Thursday, May 22, 2014

Interview: Ronlyn Domingue (The Chronicle of Secret Riven)

Ronlyn Domingue official author photo (2)

We have an interview from Ronlyn Domingue author of The Chronicle of Secret Riven which was just released a few days ago on May 20th. It’s the sequel to The Mapmaker’s War and part of a planned trilogy. It’s also a stand alone fantasy that has fairy tale elements.

Let’s welcome Ronlyn!

You create an entire fully-realized world in this trilogy. Where did the kernel of the idea come from?

For a class assignment when I was in college, I wrote a fairy tale about a girl who lived in a kingdom where women were forbidden to read. The story stayed with me, and it seemed like something I could craft into a novel. On and off for a few years, I dabbled with it, even though I was clueless about what I was doing. Eventually, I shoved the manuscript and notes in a closet.

And then about a decade later, I discovered the electronic manuscript on an old computer, which prompted me to seek out the stored hard copies. I had no intention of returning to the project, but I still read over everything in a couple of days. Turns out, there was something underneath the bad writing and clichéd characters.

What readers see now is vastly different from the original story. It expanded to include a world that resembles the Dark Ages (The Mapmaker’s War) and what it turned into 1,000 years later, which feels somewhat medieval and Victorian at the same time.

The Chronicle of Secret Riven - Ronlyn Domingue

The Chronicle of Secret Riven is the trilogy’s second book, but a reader can start with this story and go back to the first novel. How did that happen?

I thought the project would turn into one sprawling epic novel. In the beginning, there was a subplot about a woman who found a community on the kingdom’s fringes where the people lived unlike everyone else. This I expected to be a small part of the big story. But in the end, Aoife—that’s the narrator—wanted her own book, and that’s what she got. The Chronicle of Secret Riven takes place after Aoife’s death and has an entirely new group of characters. A reader can start with Chronicle and not get lost at all, then work back to Mapmaker’s. Or not. You can wait for Book 3. The trilogy is being written so it can be read out of order. Book 3 is what brings everything together.

The Mapmaker’s War is a brief 223 pages, is structured like a classic epic, and reads much like a legend. The Chronicle of Secret Riven is nearly 200 pages longer, dabbles with the form of an historical chronicle, and reads in a way like a fairy tale. And then, there’s an appendix in Chronicle with a cycle of myths. What influenced the style, even the content, of these books?

When I started on the project, I was drawn to fairy tales, folklore, and myths as well as scholarly analyses of these works. I can’t explain it other than I work intuitively. Whatever I feel I need to read or research, I do. The book—or books—lead me in a direction that doesn’t always make sense at first. Eventually, and this took years to see, I realized those old forms and motifs were finding a way to speak to us now. Use the word “dragon” and that evokes all sorts of associations. Mention an old woman who lives in the woods, and that conjures up everything from Baba Yaga to the witch in Hansel and Gretel and more.

I think the prevalence of fairy tale retellings in books and film means something. The old stories aren’t working for us anymore. We’re looking for what’s beneath them. What have we missed? Who hasn’t had a chance to speak through them? In some way, my trilogy is part of this shift.

You’ve written several essays about nature, most of them available on The Nervous Breakdown. In Chronicle, Secret is deeply connected to nature as well, so much that she can speak to plants, animals, and insects. Did your interest in the natural world influence the writing of this book or vice versa?

My love of Nature made it possible to understand Secret better. She’s a tough character, very guarded, and writing her was a struggle. But in those moments when she was discovering and connecting with the natural world around her, it was all right. This is a child who doesn’t fit in with the day-to-day world—she doesn’t speak until she’s seven, she looks different from the people in her town, her mother is, well, unusual—and when she’s alone among trees, water, birds, flowers…she’s whole.

Secret does manage to make some friends, including Nikolas the prince and Old Woman, who is a mentor to her. But one of the most fascinating people in her life is Fewmany. He’s a powerful magnate who owns this giant conglomerate. He collects art, dresses in the latest fashions, and hunts wild game. Bren, her father, is one of his right-hand men, but for whatever reason, Fewmany is very interested in Secret. Why is that?

There are hints but no full explanations in this book. That comes later. What I find compelling is they intuitively know something about each other from the start. From the moment they meet when she’s only six, Secret has an intense reaction to him, and he seems to take notice of her, not unduly inappropriate but more than one might usually pay attention to a young child. Then as she gets older, clearly, Fewmany thinks there is something special about her. Important. Well, important to him. Even though he repels her, she’s curious about him. Some of the choices Secret makes later is grounded in that curiosity.

What can you share about Book 3?

The Plague of Silences, which is mentioned several times in Chronicle, actually happens. Fewmany gets a lot more page time. Secret proves herself stronger than even she thinks she is. She discovers the significance of the arcane manuscript her dead mother left behind. After what happens in this last book, the world is never the same again.

About the author:  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, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Weeklings.

Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and

About THE CHRONICLE OF SECRET RIVEN:  An uncanny child born to brilliant parents, befriended by a prince, mentored by a wise woman, pursued by a powerful man, Secret Riven has no idea what destiny will demand of her or the courage she must have to confront it in the breathtakingly epic, genre-spanning sequel to The Mapmaker’s War.

One thousand years after a great conflict known as The Mapmaker’s War, a daughter is born to an ambitious historian and a gifted translator. Secret Riven doesn’t speak until her seventh year but can mysteriously communicate with plants and animals. Unsettled by visions and dreams since childhood, she tries to hide her strangeness, especially from her mercurial father and cold mother. When her knowledge of an esoteric symbol brings unwelcome attention, gentle, watchful Secret finds acceptance from Prince Nikolas, her best friend, and Old Woman, who lives in the distant woods.

When Secret is twelve, her mother, Zavet, receives an arcane manuscript to translate from an anonymous owner. Zavet begins to suffer nightmares and withdraws into herself. Secret sickens with a fever and awakens able to speak an ancient language, discovering that her mother is fluent as well. Suddenly, Zavet dies. The manuscript is missing, but a cipher has been left for Secret to find. Soon, Secret will have a choice to make: confront a destiny tied to an ancient past or deny it, never to know its whole truth.

A spellbinding story, rich with vivid characters and set in a fascinating world, The Chronicle of Secret Riven explores the tension between love and hate, trust and betrayal, fate and free will.

Atria Books | May 20, 2014 | 416 pages

We have an excerpt and a giveaway for the book coming soon! So stay tuned.

photo credit Susan Shacter

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