Toy Soldier: A Spelljammer Saga

A series of novels set in the Spelljammer® fantasy universe

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Development Notes for Chapters 14 and 15 of Brothers in Arms

Posted on April 9, 2014 at 6:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Writing these chapters, I found that the story of Shaundar's entrenchment in the Bloodfist family was falling flat.  I didn't know what the missing piece was, but it was frustrating the hell out of me.  I slugged through the writing of Chapter 14 stubbornly, even after my initial re-write.  And then I figured it out; I had Shaundar with the wrong woman!  It took me until after I wrote a scene in the middle of Chapter 15 (no spoilers, so not telling) to figure it out.  I decided there was no reason why Shaundar wouldn't fall in love with Targ's wife, and I could see no reason at all why he would fall in love with Corin's wife.


This is a departure from the events of the game that I based all of this on, but it fit the story better, so I changed it.  I also changed around the names.  So for those of you who were following the story, Shaundar still falls in love with Y'Anid, only Y'Anid is married to Targ, and her twin sister Ynga is married to Corin.  Skim over those parts to re-acquaint yourself and it should be easy enough to follow.


Keeping in mind the Bechdel test, I realized that I also needed to flesh out their characters much more in the book in order for them to be believable and interesting (what is going on in my head is another matter; I know them pretty well there but they weren't coming across as I liked.)  So I got them actively involved in the scro polltics that I'm beginning to introduce in earnest in these two chapters.  Again, I'm not going to spit out any spoilers, but the scro government is hardly monolithic, and many complex factions are competing for control of events.


For the first time I also got into the head of our illustrious Scro Overlord.  I also allude to what Yathar had been up to during this time - I know some of you readers have been asking. ;)


I have also tried to fit events into the context of canon Spelljammer events.  The astute will be able to take note.


The first fight scene in these two chapters is entirely the product of my imagination.  The second was carefully blocked out with a martial arts teacher, my SO Jamie, who is an active consultant for combat scenes in these books, and has been now for several months.  I used pictures of the HMS Warrior ironclad ship to get a feel for the deck of a Scro Mantis, which is not well pictured anywhere in the official Spelljammer products.


Events take a sudden turn here, partially political and partially personal, in the Bloodfist household especially, and these events I have been waiting to write since I started the book.  Most of that is in Chapter 15.  This concludes Part Three, and in Part Four, I return to the world of elves for a little while.


Forward and onward!

Development Notes for Chapters Eleven Through Thirteen of Brothers in Arms

Posted on January 18, 2014 at 8:30 PM Comments comments (0)

This was quite the task as far as writing goes.  First of all, I lost the entirety of Chapter Thirteen - twice!  How, you ask?  By writing it on my Smartphone between editions and saving it on Dropbox.  Because Polaris, the program for Samsung phones, is different from Microsoft Word; and because it's a lot of data and it's slow to upload, the conversion completely screwed the file twice (and I also think it had to do with going from my cellular reception to wireless while it was saving).  If it wasn't for the fact that I have been publishing the novels chapter by chapter as pdfs, I would have lost the whole thing entirely.  As it was, twice I had to convert a pdf back to Word, reformat the freaking thing, proofread it in entirety, and then restart my chapter.


Lesser women would have given up, but I am not a lesser woman!  Iron ovaries, that's me!


In the meantime, NaNoWriMo drew nigh upon me, and because the rules say that you must start a new novel, I started Sable's Privateers (Book Three).  I am happy with my work there and I succeeded at the 50,000 word challenge.  Then my store went out of business and I had to spend most of my time closing it.  I finally got back to Brothers in Arms properly in January.


By that time, writing Sable's Privateers told me something about where I was going with the novel and what I was doing.  I now had the destination; I just had to get there.  But I realized that I was losing some of the high-action element of A Few Good Elves.  Then either because my men suggested it, or because discussion with them inspired the idea (can't remember which, but either way they are due the credit and recognition) I decided to do a massive re-write, such that I began with an event of high action; the end of the Borka Manoeuvre.  The idea was to start by describing things from the scro perspective, and only at the beginning of the first sequence, to reveal that Bolvi Bloodfist was actually an elf.  Doing that, I think, created the "hook" that most modern fiction writers are urged to create.


In this re-write, I realized that I was now free to leave out a bunch of things that were adjoining text to progress things to the next point chronologically; and this led to a 7000 word cut that I mentioned in a previous blog entry.  There may be more, but for now I'm going with what I've got.


The Borka Manoeuvre is an event that is canon in the Spelljammer universe, and I will describe it in more detail at a later point, when I actually write about it (or lead up to it.)  As far as Development Notes go for the rest of the new material inserted before the present chapter: the details of Borka's odd physics are also canon (out of the Greyspace supplement,) but I invented the spelljammer ship formations whole-hog, based on three dimensional combat, numbers, weaponry, and the physics of the Spelljammer universe.  I doubt they would work in any other setting.


Chapter Eleven is the first in Part Three, "Blood Brothers."  This is a complex part that's largely about developing relationships and world-building Dukagsh and the scro culture.  Hopefully I've done it well and it's convincing and not boring; but you tell me.


I considered the culture and society of the scro at length.  The fact is that even in a warrior culture, somebody's got to do the farming.  Somebody has to do the smithing.  Somebody has to raise the children.  Who is going to do all of these things?


For the answers, I built on established orcish and scro material in the D&D universe.  They are a lawful evil culture.  I've written before about how the writers of Spelljammer seemed to work very hard to compare them to Nazis.  So I worked with that.  In a fascist state, there is a firm caste system; and the warrior is the highest caste.  In that, I have borrowed much from the Romans and from feudal Japan as well.  Those who contribute to the economics are the second highest caste; but all must work for the well-being of the state.  Everyone is told through propeganda how much their contribution is valued and how they are all greater than the rest of the universe.  There is a race that is considered to be the ideal (in this case, the scro) and everyone else serves them because that is the ideal being.  But being able to trace a genetic connection to that race, no matter how thin, gives you an edge up on everyone else.


The Japanese (and indeed, all feudal cultures) answered this challenge by creating a fighting aristocracy who separated themselves from the common class.  Feudal obligations and tithing supported this military caste.  The Romans answered this challenge by the process of citizenship and slavery among their conquered peoples, who were required to send them tribute.  This helped to fund their vast armies, who then went forth and conquered other peoples.  The scro have both; the Twenty-Four tribes are the aristocracy to the common scro, who are the rest of the warrior caste; then the other goblinoid races can earn some recognition as soldiers if they are suitable, while the "weaker" races hold up most of the serf-like jobs.  I reasoned that the scro, in the desire to build their empire, have been conquering or politically aligning with other goblinoid races over many worlds for the past four hundred years, avoiding the elves until they felt they were ready.


Fascist systems need enemies, and they also need a scapegoat.  In this case, that's the elves; though I would argue that the end of the First Unhuman War was directly responsible for the scro, much in the same way that the end of the First World War and its decision to make Germany responsible for everything economically directly resulted in the Nazis.


Fascist systems are also, as a general rule, sexist.  I once thought this a result of patriarchy (I am a Witch, after all) but I now believe that the patriarchy may be a result of the fascist or feudal state.  Here's the fact of the matter: Warriors die.  They die a lot.  If your women are warriors, babies don't get made and the state ceases to exist.  That's biology; nine months to brew a baby, two years of total dependency on the mother (at least.)  From a biological perspective, all a man has to do is show up once and get himself off.  It is in the best interest of the fascist or feudal state, which wants to make warriors so that they can conquer everybody else, to make sure that the primary duty of women is rearing the warriors.  (Consider that and think about the political right's constant attack on women's rights in the Western World as of late; food for thought, hmm?)


If all the men are fighting all the time, then it is to the women that the forming of society and civilization falls; as World War II taught us.  And the need to limit women to specific roles runs into a snag when women have reproductive freedom (again, I cite the recent policies of the right-wing factions trying to limit or steal that in Canada, the US and Britain as of late . . .)  If women can decide when they will bear children and how, then suddenly there is a shift in the power balance.  As a direct correlation to this, a fascist state tries to demonize any sexuality that is not going to directly result in the making of new warriors, proper inheritance, etc.  (And now the political right is going after prostitution under the guise of protecting women from exploitation; nice try, guys.)


This is exactly what is going on in the Scro Empire, as you will see in subsequent chapters.  Priestesses of Luthic can determine when (or if) they will bear children and with whom.  That dichonomy of power informs their social behaviour and their politics.  Some clans are right wing and others are very not.


All that is said in the canon material about the Tomb of Dukagsh is that it is a large rectangular structure that is set in orbit around Dukagsh so that it is always congruent with the world's North Pole.  I extrapolated the rest and made some stuff up.


I guess that's about all I have to say about Chapter Eleven.


In Chapter Twelve, we see that women have claimed a certain level of power they do not have in other orcish cultures.  They are able to do this through sacred sexuality.  The tradition of the qadesha, or sacred whore, was reputedly part of Babylonian society, and when I was taught about women's spirituality, we were taught about it as a way to empower our own sexuality.  Luthic is an ideal goddess for this to work; especially since she is the only goddess that the orcs have.


I also introduce the members of Corin and Shaundar's little orcish warband.  I hope you find them interesting.  I establish the relationship between Corin, Shaundar, and Y'Anid; I introduce a new element of orcish marriage customs; and I establish how the orcish military works.


In Chapter Thirteen, I made it much more brief than both of my original drafts.  You get to meet Admiral Belryn and you get to see - and so does Shaundar - that the scro have a Witchlight Marauder.  This material comes from the Spelljammer module that introduced the scro, "Goblin's Return."


The attack on Trinhea is also relevant in some major plot points, but I won't point them out to you.  That would be a spoiler!


That's it for now.  Writing forward and onward.

Honouring a Fan Request: Sunfall / Durothil Family Tree

Posted on September 10, 2013 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

David Shepheard, known in the Spelljammer fan community as "Big Mac," has been listening to my Spreecast readings of "A Few Good Elves" and he suggested that a family tree might be helpful to keep track of how people are interrelated.  So I made one!  Here it is, and if you click on the photo it will take you to the link where it is posted for future reference.  Significant characters missing: Captain Madrimlian, because while the boys call him "Uncle" he's really just an old family friend who served with Ruavel Sunfall during the First Unhuman War; Admiral Lord Zaressti Alastrarra and his daughter Narissa, because they are not related to the Durothils or the Sunfalls (except perhaps distantly through noble intermarriage somewhere, but it's so distant if so as to be irrelevant,) and the Oakheart family because they are also not related.

 

Blessed be,

Sable

 

 

Development Notes for Chapters Six & Seven "Brothers in Arms"

Posted on December 11, 2012 at 8:20 AM Comments comments (0)

So, it was necessary to get Shaundar and Yathar to the Blacktusks, and Skullport seemed the logical place to do that, so that's really what the very short Chapter Six was concerned with.  I liked the idea of the tressym so went with it for a little bit of comic relief in what is otherwise a pretty grim novel up to this point.


Chapter Seven turned out to be much longer than originally intended, however.  Shaundar and Yathar spent more time with the Blacktusks than I had expected them to.  I think that it was important to me to provide a contrast.  The Blacktusks are everything you expect of orcs, save their intelligence.  They are nasty, brutish people.  Not to put in too much of a spoiler, but the scro they will meet later on are not so much.


I also wanted to impress upon the reader the horrors of lifejammers, which you know I'm going to bring up somehow later, and the harshness of shipboard life.  I also wanted to throw in some details of navigating Scrospace, and why it is that the Imperial Elven Navy, whom I do not believe are completely incompetent, have been unable to discover the location of the orcish homeworld Dukagsh, nor find charts to show them the way.


This diagram of the points of aerial navigation is provided for reference, since I use these terms in this chapter.



Sources for this chapter included numerous D&D® official books, most of which were from Second Edition: "Skullport" and "Realmspace" mostly, and an article on portals in the Forgotten Realms® called "Perilous Gateways," originally published in Dragon® Magazine.  The rest of it I invented, except for the details, once again, of Spiralspace, and you can find that information on my Appendices page.


Enjoy!


Blessed be,

Sable

Development Notes for Chapter 21 "A Few Good Elves"

Posted on February 23, 2012 at 3:25 AM Comments comments (0)

This chapter is about post-traumatic stress disorder and the damage it can do.

 

PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by exposure to traumatic events.  It often affects war veterans, rape victims, and people who have been confined and imprisoned or tortured.  Shaundar and Yathar, of course, fall under all four categories.

 

If you read the articles I've linked in this blog entry, you'll see many of the symptoms of PTSD manifesting in Shaundar and Yathar's behaviour, and ultimately, it tears them from their loved ones and their lives.

 

The suffering of Vietnam veterans is well-documented.  For some reason, a lot of the experiences of WWII vets remain less well-known, but the discovery of "shellshock," which is actually a neurologically-based conversion disorder stemming from PTSD, where the body translates psychological symptoms into neurological ones, from WWI is well-known.  It's called "shellshock" because initially, doctors believed it was physical neurological damage from being so close to repeated explosions in the trenches.  Also less well-known is "Gulf War Syndrome," which is the subject of much controversy.  Some claim it is another conversion disorder manifestation of PTSD, but others claim it is the result of chemical weapons exposure in the Gulf; and it may be some kind of combination of the two.  Civil War veterans also suffered from an ailment called "Soldier's Heart" or "Da Costa's Syndrome," which might be like "shellshock;" a particular kind of conversion disorder.

 

Which brings up another good point.  Diagnosis of PTSD is often difficult because sufferers do not co-operate.  These folks have survived hell. They are amazingly tough people.  So the idea that they are suffering from a psychological illness, for them, often suggests a weakness they are unwilling to accept.  But in my personal observation, strength is NOT an asset in avoiding the development of PTSD.  Emotional strength makes it *more likely* that someone will develop PTSD later on.  Let me tell you why.

 

What the various wars of the 20th and 21st century have taught us is that freaking out in reaction to combat is actually pretty normal.  Hence, something called acute stress disorder or combat stress reaction, which basically behaves exactly like PTSD, only it happens for less than a month after the stressful situation.  Often, they go away, and if counselling and support is provided early, that is more likely.  Only once symptoms have persisted for more than a month do they become classified as PTSD.

 

The only real treatment for PTSD is prevention.  Cognitive therapy and counselling, relaxation and imaginal exposure help, but the key is to do it as early as possible.  Waiting may mean that it is too late.  And that's where strength is not an asset.  Strong people stuff their fear and horror into some place deep in their bellies when shit hits the fan, so to speak, in order to deal with the problem at hand.  Freaking out is a luxury they feel they can indulge in later.  And so the "entry window" for dealing with the stress reaction before it becomes chronic passes.  Then they find they're coming apart weeks, months, or even years after the event, and now it's post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

As you will read if you follow my links, serious trauma changes the way that the brain deals with stress biochemically.  This means that there is a physiological component to an illness which is seen as primarily psychological.  This may be one of the reasons why some of us can't just "get over it and get on with our lives."

 

Even today, with all of this understanding behind us from what may be the most war-torn period in human history, grounded in modern psychology, we don't understand PTSD, and there is no treament that is currently effective at doing anything more than managing symptoms.  People with PTSD basically have to just hope it goes away, or gets better over time, and relapsing of symptoms is by no means uncommonMedications only treat symptoms and there is no clear drug therapy course; each case must be managed individually.

 

There are events and circumstances in a person's background that can increase the risk of future PTSD, and these are often things that drive people to become soldiers in the first place, I think.  Shaundar and Yathar have many of those too.  These are classified as "childhood trauma, chronic adversity, and familial stressors."  I think that you can see these things in their history, which is why all that was an integral part of the story.  Interpersonal trauma makes future PTSD more likely than impersonal traumas as well.

 

This is what we know now.  Now let's consider what a Renaissance/Napoleanic Wars fantasy culture might know about it.

 

People have known for centuries that often, soldiers are just never the same after a war, and people are never the same after horrible experiences, and that is about it.  So Shaundar and Yathar's families can see that they are suffering, but they have no idea why, or how to help.

 

Often, especially among fellow soldiers, a person suffering from PTSD *is* perceived as weak, or deficient of character somehow.  No one understands why they can't "just get over it and get on with their lives."

 

Shaundar and Yathar have experienced horrors that chill my blood to think about; disturbing shit that I had trouble writing about because of my natural empathy.  Then they go home, and nobody understands; especially not the peaceful, hippy-like elves.  There is no treatment for their suffering.  And their situation is hampered by the fact that the most effective treatment for PTSD is still to *talk* about the traumatic event, process it, understand it, but they can't.  Part of the reason is their own feelings of social isolation (one of the more common PTSD symptoms,) and part of that is increased by the gag order imposed on them by their Fleet Admiral.

 

I can assure you that eventually, our heroes, though they are never the same again, rise above their suffering.  But it does not happen quickly, and (SPOILER) it will not happen in this novel.

 

In my own life, I know many people who have been diagnosed with PTSD.  I have two friends who were raped, beaten and abused by their husbands who still suffer from panic attacks so severe that they cannot function.  My husband, of course, displays many of the PTSD symptoms, including anxiety attacks, sleep disturbances, impulsiveness, depression and hypervigilance.  My mom-in-law, in the middle of the horror of having her son nearly die and visiting him in the ICU, was attacked with a knife by a young schizophrenic man she was care-aiding for as a social worker, and now struggles daily just to get up the gumption to leave the house.  She sleeps on the couch instead of her own bed because the job required her to sleep there and the attack began while she was sleeping.  Now, every time we spend the night, she sleeps like the dead for thirteen to sixteen hours.  When we're not there, she leaves the TV on loud and wakes up about a million times a night.

 

I have also been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of Erin's accident.  I don't do much for it because there isn't much to do.  My symptoms are generally manageable without medication, but I recognize a lot of Shaundar in myself.  I suppose part of the reason I'm writing this novel is to process my own crap.

 

There are also positive effects of PTSD.  I think I mentioned them before in a previous blog.  Or, there can be, if you allow there to be.  Faster response time, better problem-solving skills, a greater appreciation of the joy of the moment (which sometimes manifests itself as "impulsiveness" that can lead to things like spending the rent cheque, but can also lead to some pretty amazing life experiences by grasping opportunities when they arise,) less fear of things that used to bother you before, and a greater appreciation for life can all be gleaned from such experiences.  But that takes work and time.

 

If you suffer from PTSD, I know of three things which have proven effective for me and for others.  They are not conventional therapies.  One is behavioural and cognitive therapies, including talk therapy.  The second is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.  The third is emotional freedom technique.  I also find simply being aware of one's personal symptoms, relaxation and Reiki help.  There is also evidence that therapy with hallucinogens can be helpful, because they force you to process your personal subconscious baggage in an eyeblink as opposed to a long period of time.  Check out the Harvard Psilocybin Project's work.  Fascinating stuff!

 

My characters can be very real to me and I really care about Shaundar.  I hope you have come to care for him as well.  I also hope that I have made his thoughts and feelings transparent enough that you empathize with him now, and come to understand why it is that he does things in the way that he does them.  I also hope that seeing things through his eyes may give you empathy for people in your life who may be similarily suffering; or that you have recognized enough of these symptoms in yourself to get help, or at the very least, support.  It's much more common than you might think, and it's not a weakness of character.  A book I once read about PTSD among Vietnam vets said that "PTSD is a perfectly natural response to an unnatural situation."  I believe that.

 

Blessed be,

Sable

Development Notes for Chapter 19 "A Few Good Elves"

Posted on February 17, 2012 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Part Four is about coming home after their ordeal, and trying to readjust when everything has changed.

 

I have been sitting on this novel idea for many years, but until recently I don't think I could have successfully written it (I did start it many times; you can even find one of my early attempts on one of my older websites which I no longer use).  I think I had to go through the past few years with my husband's accident first to understand.

 

Once you have been through such a horrible experience where you are forced to confront your own mortality, it changes things.  It changes everything.  In some ways you are haunted by the horror.  And in some ways, you develop a new lease on life.  You start living for the moment.  You appreciate every second as if it were your last.  And that's a wonderful thing.  There is a fantastic article that I read in the process of my research called "Holocaust Survivors and Their Children: A Search for Positive Effects" that covers this rather well.  There are some positive effects from having been confronted with death and horror.  "Holocaust survivors may actually be more task-oriented, cope more actively, and express more favorable attitudes toward family, friends, and work (Leventhal & Ontell, 1989)."  You'll see that in Shaundar and Yathar, I think.  That new lease on life often leads to people feeling a driving need for sexual contact.  (SPOILER) That's what leads Shaundar and Sylria into each other's arms; that need to reaffirm life in the face of death, and also the need to feel like people again after their depersonalization and abuse.  This is part of what led to the baby boom after the Second World War; that need to rise from the ashes.

 

But there are negative effects too.  PTSD manifests itself in many ways.  You're going to see some of those in Shaundar and Yathar.  In fact, it's already started.  Feelings of alienation, depersonalization, nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty with interpersonal relationships, etc.

 

One thing that I have noticed personally that develops is a distinct lack of fear, and a lack of concern for things that used to bother me.  This is both good and bad.  For instance, because I don't worry about money as much, I do not panic when the financial situation is bad.  But I'm also less concerned with what people who are not in my immediate circle of very close family and friends think of me, so I only answer the phone when I feel like it.  This is not an advantage in business and I often get phone calls or text messages or the like from people complaining that I don't love them anymore.  It's not true, it's just that I am less concerned about making sure that people who are not the family that I live with know that.  Also, I find interpersonal relationships that are not so close to be challenging and therefore I only deal with them when I'm feeling up to it.  This is especially true when I know that somebody wants something from me, or when I feel that I am being judged, somehow.  I am not interested in impressing people anymore, so I just don't care if I have pissed you off by my silence.  Sorry.  It's not personal.

 

The other theme of this chapter is that healing takes time.  After watching my husband struggle through his physio and rehab and healing and recovery for the past three years, I find it a pesonal piss-off in that in the movies, people are just suddenly better after experiences that are incredibly physically debilitating.  It's especially annoying on shows like "House."  People come out of the ICU to walk, talk, and act just like they did before.  It doesn't work that way.  Recovery is slow and brutal.  I imagine even in a world of magical healing, where you can actually regain the abilities you had before, it still takes time, and physio, and rehab, and so forth.  It's not much fun.  It's frustrating too, especially when you were so hale and hearty and strong before.

 

Many of these experiences that I describe come from stories of holocaust survivors.  Readjustment takes time.  Stories of relearning what silverware is for, stories of being stared at because they were so thin, stories of people not wanting to hear about what happened to them; these are real stories from real people.  Again I cite this article about a holocaust survivor.  Also, when you've been starved, you can't just start eating normal food again right away.  Your bowels and stomach can't handle it, and too much protein all at once will pack your kidneys in.  It's called refeeding syndrome.  That's why you have to carefully monitor what people who were starving eat.  And just like other forms of physical damage, recovery takes time.

 

Incidentally, what I know about broken sternums and the effect thereof comes from when my mother-in-law, a wonderful woman whom I have come to love dearly, was in a car accident where she hit a fence post and her sternum was broken by the steering wheel.  It makes lifting anything difficult because the pectoral muscles are attached to that bone, and so anything that involves those muscles pulls on it.  It also takes a long time to heal, even without necrosis.

 

What I know about necrosis in bones comes from what happened to my husband's elbow after it healed badly from the car accident.  That information also informs what happened to Shaundar's busted femur.

 

Hey, what the hell!  They say "write what you know."  You see what I mean, in that I probably couldn't have written this successfully before now?

 

This "recovery and reintegration" theme will continue to be central to this whole last part of my novel - and part of it is about Shaundar and Yathar's inability to cope with readjustment.

 

Blessed be,

Sable

Development Notes for Chapter 16 "A Few Good Elves"

Posted on February 2, 2012 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (0)

I think that I was as surprised as I'm sure my readers are to find myself in the head of Laeroth Oakheart.  That's one of those things that I didn't think about, but just found myself writing.  And I am very happy with it.  To me, it sounds very real.  I wrote it in the morning between the hours of 7 am and 10:30 am, when I had to leave for my shop, while I was lying on the couch where I had slept, still partially stoned from the medicine I took for my aching back the night before, hoping to straighten it out since I wasn't in bed with my tossing, turning husband.

 

Analyzing it in retrospect, there are lots of good reasons to have included it.  First of all, it was important to get back to what had been going on all this time on Nedethil, but to avoid being melodramatic, a more distant perspective, somebody who shares their grief but for different reasons, was needed.  Second, Laeroth isn't really a bad guy, and I have some plans for him later, so it's good that you know that.  It was also important that (SPOILER) the formidible Lady Mistwinter not be there when (if?) Shaundar and Yathar got back to Nedethil.  I think I can explain why when I get there.  Third, are you wondering if Laeroth is going to get together with Narissa in Shaundar's absence?  So am I.  You'll know as soon as I do.  Either way, it's good tension, isn't it?

 

Now back to Raven Talon.  Shaundar, Yathar and Sylria have, by this time, been through hell.  They are starving, beaten, and emotionally scarred.  They are also desperate.  Again, I just borrowed survivor stories, really.  I inferred the location of the "lice" (actually scabies, but one did not differentiate in such situations, I'm sure) based on my own unfortunate experience with scabies as a youth living in overcrowded conditions.  They crawl to the warmest spot.  The stuff about not scratching is a survivor story too.  Perhaps this is TMI, but it makes it real, doesn't it?  I get weary of everything being instantly okay in fantasy and sci-fi novels.  Recovery takes time.  People get hurt and sick, and that takes time to get better.

 

I decided, even though disease was, and is, a constant threat in such conditions, not to get into that, aside from the social disease of people-eating bugs.  There are a couple of reasons.  The first is that elves, according to some peripheral game sources that I have read (mostly Dragon® Magazines and the like) don't get sick easy.  They have frail constitutions but something in their chemical makeup rejects viruses and bacteria that cause harm, I guess.  The second is convenience.  Disease for these severely under-nourished elves would be almost inevitably fatal, I think, and if not, I would have to come up with a very complicated reason as to why not.  Furthermore, diseases leave ongoing problems that I didn't need the protagonist to suffer from.  So the first reason gave me an excuse to justify the second.  I may get into that later, when there are some other races to discuss it with; or I might not, because from Shaundar's perspective, rather than marvelling that they never got sick, it would amaze him that humans would.

 

Once again I referred to this excellent article about a woman who survived Auschwitz for two years.  The key to survival seemed to be based in three strategies; one, to remain unnoticed, two, to avoid the backbreaking hard labour, and three, to supplement your diet whenever and however you could.

 

I did not figure that Shaundar or Yathar were much good at remaining unnoticed in this case because of conspicuous courage; but the anonymity of the place  and being regarded as no more than a number actually worked for them.  I also figured that they were unlikely to be able to avoid the hard labour because they are on the larger side as far as elves go, and obviously young and strong.  This actually works for them later, but at the time it creates extreme difficulties with putting enough calories in, with the limited supply, to match the amount they're sweating out in a day.  However, supplementing their diet; that was something they could do.

 

As I believe I mentioned earlier, orcs and scro eat a higher protein diet than elves do, so even their gruel has a meat product of some kind (best not to think about what kind).  So the elves are getting a high protein, low carb diet.  It's Atkins!  They'll lose body weight but muscle will be much better supported than it might otherwise be; such as if they were fed the typical Auschwitz diet (exactly the same, acorn coffee included, except that the gruel had no meat product in it.)  They might have died anyway, likely of scurvy since elves require more veggies than orcs or even humans, or maybe of the lack of essential fats, except that weeds have the former, bugs have the latter, and Shaundar did the survival portion of the Aces High training course, which taught him about these things.  Each and every one of the weeds and bugs I mentioned are, indeed, edible by humans as well as elves (but I wouldn't risk spiders unless you were truly desperate; they just got lucky.)  Actually, many bugs are quite good for you.  I think this chapter illustrates why it's in your best interest to keep the nerdy friend who likes to read around.  They pick up a lot of useful information.

 

Incidentally, pennyroyal is a traditional herbal remedy for delayed menstruation, and in large quantities is an effective aborifacient as well as a flea repellant.  It is, however, toxic in large enough doses.

 

I cross-referenced a lot of material from "The Maelstrom's Eye"® by Roger E. Moore, which is the backdrop on which this portion of the tale falls.  When the Tarantula Fleet begins to concentrate its efforts on finding the Cloak of the First 'Pilot, it creates the necessary chaos in which (SPOILER) an escape might be possible.  Who really knows what happened to them after that?  Some fan material I read on the Beyond the Moons® Website suggest that the scro move in and set up shop, but based on the fact that so many of their ships were decimated in the novel, and the fact that both commanding officers were killed, and the fact that the Rock of Bral had moved to Realmspace by the next book, I think both the elves and the scro depart the Sphere, or what is left continues to take lame little potshots at each other since neither force is sufficiently manned to handle a full-out attack.

 

Finally, it's the anonymity of the camp that actually (SPOILER) facilitated their escape.  The guards forgot that Shaundar was a mage; it's that simple.  Further, according to the game stats, ogres and orcs don't have a lot of mages, so they don't know much about the crafting of magic.  This is where the players of 3rd Edition D&D® shake their heads and say, "They failed their spellcraft check."  Yep, they sure did.  They didn't know that bat guano is the essential material component of a fireball spell, and the ones who did were not intimately involved enough with the day-to-day running of the camp to separate the mages from it.  Bat guano is high in the minerals needed in the manufacture of gunpowder, which is why, I assume, the D&D® writers associated it with the fireball spell. 

 

Even so, escape would not have been possible for anyone else.  Either they would have needed several mages working together, one of which did not cast spells but simply prepared to pilot the helm of the ship; or they needed someone with Shaundar's unique Aces High spelljamming training, enabling him to cast spells AND pilot a helm in the same day.

 

So now they are free of Raven Talon, at least physically, but their troubles are not over yet.  Read on!

 

Blessed be,

Sable

Development Notes for "A Few Good Elves" Chapter 15

Posted on January 29, 2012 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Welcome to Raven Talon Prison Camp, the Auschwitz of Spelljammer®.  The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate the realities of life in this camp.  Please don't read this blog entry if you haven't yet read the chapter.  It is chock-full of SPOILERS.

 

First, I include a day in the life sequence so my reader gets an idea of what things are like.  I did not invent any of this, but borrowed it whole-hock, changing a more modern ammunition factory and internment camp for the bellows-pumping forge, from stories of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and similar.  The cruelty of people truly boggles the imagination.  I believe I covered most of this already in the previous entry.

 

Why did I include Tianna and Tyrel?  Their story is part of the reality of concentration camps.  I might have used the main characters, but it is important that they survive (at least for now.)  So I needed to have other characters that you cared about, at least a little, to illustrate that part of the story; which is part of the overall horror of surviving such a place, to witness things like that.  Mass murder, calloused, senseless murder for no reason, etc.

 

The rape scene.  I expect to get a lot of criticism for this because I venture into a taboo subject; not just rape, but rape perpetrated by a male against another male.  So why did I go there?  And why did I pull no punches?  The answer is that this is the story, and this is part of why Shaundar and Yathar, and Sylria too, do the things that they do later on in the ways in which they do them.

 

Rape, as most people with even a rudimentary grounding in psychology know, is not about sex.  It's about power.  Mass rapes often go on in wars.  Soldiers, especially occupying soldiers or prison guards, often perpetrate rape, especially towards their female prisoners.  They do it because they can; because it illustrates, for them, a power they have over an enemy that, at least to some degree, frightened them.  It is often a systematic form of psychological warfare.  War rape has been examined extensively in women's studies in particular.  But there is another group that is often victimized in such circumstances, and that group is young men, especially those perceived as effeminate or homosexual.  Elves, having little body hair, even among men, and being slight of build and not having firm gender lines when compared to orcs, would likely be perceived that way.  I happen to know that the sexual orientation of the elves is a standing joke among WoW players.

 

For the orcs, not only is all that Freudian crap going on, but for them, the Second Unhuman War is called "The War of Vengeance."  Anything to hurt the elves and make them suffer, to pay them back for their cruelty in the First Unhuman War (and they were cruel, perhaps not intentionally, but they were) is part of the scro agenda.  Now the orcs and ogres have these enemies that they have been taught to fear in their power.  Human history is full of similar examples of what evils run rampant when that happens, including the modern treatment of prisoners by Western countries in the conflicts vs. terrorism and the Taliban that have occurred since 9/11.

 

There's a lot of stigma especially about male-on-male rape.  Wikipedia says that fewer than one in ten such rapes are reported. This is part of what shapes our protagonist's reactions to things in the future, which might otherwise not make any sense.

 

But, our protagonist is a person of great courage, and he decides to fight back.  Thousands of prisoners in Nazi internment camps chose bravely to fight back, through survival, sabotage, escape, and so forth.  Shaundar's attempt to fight back is based on some research I have recently done about casting bullets, in particular.  I extrapolated regarding the sabotage of cannonballs, of which there was, of course, nothing really easily available for my little novel.  If some metallurgist out there tells me that my idea here won't work, I will come up with something else, but this works for me for the time being.

 

Last but not least, about the weeds.  My accessment of orcish and elvish nutritional requirements is extrapolated from culture and typical diet information in the source material.  In my research on prison camps, I learned that the key to survival over more than a couple of months is to get more food than they serve you, and to try to avoid the hard labour if you can.  This article in particular about a woman who survived Auschwitz for two years as a teenager was very helpful.  I therefore came up with ways for the three protagonists to do that which were possible in my setting.  You'll see more of that in the next chapter as well.

 

So, that's it for this chapter.  I promise you that the next chapter (sixteen) will be the last that we will spend in that horrible place Raven Talon, though our heroes will fall a lot farther first.

 

Blessed be,

Sable

Development Notes for Chapter Fourteen "A Few Good Elves"

Posted on January 21, 2012 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

 I thought this chapter was going to be really difficult to write, but I was wrong.  This chapter was really difficult to *start*.

 

Put bluntly, Raven Talon Prison Camp is Auschwitz combined with Andersonville.  For those of you who are not Civil War historians, Andersonville was a prison camp for Yankee soldiers during the American Civil War.  As the Confederacy took a greater and greater pounding in the course of the war, supplies ran less and less for the soldiers, never mind their prisoners.  They were quartered in the open air with a single river running through the place that they were all expected to wash in and drink from, which became more and more fouled as time went on.  Dysentery and what was likely hookworm disease ran rampant and the prisoners basically were allowed to kill each other for crusts of bread or starve to death.  A guy named Captain Henry Wirz was in charge of the camp and eventually tried for war crimes and hanged.  The charges may have been trumped up, given the circumstances just after the war with President Lincoln assassinated and public opinion being very much against the remains of the Confederacy; but this did not change the suffering experienced by the prisoners of Andersonville.  I found all this out when Google searching prison camps to research this portion of the novel, and I saw this horrific picture of a Union soldier who survived the experience (yes, this poor man lived.)

 

The reason why this chapter was not as difficult to write as I anticipated is because the stories I am relaying here are, for the most  part, real.  These are actual experiences of people who survived Auschwitz, adapted to pseudo-medieval technologies and a fantasy setting.

 

I have mentioned in previous blogs the obvious comparison between the Second World War and the Second Unhuman War in the Spelljammer® setting.  I have mentioned that the elves struck me as the British, keeping a stiff upper lip and gallantly defending a crumbling empire against overwhelming odds; and I have compared the scro to the Germans under the Nazi Regime.  I am obviously not the only one to make this comparison.  I didn't make up the conditions on Spiral; they were referred to as background in the Spelljammer® novel "The Maelstrom's Eye" by Roger E. Moore, and intended, I think, to drive home to the reader the desperation of the elves when faced with the evil of this foe, making you sympathetic to the evils they subsequently do (spoiler.)  However, the scro are not all bad either, as I hope Dorin Bloodfist has illustrated; and like many German soldiers in the Second World War, there are many scro out there who are only serving their nation as best they can, and are doing their best to do the honourable thing in a bad situation.  (Spoiler) I'll get into that more in the next novel.

 

It was always part of Shaundar's history to have spent time in a scro prison camp somewhere, being systematically tortured.  This experience is really sort of his origin story.  Like the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents, this is what, essentially, makes him what he is; though certainly how he chose to react to it is very much shaped by his upbringing and history.  The details of this, up until recently, were nebulous, however.  Spiral gave me a place to put it.  Originally, the camp he spent time in was going to be for strictly military prisoners, but I thought, why would the scro, who are so ruthlessly organized, waste effort creating such a place when they already had an effective operation on Spiral?  (And they must have, in order to effectively conquer the planet, as the novel "The Maelstrom's Eye" describes.)

 

If Raven Talon is Auschwitz, one might wonder why I chose to put the prisoner numbers on gear, instead of in the infamous tattoo?  The answer is twofold.  First strict practicality - before the invention of tattoo guns, a relatively modern technology above the capabilities of a medieval world, tattooing was a very time-consuming process that wouldn't be realistically possible with the sheer amount of prisoners in Raven Talon and other Spiral prison camps.  The second is character-related; later on, many people will speculate on the mysteries of Shaundar's past.  Such an easily identifiable mark might have made it into spacefaring lore, just as most modern adults know what that blue number tattoo means.  I didn't want it to be that easy to figure out Shaundar.

 

These chapters will be difficult to read because I will pull no punches.  I can't afford to.  If you want to understand why Shaundar does the things he does in the way in which he does them, you have to understand what he has been through.  But I don't blame you if you skim the text.

 

Blessed be,

Sable

Development Notes for Chapter Thirteen "A Few Good Elves"

Posted on January 17, 2012 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

My apologies for the delay on this chapter.  Part of the reason was that I have been absorbed with a new role-playing game that will end up as another novel series: check out my new website, http://newwestchronicles.webs.com.  But part of the reason is that I, again, am reluctant to delve too deeply into the destruction of my protagonist's life.  I like him.  I don't want to see him in pain.

 

I have lived in Narissa's shoes as she learned about what happened to Shaundar's ship.  What she experiences is not dissimiliar to what I experienced while I waited at the bedside of my husband after the car accident that almost killed him.  I will likely be drawing more on that experience as the novel goes on.

 

Shaundar is currently suffering from some of the symptoms of acute combat stress reaction, otherwise known as shellshock or combat fatigue.  Flashbacks and nightmares are part of it.  There are others, such as panic attacks, drastic changes in mood, etc.  Untreated combat stress reaction often develops into post-traumatic stress disorder, which manifests similarly but can last for years after the events that sparked it.  (Spoiler) This is an important point to note for the reader.  The others are suffering from it as well, but I'm not sure whether or not the reader will realize that.

 

I have never been tortured and so I researched and struggled with this scene immensely.  I struggled to balance realism (people will confess to raping their own mothers with sufficient torture) with heroic resistance.  Shaundar actually got angry a lot earlier than I expected him to.  I hope I have sufficiently established by now that he has a deep innate stubbornness that forms some serious steel at his core. I was expecting him to dance a while longer, make up bullshit and string them along, at least pretending to co-operate, but it didn't happen.  When they poured the pepper ale into his wound they pissed him off and he found the strength for resistance in his anger.  Sometimes as a writer you find that; when you know your character well, they often act in ways you do not expect, taking on a life of their own.  It's really kind of magical.

 

This is a relatively short chapter, so I guess that's it for my development notes for it.  (Spoiler)  I will now be getting into some very difficult subject matter; reader discretion advised and expect that it will take a while to write it well enough that I consider it ready to be published.

 

Blessed be,

Sable


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