March 29, 2013

Grace Duncan: Choices

Please help me welcome fellow DSP author Grace Duncan today! She#s talking about her book and brought some beautiful animal pictures with her.

Since my wonderful hostess Chris likes to write animals into her stories, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the animals I’ve written into my novel, Choices. I love to write animals. I am a big animal person, though I only have two right now – a cat named Sai and a dog named Tonks. We currently have my father in law with us and he grew up on a farm – where animals very specifically stayed outside. We’ve managed to convince him that, despite Sai’s feline-ness (and, hence, rumored attempts at assassination), they really are harmless and should be left inside.

So I love animals, love to write them and in fact, in a WIP I’ve got going, I have two very precocious cats. However, in Choices, I had to consider carefully what animals I could include. With the time period, pets weren’t all that common in the Middle East. Most of what I was able to find about pets were in Europe.
However, I knew that they would be traveling during the course of the book and that’s when I realized the part the animals could play. It turned out as I explored the idea that Bathasar was very involved in the royal stables, loved the horses, loved working with them and was very knowledgeable. (Isn’t it funny how we find these things out about our characters as we go? Until I started writing that part, I didn’t realize just how important they were to him.)

So, I decided to add character to the horses. I have read many stories over the years where animals have distinct personalities and I thought it would be great to have that, here. It definitely becomes important to Teman later on in the story.

For the most part, in Choices, I avoid actually referring to the Arabic, specifically, though they use the Arabic form of address (Teman ibn Latif), the Arabic words for prince (amir) and king (malik), etc. I also tried to keep from referring in other ways to our “Middle East” or “Asia” but when it came time to describe the horses and their origins, I couldn’t find a better way of labeling them than “Arabian”. The Arabian horses are known for their intelligence and personality and this is a big part of what makes that work in this story.
There are four named horses in Choices. Of course, I had to carefully consider the names and meanings behind them, this is me after all, and the horses themselves lived up to those names. Two of them, I introduce but really don’t do much with -- Ashmath and Zia. These are the horses that Cyrus and Nadir ride for the trip. Here is the excerpt where Bathasar introduces them:

He turned to the first horse next to them, a gray mare with intelligent eyes. “This is Zia. Her name means ‘light,’ and she is, in fact, very light on her feet. She is protective of her rider and will be gentle with you until you are comfortable again in the saddle. Nadir, she is yours for the trip.”

Nadir bowed. “Thank you, Your Highness,” he said, awe tingeing his voice. He turned to the horse and spoke quietly in her ear, which twitched as he did.

Bathasar turned to the next one, a horse of light bay color. “This is Ashmath. His name means ‘straight path’ because he has an instinct for not straying. He has sired a number of fine horses and has since been retired from stud service. He is, in fact, the sire of Teman’s mare. He’ll make sure you don’t get lost,” he said, and Cyrus chuckled. “He is friendly, but if you are mean, you’ll feel his teeth. I’m sure that won’t be an issue for you,” he said, handing the reins to Cyrus.

No, it won’t. Thank you, Your Highness,” Cyrus said, turning to pet the velvet nose. “Hello, Ashmath,” Cyrus greeted the horse, who nodded at him and butted his shoulder. Cyrus laughed. “We’re going to get along just fine,” he murmured.

But of course when it came to the horses that our main characters were to ride, I had to do more. I couldn’t leave it at a simple introduction, but first, let me do just that:

Bathasar left them to their mounts, and turned to the two at the front of the column. He paused next to a beautiful chestnut mare. She was a good fifteen hands high, one of the tallest of the Arabian horses Teman had ever seen. Her dark eyes showed intelligence and friendliness, and Teman stepped up to her face, offering his hand, which she sniffed.

This is Asima. It means ‘protector’. She is one of the fastest horses in the royal stables. Like her name, she is very protective of her rider, and will even put up a fight if someone were to attack. I would not trust the love of my life to anything less,” Bathasar finished in a murmur.

Teman looked up at him, and reached up to cup Bathasar’s cheek. “You are too generous to me,” he said, then looked back at the horse. “She is beautiful. I’ll take good care of her.”

I know you will. And she will take good care of you. She is the mate of my stallion. Let me introduce you,” Bathasar said, holding his hand toward the big black horse next to Asima. He stood at least another hand taller than Asima and was much more solid. “Aiman is, as his name indicates, fearless. Though at times, I think perhaps I should have named him ‘Marid’ instead for the rebellion he occasionally shows.” Aiman snorted at this, and Teman laughed. He stepped a little closer to the horse.

Hello, Aiman,” he said, and the horse turned toward him. “That is my love that you will carry. Please don’t be too rebellious while he is on your back. I’d like to have him healthy when we reach our destination.” If Teman didn’t know better, he would have sworn there was an eye roll before a reluctant nod. Teman laughed. “Thank you,” he said, and rubbed at the velvety nose again before turning back to his own mount.

He checked the saddle, made sure it was secure and that the bags were in place, then moved back to Asima’s face. “Well, it’s you and me for awhile,” he said, rubbing the spot between her eyes. She butted his shoulder with her nose and nickered quietly. “I’m afraid I don’t have anything to offer you now, but when we rest later, I’ll see if I can get something from Cook for you.” She nudged him again, and he turned to climb up into his saddle.

I was once told that my horses were “too human” in the story. But I wanted them to have the intelligence and personality. I wanted them to be more than just a means of transportation. Asima becomes very important to Teman over the course of the story, becoming as much a comfort and companion to him as a ride. One such spot is towards the end:

Yet again, the knot in his chest tightened, and he couldn’t breathe. He fought the emotions, fought the memories, fought all of it.

He felt something at his back and looked up to see Asima lay down behind him. He stared at her for a moment, shocked that she would lie down—he knew horses could, just usually didn’t, but she just nudged his shoulder with her nose. He lay back down, curling once more on his side with the horse at his back. She laid her head on his leg and snorted at him as if to say “it’s okay, I’m here.”

Teman stared at her another minute, then reached back and petted her velvety nose. Then he settled in once more, and a few minutes later he was asleep.

There are more such instances between Teman and Asima. I thoroughly enjoyed writing them, loving the interaction between the two. Please be sure to leave a comment – let me know what animals you like to read or write, or anything to do with them. You’ll be entered to win a swag bag! I will choose a winner a week from today, so make sure I have a way of contacting you.

Thanks again to Chris for hosting me! I’ve enjoyed being here.

About Choices:

Born and raised a gypsy in the late eleventh century, Teman values freedom over everything. He and his best friend, Jasim, are thieves for hire—until one night they're caught and their precious freedom is revoked. Given the choice between the dungeons or palace pleasure slavery, they become slaves, but Teman vows to escape someday.
Bathasar doesn’t want the throne. He supports his brother instead, which suits their sadistic father, Mukesh. When Teman, the handsome slave Bathasar has secretly been watching, saves his life, Bathasar requests a slave for the first time. Before long, Bathasar and Teman fall in love. But all is not well. One day Mukesh brutalizes Teman before the court, angering the empress of a neighboring nation. To appease her, he then offers her Jasim as a gift, and Teman decides to stay with Bathasar for now—despite the abuse he may suffer.
The peace doesn’t last. Mukesh plans to invade Jasim's new country, and Bathasar must find a way to stop the destruction. But if he succeeds, he'll ascend to the throne and have the power to grant Teman his liberty. Then Teman will surely leave him. What other choice could a gypsy make?


  1. I absolutely loved that the horses had distinct personalities.

  2. I love, love horses and those are beautiful pictures :) I pretty much like to read about any fur-bearing mammal. If it's a paranormal story I like shifters of all kinds.


  3. More great pictures! I can't wait to read Choices--as a visual person, I look forward to some great descriptive passages. And horses are the most beautiful creatures. Thank you!
    brendurbanist at gmail dot com