The Noble Souls Series
I wrote Nightbreaker in a summer of 2013 before returning to teaching. It is difficult to describe the emotions that came after. A great sigh of contentment. It was out of me, finally. A hero given a voice and a chance to live in someone else besides me. What I did not expect was the sadness that would come to me at times when I was suddenly aware of how much I missed telling Valerie's story. How much I missed exploring that world and feeling the emotions of defeat and victory.
I was eating dinner with my family in an IHOP, withdrawn as I get sometimes, my imagination playing scenes of what might come next. What would come next. There in the corner booth, I could see Valerie whispering to Alma the truth about her father, the truth about everything, all while their relationship flourished into the sisterhood it would become. I saw Daphne and Logan, their potential as characters. A richer, much broader narrative, it was a story that deserved to be told. I held it all in, though. I was working and I wasn't sure that I could respect the writing process with the time and care that I was able to give Nightbreaker.
And then I looked out of the panning glass, into the line of trees hedging the restaurant, and I saw the Dullahan. The final piece--a villain.
I grabbed some loose paper about summer safety and one of the crayons that my daughter had ceased using (until my wife gave me a pen). I began scrawling out a rough plan. And it was rough, but by the time the check was paid and my family was ready to go, I had all the essential ingredients to get started on a sequel.
I didn't begin until late December (2013) when school let out for the holidays. It was Christmas Day, and with my children enjoying their newly opened gifts, I found a quiet place and began, fingers squeaking with rust.
And I felt it. The story came out of some place deep down, turning into words and phrases as I wrote. Valerie was there again, alive, moving, speaking, thinking. ALIVE! And with her, a new companion whose story needed telling, too. Alma Brant, an emergent noble soul.
With great fondness I remember those hours, whole days typing, lives unraveling, drama exploding. At the time I was working two jobs: teaching during the day and then three hours at night. As a result, I finished Soulstealer some time in late February of 2014, many well-spent weekends to thank for the progress.
I had wondered if I could catch the lightning of that summer I wrote Nightbreaker, with great relief I learned that I had. And with confidence, I believed I could do it again. Simply put, I had become a writer.
That summer (2014), I committed myself to write the third book, at the time tentatively called, Soothsayer or Necromancer. It wasn't until I reached the fourth chapter that I decided on Worldeater. Though I struggled with that one more than the first two, I finished, very much eager to start the final installment, one whose scenes and conflicts (not to mention grand finale) I had been imagining for quite some time.
That Christmas break, I began Dawnwalker and finished it around March of 2015 while still working two teaching jobs. When I wrote the last sentence, I wept. Though I knew grueling hours of editing and chapter additions were inevitable across the series (it was by no means "goodbye"), it would be the end of an era.
An era of discovery, of exploration, of ascendance into identity. The active manifestation of a dream. Whatever becomes of my life, whatever degree of success I see in the eyes of men, nothing will compare with that moment as I sat in the solitary brilliance of my room watching the cursor softly blink next to the final four words.
Now, it's your turn. Our turn. Because through all of you, I get to relive it all. And for that I thank you.
The Structure of the Series
You might notice that I seldom strayed from Valerie's perspective. There are a few reasons for this that I feel like deserve explanation.
First, a bit of honesty. I have a tendency to ramble, especially while speaking. I digress in the worst ways. You can't see it, but I just deleted four lines that were unnecessary, me rambling. As a writer, this can be a very bad thing. See, not everyone is intrigued by my brilliant and robust imagination, all the histories and meta-science of the worlds I build. Me, I love it. But people have lives to live, and at the end of the day, they want an experience.
I realized this when I received the greatest piece of writing advice anyone has given me, and it didn't come from another writer. It came from my father.
It happened when I was still a kid, maybe twelve, and even then I loved imagining fantastic worlds, with their mystic laws and histories. In banal arrogance, I remember being pretty impressed with all the stuff I would come up with. I distinctly remember telling my dad all about a story I wanted to write while were passing a sun-blazed day out in the yard clearing junk to make way for a work station. I unloaded all of this world-building stuff on him. He listened, saying nothing. When I was done, using all that valuable air in flattering myself and trying to impress my dad, I was quiet, waiting for a sign of his amazement. Instead, he stopped (to interrupt the progress of a job meant he was about to say something meaningful) and looked at me, eyes squinted in thought. Then he smiled a little and said, "That's a lot to keep track of, son. But..." he paused, maybe looking for the best way to put it, "...don't forget to tell a good story."
Don't forget to tell a good story.
That motto became the foundation of my writing. While neither my father nor mother were "writers" by the conventional standard. They are two of the best storytellers I have ever known. And the stories they would tell.
What does this have to do with The Noble Souls? I know that I could have explored the realm of undead and the nightbreakers in greater detail if I had incorporated the perspectives of more characters. I know that I could have built a much more robust universe, one where I could impress myself (and maybe my reader) with fantastic details that might stir imaginations.
But I knew I had to be careful (especially as this was my return to writing after a long hiatus). I had to make sure that, above all else, I told a good story.
I hope that I achieved this.
I remember many times all I wanted to do was expand the narrative. Make it bigger, stronger, bolder, like CGI in a movie. But early on, I saw the power that a story of epic consequence can have when told in tight focus of one character spiced with a handful of others.
When I planned out Soulstealer, my original intent was to make Alma that lion-hearted sidekick, loyal above all else. The Robin to Valerie's Batman. And while I think Alma's character helped balance Valerie, saving her from wandering down darker paths, Alma evolved into her own hero early on. As soon as her first official chapter when I began to explore her deeper emotions about the absence of her father in her life, it hit me what a scene it was going to make when Valerie (now playing the role of The Messenger of Fate) arrives in her life to tell her about the fate of her father and her true nature. In short, Alma was destined to be no sidekick, but a heroine all her own. To the bittersweet end.
Ismena, Ismena. Would it rile you to learn that she was a product of accident? It wasn't entirely that. That would be too perfect. Perhaps in keeping with the instability of the character herself, her origins are the product of a tangle of events, an unintended result from badly performed alchemy.
First, in my initial mock up of Nightbreaker, I had a very different series of events imagined. Warren was featured less prominently in the narrative, dying very early on (at this time, he was not Alma and Braxton's father). It was after his death that Valerie would discover that he was working for the elusive Red Widow. I'll not bother you with the specifics that followed, except that Edgar was then dispatched to befriend Valerie and woo her into the Red Widow's service while he helped her search for the Mantle. The story would then unfold with a subtle budding romance forming between her and Edgar (and yes he was undead in this version). I would bait the readers, get them thinking that maybe Valerie was into him, falling for his charms despite her iron-will. Only then, very close to the finale when they were in reach of the Mantle, would she capture Edgar, revealing that all along it was she who was playing him. After destroying him in grand callous fashion (with a one-liner worthy of an 80's movie), she would move on to claim her destiny.
Even after a few chapters written, I knew I could not do this. Valerie would never be able to stomach it, as she didn't have enough guile in her to pull off the heist. With that aspect of the plot scraped, I explored the story by a different angle (one that I liked very much), but that isn't to say that I didn't hit a wall eventually. I had finished Chapter 12, with Valerie saving young Louisa from the revenant, and I knew then that a shift in the plot had occurred. But to where? For a few days, I felt lost, exploring possibilities.
Then, like evil Athena sprouting from my skull, the character of Ismena came to be.
A dark Valerie. Her shadow. A nemesis from whom I could show the activities of those on the darker side of the conflict. She also provided an opportunity for me to indict one of the more appalling tropes used within stories featuring the undead. It's the one where a woman falls in love with vampires, and even more ridiculous, that they fall in love back.
Ugh. People, listen to me. The undead are evil. Okay? They're bad guys. Villains. Can they be sympathetic villains? Sure. I prefer my villains like that actually. For example, like everybody else, I love Darth Vader, but I haven't lost sight of the fact that he was responsible for genocide and had a tendency to strangle people whose only crime was incompetence. If you're still struggling to see how, I don't know, strange this is, imagine how you feel about those women who fall in love with imprisoned serial killers, even going so far as to marry them. It's weird ya'll.
Also, consider for a moment the kind of creature that is an undead. Immortal, imbued with power and knowledge we can't hope to comprehend, they would be a step short of gods by comparison. And tell me, when was the last time you had a romantic relationship with a dog or cat, sagacious as it might be? The undead, if they were to exist, would look upon us as lesser creatures, necessary for service, perhaps even worthy of some measure of congeniality, but ultimately never an equal.
Of course, maybe a particularly nefarious undead might see the value in exploiting such a frailty in a potential servant. To create unflagging loyalty, maybe. This frailty would be an essential block in building Ismena's fragile psyche. This coupled with the abandoned false romance story line created the foundation of her character.
Side note: Her name is based on Wilhelmina Harker (called Mina for short), Dracula's would be love interest (or so Copola would have us think).
Put all this together, and you get Ismena, the unstable mess, and as such, a worthy opposite to Valerie's solidarity and constancy.
Originally, I began toying around with this story by writing pieces of scenes from the 1st Person perspective through Valerie's eyes. I didn't like it, and I wasn't sure why from the start. There was something about Valerie that indicated that she would be the last person to tell her story. She wouldn't see the value in it. Not to mention, she would find other more pressing matters on which to focus her attention.
I went Third Person, but I kept it as limited as possible to Valerie's own thoughts and emotions. A grand drama, with world-wide ripples, but tightly focused from the perspective of one person, albeit one of the most important players.
And regardless of all the turns and unexpected angles, most of my original vision remains intact. I wanted to build a hero. It would take me four books, but I knew I had to chisel her out of the stone of time and experience.
The story of her beginnings as a hard-hearted foster teen, to her rise into a willful leader was what I wanted to write from the start. She remains my vision of what a hero is: principled, morally constant, harsh and uncompromising, yet not without a sense of reason and compassion. An inspirational figure who, by her very proximity, conjures the best out of those around her. As ferocious and devoted to her friends, as she is an unrelenting menace to her enemies.
Above all else, despite everything set against her, she is unbreakable.
Though I may return to this universe and explore it all in greater depth at some later time, for now The Noble Souls series is the story of Valerie Zeta.