Worldbuilding Series Part 2

This post is the second in a three-part series. You can find parts one and three at these links.


Earlier this week I started talking about the early days of creating an entire fantasy universe from scratch, in answer to a question about how that worldbuilding has evolved over the years. Because I’ve been working in this universe for such a long time (since I was ten years old in 1989!) there have definitely been stages to that evolution.

In the previous installment, I described how the first details of Asrellion emerged from the tip of a child’s brain as she explained it to the new girl she wanted to befriend. And how, really, a lot of that early worldbuilding was pretty stupid. No fit foundation to build further work on top of.

Also, when you’re ten years old, then eleven, then twelve and onward, you’re constantly changing your mind about what you like, what’s interesting to you, what’s cool. You’re always learning new things and adjusting your understanding of the world and of yourself accordingly. You try on new self-identities like a new outfit every few months. All of this is just part of growing up. So in a very real way, Asrellion grew up with me through those years.

The next era of worldbuilding, as I started to clean up that mess while making new ones, was tumultuous but extremely productive.


Phase Two: I Have No Idea What I’m Doing, Actually, But That’s Okay?

When I was a toddler, The Hobbit made me want to write stories, but when I was sixteen, a book called Tigana made me realize that there’s a difference between writing a story down and storytelling. It honestly changed my life. Not immediately for the better.

The cover of Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay.

After the utterly amazing and emotional storytelling journey of that book, I’m afraid I went through a pretty severe “I don’t know how to do that and I lack the ability to ever learn, so I should just give it up” phase. I’ve… had a few of those over the years. (I almost had another, many years later, after reading American Gods, but by then I was old enough to snap out of it by deciding that it didn’t matter if what I was writing was trash, comparatively, or if no one was ever going to read it, I still had to write.)

I did make another attempt at Mornnovin in junior high and high school after a friend lost more than two hundred pages of the original draft(!!!), forcing me to start over, but I wasn’t any more satisfied with that one than I was with the first.

But, while I was busy wallowing in this Imposter Syndrome, I was also reading a lot. A lot. I went to college as an English major and read a lot there too. And because I’d had my Storytelling Awakening, I was now really noticing what things did and did not contribute to an effective and well-told story. Even though I’d convinced myself I could never learn how to do it like the greats, I was, after all, learning.

The thing about being a writer, even one with Imposter Syndrome, is that you never completely stop making stuff up. In fact, what has usually ended up happening to me is that the more stymied I feel on the storytelling front, the more I tend to lean into thinking about the tiny unrelated details of the world that I feel like I’m being locked out of. Can’t write a story, I guess, but I sure can hyperfixate on calendars or spend an entire week thinking about how elves would go about having snowball fights!

So this became the heavy lifting phase of the evolution of Asrellion. Most of the names, places, dates, history, cultures, and intent shifted during this time, in my early to late twenties. I attempted yet another version of Mornnovin, and this time I actually made it all the way through an entire trilogy plus a related stand-alone novel. As the work progressed, the worldbuilding naturally filled itself in.

This era, roughly 1996-2008, is where we can trace most of the development of elven history and culture, as I finally gave serious thought to the elves I was writing rather than simply coasting on Tolkien’s work. It’s also when Tomanasíl Maiantar started to be a real character and not just a cartoon villain with no other purpose but to stand in the way of whatever cool thing Loríen wanted to be doing.

Not coincidentally, these were also my big fanfiction years. As a reader of fanfiction, and later a judge for an awards site, I came to be aware of which fantasy and storytelling elements people think of as “tropes,” which are considered overdone, and which are fan favorites. To be completely honest, fanfiction taught me more functional, usable information about the nuts and bolts of writing than school ever did.

I finally started keeping notes, which is probably important and one of the only useful things I took away from college. In fact, I sort of became obsessive about keeping everything consolidated in this cool three-ring binder with a pretty sun-moon-and-stars design on it. (Sadly it was one of those floppy binders and it eventually fell apart.) It gave me a unique thrill of satisfaction to flip through all of my reference materials and be able to actually see how much worldbuilding I was doing.

Possibly one of the biggest single things I did to grow the worldbuilding at this time was getting really serious about the conlang. There was an exercise I developed in these years where I would take a page of existing material – mine, someone else’s, whatever – and translate the entire thing into Elven. That meant figuring out consistent grammar applications; more, it also meant stopping every few words when I would encounter one that I hadn’t invented in Elven yet, giving some thought to the kind of sound that concept would have in the mind of an elf, doing a bit of research into existing world languages to sort of get a feel for the way people all over the world hear and think about that concept, then crafting something of my own. Doing whole pages like this got me way deep into building my own language. Who knows – maybe I’ll publish an Elven guide someday.

Two pages from my reference binder. A poem translated into Elven, left, and a poem written out in an early version of the Elven script, right. You can see evidence that I was still working it out and testing things on the page.

Aaaaaaaalsooo, and I almost wasn’t going to admit this, but… playing a lot of The Sims 2 during this time really helped me to see the various side-characters and locations and families as real entities going through the mundane business of daily life. Yes, I’m saying that I built various Asrellion locations in The Sims, popped my characters in, and watched them go about their lives. Apart from being terribly amusing (Sim!Lanoralas really really really hated Sim!Qroíllenas and honestly tried to spend all of his time working out on the weight bench. Chill, man. Sim!Neldorí is exactly what you would expect and never quit, and consequently, all of the other Sims hated him), it provided me with some unexpected insights into the social complexities of life in Asrellion. Yes, really. One reason the world of Asrellion feels lived-in is because I spent many computer hours actually watching it be lived in.

I think it also can’t be denied that the evolution of Asrellion was significantly impacted, in ways that are impossible to quantify, by seeing the major fantasy influence of my childhood brought to life on the big screen during these years.

Despite multiple stops, starts, dry spells, and mind-changes, this long phase of Asrellion’s evolution gave us:

  • solid prototypes of Mornnovin, Trajelon, Eselvwey, and the related Faríel, which you don’t know about yet
  • a more “human” Tomanasíl
  • map names and geological features that were the result of more than spur-of-the-moment thought – including “Asrellion” itself
  • most of the grammar and vocabulary of the Elven conlang
  • detailed visualizations of the individual cities of Evlédíen and the structure of elven society
  • a slimming down of the characters and story elements I was trying to cram into each novel
  • serious conceptualization work on Elven, Grenlecian, Telrishti, and Mysian cultures
  • much pondering of what it would mean to be immortal
  • the Creation Myth
  • fleshing-out of the deep history of Asrellion
  • Autumn Festival
  • the first throwaway appearance of a bodyguard named Sovoqatsu, somewhere in the middle of Eselvwey
  • The Eleven Noble Houses
  • endless “what would x character do in y situation” thought exercises
  • a noticeably Shakespearean flavor and tragic bent
  • the first binder full of detailed – and I mean detailed – supplemental notes, including
  • the first Elven glossary
  • the Elven alphabet
  • elven poetry (that you’ll never see lol)
  • the history of Naoise’s family
  • so many timeline charts
  • a brief obsession with pearlescent colored gel pens
  • the first time I thought about the calendar in Asrellion
  • rough outlines and character profiles for a 7-book series on the early days of Asrellion

I do still have a copy of the map from these years, but it’s pencil-drawn and far too smudged now to be of any use to anyone. A nice memento, I suppose.

An old pencil-drawn map of Asrellion on lined notebook paper, smudged beyond recognition.

This era is technically not the longest but is definitely the meatiest stretch in the history of the history of Asrellion. That’s because this is when I was learning how to do what I wanted to do, and how to be more thoughtful and intentional about doing it. It’s not a coincidence that I was doing a lot of living in these years too. Living is how you develop any ideas worth actually writing about.

Which set the stage for Phase Three.


The History of the History of Asrellion parts one and three.

The History of the History of Asrellion: Part 1

This post is the first in a three-part series. You can find parts two and three at these links.


Long, long ago in the once upon a time, a child drew a map to impress the new girl at school. The child often drew maps, but mostly they were of places that already existed because someone else had already created them. This time, the place did not exist until the map was finished, because no one else had created it yet.

Asrellion was born.

It really was that simple – and simplistic – back then. I mean, I’d always been making up adventure stories in my head and pretending to fight orcs and dragons and things in my playtime. But up until that moment, I’d never committed anything to paper. I’d never settled on any continuous canon details. I just liked to pretend that I was an elf sometimes, usually a tragic orphan because so many of the stories are about tragic orphans (and because being the youngest of seven children, an introvert in a household of nine people, I loved the idea of being alone.) Usually I was in Middle Earth, because I was very familiar with Middle Earth. The important thing was that I had a cape, and a sword, and a trusty steed (played by my bicycle), and bad guys to defeat. The details were inconsistent and irrelevant up to that point.

But this, when I drew that map? This was the first time I started making up stories in a place with a name I’d invented.

Turns out, though, there’s a lot more to developing an entire fantasy world than just drawing a map and slapping a few made-up words onto it.

The evolution of Asrellion, in life as in-universe, can be looked at broadly in three phases: 1. excited, naïve, careless genesis; 2. cautious slowing and intentional retooling – the heavy lifting years; and 3. rebirth, carefully making thoughtful tweaks and additions while watching the world grow organically as life moves through it,


Phase One: flinging oatmeal at the wall

I really wish I still had that first map so I could show you how ridiculous my little-kid ideas were, but also how surprisingly-not-as-different-as-you’d-expect the final form of Asrellion actually is. It probably looked something about like this though:

Why does the landmass have no southern edge? Why is the entire world a single continent? These and many other sensible questions will never have any answers because children don’t know shit.

What’s extra hilarious is that back when I was 10 to 12, I had this starry-eyed notion that I’d write these stories and send them anonymously to some publisher who would be like “THIS IS AMAZING. THE NEXT TOLKIEN. SOMEONE FIND THIS GENIUS AT ONCE SO WE CAN SHOWER THEM WITH ACCLAIM!” and then I’d reveal that I was A KID and everyone would be so shocked.

So as you can see, the first phase of Asrellion was not terribly serious.

What it was, was fun. My friend and I would share our princess adventure story ideas with each other, and together we came up with a loose mythology for the worlds we were playing in. There wasn’t a lot of consistency but it didn’t matter. What mattered was fun and creation. We’d get together to play and a new adventure would emerge.

I think exactly two names from that first Asrellion have survived from their earliest incarnation into the present day: Grenlec and Telrisht. Maybe Dewfern also? Not a single one of the characters, although Lyn is close – formerly Lynne. The main cast of characters were almost all around by the first version of Mornnovin, though, and more or less like themselves. The name of the world did at least begin with an A, but it was a horrifying portmanteau of three or four nonsensical things that I happened to have on my mind at the moment that I blurted it out.

Some of the delights we’ve lost since that first draft include but are not limited to:

  • a talking unicorn
  • talking horses
  • a whole pack of helpful dog friends
  • an inter-dimensional portal (yes, really)
  • an undead army brought back to fight for the bad guy Black Cauldron-style
  • a plucky comic relief dwarf character
  • a zany, possibly-mad wizard who helped the heroes when he felt like it
  • random magic rings
  • magic singing
  • a magic sword
  • Lyn and Loríen as identical twins so hilarious mistaken-identity hijinks could ensue
  • a really kickass dragon fight
  • a visit to a whole entire fairy city
  • secret waterfall caves
  • everyone in love with Loríen, actually
  • so much kidnapping
  • just, like, so many magical doohickeys
  • a hundred distracting and unrelated subplots
  • at least 80% more angst

I wasn’t writing down any of the lore during this time, roughly 1989-1996, which is a shame. In fact, I still have copies of absolutely none of this early writing or worldbuilding anymore. (Most of my earliest recorded stories were saved on floppy disks which erased themselves spontaneously. There was swearing.)

The only form in which any of this has survived is in the DNA base code of what came after.


The History of the History of Asrellion parts two and three.

Q&A Bonus Round!

It has been brought to my wandering attention that I missed a question in my author Q&A. It’s a good one too and it seems a real shame to let it slide, so I’m going to take a crack at it here.

Q: “Who is your favorite and least favorite characters and why excluding the main hero/heroines/villians?”

Wow!

I have this feeling that writers probably aren’t supposed to admit that they have favorite characters, sort of like the way parents aren’t supposed to have favorites among their own children (even though we all know they totally do.) But I’m nothing if not a rebel.

So, obviously my main characters are my favorites, or else someone else would be the main characters. You want to know who else, though? Unapologetically, I am a big fan of one Neldorí Chalaqar, my favorite shitlord. He’s a terrible, terrible person who is so much fun to write. For real, I often find myself grinning as I write Neldorí scenes because he’s just so in love with himself, so brazen, so smooth, so amoral, and so pleased to be exactly who and what he is. He has, like, whatever the exact opposite of Imposter Syndrome is. If he were a real person, he would be insufferable and I would hate every second of having to deal with him. As a fictional character, he’s a damn delight.

My least favorite character? Would it surprise you to hear that if you’d asked this question a couple decades ago, I might have considered Lyn in this category? I used to have a fiercely difficult time understanding and writing her. Just in general, I don’t understand optimism and I sometimes find myself annoyed by it. As I’ve gotten older, though, and as I’ve made deliberate choices to lean into my own softness and my wonder at the world, Lyn and I have started to see things more like each other. I realize that I wasn’t being fair to her (or optimists) back in the day and I like her a lot better now.

Today I’d probably say my least favorite character is Qroíllenas Qaí. It’s not his fault that he really has no redeeming qualities — he’s just doing what he was written to do. But yeah. He really has no redeeming qualities. In the same way that writing Neldorí gives me joy, writing Qroíllen always sucks it out of me.

So there you go, question-asker! Sorry this answer didn’t make it into the Q&A video, but you got your very own blog post, so that’s something.

our trauma. our vast national grief.

I just finished watching the national memorial service for our Covid dead, arranged by President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris. I thought it was important to participate because through all of this, we have never collectively been allowed to mourn the grave injury that we are all suffering. In fact, half of the country is actively denying the injury, trying to gaslight us into believing there is not in fact this gaping hole in the nation and in our hearts where nearly half a million of our friends, co-workers, and loved ones were just a year ago.

That our incoming president felt the necessity of acknowledging the ache of this national wound — simply, humbly, without bravado, but with solemn sincerity — and inviting all of us to join him briefly in sharing the burden of that grief before turning toward the celebration of his inauguration, is so decent. So human. So normal. Almost as soon as the service began, I started sobbing uncontrollably for the stark contrast between this decency and the grotesque inhumanity of the monster who has been subjecting all of us to the whims of his diseased psyche for the past five years.

Now that the destructive T**** regime is coming to an end and the weight is beginning to lift, I’m starting to realize just how constantly triggering it has been as an abuse survivor to live under the national thumb of an abuser whose name and face and relentless indignities have been centered so prominently in the daily business of our lives. Having escaped abuse before, I know that the period after you get free is when you collapse under the weight of everything you’ve been carrying for so long. It’s no surprise that I would find myself suddenly heaving with sobs just because an average Joe and his Vice President addressed the nation for a few quiet minutes to recognize the collective trauma we’ve been unable to process because it is ongoing. Because it is in dispute by those who would gaslight us and traumatize is further. Because we’re supposed to be focusing on going to our jobs and doing our work and “supporting the economy.” Because to truly admit to the vastness of this loss, this grief, would mean having to admit that we are in real trouble and it is our neighbors, friends, and family who got us here by uncritically swallowing the lies of a sociopath.

This grief, this vast national grief, is too big for any one of us to bear. As I watched the memorial lights serenely reflect into the pool of the National Mall while our incoming leaders joined us in a moment of silence, it hit home that we don’t have to bear it alone anymore.

It’s going to be a while before I’m okay. Trauma does a number on you in so many ways, and you never know how it’ll pop back up or when. If you’re also not okay, that’s fine. We’re all in this together and we’ve all been through a lot.

But for now, it’s good to be reminded that it’s possible to expect and see decency in our leaders. The last administration was a four-year stress dream. Let’s wake up, wash off the funk, and remember that no matter what our abuser tried to tell us, we do all have inherent worth, there are people who love us and want us to succeed, and selfish cruelty is not normal or tolerable.

There’s humanity in the White House again.

And the winner is…

For the past two weeks, I’ve been running a book giveaway to find homes for three advance reader copies of my upcoming novel Trajelon, due out 11/24/20. It is now my pleasure to announce the three winners!

Using Random Name Picker, they are nevadawolfe, terriwriting, and notimeforpants (which is one of the best usernames I’ve ever seen.)

Congratulations to our three winners! Get in touch with me at your earliest convenience at alyssabethancourt@gmail.com with the address you would like your book sent to!

Deer me!

Last night, I sat at the dining table (because there are too many mosquitoes outside) waiting for Hento to come in from a potty break. He was taking far too long, so I popped out to see what the holdup was and encourage him to get a move on.

I absolutely did not expect to see what I saw.

Standing at the fence that separates our yard from that of the abandoned house next door was an entire freaking great big deer, very calmly chewing some grass while watching Hento with evident curiosity. For his part, Hento was standing at the fence, looking up at the deer, wagging his tail and whining and vibrating with excitement.

The deer looked at me when I stepped out onto the porch, but it didn’t move. Perhaps it thought it was concealed by the darkness.

I grabbed a tantalizing bag of treats and called out to Hento to come inside, knowing it would be a futile effort. He ignored me. He couldn’t even hear me, because he had been transported into another plane of reality where this giant forest puppy was about to become his new best friend (or next meal, perhaps.) I went down into the yard proper to physically fetch him. The deer still had not moved.

Hento was at least aware of my presence, apparently, because at my approach he began to feverishly run up and down the length of the fence looking for a point of entry to the next yard, where he could achieve his heart’s desire. The deer just stood there munching grass, watching all of this transpire.

Eventually I was able to catch Hento by the collar as he darted past me, and I marched him under protest back into the house where he continued to run around not knowing what to do with himself.

Through it all, that deer never budged an inch.

WE DID IT!

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2, Wednesday, March 11th, 2020:

Fireworks of various colors bursting against a black background

Wow, so obviously yesterday was a big day. Here I was, watching the numbers, hoping we would hit that $3200 mark so I could do an update about the Autumn Festival masks like I promised. Instead, thanks to four incredibly lovely people, we just sailed right tf to the total goal and now we’re fully funded.

We’re going to publish a book, you guys!

The campaign ends next Wednesday morning (3/18) at 10 a.m. Eastern DST, so if you wanted to essentially preorder your copy of Trajelon and secure that backer credit on the special thanks page, you still have some time to sneak in a little pledge.

Thank you so much to everyone who got the fundraiser to this point. Your belief in me, in supporting indie artists, in getting diverse fantasy into the market, or simply in hot elf action is inspirational and I love you all. Thank you. Thank you.

And now, because we’ve earned it, let’s look at some pretty masks!

As the leaves turn in Evlédíen and the fall harvest comes in, as the air crispens and the days lengthen, the capital city dons its annual red and gold adornments and the elves of the Valley put on fantastical disguises. Beginning at dusk of a night in mid-Autumn, the entire city of Efrondel becomes one massive party until the dawn three nights later.

Last year, I rewarded my two $500-tier backers by crafting them a custom Autumn Festival mask of the sort that would be worn by the elves of Evlédíen in their revels.

One backer requested a peacock, which absolutely delighted me. It was the very best sort of challenge and I had so much fun bringing this lovely creature into existence.

I spent some time at the start of the project hemming and hawing over whether to work from a mask blank or whether to create one myself from a plaster cast (a skill that, weirdly, I have been carrying around without practical application since elementary school art class.) At the craft supply store, I stumbled on this birdish blank and felt that I could do something with it, so I snapped it up.

zero 1.sm

Obviously, it needed a LOT of work. More beak, at the very least. And the paper was a nice heavy weight, but I wanted the finished product to be a lot more durable. I built a beak and some brow contour out of papier mâché, gave it a good sanding, smoothed it over with an application of acrylic texture medium, sanded that, and gave the whole thing a seal coat.

Ready to prettify.

mache sanded 6.sm

Pleased with the final beak.

This is where it got really fun.

One of the most delightful things about peacocks is of course the almost holographic quality of their feathers. The complexity of the colors. (This is also, unfortunately, something that makes this mask a bit difficult to accurately capture on camera.) No simple flat application of a single color would do for this fellow; I gave it several layers of several colors, ending up with this.

painted 3.sm

Really hard to capture an accurate impression of the paint effect in a static image. I tried to give it real depth and complexity.

And because there was no way I was going to escape this project without gold-leafing something (I really love gold-leafing things), this also happened before I headed into the final embellishment phase.

leafed 1.sm

Then it was just a matter of asking the question, “How much stuff can I get on this mask before it collapses under the weight of its own opulence?” The answer was probably a bit more than what I gave it, but I didn’t want to kill it after all.

mosaic

I hand-strung those beads myself.

IMG_20190310_000647.sm

I was so in love with this mask that I held onto it for several weeks with the permission of its recipient in the hope that I’d be able to deliver it in person, fearful of the damage it might suffer in transit. Sadly, that never happened, and eventually I had to very carefully load this pretty bird into the post. Fortunately, it arrived unscathed and its wearer was able to be a gorgeous peacock for Halloween.

The second mask was a bit more of a challenge, and I spent some time thinking about it before even beginning to work on it. That’s because its recipient simply gave me the guideline of “Red. Just… make it red.”

Well that could mean a lot of things.

What finally got me out of the indecisive conceptual phase was coming across this flamey mask blank.

blank mask

Suddenly, a firebirdy sort of concept came to me. But because the idea was so simple, I wanted to focus on doing something really interesting, really flamey, with the texture.

This mask, from the beginning, wanted to be difficult. Difficult to plan, difficult to fabricate, difficult to bend to my will. The papier mâché absolutely refused, across several attempts, to play nicely with the material of the mask blank. The acrylic texture medium refused to come to a uniform texture. The paint refused to blend in the precise proportions that I wanted it to. The gold leaf refused to stay where I told it to. There were no red feathers to be found in any local craft store anywhere. Even the tube of glue I bought for the red gems was a dud. Oh, the whole thing was a disaster.

And yet somehow, in the end, it was also a thing of sublime beauty.

IMG_20190430_201133.sm

Post-paint, pre-feather.

finished mask collage

I ended up painting those feathers myself.

Fitting that the phoenix mask had to be born of such struggle. Could it really have been any other way?

And so, my friends, I leave you this evening with these gorgeous photos and my thanks for your support. When the campaign ends next Wednesday, it will go into a processing phase before Kickstarter releases the funds to me. This can take up to two weeks. During the wait, and now that I no longer have to be focused on fundraising, I’ll be working on formatting the text file of the novel to send to the printer. We already have a lovely piece of art from Scott Baucan all ready to be turned into a cover and the Trajelon bookmarks are in the works.

In other words, I’m ready to hit the ground running. Thanks to you.

 

 

We’re about to hit $3000 and that calls for a Festival

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2: Monday, March 9th 2020:

You know what? We’re closing in on $3000, which is incredibly exciting. Just $724 left to go, total! And with just over a week left in this campaign, we’re running out of time for me to spoil you with worldbuilding tidbits.

When I was fundraising for Mornnovin, I shared a quick primer of the history of Asrellion. (Parts One and Two.)

I unveiled the fancy new world map.

I gave a teaser of the sort of jewelry I’d be making for backers (which I’ve since shown you here,) giving you a sense of the elven aesthetic.

I introduced our cast of heroes one by one (or sometimes two by two): SovoqatsuVíelleSefaroBryant and LynAlyra and her brother DairinnColeNaoise, and Loralíenasa.

I even talked a bit about conlangs and gave a brief history of the construction of the Elven language I’ve created for the elves of Asrellion.

And then of course I shared an entire massive book with you (and some of you even got your hands on an additional short story, which is still available to anyone who can message me to show that they’ve shared this campaign to at least two social media platforms.)

I feel like you’re starting to get to know me and the world of Asrellion pretty well by now.

Now you’re getting a sneak peak at some new faces – although there are still more which must of necessity remain a secret until they appear in Trajelon. You’ll see why when you get there. But something else you might like to hear more about – that has maybe been shrouded in some degree of mystery until now – is this Autumn Festival thing I keep mentioning.

Festival makes a brief but useful appearance in Mornnovin. Loríen and a group of concerned elves use the cover provided by the occasion to hold a secret, subversive meeting. But what is Festival?

From Mornnovin, Chapter Eleven:

———————–

Long ago, in the early days of the Homeland, Festival had been an event that came only once every six years – a special, rare occasion when elves gathered together to celebrate Vaian’s Creation. After the War of Exile and the many years of suffering that followed, it had been Loralíenasa’s father, King Andras, who decreed that Festival would become an annual affair. Their people sorely needed the diversion from their sorrow.

And because they needed it, because the rest of the year was devoted to mourning what had been lost, the elves took Festival and its rules seriously. People would do things on these three nights and the two days between them that would fly in the face of who they were. For some it would mean standing before a crowd at a tea or khala house and reciting poetry. For others it would mean entertainment of an altogether darker and more carnal character. What happened behind Festival masks was never spoken of again.

———————–

So, yeah. The short version is that elves are incredibly uptight and Festival is the only time they let themselves have fun. And they take their fun very, very seriously.

Because they’re so serious about Festival not just for its entertainment value but for its – for lack of a better term – religious significance, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure that Festival is accessible to all elves. Through a lottery system, everyone has to take turns running the necessary services over the course of those three nights and the two days between them. No one is exempt. Instead of currency, everyone is given a stipend of Festival credits to spend, which is also good throughout the year for artisans who specialize in Festival costumery. (Hoarding costumes after the event is discouraged but not outlawed – it’s considered polite to return an especially gorgeous work of costume art back into circulation for others to use next year.)

All in all, for a holiday that seems so free-wheeling when it’s in motion, Festival is highly ritualized. But really, the most important rules are these:

  1. Do not ask names.
  2. Do not give names.
  3. What happens at Festival stays at Festival.

And so a particular sort of holiday has come to be. I mean, just try to imagine if Vulcans were allowed to cut loose and do whatever they want for two days and three nights, no judgment, no repercussions, none of the usual rules about controlling their emotions.

spock

Now that’s a party.

75%: Let’s meet Lanas

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2, Saturday March 7th 2020:

Are you excited? I’m excited. Because we’ve got over a week left and only $904 still to raise now. We’re at 75% funded right this minute. The end is in sight!

When we cross the $3200 mark and have only $500 left to go, I will show you the absolutely stunningly gorgeous Autumn Festival masks that it was my joy to make for my two big backers of Mornnovin. And to be honest I almost can’t wait to show you, because they might just be the most beautiful things I’ve ever made.

Today I’m going to present another character we met in Mornnovin who didn’t get his own introduction during the last fundraiser, but who is very important to our heroine.

Friends, meet Lanoralas Galvan (Lah-NOR-ah-lahs GAHL-vahn.)

Lanoralas

I don’t know who this is. Hair model? Couldn’t find a name. But that sure is some hair.

A few days ago, we met the vivacious Víara Galvan; Lanoralas is her uncle, but he’s actually not all that much older than her.

From a young age, Lanas has been a prodigy with a blade. He studied at the prestigious Voromé School of Combat, following the time-honored curriculum established by its illustrious founder, but honestly he was teaching his teachers from pretty early on. It has always been like the sword is a living extension of his own flesh.

Far from being haughty about this, or seeking to use his prowess to bully or gain power, Lanas has always been a calm, quiet, steadying influence on everyone around him. He knows who he is and what he wants out of life (which is honestly just to hone the skill of his body and the discipline of his mind) and has no need to prove anything to anyone.

Because of that – and because of the loyalty he showed during a crucial time in young Tomanasíl Maiantar’s regency – he was the obvious choice to fill the vacant position when the old Captain of the Guard retired. Despite his youth at the time of the appointment, he has been nothing but a responsible professional from his first day in the post.

Except, arguably, after Loralíenasa Raia showed up in his life.

When the young princess wished to learn swordfighting, Lanas was again the obvious choice to be her teacher both for his excellence, and for his good humor and unruffled demeanor. Her guardian felt that Lanas would be a good influence on her. It… seems to have gone in the other direction. Lanas somehow finds himself having to do the occasional foolish thing under her headstrong influence. And even though he has to put up a show of being the face of law and order, he doesn’t actually mind all that much. Having an excuse to enact a tiny rebellion now and then is good for the soul. Besides, sometimes the rules are wrong.

Loralíenasa and Lanoralas have never had anything but tremendous fondness – even love – for one another. (He was briefly her first romantic fling before they mutually agreed they didn’t have that sort of relationship.) There’s really no one she trusts more, except perhaps Naoise Raynesley.

Lanas is into swordfighting (obviously), proper sword care, physical training, military history, the elven strategy board game sují, and attending the occasional horse race. He values loyalty, friendship, courage, competence, and a healthy sense of humor, and strives to live these qualities himself.

Look what we can do

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2, Friday March 6th 2020:

Something has occurred to me. Probably belatedly. For all this time that I’ve been asking you to help me publish Trajelon, I’ve been talking about the content, which is all well and good and I’m certainly proud of it, but that part is done already. What we’re trying to do here together – the reason we need to raise capital – is to put out a physical copy of the novel, and maybe you’d like to see what that would look like.

And because we’ve already done this once before, with Book 1, I can show you!

I have to tell you that, as an author, there’s nothing in the world like actually holding a print copy of a story you’ve written. A real, live, solid, honest-to-goodness book, with my name on it and everything. When my first proof of Mornnovin arrived, and I saw that book-shaped package sitting on my doorstep, I let out a genuine squeak. It was very undignified. Luckily, no one was there to witness it but my dog, and Hento doesn’t judge. There may also have been some slight hyperventilation when I opened the package and saw the spine of the book with my name right there in fancy print.

From there it just got more surreal. My cover. My map. My story. My Elven glossary. THAT’S ME ON THE “ABOUT THE AUTHOR” PAGE! There it all was, just like I’d sent it to the printer. It would turn out, of course, that there were some things to tweak and fix about that first proof so it wasn’t a perfect specimen or anything, but having it in my hands was… an experience.

It took a couple tries to get it right. I was brand-spanking-new to publishing, and with IngramSpark I am my own layout designer, cover designer, editor, typesetter – the whole enchilada. All they do is print exactly what I send them, exactly how I send it. The learning curve was steep. I’m happy to report, though, that I did learn.

And this is what I’m capable of giving you.

Mornnovin is a 6 x 9 trade paperback with matte laminate cover and cream interior, 496 pages in total. It weighs, if you’re curious, approximately 1.6 lbs, and is just over 1 inch thick in the spine.

Let’s all take another minute to appreciate Scott Baucan’s beautiful cover art.

Have you ever tried to write a back cover blurb? Ugh.

I can’t even tell you how many hours I spent looking at fonts online, hunting down the perfect specimen.

We have a map!

It’s a book! For real!

Spoilers.

Yep — this is a conlang glossary sort of book!

I felt strongly enough about the overall quality of Mornnovin that I entered it into the 27th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. It scored a perfect 5/5 on Production Quality and Cover Design.

As proud as I am of the trade paperback, though, I want to show you something even prettier.

Exactly three hardcover copies of Mornnovin exist in all the world: two for my wonderful $500-backers, and one for my amazing husband who happens to be my biggest fan and supporter. I threw this reward in almost as an afterthought last time, (and went through some unexpected headaches getting it made,) and then ended up being completely blindsided by just how much I loved the finished product.

I mean. It’s just gorgeous.

Look at that gloss. That shine. The solidity of it.

Shiny.

Hento insisted that I include this photo.

Currently, I have exactly one pledge for Trajelon at the $500-level, which means that as things stand I will be printing just two hardcover copies of this book, ever, when the fundraiser ends. TWO! That seems like a shame, wouldn’t you say?

At any rate, I hope you agree that the product is gorgeous and well worth what we’re doing here with this campaign. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hold Trajelon and see it sitting next to Mornnovin on my bookshelf!

Wake up call with another introduction

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2, Thursday March 5th 2020:

Here we are. The doldrums. The Ides of the Fundraiser. 18 days in with 12 days to go. Head down, hands on knees, catching our breath because we know we still need to rally for the fourth quarter. We’ve come a long way, and the finish line is still far enough out to look daunting.

This seems like a good day to introduce you to someone with a little verve.

Meet Víara Galvan.

Brandi Rhodes

Brandi Rhodes as Víara Galvan. It’s those eyes.

For a confluence of reasons, Loralíenasa Raia had a fairly isolated childhood. One problem? An unlucky shortage of children who happened to be close to her age. Víara Galvan was the one exception. Once the two discovered each other, they proceeded to get into all sorts of trouble together. Their friendship was an ongoing headache for Loríen’s guardian Tomanasíl, but he couldn’t exactly forbid her from spending time with the one child in her age group from all of the Eleven Noble Houses.

At the beginning of Mornnovin, Víara and Loríen are in the middle of an irresponsible scheme that almost ends terribly for Loríen. When Tomanasíl finds out, there is hell to pay for both of them for a long time but it doesn’t dampen their friendship (or inclination toward mischief when put together.)

Víara has a larger-than-life personality and almost mythic levels of confidence, and likes to be the center of attention whenever possible. She’s a performer of many stripes – singer, dancer, occasional actor when the role is interesting enough – as dashing and philandering as Neldorí Chalaqar and then some. It would probably be scandalous except that she has a way of carrying herself with a sort of unfussy dignity that implies things become correct when she does them.

She’s into the arts, snarkiness, being flashy, and romantic exploits of every imaginable kind with every imaginable partner.

I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting Víara because so have I. If you want to see more of her, we’re going to have to get this campaign funded! Kickstarter tells me that the success rate jumps exponentially for fundraisers that manage to cross the 66% threshold, which is why I’d really love it (and would sleep better tonight) if we could shoot past that. We only need $143 to get there, so I know we can do it.

Stick with me! We’re going to bust out of the middle of this thing for a strong finish! And the next time I update, I’ll show you what we can all have when we do.

lazy Sunday afternoon

It’s 42° F and sort of cloudy here today, following a couple of days of the sort of cold where just stepping outside is enough to remind my nose that it was broken once. They were busy days, Friday being what it was in a calendarish sense and Saturday being full up with an excursion into the city for writing critique group (my turn to submit) and location scouting for my husband’s next movie. We brought the husky along, since his separation anxiety sets an immutable stopwatch running any time we leave him home alone. (Five hours to the minute, max. Four and a half is better. Past that, there are… consequences.)

Today, in contrast, is a slower sort of day. And yet.

And yet tomorrow the Kickstarter for Trajelon launches. Because I’ve done this before, I know that means I’m about to step into the whirlwind.

It’s the deep breath before the plunge, as Gandalf the White tells Peregrin Took.

Yatsuhashi

It was September 2001. My husband had only just found employment again after being unexpectedly fired over the summer, and we were deep in the depths of financial stress. Then, that thing happened that happened in September of that year. It was a bleak month.

We got a phone call.

The couple who had bred our Shiba Inu, Kishu, had just overseen the arrival of their final litter of puppies: two feisty females. They were hoping to place them in homes that already had a member of the family. One of them was already spoken for. There was one left. Were we interested?

Oh geez. We were interested, sure, but could we afford it? We’d been talking about getting a friend for Kishu because he was alone much of the day when I was at school and my husband was at work. And this was our last chance to give him a *sister* sister.

In any case, things were pretty grim and we could do with a pick-me-up, so we agreed to at least meet her.

It should be obvious to anyone that this was a trap. I mean, puppies. Of *course* we were charmed by her, and of *course* we went home and talked about how we could make it work.

puppies together

Yashi and Stephen in October 2001, puppies together.

A few weeks later, when she was old enough, we brought home our bouncing baby girl. Yashi was a handful from that first car ride onward. But OMG was she cute. Our little Cinnamon Cookie. Just a tiny, spunky ball of fluff and naughtiness.

She belched, she swore (in dog, of course), she murdered (birds), she stole (her brother’s bed and pretty much anything else she wanted), she ate everything she shouldn’t (toys, clothes, shoes, glasses, TIN CANS), she destroyed furniture — she was Trouble. She probably would have flicked cigarettes and guzzled six packs if given the opportunity. I can’t even recall how many times she ran away from home like a rebellious teen. The most notorious of those escapes, we found her five days later, two cities and three freeways away!

We had many nicknames for her, and I believe they paint quite a picture: Spike, Teeth, Evil, Demon, Furanha, Furricane, Tank, Goat, Weasel, Princess Fizzbitch, Beast, etc. When people saw her, they would inevitably move in to pet her and say, “Oh she’s so cute! Does she bite?” The answer was yes. Yes, she would bite. Though she was but little, she was fierce. Kishu, bless him, did his best with her (and totally loved her,) but at the best of times you could tell that his feelings about her largely consisted of “Ugh,” and “Really?!”

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Yashi (left) and her brother Kishu (right)

As an adult Shiba, she grew to a petite but solid 18 pounds, decidedly cinnamon but with obvious cream in her family makeup. And boy could she EAT. We always said she had a cast iron stomach, because there was nothing too spicy, too bold, too potentially poisonous for her.

Food or not, she ate whatever she wanted. Including, one year, an entire giant dark chocolate Easter bunny. We were certain that was going to be the end of her, but she shrugged it off just like she shrugged off everything else that should have kept her down. (She was up and jumping within three hours after being spayed. Crazy beast!) Not even eventually having a dog brother who was approximately 7x her size and could fit her entire body inside his mouth made her blink. She bullied him just like she bullied everyone else — adorably and with sassy impunity.

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Yashi and her new little brother Jiro, who did not stay little for long.

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Yashi and a much older Jiro — how the tables turned!

As she moved from puppyhood into middle age, she started to lose some of her tankiness but none of her sass. Her appearance was deceptively delicate. When it became clear that she was shrinking, but was also indestructible, I hit upon the Cuteness Singularity Theory. Yashi was immortal, I reasoned. Nothing could harm her. But you know the (totally scientific) principle of how, if you take a normal-sized thing and make a miniature version of that thing, the miniature version is like exponentially cuter, just on principle? If Yashi were to keep shrinking, and keep getting cuter, she would eventually reach a point where her smallness and cuteness were just too much to be supported by the laws of physics, and she would collapse into a Cuteness Singularity like a neutron star, thereby destroying the entire universe.

It seemed more plausible than Yashi ever expiring of natural causes.

When I left Arizona in May of 2015, she stayed behind with my son Stephen, her chosen human. By that time, they had developed a very special bond and separating them was unthinkable. She did not do well while watching us pack up the house for our respective moves. It’s heartbreaking to me that my last memories of Yashi are of watching her sink into panic and despair while her home slowly disappeared around her. I know that she and Stephen were an essential comfort to each other in that chaotic time.

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My last photo with Yashi, May 2015.

It was a difficult transition for everyone, but team YashiStephen pulled through it into a place of some calm. Stephen said at the end of 2019 that it had been a good year for him and he was happy.

But somehow, it turns out, Yashi was not actually immortal. I’m still stunned about that and I’m not sure how to process the information. I was waiting for her to cause the Cuteness Singularity death of the universe. I was not expecting to find out that she was in the late stages of dementia and fading fast. At her last vet weigh-in, she was only 10 pounds. It is a terrible situation to face, but ultimately, human caretakers have to make the compassionate decision about our furry friends’ end-of-life arrangements. I respect Stephen like hell for giving her 18 and 1/3 long years of life, and I respect him for choosing to send her off in love and snuggles.

Yesterday, on January 20th 2020, he said goodbye to his little buddy, his sheeb, his tiny princess.

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Little old lady Yashi with her boy, before the end.

You were a goodbad dog, Princess Yatsuhashi, and we love you. Thank you for taking care of my boy when I couldn’t. Sleep well, sweet beastie.

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A younger Yashi with her boy after a day out — all smiles.