Thoughts on Writing The King’s Daughter

Becoming an author wasn’t anything I’d ever imagined doing throughout most of my life. In fact, the very idea of it, when it came, found me like a deer caught in the headlights. The more common tale for the authors I know is that they had dreamed of writing books ever since they were children. That wasn’t the case for me. If the idea had been suggested any earlier in my life, I would have found the notion utterly laughable. It wasn’t until a New York Times best-selling author nudged me that I caught on. The resulting experiment led to the inspiration for my first book. Let me explain.

I have always enjoyed reading. And while I enjoy many different genres, historical fiction is what I return to over and over again more often than not. It was mid-2011 when I heard that my favorite author of the time, Sharon Kay Penman, was about to release a new book. I had long been a member of her Facebook fan club, but it had been a while since I’d last visited. News of her new book sent me to the group more frequently, and to my great surprise and delight, I discovered that Ms. Penman frequented the group, interacting often with her fans. It was in one such interaction that Ms. Penman commented that authors rarely receive detailed feedback from readers about why they love the books they do. Immediately I decided that I would do something about that.

In a way that only rabid fans, groupies, and a small number of book nerds can do, I began work on what became an embarrassingly long review of her book, Lionheart. That a fan would do something so fanatical understandably caught her attention, and we struck up an email friendship, the result of which led her to ask me, “Have you ever thought about writing?” Had she been anyone but a career author, and one with several titles to hit New York Times best-seller status, I would not have paid any attention. But she was who she was, and the authority behind that assurance gave me the confidence I needed to take up the proverbial pen and write, with none other than my favorite author as mentor.

Four years after the nudge, I published my first book, The Scribe’s Daughter, but it was really an accident. I had every intention of publishing a different manuscript; however, the voice of my prose just didn’t seem right so I set it aside. Just for fun, I wondered what it would be like to write in first person, so remembering a certain market chase scene from the 1992 Disney film Aladdin, I replaced the character of Aladdin with my own street urchin, a girl named Kassia. As Kassia took shape on the page, I found her to be quick-witted and sarcastic, and incredibly fun to write. I fell in love with her character and couldn’t stop until I had a book, The Scribe’s Daughter.

At the beginning of that novel, we meet Kassia, a seventeen-year-old orphan who is faced with a tough decision in her daily quest for survival. She is a younger sister but finds herself in the position of providing for both herself and her older sister, Irisa. The sisters cannot afford to pay rent, and when their landlord gives them an ultimatum — pay up or become whores — Kassia must make a difficult decision. Events become complicated when very soon after, a stranger shows up at Kassia’s doorstep to hire her for a job that is ridiculously outside her skill set. Not seeing any other choice, she takes him on. Before long, Kassia finds herself swept away on a sometimes treacherous journey where she must use her resourcefulness and every measure of witty bravado to survive. Along the way, mysteries of the sisters’ family history, a history neither of them knew existed, are realized and revealed.

When I began work on The Scribe’s Daughter, I had no specific intention of writing a sequel (since I hadn’t necessarily planned to write an entire book in the first place). Irisa was just a sub-character, and I had no plan to develop her. As Kassia’s character developed, it became clear that Irisa had a tale of her own to tell, and it was going to be very compelling.

The King’s Daughter is a sequel to The Scribe’s Daughter. Much of this book overlaps the timeline of the first book as the sisters’ perspectives and experiences weave together to form a more complete view of what readers learned in the first book. Kassia and Irisa part ways early on in The Scribe’s Daughter. The first few chapters of The King’s Daughter follow that overlapping timeline as Irisa learns about the same mysteries her sister did in the first book; however, Irisa’s story continues on from there, and she discovers even deeper mysteries than Kassia ever knew existed. Facts are twisted sideways so that the mysteries take on new life. Ultimately it is a character-driven book. Irisa grows and develops as a person, but in her strength, she helps the development of the other significant protagonist in the story as well. All of this is wrapped in mystery, political intrigue, a love story, as well as action and adventure.

I oftentimes get asked the dreaded question of genre. What are they? Your books are historical fiction, aren’t they? No, they are fantasy, right? To be honest, that’s the most difficult question I ever have to answer about these books because I didn’t set out to write a specific genre within an established set of rules. The books read like historical fiction but also fit into the fantasy category, even if they are not traditional fantasy (there is no magic, no dragons or other fantastical beasts). Readers of historical fiction should feel right at home with the books because I injected my love of history and historical fiction into them. They echo historical fiction even if there is no history in them. The people and places are purely fictitious.

Regardless of what genre you prefer, if you love deep characters, evocative settings, and a good plot, I don’t think it matters much. My purpose was to write books that make a difference, that require something of the reader, to distill and draw forth emotions and empathy. I want readers to experience the world through the life and experience of my characters, and I want both the reader and the characters to have changed by the end of the book. At the end of the day, if that has happened, I feel that my books have done their work.

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