Behind the Scenes Don't Date the Haunted

Behind the Scenes of “Don’t Marry the Cursed,” Prologue(s)

Care to learn why this book took me four years to write? Read the alternate beginnings and deleted scenes!

“This. Book.” To quote the Acknowledgement page of “Don’t Marry the Cursed,” “I started to write ‘Haunted Fantasy’ Oct. 18, 2016. One year and ten days later, I had three-hundred-fifty pages of D&D/Tolkien fantasy. Oops.”

It took me four years to polish “Don’t Marry the Cursed” into what it is now. I’m not saying it’s perfect (because I’m a perfectionist and it’s a problem), but I can say I’m proud of it.

I created this to set on my desk as a reminder to breathe because it will never be “perfect.”

Now, if you haven’t read “Don’t Marry the Cursed” or its prerequisite “Don’t Date the Haunted,” please read them both before jumping into this post.

I’m not asking just to get you read my books, but as a fair warning: SPOILERS AHEAD.

Alright, I’m going to roll on, supposing you’ve read both books and were dying to know how they came to be, you’ve also read the Behind the Scenes posts for “Don’t Date the Haunted,” starting with the deleted prologue through Chapter 20.

When I first wrote “Haunted Fantasy” back in 2016-7, Margen (the Grimm’s/English folklore side of Fairy [tale], Fantasy, AKA: Theo’s homeland) didn’t exist. This is because I wasn’t planning to write a sequel until after I finished the first draft of the first book. When I began writing the sequel to “Don’t Date the Haunted,” all I had was a vague idea that Theo was nobility (a Count in the first few drafts) in a Fantasy land called Argall (a Cornish surname, meaning “shelter, quiet place”).

As I explored Argall a little more, I discovered Theo’s castle/home called Ruestatte within the city of Eimat, and the cities of Afen and Divinity.

Argall Duchy

Oh, and Duke Konrad was spelled as Conrad,
Godiva (Di) was named Jehanne,
Dunstan was named Emmanuel,
Oswald was named Orem, and
Duchess Abadda was Konrad’s dead stepmom, as Queen Abadda.

Abadda was always the big bad villain that overwhelmed the assumed big bad (Oswald). However, when she was dead the whole book until she was restored (Voldemort style) by Oswald at the end of the book, I needed to explain more about her from the beginning.

Thus, the prologue.

I wrote it as one of the last pieces to pull the whole story together, so (like most fairy tales) it began with “Once upon a time,” and was written with third-person omniscient, but focused around Prince Conrad. Before using “The Juniper Tree” as their backstory, Prince Conrad and his elder sister, Alóvera, fought against the wicked ruling of their stepmother, Abadda. Conrad fought in silence and secrets while Alóvera fought openly, becoming banished to Middle Novel, where she befriended dwarves (met Sir Sayer–AKA: future husband), and used their alliance to build an army.

He squirmed in their tight grasps, but he was surrounded on each side. The prince knew he could escape if he transformed into a horse, but he was strategic and thought to analyze his captors further.
Another dwarf who was younger than the others came forward.  He stared the prince in the eyes and didn’t speak for a full minute.  Finally, he rumbled with a deep voice, “Where do your allegiances lie?”
The prince, being brave and honest, said, “To Fairy.”
The dwarf hardened his eyes, suspicious of the prince’s vague response.
“Queen Abadda rules Fairy,” the dwarf said.  “Who rules your heart?”
Prince Conrad’s determination didn’t waver.  “I do,” he said. “I am Crown Prince of this land and will lead it as my heart dictates.”
The men in the room grimaced and the dwarves scoffed.
“Queen Abadda will not let you rule.  She will live and rule forever.”
Carefully gaging the expressions of his captors, the prince spat, “Long live Queen Abadda.”  He read the allegiances of the overall group and continued, “To live long doesn’t mean to live forever.  One day, she will die, and I will take the throne and right the wrongs of this land.”

. . . . .

“You said the queen will one day die,” [Alóvera] said, “and you will right the wrongs of this land.  I sought you today to tell you that day is soon. These men,” she gestured around the room, “will follow my lead to vanquish Evil Queen Abadda.  There will be two sides in this battle: that for the queen, and that for me. I don’t want to discourage you from following the rule of your own heart, but I must ask;  who will you follow in this battle?”
At first, this frustrated the prince.  All these years, he stayed and suffered under the queen’s rule, gaining her trust, earning her pride.  All these years he obeyed her evil commands and plotted in secret.
Then he remembered the moment when she exiled Alóvera. He remembered his anger against the queen, but mostly the fear that kept him back.  Then during all those years of planning he kept quiet. Even as he considered battling his stepmother, fear gripped him.
Then he realized he didn’t need to be face to face against his step-mother.  He could let his sister shoulder that weight, even if it meant he lost the greater reward.  She was the elder sister and the right was hers after all, especially if she fought for it.
Prince Conrad made his decision and knelt before his sister, “I will not merely follow you, Princess Alóvera.  I will be your steed to carry you forward.”
Prince Conrad transformed into…an Andalusian Destrier. The dwarves and men around him jumped back as he reared on his hind legs and released a battle cry whinny.

-Very terrible Fairy Tale-style prologue

When Abadda became Theo’s living stepmother instead, my next issue was to explain why Theo spent the last six years in Romance. At this time, he was the eldest son and heir to the duchy, so I needed a reason for him to be away from his inheritance.

I went so far as to consider giving Theo a curse that turned him into a beast when he stepped on Fantasy soil.
Enter the scene with Queen Alóvera discovering Theo’s new monster-state:

“How did this happen?” she asked.  There was a hint of anger in her hushed whisper.
“The Duchess,” I croaked, “brought me here, granted a wish by my eighteenth birthday.  She encouraged me to wish for strength.  Not in so few words.  She implied and encouraged me to be strong like Greggory and Dunstan.  I am their elder brother, and heir to the duchy.  Should I not be strong and capable as they?  Do you think she knew this would happen?”

Second terrible prologue

She then encouraged him to leave Fantasy, because (unlike abilities) magic/curses aren’t as strong outside of Fantasy.
That led to the first chapter of Theo’s proposal happening at the Fantasy embassy and going like this:

“Would you love me if I was a haunting?” he asked.
“I would, but I’d have to kill you.  Condemnation, I can hardly imagine doing such a thing.”
“What if I just looked like a Haunting?”
“Like a mirage or illusion?” I asked.
“Yes, like a curse or spell that changed my physical features, though my mind and heart remained the same.”
I shrugged, “Then I’d need to know more about the curse, but killing the witch who cursed you, not you, would be my gut response.”
“Would you still love me?”
His insistence that I answered the question worried me.  Where was this conversation headed?  “Yes,” I said.  “You’re a good man, Theo.  I’d love you even if you looked like a haunting.”
He released a heavy breath then stepped back.
“I would love you too my flower.  I’m afraid though.  Can I trust you with my terrible secret?”
Panic gripped me as I wondered what secret Theo kept from me.
“Pansy…I have a curse.”
“You don’t look cursed.”
“I have my godmother, the queen, to thank for that.  My curse is only in effect whilst I stand on Fantasy soil.”
My mind raced at his words and their implications.  “That’s why you never visit Fantasy?  Even during school breaks?”
He nodded.  “Truth Locke reviewed my curse and said the cure required either True Love’s kiss or a ritual with a pure maiden in Eimade.  I came here after our first kiss to confirm.  The curse still afflicts me, so it must be the latter.”
“A ritual?  Like with a sacrifice?”
“No,” he chuckled nervously.  “A wedding.”
He took my hand in his and went down to one knee.
. . . . .
But he said it didn’t change his heart or mind, only his physical appearance.  “I’ve already decided,” I said, “but…will you let me see you?”
Theo took a sharp intake of breath, then steeled himself as he stood.  With two large steps, his feet landed onto fantasy soil.
He shuddered, like he had a chill, but continued to shiver as his skin rippled.  As much as he tried to restrain his cries, strangled moans still escaped his lips.  Spikes grew from his skin like needles around his blue-green eyes.  They branched with dark brown feathers.  The skin around his nose and mouth pulled back to reveal a transforming jawbone.  It smoothened then lengthened to a sharp point.  His entire head reshaped into that of a brown-tinted raven.
The rest of his body didn’t follow.  His arms bulked with muscles and grew longer than a normal human’s.  The skin turned to a dark gray before it became covered with thick fur.  His back hunched over so he went down on all fours, but his extra long gorilla arms held him up.  His legs also transformed in a completely different manner.  His knees bent backwards and his ankles lifted until they stood high off the ground.  Toes became solid hooves and a long tail of hair sprouted from his rear.
It was the most bizarre combination of beasts I’d ever seen.
“You already decided?” Theo’s voice squawked from the chimaera of a creature.
Every bit of Horror in my body said to run.  It said to run away and hope this vision didn’t haunt me every night for the rest of my dreams.
I forced myself to stand still.  Then the small parts of me that were influenced by Romance leaked through.  The raven had Theo’s blue-green eyes.  They also cried.
My desire to comfort the owner of Theo’s eyes overwhelmed my Horror instincts and fears.  I stepped toward the creature, but stayed far enough away that I could dodge an attack.  He didn’t move other than to shudder with sobs.
“Yes, it is I,” the creature said, refusing to meet my gaze.  I stepped in again, within its range.  The back of my mind worried about that giant beak that could easily snap my head off, and those massive arms that could squeeze or pulverize me in an instant.  With shaking fingers, I reached up and placed my hand on the raven’s cheek, below Theo’s blue-green eyes.  Finally, his eyes met mine.
“Never before have I shown someone on Romance my true nature,” he cried.
I focused on his eyes, the only part that remained of the man I loved.  “This isn’t your true form.  This is only a curse, right?”
Slowly, he nodded.
“You are a man, and a gentle one.  You embody the definition of a gentleman,” I choked on a laugh that came out as half sob.  Why was I crying?  “Do you still love me?”
“Yes!” the raven cawed.  “I love you and nothing could change that!”
I smiled behind my tears.  “Then my answer hasn’t changed either.  I want to marry you, Theo.”
He blinked a couple times, as if doubting the reality of my words.  “Truly?”
“Truly,” I laughed.  “Now transform back so I can kiss you properly.”
He laughed too and with a heave of his gorilla arms, lunged himself back to Romantic soil.  Feather and fur shed to the floor and the man I knew and loved stood before me again, grinning.  He swept me off my feet.  Holding me tightly, I pressed my lips to his and he spun me around.

Despite the Romanticism of it all, this concept didn’t last even a full draft. I tried beginning with a letter from Di (asking Theo to come home), and wrote a different scene of Truth telling Theo that he was needed in Margen. Nothing seemed right.

Eventually, all my research on fairy tales paid off.

“Noble personages may be brought low by fairy enchantment, or by human beastliness, but the lowly are seldom made noble.”

– Iona and Peter Opie, “The Classic Fairy Tales”
(one of my university capstone textbooks)

All fairy tale princesses (including Cinderella) were all princesses before they were tried and tested. Adventures were thrust on heroes or complete happenstance. Theo needed to fall into his inheritance by accident.
So, I made him the discarded second son–the fact that his ability was unknown and he wasn’t a fighter also made him seemingly useless. He visited home every summer, but was still waved away . . . at least until Greggory died.

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