Tag Archives: Writing

Dissertation Days (53): A New Day, A New Office

Well, I finally moved into my new office at the Humanities Center here at Syracuse, and I have to say: I LOVE IT. It’s really quite a nice space, and it makes me feel like a genuine academic.

In that spirit, I was able to get quite a lot of work done during the hours I was there today, including 1,000 good words of Chapter 4, some perusal of Chapter 3, and a submitted SCMS proposal. I also started (finally) working on a book chapter that needs revision.

Chapter 4 continues apace. I’m now at the point where my momentum keeps me moving forward. There are still a few gaps that will need filling, but I see no reason why I can’t have a draft of this to the Adviser by the end of September, if not sooner. I have to say, this chapter is coming along much more smoothly than the previous one, ad I’m not sure yet whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. Hopefully it just means that I’ve finally hit my stride and the whole project is finally starting to gel.

Sometime soon, I’m going to have to both get down to brass tacks in terms of revising Chapters 1 and 2 and start working on my Introduction and Conclusion. Now that I’ve got a firmer grasp on what Chapter 4 is doing, I think that sounds like a good idea. Some parts of Chapter 4 may get bumped into the Conclusion, but that remains to be seen (as it depends on how the rest of Chapter 4 shapes up).

I may not have a chance to get much done tomorrow, but I am going to come in to the office on Saturday to carve out a bit more writing. I also have a book chapter due Monday, and I have to make sure my job materials are in order. It’s gonna be a bit of a working weekend, but that’s okay. I’ve had enough fun time in the past couple of weeks. It’s time to really buckle down.

Today, in other words, is one of those days where I feel really good about life, about writing, and about my scholarship. I’m sure there will be some rough days ahead, but I have to remember my motivation. I want to finish, get a TT-job, and start building a life with my Beloved Aaron.

I can do this. I know I can.

World Building (10): The Tragedy of the Zervan Dynasty

In the annals of the Imperators, there is one dynasty whose fortunes have never recovered from their time upon the throne. While the Zervan Dynasty was, in origin, from the lands of Haranshar (the province of Eshurya, to be precise), they had moved to the West in the hopes that they could establish their fortunes by hitching themselves to the wagon of the first Imperators.

As a result, they were able to marry themselves into the powerful first dynasty, with the favoured daughter Dominysa marrying Kavaros, the fifth son of the first two Imperators. They would go on to have two sons, Karaktus and Gratian. Meanwhile, Dominysa’s sister Martinya was consolidating the family’s wealth, building a powerful base of support that, she thought, would ensure that her family remained enthroned for a thousand years.

Kavaros, at his wife’s insistence, managed to displace the children of his elder four brothers. Their Houses would come to have a significant part to play in the downfall of Kavaros’ descendants and successors, but at the time of his accession they were far too busy squabbling amongst themselves to really do much to prevent his seizure of power, and still less so when it became obvious that this stern man and his equally indomitable wife (to say nothing of her ruthless sister) was in fact a very capable ruler in his own right.

Under Kavaros, the Imperium was able to exert its sphere of influence over larger portions of Korray, and there were even a few successful incursions into the territory of Haranshar. Unfortunately, Kavaros was stricken down while he was still in his prime, a man whose reign would for several generations come to be seen as the height of imperial accomplishment. While it might have seemed to many that the throne should pass to either the children of his elder brothers or to one of his sisters who were still living, that would not be the case. Such was his popularity among both the other Great Houses and among the commons that the throne was passed peacefully to his twin sons.

They, unfortunately, were not cut from the same mold. Karaktus and Gratian were notorious for their mutual loathing, and they went at each other with a vengeance as soon as the diadems were placed upon their heads. Though their mother Dominysa tried to broker a peace, she was unsuccessful, and Karaktus, always the more ruthless brother, had his brother assassinated in his mother’s arms. Dominysa threatened to go into seclusion and take the veil of a nun, but her son threatened her with further reprisals if she dared to do so, and so she was forced to become an unwilling partner in her son’s reign. In fact, it was largely as a result of her still-sterling reputation that he was able to hold onto the reigns of power at all.

Karaktus was not a well-loved ruler, however, and despite the fact that he offered full citizenship in the Imperium to the conquered territories, he was roundly repudiated and the Korrayin declared their renewed independence. As a result, the commons and the nobles began to turn against him, and it was only a matter of time before he was assassinated, reputedly while he was relieving himself at the side of the road.

There was a brief interregnum, when a brutal commoner known as Sokophanes seized the throne for both himself and his son. He had failed to reckon with the remaining dynasts, however, and both Dominysa and her sister Martinya rallied the troops to their cause. Though Dominysa would die in the midst of this, Martinya would continue on her younger sister’s mission, and with the aid of the legions and the Church she was able to elevate her eldest grandson to the throne. Though he had, technically, no connection to the blood of Kavaros, she was able to convince enough people of the lie that the youth, Varyus was in fact the product of a liaison between Karaktus and her daughter Vassiana.

Things at last seemed to be going well for thedynasty. The family matriarch, Martinya, was a canny strategist, and she had averted catastrophe by elevating her grandson Varyus to the throne. Her daughter, Vassiana, was now the most powerful woman in the Imperium. She even had another daughter and grandson lined up, should some unforeseen illness strike the first two.

Then, things began to go horribly wrong.

Varyus, seduced by a sun-priest from the lands of Korray, decided that it was time for the old Church to be thrown down from its lofty perch. He declared that the faith of El-Garvel be the law of the land and, to demonstrate his scorn for the Church, he forcibly took a Prefect as his wife. He then embarked on an orgy of unrivaled scope, taking both men and women to bed and caring nothing for the strictures and cycles of celibacy that were a key part of the Church.

His mother Vassiana was a willful and often spiteful child, and she had spoiled her son to an extraordinary degree. She did nothing to rein him in, and in many cases she was even seen to encourage him. She wanted to be the one wielding all of the power in the Imperium, and she did everything in her power to sideline her mother and to delegitimize her younger sister and her son Exkandros, who she rightly saw as a threat to her own hegemony.

Ultimately, Varyus’ own grandmother turned against her grandson and her daughter, neither of whom were capable of ruling and who would clearly destroy the dynasty if they were not stopped. She bribed the Imperial Guard to betray their charges and, in the orgy of bloodshed that followed her daughter and grandson were brutally killed, their bodies thrown into the river and never recovered. Though this may not have been what Martinya intended, it was the unfortunate fruit of her own sowing.

All was seemingly not lost, for she ensured that her other grandson Exkandros came to the throne, though once again it was mother, Yvita, who wielded most of the power. Though he restored the Church and was, seemingly, a corrective to his cousin, he was still seen as less than brave on the field of battle, and the death of his grandmother early in his reign removed a potential source of strength and stability.

Matters came to a head when he offered humiliating peace terms to a rebellious tribe of Korrayin, who had made incursions into the western borders of the Imperium. It was no secret that they had been funded and encouraged by Haranshar, and the Imperator’s caving to their demands was seen as the worst sort of weakness. The soldiers with whom he had surrounded himself rebelled, and he was assassinated, along with his mother.

With the death of Eskandros, the dynasty came to an ignominious end. His body and that of his mother were thrown in the River Tiver, as had been the case with his aunt and cousin. His successor, the usurper Maxhimos, had all vestiges of his predecessors utterly obliterated, before he too was overthrown and one of the legitimate heirs of Kavaros’ elder brothers claimed the throne as Claudianus I, the first of the Claudian Dynasty.

The Chronicler Arodius, one of the chief sources for this troubled period of Imperial history, had this to say of the Zervan Dynasty: “Never has a dynasty so quickly risen to power, and never has a dynasty flared so brightly. Yet with such glory comes great despair, and so it proved to be for the Zervani. Let them be a warning to all who would let greed and avarice cloud their judgment.”

Bitter words, indeed.

Dissertation Days (51): Good Days

Today was a good writing day. I managed to ingest just the right amount of caffeine, so I was ready and able to get going on the production of good writing. I really hit my stride, and I’m really happy with the way that the theory section is coming together.

I’m still a little concerned about the historical section. There’s still a bit of beefing up I need to do with that section, but I think I’ll be able to accomplish that in the next week or so. I really need to get that piece wrapped up soon, but I’m confident in my ability to do so.

Speaking of that context…I realized the other day that there was an important node of context that I had overlooked but which needs to be folded into the analysis. I’m a little worried that it might derail the discussion that has come so far, but I’m sure with a bit of determination I can make sure that the pieces all start to fit together in a way that makes sense and that lead naturally to the discussion I have on the films. That’s always been a weak spot, but at least I’ve gotten to the point where I can see it and (hopefully) effectively address it.

I really think I’m onto something with this discussion of spectacle and narrative and the relationship between them. I’ve always been a little frustrated by the way that people talk about spectacle, almost as if its’ one of those things that is just there and doesn’t need explanation, still less any kind of sustained analysis as a container of meaning. There has been some really interesting work done on this lately, though, so I’m very much looking forward to nuancing and developing that work to produce something compelling about the films I’m looking at.

So, tomorrow I’m going to keep on as I have been with Chapter 4. There’s still some way to go, but it’s definitely getting there. I feel more confident about this draft than I have any of the previous ones, so that’s definitely something. What’s more, I’ve been able to keep on track with this one in a way that I haven’t with any of the previous ones.

As I always say, any progress is good progress. I can do this. I just have to keep reminding myself of that central fact.


Dissertation Days (48): I’m Tired of Thinking About Cute Titles

Today was an extraordinarily productive day. I was able to churn out 1,500 words of Chapter 4 (most of which was quite good, I think). I focused mainly on the historical context, though I wrote some introductory material for what will eventually be the theoretical section.

Overall, I think that the historical context is a strong section, perhaps the strongest and most cohesive that I’ve written since Chapter 2. I’m looking at the ways in which the postwar political order that was so desperate to attain a measure of stability was always thwarted by the tensions of the postwar period, whether it was the escalating conflict between the US and the Soviet Union or the growing independence movements with all of the violence that entailed.

As I move forward, I just have to make sure that I continue drawing explicit connections between the context I’m laying out and the readings of the films. This has been my Achilles’ Heel since I began this dissertation, but I would like to think that I have avoided it (or at least addressed it) with this chapter. That, however, very much remains to be seen.

I also continued my effort to make some commentary on Chapter 1. I’d prefer not to wait until the last minute to do that, even though I have to admit that it is my least favourite part of the whole dissertation-writing process. It’s quite remarkable, though, to see how very different this chapter is from the ones that followed it. I do think that I am onto something, but the writing is a bit clunky at spots, and I can see there are points where what I really mean isn’t expressed as clearly as it should be. Of course, I just have to remind myself that that is what revision is for, to gradually distill one’s ideas down until they emerge in their clearest and most coherent form.

Tomorrow, I’m going to continue making progress on Chapter 4, and I hope to make my way through 10 pages of Chapter 1 (and make the appropriate commentary). At the pace I’m currently keeping, I should have a draft of Chapter 4 ready by the middle of September (which is my very ambitious goal). I just have to stay focused.

I can feel the finish line growing closer and closer. I just have to remember that I can do this.

I got this.

Let’s go.

Dissertation Days (47): Back to Work I Go

Well, we returned back to work today. The Dissertation is coming along quite nicely, and I am actually confident that I can produce a workable, submittable draft by the middle of September. Not, mind you, that that will be the final version, but I want the Adviser to have seen all of the chapters in some form before I start sending out applications.

And, what’s more, I finally found that missing piece that’s been eluding me for so long. When I wrote this sentence, I knew that, at last, the pieces were sliding into place: “I then turn to each of the films, beginning with Cleopatra, moving to Fall, and ending with The Bible, showing how each can be understood as a form of melancholy utopia, mourning a world that might have been but can never be.”

It’s that last bit that I find to be the most useful, as it helps me to make clear that what I am working toward is an understanding of these films and their affective charge. I have to say, this is the clearest expression yet of the central claim that I’m setting out in this chapter, and that is an amazing feeling.

Tomorrow, I am going to work on setting out some of the important contextual material, particularly the (failed) promise of the United Nations and the increasing disintegration of the old imperial powers and the United States ascendancy. With a 1,000 word goal per day, I think I should be able to knock this section out of the park within the week. What’s more, I might even be able to move into the theory section. We’re picking up steam, folks!

As I’ve said before, I think I’m going to aim for 15K words on this chapter, possibly a bit more. I think that will be enough to do justice to the complexity of the argument. And besides, I really just want to get this thing out of the door as soon as possible.

The Adviser has suggested that I might do a Chapter 5, and…yeah. That’s not happening. Gotta get this shit done!

Also, I’ve been working on job materials, and they are coming along quite well. I am surprisingly excited about being on the job market. It’s a good feeling.

So, tomorrow is definitely going to be a tremendously productive day. I can feel it.

And I can do it.

Novel Weekends (10): Feeling Great

This has been an exceedingly productive weekend. I churned out a substantial part of Chapter 5, and I finished Chapter 4.

At this point, we have been introduced to almost all of the main characters that live in the Imperium: Imperator Talinissia, Tribune Theadra; Rowena the Huntress; Prefect Antonius; and Prefect Eulicia. They all have pretty interesting things going on around them, and now that we are in Chapter 5 the action is heating up as Theadra has to make a run for it.

I don’t normally like to toot my own horn, but I have to say that I have grown a lot as a writer in the last few months. Part of this, I think, stems from just writing a lot–on this blog, in my dissertation, on social media–and part of it comes from reading magazines like The Writer. And part of it comes from getting older and being more self-conscious. It’s a good feeling, to finally feel like you’re writing stuff that’s both interesting and pleasurable to read.

There’s still a long way to go with this novel project, but for the first time, I really and truly feel that it’s going to be a worthwhile journey, and that the endpoint is one that will be a strong payoff for both the characters and the readers.

What’s more, I think I’ve really begun to build a world and a story that have a lot to offer both in terms of depth and in terms of philosophy. I continue to draw from the deep wells of history in our own world, and I remain inspired by the fantasy greats in whose shadow my own work may one day grow.

Stay tuned, folks. While the Diss is calling, more world-building essays and updates on the novel are forthcoming, I promise!

World Building (6): The History and Ceremony of the Imperators

As has been noted elsewhere, the Imperium is ruled over by an autocrat known as the Imperator, whose power is virtually limitless. They are considered the living representative of the Name, and as such they exist in complementarity (in theory) with the Council of Prefects that rules over the Church.

Though the Imperator’s power is, in theory, without bounds, there are a number of factors that frequently influence how much they are able to wield. Foremost of these is the Senate, which is comprised of the various heads of the Houses, both Great and Lesser, that are the leaders of the many noble families, as well as some of the more wealthy and powerful merchants that inhabit the Imperium. There are, however, two “chambers” of the Senate. One, the senior chamber, is comprised of the nobles, including the Counts, Dukes, and Kings of the various administrative units, as well as the aforementioned Heads of House that are not rulers of these large units in their own right. This chamber wields all of the power and serves as the primary advisory body to the Imperator. The other, lower, chamber is comprised of the merchants and guild-masters. The Imperator is in charge of convening the Senate and having her or his decrees acclaimed by both groups. Except in extenuating circumstances in the history of the Imperium, the Senate has largely done as the Imperator wished. They also have the responsibility of acclaiming the Imperator upon his or her accession.

The position of Imperator has, by long practice, been assumed to be hereditary, even though this is not a strict rule. Instead, every Imperator that has established a steady rule has nominated their successor to reign with them as co-ruler, preferably when they are in middle age (as this supposedly cuts down on the possibility that an impatient heir may attempt to do away with a doddering senior partner). This has, for the most part, worked to the advantage of the Imperium as a whole, as it ensures a smooth transition from one ruler to the next. On occasion, however, it has resulted in conflict between parents and children, as the latter grow impatient for their turn to occupy the throne. This was the case with the Bastard’s War, in which a bastard son of Imperator Tiberian V slowly ingratiated himself with his father, thus spurring the ruler’s legitimate son to ignite a rebellion.

Through the years, the Senate has come to occupy a more pronounced and active role in the governance of the realm. Most of the various nobles who reign in their own right have historically treated their territories as their own private kingdoms, with little to no regard for the wishes of the increasingly-marginalized Imperators. Up until roughly 50 years before the time of the novel, this has been the case, and most people think of themselves as following their local lord before they think of themselves as subjects of the Imperator.

However, several recent Imperators have moved back to the model earlier established by their predecessors, taking on an increased role in direct governance. Part of this has stemmed from the increasingly restive and invasive Korrayyin and their allies the Haransharin, both of which have required strong forces. The current Imperator’s father became known as the Hammer for his ability to strike swiftly and without mercy, bringing fear to his enemies, both inside and outside of the Imperium. Indeed, he was well-known for his ability to bring the rebellious and fractious lords of the realm to heel and, unlike several of his predecessors, he took to attending meetings of the Senate, allegedly to make sure that he was aware of the goings-on in his realm but, far more likely, to strike fear into those who might be fomenting rebellion.

They have also returned to a model of court ceremony that had not been seen in several centuries. Now, it is required that all of those who wish to gain an audience with the Imperator, no matter their estate or class, must perform several rounds of obeisance, in order to show the proper humility to the one who is considered the earthly representative of the Name. This has served to ensure that the nobility understands their place in the divine ordering of the universe.

As a result of this semi-divine status, all Imperators are required to be crowned and anointed by the eldest member of the Council of Prefects. This is to ensure that the Imperator is blessed with the power of the Name as well as the acclamation of the Senate. This typically takes place in the Magisteria, the great church that sits at the direct center of the capital of Aïonis. The ceremony, as with all things connected to the Imperium, is intended to remind all of those gathered that the Imperator reigns with the utmost secular and temporal authority, and it is also a day in which the common people are treated to the greatest festival that any of them are likely to know. Recent Imperators have known that it is the common people who wield the true power–though they don’t realize it–and have acted accordingly.

Though coups are relatively rare, they have occurred for various reasons. The Imperator’s person is considered inviolate in theory, but as with so many things this does not always translate into consistency in practice (as the incident of the Bastard’s War makes abundantly clear). There are always those for whom the way that things have always been done are no impediment to their own ambition. It also doesn’t help when Imperators die before ensuring that their successor is secure on the throne, which happened with Talinissia’s father Philophanes, who died while she was still in her 20s, setting the stage for the armed uprising of her brother and the bitter Siblings’ War that nearly toppled the Imperium into utter chaos.

As the events of the novel begin, it remains unclear how much the position of Imperator has been damaged, and whether Talinissia is the one to bring stability. History, after all, has a nasty habit of repeating itself.

Novel Weekends (9): The Big Picture

This weekend, despite still being a bit exhausted from the Orientation, I’ve been able to write a bit. What’s more, I’ve been largely happy with the writing, which is always a truly great feeling.

I’ve now moved into a new character chapter, that of Rowena, a half-Anukathi/half-human assassin, spy, and general operative. I don’t have a full sense of her as a character yet, but things are starting to emerge as I write this chapter. For me, that’s one of the most exciting parts about this project: discovering things I never knew about the characters I’ve created. I know that she lost a father in the revolt led by the current Imperator’s brother a few years before, but I don’t know which side he was on (yet), or what her own political affiliations are.

The book I’ve been doing for research about the rediscovery of Aristotle’s works in the Middle Ages has really revitalized my drive to work on this novel project. I now have a stronger sense of the larger stakes, though the endgame is still a bit fuzzy. I’m really trying to do something compelling with the final battle that’s definitely a staple and to answer the question: “what happens if the gods on both sides die?”What happens to human beings in this schema? Does the created world keep going, when the force that gave it life is gone?

That probably gives you a sense of the trajectory. I’m still envisioning a quartet that leads to the final battle, but I also want to do a second series that continues the story of the first but in some new ways. I haven’t even decided which characters are going to survive, but I’ll figure that out as I go along.

Things are heating up, and I couldn’t be happier.

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.