Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Once upon a time...

I had a personal life. Perhaps I shall get one again, one day soon. No posts for a couple more days I expect.

They say that an aspiring (or even a professional) writer should practice writing every day. I've been working 15-hour days to finish up a big project. Does writing computer code count? If not, then I'm swiftly getting out of practice...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fantasy Authors and Stories I have Enjoyed

An old friend of mine contacted me recently, and asked for suggestions for some good fantasy stories. He had read Lord of the Rings, and enjoyed it, and was looking for some more good, engaging stories.

After replying to his request, I thought it might actually make a good blog post, so here's the text of my reply:

Hi M-,

Well, you already named my favorite fantasy story of all time. If you enjoyed LoTR, I would also recommend The Hobbit. It was written for Tolkien's children, so it is at a lower reading level (albeit higher than you will find in modern children's literature), but I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

Raymond Feist is a good author who has written probably 20 or more novels all set in the same fantasy world/universe. The very first 4-book series started with Magician: Apprentice, followed by Magician: Master, then Silverthorn and finally A Darkness At Sethanon. He's written several additional series since then, although I can't say I've completed any of them.

David Eddings' The Belgariad is a 5-book series that I enjoyed. I would say it's about the same quality as Feist. Eddings has written multiple fantasy series since then, so if you enjoy The Belgariad you might like to follow up with The Mallorean (set in the same world), or one of his other fantasy stories.

If you really want to dig into something, try Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. It finally ended after 13 books, and he died before it was done so he passed the torch to Brandon Sanderson to complete the last couple of volumes. I read through book 10 I think, and enjoyed them - in fact I'm giving serious thought to starting over at book one and reading the whole series. Be prepared to work your brain though, as the story contains no less than 6 major characters and a score of secondary but still strong characters, and each of them gets their own plot-line so it can be quite a bit to try and keep track of. The advantage anyone would have now, is that you can pick up all the volumes and read them one after another, rather than waiting 18 months between books and then having to struggle to remember what was happening to whom.

L.E. Modesitt has written several standalone novels in his world of Recluce, and I've enjoyed every one of them. A few have the same main character and supporting cast, but others are written for completely different characters. Modesitt has also written some good sci-fi, and I consider him a good author in both genres.

One of my guilty pleasures is Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, and I have several volumes of his short stories and novellas all about Conan. Don't think of the movies when you think of Conan, though - Howard's writing was actually quite good.

Hopefully that's enough to get you started. :-)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Character Arcs

I've never considered myself particularly good at characterization. I think I can write a pretty good yarn, with a well-paced plot, an interesting background and the right amount of action, but when it comes to the creation of the people in the story, my characters have tended to be pretty flat.

In the story of Balfrith, I am working to improve my skills by consciously planning a character arc for each of the main characters, of which there are five. Not everyone will get the same attention as Balfrith, nor will their arc be quite as large or satisfying as his, but each of them will undergo some sort of change through the story, some development that indicates personal growth.

I developed the ideas for the character arcs a long time ago, but when writing the plot outline I actually forgot to include those details except for Balfrith's own arc. So, on my business trip this week, I brought a printed copy of the plot outline and I read through it, writing notes on the pages to indicate where I thought I should include the developments for the other four people. I didn't write anything particularly detailed, just a few notes to say something like "Character X should show his weakness here", or "Character Y needs to make a decision at this point".

Since I'm new to this idea of the character arc, I don't really know the "right" way to go about it. I just did what seemed to make sense to me. So far, I think I'm on the right path, but I guess time will tell as I continue writing the story itself.

I have already written the first three chapters, but so far only Balfrith has really shown any development. One other character has just been introduced into the story, and the other three are yet to come. So it wasn't a big deal for me to go back and add in the character arcs at this point.

I'll probably post another short sample from the story this weekend. Keep watching this space!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Personal: Away on a Business Trip

I've been out of town since Monday, no energy to post nor did I have any of my writing materials with me anyway. Back home now, but I'm pretty tired. Regular posting will resume tomorrow.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Places of Interest - Deepfall

There is a city called Deepfall on the Vineland River, in the eastern regions of Sildara. At that place, the River flows over a great fall of fifty fathoms (300 feet), and its roar is like unto the sea crashing against cliffs during a great tempest. The city grew up around these falls, both on the lower end and the upper, and the people therein built wide and winding roads on either side of the river for traffic to move up and down.

Much trade is done in Deepfall, for river boats bring their goods up from as far away as the Wyrmsea and distant lands. They off-load their cargo at the base of the falls where large quays stand in the lake on both the north and south shores. From there, wagons drawn by great beasts of burden (oxen?) take them up the winding roads to the high city, and the lake which stands at the head of the falls. More ships sit at anchor there, to take on these goods and carry them thence upstream to the free city of Amyntas, and the cities of the Vales. Likewise, river craft coming down from the Vales offload their cargoes at the upper lake, whence they go in the same wagons down the roads to the lower lake, and on to the cities of western Sildara and elsewhere.

The men who control the traffic going up and down from high to low and back, form a guild that does a large volume of business. They are also an occasional choke-point for that traffic, for they do not suffer outside competition, and have enough influence in Deepfall that laws have been passed granting them the right to sell licenses for such business. And they keep a tight control on the number of licenses issued, so that all may prosper (all who are members of the guild, that is).

There is also a gray (some might say “black”) market of small couriers (or “smugglers”), who transport goods up and down without such licenses but do brisk trade in cash only. They cannot move large volumes, but if one has something small and of great worth, one may in fact prefer to use these resources rather than the licensed movers who pack many shipments together in their wagons for maximum load, but provide little security and only minimal guarantee against theft of items in those shipments.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Character Description - Balfrith

Balfrith is a Nûmidëan youth of fifteen years. At this age, he is not yet fully grown, although he is already a good height, standing about two inches short of six feet tall. This is about average for a Nûmidëan man, so he stands neither taller nor shorter than most of his companions. Over the course of the next few years he will gain another inch as he grows fully into his adult stature. He also has the thin, gangly build of a youth his age, but again, he will fill out to a mature man's weight over the next few years.

Balfrith has medium brown hair, cut shoulder length as is the style, combed and parted in the middle. He is trying to grow a goatee in the fashion of Nûmidëan nobility that he's seen in the company of his father. His father, Osric, has no time for what he calls "foolish fashions", and keeps his face clean shaven. Unfortunately for Balfrith, his facial hair is still rather scraggly, and the goatee isn't filling in very well, but he stubbornly persists in his efforts. Hope springs eternal, I guess.

His eyes are hazel, tending towards green if one looks closely. His face is thin, with gaunt cheeks and a sharp jawline, but as he grows to manhood these features will will become rather more well-defined, even handsome in a way. He has the narrow nose of his mother, and this will not likely change over time.

Balfrith's voice is mid-way between tenor and baritone, but will drop to full baritone by adulthood. Unfortunately he is rather tone deaf, and will not likely ever be a good singer unless he gets good training (not planned in any of my stories, but you never know...).

Balfrith can be very moody, like many young men his age. But he combines this with a thoughtfulness not common at his age, so that the moods themselves are not always obvious as he keeps them mostly internal. This manifests in many grand plans for his life and the future, most of which are never heard by another, not even his sister.

Aingeall ("Angel"), his sister, is closer to Balfrith than anyone else in the family. She understands him better, and empathizes with his situation where his brothers do not. The "situation" is his relationship with his father, which could be described fractured, at best. Balfrith is the youngest son in the family, and tragically, his mother died giving birth to him, so he has never met her. His father is too intelligent to blame Balfrith for the death of his wife, but the loss still weighs heavily upon his thoughts and emotions, especially in the spring-time as Balfrith's birthday comes around (the Spring Solstice, which is a holy day, but not something celebrated in their house). This manifests in a shorter temper, even outbursts of anger, towards Balfrith around that time of year. Unfortunately, Balfrith reacts to this by rebelling in both passive and aggressive ways. And so their relationship is best (more like "least bad") when they are ignoring each other, and worst when they are arguing - which is far too often.

Balfrith doesn't really have any friends. Where his brothers made some boyhood friends among the common folk, Balfrith never did so. Aingeall is really his only friend, but being his sister means that she is too close to the situation to be much good for advice, except to comfort him when he's upset or hurt by something their father has done. In this, she is something of a surrogate mother, which has been hard on her as well, forcing her to grow up more quickly than she otherwise might have done.

His tutor, Leofred, could be considered a friend of sorts, or rather more of a mentor who occasionally listens to Balfrith's frustrations. But Leofred is also a faithful servant of duke Osric, and so he balances carefully what he hears from Balfrith, against what he knows of the cool-headed fairness of his lord. Leofred simply cannot (or will not) see that in this case, Osric almost is as often in the wrong as Balfrith.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Historical Names for Characters

As I've mentioned before, I elected to place my fantasy world in a period far in Earth's (and humanity's) past, a forgotten elder age lost to history, before the civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia ever thought to rise. One advantage of choosing this type of world, as opposed to a more recent historical epoch (albeit one with magic), is that I can have maps and nations and peoples completely unrelated to those of our actual history. One disadvantage of doing so, however, is the risk of leaving the reader with no anchor or frame of reference for the cultures and peoples about whom he is reading.

A relatively simple compromise can overcome this disadvantage: allow the cultures and peoples of the fantasy world to have names that are similar to those we know from more recent history. Thus, a culture which bears some resemblance to the north-men of Scandinavia might actually have people with Norse names; a culture or nation that shares similarities with Ireland might have Gaelic names. This gives the reader a simple frame of reference for understanding the people and culture of the fantasy world, and allows the writer to take a few shortcuts in describing that culture. Of course the risk there is that the writer will become lazy, simply copying nations and societies from the past and putting them on a fantasy map. This has been done with some success, although I do not recommend taking such a path.

Rather, I take a few cues from different northern European nations and cultures that existed between about 400 and 1500 AD, and use those to build my nations and peoples. So it may seem that the people of Nifflgarde are just Vikings by another name, but in fact I have only taken a few highlights from the folk of Scandinavia and woven them into the tapestry of my world, and allowed my imagination to fill in the remaining details. Likewise, Sildara may feel somewhat like Arthurian England, due to the names of the characters and a few other superficial bits. But again, I only borrowed some obvious items in order to give a basic frame of reference, and then filled in the details from my imagination.

So what you will find is, the names of people in Numidea and Sildara are generally Anglo-Saxon, although Sildara has many outside influences so it is less rigid. The names of people in Danannsidhe are Gaelic, and those of Nifflgarde are Norse. Other nations follow a similar pattern, but you will have to read the story to find out about the rest.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dwerden Creation Myth and Early History

I wrote the following creation myth several years ago. While I wouldn't necessarily call it canon, it certainly represents my early conception of Dwerden, or Dwarves, as a race of great pathos. Though they may seem cold and hard to an outsider, on the rare occasion that one gets to see the real Dwerden underneath the rocky exterior, one cannot help but be stricken by the tragedy of their existence.

* * *

When the Great Lord created the race of Dwerden, He delved deep into the greatest mountain of Aerde, burrowing into the very roots of the world which He had fashioned. And when He found a suitable place, a hidden cavern, there He stopped and pondered for a long while. He looked around the place, and when He found a suitable piece of stone, He again paused to consider it. Finally, He began to carve away the stone, piece by piece, cutting and breaking off pieces with His bare hands.

As He drew nearer to the core of the stone, to that which He sought within, then He began to chisel smaller parts and pieces away, brushing off the dust as He chiseled, until He had almost completely exposed the creation within. And when chiseling would no longer suffice, then He summoned a stream of living water to that hidden cavern. He called the stream over to where He worked the stone, and using the grit from His earlier cutting and breaking and chiseling, He used water and sand to wear away the last of that stone which did not belong to what He sought within.

And at last He finished His work, and sat back, looking at what His hands had both fashioned and uncovered. The Great Lord drew a deep breath then, and blew fire upon the stone form, heating it to glowing, so that it illuminated all of that great hidden cavern and there was no shadow to be found. Again He drew breath, and again He blew white-hot flame over the stone, heating it more and more.

Seven times the Great Lord drew breath, and seven times He blew upon the stone. And after the seventh breath, He said, “Awake! Awake, my son, and live!”

Thus was born the first of the Dwerden, whom Men call Dwarves. The Great Lord called him Duerde, and after him was his race named. Duerde watched as the Great Lord began again, going through the same process over a great many days, cutting and carving and chiseling and sanding. At the end of that time, He again breathed seven times, and thus was born Duerde's wife, Dualia. From these were born the entire race.

Now Duerde had watched the Great Lord, observing all that He had done. And within his heart was born a great curiosity, and a burning passion to create as his Creator had done. The Great Lord smiled upon Duerde, and began to teach them both the craft of stone-working, and gem-working, and metallurgy. Duerde and his wife Dualia both learned these skills from the Great Lord, and took joy in them. Now Duerde loved the working of metals above the others, and Dualia the cutting and faceting of gems; and they both loved to work stone. So it is among the Dwerden to this day, that most men love metallurgy, and most women gem-cutting, but all work in stone.

* * *

And it came to pass in later days, when the race of Dwerden had multiplied and prospered in their great cavern city of Duerde, that those who worked in the mines brought forth a rumor: they had broken out of the hidden places of Aerde, and come into a great open place of yellow light and strange colors. And so it was that the sons of Duerde first encountered the sons of Men, and they greeted each other as brothers at the base of the Lost Mountain, under the open heavens.

* * *

After many years, when the sons of Duerde had prospered greatly in their commerce with Men, it came about that their mines began to reach their end: the veins of precious metals, and pockets of gems, were fewer and farther between, and many of their tunnels had broken through to the open sky. So, the Dwerden began to dig deeper into the roots of Aerde, and again found silver and gold, diamond, ruby, and sapphire, and the most precious of ores: adamant. Once again commerce was strengthened, and the Dwerden prospered in their trade with Men.

But there were Seers in those days, and they spoke against digging much further into the roots of Aerde. “Let us go forth upon the face of Aerde, and find a new mountain. For we have heard the tales from Men that there are whole ranges of mountains in various places, and surely the Great Lord never intended for us to remain in this one place. But let us go and see these mountains of which Men speak, and surely the Great Lord will guide us to a new home, a new place for a city, and new places to discover beneath the earth.” But the people did not listen.

Some time later the Seers came again, and spoke this warning: “If we continue on this path, the Great Lord has shown us that we will soon dig into forbidden places, the deeps of Aerde where even such as we were never meant to delve. Now, let us go from our city – we can leave a remnant, for there is still room for a tithe of our people to live here a long time – but the rest of us, we should go, and find a new mountain that the Great Lord will show us, and there we shall prosper again under His blessing. But if we do not, if we ignore the warning of the Great Lord, then surely our people will come to great ruin.” And again, the people did not listen.

One last time the Seers came and made their case before the people: “The Great Lord has shown us that in a very short while, if we do not repent of our way, our city will be destroyed, and a mere remnant of our people will remain, only to be scattered across the face of Aerde. Come! Let us close our deepest mines and forget that we ever dug so deep into the earth. Let us find new veins of ore and pockets of gems – and if not, then let us leave our city while we are yet under the blessing of the Great Lord. If we do, then He will take us to another mountain, where we will again prosper as before, and have mines aplenty from which to draw such wealth as has not been seen in our age. He will grant us favor with Men as well, that our commerce with them should continue wherever we may go, and our race shall live on and grow in glory under His hand.

“But if we continue, then before this generation passes, He will remove His protective hand from over us, and we shall bring our own destruction upon our heads. Our people shall be reduced to a tenth of our greatness, and those who remain will no longer dwell in this great city, but will be cast out from this mountain where we were born. Our name will be forgotten by Men, and our wealth will rot beneath this mountain.” So spoke the Seers. And, calling all who would join them, they left the Lost Mountain, never to return. But the greater part of the Dwerden remained, and continued on their path, digging to hidden and forbidden levels of the earth, where such as they were not meant to go.

* * *

Within the generation of the Seers' departure, the Dwerden discovered a new vein of adamant deep in the bowels of the earth. The people rejoiced greatly, for even their other deep mines had begun to run out, and the gem pockets were again fewer and further between. They put all of their efforts into that vein, and soon had gained greater wealth than any in the city could ever remember having seen. And it was said among them, that the Great Lord had repented of His anger, and blessed them as a sign that He would allow them to remain as long as they wished.

But it was not long before another rumor came out of that tunnel: death walked among them, and none could stand against it. The Dwerden rallied to stop the intruder, but the best of their warriors, in the brightest adamant mail, could not fight it. Their loremasters could not bind the creature that had come from the depths of Aerde, nor could they ward its passage. It came with black smoke and red flame, devouring all who stood before it, and the doughtiest of them trembled in fear at its approach. The Dwerden named it Sharrapu, for it came out of the hidden depths, devouring by fire.

The people of the city fled, each to his home, to take what he could and leave the Lost Mountain by any path. But Sharrapu came among them, into their city, the ancestral home of Duerde, and wrought destruction on all it touched. Less than half of those who dwelt in the city at that time, reached the sunlight. The rest were buried beneath the mountain when it collapsed upon itself. For the destruction brought by Sharrapu was so great, that the mountain trembled to its roots, and the walls shook, then shattered. The great pillars of living stone that had upheld the roof were broken, too, and the top of the mountain crushed all beneath it. Those watching from a distance saw the fires of Sharrapu blast up from the crater where once a peak had towered over the land, and it rained fire upon the people for a day and a night.

The Men who lived nearby were forced to flee, so great was the destruction of the mountain, and the rain of fire that came after. Of the Dwerden who escaped the city, only a remnant survived the night, for the fire overtook many in their flight, and those who rested perished.

The mountain where they dwelt is now lost, passed away from the knowledge of Man and Dwarf, for none now lives to remember where it once stood, and any record of its existence has crumbled to dust.

Thus were the Dwerden scattered across the face of Aerde, as the Seers had spoken. Thus was the Great Lord's protection lifted from upon them, and they wander the earth to this day. Though they delve into mountains now as they always have, they find little joy in their explorations, or in their working of stone and metal and jewels. The Dwerden Seers have long since passed away, and their loremasters know not a tenth of what was understood in the elder days, though it would seem they still work wonders to modern eyes. Yet always they remember what was lost, and their works bear witness to the pain in their souls. The Dwerden now look for one who will restore to them their former glory; who might even return them to their home of old, though it is lost; who will restore them to grace with the Great Lord, and bring them back under His blessing and protection.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Little Sample

Well, dear readers, I find myself at a loss tonight for something to write on, and I did promise that I would post every day. So, rather than putting up something not worth reading, I've decided to give you a small sample from chapter one of Balfrith's story. Of course this is still just the rough draft, so I can't actually guarantee it will be worth reading. But I suspect you may find it interesting, perhaps even enjoyable, and give you a small taste of what is to come.

So without further ado, I give you a slice of chapter one...

Balfrith’s tutor Leofred walked into his bedroom on a morning like many others, talking to himself about something. He was tall and thin, with graying hair, and he kept his face clean-shaven like Balfrith’s father. His eyes were cast to the floor, his shoulders hunched, as if he’d just come away from a scolding.

Balfrith smiled, for he knew his tutor wouldn’t do anything to deserve a reprimand. He was much too proper a man for that.

“Leofred,” he asked, “What’s the lesson for today? Elves?” Balfrith had to struggle to keep the hope out of his voice.

“Always the Elves with you,” Leofred said, frowning. “You’ll make me regret I ever brought them up, with your endless questioning.”

Balfrith slouched in his chair, disappointed. “Well, what is today’s lesson, then?”

Leofred smiled, his brow rising, and said, “Ah, master Balfrith, you’re going to like today’s lesson, I promise. Full of swords and battles, and love and hate - and adventure!” When he said the word adventure, his voice dropped in tenor, but increased in volume - like the bards from the city, who told their tales with such dramatic flare.

But Balfrith knew what that really meant: “Not another history lesson,” he groaned. “Father already teaches me enough history.”

“Yes, with his maps and boards and set-pieces, he lays out battle plans and teaches the lessons of war - the most fundamental of which is - Balfrith?”

On cue, Balfrith recited, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

Leofred nodded, satisfied. “Just so. But today, we learn not about the lessons of war - at least not directly. Rather, we will be studying the history of your family, and how it rose to greatness in the civil wars of king Numidides.”

“More dates to memorize,” Balfrith grumbled, still unhappy. History was his worst subject.

“Dates, and places, and names - yes. Also swords, and magic, and heroism! Join me at the table, young master, and listen well as I recite to you the story of Aethelred.”

Balfrith didn’t want to show it, but his curiosity was piqued: “Magic?” he asked. Leofred smiled and winked, as he set down the leather bag he’d carried in, and began pulling out a few items from within and laying them on the table.

Balfrith stood and walked to the table, pulling out a chair and sitting down. He reached out toward one of the things Leofred had set there: a section of dark mail rings, appearing as if it had been torn away from the original garment - perhaps from a hauberk. The steel rings were blackened, corroded and pitted - but from what? He looked questioningly at his tutor.

“That, young master, is all that remains of the mail armor of your ancestor, Aethelred. We have a few other relics from his life, laid out here.” He pointed at a hemispherical piece of lacquered and filigreed steel, and said, “This was the standard that he bore on his shield - the boss itself. Note the pattern inlaid?”

Balfrith looked closer, and recognized the gold lion rampant upon green field. “My family crest,” said Balfrith, amazed at the fine detail of the gold lion filigree laid into the steel.

"Just so,” said Leofred. “He was knighted and given this standard by king Numidides, along with the lands upon which you live - where this very manor-keep is built.”

“Really?” Balfrith’s eyes opened wide in amazement. “How long ago was that?”

Leofred paused a moment, thinking, but then said, “You know the answer, master Balfrith. You tell me.”

Balfrith frowned, but thought about it for a moment. Finally he said, “My family’s ancestor Aethelred was elevated to nobility by king Numidides, seven hundred and fifty-four years ago. He saved the king’s life in one of the last battles of the civil wars that almost destroyed our nation.”

“Very good, master Balfrith,” Leofred said, smiling.

“I only said what you made me memorize,” he grumbled in return.

"And it worked, did it not? You were able to recall the relevant facts on demand.”

Balfrith said nothing - he still hated history. But then he remembered, “You said there was magic - I don’t recall any stories about magic in your history lessons before.”

“That’s because I had to get all those names and dates hammered into that thick skull of yours, first.”

Balfrith ignored the response, knowing that Leofred was only teasing, and his attention was drawn to another object on the table: a dagger, with a long straight blade and jeweled hilt. “What’s that?” he asked.

“That,” Leofred said after a brief pause, “is the dagger upon which Aethelred died.”

“Really? Who killed him? And how?” Balfrith asked, interested once again.

“His best friend killed him, stabbed him in the back, for the love of a woman - Aethelred’s wife. They were both hung from a pike for that, by the king’s hangman. A bloody affair - but then the affairs of the nobility tend to be that way.” Leofred sighed, quietly.

Balfrith nodded, but was disappointed - no magic in that story, apparently. “And the magic?” he asked, persisting until he got an acceptable answer.

Leofred exhaled loudly, exasperated, and exclaimed, “I should have known I would regret mentioning magic to you, before we got to the meat of the lesson. Alright, master Balfrith, you win. Take a seat, and I will tell you the story of Aethelred, and of Branulf, his cursed sword.”

“Branulf?” Balfrith interrupted, never having heard the name before.

“Aye, Branulf. It was a master’s work, the creation of the bladesmith Sørkell. It was said he never sold any of his greatest works, but gave them as gifts to those he felt would be worthy recipients.”

Balfrith interrupted again, growing excited. “And he gave one to Aethelred? Was it magic?”

Leofred smiled and said, “Well, there are those who say it was magic, but later the magic was corrupted and turned on its owner. Others think it started as an ordinary blade - albeit the work of a master - and became cursed after his death. With Branulf, it was said that Aethelred never lost a fight in single combat. He even slew the dragon Thoarn, wielding Branulf and wearing that mail there.” He pointed at the section of blackened rings. “It is the only surviving fragment of the battle. Aethelred grew to be the greatest swordsman of the age, and served king Numidides as bodyguard, friend and trusted confidant for many years.”

“Then what happened?” asked Balfrith, on the edge of his seat, fully entranced with the story.

Leofred continued, “Aethelred grew in stature and popularity with the men of the kingdom, a champion for the king and captain of his armies. After that it was said that a shadow came over the king and darkened his heart, for he saw that Aethelred’s stature fairly outstripped his own in the eyes of his people.

“Now in those days, Aethelred had married a young and beautiful woman from among the old nobility, a duchess, as a political alliance to cement his recently gained standing among the house of lords. His wife’s family, though of the old nobility, was itself looking to regain some of the influence which it had lost over the years - and hoped to do so through the rising popularity of duke Aethelred.

“It seemed an ideal match, at least among the politically minded -”

“But what about the magic?” Balfrith interrupted again, worried that the lesson was devolving into yet another history lesson with more names and dates to memorize.

“Ah … yes, well … yes.” Leofred stammered, trying to regain his stream of thought.

He took a breath, exhaled loudly, and continued, “Aethelred was at the height of his popularity, and it appeared that his prowess showed no sign of wavering, even with the onset of age. And men began to speak of the magic of the sword, that it somehow kept him young and strong, and enhanced his fighting ability.

“The king, too, heard these rumors, and it was said that he began to covet not only the popularity of his friend, but also the sword itself and the powers it apparently granted to its wielder. And so it happened, that he conspired with the wife of Aethelred, and with her lover, to kill him. For she did not love her husband, and had broken troth with him early on in their marriage. And since they believed that Aethelred could not be defeated in single combat, they resorted to the favored methods of the nobility of old: treachery and betrayal.”

Balfrith sat up now, frowning, the anger apparent on his face. “But why would they do that? I thought he was friends with king Numidides!”

“They were friends, Balfrith, but sometimes friendships are twisted by jealousy, especially when the two parties are both powerful and proud. For you see, Aethelred was not without his own faults. He had, indeed, become a proud man by his many victories and growing popularity. And he spoke openly and foolishly against his friend the king, not showing the respect that was due to his station.

“And the king became afraid, for he saw that if he allowed such behavior from his friend to continue, it would only open the door for others, less friendly, to do the same. So their friendship was poisoned by the darkness that hides within the hearts of all men, both pride and jealousy. And so Aethelred’s wife, with her lover and the king, plotted to kill him. Aethelred, unarmed and unsuspecting, was stabbed in the back by that man, as his wife watched from nearby and lifted not a finger to stop the deed.

“And when it was reported to the king that his friend had been murdered, he was overcome with grief and wept openly, tearing his royal robes. And then he called the duchess and her lover before him, and he hung them each from pikes in the courtyard of his castle, for all to see. At that time, none knew of his own hand in the affair. But many years later as he lay on his death-bed, the king confessed his role to a Sister of Rialla. And from her, the story made its way to the sons of Aethelred. And it has remained your family’s secret for all the many generations since.”

Now Balfrith was confused, and he asked, “But why would we keep it a secret? It’s not fair - the king killed Aethelred, and got away with it, and no one said anything?”

Leofred, with an ironic smile and a touch of sadness in his voice, asked, “Master Balfrith, who ever told you that life was fair?”

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Created Languages

I've been fascinated with created languages ever since I was a kid reading sci-fi and fantasy, and took note that some authors made a point of actually having their characters speak a string of words that apparently were another tongue, but as far as I knew they had no relation to any living or dead language. Later, I learned that Tolkien had created several tongues for The Lord of the Rings and other Middle-Earth stories, and that really amazed me. I always figured that most authors, Tolkien included, just made up a few words that sounded interesting, or maybe looked interesting when written down, with various diacritic marks and other affectations of "creativity". And I suppose that this is still true for many authors. I have also noticed a few authors who borrowed from actual languages out of our own history, such as classical Greek or Latin, which certainly grounds them in reality, although when I suddenly realized I could actually read those words, and make some sense of them, it rather lost the magic for me.

So when it came time for me to consider creating one or more languages, for Elves and Dwarves, I took a long time to think about what I wanted to do. Would I go all the way and actually create a small vocabulary, complete with grammar and syntax? Would I borrow a real language, living or dead, and just use it as if it were an alien tongue (which it would still likely be, for most readers)? Or would I just make up a few interesting words, use a very basic grammar similar to English, and call it good enough? Ultimately I compromised a bit, and decided to create a true language, but I would limit the vocabulary to the 2000 most common words in the English language; I would create a grammar that was relatively simple, and thus easy for me to figure out; and I would write a program to randomly generate the 2000 words I needed in my lexicon.

That last part, the program, was actually really fun - but then I'm a geek at heart. So, I whipped up a quick and dirty Perl script to read from a text file of 2000 words, and generate a random combination of mixed syllables (based on a separate text file) following a simple set of rules. It was so easy, in fact, that I was rather disappointed when it was done. So, after that, I took my list of words, and got to work. I tried to find related words in the English list, and then played around a bit with the random words so that they would appear to be etymologically related in the new language. This was actually quite fun (me still being a geek), and it helped me bring a little sanity to the random nature of the initial raw list of words.

In the end, I had a rough language that you will eventually get to read on this blog. But it's my bed-time now, so that will have to wait for another post.

Monday, January 16, 2012



Nûmidëa is an island in the Worldsea, situated off the western coasts of Danannsidhe and Sildara. The human nation of Nûmidëa, whence it gets its name, occupies the entire southern half of the island, with its northern border being the Rushing (Asca) River. North of the river is the forest of Illithëon, wherein dwell the Elves of Illithëon, a large colony that existed before Men ever arrived on the shores of the island. The nation of Nûmidëa is approximately 550 miles across at its widest, and 400 miles from the Asca River in the north, to its southern shores.

Features and Landmarks
As noted, the Rushing River forms the northern border of the land, while the remaining borders are simply the island shores.

Nûmidëa has two mountain ranges. The Red Mountains stretch from the island's westernmost point, along those shores and all the way to its northern tip. The Eagle Spire Mountains run along the southern edge of the island, from west to east, almost reaching the Kingfisher Bay.

There are three large rivers in Nûmidëa. The Copper River is the largest, both in breadth and depth, flowing slowly northeast from its source in the central part of the Eagle Spire Mountains, to its mouth in the Kingfisher Bay. It gets its name from the way in which sunlight reflects off the water, having a coppery tint. The Rushing River runs shallow and fast for most of its length, though not so shallow as to allow an easy fording save in a few places. It is almost as long as the Copper River. Its source is in the Red Mountains, and its mouth empties into Kingfisher Bay. The smallest is the Whitefall River, running from the southern tip of the Red Mountains, curving around south and west through the Goldwood and into the Worldsea. The Whitefall gets its name from the way in which it descends from the mountains in a series of lively falls, before reaching the western plains and meandering its way to the Sea.

There is one large forest in the nation of Nûmidëa, along with a plethora of small woods spotting the landscape. In the southwestern region is the forest called Goldwood, named after the leaves of the golden sycamore tree which dominates the region. North of the Rushing River is an even larger forest, the Elvish colony of Illithëon, a nation unto itself and not further described here.

Being an island nation at a mostly temperate latitude, Nûmidëa can have some strange weather patterns. Seasons are mild, with neither great highs nor lows in temperature. Summers are warm and humid, but tend to cool off at night. Winters are cool, with some snow but it rarely sticks for long. It does rain quite a bit, however. Due to the high humidity year-round, it tends to be quite foggy from autumn through to spring. The coldest days will bring the fog down as rain, snow or frost. The summers are generally warm enough that the fog lifts early in the morning. With the wet climate and moderate temperatures comes great wealth in growing plants and trees of all sorts. Nûmidëa has been called a gardener's paradise for that reason, and there is great truth in the statement.

There are three major cities in Nûmidëa. The capital city, Hightower, lies on the southern shores of Kingfisher Bay, along the western shore of the Copper River. Graystone, the second-largest city, sits on the northern shores of Kingfisher Bay, and is split by the Rushing River, but joined by three great bridges allowing traffic to pass freely across. This is the only city or region where Men are allowed (by treaty with the Elves) to settle north of the Rushing River. The third-largest city is Kings' Reach, which lies on the western coast just north of the Goldwood, on the Whitefall River.

The nation is ruled by a hereditary king. There are literally hundreds of noble families, most of them very minor but a few long-standing houses wield a great deal of influence. The family heads of most families are dukes (and duchesses), while the major house heads are called arch-dukes. Each family has one or more family members, courtiers, representing them at the royal court. Further, there are several powerful guilds with their own representatives. But it is the king who rules, and he makes this plain to all, every day. He is a hard man, but just, and believes that he does everything for the good of his nation and people. By and large, he is simply following in an excellent family tradition of strong kings who know whom they serve (namely, their subjects).

The many noble families of Nûmidëa are all landowners, and as such, govern their own lands with a large degree of independence. The king may be a strong ruler, but he deals mainly with national and international affairs, not the details of each duchy. It is this effective delegation of authority that allows him to focus on large domestic and foreign affairs. As for the duchies, each is governed by the family that owns the land, and the duke or duchess who heads that family. It must be understood that the noble families do not own all the land under their governance: rather, they own a large portion of farmland and pastures for themselves, plus most of the non-agricultural lands (forests, swamps and other lands mostly left to the wild). The remainder, which is usually the majority of a duchy's acreage, is farmland owned by free commoners. The free commoners pay taxes to their duke, who in turn pays taxes to the king, based on the total arable acreage of their lands. There may also be non-farming land owned by commoners, such as a small plot for a house and/or business in a town or city, or a mine in the hills, or even just some forested hunting property. In any case, there are many commoners in the nation who own small pieces of land.

Within each duchy are many towns and villages, each of which exercises a small amount of autonomy under the guidance of their duke. Typically, these towns and villages have both a duke-appointed shire-reeve (or sherrif), and an elected mayor. Any landowner may vote in the mayoral elections, and only landowners may run for mayor. Free commoners who own no land have no such rights, and therefore the social pressure to own even a small piece of land is very great. The sherrif is expected to enforce the king's law, as well as ordinances enacted by the duke. The mayor, too, enforces the king's law as judge and jury, and also acts as a go-between for the people and their duke. The mayor has no right to enact laws, he can only enforce those laws set by the duke or the king. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon in any town or village for there to be certain written or unwritten rules, rules which are agreed-upon and understood by all the locals, and quietly explained to travelers and newcomers. There may be signs posted, but since many people do not read, the general expectation is that visitors will have them explained by the locals. These rules have no legal weight, but they do carry the heavy weight of social pressure and tradition, which are generally enough to keep people “in line”.

Internationally, Nûmidëa is sometimes looked down upon by the continental nations of the West. They are viewed as country bumpkins, and outcasts, descendants of people who fled civilization long ago and never attained to the heights of their mainland cousins. To some degree this may be true, but neither have the Nûmidëans fallen to the levels of corruption and depravity of those nations who would presume to judge them. This attitude is mostly prevalent among the eastern nations of Vilandria and Cychlos, less so among Nifflgarde, Danannsidhe, and Sildara and the Vales.

Among its allies, Nûmidëa counts Sildara and Danannsidhe. Nûmidëa came to the aid of Sildara a long time ago, when Vilandria thought to make an empire for itself and tried expanding its reach westward across the Graywall Mountains and into Sildara. They never got beyond the Vales, for Sildara and Nûmidëa stopped their advance – but they did not go so far as to expel the Vilandrians from the Vales, and that land was left to its own devices until Kevin of Whitebridge finally led a rebellion that drove them back across the Graywalls once again. Nifflgarde also once tried to expand their borders under a single great king, and they started by invading Danannsidhe. Nûmidëa came and helped the Dedannan people to repel that invasion, and the great king was deposed shortly thereafter, returning the country to its scattered small domains loosely organized. The people of Nifflgarde didn't hold a grudge against Nûmidëa, and the two nations freely share trade to this day.

Nûmidëa maintains friendly but neutral relations with Nifflgarde and the Vales. As mentioned, though Nûmidëa did once aid Danannsidhe in stopping a Nifflgarder invasion, the people (and their several kings) did not hold a grudge, and today they maintain friendly but neutral trading relations. The Vales are not a strong enough entity to forge alliances with any nation, and so they remain friendly but neutral to all, insofar as possible.

Vilandria hates and despises Nûmidëa, though they have never been directly at war with one another. But they never have gotten over their defeat at the borders of Sildara by the Nûmidëan alliance, and nurse that grudge to this day. Vilandrian law forbids trade with Nûmidëa, and in fact Nûmidëans themselves are forbidden from entering the country. Nûmidëa has no such laws to reciprocate, and mostly just laughs at such an attitude. Cychlos also despises Nûmidëa, for the reasons given above that they consider the Nûmidëans to be a backwards, oafish people. It's not so much a matter of politics as it is cultural differences, but it colors their politics in that they remain but neutral toward one another, when they acknowledge the others' existence at all.

Of the nations further east, Qôphir, Tulan and Parth, there are no political relationships between them and Nûmidëa.

Nûmidëa does brisk trade in precious metals, gold and silver mined from the Eagle Spire mountains in the south. The gold and silver ores, highly refined in nearby villages and towns, is transported down the Copper River to Hightower, and exported for use by jewelers and smiths throughout Aerde. In fact, the standard Nûmidëan minted coins are so pure, they are actually worth more than their weight (by a full tenth, no less) in standard merchants' gold or silver. Some men even collect Nûmidëan coins, saving them against the possibility that they will grow in value over time. Others melt them down, mixing in lesser metals in order to synthesize a larger amount of standard merchants' gold or silver. For such, their wealth does not increase in the process, however it is often easier to trade using the accepted standard, than to try and haggle the higher worth of the Nûmidëan coin. The Nûmidëans, for their part, maintain a stubborn refusal to debase their wealth to match that of other nations. It is telling of their attitude, that because they can do it better than anyone else, they consider it their natural duty to rise up to that ability.

Nûmidëa also does a small trade in cut and uncut gemstones, coming from the same or nearby mines with the gold and silver. These tend to be of average quality, the Nûmidëans having not developed much in the way of the jeweler's craft.

Wool is another large export of Nûmidëa, and though less glamorous than precious metals and stones, it is by far their greatest export. The sheep of Nûmidëa tend to produce thick, heavy wool, and the yarn and cloth produced from raw wool is no less thick and heavy. Whether carded, spun into yarn, or woven into fabrics, the wool of Nûmidëa is known for its quality in making warm and sturdy garments of all sorts. Nûmidëa is also known for its black sheep and their wool, which is unique in all the West. While most people and markets prefer the whitest wool they can find, Nûmidëan black wool has a niche of its own and no real competitors.

Nûmidëa is a basically self-sufficient nation, when looking at the staples needed for survival and even some luxuries. The island itself provides all the natural resources needed for farm and pasture land, lumber, stone and metals, and what cannot be found on the island can be (and is) done without by most. That said, there are still many commodities imported from other lands, though none of them have any great effect on the economic strength of the nation. From Nifflgarde come the great pelts and furs of wolf, silvertip bear, fox and mink. From Sildara come high quality treated leathers, saddles for horses of all types, and rough-cut maple, which isn't found on the island. From Vilandria (always by way of proxies, due to Vilandrian law), merchants bring patterned carpets of exotic fabrics, to cover the floors and walls of the wealthy, and to make clothing for the nobility and the wealthy, and also finely-cut gems and jewels, of far better quality than what can be found or made within their own nation. From Cychlos comes white marble and granite used for building, cut in large blocks and shipped across the Worldsea in huge vessels that are barely seaworthy once laden with such cargo.

Not sure what to do with religion at this time. Is the world mostly monotheistic, or polytheistic, or what? It is certainly old enough that there would have been much opportunity for syncretism over thousands of years, to the point that no nation would really have its own god or gods, but rather the gods would likely have been merged across cultures and religions into a few recognized powers of greater or lesser influence. If a monotheistic religion is present, it may coexist peacefully with the other religions if there is a generally recognized “father” god that could be recognized as also being the “one true God”. All lesser gods would then be recognized as lesser, created beings, still powerful in their own right but subservient to the Creator. Conversely, a monotheistic religion may be antagonistic towards “false religions” and “false gods”, spawning religion wars akin to what we have seen in our own recent history. Maybe there could be some of both – again, like what we see even today between Islam and other religions (whether mono- or polytheistic).

Class Structure
Nûmidëan class structure is fairly liberal, as far as things are defined among the nations of the West. People are largely free to buy and sell property, gather wealth, and pursue their dreams as long as they don't trample on the rights of others to do the same. The noble families are only a vestige of the former feudal class structure, for they are no longer even the majority of land owners. Rather, sharp-minded merchants and conservative farmers own the majority of usable land in Nûmidëa, having bought it over the years from the noble families who had run up many debts for various reasons. In spite of the economic changes and pressures exerted by the new “middle class” of free commoners, the nobility still reserve some privileges for themselves, such as the right to govern as dukes and duchesses, to advise the king as courtiers and ministers in various capacities, and to perhaps even put one of their own on the throne – if they can show a strong enough familial relationship. While certain rich merchants and large guilds also exercise political influence both nationally and locally, that influence has no legal or official backing. Of course, the influence that wealth provides can often be more powerful than a legal title or rank.

The Nûmidëans, even though they have gone (and are going) through great changes in their society, are still quite conservative in their values. Most people are family-oriented, placing their own desires second to the good of their immediate and extended family. Nûmidëa is also a very religious culture – whatever that religion happens to be. But the religion, as such, carries great weight among the masses of people, providing rules and regulations for moral and ethical living, toward which many, if not most, aspire to do their best.

Nûmidëa has what might be called a “biblical” standard for morality, again based upon their very religious culture. They occasionally have gone so far as to outlaw some activities which might be considered (in other cultures and nations) private affairs among consenting adults, but these laws are generally not enforced except in extreme cases.

Nûmidëans as a people are generally tall, men around six feet and women around five and a half. They have light bronze to pale skin (largely depending on their latitude, and how much sun they get), and hair color runs the gamut of platinum blonde to dark brown, straight to curly. Eyes are the same, with perhaps a slight majority having blue or gray. Men usually wear either a goatee or beard, kept short and well-trimmed.

Nûmidëan men generally wear a basic woolen tunic and breeches, with a hooded cape, gloves and calf-length or higher boots (even when not riding). Women wear simple dresses with a fitted bodice, also with hooded cloak, boots and gloves. The reason for the heavy clothes is that Nûmidëa is a very rainy and foggy country, and it is very difficult to stay dry without wearing multiple layers of clothes. With the rain comes much mud, thus the need for high boots at all times. Clothing colors tend toward dark primaries (blue, violet, dark red, forest green), mixed with gray and black.

Culture and History
Nûmidëa is the second-oldest nation in the West, after Cychlos, and it is presently the most powerful. It arose from the ashes of the Shandollëan empire (which had controlled the entire northwest part of Aerde, except for the Cychloan city-states), over 1,000 years ago when that empire was overrun by the hordes of darkness led by the arch-lich Narghûl.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

About Monsters: Goblins and Trolls

Aerde, like most fantasy worlds, is populated with both civilized races and monsters. Some of those monsters take humanoid form, though most do not. But of the humanoid races, the best known and most common are goblins and trolls. Though there are various sub-races among both goblins and trolls, the following descriptions are generally true for all forms.

Goblins tends to be of shorter stature than Men, with grayish or green-gray skin tones and little hair, with the exception of black, bushy eyebrows. They are uniformly ugly, with sharp facial features, over-sized ears, nose, and chin, and tiny eyes that peek out from under an overhanging brow. Though they are smaller than Men, they are quick to violence, and fight with a ferocity that surprises most on first experiencing it. Goblins wear clothing appropriate to the climate in which they live. They prefer to live underground, like the Dwerden, however they do not build like the Dwerden do. The goblins live in rough caves and caverns, preferring the dark, and only come out under open skies at night, if they have any choice. Though they can move and fight in the daylight, it hurts their eyes, which have adapted over many aeons to subterranean life.

In order to survive your first encounter with a goblin, do not underestimate his strength and ferocity - rather, assume that he will fight with the sole aim of killing his opponent in any way possible, without holding back, and without honor or any sense of fairness. Goblins are quick, vicious little creatures - do not let them get too close, or you may find a barbed and rusty knife in your gut! They like to keep a surprise or three hidden in their clothes, to be brought out at an opportune moment.

Trolls are large, hulking creatures that stand head and shoulders above even a tall Man. They have skin color and tone similar to that of goblins, with a tendency toward fatness, and dark hair on their heads. They tend to walk hunched over, with their arms hanging low and knuckles almost dragging on the ground. Normally they are rather slow-moving, however in a fight they can be quick to react, and often surprise their opponent by this change in behavior. Trolls are not very intelligent, and will sometimes be found in the company (and under the authority) of goblins, with whom they occasionally form a shaky alliance. Trolls are also good hunters, who can follow a trail by scent much like a hunting dog. Their eye-sight is better than that of goblins in daylight, but not as good at night. Trolls will wear the skins and furs of animals in order to stay warm, though they can survive in harsh elements with little or no clothing due to their thick skin and layers of fat. Trolls also often live in caves, however this is more from convenience than anything else. They may just as likely be found under a cliff overhang, or even in a thick patch of tall trees - whatever can provide some shelter from the elements.

In order to defeat a troll in single combat, it is best to bring two or three friends and ensure that it is not actually single combat. If that is not possible, you must use your head, as it is your greatest (perhaps only) advantage over the troll. Trolls use weapons as often as their claws, and will often switch between the two with a surprising quickness. Though not very intelligent, they have an animal's cunning, and are most dangerous when cornered or threatened.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Religion in Aerde

A reader recently made a comment in passing about religion in fantasy stories, which reminded me that I actually have "Religions" in my list of potential blog topics - and thus inspired today's post.

I've seen religion treated many different ways in fantasy novels, from being a core piece of the world's culture, to being basically non-existent. I've seen polytheistic worlds with hundreds of gods, and I've seen monotheistic worlds. From my admittedly limited experience with modern fantasy and fantasy authors, it appears that religion is mostly ignored or treated as a footnote in both the story and the society at large. I suspect this has more to do with the author's lack of interest in the topic than anything else, and yet it seems to me that any author who overlooks such an important piece of human culture and the human world-view, especially if one purports to be modeling their world on a medieval or pseudo-medieval society, is creating a fantasy world of limited dimensions (and the characters will likewise lack an important dimension).

Consider just how important religion was in Europe, from the time that Christianity was first introduced by Roman missionaries, right up through the Enlightenment period. Even before the arrival of Christianity, there is plenty of evidence that the pagan religions were equally important to the peoples of Europe. And if you look at classical Greece or Rome, or go further east into Mesopotamia and the empires of Babylon and Sumeria, you find the same thing. Wherever you go in human history, you find that religion is not merely a side-dish that a few people choose to partake of, but rather a large part of the main course of life which practically everyone believes in and experiences. It is, in fact, the non-religious people who are considered the odd ones, the atheists who are outcast and mocked, even attacked in some societies (the Greek philosopher Socrates was accused of impiety [not believing in the gods], among other crimes, and sentenced to death).

Given that I have chosen to model my world Aerde on historical Earth and its cultures, how could I reasonably do so, or claim to do so, without also including religion? Clearly I cannot, nor do I have any desire to do so. In fact, I do consider religion a core part of my world and its cultures.

Of course that begs the question, What religion? In this, I am taking a degree of poetic license with history. I view Aerde, and its religions, through a sort of Old Testament lens: that is to say, I believe that there are many gods, but only one Creator who made them all. The definition of "god" in Aerde, therefore, does not require omnipotence, omniscience, or omnipresence. What it does require is some sort of supernatural being who is more powerful than the people who worship him, who is able to at least occasionally grant petitions (prayers), and who can at least occasionally perform miracles through his believers.

In a way, the Roman Catholic Christians of medieval Europe, praying to the saints, were closer to the polytheists of Aerde than the polytheistic and pagan Vikings. But with that said, I have directly borrowed the names of the gods from Norse and other myths - you will find Wodin (Odin), and Thror (Thor), among others. But in my view of Aerde, these gods are created beings, much more powerful than Men, and perhaps even worthy of worship, but still subservient to the one true Creator.

There is also a newer religion, basically monotheistic but not militant about it: the worshipers of the One. Though it hasn't yet taken much of a hold among the nations of Aerde, there are small conclaves of these believers scattered here and there. They would tend to have a similar view to my own, where the One is the sole Creator of the universe, and the other gods, though perhaps still gods, are lesser beings and not necessarily worthy of worship. There may be a few radicals who would go so far as to claim that the other gods are not even truly gods but only daemons in disguise, but those people are minorities, even among the minority of monotheistic believers.

I could say a lot more on the topic, but this will do for now. It gives you an idea of the flavor of Aerde and its religions, without overly specific details to spoil the surprise when you finally read one of my stories.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why Write?

People often ask me why I like writing so much, or why I would want to write a 300-page novel just for fun, and similar questions. I suppose that's a reasonable question, coming from someone who doesn't like to write and can't quite put themselves in my shoes. To be honest, I'm not sure exactly why it is that I like writing, but I can say this: even if I set aside my writing for a time, I always come back to it. It's like a favorite hobby - in fact, it really is a favorite hobby, in that I haven't (yet) been paid for any of my stories. At this point, I'm still technically an amateur. Hey, if the Olympics had a writing competition, I could qualify!

But seriously, why write? Well...

Why eat? Why breathe? Because I must! And so also must I write. Not for survival, but because it's the way I'm wired. I spend most of my time in my head, in a way that many people cannot fathom. Lots of people spend most of their free time exercising or playing sports, in a way that I have never cared to do. They are driven towards physical recreation, while I am driven towards mental recreation. Sometimes I wish I was more motivated to get out and get physical, but the reality is I generally don't care about exercising or playing sports. Others occasionally hear about me writing novels, and they get that wistful or thoughtful look in their eyes that says, "I wish I was more into writing so I could do something like that." The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, I guess.

Why write? Why rebuild old cars? Why make beautiful furniture from rough-cut lumber or old scraps? Why crochet scarves and mittens? It seems that we're all driven to create in some way, shape or form. Whatever the hobby happens to be, we're creative creatures at heart. We like the satisfaction of making something beautiful, graceful, strong, fast, useful, unique. Is my writing any of that? Perhaps. Sometimes it's the struggle that counts for more than the victory. The satisfaction of seeing the job completed. It may not be perfect, but I created it and it is unique in its own way, and beautiful to me if no one else. And that's enough.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

World Background: Nations

I've been playing in the world of Aerde for well over two decades, and at one point I decided I needed to have a standard template to describe the nations in my world. That way, I would always have at least a minimal amount of information on all of the major topics that I could think of, for any given nation. I then went through and filled in this template for each of the major nations in Aerde.

Below is the template. I'm wondering if you can think of anything I might have overlooked, or might just have a good idea for an interesting additional item even if it's not necessarily critical?


  • Borders
  • Features and Landmarks
  • Cities


  • National
  • Regional
  • Local
  • International


  • Exports
  • Imports



  • Class Structure
  • Values
  • Taboos


  • Appearance
  • Dress
  • Professions


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why Ancient Earth?

In a recent post, I talked about the different types of fantasy world I've seen: the created (non-Earth) world, the alternate history Earth, the far future Earth, the future colony planet with magical elements, and the lost ancient Earth. And of course I mentioned that the path I had chosen was that of ancient Earth. Today I intend to explain why I made that choice. I'll start with the types of world I did not choose, and try to explain why I find them less desirable than the ancient history type of world.

The Created World
The created world is a fictional world that has no relation to our Earth. It is presumably in an alternate universe where magic works, or some other situation in which the normal rules of the physical universe, as we know it, do not apply the same way. As I mentioned in my last post, David Eddings' series The Belgariad and The Mallorean both take place in such a world. There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with this idea.

Of course, there are questions that must be at the very least overlooked, if not explained. The most significant question would be, why would an alien world have developed cultures and peoples in any way similar to those of our medieval Europe? Following that line of thought, why would the people on that planet be human, or elf, or dwarf? Why do they conform to European human or mythical races? I could posit many additional questions along this same line, but you get the idea.

For me, answering these questions about an alien world just gets too complicated and tortuous - I lose my ability to suspend disbelief. Other writers and readers may not have that particular issue.

Alternate History Earth
The alternate history Earth is typically a mythical version of our history, wherein monsters dwell and magic works. The stories of king Arthur, Beowulf, Siegfried and others all fit into this category. I have to admit that I find this type of world almost as compelling as the ancient historical Earth, and I was very close to choosing this one as the world I would use as a backdrop for my stories.

The questions and challenges with this type of world are different than the created world, and I think easier to solve for the writer. First, you can start with a map that is materially similar to our real world. You can change the national borders around if you wish, you can even modify the geography somewhat, as long as it is still recognizably our Earth. The questions to answer are things such as, How and why does magic work in this alternate history? How and why did the alternate history come about, such that these characters exist and potentially even interact with real historical persons?

Personally, I find these questions easier to answer, and I also find it easier to suspend my disbelief for this type of world compared with the created world. I think there's a lot to offer the prospective writer in the alternate history Earth, especially if you're a bit of a history buff (which I am) and reader of European mythology (also me). This one came in a close second to the ancient historical Earth that I elected to go with.

Far Future Earth or Future Colony
Even though these two types of world are different, I'm going to group them together as they have the same types of challenges to address. The Dying Earth series by Jack Vance, and the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey, are example of each. In both types of world, you have a future world that is largely out of touch with its mythical or semi-mythical Earth of the past. It may have legends of an age of high technology, and even ruins or artifacts from that era, but the current era of such a world is one where cultures have somehow reverted to a medieval civilization, and have magic and/or monsters as well.

The questions to answer for these types of world are along the lines of, how or why does magic work in this time and place, when it didn't in times past? Did chronological distance allow changes to take place in the Earth, or physical distance allow differences in the laws of physics, as well as the working of magic? Why did a medieval civilization develop in such a time and place? Did the human race and its civilization devolve back to this level? If so, why did they stay there, and not begin advancing - or are they advancing, and if so, how will magic help or hinder such advancement?

On the one hand, I think the idea of a future Earth where the laws of physics have changed over a massive stretch of time, can be quite a creative solution to the problem of magic existing in our universe. I also think it can be a good way to tie the human race to the story, without assuming that humans didn't spontaneously arise on another planet or in another universe where magic works. It also allows the writer to make allusions to the ancient past, which might actually be our real-life present or at least this general era of human history. Nevertheless, the questions about the development of medieval societies still stand, as well as why magic would begin to work in a world where it currently does not.

Ranking my preferences, the far future Earth came in third, and the colony world fourth. I find answering these questions for either type of world easier than for the created non-Earth world, but not as easy as for those more rooted in our Earth's history. I can suspend my disbelief for these types of world easier than I can for the created world, but not as easy as with the alternate history or ancient history world.

Ancient Historical (or Prehistorical) Earth
The ancient history Earth is similar to the alternate history in that it is anchored in our world. However, it differs in that the historical epoch is so far in the past that it has been lost, forgotten by modern generations. At best, we may have a few scraps of myth referring to that elder era, myths which no one believes any longer although there may be a kernel of truth in them. The ancient Earth is different in that it allows the writer to significantly change the world map, create completely fictional nations and peoples, and decide how, or even if, there should be any links to later peoples, nations and cultures.

There are still questions to answer, of course. How did magic work back then, if it doesn't work today? Where did the monsters go? Where did the elves and dwarves go? Why do we have no histories of this ancient epoch? Why did medieval societies develop in this era, only to later (apparently) devolve into even more primitive groups before rising once again in the modern era?

All of these are good questions, but I found them easier, and frankly more fun, to answer than the questions raised by the other types of world. In the case of Aerde, my ancient Earth, here's a few simple answers:

  • This ancient period existed over ten thousand years ago, well before any of our known ancient civilizations such as Egypt or Mesopotamia.
  • There was a period of terrible cataclysms that ended the ancient epoch, and ushered in the modern epoch.
  • The cataclysms destroyed any evidence of those older civilizations, leaving the human race with only a few scraps of memory and myth. They also destroyed the civilizations to the point that the human race had to start over almost from scratch, living like neanderthals simply to survive, until they were able to once again develop the same skills and technologies that were lost from the previous epoch.
  • The same cataclysms also effected other changes in our world, such that magic, which actually worked in those elder days, no longer does. The laws of physics, some of them anyway, actually changed. Why? That's an open question I have chosen to ignore.
  • The Elefdar and Dwerden slowly dwindled over time, their races being eclipsed by the race of Men. There was some inter-breeding between races, and we still have vestiges of that in some people of today, with features that we might liken to the elves or dwarves of that previous epoch. But largely, the elves and dwarves simply died out along with the disappearance of magic.
That should be enough to give you an idea of how I chose to model Aerde. It really came down to personal preference, regardless of the justifications I gave for choosing one over the others. In the end, an author has to make such choices based on what he finds interesting and fun to think about. If not for personal enjoyment and the joy of exercising one's imagination, what's the point of creating these stories?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Men, Elefdar, and Dwerden

I was thinking about the civilized races of Aerde this morning, and about the human and non-human (or quasi-human) races that populate most fantasy stories. Tolkien, of course, established Elves and Dwarves, and to a lesser extent (oddly enough) Hobbits, as the standard races living alongside Men. Many other authors have freely used Elves and Dwarves created in a similar image as those of Tolkien, but fewer have used Hobbits. Aside from Dennis McKiernan's Warrows, and the Halflings of the Dungeons and Dragons games and spin-off novels, I'm not aware of any other novels having used a race like this.

I, myself, have no real interest in Hobbits as a race. I enjoyed The Hobbit, and loved The Lord of the Rings, but the Hobbits, for me, could just as easily have been Men with a particular cultural preference for farming, drinking beer, and smoking. I can't speak to the motivations of other authors, why they would so freely use Elves or Dwarves (but not Hobbits), whose descriptions and racial preferences clearly resemble those established by Tolkien. Perhaps it is that we at least have mention of elves and dwarves in our European myths and literature pre-dating the Middle Earth mythos of Tolkien, thus it feels less like plagiarism. Perhaps, like me, they are simply less interested in that diminutive race than the others.

Whatever the case, I have chosen to only use Elves and Dwarves in my fantasy world, although I did take the liberty of renaming them Elefdar and Dwerden. The names are loosely based on old variants for the same words, from Old Norse and Old English. (Speaking of old languages, I'll have to post about my linguistic influences in the future.)

If you read my stories, and know anything of Tolkien, you will see that I've borrowed much from his works. I'm simply treading a well-worn path taken by many authors before me. In this, I have no real desire to try and be "original", whatever that means. One advantage of using the common tropes of a well-defined genre, is that the reader can quickly understand the basic elements of the story without having to read whatever odd differences I may care to throw in, unless they are truly interested in getting into the details. For many readers, it will be enough that there are Elves and Dwarves, and that they mostly fit the high-fantasy archetypes one would expect. For those who desire to dig deeper, I will do my best to hide a few treasures in among the ordinary devices.

I think the more important aspect of having any races that aren't simply Men, is that the characters of all races be people. If I am successful in creating characters - Elves, Dwarves, or Men - who feel like real people, with all of their quirks, strengths and weaknesses, and loves and hates, then I will be quite satisfied.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Created World, Alternate Earth, Far Future or Ancient History?

In my years of reading fantasy, I've come across five different types of world: the created world completely unrelated to Earth, the alternate Earth, the far future Earth, the future colony planet with different rules of physics than Earth, and the ancient historical Earth.

In the first camp, we have the world of David Eddings' Belgariad as a popular example. This world, at least as far as I know (I haven't read beyond the Mallorean), stands on its own. It may or may not exist in our universe, and really it doesn't matter: the world was created by the seven gods, and is sufficient unto itself as a story setting.

In the second camp, we have alternate histories set in medieval or similar time periods of our own Earth, with added fantasy elements such as monsters and magic. The Once and Future King, T.H. White's story of king Arthur, is a good example of this. In fact, any retelling of King Arthur, or of the Norse hero Siegfried, would fall into this description.

In the third realm you will find stories such as Jack Vance's Dying Earth. These stories take place on our Earth, millions of years in the future when the sun is red with age and near to burning out, the Earth has gone through multiple cataclysmic upheavals, the human race is all but extinct, and magic is both real and powerful.

In the fourth type of world, you will find Anne McCaffrey's Pern (and the Dragons, and Dragon Riders, therein). It may be so far into the future that the human generations now dwelling there no longer remember that they were once a colony of Earth, but it is still a future and far off colony planet.

In the last realm, you will find J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth and Robert E. Howard's world of Conan the Barbarian. both of these worlds are set in a fictional ancient past of our Earth, when magic and monsters were real. Presumably, either the creatures of magic all departed, or some undefined change took place which left us with the mundane world we have today.

So what is the world of Aerde? Well, if you've read the byline of this blog, you may already have guessed: I am following the path taken by Tolkien and Howard, and setting the world of Aerde in our own Earth, thousands of years in the past. I'll talk more about why I made this choice in another post.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Names in fantasy novels have always intrigued me. How do authors come up with their names? I often ask myself this question when reading a novel, as I work my way around the different names, spellings and pronunciations. Is it a modification of a common modern name? I've seen versions of my own name spelled Davyd and Davor in different novels. The latter, Davor, was actually given to a character who had been magically transported to the fantasy world from our own, and the characters of the fantasy world gave him the new name as being the closest match to his real one.

Elric of Melnibone: there's a name I always found interesting, from the time I first read the saga when I was about thirteen years old. I didn't know until much later that Elric was a "real" name, albeit only a surname, and not just a variant of Eric. Perhaps to the author, Michael Moorcock, it was just something he cobbled together because it sounded interesting. Mr. Moorcock, if you;re out there reading, perhaps you could enlighten us.

Aragorn, Legolas, Boromir, Theoden: more names I find interesting. And their author/creator, Tolkien - as far as I'm concerned, he was the master of naming. He took words from his created languages, and then used them to create his names. Sometimes he even just used a description as a name: Treebeard comes to mind, which was translated from Elvish Fangorn.

For my world of Aerde, I've elected to use a combination of descriptive names for places, and names borrowed from old European tongues for people. Each nation in western Aerde has personal names based on a specific European language, tying them to the culture and history of that European people. Some will be obvious to even the casual student of history, others will be more obscure. I'll let the reader figure out which is which. I've also made up some names based on European word roots (from the appropriate language of course), without any historical name-sake that I'm aware of.

There's a reason for the naming methodology that I've chosen, with it's links to real-world tongues and historical names and words. But that's a subject for a later post.

The Current Project: Balfrith

The novel I'm working on at the moment is about a young man, Balfrith, who runs away from home at the age of fifteen, and comes of age during his various adventures in the world. I'm not going to claim it's a particularly original plot, but I'm enjoying the story creation process and I think I've got some good characters and good ideas here. The plot outline is almost complete at this point; I need to flesh out a couple of chapters near the end, but the basics are all there. The outline is 13,000 words, which would translate to about 45 pages double-spaced. By the time the outline is done it will likely be close to 15,000 words.

For those of you who aren't writers, an "outline" isn't the indented bullet point style of outlining you may be used to or thinking of. Rather, a novel outline is more like a plot synopsis, an essay explaining what happens through the story from beginning to end. It's like a skeleton, having the complete form of a person but without the flesh and blood that makes it live.

Based on the plot outline, I have about 16 chapters (things may shift around somewhat, but it will probably be between 16 and 18 chapters). My style of writing makes a chapter typically run about 20 pages, so the total novel length should come to about 320 pages, and 100,000 words. I know all this because I've written 5 novels over the past 15 years, and I've got a pretty good feel for these things by now.

Assuming I can keep making time to work on the outline, I should be able to finish it in the next couple of weeks, and then I'll sit back for a week or two and rest. This will let the plot sit in my subconscious and simmer, which then usually brings some additional ideas bubbling to the surface. It typically doesn't change anything material in the story, but may add some interesting details that I hadn't thought of yet. Then I will figure out if I can incorporate those ideas into the story, and where, and add them to the outline. After that, I call it "done" and start writing the novel itself.

Inevitably, I'll get more interesting ideas as I'm writing the novel. This is a good thing, and I'll have to vet each one as I go to see if it fits into the story. Many of them will make it into the final product; some will be set aside for inclusion in a later story. It's all part of the writing process.

I'm not going to make any predictions as to when I think I'll be done with the rough draft of the novel. I've written short (50,000 words) novels in 30 days for National Novel Writing Month, and I've written 110,000 word novels that took over a year (that was actually my first novel). I hope this one takes less than a year to complete, but you never know.

Anyway, those are a few highlights of the project, and a little bit about my writing method and style. I'm going to post here once a day (I was going to say "try to post", but in the words of Yoda, "There is no try. Only do, or do not."). I actually have several ideas for blog posts, but I want to pace myself and keep it down to once a day. That forces me to stay focused on the novel, too, since I won't spend so much time playing with this blog that I forget to work on the novel itself. :-)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

On Writing and Blogging

I've been writing stories and story ideas since I was a teenager. I don't know what it is that drives me to this creative outlet, but I love it. From time to time, my job occupies so much of my attention that I have to set aside hobbies such as this, but I always come back to it as soon as I get the chance.

My favorite genres are fantasy and science fiction, as you might guess from this blog. The map in the background is Aerde, the fantasy world I have created and worked on over the past several years, to provide a background for my stories. If you come back regularly, you'll get an opportunity to read stories from Aerde, or about Aerde, and the people and places in it.

In addition, I will probably post some older revisions of the world map, with background on the changes and whatever else I might think is interesting to write about.

I haven't done much blogging before. And in fact this won't be a traditional blog, in the sense of writing about personal experiences or linking to other resources on the web. The purpose of this blog is really to introduce myself, and my writing, to a larger world. Hopefully you'll get a taste of it, enjoy it, and keep coming back.