Finally, at live long last, my novel, which has been in works for quite a while now, is finally in beta reader phase. The beta is up and running and the readers are devouring the chapters as I post them. It is an exciting time for a writer!
As is common for most writers, the finished product usually looks a lot different than the story did at its inception. That is definitely the case with my novel! It - the setting and the characters - have changed DRASTICALLY since I wrote my original posts on here. As such, I feel like I need to do a bit of updating to familiarize you all with the current setting and cast of my story. In part, I am doing this for my beta readers so that they can have visualizations of the characters and settings that they are reading about. Also, I'm hoping it will pique your interest and make you want to read the book when it comes out.
So, without further ado, here are some of the settings and cast of "The Gatekeeper's Curse" (that title is pending).
(Inspired by the Gambrill House in Frederick, Maryland)
The town of Ravenswood is inspired by Eureka Springs, Arkansas - all the way down to the lovely, old Victorian houses that give the town its trademark charm!
Ravenswood Mental Institution
(Inspired by Denbigh Asylum in northern Wales)
(inspired by a random picture I found online)
(inspired by a random woman I found on Pinterest... LOL)
(Inspired by my Mini Schnauzer, Lola)
(inspired by Catherine Deneuve)
(inspired by Charles Dance)
(inspired by Zac Efron)
King Kallum Everbane of Ellesmere
(inspired by Henry Cavill)
(inspired by Lily Collins)
(inspired by Tom Holland)
(inspired by Alessandra Mastronardi)
(inspired by Chris Hemsworth)
We changed the world tonight.
I can still see Blaine, my husband in name only, standing in the shadow of the cliff wall, lightning illuminating him like a performer on a stage as he outstretched his arms towards the machine my fortune had gone towards funding.
“This is it: the moment we’ve been waiting for. If my calculations are right, the electrical power in this storm will be enough to blow open the gateway.” His voice had been high pitched, laced with obsession and fanaticism.
Lightning ripped a jagged streak across the inky black sky, highlighting the five figures gathered around the machine. My husband’s minions watched him hungrily, anticipating his next words, their eyes alight with the same fanaticism that was driving Blaine. They were oblivious to the power of the lightning dancing around them; uncaring of the rain that pelted them from above like so many pebbles cast from the very seat of the Almighty.
I clung to the slick, wet surface of a nearby boulder, peering at my husband and his friends covertly, an unwelcome participant in this unholy quest to pierce the veil of reality and to uncover the existence of … what? Another realm? A shadow of our own world? I knew not, for in that moment, I didn’t believe such a place existed. Indeed, to even question reality was blasphemous to me. Still, it was my quest just as much as it was theirs, for MY money funded what I assumed to be a vain venture.
The storm unleashed its fury upon us. The lightning grew ever closer and the lightning rod on Blaine’s machine swayed precariously in the wind. Suddenly, the hair on the back of my neck and arms stood at attention, causing me to fall to the ground in search of shelter. I knew what was coming next.
A loud explosion sounded as a tree nearby was split in two by an angry bolt of lightning, raining bits of ash and burning wood upon my back and singeing my wet hair. I feared that we all would be reduced to piles of ash before this night was over.
Blaine laughed manically. “The elements favor our endeavor! The next bolt will…” He couldn’t finish his sentence.
Another blinding flash of lighting interrupted him, followed by an explosion that temporarily stole my hearing and washed over me with a wave of heat so intense I felt as if I couldn’t breathe for a torturous moment. I begged God to make my ending swift and painless, even as my skin burned in a fiery heat.
I don’t know how long I quivered upon the ground, awaiting my swift demise, but gradually, my hearing returned and with it, a new sound greeted my ringing ears: the sound of buzzing, for I know no other word to describe what I heard. Hesitantly, I glanced around the boulder once more and saw that the machine had indeed harnessed the power of lightning. Wisps of smoke clung to the swaying, charred lightning rod as stark white energy swirled within the tube of the machine. The cylinder was roaring to life, its metal coils spinning as the captured lightning surged within.
Blaine hovered over his creation proudly, much like a father would his newborn offspring, and raised his hand to the lever that would funnel every ounce of that power into a beam that was supposed to blow a hole in the very fabric of our world.
“There are places around this world where the veil that separates our world from the Shadow Realm is thin. All it would take to rip a hole in the veil is the harnessed power of nature.” I don’t know how many times in our four short months of marriage I’d heard Blaine utter those words as he worked tirelessly upon his machine. They were foolish notions placed in his head; first, by his Choctaw nursemaid as a child, and later, by various individuals he had met during his travels in Asia and the Middle East. It would seem that each culture had a myth about this alternate realm, which was enough for Blaine to believe in its existence wholeheartedly.
Blaine grasped the lever, jerking it down with every ounce of his strength. A thick beam of electricity shot out of the machine, blasting the cliff wall mercilessly. At first, it appeared as if nothing would happen. No gateway opened in the cliff wall; rather, the stone turned an angry shade of red, resisting the beam’s fury.
Thirty seconds passed and still nothing happened. Sixty seconds, nothing. In that moment, I assured myself that Blaine’s notion was untrue; there was no other realm. But then the stone began to crumble under the machine’s intense beam, exposing a gray layer of stone underneath. In seconds, the gray layer was falling away in a cloud of dust under the beam’s wrath, revealing a tiny black hole that continued to grow.
“It’s nothing, just a cave. There’s caves all over the place out here.” I muttered aloud even as apprehension wound its tentacles around my rapidly beating heart.
Like a mouth with jagged teeth slowly opening, the hole grew wider and taller until the machine’s beam spent up its remaining energy and stopped. As if someone had flipped a switch, the machine’s purring and buzzing ceased instantly, plunging us into an uncomfortable silence. No one moved or spoke. The group held their collective breath as the rain fell softly around us and thunder rumbled in the distance. The storm’s fury had passed us by as swiftly as it had arrived.
“It looks like we just discovered a cave.” The musical voice of Lucia, my husband’s Italian friend, broke the silence. I hoped she was right and that it was merely a cave.
“At first glance, it appears to be a cave,” Blaine agreed, taking a step towards the opening. “But I implore you to look closer. Caves don’t emit that kind of light.”
My heart sank at those words. Sure enough, the opening seemed to glow faintly with a bluish light, despite the black void beyond. An unnatural grey fog spilled from its open mouth, creeping across the forest floor towards my husband and his colleagues. In that moment, I was thankful for my hiding spot behind the boulder.
“Should one us go through? See what’s on the other side?” Magnus, the physicist from Germany, asked.
No one had a chance to answer the question for in that very moment, the sound of a thousand screams joining together in unimaginable torment pierced the night and caused a searing pain to blossom in the center of my head. I fell to my knees, hands pressed against my ears, and still I could not drown out the sound.
It’s a sound I will never forget for as long as I live. It was a sound I could feel to the very core of my being. It stole hope from my heart, joy from my soul, and reasoning from my brain. When it finally ceased after what seemed an eternity, I crawled on my knees away from the clearing and that dreadful machine my husband built, not daring to look back. Once I was in the confines of the forest beyond, I clambered to my feet and ran all the way back to the house, feeling as if my heart would explode from my chest.
At this very moment, I huddle beside my bed, unsure of what has happened outside the walls of Ravenscrest Manor. Are my husband and his friends still alive? Has some unimaginable abomination of a monster been released upon this peaceful mountain country? What price will be paid for dallying with the secrets of the universe that were never meant to be discovered?
In case I don’t live to see the sunrise tomorrow, let it be known that I, Vivian Alice Stonehall of Ravenswood (formerly Vivian Weatherford of Philadelphia), warned my erring husband and his rebellious friends that no good would come of this venture. Furthermore, had I known what I was getting myself into when I agreed to this business arrangement of a marriage, I would not have been the dutiful daughter my father has always praised me for being and married a man who only cared for my fortune and not a whit for me. I fear that my dutifulness has also become my undoing. Perhaps following ones’ heart, no matter the consequences, is always the best line of action. It’s a lesson I have learned far too late.
~ Vivian Alice
The call to write runs in my family. I got it from my Dad who got it from his Mom and so on and so forth. Each generation of the Donaldson line produces a writer. Consequently, the new generation has given the world another "Donaldson writer" in the form of my 12 year old nephew, Jack. With a notebook always in hand, Jack looks for any chance to sit down and write a story. His stories are short, to the point, sarcastic, and witty, as you will see in the following short tale.
This story was written just a little over a week ago when Jack spent the night with us. He'd been asking me all about my adventures in Italy, specifically questions about my trip to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. This inspired him to write a story about a volcano that was anything but an ordinary volcano.
So, without further ado, I introduce a new young writer who will one day take the world of fiction by storm!
"Perilous Calling" ~ Jack Donaldson
There is a place in the world called Center City. Within the walls of Center City there lies a huge castle that is built around a volcano that hasn’t erupted in a thousand years. This volcano is called “the Rocky Hill of Terror”. The population was huge. There lived as many as a million people there. There was a king called King James who lived in the castle. He was about 60 years old.
One day, the volcano filled up with lava. It said something. Each time the volcano talks, the lava boils. It said, “I’ll take a bite out this land This will be great!”
At 6:00 in the morning, the volcano said something again, “Rise and shine everyone! This is the last day.” King James was shocked and drew his sword. Suddenly, a huge rock hit him. HE fell to the ground before the mountain, barely alive. The pyramid of rocks hissed at the unfortunate king and his unfortunate city.
But…The prince showed up. He drew his sword and trembled any rock getting ready to hit him.
The volcano erupted. The castle was being destroyed. The prince had no idea what to do. He just kept swinging his sword. Finally, the volcano gave up. It started screaming. Black smoke came out of the volcano. But it was pitch black.
Did the king die? Did anyone survive? We’ll never know. The spirit must be waiting to tackle its prey…
With failing strength, Senna managed to clear the cabin’s doorway. She braced her feet on either side of the opening, preparing for one final push upwards. Carson’s body was now limp in her arms and she feared the worst, but she refused to let him go. Pushing against the doorway with all her might, Senna shot upwards, finally free from the sinking boat’s pull.
Senna felt herself slipping into unconsciousness as she floated upward in a vast sea of darkness. She had done her best, but she couldn’t gauge how far she was from the surface. She didn’t have the willpower to go any further. The last vestiges of strength drained from her body. Although she'd stopped kicking her legs, she still floated upwards. The water was gradually warming up as she neared the surface but still, Senna was too far away to make it. As her surroundings blurred, everything moving in slow motion, Senna noted with detached interest the approach of dark figures in the water, swimming towards her gracefully. She felt Carson being pulled from her arms just before oblivion claimed her.
The sound of waves gently lapping upon the shore somewhere nearby was the first thing Senna heard as she drifted in and out of consciousness. Her last waking memory had been of her weightless body suspended in shimmering black nothingness, holding on to the tiny, limp form of Carson. Vague images of dark figures swarming around her flitted through her mind. Had they been her rescuers or were they angels of death, sent to carry her to the unknown shores beyond the confines of mortal life?
A cool breeze washed over Senna, toying with her hair and tickling her nose. When Senna attempted to move, all notions that she was dead fled from her mind. Dead people didn’t feel excruciating pain when they tried moving their arms and legs, did they? Her muscles screamed in agony as they fired to life after being deprived of oxygen for so long. Senna groaned, her eyes fluttering open to see the metal gray sky overhead. To Senna, it didn’t look as angry as it had in the moments before the ferry sank. Perhaps its malevolent force had been satisfied by the offering of the ferry and the souls on board.
“Hey, there’s someone laying over here! I can’t tell if they’re alive or not.” A male voice exclaimed.
Senna looked in the direction of the rapidly approaching footsteps, her head pounding to the cadence of her heartbeat. She didn’t recognize the two men who knelt beside her. “She's alive." The man called over his shoulder, relief in his voice. "You’re the newspaper reporter. Miss Norwood, right?” He helped her into a sitting position.
“That’s me.” Senna managed to whisper before vomiting lake water in the kindly man’s lap. Embarrassment burned her cheeks as she wiped the vomit from her mouth with the back of her hand, but the man didn’t seem fazed. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize that would happen.”
“It’s fine, Miss. You swallowed a lot of water. It’s gotta come up somehow. Here,” The man produced a tissue from his pocket, offering it to Senna. “That should help.”
Senna’s gaze scoured the beach around her, searching for any sign of other survivors. “Carson! Where is he? I was holding onto him right before I passed out. Please tell me you found him. He's a little guy. Five years old. Blonde hair.”
The men didn’t answer right away. A dark look passed between them and Senna knew. Carson hadn’t made it. “Miss Norwood, you’re the only person that has been found. There’s no sign of the other passengers and we can only assume that they’re still in the boat. There’s divers heading down there right now but quite frankly, there’s no way they could be alive after all this time in the water.” The older man said, his voice solemn. “Honestly, it’s a miracle that you made it out alive. You must have some pretty powerful guardian angels looking out for you.”
Suddenly, Senna felt very tired. As more people joined the two men, gathering around her in hushed whispers, grief threatened to overwhelm her. Seen and unseen alike, Senna felt the weight of their gazes. Pity. Astonishment. Gratitude.
How was it that life just kept dishing out these impossible circumstances upon her? Surely, Senna had already endured more than the average person could fathom in a lifetime. Just like that, the old wounds from five years ago had reopened and the past came rushing up to meet her before she could escape.
As Senna was being assisted to her feet, unconsciousness claimed her once more. This time, she happily gave in to the oblivion.
** Blog picture was taken on my afternoon cruise across Loch Ness, right outside of Fort Augustus, Scotland.
“Don’t worry, Miss. This boat was meant for rough waters.” The captain said, patting Senna on the shoulder as she clung to the slippery metal rail of the small ferry boat. While she appreciated the sentiment, it did nothing to ease her churning stomach. She eyed the metal grey storm clouds overhead, not missing the greenish glow that emanated from them. Most people assumed that meant hail, but Senna knew better. She had seen that greenish glow before.
The dark waters of Fallhaven Lake, so placid moments ago, whipped about malevolently as the clouds bore down on them. A family of four near Senna watched the scene unfolding, smiling and cheering with each flash of lightening and crash of thunder. Clearly, they didn’t realize the peril they were in. “Momma, my tummy tickles every time the boat drops.” A chubby blonde boy clung to his mother, his eyes sparkling with delight.
Her first assignment as lead reporter for the Ravenswood Chronicle had been to cover the grand opening of Ravencrest Island Resort and Restaurant, a project that had been five years in the making. To celebrate the grand opening, the owner of the resort had sent out a select number of guests on his ferry to tour the small island’s rugged shores and towering cliffs. Senna had spent the past hour interviewing potential guests and staff members alike, oblivious to the storm brewing overhead.
At that moment, the rain began to fall in earnest, hundreds of sharp needles driven into Senna’s skin by the wind gusts. Senna ran for the small cabin in the center of the boat, nearly slipping on the wet deck in the process. Inside, two dozen people were crammed into the confined space. The scent of sweat mingled with lake water did nothing to help ease Senna’s queasiness.
“Captain, should we put on the life jackets now?” An elderly lady near Senna questioned. It was the first sign of alarm Senna had observed amongst any of the guests.
“Well, I don’t foresee us needing them; but, if it will make you feel better, go ahead and put one on. They are hanging right here over the…” The captain’s voice trailed off. “They were right there over the window moments before.”
Senna looked up to see the empty hooks where the life jackets had been moments ago. Clearly, someone was playing a cruel prank on them. “Alright, guys, this isn’t funny. We need life jackets on now. This storm is just getting worse.” Senna shouted over the din of wind, rain, and voices.
At that moment, lightening struck the metal railing just outside the window, blinding the inhabitants of the boat’s cabin. A deafening crash of thunder washed over them just as the boat seemed to tip on its side. A mass of bodies came tumbling down on top of her, pressing Senna painfully into the large picture window. Her bottom lip cracked as it hit the glass, warm blood filling her mouth and trickling down the window pane.
As the boat hung suspended between the sky and water below, someone next to Senna shouted. “There’s lights in the water! Look! Something is glowing underneath us.”
Senna caught a glimpse of what looked to be greenish orbs of light right below the surface of the water just as the boat righted itself, sending everyone sprawling to the floor. “I’ve been on this lake hundreds of times in the past thirty years and I’ve never seen a storm this ferocious hit these waters.” The elderly lady next to Senna muttered, grasping Senna’s wrist with surprising strength as she pulled herself to her feet.
Time seemed to move in slow motion as Senna held on to the side of the cabin, bracing herself for the next wave that was to hit the boat. The little boy from the deck lost grasp of his mother and found Senna’s legs instead, clinging to them for dear life. His luminous blue eyes gazed up at Senna pleadingly and she couldn’t help but mourn the loss of innocence he would surely face before their boat ride was over. If he only knew what real perils waited in the world beyond; perils beyond his imagination. Senna’s attempts at burying the truth of these perils had been fruitless and it seemed the past had finally caught up with her, after all these years. She was reminded of Jonah in the Bible fleeing his true calling as prophet to the people of Nineveh, only to be hunted down by a giant sea creature and swallowed for all his efforts. She shuddered at the thought of what lurked beneath the waters, waiting for her. She may not have been running from a divine calling, but she was running from the truth.
For a moment, the waters seemed to calm. A collective sigh of relief washed over the cabin. The shore was in view, a mere 70 feet away, with a host of people waiting at the top of the boat ramp to usher the water-weary travelers in. Standing off to the side of the group on the shore, a hooded figure caught Senna’s attention. It stood erect and unmoving and although she couldn’t make out its face, she knew it was looking right at her. She had seen this person before, nearly five years ago.
“Miss, do you see my momma?” The little boy asked, tugging at the hem of Senna’s soaked sundress. Senna tore her eyes from the distant figure on the shore to search for the petite blonde woman she’d seen the boy with out on the deck. There, over by the captain, eyes frantically searching the crowd for her little boy. Senna smiled down at him, taking his pudgy hand in her own. “She’s right over here. What’s your name?” She asked.
“Carson. Carson John Elwell. I’m almost five years old.” He stated proudly, the perilous boat ride momentarily forgotten. There was an “New Englander twange” to his little voice, which Senna found endearing. She had missed that familiar accent during her tenure at the University of Colorado. It was funny how little things like that caught her attention after all this time.
Senna had no time to prepare for the impact. One moment, the waters were calmer, and she was escorting Carson to his mother, the next moment, the boat slammed into something. A metallic ripping noise filled the cabin, sounding like a thousand nails scratching across a vast chalkboard. Immediately, water bubbled up through the holes in the floor, filling the cabin with water faster than anyone had time to react. Panic broke out among the cabin’s occupants and one phrase Senna heard repeated over and over were “Where are the life jackets?”
Senna’s first inclination was to save little Carson, who was screaming and crying hysterically as the water was nearly over his head now. She picked him up and wrapped his little arms around her neck, making her way for the cabin’s exit. Everyone else had the same idea and there was a moment of pandemonium as everyone crammed into the narrow doorway, stuck in place as the boat sank beneath the blackish-blue waters of the lake.
Senna was plunged into a world of icy cold blackness. Arms and legs flailed around her as they were submerged in the water. Muffled screams reached her ears as the pull of the sinking boat took the passengers down with it. Senna maintained her hold on Carson for as long as she could, one arm clinging to his rigid body and the other attempting to pull them through the opening of the cabin. Her lungs were on fire and pin pricks of light gathered around the edges of her vision, but Senna fought valiantly against the water’s malevolent force. She couldn’t allow herself to die this way. Not now, when there was still so much left unresolved in her life.
Stay tuned to find out what happens next...
As a writer, I am always looking for inspiration. Sometimes, the simplest and most unassuming of things will inspire a character, a scene in the story, or a subplot. These inspirations come to me when I am least expecting them, which is why I always have a little notebook ready in my purse. One of the beautiful things about the writing process is how these inspirations come to me - it could be a dream, a conversation with a friend or family member, a town I drive through on a road trip, or even a story I see in the news headlines. The world is filled with ideas for the aspiring writer and all it takes is a bit of imagination, creativity, and attentiveness to one's surroundings to find these inspirations in every day life.
One question I get asked time and time again is how I create my characters. Long before the first draft takes place, when the story is merely an idea floating around in my mind, the characters begin to take shape. I know what I want them to look like and how I want them to act. Still, it helps me tremendously to have visuals to base these characters on and they usually come to me while I am watching TV or browsing hairstyles on Pinterest. It sounds silly and simple, I know, but it works!
So without further ado, I will introduce you to four central characters in The Ravenswood Chronicles. Readers will be introduced to these four characters fairly soon in the story line, with Senna Norwood being the main character of the first book. I knew from the start that Senna would be a fiery, petite, red-head - full of spunk and always curious, which gets her into trouble right away. I didn't have a particular person in mind when I created Senna, but once I saw Madelaine Petsch (Cheryl Blossom in "Riverdale") in action, she immediately became my Senna.
Olivia's inception is nothing quite so extraordinary. I was looking for hair color ideas on Pinterest when I stumbled across my inspiration for this character. Cavan, on the other hand, was inspired by none other than Jensen Ackles, which you will be well acquainted with if you're a fan of "Supernatural". Faine, which has been the most interesting character for me to create and write about in the storyline, takes his inspiration from Tom Hiddleston. I think you will agree when you read his introductory scene!
To my fellow writers, How do you gain your inspiration? To my readers, do you prefer visuals of characters or would you rather create your own visual image as you read the story?
Time and again, I have been asked "Why have you chosen to write fantasy? Why not mystery or historical fiction?" Ah, if only the answer were simple.
Growing up, I loved to read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I read more historical fiction and Christian romance than you could shake a stick at. Furthermore, I always knew I wanted to be a writer. But I didn't feel "inspired" or "driven" to write (you know, the kind of inspiration that drives you mad until you do it) until I began reading speculative fiction. Books by Robin Parish like "Nightmare" and "Offworld," books by Travis Thrasher, Brandon Sanderson, Anne Elizabeth Stengl, and Frank Peretti - these are the books that are responsible for getting my writing off the ground. I always knew I was a writer at heart, but I did not find my true calling until I began to read fantasy.
Even when I give that explanation, people are still baffled by my choice. Sure, the genre is gaining popularity every day, but still, why fantasy? Isn't it frivolous and unrealistic? Absolutely and positively NOT! The beauty of fantasy is that it has been around since the beginning of time. We see it in the myths and legends told around our world. The very hero's journey and the concept of archetypes are straight from the annals of mythology, which could also be considered fantasy. With that said, I find fantasy to be very pertinent in the 21st century. Fantasy wields the power of untainted metaphor, free from personal bias, and delivers powerful messages without modern-day issues attached. Fantasy gives readers hope that there is so much more to life than meets the eye and fantasy allows us to escape, if only for a while, from the confines of the real world.
Fantasy stories are important. They set our brains on fire and open us up to endless possibilities. Dr. Pamela B. Rutledge sums it up best when she states:
"Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. Call them schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, metaphors, or narratives. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values."
In closing, fantasy allows me to explore the impossible with my readers. Fantasy makes the world a little darker, a little scarier, and a little more fantastic. Fantasy allows us to visit new and wondrous places, to reside, if just for a little while, in worlds that are not governed by the same laws as our own. Fantasy allows us to explore themes of love, loss, self-discovery, betrayal, salvation, and death from unique and different perspectives. Finally, fantasy allows us to uncover important spiritual truths and to dig deeper into spiritual warfare.
With all that said, why would I not want to write fantasy?
~ Christina Welbourne