As I wrote Dark Triumph, I wanted to be sure and populate the book with some of the colorful characters from the Middle Ages that I had come across in my research, and yet it had to feel organic to the story and not wedged in there.

As Sybella and the wounded knight were racing through the countryside, trying to escape pursuit, I had to do some serious thinking as to who they would actually run in to, and of those people, who would help, who would hinder, and who would turn them in in a heartbeat for a reward. Since they would need to slip into the forest to evade capture, I decided to draw from those who lived in the forests or obtained their livelihood from the woods, and settled upon a group of charcoal burners.

Oddly, it is often the outcasts in society who are most accepting of other outcasts. Their very disenfranchisement sometimes makes them more willing to challenge the status quo or thumb their nose at rigid authority. While charcoal burners were not (probably) true outcasts, they did keep to themselves somewhat, confined by their livelihood to dwelling in forests and tending their charcoal fires rather than living in cities or villages.

In the middle ages, one of the most efficient fuels at the time was charcoal. Coal itself was rare and difficult to mine with their technology, but charcoal could be made through the slow burning of wood, then stopping the process before the wood was fully burned to ash. Charcoal burning was a tricky thing, requiring fairly esoteric knowledge of how to build the fire pits just so, how to pile the wood so it wouldn’t burn too quickly, and how to read the smoke to discern when the charcoal was ready. There were a number of occupational hazards, primarily involving collapsed fire pits and burns. It was also an occupation full of hazard, for a stray spark or ember could start a conflagration in minutes.

As I continued to research charcoal burners, I came across a curious mention of the Carbonnari, a branch of Italian charcoal burners. They started off as a guild, as many medieval trades did, and developed into an organization or brotherhood similar to Freemansons, only with their charcoal burning trade being at the center of their rituals and organizations. While their organization and political involvement was most evident in 19th century Italy, it is believed the groups’ origins began in the middle ages. When I learned they had a French counterpart called the Charbonnerie, I knew I’d found my outcasts.

As a writer, a dozen questions immediately went off in my mind. Who were they? What would compel them to become political and engage themselves in the affairs of the kingdom? How would they make those decisions? And, most importantly in a world populated with patron saints, whom would they worship?

Any deviation from normal church doctrine in the middle ages was rigorously opposed, so it made sense to me that they would worship someone not approved by the church, one of the older gods who’d not make the transition to patron saint.

Dovetailing nicely with this was my personal fascination with the concept of the Black Madonna. There are various theories for the origin of the Black Madonna, whether it was simply the color of Jesus and Mary’s skin before Renaissance artists reimagined them as fair skinned and blonde, or an origin that spoke to possible African roots. There is some speculation that the huge popularity of the cult of the Virgin Mary in the middle ages was a redirecting of earlier earth/mother goddess worship.

But interestingly, over the years I’d also run into mentions of the Black Artemis, rumored to have been worshipped by the Amazons, or Black Demeter, the aspect of the earth goddess when she was in deep mourning for her daughter Persephone. I took all those threads and swirled them around until I had the Dark Matrona, the unsanctioned aspect of Dea Matrona, the former earth goddess now patron saint. I decided that her darkness would be of a more spiritual nature, not unlike the Egyptian god Osiris, for in the Egyptian pantheon, black was not only the color of the underworld, but regeneration as the rich dark silt from the Nile river allowed them to grow their crops each year, and so black was also the color of regeneration, which dovetailed nicely with the book’s themes of finding hope in the darkness.

~ Originally used as part of the Dark Triumph blog tour at

Finding Our Writerly DNA

Friday, June 14

fairy DNA by kyz

I’m blogging over on Writer Unboxed today and talking about the benefits of identifying our writerly DNA.


When I deeply love a book as an adult it’s usually because it has managed to rock my world in such a way that I know  it has permanently changed how I look at and approach the craft of writing itself.

It occurred to me that these books become a part of my writerly DNA just as surely as the books of my youth became a part of my emotional DNA. Much like the books of my childhood, these stories open me up to the world of possibilities—not just in stories, but in craft. They show me what amazing things can be done within the scope of story. They give me a moment of true astonishment where I often think, “Oh, we’re allowed to do that?” and my writing world tilts on its axis.

 You can check out the full post HERE:

Mea Culpa! And Eye Candy!

Thursday, May 24

I have been absolutely slammed by this Dark Triumph deadline. It seems like the more I write, the farther away the end gets. Not sure how that’s even possible, as I believe it is in contradiction to a number of laws of physics . . .

I have so much more stuff I want to post here, about the books, about the mythology, and just gabbing in general. But I believe my absolutely FIRST priority is writing the best book that I can, even if that means writing ::gulp:: eight drafts of a four hundred page book in twelve months. (I could do the math and discover just how many pages that is, but I’m afraid my brain will short circuit.)

It also means I will continue to get by on nothing more than a lick and a promise here until I turn the book in next week.

However! I did find some eye candy in one of my inspirational folders that I thought you might enjoy. I collect pictures and images for all the books that I work on, and I stumbled across these, that were just perfect for the Grave Mercy inspirational folder. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!



(As much as I adore that picutre, I’m pretty sure Duval would never wear breeches that tight!)

Also, for those of you who won prizes, I have yet to get them all shipped out to you! Next week, I promise hope!

Grave Mercy Collage

Saturday, December 31

I become obsessed with my projects and I need to absorb them through all of my senses. Since I am very visual, I often create a collage of images that helps put me in the world of the story. Here is the collage I made for GRAVE MERCY. It has sat perched above my workstation for the last three years. :-)


Yes, it’s fairly ironic that there are so many old men in there when it is a YA, but what can I say? Most of the men of political power in Medieval France were old. Or at the very least well-seasoned. Some of the images are thematic, the masks for example, and obviously many of the images evoke the decadence of a royal court rather than feature the correct historical costume, but it works to get me in the story when I need a jump start, a touchstone, if you will.