The Pedigree of a Novel Family

Do you know what doesn’t last long? A half-way decent emperor. They drop like flies. They kick the bucket. They are…well, incinerated. Troubling, that.

Fortunately, if you haven’t noticed, the royal family in my books is rather extensive. Bearing that in mine, I thought I would give you an idea of the scope you’re working with in my books for their maddened political frenzy.  If you couldn’t tell: today, we’re talking The Hollow March and its sequels, so bust out those fantasy hats, people. Now, some of the folks below don’t even appear in the books, mind you—either fled or already dead, and the list is far from complete. This is not nearly so complete as something George R.R. Martin would whip out, for example. This list references those mentioned in the books and, in some cases, more prominent offspring. It does not capture the full embodiment of spawn, grandspawn, or the namesakes of the reigning house’s offshoots—the lines of Mauritz and Portir.

It is but a recording to give you some semblance of the House of Durvalle, and the uphill battle anyone (Cullick lions, perhaps?) facing them must surmount.

But really, do you see how eye squinting an experience this COULD have been?

But really, do you see how eye squinting an experience this COULD have been?

House Durvalle (Royal House of the Idasian Empire)

Foremost of the houses of Idasia, following their rise to power in “The Children’s War” a little over a century prior. Few still name them pretenders, though, largely due to the success of their reign. Three Durvalle Emperors have claimed the throne since then, with the current Emperor Matthias having the distinction of being the longest reigning monarch in the history of the Empire. Their descent is traced through the southwestern Duchy of Dexet, where a branch of the family still rules.

Emperor Matthias Rogimer Durvalle, styled “the Bold” and “He Who Rides,” aged 77 years.

  • His wife, Empress Noelia Tirozzi—deceased 15 years. Visaj.
  • His wife, Empress Surelia Jerantus. Binding their house to the Kingdom of Banur. Farren.

And their children: (13 children and 3 known bastards)

  • Joseph, aged 54 years. A Lord General. Visaj.
    • His wife, Mariline Debourge, binding their house to the Kingdom of Asantil.
    • His son, Prelate Barise
    • His son, Ser Haruld
    • His son, Yorne, the youngest, considered lost at sea.
  • Sarre—Deceased 30 years. Visaj.
  • Moira—Deceased 12 years. Visaj.
  • Leopold (later Emperor Leopold II), aged 38 years. Prelate. Visaj.
    • His wife, Ersili
    • His son, Anatole, aged 8 years
    • His daughter, Fiore, aged 6 years
  • Heinrich, aged 37 years. Principal Secretary to the Chancellor. Visaj.
    • His wife, Marren Certeri, binding their house to the Principalities of Ravonno.
  • Sara, aged 32 years. Handmaiden to Empress Surelia. Farren.
    • Her husband, Count Hernando of al-Saif, of the court of Narana in exile.
  • Gerome, aged 28 years. An Ambassador. Visaj.
    • His wife, Jesmere Turgitz.
  • Matthias, aged 25 years. Visaj.
    • His wife, Mecthilde Rusthöffen
  • Rufus, aged 23 years. A Count and Cavalry Officer. Visaj.
    • His wife, Anna Marie Venier, binding their house to the Principalities of Ravonno.
  • Molin, aged 20 years. A Cavalry Officer. Visaj.
  • Kanasa, aged 18 years. A Maiden. Visaj.
  • Rosamine, aged 9 years. Farren. (From the line of Surelia)
  • Lothen, aged 5 years. Farren. (From the line of Surelia)
  • Kyler Tessel, a legitimized bastard, aged 36 years. Styled Ser Tessel of Affing. Farren.
  • Gerhard of Torruf, a bastard.
  • Ilse of Anscharde, a bastard.

His brothers, Mauritz, called “the Wild,” aged 75 years. Master of Arms and Lord Justiciar. Visaj.

Portir, called “the Devout,” aged 70 years. Master of the Imperial Treasury. Visaj.

  • His grandson, Duke Urtz of Dexet

His sister, Atilde Debourge, wife of King Jon III of Asantil, aged 63 years.

Symbol: Two white, coiling, snake-like Gryphons, their heads ringed by the silver halo circlets of the Holy Church, a scepter in one’s claw and a sword in the other’s.

Traits: It has been said that all Durvalle eyes are green. This is baser rumor than earnest truth, but it is a trait which holds strong in their line, regardless.

Species of The Haunted Shadows

For more information on The Haunted Shadows, the series of books in which these folk play a part, I recommend you go to this page. The following are simply excerpts from my bookishly worldbuilding notes which some (though far from all) of you might find interesting. Questions? You know who to poke. Though most the characters you meet in the novels are, in fact, human, it should be noted there are some other folk out there–some reduced to fleeting shadows, some more commonplace than others might suspect.

Care of PublicDomainPictures.Net.

Humans

Huldrene

  1. Aswari—Surface Huldrene. Endangered. (Call themselves Sattar. Often interned or on reservations.)
    1. Rough, almost bark-like skin. Provides chameleon-like effect in woodlands. Flakes with age.
    2. Thin, frail, but agile. Thin lips. String-like hair.
    3. Elongated feet and hands.
  2. Usird—Northern Huldrene. All but extinct.
  3. Otanil—Called Druwen by the Idasians. Dark-skinned Huldrene. Live side-by-side with the Zutam.
  4. Iruwen—Cave Huldrene. Black-skinned. Extinct.
  5. Lamara—Half-Huldrene.

Orjuks—Endangered.

  1. Greyish-green in color. Very hairy bodies. Bigger in frame to humans, and tend to be slightly stooped in posture.
  2. Quite strong. Nomadic in tendency, initially, but when their hordes banded together, and learned the power of their Curii steeds, waged war on the Huldrene nations. Those local to Marindis have a particularly strong hatred for Aswari.
  3. Originated in the hills and mountains of what is now Marindis.

Vell—thinly-scaled humanoids. Webbed toes and fingers. Simple-minded. Largely extinct.

* Anything sentient, but non-mankind, humans have taken to calling “Old Folk.”

10 Things To Know About Your Book (Part One)

The book!–what makes it tick? What makes it move? What makes it stir the heart and mind?

That’s right, boys and girls, today we’re talking literature, and not just any old book either–your book! Please proceed to feel warm and fuzzy inside.

In every book, there are certain things that should be obvious to the writer, things that should be formulated and plotted and planned and beaten with that little stick we call the honing. (Mind you, this is different from the Shining: ideally it doesn’t end in an ax-wielding Jack Nicholson. Though I suppose that does lose it some points…)

The man forever-known as Johnny.

In point of fact, there are a great many things we should know, but I’ve done my best to narrow it to a list of ten. Then I went through the additional trouble of lopping them into two separate meals for you–so try not to gorge, and hopefully, you may find a little purpose in our first five:

Some quests are nobler than others, I suppose.

  1. What is your story’s purpose?
    What does it exist? What are you trying to accomplish? What are the plot, the story, and the characters struggling toward? Or, if it is perhaps an educational or otherwise non-fiction novel, what do you hope your readers to take away from it in the end?
  2. What sets your book apart?
    You can also turn this into: Why should we care? (But the former does sound much nicer.)
  3. What is the conflict?
    Honestly, this can be anything from zombies to family to an evil stork with the baby (welcome to the bizarre nature of my mind), but there must be conflict, something to drive the story and its characters on. Note, of course, that there can also be many conflicts within this category—internal and external, and a variety hodgepodge of delicious mortifying interaction (if you’re as cruel to your characters as I can be). You need to think what challenges your character, and how it’s going to be fought…or more simply, how they’re going to deal with it.
  4. From inside on of the hobbit holes, on locatio...

    From inside one of the hobbit holes, on location at the Hobbiton set, as used in the Lord of the Rings films. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    How does it begin?
    Aha! So you’re one of those clever rogues that already has the ending all figured out. Well done. Now you just need to get there which means…oh crap, that’s right, you actually have to find a point to begin. Shall it be at the beginning? Or shall you do the ever-popular in the middle and reflect scenario? There’s always starting from the end, of course—but if you then turn the story into having been an elaborate dream, please note neither I, nor you, nor the internet can save you from the torch-wielding mob that shall likely come for you. You have been warned. In many ways, the opening is the most important. It has to seal the deal for the reader. Introduce the conflict (or hints of the conflict). Don’t lose us to the abstract, but don’t beat us down with a straight-up info dump either.

  5. What is the opposition?
    Obviously, this ties into the conflict, but it’s important enough to stand on its own. Who is the catalyst? The man, creature, or group driving the woes of this story’s forward momentum? Who has it out for your characters, and why? Give them as much life and attention as you do your heroes, and you’ll be glad for it. Single-minded antagonists can be fun and all…but it makes them all the more insidious to make them real.
    Furthermore, this goes beyond mere avatars of the opposition, to the very notion. It could be a stock market crash. Incompetent bosses. An earthquake that has severed all the power lines. The opposition can be legion, in the right hands, and it is all the more way to present us with a living, breathing world.
English: A screenshot from Dracula Italiano: U...

Say it with me now: Con-flict. Also fangs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Inside Idasia: Vashra (Religion, Part 2)

When last we left our insipid heroes…

Wait, wait, I have that all wrong.

What I mean to say is, when last we left our discussion of faith under the banner of Idasian intricacies—humble, god-fearing folk that we are—I spoke of the two most prominent faiths on the face of the continent Marindis: the Visaj, and the reformer Farrens. We talked of rings (cue quips of “one ring to rule them all” and “One does not simply walk into Walmart…” Yes, yes, you’re all very witty, and I know it’s what you were thinking), and war, touched even briefly on the notion of blasphemy.

Which, mind you, is always a fun bit to prod in writing. Everybody has their own notion of blasphemy, after all, and it’s just such a fun word to say. Not as fun as shouting “Burn in righteous fire,” of course, but we can’t all be torch-wielding mobs…

…yet.

Persecution of witches

We humans have had some eh…rather disturbing periods. Persecution of witches. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I digress. This week, we continue the religion-minded train of thought with a wheel to the southern heat, where the scorching jungles of all Holy and all mysterious Zutam lie. While faith marks the cornerstone of most medieval cultures, the Zuti are curious even by these standards, for theirs is an Empire governed by the spiritual—and yet, at once, deprived of the fanaticism oft-seen within the boundaries of Marindis.

An area of the Sierre Madre jungle

Hot, wet, and sprawling. Hurrah for the jungle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Holy Empire of Zutam, which has come to encompass an entire continent (as a consequence now also called Zutam), and begun to press even into Marindi lands, follows the path of Vashra. They follow no gods, nor do they believe in an afterlife, per say.  Instead they follow spirits—the embodiments of all things, less personalities in their own right and more facets of the world given name. Ancestors, too, are often looked to for advice, or aid—but they are not worshiped. For in Vashra, all creatures are equal in spirit, living or dead. Even Uhnashanti–“the greatest one”– who birthed and protects both man and the world alike, is not heralded as a god; merely a piece of the universe that surrendered his self to give the masses form.

Death, for the Vashran, leads only to a joining of the spirit with the soil. The shackles that form the flesh are removed, and the spirit roams free at last, at peace with those around it. Life, to them, is the teaching, and the learning—the path that allows our minds to open to the fullness of the world. This is the reason life, in their tongue, is called “kujifunza”—learning.

Though they take the emperor of Zutam to be their holiest figure, Vashran do not see him as descended from the gods, or the spirits, or even a god himself, as some cultures might. Rather, the emperor of Zutam is expected to be the most enlightened figure—the guiding light, as it were. He is revered as such. Unfortunately, this also means that for those emperors proven to be reckless, and lecherous, and cruel, there has been plenty of precedent for removal. Historically, this has often enough ended in a fiery coup, culminating in the elimination of much (if not all) of the reigning royal family.

One could never say Zutam is not a turbulent place.

Various sects exist within Vashra, of course, owing to its essentially polytheistic routes. Numerous shrines litter the empire, in fact, dedicated to spirits of fire, and water, or even to the great mother spirit itself—the earth. Though some are more militant than others, as the equality of these sects is preached almost from birth, there are few squabbles between them—though human nature of course makes some conflict inevitable.

Dreamcatcher Español: Atrapasueños elaborado c...

Vashran believe the followers of Visaj, as well as the Farrens (a distinction of religion lost on them, by the way), to be something of misguided children, rather than outright heretics. While their path is no less valid than Vashra itself, it is the methods of its pursuit the Vashran frown upon: the praising of idols, the constant in-fighting, the forcible conversions. Faith as they see it is a matter of the individual—a stark contrast to the Visaji belief in the oneness of society.

If there were any one symbol of the Vashran—beyond the Emperor himself, of course—it would likely be the dream catcher. For the Vashran hold the dream realm above all others—a place where the mind is free to roam, and the spirit is able to break its bonds with the chaining flesh, however temporarily. Dream catchers and the “sterre spice”—a potent drug often used by shamans to induce deep and hypnotic slumbers—are, as such, some of the most spiritual assets at their disposal.

Inside Idasia: The Magic of Lecura

Magic, as they say, is often the difference between a wild sci-fi adventure, and a fantasy one.

The world of Lecura, in true fantasy form, has its share of the magical, though it’s somewhat different from what you might call “traditional” fare. Of course that’s something of a misnomer, as nearly all the great fantasies have their own unique marks on the magical realm, their own guiding principles and laws that truly lend that awe-striking element to the show (as seen on io9’s fantastic chart).

So what I mean to say is that for The Hollow March and its sequels, magic is not a “normal” affair. For the people and the world of these books, it is not commonplace or widespread knowledge. It is rare, it is scorned, it is terribly self-destructive, and it is bound by one of the most concrete principles of our own world’s precious science.

It is, however, an art learned (in most instances)–not an inherited trait. So let’s learn, shall we?

To begin, the magic of Lecura is based upon the concept of transfer, much as we often credit to alchemy today. Powerful as the stuff may be, matter can neither be created nor destroyed therein—merely manipulated, merely affected.

Take Usuri’s interaction with the overly-affectionate soldier in the opening chapter of The Hollow March. Therein, she puts her lips to the man and twists dark magic upon his very innards.

How?

Well first of all, she had a connection to the man. Skin met skin. Saliva met saliva. From there, it was merely a matter of manipulating that bond. He was the catalyst, and she took the man’s saliva—the very water of him—and simply edited its state, freezing it solid and killing him utterly.

Warning: not party friendly.

See, that whole water into wine thing? Much safer. Also tastier. (Image: Fire campfire by Titus Tscharntke)

In the same vein, I could hurl dirt to the wind and set its bits ablaze. I could take the same dirt in hand, rub its weight upon my skin, and let it color me dark as the mud beneath my feet. In theory, I could even pull a Jesus, and step upon the waves.

So long as I have a connection, I can work change upon it.

But could I kill outright? Could I touch a man and order him to death? The disturbing fact to consider is that yes, yes I could—but to kill outright is somewhat different from mere manipulation. It is a force of will—the forcing of things into their antithetical position: to render being unto death. All the ingredients are there, of course, but it is not so simple a manipulation as others. You cannot take without giving, and as this is rather distinctly a taking, it requires an equal trade to see it done.

Yes, I could kill a man, true, but I would have to sacrifice myself in the process. A life for a death.

See what I meant about alchemy?

That’s why the round-abouts are so important. Take the dirt I set afire. I could cast it on a man and he would die, writhing in flame, without any sacrifice of my own required. Why, you ask? Because it was the fire that killed him. Not me. I did not will him unto death. I set the dirt aflame and the flames burned him down.

Big or small, though, the change requires some fuel for the flame. Though all magic drains the body, the most potent of these works drains the soul as well. As I posited before—to kill a man outright, with touch and breath, would take the same sacrifice of the self. Yet to spark a flame on dirt would also take sacrifice—though at a much lesser extent. A spark for a spark as it were—a few moments’ pain, or a week’s. It all depends upon the size of the action worked.

Once upon a time, the magical of the world would track precisely how many years of their own lives they had shaved off their own lives using themselves as catalyst and ingredient.

Terrifying, and more than a little masochistic, to be sure.

emo/scene

Okay, okay, so sorcerers can probably get a little emo at times. ("emo/scene", Image by Wikipedia)

What makes the art truly terrifying, however, is that one can work it from afar. So long as I possess a piece of a person, or a place, I can work my will upon it, though we could be miles apart.

Perhaps the best way to lend the concept visual in the mind’s eyes would be to compare it to the overly simple western (mis-)interpretation of Voodoo, dolls and all. Say I held a doll. Say I wished to hurt a man with the doll, a hundred miles from my door. Well, the doll in and of itself bears no connection to the man, even if it is a rather fetching likeness. It lacks a ground. Now suppose I had a clutch of the man’s hair. Then, I have a ground, but no focus—unless I wish to ruffle the man’s hair.

In joining the doll and the hair, however, focus meets ground, and the doll becomes a focus for the man. Say I lit the doll aflame then, and focused my will upon that distant soul. He would light up like a Christmas tree.

Yet this process is, of course, also more taxing. As we lack the whole, physical connection, greater bits of the self are often sacrificed to lend weight to the bond, lest it prove too tenuous. Though all magic drains the body, the most potent of these works drains the soul as well.

Once upon a time, the magical of the world would track precisely how many years of their own lives they had shaved off their own lives using themselves as catalyst and ingredient.

This is also why, above all else, caution is key for any sorcerer.

And it’s a trickier lesson to learn than you might think—since most the teachers have long since gone to their good earth.