In the case of author Melaine Bryant, the long drive down I-5 to Los Angeles stirred her psyche and a story bubbled to the surface fully formed. A story of a teenaged girl faced with impossible odds, a dark prophecy, unexplained powers and stalwart allies. The first of a five-book series that reviewers are already comparing to the works of Tolkien and Peter S. Beagle.
Bryant, a former Danville resident, is the author of "The Prophecy Keepers," a young adult fantasy novel published by Empyrean Hill Publishing of Walnut Creek. It is the first novel for Bryant, who now lives in Santa Monica.
The story centers around a 14-year-old girl named Lisandra who lives in the world of Ard.
"Ard is a world kind of like ours in the Middle Ages, but different," Bryant explains. "There is a prophecy from the beginning of time that says darkness will come to the kingdoms of Ard. The prophecy also states that at that time a human child will be born with the powers of the magic races."
Bryant said that in the book a few humans have seen magical creatures like goblins and faeries, and fewer still believe they exist. The prophecy is thought to be only a story and no one believes that a Darkness will fall on the land.
The novel, first in a five-book series, chronicles five months in Lisandra's life after she learns that not only is the Darkness coming but that she is the prophesied savior of the world.
Unwilling to believe the enormity of the situation or that she is the chosen savior she refuses to help, but when her brother is kidnapped by goblins she is forced to undertake a quest to save him.
Bryant, a UCLA graduate with a degree in literature and languages focusing on the classics, utilized a lot of the source material from her studies to put into the novel. "I was reading a bunch of different things at the time. I was working on Homer, Beowulf, Spenser's 'The Faerie Queen.' And I had this friend who wanted me to write something for him. So all this stuff was sort of in my head and by the time I got to L.A. from Northern California I had an outline for it," she said.
Bryant has been writing since childhood. "I have always written fantasy and science fiction. I wrote all through high school and college. After college I did a lot of freelance writing and then I started working on 'The Epic.'"
Drawing on the source materials from her classics education, Bryant populated her fantasy world with creatures out of myth and story. Goblins and faeries most people have heard of but few have heard of Fenmean, reptilian creatures posited by Pliny the Elder.
Bryant added her own flourishes to the ancient historian's work. "They look human but can change their faces to look serpent-like. Weasels are the only way to kill them. Even the scent of weasels repels them," she stated.
But having the idea and having the source material to draw on are not enough, there is the actual work of writing the novel. Getting the words down on the page, reworking them, editing. Bryant said she began work on "The Prophecy Keepers" five years ago.
"I wrote the mythology right away. There's a lot of backstory in there so that I can hint about some things and then bring them in later."
Bryant said she devoted herself full time to writing the novel, which entailed days of writing chapters, followed by days of research, where she looked for creatures to put into the situations in her world. How they would react, what they would do.
After five months of writing she penned an end to the novel. And then the work of editing began.
Bryant used friends, relatives and her own daughter as test readers to see what would or would not work in the manuscript. "It evolved over time. I think there have been about 50 different drafts of the first book. I was getting used to the characters so it really changed from what was originally written," she laughed.
A year-and-a-half later Bryant began shopping the manuscript around to various publishers. After some rejections, she came across Empyrean Hill. "It just ended up in the right hands and people really liked it. It was serendipity," she said.
That's not to say that such a serendipitous beginning wasn't fraught with challenges. Editors at Empyrean Hill got the book ready for sale in less than a year, which required some long hours. The print run was delayed. But finally the book came out in late November.
"I was worried about how it would do, because nobody really knows me. It's so hectic before Christmas - and after Christmas it's hectic, too."
Early reviews have been very positive and Bryant said she is feeling good about the next books in the series. Two and three have been written, she said, and are in the editing phase now.
Books four and five are proving to be a new challenge, Bryant said, because the tone of the books has changed as Lisandra has gotten older. While the first three novels engage in the battle between good and evil on a more physical level, Bryant said the conflict will become more cerebral and ideological in the later installments.
Still she is excited to see a book with her name on it gracing the shelves of a bookstore and she continues to move forward with the succeeding parts of the series.
Some people say that doing what you love as a career is "living the dream." For Melaine Bryant, it's more like living the fantasy.