Years ago I bought a story collection called, The Maid of the North: Feminist Folk Tales from Around the World. One of the stories in this collection, “The Twelve Huntsman”, captured something in my mind and would not let go. It was filled with such vivid action and compelling themes that my imagination fired into full roar. So, I began writing a novel-length retelling of it.
But I soon saw that a literal retelling would be incredibly difficult given that there are twelve female characters, who all look almost identical. I decided to take a more figurative approach and reduced the number of women down to three – two sisters and a cousin. And then the story kept taking very dark turns – turns into child abuse, neglect, suicide, abandonment, rape, vengeance, and public shaming. From this quagmire of material, one of the characters emerged and outshone the rest. Ottilde. From then on, I wrote just Ottilde’s story.
It might surprise some who have already read In the Blood, that Ottilde began life as a very different character. She was, in fact, the product of her mother’s rape. As such, she was hated and shunned by her mother’s husband, who Ottilde believed was her biological father.
Anyone given access to that early material might say I hated Ottilde because I piled crap on her that would have made Job finally throw in the towel. But out of all her suffering came greatness. She, in her own tragic story, was a central figure in the world I created, a mythic warrior crippled by her own humanity and suffering. One could have called her an anti-hero since, despite her many gifts and the fact that she was much sought after by those in power, she hated people in general and wanted nothing to do with serving her god or country.
I made her into a bitter loner, tormented by her past. The only people she allowed near her were members of her adopted family, people who took her in after her birth family and community cast her out – and they had to work damn hard to gain even the most rudimentary trust from her.
I actually had a complete novel out of that story. But I put it aside because it was an incredibly dark book and I wasn’t sure anyone would want to read such a depressing story (although it did have a really triumphant ending).
Then, I did National Novel Writing Month for the first time and completed a 50,000 word novel (that I’ve yet to do anything with). The following January, my husband challenged me to write ANOTHER novel in a month in exchange for a prize. I just love people bribing me! So, I did it. I wrote a 70,000 word novel called The Witch’s Bargain about a young woman thrust into a perilous situation when a new overlord takes over her family’s ancestral estate. This was Oriabel’s story, which has remained similar to this original prototype, though I gave Oriabel a stiffer spine and a lower tolerance for hanky-panky from certain disreputable persons. In this version, Oriabel is forced into becoming the new lord’s concubine by her scheming stepmother in exchange for keeping the secret of her witchbreed nature.
I put this novel aside for over half a year. When I opened the document at last and read through it, I fell in love with the characters once more and decided to make something of it. But I felt that a novel confined to just one location might drag a little, so I tried to think of a way to introduce new locations into the plot. It was then I thought of Ottilde’s story and how I could recycle portions of it. I changed Ottilde to a tough but loving and loyal person rather than my embittered anti-hero.
The rest… you’ll have to read the novel to find that out.