“Good-bye, and good riddance,” were the last words that Gwen’s twin ever said to her.
But there is no time to grieve. An enemy army has revived a forbidden magic. They’ve invaded a neighboring country, and Gwen’s kingdom will be next. Her only hope of salvation is a legend, so she sets out to find it.
The magic has many names, and many believe they know what it is—but Gwen begins to see that most are mistaken. At last it is the wind itself that forces her to make a choice: accept the forbidden magic and learn it, or die.
Unbeknownst to Gwen, her departure in the night sets a chain of events into motion back home, where her dwindling family turns against one another. As the royal family reveals its internal divide, the opposing factions pounce.
These Lies That Live Between Us is the start of a fantasy epic about family, adventure, love, loss and the ever-changing interpretation of history long gone.
Targeted Age Group:: 15+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
When I was eleven or twelve, I used to “write songs” by writing my own lyrics to Japanese pop songs. One day, I thought to myself, “I should try writing a song all mine, tune and all.” I wrote this silly little song about how the princess of Hearts runs away from home and pretends to be a common girl. Along the way, she meets a dashing knight, who turns out to be the prince of Spades in disguise, and becomes a maid in the court of Diamonds. It bears very little resemblance to These Lies That Live Between Us, though you may be able to make out the skeleton of one of the storylines, if you squint hard enough.
Anyway, that song became more songs, then became a middle-grade book. Eventually I scrapped the manuscript entirely when I realized that my characters’ personalities and their motivations were at odds with each other. I zoomed out my perspective a little, and realized that part of my problem was that all my side characters were just props. So I started with the younger twin sisters of my original protagonist. I gave them names and personalities, shifted around who did what from my original storyline, and voila! That was about 12 years ago, and the true beginning of These Lies That Live Between Us.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Because this was a story that I began when I was a preteen, it's probably no surprise that the then-protagonist Nicole was a thinly veiled self-insert. The first time I revamped the story and started giving other characters more fleshed-out personalities, I based the younger twins on my own twin sisters.
However, the moment that I decided to go and write these stories, I found I couldn't. Trying to predict what a real person would do in a fictional situation was an impossible conundrum for my brain. It took an embarrassing amount of time for me to realize that I couldn't write this way, as long as these characters were based on us.
So I backed up, and removed this preconception. I had to change the sisters' names to drive this change home for myself. Nicole's personality and story changed the most drastically—yet, oddly, she was the only one whose name never changed.
It's laughable now, how I overcomplicated the process of creating characters. Each of them has distinct personality traits. I only needed to start telling their stories to learn who they were. All the other characters—Juste, Dara, Alderic, and so on—I got to know them simply by writing the story. They were all always there, in my brain—I'd just created a lot of layers of muck on top that I ended up dragging the three sisters through.
On the last day of her childhood, Gwen woke to the sound of the wind rattling the shutters. She was warm and content—except for her feet out in the cold thanks to her twin hogging the covers. She cracked one eye open to the familiar sight of her own long golden hair lying against equally long silver hair. It was the most peaceful sight she knew. Curling closer to the warm body behind her, Gwen pulled her feet in under the blankets and groggily brought them against her companion’s bare legs.
Stelle pulled away with a gasp and squawked as her hair pulled out from under Gwen’s head. Then came the thud as she fell off the bed.
“Gwen,” she grunted.
“You were hogging the covers,” Gwen mumbled, taking the opportunity to curl herself fully into the blankets, rolling around and tucking all the edges of the blanket under her body. By the time that Stelle scrambled back into the bed, teeth chattering, the edges were firmly out of reach.
“Gwen, this is my bed.”
“And this is my birthday.”
“I know I am,” Gwen smirked, poking her head out. Stelle yanked the exposed edge of the blanket. Gwen squealed. Trapped in her unraveling blanket cocoon, she rolled until she fell off the bed. Gwen wheezed when she hit the floor. She felt the blanket being pulled away but had no strength to do anything but breathe. The movement stopped.
“Gwen?” Stelle peered into her face. “Are you alright?”
Gwen could breathe again, so she grabbed Stelle’s shin and pulled it out from under her. Stelle dropped the blanket, landed backwards on her hands and kicked Gwen in the chest. Gwen gasped more in shock than pain, unused to the tenderness of her newly swelling chest. She was preparing to return a kick to Stelle’s ribcage when the door opened and they both froze. Aunt Marilene was not a forgiving woman.
But it was not their governess standing in the doorway. It was their sister.
“I came to wish you a happy birthday,” said Nicki sardonically. “Must I rescue you from each other instead? Where are your maids?”
“Today is our birthday,” Gwen pouted. “We sent them away.”
Nicki sighed and walked across the room to rummage through the closet. She pulled out a blue gown and laid it out on the bed. It would have complimented Stelle’s silvery hair beautifully. Except, of course:
“Liles if you were expecting me to wear that tie-all,” said Stelle.
Nicki turned a frown on her. “Language. Do you have something else in mind?”
“Britches, as usual. I shall spend the day in the barracks.”
Nicki’s face closed off. “Stelle, I thought father had-”
“No!” said Stelle. “He may be king, but he already forbade me from everything and everyone else I enjoy. He cannot take this away, too.”
She pushed Nicki aside to storm to the closet. Watching Stelle’s back as she rummaged, Gwen saw her grow frantic. She saw it, and it irritated her. Father had said that they were now ladies of court and expected to act the part. Why did Stelle think he would have allowed her to simply ignore him?
“Where are my clothes?” Stelle demanded at last.
“Stelle-” Nicki started but Stelle interrupted.
“Never mind. I know, I…” Stelle swallowed heavily. Nicki placed a hand on her shoulder but Stelle shook it off. She sniffed, held her shoulders back and her head high, and said, “We can dress ourselves. We shall join you at breakfast momentarily.”
Nicki nodded and left without a word, though she threw Gwen a sympathetic smile. Gwen took comfort in that sympathy.
The atmosphere did not improve after Nicki left. Stelle responded to Gwen’s half-hearted attempts at conversation with monosyllables, so Gwen gave up and they dressed in silence. Breakfast was a similar affair. Only father dared attempt to engage Stelle despite her sullen mood.
After breakfast, Gwen went as usual to join the other young ladies of court. She only realized that Stelle had followed when Adelaide said, “Is this Estelle? I hardly recognized her in a lady’s gown.”
The girls tittered. Gwen joined in out of habit.
“How ever did you manage to bring her back into civilized society?” Severine added in an exaggerated whisper that did nothing to keep Stelle from hearing. Stelle’s face flushed. The ladies laughed. Gwen laughed, too.
“What wit,” huffed Stelle, crossing her arms over her chest. “The Seleukoi would be better company than you imbeciles. Do you have horse dung for brains?”
The ladies gasped. Gwen choked down a laugh. But there was no sense in letting Stelle make this harder on herself for the sake of a few moments’ satisfaction. Gwen grabbed her twin’s arm and pulled Stelle away. She heard the ladies making comments and giggling at their backs.
“You cannot speak to them like that,” Gwen hissed when they were away in a hallway. “Do you want to let them ridicule you for years to come?
“Let them?” Stelle retorted. “Their insults are my fault, now?”
“You must act like someone who understands our positions.”
“Positions? As marriageable pawns, you mean? Marvelous. Watch me swoon!”
Stelle lashed out with a leg. Gwen took a step back and raised her arms and a leg in a block, but Stelle was not aiming for her. Two legs of the wooden side table cracked under her kick. The table tilted and crashed to the ground where it lay looking as miserable as Gwen felt.
“I cannot believe you,” said Gwen, proud of the evenness of her voice. “Always with the violence. I shall be in the library. Stay away from me.”
“And what am I supposed to do in the meantime? Roam the hallways like a ghost?”
“Or try acting normal for once!”
Gwen stormed off without letting Stelle get another word in edgewise. She did not often win these fights. It felt glorious.
Stelle was sullen and silent for the rest of the day, even at their birthday dinner banquet. At the party after the banquet, Stelle slinked off to sulk in a corner. Gwen at last excused herself from the flock of young noble ladies to join her.
“Finally tired of the superficiality?” Stelle drawled.
“Always,” Gwen admitted quietly, though not before glancing around to make sure that no one else would hear. “But the girls are nice enough, if you give them a chance.”
Stelle threw her head back. It hit the wall with a painful-sounding thump. She did not wince.
“And what would I get out of it, if they tire even you?” Stelle asked at last.
“I…” Gwen blinked at her. “Life would be more tolerable, if you made them like you.”
“For you, perhaps. I prefer ridicule and solitude, myself.”
“We could make fun of them,” Gwen whispered with a grin. Stelle tried to hide it, but Gwen could already see her answering grin. “We could spend our evenings mocking them and laughing, just being us. You could tell me why all the things they said were nonsensical, and I could tell you what they said behind your back.”
Stelle lost her fight with the grin.
“We could learn their secrets and frighten them. They would never know it was us.”
“Yes,” laughed Gwen. Her enthusiasm made her louder. Again she looked around to be sure that no one was listening. “See? We can make it better than tolerable. It would be fun.”
But Stelle’s grin was already fading. “You do it. I cannot live a lie just for a few laughs.”
“But I cannot do it without you,” Gwen protested. “If I try on my own, everyone would only be angry. There would be nothing to laugh at.”
Stelle smiled softly, then shook her head. Something in her expression made Gwen afraid. “Go back to them, Gwen. I am not the court jester.”
A red-hot pain shot through Gwen. “I meant-”
Stelle closed her eyes and shook her head. “Please, go. I need to be alone.”
She slept in her own bed that night. When she woke alone and cold, she padded across the hallway to Stelle’s room and cracked open the door.
The bed was untouched. Atop the covers lay Stelle’s most carefully guarded journal. It was open. Gwen glanced around the room for any sign of a trap, but there was none. She walked up to the bed and nothing happened. She picked up the journal and braced herself. Still nothing happened. She turned her eyes down and read.
It was angry, it was scathing and it was final.
Gwen ran down the tower’s staircase barefooted in her nightdress, through the hallways and past the staring eyes of countless guards and nobles to Nicki’s chambers. She showed Nicki the journal and then sank to the floor as her sister whipped into action.
It was no use. Stelle was gone. Later, Gwen sat in silence in their father’s study as he and Nicki dispatched search parties. They concocted a plan so that her disappearance would not be noticed and she could return to court life when they found her. Gwen hardly heard them. The journal entry echoed through her skull in Stelle’s voice, over and over again.
For the first time in all of time and space, Gwen felt alone.
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