By day she’s Rebecca Ciardullo, Forest Park Middle School eighth-grade English teacher and until recently 14-year co-president of the Forest Park Teachers Union. But in her “other life” she’s a teen female mercenary warrior, led by a magic amulet and wielder of a wicked short-sword.
Fantasy author Rebecca Frencl (she uses her maiden name as her pen name) has just released the first book in her Star Circle Trilogy project, The Shattered Prism, published by Solstice Publishing. Available as an ebook and a print-on-demand paperback, the story concerns two female wanderers, Robyn and Aerin, with a shared fate determined by the amulets around their necks.
The characters were fermenting in Frencl’s subconscious for more than 20 years, she said, when she and a college buddy at Northeastern Illinois University would take turns thinking up exploits for the two fictional women. When Frencl started writing the book, she asked the friend if she could “take” the two and their exploits. And a trilogy was born.
Science fiction and fantasy were all part of Frencl’s growing up in Berwyn, where her father would take her to Chicago Sci Fi conventions like WindyCon and Capricon. She now adds the Young-Adult themed Duckon, held this year at the Westin Hotel in Wheeling, to her hit-list. This year, instead of a hungry kid imagining what it was like to be a writer, Frencl sat on five different panels, including two for Young Adult science fiction/fantasy.
“Books for young adults are featuring more dystopias and zombies,” she said. “I don’t know if they’re reflecting the kids reading them, but they’re getting darker and edgier.”
She herself loves to turn her middle school students on to reading, whether they like the Maximum Ride books by James Patterson or Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.
“I always tell them, ‘you say you don’t like to read, but you just haven’t found the right book yet,'” Frencl said.
When she was that age, she loved Ursula Le Guin, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Her father turned her on to the fantasy worlds of David Eddings and Terry Brooks, both heavily influenced by Tolkien.
But Frencl sensed that the authors she loved were getting older (in some cases dying) and there didn’t seem to be anyone writing new fantasy novels.
“The genre needs some new blood,” she said. She decided to jump into the fray.
Her first attempt, during the 1990s, was Bonds of Blood, Bonds of Steel, which she re-wrote three times only to have it, “rejected by every publishing house in New York,” she said. She put the manuscript away and “sulked for two years,” then tried again. This time it was accepted and published in 1998. The publisher folded, though, and rights reverted to Frencl.
She worked on a master’s degree and focused on her teaching career for awhile. But then while teaching eighth-graders the Alfred Noyes poem “The Highwayman” she realized how much she loved the poem and felt drawn to its tragic heroine.
In the poem, the dark-haired beautiful daughter of an innkeeper keeps the secret of her Robin Hood-style highwayman lover even as the king’s guards have taken over the inn and wait to ambush him. Tied in an upstairs room, she hears her lover’s horse approaching and manages to shoot a musket to warn him – but the bullet pierces her chest and kills her.
This led to an idea for her first Solstice-published book, Ribbons of Moonlight. The book was accepted by Solstice based on a one-sentence synopsis she entered in an online contest.
“I checked my email and I was shocked out of my shoes when I won,” Frencl said.
In Ribbons of Moonlight, she sent a 21st century heroine back in time to 18th century England. She had to do months of research to make sure she got historical details correct.
“I had to go back to northern England in 1773: The medicine, the travel, the language, the food, everything.”
She also knew she wanted to have a strong female character.
“There’s an inherent stupidity in some heroines [of fantasy books],” she said. “Sometimes you want to reach into the book and slap that girl. You keep rooting for the dragon,” she joked. She admires Young Adult fantasy author Tamora Pierce for her female characters.
The Shattered Prism is meant for more of a YA audience. And for that reason, Frencl wanted to make sure it was perfect.
“YA has to be a best effort,” she said. “Kids have very high expectations.”
Frencl is careful about pacing and plot, and she knows how to ‘shoot the sheriff’ in the first pages. In Shattered Prism, the teen heroine wakes up in an inn to find a drunk assassin leaning over her bed and quickly makes short work of him with a dagger.
“My husband was reading it and said, ‘for a while I forgot you wrote it.’ That was the best thing he could say,” she said.
Frencl hosted a virtual book release party on Facebook (her first), she attended Duckon 2013 and she watched her Amazon ratings rise.
It’s all very exciting to a mother of a young child with a fulltime job.
She gets up early and tries to write in three hour stretches. “During the school year I work from about 7:30 to 5 p.m.,” she said. Her five-year-old daughter likes to watch her mother type on her laptop on the dining room table, or sometimes out in the yard of their Villa Park home. “I’d love to have an office, with a window,” she said wistfully.
She says she writes between 10 and 20 pages a week. “Sometimes she’ll ask me, ‘how long is this chapter, Mom?'”
She’s already completed Book II of the trilogy, Walking with Shadows, for which she signed a contract earlier this month.
Frencl’s schedule is so full — full-time teaching, homework, motherhood, writing — she can’t wait for inspiration.
“I call it stalking the Muse. If She doesn’t come, you have to follow her and knock her down.”
Her advice to her students who want to author books?
“Keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboards,” she said.