The Beating Heart of Stories

“Who was your favorite character to write?” I got asked this a few times about The Vermilion Riddle. It’s a tough question to answer, because I like characters for different reasons – spunky, witty characters are fun to write, while anti-heroes are challenging but rewarding to create. But I find it’s also a tough question because I don’t just like writing specific characters, I love writing relationships. I’m not a fan of lone characters. (If you’re the only survivor in an apocalypse, I’ll pass.) I know there are thought-provoking, well-written stories with a cast of one, but I’m far more drawn to relationships. To me, they are the beating heart of great stories. Ensemble casts have always been my favorite, because you get a range of relational dynamics.

The Vermilion Riddle is, at the core, a story of relationships: between husband and wife, brothers, father and son, father and daughter, friends, enemies, and more. In the midst of adventures, duels, and intrigue, the relationships are the heartbeat of the story. 

Here were a few personal highlights among my favorite relationships to write:

Husband and wife: I might have bit off more than I could chew, since I wrote this while I was single. But I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, and I think every story I write will incorporate some romance, even if it’s not central. In this case, I wanted to explore romance and love in the context of marriage, which I find rare in fiction relative to the drama and fireworks of pre-marriage relationships. I can’t deny that I love a good enemies-to-lovers story, or the tension of a will-they-won’t-they story, or even a (gasp) love triangle done well. But what about love in marriage? For the closest relationship on earth, it doesn’t get quite as much screen/page time. It’s written off as the “happily ever after” that comes post-credits, and I wonder if it’s perceived as too boring or undramatic for a good story. But isn’t that where the real adventure begins? Anyway, Leah didn’t really want to marry August, so I still inserted a healthy dose of drama to kick it off!

Brothers: Again, I’m not a man, and I don’t have a brother, so I’m not writing from personal experience. This is one of the foundational relationships in The Vermilion Riddle, but a lot of August and Benedict’s relationship is not shown through direct interaction, but rather a backstory that is slowly colored in over time. It’s a relationship that’s been marked by betrayal and loss, and it hangs over the entire story. The pain that haunts them both is an unspoken indication of the depth of that relationship – the more you love, the more you hurt. Feeling that brokenness creates a deep longing too for reconciliation and redemption. These are the relationships we desperately want to see made right. While the main climax and resolution to the story was about the large-scale conflict with the Oath-breakers, writing the resolution to this relationship was more cathartic for me. (No spoilers on what that entailed, or even that it was a true “resolution,” but just where I left the two characters by the end of the novel).

Friends: There are a lot of different types of friendship in The Vermilion Riddle, but I’ve always had a soft spot for deep male friendships, which I think is sorely lacking in our world. For intimate friendships between men, our culture immediately imagines romantic undertones. So I had some reservations about writing a friendship that could toe that line in the eyes of some – but I did it anyway. We’ve lost something precious and God-given when men can’t have emotional intimacy and deep love for one another, free of sexual connotation. Benedict and Justin are by no means paragons of virtue, but they have that kind of friendship (and August does too, though I don’t press into those relationships as deeply). We often say “love is blind” and romantic love makes us do stupid things for the sake of the other… can’t a deep love for a friend similarly do that? In a way, I explored the idea of “love being blind” influencing some of the platonic relationships in Riddle, while the romance certainly doesn’t reflect that. (Leah got married with her eyes wide open.)

Father and daughter: Finally, one that I have personal experience with. Father-daughter stories move me in a special way. Leah’s dad is not at all like mine, and I didn’t model him after my dad – but in their relationship, I drew on some of the ways my dad and I relate: the way we easily understand each other without saying much, the irreverent humor in the face of ridiculous social constructs, and the way he protects me when I’m frail and need it most. They’re imperfect, but loving fathers. And there’s a warmth and steadfastness in that, because it’s a mirror of our Heavenly Father. Where friendships fail and romances fizzle out, there’s something in our core that believes a father will love unconditionally no matter what. Even though Leah’s dad isn’t “on screen” for much of the story, their relationship is an anchor in her life.

Interested in knowing more about these characters and how these relationships do resolve? Get your copy of The Vermilion Riddle today!

(I’m back, and I’m still writing! I recently got married, and life is busy, full, but good. After months of wedding planning and exercising the administrative side of my brain, I’m trying to find time for more creative endeavors again, so stay tuned).

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.

Release Day!

It’s release day for The Vermilion Riddle!

I haven’t been furiously posting here because life is just full right now. I do make more frequent, bite-sized updates on my social media accounts, but man, it is a full-time job to be marketing a book at optimal capacity. And I still have another full-time job (that I do enjoy, but keeps me very busy) unless you all make me a bestselling writer who lands a movie deal.

That’s just to say, in spite of the relative silence in these parts, I’m no less excited that this day has come. I’ve had a number of early ARC readers finish The Vermilion Riddle already, and their reviews have truly encouraged me. I know the novel isn’t perfect, and there’s a lot of room for me to continue growing as a writer and storyteller. But to hear genuine feedback that this story kept people reading late into the night, or encouraged them to love the gospel even more, or made them cheer for and feel for the characters, or handled difficult themes in a thought-provoking way – it reminds me of why I started writing. It can be easy to forget while slogging through edits and trying desperately to fix technical inconsistencies in timeline and distances. To me, good stories have always been about making a dent in the darkness, bringing a flicker of light to another soul, or as N.D. Wilson puts it, “polluting the shadows.”

These were my exact words in a post a year ago:

I was a reader before I was ever a writer, and stories can have a profound impact on our psyche. I think of what the best stories have been for me: a cocoon on cold nights, a companion on lonely days, an iron that sharpened my mind, a battle cry that gave me courage. I don’t aspire to bestseller status or movie contracts. I like my quiet, small life. But I do hope my story, though fiction and fantasy, honors the Lord and is a flicker of light in a dark world. If it’s a candle in the night for one person out there, that’ll be more than worth it.

2021 Dana

It’s been worth it.

A lot is happening in my personal life in the next month, so I don’t expect to be popping in here frequently. But as things slow down, I do plan to share more about The Vermilion Riddle, what I’ve learned, and what I’m also working on next. So stay tuned.

Until then, my publisher and I are hosting a virtual Facebook launch party March 1 at 5 PM PST. Please join us! It’ll be a fun time of activities, Q&A, and giveaways. Just join the group and hop online for the party.

You can find all my writing-related links on my Linktree. And here’s a shortcut to buying your copy of The Vermilion Riddle.

The Vermilion Riddle is Available for Pre-Order!

I’m thrilled to share that The Vermilion Riddle is now available for preorder on Amazon! It feels a bit surreal to see my novel there. I looked back through my email inbox (a real trek down memory lane) and found scattered vignettes of this story, shared with a few friends. It’s been renamed and revised over the course of years. I almost gave up on it at a few points, thinking it was too offbeat to see the light of day – not to mention, the odds are always against you in traditional publishing. I’m so grateful to see this dream become a reality!

I’m also looking for help promoting The Vermilion Riddle. Specifically, I would like to give out eARCs (Advanced Reader Copy) to readers who are willing to read and provide an honest review before March 1, release day. I’m also putting together a small street team that will help me promote the book on social media and offline, as well as participants for a blog tour. If you are interested in supporting me in any of these ways, you can fill out this form.

Do you have other ideas for how to get the word out? Are there questions or topics you’d like me to address about the novel? I’m open to inspiration for new blog posts! Drop me a line anytime.

Stay tuned for more details on The Vermilion Riddle as we approach release day! If you’re on Facebook and Instagram, you can also follow me for more regular updates there:

Finally, I’ll leave you with the official synopsis, also available on Amazon:

“To enter Faerie’s blessed demesne
four secrets must be found:
the land unbound by time and space
opens only to the one who knows
the Light, the Song, and Mortal Gate.”

In the sheltered town of Carmel, women do not have a future outside of a good marriage. That future is threatened when Leah Edwards’ father gambles away the family’s livelihood and estate. She and her sisters must hurry to find husbands. Then August Fox, a Guardian from Cariath, comes to town and purchases a supposedly haunted manor. Charged to keep the peace between mortals and Faerie, the Guardians are the stuff of legend. After he stuns her with a marriage proposal, Leah reluctantly journeys to Cariath, discovering there is more to August and the legends than she guessed.

Nimrod and his Oath-breakers betrayed the Guardians, seeking to solve an ancient riddle that would unlock the Faerie realm. Not all his followers share his desire for conquest. Benedict Fox, his second-in-command, has different motives. But as he continues fulfilling Nimrod’s plan, Benedict hurtles towards a choice between saving his family and settling a personal vendetta.

For Leah, August, and their allies, it is a race against time to solve the ancient riddle before the Oath-breakers, and reunite the Guardians to save the mortal realm. The war is never really over, and this time, the battle lines cut through blood ties and brotherhood.