Friday Snippet: Golden

In honor of Golden’s release this week from Carina Press, I thought I’d share a little “behind the scenes” from the writing/editing perspective. 

Even after a book is accepted for publication, there may still be some difficult edits requested by your editor.  In Golden’s case, Alissa suggested that I think about adding something before the first intimate encounter between the Emperor and Jin.  What I had written was a little too abrupt.  There needed to be a little more seduction before the “big event.”

Seems like a simple request…but in reality, it was pretty difficult.  Once I have a story in my head, playing like a movie from beginning to end, it’s extremely difficult to change that timeline.  It’s not as easy as adding a quick scene — I have to know WHY that scene is important.  How does it tie into the main story arc? 

Worse, you know the whole chaos theory effect:  a butterfly flaps its wings in chapter one and a hurricane sweeps through the book and changes the ending entirely.

I didn’t want that to happen — although filtering changes all the way through are necessary in my opinion if the addition is done correctly.  It’s not just a “stick this in here” and go on your merry way sort of change.

What helped me get through this addition was thinking about a DVD extras segment.  What scene could have ended up on the cutting room floor that might have fit into this timeline?  Was there any element that came up later — that I could give some backstory for?  Of course, it had to be more important than backstory.  It had to beat the cutting room floor by becoming MORE meaningful, but that at least got me thinking about things I could add.

Finally, this element seemed to have possibilities:  the Emperor’s golden robe.  It’s mentioned much later in the story and becomes an important symbol of his acceptance.  How much better could I make that symbol if I expanded the background of that golden silk?

This was the outcome.  It also makes the later scenes involving the robe much more significant!  A win all around.

Since I’d last been called to the Emperor’s chambers, I had stitched day and night until my bleeding fingers threatened to ruin the golden silk of his robe. The few times I had left my rooms, I’d worn my hair loose as he’d commanded on the chance that he might take note of my eager obedience. From the strange looks and whispers I’d earned, I might as well have walked down the glittering hallways in no clothes at all.

I don’t care. Let them see me naked, bleeding, as long as it’s for him.

Laboring over his robe until dragons adorned every inch was a small price to pay for his attention. I’d walk across burning coals just to keep that gleam of satisfaction in his eyes.

Kneeling before him, I laid the neatly folded robe between us. “My punishment, Your Majesty.”

He unfolded the silk, spreading the robe out upon his lap with a low sound of approval. “Did you stitch this all yourself? In so few days?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

He traced his fingers along the sinuous creatures I’d created. I’d lost count of the dozens of reels of golden thread I’d added to the robe, doubling its weight. The Empress cluttered her embroidery with gems and beads, but my design relied on only tiny, intricate stitches.

“You may not care for such embroidery, Daughter, but your work is exemplary. This robe is as fine as any I’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing.”

Pride warmed my heart, even though I disliked being relegated back to Daughter. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

He startled me by reaching out to take my hand in his. “Did you sleep at all since last week?”

Flushing, I bowed my head and hoped my hair hid the shadows beneath my eyes. I had slept very little these past days, but not merely because I was determined to finish the stitching before we met again. My mind had been too busy planning how to tempt him deeper into the darkness that threatened to consume me.

His thumb pressed against the pad of my finger still sore from the needle. Through my touseled hair, I watched his face and let a small moan escape.

His eyes narrowed, his nostrils flared, and he pressed harder, his grip tight on my hand.

Pain had a curious effect on me. Most people would have jerked back in an involuntary effort to escape that which hurt them. For me, even a small pain such as this pressure on my raw fingers made me melt. My bones seemed to dissolve. My skin came alive at the promise tightening his mouth into a hard slant and the coldness darkening his eyes.

“Well?” His voice remained soft while his fingers tortured my hand, pressing here and there to find every tender spot. “I didn’t intend for you to lose sleep for this punishment.”

I swallowed down another moan. “What is sleep when you set me to a task, Your Majesty?”

His thumb ground into the heel of my hand where the wooden hoop had worn a groove into my skin.  “I suppose you didn’t eat then, either.”

I bit my lip, fighting to keep my arousal at bay. My thighs trembled beneath me and sweat trickled between my breasts. It’d been so long since I’d been given sensual pain. So very long. My husband had never touched me tenderly or with great passion, let alone this slow exploration of agonized flesh. Did the Emperor know what effect his touch had upon me?

“Here, eat, Daughter.”  He held a small cake to my lips, insisting I take a bite. My mouth was so dry that I choked on the delicate crumbs. I tried to refuse, horrified that he served me with his own hand, but his grip kept me still. His thumb stroked circles against my palm, an intimate touch that made me pant with longing. “You mustn’t neglect your health. What if you carry our heir?”

“The Crown Prince hasn’t touched me in months. That would be impossible, Your Majesty.”

His upper lip curled as though he’d tasted something vile. Reminded of our untenable situation, he released me as quickly as if I burned his skin. “When I became Emperor, I swore to protect my people with everything I possess. How could I do less for my family, which I love above all? I give you my solemn oath, Daughter, that no harm shall come to you from my hand.”

My heart broke at that look of repugnance. Of all people, I’d thought he would most understand what I needed. What he reviled in himself, he would surely despise in me, as well.

Worse, a solemn oath was a serious obstacle to overcome. No man who’d broken his word would see himself as fit to be the Son of Heaven.

“I am already harmed, Your Majesty.” My voice trembled as badly as my hands clasped in my lap. “I’m cursed with a terrible need, and the longer this need goes unanswered, the more I hurt.”

“It’s your husband’s duty to care for you.”

Even before he finished the sentence, I shook my head so hard my hair whipped my cheeks. “He doesn’t even understand that this need can exist, let alone that I bear it. I need to be punished. I need outer pain to take away my inner pain. Only you—”

“Your punishment has been fulfilled,” he broke in before I could finish. “Your workmanship is exquisite. I require nothing else from you.”

I bowed lower, hiding my face with shame. Tears wet my hair and cheeks. How could I face the monotony of palace life without even these weekly visits to brighten my dreary existence? Day after day dressing in my finest silk and painting my face, only to sit in my chambers alone while my husband ignored me and the man I yearned for with every fiber of my being denied my existence?

In a voice I scarcely recognized as my own, I whispered, “Heaven endures, the earth comes to its end, while my unending sorrow goes on and on forever.”

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