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I’m a discovery writer (or pantser), but a modified one. Why modified? Because once, when I was fairly new to writing, I actually managed to write over 100,000 words on a novel and, as I was writing the final scene, I looked up and said to myself, “But it’s not a story.” I knew intuitively that it wasn’t a story, but it took me a lot longer to figure out why. (By the way, once I finally figured it out and learned a few other matters of craft, that not-quite-a story became THE VOICE OF PROPHECY.)

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????So, now I try to figure out a few sign posts along the way before plunging in.

Obviously, I need to know where the story begins. By which I mean not necessarily the opening scene, which can change. The inciting incident is usually pretty stable, though, and that’s what I need to know.

A few of the major plot points along the way is nice. I do make notes of or even sketch out a few scenes that come to me, but I’ve always done that (even in that draft that wasn’t really a story). Some of those will make it into the final version intact. Some will have to be changed to fit. And some will have to be left out or cut.

I like to know the climax. Of course, I’ve known the climax the DUAL MAGICS series was headed for for a long time, now, so that’s not a problem.

Sometimes I’ll even write out what I call a proto synopsis, hitting just the high (or low) points of the story.

But the main thing I absolutely have to know is the central conflict. Without that, it’s just a string of events. That’s the reason that that very first version of THE VOICE OF PROPHECY (then known as THE IGNORED PROPHECY) wasn’t a story. The germ of the central conflict was there, but it just wasn’t clear enough to be the backbone of the story.

I’ve been organizing all of this because, very soon now, I’m going to be starting the first draft of Book 4, the final book of the DUAL MAGICS series, tentatively titled WARRIOR OF MAGIC. Can barely wait.

That’s what I’ve calculated I need to accomplish on this round of revisions to have BEYOND THE PROPHECY ready for beta readers on June 1st.

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So far, so good. Fortunately, this round is only looking for small inconsistencies and some style issues. Also, places where I need to add more description.

As soon as I’ve handed it off, I get to start work on the fourth (and last) book in the DUAL MAGICS series. Looking forward to that.

Round Three

I’ve started the third round of revisions to BEYOND THE PROPHECY.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This will be the last round before I turn it over to my beta readers next month.
Whew! Good thing, too. It’s sort of beginning to all run together. About time I gave it a rest and came back to it fresh.

On schedule for a September release, if all goes well.

While my beta readers have it, I’ll be starting the fourth (and final) book of the DUAL MAGICS series, tentatively titled MAGIC’S WARRIOR or possibly WAR OF MAGIC. Yeah, this is the one where it all hits the fan.

Though I’m a (modified) discovery writer, I’ve been doing a little planning for that.

Today is the last day to pre-order DAUGHTER OF THE DISGRACED KING for only $0.99.

Keep your head down. Don’t draw attention. Above all, don’t make yourself a target. Those are the rules seventeen-year-old Ailsa lives by. It’s just part of being the daughter of the disgraced ex-king and living too close to his more-than-slightly paranoid successor.

Ailsa isn’t the only one affected by the new king’s insecurities. The mages backed her father. Now the new king’s repressive policies drive the mages out of the kingdom–and with them the magic that her desert country desperately needs to survive. Ailsa sets out to study magic so she can help keep Far Terra green.

Her plans are nearly upset when her oldest friend, Crown Prince Savyon, proposes. Marrying him would mean giving up her magic. Her family history proves that the barons will never accept a mage as queen. A year of training won’t make her a mage—unless she has insanely powerful magic. And there’s been no sign of that. But at least she’ll know what she’d be giving up before she makes a decision.

A magic-tinted kiss from Jathan, her cheerfully annoying study partner, makes her question what she really feels for Savyon. She and Jathan could do great things together–except that he never wants to go near the desert.

Are magic and love forever mutually exclusive for Ailsa?

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Here’s another scene, featuring another important character. Not his first appearance in the story, but at least this one doesn’t include any spoilers. Unfortunately for their friendship, Jathan is as fond of attracting some kinds of attention as Ailsa is conditioned to keep herself in the background.

Jathan dropped Ailsa’s hand and turned as the crowd swirled around them, parting to allow half a dozen men in uniform through. He cursed under his breath. “Why do they always have to interfere?” He narrowed his eyes at the much more ornate uniform of the leader. Arrigo. Seven hells! What was he doing here?

Arrigo stepped up just a little too close and looked down his overly large nose at Jathan. “Well, well, well. Hello Jathan. Imagine finding you in the middle of . . . this.”

Jathan’s nod of greeting was just barely short of insulting. “Arrigo. What happened? Did Father demote you? Surely you have better things to do than follow me around.”

A muttering grew in the surrounding crowd as Imperial Prince Arrigo was recognized. Jathan set his teeth against a rising aggravation. Even here, Arrigo just couldn’t help but try to put himself above Jathan.

Arrigo pulled himself up to his full height—two inches taller than Jathan. “Your body guard is technically under my command, you know.”

Jathan relaxed into an insolent slouch, direct opposite of Arrigo’s aggressive military posture. “I don’t need a body guard. Not here. I’m in the middle of the Institute and barely a mile from the imperial palace. What’s going to happen here?”

Arrigo shrugged and looked at the crowd gathered around them. “I don’t know. Seems you have a talent for collecting a mob.”

Jathan snorted and shook his head pityingly. “It’s not a mob, Arrigo. It’s a game. I’d explain it to you, but it involves brains rather than muscles, so I doubt you’d understand.”

Arrigo stepped still closer and lowered his voice. “Careful, Jathan. You wouldn’t want me to repeat that last statement to Father, would you?”

“Oh? And how are you going to explain what you’re doing here, when you’ve been expressly ordered not to interfere with my training?” Jathan hissed back.

They glared at each other for a moment.

Arrigo broke first. “We should continue this in private. If your classes are done for the day, you might as well come on home with us.”

Jathan shrugged. “Sorry, Arrigo, but I can’t. I’ve promised to see Ailsa home safely. I’ll see you there later.”

Arrigo’s eyebrows rose in curiosity. “Ailsa?”

Jathan turned to take Ailsa’s hand again and bowed with perfect courtly precision. “Imperial Prince Arrigo, I have the honor to present Princess Ailsa of Far Terra.” Jathan ignored the renewed murmurs of the crowd. Now why did that make Ailsa look like a frightened doe about to bolt back into the forest? It couldn’t possibly be the first time she’d been introduced as a princess. After all, she could claim that title by birth. Not just by adoption like him.

In fact, Ailsa had appeared terrified ever since Karensa had started the game. He’d just been too excited to finally have a team mate to recognize it. She’d wanted to stay in the back in Barth’s class, too. He didn’t understand what frightened her about that, but he could at least try to help her out. Probably best to take her home with a minimum of fuss, for a start.

Arrigo bowed over Ailsa’s hand, completely oblivious to the way she stiffened. “Princess Ailsa. My very great pleasure.” He glanced at Jathan as he stood back up and smiled. “Why don’t we all see you safe home, Princess?”

Ailsa swallowed and looked up at Jathan, her eyes pleading for help.

Jathan took Ailsa’s hand again, noticing that her palm was slightly damp. She really was scared for some reason. “No, Arrigo. I think you’ve made quite enough of a commotion for one day. I’ll take Ailsa home.”

Ailsa relaxed a little and gave him a half-smile. That must have been the right answer. Well, he could certainly understand why anybody would want to avoid more of Arrigo’s company. The rest . . . Jathan guessed he’d just have to figure out the rest later. Right now, the best thing was clearly to get Ailsa back to her grandmother.

Arrigo still missed the signs. “I insist.”

Jathan sighed and tried to give Ailsa’s hand a reassuring squeeze. There really wasn’t any way he could stop Arrigo at this point. Not short of a public brawl, anyway.

Daughter of the Disgraced King releases Monday (May 18th).

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????It’s only $0.99 to pre-order.

The world building for part of this world is based largely on the settlement-era desert Southwest. Adobe buildings, stagecoaches, though not the political structure or the magic. Here’s a little sample:

Early the next morning, Ailsa gave each of her parents one last hug and turned to board the stagecoach that would take her to the imperial capital. It was a plain, functional coach that, from the visible wear, had made many trips across the desert. When she put her weight on the small folding step to climb in, the coach swayed alarmingly. Evidently, maintenance hadn’t included replacing the worn springs. Hopefully, the roads wouldn’t be too rough or this was going to be a very bumpy ride. The padding on the seats was thin, too. Ailsa sighed. It would have been faster and more comfortable just to ride Pearl all the way. She wouldn’t have had to share the cramped space with strangers, either.

As soon as she was aboard, the four guards climbed up to the seats on the top of coach. Ailsa placed the smaller valise that held the things she’d need en route under her seat and leaned out of the window to wave goodbye one more time.

Ailsa had never traveled far before—and never alone or in a public conveyance. Papa could have sent her by private coach, but that might have been construed as an impolitic show of wealth and privilege. The public coach wouldn’t be as comfortable, but there were royal guards riding on top, so it should be, if anything, safer than a private carriage.

Ailsa sat back and turned her attention to her fellow passengers. An elderly man had the seat next to Ailsa. He’d already leaned his head against the opposite wall of the coach, closed his eyes, and started to snore—loudly. A young girl sat across from Ailsa, apparently accompanied by the woman about Mama’s age sitting next to her.

On the other side of the woman, sat a slightly younger man—too old to be her son and too young for her husband. From the distance between them on the bench, Ailsa didn’t think they were traveling together. His clothing and appearance would be consistent with a well-off merchant or maybe some distant relative of one of the barons. Nothing about him should be alarming except for his manner. His open, appraising stare made Ailsa want to pull the demure collar of her traveling dress closed in spite of the growing desert heat. Ailsa looked away. He had no business looking at her like that, but perhaps a closed coach wasn’t the best place to confront him about it. They were already as far apart as the coach permitted. It would be best to try to ignore him.

Ailsa smiled uncertainly across at the woman and turned to look out her window. The road was wide enough for two coaches to pass each other going in opposite directions. Ailsa’s seat gave her a view on the outer side of the road, where a double row of sycamore trees shaded the highway from the desert sun. The trees weren’t thick enough to completely obscure the desert beyond.

Ailsa felt heavy and enervated. It must be all the emotional ups and downs of the last few days. She had trouble even keeping her eyes open, but she didn’t want to miss anything on this trip. If only everything along this highway didn’t look so much the same . . .

Ailsa jerked awake as the coach pulled to a stop. She couldn’t have slept all day. No, the sun was high overhead and the heat was oppressive. They’d come to a wider green area, surrounding a small oasis. A rustic building made of crude mud bricks stood across a cobbled yard. The coachmen leaped down and began to unhitch the sweaty horses.

One of the guards climbed down from the roof right in front of her, making Ailsa start. He opened her door and stood back. “We’ll stop here for a meal and to change the horses. If you’d care to disembark . . .”

Ailsa stepped down and stood in the yard, uncertain what to do now. She stretched gratefully, easing out the kinks in her neck and legs. The coach’s springs weren’t nearly as good as those on her father’s coach. It was surprising that she’d been able to doze with all the bouncing, but maybe she’d needed that nap. She certainly felt better. The midday heat didn’t seem to bother her so much, even though there was no air moving at all. The others climbed out of the coach more slowly. Ailsa followed them inside.

Inside, a long table of rough boards was already set with five places, platters of cheese, fruit, bread, and two pitchers of water. Ailsa sat down at one end of the table, across from the older woman and her daughter. She poured herself a cup of water before anything else. She’d forgotten how parched the desert could make her feel, even without moving around much. The rude man sat down beside her—too close beside her for Ailsa’s liking. She shifted over a little away from him.

So, Daughter of the Disgraced King releases a week from tomorrow (May 18th).

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Until then, you can get it for only $0.99 on pre-order.

This scene is Ailsa’s first kiss–oh, and an unexpected proposal:

The last of the tension drained from Ailsa’s body. She leaned back to look up at the starry sky. “I haven’t been down here since . . . Oh, since we used to play hide-and-seek here, I suppose. I’d forgotten how lovely it is.”

“It can’t compare to you.”

Ailsa lightly tapped his hand where it lay on his leg, close by her own. “I wasn’t fishing for a compliment.”

“I know. Ailsa . . . I . . . I want to ask you something.”

Ailsa looked down from the sparkling sky and met Sav’s eyes. He was doing it again. Stammering. “You’ve always been able to talk to me about anything, Sav.”

“This is different. I . . .” Savyon rubbed the back of his neck. “Seventeen desert hells! I wanted to do this elegantly, to be worthy of you, but I’m just no good at that. I’m going to have to just say it.” He gritted his teeth before rushing on. “Ailsa, I love you. Will you marry me?”

Ailsa gasped. The stars seemed to spin above her. She’d swear her heart stood still for a beat and then began to pound. She could hear the blood rushing in her ears. She couldn’t have heard him right, could she? As many times as she’d dreamed of Sav noticing her as more than just a friend, more than just someone to dance with to hold off the girls who wanted him for his position and future power, she’d never once thought of this. She felt utterly unprepared for it.

“Say something!” Sav begged. His hands gripped his knees so hard that the knuckles were turning white and his eyes were unnaturally bright.

Ailsa had to swallow twice before she could find her voice. “I . . . don’t know what to say. This . . . You never gave me any reason to expect this.” Her hand found one of his and pried it loose from his knee. “Sav, you’re my best friend.”

He grasped her hand almost as tightly as he had clutched his leg a moment earlier. “Can’t I be both?”

Could he? What a comfortable and comforting marriage that would be, with her best friend—if her best friend had been anyone but the crown prince. “I . . . don’t know.” Her eyes focused on Sav’s lips. What would it be like to kiss Sav? She’d wondered before, but now Ailsa had to find out. She freed her hand and pulled his face down to hers. Sav held his breath. Ailsa sucked in a deep breath for courage and put her lips to his.

His mouth was warm and soft beneath hers. A frisson went down from her lips all the way to her toes, spreading heat along with it. As natural as a rosebud opening in the sun, her lips parted. His did, too, moving slowly against hers. His arms came up to hold her close to him. He tasted of salt and faintly of some sweet wine he must have drunk while she was dancing and of a titillating essence that was all Sav. She wanted it to go on forever and at the same time felt she couldn’t catch her breath. She needed air. She needed time. This was all moving much too fast. She sat back, breaking off the kiss. “Oh.”

Sav searched her face. His shoulders sagged. “No good?”

Her hand rose to her throat. Had she done something wrong? True, she didn’t have much experience at kissing. “What made you think that? Didn’t you like it?”

“I’ve never felt anything like it, but . . . you have the strangest expression right now. I can’t tell . . .”

Ailsa’s smile was a little shaky. “I feel like I could float up to the top of that tree if you weren’t holding me down to earth. My lips are still tingling. And my toes, for some reason. I . . . Oh, Sav, why did you wait until three days before I leave for Terranion?”

One side of his mouth twitched up. “If you hadn’t been about to leave, I wouldn’t have had the courage to risk . . . to risk . . .”

Sav’s arm was still around her, but she grasped his free hand. “Driving me away?”

“Yes.” Sav’s voice was little more than a sigh.

She could see how hard it had been for quiet, reserved Sav to take that chance. It wasn’t as if he had a lot of friends either—not real friends who cared about him, not his position. “That won’t happen, Sav.” She nestled a little closer and laid her head on his shoulder. She chuckled softly. “If you only knew how long I’ve wanted you to . . . think of me as more than a friend.”

It’s now less than two weeks until the release of DAUGHTER OF THE DISGRACED KING.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????It’s only $0.99 on pre-order until May 18th. Then the price goes up.

So, here’s a sample. The opening scene:

Ailsa pushed a low-hanging branch out of her way and emerged onto the wider trail. Even the sharp, clean scent of pine couldn’t distract her from the dead tree directly across from her, a mature oak that had been green and healthy the last time she rode this way. Now it was bare and the bark was already turning black. Her stomach clenched at the sight. This was very nearly the heart of Far Terra. If the magic was failing even here, how much worse would it be on the fringes, nearer the surrounding desert? Without more mages—and soon—Far Terra would die.

She shook her head as if to clear it. She couldn’t really begin to plan until she knew what kind of magic she had and she couldn’t learn that until she got to the Institute of Magical Arts. Today was supposed to be a farewell ride with her friends. Ailsa should be enjoying that. They’d had to leave early to escape the gaggle of girls who always seemed to be around to flirt with the princes. This was the last chance they’d have to ride like this for at least a year, maybe longer. She wanted to let Pearl have a good run and this seemed like the best place for it. Sav came out onto the trail, Cergio and Perion right behind him.

She grinned, deciding to throw out a challenge she knew they couldn’t refuse. “There’s an old oak farther on, about a quarter mile. Race you there!” She leaned forward and dug her heels into Pearl’s sides.

Sav’s big, leggy black caught up to her and then passed her. Ailsa’s lips thinned. At the last moment, she jerked the reins to the side and guided Pearl onto the narrower track, which also cut off a sweeping bend in the main trail. It wasn’t cheating. She’d only specified the destination, not the path.

Ailsa sat up in the saddle to look ahead. Three fallen logs lay across this less-used trail, with no room for a horse to take a full stride between them. The undergrowth was too dense to allow any chance of going around them. Pearl could jump any one of them easily, but three together with barely room for the mare to gather herself for the next jump was more challenging. Ailsa had faith that Pearl could do it.

She bent low over the withers of her horse and urged her forward. Pearl lifted off, easily clearing the first log, landing, and lifting off again. It felt like flying. Ailsa laughed as the wind of Pearl’s speed whipped her hair into her face. They broke out onto the main trail again only a couple of lengths ahead of Sav.

This time they were going to do it. This time they were going to win. Ailsa turned her head to look over her shoulder. Sav’s long-legged black was gaining on them, but the other two were lost in the dust, too far behind to have a prayer of catching up.

She wasn’t going to come in second. Not this time. A tiny whirlwind of fallen leaves would distract his horse and slow Sav down. She was tempted, but using magic really would be cheating. And that would take the luster off the win. Instead she leaned forward to whisper encouragement into Pearl’s ear. “Go, girl. You can do it.” The mare put on a burst of speed. Ailsa whooped and raised her arms in triumph as they passed the oak tree that marked the finish line.

She jumped down and hugged Pearl’s neck, then grabbed a cloth from her saddlebags and began wiping her down, even though that little run had barely raised a sweat. “You’re wonderful. You’re the best horse ever.”

Sav pulled his black stallion up beside her and dismounted.

Ailsa paused her rub down of Pearl to turn to him. “I told you she could beat your black, didn’t I? She’s faster than she looks.”

Savyon patted Pearl’s shoulder. “No. She just runs her heart out for you. It’s not the same thing.” His eyes glowed oddly as he met Ailsa’s. “It’s a gift. To be able to inspire that kind of loyalty. She runs beyond her abilities for you.”

Ailsa blushed and concentrated on wiping the last traces of sweat off Pearl’s gleaming coat. Pearl liked to run. And if Sav was about to accuse her of using magic to win the race—when she’d specifically restrained herself, too—she’d . . . she’d hit him, prince or not.

Sav looked back down the forest path to a narrow place where Cergio had somehow gotten his bay gelding turned sideways on the trail, blocking Perion. He swallowed and grabbed Ailsa’s hand. “Ailsa, I . . . I . . .”

Why was Sav stammering? He’d never been shy with her before. They’d known each other practically since she could walk, after all. And even if she did occasionally get a little irritated with him, she would never really hit him. She looked up into his eyes. “What is it, Sav?”

With a shout, Ailsa’s cousin, Perion, slipped around Cergio’s horse’s flank and raced towards them. Cergio followed at a slower pace.

Sav grimaced and drew a deep breath. “You will be coming to the ball tonight, won’t you?”

Ailsa nodded. “Yes, of course. It’ll be my last chance before I go south to school. I doubt I’ll get invited to very many parties there. Anyway, I’ll be there to study, not socialize.”

He squeezed her hand. “Promise me a dance?”

Ailsa smiled. “As many as you like, Sav. As always.” She turned back to Pearl to hide her face. Who else am I going to dance with? Perion? Aunt Izbel will prod him to ask me once or twice, but I know he’d rather be dancing with Delea. And Cergio will be on his next romantic campaign. He won’t have time for me.

“I’ll see you there, then,” Sav said and released her hand just as the others rode up.

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