Fans of Columbus area author Valerie Biel can finally find out what happens next in the life of Brigit Quinn — the modern-day teen who was struggling to deal with the news that she is a descendent of a legendary Celtic tribe that serves as the guardians for the stone circles in Ireland.
Biel started telling Brigit’s story in “Circle of Nine: Beltany,” then turned her attention to three of Brigit’s formidable ancestors in the “Circle of Nine: Novella Collection.”
In her new book, “Circle of Nine: Sacred Treasures,” Biel gets back to Brigit. The story picks up a couple of months after the first book ended.
“To be honest, I should have been writing this one when I was writing the novellas,” Biel said. “But I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go.”
Her readers had been asking her to write full book-length stories about some of the historical characters they were introduced to in “Beltany.” Biel didn’t think Brigit’s ancestors each warranted their own novel, but she saw value to filling in some of the blanks and had a great time exploring the worlds of three of them in novella format.
Now Biel is back to her original tale with Brigit, who has just turned 16 and only recently come to terms with her responsibility to protect her family’s mystical history. Unfortunately, Brigit’s life doesn’t get any easier in this book, as she now finds everything she holds dear in jeopardy. A mysterious packet warns of an evil force seeking to steal the legendary weapons known as the Sacred Treasures, and Brigit is catapulted on a mission to discover exactly who is threatening her people.
The series is aimed at the young adult market, but much to Biel’s delight, it’s found fans across many different age groups. Adult readers, both men and women, wrote wonderful reviews of her debut novel and let her know they were anxiously awaiting the followup.
For Biel, writing for a teenage protagonist was a lot of fun.
“It’s like I’m channeling my inner teen,” she said. “I don’t know if other people remember their teen years or their childhoods in detail, but I can remember really vivid things like textures and smells and it helps me a lot when I’m writing.”
Inspired by Ireland
The initial inspiration for the story came from Biel’s love of travel and her fascination with Irish standing stone circles and other ancient monuments. She’s been to Ireland six or seven times, most recently last April when she and her husband R.J. traveled there to do research for “Sacred Treasures.”
“I had already done the outline and was about a month into writing it, and I wanted to confirm some things about the way things looked,” Biel said. Internet research was a big help, but being in the actual place that she was writing about — where she could breathe in the pungent scent of peat and trudge across the bogs, dodging the dark puddles — was a great inspiration and helped her to describe Brigit’s surroundings.
Getting to some of the historic locations she wanted to visit proved to be a bit difficult, though. A lot of the roads in County Donegal are narrow and winding, and the heritage sites are marked with just small brown signs. Adding to the challenge, for Americans at least, is the fact that the Irish drive on the left side of the road. (Biel left the driving to her husband.)
When the couple was searching for Kilclooney Dolmen, which features in her new book, they ended up at a farmer’s gate, where they had to park and then walk down a path to the stone monument. Landowners are required to provide walkable access to any heritage sites on their property, Biel said.
The path itself was incredible, framed in an archway of trees and leaves. “It just looked magical,” Biel said. And when they emerged from the tunnel of leaves, the sun came out, on what was an otherwise grey, overcast day, giving her the perfect light for taking pictures. One of the photos she took that day ended up being used as the base for the cover of the book.
Biel’s niece, Kelsey Curkeet, is an artist, and she’s created all of the cover art for the “Circle of Nine” books. She starts with a photo in Photoshop and then paints over the top of it, adding in people and other details as needed.
Finishing the book
After returning to the United States, Biel worked diligently on finishing the book. She wrote off an outline for this book, unlike her first novel which she made up as she went along.
“Once you’ve created a world with rules of magic and lots of people who may have said this or may have said that ... you have to be careful not to make a mistake,” Biel said.
She found the writing process easier this time around and committed to putting 3,000 words a day down on paper. “It’s a lot to write in a day, but I knew what I had to do, and I tried to do that five days a week, like a job,” she said.
Biel finished her rough draft Aug. 4 and then went through an extensive editing process. She belongs to a critique group of other writers and has a small band of beta readers who also read for her and offer their input.
“I’ve found I’m a much better editor now than I was in the beginning,” she said. “I had a lot more people read the first book, and I found it was almost like there were too many cooks in the kitchen sometimes.”
Self-publishing her books
So far Biel has been self-publishing her books, although that may be changing in the future. She recently signed on with an agent who is shopping another book that she wrote around to publishers.
The publishing industry moves very slowly, though, so she’s not sure if or when anything will happen with that book. In the meantime, she has been focused on getting “Sacred Treasures” finished up and printed on her own.
Next up on her agenda is promotion. She will be selling her new “Circle of Nine” novel, and the rest of the books in the trilogy, at a couple of area craft and vendor fairs.
With three books behind her now, Biel has started sharing what she’s learned with other writers and doing consulting work through a division of her company, Lost Lake Press.
“I’m helping authors work their way through their marketing and their publicity and in some cases, I’m their indie publishing coach,” she said.
She’s also been teaching classes on independent publishing and doing panel discussions at writing conferences.