I had wanted to write something soft and sweet about Hento, because that’s what he was, but apparently that’s just not yet where I’m at. The last two and a half years (plus) have really kicked me in the teeth, and to lose my emotional support animal in that manner at that time just…
Let’s say there’s a lot of pain and anger, still.
The estate chaos is finally over, Autumn is peeking around the corner, the household is looking at our next steps together into a scary but exciting stage, and I’ve unexpectedly fallen in love with another dog far sooner than I expected to be capable of it.
Life goes on. I imagine my rage at the universe for what it did to Hento will cool eventually.
As we enter a new season here at Château Dinosaur, my thoughts turn again toward getting a handle on my most problematic post-thyroidectomy life change: brain fog.
It has been difficult – in part because of the brain fog – to try to convey to the people around me just how serious the issue is. We’ve all felt “a little out of it” before, or had memory blips, or been so fatigued after a late night that it’s hard to think straight, so people tend to assume they know what brain fog is and that it’s possible to just rest up and recover from it. It’s not. Also the term, “brain fog” sounds unserious and made-up, in no way capturing the debilitating and very real effects of losing your ability to marshal your higher brain functions.
With COVID-19 still ripping through the population here in the US, leaving millions in its wake to struggle with the effects of long-COVID, the seriousness of brain fog has finally been garnering mainstream attention. People dealing with various chronic illnesses like ME, CFS, and yes, hypothyroidism, have tried for decades to get the medical establishment and the general public to take this symptom seriously.
When I read this article from Ed Yong at The Atlantic, about brain fog, I legitimately shed tears. Brain fog is real, it’s a medical condition, it’s not psychosomatic, and it is absolutely life-ruining. We need people on this, urgently.
Within two months after my thyroid was removed due to cancer in 2020, I stopped feeling like me. Stopped being able to read more than a sentence before losing my handle on the words. Stopped being able to formulate complex thoughts. Stopped being able to write. Started making simple mistakes in my daily tasks, forgetting my vocabulary, feeling vacant. I felt like I was disappearing, had real fears that I was experiencing early-onset dementia.
At the time, I was trying to put together the release of my second book. It became impossible to do things like write press releases, communicate with reviewers, or contact press. I was supposed to do a Q&A – couldn’t answer questions about my own work. Couldn’t remember my own work. I still can’t. The entire release collapsed into a sad nothing, along with my hopes of launching a successful career as a novelist.
These passages from Ed Yong’s excellent article struck a knifeblade of truth right into my heart:
“Her memory, once vivid, feels frayed and fleeting. Former mundanities—buying food, making meals, cleaning up—can be agonizingly difficult. Her inner world—what she calls ‘the extras of thinking, like daydreaming, making plans, imagining’—is gone. The fog ‘is so encompassing,’ she told me, ‘it affects every area of my life.’”
“At its core… it is almost always a disorder of ‘executive function’—the set of mental abilities that includes focusing attention, holding information in mind, and blocking out distractions. These skills are so foundational that when they crumble, much of a person’s cognitive edifice collapses. Anything involving concentration, multitasking, and planning—that is, almost everything important—becomes absurdly arduous. ‘It raises what are unconscious processes for healthy people to the level of conscious decision making.’”
The article does offer a ray of hope: apparently brain fog can be reversed with proper care. It’s possible that I might recover my stories one day. All two of the people waiting for me to write the third book in my trilogy will no doubt be pleased by that. I would just like to feel like me again. It might sound weird to say I want to hear the voices again, but I’m a writer. Was a writer. Want being a writer back.
The 2020s have taken enough from me already. They can’t have my internal life too. I refuse.
After a long, grim winter that refused to quit, it’s finally spring. Robin’s egg blue sky, fluffy clouds, a gorgeous breeze, and all the birdsong you could hope for on such a perfect day. I sit out on my back porch and watch the leaves dancing in that soft breeze with an even softer Husky by my feet. Hento lifts his snoot and gently sniffs what the wind brings to him, radiating contentment. We’ve done this, almost exactly this, many times together; it’s one of his favorite ways to spend a fine afternoon.
It’s impossible to believe that right now, in this perfect spring moment, my dog is dying.
He doesn’t even look sick. A little tired maybe, but he has always taken things at a slower pace than most other dogs. Shortly after my thyroid crisis in 2020, he was diagnosed with hypothyroidism too, which had explained a lot about why he wasn’t the ball of energy and mischief that people always expect from a Husky. That could be why it took us a while to notice the first signs when the lymphoma hit him.
I don’t know. I don’t know. My vision blurs as I look down at my sweet Hento by my feet and I just don’t know. Could we have bought him more time if we’d caught it sooner? Were there any signs he would have let us see? For the four years he’s lived with us, Hento has always remained something of an enigma, past trauma turning him inward to guard his feelings. I get it, but I’ve always wished he would let me in, now more than ever.
But even if he had, would I have noticed? Jon and I have been wrapped up in our stupid human bullshit all year as we’ve handled the passing of his father in February and the resulting estate chaos. We keep saying we’ll take Hento someplace nice for a long weekend when we’re done managing the estate.
We keep apologizing to him for the time we have to spend away from home, cleaning out the old house to sell. It’s a crumbling disaster and the toll the work takes on us is as brutal emotionally as it is physically. We come home drained, to a dog who doesn’t even seem to miss us because he’s so angry at us for being gone. Another emotional blow.
When this is over, we promise him. We’ll take you someplace nice and relax together when this is over.
Except there is no together now when it’s over. He is leaving us and there isn’t enough time to say goodbye. He doesn’t even look sick, not today, but it won’t be long they say. They say they can’t believe he walked into the hospital on his own, as sick a boy as he is. They say we can try treatment, but it’s a matter of buying him days, weeks, months at the optimistic most, and we need to think about whether he needs that or whether we’re being selfish. They say a lot of things I don’t really hear because there’s just a deafening roar inside my head.
My dog is dying. He can’t be dying. We didn’t have enough time. We just wanted more time.
It’s ten days later and another picturesque April afternoon. My dog is dying, dying, dead. We didn’t have enough time.
How can the sky be so blue while my heart shatters inside my chest? The universe doesn’t care that he saved my life and it was my turn to save his. Entropy is pitiless and absolute. Hento was alive, and soft, and sweet, and kind, and now he’s gone.
He’s gone and it’s a beautiful day and we didn’t have enough time.
This is also where my head’s at and consequently, it’s really hard to Anything. As one of those pesky already-unwell people we’ve collectively abandoned to their COVID fate, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills, and also like I’m drowning in a tank full of hungry sharks.
This post is the third in a three-part series. You can find parts one and two at these links.
Most of the conventional wisdom directed at developing writers says to finish your early stories, pat yourself on the back for having completed something, gather up the lessons and the practice you came away with, shelve it, and move on. That’s probably good advice.
I have not done anything remotely like that, and there’s something interesting that happens when you re-write the same story from the beginning a whole crapton of times, assuming you chuck the previous versions and work from memory. A couple of interesting things, really. One is that as you retell and retell and retell, the story takes on this folkloric quality in your mind, like you’re handing down your remembered version of a tale that was handed down to you by someone else. Another is that as you inevitably forget details, only the essential survives, and the skeleton of something new emerges.
Phase Three: rebirth
I’ve written before about the bleak, dark period of 2006-7 when I was so burned out that I lost the ability to do most everyday tasks. Luckily for me, because I’d by then spent literally decades developing the Asrellion sandbox, it took practically zero effort to pop in there to mess around with bits and pieces of what I referred to at the time as “Asrellion crackfiction” – writing that I wasn’t thinking of as canon, just a bit of light fluffy entertainment with an intended audience of exclusively me, to take my mind off of how much I hated everything that was happening around me.
Thing of it was, I eventually realized that, uh, I actually had some good material there that I would hate to waste. Kind of unintentionally, I found myself thinking about what would have to change in canon, exactly, to make this stuff usable.
And just like that I was mentally drafting a complete overhaul of Trajelon.
As soon as I realized I was serious about actually doing it, I also had to face the unfortunate facts: there would be little point in writing a sparkly brand-new fantastic version of Book 2 in a series that at that time began with an admittedly weak Book 1.
So there it was: write the whole trilogy all over again, or finally move on with new stories and let these lie in the past. Which, to be clear, would have been a legitimate choice that is often the correct one. But I was, I realized, too excited about this theoretical new Trajelon to walk away now. Which brings us back to Mornnovin.
Okay, so, there’s no point rewriting a book for the fourth time if you’re just going to tell the same story all over again. That much seemed clear right away. And because in 2008 I was neck-deep in the fanfiction community, that was basically the height of my awareness of both popular and unpopular tropes.
Something that everyone who has ever met me knows is that I have a real defiant streak. I say streak, but it would probably be more accurate to say that I’m like at least 85% composed of pure noat the DNA level.
I state this as a matter of fact devoid of value judgment, not to make the claim that being a stubborn asshole is a desirable trait, but to explain how it is that when I sat down as a mostly-grown pseudo-adult to think about what a reimagined Mornnovin would look like, a significant factor at this stage was a desire to flatly call out, deconstruct, reclaim, revamp, discard, update, and/or examine the well-known tropes of the fantasy genre. If Mornnovin redux had any one single guiding principle at the drawing board stage, it was this.
As an outgrowth of this mindset going in, it wasn’t just the plot or the characters I submitted to re-examination. It only makes sense that as the work progressed, I found myself re-litigating every single established element of the worldbuilding that had gone into creating the world of Asrellion to that point. Some past decisions made the cut. Many did not. Some that did, I felt needed some expanding in order to explain why that would be the way things are. Maybe more importantly, I questioned established staples that I’d never even thought to question before.
(Why would the calendar in another world begin the year in the dead of winter like ours? Like, it could, but what would the reasoning be? Why would months directly correspond to ours? Is the year even the same length as ours? Should it be? Why would there be the same kind of color-based racism that we have on Earth? Why do I assume as a matter of course that historic Earth sexism would be the norm throughout all cultures of a fantasy world I’ve made up from whole cloth? Why is everyone white? Does a conlang need to gender its nouns just because the foreign language I was learning at the time that I started creating it does? Would it even make sense for the language of a culture with no strong delineation of gender roles to be built on heavily gendered foundations? I mean that one was a clear nope, what was I thinking. Etc.)
In general in my life I would say this was a period of refining my assumptions, deepening my understanding, maturing my ideas, and consciously attending to the direction of my personal growth. That translated directly into the evolution of Asrellion. The heavy lifting was already done; this was (and is) the time of fine-tuning.
Of realizing that writing Fantasy well doesn’t mean simply replicating what the genre has already established, but deciding what sort of reality I want to project into the world, what sorts of things I want to be saying, which stories are important to me. And because of my defiant streak the size of the Grand Canyon, this has meant a lot of deliberately rejecting What Is Done.
We can thank the Modern Era of Asrellion for:
the final map (sadly sans inter-dimensional portal)
Tomanasíl’s relationship with Gallanas, which makes his whole deal finally make sense
finally the realization that the denizens of a fantasy world need not be uniformly lily-white (and that it makes little sense for them to be)
final name changes for several characters (lookin’ at you, Cole)
the current refinements to the grammar and vocabulary of Elven
Sovoqatsu Farínaiqa. You’re welcome.
this Katakí Kuromé – other iterations were your standard moustache-twirlers
moving away from the standard “and then everything was solved with a really big battle” trope, toward
resolutions that are more about character, relationships, individual growth and change, and cooperation over conflict
Lyn’s colorful swear catalogue
magic as science
Narías’ temporal peculiarity
most of the fun little magical doodads like rovanan, sound boxes, and the Nírozahé
my voice, such as it is
the elimination of certain yucky tropes and plot devices that no longer serve the stories I’m trying to tell
more effective use of the in-world elements I’d put in place over the years
whatever sophistication the work can boast of
a significant reduction in Tragic Content™ (if you can believe it)
Obviously, my work on and in Asrellion is far from finished. With another book still to add to The Way of the Falling Star, several short stories still in the cards, and an entire multi-book series loosely outlined about the creation and early days of Asrellion, it goes without saying that things are going to continue to morph, shift, grow, come together, and fall away in the years ahead. New people, new magic, new histories are bound to emerge. And I’m not done evolving either, both as a writer and as a human who wants to say things.
It remains to be seen what the Fourth Era of creation will end up looking like, but it seems pretty clear to me that I am transitioning into a new phase.
Partly because it’s been five years now since I last did any major work in Asrellion, and those five years have been tumultuous, significant years both for me personally and in the larger real-world sense.
Partly because I’m now having to learn how to work with a cognitive disability that, it seems, can be managed but not entirely cured. (That remains a bit up in the air. I’m doing better on my current treatment regimen, but better is relative. Can we improve my cognitive function still further? Is this as good as it gets, now? Too early to say, but I am someone different now, as a creator.)
Partly because my living and working conditions are vastly different now to what they were the last time I did any real writing or worldbuilding in Asrellion and I have yet to see the effect that’s going to have on my process.
But also? Largely due to the way that the real world that I have to exist, think, and create in has changed. I haven’t completely teased out what that means regarding the direction I’d like to take Asrellion in from here, or the impact on the kinds of stories I want and need to tell. That’s one of the reasons why Book 3 has been so slow to coalesce.
I’ll have to get back to you when I do figure out what Phase Four brings to the evolution of Asrellion.
Who knows. Maybe we’ll circle back to the talking animals.
The History of the History of Asrellion parts one and two.
This post is the second in a three-part series. You can find parts one and three at these links.
Earlier this week I started talking about the early days of creating an entire fantasy universe from scratch, in answer to a question about how that worldbuilding has evolved over the years. Because I’ve been working in this universe for such a long time (since I was ten years old in 1989!) there have definitely been stages to that evolution.
In the previous installment, I described how the first details of Asrellion emerged from the tip of a child’s brain as she explained it to the new girl she wanted to befriend. And how, really, a lot of that early worldbuilding was pretty stupid. No fit foundation to build further work on top of.
Also, when you’re ten years old, then eleven, then twelve and onward, you’re constantly changing your mind about what you like, what’s interesting to you, what’s cool. You’re always learning new things and adjusting your understanding of the world and of yourself accordingly. You try on new self-identities like a new outfit every few months. All of this is just part of growing up. So in a very real way, Asrellion grew up with me through those years.
The next era of worldbuilding, as I started to clean up that mess while making new ones, was tumultuous but extremely productive.
Phase Two: I Have No Idea What I’m Doing, Actually, But That’s Okay?
When I was a toddler, The Hobbit made me want to write stories, but when I was sixteen, a book called Tigana made me realize that there’s a difference between writing a story down and storytelling. It honestly changed my life. Not immediately for the better.
After the utterly amazing and emotional storytelling journey of that book, I’m afraid I went through a pretty severe “I don’t know how to do that and I lack the ability to ever learn, so I should just give it up” phase. I’ve… had a few of those over the years. (I almost had another, many years later, after reading American Gods, but by then I was old enough to snap out of it by deciding that it didn’t matter if what I was writing was trash, comparatively, or if no one was ever going to read it, I still had to write.)
I did make another attempt at Mornnovin in junior high and high school after a friend lost more than two hundred pages of the original draft(!!!), forcing me to start over, but I wasn’t any more satisfied with that one than I was with the first.
But, while I was busy wallowing in this Imposter Syndrome, I was also reading a lot. A lot. I went to college as an English major and read a lot there too. And because I’d had my Storytelling Awakening, I was now really noticing what things did and did not contribute to an effective and well-told story. Even though I’d convinced myself I could never learn how to do it like the greats, I was, after all, learning.
The thing about being a writer, even one with Imposter Syndrome, is that you never completely stop making stuff up. In fact, what has usually ended up happening to me is that the more stymied I feel on the storytelling front, the more I tend to lean into thinking about the tiny unrelated details of the world that I feel like I’m being locked out of. Can’t write a story, I guess, but I sure can hyperfixate on calendars or spend an entire week thinking about how elves would go about having snowball fights!
So this became the heavy lifting phase of the evolution of Asrellion. Most of the names, places, dates, history, cultures, and intent shifted during this time, in my early to late twenties. I attempted yet another version of Mornnovin, and this time I actually made it all the way through an entire trilogy plus a related stand-alone novel. As the work progressed, the worldbuilding naturally filled itself in.
This era, roughly 1996-2008, is where we can trace most of the development of elven history and culture, as I finally gave serious thought to the elves I was writing rather than simply coasting on Tolkien’s work. It’s also when Tomanasíl Maiantar started to be a real character and not just a cartoon villain with no other purpose but to stand in the way of whatever cool thing Loríen wanted to be doing.
Not coincidentally, these were also my big fanfiction years. As a reader of fanfiction, and later a judge for an awards site, I came to be aware of which fantasy and storytelling elements people think of as “tropes,” which are considered overdone, and which are fan favorites. To be completely honest, fanfiction taught me more functional, usable information about the nuts and bolts of writing than school ever did.
I finally started keeping notes, which is probably important and one of the only useful things I took away from college. In fact, I sort of became obsessive about keeping everything consolidated in this cool three-ring binder with a pretty sun-moon-and-stars design on it. (Sadly it was one of those floppy binders and it eventually fell apart.) It gave me a unique thrill of satisfaction to flip through all of my reference materials and be able to actually see how much worldbuilding I was doing.
Possibly one of the biggest single things I did to grow the worldbuilding at this time was getting really serious about the conlang. There was an exercise I developed in these years where I would take a page of existing material – mine, someone else’s, whatever – and translate the entire thing into Elven. That meant figuring out consistent grammar applications; more, it also meant stopping every few words when I would encounter one that I hadn’t invented in Elven yet, giving some thought to the kind of sound that concept would have in the mind of an elf, doing a bit of research into existing world languages to sort of get a feel for the way people all over the world hear and think about that concept, then crafting something of my own. Doing whole pages like this got me way deep into building my own language. Who knows – maybe I’ll publish an Elven guide someday.
Aaaaaaaalsooo, and I almost wasn’t going to admit this, but… playing a lot of The Sims 2 during this time really helped me to see the various side-characters and locations and families as real entities going through the mundane business of daily life. Yes, I’m saying that I built various Asrellion locations in The Sims, popped my characters in, and watched them go about their lives. Apart from being terribly amusing (Sim!Lanoralas really really really hated Sim!Qroíllenas and honestly tried to spend all of his time working out on the weight bench. Chill, man. Sim!Neldorí is exactly what you would expect and never quit, and consequently, all of the other Sims hated him), it provided me with some unexpected insights into the social complexities of life in Asrellion. Yes, really. One reason the world of Asrellion feels lived-in is because I spent many computer hours actually watching it be lived in.
I think it also can’t be denied that the evolution of Asrellion was significantly impacted, in ways that are impossible to quantify, by seeing the major fantasy influence of my childhood brought to life on the big screen during these years.
Despite multiple stops, starts, dry spells, and mind-changes, this long phase of Asrellion’s evolution gave us:
solid prototypes of Mornnovin, Trajelon, Eselvwey, and the related Faríel, which you don’t know about yet
a more “human” Tomanasíl
map names and geological features that were the result of more than spur-of-the-moment thought – including “Asrellion” itself
most of the grammar and vocabulary of the Elven conlang
detailed visualizations of the individual cities of Evlédíen and the structure of elven society
a slimming down of the characters and story elements I was trying to cram into each novel
serious conceptualization work on Elven, Grenlecian, Telrishti, and Mysian cultures
much pondering of what it would mean to be immortal
the Creation Myth
fleshing-out of the deep history of Asrellion
the first throwaway appearance of a bodyguard named Sovoqatsu, somewhere in the middle of Eselvwey
The Eleven Noble Houses
endless “what would x character do in y situation” thought exercises
a noticeably Shakespearean flavor and tragic bent
the first binder full of detailed – and I mean detailed – supplemental notes, including
the first Elven glossary
the Elven alphabet
elven poetry (that you’ll never see lol)
the history of Naoise’s family
so many timeline charts
a brief obsession with pearlescent colored gel pens
the first time I thought about the calendar in Asrellion
rough outlines and character profiles for a 7-book series on the early days of Asrellion
I do still have a copy of the map from these years, but it’s pencil-drawn and far too smudged now to be of any use to anyone. A nice memento, I suppose.
This era is technically not the longest but is definitely the meatiest stretch in the history of the history of Asrellion. That’s because this is when I was learning how to do what I wanted to do, and how to be more thoughtful and intentional about doing it. It’s not a coincidence that I was doing a lot of living in these years too. Living is how you develop any ideas worth actually writing about.
Which set the stage for Phase Three.
The History of the History of Asrellion parts one and three.
This post is the first in a three-part series. You can find parts two and three at these links.
Long, long ago in the once upon a time, a child drew a map to impress the new girl at school. The child often drew maps, but mostly they were of places that already existed because someone else had already created them. This time, the place did not exist until the map was finished, because no one else had created it yet.
Asrellion was born.
It really was that simple – and simplistic – back then. I mean, I’d always been making up adventure stories in my head and pretending to fight orcs and dragons and things in my playtime. But up until that moment, I’d never committed anything to paper. I’d never settled on any continuous canon details. I just liked to pretend that I was an elf sometimes, usually a tragic orphan because so many of the stories are about tragic orphans (and because being the youngest of seven children, an introvert in a household of nine people, I loved the idea of being alone.) Usually I was in Middle Earth, because I was very familiar with Middle Earth. The important thing was that I had a cape, and a sword, and a trusty steed (played by my bicycle), and bad guys to defeat. The details were inconsistent and irrelevant up to that point.
But this, when I drew that map? This was the first time I started making up stories in a place with a name I’d invented.
Turns out, though, there’s a lot more to developing an entire fantasy world than just drawing a map and slapping a few made-up words onto it.
The evolution of Asrellion, in life as in-universe, can be looked at broadly in three phases: 1. excited, naïve, careless genesis; 2. cautious slowing and intentional retooling – the heavy lifting years; and 3. rebirth, carefully making thoughtful tweaks and additions while watching the world grow organically as life moves through it,
Phase One: flinging oatmeal at the wall
I really wish I still had that first map so I could show you how ridiculous my little-kid ideas were, but also how surprisingly-not-as-different-as-you’d-expect the final form of Asrellion actually is. It probably looked something about like this though:
What’s extra hilarious is that back when I was 10 to 12, I had this starry-eyed notion that I’d write these stories and send them anonymously to some publisher who would be like “THIS IS AMAZING. THE NEXT TOLKIEN. SOMEONE FIND THIS GENIUS AT ONCE SO WE CAN SHOWER THEM WITH ACCLAIM!” and then I’d reveal that I was A KID and everyone would be so shocked.
So as you can see, the first phase of Asrellion was not terribly serious.
What it was, was fun. My friend and I would share our princess adventure story ideas with each other, and together we came up with a loose mythology for the worlds we were playing in. There wasn’t a lot of consistency but it didn’t matter. What mattered was fun and creation. We’d get together to play and a new adventure would emerge.
I think exactly two names from that first Asrellion have survived from their earliest incarnation into the present day: Grenlec and Telrisht. Maybe Dewfern also? Not a single one of the characters, although Lyn is close – formerly Lynne. The main cast of characters were almost all around by the first version of Mornnovin, though, and more or less like themselves. The name of the world did at least begin with an A, but it was a horrifying portmanteau of three or four nonsensical things that I happened to have on my mind at the moment that I blurted it out.
Some of the delights we’ve lost since that first draft include but are not limited to:
a talking unicorn
a whole pack of helpful dog friends
an inter-dimensional portal (yes, really)
an undead army brought back to fight for the bad guy Black Cauldron-style
a plucky comic relief dwarf character
a zany, possibly-mad wizard who helped the heroes when he felt like it
random magic rings
a magic sword
Lyn and Loríen as identical twins so hilarious mistaken-identity hijinks could ensue
a really kickass dragon fight
a visit to a whole entire fairy city
secret waterfall caves
everyone in love with Loríen, actually
so much kidnapping
just, like, so many magical doohickeys
a hundred distracting and unrelated subplots
at least 80% more angst
I wasn’t writing down any of the lore during this time, roughly 1989-1996, which is a shame. In fact, I still have copies of absolutely none of this early writing or worldbuilding anymore. (Most of my earliest recorded stories were saved on floppy disks which erased themselves spontaneously. There was swearing.)
The only form in which any of this has survived is in the DNA base code of what came after.
The History of the History of Asrellion parts two and three.
In my recent author Q&A, I was asked about my writing process by more than one person. I got every bit as weird while answering it as I always do when asked this question. Despite rambling awkwardly for a good long while, I don’t know that I actually said anything useful or interesting about it in the end.
I remembered that I had blogged agonizingly on this very topic what is now six-and-a-half years ago, so I moseyed over to my archives to have a look at what past-Alyssa had to say. It turns out that even though like EVERYTHING has changed about my life since then, and even though I’ve churned out a whole novel and several short stories in the interim, so much about that post remains accurate today. Especially the parts about creative blockage. (And the tea obsession.) Plus ça change, right?
So I figure it’s worth nudging that old entry back into the spotlight, because I think it does a better and more organized job of talking about whatever the hell my process is than my rambling answer in the Q&A did.
What is always true across all times and formats in which I talk about this subject is that it has a way of kicking up my Imposter Syndrome with an intensity that little else can match. I’m not sure why this one thing is the Big Red Button of activating my sense of being a fraud, but I feel like it’s probably lodged somewhere near my ridiculous but unshakable feeling that I can’t be called an “artist” if I can’t draw, specifically.
You’ll just have to try to bear with my anguished flailing until I go back to remembering that I can’t be a fake writer if I’m literally holding, in my hands, a real copy of a real book that I wrote.
Hard to believe that we’re already a third of the way into June, but here we are. Summer! It’s certainly an artifact from my long-ago schooldays, but I tend to think of summer as a time to readall the fiction. Just me?
I don’t have any new books ready for you guys to dig into yet, but I’m pleased to announce that two more of the Asrellion short stories previously available only to my Kickstarter backers are now open to all readers: “Green” and “Witness.”
Have you wondered what happened just after Naoise Raynesley left at the end of Mornnovin? Wished you’d seen Lyn and Cole’s wedding? “Witness” is the story for you. Ever wanted to know what Tomanasíl Maiantar was like before he became Regent and Loríen’s guardian? Wondered just how he got involved with someone as different from him as Gallanas Raia? Read “Green” to find out. And while you’re at it, check out the rest of the short stories currently up for grabs to really get into the world of Asrellion.
The stories are password locked and a whatever-you-think-is-fair payment to my PayPal.me account gets you access.
It has been brought to my wandering attention that I missed a question in my author Q&A. It’s a good one too and it seems a real shame to let it slide, so I’m going to take a crack at it here.
Q:“Who is your favorite and least favorite characters and why excluding the main hero/heroines/villians?”
I have this feeling that writers probably aren’t supposed to admit that they have favorite characters, sort of like the way parents aren’t supposed to have favorites among their own children (even though we all know they totally do.) But I’m nothing if not a rebel.
So, obviously my main characters are my favorites, or else someone else would be the main characters. You want to know who else, though? Unapologetically, I am a big fan of one Neldorí Chalaqar, my favorite shitlord. He’s a terrible, terrible person who is so much fun to write. For real, I often find myself grinning as I write Neldorí scenes because he’s just so in love with himself, so brazen, so smooth, so amoral, and so pleased to be exactly who and what he is. He has, like, whatever the exact opposite of Imposter Syndrome is. If he were a real person, he would be insufferable and I would hate every second of having to deal with him. As a fictional character, he’s a damn delight.
My least favorite character? Would it surprise you to hear that if you’d asked this question a couple decades ago, I might have considered Lyn in this category? I used to have a fiercely difficult time understanding and writing her. Just in general, I don’t understand optimism and I sometimes find myself annoyed by it. As I’ve gotten older, though, and as I’ve made deliberate choices to lean into my own softness and my wonder at the world, Lyn and I have started to see things more like each other. I realize that I wasn’t being fair to her (or optimists) back in the day and I like her a lot better now.
Today I’d probably say my least favorite character is Qroíllenas Qaí. It’s not his fault that he really has no redeeming qualities — he’s just doing what he was written to do. But yeah. He really has no redeeming qualities. In the same way that writing Neldorí gives me joy, writing Qroíllen always sucks it out of me.
So there you go, question-asker! Sorry this answer didn’t make it into the Q&A video, but you got your very own blog post, so that’s something.
For a surprise on my Saturday, a vendor returned an unsold copy of TRAJELON to me with slight exterior damage along the bottom edge. This is mainly surprising because I had no idea that any vendors actually had/have physical copies of my books in stock. Huh.
I’m offering to turn that poor rejected copy around at cost ($8.26 + tax) plus $3.55 shipping for a total of $12.31 to the first person who speaks up for it.
Email me at DogwoodHouseBooks@gmail.com if you would like to give this lonely book a forever home!
The book has been claimed and is going to its new home tomorrow. ❤
I just finished watching the national memorial service for our Covid dead, arranged by President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris. I thought it was important to participate because through all of this, we have never collectively been allowed to mourn the grave injury that we are all suffering. In fact, half of the country is actively denying the injury, trying to gaslight us into believing there is not in fact this gaping hole in the nation and in our hearts where nearly half a million of our friends, co-workers, and loved ones were just a year ago.
That our incoming president felt the necessity of acknowledging the ache of this national wound — simply, humbly, without bravado, but with solemn sincerity — and inviting all of us to join him briefly in sharing the burden of that grief before turning toward the celebration of his inauguration, is so decent. So human. So normal. Almost as soon as the service began, I started sobbing uncontrollably for the stark contrast between this decency and the grotesque inhumanity of the monster who has been subjecting all of us to the whims of his diseased psyche for the past five years.
Now that the destructive T**** regime is coming to an end and the weight is beginning to lift, I’m starting to realize just how constantly triggering it has been as an abuse survivor to live under the national thumb of an abuser whose name and face and relentless indignities have been centered so prominently in the daily business of our lives. Having escaped abuse before, I know that the period after you get free is when you collapse under the weight of everything you’ve been carrying for so long. It’s no surprise that I would find myself suddenly heaving with sobs just because an average Joe and his Vice President addressed the nation for a few quiet minutes to recognize the collective trauma we’ve been unable to process because it is ongoing. Because it is in dispute by those who would gaslight us and traumatize is further. Because we’re supposed to be focusing on going to our jobs and doing our work and “supporting the economy.” Because to truly admit to the vastness of this loss, this grief, would mean having to admit that we are in real trouble and it is our neighbors, friends, and family who got us here by uncritically swallowing the lies of a sociopath.
This grief, this vast national grief, is too big for any one of us to bear. As I watched the memorial lights serenely reflect into the pool of the National Mall while our incoming leaders joined us in a moment of silence, it hit home that we don’t have to bear it alone anymore.
It’s going to be a while before I’m okay. Trauma does a number on you in so many ways, and you never know how it’ll pop back up or when. If you’re also not okay, that’s fine. We’re all in this together and we’ve all been through a lot.
But for now, it’s good to be reminded that it’s possible to expect and see decency in our leaders. The last administration was a four-year stress dream. Let’s wake up, wash off the funk, and remember that no matter what our abuser tried to tell us, we do all have inherent worth, there are people who love us and want us to succeed, and selfish cruelty is not normal or tolerable.
You know how occasionally people will say things like, “Make [x year] the year you get serious about your skincare regimen”? Well I decided to do that in July of 2019. I was in the middle of physical therapy for my degenerative disc disease and I was feeling like there was so much about my health and body that was out of my control, so at the very least I could do this one thing.
I renewed my commitment to drinking more water and I went out and bought facial cleanser and a decent moisturizer with SPF protection. May not sound like much, but you have to understand that until that moment my skincare regimen consisted of literally nothing. I stopped wearing makeup sometime in 2017 after my dog walking business picked up, because I was always just sweating it off anyway, and the only time I could ever remember to do anything to my face was when I would use a light floral toner to wipe my makeup off at the end of the day. No makeup => no toner wipedown before bed => no skincare routine at all.
It never mattered much that I do nothing to my face, because I always stayed out of the sun and I’ve generally just had quite nice skin — the one way in which I seem to have won the genetic lottery. However, by July 2019 it was definitely starting to show that I am a chronically dehydrated 40-something woman who now spends a fair amount of time outdoors.
So that was when I told myself I was going to be serious about skincare, as so many people constantly advised.
This may sound horrifying rather than like the triumph that it is, but I’d like to announce that on the very final day of 2020, I used up the last of that bottle of moisturizer. Only took me slightly less than a year and a half. That’s a big step up from previous attempts to regularly use a moisturizer, which have ended in the product drying out and having to be thrown away before I finished it.
I am beginning the new year with a new bottle of SPF moisturizer and the renewed commitment to drink more water. (And, you’ll be pleased to hear, I’ve actually gone through four bottles of the facial cleanser. I’ve gotten in the habit of using it in the shower.)
Thank you to everyone who is out here reminding the rest of us to take care of ourselves. It’s not only easy to forget, but it’s also easy to convince myself that I’m not worth the effort. You’re doing good work.
I’ve been composing a long year-end wrap-up post for the last hour and a half, but I just deleted the whole thing. 2020 is slippery and difficult to grasp and also, I finally realized, not worth the effort I was giving it.
It’s like this:
Fuck off, 2020. In a decade where every year has arguably been worse than the one before it, you really managed to take the entire cake.
A little more than four years ago, I walked to my neighborhood polling station and cast a vote for Hillary Clinton.
I had mixed feelings about the vote, because she hadn’t been my preferred candidate and because I had not been immune to the GOP’s twenty-year campaign to taint her in the public perception, but also I could hardly deny my feelings that it was well past time for a woman to be president and that she would do a respectable job of it. I was, like all decent people, disgusted by the vile personage that was her opponent, but despite my general pessimism I didn’t think he had a serious chance of winning. I thought surely not enough people would be taken in by the con. Surely the majority of people had to see that the most unqualified candidate in the history of the race was running against arguably the most qualified.
At the time, I had recently begun dating someone indescribably wonderful and I was certainly under the spell of new love. That’s how I account for my uncharacteristic optimism. I understood the danger posed by Donald Trump, but I believed we would pull together to reject him.
This was my face after waking up to the news on November 9th, 2016.
I knew they were there, and powerful, but I underestimated the Titan strength of misogyny and white supremacy in this country — a breathtaking reveal that has continued as an unrelenting assault since that day.
What followed over the course of the next four years was as turbulent and often grim in my personal life as it has been on the national scale. Silencingly so. The scale of what has been wrong these last four years has rendered me largely incapable of forming my own words about it except to exclaim in truncated horror in Tweet-sized blurts.
This blog post by Chuck Wendig, in its entirety, does a fine job of voicing much of what I feel but have been unable to articulate.
Last night, we had a wonderful virtual launch party for TRAJELON and I did a reading from the first chapter (while my jerk dog loudly ate his kibble right next to me.)
This is a recording of that stumbly reading in my very echoey dining room, for anyone who wanted to be there but missed it.
Other highlights of the event included a giveaway that I swear was not rigged despite the fact that the same eight people won all thirteen prizes, a lovely group toast, and an uproarious game of Cards Against Humanity played with a custom deck we made just for the occasion. All cards were in the theme of writing, fantasy, sci-fi, or Asrellion. Several people asked if they could purchase the deck for themselves because it was amazing. (Alas, it’s a one-off.)
The real hero of the night, the card that could win every hand, was “Wookiee Wang.”