We’ve talked about extras, maps, and timelines in our tour of my authorial wiki. Now it’s time to talk about characters. Every point of view character has a page. (That means everyone who’s been the point of view in a novel, novella, or extra…)
Time for stop 3 on our tour of the authorial wiki, maps! Today we’re going to look at two sets of maps, one for Albion as a whole, and one for Trellech, the main magical city. My maps are by Michael MB, who did a fantastic job taking my sketches and making them usefully informative.
Welcome to the next stop on our tour of my authorial wiki (public version). Today, I want to talk about timelines and finding out when particular events happened.
One of the reasons I like WorldAnvil (the software I use for the public wiki) is the chance to create maps and timelines. With books ranging across the 1920s, a few Edwardian titles, and a couple during or just after the Great War, being able to put the books in order is key. I’ve currently got five different ways to get timeline information, read on to learn more about them!
What’s an extra?
Now and again, I write something extra. It can be a few thousand words, or thirty thousand.
It can be a bit of backstory I need to write out to keep going in the book. Or something that happens after the book ends that affects future events.
Sometimes, I just want to spend a little more time with those characters.
Other times, it’s a chance to get a bit of a story from someone else’s perspective.
I share these extras with my newsletter subscribers. And now I’ve got an easy way to let you know what extras there are (and what they cover).
Check out the Extras page on my authorial wiki for a short summary of each available extra. Click through on the title for each one to learn more about it. Scenes from the extras are also on my books and extras timeline.
Getting copies for yourself
If you’re already getting my newsletter, starting on June 3rd, 2022, there’s a link at the top of every newsletter that will let you download whichever extras you like without putting in an email address.
If you’re not already on my newsletter list, you can get all the extras here. You’ll need to enter your email address for each one (or sign up for one, get the first newsletter email, and then use the link there to get the rest. Up to you!)
I hope you’ll stay around on my newsletter for news about what’s coming soon, more extras, and a few links and snippets of information from my writing that week. I send an email most Fridays. But if that’s not for you, it’s fine to subscribe and unsubscribe as you see fit.
Last Saturday, I went on an adventure with Kiya, my long-time friend and editor. We drove out to western Massachusetts (about a two hour drive from where I live) for a session with New England Falconry.
Why? Writing research, of course!
Falconry, Carillon, and upcoming delights
Lord Geoffrey Carillon is a great many things, but among them, he is a falconer. As mentioned in On The Bias, he used to fly a Eurasian eagle-owl, named Theodora (who also appears in that book). However, the sniper wound he got during the Great War (in his left shoulder joint) means that he can’t hold that much weight on his extended left hand for very long.
(Eurasian eagle-owls are about 8 pounds for females. Extremely sizeable birds.)
Since the early 1920s, he’s instead flown a merlin named Helena. Merlins are a vastly smaller bird – about 8 ounces or half a pound. (They also carry a number of different social implications.)
Then I wrote the draft of Best Foot Forward (out in November 2022) and – there is more falconry. It’s set in 1935, when Carillon is fully settled into his current life, but collaboration with Alexander Landry brings about a new set of challenges. Alexander also has a certain number of opinions about hawks and falcons, as it turns out, though largely on a more metaphorical level. Or at least less immediately physical. There’s also a scene set in the mews at Ytene.
And then there’s Ancient Trust, which is about Carillon inheriting the title in 1922 and returning to Albion and figuring out how to rearrange his life. Which of course includes a certain amount of falconry, though mostly off-screen.
All of that meant more research about falconry was in order as both those titles go into editing. And of course, the one thing that’s hard to get from books or video or other second hand sources is what the experience actually feels like. I especially wanted to get a sense of what it felt like to have a bird on the end of my arm.
Which is why we went out to western Massachusetts.
Read on for more, including plenty of great pictures!
Welcome to Point By Point!
It’s a story of immersive journalism, 1920s style (with more than a bit of magic), old friends and new romances, with horse racing and two secret societies with very different goals in the mix.
Lydia’s been working as a journalist for years, but it’s past time make her name and get herself more steady assignments.
Galen – last seen in In The Cards – has been trying to sort his life out. His brother’s doing well and Galen’s been working hard and keeping very busy learning to turn the family import business around. But when Lydia asks for a favour, Galen finds himself saying yes.
Of course, Galen isn’t on his own. Martin and the other Dwellers at the Forge are intrigued by any project that might take down those reaching for power that isn’t theirs. Since Lydia’s interested in exploring what happened in the aftermath of Magician’s Hoard, they’re entirely eager to help.
Get your copy of Point By Point for a frolic full of racing, a house party, and more than a bit of ritual magic along with the romance.
(As with all my books, you can read this one without having read any of the others, though In The Cards introduces Galen, Martin, Julius, and Blythe, and takes place about a year earlier.)
I got an email from a reader (hi!) asking a couple of questions, including this one: “In your romantic couples, the women seem to be consistently a little older (or a lot older) than the men. Was this a conscious choice, and if so, is there a reason for it?”
Pastiche is my first Edwardian book, mostly set in 1906. That year turns out to be interesting for medical history reasons, but it’s also in the middle of a period rich in artistic and creative activity.
You can get a copy of Pastiche free through April 30, 2022 thanks to the Escape into History promotion, a collection of historical romance, fiction, and mystery titles. Check out the whole list and see if anything else suits your fancy! (I’ll remove this note after the 30th.)
Living well with chronic illness
Alysoun, the heroine of this book, lives with what we’d call fibromyalgia today. At the time of the book, they don’t quite have a name for it: fibrositis (the earlier name) shows up in the medical literature for the first time late in 1906.
What she knows is that her body aches – often and also unpredictably. She struggles with fatigue and brain fog, wanting to have an engaged and active life, and yet also not wanting to spend her limited time and energy on social events she doesn’t enjoy.
The trick is that she is Lady Alysoun, married to Lord Richard, who not only has those obligations to the land magic, but who is also a member of the Guard (Albion’s equivalent to the police, more on that in the next section), and who is asked to become a magistrate in the course of the book. Being a magistrate comes with a number of additional social obligations for both of them, as well.
My chronic health stuff is not exactly the same as Alysoun’s – though at points in my life, I have had a lot more of all of her main symptoms than I do at the moment (if sometimes in slightly different modes.) Writing that experience, however, comes straight from my desire to have someone like me be loved, have pleasure, and find a place in the world that suits her.
Alysoun’s experiences are also rooted in many conversations I’ve had with a dear friend who shares some of her symptoms too. Specifically, “If I’m going to hurt if I don’t do this thing that would also bring me pleasure, and I’m going to hurt if I do (maybe a bit more), I’d rather have the pleasure, too.” Navigating that, moment to moment, day to day, year to year, is always a trick. Alysoun’s still learning it in Pastiche, but has found a lot more rhythm and balance by the 1920s, and the later books we see her in.
Now, this is Albion, and so there is a touch of fantasy here. Veritas, the Edgarton family home, started as a Roman villa, and the hypocaust system has been tended over many years. She can therefore retreat to a series of baths I absolutely envy, including the deep multi-person hot soaking tub.
The Guard, power, and responsibility
I wrote the draft of Pastiche between November 2019 and February 2020. I was editing it over the summer of 2020, as George Floyd was murdered by police officers in Minneapolis. (I lived in the Twin Cities for more than a decade, my last few not too far from Lake Street and Minnehaha Ave.)
I did a lot of thinking about this particular book, about the history of policing, about the ways any system (and especially those dealing with authority and law enforcement) can be abused and manipulated. I did a lot of talking with my editor, Kiya.
For one thing, while British policing isn’t perfect either, as I did more and more research, I realised that the history of how organised policing developed was rather different. (And in Albion, coordinated law enforcement in various forms became urgently needed following the Pact in 1484 and establishment of additional portals and means of rapid transporation in the next couple of hundred years.)
I also thought about what I’d already established in Albion (Wards of the Roses features Kate Davies, my other character who is a member of the Guard proper, though in that case, very much in an investigative magical role.)
And I looked at what I’d already embedded in both this book in particular, and in the larger world: the idea of magically enforceable oaths. Every magical person in Albion makes one at the age of 12, and various other professions and occupations make them as well. (Pastiche in fact already had the scenes of Richard taking the magistrate’s oath and the effect it has on him.)
Here’s the thing that was already in the draft, but that I expanded far more thoroughly:
The Guard make something that’s equivalent to a chivalric oath, as Richard describes in the book. It isn’t a perfect protection, but it does mean that people who wish to abuse their power tend to fail out of apprenticeship or are redirected into other roles.
And as Richard points out, a lot of their work is more about solving problems, directing people to appropriate help, seeing to the actual physical and magical safety of people in the community. (This last part is particualrly important since people experimenting with magic they don’t fully understand can have a wide range of implications for the safety of those around them.)
It’s a complicated issue, and a complicated role.
Arranged marriage to love match
But I also knew they’d been basically an arranged marriage, and I wanted to know how they fell in love.
They married knowing of each other (similar family circles) but not knowing each other well. They married more rapidly than they might have due to Richard’s father’s decline in health. And for the first few years, they are cordial and pleasant, but not close.
Richard had been brought up not to be a bother to women (his mother, who is not a pleasant human, had strong opinions about this.) He thinks he’s being polite and considerate, when Alysoun deeply wants more of his time, attention, and preferably affection. It’s only through the events of the book (and a bit of help from those who are wiser in these things) that they figure out how to navigate that.
(When my beta readers got their hands on this one, they left comments of “RICHARD, TALK TO YOUR WIFE” in many places.)
More of the Edgartons
It turns out I can’t let them go! They have secondary roles in a number of my other books so far (as well as some upcoming works.)
Richard appears briefly at the end of Outcrossing (in his role as Captain of the Guard) as well as in Complementary, when he gives an assignment to Elizabeth Mason. Richard is Kate’s commanding officer during Wards of the Roses (and Alysoun appears at the end.) They’re both present and helpful during the climactic events of On The Bias.
And then there’s Gabe. Their son has his own romance in The Fossil Door, and his parents also make an appearance in the extras associated with that book. (Sign up for my newsletter to get access to those and upcoming extras.)
They’ll also be making an appearance in Ancient Trust (a prequel novella about Geoffrey Carillon inheriting his title, available in the summer of 2022) and Best Foot Forward (out in November 2022) and some of the extras for that. I’m also chewing on a book about Charlotte, their daughter, though I’m not yet sure exactly where that will fall in my upcoming writing plans.
Seven Sisters is simultaneously an outgrowth of some of the larger worldbuilding and my (somewhat odd) Classical education. It’s also about the density of history, the role of time, and the question of how much of other people we can begin to understand, anyway. Also a touch of sign language and magic.
First and foremost, this was a chance to explore the Cousins, those who descended from the more human of the Fatae, in this case the seven Grandmothers. (There may be others out in the world, for the record, even in Britain.)
The Grandmothers have a sizeable number of opinionated and very busy descendants, who refer to each other as Cousins. Some look entirely like other humans, others have features that are a little less so – particularly odd eye colours, sometimes hair. They work closely with a number of the non-human shaped Cousins, everything from the custos dragons (see Fool’s Gold for one) to the Belin (see Goblin Fruit), to the trees we see in this book.
(There’s more about Robin in Fool’s Gold, as well, and his particular Aunts. And a bit of Vivian.)
One of the things I wanted, as I wrote about the Cousins, was the sense that they are a large sprawling clan. They know of each other, but they may not know individuals very well. They have interconnections, they end up at the same rites and festivals every so often.
But they also have their own individual preferences and priorities, and those may or may not overlap. There are customs, but a lot of room for personal choice. (All right, and quite possibly some disapproval for some choices.)
When I started writing this book, I had a very hard time making Cadmus interesting. I kept trying different things, and none of them quite worked. Around about chapter 8, my editor, Kiya (who sees all my completely raw drafts as I finish chapters, since they’re also a long-time friend), nudged me and suggested I lean into the geekery of the Classics.
That was absolutely the right decision, and made Cadmus make much more sense – to himself, to me, and I believe to the reader.
I worry, sometimes, that I’m leaning too much into my geekery. But then I remember that if I’m finding it fun, that comes across. I can explain why it’s amusing or interesting, or give people who might not be familiar with that particular topic some ways to understand it. I love that part.
In this case, Cadmus is drawing heavily on my own background. My father was trained as a Classicist (and read both ancient Greek and Latin easily), though he ended up as a professor in a different field. I didn’t learn Greek until after his death, but I’ve had a number of his translations to draw on.
Cadmus translating Herodotus, however, comes out of one of my Greek classes. It was a small class – just four of us – and I regularly studied with someone else in the class. We’d alternate looking up words in the lexicon, which made the process both more enjoyable and go a bit faster.
What Herodotus is writing about basically falls into one of two broad topics: 1) the customs of people who are not Greeks, and 2) fighting and battles. We quickly figured out that if it was a noun we didn’t know in the first category, it was probably about food or entertainment. If it was a verb we didn’t know in the second, we could translate it as “to attack” and work on it from there.
(There is a verb he uses in the battle of Thermopylae that can reasonably be translated as “to make pincushions out of one’s enemies with spears”. Attic Greek has a lot of variations on ‘to attack’.)
Mostly, I just wanted to have fun with how ridiculous it can sometimes be.
The density of history
This book brings out how you have so many overlapping points of view. You get a glimpse of it, with the range of residents at Thebes, people whose varied stories have brought them to this place at this time. Some because they’re academics, and it’s convenient to their work. Some because they need somewhere different to be, that isn’t reminding them constantly of who and what they’ve lost. Some for other reasons. (Hello, Robin.)
And then you’ve got the question of what that history means going forward – Fool’s Gold is partly an answer to sorting some of that out, one way it might go. It doesn’t mean forgiveness, necessarily. It doesn’t mean an apology mends everything, and the house is one big happy family again. For one thing, it didn’t start that way. But it does mean that you can look at where you’ve come from, and move forward.
That’s where Cadmus is, too. After a deeply traumatic experience in Afghanistan, he has choices to make about what he does now. He and Farran have choices about Farran’s apprenticeship. And that’s the thing – they do have some choices. Not all the choices in the world. Not the choices to change the past. But they have options going forward, if they wish to take them.
(As does Vivian. As does Robin. As does everyone else.)
Finally, Lena, the housekeeper at Thebes, is deaf (she wouldn’t identify as culturally Deaf) and uses sign language with both Cadmus and Farran, but also, it turns out, with Vivian, who learned it in slightly different circumstances.
I had a chance to spend an afternoon with someone before a professional conference who is Deaf, and from New York state. We were down in Texas, and their conversation over lunch was the two of them sorting out regional signs and how to navigate that (just like every other language, ASL has regional accents, basically. And that’s before you get into things like how to sign specialised professional language or names.)
I wanted to explore some of that, people who share a language, but who come to it from different places, who learned it for different specific reasons, and how quickly Lena gets a (quite accurate) read on Vivian. I also had a fun time figuring out what name signs Lena might use for different people. Name signs usually reflect something about the person’s name, but also about their personality or interests.
If any of this intrigues, and you want a touch of magic, some dangerous roses, and a house with history down to its bones in your life, check out Seven Sisters.
On The Bias came to pass from a couple of distinct ideas. I’d been deeply curious about Thomas Benton, valet to Lord Geoffrey Carillon, since my first books. But I also wanted to spend some time dwelling on the glorious fashions of the period. And then there are my three dangerous birds.
Of course, there’s a syllogism here: as Geoffrey Carillon is to Lord Peter Wimsey, so is Benton to Bunter. Only, of course, Benton and Carillon are very much their own people, whatever the starting inspiration.
Thomas Benton is highly competent, but in a fairly specific way. As I mentioned back in a discussion of neurodiverse characters in my books, Benton is definitely somewhere on the autistic spectrum. For him, the structured expectations of service in a great country house were often reassuring, rather than restrictive. The great houses ran like clockwork, with clear delineations about who was doing which task (and in a well-run house, with clear instruction in what those tasks involved.) The social interactions were the same way: there were clearly identified things you might do on your afternoon off, who you spent your time with, and so on.
(Obviously, there are a lot of people for whom these things were limiting, too restrictive or even abusive. But it’s also clear if you read historical sources that there were plenty of people for whom that structure was comfortable in varying ways, or at least a good fit at a particular point in their lives.)
Benton came into the trenches in the Great War, and was assigned as Carillon’s soldier-servant. The trenches were absolute chaos, of course, but Benton devoted himself to learning the things that made them a little more bearable, including judicious applications of magic to dry socks, warm water, and take the damp out of bedding.
It also brought him into close contact with Carillon, someone who he could look to for steady direction. When Carillon left the trenches for Intelligence work, he brought Benton with him – and into a long string of adventures and expeditions. When the world changed again, and they returned to Albion, Benton settled into managing his lordship’s household. (It would have been far more common to have a butler as well as a housekeeper, but until Carillon marries, the primary residence at Ytene does relatively little entertaining, and is quite small even by 1920s standards.)
Anyway, On The Bias is the tale of how Benton’s life changes again, and what that means for him. (And for Carillon.)
The 1920s are fascinating for clothing in a number of ways. Of course, styles change dramatically from the far more encompassing clothing of the Edwardian and many previous ages. Skin is bared, ankles and even knees in evidence. But it isn’t just the cut – it’s also about new and modern materials, about different colours available through the magic of new dyes, and so much else.
I spent a lot of time looking at references to period clothing and other aspects of fashion.
At this time, clothing was beginning to transition from clothing provided either by specialist creators (like Cassie) or by people in the home (a time-consuming process) to off the rack, commercially produced clothing. However, there’s still definitely a place for people like Cassie for bespoke and custom-designed clothing (such as is needed at the highest reaches of society.) And of course, magic adds a number of possible elements, in construction, materials, and design.
Two resources I came back to a lot (for ease of finding images and using them as references) are VintageDancer and Glamour Daze – the latter links to some fascinating guides to cosmetics, hair, and other aspects.
Three dangerous birds
Every so often, I write a book and a theme emerges that I hadn’t expected. In this one, it’s three dangerous birds.
We started with the rooster, because my editor had been chatting with a friend of theirs about a machine translation of a romance novel that, when translated back to English, translated a key phrase as “dangerous rooster”
Which makes a person want to do something with that.
So when I realised Benton needed to find some people doing some illegal things, a cockfight it was! (Benton is rightfully dubious about that.) This led to swan-taking (treasonous, though Benton is not particularly worried about that part), and then to Theodora, Carillon’s much loved eagle-owl.
The coming prequel
This summer, I’ll be sharing (for everyone on my mailing list) a prequel novella of Carillon inheriting, which is alternating between Carillon and Benton as the point of view character. It takes place in the first half of 1922, and includes a bit more of Theodora, as well as a glimpse of the mystery of Temple Carillon’s death. Keep an eye out here, there, or on my Twitter or Facebook for more about that when it’s out.
(There’s more about that in Best Foot Forward, which takes place in 1935, and will be out in November 2022.)
If any of these things intrigue you, check out On The Bias.