The Atridia Duology: Books and Length

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As time has passed novels seem to be getting short and that’s something which has been on my mind lately. I’m reading (okay listening to) Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (tl;dr: it’s awesome, go listen to it). If I read one of his blog posts right, I think it’s about 160k (the hardback is a beautiful thing). Obviously, because I self-publish length is always in the back of my mind, though less so now I’m activelly writing more for myself and ebooks are continuing to rage and be more popular.

Yet, despite this, the average novel length seems to have shrunk to between 75k and 110k.

Now, as you know, I’m working on The Fractured Era, The Broken World, an in-world novel called The Divided Land, and a novella called When the Stars Fade. Because the first three projects are a duology with a third novel sandwiched inside, I’m very aware the final product may well be longer than usual. Say 100k for each novel, with Divided split across the two books; that’s a big paperback but, again, paperbacks don’t tend to sell and I’m included to make one for my personal collection and focus most of my attention on digital.

Digital is easier, aside from file size, the sky is the limit.

I almost wish I could just leave paperbacks behind but there’s still a call, still people who only read in print so I’ll always try for paperbacks, even if it means publishing Divided as a separate volume or something. Something is good. Something is a plan.

But how long will this be? Perhaps I need to outline more, to be more organised in how I shape the story. I plan to release the books, whenever that is, at the same time, on the same day. They’re nested, designed to be read as two acts of the same story, just as Divided is, though the protagonists are different.

When the Stars Fade, on the other hand, is a pet-project. Not quite a prequel but still tied to the universe, to the Narrative, to Jaada. Plus it starts to explain why the Atridians saught their neighbouring planet in the first place, as well as the genesis of the wars between the Xoikari and the Tabori which culminates in what the Ubani call the Devastation and the Directorate, the Singularity. Plus it gives me a chance to write about space and exploration, astronauts and stars.

 So, right now, 100k is my max limit for each book. We’ll go from there, I think.

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Worldbuilding: Atridia

© Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (aka @Snarkbat)
© Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (aka @Snarkbat)

For me worldbuilding is the most fun and best bit about writing (it’s also my Achilles’ heel, my one weakness). Of course, Atridia has been around a while (it even gets destroyed in my short story “The Breaking of the Circle”, albeit briefly) and it, or rather some of its inhabitants (Amel, Kella and others) had a role to play in The Parting of the Waters. Writing that told me several things about Atridia and its culture for later use:

  • They are beginning to explore the universe, the Juran Elaspe being a prototype ship and the first one to leave the Sirian solar system.
  • Taborin is the centre of Atridian culture but it’s not a democracy. The best comparison would be North Korea.
  • Same-sex relationships are taboo and Amel, in particular, has a really big issue with his daughter, Kella, being gay (oddly falling for an alien doesn’t seem to bother him at all).
  • Homosexuality is a mental illness on Atridia, treated with crude attempts at conversion therapy and, if the subject isn’t cured to the satisfaction of the auditors, they can be euthanised. It’s also believed to be communicable, like an idea, but also genetic and travels in families.
  • There is a translation matrix (the beginnings of what will eventually become the Union’s neural rig) but it’s hit and miss.
  • The Atridians are a curious people, looking for others in the sea of space but they also want to be important and powerful.
  • Science is their religion, administered by the Directorate. It strictly controls information, censoring anything deemed inappropriate.
  • There are three genders, with the Ubani, or progenitors, vital to the continuation of the species but segregated and strictly controled by the Directorate. No one remembers why, at least not regular folks like Kella.
  • Creativity is viewed with suspicion and strictly controlled.
  • The neighbouring planet, Arcadia, is simultaneously Occupied and also independant and known for its medical advances/export of doctors.

So I started expanding on things. I wanted to know who Juran Elaspe was and why Amel was so upset by Kella’s choice to live amongst the Kashinai, unable to interbreed with them but finding family regardless. Time to worldbuild and write.

The awesome @snarkbat posted this photo of a statue in a Swedish park and the colouring of the metal/the dress immediately pinged my ‘hey, Atridians look something like that’ sensor. I had this image of a humanish race with copper-coloured skin, maybe a little lighter (Kella, for example, tailless as she is being not-Kashinai, can pass for one of them in a temple hakashari). There’s a difference in the odd organ, the number of fingers (I need to check the specifics/hire an assistant) but as photo-inspiration goes this is as close as is.

The dress just seals the deal.

I’m assembling a Pinterest board with imagery and also thinking about music. For example I’ve found two tracks which really jumped out of me (I get a lot of them via Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature, it’s actually really useful). The first I told you about when talking about expanding “When the Stars Fade” into a longer piece, probably a novella. This song makes me think of Jaada, specifically due to a lyric which talks about rewriting scenes, something she as an author is able to do—except she’s writing what amounts to historical fiction and the Narrative demands honesty, even when writing about things she’d rather change (in this case specific to her past life as Kadjat).

The second track is below:

In my head, this song perfectly sums up Jaada’s relationship with Tobai Estus, a narssasistic who slowly takes over control of Jaada’s life, attracted by her fame and her creativity but envious of it. He eventually gets his revenge after ‘suggesting’ the pair return to Atridia from the Ceipheian city of Serani where Jaada has spent her entire life so he can take up a specific post. Atridia doesn’t pride creativity and though Jaada is able to work as a teacher, it’s not the same. As she tries to reprioritise her life, he gets upset and the deterioration of their relationship ends a month later when he burns her books (a symbolic act as well as a physical desecration of her work) and then reports her to the auditors of the Hall of the Mind, which leads into my currently unsold story “The Mystic of Room 316” (which I plan on expanding into its own second person ‘chapter’ of the book).

Jaada’s incarneration then forces her to confront and learn to control her abilities, something she’s not able to do until Bry and Chaya break her out (mentioned briefly in “The First Day and the Last”, sanctioned by the highest powers due to Jaada’s ability to create unstable micro-realities). It’s in the two to three-ish years between that and the establishment of the Union/Atridian Commission to look into the Directorate that she has to learn to wield her abilities. As a teacher on Mnemosyne, she learns to inspire others but that’s only half of her ability and getting broken out of the Hall of the Mind, it wasn’t just to save her life and soul, Jaada is needed and her abilities, well they’re rare.

The true learning, that happens during The Broken World as Jaada works for the Commission. It forces her to learn about the Narrative (her name for the thread of reality that passes through linear time and allows her to tell true history from the fiction created by Atridia’s fallen government) and access historical information that no one remembers, except for the universe. This ability, it’s not oracular like the Voices of Aia on Coronis, but it’s a similar ability except governed by words rather than sight. The Divided Land (and a more formal report) is the result because, on most world, fiction is easier to believe than cold, hard facts.

By the time she publishes When the Stars Fade, Jaada’s in full command of her abilites (and will probably write more stories about other lives suppressed and whitewashed from history) but this is the one which important to her. Because it was hers. This is her way of healing, as writing “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul” was mine.

Now to find more music, more images and write more words. Wool and Fallout are big inspirations for parts of both The Divided Land and The Broken World. Oh and everything about viruses that Seanan McGuire has ever written. On that note, it’s time to get back to the words!

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When the Stars Fade: Expanding the Short Story

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I liken writing to being a jigsaw puzzle. With anything—a short story, a novel—you have the corners and sometimes the outside pieces but the middle is a hole, an absent picture you have to piece together.

I wrote “When the Stars Fade” a couple of months ago and only as I’ve gone through more drafts and several rejections have I realised that there are several components to the story which makes it bigger than 7500 words.

  • Hesri’s relationship with her eventual murderer, Meiku
  • Kadjat’s romantic relationship with Hesri, their marriage and Kadjat’s widowing.
  • Meiku’s execution and how this affects Kadjat.
  • Hesri’s faith in the Ubani, the Mortal Gods, and Kadjat’s agnosticism versus Meiku’s suspicion/atheism.
  • Kadjat’s application to the Space Program and the process involved with her becoming an astronaut.
  • The winnowing of the other applicants.
  • Nadir, his secret and Kadjat’s discovery of it.
  • Her decision, not that she actually gets to make one, the moral quandary, however remains.
  • The shuttle disaster and Kadjat’s demise in space.

I also know several other things, such that this is a story written in-universe by Jaada Serani after her world for the Commission investigating the Directorate, after she learns to use her abilities as a wild muse.

I usually find a track and this one, well, it perfectly reflects Jaada’s perspective given her relationships, with Tobai in her present and, as Kadjat, with Hesri and Meiku. This one sums up her desire to rewrite history, to change her past, but this is tempered by the knowledge that she’s a muse, not a god:

When this story came back from being critiqued, the one thing the group wanted to know more about was the Ubani. This story, which will probably be a novella, is about pieceing together the world between The Mortal Gods and The Singularity, the two parts of Jaada’s novel The Divided Land. This is a world after war but before chaos, there’s a unique status quo coupled with a desire to find a way out of the cycle of violence.

The faith in the Ubani is strong, even in Taborin, but science is rising. Oh and there’s a planet to colonise … of which Jaada’s failed mission is the first tentative step.

The story itself is set decades before the Singularity and is going to help me fill in important holes needed to make sure there aren’t any in the Atridia Duology. After all, jigsaws do come with pictures to help you put the pieces together and this story is not onlu Jaada’s attempt to deal with her own demons but it’s my way of making sure nothing is left out and the world will be all the richer for it.

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Research Trip: London (May 2016)

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On Monday, I finally got to go back to London. My friend Shannon lives down there and it’s been nearly six months since we last caught up. Plus Uni adores her (like top one percent of her Favourite Humans List) and it’s always hilarious when my dog goes nuts in a public place in full gear, behaving like she’s off-harness. Oh and Shannon is an adopted pack member; if we meet up and Shannon leaves her line of sight, Uni will whine/go find her.

Yeah, my guide dog loves her more than me.

Seriously she goes bonkers.

Plus we had plans. Shannon let me know there was a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at the Science Museum (one of my favourite places) and it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I’ve been researching computers and space travel for “When the Stars Fade” and The Fractured Era (which, while we’re on the subject is apparently the first book in a duology. The second book is currently titled The Broken World). I got to see a replica of Sputnik and the beauty above. Seeing a space capsule to scale, well it really hammered home how much claustrophobia and space travel do not play nicely when put next to each other.

Now normally, on account of my escalator phobic/untrained guide dog, London is freaking stressful. However I discovered that the TfL site now has accessibility options on their journey planner which includes the beautiful words ‘stairs, not escalator’. This meant I could easily plan trips to and from the Science Museum and we walked part-way, from the South Kensington tube station, in glorious sunshine and the beginnings of the hottest day of the year.

Now, though it takes my brain some time to engage in ‘summer mode’, Uni and I are pretty good at dealing with it. I carry cold water and douse her in it periodically, I carry a bandana which I can use to cool the blood flowing through the back of her neck (wet it with cold water then tie it = cooler dog). I  also carry an uchiwa fan from Nara which helps and is easier to use than the usual kind of fan. We needed it in the un-air-conditioned basement of the museum, even the staff were overheating.

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I admit I was a bit disappointed with the exhibition, it was a bit small and had some replicas but not the well known inventions. But it was a fun way to spend an hour. We then got the bus to Piccadilly (surprisingly easy and free for me as my bus pass works in London) which gave us time for a late lunch at Shoryu, a trip to the Japan Centre (which I could actually access). I got myself a couple of kitchen bits plus an awesome pair of zori, heeled tatami flipflops which are super-comfy, if expensive. They also give me an inch in height, which always helps when you’re five foot one-ish.

We ended up walking into Leicester Square via Chinatown which was just nice. The day was gorgeous and I got to see my first durian fruit (the ones which stink to high heaven) and ponder over how many fruit use the character for dream (夢) in their names. Oh and something called a Thai jackfruit (also massive). I love Chinatown from the dual-linguistics on the signs to the stone dragons that I can never tell apart (Shannon, who lived in China for a while, pop quizzes me on their genders and I always get it wrong).

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We ended a glorious day sitting in The Moon Under Water in Leicester Square, enjoying a frosty pint (I now drink once in a blue moon, which is awesome). I used to go there when I was a uni student and it’s, surprisingly, hard to spot given it’s next to the Odeon. Shannon had no idea it was there and it was far too hot to sit outside, especially when my medication means I’m light sensitive (from both a visual and an ‘I burn like paper’ perspective).

The downside was that Leicester Square’s tube station isn’t accessible so I had to get a cab back to Liverpool Street. I’d factored this in (it costs £20) because it’s a route I used to do a lot, though from Piccadilly Circus rather than Leicester Square. I’m not made of money but there was no way I was going to walk all the way to County Hall and Westminster in London heat and super sore feet.

I ended the day as I began it, sitting in first class watching Game of Thrones and bemoaning how much time it took to watch Sailor Moon Crystal. Even better the train had been upgraded with lovely new seats and, joy of infinite joys, power points! Seriously, I’ve been traveling that route for two decades and it’s taken that long for the train companies who run the route to realise that power is just as important as WiFi. Oh and air conditioning.

Oh and air conditioning.

On a scale of one to Hell, this was also one of the most stress-free trips I’ve done in ages. We got back into Norwich with plenty of time to spare, allowing me a leisurely hobble (I’d walked six miles over the course of the day) to catch my bus. Uni was a star everywhere we went, from sitting quietly under the table in Shoryu to snoozling in the wheelchair space while I wrote on the way home.

It was an exhausting day but it’s so nice to be able to escape to the capital and do stuff. I’m already planning another trip, both Shannon and I want to go to the British Museum to see the Sunken Cities exhibit opening later this month. Plus I will never ever skip a chance to eat proper ramen.

Nom.

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New Short Story: “When the Stars Fade”

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I’ve been wanting to write a space story for a while and Kadjat Suru was mentioned, off-handedly in two other Ashteraiverse stories: The Fractured Era and “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul”. Both Teiru and Juran know the name as being one of the pioneers of science, in Kadjat’s case she was a noted Atridian mathematician who specialised in launch trajectories and she was also the first person from her planet to die in space.

“When the Stars Fade” was always her story and began with a single line: My name is Kadjat Suru, I’m the first and I’m alone.

I discovered several things about Kadjat, primarily that she was married to a woman named Hesri and that relationship which pushes her to join, at her boss’ insistence, the space program as an astronaut. By Juran’s time, her life has been sanitised (same-sex relationships having been banned under the Directorate and partially blamed for the near-collapse of society during the Singularity) and it’s known she had a spouse but Hesri’s name and gender were wiped from the history books.

Kadjat became a loyal member of a fake past where she went into space for the advancement of science, willingly giving her life to prove it was possible to leave the planet. In reality her mission was the first step in a much larger plan, to colonise the neighbouring planet of Arcadia. But none of this is public knowledge by the time of Juran’s birth and only the Ubani remember her wife even existed.

Of the two of them, Hesri was the religious one and a follower of the Ubani sect, the religion which grew up around the progenitors who also serve as the Atridian’s third sex, needed to carry children until they’re ready to be born. This ability has turned them into mortal deities and being blessed by them is seen as a sign of good fortune, especially during weddings and naming ceremonies. By the time of The Fractured Era, however, the sect has been banned and no one remembers what Ubani actually means, much less their former place in society, except the persecuted progenitors themselves.

Kadjat remembers Hesri telling her about the Ubani belief that souls are the stars in the sky. After her wife’s death, that throwaway comment is behind her desire to go to the stars and see if she can find Hesri there. She doesn’t believe she’s literally there, of course, but it becomes Kadjat’s motivation to do the impossible. Except things go wrong and the story concludes with the tragedy that secures Kadjat’s memorium in Atridian and Union history.

Now to let it rest and get the final pass for edits/tweaks while I figure out where to send it.

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The Ashteraiverse: Writing Aliens without the Alien

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I’ve been writing a lot of short fiction lately, some of which I knew from the start were set within the Ashteraiverse, except it’s not obvious unless you recognise certain characters. Most of the time I try to avoid giving characters recognisable species or appearances, it’s just not important and I’m not a very visual person anyway. Many of these stories could pass as secondary worlds or futuristic sci fi but I never once reference these characters as human because they aren’t.

I’m being careful not to send them to anyone who might think they’re secondary worlds because that would be misrepresentation. This is an important thing to me because I want to make this stories stand alone but also be part of a larger canon. So while the civilisations and planets are definitely not Earth, it’s not always obvious if the protagonists are human or not. I like it that way … the species isn’t important, the stories are.

“When the Stars Fade” is the story I’m currently working on. It started out purely from referencing Kadjat Suru as the first Atridian to go into—and die in—space. I mentioned her as part of Teiru’s litany of names in “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul” and she’s one of the many pioneers of technology and science that Juran Elaspe thinks of during The Fractured Era (my next novel project). I just had this line in my head which said:

My name is Kadjat Suru, I’m the first and I’m alone.

Until she started talking, I didn’t even realise Kadjat was female. I did know, however, that this story is set maybe a hundred plus years before the colonisation of Arcadia and perhaps two centuries before the Singularity, the cataclysmic event which sees Atridia embrace technology and sees their governmental system subsumed by the nefarious Directorate. This is how my characters tend to speak (and why I’m sure I’m just channelling people in another dimension or something), telling me the story as we go.

Kadjat is remembered almost like Laika from the Russian Space Program—except she was never supposed to die. The story is a meditation on life and death, especially as Kadjat only became an astronaut after losing her wife, Hesri, who was brutally murdered by a former boyfriend. Becoming the first person to go into space gives her something to focus on and her progenitor, her birth parent, raised her on stories of the stars which have lingered through her life. Now she gets to be the first person to go beyond, to where the stars shine.

“The Mystic of Room 316” is set on Atridia. I want to say it’s a contemporary story but I’m not all that sure, even if the final scene takes place on Mnemosyne (and so after the Gathering of the Races). In truth, I’m not one hundred percent sure but it feels like it could either be set in the period just after the Gathering or far into the future around the time of Contact with Earth (or at least a little before). It doesn’t matter, it’s not about that, it was inspired by my Bipolar diagnosis and my—albeit misguided—fear of sectioning.

The main character, Jaada, isn’t mentally ill, at least not when she was was admitted thanks to the malicious conniving of her ex. The problem is that she has abilities which don’t place nicely when medicated (she’s a Muse, albeit a wild and mortal one). Being confined to a ward and medicated makes her abilities turn inward and rather than inspiring others, she begins to lose the ability to tell reality from the worlds built in her head … and then begins to create unstable realities of her own, albeit ones unable to last more than the span of a dream.

“The Technopath and the MMO” is the only story so far actually set on Earth, it’s also straight sci fi set in the period after the Esper Registration Act is brought into force (and just after Contact in August 2015). I’m still writing this and it’s a lot of fun as I’m an old school MMO player. Daniel, the protagonist, is a normal kid who doesn’t realise he’s a technopath and gets hooked on an MMO called Empires of Eternity. Oh and he starts leveling his character in his sleep which means I have to finally figure out how a gaming server can tell the difference between a computer logging onto the net and a human brain.

“Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul” is set on Coronis and Elara, the smallest world of the Alcyone system of the Pleiades. This one is definitely the most recent of the tales and I’m pretty sure, regardless of the ending, Teiru is going to reappear somewhere along the way. This was one of those stories I wrote to exorcise demons and, stuff like this, it helps. Plus I really wanted to write another story featuring Kalafia (the computer program from The Parting of the Waters), this time fully sentient.

I have other stories in mind, these are just the most recent. Also, I really need to get back into writing something novel length before I lose the skill entirely. Next week, I think, and we’ll start The Fractured Era. I have a larger Moleskine all ready for it. Yes, that sounds like a plan.

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