As a fantasy romance author, I’m often asked this question. My response is—do you want the quick answer or the deep answer?
In the case of my current release BLOODSTONE, the quick answer revolves around these two photos and panning for gold.
The first picture is the Rock of Cashel in Ireland. This site dates to St. Patrick, and the roots of the place go deep into unwritten, ancient history. I was mesmerized by the empty windows and roofless walls. The image became Drakkonwehr, an ancient, ruined fortress with deep, mystical roots.
The second picture is from a spring day in a mountain forest. I was entranced by the quality of light and the promise of the opening in the trees ahead. It became the Wehrland, a place of danger and mystery, teeming with the potential of magic. Both pictures accentuate the light vs. dark imagery of the story.
The panning for gold was something my father did for several summers in Alaska. His stories and pictures laid the groundwork for an early scene of my hero panning for, not gold, but the ultimate prize of gem hunters in the Wehrland, bloodstone—petrified dragon’s blood.
That’s the quick answer. You’ll notice it covers setting, a hint of imagery, and the title object. Not a thing about the people who are, after all, the heart of a romance.
That would fall under the deep answer.
I wanted to tell a story about trust, about ignoring the illusions we surround ourselves with and seeing into the heart of a person—because that’s what true love is really all about. We might be attracted by the illusions, but the truth is what either deepens the relationship or drives us away. That meant I was going to tell a Beauty-and-the-Beast story, and because my mind works in mysterious ways, it was going to revolve around a snatch of scroll lore my characters rely on at various points in the story: “True hearts and no fear, against a mage’s power, hold dear.”
With a setting and a kind of story, my characters popped up, as they are wont to do, and carried on ‘living’ out the adventure. I just had to write it down.