• Uncategorized

    2023 In Review

    Table of Contents

    It’s time for a 2023 review post where I reflect on life, the universe and my author career. I did one last year which makes a good benchmark. Let’s see how I did!

    2023 Goals vs Actual

    Finish the next two books in the Revenant Records series

    Completed half of this. I got Feral Night out, and I’m working on the third book in the series. Not quite at the stage of getting two to three books out per year. But I’m happy with the book I released—it’s a solid improvement over Final Night (which I still think is a pretty good first author book!) Currently, I’m knee deep in the entrails of book 3. I got ambitious and I’m attempting a puzzle mystery with two POVs which is slowing me down as I work through everything. I also won’t put this up for pre-order until it’s 100 percent finished, which includes proofing covers, backmatter—the works!

    Complete twelve issues of the monthly newsletter

    Done! I’ve kept the newsletter going. Still writing it in character, as it’s more fun that way. (In character? Check it out!)

    Submit original short stories to magazines

    This did not happen. I went through my old backlog of shorts and found a sword-and-sorcery-ish story that might be worthy of magazine submission with a bit of polishing.

    Write a proper Lukie-focused short as a reader magnet

    Done! It’s always good when your giveaway story relates to your in-progress series. You can grab Fiery Night here as a newsletter sign-up bonus.

    I would like to do a second, completely free short for a wide release and even have an idea for one. Will do this later, but not prioritize it.

    Streamline my automation sequence for the newsletter

    This was a bit of admin that I kept putting off, but it’s done now. Need to improve and develop the sequence further.

    Engage an artist for some character/concept sketches + learn to draw

    I got some done by a talented artist for my newsletter which are fantastic, but I won’t be happy with sketches until I can draw my own characters competently. This year, I did a few simple art courses at my local community college and attended a few live drawing sessions. This year, I’ll keep practicing. I also signed up for an online drawing academy by clicking on a random Facebook ad and going “Hey, that’s not too bad” (I know, I know). Was stymied also by Apple Pencil breaking, and had to revert to the less technical Graphite Pencil.

    Social media, book reviews

    I continue to be inconsistent with social media. I do this ad hoc posts, but a meh presence on social media. Not good at the funny meme stuff, and my book-a-year schedule means I can’t do too much around launches. I tried many social medias in 2023. I should pick something and be consistent.

    2024 Goals

    Okay, here we go. In 2024, I’m going to simplify my list. In fact, I had a more complicated list. Start a subscription! Work on the tabletop roleplaying set in the Vestiges of Magic world, do more drawing, and then when I got some strategic advice which was…

    Write the next book… No side projects?

    And that’s my core goal for next year!

    Finish Revenant Records – Fractured Night

    Still in progress. At first it was a puzzle mystery and now it’s more about the characters. The premise is like the Shining crossed with a dark faerie tale….

    Start the 2024 web serial, do a chapter a month

    I completed a web serial last year, which I’m sitting on until I get more material out to launch a series with it. (Having launched a series on the fly, my next series will have a bit more material ready to go before I launch.) This will be in my newsletter and on my website. I’ve got about four chapters done. The premise: a woman seeks the help of a supernatural assassin to avenge her murdered daughter, but the assassin she needs to help her has retired….

  • urban fantasy,  writing,  Vestiges of Magic,  Short Story

    Short Story – A Thing for Elves

    Here’s a short story set in the Vestiges of Magic setting.

    Ever since she was a girl, Ilda had a thing for elves. She watched all the classic movies starring Helianthus Lindarien Variel—A Sword at Sunset, The Heroes of the Hawkbow, The Wanwood Queen—until her video tapes wore out. She collected inter-hominin romance novels, where an elf would take someone back to the treetop village and show them just how superior elves were to humans.

    She tried not to stare too hard at the elves when she saw them on the train, or in the many public parks, performing mysterious religious rites for their nature gods. They stood out amongst the humans—taller and more slender, androgynous, their hair often worn long and loose. They had high cheekbones and never went bald. There was just something about an elf that made them more appealing than regular human men. But they were in their own different world. Visible but remote.

    As a teenager, she had thought about exploring her thing for elves. Studying their language and literature at university or becoming involved in elven/human diplomatic relations. But Mother pointed out that jobs working with elves were limited (their clans were picky about the non-elves they worked with). Mother also drummed into Ilda’s head that she needed to focus on her Life Goals: to obtain a six-figure salary, an equally wealthy husband, and a house in the suburbs with two well-behaved children.

    And so, her thing for elves remained dormant until she met him.

     Tired of waiting for the IT support desk to install her new software remotely, she went to visit them in person. And her heart skipped a beat because the guy behind the counter was elvish. Not a full elf, but one of his parents had been. He had high cheekbones, pointed ears and long dark hair that he wore tied in a ponytail. But his face was rounded, and his eyes were a deep brown with visible whites rather than completely green.

    “Can I help you?”

    And his voice was warm honey.

    “Uh, I need GraphixChampionPro installed on my laptop.”

    “What’s your barcode?”

    Ilda read it off the back of her hand.

    “I’ll queue it up for installation now.”

    “Thank you,” she managed. “What’s your name?”

    Heart racing, she waited for him to pronounce his elven name in the mellifluous language of Kytharien.

    “I’m Ben.”

    Ben. Ben? Did he have a proper elven name, like Gladiolus Sevarien Kalpesh? What was Ben short for?

    She remained there too long, staring.

     Ben gave her an odd look. “Uh, you don’t need to hang around. It’ll load when you restart your machine. Do that when you get back to your desk.”

    She burbled something unintelligible and fled to the elevator.

    “Are you paying attention?” Sessi asked her at their morning coffee, snapping her fingers in front of Ilda’s dreamy face. Slightly older than Ilda, she’d been at the office for years and had far more boyfriends.

    “There’s this man in IT. An elf. Well, half-elf.” Ilda swallowed.

    Sessi nodded, familiar with Ilda’s thing for elves. “Blended. I hear no-one calls them half-elves anymore. You sure you want to get involved?”

    “Yes.” Ilda thought of Ben’s smooth voice. Despite years of progressive media and endless books and movies, the conservative elements of society frowned upon inter-hominin dating. But Ilda could handle anything for that voice and those eyes…

    “Then  ask him out. Before Anita from Sales does. She moves on to anything new in the company.”

    “He might already be with someone.”

    “He’s a man in IT. Not likely.”

     “I suppose I could tell him about some computer problem I’m having at home and then—”

    “He’s a man in IT, dear,” Sessi repeated. “Be direct. Otherwise, he’ll never get the hint.”

    When she got back to her desk, Ilda steeled herself and called IT.

    That voice. “Hello? IT Support.”

    “Ben? It’s me. Ilda. From earlier.”

    “Yes. GraphixChampionPro. Is it installed properly?”

    “It’s fine. What do you think of coffee?”

    “What about it?”

    Oh, stab it, I’m going to have to be super-direct. “Meet me at the work café at 3pm for coffee.”

    She got there at 2:50pm, hands sweating and staring at the flood of incoming people. She waited until 3:11, growing more certain with each passing moment that Ben had stood her up and—

    “Hi.” Ben arrived, out of breath. “Sorry, I just had to tell someone to reboot.”

    Ilda talked about the weather while Ben sipped at his expresso, fidgeting. He drummed his fingers and looked up at her.

    Ilda noticed his nerves with growing dread. This is where he tells me he’s not into human women, or already has a person in his life, or—

    “Do you like fantasy movies?”

    To Ilda’s relief, Krothar the Mighty wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be, and neither was Darkblade III: Vengeance Calls or The Labyrinth of Doom, where they kissed for the first time. Ben didn’t want to talk much about elf-stuff, and quickly changed the subject when she asked if he’d been to the legendary elven kingdoms of the Wanwood, or the Windward Isles. However, he ordered in the entire series of The Impossible Archer for her, which starred Phyllanthus Lenandrum Selvi performing endless trick shots as she defended the village of Grassholt from a new threat each episode.

    Their first formal outing was at ‘The Grand’, an expensive four-star restaurant which overlooked Shadow Bay. In turn, Ben arranged a surprise date where they bunjy-jumped off the giant historical statues of the Great Kings of Old that bracketed the Shatterwater River.

    She played console games with him, which were fun, provided that she could button-smash her way to victory. She took Ben on her weekend cycling trips, starting on the simple River Ride, with the goal of trying out for the annual City Cycle race. He was so different from her last boyfriend, Gary the Lawyer. Ben didn’t demand that she look a million dollars before she went out or spend all night complaining about his expensive clients.

    Ilda wouldn’t call things magical, or true love, but it was fun. Only, something was missing. The spark promised by years of soaking in elven-themed media wasn’t there.

    And of course, there as the Other Problem—that blended people weren’t fully accepted by modern society. A crazy fact given that the continent was full of socially integrated hominin subspecies, and countless movies and books spoke of romance and relationships.

    No one spoke about the real fact—that these relationships led to children, and that these offspring weren’t fully welcomed. Ilda hadn’t worried about it at first, given that they were living in the twenty first century.

    Only the universe disagreed. Some of her old, high school friends gave her odd, shocked looks when she introduced Ben. Occasionally waiters refused to serve them, and old people grumbled on the bus,

    “Does this happen all the time to you?” Ilda groaned as the rain battered down one evening after a movie date, when a cab driver with a ‘on duty’ light and an empty vehicle slowed down, and sped up when he had a good look at his fares.

    “Yeah.” Ben tucked his hands in his pockets. “But you can’t let it get in our way. There’s been a lot of civil rights victories in the past few years, but a lot more has to change.” His voice hung there: an invitation for her to talk about this with him. What it was like to grow up blended, the world of civil rights and social justice… But then a cab pulled up and they got in. And civil justice sounded too heavy for Ilda to handle.

    And the final straw was when Mother found out.

    “Your cousin tells me you’re dating a half-elf.”

    “Blended,” Ilda corrected. “No one uses the term ‘half-elf’ anymore.”

    “You can’t date a half-elf,” Mother insisted, her voice sharp over the phone. “You’re my only child. Half-breeds are sterile, and I want grandchildren.”

    “I’ve checked the internet, Mama. It’s a myth. There’s lots of blended families.”

    “Even if you have children, they’ll have all sorts of medical problems.”

    “That’s not true—”

    “They won’t get into good schools, that sort of thing. Your second cousin Pat—”

    “So what—”

    “She married a dwarrow. Can you believe it?”

    “It’s the modern age, Mama, and—”

    “The child, all sickly, poor dear. In and out of hospitals, and all covered in hair—are you listening?”

    “Do I have a choice, Mama?”

    “Imagine waxing while in primary school. The Precursor made us different species for a reason. We’re not supposed to mix in that way.”

    “We’re all subspecies, Mama—”

    But Mother wouldn’t stop. Ilda thought about it more—perhaps Mother was right. Ben was a comfortable, battered sedan car, but she needed an expensive sports model with fire in its engine. He wouldn’t help her achieve her Life Goals.

    Time to get rid of Ben.

    “It’s not you, it’s me—” she began, having chosen the work café for the ‘I’m dumping you’ conversation.

    “It’s your mother.” Ben stared at her.

    She shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

    “I thought you were ready. That you saw past society’s bullshit—”

    “It’s not that—” Ilda shook her head. “I want someone progressive, someone who’s going to make six-figure salary, and help me afford a house in the Diamond and—”

    “We had something good, and you’re killing it for something that doesn’t exist.” He got up and left, his untouched coffee curling steam in the air.

    I have my Life Goals, she reminded herself while hugging her pillow close to her chest that night and feeling like the worst person in the world.

    “Ben left me,” she told Sessi at morning coffee, giving her friend a fake version of events. After a few weeks, she had almost convinced herself that dumping Ben was her decision, and nothing to do with keeping Mother happy.

    “I’ve just dumped Kallen,” Sessi said. “No sense of fun. Listen, I suppose you’re over elves now—”

    “Well, no,” Ilda managed.

    “How about we have a holiday? See some real elves. How they’re supposed to be.”

    Sessi showed a website on her phone: “Elven adventure tour. Experience the traditional village of Illandrellan!” An elf dressed in robes aimed a longbow at some imaginary figure in the distance. A place that Ilda had always wanted to visit but never found the time.

    “Sign me up.” Ilda closed her eyes. She needed that elven fantasy, as way to wash away the grit of her relationship with Ben. A world where everything between humans and elves was accepted, rather than one where cabs wouldn’t stop for you and where mothers complained incessantly about your doomed offspring.

     Sweeping arches of ancient oak trees covered the forest road. As the electric bus rattled along, Ilda wished their blended elven tour guide didn’t remind her so much of Ben.

    Stop that, she told herself. You have your Life Goals. You are completely over Ben. Now shut up and enjoy your holiday.

    The guide wore traditional robes, woven from a shimmering white silk embroidered with tiny silhouettes of leaves. His badge announced his name as Laurel. “On your left, you can see the greeting tree.” He pointed to a flowering sapling festooned with garlands. “They act as guideposts to the settlements within the Wanwood.”

    The bus passed through a large clearing, and they were in the village. They parked and Laurel escorted the pool of tourists outside. “This is the gathering space the clan uses for cooking and social activities, but everyone lives in the homes above. Over there is the communal crafting area, where you can see people weaving.”

    Set up under the canopies were large wooden looms, where elves in their shimmering robes labored, producing intricately woven cloth.

    Next, Laurel pointed to the lofty treetop houses connected by walkways.

    “How do they get up there?” an old man from the Seastrider Islands asked. “My knees aren’t too good.”

    “There are rope ladders, or a basket we use for taking goods up.”

    Ilda struggled up the ladder (which looked suspiciously like nylon cord) while Sessi rode the basket, meeting her at the top. Did that pulley mechanism really exist in ancient times?

    A pleasant blonde, blended elf escorted them to the festival hall, where they were served setharies—elven mead, or honey water, depending on one’s age—and ornain, the filling food used in epic journeys in ages past.

    “The Heroes of the Hawkbow ate this as they crossed the plains to fight the Dark Emperor.” Ilda gestured at her bowl full of nuts, dried berries, and leaves in front of them.

    “It tastes like ordinary trail mix to me,” Sessi muttered. “I bet this all comes from the Cubermarket.”

    After morning tea, Laurel showed them an elven family house, and they watched a dance on the ground below. Before she boarded the bus, Ilda bought a souvenir tea towel from the gift shop.

    “This is so dull,” a bored ogre tourist complained. “I wanted to visit the Pits of Oblivion and the Stormfort—where Grimtusk had her last stand—but nooo, my wife had to see elves.” An ogre woman held up her elven silken scarf and smiled.

    “You can’t get to the Stormfort at the moment,” a human woman from the Lionmarches interrupted. “They’ve had to close off parts of the Volcanic National Park. Too many tourists.”

    Ilda wondered if the Heroes of the Hawkbow had known that the sites of their ancient struggle against the forces of darkness would become tourist attractions.

    After watching an elven bird-calling ceremony, Laurel head-counted the tour group and gestured at them to get back on the bus. As they drove away, Ilda peered out the rear window. The elves had stopped their industrious weaving and were sitting around, talking and smoking cigarettes.

    “How was the real elven village?” Sessi elbowed Ilda in the ribs as she stared vacantly at the forest outside. “Just like your books?”

    Ilda mumbled, “It was okay.” But no, it felt too touristy. Perhaps if she had ignored Mother, she could have studied Kytharien at university, and been one of the few humans invited to see an actual village. But that dream was distant, sacrificed to focus on her Life Goals. She closed her eyes and recited them but realized that she no longer cared. 

    * * *

     They spent the night at Far Point, the nearest human town to the Wanwood. A mix of tourists from all over the continent sat in the bar, drinking and chatting, sweat dripping down their faces in the muggy heat.

    Ilda couldn’t describe the emptiness within her. If her Life Goals were as hollow as the elven village, what was she doing with her existence? What did she really want? She tried talking about this with Sessi, but after several shots of elven brandy, neither woman could communicate very well. After Sessi nearly collapsed at the bar, Ilda dragged them both outside.

    On the porch, the air rippled in the muggy heat. Stars drifted overhead in the night sky and bird calls echoed from the distant bulk of the dark woods.

    A figure leaned against a beam—a full-blooded elf wearing only leather pants. Long dark hair, slicked back, hanging down to his waist. His eyes were a deep green, without sclera, and his abs were a lean six pack.

    “Hey.” Ilda could not stop staring.

    “You ladies after a good time?” the elf asked.

    “Sure!” Sessi burbled.

    “For you, five hundred,” the elf said.

    Five hundred? Ilda froze. She’d never been this close to an actual sex worker, let alone a full-blooded elf, before. Her desire for something genuinely elvish warred with her nervousness.

    “She’s game!” Sessi said.

    “No, I’m—”

    “Ilda, come on. You only live once. This has been your fantasy for years. She’ll do it! Who are you, elfie boy?”

    “Moonweaver.” Such a romance novel alias.

    “Are you licensed?” Sessi asked.

    Moonweaver flashed an ID card. Having one meant he passed a bunch of health and safety certifications. Ilda scanned the license for his real name, but there was only a barcode.

    Ilda dry-swallowed. Perhaps a fling with a genuine elf would reconnect her with who she was before she’d become obsessed with Life Goals.

    “No excuses, girl.” Sessi pulled on Ilda’s arm. “Let’s get some extra brandy.”

    Moonweaver was highly skilled, but Ilda was too reserved, despite the alcohol, to enjoy her time with him. The encounter felt like every other time she’d been with a competent lover. Good sex, and that was it. The romance of elven lovemaking died when Ilda lay back on the bed as Moonweaver counted banknotes and tucked them in his leather pants. A job, and nothing more. Ilda wondered how many clients he regularly saw.

    “Is the village real?” Ilda asked as he tugged on his boots.

    He smiled. “It’s for you. For the tourists. We can’t share a real Kytharien village with you, but this is a good compromise.”

    “I saw a lot of blended elves there.” Ilda whispered.

    “Yes. They had to fight with the clan elders to build their own place, but in the end, it has worked out well. The half-bloods have a purpose, and the tourism money has enriched our clan.”

    “They had to fight?”

    “Change requires struggle.” Moonweaver said. “Sacrifice, unhappiness—but all these can lead to good outcomes, in time.”

    Sessi called out from the next room. “You guys finished already? Moonie, can you do another round?”

    Moonweaver looked at Ilda with his liquid green eyes.

    She nodded, and the elf got up and left.

    Ilda had a long shower and wished the walls weren’t so thin.

    About a week after she returned from her holiday, Ilda packed up all her movies and books in a crate and took them down to the local charity store.

    “Thank you.” The old lady behind the counter pawed through the box. “Oh, Prince of the Treetops. I did like this one. This is a sizable collection. You must have a real thing for elves.”

    “Not anymore,” Ilda said. She left the shop and found a quiet space in the park, green leaves enshrouding her. Time to fight for what she wanted.

    She took a deep breath and called a number. “Ben?” she whispered, hoping he would answer.

  • Vestiges of Magic,  Revenant Records,  urban fantasy,  publishing

    Feral Night is upon us…

    A short, quick and entirely promotional post—my second novel, Feral Night—is going to launch next week on 28 November 2023. With this book, I set out to make it bigger, better and more intense than the first one! Lukie’s back with another edge-of-your-seat mystery…

    Lukie’s father is trapped in the Underworld and it’s all her fault.

    Return to Kell Shaw’s Vestiges of Magic world in a knife-edge sequel.

    Lukie’s father is trapped in the Underworld and it’s all her fault.

    Twenty years after her murder, Lukie has returned to life and is ready to go home, but her father isn’t willing to believe his beloved daughter is back from the dead. Before she can reconcile with him, a supernatural predator steals her father’s soul. One that she’s led straight to his door, after foolishly ignoring the signs that something was amiss.

    To get her father back, Lukie must uncover the true nature of the ancient horror haunting Thunderhead Ward before a spectral hunt of bestial ghosts is unleashed upon the world.

    And she only has until midnight on New Year’s Eve, when the borders between the dead and living lands seal, or her father will be lost forever…

  • Vestiges of Magic,  Revenant Records,  Short Story,  new release

    Free story—introduction to my ongoing series

    I’ve written a new introductory story to my Revenant Records urban fantasy series. If you’re interested, you can grab it here, free, with a newsletter signup.

    Do you like:

    • Spooky urban fantasy stories?
    • Things that feel like episodes of Doctor Who?
    • Outsider heroes struggling against all odds?

    Then check out Fiery Night!

    Half-human, rejected by society, Patience spends her days doing hard labor in the Industrial Institution for Deviant Children. Escape is impossible and she daydreams of reuniting with her long lost mother. At night, she’s plagued by uncanny visions of a monstrous woman oozing dark tendrils and a mysterious half-elf screaming warnings of danger.

    Patience fears she’s going mad, but when girls and nuns disappear, no-one seems interested in investigating further. She must overcome her own fears and the cages of the Institute to investigate the missing girls and piece together what’s going on.

    When it seems like she might be forced to disappear altogether, Patience must work out what to believe and uncover the true secret of the Institution…

  • Uncategorized

    Life updates, housekeeping & recharging

    I’ve been away from the social media for a bit. There was a holiday, effort around trying to finish my next Lukie book, Feral Night, (Revenant Records ) book and getting it ready for release this year, getting stuck on a craft post I wanted to write about different fantasy species, trying to figure out how to use social media to connect with others and feeling overwhelmed by it all. And then when I’m overwhelmed by something, I pull back, and focus on other things.

    And now I’m all refreshed, and chill, and feel like talking to the internet again. For social media, comes down to, well, not what has good reach and connections, but more like, what is fun for me to use?

    So, what do I enjoy doing? Well, writing blog articles, it turns out. I don’t enjoy memes, and if I use cartoons, I’d prefer to draw my own. (I did do some drawing courses this year, and now have Procreate on the iPad and some terrible artwork, so something to try out later on.) The plan is to blog, cross-post, share, see how it goes.

    How often can I do it? A weekly blog post is reasonable, so I’ll start with that for now. Social media Sunday! I’ve also hooked up my blog to the Fediverse so you can follow that your favorite fedi platform. I strongly believe in the power of open source social media, especially with the way other platforms are going so I’ve hooked up this blog to ActivityPub protocol, just as another way of getting this out there.

    And while it’s different from blogging on my blog and its little downstream sources, I’m going to mess around with Instagram. Basically, after attending a few author conferences, it appears to be ‘where it’s at’ and I’ll give it a shot for a few months to see how it goes. I’ve set up an account over here as well.


    This is what I’d like to focus on with coming posts:

    • Launching book 2, with a mix of business reflections, and some character updates and reviews.
    • Getting my dormant roleplaying game for the Vestiges of Magic in development again. I did a big playtest mid-year, lots of things broke, and I never wanted to look at the draft again. In fact, I was going—perhaps I could rebuild it in another system! Then I used a cut down version of the system for a local game convention and it ran well in that use-case. After a few months off, I’m looking at the draft again and it’s easier to see what to fix and what repair.
    • Craft post about fantasy species, racism and so forth. I think I’ve figured out the angle I want to use for this.

    Anyway, if this post has a message, it’s about taking a break and coming back to a stuck project with fresh eyes.

  • Uncategorized

    E-reader vs smartphone

    It’s cold here in Australia at the moment, with morning temperatures of around 7 degrees Celsius. And when travelling to the day job on the train, I’ve been struck by how much time I waste staring at my phone in those interstitial moments between phone and bus. Years ago, I inhaled a new book every few days, but my reading’s slacked off a bit, which isn’t healthy for a writer.

    Recently, I’ve got a small Kobo Nia that fits into my winter jacket pocket. A dedicated reading device that does only one thing—display books! Ideally, I’ll get through more books rather than spending time doomscrolling through the world news on the phone.

    The only case the shop had left was bright canary yellow. At least I won’t lose it anytime soon…

  • Uncategorized

    Entropy impacts your fantasy world

    Entropy infects all systems. Things wear down, and either collapse or shake apart into new configurations.

    Fantasy worlds are divided into a series of ages, where myths are split apart from legends and history. They might look like this Middle-Earth inspired history (at least my high school D&D campaign world did):

    • First Age – Gods walk the earth, or make the world. Evil gods are dealt with or bound.
    • Second Age – The great civilizations flourish, items of remarkable power of crafted and legendary battles occur. Famous institutions like kingdoms, and bloodlines are established.
    • Third Age – Not as epic, as the first or second age. The hero grows up on a farm or distant location and learns about the age of magic. Perhaps they’ll inherit a sword or learn lost secrets. There are ruins everywhere. Some dark threat left over from the second age will return and be dealt with. Perhaps the hero will reconnect with one of the elite institutions established in the second age.
    • Fourth Age – The age of magic ends, and everything changes. Elves sail away, gods leave the world, and hand it over to people, who, live in wisdom and peace and tell stories about the good old days to the kids.

    This is also a metaphor for human life. The first age is childhood when you believe impossible things and dragons, the second age is when you’re young, fighting for your passions, the third age is when you get your job and learn how the systems of the world work. And the fourth age is when you’re paying off the mortgage, and you don’t have time to play D&D anymore or read books, but you’ve got fond memories of those days and will tell your bored family members about the good old days.

    Let’s cut to 2020, COVID era. I’m in the fourth age of my life. During lockdown, I work through a bunch of intense personal stuff. One of them is that my epic fantasy novel series is doomed not to be finished in its current state—it’s lost in a muddle of endless rewrites. The book had lots of POVs, good character work and world building, but not much of a plot apart from an expedition across a continent. Time to recognize that it would never be done. I’ll never be Brandon Sanderson. (At least with that book.)

    I get out my shotgun, place the barrel against the malformed, beating dreams of finishing that series, and pull the trigger.

    Time to reboot. Start something else. I need to create I can finish. Shorter, less epic. Except, being one of those eternal gamemaster types, I can’t tell stories without a world.

    Yeah, I could build any world I want and—my subconscious wants to design a setting in a fantasy world’s fourth age. When I was younger, the concept of the fourth age horrified me. Who’d want to tell stories in a world where the magic went away, and everything was about modern life, office workers and cars? 

    Now, I find that interesting. Because the past is a magical one, right? How would that influence the modern day? And how did the magic leave the world? What if something went wrong with the final epic battle between light and darkness? What if losing magic was a last ditch strike? A nuclear option. Not a gentle fading of magic like in Middle-Earth—a planned obsolescence—but a catastrophe mess that broke the world.

    And what if magic survived, but became hidden, messy and complicated?

    So that’s the key idea I had when designing my world. Modern, yet with a hidden layer of magic.

    Now to figure out what that looked like. And what sort of stories would it drive?

    How about you—did you build your world by thinking about this sort of thing to start with (themes) or did you start with some other idea? Or even a sense of a character or a vision of a scene? (I love the story by CS Lewis how his initial idea for Narnia was simply a mental picture of Lucy and Mr. Tumnus walking arm-in-arm through a snowy wood…)

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    Happy WBW! What part of your world would your protagonist (& others if you want) change? Aaaand go! ♥️

    Hey @toribookworm22! My world was badly damaged when the Age of Magic ended. Zheist was created by magic; its supernatural ecology and metaphysical architecture were shattered when reality shifted to one driven by physics and technology (although some magic remains).

    When my protagonist, Lukie, was murdered, she was shocked to discover there was no automatic paradise, only the dismal Underworld where souls hunted each other to survive. She made a pact with a ghostly sovereign of the Underworld to return as an undead revenant; surrendering her agency in exchange for the power to return to living lands.

    And while she has the ability to rescue trapped ghosts and take them to the Lanes of the Dead where they can travel onwards, she’d change the current system in a heartbeat. If she had the power, she’d make it so that no one ever again fell into the black tarpit void of the Underworld, and everyone would move onto their afterlife without judgement or condemnation.

    Alas, that remains an impossiblity for now…

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    Book Review: The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda (trans. Alison Watts)

    When I read detective fiction, I either gravitate to old, worn Penguin paperbacks with green spines and worn pages (I have a bunch from a bookshop haul last year) or Japanese detective fiction. A lot of Japanese detective fiction are puzzle mysteries, which I have a weakness for. For these books, I’m more interested in the mystery’s structure, which often takes precedent over characterisation. Usually in a puzzle mystery you get the plodding police officer, the eccentric detective and a way how it all fits together, which is usually prioritised over other factors.

    The Aosawa Murders is the opposite—a beautifully layered mystery, a character study and a puzzle that is not clearly explained. There’s no scene where a detective lays everything out; instead you’ll either be frustrated or want to re-read the work carefully to see what you missed. I think it’s obvious who the murderer is, but the question is more why, and how the clues revealed throughout the book fit int the crime scene.

    The story is told in layers, through several short stories where an unrevealed narrator is asking questions of witnesses associated with the case. Most of the chapters are told in directed conversation (I think that’s what it’s called) when I am clearly narrating in first person, but I’m also talking to you, the reader, and explaining this as I type out this blog post.

    The story is about a mass poisoning of a family that takes place in the 1970s, who were gathered for the party. A few cryptic clues are left at the scene, which the book opens with; they’re made relevant later. A famous book, ‘The Forgotten Festival’ was written about the murders. In some stories, the narrator interviews the author of the book, in others it’s her research assistant. Other stories focus on the person arrested for the murder—more of a character study from those that knew him tangentially. There’s a segment from the detective that worked on the case. In the penultimate story, the interviewer confronts the probable murderer.

    Everything is richly described, evoking the heat and feeling of the city during that period. The overlapping stories fit together like a mostly-complete jigsaw puzzle.