The weekend before Halloween, Marzio came over my house and we started tinkering with a silly online program that generates plots. I said to Marzio that I was going to base my next big novel on this Emily Brönte insta-book plot generator that spit out a story about an old house and a werewolf. We had a good laugh over it. We switched up the details and twisted the story this way and that until it seemed (at least to me) that it was a worthy tale. That night after Marzio left I took the time to formalize an outline of the thing. Needless to say, when I read it the following morning, it was godawful. Fun experiment, but definitely not a story I wanted to slave over. But at least one glaring truth emerged: I was bored of editing The Tendrils of Fate. I needed to write something new.
The day before Halloween, I saw a tweet go by that reminded me that NaNoWriMo was about to begin. I’ve known about NaNoWriMo for years, just never felt like I had the mettle to succeed, so instinctively I avoided it. Then, I don’t know what happened, I looked at my dumb werewolf book outline and asked myself: What if? What if I actually tried writing a novel from an outline? What if I sat down and outlined something I really wanted to write? Could I do it?
I could try.
So on Tuesday night (Oct 31st) after my husband and I got done celebrating his Halloween birthday, I sat at my computer and began to outline a new story. This one still involved an old house full of secrets and the Gothic Brönte feel, but alas, no aging werewolf. At first, I was tempted to set the story in Italy c1760 but then changed my mind. I’m a meticulous researcher and I knew that taking on a historical drama would bog down my process during NaNoWriMo. That’s when I decided to set the story in the fantasy world of Laremlis which Marzio and I had already developed for The Tendrils of Fate.
Late that night I bounced an email to Marzio and asked his opinion on my outline of Secrets of Dom Arjona, an epic fantasy, erotic thriller. He thought it was a worthy pursuit and overall liked the storyline, so with his blessing, I got started. I’m a visual person so my first point of inspiration was Villa Grazioli, an old estate on the fringes of Rome which I had stayed at several years ago. This old house had left a lasting impression on me. It’s where I wrote The Olive Grove in its entirety. With Villa Grazioli in mind, I put together a quick cover in Photoshop using one of my photos. After the cover was drafted, it felt like a real book to me. I can’t explain it, but suddenly I wanted to pursue this. I went to NaNoWriMo, created an account and began writing.
I went to bed at some ungodly hour after penning the novel’s first 2,000 words.
Several times on November 1st, I looked at that empty NaNoWriMo graph and I panicked. I had no idea how I was going to write 50,000 words in one month, never mind 1,666 words in one day. There are weeks where I’m not capable of writing that much. I’m a slow writer, I fuss over sentences; I soul search for the perfect phrasing. I’m not a drafter, I’m a sentence by sentence kind of writer who can’t move on until the paragraph sings. What had I gotten myself into?
Then, the story began to lead me. I focused on one chapter at a time with minimal edits. Editing is what I couldn’t fall back into; editing was my kryptonite. I completed the first chapter, then the next, and suddenly I had earned a 5,000-word badge. Holy cow! Every day I would send Marzio my progress, and every day he would cheer me on. It meant a lot to me to know that he was enjoying the progression. After those 5,000 words, something happened to my brain. I began to really want it. My husband was away on business in Bangalore, India and I was home alone. I missed him, but his absence also helped me focus. I began to slowly rearrange my life. I’d write at lunchtime, I’d write before breakfast, I’d write all night. I turned down dinner invitations and episodes of Outlander. I said no to all the new cool Netflix shows. I FOCUSED. I got down to business with my Aries determination.
NaNoWriMo was my Iron Man. My marathon. And I was going to win it!
The novel was also turning out surprisingly good. I wasn’t writing garbage (which amazed me) considering the pace. For fun, I worked out. I worked out every day with the exception of Thanksgiving when I fed 11 people at my house. That’s when I thought I would lose this thing. That weekend tested my willpower. Seriously I was like–FUCK!–there goes my victory! But no, the next day I “brought it” like Tony Horton says. I sat my ass down and I didn’t get up until I caught up. Then, I worked out. As of today, I have worked out 63 consecutive days in a row. Anyone familiar with Tony Horton’s P90 Workout, knows how much of a challenge it is. It was tough to balance my full time job, NaNoWriMo, and P90, but had I not worked out, I swear I would have been atrophied by the time NaNoWriMo was done. God knows the keyboard is now a permanent extension of my fingers.
By the time the 40,000-word badge rolled around I was excited, really excited. I was like damn, not only am I doing this, I actually like the way this book is turning out. My husband returned from India on the 22nd and he was too jet-lagged to even talk to me, so I kept going. I kept tapping away every chance I got. On November 29th, two days ahead of schedule, I hit 50,000 words.
I wrapped up NaNoWriMo with a total of 52,164 words which I feel is a momentous achievement for me. It’s epic and I’m super proud of myself. I feel as if the stars aligned this month.
I feel like a rock star!
Before I go, I wanted to leave you with a few tidbits of the novel.[Disclaimer] Everything below this line is unedited and a work in progress. 😉
Secrets of Dom Arjona Teaser
Driven from their land by raiders, Lissandra and her older brother Darion are taken in by their estranged uncle who works in the Arjona Distillery, world famous for its fruit liquors. Lissandra and Darion are given strict rules of conduct and put to work. Darion joins his uncle tending the orchards while Lissandra is employed as a chambermaid.
It isn’t long before Lisssandra discovers the secret behind Dom Arjona’s wealth. Nestled privately in rolling hills and pristine countryside, Villa Thessana is a magnificent home with a vast network of rooms that are closed to all but the most trusted servants. Inside the gallery of rooms lies a trove of erotic artifacts, paintings, and sculptures the likes of which Lissandra has never seen.
Seeking an escape from her life of drudgery, Lissandra accepts an offer from Imryll, a woman apprenticed to a master painter, and becomes an artist’s model. To safeguard Lissandra’s reputation, Imryll reveals to her a series of hidden corridors she can use during her nightly escapades. As time goes on, Lissandra’s curious explorations draw her into a dangerous world of secrets, intrigue, and debauched rituals the likes of which will change her life.
Set in a fresh, new fantasy world where daemons and magic are real, this erotic thriller will please Epic Fantasy and Erotica readers alike.
Secrets of Dom Arjona
By Narcisse Navarre
Chapter One: The Raid
Zezendi, Thirteenth of Fehr, 446 A’Adiel
The pale monsters came in the night.
They stalked out of the mist on all fours and killed the watchers.
By the time the hounds barked, and the bells tolled, it was too late.
Lissandra awoke to her mother’s scream. She threw off the bed sheet and ran out of her room and into the kitchen. The farmhouse was dark except for a sliver of moonlight that streamed through the shuttered window. Outside, the bells pealed out of rhythm. The desperate, lingering hum tone sent a chill down her spine. Screams joined the mad howling of the beasts.
The raiders had returned.
Lissandra ran back into her room and grabbed her boots. Blood rushed at her temples as she locked her bedroom door and quietly climbed the rope ladder to the attic. She knew what to do, they all did. Since they were children, they had practiced.
Shoes. Attic. Chimney.
Lissandra pushed up the trap door and climbed into the stifling heat of the attic. She pulled up the ladder and closed the door behind her. The false thatched ceiling above her bedroom was prone to fire and harbored insects, but it kept them dry and hid the concealed door seamlessly. In the dark, the beating of her heart became deafening. Lissandra wiped away her tears and put her boots on. She fumbled with the laces praying that her family was already in the hiding place.
The screams of the villagers joined the cacophony of howls and war cries.
Shuffling onto her belly, Lissandra felt around for the familiar horseshoe. When her fingers closed around it, she crawled forward on hands and knees until she found the next one. She followed the trail of nailed horseshoes along the wooden catwalk until she reached the stone chimney stack at the edge of the roofline. Sweat broke out on her skin as she felt around in the dark for the opening that led down.
The farmhouse had two chimneys, but only one was used for cooking. The other one had been sealed and transformed into a concealed passage. Growing up, her parents had made her, and her brother play a game to see how long each of them could stay in the shaft. She had always won.
Lissandra reached through the hole, grabbed the metal rung above the opening, and squeezed into the shaft. For a moment she hung suspended, kicking in the darkness until her feet found purchase. A cool breeze blew up from the grate in the root cellar relieving the heat, but not the fear. Amidst the sounds of battle and muted shrieks came the sound of breathing. Someone was in the shaft beneath her.
“Darion, is that you?” Lissandra whispered.
“Shhh,” came the reply.
Lissandra climbed down and felt in the dark for her brother. Her fingers clutched his shoulder, then traced his arm down to his hand. “Is mom here?”
Darion pulled her close and held her. “No.”
As the mayhem outside intensified, the realization that their mother had not made it filled them with grief.
For a long time, neither of them said a word. They held each other in silence while the raiders plundered their home. Each grisly cry caused them to hold on to each other more and more tightly until they were as close as lovers. In each other’s arms they shivered and trembled finding no comfort. Cold sweat and fear defined the embrace.
When the sounds of battle faded, tears came. They sobbed in the dark just as they had the day their father had disappeared. They should have fled then, after that first raid; ignored all of the promises made by the Dolcarrs. The border between Mencello and Sullosia had been fortified for a few months, but the mercenaries soon left. Lured to the capital by the promise of larger wages, the lot of them returned to squash civil rebellions and settle familial disputes among the noble houses. Many villagers had left after the first raid, but their mother had chosen to stay. She claimed she would rather die defending her land than serve in another’s—an idea that had proved foolish.
Sullosian raiders didn’t often kill. They maimed, captured and enslaved. Everyone along the border had heard the stories. Escaped prisoners and former slaves told gruesome tales of drug-induced euphorias; of magicks that stripped away all humanity; of torture and sadistic rituals. They told of men and women who were skinned alive; their flesh used to fashion vestments. Of children who were fattened like hogs and eaten.
Lissandra let go of her brother and climbed down. She slunk against the wall at the base of the chimney, brought her knees to her chin, and let grief take her. She sobbed in the dark, wishing the ground would open up and swallow her. They had nothing except a few belongings and a cursed parcel of land. Their mother was at best dead and at worse a prisoner destined to suffer.
Her brother climbed down after her. He sat next to her and put an arm around her. “Please stop crying, Liss. We have to be strong.”
The sadness in Darion’s whispered words made her heartache. Lissandra leaned her cheek on his shoulder and nodded. She wiped the tears away. “What are we going to do?”
Darion leaned his chin on the top of her head and sighed. He stroked her hair. “I don’t know, Liss. We’ll figure it out together. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Darion.”
Curled up against the stone wall, they waited.
In the dark, the passage of time was unknowable. Brother and sister shifted when their arms and legs grew numb. They pressed their back against the stone; wiped the sweat from their faces; and held each other when they could. After the screaming and howling faded, the peaceful sounds of the night returned. A chorus of crickets and dark thoughts filled the hours.
The waking nightmare of pale, scarred flesh; black eyes; and deformed limbs plagued Lissandra’s mind. The metal-tipped claws of a misshapen abomination reached for her. Filed, pointed teeth bit into her flesh. Suddenly startled awake, Lissandra grabbed hold of Darion’s hand. “Do you think they took her?”
After a long pause, Darion spoke, “I pray to the gods that they didn’t.”
Lissandra’s chest grew tight. She shuddered recalling her first raid. The Sullosians had come shortly after she had turned twelve. They had slithered out from of the darkness like phantoms and drugged many of the villagers in their beds. By the time the bell was rung, most of the children had been taken. Those that fought were slaughtered where they stood.
“She’s gone isn’t she?” whispered Lissandra.
Darion stroked her face in the dark. “I don’t know, Liss, but we must prepare for the worst.”
“Sometimes I like to think that Pappa is still alive; that he’ll return for us one day.”
Darion shifted his weight so that he could embrace her. “He’s gone and he’s not coming back, Liss.”
Lissandra clutched her brother tightly. “I know. Please, don’t leave me, Darion. You are all I have in this world.”
Darion’s voice cracked with emotion. “I’ll keep you safe, Liss. I won’t ever leave you. I promise.”
Lissandra’s eyes were half closed from exhaustion when the first beam of sunlight pierced the flue. They had spent the night huddled uncomfortably at the base of the sealed chimney with nothing but a jug of water and a pail in which to relieve themselves. They were tired, hungry and aching, but neither of them complained. Since their father’s disappearance, they had spent many hours tolerating discomfort in the cramped space.
Slowly, Darion pulled himself up and stretched. He was shirtless and grimy, wearing a loose pair of trousers and boots. “I’ll go first. Stay here.”
Lissandra watched him climb, feeling her stomach knot. Since their father’s capture, Darion had changed. He was no longer the lighthearted prankster that she had known growing up. Since the first raid he had grown serious and protective. They had stopped playing games and sneaking off for midnight swims. When they were among others, Darion never strOuéd far from her side, and there were times when he looked at her with an intensity that unnerved her.
“Be careful.” The words choked Lissandra’s throat. Regardless of his behavior, he was still her brother, and she loved him.
Darion didn’t respond. He climbed to the top of the chimney and crawled out of the shaft. Lissandra stood up and listened. Her heart beat so furiously that it seemed to rock her entire being. Her hand closed around a metal rung and she stared up at the beam of orange light without blinking. Thoughts of her brother’s imagined death brought fresh tears to her eyes. The pale daevils laughed and jeered in her mind until she felt frozen where she stood.“Come back. Please come back,” she pleaded in the dark.
Just when she thought she couldn’t stand to wait any longer, she heard a tapping on the other side of the wall. Three taps followed by two taps, then three again.
Darion had made it to the kitchen. It was safe to come out.
Lissandra gripped the rung and climbed up as fast as her legs would carry her. Her foot slipped, and she scraped her knee but kept going. The sun stung her eyes as she dove through the hole and onto the catwalk. She flung open the thatched trap door above Darion’s bedroom and tossed down the ladder.
It was just past dawn and warm morning sunlight filtered through the reinforced shutters. She climbed down with unsteady legs, feeling as if she were emerging from a terrible dream. Darion’s bedroom looked just as it would have on any given morning. His bed was unmade, and his dirty work clothes were heaped in a corner. On his nightstand was the little stick doll she had made him and in the corner the crudely repaired rocking chair they had broken when they were kids. It took her a while to find evidence of the raiders’ intrusion. Bits of thatch littered the floor from where a spear had pierced the ceiling, and there was a hole in the mattress.
When her brother didn’t answer, Lissandra walked out into the hall and peered into the kitchen. The front door was open, and she saw Darion just beyond. He stood outside as still as a statue with fists clenched at his sides. At his feet, lay her mother, her bright knitted shawl stained with blood. The sight of blood and a severed hand caused her knees to give out from under her. She staggered back just as a strangled sob ripped through her throat, “Mamma!”
Darion rushed back into the house, picked her up and lay her on his bed. He drew the covers over her and held her. Just when she thought she had no more tears to shed, more came. Slumped on the hay-stuffed mattress, she cried and wailed, and heaved until she could barely breathe.
In the haze of her grief, time stood still. Lissandra didn’t know how long she lay there staring at the wall, only that the daylight came and went as did her brother. More than once she felt Darion’s strong arms around her; and his warm body against her back. At some point he wiped her face and gave her water to drink. Over and over he told her that she was safe, but she knew he was lying. How could she be safe, when her mother lay dead at their doorstep?
When sleep finally came, the nightmares began. She was visited by the rotting corpse of her mother and a pack of raiders whose unearthly yapping reminded her of hyenas. Prodded forward by bloody spears, Lissandra ran toward the edge of a precipice and fell.
Lissandra awoke at the crack of dawn. Turning to her side, she saw her brother sleeping on the old rocking chair. He hadn’t changed his clothes, and his pants and boots were filthy. Dirt caked the underside of his fingernails as if he had been—digging.
The realization of what he had done soured her stomach. Reaching under his bed, Lissandra pulled out the bedpan and retched. The sudden evacuation of what little she had in her stomach somehow made her feel better. She was still heaving into the pot when she felt a familiar hand on her back.
Darion bunched up her long hair and held it behind her head. “Hey, it’s alright. I’m here. How are you feeling?”
Lissandra wiped her lips and managed a small smile for his sake. “Better.”
“I’m glad.” Darion unlatched the shutter and threw open the window. He grabbed the chamber pot and threw the whole thing outside.
Liss sat up in bed and took his hand. She looked into his eyes. “How did she die?”
Darion sat next to her and took a deep breath. His shoulder-length hair was bedraggled, and he had dark circles under his eyes. “Mamma must have barred the door and gone outside through the window. She faced off with them out front; used Pappa’s sword.” Tears streamed from Darion’s eyes, but he continued. “They toyed with her; I don’t know. One of her arms was missing, cut clean off above the elbow. Her face was crushed. They took her hair and teeth.” Darion bent forward and sobbed. “I buried her in the old plot next to grandpa.”
Lissandra sat at the edge of his bed, hands clasped, and stared into the kitchen. All the windows were shuttered save for the small one above the washbasin; the one her mother must have used to buy them time. The front door was closed, but her mind saw past it, to the spot on the flagstones where she had seen her corpse. “What about the village?”
Darion shook his head. “This wasn’t like the first time when only a few of them came. They killed those who resisted and took the rest. I went from house to house and didn’t find anyone. It’s just us. They even slew the animals,” he sobbed. “The sooner we leave the better. This place is cursed.”
Shock and numbness spread through Lissandra’s body as the tried to grasp what Darion had said. She didn’t know whether to feel grateful or despondent that she had survived. The place she had called home for sixteen years of her life no longer felt familiar. The emptiness was made worse by the knowledge that beyond the farmhouse, the world she had known was gone. She thought of their neighbors Milla and her husband Carl, and of their twins daughters whose laughter she would never hear again. She wondered at the horrors that had befallen Josse and Roque; the only two boys she had ever kissed. Faces of loved ones; friends and neighbors vied for attention just as fragments of conversations filled her mind. “We won’t be able to harvest the corn.”
Darion lifted his head and looked at her. “Corn? Our mother is dead and everyone is gone and you are thinking about crops? Have you not heard a word I’ve said? There is nothing left.”
Lissandra fought against the clamor of memories that threatened to overwhelm here, choosing instead to focus on her mother’s smile. Marcía Caransa had died safeguarding their lives and she would be thrice damned if she squandered her sacrifice. “No harvest means no money for supplies or seeds. If we stay here we will starve, or worse, we’ll be killed. We should go to that farm where Mamma’s brother works. The big place near the city.”
“Arjona?” Tears welled up in Darion’s eyes and rolled down, carving fresh tracks down his cheeks. “Mamma will never forgive us if we go there, Liss. How many times did she begrudge that forsaken place?”
“Where else can we go with no money? Better to work cleaning chamber pots than starving in our own corn field at the edge of the world.” Lissandra wiped the tears from her brother’s face. “Darion, those fiends will be back. Maybe not tomorrow or the day after, but they will return and they will kill us. Is it any wonder that this land was sold to us for so little? We could never have afforded a parcel like this if it were anywhere else in Calantia. It’s called Enllóce for a reason.”
Darion nodded. “Oué. Going to our uncle’s is not a bad idea. He met us only once when we were little and he probably doesn’t remember us, but we’re family aren’t we? Both of us are hard workers and we’re young. If he doesn’t help us, maybe he knows someone who will.”
“I’ll start packing,” Lissandra said, getting up.
Before she could walk away, Darion grabbed her hand and pulled her between his legs. He wrapped his arms around her buttocks and pressed his face against her belly. “I’m so glad you’re safe. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to lose my temper.”
Confused by the sudden, almost intimate embrace, Lissandra hesitated to comfort him. The warmth of his breath through the filmy fabric of her nightgown felt wrong. Darion hadn’t so much as hugged her in the last few weeks. She stroked his back and gently guided him to lie down. “You’ve had a long night, why don’t you rest a little.”
“What if they come back?” Darion’s eyes never left hers as she pulled the blanket over him.
“They won’t.” Lissandra said, smoothing back his hair. “They only come at night.”
Do leave me a comment and let me know what you think! Thank you for reading.