I didn’t intend to write a trilogy at all. I expected my second book to be one huge sprawling novel, but it morphed into something even bigger. A subplot about a female mapmaker, exiled for treason, took on a life of its own and became the trilogy’s first book, The Mapmaker’s War. The rest of the story grew so much that it split into two.
The second book, The Chronicle of Secret Riven, takes place 1,000 years after Aoife (pronounced ee-fah), the mapmaker, died. There’s a connection between Aoife and Secret which a discerning reader will be able to detect. In Book 3, the pieces will come together, but that novel is meant to stand on its own as much as the others.
In the world of this story, Secret Riven isn’t like most children and her parents aren’t like most people. What do you have to say about this remarkable family?
Secret doesn’t speak until she’s seven years old, but when she’s four, she discovers she can communicate with creatures and plants. She’s able to translate the language, so to speak, through an understanding of emotions and images. It’s a gift that causes both comfort and pain.
Her mother, Zavet, was born in a remote village and had no formal education as a child. However, she can speak, read, and write every human language, ancient or modern. She works as a freelance translator in a world in which women are typically wives, mothers, shop clerks, and secretaries.
Bren Riven, her father, is the son of a chimneysweep. Bright and amiable, he was able to get into a good academy and became an historian and geographer. His work is involved with land acquisitions, and he’s a right-hand man of a particularly powerful person.
You’re referring to Fewmany, the magnate, the villain readers will love to hate. Tell us about him.
He wasn’t even a person in the before-the-writing-started incarnation of these books. I had only a cluster of ideas, abstractions connected to power, ownership, and greed. Then he became flesh. Fewmany is the head of Fewmany Incorporated, a conglomerate of enterprises, obviously. He has a rags-to-riches story behind him, and now, he dresses fashionably, collects fine art, and hunts wild game. He’s charming and rather funny and has an affection that he uses the word ‘twasoften.
Fewmany’s presence in the story is connected to Secret directly. The moment he meets Secret when she’s six years old, he senses something about her—and vice versa. Secret is wary and almost repelled by him, but at the same time, she’s very intrigued. It’s not until Book 3 that readers find out what he really wants from her—and in a way, she from him—but the dance begins in earnest in this novel.
To some readers, this book will seem a bit like steampunk—a vaguely Victorian setting with a few unusual technologies. How would you describe the world of Chronicle?
There’s something a bit medieval and Victorian about the town where Secret lives. When the images first came to me, I had an impression of mid-to-late medieval architecture, houses built upon one another on narrow cobblestone streets. But then I saw the lampposts, lit by lamplighters each night, and the way people dressed—women in long skirts, men in coats and trousers. Throughout the book, there are mentions of Tell-a-Bells, which people wear on belts. It’s a gear-based machine that rings periodically, prompting a person to recite his or her to-do list aloud. And then there are the newboxes, a spin on town criers, which are built at the intersections of many streets. Inside these open boxes (imagine a puppet theater), people read scripts about the day’s news, in some neighborhoods from dawn to midnight or later.
The Mapmaker’s War is a sparse 223 pages, has a structure like an ancient epic, and reads like a legend. The Chronicle of Secret Riven is different; it’s longer, plays with the form of historical chronicles, and reads almost like a fairy tale. At the center of both, though, there appears to be a commonality—a hero’s tale. Was this intentional?
A heroine’s tale, more precisely. Whether I intended that, it’s hard to answer. My novels choose me—I don’t choose them. But I could tell, as each book started to take shape, that I was writing about two women in very different time periods with dramatic shifts taking place in their lives. By way of Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, I learned about Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey. That’s when I finally recognized what Aoife and Secret’s stories were. They don’t follow the typical monomyth arc that focuses on action and doing. Sure, these books have plots and things happen, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. The heroine’s journey is an inner transformation—something all human beings experience—which in turn has the power to change the outer world.
RONLYN DOMINGUE is the author of The Chronicle of Secret Riven and The Mapmaker’s War, the first two books of the Keeper of Tales Trilogy. Her critically-acclaimed debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in ten languages. Her writing has appeared in New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, New Delta Review, The Independent (UK), Border Crossing, and Shambhala Sun, as well as on mindful.org, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Weeklings. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and ronlyndomingue.com.