I finished the first draft of my new YA fantasy, folks. And then I took a break. And now I’m editing.
In celebration I’m going to put the first chapter up here on the blog, but first I want to share the first bit of inspiration that brought the book about and guided it all the way through to completion:
This didn’t bring me the world or the storyline, but it did deliver me the main character. Heck, it practically birthed her, stuck a bow on her head, and said, “Here you go. Just wait until your hear her voice!” And Sky’s voice is what’s driven this story from day one.
Okay, let me try to sum this up briefly:
The Conchans are a traditional people group (think Romani meets Vikings) trying to live in a modern world (think 1920s America or Europe). I know that sounds nuts, but stay with me. The men have been leaving in longboats for the last century to fight the shrev wolves, monsters who have plagued the continents. In their wars against the shrev they’ve taken the clans from slaves to honored warriors, and their war is almost at an end.
Sky is a Conchan girl with a secret: among a people group with a fierce hatred for shrev wolves and regular wolves alike, she’s become something of a wolf sympathizer… and she can communicate with canines. Sky’s never fit in to begin with, but things get a whole lot worse when all of the men come back from across the sea and her wolves won’t stay safely North like she’s told them. Something is pushing them down. And Sky thinks the men may be wrong about the shrev being wiped out.
Still sound nuts? I know, it’s a doosey. In my defense, Maggie Stiefvater wrote a book about man-eating horses that come up out of the ocean and the people who try to capture them and race them without getting their throats ripped open. And it was awesome!
Here is the Pinterest board for anyone who wants to take a gander.
And here is [a very unedited] start to FEED ME TO THE WOLVES:
I was seven when we were married. I was seven and he was ten.
During the ceremony, he took my hand when the elder instructed him too, and I found that his was slick with sweat. When I glanced up at his face, I saw him swallow, and it was then that I realized we were doing something awfully serious. Still, I went along with it, bewildered and naive.
My own mother had never been married so it was no wonder I didn’t understand all the fuss.
Then they sent him away. Off on the longboats with all of the other men and the boys pretending to be men. And that was the end of it.
Turns out being married has little to do with the ceremony and everything to do with the years that follow, till the day they fill your nostrils with dirt.
I’ve come to loath the goddy tradition.
I make my way down the muddied path to my mother-in-law’s wagon. It’s raining out today, which is no different from all of the other days we’ve had lately, and I try to keep my boots from the deep stuff. Still, they are caked by the time I reach her yellow door.
Freak hides himself away under the stairs as I walk up them. I hear him give a humph as he lays down on what I hope is dry ground and I frown. My own wagon is a mess from all of his fur and dirt, and I don’t need him bringing in anymore. I also can’t bear to leave him outside and he knows it.
Before I can knock, the door swings open. I hurry in and close it behind me. Rahv is already back among her jars and bags and brushes, rummaging around with her back towards me. I look around while I wait, my floppy hat dripping water onto her floor.
I’ve always loved Rahv’s wagon. While I’ve never much liked having to show up and do her bidding each day while the other girls my age get to do their own bidding, I admit, it could be worse. Rahv is what I like to think of as a light soul. She doesn’t fuss or dwell or worry, and I think her wagon is proof of that. It’s a bit messy in here. Her tea cup is still dirty on the table, books lay haphazardly under and around it, and the floor hasn’t been swept yet today. There is a decent sack full of dirty laundry back in the far corner that I can see, but she won’t be pulling it over for me to wash. There are things she cares more about than clothes.
That’s when my eyes dart up to her oak-hewn beams. She’s painted each one with a stunning sprawl of yellows, every shade of yellow you could imagine, in intricate layers and detail.
My eyes go to where they always go: the far corner where I can just make out the pack of canines, wolves maybe, from where I stand. They run so close to each other that it is hard to tell where one wolf ends and the other begins. They are like a blur, a wisp, a breath of wind moving across my mother-in-law’s ceiling.
And I can’t help but wonder by what stroke of madness she painted them there.
When she clears her throat, I flinch. The golden masterpiece above us is difficult to catch the details of, given it’s all painted in the same hue, and I don’t want her knowing that I’ve discovered her wolves. I’m too afraid that they’re a secret and that she’ll paint over them if she knows I know, but she is looking down at the bags in her hands.
“A few colors today,” she says as she hands me three small bags. There is powder in each of them. It’s my job to make them into paint for her, and it beats scrubbing her underwear.
I take them and fish out the jar from the shoulder purse I have tucked under my shawl, kept safe from the rain. It’s the paint I made for her last night, a blue that reminds me of the delicate bell-like flowers I sometimes come across in the old-growth forests, and she takes it without meeting my eyes.
I watch her as she studies the paint, bringing it over to her small window to get a better look. I think she likes it. Her brows haven’t knit together and her lips stay straight, not bunching off to one side. If I had to guess, I’d say her thoughts are already on her next painting.
She waves her hand towards the door and I turn to go.
This is the life early marriage has brought me: a mother-in-law to tell me what to do, a wagon of my own, and the laughter of the other girls. It’s not so bad, so long as the boy they married me off to never comes back. I smirk at the idea and reach for the handle.
That’s when we hear the yelling. My smile falls and my mind fills with things that could be wrong. Someone’s died, or maybe a band of rouge riders are making an attack. I fling the door open, but can’t see who’s hollering through the rain and resting wagons. Freak is out from under the stairs, looking in the same direction that I am, and I can feel every bit of his tension.
Something is wrong, very wrong, and I wish I could hear the woman’s words. I lean out the door, aware that Rahv has come to stand behind me, and listen hard. I only hear what she’s saying as she comes around the wagon up ahead, a bent up figure with her skirt pulled high.
“Boats!” she’s yelling. “Boats have come, and the men are livid. Get up. Get up and get going you pack of rovers!”
My shoulders slump forward. Boats? Oh, let the men figure out life in the village for themselves. Livid. I roll my eyes and wish I had a wooden spoon to cram down the back of my throat in a gesture of how much I care. It’s the same every time. Some lousy boats make their way back, and we women have to drop everything.
The woman bringing the news is Beckra, and I think she will turn around when she sees that Rahv and I have heard her message, but she only smiles and hobbles nearer. As she draws to the side of the wagon, I move down the stairs to make way for Rahv in the door way.
“Boats, Rahv, and news with them,” says Beckra. I move to walk by her, but the woman grabs my arm. “Not so fast, Mute. You’ll want to hear this.”
She says it like it’s my name; most of them do.
“Your husband,” she tells Rahv, “he’s dead.”
My eyes flash to my mother-in-law’s. I’m not sure what I expected to see, but the folding of her arms and nothing more than her lips drawing to a frown isn’t it.
“Oh,” she says. She lets out a sharp sigh. “Okay. We’ll thanks for letting me know, Beckra.”
I try not to gape at her. I admit, I’ve never liked that man. Not since he picked me out from all the other girls and sized me up to be his first-born’s wife. It’s no secret why he picked me: I don’t talk.
He thought that made for a good wife.
He had watched me ever since then, too, every time he came back on one of the boats. It’s also no secret that, each time, his favor of me dropped considerably. I bite my lip when I think of the incident with my hair. I’m a bit relived to hear of his death, and rightfully so, but Rahv is his wife. What will her five daughters think?
“That’s not all,” Beckra says. A smile floods her face. “You’re boy is home.”
My first thought is that Rahv has no boys, only girls. When it hits me that she does have a boy, that he’s been off on the long boats for the past ten years, and that he is also my husband, it’s as if the whole world closes in.
My knees are weak. My mind gives out on me.
It is Rahv’s sobs that pull me back. She is hanging on the old woman now, as if her knees are weaker even than mine, and she is smiling into Beckra’s face. They cry and bounce and laugh as the nausea in me grows. I’m close but it feels like I’m watching them from a mile out.
Now Beckra looks at me.
“Ha ha! And look at her!” she gawks, pointing at me. “White as a damn Pink!”
Rahv looks back at me and her smile drops. She straightens up and stares me in the face like she never has before.
“You should have taught her more, Rahv. She’s going to have to do his washing, not you.”
The old woman laughs, oblivious to the tension rising between Rahv and me.
“Now let’s go you two,” she cackles. “It’s a five day trip back to the village and I wasn’t kidding when I said the men were livid.”
She grabs my wrist and pulls me down the path. “Get your girls, Rahv,” she yells back.
My life is over now. I might as well find a lake to drown myself in. Or lay in front of my wagon’s wheel and hope to the gods the whole thing’s heavy enough to crush me good and hard. Because I am not cut out to be anyone’s wife, and I’m pretty sure I’ve proved that over the past ten years since they married me off.
I burst into my own wagon and don’t even pull the door behind me. Freak darts by and I hear him shaking out his sopping pelt all over my walls and mattress, but I’m too caught up in my own thoughts to care. I throw my dripping hat onto the table and when my curls fall into my eyes, I brush them away hastily.
I can’t be a wife; I won’t. And no one can make me.
The thought causes me to halt my mindless pacing, and when the curls fall back in front of my eyes, I snap. I retrieve my scissors from where they lay out on the table and give my hair a good hacking. I start in the front and move my way back until all the hairs are two inches long or less and bits of dark curls litter the ground around me.
It feels good to be reckless while, at the same time, exercising control. And if anything is a reminder of the control I maintain for myself then it’s my hair, short and wild for the past two years to remind everyone here that I am my own person.
I can’t be a wife.
I look around my disastrous wagon and get the heavy sense that it mirrors my insides. I could try to clean it up, but what would be the point? There is no making sense of me.
Just then, I get a feeling from Freak. He is worried about me and sends me an image: my hand coming down to rest on his head.
He means well. He wants reassurance that things are okay.
But it only reminds me of just how messed up I really am.
Men who leave their families for years on end ought to come home with spoils of some kind. I’m not picky. Gold and rubies would be nice, but, hell, I’d take exotic pickles and cotton linens.
But that’s not how it works when you’re Conchan. Our men come back with nothing but a string of demondog ears hung around their necks.
It’s gross and I remain thoroughly unimpressed.
Now it’s been five days of travel through mud and high waters to get a neck full of ears I’m disgusted by and a husband I do not want. I’m exhausted from the thoughts I’ve battled while holding too tightly to dripping reins, and if I don’t find a cliff to steer my donkey off of soon it will be too bad…