Ink-Stained Scribe

A Manuscript's Journey - Part I

My revision for THE MARK OF FLIGHT is FINISHED! *fireworks*

I've talked a lot about "The Mark of Flight", which is the first book in a fantasy trilogy I've been writing since the Summer of 2002. It was the first book I ever finished ('06), and also the second, because I rewrote it completely over the Winter of '09-'10. I learned a lot of my "what not to do"s on this manuscript.

Each story has its own tale outside the ink on the page, it's own creation myth. I know a lot of people reading this blog are writing their first novels, or have just finished them, so I thought I'd show you all the journey of my first novel. It's a bit long, so I'm going to break it up into a couple of parts...and hopefully there will be more to come.


I think almost everyone remembers how and when they first came up with a story, or at least what initially inspired them. As I admitted in a previous post, my friends and I are huge role-players. Yeah, we play Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop type games, but before that, we just made up our own worlds and characters and jumped around Adryn's room, smacking each other with mini-blind-dowels for swords.

Call it weird, call it an extension of pretending. We own it. We still love it (although now we've got the funds to make better props).

The Markmasters trilogy started out as either Adryn or Merrilee's idea, which they got from some video-game I'd never played, which had magic stones called "Runes" (Suikoden is the name of the game). Well, I didn't know what those were, so I just sort of made up in my head what I thought they should be like. *I* had recently seen a movie called Shanghai Noon where a princess ran away with a man she thought was her friend, but ended up not realizing she'd been kidnapped.

So it began. I made a princess in a predicament, Adryn created the unassuming, stuttering slave-boy, and Merrilee created the wandering Mage-guardian named Bay (all of Mere's characters are named after plants: Bay, Ivy, et cetera).

Like most of our role-plays, we did this one for a while, developed some of the story and the scenes, and moved on. The interesting thing is looking back at what we played versus what I actually used in the story. The original roleplay had so much that is no longer present in the story: dragons, demon-wolves, and lots and lots of camping. Also, like most of our role-plays, we played the beginning over and over and over, and never really developed the major plot.

I don't know why I chose to write this particular story first. Partly, because I adored Arianna. Partly because I adored Shiro. Partly because I felt ready to start writing one of the stories we had developed, and that one came to mind. Despite the fact that Adryn and Merrilee had created it so they could fan-play something, I felt very close to the story. I had developed so much of the plot, and because I had never played that video game, I sort of filled in and made up my own idea what the Magic was.

I remember where I was when I wrote the original opening line of The Mark of Flight (then called, simply, "White"). It was Summer, 2002, and I was 17. I sat at my desk with my big Gateway desktop purring, light slanting in through the windows on my left and bending over my bed. I didn't have any idea how to start the story, so I thought about Arianna's most defining feature--her hair--and wrote:

It would be the first time Arianna had ever seen her hair.

Did I know what that meant, or why, or how it would figure into my story or not? No. I made up the why after that, and even though that line is no longer the opening line of the story, it remains one of the important cultural points in my story.


So I banged out three chapters of Arianna at her Ceremony of womanhood and the ball afterward, where she meets her eventual-kidnapper, Tashda. I wrote her fighting with her mother about Magic, and then complaining about the unfairness of it to Tashda, who suggested she run away with him.

Then I switched tactics and wrote a scene from Bay's perspective. Bay, whom I remembered nothing about. Bay, who was Merrilee's character, but whom she had only played once or twice. It was interesting, because I'd never really tried to write a character I didn't know before. I just started the chapter with an "Okay, who are you?" mentality. And Bay (or my subconscious) sprang onto the page as the most entertaining one of all. Even in subsequent drafts, Bay remained my favorite to write, possibly because I didn't have much expectation of him, so I just let him (or my subconscious) do where he wanted.

He was laid-back, he was nosy, he was irritating. I loved him. In more recent drafts, he's become less laid-back, and WAY grumpier, because the backstory I eventually created for him did NOT lend itself to the carefree, well-adjusted person he was in that first draft, although that is likely who he would have been with a normal childhood.


By the time I had three chapters, I was back in school in my senior year. Adryn and Merri had both graduated, Raven was at a boarding school for people who could actually memorize the periodic table, and the only ones left were Skrybbi, Mica, and me. At that time, I was the editor of my school's literary magazine, and I had created a writing workshop group that met after school every Friday.

As I usually did with my work, I handed off the first three chapters to a couple of my friends. I wasn't expecting much of a response, but Skrybbi came back to me with it.

I still remember her handing me the alligator-clipped print-out and saying, "I think this is the best thing you've ever written."

Funny, how the most insignificant-seeming comments can inspire you. JK Rowling talks about knowing she wanted to finish writing the original Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone because her sister, reading the first chapter, laughed. Well, Skrybbi telling me that these three, unpolished chapters were the best thing I'd ever written was the spark I needed.

I'd written short-stories before, for class. I'd written fanfiction in abundance. Never had I set out to write something long, like a novel, because I didn't think I'd have the will to buckle down and finish it. I don't know if that comment gave me the will to keep going or not, but it's what gave me the will to try.


That year I got Mono (during which time I actually played Suikoden, so I could see how they did the Magic and make mine different), followed by bronchitis, followed by a series of ADD medications that had me either not eating or not sleeping. I was in two school plays, was taking college Spanish at the local technical school, and was both editing the literary magazine and leading the writing workshop, Tangent. By some miracle, I ended up with five fully-revised chapters by the time I graduated. It wasn't much, but it was enough to go on with...

...and it was the best thing I'd ever written.

Play with me: where did you get the first idea for your WIP? Was it a combination of real-life events? A dream? A fan-play? A concept from something else that you explored more deeply? A series of what-ifs?

NaNo Possibility 1: ROOST


It's the first day of August and I am so close to finishing the final (hah) revision of "The Mark of Flight". The query has been marinating a while and it's about time now to chuck it in the skillet and see if it comes out looking palatable to the agents. HELLHOUND revisions have been postponed until I can get MoF off the table (I'm hungry, can you tell?), but I'm still planning to finish the overhaul before NaNoWriMo...


I get to decide what book to work on next! *fireworks*

There's something about facing that blank Word document and typing the first words, making that first mark to delineate world, character, or story , that is both terrifying and immeasurably exciting. The idea of digging into this rich compost of research and imagination to make something new out of it is probably one of my biggest joys as a writer, second only to typing that last punctuation.

I haven't been published yet, so we'll see if those get knocked down a notch--not sure if they ever will, though.

SO ANYWAY. I have three projects I'm considering for NaNo this year, and they're all very, very different.

2. Beggar's Twin
3. An Act of Mirrors

Because this would be a SUPER-LONG post if I tried to tell you about all three (and it would take me forever, besides), I'll start by describing ROOST.

Who's excited for the Hobbit? I'm excited for Smaug,
(Read: Benedict Cumberbatch)
Alden Finch Craft is the most promising Shanlori trainee in Roost, but he’s never been paired with a Ketchra—the dragon-bonded pilot-half of the Battle Rider pairs. First, he came from Prestia, the city that used to rule Roost and now fights them for access to the wild dragon nests they protect. Second, he’s the son of Argo Craft, Admiral of the vicious Prestian Drakonauts. It doesn’t matter that Alden fled Prestia as a child; blood is blood, and no Ketchra wants an armed Shanlori warrior behind them when they’re not sure which side he’ll shoot.

Alden loses hope of becoming a Rider until a cruel prank on the training platform reveals his potential as a Sling. Roost has never successfully trained one of the deadly wire-diving Shanlori, and if they can find Alden a Ketchra he just might be the edge they need to defeat Prestia…but can they trust him if the battle comes to fighting his own father?

Wing Captain Ruri Kishorn lost both his dragon and his Shanlori sister in battle five months ago, so when his former-instructor suggests he become Ketchra to a teenager with a Prestian accent, he vehemently refuses. What good is a Shanlori—even a Sling—when his partner is shell-shocked, suicidal, and dragonless? But after a brutal attack by the Drakonauts leaves Roost’s lower town a smoking ruin, Ruri can no longer ignore his duty, even if it means opening up to another person.

As the attacks rise in both violence and frequency, Ruri begins to suspect that Prestia is planning to destroy Roost once and for all—but why now? As the hatching draws near and suspicions arise around his new Shanlori, Ruri must push past the guilt of surviving and stand behind the young man who could save Roost from certain destruction.

I'm estimating about 100-110k on this one--comparable to HELLHOUND in length, with a lot of interesting action and emotional turmoil. It will be told from three (MAYBE four) points of view: obviously Alden and Ruri's but also from the POV of Talis, Argo Craft's Shanlori. I'm playing with the idea of a fourth POV--a girl who is a prisoner in Prestia, and part of the reason they're so desperate to destroy Roost. I haven't decided if she's a more powerful character seen from outside, or if we need to get in her head.

Anyway, that's the first possibility! Let me know what you think - I'll be posting a poll with the third story.

Medieval Mounted Backwards Paintball

I finished rewriting THE MARK OF FLIGHT last year, and to get closer to the action, I chopped off the entire beginning. I liked how quickly we got to the action, but the pace was halting and the exposition was mainly back-story. It looks like I jumped ahead a little too much.

Rather than scrapping that new scene, I looked at the backstory I put in and retrieved a few scenes I'd cut from the early chapters of the rewrite. This is the part where Beta-readers are awesome. I had Raven read, explained where I was going to go with it, and the following conversation ensued:

"Yeah. That should work..."


"But, I don't know. It's fine the way it is, but is there something else the court ladies can be doing besides weaving favors? I mean, it's medieval--we figure they can sew and stuff. Is there anything you can have them doing that makes us go, 'Hey, we're in Rizellen! Rizellen isn't Camelot or Middle Earth! Or whatever. Like something more exciting, like a sport."

Badass chicks are badass.
Bingo. I love it when Raven's right, but it usually means at least an hour of brainstorming. The result was something I can only describe as Medieval Mounted Backwards Paintball.

Yes, Medieval Mounted Backwards Paintball. And it's ladies only. Sorry, gentlemen; go play with your swords.

In historical Rizellen, women were allowed to join the ranks of soldiers as part of the cavalry. Most of them were mounted archers, but of course they also trained with polearms and swords. Why cavalry? Simply because it gave them both an advantage of strength and momentum for melee combat, and the speed to make a fast retreat. Also, female Mages and Markmasters often entered battle, and the safest way to do that was on horseback.

Because of this, women would have spent a good deal of their time on horseback. It makes sense that some sort of game would be developed that requires the women to be both mounted and performing difficult maneuvers without the use of their hands to direct the horses.

Then I looked at my heroine, Arianna. What is she good at? Horseback-riding. Politics. Oddly enough, I always had her be good at throwing things. Before, it had been a way to show that she and her mother were both a bit hot-tempered, and tended to hurl teacups at people who displeased them. There were lots of places in the book I could have made that skill useful, but didn't--mostly because Arianna wouldn't have trusted her own aim in that kind of situation. Now, however, she can.

In the sport, which i have named Threshing (because it used to be played in threshing seasion, with wheat shafts bound into targets), women ride on horses with satchels of ammunition tied on the saddle. The ammo could be anything from rotting fruit to stones to missiles made from sheep-intestine and filled with dye. They run a course which has jumps and turns, and must hit targets both in front of and behind them.

This requires horsemanship, reflexes, and good aim. Also, much like modern soldiers are given a few "civilians" on their courses which they absolutely cannot shoot, Threshing courses have a few "villager" dummies, which the women get docked points for hitting. The game doesn't require great strength, and it would have helped the historical women soldiers practice directing their horses with their legs, and with coodination.


Have you ever invented a game or sport for your story? What are some of the most memorable games from fiction? (I know, I know: Quidditch)

Sunday Sample - The Markmasters Trilogy

I can't remember the artist for this...

An excerpt from "The Mark of Flight", book one of The Markmasters Trilogy.

Tashda had betrayed her.
 It was like being lifted from a drug-induced gaiety and suddenly dropped back into consciousness. The ethereal brightness of the world faded into simple moonlight, life became less beautiful, and Arianna was suddenly, rudely aware of her mistake. Her terrible, irresponsible, thoughtless mistake. These were no queen’s hands, she thought, opening her fists and staring at them in horror. These were the hands of a fool.
Bay grabbed her shoulders, wrenching her away from the door. “Come, my lady. There is no time. Tashda will have noticed this spell break, and I’m not sure how much time I can give you. Shiro!”
Arianna looked up, remembering for the first time the black-haired young man who had come in with Bay. The Mage thrust her towards him, and she recoiled from his obvious filth. No, she couldn’t think like that. She was worse than him now. She was a war-starter, for her mistake would surely be the catalyst for a fresh wave of fighting.
“Shiro, take her and get out. Take the Grays.”
“What about you?” Arianna asked, head snapping over to look at him. “You don’t expect me to get home with just-”
“There’s no choice, princess!” Bay snapped, turning to the casement and shoving it open.  “Go now!” he yelled, swinging his arm toward the window. The young man flinched, as if bracing himself for Bay to hit him. Arianna, leaned her head out the window. There was a single story drop to the ground, but in the evening darkness, she could see nothing soft to fall on. The sound of footsteps in the big hallway made up her mind.
“Let’s go!” she said. “We’ll have to jump.”
“Shiro, now!” Bay said, grabbing Arianna’s arm. The young man stooped so she could fling her arm around his shoulders, and she heaved her legs over the sill. Arianna’s back scraped against the casement as the two men lowered her out, and she was glad for the years and years of daring herself to look straight down over the castle Rizell’s curtain wall. Her arms slid through their hands, and they caught her wrists with a jolt. Her feet dangled a meter above the ground, and they let go. 
She gave a truncated cry and crumpled under her own weight, but it took only a second for the fighting blood to kick in, and she scrambled out of the way. Her feet stung, but she tore off toward the stable ahead, wet grass lashing her ankles. A thump behind her signaled the young man’s landing. He passed her on his long legs, flung the stable doors wide, and darted inside, Arianna right behind him.
To her shock, the horses stood outfitted and ready. The young man—Shiro—laced his fingers and Arianna stepped into them and tossed herself across the saddle. She struggled with her skirts for a moment before she was able to get her legs situated properly.
He handed her the reins and stepped back, turning his head from side to side. Through his nest of pitch black hair, she couldn’t see his eyes.
“Hurry up, get on the other horse,” she said, words pierced with sharp gasps. Her throat and chest burned from the run.
“I d-don’t know how to ride,” he breathed. “You have to go now. They don’t know I’m w-with you and you’ll be faster w-without me!”
Arianna stared at him. She imagined herself tearing through the wilderness, unable to discern direction, with a whole company of Markmasters in pursuit.
“Nonsense,” she hissed. “I can’t do this myself,” she loathed her next sentence, though it rang truly inside her own ears as she spoke. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Though he grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck with one big, filthy hand, he nodded.
She nudged Star toward him. “You’ll have to ride behind me.”
The young man’s posture stiffened, but Arianna wasn’t about to give him a second to protest. They had wasted enough time as it was. They’d have to leave her mother’s horse and hope that either that Bay man made it out alive, or that they could outwit or outride a single Markmaster.
“Come, we haven’t got time to argue!” Her voice trembled, but he jumped at the order as if she had shouted it, vaulting nimbly up behind the saddle. Arianna was, for once, glad of her slight weight, for though the young man was little more than skin and sinew, he was quite tall. She wondered what region he was from, to have such long bones and such strange coloring. Star didn’t like the extra weight, and let Arianna know with laid back ears and a rueful glare, but Arianna spat out a few commands in Danaian and they erupted from the stable.
It became obvious almost immediately that Shiro’s claims about his equestrian abilities were not the product of modesty. Arianna’s legs strained as she pressed her feet hard into the stirrups, struggling to keep balance for two as Shiro slung about uncontrollably behind her. Star—confused by the accidental leg signals—snorted and jerked at the reins.
Finally, Arianna managed to get the mare following the reins alone, and wheeled her around toward the road. They hurtled down the little path, turned, and burst into the open darkness of the road.
Ahead, she saw the festival pole, silhouetted against the boiling, cloudy sky, and a pair of figures running straight towards them, blond heads bright. She gasped, gaze shifting, and saw their smooth auras swelling with energy, spells sparkling at the ends of their outstretched hands. She pulled Star’s reins hard, and Shiro fetched up against her back, chin cracking against the back of her head. She grunted, but ignored the pain, wheeling the mare and digging in her heels. They catapulted up the faded road towards the ruined castle in a wild four-beat sprint. Shiro’s arms crushed her ribs, and if she had been inclined to breathe at all, it wouldn’t have been possible.
They pounded up towards the ruins, and a plume of flame snapped out on their left, flaring hot. Arianna screamed, and Star bolted right, heading straight for the steep edge of the motte. Ropes of blue, translucent Magic ribboned out at the edge of her vision, chasing them.
They couldn’t stop—they would have to go over the edge of the motte.
“Hold on!” she screamed, and drove Star with her heels over the edge. Blue Magic arched over their heads.
Everything slammed forward, and the pommel dug into Arianna’s gut. Shiro was heavy against her back, threatening to push her over Star’s low-bent neck as they slid down the steep hillside. The skirt of the motte flared below them, muddy, rocky, without purchase. Star wasn’t running, she was skidding down. Just when Arianna’s hands slipped on the mare’s withers and she pitched forward, Shiro’s arm tightened about her waist and he reversed direction, pulling her back. He had a bit more stability behind the saddle, and he had somehow managed to get his feet in the stirrups with hers.
            They lurched, Star leapt the last few lengths of the motte, and Arianna barely righted herself before the mare crashed into the ocean of tall, golden wheat.
            “The road!” she yelled, and Shiro pointed, but his feet jerked from the stirrups and he quickly had his wiry arms around her waist again, head bent down into her shoulder. They tore a wide path through the field, galloping for the hulking, broken structures concealing the road.
            Another tail of flame arced over them and splattered like burning grease in the wheat ahead. Star reared, and this time Arianna’s fingers tangled in the horse’s mane. Shiro somehow managed to stay on, and as soon as the mare’s hooves touched down, she took off, skirting the spreading flame and churning a path through the pale wheat.
            There was a roar of thunder from above, and a great rush of wind blasted their backs, bringing a spatter of sparks from the quick spreading flame. Star moved in great leaps, and Arianna realized with a sick trill of fear that the flame was being pushed up around them by Magic. Desperate, she dug at Star, leaning forward, though she knew the mare could go no faster.
Then the sky opened up. First a few drops, then a torrent pelted down over them like shattering glass, battling with the flame. They leapt between buildings and Star pivoted, slinging her riders sideways as she found the road, and hurtled into the tunnel of trees. In the sheet of sudden rain, the gray horse and riders became invisible.