somehow he managed to make the title sound like a mockery instead of a respect. It might be the only thing Aeo liked about him. “Allow me to extend my regrets at the loss of your nephew.”
The king shot a glare at Aeo. “I just received the news myself. How did you hear?”
“I am a mage, Your Majesty. Surely you can’t think Halkron is out of my reach.”
“Of course not.”
Aeo shook his head. He may as well kiss his boots and offer him the throne at this rate.
The Mage General looked toward Aeo. He inclined his head in the tiniest, most insincere greeting Aeo had ever seen. “I trust you are well?”
No thanks to your training, Aeo thought. Years of conditioning to turn me into the king’s assassin didn’t set me up for the happiest life in the world. “I do my best with what I have,” he replied.
“And that is all we have ever asked of you.”
The Mage General turned away, brushing Aeo off as if they had never spoken.
Even though the mage’s eyes were averted, Aeo didn’t dare release the shudder building inside him. Any contact with the Mage General, no matter how trivial, always left Aeo with a sheen of cold sweat on his forehead. One look into his eyes and Aeo could almost feel the man’s magic intruding into his thoughts, twisting and tearing them apart in order to make him obey. It didn’t matter that ten years or more had passed since his conditioning had been deemed complete. Aeo would never be able to hold onto his confidence in that man’s presence.
While Aeo tried to maintain his composure, the Mage General grasped the king’s pudgy arm and pulled him aside. From the tone of their whispers and the king’s scowl, it was clear he wasn’t happy with the topic. The Mage General grew more animated as he pushed his point, waving his arms toward the west and pointing to the ground as if to stab it with his forefinger. The king shook his head, without much conviction, not even trying to argue after the first few attempts.
“I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” he said aloud, his tone weary beyond imagining. He didn’t look back to the Mage General. Instead, he raised his eyes to meet Aeo’s. “I have another contract for you.”
“So soon?” Aeo asked. “I’ve not had any time to enjoy my coin.”
“Your drinking and whoring will have to wait. This is urgent.”
Aeo sighed. “Of course it is.”
The king glared at his sarcasm, but Aeo just stared back. He took another drink of wine, not blinking.
The king looked away first. Coward.
“You say you want a challenge. I’ll give you one. Have you ever heard of the Bok’Tarong?”
Aeo shrugged. “Rumors. It’s supposed to be some kind of enchanted, double-bladed sword. Wherever it shows up, people die.”
“Do not discount such legends so quickly,” the Mage General said as he approached. The intensity in his eyes made Aeo put his food down, at least for a moment. “The Bok’Tarong is very real.”
“If you say so.”
The Mage General glared at him like he was a child in need of a good beating. Aeo had seen that look–and received the corresponding beatings–many times in the past. It took all of his willpower to return the glare without flinching.
The king interrupted their contest of wills. Aeo wasn’t sure whether he did so to stop it or because he was unaware of it. “How would you like to take that blade for your own?”
Aeo paused. That would be plunder worthy of his skill. And if the rumors were true, Aeo would never have competition for the title of best assassin in the world again. Not like there was much as it was, but still.
“You know my rule. I will not slaughter without reason. My target must have earned his death.”
“Yes, yes, the assassin with a conscience. I remember. The one thing we couldn’t beat out of you.” Aeo quirked an eyebrow at that, but said nothing. The king didn’t seem to notice. “I assure you, whomever bears the Bok’Tarong has more blood on his hands than you do.”
“And with the Bok’Tarong in your possession,” the Mage General added, “the tide of war will turn in our favor.”
Aeo saw something he didn’t quite understand in the Mage General’s eyes. He wasn’t just supportive of Aeo taking the Bok’Tarong–he was pushing for it. For reasons Aeo couldn’t begin to fathom, the Mage General needed Aeo to have it. “What’s so special about this sword, anyway?” he asked, forcing his tone to be one of calm and disinterest.
“It is, indeed, enchanted,” the Mage General replied. “One of the few enchanted weapons in the world.”
“What does the magic do?”
A pause, no longer than the blink of an eye. “Only the bearer of the weapon can be sure of that. The communion between bearer and blade is what makes the magic so potent.”
He was hiding something. Aeo was sure of that much. He knew more than he was saying, and that didn’t bode well for Aeo. The magic didn’t worry him, but the Mage General’s intensity did. If this was some plan to be rid of him …
The king, in a rare moment of insight, had noticed Aeo’s hesitation. He stepped in front of Aeo, leveling as firm a gaze as he could muster on him. “Your next target is the bearer of the Bok’Tarong,” he announced.
The order reverberated in Aeo’s head. The words burrowed through his thoughts and into his heart. Whether or not Aeo would have accepted was no matter anymore. The king had ordered–Aeo would obey. He didn’t have a choice anymore. His conditioning as the king’s assassin guaranteed that.
Aeo rose from the table and drained his goblet. “Where can I find this man?”
“He travels without reason. Who knows where he is now?”
Aeo glared at the king. “Then how am I supposed to find him?”
The king shrugged as if he couldn’t be bothered with details like that. “Ask around. Commoners love to tell tales. Someone who’s seen this sword will want to brag about it.”
“That isn’t much to go on.”
“You say you’re the world’s greatest assassin,” the king replied. For the first time in their long partnership, Aeo heard something bordering on true authority in his voice. “Surely that means you can find one man with a remarkable sword.”
Aeo squared his shoulders. If the king would challenge him, then Aeo would show him just how great he was. “The next time I see you, Your Majesty, the Bok’Tarong will be mine.”
He spared a glance at the Mage General, but little else. He wouldn’t say anything to him until he returned with the Bok’Tarong. Then he’d have something to rub that arrogant look off the Mage General’s face with.
One of my biggest challenges has been against myself. I have a host of medical problems which leave me constantly fatigued and in pain, so putting in the time day in and day out to actually make progress is a huge achievement for me in the first place.
I’ve learned I really do need a plan. At first I’d get a single idea and start writing without a clue where I was headed. Years of painful rewrites and deleting entire chapters has taught me to take it slower and figure out the story I want to tell before I charge in blindly. But I’ve also learned to trust my instincts. Some of my favorite plot twists or unique elements have come from an off-hand comment I made while writing, or a phrase I put in without thinking. Sometimes I think my subconscious is a better writer than I am.
Write a lot and read even more. Take every opportunity you can to learn more. And never, ever, ever give up.
Just thank you. Thanks to everyone who reads indie books, who writes reviews, who works to spotlight the little guys. The fight against obscurity is demanding and sometimes it feels like we’ll never get noticed. So to everyone who supports indie authors: y’all rock. Thank you.