(Grumble, grumble, losing track of how many different places to link blogs to...)
Storytelling is an art of concealing as well as revealing. One of the reasons I enjoy using a very tight point of view is how it enables me to control what I show to the reader by means of what my viewpoint character does and doesn't know. Bits of reader feedback have suggested that some people disagree with my choice to conceal the events that immediately preceded the scene below, revealing them only by means of Barbara's fever-muddled memories. I can understand where they're coming from; we've been trained up to expect a very visual, active mode of storytelling and if there are exciting deeds, we want to see them vividly in front of us.
And for those who had that reaction: it's perfectly valid and I can only hope I'll give you scenes of more satisfying action in the future. (See last week's discussion on that point!) But I did have a specific reason for presenting the events as I did. Trauma often isn't experienced in real time. And major trauma often erases the real-time memory of the events and leaves us desperately trying to reconstruct them. All of my continuing characters either have been or will be completely knocked off their metaphorical feet at some point. The events of this chapter are the start of a major change in how Barbara understands her life, her purpose, and her sense of self. One of the biggest things she will experience is a feeling a complete loss of competency and (eventually) a greater acceptance of not being able to control her surroundings. Have you noticed that Barbara has MAJOR control issues?
Having her reconstruct the "missing scene" from a place of confusion, (temporary) amnesia, and physical helplessness is a key symbol of the challenges she's about to tackle in books to come.(Click over to the Alpennia blog for the teaser)
As a reader, it can be easy to forget just how much power readers have to make or break the success of a book--particularly of a book that doesn't have the resources of a major publisher's promotion department. I always feel hesitant about asking my readers to serve as my publicists, but the simple fact is that when an author tells people about how wonderful her books are, it gets discounted as meaningless. When a third-party reader tells people how wonderful a book is, they're more inclined to believe it. So while I never expect my readers to promote my books, I will occasionally point out that the success of my current books has a major influence on whether you'll be given the opportunity to enjoy future ones. If that matters to you as a reader, it's important not to treat my work as some sort of guilty pleasure--to be admitted to only when pressed--but to shout out to the rest of the world what a wonderful experience they'll miss out on if they don't read these books. With that in mind, here are a few observations on the process.
There is no such thing as "over the top" when promoting a book. No one has ever been convinced to read a new author by being told, "The writing is kind of interesting," or "She's never going to be the next Ursula K. LeGuin or Brandon Sanderson, but the books are ok, I guess." People expect book recommendations to be full of intensity and passion. A luke-warm recommendation is heard as a polite way of warning readers away.
When you recommend a book, don't hand people reasons to decide to avoid it. Reviews need to include critical assessment, but when you're being an advocate for a book, focus on the things you like, on what you consider the book's strengths. Honestly, I cringe when fans of my books write things like, "Even though it's a lesbian romance, other readers might enjoy this," or "I don't usually like historic settings but this one worked for me," or "it isn't really much of a romance but I didn't mind that," or "I enjoyed this book but I wouldn't recommend it to most people because they wouldn't appreciate it properly." Talk about the specific aspects that you honestly and genuinely loved. "The worldbuilding is intricate and immersive," or "the characters are all richly individual," or "the plot went in delightfully unexpected places."
Don't pre-reject the book when people are asking for recommendations. The most important part of recommending a book is remembering to actually recommend it. I'm not saying you should act like a rec-bot and insert the recommendation randomly into every conversation. But look for connections where it matches part of what people are looking for, even if it isn't a "central case". Books like mine aren't ever going to be a "central case." They intersect too many themes for that. But most of all, I beg you, simply remember that my books exist and that you liked them. Once upon a time, there was a recommendation thread in a lesbian fiction group where a reader was specifically looking for historic/fantasy stories. After I waited patiently for a day to see if anyone would recommend the Alpennia books, I finally suggested them myself. Several posters who had previously made suggestion comments jumped in and said, "Oh yeah, I really liked Heather's books." But not one of them had thought to recommend the series themselves. Don't make Alpennia the Colonel Brandon [*] of the book world, the books everyone thinks well of but nobody remembers to talk about.
[*] Sense and Sensibility reference
At the very least, post a review-like-object somewhere online. Not everyone does Amazon reviews; not everyone does Goodreads reviews; not everyone has a review blog. But pretty much everyone who is reading this has some context online where they can say, "Hey, I just read this great book [title] by [author]. Here's what I liked about it." Make sure the title and author's name will show up correctly on searches. That sort of thing matters.
That's probably enough of a pep talk for one day. Let's have another excerpt from Mother of Souls. It's the first term of Margerit's new college for women and Serafina has been tapped to help out with the thaumaturgy lectures...
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Chapter 22 - Serafina
“Mais— Serafina, I don’t understand.” The question came hesitantly from Valeir Perneld.
The hesitation in her voice was not from what they studied, for Valeir was one of Margerit’s most promising thaumaturgical finds: an auditor who heard the fluctus as choirs of angels. No, they all still stumbled over how to address each other. Margerit had declared that there would be no distinction of rank among the students. No constant reminder from mesnera to mefro of the distance between them outside these walls. And there, too, she held an awkward place. Not a teacher to be given the respect of a surname, and yet one who stood on familiar grounds with most of those who were. If the other students stumbled over addressing her as Serafina, she too stumbled to remember to address Akezze as Maisetra Mainus in their hearing.
“Yes, Valeir?” she said. “What is it?”
“How will it work to try to…to describe fluctus in pictures when I don’t see it?”
Serafina paused in laying out the drawings to answer. “Visio is the most common way of perceiving phasmata, if the word ‘common’ can be used at all. But even for visions it isn’t a simple question.”
From the corner of her eye, Serafina saw two figures slip quietly into the room. Not tardy students, but Margerit herself and a stranger in the dark clothing of a priest. It wasn’t at all uncommon for guests to observe the classes: parents who wanted to see what their daughters would be studying or simply the curious. And not surprising, perhaps, that a priest might be sent to examine what was being taught in the way of thaumaturgy. Margerit made a silent gesture to continue, so Serafina turned back to her topic.
“The depictio isn’t a true image. None of these are, any more than letters written on a page are the sound of a word.” She caught the eye of a plump, dark-haired girl at the far side of the table. “Helen, write your name on the board.” She nodded encouragingly to indicate that this was not intended as punishment.
The girl traced the letters crisply and precisely.
“Now in Greek,” she instructed.
With only the slightest hesitation, Helen wrote Ἑλένη.
“Now in Latin.”
Back to the more familiar letters: Helena.
“Now,” Serafina asked, “are those the same name?”
The students looked confused and uncertain.
“They’re not the same…” Valeir began.
Serafina returned to the dark-haired girl. “Who is your name-saint?”
“Sain-Helen,” she replied promptly.
“And if you read her life and miracles in Bartholomeus, what do you read on the page?”
Her eyes brightened in understanding and she said, “Sancta Helena.”
“Is that two saints or one?” Serafina asked. This time she directed the question to the whole cluster of girls.
“One,” they chorused.
Serafina nodded to indicate they’d done well. “So here you have a depictio that Maisetra Sovitre made during the Mystery of Saint Mauriz.” She returned to the images they’d been studying. “If I had represented that same moment of the ceremony—” She cast her mind back, though it hardly mattered in detail. “—I would have called the currents here more of a reddish-pink where she has green. I would have said it pulsed slightly, which she hasn’t indicated. And these lines here at the side are meant to indicate the aural part, but I rarely hear things during mysteries. Someone else who is a tactile sensitive might describe the same thing as a breath of warm air followed by a prickling as if an insect were walking on their skin.”
Two of the girls shuddered at that description.
“And yet the mystery is the same. The grace of God through Saint Mauriz is the same.” Serafina chose those words for the unknown priestly observer. Margerit was usually the one who insisted on the language of charis and miracles.
Bella Books has authorized me to do a few e-book give-aways to celebrate the release of Mother of Souls--and entice, new readers, of course! I'll be spreading them out around various online venues, so keep your eyes peeled for chances. In fact, let's do a giveaway right here and now! Comment on the blog post at alpennia.com and I'll select a random winner on Saturday. (Note: winner must set up a Bella Books account to redeem, but this only involves giving them an e-mail address, no financial information.) And if you already have a copy, you can transfer your win to someone else as a gift! (As long as they're willing to follow the redemption requirement.)
Comments are still going through manual moderation, so don't worry if it doesn't appear immediately. Check back on Saturday for the winner!
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Margerit Sovitre knew that setting up a women's college would be a complex, intense, and difficult project. But she didn't expect the opening of the first term to be accompanied by an avalanche of other disasters.
Chapter Twenty-One: Margerit
On returning home to Tiporsel House, there was barely a moment for Margerit to sense something was amiss. It was in the way the footman at the door glanced sideways with an ostentatious air of not telling her something important. But there, just beyond him, was Barbara, pacing the floor with a scowl and clearly waiting for her arrival.
Barbara jerked her head in the direction of the corridor to the back of the house and led the way, saying, “I’ve already sent a messenger to your aunt and uncle.”
Margerit’s stomach clenched. “To Aunt Bertrut?”
“To Chalanz, to the Fulpis. Best to reassure them with no delay. I took the liberty of suggesting that if the matter hasn’t gone beyond all hope of repair, it might make sense to put it about that the visit was planned.” Barbara paused at the closed door to the office. “I’ve left the scolding for you.”
The confusion resolved itself. Margerit slipped through the door and shut it behind her.
The figure that stood nervously before the small hearth might have been taken for a boy except that the cap that had hidden her tumbling riot of chestnut curls was now clutched and twisted in her hands. Margerit could guess the rest of the story from the ill-fitting brown wool coat and trousers—respectable enough not to provoke questions about a young man traveling alone on a public coach—and the small valise at her feet, barely large enough for the most basic necessities. Knowing her cousin, the first of those necessities were her journals. The stricken look on the girl’s face suggested either that Barbara had not been honest about the scolding or that her cousin had grown mindful of the enormity of her situation.
“Iulien Fulpi, what are you doing here?” Margerit demanded, seizing her cousin by the shoulders and shaking her violently. She wanted desperately to embrace her instead, relieved at safe passage through hazards only imagined now that they were past. “You’re too old to be running wild! What were you thinking?”
Iuli’s mouth quivered. “You promised.”
This is it: release week! And I...I'm floundering. It doesn't feel right to act as if the world is normal. To treat promoting a book as the most important thing to be doing. Yet when I look through the themes in Mother of Souls, I think perhaps it does have some resonances for these times. Here's something I posted on Twitter. Is it just me justifying myself?
Why in the world would my book be worth talking about at a time like this? Well, here are a few reasons I can think of. It's a story about queer women supporting each other in times of trouble. It's about finding common cause across differences. Mother of Souls is about facing a disaster bigger than you are, and deciding it's still worth the risk to tackle it. Mother of Souls is a story about how not all your allies are friendly and not all your friends are allies. And you move forward anyway. It's a story about recognizing the potential and the strengths of people unlike yourself and making your best effort to reach out. Mother of Souls recognizes both the power and the failings of love and family. It's a story that embraces diverse characters across religious, class, and racial barriers, wihtout ignoring those historic forces. That is why I can still bring myself to think it's worth offering my books to the world. Even in these times.
Or, as Serafina says to Luzie when they realize the potential her music holds: “Tanfrit has just gone into the waters. Nothing will ever be simple after that.” It isn't simple. It never was simple. No way out but forward. And the opening of the next chapter scheduled for a teaser echoes how I feel.
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Chapter 20 - Jeanne
The sky cracked open with a blaze of lightning as they crossed the border into the low, forested hills of Helviz. The coachman called down that he’d try to make Pont-Sain-Pol before dark. Jeanne relaxed into the cushions. The fury of the storm was nothing to the tense suspicions of the soldiers in the past week on the road. Travel papers that should have seen them safely through the morass of jurisdictions between Bayreuth and Strasbourg had been questioned at every turn and they had only once made the mistake of mentioning the nature of their visit to Prague. The closer they came to Alpennia the sharper the looks. What would Antuniet have done without her to coax and cajole? But Antuniet had done this before, and very much alone. Jeanne glanced over and saw her staring pensively out the window where rain lashed the glass into impenetrability.
“Are you thinking of the last time?” Jeanne asked.
Antuniet’s head turned from the window. “The last time?”
“That you traveled this way,” Jeanne said. “The last time you returned home.”
“No,” Antuniet said. And then, “Yes, I suppose. It’s different this time, but there’s still that uncertainty. Will my project succeed? What will the reception be?” She looked back toward the window. “That’s no natural storm. No wonder the people back in Les Bains were frightened. What have we come back to?”
Jeanne took her hand. That much, and no more. Toneke hated to be fussed over, and yet she longed to fuss. Throughout the whole journey she’d wanted to offer comfort when it might not be wanted, or even needed. And, of course, Marien was perched on the forward seat, studiously not seeing anything she wasn’t meant to see.
Not all of Antuniet’s outward calm was for show. When it came to the central purpose of this journey, she had made her calculations, weighed her choices, and set out with eyes open. Perhaps it was enough to be here, beside her, accepting those choices.
I'm not going to lie--I'm going to spend the entire day being jittery about the election. On the one hand, in my core, I'm confident that Clinton will not only win but win decisively. On the other hand, I'm horrified and terrified that the political climate of my country has made it possible for someone like Trump to get this far. Not that I have any illusions that our political past was any less horrifying and terrifying for marginalized people, but I hold onto the belief that year by year we are coming to a better, deeper, more inclusive understanding of the ideals our nation was founded on. There are so many political parallels around the world where a nation or a society that seemed to be raising itself up to embrace greater openness, greater equality, greater opportunity for all, unexpectedly loses its grasp on that dream and turns to squabbling, back-biting, me-firstism. And beyond my own vote and some substantial campaign donations, I've been left feeling useless to address that possibility.
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Useless: that was what Serafina's husband Paolo had called her when she was unable to turn her mystic visions into the practical help he'd married her for. Useless: the echo of it had followed her in her thaumaturgical studies with Margerit Sovitre. She could see the forces at work, but invoking them to do her will had so far eluded her. But that was all that the Austrian spy Kreiser had asked her to do: to see, and tell him what she saw. In their first sessions, she thought she would fail even at that small task. But as the summer wore one, Kreiser summoned her--no, summoned was not the right word. He simply indicated that he expected her to come and scry for him once more. They were to meet in the public gardens in Urmai, just outside the city of Rotenek. But many people visited the gardens there in summer, including one that Serafina was not yet ready to meet again.
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Chapter Nineteen - Serafina
She knew the monument Kreiser had specified. The gardens were not as full as the time she visited with Luzie and the boys. The children that played along the hedge-bordered paths today lived here, as did the shop girls out on a midday break. The visitors were a different mix as well: courting couples of respectable families, attended at a safe distance by maids or governesses, clumps of students from the university who hadn’t escaped the city for their more abbreviated summer season, walking with heads together in argument.
Serafina settled herself on a bench and looked around to see if Kreiser were in view. Her heart skipped. An achingly familiar figure was winding through the paths with an awkward case in hand.
Olimpia Hankez noticed her, hesitated, then shifted her path. “It’s a lovely day,” she offered.
It was what one said in Urmai. One praised the cool breezes that had first made the spot popular so many years ago. One admired the gardens and made note of whether the crowds were thick or thin. One didn’t exclaim in surprise at the sight of a former lover.
“You’ve come for work?” Serafina asked, nodding at the art case under her arm.
“I thought I’d set myself up and sketch. I need new faces,” Olimpia said, with a rueful twist of her mouth. “And you?”
“I’m meeting someone,” Serafina returned, trying to keep the answer as uninviting as possible. She could still be moved by Olimpia’s energetic grace. The betrayal hadn’t changed that. Luzie hadn’t changed that. Luzie filled a different place in her life, in her heart. A quieter place. Other spaces were still empty. Olimpia had filled one of them for a time. There had never been any word of forever between them. How could there have been? Olimpia dealt in bodies—explored them, appreciated them, immortalized them and then moved on. And for her? She barely knew what she was searching for.
From the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of Kreiser’s ruddy face. Olimpia saw the movement and followed it. Her eyes widened slightly. Had she recognized the Austrian? Or did she think it an assignation? Or both perhaps?
She said only, “It was good to see you again,” and moved on.
If Kreiser had noticed Olimpia he said nothing when he settled himself on the bench and placed a well-worn atlas in her lap. Even before she opened the covers she could feel the tingle of some mystic residue within the pages. There were no preliminaries this time.
“I thought this might help. Open to the marked page,” he instructed.
She found the ribbon and spread the book across her lap. It was only a section of land, taken out of context, with little markings for roads and rivers, tiny buildings indicating towns, and a faint glow perceptible only to the sensitive where Kreiser had marked a pattern of symbols across one part.
Next he opened a small case that shone brightly with fluctus and unwrapped layers of cloth to lay a frozen lump in her outstretched hand. It became slick with melt and made her fingers ache with the cold.
“Don’t worry about where the ice itself came from,” he said. “Follow the cold. Trace it back to its origin. Use the map.”
Serafina clenched her fingers around the ice, holding it away from the atlas and hoping that she could find the thread before it had melted away.
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Only another week until Mother of Souls is released! (The original date I was given was the 14th, but the publisher's website is now saying the 17th.) Pre-order from Bella Books. Or ask your local bookstore to carry it. Or put a request in at your library. Or show up at the release party at Chessiecon and get your copy signed, along with other cool swag! And I've pledged that if (when) Clinton wins the election, I'll give away five e-books of Mother of Souls on Twitter, so if you're active there, keep your eyes peeled on Wednesday. (For non-Twitter folk, I periodically do platform-specific giveaways. Don't worry.)
Since I covered a review topic yesterday (and don't have any new reviews to post), how about I swap days and do my not-at-all-random-Thursday promo for Mother of Souls today? Just as a reminder, you can pre-order the paperback or e-book from Bella Books, or order the paperback through Amazon. (E-books are released to the other outlets on a delay, so Kindle will be available in time.) Release date is...um...either November 14 or November 17 depending on which version of the story you're going by.
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Any time I fear I’m losing the thread of a writing project, or need to go to the heart of what one of my books is “about”, I come back to the question: What does this character want? What motivates her at some deep level in everything she does? What measure will she use to determine which choice to make. What desires will turn out to be her weakness, that will tempt her beyond what is sensible? Thinking about those questions has never yet led me wrong. So what do some of these women want?
Luzie Valorin wants to keep her promise to her late husband and see their sons well launched into the world. To give them their best chance of a good place in society…even if that means their place is often far away from her side. Luzie wants to make her parents proud—not simply to assure them that she has made a comfortable life on her own, but to send what she can, now and then, to make their lives more comfortable. Beyond that, Luzie longs for something of her own, something beyond simply fulfilling her duties, something to warm her heart and fill an empty place in her life.
Margerit Sovitre wants to change the world. Oh, nothing earth-shattering; she isn’t interested in politics or the affairs of court. She remembers how sharply and desperately she wanted a chance to study and learn, back when she was a poor relation. Back before her surprise inheritance opened doors she hadn’t imagined. Now she wants to open those doors to others, and if she needs to, she’ll build the doorways and even the whole building around them to do so. Thaumaturgy has given her a taste of a different sort of power, and Margerit is certain that it could move mountains…if only the entrenched forces of Alpennian society were willing to listen to a young woman. And Margerit wants to know everything there is about the mystical powers she can invoke—ones that she is just beginning to learn aren’t the only sort that the world holds.
Serafina Talarico is quite blunt about what she wants: “I want to belong! I want to be comfortable.” But the comforts she remembers from her childhood have been stripped away, layer by layer as she grows up and confronts the reality that she will be a stranger everywhere she goes, even in the city of her birth. Now she would be content to master her own mystical talents—to feel something more than useless and dull-witted. And if she dared to admit it, Serafina wants to be cherished—to find someone who will look into her eyes and truly see her, and want what they see.
Above anything else in the world, Jeanne de Cherdillac wants Antuniet Chazillen, and now that she has achieved that desire, she wants to sort out what is left of her place in society in the aftermath. Jeanne always had a talent for organizing other people’s lives. Now she want to turn that talent from organizing balls and parties to helping others achieve their place in life, whether that place is on stage in the Grande Salle or at the center of a salon among a crowd of witty and talented intellectuals. In her youth, Jeanne learned a hard lesson about not wanting the impossible. But the possible includes many things. Sometimes they only need someone like Jeanne to give them a push.
Barbara Lumbeirt wants to protect and support all the people whose lives are bound to hers. Some might have thought it was a reflex left over from her years serving as Baron Saveze’s armin and duelist. Saveze was part of the cause, but as an old-fashioned model of what a lord owed to the land and people. But these are new times and the people Barbara wants to protect may have other ideas. Barbara wants an outlet for her restless energy and few things offer the challenge she needs like the rumors of international conflict that are reaching across Alpennia’s borders to strike at those she loves.
Antuniet Chazillen wants to restore the lost honor of her family and leave a legacy that will reach across the ages. The first step of that quest was achieved when she was named Royal Alchemist to the court of Alpennia. But her single-minded focus on legacy may risk everything she has already gained.
Iulien Fulpi wants what every provincial upper middle class girl wants: a glittering coming-out ball surrounded by those she loves, and the heady whirl of a dancing season before the need to make decisions that will fix the direction of the rest of her life. But she wanted her cousin Margerit to be there—her beloved and idolized cousin who sometimes seemed to be the only person who understood there might be more to want in addition to those things.
Anna Monterrez wants to repay the trust everyone has rested on her: her father’s trust that her alchemical studies will provide her with a respected trade, in case her scarred face fails to secure her a husband; the trust of her teacher, Antuniet Chazillen, who is granting her ever more responsibility in the alchemical laboratory; the trust of the Vicomtesse de Cherdillac who has promised to turn her from a shy schoolgirl into a sophisticated salonnière. But will Anna’s most secret, most hidden desire betray all those trusts?
(They're doing the monthly website updating currently, so content may shift and settle somewhat.)
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I don't know if I'll continue posting teasers for Mother of Souls once the book is out. It rather seems beside the point once people can just read the whole thing! I've skipped ahead a bit for this one, where Margerit is working on the curriculum for her women's college with the chosen headmistress: her former governess Sister Petrunel (Petra). On the way in, they've bumped into Antuniet's apprentice, Anna Monterrez who is visiting Margerit's library.
Anna is one of several ethnic minority characters where I look for a tricky balance between not erasing the very real prejudices of the historic setting of my story, without making those aspects so prominent that readers who identify with the characters find the story unpleasant to read. There are limits to the believability of having my protagonists all be open-minded and lacking in prejudice, and I've tried to show them stumbling regularly in subtle but realistic ways. But for the most part, I've shoved the more serious expressions of prejudice off onto non viewpoint characters, and perhaps that's a bit of cowardice on my part for now. Given Anna's future story arc, there will be some necessary conflicts around her religion that I'll need to tackle head on, and I hope my Jewish beta readers will help me navigate them successfully as they have attempted to guide me in this book.
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Chapter 18 - Margerit
“That girl seems an unusual choice for an apprentice,” Petra commented.
Margerit laughed. “When has Maisetra Chazillen done anything in the usual way? But Anna is perfect for her. And she’s the sort of student I want. Serious and studious, but one with no opportunity to pursue a higher education in the usual way.”
“Do you mean she’s to be one of your students?”
“If her father agrees,” Margerit said. “That seems to be the case with so many of them! I think I have enough parents convinced for a respectably sized class. It makes sense to start with a small group, focusing on the girls with the most interest. With more, half might drift away and that would dishearten them.”
“But a Jewish girl…do you think she will be comfortable?” Sister Petrunel seemed to be taken aback and was searching for some tactful objection.
Margerit frowned. She hadn’t thought that Anna might feel alone in that way. “Perhaps I should ask Maistir Monterrez if he knows any other girls who might be interested.”
“That wasn’t quite what I meant,” Petra said tartly. “Would she be permitted to study at a Christian school?”
“I’d scarcely call it that,” Margerit protested. “It’s true I plan to cover thaumaturgy in the curriculum, and that means a certain interest in theology, but nothing formal.” The university dozzures might consider that to be too great a trespass into their own gardens. “I hope there’s no reason why Jewish students wouldn’t feel welcome.”
Petra said slowly, “I suppose I had assumed…”
Oh. That possibility hadn’t occurred to Margerit: that hiring Sister Petrunel and filling some of the teaching positions from the ranks of the Orisules might give the impression that her college was meant to be an extension of the convent schools.
“I never meant it as a religious school, as such,” Margerit ventured, watching Petrunel’s face for reaction.
“But you mean to teach thaumaturgy.”
“As a philosophy, yes. And as a study of practices. I’d like—” She’d mentioned this only to a very few people. “I’d like to see if we can encourage the development of talents in that direction. You yourself said that it’s difficult for girls to get good instruction in thaumaturgy outside the convent. Even the ancient authors talk about the difficulty of passing on traditions when each mystery guild keeps its own secrets so closely. Everyone says Alpennia has a strong tradition of mysteries based on the work of people like Fortunatus and Gaudericus. But that’s centuries past. Where is the new work? Where are their ideas being taught and expanded? I know groups like the Benezets are said to teach their own members, but the guilds guard their traditions too closely. The university doesn’t encourage practice. Not in any practical sense. If thaumaturgy is to revive in importance to the state—”
She hesitated, wondering how common that knowledge was. Princess Annek had privately encouraged her plans for the school but perhaps she hadn’t meant that support to be public. “Not just the Great Mysteries and the protections of the tutelas, but things that are useful. Like the healing mysteries you do at the convent. Think how much more could be done with more trained thaumaturgists. Or combining ritual with new agricultural practices. We’ve all heard about the failed ceremonies during the French wars. What if Prince Aukust could have called on a practiced corps that could direct the guilds…?”
She let the thought trail off, realizing how self-important it sounded that she might change the face of Europe on the basis of a group of schoolgirls.
The Lesbian Talk Show, which hosts my Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast episodes, is doing a holiday special series currently, with special episodes of regular shows and additional episodes that mix and match the regular contributors. I was matched up with Suzie Carr who does a regular postive-thinking series called "Curves Welcome" and we brainstormed the intersection of our two topics and came up with "The Masks We Wear", discussing both phyiscal and psychological masks and costumes and how we use them to interact with others and negotiate our identities in the contemporary world and in history.
You can listen to the show directly online, or even better, you can subscribe to The Lesbian Talk Show through iTunes, Podbean, or Stitcher. (And if you like the show, we'd love it if you give it a rating to help others find it.)
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I apologize for not posting my wrap-up of A Little Princess yesterday. It's being a demanding week--I have an intense investigation at work that is eating up my lunch hours, and the final proofs of Mother of Souls came in for review and took priority over other things in my non-work hours. You'll have to wait until next Wednesday to find out how the story ends!
The events and concerns in Daughter of Mystery were very parochial. We heard about secondary and tertiary effects of the French Wars (i.e., Napoleon) but ordinary people's everyday lives didn't concern themselves much with international affairs. When I brought in the character of Kreiser, the Austrian agent, in The Mystic Marriage, I started digging a lot deeper into what was going on elsewhere in Europe. What was his political context? Who might he be working for or against? I was already laying the seeds for the mystical peril that forms one of the major plot strands in Mother of Souls and I needed to know who was doing what, and when and where and why. Barbara likes to think of herself as fairly politically savvy for internal Alpennian affairs, but once she started playing games of intrigue with Kreiser, she needed to scramble to keep up.
Judging by feedback, readers aren't quite sure what to make of Kreiser. Is he a villain? Antuniet certainly thinks so. Is he simply an entertaining antagonist? Barbara treats him as such. And Serafina's interactions with him will be more complex. What's his angle? Why is he spending so much time hanging around in Rotenek? And when he taunts Barbara into intellectual skirmishes with him, is it purely for amusement or is there something he hopes she can provide to further his aims? If the reader isn't entirely certain at this point, that's pretty much what I intend.
During the summer of 1824, when Barbara is making the usual circuit and survey of her properties, she has an appointment to meet up with Kreiser in Saveze, as he returns over the border from Switzerland. They fence with each other, trying to determine how much trust to offer in pursuing a mutual goal. Or are they both pursuing the same goal at all?
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Chapter 16 - Barbara
“It had been suggested back at the Congress of Verona,” Kreiser continued, ignoring her stumble, “that a larger, more balanced force should intervene in Spain. Moving across the mountains here and then by ship. But…”
“But they couldn’t get through,” Barbara finished for him. “They would have been stopped before the pass. But wasn’t the mystery already in place by then?”
Kreiser waved aside the objection. “By the time anyone gets to talking, the moves and counter-moves have already been made. Someone wanted to prevent that army from traveling to Spain. And even leaving behind artillery,” he continued, “by the time they could march through under those conditions, the battle would have been decided. The debates were a meaningless show. The army never moved and France had a free hand in Spanish affairs.”
“So you think it’s France?”
Kreiser’s sidelong glance was both amused and suspicious. “Do you?” He leaned back in his chair and seemed to be enjoying himself greatly. “If it were only that simple! I suspect everyone. There were some who signed to the accords who were quite happy to have had the matter taken out of their hands. Within my own government there are forces who have moved in the past to pre-empt the ministers’ decisions. And there are companies of thaumaturgists on every side. Not all have the power to work something of this sort, but the ones who do are rarely those who boast that they could.”
For a brief moment, all masks seemed to drop away and Kreiser looked more tired than Barbara had ever seen before.
“There’s a good reason why my activities in Alpennia have not fallen under the most official channels,” he said. “And why my public mission has been cloaked in playing at marital intrigues.”
If it were a ploy for sympathy, it fell short. Kreiser’s “playing” had left bodies in its wake the year before, and it was only good fortune that none of them had been people she cared for. But she could believe it had been nothing more than misdirection, for it had come to nothing in the end.
Barbara was no longer certain how much of Kreiser’s tale was belated honesty and how much was still part of that game. If he could pretend to bluntness, so could she. “Why Alpennia? Why me? Why haven’t you brought this directly to Princess Anna’s ministers or to your own ambassador? Why quiz me like a catechism rather than stating what you need outright?”
Kreiser exhaled, halfway between a sigh and a grunt. “Alpennia is at the heart of it, I’m certain. Not in the way my superiors think, but they wouldn’t take my word for that, and—” He leaned forward in a move that might still be playacting. “—I don’t trust them any more than I trust you or the Russians or the French, though perhaps more than I trust the English. I have been tasked with determining whether we’re dealing with external enemies or with hidden forces within the Empire itself. If this is the work of foreign thaumaturgists, I am to cripple them as best I can. And that is where I hope to have your support.” His gesture took in the entirety of Alpennia. “No one in Vienna has the power to work at this distance, and we don’t have anyone with the right talent in place in Paris. The Russians don’t do this type of work. The English won’t even admit to having thaumaturgists. The last thing I want is to get tangled up with the disaster that is Rome. You have the mystical traditions and people with the skills to help carry it off, as well as the will to do so. I can’t be seen to be working directly with your government, but no one will notice my dealings with you.”
Yes, Barbara thought. She had played at cat-and-mouse with him over most of his false distractions. No one would find anything suspicious in their continued entanglements.
“And if it turns out to be agents within Austria itself?” she asked.
Kreiser’s face settled into grimmer lines. “Then it’s possible I will be a dead man as soon as I make my report.”
(The recording for Daughter of Mystery isn't my best work, I'm afraid. I was reading way too fast and hadn't started using Audacity for recording yet.)
Magic in the world of Alpennia is elusive to the senses. Someone with the right talent may see the workings of the mysteries in visions--though no two will see exactly the same thing--or may hear it in "angel voices", like one young woman who appears in Mother of Souls, and many who have no other special sensitivity will experience the Great Mysteries as a shiver like the feel of someone walking over your grave. I not only have to convey how each character perceives is, but to convey how they understand what they're perceiving. Serafina struggles with that same thing, as she and Luzie work over their compositions: how do you describe the workings of magic to someone who can't see them, and do it well enough for that person to shape the mystical effects? Here's a little window on that struggle.
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Chapter Fifteen - Serafina
Serafina leaned on the end of the fortepiano and watched Luzie’s hands move over the keyboard. She never tired of watching those hands, of imagining what other tunes they might play. No, that was too soon. Too soon. Issibet was on the sofa with her sewing, constantly in Serafina’s awareness. Even a touch that might once have seemed harmless now burnt like a coal. Guilt magnified everything.
Light filled the room in swirls and eddies. Serafina kept up a quick commentary on what she saw, using the code words they had slowly developed between them. When they spoke of music, they fell into Italian together, in a jumble of dialects that still failed to hold the words needed to describe what they were attempting. They fumbled and stretched to find a meeting point.
“The third time through is weaker,” she said. “It needs… It needs to start from a different place but move toward the same finish. Not like the call and response of a tutela mystery. More like a castellum where the echoes are the same but different each time, and build up layer on layer. Or like a painting.”
She thought of watching Olimpia at work: the sketches, the underlayers, the glazes, the highlights. Each utterly different and yet all shaping the figure on the canvas.
Luzie paused and then tried the strain again with the chords modulated to a wilder, more mournful sound.
“Yes,” Serafina said slowly. “That might work. Now again from the beginning.&rdquo
It was a slow, tedious process, this working out of Tanfrit’s aria. And it was only the first of the major songs they’d tackled. The mystic undertones could only be seen in the structure as a whole. With each revision they went back to the beginning—the beginning of that song, at least. Heaven knows how long it would take if they needed to play the entire sequence to see the success of each change!
Luzie was endlessly patient. She might not be able to see the details of the fluctus, but she knew music. Serafina marveled at how Luzie turned her frustrated, incoherent suggestions into exactly the right structure of sound that filled the house with power and made the hairs along her arms stand on end.