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Trusted Readers

Yesterday I got revision notes from one of my favorite editors for a short story, and spent an hour in a Skype conversation with a Trusted Reader ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FRICKIN’ GLOBE about this and another story.  (Digression:  I love Skype. It’s pure magic.) The feedback from both gentlemen was invaluable, and will make both stories much stronger.

I always feel energized and full of new ideas after getting revision notes, so you’d think that I would have sought out other forms of feedback early in my writing career. Sadly, no. Working with Trusted Readers is a fairly new tactic for me. For various reasons, I had a long-held aversion to letting anyone see a story before it was “ready.” And since no story ever feels “ready,” it can be very difficult to let go of it.

Getting feedback during the writing process is helpful in several ways:

  • It’s a form of aversion therapy. Doing something that feels uncomfortable gradually stretches the boundaries of your comfort zone.
  • You’re more likely to finish a project. Once it becomes easier to submit your work, you’re less likely to spin your wheels in the Endless Revision Loop or get mired in the Procrastination Swamp.
  • You’ll gain perspective. Someone who’s outside of the story can point out problems that you’re too close to see.
  • If something in the story bothered you but you’re not sure why, chances are someone else will be able to identify the reason.
  •  Social interaction is one of the most powerful motivators for habit acquisition, and writing success is about 90% good habits.
  • Feedback is energizing, both emotionally and mentally. Whether it comes from a good editor or an insightful reader, you’ll tackle the story with new energy and new ideas.

SEVRIN LORE: The Captain's Keep

Sevrinspire is the largest city on Heartstone, which in turn is the largest island in the Sevrin archipelago.  Although Sevrinspire is built along the coast, it has no deep-water ports and therefore trade is dependant upon a system of small boats and overland routes. The primary road leading south into Sevrinspire is guarded by an ancient, sprawling castle know as The Captain’s Keep, or, to the folks who live in the village and the nearby city, simply the Keep.

This is the abode of Volgo, captain of the adept Rhendish’s guard. Since Rhendish rules the island and is the foremost member of the Council of Adepts, Volgo’s position is extremely powerful. In addition to holding the northern approach to the city, he oversees the collection of trade tolls and is responsible for training future members of the guard. A select group of talented young warriors is housed and trained in the keep.

The Keep is set on a mountain pass just beyond the city. The village of Keepside is a collection of small workshops and homes lining the trade road. In addition to the castle servants and guards, the village houses tradesmen, crofters, and woodsmen who supply the Keep with goods ranging from tallow candles to horseshoes to fresh game.

Despite its air of mystery, the Keep holds no secrets from the villagers–or so they believe. It’s widely accepted that no secret could possibly be safe from Cinthara, the mistress of the Keep. Volgo’s wife is a plump, cheery, chatty soul who likes nothing better than sharing a cup of mead and a gallon of gossip. Everyone is fond of transparent and open-hearted Cinthara, including Volgo, who is nonetheless shrewd enough to realize her value not only as a good-will ambassador, but also as an effective smoke screen.

There is a powerful spell on the threshold of the Keep’s residence that blocks certain realities from Cinthara’s memory. So when she goes to the market or tavern, she’ll regale the villagers with merry anecdotes and small scandals, and speak no word of her husband’s hidden sorcery, or the magic-users he trains in the Keep’s ancient, secret places.

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The image accompanying this post is the Castle of Bouillon in Belgium. More information about the castle can be found on www.visitbelgium.com.

SEVRIN LORE: The Captain’s Keep

Sevrinspire is the largest city on Heartstone, which in turn is the largest island in the Sevrin archipelago.  Although Sevrinspire is built along the coast, it has no deep-water ports and therefore trade is dependant upon a system of small boats and overland routes. The primary road leading south into Sevrinspire is guarded by an ancient, sprawling castle know as The Captain’s Keep, or, to the folks who live in the village and the nearby city, simply the Keep.

This is the abode of Volgo, captain of the adept Rhendish’s guard. Since Rhendish rules the island and is the foremost member of the Council of Adepts, Volgo’s position is extremely powerful. In addition to holding the northern approach to the city, he oversees the collection of trade tolls and is responsible for training future members of the guard. A select group of talented young warriors is housed and trained in the keep.

The Keep is set on a mountain pass just beyond the city. The village of Keepside is a collection of small workshops and homes lining the trade road. In addition to the castle servants and guards, the village houses tradesmen, crofters, and woodsmen who supply the Keep with goods ranging from tallow candles to horseshoes to fresh game.

Despite its air of mystery, the Keep holds no secrets from the villagers–or so they believe. It’s widely accepted that no secret could possibly be safe from Cinthara, the mistress of the Keep. Volgo’s wife is a plump, cheery, chatty soul who likes nothing better than sharing a cup of mead and a gallon of gossip. Everyone is fond of transparent and open-hearted Cinthara, including Volgo, who is nonetheless shrewd enough to realize her value not only as a good-will ambassador, but also as an effective smoke screen.

There is a powerful spell on the threshold of the Keep’s residence that blocks certain realities from Cinthara’s memory. So when she goes to the market or tavern, she’ll regale the villagers with merry anecdotes and small scandals, and speak no word of her husband’s hidden sorcery, or the magic-users he trains in the Keep’s ancient, secret places.

************************************

The image accompanying this post is the Castle of Bouillon in Belgium. More information about the castle can be found on www.visitbelgium.com.

SEVRIN LORE: No Damn Chowder taverns

Sevrin is composed of seven main islands and many smaller islets. Predictably, fishing is a common occupation and an vital part of the economy. But as important as fish is to the Sevrin diet, there are nights when fisherfolk would rather kiss a selkie than face another fish. And so when a tavern in the fishing village of Whalespout renamed itself No Damn Chowder and altered its menu accordingly, it became an instant success.

Before long, No Damn Chowder signs were common sights along docks and in seaside villages. Typical fare includes spit-roasted fowl and stewed rabbit pies, goat or mutton, and small loaves of bread served warm with a wedge of cheese and small bowls of meat drippings for dipping. No fish is served. Ever.

Everyone knows about the  storyspinner who was tossed through a window for singing a sea chanty at a No Damn Chowder tavern, though no one can agree on exactly where that happened.

SEVRIN LORE: Selkies

Seals are a common sight in the waters around Sevrin, but they are most likely to be found sunning on the rocks surrounding the forest island of Sveonis.  Tales of selkies–seals that can take on human form–are common fireside tales, but few people in Sevrin believe they truly exist.

Still, even naysayers can’t help but notice that the fisherfolk of Sveonis tend to have dark eyes and dark, ashy blond hair that’s suspiciously close in hue to a grey seal’s pelt. Most shrug this off as just another peculiarity of the insular community.  In the tales, selkies maidens are incomparably beautiful, slight and winsome and graceful. Most women from the Sveonis fishing villages are not, to put it kindly, fashioned from the fabric of legend. They tend to be short and stout, dwarf-like in silhouette and temperment.

But it has never occurred to anyone, not even the storyspinners, that the old tales might have gotten it wrong. Human legends might speak of selkies lovers, but elves and dwarves know the selkies as warriors. The fisherfolk of Sveonis are, in fact, the remnants of a very old civilization, the descendants of guardians who fell in defense of the lost elven kingdom of Sveonis. The children escaped into the sea and returned many years later to an island deserted by elves and depleted of magic. Each generation, fewer selkies are born with the ability to take on sealskin. They believe that one day the elves will return with magic that will restore selkies to their former strength. Until then, they pass along old tales, secretly train each new generation in the fighting arts, and bide their time.

SEVRIN LORE: "By the Trees of Sveonis"

There are many oaths you can swear in Sevrin to indicate that your word is to be taken very seriously, but if you swear “by the trees of Sveonis,” you’re indicating a steadfastness of purpose that will transcend eternity.

This is not an oath sworn lightly or often, for if you turn this coin over you’ll find a darker side: A deeply held belief that Sevrin’s survival is tied to the trees of Sveonis.  Few Sevriners are willing to tempt this fate.

Most of the lumber that goes to Sevrin’s shipyards comes from Heminar, an island characterized by rolling hills and deep, fertile soil. No one cuts trees on Sveonis. Even deadfall wood is left to return to the soil.  Green witches used to gather a few branches of fallen trees to fuel fires for rituals or for boiling down certain potions.  Anyone who casts such a ritual or drinks such a potion had better be commited to the result, for no one has ever found a way to undo them.

For more information about the island of Sveonis, read this post.

SEVRIN LORE: “By the Trees of Sveonis”

There are many oaths you can swear in Sevrin to indicate that your word is to be taken very seriously, but if you swear “by the trees of Sveonis,” you’re indicating a steadfastness of purpose that will transcend eternity.

This is not an oath sworn lightly or often, for if you turn this coin over you’ll find a darker side: A deeply held belief that Sevrin’s survival is tied to the trees of Sveonis.  Few Sevriners are willing to tempt this fate.

Most of the lumber that goes to Sevrin’s shipyards comes from Heminar, an island characterized by rolling hills and deep, fertile soil. No one cuts trees on Sveonis. Even deadfall wood is left to return to the soil.  Green witches used to gather a few branches of fallen trees to fuel fires for rituals or for boiling down certain potions.  Anyone who casts such a ritual or drinks such a potion had better be commited to the result, for no one has ever found a way to undo them.

For more information about the island of Sveonis, read this post.

SEVRIN LORE: Faunmere

To the south of Stormwall, the fortress island guarding the approach to the Sevrin archipelago, lies a tiny, wooded island known as Faunmere.  Like most of Sevrin’s islands, it offers few hospitable havens for boats.  The water drops off suddenly, and thick brambles grow nearly to the water’s edge. The only good place to pull a rowboat ashore is a small cove with a narrow, gravel-strewn beach.

No one lives on Faunmere, so it’s a popular spot for summer trysts. Others come to the island to pick berries or to see the white squirrels that fill the tiny forest. But first sign of sunset color sends visitors scurrying for their boats. According to the storyspinners, no place in all of Severn is as haunted, and no ghosts quite so vengeful.

A popular type of ghost story is called “The White Cloak.” There are many variations, but most start with a man arranging for an enemy to acquire a fine cloak lined with white fur–the pelts of Faunmere squirrels, which are, according to the tales, the daytime manifestations of the island’s ghosts.  In many versions, the cloak’s owner is driven mad by ghostly visitations, but Sevrin’s bards delight in creating new twists for this tale.

SEVRIN LORE: The dryad Minue

Elves belong to the natural world, and their ties to the land, the stars, and the seasons are deep and profound. Fairies belong to the fey realms, a strange and alien place on another plane of existence. But there are portals between the worlds, and beings who have a place in both. One of these creatures is Minue, a dryad who makes her home in the deep forests surrounding Starsingers grove.

Most dryads are associated with a single tree, but Minue can move at will among many trees in the elfin forest, as well as to their counterparts in Faerie. On rare occasions she will take a mortal with her–either a human male who has captured her fancy, or a beleaguered elf in desperate need of refuge. Most elves can point to one or two trees that are part of Minue’s domain, but no elf knows them all.

No one is quite sure why Minue’s territory and powers are so different from other dryads. Some consider her the mother of all dryads, others wonder if she’s a fairy who is adept at passing into the mortal realm, still others believe she is a goddess whose true home is yet another plane of existence.  Little is known of her nature and still less of her purposes. People who are granted refuge or spirited away by Minue might emerge from a nearby portal within minutes. Others might appear years later with no memory of their lost time. A few return with gifts of mind or magic. And some disappear forever.  No one has ever been able to discern a pattern or predict what an outcome might be. Needless to say, any elf who calls upon Minue for refuge had exhausted all other options.

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This lore article provides background information for Honor Bound, Chapter 2.

The art is Golden Wood Dryad by Susan Schroeder, and is posted here with the artist’s permission. To see more of Susan’s work, visit www.susanschroder.com.