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Friday, May 31, 2013

Cover Preview for The Children of Llothora

Created by Don Saunders,
aka webmark at Fiverr.com
I'm almost done with the final revisions for my short story, The Children of Llothora. The artwork for the cover has already come in, and I love it. I was trying to give this cover a go myself, and was completely dissatisfied with my own attempts, but I really love this cover by Don Saunders (webmark at Fiverr.com)!

Love him, hate him, or never heard of him (have you been living under a rock all these years?), H.P. Lovecraft has had arguably some of the greatest impact on horror literature of any other author in the field. I've been a huge fan of his for as long as I can remember. By modern standards, his writing is obtuse and not particularly skillful, and his early works reek of xenophobic racism that he took no pains to hide - but I love his writing anyway. I have six anthologies of Lovecraft's stories on my shelves, another volume of tales purported to be some of Lovecraft's own favorites to read, and the complete collection of Lovecraft's stories on my Kindle.

I'm not a fan. I'm a gushing fan-boy. I can admit it.

The Children of Llothora is a story I wrote with the intention of it being Lovecraft-ian, but not necessarily of the Cthulhu Mythos. It was written in an older, more obtuse style of writing reminiscent of that seen in the earlier parts of the twentieth-century, though upon revision I feel it has become slightly less-obtuse.

I'm still playing around with the exact product summary, so I won't spoil it here, but I'm really excited about this cover and wanted to show it off!


Monday, May 20, 2013

My Style Part Two: The Building Blocks and Scene Test


Last week I asked everyone to try an exercise I first read about in Donald Maass' book Writing the Breakout Novel. You were supposed to grab your three all-time favorite titles off of your bookshelves and give them a hard look, comparing them for similarities in what you love about them. Ideally, this left you with a list of things that draw you to a novel, those things that make you fall in love with a story. Look closely at this list; are the elements of the list common conventions of a particular genre? If so, have you already decided that you want to write a story set in that genre? You might want to consider it. If you go back and re-read part one of this series (click here), you'll remember that I spoke about using things you like and dislike in genres to help generate ideas for your story.

But the list you generated isn't just about identifying a genre. The items on that list represent the things that you love about your favorite novels; they are the things that push those three books from being "great" or "good" to "I love this book so much I've worn out three copies!" Those are powerful elements, because if they made you love the book so much, chances are good that they did the same for other people. So think about each of those items on your list, and consider them carefully. Meditate on them, if that's your thing. As you concentrate, think about how you would want to express these elements in a story all your own. Take those rag-tag ideas as they develop and jot them down so you can reflect on them later and develop them more fully. I bet that after you've put some serious thought into the items on your list, some ideas are starting to bubble in your brain. Take your time and let them gather some critical mass until they explode and fill you.

In part one, I listed my own favorites that I used when I first tried Maass' exercise, The Belgariad, Dune, and The Wheel of Time. I briefly described how the similarities in the main characters of each of the books had similar elements, how they were all fantasy novels. I didn't mention that each book had a developed "magic" which didn't require considerable hocus pocus or ritual to perform, but they do.  Looking over my list, I developed the character of Laeryk Thorn: A young man struggling against his destiny, which is at odds with his dreams and aspirations, who possesses a hidden power that he will be forced to develop as he struggles to maintain some control over his life. After I had a grasp on the basics of Laeryk, I started examining what sort of story he would be in. What was his destiny (they're always world-shattering); what was his hidden power (a form of magic, but an exclusive one that only a few people can master); what was it that his destiny was preventing him from doing (following in his father's footsteps to become a Wyvern Knight and restore his family's fortunes).

Laeryk Thorn became my basic building block for my story. Have you found yours yet? If not, don't despair – writing about the process now, it sounds as if this all developed quickly. In truth, it took a while. Be patient.

Next Steps


So you have a basic building block for you story idea (or two, or three, or more), what now?
Every good story needs conflict. As a species, we tend to dislike stories that don't have some type of conflict. Which would you rather pick up, a novel with an intriguing conflict, or a set of stereo instructions that go into detail about the electronic components inside your stereo? Some of you just had your eyes light up at the idea of those stereo instructions, but I hate break this to you – you aren't the norm. Kudos for knowing what you like, however!

Look at your building blocks and consider a conflict surrounding them. This doesn't necessarily have to be a huge conflict; it can develop into a subplot which might in turn help you consider the conflict for the main plot. If your building block is a character, do they have an antagonist? What keeps them from their goals? If you have a general place in mind, what ails it? Are you the historical sort who favors one period of time over another?  What conflicts were going on in our world during that time frame? It's almost impossible to not find something.

Don't just throw something out at random. These aren't questionnaires, meant to be filled out in their entirety. These questions are meant to get you going, be a starting point, so you can further develop your building blocks and eventually find connections to tie them all together. Your answers shouldn't necessarily be fully-fleshed out, but they should have a little detail in them. For example, if looking at a main character's antagonist, you shouldn't just say "some guy." Give that antagonist some small details – nothing concrete yet, but enough that you're starting to get a sense of them. Maybe the antagonist is the character's sibling? Why the sibling rivalry – what is its focus? Perhaps the antagonist is a shadowy organization bent on world conquest? A jilted lover? A rival monarch? That mysterious serial killer no one has been able to catch yet? Maybe the antagonist is the character themselves, their doubts or inhibitions, or a phobia they must overcome! (Not necessarily a split personality, but hey – it worked for Tyler Durden!)

As you think about conflicts for each of your building blocks, keep in mind that they should be things you find interesting. If you think a conflict is tired and worn out, don't use it – or at least spice it up until it's interesting again! There have been plenty of books about cops or detectives chasing serial killers before; if you find that too tired and clich├ęd to sit through reading another one, take it by the nose and give it a twist until it is interesting? Psychic link between the hunter and their quarry? Serial killer not human? Work with it until it is interesting, or discard it. Don't suffer a conflict you don't want to spend a long time exploring. It isn't worth it.

Finally, as the conflicts for these building blocks become more fleshed out, start connecting them together. Is your main character's antagonist a sibling, and the kingdom they live in currently going through an upheaval between the peasant and noble classes? What if one sibling is for the peasants, while the other is with the nobles? That should spark some ideas, maybe even whole scenes. Do they try to convince one another to switch sides? Were they always opposed, or do they start out on the same side of the issues and drift apart during the novel? Will the conflict end in a positive manner, or is this a tragedy in the brewing? Often, these connections can illuminate a main premise for you, or help further define it. At the very least, you're finding ways to include multiple items from that list of elements you love into your novel, and tying them together.

The Scene Test


In college, I studied screen writing. I took every course I could get my hands on. Multiple books covering the topic of writing craft grace the bookshelves in my office. The majority are screenwriting books, purchased during those college days when I was determined to create a story that would grace the widescreen. As a result, I tend to think about elements in my books very visually. When evaluating the conflicts and details of each element of my story, I have one vital criteria: Can I visualize a scene for this?

Stories are made up of scenes. Whether you organize multiple scenes into a single chapter, or break them out into separate, shorter chapters is a matter of personal style. The fact remains, every story is composed of separate scenes, woven together to tell the story at hand. Films are also broken into scenes, and are becoming more pervasive in our society (I'm including television in this, so perhaps "visual telecommunication media" is a more appropriate term). Ask someone for their favorite scene in a book, and they might be hard-pressed to answer you; some people think of books in their entirety rather than in the composite scenes. Film and television are different. Perhaps it is the transitions from one scene to the next, perhaps it is the auditory stimulus, but I believe that the majority of people can separate the scenes of a movie or a television show in their heads better than they can in books.

One of our goals, as writers, should be to craft scenes so powerful that they stand out to our readers, to allow them to separate that scene from the full context of the story as easily as they can a scene from a movie. I recently finished reading Hemlock Grove, which I started after having watched the first few episodes of the television show produced by Netflix. Comparing the two, I can honestly say that no one scene stands out in my mind from the book as separate or distinct from the rest; they are all a "flat" image in my head as I roll through the story. Thinking on the TV show, the amazing image of Peter transforming into the wise wolf in front of Roman and Lynda stands out in my mind immediately. The same scene is in the novel, but the visual power of watching the transformation, Peter's body cracking and falling apart into meat, the wolf shaking off the final viscera in a spray of blood and flesh, and then consuming the remnants of its former body so that it wouldn't go into the woods hungry – that stands out to me. I don't care what else I see on the show, that scene will always be my highlight, my favorite moment. I really wish that the novel had had the same lasting effect.

When thinking about scenes that I'm writing, I try to visualize them as though they were in a movie; what feelings did the visuals evoke, would they have a lasting impact, are they powerful? When I am satisfied with the answer, I make note of them and I know that my conflict is going to go the distance.

That's actually how Laeryk Thorn came into existence as the main character. Originally, I struggled to take my elements and merge them into a character I liked, so I tried to visualize a scene with this nebulous, shadow-"character" featured. I tried to envision a final confrontation, an exciting battle (for epic fantasy must have exciting battles), complete with companions. The main character was still this blurry, grainy "thing," a racy scene on the tv censored to protect younger viewers from seeing any of the juicy bits. It wasn't working. My attention kept being drawn to a companion, a knight riding on the back of a winged reptile (not yet a wyvern, but I knew it wasn't a dragon – as much as I love the old Dragonlance novels, I didn't want to invite comparisons), raining arrows onto the battlefield from a crossbow mounted to his forearm. The character's image was powerful, and I needed something to work on, so I started to develop this companion. The more I worked on him, the easier it was to come up with details, until I realized that the reason it was so easy was because this was my main character. I actually split that original concept into multiple characters – namely Laeryk Thorn and Gavain Whiterose – and suddenly the scene was much easier to see in my head, and far more powerful. After that, the details started to fall into place.

That's it for this week. Now that we've hopefully got at least one idea flowing in your head, we'll talk about fleshing out some of the details a bit further and refining elements of the story in part three.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Style Part One: Where to Start


I first realized that I wanted to be a writer back in the second grade. It took over twenty years for me to actually get started. Part of that was, of course, learning the basic language and grammar skills necessary to produce work ready for publication, but part of my delay was from not knowing how to get started. Sure, I had a computer, word processing software, and even if I hadn't had these things I would have had pen and paper, but what should a prospective author write about? How much time each day should you spend writing? What should you do if you get "writer's block?" How do you keep yourself motivated through all the pages and words and revisions? I didn't know the answers to these things, and I allowed them to delay my entrance into writing for far too long. Some sort of an easily accessible guide would have been invaluable back then, but the Internet was in its infancy during my teenage years of navigating basic bulletin boards using 28k modems that tied up our house land-lines, and the idea of surfing the web for information was still unknown to me; I considered it a triumph that I could reserve books at the local library online!

Today there are lots of sources of information for prospective writers. Visit almost any author or literary agent's website or blog, and you'll discover articles providing tips to new writers. This isn't a coincidence. Writers want to help their fellows tell their stories and improve their craft. Sure, it helps create competition, but if you love books that isn't a bad thing; you get to read the new stories other authors produce, and maybe you'll see something that sparks a new idea for you, a different take on a scene that spins a whole new story. Maybe you simply get to read an awesome book. That's a treasure all on its own.

But there's another reason writers write about their craft. It gives us an opportunity to examine what our techniques and methods are, to think about why we do things the way that we do. If someone else benefits from our introspection, that's well and good too.

This isn't the one and true way to do things. It isn't even necessarily the best way to go about things, but it is the way that I do things. My style. My method. If this helps someone who is trying to get started, wonderful. At the very least, I hope that this article is interesting to read.

 Where Do The Ideas Come From?


Let me paint a scene for you. You're seated at your workspace; the dining room table, a desk, your bedroom dresser… wherever. You've got your computer booted up in front of you, the word processing software of your choice loaded, a fresh document waiting for you on the screen, cursor blinking. There are a couple of pencils neatly lined up beside you next to a legal pad so you can jot notes to yourself down as you write. A fresh mug of coffee wafts its delightful aroma into your nostrils, or perhaps a cool glass of iced tea sparkles tantalizingly nearby. You're seated comfortably, and all of those distractions are put away or turned off. You crack your neck from side to side, enjoying the satisfying pops as you work the kinks out. You lace your fingers together over your head, stretching your back while cracking your knuckles. You're all ready to go. This is the day. Today, you start your first novel. You lower your hands so that the pads of your fingers gently rest on the home row of your keyboard…

Then you stare at the blank screen, waiting. And waiting. After yet more waiting, there's still nothing. Your fingers aren't magically auto-typing words onto the page like some sort of digital-age Ouija board. Your story isn't spewing forth from the nether recesses of your brain. You've got bupkis. Jack.  Holy shit, you're screwed.

Sound familiar? Teeth clenched tight as you remember living a scene very much like the one above? Me too. I think that everyone who writes experiences this at some point. We want to write, and it doesn't sound like such hard work when you get started… but it is. It takes effort, and thought, and at least some small degree of planning. Ideas don't come from nothing, no matter how many times we say "It just came to me one day!" It didn't. There was an origin. Maybe you didn't realize it at the time; your subconscious was crunching the numbers and putting things together for you, but didn't clue you in until the idea was formed. Maybe you know the source. It was that old couple you saw sitting in the park, clearly upset with each other after some kind of argument, but unconsciously holding hands because that's what they've done for the last forty years. Maybe it was something you heard on the news the other day. There are story-worthy events all the time in the news. Three women were recently rescued from a house in Cleveland; you think that no one is getting inspiration from their story? Heck, it's not my sort of genre, and even I'm getting ideas!

So where do our ideas come from? Where do we get our inspiration? The answer is that it all comes from the world around us. We can't control it. We can't help it. If a storyteller hears about an interesting story, they want to tell it. It's who are, you know?

So if we can't force ideas, what can we do when faced with that blinking curser that refuses to form letters behind it? Are we stuck, finished, doomed? Of course not. We just need to go back to basics.

Basics


First thing's first: Do you know what kind of genre you want to write in? That might seem like an obvious duh of a question, but anyone who has worked tech support for computers know that the first questions you want to ask are whether all the cords are plugged in, especially that damn power cord. So have you thought about it at all? If you haven't, and nothing comes to mind right away, consider this: What do you like to read? Good authors don't just write stories in their preferred genre(s). They read those genres. They love those genres. They can tell you the names of other authors in that genre. 

Why?

If you can't stand fantasy, how are you going to enjoy writing it? If you don't enjoy writing it, how will you make your reader enjoy it? No matter what you think, no matter how formulaic you find a genre, you need to enjoy the genre to treat it well. I'm not a fan of mysteries. I solve them quickly but spend half the book hoping that I was wrong. After going through this a few times, and feeling like I'd cracked a special "code" I gave up on the genre completely. Not my cup of tea.

I'm reasonably certain that if I wrote a straight mystery thriller, it would be crap.

Another reason to pick a genre is that genre will provide you with some conventions and common elements to get started. If it's fantasy, there are probably guys running around with swords at some point. Western family probably bears a passing resemblance at medieval Europe. Maybe there's magic. That's something to start with, right? Now think about the fantasy you love; did it have those common elements? Were there any plot hooks the author left dangling and never came back to that can give you a start for your own ideas? It isn't stealing, it's borrowing, and don't worry – you'll make it your own soon enough.

Sometimes looking at genre can display things you don't like, things you wish wasn't in every novel of that genre. Maybe you think your favorite genre would be better with elements from another genre blended in? Have you ever read Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson? The book is fantasy, but it has a sort of steampunk vibe to it, mixed with a little western. There's magic (Sanderson has some awesome creativity when it comes to magic systems), guns, outlaws, nobles, high society, and a fight on a train. There's some genre-blending going on there! The best part? It's a sequel to Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy, a series that was spawned by Sanderson wanting to write an Oceans Eleven-type crime story, but blending it with fantasy. Heh. There's a lot of twists to those stories, and they're great for it.

Sanderson's books prove how you don't need to feel limited by your genre, but you can use them as a framework to get started. Learn from that example.

An Exercise


Here's an exercise for you. I'm borrowing it from Donald Maass, a distinguished literary agent who has some writing credentials of his own. In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, Maass presents an exercise that I happen to love. Take a moment to think of the books you've read, and pick your top three. You know the ones. You've read them countless times. Maybe you've had to buy them again because you ruined the bindings on your originals, or they got lost in a move and you couldn't bear the thought of being without them. You can probably quote lines form them. Yeah, those three. Got more than three? Limit it down to just that. We don't want too many books at the moment.

Now go get them. Lay them down in front of you. Now think about them. What are they about, who are the characters, where or when do they take place, why do you love them so much? After you've thought about each one, start looking at the ways in which they are similar.

You might be protesting: "But, Grant, Eat, Pray, Love is nothing like The Hobbit! And neither one is The Stand!" I'll give you that. On the surface, the story of one woman's inner journey from a loveless life with a career she no longer felt fulfilling to a place where she discovers the joy of living life and finds true love doesn't sound much like the story of man who protests the call of adventure as a wizard and a group of dwarves recruit him to be a thief for them as they attempt to reclaim their home from a dragon. A post-apocalyptic struggle between God and the Devil doesn't fit with those books either. But these are your favorites, the books you love best in all the world. Don't just look at the surface! Dig deep! Think about the characters and their qualities. Are there any in common? What about themes, setting, verbage… the list goes on and on. Maybe the elements of the books don't have anything you can codify so neatly, but certainly the books elicited a type of reaction from you. Did they draw you into the world? Make you care about the characters' conflicts? Did they make you laugh? Cry? Cause a variety of emotional responses within you? What triggered these responses? Those are the things you should be paying attention to.

Take some time. This isn't something that should come all at once. This is preparatory work for your idea, your inspiration, to spring forth. You laying some groundwork to build the foundation of your story.

An Example


I did the above exercise when I first read Writing the Breakout Novel (Maass goes into further, wonderful detail about it in the actual book, which I highly recommend you read). Here were my three: The Belgariad, by David Eddings (Yes, I know that The Belgariad is a series, but I read it in compilation editions rather than the individual books, so I don't tend to think of the series in terms of five books); Dune, by Frank Herbert; and The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time I do think of in terms of separate books, and the Eye of the World is my favorite, though Sanderson's books are running close seconds).

My three picks might seem pretty easy compared to the examples I listed above. I'm a fantasy/sci-fi boy through and through, and always have been, so my favorites do happen to come from similar genres. However, it's what I drew from them that is important.

The Belgariad is a series focused around a young farm boy named Garon, who turns out to have destiny far greater than his humble upbringing would imply. He is the many-times-great-grandson of the first sorcerer, Belgarath, and is a sorcerer himself. Further, he is the Rivan King, leader of the western world. He is destined to face the god Kal Torak, and defeat him as the battle between the Child of Light and the Child of Dark continues as it has throughout the ages.

Dune is the first book in a classic sci-fi series which has spawned video games, a movie, television mini-serieses, and prequels and sequels galore, long after the death of Frank Herbert. It is the story of Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto Atreides. Paul learns that his mother, the concubine Jessica, was never meant to give the Duke any sons, only daughters who could have been married to further a genetic program that has been going on for generations. An anomaly, Paul has the potential to be the Kiswatz Haderach, a messiah and superbeing whose coming is foretold in the Bene Gesserit prophecies. Politcal maneuvers work to eliminate House Atreides, propelling Paul into his role and leading him to overthrow the Emperor of the Known Universe.

The Eye of the World is the first book in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. It tells of three young men from the village of Emmond's Field, whose lives are upturned when the forces of the Dark One attack their village in search of one or all of them. One of the young men, Rand al'Thor, is the figure of prophecy known as the Dragon Reborn, a man able to channel the one power in a world where all such men go mad. The Dragon Reborn will save the world… or he will break it completely. The three young men must survive a harrowing journey from their homeland, diverting north to the Blight to stop the Dark One's minions from obtaining the power of The Eye of the World, and consequently revealing Rand's destiny… whether Rand wants to be the Dragon Reborn or not!

Each of these books has a fantasy theme that is fairly important to the book. Yes, Dune is technically science fiction, but let's be honest for a moment: If you're familiar with the Dune franchise than you recognize that there are strong fantasy themes running throughout it. Knife fighting, "magic" (more oracular ability than anything else, but some of what Paul manages at the end is definitely magical), the fantastic locations, and a feudal nobility system. It might be sci-fi, but it has strong fantasy elements within it as well. So, clearly, fantasy is the genre that appeals most to me. Not a surprise, so let's look a little more closely.

Did you notice how all of the main characters have certain similarities? Each harbors magical power that they are unaware of at the beginning of the book. Each has a potent destiny that they must face no matter how much they resist. As they pursue their destinies, they rise socially through their setting (you can argue that Paul descends when his House is destroyed, but I think his ascension through Fremen society more than makes up for that). So clearly one of the things that appeals to me is a main character with a destiny, who discovers hidden magical potential even as he struggles against his destiny.

What we have there is the kernel of a story premise. Now we just need to build on it, which is what we'll do next time.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Just an Update Today

The Character Overview Series

If you hadn't noticed, I've taken a bit of a break from the character overviews; not out of a lack of interest, but more because I'm trying to figure out who I want to feature next! If you've already read Laeryk's Proving, you're probably saying, "Torren, duh!" After all, I've done the other three major characters already, why not Laeryk's last (human) companion?

Mainly, it's because Torren's background is something that gets explored more in the second and third books in the series, and I'd hate to put up an overview that read something like:

YOU DON'T GET TO KNOW HIS BACKGROUND YET. NYEH!

That just isn't much fun.

I'm leaning right now toward another Valdaran, but I'm certain that most people are kind of bored with Valdarans by now; you've had two already, why more? That's one unfortunate side-effect of so much of the book taking place in Valdaran: Many of the characters are Wyvern Knights, and you already have seen two Wyvern Knight overviews. I might also do Elsebet du Lemaigne, or Enonna Whiterose, both of whom would give a taste of some different backgrounds.

As soon as I choose the next character, I'll resume the character overviews and chapter previews.

Gavain's Proving

I know, I know... this was supposed to be out already! What can I say, other than the transition from short story to novella has lengthened the process a bit? There's a lot more to revise than I was expecting, and I need to give myself breaks so I come back to the revisions with fresh eyes.

That said, work is progressing at a pace I'm quite pleased with. My lovely wife Lisa and I have been discussing a symbol for House Whiterose. If you didn't know already, Lisa drew the original symbol for House Thorn which graces the cover of Laeryk's Proving. I want a similar image on the cover for Gavain's Proving, but the more we talked about it, the more I realized that I never took a step back to design a heraldry for House Whiterose!

Oops.

Once the symbol is done (and I've touched it up on the computer), I have a cover designer I want to work with to produce a cover image for me. As pleased as I am with the cover for Laeryk's Proving, I can't seem to get a design I like for the novella... so I'm going to turn it over to a professional! I'd like the cover up at least a week or two prior to release, that way I can start some marketing promotions for the novella, which will debut exclusively on Amazon for three months as part of their KDP-Select program, and then move on to being published at Smashwords for distribution to other retailers after that.

Children of Llothora

One of my Lovecraftian homage short stories, Children of Llothora is also almost ready for release. I'm doing some touch-ups to it right now, and will then be seeking a cover for it's e-release. This one is going to both Amazon and Smashwords at the same time. Depending on how things go, it might actually be ready for release before Gavain's Proving (considering it's much shorter, the edits go much faster).

Laeryk's Proving... In Print?

I've spent the last week working with CreateSpace.com to set up a Print On Demand version of Laeryk's Proving. It's amazing how much of a pain getting an e-book formatted into a print version can be. I've designed a new physical book cover based on the original e-book cover which is nearly complete; I'm just looking it over to see if there are any minor changes I want to make before calling it the final version. Once that is complete, CreateSpace.com will be providing the book an ISBN number, and Amazon will list the print version alongside the Kindle version available for sale on their website.

The best thing about having a Print on Demand version, other than getting to have a physical copy of my book on my shelves and offering another medium for people to read my story? Giveaways. That's right, I plan on doing some giveaways through Goodreads.com. If you've never been to Goodreads.com, and you enjoy any form of social networking whatsoever, I highly recommend you check it out! Feel free to friend me there, and publish a review of Laeryk's Proving if you'd like.

Reviews

Reviews are the lifeblood of a book on online - or at least that's how it seems sometimes! Reviews let prospective readers know that other people have taken a chance on a book, what they thought of it, and what to expect. Sure, they're not perfect, but sometimes a review can point you toward a title you would have never otherwise read.

Laeryk's Proving is still in need of reviews; I realize that it isn't a short book (and having worked on the print layout for over a week, I'm very aware of just how long it really is), but I'm looking to get some reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, and all the rest of the retailers I distribute through. If you've finished Laeryk's Proving, please, please, please: post a review. Let me know what you thought of my story, and what you'd like to see in the future.

Conclusion

This was a longer update than I'd originally intended; I guess I had a bit more on my plate than I'd anticipated. Keep an eye out for the character overviews and chapter previews to resume soon!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Character Overview Part Three - Gavain Whiterose

This is the third part of a continuing series of articles featuring characters from The Saga of Thorns. To see the previous articles featuring Laeryk Thorn or Krayna Shaddarsson, click on their names.

Gavain Whiterose

Nation of Birth: Valdaran
Gender: Male
Eye Color: Sky-blue
Hair Color: Blonde
House: Whiterose
Religion: The Church of Alluman
Gift: None
Physical Characteristics: Like most Valdarans, Gavain is tall, standing at about 6'-4" in height. He has a stocky build, well-muscled from a lifetime of rigorous training. Not yet allowed to grow a full beard, Gavain has grown a long mustache, the tips of which reach past his chin. While Gavain is quite proud of his mustache, many people seem to think that it looks ridiculous.
Personality Traits: Gavain is an upfront and honest person. A deep reverence for Alluman guides his life, to the point that any pagan worship upsets and disturbs him to the core, regardless of his feelings of friendship for a person. Despite this, Gavain stands with any he calls friend and overcomes any differences, even religious ones (though he will continue to be bothered by them). Like many in House Whiterose, Gavain was raised with the idea that he outdo the previous generation, and finding ways to distinguish himself from other Wyvern Knights is an important part of his life and behavior. Gavain feels deep regret for his absence from his mother's side during her mental illness, but fears that he might have inherited whatever traits caused his mother to snap, and stays away lest exposure to her unhinge his own mind.
Personality Quirks: Gavain has placed himself firmly in Laeryk's shadow; he naturally allows Laeryk to take the lead, despite the difference in rank between the two. This is not a sign of lack of confidence on Gavain's part, but an acknowledgment of what Gavain feels are Laeryk's greater natural strengths. Gavain tolerates Laeryk's ridicule and barbs, never believing that they are intentionally malicious. Gavain frequently prays to Alluman for guidance and strength.

House Whiterose has a history as old as Valdaran itself, filled with heroes and villains who shaped Valdaran and its society. Descended from the original Allkings of Valdaran, House Whiterose is one of the "Cousin" Houses - noble families whose blood can be traced directly back to the same lineage as the Wyverncrowns, though the relation is so distant in the past that they can scarcely be considered related at all now. The term is mainly symbolic, but the Cousin Houses are afforded great privlage in Valdaran, and members of the Cousin Houses often find themselves in positions of influence within the Allking's court. Not content to rest on the laurels of its lineage, House Whiterose has also focused on creating Wyvern Knights, producing more knights than any other House in Valdaran. To outsiders, House Whiterose treats its children as conscripts, and there is some truth to this; all of the scions of House Whiterose are expected to prepare themselves for service as either a squire to a Wyvern Knight, a member of the military, or some other position. They rise early, perform their chores and lessons with precision, and failure is not tolerated. To the world at large, this is the only attitude the House fosters. Behind closed doors the Whiterose children find a warmer atmosphere, harsh yet nurturing. The children are raised to compete with one another, to find new ways to excel and show their prestige. As a result of its position and influence, House Whiterose has had the honor of maintaining and running the wyvern aeries for generations, creating a powerful bond between the Valdaran wyverns and the family members of House Whiterose.

Gavain Whiterose was raised just as every other Whiterose before him; he rose early, performed his duties, took his lessons, and worked to impress the elders of his family - no mean feat, considering the large number of cousins and other relatives he needed to compete with. Gavain's father, Vikar Whiterose was cooler toward his son than most of the other Whiterose family members, and Gavain soon learned that impressing his father was next to impossible. Gavain found a warmer reception from his uncle, and grew close to his uncle and to his cousin, Enonna, who quickly became one of Gavain's fastest friends.

Gavain was squired to Penevyr Silverheart, second in command to Steel Wing. This was a prestigious position, though Gavain had heard rumors that his father had attempted to convince the Wing Lord of Steel Wing, Garon Wyvernclaw, to squire Gavain instead. Though Vikar considered Penevyr to be a second-place mentor for his son, Gavain was honored by Penevyr's interest in him, and warmed to the praise Penevyr offered. During his training with Penevyr, Gavain developed a rivalry with two other squires, Arngrim Icehart and Laeryk Thorn. Poisoned by his father's hatred of the Thorns - who had once been members of House Whiterose before they had attempted a coup against the Allking - Gavain focused his efforts toward beating the naturally-talented Laeryk, hoping to finally impress his father.

Gavain's life changed after his mother went insane and attacked his father, critically injuring Vikar Whiterose. Though Vikar survived the attack, his injuries forced him to retire as an active Wyvern Knight. Gavain was traumatized by his mother's condition, unable to understand what could have unhinged her. He attempted to visit his mother on several occasions, but feared that he might somehow catch whatever madness afflicted his mother. Vikar Whiterose grew obsessed with the power he had lost, and worked tirelessly to regain his former influence, becoming as adept a politician as he had once been a warrior. Vikar's expectations for Gavain rose at the same time - if he could no longer show his prowess as a knight himself, Vikar's son would need to show it for both of them. The mounting pressure and guilt over his inability to visit his mother wore heavily on Gavain.

During an archery tournament between the three rival squires, Gavain watched Laeryk intentionally miss the winning shot, allowing Gavin to win in his place. Surprised at this compassion at a time when he sorely needed it, Gavain demanded to know what Laeryk's motives were. He was further shocked to see the punishment Laeryk's uncle inflicted on Laeryk for losing. When Laeryk explained that when his uncle had been forced to take Laeryk as a squire, it had cost his uncle the chance to petition for Gavain as a squire - and denied the greedy Belok Frostwind the generous stipend House Whiterose would have paid him. Discovering that Belok mistreated and abused Laeryk because of the imagined slight revised Gavain's opinion of the squire. When Laeryk later asked Gavain to be his sparring partner for private sword lessons, and offered them as an opportunity for Gavain to distinguish himself to his family, Gavain couldn't resist. The resulting sparring sessions engendered a deep friendship between Gavain and Laeryk that formed into an unbreakable bond, despite Vikar Whiterose's obvious displeasure at the friendship.

Gavain's Proving was to travel into the Wastes and investigate reports that the inhuman hrimthaar had found the pass leading into the Wyvernpeak mountains. Accompanied by a scout who trained Gavain on survival techniques in the harsh wasteland, Gavain learned that the hrimthaar had massed a horde of the creatures near to the pass. Barely escaping the Wastes with his life, Gavain coordinated an effort of the Valdaran border guard and Steel Wing against the hrimthaar horde, personally leading the border guard's forces. During the battle, Gavain fought the leader of the hrimthaar horde, and upon slaying the monster broke the horde's moral, saving Valdaran from a costly invasion. Gavain was presented to the wyverns, Chosen, and made a Wyvern Knight before the Allking's court. Since his knighting, Gavain has worked to help Laeryk earn a Proving of his own, but has been frustrated in his efforts. But a mission to the city-state of Hadar, led by Wing Lord Garon himself, might provide Gavain a new opportunity to help his friend...

Laeryk's Proving - Chapter Forty-Six


Gavain had faced hrimthaar hunters, naelfarn, armed bandits, and more during his short tenure as a Wyvern Knight. He considered himself to be brave, bold, and pious. Despite all of that, Gavain was seriously considering turning around and fleeing as soon as the church came into view.

The church grounds were well kept and quiet. Serene. He stopped by a bench and stared at the building ahead, fighting back the dread that threatened to overcome him. It wasn't the building — that was just a place, and not even a dangerous one. He'd gone into the Waystation at Kaerodan knowing that there was trouble inside. There had been no doubt in Gavain's mind that he'd face the naelfarn inside the Waystation, and he'd gone in anyway. There was no danger here, no chance of battle whatsoever.

So why was he so nervous?

It wasn't the church itself, but rather the large stone tower which  lay behind it, on ground surrounded by a thick wall built to withstand a siege. Yet the wall wasn't meant to keep anything out — it was meant to keep people in.

People like Gavain's mother, Hellara Whiterose.

Unwanted memories flooded Gavain's mind. He'd been eleven when his mother had suddenly changed. All his life she had been a loving woman, devoted to both Vikar and Gavain. In public, she had never argued with Vikar, but in private Gavain's parents had often argued over the way Gavain was being raised. It wasn't uncommon in House Whiterose. Many of the relatives who had married in had problems with the House's militant rearing of its children. Conflicts between parents who wanted to nurture their children and Whiterose parents who wanted to forge the next generation of Wyvern Knights were common, but always resolved in private. Despite their arguments, Gavain had never worried that his parents might separate. His mother even seemed to finally appreciate the harsh conditions he'd been raised in after Gavain had been squired to Sir Penevyr.

It had been a complete shock when her entire demeanor had changed, seemingly overnight, and she had tried to murder Gavain's father.

Gavain had been away at Silverheart Manor, staying with Penevyr when the news had arrived. He'd rushed to his father's side, where the best physicians in Valdaran had been tending to Vikar's wound — a nasty cut from a piece of shattered glass, running from his left hip to the right armpit. They hadn't been sure if Vikar would survive. Gavain had stayed the night with his father, so worried that he hadn't even thought to ask what had happened to his mother. Vikar had survived, but the injury had eventually forced him to retire from the Wyvern Knights.

It wasn't until the next day when Enonna and her father had come to check on Gavain that he'd learned his mother had been imprisoned within the Alluman's Eye. The massive tower housed most of the mentally infirm in Valdaran, kept under the merciful gaze of Alluman, where nuns and priests tended to them and prayed for the return of their sanity.

Gavain had tried to visit his mother during the years since — tried, and often failed. It was hard to see those wild eyes, and hear those paranoid whispers coming from his mother. He hadn't stayed long the few times he'd managed to go inside. His father hadn't gone to visit his wife in years — though Gavain supposed he could understand why. As hard as it was for Gavain to see his mother in her disturbed state, how much worse must it be for Vikar to look upon Hellara, and know that his own wife almost succeeded in murdering him?

Gavain had used his mother against his father the other day in Wing Lord Garon's office. He'd felt guilty ever since. Guilty for making such an underhanded attack, and guilty for exploiting his mother's condition that way. Guilty because Gavain was as neglectful as his father for not visiting her. How could he accuse his father of neglecting Hellara, when Gavain himself could barely step foot inside the Alluman's Eye to see her?

He'd be leaving soon to accompany Laeryk on his ordeal. Trying the ascend the Skar! Everyone in Wyvernholme grew up hearing stories of the foolhardy explorers who had attempted the ascent in the past. All had failed. All had died. Gavain had faith in Laeryk, but faced with such a grim record it seemed impossible that they would somehow be the ones to break it. If he was about to leave on a mission that seemed like almost certain suicide, Gavain wanted to have a clear conscience. No regrets.

He only had to make himself go inside.

Break this up into small, manageable parts, he thought. First, go inside the church. That shouldn't have been hard. Gavain was a devout man, and attended services whenever his duty permitted. And while the church grounds did hold Alluman's Eye, the church was still just a church, no different from the chapel at Whiterose Manor.

A leaf fell from a tree overhead and landed on Gavain's shoulder. He brushed it off absentmindedly, then stared at his shirt for a moment. He'd gone so long wearing his armor on this last mission that it seemed strange to be just wearing clothes. He'd be in the armor again soon enough, and he hadn't wanted to wear anything that might make his mother think he was a threat — even if having some added protection wasn't a bad idea when going to visit a woman known for attacking with improvised weaponry.

He took one step, then another. A third. A deep breath in, slowly out, then repeat. His steps were heavy, and he moved sluggishly, as if fighting to wade through a deep pool of mud. Each step came with countless reasons why he should turn around and leave. None of them overcame his guilt, which prodded him forward like an insistent slave master, cracking the whip at Gavain's backside. He crossed the church's threshold with a sigh of relief.

A small reception area lay beyond. A table lay near to the door, a poor box set on top of it to encourage visitors to donate. Gavain dropped a silver talon into the box's slot with barely a second thought. Beyond the reception area was the church chapel, empty today with no services going on. A side door lead to the inner grounds where Alluman's Eye waited.

Second step: go onto the church grounds.

The air was molasses, hard to walk through, thick to breathe. Being so near to the chapel should have reminded Gavain of Alluman's grace and mercy, and the strength He offered to the faithful. It didn't. All Gavain could think of was Alluman's wrath and judgment. Neither were helpful motivators.

The door opened, and a priest roughly the same age as Torren entered reception area. He was dressed in the traditional dark blue robes of Alluman's most faithful Voices, with a golden silk stole draped around his neck ending in pure white tassels. The priest's face was creased with lines despite his middling age, and his short blonde hair was being overtaken with streaks of silver. His eyes defied his age, still a sparkling blue hinting that Speaker Artan had not always been a devout clergyman.

"Gavain," Speaker Artan said with a thin smile. "Alluman bless you and your tasks this day."

"Thank you, Speaker." Gavain knelt on one knee and allowed Artan to bless him, touching forehead, both shoulders, then his breast.

"It is rare that you grace our halls, my lord," Artan said as he stepped back to give Gavain room to rise. 

"Though I suppose it is understandable. It cannot be easy."

"No," murmured Gavain.

"I had considered trying to become a squire once. It was the foolish dream of a young boy. My constitution was never strong. The physical rigors of even earning the right to become a squire were beyond me. In the end, I find my service to Alluman provides as much reward as I could ever need and does not leave me burdened by the many responsibilities which must weigh upon you."

Gavain wasn't certain what to say. Should he tell the Speaker that it wasn't his duties as a knight which kept him from visiting his mother more often? Artan had always been friendly enough during Gavain's visits, but he didn't know the Speaker well enough to want to discuss anything so personal as his reluctance to visit with his mother, or the pain he felt at seeing her while she was in her current state. On the other hand, he didn't feel comfortable just letting the comment go by; it might not have been a lie, but it felt close.

"How is she?" he asked finally, cursing his own weakness.

"She was quite well this morning. Calm. Very rational. We even said prayers together. She hasn't allowed me to do that... ever. She still wouldn't allow me to give her Alluman's blessing, however. The close contact is probably still too much for her. Still, it is progress. Perhaps Alluman's mercy is finally gracing her."

"I would like that," Gavain said, carefully keeping himself from hoping too much. He'd spent enough time hoping to hear of a change for the better, always to have his hopes crushed.

"You'll be seeing her today then? I've heard you're leaving again soon — a Proving for your friend, yes? 
There's been quite a bit of talk about that, even among the common folk."

"Yes. I thought I should, before —" Gavain couldn't bring himself to say it.

Artan's eyes softened, and the Speaker patted Gavain on the shoulder. "Every mountain can be climbed. Some of them are just waiting for the right person."

"If anyone can do it, Laeryk can," Gavain said, surprised at how confident his voice was. He genuinely believed that Laeryk was capable of almost anything, but at the same time, Gavain couldn't ignore the enormous risk they were about to undertake. "But if we turn out to not be the right people, I can't leave without..." he trailed off again, unable to finish.

"You've picked a good day. Even if I'm being optimistic about her recovery — and optimism is one of the faults Alluman has graced me with — Hellara is still in a better mood today than I've seen her in years. You need only take the first step, and Alluman will walk beside you." Artan's thin smile dominated his face, and he gently took Gavain's arm and began walking to the door to the outer yard, pulling the young knight along.

It was easier this time, whether from knowing that his mother was in an improved state of mind, or because Artan was right about Alluman walking beside him. Either way, the air no longer had that oppressive thickness to it.

Artan led Gavain into the yard and to the entrance of Alluman's Eye. He gave Gavain another thin smile and blessed him again. "I think it should just be you and Alluman from this point on, lad. Hellara is improved, but I don't know if she could handle more than one visitor approaching her. Alluman smile upon you, my lord."

"And on you," Gavain said automatically. The Speaker offered Gavain a bow before he left, and Gavain was once again alone, staring at the door leading into Alluman's Eye.

Only one step left. Going up to her cell. Technically, the rooms where members of the noble Houses stayed in Alluman's Eye weren't called cells, but they were no less a cell than the ones in the palace dungeon. Gavain took a deep breath and entered Alluman's Eye.

The tower's thick walls did an admirable job holding in the noise which always filled Alluman's Eye. Gavain was greeted by the howls of the mad. Monks, nuns, and other priests moved about quickly, tending to the needs of their raving charges. Many of them were locked within their cells, but a few of the more lucid ones were allowed to roam. Gavain kept his distance from all of them. As always, he worried that he might somehow catch their madness. Artan had assured Gavain that it was impossible — madness was not a disease such as a cold, it could not be contracted from mere contact — but Gavain had never found the Speaker's assurances convincing. His mother had gone mad. Who knew what weakness her blood carried as it ran through Gavain's veins?

Hellara Whiterose's cell was near the top of the Eye, requiring Gavain to climb the long staircase that spiraled along the inside of the tower wall. The shrieks grew louder the higher he rose — a frightening thought, considering that the cells were supposed to be better soundproofed the higher you rose in the Eye. Hellara's cell was one of the only ones on her level. Though spacious for the Eye, Gavain had always felt it to be a cramped space threatening to crush anyone occupying it. Her thick door had a small window in the center, and Gavain peeked through to see if Artan's report about his mother was indeed accurate.

His eyes widened with surprise when he saw his father seated on a stool at the foot of his mother's cot. Gavain couldn't see his mother at all, but it looked like Vikar was speaking to her. For a brief moment, Gavain wished the cell wasn't soundproofed, just so he could hear what his father was saying. Had his words actually shamed Vikar into visiting his wife? Did their conversation hold some revelation as to why Hellara had attacked Vikar in the first place? Gavain still had no idea what had prompted the assault.

Alluman, what am I thinking! My father comes to visit my mother for the first time in years, and I want to eavesdrop just to satisfy my own selfish curiosity?

Gavain was so busy chastising himself that he almost didn't notice Vikar rise from the stool and approach the door. Gavain jumped backward. If his father knew that he'd been watching... Vikar's fury would be legendary. There was no way he would forgive Gavain for such a transgression. Despite his speed, there wasn't enough time to get away from the door completely. The best Gavain could hope for was that his father would think that Gavain had just arrived, and had been unaware of Vikar's presence.

The door opened, and Vikar stopped in shock, his eyes widening as he stared at Gavain. They both stared at one another, neither saying a word.

"Gavain," Vikar said softly. "I hadn't expected to see you here."

"I needed to visit mother before..." Gavain paused.

"Before you leave on a fool's journey to reach the summit of the Skar?" Vikar asked. He shook his head. "I don't know whether to despair that you continue to follow on the heals of that Thorn, or admire the tenacity you show in your loyalty to him."

"When we return with Wing Lord Garon cured, Laeryk will be a Wyvern Knight, and the former squire of a member of the royal family," Gavain said. "He will have ample allies to help him restore House Thorn to its former status, and may even earn House Thorn the status of a Cousin House. It might be wise to let go of your resentment toward the Thorns."

"Perhaps it will. If you survive this ordeal, you will certainly have proved me wrong about you." Gavain's father frowned for a moment. "Or perhaps being connected to Prince Ragnar will no longer be the benefit you seem to think it is. Only time will tell."

"What do you mean?" Gavain demanded.

"I need to leave. You should let your mother rest." Vikar's voice had a tone of finality to it, as he ignored Gavain's question.

"I won't wake her," Gavain said, frustrated.

Vikar shrugged as if it didn't matter, and pushed his way past Gavain. Gavain watched his father descend the stairs before turning to the still-open door to his mother's cell. He thought he saw a flicker of movement inside.

"Mother?" he asked quietly, approaching the doorway carefully. He didn't want to startle her if she was starting to wake up. Looking inside the cell, he saw that his mother was unconscious on her cot. There was no one else inside, nothing to account for the movement he had thought he'd seen.

Just my imagination, he thought. Gavain knelt beside the cot and carefully took one of his mother's hands in both of his. Hellara did look better than she had the last time he'd seen her. She'd combed her hair, or allowed someone else to do it. That was progress, at least.

"I'm leaving soon, mother," he whispered so as to not disturb her. "Maybe as soon as tomorrow. Laeryk has his Proving. We'll attempt to climb the Skar, find this Arakon, and make him give Wing Lord Garon his cure. I wanted to see you before I left in case..." he didn't finish. His mother had grown up in Wyvernholme. She knew the stories about the attempts to climb the Skar as well as Gavain.

He knelt beside her for a few minutes longer, praying that Alluman help her find her way back to health, and that he would be able to see her again. When Gavain finished, he rose and turned to leave.

Hellara sat upright suddenly, hissing, grabbing Gavain's arm. She pulled her son around to face her. Gavain stared at his mother in shock. She hadn't been like this in years!

"I know what your father did, Gavain — I know what he is doing! All of them! That's why I tried to stop him — that's why I'm in here! You can't trust the Houses, Gavain! A nest of vipers hiding in a thorny briar! Alluman has shown me! His light has illuminated the darkness the Ebon Wing hides in!" Spittle flecked her lips as she raged.

"Mother!" Gavain yelled, trying to pull his arm free from her grasp, but she was too strong. "Mother, stop this! You need to calm down!"

"I hear their whispers. They think I don't, but I do! I do! I know their plans to unleash war, to set things aflame, to bring famine and pestilence — death! They must be stopped! They must!"

"Mother!" he yelled again, still trying to pull himself free. "Alluman, bring her peace!" he prayed as fervently as he could.

She let him go suddenly, and stared at Gavain with sad eyes. "He cannot help us Gavain," she wept, curling into a ball. "Even Alluman fears what is to come."

"Alluman forgive me," Gavain whispered as he fled the room, shutting the door behind him.

"Gavain, what's going on?" Artan demanded as he came up the stairs. "The others said your mother started screaming! What happened?"

"She isn't better, Speaker," Gavain said, fighting back tears. "I hope you can help her — I, I can't."

Gavain fled Alluman's Eye before Artan could say anything else. He needed something — anything! — to clear his head.

No matter how fast he fled though, his mother's words echoed in his mind.

"I know what your father did. I know what he's doing."

What in the Hells was his father mixed up in?