I first heard about Lisbeth Campbell’s THE VANISHED QUEEN from a critique partner, and the premise took my breath away. Have a look:
When a country is held in thrall to a vicious, despotic king, it’s up to one woman to take him down.
Long ago, Queen Mirantha vanished. King Karolje claimed it was an assassination by a neighboring king, but everyone knew it was a lie. He had Disappeared her himself.
But after finding the missing queen’s diary, Anza—impassioned by her father’s unjust execution and inspired by Mirantha’s words—joins the resistance group to overthrow the king. When an encounter with Prince Esvar thrusts her into a dangerous game of court politics, one misstep could lead to a fate worse than death.
Esvar is the second son to an evil king. Trapped under his thumb and desperate for a way out, a chance meeting with Anza gives him the opportunity to join the resistance. Together, they might have the leverage to move against the king—but if they fail, their deaths could mean a total loss of freedom for generations to follow.
How many cats do you have and what are their names?
Just two, both boys, Albus and Theo. Theo is quiet and thoughtful, Albus is the loudest and most social cat I have ever had.
Sounds like a good combination of personalities! The beginning of THE VANISHED QUEEN pulls me right into the heart of the story. What do you feel makes a good beginning, and what, for you, is the hardest part about writing beginnings?
I think a good beginning is one that sets out a character (whether protagonist or antagonist) and some hint at what makes the character special. This might be a conflict or problem, it might be a unique talent or a character trait, it might be a peculiar situation. I want something that shows me what is going to make this story different from others. When I am writing, I like to get a hint of the storyline or conflict in very quickly. Reading, I can be pulled along by the unfolding of the world for a while, especially if the language is really good. I am a language junkie.
I draft beginnings quite easily, usually based on an image or a few phrases, then struggle when I have to make them go somewhere. What I have learned over the years is that the first drafts of beginnings are really for me, getting to know the character and the world. They aren’t usually where the story starts. So I wind up rewriting them a lot after I have written more and figured out what the story is. In THE VANISHED QUEEN, things fell into place when I had a beginning that connected the characters of Anza and Queen Mirantha directly to each other, outside of other intermediaries.
Thanks for allowing such a helpful lens into your process. (No wonder beginnings can be so tricky.) You’ve also said that THE VANISHED QUEEN went through multiple revisions. Amid the different iterations, how did you know that the story was going in the right direction?
The previous versions had two fairly large flaws. First, they were centered around magic and not around revolution, and second, the queen didn’t have a presence. Those stories could still be told – they still have a lot of interesting ideas in them – but they weren’t the ones I wanted to tell with these characters. In all the earlier versions, Anza was some form of magic-user who got swept up into the conflict with some degree of randomness, and the magic became a greater conflict than the political one. This caused a lot of the energy in the dysfunctional family story to dissipate.
The single biggest change I made to set the story on the right path was to dump the magic and give Anza a personal reason to hate the king. As soon as I did that (the king has killed her father) her story was a lot clearer. The second big change was to give the queen a point of view. In other iterations of the novel she was an enigma who had vanished from her sons’ life (the reason why shifted from draft to draft). But her story needed to be told. I honestly don’t think I could have done this earlier, because so much of her story revolves around things I learned experientially from parenting a child to adulthood.
The other thing that happened was that Donald Trump got elected president, and suddenly a lot of the issues and fears the characters had about tyranny became personal for me too. I really wanted the novel to exist in the world, not just my computer. The story assumed an urgency it had not had earlier. (I don’t recommend this as a way to get motivated to work on your book, though.)
I am so glad this novel exists in the world. What are some of your current projects?
Right now I am trying to up my short story game and am drafting a lot of shorts. I am doing some completely new, and others from ideas that have been floating around for years, including minor characters and worldbuilding that vanished from TVQ. I am also working on another novel, about a child king who is deposed by his uncle. The story is told from the points of view of his tutor, who has her own secrets, and his guardian, a mage. It includes some “dark academia,” gods, ravens, politics, and steam trains, and is thematically about parenting and found family. It’s a lot of fun for me and very different from other things I’ve written. It too has had several different versions as I tried things out, but it seems to have settled into its place.