I had wanted to write something soft and sweet about Hento, because that’s what he was, but apparently that’s just not yet where I’m at. The last two and a half years (plus) have really kicked me in the teeth, and to lose my emotional support animal in that manner at that time just…
Let’s say there’s a lot of pain and anger, still.
The estate chaos is finally over, Autumn is peeking around the corner, the household is looking at our next steps together into a scary but exciting stage, and I’ve unexpectedly fallen in love with another dog far sooner than I expected to be capable of it.
Life goes on. I imagine my rage at the universe for what it did to Hento will cool eventually.
As we enter a new season here at Château Dinosaur, my thoughts turn again toward getting a handle on my most problematic post-thyroidectomy life change: brain fog.
It has been difficult – in part because of the brain fog – to try to convey to the people around me just how serious the issue is. We’ve all felt “a little out of it” before, or had memory blips, or been so fatigued after a late night that it’s hard to think straight, so people tend to assume they know what brain fog is and that it’s possible to just rest up and recover from it. It’s not. Also the term, “brain fog” sounds unserious and made-up, in no way capturing the debilitating and very real effects of losing your ability to marshal your higher brain functions.
With COVID-19 still ripping through the population here in the US, leaving millions in its wake to struggle with the effects of long-COVID, the seriousness of brain fog has finally been garnering mainstream attention. People dealing with various chronic illnesses like ME, CFS, and yes, hypothyroidism, have tried for decades to get the medical establishment and the general public to take this symptom seriously.
When I read this article from Ed Yong at The Atlantic, about brain fog, I legitimately shed tears. Brain fog is real, it’s a medical condition, it’s not psychosomatic, and it is absolutely life-ruining. We need people on this, urgently.
Within two months after my thyroid was removed due to cancer in 2020, I stopped feeling like me. Stopped being able to read more than a sentence before losing my handle on the words. Stopped being able to formulate complex thoughts. Stopped being able to write. Started making simple mistakes in my daily tasks, forgetting my vocabulary, feeling vacant. I felt like I was disappearing, had real fears that I was experiencing early-onset dementia.
At the time, I was trying to put together the release of my second book. It became impossible to do things like write press releases, communicate with reviewers, or contact press. I was supposed to do a Q&A – couldn’t answer questions about my own work. Couldn’t remember my own work. I still can’t. The entire release collapsed into a sad nothing, along with my hopes of launching a successful career as a novelist.
These passages from Ed Yong’s excellent article struck a knifeblade of truth right into my heart:
“Her memory, once vivid, feels frayed and fleeting. Former mundanities—buying food, making meals, cleaning up—can be agonizingly difficult. Her inner world—what she calls ‘the extras of thinking, like daydreaming, making plans, imagining’—is gone. The fog ‘is so encompassing,’ she told me, ‘it affects every area of my life.’”
“At its core… it is almost always a disorder of ‘executive function’—the set of mental abilities that includes focusing attention, holding information in mind, and blocking out distractions. These skills are so foundational that when they crumble, much of a person’s cognitive edifice collapses. Anything involving concentration, multitasking, and planning—that is, almost everything important—becomes absurdly arduous. ‘It raises what are unconscious processes for healthy people to the level of conscious decision making.’”
The article does offer a ray of hope: apparently brain fog can be reversed with proper care. It’s possible that I might recover my stories one day. All two of the people waiting for me to write the third book in my trilogy will no doubt be pleased by that. I would just like to feel like me again. It might sound weird to say I want to hear the voices again, but I’m a writer. Was a writer. Want being a writer back.
The 2020s have taken enough from me already. They can’t have my internal life too. I refuse.
This post is the third in a three-part series. You can find parts one and two at these links.
Most of the conventional wisdom directed at developing writers says to finish your early stories, pat yourself on the back for having completed something, gather up the lessons and the practice you came away with, shelve it, and move on. That’s probably good advice.
I have not done anything remotely like that, and there’s something interesting that happens when you re-write the same story from the beginning a whole crapton of times, assuming you chuck the previous versions and work from memory. A couple of interesting things, really. One is that as you retell and retell and retell, the story takes on this folkloric quality in your mind, like you’re handing down your remembered version of a tale that was handed down to you by someone else. Another is that as you inevitably forget details, only the essential survives, and the skeleton of something new emerges.
Phase Three: rebirth
I’ve written before about the bleak, dark period of 2006-7 when I was so burned out that I lost the ability to do most everyday tasks. Luckily for me, because I’d by then spent literally decades developing the Asrellion sandbox, it took practically zero effort to pop in there to mess around with bits and pieces of what I referred to at the time as “Asrellion crackfiction” – writing that I wasn’t thinking of as canon, just a bit of light fluffy entertainment with an intended audience of exclusively me, to take my mind off of how much I hated everything that was happening around me.
Thing of it was, I eventually realized that, uh, I actually had some good material there that I would hate to waste. Kind of unintentionally, I found myself thinking about what would have to change in canon, exactly, to make this stuff usable.
And just like that I was mentally drafting a complete overhaul of Trajelon.
As soon as I realized I was serious about actually doing it, I also had to face the unfortunate facts: there would be little point in writing a sparkly brand-new fantastic version of Book 2 in a series that at that time began with an admittedly weak Book 1.
So there it was: write the whole trilogy all over again, or finally move on with new stories and let these lie in the past. Which, to be clear, would have been a legitimate choice that is often the correct one. But I was, I realized, too excited about this theoretical new Trajelon to walk away now. Which brings us back to Mornnovin.
Okay, so, there’s no point rewriting a book for the fourth time if you’re just going to tell the same story all over again. That much seemed clear right away. And because in 2008 I was neck-deep in the fanfiction community, that was basically the height of my awareness of both popular and unpopular tropes.
Something that everyone who has ever met me knows is that I have a real defiant streak. I say streak, but it would probably be more accurate to say that I’m like at least 85% composed of pure noat the DNA level.
I state this as a matter of fact devoid of value judgment, not to make the claim that being a stubborn asshole is a desirable trait, but to explain how it is that when I sat down as a mostly-grown pseudo-adult to think about what a reimagined Mornnovin would look like, a significant factor at this stage was a desire to flatly call out, deconstruct, reclaim, revamp, discard, update, and/or examine the well-known tropes of the fantasy genre. If Mornnovin redux had any one single guiding principle at the drawing board stage, it was this.
As an outgrowth of this mindset going in, it wasn’t just the plot or the characters I submitted to re-examination. It only makes sense that as the work progressed, I found myself re-litigating every single established element of the worldbuilding that had gone into creating the world of Asrellion to that point. Some past decisions made the cut. Many did not. Some that did, I felt needed some expanding in order to explain why that would be the way things are. Maybe more importantly, I questioned established staples that I’d never even thought to question before.
(Why would the calendar in another world begin the year in the dead of winter like ours? Like, it could, but what would the reasoning be? Why would months directly correspond to ours? Is the year even the same length as ours? Should it be? Why would there be the same kind of color-based racism that we have on Earth? Why do I assume as a matter of course that historic Earth sexism would be the norm throughout all cultures of a fantasy world I’ve made up from whole cloth? Why is everyone white? Does a conlang need to gender its nouns just because the foreign language I was learning at the time that I started creating it does? Would it even make sense for the language of a culture with no strong delineation of gender roles to be built on heavily gendered foundations? I mean that one was a clear nope, what was I thinking. Etc.)
In general in my life I would say this was a period of refining my assumptions, deepening my understanding, maturing my ideas, and consciously attending to the direction of my personal growth. That translated directly into the evolution of Asrellion. The heavy lifting was already done; this was (and is) the time of fine-tuning.
Of realizing that writing Fantasy well doesn’t mean simply replicating what the genre has already established, but deciding what sort of reality I want to project into the world, what sorts of things I want to be saying, which stories are important to me. And because of my defiant streak the size of the Grand Canyon, this has meant a lot of deliberately rejecting What Is Done.
We can thank the Modern Era of Asrellion for:
the final map (sadly sans inter-dimensional portal)
Tomanasíl’s relationship with Gallanas, which makes his whole deal finally make sense
finally the realization that the denizens of a fantasy world need not be uniformly lily-white (and that it makes little sense for them to be)
final name changes for several characters (lookin’ at you, Cole)
the current refinements to the grammar and vocabulary of Elven
Sovoqatsu Farínaiqa. You’re welcome.
this Katakí Kuromé – other iterations were your standard moustache-twirlers
moving away from the standard “and then everything was solved with a really big battle” trope, toward
resolutions that are more about character, relationships, individual growth and change, and cooperation over conflict
Lyn’s colorful swear catalogue
magic as science
Narías’ temporal peculiarity
most of the fun little magical doodads like rovanan, sound boxes, and the Nírozahé
my voice, such as it is
the elimination of certain yucky tropes and plot devices that no longer serve the stories I’m trying to tell
more effective use of the in-world elements I’d put in place over the years
whatever sophistication the work can boast of
a significant reduction in Tragic Content™ (if you can believe it)
Obviously, my work on and in Asrellion is far from finished. With another book still to add to The Way of the Falling Star, several short stories still in the cards, and an entire multi-book series loosely outlined about the creation and early days of Asrellion, it goes without saying that things are going to continue to morph, shift, grow, come together, and fall away in the years ahead. New people, new magic, new histories are bound to emerge. And I’m not done evolving either, both as a writer and as a human who wants to say things.
It remains to be seen what the Fourth Era of creation will end up looking like, but it seems pretty clear to me that I am transitioning into a new phase.
Partly because it’s been five years now since I last did any major work in Asrellion, and those five years have been tumultuous, significant years both for me personally and in the larger real-world sense.
Partly because I’m now having to learn how to work with a cognitive disability that, it seems, can be managed but not entirely cured. (That remains a bit up in the air. I’m doing better on my current treatment regimen, but better is relative. Can we improve my cognitive function still further? Is this as good as it gets, now? Too early to say, but I am someone different now, as a creator.)
Partly because my living and working conditions are vastly different now to what they were the last time I did any real writing or worldbuilding in Asrellion and I have yet to see the effect that’s going to have on my process.
But also? Largely due to the way that the real world that I have to exist, think, and create in has changed. I haven’t completely teased out what that means regarding the direction I’d like to take Asrellion in from here, or the impact on the kinds of stories I want and need to tell. That’s one of the reasons why Book 3 has been so slow to coalesce.
I’ll have to get back to you when I do figure out what Phase Four brings to the evolution of Asrellion.
Who knows. Maybe we’ll circle back to the talking animals.
The History of the History of Asrellion parts one and two.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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
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
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.
In my recent author Q&A, I was asked about my writing process by more than one person. I got every bit as weird while answering it as I always do when asked this question. Despite rambling awkwardly for a good long while, I don’t know that I actually said anything useful or interesting about it in the end.
I remembered that I had blogged agonizingly on this very topic what is now six-and-a-half years ago, so I moseyed over to my archives to have a look at what past-Alyssa had to say. It turns out that even though like EVERYTHING has changed about my life since then, and even though I’ve churned out a whole novel and several short stories in the interim, so much about that post remains accurate today. Especially the parts about creative blockage. (And the tea obsession.) Plus ça change, right?
So I figure it’s worth nudging that old entry back into the spotlight, because I think it does a better and more organized job of talking about whatever the hell my process is than my rambling answer in the Q&A did.
What is always true across all times and formats in which I talk about this subject is that it has a way of kicking up my Imposter Syndrome with an intensity that little else can match. I’m not sure why this one thing is the Big Red Button of activating my sense of being a fraud, but I feel like it’s probably lodged somewhere near my ridiculous but unshakable feeling that I can’t be called an “artist” if I can’t draw, specifically.
You’ll just have to try to bear with my anguished flailing until I go back to remembering that I can’t be a fake writer if I’m literally holding, in my hands, a real copy of a real book that I wrote.
Hard to believe that we’re already a third of the way into June, but here we are. Summer! It’s certainly an artifact from my long-ago schooldays, but I tend to think of summer as a time to readall the fiction. Just me?
I don’t have any new books ready for you guys to dig into yet, but I’m pleased to announce that two more of the Asrellion short stories previously available only to my Kickstarter backers are now open to all readers: “Green” and “Witness.”
Have you wondered what happened just after Naoise Raynesley left at the end of Mornnovin? Wished you’d seen Lyn and Cole’s wedding? “Witness” is the story for you. Ever wanted to know what Tomanasíl Maiantar was like before he became Regent and Loríen’s guardian? Wondered just how he got involved with someone as different from him as Gallanas Raia? Read “Green” to find out. And while you’re at it, check out the rest of the short stories currently up for grabs to really get into the world of Asrellion.
The stories are password locked and a whatever-you-think-is-fair payment to my PayPal.me account gets you access.
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?”
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.
You know what’s weird? Everything, right now. What’s somehow even weirder? That I still have a book coming out in three months, which is both the most surreal and most mundane thing, at a time when everything else is bonkers.
But there it is! I have a book coming out in three months, as you can see on this very spiffy countdown clock.
Not just any book, either. This one… is very special to me.
My first book, Mornnovin, came into being after many years and many drafts. The first time I started writing it, I was in elementary school. I always intended for it to be just the beginning of a series, but it took me a long time to resolve – out of all the possibilities – just what would come next. That makes sense, because I was young. I hadn’t yet figured out what I wanted or needed to say. At that point, I was just transcribing my favorite fantasy novels into my own universe.
That’s not to say I wasn’t racking up life experience. I was, in fact, racking up too much life experience. By the time my teen years rolled around, I was living in a soap opera at least partially of my own making. It was stupid. I was stupid. Then poof! hey presto! I was pregnant in high school, then marrying my rapist to raise our child together.
Everything I’d planned for my future vanished in the blink of an eye. The stories I had in me all turned dark. That year, I wrote a sequel to Mornnovin in which I was most definitely punishing myself for “ruining my life.” It was bleak, but it was what I needed to write at that time. I’m glad I never published it.
Time passed. Things changed, or didn’t. I grew up in some ways, clung stubbornly to immaturity in others. I stuck out my time in that terrible marriage, and got the hell out the minute my son and I had an escape route. It took eighteen years.
That was eighteen years with someone who, at best, thought of my writing as a waste of my time. Something annoying that pulled my focus away from him and housework, and gave me unrealistic ideas, and wasn’t even earning any money.
Free at last, and having just finished writing what would be the final version of Mornnovin, I set out into my new life with the goal of finally being able to give my writing career the earnest attention it deserved, now that I no longer had a judging naysayer hovering over me. I wrapped up final edits on Mornnovin in late 2015, took a short breather to work on my query materials, then started writing a new Trajelon in January of 2016.
I finished it only six months later.
My experiences over the previous years of living with my abuser – of surviving gaslighting, sexual and emotional abuse, crazymaking, constant manufactured drama and unnecessary financial hardship, my physical and mental health needs being minimized, watching my son suffer daily emotional trauma at the hands of his father, my identity being suppressed and warped to survive the toxic environment, and all of the accompanying depression and anxiety – gave me a different perspective than I’d had the first time I wrote Trajelon. Beyond simply feeling sorry for myself as I had all those years ago, I now had something to say about going through all of that and coming out the other side.
It was quick work to write, but not easy work.
All of this is a story that I’ve actually told before, but I wanted to add something to it today. If it sounds to you like Trajelon is probably going to be a huge downer to read, well. Maybe. Maybe it will be. Writing it was certainly difficult at times, when I would have to walk away and practice some gentle self-care before returning to the keyboard and putting myself back into the necessary headspace. I am lucky that I finally had the safety and space to do that. I recommend taking that approach while reading it too. But I do think, without any trace of ego, that it is an important story to have brought into the world. This is not torture porn; this is a story of survival. Of triumph against darkness, pain, and loss, and against those who would weaponize your own vulnerability and empathy to hurt you.
How many fantasy novels have you read that are about defeating your abuser and choosing to stand fast against your depression to fight for the hope that tomorrow will be better?
(Seriously, if there are others, point me to them. I’d like to read them too.)
It might sound odd to say that I’m excited about debuting a book of this character, but I am. It genuinely fills me with joy to know that in three months, this story will be born into the world for all to see. I kept my pain in for such a long time – a lonely, heavy burden. By setting it free, I deprive it of its power. I name it and sever its hold on me. I show the way to others carrying the same kind of pain. I give them the tools to take back their strength. That makes me incandescently happy.
I was excited to publish Mornnovin because that was me finally realizing my life-long dream of publishing a novel, any novel. Being a teller of fantasy tales, which is all I ever wanted to be when I grew up.
I’m excited to publish Trajelon because I truly feel that this story adds something necessary to the universal library. Writing it was arduous, often harrowing work, and every piece of it has been crafted with care; I’m proud of what I created. I can’t wait to share it with you.
After another, smaller Post Office run today, the rest of the Ítaja-level rewards are in the mail — three more pieces of jewelry and two stationery boxes. Their intended recipients have been messaged with the tracking numbers.
I… had no idea what I was getting myself into with those boxes. They were way more labor-intensive than I expected. Oof.
So now in terms of rewards yet to be delivered we’re down to those two fancy maps, which I am going to begin designing this weekend; a live Q&A session; the bookmarks, which will go out with Trajelon; and the actual copies of Trajelon, out 11/24/20. We’re getting there!
As far as the Q&A goes, I talked before about the possibility of doing two instead of just one after the book release, because screw it I make the rules and I like you people. Now that everyone has had (or will soon have) access to their own copy of Mornnovin, and many of you have read the short stories, that will give us plenty to talk about if we were to do a Q&A, say, next month. General writing questions are also welcome, of course, although my answer to those is likely to be something along the lines of “lol I don’t know how to write are you kidding?”
So here’s what we’ll do. I’ll look at the calendar and figure out the best time to take a couple hours of an afternoon to talk to all of you about the world of Asrellion and stuff. Then I will email all of you who backed at the Elf Friend level and above with more information about the when and where, and an invitation to send me your questions in advance. So start thinking! Cool? Cool.
And because I know this reward has already reached its destination and been ogled by its recipient, let me leave you with this last glimpse of something elfy and pretty that I made.
Hey, friends. How are you doing? Crazy, stressful times, but I hope you’re finding ways to cope.
It’s been completely mad over here, too. After several months of buildup, my medical situation finally exploded into an emergency early in April and now the dust is settling. Not to get too much into it, but I’ve had a full thyroid removal in the middle of a pandemic lockdown, because it was slowly choking me to death, and it turned out after the fact to have been cancer.
Also apparently I had (Have? Had? Is it the kind of thing you can ever be rid of, even if you no longer have a thyroid? I’ll have to find out.) Hashimoto’s disease. So, whew! Glad that thing’s out of there.
To head off any concern, that’s that. No further worries or ongoing cancer treatments. For all intents and purposes, as much as anyone can ever say this about any cancer, I’m “cured.” Now it’s just about the recovery and settling into the right dose of the meds I’m going to have to be on in perpetuity, going forward.
While this whole episode obviously sidelined me temporarily, a few things have still been happening on the book and I’m slowly starting to get back to work.
I did manage to get the emails sent out with the short story and Mornnovin eBook download links before I went in for surgery, so if you didn’t already get yours, let me know.
I also spent the last hours of my pre-op time working on a new page at my blog where all of the Asrellion short stories will live permanently behind a give-what-you-think-is-fair paywall. You can find that here. It will continue to be updated as time goes on and more stories are written/added, so consider that a living page and check back often. For the time being, the reward short stories for this fundraiser (“Witness” and “Black Books”) will remain available only to those who backed this project at the relevant reward tiers. Probably until after the book release.
Also – and this was a lovely get-well-present – the first proof copy of Trajelon arrived the day I came home from the hospital. It looks amazing, inside and out. I did submit an updated cover file because the alignment of the spine was a bit off, but other than that it’s perfect. The second proof is in printing as I write this.
Given the current pandemic situation, Kirkus has shifted to a digital-only review model until further notice. Meaning, they’re not accepting physical book submissions at this time. That being the case, there was no reason for me to keep waiting on a perfect proof copy and I went ahead and submitted Trajelon for review. That was incredibly scary to do and felt super legit. There’s obviously no predicting how that will turn out, but a good review from Kirkus would be a big deal for an indie publication. Fingers crossed!
And because I’ve already got the book in to Kirkus and have my estimated review due date in hand, that means I am now in a position to announce a solid release date for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2. This bad boy will hit the market on Tuesday, November 24th, 2020. Backers can expect to receive their copies at least on November 17th if not earlier, mail systems willing.
Luckily, I’ve got some time to work on the other backer rewards. While I am beginning to feel more myself, I discovered this week when I tried to begin work on some of the jewelry that my hands and focus are still a bit shaky. That’s getting better all the time, but it was a reminder that I need to allow myself to keep a reasonable schedule on all of this and not push. I definitely don’t want to put a pen to that lovely parchment I ordered for the maps while I still have shaky hands!
So that’s where we’re at on this first weekend of May. Waiting on the second proof, waiting on Kirkus, waiting on my body to heal. Waiting, waiting, waiting. This is probably a good time to look into other review and publicity options, while I’m not quite ready to do much else and it’s still too early to know whether or not I’ll be able to make launch party plans.
I will also, as my feeble meatsuit allows, begin in the coming days to package up and send off the paperback copies of Mornnovin that are due to backers. Do feel free to message me with any questions about the project or the world of Asrellion in general and avail yourselves of the lovely FAQ. We’re going to get this thing done.
I’ll talk to you all again soon, and please, please: take care of yourselves and stay safe.
Tolkien’s hobbits have a delightful tradition that I’ve always admired: they celebrate their birthdays by giving gifts to others. I love giving gifts, which is at least half of why Christmas is my favorite holiday. Of course, I also love receiving gifts. So this year for my birthday, I’m giving all of us something lovely that I’ve been meaning to for a while now.
Anyone who happened by my blog yesterday may have noticed a new page under construction up on the menu bar:
That’s right! After talking about it forever, I’ve brought the first wave of Asrellion short stories to the web for your reading pleasure. Because I am a starving artist, they are of course behind a paywall easily unlocked by a couple bucks on PayPal.
At this time, there are three stories loaded up and available to all, with more to come as the published canon catches up/ I decide to release some hostages. (The fourth and fifth titles listed on the page, “Black Books” and “Witness,” are currently available only to backers of the Trajelon Kickstarter project, probably until after the book’s November release.)
As of now, I’ve written eleven (eh… ten and a quarter) of these suckers and am always open to new prompts — and I still owe two unclaimed tailored pieces to backers of the last project! Frankly, I love filling in the little bits of the lore of Asrellion, and these shorter pieces have been a nice way of going about that. I might also, possibly, be willing to make the working Elven dictionary-in-progress viewable this way.
So consider this post the Open For Business sign of the Short Stories page. I’m absolutely delighted to be sharing these with you, and hope you enjoy peering deeper into the world of Asrellion with me.
The Kickstarter funds did come through finally! Yay! I immediately placed an order for the first of the supplies I need to begin making backer rewards. (The vellum for the maps has already come in and it’s glorious.) And by Wednesday, I had submitted my files to the printer, which were approved on Thursday, at which time I placed an order for a proof copy of Trajelon.
Why did it take me until Wednesday to get the files in? There may have been a tiny, terrifyingly dystopian trip to the ER in the first half of the week there. And I maaaaaaaaay be scheduled now for an urgent surgery this coming Thursday as a result. (Yes, in the middle of a pandemic. Yes, that’s as awful as you imagine it might be.) The second half of my week has been consumed by surgical prep and the attempt to have a little fun in the midst of all this because it is my birthday on Monday.
I’m going to be okay, and the book is still going to come out as planned in November or December. Just. Please bear with me over the next few weeks about the other backer rewards.
It had been my intention to get the short stories out this past week, which obviously has not happened. The longer of the two stories, “Black Books,” is ready to go, but the shorter piece, “Witness,” is undergoing one final beta read before I upload the file for you. The promo code for the free digital copies of Mornnovin is all set up – it’s just the email blast I still have to create. I’m going to try my damnedest to get this phase of rewards out and away before I go under the knife on Thursday, if for no other reason than because I’ll be able to rest better with it done.
Tl;dr: don’t be alarmed. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that everything is under control, but everything is being managed. Expect an email from me in the immediate future with your digital content.
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 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:
Do not ask names.
Do not give names.
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 whatevertheywant for two days and three nights, no judgment, no repercussions, none of the usual rules about controlling their emotions.
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.
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.
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.