Alice was just a little princess. She was ten years old, the fifth child of King Henry of Ambrai. Her medieval world was a place where barbarians from over the mountains fought the Amazons in the passes and came down sometimes into the river valleys to take on the civilized knights and pikemen of the King, but she would never have thought of those things. She had a kitty cat and a favorite doll and enough food to eat and a warm place to sleep, a bed, in fact, all to herself in her own bedroom.
Alice was not just the fifth child of the King. She was my own third child. I wrote The Tale of Countess Vivian in a whirlwind of 300,000 words in 13 months, ending a week before my forty-first birthday in 1997. I messed around for several years with Vivian’s great great grandmother Tereza; in the meantime I wrote a space caper about a tiny killer fighter pilot lady called Halyn Silverfleet. And then came Alice.
Vivian can explain Alice. Vivian is way too long to easily sell, and I knew that even back then, when I was just in my forties, married to my first wife and childless (in the real world). Tereza, when eventually finished, was not a conventional narrative and wouldn’t go anywhere except as a prequel to Vivian. Silverfleet was in unfamiliar space, and I wasn’t sure how I could sell her. (Eventually I totally rewrote that one as Silverfleet and Claypool, and I plan on putting her up on Amazon later this year.) Vivian was and remains my first love, but, as my hero Tolkien would say, that tale grew in the telling: things happened that I never had any idea would happen, and I wound up with a tome when I had intended to write a ripping yarn.
So I returned to the basic premise of Vivian and thought I would start over. And that basic premise is:
- Girl inherits monarchy
- Girl is forced into exile, where she hones her mysterious powers
- Girl, now a woman, returns with a vengeance
And that is where I started with Alice. Of course, as tales do, that tale grew in the telling as well, but it grew in a totally different direction. Alice is playing in the graveyard early in the story:
Once lingering there late by herself Alice was caught by clouds rising up to meet the falling sun, and found herself suddenly in darkness just short of night. For a minute she was terrified, rooted to the spot by her fear of what might inhabit the next shadow. But her eyes adjusted, and as she looked around she was cheered to find herself not alone. Beneath the great ash tree that stood before the entrance to the tombs of the kings played a girl not much more than Alice’s age. After a moment the other girl noticed Alice and paused in her digging in the dirt, and they smiled on one another. A poor girl, dressed in an old torn smock, but in her dirt there was not much difference between them really, except perhaps for a few untended cuts and bruises that, if they had happened to the Princess, would have been tended past all reason. And the girl wore on odd necklace of some sort of semi-precious stone.
Then the sun escaped for a last moment from the cloud, and the realm between the mausoleum and the ash tree brightened again, and in that space Alice found herself alone.
Alice, it turns out, can see and speak with ghosts.
Alice also develops a friendship, and this is the character every novel seems to have, the one that the author never intended. (Tolkien’s was Faramir.) For Princess Alice, this is Skela, the daughter of the Amazon captain Ingrid. And there is a disturbing prophecy:
“Ye want to know who ye’ll marry,” the old woman said.
“Yes, I guess.”
“I won’t tell that. It’s not written.” Alice grinned and suppressed again the urge to pull loose and sprint home, as the old woman stared at her, her lips pursed. “Don’t run just yet, girl,” said the woman. “I do have somewhat to tell ye. Three are the things I see.” She held Alice’s eyes another long moment and then said, “Ye will leave, but ye will come back.” She stared at Alice while the girl pondered that. It seemed like fortune enough for one day, but there was more. “Ye will claim what is yours, but it is not yours yet,” the woman added. That sounded all right. Then: “And ye will not return until ye have given up every thing ye love, all save one—ye can only choose one thing to take with ye, your kitty cat or your doll or the fella ye like or your sister here. One thing.”
And with that, I was no longer in control of the story, and every time I tried to make it go a different direction, it crashed into a wall and I had to go back to where I missed the turn and start again from there. I finished Alice within a year, friends read it and pronounced it good, and I went back to Tereza and finished that. I got tenure at the University of Maine at Farmington. We had a son. I wrote another novel that wasn’t very good, I struggled with another one that never got done, and eventually I got back in the groove with NaNoWriMo and the Jacky Clotilde stories. My wife divorced me, I remarried very happily (to the beautiful and talented Laura Seames), and I wrote and wrote and wrote. And for Christmas, Laura gave me an amazing gift—three printed copies of Princess of Ghosts, and its publication on Amazon.
And all that is how Alice, whose story went without a title for over a decade, really became the princess of ghosts, and can legitimately be called my best-selling novel. It even has two whole reviews, and it has a median rating of exactly five stars.
And if that doesn’t make you want to read it, then the price will: $2.99 for the e-book, 150,000 words, a dozen battles, sword fights, chases, ancient secrets, ghosts by the score, and young Alice grows into much more than just a princess. It can be yours, just by clicking the picture below.
And if you do read it, give it a review, or in some fashion let me know what you think.