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Author Monica Millard is here today to discuss how she finds her inspiration and what makes her “Go the Distance.”
Take it away, Monica
Going the Distance
I get asked a lot what inspired Children of the Gods, or any of the books that I’ve written. I almost always know what the spark was, that moment when an image or an idea struck me and I knew I had to write about it. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about what inspired/inspires me to keep writing though.
That’s what I’d like to share with you. What things inspire me to keep going for months, when the initial spark has passed.
I am what you’d call a “pantser.” I don’t sit and plot out the story in advance and then follow an outline. I let the story come to me as I go. In order to do that, I need down time where my mind is free to wander.
For me I use this time to think about why the things that are happening to my characters are happening, to ask question about the world, and to daydream about what comes to me in response to those thoughts and questions.
Many writers say they get their best inspiration when they are either in the car on a long drive, when they are exercising, or in the shower. I agree with them. The commute, the shower and especially the treadmill get me primed to write because those are the times when my mind is free from the demands of the day and I can focus on my story world.
For me, if I spend the morning commute thinking and daydreaming about the world in my latest project, I find it creeps into the rest of my day and I not only can stay motivated to write, I find it hard to want to do anything else.
I read a post once that said a huge part of a writers job was staring out the window. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s usually when a writer looks like they are doing nothing that they are doing the real work.
- Thank you, Monica
CHILDREN OF THE GODS
For as long as seventeen-year-old Reka Cushing can remember, she has watched her friends and her neighbors be stolen, their bodies used as hosts for the Halorans; an alien race that has come to earth posing as gods. For just as long, Reka has lived in fear of drawing the eye of a Haloran, keeping her head down, hoping not to be caught in their sights.
The only time she has ever been bold, tried to get what she wanted, a god, one more powerful, more dangerous than all others is watching.
Helena’s long skirt brushed the ground as she fell into line, stopping directly in front of me. She was the last of the girls. It was the boys’ turn now and I watched as they filed out, finding their place in line. My breath caught as Niko headed for his position in the front line. I sent up a silent offer of gratitude for Niko and a plea that he would be spared.
Niko was nearly nineteen and this was likely the last Choosing he would have to endure. This stirred mixed emotions in me. I was hopeful he would not be Chosen, but fearful he would not wait the year for me. Once he turned nineteen it would be a full year before I was no longer of Choosing age. A year was an eternity once you were free of the Choosing. Pairing was nearly immediate. The reasons that seemed so obvious, love or lust, to me were less likely than the reality. Like everything in our lives, it is fear that is the true driving factor.
I had offered congratulations at many pairing ceremonies only to watch a husband or wife’s misery months or years later as the one they truly wanted was free of the Choosing and available, but not to them. Pairing was a life-long commitment even if it brought the pair misery.
Everyone was afraid to wait, though. Fearing that they might draw the attention of one of the Haloran, who would be so tempted they might raise the age limit again.
It was not an irrational fear. When the Halorans first came, they only selected from those who were seventeen. Now the choice fell on those who were sixteen and ended on our nineteenth birthday.
Niko and I were born on the same day, one year apart. There was never a question that we were meant to be together. It was understood but never spoken. That kind of talk was forbidden.
To even think it was foolish and could lead to destruction, because though we were The Children of the Gods and were supposed to live a life of luxury and indulgence, wanting for nothing. The thing we wanted most – freedom – we could never have.
It may seem from the outside that we, the Chosen ones, were really living a perfect life, but inside The City of the Gods was a life of fear. Even if you were not Chosen it was this fear that led to irrational and unwise pairings.
Every Unchosen remained in the City living out a life of fear. Fear of the ever changing rules. We never knew when something normal, something we took for granted would be taken away, like what music we could listen to, certain foods, or who we could associate with before we became an Unchosen. Though there was one delicate safety that prompted unwise pairings. No one who had been paired was ever Chosen.
Niko settled into his place in line across the courtyard from me. He glanced up, his dark eyes searching mine. “Reka.” My name was on his lips.
I felt heat flood my cheeks. I was not normally so irresponsible, but as I watched him the previous night, weaving through the tangle of bodies surrounding the fire, it was not fear of being Chosen that drove me. It was fear of not being chosen by him.
With his nineteenth birthday just over two months away, I had little time to secure a place in his heart that would sustain him when the fear of drawing unwanted attention set in. Once he became an Unchosen, the Haloran were free to interact with him on a personal level. He was, however, forbidden to see those of us still available for selection, except on Choosing days and only then, from a distance, as a spectator. At least until he was paired.
So the night before, I did what I swore I would never do.
I could tell he knew I was watching him making his rounds. It was safer in the forest. The Halorans would not venture there in the dark, not even with their guards but it still was not safe.
There were those who gained the favor of the Gods by snitching. Being favored meant never being Chosen, or saving a child from the Choosing.
There were secret ways to talk without speaking, skin language, it was called. I was not any good at it so I rarely tried, but watching Niko move, always remaining in my vision, his dark hair kissing his neck just above where his shoulders met it. I knew this would be my only chance.
He finally looked up and his gaze connected with mine. I felt it then, the tingle against my skin, his body feeling mine. I thought of all the things I wanted to say to him. He took a step forward and I dropped my head so I was looking at him through my hair. I smiled at him then, blinking to break the connection.
It was only a fraction of a second exchange, but it was enough to arouse suspicion. I turned and walked toward a woman passing out flowers. I reached for a white one, a lily. They were my favorite, so fragrant, so pure.
A hand reached for it at the same time and we touched. I looked up into Niko’s soft brown eyes. What I saw there was everything I wanted, desire, defiance, fear but most of all hope.
He took the lily between his fingers. “May I?” he asked with a shy smile.
“If you would be so kind.”
Tilting my head so that my ear was exposed, I held my breath. He brushed the hair away, softly laying a hand on my neck and slipped the flower behind my ear. My skin tingled under his touch. He stepped back.
I let out my breath finally. “What do you think?” I asked the woman.
“The gentleman did not do you justice with his reserve.”
I flushed and curtsied, nearly forgetting myself. “Thank you.” I turned to him. “Thank you.”
Finding myself lost again in his eyes, the woman cleared her throat. I flushed again, curtsied and stepped away, hoping he would follow. I was not disappointed.
Musicians always gathered in the forest. In the City music was strictly monitored. It promoted impure thoughts. That is what the Halorans told us.
As the flute was joined by low drumming, I felt something building in me. I turned to face Niko. He froze. In his eyes I thought I could see something building also. In that moment, I thought, this one time the Gods might be right.
There were those of us that lived in the City who had gained special gifts. Unnatural abilities we attributed to living so close to the Gods. Most were as simple as having exceptional culinary skills or always knowing which seeds would bring the most flavorful crops. Some could see the truth of things even when you, yourself could not. Rarer still were the gifts such as my own and my mother’s.
My mother’s gift was the ability to influence a person’s will through simple gestures and eye contact made while dancing, bending their will to her own. It was similar to skin language, only instead of sharing thoughts and desires, she was able to plant them. Planted ones were more powerful than a person’s own thoughts or desires. Mother believed it was the mix of music and her gift that allowed it. Music opened the mind to suggestion. I often wondered if the Gods agreed with her. My gift was the same, only stronger.
“Dance with me Niko.” I only mouthed the words, but that was not what I knew he would respond to. Looking him in the eyes, seeing what I had done, I almost wished I could take it back as his hips began to sway in time with mine, his will bending to my own.
“Reka?” he mouthed my name. There was uncertainty in his eyes.
He gingerly took my hand in his, leading me to an open space where others, those who were paired, already danced. Turning to face me, he rested his hands against the rise of my hips. His eyes were hesitant, his touch questioning.
I looked up through the golden-brown veil my hair created and smiled. His grip firmed, there were no longer questions in his touch, only answers.
A hush fell over the crowd, but that was not what jarred me back into the present. I felt it when the Halorans stepped from their glowing pedestal onto our soil. It was like the earth was warning me, sending a current of energy up through my feet. It had never happened before.
I wiped this and all other thoughts from my mind. I imagined dried corn, sterile fields, and barren deserts. Then I tried to become one; unwelcoming and inhospitable as I could be.
The Halorans had come to us hundreds of years before, when our City was just a village. They promised life free of hunger and poverty to a starving people. In exchange, the offering of a few healthy teens every twenty or thirty years, so a God might inhabit and co-exist inside their body, did not seem such a high price. Back then, they thought starvation was the worst thing anyone ever had to endure.
In the years before the first Choosing, under the protection and care of the Halorans, our meager village blossomed into a thriving city, their city. It became known to all as The City of the Gods, and anyone who lived within came to be known as The Children of the Gods.
After the first Choosing, the Halorans closed our borders. Generations later, we are captives of a choice we ourselves did not get to make.
I am not sure who I was more angry with, our elders for bartering their children’s and our lives so easily or the Halorans themselves.
Quickly, I forced my mind to return to the images of the desert and my skin being covered over by the hostile winds of my own private sand storm. No one would choose such an unfavorable host body. I hoped.
I looked at my bare toes as they approached. After a long moment, I could feel the tension of every held breath. Not even the wind seemed to be blowing. I looked up to see that the Halorans were stopped in front of my row, the Sari looking expectant. A smile teased the corners of his lips as he made eye contact. In anyone else, his actions might seem flirtatious. But he was not anyone else.
With his guards not standing next to him, I was struck by just how tall this Sari really was. His young features belied his extensive years. If I did not know better, I could believe he belonged in line next to Niko. The innocence associated with their perpetually youthful appearance may also have been what led to our ancestor’s easy trust of them.
When they began to move again, I did not let the breath I was holding free. I was not safe. In fact I was probably in more danger than before. The Halorans thrived on the dramatic. They also chose each of their mates new hosts. If the Sari was choosing, and it appeared he was, then it was no longer Niko I had to worry about.
My head began to swim. It would do me no good to faint. Fainting would not stop them if I was Chosen. It had happened before. The guard just collected the girl, tossed her over his shoulder and carried her to the pedestal.
My breath was like the wind, dancing in the hair of the girl before me as I exhaled. Oddly, her swirling golden hair sounded like wind chimes. It took me a moment to realize the chimes I was hearing were from the decision bell.
I knew before I looked up.
A single finger pointed in my direction. The guard stood by the girl in front of me. The Sari shook his head and the guard brushed her aside. The Sari’s white teeth gleamed in the sunlight as a smile spread across his horrid face.
“This one?” The guard gestured at me.
The Luna, his mate, looked almost sympathetic. It could not be. She must be too sick to smile. They felt no sympathy for the lives they stole. If anything, the Choosing was high entertainment for them.
Several guards came close, surrounding me. I bowed my head, showing my acceptance. The Sari turned and walked away. The guards all tensed. The Halorans no longer turned their backs on us after choosing. Not since a girl plunged a dagger in the back of her Sari.
We all knew they were not really gods as they claimed. In the beginning, everyone was eager to be Chosen. They were told, by allowing a god to inhabit their body, they would also become gods. After the first generation of Chosen came back to choose, the truth was obvious. But it was not until a generation ago, when a girl, Lennie, stabbed the Sari who chose her, that we knew they could die.
The guards took a step forward. I held my hands out to show I did not have any weapons. I was searched thoroughly before entering the courtyard, but if a person wanted it enough, they could find a way to bring a weapon in.
The guards relaxed, but not by much. I took a step forward, my eyes searched for Niko as I turned to make the walk. He caught my eye and raised his hand like he was reaching out for me. Mercifully, those around him restrained him.
It was an unfair thing I had done to him.
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