Major massive milestone


Ten years.

That’s kind of a long time. Over the course of the past decade, aside from the usual 8-5 job and various successes there, I’ve built most of a house, added a workshop, duck-house, chicken-coop, took up woodworking (I managed to sell a few pieces of furniture), fiddled with bonsai, learned much about the art of home-brewing, and, not least significantly, had three children (okay, I didn’t, my wife did, but I was present). In short, a lot has happened. I’m sure at this point you must be thinking: This guy is a smug and self-important bastard isn’t he? If you’re not, perhaps you should be -I would be. The thing is I’m not. In fact, if you think I’m calling these ‘accomplishments,’ you’re wrong*. These are the daily distractions of my life, all of which I have chosen, for the past several years, but don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this.

When our first son was born, I had my trusty notebook with me for the hospital stay, where I was treated to three nights on a too-short couch and the absolute panic associated with being a new parent. The story I was working on is the very same I’m working on now. It started as two separate sci-fi novels that morphed and merged into a single fantasy series that dropped all of the sci-fi elements**. Back then, I was mostly focused on background and constructed language development. I’d be a lying jerk if I tried to claim I had anything like a plot, and the characters were sketches of people, without any sort of personality.

Now, for the milestone bit: I finally, after a decade, have a full first draft.

Holy crap, it took you ten years to write 90,000 words? What’s wrong with you?

Hey! – I got it done, and bits of it are fairly well polished and have even been through beta-readers. It happened last night. I hit the end of a sentence and spent a few minutes trying to think of where I might go next with it and realized the remainder of the ‘story’ was superfluous. Nothing more needed to be said.

Wait! You dodged the question about what the hell took you so long!

Alright! Jeez. It may be that it took me a decade, but in all of that random stuff I was spending time on, I wasn’t necessarily spending much energy on writing. In fact, there were stretches of months, maybe even as long as a year, where I didn’t spend any time thinking about writing at all. It wasn’t until about two years ago that I once again dusted off my notebook and started working on my story. I made some serious progress. Over the course of a few months I ran through what’s now the first five or six chapters of the book, as well as a few other chapters sprinkled in throughout later parts of the book. Then, I sort of shelved it again. We had some family stress and I just didn’t work on it.

An interesting side note here, I had only confided in my wife about this project while working on it, that is until last spring. I started thinking about it again and decided to confide in a friend and co-worker what I was doing. I’m not sure why, but I did.

Anyhow, sometime last summer, I had a shit or get off the pot moment. I don’t remember it exactly, and neither does my wife, though she assures me that’s what happened. The bottom line is that I said (probably after a few beers), I’m going to finish this book dammit!

Are you going to get to the point or just ramble on?

I’m just about to get there, stop interrupting.

What I think I realized is that I had been waiting for some sort of inspiration to strike me. (Emily Russell wrote a good article related to this, if for some reason you’re reading this and haven’t seen that, just stop and read that first – but come back here!). Inspiration isn’t going to finish a book. It’s not the sort of thing that just hits you while you’re driving down the street thinking about the trees*** It happens while you are trying to write, while you are actively thinking about your story. Sure good creative ideas do seem to strike in a flash of brilliance, but the truth of the matter is that you were thinking about it. It’s even better if you’ve written something down. Of course, I’ve had those moments where something strikes me as funny or odd, and I scribble down a note for later. Perhaps that’s a bit of inspiration, but inspiration doesn’t make a book. Writing does. Work does. Effort does. Like it or not, sacrifice does.

Possibly one of my favorite inspiration stories is the J.K. Rowling story about Harry Potter. She was on a train and the boy who lived just sort of walked into the train car with her. Isn’t that lovely? Boom – A multi-million dollar franchise was born! Bullshit. After that bit of inspiration, Rowling worked her ass off on back-story, setting, character development, plotting, and themes. It took years and loads of work (and quite a bit of luck too, but I’m not going there). For all practical purposes, ALL of the story comes from hard work and focus.

So. There it is. Lesson learned. If you want to finish, you have to focus and not make excuses about having too many other responsibilities. One paragraph per night? Good enough. You’ll get there, just keep on it.

* Except for the day-job stuff. I really am pretty full of myself there, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

** Someday I will blog about the circumstances leading to this, but not today.

*** I do this, don’t laugh. My family all thinks I’m a freak because I’ll fawn over the trees on any sort of hike. I will actually stop on a trail, grab a leaf and pontificate about a particular type of tree.

World building – governance


When I started getting into the nuts and bolts of the plot of War of Shadows, I needed there to be a fairly solid government system. It would have been easy to just have a king and some lords, but I decided to go in a little deeper. Perhaps I was thinking about Duke Leto vs. Baron Harkonnen, and how that appealed to me. While reading Dune, I never really understood how the title of Duke related to the title of Baron, so I looked up peerage. I think I learned something there, I don’t remember. What I do know is that I wrote up an entire governance system for one country in my world, which I forgot about. While re-writing chapter 17, I decided I needed to work out something about a title. So, I went back to my notes to see how the ranks compared. At first I skimmed through my notes and though I had copied a Wikipedia article or something, but it also seemed oddly specific. After a few more minutes of reading, I realized that I had actually written up an entire peerage, based off of the British system, for my country and also a bunch of details on how the governance works in the country. It’s set up for political intrigue and back-stabbing. Anyhow, since I thought it was fun, I figured I’d share it, so here it is, as it appears exactly in my notes (Beware, this hasn’t been edited!):

 Concerning the governance of Swarendrin

The kingdom of Swaerendrin is a strong monarchy. The king is both head of state and chief executive. However, the power of the king is somewhat balanced by the noble classes. These are largely hereditary titles, being passed to the eldest son. In instances where there is no son to inherit the title, the king may assign the title at his own discretion. In very many cases the king holds these titles and lands himself, to be assigned to allies. Titles of nobility amongst the Swaerem are as follows:

Duke – This is the proper title of the most senior lords amongst the nobility, though the name of the title is rightly dhaat. However, very few indeed refer to the title directly, instead using the honorific ‘Lord’ in lieu of the title, and is often accepted as the right title. It is the highest rank of nobility behind the king.

Marquis – This is the proper title of a special class of dukes, who hold lands upon contested or border lands. These men are permitted to engage in battle and press men into service without prior consent of the king, as would be required of any other Duke. The correct title of these men is ræn dhaat, strong duke. Again, these men are referred to only by ‘lord’ in virtually all settings.

Earl – This is the proper title of minor land lords. These men are appointed by the king, and also pass the title on, but are in fact the subject of the local major lord. The right name of this title is Eord, but as with the title of duke is rarely used. Often these men are addressed by Lord, and usually described as minor lords or minor nobility.

Count – Non hereditary title bestowed by the king, for governance of large cities. This appointment has no term, and few counts last more than a hand-full of years. Often they are removed in the interest of public contentment.

Master – Non hereditary title bestowed by the duke, for smaller cities, towns and villages. These are given in terms lasting no longer than 5 years. The local lord has authority to name all Masters, except when overruled by the king. Application of the title master is excessively inconsistent and is typically applied to any man with greater authority.

Baron – land owner of noble birth, rightly called Ryen. This title comes only with land, and is subject to the governance and taxes of the Duke or Earl. Men with this title are very often tapped as caretakers of lands normally held by dukes and earls. Those possessing this title will be addressed as ‘Sir’ or ‘Lady’, but never lord. The title is inherited, but unlike other hereditary titles, the baron may choose his heir and is not obligated to gain the approval of the King, Duke, Earl or Marquis. This law has produced a number of baronesses.

Ældorman is a fighting man of either the nobility or merchant classes. This title is bestowed by Dukes and Marquis. These are the considered the trained fighting men, and are given land, though that land cannot be inherited. They are never called by their right title, and only referred to as oathmen or sworn men, these men are correctly addressed as sir or master. This title is not transferred by heredity, and is usually considered outside of the peerage. Like to all others within the peerage, they employ armbands of precious metals to distinguish themselves. While dukes, earls, barons and the like use a single arm-band as a sign of rank, these men tend to wear many, as a sign of fighting prowess.

Kingsman is like to an ældorman, excepting they are named by the king, and may only be of noble birth.

In addition to these titles, the king also appoints a council, called the kings thanes who are responsible for a wide variety of governance tasks. Also, there is the council of common thanes, who are also appointed by the king, at the recommendation of the wealthy men amongst commoners. The widely held belief amongst most is that the council of common thanes (council of thanes) holds the bulk of power in the kingdom. The lords and king permit this belief to continue as a way to make commoners think they have some control over the government, and therefore support it.

These lords do not have formal organization, and band together in adhoc fashion as needed. These affiliations are usually in accordance with the political interests of the time. The non-titled moneyed men of the kingdom, choose members of a body known as the parliament, which consists of men form their own ranks. This body is considered to be the representation of the commoners, and exercises some limited power on their behalf. Dukes and the king often permit this body to carry on as if it had real power. With such a large common population, this is considered an essential component in maintaining a well ordered society. During times of peace, this body is permitted to govern the greater part of the kingdom. However, when the kingdom is under attack or during periods of turmoil, the members of this body often line up with lords sympathetic to their own interests.

Even with the parliament in control of many routine aspects of governance, the office of King requires much more than a single man to handle even the most routine of affairs. To this end, the king has many agents and designees. The chief body among these is the council of theigns. This group consists of one dozen men chosen by the major lords of the mors, and confirmed by the parliament, though the parliamentary confirmation is only a formality. These men are intended to be advisers to the king and assist in decision making processes for the kingdom. The position of king’s theign, while prestigious, and ostensibly powerful, is a term appointment for no more than five years. These men will be responsible for becoming intimately aware of any situation the king may require advice on. They are not permitted to become involved in any topic where individual prejudice might cloud their judgment.

Along side this complex and layered government is an organization known as the sisters of fate. The sisters of fate remain largely outside of actual governance, but they play a key role in blessing all decrees and decisions made by the king, and Dukes. They also magically bind agreements, giving them real weight and the promise of real consequence should both parties fail to uphold the terms of said agreements. The sisters of fate are a far more important organization to the population as a whole, providing healing, spiritual guidance, and binding of marriages, to name a few. While some men do serve this order, they do not practice the magic common amongst the women.

photo credit: Château de Sarzay via photopin (license)

How dragons came to be

The following is an excerpt from chapter 10 of the War of Shadows. This is what I would call the ‘flavor text’ that occurs at the beginning of each chapter. It gives history of the world as relevant to the chapter. The voice and style are different than that of the main text of the chapter.

The number of stories concerning the coming of dragons into the world are as many and varied as the people telling them. Before their fall, the Narrím had collected the most comprehensive and compelling records regarding their appearance and history. These have, in large part, been preserved by the Jai. They tell of a volcanic explosion so powerful, it rang the world like a bell. The land was covered in toxic, choking ash, and the skies filled with clouds so black, a proper summer did not come for some years. In the first year after that explosion, many violent, rain-less storms blew up in all corners of the world. With every crack of thunder a dragon came to be. Some of these storms spawned the proud, civilized dragons calling themselves true dragons, and who came to regard themselves as superior to humans. Others brought forth those dragons preferring the life like to that of any other beast of the world, with little interest in language, trade, or culture.

  Being volatile creatures, prone to easy provocation, the first dragon clans fought among themselves. Thus their numbers remained low and confined to the most remote patches of the world. For ages, this was the lot of the dragons, and it suited them in that time. It was not until people arrived and colonized the world that this changed. From the start, humans sought out dragons and slayed them. The dragons condemned these attacks as unjust and cruel, being for the sole purpose of glory. In the face of this onslaught, Rauk Trofocks, gathered as many of the fractured remnants of the original clans as he could into a single clan. As a united group, they were able to take control of wide swaths of land, claiming them for their own, and enslaving whatever people were there and calling it recompense for the unjust treatment at the hands of humans.

  Eventually, the Jai and Narrím people came together and beat the dragons back to a single corner of the northern world, pushing dragons to the very edge of extinction. Once again Rauk Trofocks, came to the rescue of the dragons. A treaty was signed demarking the edges of dragon territory and restricting the taking of any new people as slaves. This treaty held until the end of the Great War of Chaos. When the Narrím attacked the Jai, the dragons openly fought alongside the Narrím. At the end of that war, the dragons, greatly diminished, retreated to their own country.

  People, having forgotten the existence of a treaty, re-colonized lands having been promised to the dragons. Weakened as they were, the dragons had little choice but to cede the encroachment in those times. As the dragons grew in number and strength once again, however, they pushed outward of their core strongholds into those lands designated by the old treaty as belonging to them.