Commentary 1:1

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Behind the Curtain

I’m honestly far from sure how many people will ever be interested in the story behind the story, but, much as with the books I have chosen to write, I’ll ask forgiveness, rather than permission.  It’s a task I feel compelled to undertake, even if few ever choose to peak behind the curtain.

There were a great many things I had not intended when I began.  In retrospect some were perhaps inevitable.  I didn’t set out to write what is now Book I.  I certainly did not intend for it to become Book I & II, or for the first chapter to suffer the same fate.  I set out with two twins once identical, now night and day.  A clash over propriety, and a terrible chiding pun that will see print one day.

Darling Mercu did not even exist until an NPR story about the Imperial Russian court (I still can’t track down who inspired his character.  I keep trying!)  Yet the story I intended to tell, has still shone through in all these things I did not intend.  A story about love, family, sacrifice, and how far astray of our intent things can go.  About powerful women, and complex social politics.  Adventure and folly.

Order & Entropy is in many ways the story of my life, and by that I do not mean it is in the least bit auto-biographical, but rather that it is a story shaped by the same forces that shaped me.  Matriarchies and patriarchies, heartaches and foolish love.  It is a world built around the existential threats we all face, and those that only some of us will ever need to confront.  Questions of right and wrong, and the quest to understand the nature of this fleeting life we live.

It is a story that has grown alongside me for half my life, and which has roots further back all the way before my teens.  It is a story born out of telling other tales.  A hall of echoes from whence came a world, and words that have echoed in my head more times than I can count, “I am Katrisha, daughter of the moonlight, and the winter frost…”  A phrase I have little doubt was inspired by the phrase, “daughter of the moon, Nokomis.”

My opening has been through many variations.  Often spiraling around ideas of the scope of existence, and yet the mundane certainty of the silliest things.

An old version of the forward:

The sun rises in the East, and sets in the West.  From this a great many other things might be deduced; at least so far as the manner in which mortals are apt to name the places they tread.  Whatever the locals might call them, the names invariably mean the same.  One needs a constant after all, amidst the vast irregularity of even one cosmos.  For our purposes, this will suffice.

Of course there will always be the odd obstinate world which insists to spin upon its side.  Fortunately, and almost always, no one lives there.  Still, this might be resolved, so long as one is content to call a year a day, bares little mind to compasses, or obnoxiously meandering suns.  Ah the sacrifices we make to reconcile an ever capricious existence.

There are a great many things about the world of Thaea that may differ from our own.  Most however, remain all too familiar.  There are people there, seemingly human, or human enough.  They eat, they sleep, they develop self deluded notions of their own importance, and further attach righteous truth to their own beliefs.  They have never heard a word of English, and I will beg your indulgence that any allusions to the contrary, are matters of further translation.  All this, such that places named with the unoriginality people are apt to use, shall be at times evident, or otherwise noticed, eventually.

Our story begins in a little farm house near the borders of Avrale.  It lays a ways south of the ruins of Ashrook, quite aways north of a place called Broken Hill, and some distance from a small village named for a brook, where mint was once known to grow.

The Current Forward:

The mysterious narrator.  I’ll be specific that I know who is telling the tale, and I’ll also admit I have backups if I change my mind.  The number of backups seems frustratingly to want to grow every dozen chapters.  I am none the less fairly sure of the fate that has gifted our storyteller a limited sort of omniscience.  A glimpse into the scope of history, and particularly the lives, and loves of my heroes.  It is a fate as tied to the storm, the hand of a god, and folly of prophecy, as any of the others.

The very opening line however runs much deeper for me.  The open question of faith, central to my life.  We are raised to believe one thing, and one day find cracks in purported truth.  We are all invariably biased.  We want to believe, or not to believe.  We cling to religions both fantastical and secular.  We identify ourselves with a cause, even as our fellow travelers betray our principles.  We make excuses, cut deals, and bargain with our own hearts to make it somehow ok.  To make what we have done in the name of belief, acceptable.  To not be wrong.

Jovan 7th, 636 E.R.

There are a terrible many things I could say about the opening.  About the day Wren was born, and Meliae died.  I always knew, however trite, that my three heroes were orphans.  Long before the world took shape, when they were little more than a fancy, I knew that my three sisters, or at least two of them, grew up in the tutelage of a court mage, and one was raised apart.

Yes.  Three sisters; Kat, Kia, and Kit.

The sisters three, to make a vaguely Shakespearian allusion.  The three Fates we hear about now and then.  This was the fancy that rose around the idea of them.  For reasons I will cover eventually, Kit, sweet, harmless little Kit, would face a terrible fate.  To be born a boy.

Well after the first draft of what is now Books I & II was written, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to change the gender of one of my characters for almost purely aesthetic reasons.  I won’t go into why just yet, but pained as I was to give up my sisters three, Kit was always the weakest character.  Really she was just your standard issue sweet harmless healer, save her fated troubles with Andrew.  Which had always been core to her story arc.

Wren was the only character who got more complex, more interesting, and deeper by being male.  So many fewer conflicts would have plagued the life of any of five other options I considered.  Wren did not just re-balance some aesthetics in the story, he fundamentally deepened everything.  He was one of the most painful choices I’ve ever made as an author, and one that I have never regretted.  I also barely changed the characterization one bit for the switch – even if how the world will likely read it changed entirely.  Consider that a moment.

Adel and the Dragon

I wanted to establish out of the gate that dragons were a prevalent part of the world.  Dragons have always played a deep seated part in shaping the world of O&E from the earliest inspiration, and musings.

I loved the imagery from the start of a mother defending her home and child, defiant of a dragon larger than a horse, with nothing more than a farm implement.  A deeply quixotic, tragic tale, and yet the idea that, “she faired a bit better than most knights might have” sung to me.  Further it set a tone of recurrent tragedy, for those that perhaps deserved far better.

The Tree

When it all started I needed a name.  For some reason Ashton struck me, although originally Aiston was the pick, but I decided to go with something that felt a little more familiar, given how many other ways I would challenge my readers.  So it was I planted there a lone, and out of place tree on a hill, of some northern farm.  How much more this humble landmark has come to represent with time, and iteration.  Yet so far as I can remember, the wind always answered a little girls plea.  Chance or a benevolent hand?  Who is to say.

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Commentary II:22

The Unruly Court of Storms

A run away chapter gets its commentary early, no surprise.

I’ll go ahead and put it to record.  Chapter 22 was late a day, a great disappointment, but three for three difficult chapters, a month of weekend trips and colds finally won.  I technically finished the draft about 10:30pm Sunday, and tried to start my final editing pass, with two hours jet lag, and unable to keep my eyes open enough to finish.  So there it is, but let me be clear, Chapter 22 was a beast that had grown from a tiny seed, and ran away nearly as much as a tree growing out of the heart of the blight.  *cough*

The Court of Storms was not even originally its own chapter, but a late addition concluding section of Follies End.  A chance to bring back Varmun (a late addition himself) and at last introduce the Storm Queen – an element of the world predating the blight, or even the title stormwalker.  Amongst the oldest elements of the world.

The section was originally added during the early escalation of the importance behind the blight, and battle with the spirit.  Because it did not make sense that these events would not have drawn the eye of dragons and the Storm Queen.  It was a section that demanded to exist for logical reasons not any particular plot point.  The perfect recipe for a world derailing your plans.  The first draft included the bid to coerce Kiannae into marrying a royal heir, and ended there.  We never met him, nor learned his name.

Yet as Follies End itself became a runaway monster it forcibly ejected the section into a new chapter, which seemed fitting.  Given the long held visions, and importance of Napir in the stories, encountering the source of the nations greatness deserved more.

Enter Carmine, the rogue tertiary character who utterly took over a chapter, and forced a chapter that not only did not originally exist as its own entity, to demand to become two.  As I work to form a palatable de-escalation as Kiannae stumbles through the consequences of what ever she gave up in the blight, on the other side we begin to see the true scale of powers in the world, and that humble little Avrale, is humble indeed.

Even Carmine himself owes his existence to Aster and Calista.  The image of how a dragon joins one for dinner, the first encounter with the dragon, and the ‘timid’ heir apparent to the throne.  I’ll say no more…spoilers…

Commentary I:2

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One Book, Two Book, Red Chapter, Blue Chapter

I’m really not even certain how Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 once fit into a normal(ish?) length chapter for the scale of the rest of the book.  I think it always was a little long, but somewhere along the line it split into two fully formed entities.

The existence (names aside) of the Lycian Order was one of the earliest established elements of the world.  Even the name (though it changed a few times) is one of the very earliest, save “the Sisterhood” which just as in the story stuck, however inaccurate it became.  I did not yet have a full understanding of their place in it, but who they were had formed from the start.  Conventional religious tradition turned gently on its side.  A hippy commune with the air, stability, and aesthetics of a monastery.  A matriarchy in a world of oft harsh patriarchal views.  A bastion of religiously enshrined female sexuality.

Yes.  A controversial element in YA fiction I suppose.  Though I’ve said elsewhere I didn’t really mean to write YA, it just sort of happened.  Yet let me wager, we are living in a world where wherever your morals lay on sexuality, our children are ever more exposed to it.  Call it an analogy.  It honestly barely gets mentioned till somewhere near the end of Book II, but it is a founding idea of the world.  The fundamental divide between puritanical patriarchal ideas and liberal matriarchal ones that define the heart of the contest between Clarion and Lycian.  One a pacifist faith of open sexuality, one an often militaristic religion of near asexuality.  If I dare to be that transparent.  To call it a message is strong.  It is more of an expression.  The feelings that have been evoked by our world.  If it bares any relationship to my actual beliefs, is entirely secondary, an effect of such feelings.  YA literature is (beyond just entertainment) theoretically about providing extra context for kids to deal with their own issues, or just maybe about authors dealing with theirs.

Sasha.  I really never intended her to take on the life of her own she did.  She was a throw away.  An ‘establishing shot’ of sorts, indicating that not all might be as it appears.  Only named absently on a whim as Renae shoos her away, and originally never appeared again.  I should have known she was trouble already, the moment Renae knew immediately by name the girl who had not left as expected.  Because I lie to say she never appeared again, just not clearly.  She had already snuck into my head in the earlier drafts of “Seasons” as ‘someone’ that had observed the wisps and been fascinated.  I never did anything with it in any of the original drafts.  She however got positive reviews from my wife, and that earned her another scene.  Then she ran away, and wove herself into ever more unexpected areas of the established plot through all further stages of editing.

I could go on much more, but then I’d eat into commentary for future chapters, and give away too many allusions to new readers that might look here.  Though yes, we have established we will hear from that pest again.

Commentary I:3

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A Not Flying Castle

I’ve always loved the image of a castle on a hill (flying ones too, but that’s beside the point.)  I’m not saying there is the least thing original about that, but not everything has to be original.  People love touch stones.  Comfortable ideas.  They seemed a good wrapper to play with more complicated ideas in.

One of the oldest lines written of the world was of a young woman ‘working subtle magic to profound effect,’ in the high western tower.  The high tower of the castle we glimpse here in all its glory from far below.  That a young girl who once saw this aspirational sight, would one day attain position over that high tower, in retrospect was kind of lovely.  A book end from where I started the story, and where the story starts.  I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler, after all, there is a prophecy coming, that will hint at the same.

There are a lot of little details that I wove in here from the start.  Little glimpses of a world that is not nearly so primitive as it appears.  The castle kitchen’s enchanted cookware replacing conventional stoves.  An industrial scale refrigerator – which has long been my intention, also provides some of the heat for the ladies bath.  Smart enchanters don’t waste perfectly good energy.

The ladies bath has become an odd obsession over the years, trying to capture this regal room that is the fusion of grecian bath house, and some juxtaposition of European or middle eastern royal luxuries.  We never see the queen bathe, but that honored tub, clearly exists for some function.

Mercu sprang into being nearly fully formed.  A chance late night radio show offering the inspiration for my flamboyant artist, ladies man, and his secrets just in time for him to be written.  His initial dialogue a mixture of in jokes, mostly with myself, but which stand well enough on their own.

Amberite

One of the rarest substances worth mentioning is the strange gem stone Amberite.  Named such due to its strong resemblance to amber, the material seems to be unrelated, and is even more rarely pure enough to use for decorative purposes.  The value of Amberite beyond rarity comes from a singular useful property.  When enchanted in the same fashion any two stones placed in close proximity to each other will visibly reconfigure their crystalline matrixes, and become linked, and light passing through one stone is partly replicated in the other.

This phenomena has been replicated with no other material, and as such Amberite stones remain the only reliable means of instantaneous long range communication.  This is problematic as the nation of Osyrae has almost complete control over the substance.  It is found only in a few veins along the sometimes disputed northern wastes, and most Amberite not held by Osyrae was acquired during the few decades the nation was a part of the Empire proper.

Outside of Osyrae almost all Amberite is in the control of the Council of Mordove, with only appointed Court Mages, and critical representatives entrusted with the means to communicate through Mordove as a central hub.

Communication is done through flashes of light in a recognized code, and sometimes further obfuscated to insure that either end of the connection has not been compromised.  Light however is not the limit of what the stone can transmit, and limited, low energy spells are also viable, but minimized due to risk of severing the connection.  Projected runes are used primarily as start and stop, and to call attention to a waiting message.

The purer the stone, and the closer the proximity the more the connection can handle.  One spectacularly unconventional and tragic use of near pure Amberite stone was the destruction of Corinthia.  Spies were used to deliver Amberite stones to crucial points around the city.  These stones were used as focuses by the king of the black flight to set up the devastating aetherial cascade that destroyed the city.

The spell itself has never again been replicated even on a small scale, let alone through Amberite.  It is believed that the technique died with the dragon that created it.  The thought of a repeat of the attack terrifies scholars to the modern day.

Once an Amberite stone is properly enchanted it is overly susceptible to binding to another stone, and as such great care is taken to keep the stones separate.  This runs a bit counter to convenience for the central hub in Mordove where the stones are kept in dark locked boxes.  Spells are used to channel light to and from the stones to a central communication console which records and repeats messages.

Some nations have a similar setup for their single stone for convenience, but not all.  Further agents in the field entrusted with a stone typically keep it on their person.

Commentary I:4

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Stories in Leassons

This chapter has been around in some form since the first draft.  Some sections have come in, gone out, shifted around.  It much like the next chapter Seasons was always a clamor of little things.  Slices of life growing up in the castle, and skipping over a lot of little dull parts of life.  Kind of almost how one would remember their childhood.  Mostly the highlights, and lows, the odd composite example of the average.  There is a lot of that in Book I, but as the story progresses it will become more dense in spots, and towards the end.

This was the natural offshoot of me not wanting to write a magic academy (Harry Potter) style story.  I wanted to capture them growing up.  Really understand the underpinnings of their later dynamics I had already captured, but I didn’t want to get too bogged down in classes, and childhood adventures.  So I let much of their childhood be fairly normal, and did not want to slog through all that normal.  Still amidst all that normal was potential.  Long arcs that one could play out over books, or capture in their crystalline form.  Let the heroes of later books be children we knew, as we really remember it.  Highlights.

Though these are children we are dealing with, in some ways I wanted them to be like memories.  They are who that person we’ve known since we are a kid really is to us, under present frustrations and attachment.  They are probably why we put up with them, or at least why we wonder how we have put up with them.

There is a quote I bumped into somewhere the other day in just the right head space to be on the edge of tears as I thought about the kind of characters I like to write, about one or two in particular.  Because in all my experience with people – these are the ones who are real.

“Be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyways.”
– Glennon Doyle Melton

Not that I’ve read any of her work, but I think sometimes a phrase transcends its place.  Who said it, or context fades away save where credit is due.  This I think sums up the very archetype of the underdog hero.  The scrappy protagonist, that has any realism to them at all.  Legends are made out of the right wrong-person, in the worst place, at the right time, who manages to stumble through not dying enough times to get something done.  I think that promise in the beginning nails it.  Legends become crystalized.  They forget the humanity or exaggerate it wildly.  Many things will be written indeed, some of them even true – and yes, its shameless paraphrasing of Mark Twain.  For purpose.

The Dragon Empress story had been noodling around in my head for years before it finally came a fixed part of this world in the initial draft, and not its own little island of an idea.  It gave an unexpected Fafner-esque origin to dragons for the world which fell in line with where the story was going as I trimmed back from earlier generic high fantasy varieties of races.  If my ‘elves’ were Sylvans, and people some how blended with cats (the wolves came later) then dragons also being an invention of mortal beings, an ascension above it, felt in line.  It made such a delightful little epic children’s story too.

I guess technically centaurs still would have worked as they appeared in the original first chapter of ‘what is now Book III™.’  Someone would have had to be crazy dedicated to make them though.  They just didn’t feel like they fit.  Also one could argue that dragons are actually deformed, a side effect of a rushed and unstable transformation.  But the standard of beauty is very different when there is no average to look for.  If one were to undergo some similar transformation that retained a partly human form, there is no telling what proportions might do on various parts.  Symmetrical usually, but yeah, it would muck with average human aesthetics.  Goodness, what a fascinating hypothetical I’ve discovered…moving on.

The section with Catherine was one of a number of scenes (all of the dinners) which came into being after having read Pride and Prejudice, specifically for inspiration to introduce some of these elements.  Does it show?  I hope I have smoothed out the use of dialogue, and covered my tracks well enough.  I generally have this idea that people talk with different levels of formality based on context – which is always true – just exaggerated here.  I think I always had in mind that the Astons were some how special, but it was well after the first draft that I felt this explanation of how the north-east was run really helped.

It also made a lot of sense given the complex relationship that Avrale has with the north.  Though it gets blurry when exactly I decided some of the details of the region’s history.  I know I had already decided they were not governed by a duke, unlike other areas (though they were likely governed by Nohrook at one point.)  This implied some other form of management, and more public holdings.  When the representative democracy aspect came in I’m not sure.  I think it was a natural offshoot of the ‘representative’ at court who lowered his hat at the news.

The plot about the Ashton bloodline slowly grew out of the fertile soil of the politics implied, but unexplored.  As I went back through and abridged the somewhat rushed feeling first ten years this naturally explained the nature of certain future relationships, and actions.

This is also a glimpse into national and court politics.  The push and pull of Laurel and Catherine, who are really on the same side, but not the closest allies.  Some more hints at Mercu’s role in matters also.

Commentary I:5

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With Every Season…

Seasons was a very early concept, though it originally only lasted one year.

This first collision with Charles was where the boy originally came into being.  I think I knew from this point almost exactly how his future would play out.  But, you know, spoilers.  Yes this first moment of an odd, very specific difference between the twins was always here.

The Avatar, as far as I can remember, came in part and parcel with Roshana, and the Dragon War.  I’m not quite sure why I remember it that way, but I recall the idea of his ascension very well, and it was closely tied to how the dragon war turned.  He seemed a great point to glimpse some of the trouble around the Sisterhood, through two Lycians speaking of the the living demi-god of a rival faith.

Seasons was always meant to capture this winter and summer impact on the twin’s comfort.  Kiannae being at once troublesome and standoffish, and Katrisha throwing all decorum to the wind.  It’s a nice preview.  Mercu…is just Mercu.

Katirsha and Charles autumn encounter was the first of the new sections.  It was a nice bit of interplay between the two.  When self importance collides with the immovable object.  That odd juxtaposition of telling a girl not to hit back, because she might break the boy.  Fortunately she didn’t.

Wren and the wisps letting me bring in some fun hints, and earning Sasha a second appearance (in my head) long before she was named as the girl above in the courtyard.

The candy theft I think had existed in some other location, and gotten moved, but I’m fuzzy.

Then of course we wrap up with another mater of the weather, and Mercu’s philandering.  Curious thing, the word philandering has rather odd etymological roots.  A bit upside down from what you would expect.  Doesn’t seem like a word properly applied to a straight man.  Eh, language, what are you going to do.