The Venatrix Chronicles was four years in the making. I first began developing the world and concept of venators and venatrices back in 2015. The character of Ayleth came into being soon after, and I spent the next several years trying to figure out what her story was actually meant to be.
Now that the final book of this epic adventure is on the horizon, I’ve been thinking back on all the different twists and turns and rabbit trails I pursued while writing these stories. And I thought some of you might find these entertaining!
So, without further ado, here are the Venatrix Chronicles Top Ten What-Could-Have-Beens:
1. Did you know The Venatrix Chronicles started out as a series of fairy tale retellings? That’s right! And you can still see vestiges of that old idea. Red Riding Hood, for instance: red hoods, wolves, and grandmothers (with Dread Odile making a particularly scary incarnation of Red’s dear old Granny).
Ultimately I decided the concept of possession and shade magic was just too dark for fairy tale retellings. Plus I was having so much fun developing a complex magic system, also not suited to the fairy tale genre . . . so I launched into epic fantasy instead.
2. Originally (back when they were still fairy tale retellings) The Venatrix Chronicles were planned as 12 stand-alone adventures connected by a single character. Ayleth, as my titular venatrix, was going to travel around the five Gaulian Kingdoms solving “magical mysteries,” as it were. I wrote two and a half of these fairy tale mysteries, and actually still kind of love that idea . . . .
But the more I looked at what was hot in the market, I just didn’t feel that stand-alones were what readers were looking for. Thus Ayleth’s story became one big carry-over story arc, but with a few “solve the mystery” episodes along the way. (Book 2, is most like the original concept out of all of the series.)
3. Oh, and Ayleth used to be 29! Yup, she started out the same age I was when I first began planning the series, and I really enjoyed writing about a more mature heroine.
But then . . . you guessed it. I started looking at what was hot in the market and what genre I thought my skills best suited for. And I realized that I was really meant to be a YA novelist. So I shaved 10 years off of Ayleth’s age.
4. Would you believe me if I told you that Gerard was originally planned as Ayleth’s love interest? Iterations of Gerard and Terryn both featured in the original 12-book episodic series, and both vied for her love. Gerard wasn’t a prince back then though . . . he was an earnest young priest. And Terryn was a smart-mouthed hot-head with an elemental fire shade. Ayleth and Terryn were supposed to have grown up together in the same castra, and had an on-again-off-again relationship, but she was ultimately destined to fall for Gerard.
By the time the series as we know it came around, both Gerard and Terryn had received dramatic overhauls, with Gerard becoming the earnest prince (still devout, however. More devout than either Ayleth or Terryn!) and Terryn becoming the scarred and taciturn venator we all know and love. Oh, and now they’re half-brothers too. Surprise! (In the original version, I don’t think they ever even met.)
I still intended to have Gerard and Ayleth be endgame, though. Terryn and Ayleth were supposed to have a contentious relationship that turned into a reluctant brother-sister dynamic. But . . . yeah. These two characters had minds of their own! The minute I started writing scenes between Ayleth and Terryn, it became obvious they were MEANT FOR EACH OTHER.
You can still see a nod to my original plan for a Gerard/Ayleth pairing in their first meeting scene. I gave them a classic “meet cute” like you’d expect for a romantic pairing, and I let Ayleth have a wee bit of a crush on Gerard. That crush swiftly morphed into something more like hero-worship and devotion, however, leaving all of the romantic feelings for Terryn. Ah, the love triangle that never happened!
5. Speaking of love stories . . . Cerine was going to be Terryn’s love interest. (I know, right???) I was going to play with the bastard half-brother suffers star-crossed love for his princely brother’s betrothed. It was all going to be so romantic . . . except my characters refused to play along.
6. Waaaaay back in the original 12 book series plan, Fayline was not Gerard’s long-lost love interest. She was his long-lost sister. She was still shade-taken, just as we know her now, but when Gerard wasn’t busy being distracted by his love for Ayleth, he was searching for his missing little sister. The Cerine/Fayline/Gerard sort-of love triangle didn’t develop until much later.
7. Want even more of a brain-twister? Originally, Fendrel was supposed to be Ayleth’s mentor/teacher. He was still quite a fascinating, twisted individual, utterly devoted to Saint Evander . . . not unlike the character as he is now. But instead of Terryn, he had Ayleth in his thrall, and she spent quite a lot of her story learning to break free of his clutches. Hollis didn’t exist at all.
8. It wasn’t until I realized I needed to create a series-long story arc and get rid of the episodic format that I created the character of Dread Odile. That’s right, she is a relative new-comer to this saga! But my original plan was to not have her show up until the VERY end of the VERY last book. As the series developed, however, I realized that would be a waste of a seriously cool villain. So I expedited her resurrection and let her have a complex back story of her own.
9. Oh, and you know how Ayleth’s secret-surprise in this series if that she’s an inborn and therefore has a unique bond with her inborn shade?
Well, originally, the secret-surprise was that she was DOUBLY POSSESSED. She had two shades indwelling her . . . Laranta, who was the dark angel, driven by bloodlust and always pushing Ayleth toward evil . . . and another (whose name I no longer remember), who was more of an angel type. It was all VERY complicated. And kind of exhausting. And eventually I went, “What the Haunts am I
So the second shade was nixed, and Laranta came into her own . . . still bloodthirsty, but no longer evil.
10. Okay, here’s one even I have trouble believing. Originally, the shades were called .
Hear me out!
They were still disembodied, possessing spirits . . . but they had a complicated back story in which they once were physical beings, like the winged fairies we know and love, but had left behind physical form as they continued to evolve and ascend to higher forms of consciousness . . . only to realize they missed physical life, thus driving them to possess the lesser humans they once despised.
As my world and magic continued to develop, I kept some of those concepts—once-physical beings, highly ascendant but ultimately fallen—and I hope to someday write a series that allows me to explore in more depth the long-lost history of the shades.
But . . . they are not. That word has too many specific connotations, and I simply couldn’t get early readers comfortable with this concept. I toyed around with calling them “demons,” before ultimately settling on “shades.”
All right, those are my Top Ten What Could Have Beens for The Venatrix Chronicles. There were lots of others! Like, how the series went from 12 to 8 to 3 to 6 and ultimately landed on 7 books long. (I’m exhausted just thinking about that!) Or how book 2, Visions of Fate, started out life as a Hansel and Gretel retelling (Nilly used to have a brother and a wicked stepmother). But I could go on forever if I don’t stop myself . . . .