Tag Archives: novel

Character Sketch (2): Theadra

Theadra is, in many ways, the centerpiece of the story I’m telling. Or, at any rate, she is centerpiece, since I see this project as more of an ensemble than a solo. It will be her actions that will transform the world that she lives in, her discovery that sets off a chain of events that will radically reconfigure everything around her.

First, though, a few words about her upbringing.

Like her mentor Antonius, she grew up as a member of the lower-class. Her father was a butcher in the capital, while her mother was a seamstress and maid for a wealthy merchant. Indeed, it was this merchant (one Justin by name) who first saw in her the spark of true academic brilliance and brought her to the attention of Antonius.

Theadra was plucked out of her life of obscurity and enrolled in the Academy with all of her expenses paid. Like her nameless benefactor–it would be some time before she learned that it was Antonius–she leaned toward the human sciences and philosophy. And, like him, she was also the subject of torment by those who saw her as an interloper in the rightful terrain of the nobility. However, she persevered, determined to prove herself worthy and to make sure that she made her benefactor’s investment in her worth the expense.

Theadra possesses a truly remarkable adeptness with languages, and she has mastered at least 5 at the time the story begins, including several of the archaic languages that have already fallen out of the knowledge of the average citizen of the Imperium. From the beginning of her time in the Academy, and later when she took up the positions of the ascending Church hierarchy, she has been tasked with translating the numerous old scripts that can be found in the archives. Though the Church has remained remarkably consistent in its teachings since its origins, it has also managed to lose track of many of its foundational texts as well. Translators and commentators are thus much in demand, and so Theadra has found herself similarly called upon to serve the Church.

At the time of the novel, she has already risen to the rank of Deacon, a middling position within the Church but understood to be one of the key planks in the cursus sanctorum, the ladder that ascends to the ultimate position of Prefect. As such, she has a not inconsiderable amount of power within the Church, though because of her introverted nature she has yet to accrue the sort of clientele that she will need if she wishes to ascend into the higher ranks of the clergy. This has frequently been a bone of contention between her and her mentor Antonius, for he has learned (often the hard way) that it is necessary to have allies of particular power and influence if one is to make advancements.

While she is steadfast in her adherence to the Church, Theadra has begun to feel the pinch of doubt. She desperately wants to believe with all of her heart, but there have been many things that she has read that have challenged her belief in the unassailability of the Church. What’s more, she has begun to take to hear the dissatisfaction of the common people, who see in the Church the worst sort of hypocrisy. While the commoners have begun a downward spiral into financial penury, facing all manner of tribulations throughout the Imperium, those in the upper echelons of power continue to thrive. Despite their claims to the denial of the material world, they still cling to the very things that they deny. To Theadra’s eyes, used as they are to the privations that most people face, this is very troubling. Indeed, it will come to shape much of what happens to her, and much of what actions she takes, as the novel progresses.

At the time of the novel, she is around 25 years of age. She entered the Academy when she was 15, and so she has had 10 years to learn what she has and to gain some allies. Her closest friend is, without a doubt, Antonius, though there is always the tension that exists between a superior and a subordinate (or a teacher and a disciple). Despite this, there is a genuine warmth there, though as the events of the novel will show, there is a limit even to such things. And as events will likewise show, Theadra is, despite her own wishes or knowledge, caught up in forces that she can neither name nor control.

I’m really looking forward to fully developing this character. To my mind, it’s high time that we have a female epic hero who fits into the mold of the likes of Rand al’Thor, the Ohmsford family, and the like. Hopefully, Theadra will serve as that character.

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Novel Weekends (8): Momentum

Well, it seems as if I have finally hit some momentum when it comes to my novel. I finally have a story that I think holds together pretty well, and after re-reading some of the material I’ve produced, I’m also happy with the way that I’ve told it so far. There’s a lot yet to go, but I’m confident I can get there.

Over this weekend, I managed to finish up the Prologue (which is now basically done), as well as parts of Chapter 3. I also published a character sketch of one of my primary characters, which really helped me to understand his depth and motivations in a much more sophisticated way.

I’m really happy with the way that the pieces of the first part of this novel are coming together. Writing an epic that’s more than just an adventure (though there’s nothing wrong with that), is a bit of a challenge, but it is definitely one that I am determined to undertake. I really want my fantasy novel to do, something and that is what makes it such a tremendously enjoyable endeavour.

I’ve also begun reading a fascinating little book called Aristotle’s Children, which details the rediscovery of Aristotle’s works in the late Middle Ages and the learning revolution that it sparked. This has helped to add some layer and depth to the story that I am telling, for The Heretic’s War is, quite simply, about one of those periods of epistemic shift that really reshapes how an entire civilization thinks of itself.

Now that I’ve started to make some genuine progress on the Dissertation–and, more importantly, nearing the finish line–I feel like I have a bit more space to work on my creative projects. That is truly a great feeling, and I look forward to the adventure!

Character Sketch (1): Antonius

Born into a yeoman family in the western duchy of Aspaña, Antonius was not, at first blush, fated for any sort of prominent position. However, he was from his youth a tremendously ambitious young man, and through sheer ruthlessness and determination he was able to secure himself a position in the local monastery, where he could at last indulge his love of books, knowledge, and the wisdom of the ancients.

It was not long before the abbot recognized his innate potential and began grooming him for a potential career in the highest echelons of the Church. He was sent to the Academy in Aïonis, recognized by everyone as the only sure way for those born into the lower classes to make their way up the ranks. He impressed his teachers, who recognized his intellectual and spiritual gifts and did all that they could to continue cultivating them.

He soon made a name for himself as one of those insufferable types of students who insists on following the rules, despite the fact that this made him tremendously unpopular among his fellow students. He was tormented by those who saw him as doubly a threat, both because of his accomplishments and because of the fact that he was a lower-class person who had risen to a position that they deemed the exclusive purview of the wealthy and the elite.

Though there was much he hated about his time at the Academy, he met the man who would come to be the love of his life, the nobleman Trystane. This youth, who came from the Peninsula, was one of those rare people who, despite their innate privilege, makes a point of befriending those in the lower classes. He was a few years younger than Antonius, but he was also brilliant, though in a different way. Whereas Antonius leans toward philosophy and theology, Trystane is more attuned to science and to the workings of things, including the affairs of nations.

The two began their relationship during their time at the Academy, and they have remained with one another ever since. Given that the Church officially condones same-sex relationships–both among the clergy and the laity–they have been allowed to be joined officially in the sacrament of marriage. This caused no small amount of friction with Trystane’s family in particular, since doing so not only abrogated any of his political ambitions but also sullied the vaunted name. Still, the relationship has persevered through all of that.

Indeed, it has been Trystane’s political acumen that has allowed Antonius to quickly ascend the ranks of the Church. There were, of course, many who opposed him, but Trystane was quite willing to do away with those who stood in the way of his beloved’s interests. Though he may have abandoned his traditional family loyalties, he was still able to use the skills that had been cultivated in him from an early age.

As Prefect, Antonius made it his duty to ensure that the purity of the Church is maintained. He views the stability of the Church as key to the stability of the cosmos, and he is also determined to ensure that the Imperators do not interlope too thoroughly on the interests and prerogatives of the Church. As a result, he has had several tense run-ins with the previous Imperator, and he has also been known to have heated arguments with the current Imperator Talinissia.

At the time of the novel, he has already been serving as a Prefect of the Church for the last twenty years, and in that time he has become one of the most ruthless and relentless persecutors of those who have been found. Unfortunately, he does not enjoy a great deal of support among the population of the Imperium, though the rank and file of the Church find him to be generous. He has made it a particular point to cultivate the talents of those who come from similar backgrounds as himself, including and especially the young Theadra. This girl, the daughter of a butcher, has a bright future ahead of her, though the events of the novel will test her in ways that she would never have imagined.

Further, Antonius has also earned the enmity of several of his fellow Prefects, almost all of whom hail from the nobility and thus view him with no small amount of skepticism and outright hostility. Of particular note in this regard is the Prefect Eulicia, who sees in him a threat to all that she has come to hold dear, particularly the order imposed by the aristocracy and the nobility. The two have spent many years sparring with one another, neither able to gain a definitive advantage over the other. How long that stalemate lasts, and who will emerge the victory in their strife, is one of the major plots of the novel.

Stay tuned for more characters sketches as I learn more about my characters and share that knowledge with you.

Novel Weekends (7): Good Progress

Well, this was actually a tremendously productive weekend in terms of novel composition. I wrote a total of 2500 words of Chapter 2, as well as some fine-tuning of Chapter 1. The latter is not completely finished yet, but it’s close to it. I’ve made a conscious effort not to leave any big gaps. In other words, I’m determined to work straight through. At this stage in my process, I think that’s really the best way.

Today’s chapter was told mostly from the point of view of the Prefect Antonius, one of my fave characters in the work. He is a straightforwardly queer character, one who lives with his beloved of many years, Trystane. He comes from one of the rural western duchies, from a farming family of modest means. This chapter reveals a lot about him, as well as his sense of loyalty, which at this point is being torn between his acolyte and his duty to the Church.

Overall, I’m quite happy with the way that Chapter 2 is turning out, and I’m excited about some of the research that I’m drawing in. Right now I’m reading a book on the Muslim conquests, as well as one about the way that the senses were understood in the Enlightenment. Everything, no matter how tangential, will prove to be grist for my imagination mill. Given that my series is loosely based on the Muslim conquests and on issues of embodiment and transcendence, these books should be especially useful for me.

I’m hoping to continue the forward momentum, though since I’m going to be traveling that might be a bit difficult. Still, I’m confident that I can eke out at least a couple thousand words before the end of the week. Then it’s back to Syracuse and back into the regular swing of things.

World Building (2): A Brief Description of the Imperium and the Imperators

At the time in which my novels are set, the continent of Aridikh is divided into three political entities: the Imperium in the west, Korray (a patchwork of tribes) in the mountainous middle, and Haranshar in the east.

Founded roughly 2,000 years before the start of the tale described in the novels, the Imperium has remained surprisingly durable. Though the ruling House has changed several times in its long and venerable history, and while it has maintained a long and tense cold war with its eastern counterpart Haranshar, it has yet to fall or suffer any serious territorial losses.

A great deal of this stability has to do with the structure of the state. Though it is an empire with a strong central government, headed by the Imperator, the actual administration of the various provinces falls to the members of the nobility. At the top of this pyramid are the Dukes, most of whom share a portion of the Blood Imperial, and most can trace with exacting precision their descent from the first Imperators. Then come the Counts who, while most do not have imperial blood, nevertheless possess significant territorial holdings and political power, particularly in the south. Together, the various dukes and counts, along with the leaders of a few independent city-states, represent the Senate of Nobles, who serve as an advisory body on the unlimited power of the monarch.

The territory covered by the Imperium is quite vast, though it is still significantly smaller than the territory occupied by Haranshar. To the north are situated the the kingdoms of Svardö, Varsaïs, and Karthûn, while the far west are the dukedoms of Aspaña, Porçal, and Busqel. The southern parts are comprised of the counties of Ferizi, Eniccio, Melita, Sperezo, and Heleniea. The eastern parts of the Imperium (and the administrative center) are centered around seven duchies: Dūrken, Rhoshk, Maïrin, Colïes, Dérange, Ioliérs, and Aïonis, which contains the capital city of the same name (the Imperator is traditionally also accorded the title of Duke of Aïonis). There are a number of other, smaller city-states that have at various times attempted to assert independence but have so far been unsuccessful.

For a real-world analogue, think of the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Justinian and his immediate predecessors and successors, combined with Europe in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire (something akin to the first iteration of the Holy Roman Empire ruled by Charlemagne, though with a far greater geographic extent). The Imperator is acknowledged as the supreme representative of the Name in matters temporal, but s/he is also forced to accept the judgment of the Council of Prefects on all matters spiritual. This has, of course, caused significant strife in the past, but it has also led to a gradual hardening of the ways of doing things, with the Church in particular emphasizing a rigid adherence to orthodoxy and the Imperator maintaining unlimited power in the body of the ruler.

At this point, there is an almost-constant jockeying for position among the nobles for access to the Imperator, as even the weakest noble realizes that the structures of the Imperium have become ossified over the course of two millennia, and some have even begun to scheme for an opportunity to shatter those ways and carve out a new world. In the years preceding the events of the novels, there have been an increased number of heresies springing up, along with other, less religiously-oriented revolts. The common people have grown dissatisfied with their rulers, and it remains to be seen how far they will go to assert their renewed sense of sovereignty.

The same designation is used for the ruler of the Imperium, regardless of sex. Unlike Haranshar, which allows women political agency but not direct rule, the Imperium practices strict primogeniture, so that the diadem (in theory) passes directly to the eldest child of the current monarch. This has not always been true for a variety of reasons–there have been no fewer than five coups, six childless Imperators, and seven changes of House–but it is the one rule that tends to unite even the most fractious and scheming members of the Senate. Everyone recognizes, at some primal level, that the overthrowing of a monarch by someone not of the Blood (and even by someone of the Blood) poses an enormous challenge to the stability of the state and, by extension, the cosmos itself).

In the time since its founding, there have been 213 Imperators of both sexes. Through careful cultivation and tending to the imperial bloodline, each of the Imperators could trace their bloodlines, no matter how faintly, back to Yishadra and Herakleios, the very first two to don the diadem. That being said, there are now over 300 individuals who can claim mainline descent, spread across five of the Great Houses (and there are rumoured to be several hundred more with far more diluted blood spread among the more numerous Lesser Houses). Not all of them are brave enough to attempt to seek the diadem for themselves, but the continuing childlessness of the current Imperator, combined with their inborn penchant for scheming, means that it is only a matter of time before they turn their avaricious gaze on the throne.

At the time of the novels, the reigning Imperator is Talinissia. Behind her back, she is known as Talinissia the Black due to her father’s unlikely (and unapproved) marriage to a daughter from one of the kingdoms in Haranshar. Her accession to the throne was far from uncontested, for her younger half-brother, the product of her father’s second marriage to a distant cousin, one who was officially part of the Blood Imperial, decided to rebel. He even did the unthinkable, going to the Shah to ask for material and spiritual assistance, even going so far as to promise toleration of the Faith of the Flames in the capital city itself. Though the revolt was ultimately put down, the damage to the prestige of Talinissia’s throne remains, and her brother’s allies still scheme for her overthrow.

The world is poised for great changes. A

And perhaps even greater chaos.

Novel Weekends (3): Back At It

This was an eventful weekend for the Novel. I wrote a total of 5,000 words, mostly concentrated on three chapters. I also managed to revise part of the Prologue into what I think will be its final form. What’s more, I did some revision on a short story/novelette that’s set after the first novel but before the second. Not too shabby!

I also (you may have noticed) published a short essay on the history of the Church in this world, and I began another short essay on a history of the Imperium. Further, I have several more planned. So keep looking for those!

Given my own interests in history–and on using my novel to explore questions related to history–I also started reading a new book on the connected nature of the ancient world. A great deal of both the world-building I’ve done and the plot arc I have designed has been heavily influenced by the work of historian Tom Holland (in particular his book In the Shadow of the Sword), but I have a feeling this new book will also have a large impact.

As I wrote this weekend, I found myself oddly drawn to one of my secondary characters, a Korrayin named Ibrahim. I know that he is going to be a founder of a new faith, but I wasn’t aware that he would play such a big role in this novel. But then, that’s one of the most exciting things about writing; frequently, the most interesting things are the ones that you find by accident.

This week, I fear, will be a bit sparse on the novel. I have to submit a dissertation chapter this week, so that will suck up a lot of energy. Rest assured, though, that I’ll be right back at it next weekend.

Until then!

World Building (1): A Brief History of The Faith, the One True Church, and Heresy

To keep myself accountable on my novel (which I’m determined to finish this year), I thought I’d spend some time writing short pieces fleshing out the world, giving potential readers (who have the patience to stick with me), a glimmer of what kind of world my characters inhabit. For me as a reader, one of the things I always most enjoy when reading an epic fantasy are those parts that fill in the history of the secondary world. Since I’m assuming that there are others that share that pleasure, I aim to provide some of that detail, saving most of the plot details for other posts.

Around 2,000 years before the start of our story, the entire continent was under the aegis of the mighty empire of Haranshar. Since its founding back in the mists of time and myth, however, the empire had always been roughly split into three administrative districts. The core was Haran, wherein were located the capital of the empire as a whole as well as its chief religious sites. These were ruled over and administered by the magi, the priests of the Faith of the Flames. The lands of Korray, the mountainous region separating east and west, were a patchwork of constantly shifting alliances, with various heretical faces emerging at different periods. It was in the West, though, in the most nebulously-controlled territories, that politics and religion both came to take on increasingly rebellious tones.

While the Faith of the Flames had always been the predominant faith in the lands directly under the rule of the Shahs, such had not been the case with the patchwork of kingdoms known as Korray (who remained stubbornly tribal) as well as the western half of the continent. The vastly different administrations in these parts of Haranshar ensured that they had their own ways of doing things that often didn’t take the East into consideration at all.

The mystics who would later dub themselves the Prefects of the One True Church were, at first, relatively minor figures, hardly worth the attention of the provincial governors. Gradually, however, they began to increase their power, and they swayed many of the western nobles to their cause. As nobles have throughout history, these men and women saw in this nascent the opportunity to strike a blow at the overbearing administrative state that was a bane to their independence. As a result, they drew the mystics to them and, together, they began to forge a full-fledged revolution.

It was not long before the mystics renamed themselves Prefects, and the thirteen most powerful of them formed the core of the leadership of the new Church (or “the Faith,” as they termed it). Meanwhile, the nobles elected one of their own to reign as Imperator, a figure that would serve as a counterweight to the political might of the Shah and his nobles. The revolt was quickly far more successful, and the western provinces soon achieved full independence, while the lands of Korray remained as a buffer zone, independent of either the Imperium or Haranshar.

However, shortly after the self-described Faithful split away from the Haranshar and declared themselves part of the independent Imperium, the new faith was riven by a number of conflicts. As is almost always the case with new faiths that arise in times of conflict, once the initial breaking is done, it is hard to stop further schisms from occurring. Such was certainly the case with the movement that became known as the Arkadian Heresy.

The man who would become known to his acolytes as the Blessed Ascendant was, to all appearances, a rather unremarkable creature, certainly not the type that one would imagine starting a religious faith that would continue on in his name for a millennium and a half.

The Ascendant preached that the body was not to be transcended but instead embraced, that it was through the sacred nature of the corporeal form that one could actually attain union with the transcendent, spiritual Name. To those who had come to believe that all of the created world was hopelessly befouled, that the Demiurge, the demented spirit of creation was to be spurned and fought against, this was the worst sort of blasphemy. His words found a great deal of popularity with the poor and the downtrodden, who saw in his emphasis on the pleasures of the world a solace in their drudgery.

However, the majority of those who subscribed to the fledgeling Faith denounced the Ascendant and put him to death. He was flayed alive and thrown to the wild beasts, a truly gruesome and terrifying fate, suitable only for the basest of criminals. To the political and religious leaders of his time, however, this was only fitting, as he had dared to pose a challenge to everything they held dear.

Chief among his supporters was the man known as Arkadius, who continued to preach the word of his master throughout the Imperium. It was only when the first Imperator Yishadra and her consort Herklaios turned the full force of the state on the apostle that he was at last done away with, flayed as his master had been. Yet Arkadius had followers, and they managed to secret away some of his most cherished writings, those that spoke of the Blessed Ascendant, that described how his body had been saved from the ravages that had been visited on it so that he did indeed find transcendence and union with the Name.

Since that time, the Prefects of the Church and the Imperator have worked together to ensure that the heresies of the past do not reawaken and weaken the Imperium from within. While this has sometimes necessitated brutal and violent repression, they have undertaken these only with the gravest misgivings and with the full knowledge that what they do is in the service of the greater good. Anyone, no matter how high or low their estate, may be sacrificed on the altar of stability.

Unbeknownst to them, however, there are still many, both in the remaining lands belonging to Haranshar and in the Imperium, who would like nothing more than to see the Arkadian Heresy become the dominant faith, and who will do everything in their power to ensure that such a future comes to pass. For them, the stakes are high. The very world itself might be at stake, as they are all soon to discover.

Novel Weekends (1): Piece by Piece

Because I have found it so useful to talk about my Dissertation process daily, I’ve decided to do the same thing on the weekends, when I work on my Novel. Except this time I’m limiting myself to 300 words. Brevity and concision are virtues I have to work on.

In sum, the book is essentially a fantasized version of the war that brought about the end of the Sassanid Empire and the prostration of the Byzantine Empire before the Arab/Muslim onslaught. It’s precipitated by the discovery of a palimpsest containing a heretical tract, which ignites a long-simmering war between the two great imperial powers of this world, the Imperium and Haranshar, with the tribes of Korray stuck in the middle. There’s also a cosmic element, with an entity called the Demiurge attempting to forge a new faith among his mortal adherents and gain a new place in the material world.

It started as a NaNoWriMo project, but has been developing since then. I have an outline, and several chapters are almost done (though they’re patchy in places).

I managed to meet my Saturday goal of 2500 words today, mostly in a new chapter focused on my queer character Anastasios, along with his ally/enemy Eulicia and the scheming Count Pepin. The chapter is probably about half done, and it does some stuff to move the plot along, so we’ll see how it fits into the whole shortly.

Ultimately, I hope to be done with it by this point next year, and hopefully start querying an agent by next summer. If I can average 5K a weekend, with a final goal of 120K (standard for an epic, so I’ve heard), I can basically get a very rough version done in 6 months.

So, today was good, and tomorrow will be even better.