It's been quite a journey for this little book. I found my very, very first draft for this the other day, and it's a completely different story from what ended up being printed on paper. In the first draft, the character's name was Cora, thrust into the throne after her aunt dies in a car crash.
I say this a lot, I love putting Filipino characters in tropes and situations I've read thousands of times before with non-POC characters. This is how we now have a FIlipino plus size girl, a Filipino in Paris, and for this book, a Filipino Queen. Well, a Cincamarre Queen, but nobody missed the similarities. The first draft was devoid of that spark, so one botched deal and a trip to Batanes later, twelve thousand words in, I scrapped everything and rewrote it. How terrifying!
But it comes easy when you know where you're going, and what you want to say. And one year later, this book has been one of the easiest to write. And I'm looking forward to showing you guys the next book in the 'series'!
Oh, and there's a giveaway! If you're PH based, you can join! If not, the book is free on Amazon until August 5th!
OH. And just for fun. There was one scene in the draft that I loved with all my heart, and have yet to find a way to put it anywhere. Trust me, I tried. So here, have a scene from the first draft of The Queen's Game.
Cora and Gemma took their spots around a raised platform in the center of the room and started to set up on the artist benches. They were the most uncomfortable pieces of furniture that Cora had ever encountered—but worked really well when she was totally focusing on a drawing.
“You didn’t have to follow me inside, you know.” Cora told Gemma.
“I’m doing this more for myself,” Gemma assured her. “You’ll see.”
“Welcome back Cora,” their professor, a National Artist awarded the title by Cora’s grandmother, nodded at her. ”Glad to see the Palace isn’t so stuck up that they made you quit your education.”
“Oh yes,” Cora shrugged. “Go Hounds.”
“Right,” Professor Luz said like they had been talking about the weather.
Cora fished for her glasses from her bag. She had pretty bad eyesight, and usually needed to wear glasses when she was drawing or listening to a lecture. It was one of those little things that not a lot of people knew about her. Nobody thought princesses needed glasses because they didn’t like wearing contacts.
As their professor explained the mechanics of the sitting, a guy walked into the room from the teacher’s entrance in the back. Cora heard Gemma sigh and realized that this was thy she opted to stay in the studio. He sauntered in, his nose buried behind a thick, old book. He was wearing a ratty old shirt and jeans that looked like they had been washed too many times. Then he looked up. There was an intensity to his eyes that she couldn’t name, and it made Cora’s insides feel like thousands of butterflies had burst forth from a previously unknown crevice in her stomach.
He looked up right into Cora’s eyes and smiled. Why did that smile look so familiar?
“Ow,” Cora said, looking away as she bit down on her lip and promptly returned to reality. Beside her, Gemma snorted. Professor Luz had just finished giving the rules of the exam, and the guy Cora had been so distracted by took the platform.
Professor Luz walked off to the sides to put on some music. She was a believer that the right song and inspire creativity, and always played a selection of Mozart or Handel when she put on a test.
But right now, she felt too restless to feel relaxed by the music. The model was introduced as Miguel Cinco, and he promptly faced Cora, placed a hand over his chest and gave her a slight but very respectful bow. Cora was surprised. Most people didn’t know to bow like that in her presence, especially with her change in rank so new. They also didn’t know that him holding his head higher than hers could be treated as disrespect, even if it was an antiquated rule.
Then he started to strip and all Cora’s thoughts promptly flew out the studio window. The light and playful raindrop-like melody of Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse did not suit this scene at all. She pictured something with a stronger beat, a deeper bassline. Preferably something like Gnuwine’s ‘Pony.’
“Miguel, you can begin,” Professor Luz said.
Stripping off his clothes revealed a perfectly toned and taut body, with a ripple of abs in between a very defined Adonis belt. His skin bounced right off the light perfectly as his muscles tensed. Cora’s jaw dropped and she heard Gemma snort beside her.
She really tried her best to look at this guy clinically. She knew that she had to start thinking about the basic shapes that made up this fine human specimen and break him down into parts, but when the abs came out, her resolve flew out the window too.
He was fully bare to them all, still facing Cora. She wanted to clap her hands, but just squirmed in her seat when she heard Gemma snort beside her.
“You’re blushing like a virgin,” her friend promptly informed her.
“That’s because I am a virgin,” Cora hissed at Gemma while fanning herself with a piece of scrap paper. When did the room start to feel stuffy and hot?
If Miguel had heard her comment, he didn’t let it show, instead carefully folding his clothes and laying them in font of Cora like he was making an offering to his princess.
Now fully nude, Miguel lowered himself on the mat for the first pose. His left leg was extended in front of him as he crossed his right over it. Then he twisted his body so his arm draped over his raised knee, and kept his gaze up at a spot over Cora’s head.
His odd pose snapped Cora out of her haze, and she started to see the particulars she needed to capture his form. She noted where the shadows fell on him, practiced the sloping curves of his body. It was still very intimate, but a more clinical intimacy that she could handle.
While Professor Luz and Gemma started to chat about one of the plates that were due next week, Cora began her light sketches. Watercolor was her usual medium, but she could work well enough in pencil to satisfy her teacher.
“Hi," his deep, husky voice carried across the platform to settle warm in her chest and make her shudder involuntarily.
"Er...hi," Cora said not looking up as she laid out the basic shapes of his body as Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get it On’ played. When did Professor Luz have that on her playlist.
"Shouldn't you be looking at me if you're trying to draw me?"
"Shouldn't you be silent when your princess is trying to concentrate?"
He chuckled, and Cora's cheeks burned. Apparently she didn't have her family's authoritative gene. If Ellie had heard this conversation she probably would have throttled this guy for disrespect, but Cora felt more visibly relaxed, and could actually look at him now.
"My apologies," he said without breaking his pose. "I suppose you want to have me beheaded now. Or maybe drawn and quartered. I'm not familiar with the forms of punishment the royal family is into nowadays."
"Staying naked like that should be fine for now," Cora grinned at her paper as she switched to a softer, slightly darker lead pencil to sketch more precise shapes—the curve of his thigh, the line of his body. "Aren't you cold?"
"Look at me, do I look cold?" He asked, making Cora snort.
"I didn't think making the artist laugh would be part of the model process," she said.
"I'll let you in on a secret, your highness," he said as Cora sketched in the shape of his mouth. "I only did it for you."
Cora's hand shook slightly and she lowered her pencil to look at him. Miguel was still as a statue, his eyes still looking away from her as he maintained his pose.
“You do this a lot?” She asked him.
“Only on Mondays,” he said, and she didn’t know if he was joking or not. “And on pain of death from Professor Luz. Normally I would be in the library by now.”
“Yeah, I’m a history major…by day,” he joked. “I guess you don’t remember.”
“Remember?” Cora echoed.
“Ah,” he said, sounding disappointed. “It’s alright if you forgot. It was a long night. And I was wearing a lot more clothes then.”
“What?” She asked, looking up at him.
“The fan expert,” he said. “That was me. Hi.”
“Oh!” Cora exclaimed, nearly dropping her pencil in the process. Of course she remembered him. She remembered not seeing him, she remembered everything he said to her that night. But she never expected to see him again, much less here in the class studio, while he stood as her model. “I never got your name.”
“You have it now,” he laughed.