One year ago today, I was in Sorrento, Italy, a few weeks into my semester abroad. I was lonely and sad and stuck. I had been staring at the finished first draft of a book for months, knowing it wouldn't be the first book I published, and I wanted to write the book that would. After a night of soul-searching, I decided to try my hand at fantasy.
Before I started writing this, I was convinced that I'd never come up with convincing characters or an interesting storyline that was different from what I'd been writing previously. I was terrified that that one story (which, in rereading it six months later, isn't very good) was all I had in me. I am so glad I proved myself wrong.
This story has gone by several different names, the first of which being "A Court of WTF's", when I didn't know what my story was about and was concurrently reading the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. Then I migrated to "The General's Promise" which I liked, but it still didn't feel perfect. That was when I was trying to make the story about my main character, Colin's promises to Azalea, to Anthoni, and to himself. But that hasn't ended up being what the story was about.
"The Song Of The Sword" hit me over the summer and I fell so deeply in love. The name could change again, but I don't see it happening anytime soon because The Song of The Sword is such a perfect name for this book. I'm so excited to share it with the world.
Have you ever not known what you wanted and then had the sudden realization that it had always been right in front of you? That's what this book is to me.
I see my characters as real people and wrote letters to a few of them. I love my characters more than I love most actual people, and I talk to them often as I try to understand their motives, their pain, and their magic. I figured a good way to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the writing of The Song of The Sword was to share them with all of you, starting with my first love, General Colinet Tanner.
I met you a year ago today. I was on the other side of the world, in a country where I didn’t speak the language, and I needed something to feel like home. So I started writing.
I met you right away. A stoic guard, who I quickly learned wasn’t stoic at all, so I had to change the first sentence of my book. And then slowly, a story started to take shape. A general falling in love with a lost queen, a princess who had lost all hope of a happy future, a father willing to march into hell to save his daughter, a little girl who could see the future, and a group of men who are brothers in all manners except blood.
I've spent the last year getting to know every quirk about you. You're left-handed like me and similarly don't like milk, and just like me, your anxiety lies right under the surface and pops up at supremely inconvenient times. But you love to party and dance and get drunk, which I've never enjoyed. I've enjoyed making you much more fun than myself, and I've enjoyed creating someone from the ground up, instead of building thinly veiled representations of people in my life. I have never seen scenes so clearly as I do when I write in your voice. Something about you makes me understand the world. You're so sure, even when I'm not. It made me want to write this whole book from your perspective, but unfortunately, you can't be the only one in the spotlight- and you'd probably hate that, actually. You're so smart in so many ways, but your lack of social awareness is the only thing you're actually aware of.
My mom says that characters don't control the story, I do. But she's never met you. You have been the driving force behind this story since day one. Since the day you were sitting on your horse and you saw a boat that you didn't think was safe and your instincts told you that you needed to tell the king.
I know you aren’t real, but you are my best friend and you've already been the biggest adventure of my life. When I don't know what to do with my plot, sometimes I ask you out loud. Often, you answer, not with words, but with the strength I need to push through my self-doubt. I can’t wait for other people to see you the way I see you. Kind. Brave. Smart. Funny. Strong. You've taught me how to have fun with my writing again.
Thank you for being there for me on the sleepless nights when I wanted to stop writing. Thank you for reminding me that your story needed to be told whenever I wanted to put The Song of The Sword in a drawer. Thank you for making me laugh as I imagined you getting tipsy and singing Since U Been Gone loudly and off-key at a karaoke bar or doing the Soulja Boy with your friends ( I can now do the dance too, not sure of that's a blessing or a curse, to be honest.) Thank you for introducing me to Lindsey Stirling- as soon as I knew you played the violin, I knew I needed a musical muse and she is now the soundtrack to most of my writing. I met her back in December when I saw her in concert and I told her about you. Thank you for teaching me more about who I am as a writer and a person. Thank you for introducing me to your friends, your family. I feel at home with them too. But you were the first character I met. And I am so eternally grateful that I get to see through your eyes.
You are the spicier, more dangerous, magical cousin of my first love, Zoella Sinclair, the protagonist of the first full-length book I ever wrote. Zoella was me, and I didn't want you to be. When I closed the cover of Exile and started looking for new things to write about, I knew I wanted a survivor in this story too. I didn’t meet you right away and that was very purposeful in retrospect. I needed distance from my old book when I was still missing it every day. I wanted to write someone completely different so I met your sister first and toyed with the idea of Avalon and Colin falling in love before realizing that wasn’t what either of them wanted. Avalon and Colin are both super intense all the time. A romantic relationship with those two would be disastrous- they would burn each other up, so they're much better as friends. But then I met you. My water girl. You’re soft and strong and brave and broken and you were exactly what Colin needed. You soothed his soul, and you soothed mine.
You have taught me so much, but above all, you have taught me that even those who have been through the worst kind of hell can still emerge with a sense of humor and a desire for adventure.
On a whim, I had you ask Colin for a secret, and for reasons I can't understand, I had him respond that he was a violinist. At the time, it was meant to be purely comedic- I've written that Colin is 6'6'' and it was quite a funny mental image, this massive burly man who kills on command playing something so small, so delicate. But after a few days of trying to figure out what music meant to Colin, I realized that he was actually quite adept at it, and it was something he held very close to his heart. It was a part of himself that he didn't share with anyone else (except occasionally Azalea and Avalon.) At that point in my writing, I was searching for something, anything to connect the two of you. You were so scared and so defiant and he knew he cared about you but didn't quite know what to do with you. And then I had the idea- what if you were a skilled musician as well? Immediately, a secondary storyline took place, one where you both loved music and found comfort in playing for each other. Colin gave me the idea, but you are the first character that made me see words on a page when I heard a song- you are what brought music to this book. Your love of the piano stems from my love of hearing it and hours of listening to instrumental music had me putting it on the page. I will always think of you when I hear The Arena by Lindsey Stirling. I can't say so in the novel, but when I think about your homecoming party, that was the first song you and your sister and your love played together. I know no one but me can see it yet, but it's one of my favorite moments in the novel because you start to feel safe again.
It was so important to me that I wrote you well, because I wanted you to understand your magic, and I didn't even understand it yet. I've never written magic before I wrote you and Avalon and Azalea. And a little girl seeing the future is one thing- a fully grown adult with control and awareness of her power is another. I wanted you to be dangerous but I also wanted you to be so kind that people didn't care. Writing your powers into this book has been one of the greatest joys of my life- I never knew writing could be this fun. You've taught me to listen to the ocean and, more importantly, that the ocean might be listening to me too.
You are a sister and a daughter and a friend and you own all of those roles so fiercely. You love your sister too much to let her become queen to protect you. You love your father too much to tell him that it hurt you when he stopped looking for you. You love Colin more than anyone ever has. And you let him love you when no one had for a very long time.
You aren't me, but like all of the brave, strong, fierce women in my stories, I'm hoping people see pieces of me in pieces of you.
You started as a writing exercise for me. And within two days, you became the catalyst for change in the world I was creating. There was a little girl in my last story too, and when I shut the door on Exile. she was who I missed the most, so I knew I needed a little girl in this book too, a little girl that she would've been friends with if they existed in the same world. Her name was Penelope and she was a little younger than you but just as smart and kind and brave. She didn't have your magic, but she had spunk and charm, and the same love for unicorns that you do.
You have something Penelope didn't have- you have the power to see the future. It's a massive burden and it can be scary- I'm sorry for giving you the burden of this secret, but you are so much more important than you know and so much more powerful than you think.
You've been a fascinating character for me to write, because I've written about young people before, but never anyone with magic powers. How would a little girl handle these big feelings? How would she recover from the trauma of being ripped from her family, from watching her father almost bleed out because he wanted to save her life? I avoided your storyline for a while and stuck with the fun stuff- helping your Uncle Colin fall in love with your bestest friend, Princess Astrid. But you're so important to this story. You are the catalyst. So this winter, I spent a lot of time writing and rewriting your character until you felt right. That involved reworking the beginning of my story so that you were already a little less innocent and happy-go-lucky than most kids your age- you knew bad things were going to happen, but you just didn't know how to tell your parents. So you told Uncle Colin through pictures and begged silently for him to understand, but he didn't. Not for a while. I changed your age from 5 to 8 and you became a lot easier to write about. You became easier to make dangerous.
I've written a scene in which you reveal to your uncle Colin just how powerful you are, and it's quickly become one of my favorite scenes in the book. You were so angry and proud in that moment, it makes me smile every time I read it. And let's be real, it was fun to see the look on Colin's face when he realized how much he'd underestimated you, wasn't it?
I've loved getting to work through every problem with you. I've loved getting to write in your voice. I love that I named you after a flower before I ever decided what you might be able to do. And I can't wait for other people to see how cool you are.
Of all of the characters I've ever written, you have been the hardest to write. At times I've wanted to completely abandon your perspective, but it's so important to the story, and I'm really working for there to be a better balance between you and Colin- as he is want to do, your brother is definitely stealing the show at this point in the draft. In the beginning, I struggled to write you differently than I've written Colin. Though your ages are similar and you had the same upbringing, you have such a different outlook on life because you have a wife and child. The stakes are higher for you. You can't go out drinking every night you have off, because when you have time off, you want to spend it with your family. When I wrote you originally, you had the same crackhead energy as Colin. But then I had a hard time differentiating between the two of you and thought the book might be confusing. So I gave some of your crackhead energy to Dallon and poured the rest into Colin to make him even more chaotically bisexual than he already was and called it a day. I rebuilt your personality three months into writing about you and hoped that it would stick this time.
You are infuriating to me sometimes because you are quiet and kind and prefer peace and quiet to the noisy chatter and chaos of the karaoke bar your friends frequent. You don't talk much, so I've been forced to learn how to show instead of tell in your chapters. I put one of the biggest pieces of myself into you- my introverted nature. I don't know what it says about me that I dislike writing about my most prevalent trait through the eyes of someone else, but I promise, I will do you justice, even if I have to rewrite every one of your chapters to do so. I don't think I'll have to rewrite all of them, though- you're pretty freaking badass in chapters 18-21.
I had a beta reader read my book last winter and you were her favorite character, which surprised me (no offense!!) because I'd spent so much more time fleshing out Colin's perspective. It was so helpful to me to have someone with an outside perspective tell me things about my character that I didn't even know- she admired that you were a family man, that you were the most lethal member of your army, and that you took on the duties of teaching new recruits. She saw how that quickly became an outlet for you when you were scared for your daughter. You knew that emotions and fear would not save her- but an army might. So you worked day and night to make sure as many men as possible were prepared for whatever might come. She saw your core before I did, and I'm so grateful to her (hi, Maria!)
As soon as I wrote Azalea and what happens to her, I knew you would be the one to save her. For me, for you, there was no other choice. At first, I thought that I'd have Colin come with you, but then I realized that if I wanted there to be tension in this novel (or, I suppose, more tension), there needed to be that rift between the two of you. I haven't quite figured out what possessed Colin to tell you to stay back when up until this point, he had sworn that he'd die to protect your daughter, and I might end up scrapping that storyline and just having him cover for you, but for now, you're so angry with him that you want to rip out his throat with your teeth. I haven't worked out what makes you forgive him yet, but I have a sneaky feeling that your daughter, who loves you both equally, will have something to do with it.
I promise to keep an open mind as I continue to write your character- although I fear I will have to change your name pretty soon. Between there being too many MC names starting with A and the fact that I accidentally named two of my characters after Colin and Anthony Bridgerton, you will have to go by something different so I don't get sued for copyright. But rest assured, you are a far better man than Anthony Bridgerton.
Out of everyone, you are the only main character that I've not given a perspective in this book, no matter how much I want to (and I desperately want to). Why, you ask? Because you are such an amazing, big, fierce, presence that I don't want to disgrace you with only two or three chapters. The Song of The Sword is mainly about Colin and Anthoni with a few chapters apiece of Azalea and Astrid, mostly because there were some scenes that they deserved to tell or that were essential to the plot that only they could tell- Astrid's first romantic relationship after years of abuse should not be seen through the eyes of Colin; I didn't dare take that away from her. Azalea was the only character present for her kidnapping and I wanted to tell it through her young voice, not the frantic voice of her father. I wanted readers to know things some of my characters didn't and to do that, Azalea had to have a voice.
But you...you are so amazing. I love all of my female characters, but you were the first one I wrote and I want you to have a far bigger chunk of a novel than my word count for this one could provide. I've already started mapping out book two, and you, my love, are getting the biggest portion of it. You, Astrid, and Azalea will tell this next story. You and your magical, powerful, ethereal sisters. You have a story to tell as well, and it might be the most important one- the lengths of which you were willing to go to protect your solitary joyful life is one of my favorite subplots I've ever written, and again, it is not a story to be told by a man. So I am being patient, because I want to give you the story you deserve.
For a while, I wasn't sure if I wanted to give you powers but a few months ago, I realized- how could I not? I refuse to make you submissive and the more I fleshed out your personality, the more your fire powers suited you. You are headstrong, determined, sharp, and take no shit from anyone, including your best friend. The relationship you have with Colin is also one of my favorites- I adore the best friend/brother-sister bond that you two have and I love that he has a healthy fear of you that creeps out when you're angry.
I started writing a chapter for book two in your voice and I love it so much already. Something I've loved about writing this book is that I've had the chance to write a myriad of personalities. Young and naive. Cocky. Reserved. Brave. Weak. Stupid. Bright, like you. It's improved my writing style tenfold.
It's been easy to write about you and your thought processes because we are the closest in age; you're 23, and I'll be 23 in a few months. I think the other characters forget that sometimes- you're so smart and strong and brave that people tend to forget that you're still so young and you have so much placed on your shoulders. You have my same dry sense of humor and are a hardcore feminist, but that is where our similarities end. I think what I love most about you is that you make me want to be a better, stronger, braver woman. You've taught me that changing my plan mid-novel can lead to some of the best writing I've ever done. I adore writing about you and can't wait to give you a big spotlight in the upcoming year.
Keep kicking ass, taking names, and burning bright, Avy.
If you read this far...I love you, lol.
I wonder what I'll have to say in another year. Will I have an agent? Will this book be in other people's hands? I don't know yet, but as of today, I am about halfway through editing the first draft, and have plans for rewriting the ending. There's still a ton of worldbuilding that I need to do; I think the time period/technology era I'm going for will be similar to Sarah J. Maas's Crescent City series- they text and have indoor plumbing but fight with both swords and guns. I don't know how I'm going to write that in, but I can't wait to see what happens for me and my characters; 2022 was the best year of my life and it was largely because of them.