Friday, August 17, 2012

Guest Blog by Roberta Trahan - The Chicken-Egg Paradox: What Came First – the Story or the Character?

Please welcome Roberta Trahan to The Qwillery as part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. The Well of Tears (The Dream Stewards 1) will be published on September 18th. We are thrilled to share an excerpt of Chapter 2!

The Chicken-Egg Paradox: 
What Came First – the Story or the Character?

Today is full of firsts for me, and I am absolutely thrilled to be invited to The Qwillery for my first guest blog post and to announce the upcoming release of my first novel THE WELL OF TEARS – Book One of The Dream Stewards on September 18. I am also absolutely honored to be included in the 2012 Debut Author Challenge – another first for me!

Perhaps the greatest mystery of writing is the ‘idea’ – where does it come from? What is its origin? How do you find one? And what do you do with it when you do? My personal field research has revealed the idea to be an amorphous creature with the ability to shape-shift, and whose natural habitat is the unsuspecting mind of the hapless artiste. Ideas tend to live in throngs and breed like rats, and yet no two are exactly alike. Sadly, once the hapless artiste is infested with ideas, he or she is resigned to a life of utter distraction. There is no cure, and the only known method of extrication is expression. This, I say, is why writers write. It’s a matter of survival.

I have discovered that ideas are of two genders – story, and character. They bond primarily in pairs, as procreation requires a fully developed story, and at least one mature character. It is not uncommon for a single story to take on multiple character partners, creating a larger and more complex unit known as a novel. In some cases, these story-character pairings will result in multiple offspring, most often referred to as a series.

While the perpetuation of the idea has been studied and is generally well understood, the question of origin remains. Which came first – the story, or the character? The research is inconclusive and results seem to vary depending upon the habitat. As it turns out, the unsuspecting mind of the hapless artiste is as unique as the creatures that breed there. In some idea colonies the story is predominant, while in others it is the character who dominates the population. In the creative fields of my mind, it is the character that most often asserts itself and sets off in search of a story.

In THE WELL OF TEARS, the first book of The Dream Stewards, readers are introduced to the Stewardry, an ages-old order of sorcerers whose one purpose is to protect an ancient prophecy. The Stewards must work to seat a powerful king who has been ordained to bring order to centuries of chaos and impose a lasting peace. In return for their help, the king has promised to restore the old ways to favor and return magic to its rightful place in the world. Alwen, high sorceress and guardian of the realms returns to the Stewardry determined to fulfill her oath. Yet when black magic begins claiming those closest to her and traitors plot to steal the Stewardry’s source of power, she realizes that the king’s survival—and that of all the realms—may require that she sacrifice her own.

Of all the many characters who reside in my mind, Alwen was not the first to manifest. But she was the first to made demands, and with such insistence that I felt compelled to find her a story. As it so happened, at the time she made herself known I was thoroughly immersed in my own story - the family tree my older brother had recently uncovered in Cornwall and Wales. I became obsessed with learning all that I could about the culture and the history of this ancient, romantic world. An historian who offered to guide me introduced me to Hywel dda, a much-loved 10th century Welsh king who had united the country in the only known era of peace and prosperity, and a learned man who helped to create the first written law of the land. A bit reminiscent of the Arthurian legends, don’t you think? I had to know more, and set out to learn all that I could about this famous ruler and the record of his reign. I quickly discovered that very little documentation exists, and what does exist is contradictory and colored by the oral traditions through which the majority of Celtic history was passed down. For the historian, this is a maddening conundrum in which more questions are raised than answers. For the fantasy lover, however, it is the makings of a vast, undefined universe in which anything is possible.

And so it was that Alwen found her story and the idea of The Dream Stewards was born. If you’d like to know more about the era of Hywel the Good, Wikipedia has a relatively complete and reasonably accurate overview of his life and a good source reading list:

To give you a preview of Alwen, the magical heroine of THE WELL OF TEARS, I’ve included a chapter excerpt below. This is the first time this excerpt has been shared - a sneak peek just for The Qwillery readers!



Autumn in Norvik, 905 AD

The shrill peal of the herring gull echoed over the pounding waves and then faded on the winds. Alwen’s gaze followed its tail feathers eastward, toward the edge of the earth, and found find the day near to dawning. She had spent most of the night on the cold Northland beach, waiting.

In answer to her silent beckon, the gull banked right and returned, travelling parallel to the coastline. Alwen launched her thoughts and released her soul to the bird, joining her mind with the gull’s in such a way that the two beings coexisted within the one. She would have called it sharing or borrowing, as Alwen only chose the creatures, animal or human, who accepted her freely. She preferred the birds. No creatures were freer than the winged ones.

The herring gull hungered, insisting they glide low over the shoals in search of fish. Together they travelled south from where she stood, to a small, shallow inlet on the channel side of the tiny Frisian isle. Not the quay on the northeastern tip, where the village fishing boats were moored. A landing there would have been noticed.

Alwen nudged her host slightly inland, expecting to come upon the ferry still moored and strangers camped on the bank. She had discovered them making the channel crossing during her spirit-faring the previous morn. Instead, through the gull’s eyes she spied the riders already on the road. They must have risen before dawn. The messenger would reach the village before long.

She released the bird and returned her consciousness to her own being, grounding herself once again in rock and sand. Even before she had seen the travelers approaching, Alwen had felt the call: an echo of distant, ancient voices pulling her toward a life she had left long ago. Remembrances she had held in sacred keeping for more than twenty years had begun to surface.

But it was not the memories which made her anxious. The summoning was at hand.

In deep, even respiration Alwen drew in the dawn and slowly exhaled the residue of unrest. Thick damp mist salted her lips and sated her lungs, though even the sea’s soothing vapors could not bring the calm. Destiny hung on the horizon, looming ever larger like the rising sun. Her days on this tiny isle were nearly done.

“Where did the wings take you this time?” Rhys hauled himself up to balance on a surf-and-sand scrubbed boulder and grinned down at her from his perch.

“Hither and yon.” She offered a half-hearted nod to her son, not quite ready to be interrupted. Rhys liked to come upon her earlier than expected, always hoping to find her entranced, with her psyche soaring along with some unsuspecting carrier on what he imagined to be a grand adventure. And it was. The spirit-sending was the magical art that Alwen most treasured, and the one her son most envied. She regretted that she had no way to share it with him.

“I see.” Rhys eyed her suspiciously as he held out his hand and waited for her to take half the pebbles he held in his palm.

Alwen couldn’t help a smile as she accepted the stones. As a small boy, Rhys had called them wishing rocks. Even now he sought her out nearly every morning to help him cast his secret desires into the water, as far out to sea as either of them could throw.

“Nothing unusual, then?” Rhys began to throw the stones into the waves.

Alwen noted the familiar lure in his tone, but did not respond. Instead she attempted to distract him. Focusing intently on the next stone as Rhys released it, Alwen caused it to hang in mid flight.

“Remember the dancing stones?” With just the slight bobbing of her chin Alwen directed the rock in wanton hops and skips, as if it were waltzing on the water.

Rhys groaned aloud with the agony only a grown man can experience at the hands of his mother. “I remember.”

She laughed, releasing the stone so that it plopped into the surf and sank. “Well, you used to find it amusing.”

She regarded her son with deep affection, watching the stretch of his arm and the proud jut to his jaw. Though his build was lean and lithe like hers, Rhys had inherited neither her fair hair and light eyes nor her sorcery. Rather, the son was so much like the father there were times it nearly took her breath away. At nineteen, Rhys was the very semblance of his sire in much younger days. He had the same thick, dark hair that shaded intelligent green eyes, and the same engaging grin.

For several long minutes they traded tosses in silence, until Rhys could no longer contain his curiosity. “You’re keeping something from me, or me from it,” he prodded, gaze trained on the horizon in an unsuccessful attempt to feign casual interest.

A sudden gust sent a shiver through her bones, and Alwen shrank deeper into the folds of her cape. Wild, snow-white locks escaped her cowl at the insistent tugging of the brisk North Sea breeze, whipping wet and cold against her cheeks. She chucked the last of her stones in one pitch and tucked her hair back inside the hood.

“We have visitors.”

“Visitors?” Rhys teetered on his heels as he turned to look. “Where?”

“You should be able to see them by now.” Alwen turned to point out three horsemen making their way north through the flats on the one narrow byway that transected the island. From their vantage point on the jetty at the northern tip of the island, they could see the entire length of the coastal road. “Change marches towards us.”

“Is that a flag?” His gaze followed hers, traveling the waterline beyond the outermost edge of the village. Rhys nodded slightly as the herald’s colors drew nearer. “A messenger.”

“Yes,” she said. “They came ashore last night, just before sunset.”

“Last night?” Rhys sounded shocked, even insulted. He dropped the last of the pebbles and brushed the sand from his hands. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“There are some things I keep to myself, Rhys.” She sounded more abrupt than she had intended. In truth, she was reluctant to admit that she had wanted to be alone with the news, at least for a little while. Her children knew little of her past, except that she owed a duty she would one day be called to serve.

“Well, naturally, there would be.” Rhys adjusted his tone to reflect proper deference for his mother but his deeply furrowed brow revealed a bit of resentment. “Do you know the colors?”

Alwen nodded absently, not acknowledging his words so much as dismissing him. She was distracted by the deep, indigo standard of the Steward’s guild. The sight of it evoked an old but familiar heart song. “I know them well.”

“You are nervous,” Rhys observed. “You’re fisting your hands so hard I’d guess the nails are digging into your palms.”

“So I am.” She relaxed the absent-minded clench and clasped her hands together beneath the cuffs of her cloak. Rhys was observant and knew her better than most, but Alwen had been trained to quash telling signs. Obviously she would need to redouble her discipline. “I suppose I find this all a bit unnerving.”

“Unnerving?” Rhys laughed full out. “That is an outrageous understatement, even for you.”

“If you say so.” Alwen couldn’t help but smile. He was right, after all, and not about to let her get away with pretense. Candor was a trait she particularly favored, especially in Rhys.

“Very mysterious.” Rhys rebalanced himself on the boulder and turned to face the open ocean. “This is what you have waited for, is it not?”

“We will know soon enough.”

“The realm of possibility is endless.” Rhys smiled to himself as he stared into the water’s infinite depths. “I can think of no greater adventure than the unknown.”

“Nor greater peril,” she warned. “The realm of loss is also endless.”

“Hah,” he scoffed. “The greater the peril, the more prized the purse. Half the fun is in the risk and in the end, it’s all just a matter of what you’re willing to wager.”

Rhys fell suddenly silent, as if sobered by the deeper meaning in his own words. Nothing stirred but the surf. Alwen watched as he gradually surrendered to the sea, lulled by the languid suck and rush of the water washing over the scaur and the distant, haunting caw of the herring gulls.

It wouldn’t take a spirit-faring to know what he was feeling. Alwen could sense the yearning that afflicted her son. His instincts stirred to the call of the sea, as did all of the island people. But that was understandable. She had come to feel rooted here as well.

Norvik was a tranquil, unassuming place. A Varangian name for a Frisian settlement, but that was fitting. This was the birthplace of the great Norse warrior, Aslak, legendary captain of the castle guard at Fane Gramarye. Aslak’s family lands were as close as Alwen could ever have come to finding content on any foreign soil. Rhys, however, was completely at peace on these shores.

“You are happy here,” she said.

He snuffled his sleeve as he swiped the brine and wind blown curls from his brow, as if to savor the scent of the sea on his shirt linen. “I suppose I am. It’s a quiet life, maybe too quiet, and I don’t like the cold. Especially now, with winter edging in on the wind.”

“Speaking of understatement,” she taunted. “It will be hard for you to leave.”

Rhys shrugged. “Norvik has been home to me all of my life. And Eirlys, too.”

Home, he said, as if the land and the village were all that he worried to leave. Alwen understood the word for what he really meant, even if Rhys had not yet fully realized it. For Rhys and his sister, home was also family, and family included Bledig.

“Your father will find us on the road.”

“No sign of him?” Rhys could not keep the disappointment from his voice.

“With the dead season looming, the birds prefer to keep close to shore. I can only go where they care to take me,” she said. “Bledig and his men are yet beyond my sight.”

Rhys nodded, resigned to truths yet unspoken. “We’ll be leaving without him, then.”

“Yes.” It saddened her to say it, but Alwen was relieved that Rhys had drawn the conclusion on his own. If only Eirlys would be as accepting. “Worse yet, I fear I must foul your sister’s wedding plans.”

Rhys turned his head to grin at her. “Change marches toward us, isn’t that what you said?”

“So I did. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that the two of you should suffer for it.”

“Doesn’t it?” He was only half teasing.

Alwen understood his frustration. Rhys had spent time enough in his father’s charge, in travel and training, and in the earning of his manhood. Bledig was the clan leader of one of the nomadic tribes of the Obotrites, renowned for their tracking skills and ruthless, cunning tactics in trading. It was assumed that Rhys would one day take his place at his father’s side, as second man to the chieftain. It was an honor he respected, but Rhys longed to find his own adventures. On that account, he had her compassion in greater measure than he would ever know.

“Rhys,” she said gently. “You are your own man. You are entitled to choose the path you want.”

“What I want,” he said, sighing, “is to know what I want.”

Alwen laughed softly. “You have no idea how lucky you are to be plagued by such a delicious dilemma. For you, everything is an adventure into the unknown.”

Rhys shook his head at her. “You have the oddest sense of humor.”

“Your future is not yet fixed. Until you set your own course you stand at the center of an enormous turnstile. No matter which way you turn, no matter which direction you look, there is yet another path to take. As you say, the possibilities are endless.”

“Well, I guess those endless possibilities of mine will have to wait a bit longer.” Rhys slid off the rocks as if to ground himself. “We must first greet your destiny.”


The Well of Tears

The Well of Tears
The Dream Stewards 1
47North, September 18, 2012
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook

More than five centuries after Camelot, a new king heralded by prophecy has appeared. As one of the last sorceresses of a dying order sworn to protect the new ruler at all costs, Alwen must answer a summons she thought she might never receive.

Bound by oath, Alwen returns to Fane Gramarye, the ancient bastion of magic standing against the rise of evil. For alongside the prophecy of the benevolent king, a darker foretelling envisions the land overrun by a demonic army and cast into ruin.

Alwen has barely set foot in her homeland when she realizes traitors lurk within the Stewardry, threatening to destroy it. To thwart the corruption and preserve her order, Alwen must draw upon power she never knew she possessed and prepare to sacrifice everything she holds dear—even herself. If she fails, the prophecy of peace will be banished, and darkness will rule.

About Roberta

Roberta Trahan is a life-long writer and “fantasian” (lover of fantasy and history). She is also a Pacific Northwest native and former advertising & marketing maven. After too many years helping to cultivate other people’s ideas, Roberta decided to listen to the little voices in her own mind and began to build magical worlds populated with mystical beings. Roberta is a self-confessed coffeechocoholic and antique jewelry hoarder, and spends her more lucid moments with her family, friends, fellow fantasians, and the thriving writing community in the Seattle area.
THE WELL OF TEARS (47North, September 2012) is her first published novel, but hardly her last. Book Two of The Dreamstewards, THE KEYS TO THE REALMS, is coming soon!

Website : Idyll Conversation (Blog) : Twitter @robertatrahan  : Facebook


  1. Thanks, Roberta.

    I have discovered that ideas are of two genders – story, and character.

    I disagree slightly with your premise. I have had ideas that start with a setting and a world, which is not the same as the story or character...

    1. Hi Paul. Hmm. Yes, I have heard of this - many hapless artistes have reported this phenomenon. I would have to agree with you - world or setting is in fact a form of idea. However, I wonder if world/setting is an idea's amorphic, embryonic state - before it has developed sufficiently to take on the attributes of either story or character . Of course, I'm just having fun here with the ongoing debate over character versus story driven novels. As it turns out, mine tend to be character driven. How about you?

    2. I used to be all about the world building. I've grown to appreciate character more as I've matured.

    3. Since world building is a defining element of fantasy writing, I think that foundation must be laid before you can develop character or story very far. World building, for me, is certainly the most fun.

  2. Your story about the history of Hywel the Good made me think of Peter Tremayne's mysteries set in ancient Ireland, which I love.

    Thank you and I'm adding your book to my to read list.

    april dot vrugtman at gmail dot com

    1. April - thank you for the support and I hope you enjoy the story. How wonderful you thought of Tremayne (aka Peter Berresford Ellis), who is also a remarkable historian. Several of his non-fiction works are in my library, and contributed a great deal to my research for The Dream Stewards series.

  3. i love Qwillery for introducing to awesome looking books
    succes w/ the release roberta

  4. Congrats on your firsts! How exciting! Alwen sounds like a great character, thanks for sharing your excerpt. I will have to check out your book!!