I can remember it clear as day–thirteen, hanging upside down off my friend’s bed while they succumbed to a bean bag, another friend sitting cross-legged on the bed, all three of us talking about the books we were going to write, the interviews we would do with each other, the future of fame and household names we would become, when one of them suddenly said, “Dragon cycles.”
There was a moment of silence. Even then, I like to think that moment was the other half of us allowing even the mere thought of dragon cycles to die a quiet, dignified death.
And then, as if we hadn’t heard the absurd idea the first time, they repeated, “Dragon cycles. Mary–motorcycle dragon riders. You have to do it.” And while Rónán’s story was bad, it wasn’t that bad, and I looked over at my friend like they’d grown not just an extra head, but extra everything, a demented, terrifying version of a hydra that even we didn’t want to look up.
“Don’t say that again,” the other half of us said at the same time, and it was settled. No dragon cycles.
It started how most of them do. After a couple years of fanfiction, I stumbled across my first original character, and, over the course of my high school years, I would write over forty chapters of his life. After a twelve-year break, I would come back to it, rewrite the whole thing, actually find pride in it, and then keep it tucked closed to my heart. But that first OC was the beginning of something else. At thirteen, I’d devoured The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, the DragonLance Chronicles, and the Inheritance Cycle. I was in love with characters like Aragorn and Sirius Black. I wept over the relationship between Eragon and Saphira. I wanted nothing more than to create my own tragic story like Raistlin Majere’s. I wanted dragons, angst, and a world as vast and incredible as Middle-earth. And so, after I cracked open the first chapter away from fanfiction with Alex Hart, I set to work on what, after over a decade, would become known as Chronicles of Kings.
When Rónán’s story first started, his name was Rayne. He had a long lost brother that he didn’t know existed, one who lived on Earth. I truly can’t remember Oisín’s original name, and I’m not going to go looking for it, but when I first met Oisín, he was a victim of bullying, in love with his foster brother’s girlfriend, and thought he was destined to live a lonely, boring life. He stumbled through high school, lashed out at his friends, and didn’t feel loved by his family. And then, without any warning, much like finding a dragon egg in the forest, Oisín’s entire life changed.
A strange man appeared in his room one day, spinning a tale of portals to different worlds, a destiny bound with a dragon, and the possibility of more. And, like every good YA fantasy MC, Oisín jumped at the chance. He stepped through a portal that was drenched in rainbows, crossed into a world that began & ended as Irizedd, and found a whole wealth of unexpected troubles. There, an angry young boy named Rayne wanted nothing to do with him, even if their fates were bound together by blood, and Rayne’s best friend, also a name I can’t remember in its original form, desperately trying to act as a mediator between them. I can remember that beginning, too, the way that Liam tried to thread together these two unlikely boys, the way he was always destined to be the steady foundation that everything else balanced on.
None of them were yet who they would become, but they were, in truth, the beginning of every word I would write over the course of my life.
The Legendary Baibonu (I just vomited a little in my mouth) was written in its entirety in a few months, scribbled across the backs of class worksheets and tucked into the margins of notebooks. I wrote it entirely by hand because laptops weren’t really a thing, and most of my inspiration was coming during the school day anyway. I wrote long notes to my friends, passing them in the halls, full of possible ideas, character sketches, and, sometimes, whole chapters. The story came together in piecemeal–a chapter here, a scene there, a death unexpected, a new plot unfolding. What was meant to be a single novel became three pretty quickly, and I wrote my first ever cliffhanger ending. I polished it off at–
unholy satan save me
WELL, I just opened this old Excel spreadsheet where I used to keep my word count, which I titled count word in a very predictable teenage way, and apparently Oisín’s original name was Scott, and Liam didn’t even get a POV because I am the worst. Shockingly, however, the word count is longer than I was expecting, coming in around 80k. Given that this was meant to be a high fantasy sprawling across several books, that’s nowhere near enough, but it’s not terrible.
The second that first book was finished, I turned right around and started the second one. From what I can see, I never even started the third one, which makes sense. After a title overhaul, the first book was changed to The Ascension, and the second book, The Gathering, sticks out like a sore thumb in my brain because it would be the one that eventually convinced me that this story was never going to happen.
Somewhere around sophomore or junior year, I nervously asked my creative writing teacher if he would read the first book and provide me with feedback. Someday, when I do have a book published, I’m going to give him a shoutout in the acknowledgements just for weathering through that wretched thing. He was so kind, too, and he gave me the most pleasant of constructive criticism. Instead of telling me it was utter trash, he pointed out places that could use some work, asked questions about plot lines that didn’t make sense, said that I should take some time to revisit certain character arcs. And though I told him that I wasn’t going to change anything big because I liked it the way I was, his criticism bolstered me, showed me that I had potential, and carried me forward.
I wrote feverishly all throughout high school and college. Whenever Rónán’s story gave me trouble, I turned toward fanfiction. I was never not writing in those eight years. It was an endless race toward something that I couldn’t possibly finish because I’ll always be writing, and, even now, almost twenty years since I started writing, I’m still racing through this weird unending journey I’ve set myself on. Rónán was the first, but he’s far from the last, and I’ll keep writing right up until Death reaches out a loving hand, and then I’ll just ask if I can take pen and paper into my next life.
It wasn’t until college when the story really started to take shape, though. Really, it wasn’t until I left behind the toxic halls of my high school, parted ways with most of my friends there, and set foot into the world that was UMF’s creative writing major. At a competitive sixteen acceptances each year, I was part of a small group, and the university carved out a specific floor for us in one of the dorm halls. Many of us ended up living there for all four years of our stay, and the classes that we took together quickly became a haven for me. And, even better, my roommate loved fantasy as much as I did, and she was ready and willing to read anything I handed off to her. Looking back, I can see the transference of energy from dragon cycles to something bigger, something with more possibility, and though I’ve let Rónán’s story go, I remember those years with absolute fondness, for it was almost like a second beginning.
Rayne, finally, got an overhaul and became my beloved Rónán, future king, son of a goddess, and dragon rider. He wielded a great sword, commanded armies, and, when Scott became Oisín and my dumbass brain finally assigned importance to Liam, everything else fell into place, too. Oisín and Liam were now brothers, Rónán was the one they would follow to the ends of the earth, and what was once well over twenty dragons with individual voices became around five. The world started to piece itself together as I fleshed out its history, the language started to make more sense as I dove headlong into French classes, and the story, finally, got scrapped and rewritten.
Throughout college, I worked on Rónán’s story like it was a fever burning eternally through me. If I wasn’t working on it, it was because I’d just finished a version of it and wanted to dive into some fanfiction for a while. I wrote and rewrote the first two novels of Rónán’s story three separate times from scratch. Literally scrapped the entire thing and started over. I revised each of those rewrites several times, too, to the point where it felt like I’ve written ten novels squished into those two. I wrote with Eragon in my heart and Aragorn in my fingers and Raistlin lurking around in my brain.
Over the years, Rónán was a lot of different things–exiled, faery, half-god, son, brother, ancient–but, at his heart, he’s always been the same thing to me–a king. When I decided, in the autumn of 2016, to finally set his story aside, it was with no small amount of sorrow. I’d been with Rónán for twelve years, and the idea of never writing his story again felt like it would crack me in half. But, over the course of those twelve years, I’d written and rewritten and rewritten his story so many times that, when I sat down to write it again in 2016, I knew it would be the last attempt. I’d gotten to a place where it was no longer enjoyable, where I was no longer certain I wanted to live in that world. The story had changed so much since that first iteration of it, and while those changes were for the good, something at its core had begun to change, and I was starting to lose the love that I’d always carried for it. To keep trying, I knew, would create something bitter instead.
I got barely six chapters into that last version before I finally sat back, looked across the table at my friend, who had been there from the very beginning, sitting in silence with me as the other half of us said dragon cycles, and asked him what he thought. He shrugged, and I already knew the answer, but it was affirming to hear him say, “Maybe it’s time to move on.”
In truth, Rónán has had three beginnings. When he first came to me, I was lying upside down, all the blood rushing to my head, dragons in my heart. When he came to me again, reborn with the name that would brand itself across my bones, he was regal, and I was ready to take the world by storm. When he came to me then, crossing into my mid-twenties, uncertain about so much, on the precipice of a conversation that was going to change my entire world, and a lot of more waiting for me, he and I were both tired and ready to say goodbye. Even now, I find myself smiling as I think about it, because almost the second I said goodbye to Rónán–
Mason said, “I hate this.”
Oliver said, “I refuse to be friends with any of you.”
Landon said, “May Ioth save you.”
Andrew said, “O inferno está aqui.”
Henley and Theodore said, “World’s nicest assholes at your service.”
They came all in a rush, one after another. As Rónán finally settled into his throne, a crown on his head and a kingdom at his fingertips, Oisín ready to go to war for him and Liam tucked firmly into his heart, every single character that had been waiting in the wings, completely unbeknownst to me, suddenly unfolded from the shadows.
“Let’s set it all on fire,” Mason said.
“I’ll bring the rain and thunder,” Oliver said.
“The Saints stand with you,” Landon said.
“Well,” Henley said, hooking Theodore into her side, “We’ve got enough sarcasm between us to keep the rest of you sane.”
I can see him now, grin a little crooked, eyes all-knowing, confident and proud and ready to relinquish the hold across my heart. “Your army,” Rónán says, but, in truth, it’s the beginning of his.