Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Giveaway: Antonia is giving away an eBook version of one of her backlist titles with this post – comment below for a chance to win.
Today, Antonia Aquilante – Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.
Thanks so much, Antonia, for joining me!
JSC: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
AA: I’ve always written. I made up stories long before I knew how to write them down—I drew them or acted them out with my dolls. I was twelve when I decided I would be a published author when I grew up. I’d taken a creative writing elective in school and loved it, finishing it out by writing a sixty page mystery (I was in an Agatha Christie phase) as my final short story project. It took me a while after to actually be published, to even get up the courage to try, but I made it there. As for discovering when I was good at it…um, whether I believe I’m any good at it probably depends on the day.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
AA: My first published novel was The Prince’s Consort, which came out almost four years ago. It’s a fantasy romance between a lonely prince with secrets and a commoner who is thrown in the path of the prince by his awful merchant father. There’s magic and intrigue and lots of people who want to keep them apart and family too. It’s the first book in my Chronicles of Tournai series, though when I first started writing it, I wasn’t thinking about a series. As I kept writing, I found some characters who needed to have their stories told too.
JSC: What do you do if you get a brilliant idea at a bad time?
AA: Write it down so I won’t forget! If it’s for my current project, I scribble it in a notebook or on a scrap of paper or even type in in my phone until I can get back to writing. If it’s an idea for something new, it gets written in a notebook I keep of ideas that I want to write one day (so many ideas…I need to write faster…). Hopefully, it can wait patiently.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for this book?
AA: A Harmony of Fire and Earthis the second book in the Elemental Magicae series, so once the first was written, there were absolutely pieces of this one that were locked in. But, before I even started the first book I’d had a general idea what this one would be about (pulled from my notebook of ideas)—someone who had left his family because, to them, he had the wrong kind of magic and found a new family along the way. Some of that concept is still in the book, but so much of the details changed in the course of making sure I wrapped up the fantasy plot I’d laid out in book one and made sure I got two characters to happily ever afters.
JSC: What character gave you fits and fought against you? Did that character cause trouble because you weren’t listening and missed something important about them?
AA: In A Harmony of Fire and Earth, Gaz fought me a bit. I think it was because when I started writing the series, I had envisioned something else for him, and it wasn’t going to work. I had to let that go and listen to the characters. I’m more a pantser when I write anyway, letting the characters lead me, but sometimes, I get stuck in what I think I know about them and have to take a step back.
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about him or her.
AA: Briallen intrigues me. She’s Rhys’s sister in Harmony, asexual, and a powerful Earth magic wielder who makes her living by using her magic. She’s smart and capable and doesn’t take any nonsense, even when she feels out of her depth. I’d love to write more about her and her adventures. I’m really finding I’d just like to write more in this world. I closed out the story I set out to write and everything ended happily, and I thought that would be it, but I’m missing the world already!
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
AA: I actually feel bad picking favorites. I feel as if I’m going to make them feel bad or something! But, I did really love writing Arden. He’s a main character in both Harmonyand the previous book in the series, A Dance of Water and Air. Arden is transgender and bisexual and a prince and brother to the queen as well as being a powerful wielder of Air magic. He’s sophisticated and elegant and loves clothes, which was fun to write, since we share that trait. He’s also confident, knows who he is, and knows what his role will be. Or thinks he does. Everything begins to change for him when Edmund arrives. Edmund was a character I really liked writing too but in a different way or for different reasons. Edmund is the first demisexual character I’d written (though A Dance of Water and Airreleased after another book I wrote with a demisexual main character), and as a demisexual author, writing his character really resonated with me.
JSC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
AA: It depended on when you asked me: a ballerina, a princess, a teacher, an actress, a writer…so many different things over the years.
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
AA: Absolutely! I think I get that from my mom. She’s a voracious reader too. I’ve always loved books. I got yelled at for trying to read at the dinner table, and I’d stay up way past my bedtime to read if they let me. (I still do, but now there’s no one to make me shut off the light, so I have more mornings when I’m exhausted.) Trips to the library or the bookstore were highlights of my week. They still are, so I guess I haven’t changed much in that respect.
JSC: What are you working on now?
AA: The next book in the Chronicles of Tournai series, The Spymaster’s Secret, will be in edits soon and should be out from NineStar Press in the fall. If you’ve read any of the books, you might have met the main characters already—Alexander, cousin to the prince and too curious for his own good, and Marcus, the prince’s mysterious, older spymaster. If you haven’t read them, no worries. They all stand alone, so jump in wherever. Right now, I’m writing another Tournai book. It’s Griffen’s story, for those who have been asking about it, plus more dragons in this one! And I’m also working on a contemporary royalty romance about a demisexual prince who’s been dodging attempts to push him into a suitable marriage only to fall for an American artist. I haven’t written anything contemporary in years, so it’s a bit of a departure for me.
And now for Antonia’s latest book: A Harmony of Fire and Earth:
Prince Edmund of Thalassa and Prince Arden of Aither are eagerly anticipating their upcoming wedding, but the danger to their kingdom hasn’t lessened. They have a plan, but they won’t be able to carry it out alone: they need a strong wielder of each Element, whom they can trust implicitly, to carry out the magic.
Rhys is a commoner and wielder of Earth magic. He and his sister have made a living from the use of their magic for years and have become highly respected in scholarly circles, though he prefers a more simple life with his plants. When a message from Prince Arden reaches them asking for their help, they don’t hesitate. They stop only to request that Gaz, a strong Fire wielder and the man Rhys has long been enamored of, accompany them on the journey to Thalassa’s royal palace.
What no one knows is that Gaz was once known as Prince Gareth of Thalassa and is Edmund’s younger brother, long believed dead. He fled his home after his Fire Affinity made itself known and put him in danger, and he had no intention of ever going back. But he can’t keep himself from going to his brother’s aid, despite the risk of discovery and of the weight of his secrets potentially crushing his fledgling relationship with Rhys.
Working against time, they must find a way to come together in a magical working the likes of which none of them has ever imagined, or their homelands will surely burn.
“Your brother is alive?” The words burst from Arden without thought. Shock wasn’t allowing him to think.
Prince Gareth of Thalassa was alive?
And this wasn’t something Edmund had chosen to tell Arden before now? They were going to be married in the morning, and Gareth was Edmund’s younger brother, whom everyone had thought dead for years.
“Yes, he is,” Edmund said quietly.
Arden shook his head, more in disbelief than in denial. “How?”
Edmund glanced around the empty library, then back to Arden. “Can we speak of this in private?”
He wanted to protest, wanted to demand Edmund tell him now, but doing so would just be petulant. “All right.”
Arden took the time to gather up his things, leaving some books for the librarians to replace and taking the rest with him. His notes couldn’t be left lying around. When Edmund had found him, Arden had been doing research—as he had most days since Tycen had attacked Thalassa with magic, setting fires and menacing people along the border the two countries shared. He was determined to find a solution that would protect his new home, and the kingdom of his birth as well, since Tycen had begun doing the same to Aither. The army and the magic wielders on the border could do no more than hold back the worst of it, and too much was being lost to the flames. Until they could stop Tycen entirely, they needed a way to protect themselves.
King Torin, Edmund’s father and ruler of Thalassa, had tasked his magic wielders with finding a solution. Arden wasn’t counted among the group due to his position, but he’d studied magic his whole life—he could help. He’d found something he thought might work that very day. He still had a lot of details to figure out—more than details, really, but the theory was sound. What he already knew was they would need a strong magic wielder of each Element to perform it. Arden could take the Air portion, and Thalassa had plenty of strong Water wielders. An Earth wielder wouldn’t be a problem if Arden could convince one he knew to travel to Thalassa. The Fire Affinity was the problem, and that was when Edmund had shocked Arden by telling him not only was his brother alive, but he was a Fire wielder as well.
Arden walked silently at Edmund’s side through the corridors of the palace. The attention of the people they passed registered only dimly—they always garnered attention. Shock and a creeping sense of betrayal might be fogging Arden’s mind, but no one would ever know—no one could. There could be no hint of discord or distance between him and Edmund for anyone to see.
He didn’t want them to exist between him and Edmund at all.
The silence was probably bad enough. He and Edmund were seldom entirely silent when walking together. People would notice, and they would talk.
Arden cared about the appearances—he had to—but he cared more about him and Edmund.
They passed the whimsical fountain that marked the entrance to the wing where Edmund had his rooms. It was tiered and tiled in mosaics of glittering blue and green glass. Arden thought it beautiful, his every glance showing him something new. If he wouldn’t look bizarre, he’d stand and study it, trying to tease out all the little details. The art of the mosaics, so common in Thalassa’s royal palace, was breathtaking. But this palace on the sea was so different from Aither’s airy, soaring castle perched in the mountains. If Arden thought too hard about the differences, about how very far from home he was, how unlikely it was he’d ever see the castle or the house he’d bought for himself again, his head would spin.
He wanted to be where he was—he wanted to be with Edmund, which meant being in Thalassa. Edmund would be king someday, and Arden would stand beside him as his consort. But it was best if he didn’t think too hard about leaving behind everything he knew. Especially because he wasn’t really—Ciaran and Larkin were here. The twins were his closest friends, outside Edmund now, and had always worked with him—his secretary, his eyes and ears, his spies. For the moment, the twins showed no desire to leave.
Aither would be a difficult place for them these days. Their uncle had betrayed Aither and all of them, conspiring with Tycen to attempt an assassination of Arden’s sister, the queen, and to frame Edmund for it. Ciaran had helped Arden rescue Edmund and fled with them. Larkin had followed them to Thalassa with her husband and infant son, and though Merrick was one of Hollis’s councilors, even he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to return. At some point, Arden would have to talk to them, but something always seemed to be more pressing. And, really, he wanted them to stay. He loved Edmund and already liked Edmund’s sister very much, but he wanted his friends—his family—too.
Ciaran likely wouldn’t want to leave anyway since he’d fallen in love with Edmund’s secretary, Peregrine.
Edmund opened the door to his rooms for Arden and followed him inside. Arden had been given rooms of his own, but he hadn’t spent a single night in them. From the first moment they’d arrived, they’d stayed in these rooms together—perhaps out of some lingering fear from their flight across Aither or perhaps just because they loved one another and they could. Perhaps both. The servants knew, of course, and some might talk, but Arden couldn’t bring himself to care, not about this one thing. After the wedding tomorrow, it wouldn’t be an issue anymore.
Edmund’s—their—rooms were comfortable and decorated beautifully in Thalassan style with patterned tiles on the floors and luxurious fabrics in jewel tones, mostly greens. They very much looked like Edmund’s too, but the first full day he’d been here, Edmund had told him they could change anything to make Arden more comfortable. To make this place theirs.
He turned to face Edmund who stood a few steps behind him. “Edmund…your brother is alive?”
Edmund lifted his hands and let them drop helplessly. “Yes.”
“And he has a Fire Affinity?”
“How?” Arden asked again. “There wasn’t even a trace of rumor. Everyone thinks he’s dead. And a Fire Affinity?”
An Affinity for Water ran strong in Edmund’s family, and the generations before Edmund seemed to do all they could to keep it that way, only marrying those with a matching Affinity. Some families were much stricter about the practice than others. A strong Affinity for Air ran in Arden’s family, producing Arden himself, but they’d married outside it in past generations, which had resulted in a few children with Water or Earth Affinities—none had ever inherited the throne, but that was more a matter of chance of birth order than anything else.
For Gareth to inherit a Fire Affinity, there had to be one in the line somewhere, and Edmund’s family seemed too rigid in their adherence to marrying Water Affinities to marry outside—Arden was certain King Torin would not have approved of Edmund’s marriage to him if not for the necessary alliance it would bring. And a Fire Affinity? Fire and Water were opposing Elements, and Edmund’s family traditionally had something of a prejudice against Fire, though Edmund himself didn’t.
So how would a Fire Affinity make its way into the bloodline? Unless…
Arden looked up at Edmund and bit his lip, unsure how to put what he was about to say delicately. “Your mother…”
Edmund raked a hand through his shoulder-length dark hair. “I haven’t asked her—I couldn’t ask her—but she and Father have been estranged ever since we found out what Gareth’s Affinity was.”
If the queen had taken a lover—who either had a Fire Affinity or carried the potential for it—it would explain how her second son had ended up with his Affinity. And why Queen Senara lived apart from her husband and the court, returning only sporadically to fulfill the duties required of her. “She might not have…maybe it came from somewhere further back in the line.”
Edmund’s smile was sad. “Thank you for saying it, but I think we can both agree how unlikely that possibility is, knowing my family’s feelings on the Fire Element.”
“It doesn’t mean it can’t be true. Perhaps the potential has been there for a long time and just came out with your brother. Perhaps it came from somewhere back in your mother’s family, not your father’s.” Arden’s instinct to comfort Edmund was undeniable, even with his own emotions still in turmoil.
Edmund shrugged. “I don’t know. She didn’t deny anything. She just acceded to Father’s wishes.”
Could she have done anything else? Arden had no way of knowing what the dynamics were at Thalassa’s court and within its royal family so many years ago; he’d barely begun to get a grasp of them now. “Will you tell me what happened?”
Letting out a long sigh, Edmund nodded. He went to a chair near the fireplace and dropped into it. The fire crackled cheerfully, driving back the chill of the rainy winter day. Snow was probably deep on the ground in Aither’s mountains, but here they’d only had icy rain so far. Arden crossed the room to sit beside Edmund in the chair that had become his—when they weren’t snuggled up on one of the couches.
“Gareth was thirteen when he woke up one morning and the ends of his hair were bright red.”
Arden blinked once, then again. No wonder Edmund thought Gareth might be powerful. In most people, the use of magic caused changes in hair or eye color, but in some very powerful people, the changes came first. Arden had looked in the mirror one day when he was twelve and seen the first icy blue-white streak in his copper curls; the magic had followed, and constant use of it had streaked Arden’s hair liberally. Edmund’s use of his Water magic had added threads of green through his dark eyes.
Gareth would have known what it meant—they were all taught what to expect; they’d all seen it on others—and he must have been terrified to see red instead of the green he’d expected.
“What happened?” Arden asked quietly, dread edging out every other feeling.
“He cut it off, but it came back almost immediately. So he did it again, and the same happened.” Edmund closed his eyes. “Then Father found out.”
The dread intensified until Arden was sick with it. “Edmund, what did he do?”
Edmund didn’t open his eyes. “He was furious. Enraged. But careful to keep everything among only us—Mother, me, Kerenza, and Gareth. You know what happened to Mother. But Gareth…when he realized there was no hiding Gareth’s Affinity, he locked Gareth away, put it around that he’d taken ill and then died. There was nothing any of us could do or say to change his mind.” Edmund went quiet for a moment. “I don’t know that he wanted to look at Gareth anymore.”
Arden swallowed hard. How could a father do such a thing? Even as he thought it, his more cynical side told him exactly how. “Where is he? Has your father had him locked away all these years?”
Edmund shook his head sharply. “He got out, escaped somehow. His bodyguard helped him, and they ran. I gave him all the money I could; so did Kerenza even though she was just a child. I wish we could have done more.”
The last sentence came out in a ragged whisper. Arden’s heart broke. He reached out and took Edmund’s hand, holding it tight. “Do you know what happened to him?”
“No. Father had a few trusted men search, but they never found him. I think they assumed he ran for the Tycen border. But he was going to go to Mother’s family first, hoping they’d hide him or help him.”
Gareth had been so young. How had he survived? Had he? Arden wasn’t sure he could have at that age, out in the world on his own when he’d only known the sheltered world of the castle. He hoped Gareth was all right, hoped his mother’s family had helped. Hoped Gareth was out there somewhere, alive and well.
“I can ask them if they know anything about how we can find him.”
Arden didn’t want to ask this. “If we can find him…will he help? I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t want to have anything to do with Thalassa ever again.”
“I wouldn’t either. But I hope he still has some feeling for the kingdom and for me and Kerenza, if not our father.”
“And what about your father? What will he say if you bring Gareth back?”
Edmund looked at him bleakly. “I don’t know.”
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.
She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats, which she shares with friends and family, and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.
Born and raised in New Jersey, she Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.