Map Reveal – Regional vs World

Map of Port Selumer and surrounding areas, by Steven Sandford

I am happy to reveal the official novel-edition map of Port Selumer and surrounding areas. Steven Sandford, who illustrated the world map seen in the Gift-Knight trilogy, returned to focus on all the world that’s relevant to the novel Alathea: Goddess & Empress.

The lay of the land

The city of Port Selumer springs up from the one large accessible beach to be found amidst rocky terrain and old cliffs. To the side and up those cliffs is the home of Emperor Maximian and his daughter, Alathea. Further to the east of that, and best accessed by an easily defensible causeway, is the territory of the old palace and village of Eirinikos.

It’s a city of tiers that gets divided by class along the upward slope. People at the bottom can live off the fruits of the sea and anything that might be desired for trade further up the city. North of the city, pastures and vast fig orchards exist to serve upper class feasts.

North of farms and orchards, you find some wilderness, most notably a sumac-dominated forest in which lurks a northern clan adept at stealth. And north of that, clan territories: different peoples who are alternately swinging deals and temporary alliances with the Port Selumer based empire or openly fighting against it, or settling disputes with each other, or just living life in a manner that’s most meaningful to them.

South of the city and a cross the water lies a more familiar world, but this novel isn’t directly concerned with that.

Challenges

A writer who can’t really draw for the life of him can picture what he wants in fragments but not render it the way he likes. An artist is capable of rendering such visuals but doesn’t have direct access to the writer’s mind. That’s the first challenge with me.

I start with drawing a mockup map. Here I try to remain cognizant of what exactly I don’t know how to do well with it so I can communicate the difference to the artist later. I also make frequent use of words to describe anything I want placed in a general location but don’t know how to draw. It’s a step up from a completely word-based set of instructions because at least I have tried to visually arrange where things should go relative to each other.

Scale is a greater challenge to me on a regional map than on a world map. A building only appears on a world map to show where a landmark is, but we don’t expect it to-scale.

When I had to mock up this regional map after only ever having done the world map, I was left with vast pockets of empty space because the city was too small, and conversely, too much attention was being paid to the world-map shape of coastline around it. I was automatically focusing on something irrelevant to the story, which means it doesn’t need to be on the map.

A professional map artist might have clued into that on his own, but they don’t know what I mean until I spell it out. Unfortunately, they are probably used to clients who have made them guess, only to say, “No no, that’s not what I had in mind,” without being particularly helpful to the artist. You will generally have a better time working with artists when you figure out how to avoid doing that, or at least how to be mindful of their challenge in not being able to read minds.

That said, I prefer to listen to the artist on matters of making geographic sense. In the world map, not every border could be a mountain range, and most divisions between land and sea for an entire continent weren’t going to be cliffs (if you will, is that an active fault line? Are some of the mountains on the range sandwiched against the sea/ocean going to be volcanic?). If you want something to be prohibitively inconvenient to navigate, consider other reasons why ships might pass an area by for a more convenient port, like swamps, dense mangrove growth, shallows, for example. If you want a village best accessible by causeway, perhaps there should be a reason visible on the map for people to go to all that architectural trouble.

At the end of the process, I feel that I considered exactly what I needed to have on a map for the purpose of the story. A touch of realism to the lay of the land is appreciated, but I’m also not attempting to map out a product of our planet’s specific environments, plate tectonics, and eons of geologic time. If you require a deeper level of detail than I do, or a harder realism, then you’re the one who decides that for your project.

For my part, I’m happy.

Alathea: Goddess & Empress” releases May 1, 2020, and is currently available for pre-order.

Cover Reveal – Alathea: Goddess & Empress

Main cover - "Alathea: Goddess & Empress"

Cover art: Rona Dijkhuis ( https://squareonecomics.com )

Base pose provided with permission by @manicmoth ( https://manicmoth.contactin.bio )

“She despised her father’s world. Why couldn’t sorcery be true? Would that world not be better?”

Alathea was raised to rule, but the benevolent and deranged forces that hope to prepare her for the throne may create a monster. She’s torn between her father’s reign of empty order through terror and violence, and a magical path that could be completely illusory. She can’t live one exclusive of the other, so she lives both.

Her father is bent on protecting his daughter from the same fanatics who killed her mother, but far too often his desire for revenge takes him away from her. His yearning to raise a strong and steadfast heir compromises what little time they do spend together.

Her tutor intends to help her be better than her father, more sensible and knowledgeable, in control of her own story and the narrative of the empire just as her mother had been. But he isn’t raising her alone and can’t predict how his teachings will be used.

Her nurse subtly coaxes her toward a path of faith and enlightenment according to the nurse’s secret masters, believing that Alathea can be saved and in turn save the empire. But the Seers have grim plans that they would never reveal to their minion.

This tragic story touches on loss, the insatiable hunger for control, the way people live stories and narratives, the innocence and danger of dreams, the follies of love, the deep hatred and rage dwelling within people, and the dangers of using conquest to strive for peace.

Embattled by all the forces hoping to shape her to their whim, Alathea takes a piece of everything they give her and becomes something never before seen in the land. Goddess. Empress. Monster.

Villains and Mental Health Depictions

The mask of Alathea

To my knowledge, no protagonist or antagonist I have written is a bad person because of a specific mental health issue per se. Every developed character I have is struggling with something deep and personal; for example, as I understand it, Derek has in common with his author that he’s autistic and that he gets to be under pressure from some of his peers and society for staying true to his demisexual nature, and also a deep dissatisfaction with his life at many points. He’s also not the main focus of this post, just an opening thought.

With my villains, their villainy tends to stem from imperialism, monoculturalism, a need for stifling control over everything, a refusal to collaborate with or listen to others about what their goals are and only letting people have input in order to use them for a personal goal, exaggerated vendettas, and a privileged detachment from countless human lives affected deeply by antagonistic actions every day. Lords Merton and Belheff are less-developed characters who have very specific agendas and treat human lives flippantly in order to pursue grandiose goals, and we can see how little they care about people of the land even if they claim everything they do is to strengthen and secure the future of that land. Merton and Belheff aren’t the focus either because they are pawns, and they’re getting about as much focus here as they do presence/relevance in the trilogy.

This is about Alathea, because I decided she’s important enough to have an entire new book written about her. This is also more within the trilogy context because that’s where she’s acting as primary antagonist. The new book doesn’t even go to the same places that the trilogy does because it’s focusing on a formative stretch or cycle of her life, though it sure doesn’t hide the aforementioned laundry list of villain traits either.

This is about her trademark mask. Everything she does that makes her an antagonist, she does whether the mask is on or off. It is never about being pleasant or charming when the mask is off, then a cruel dictator when it is on; she’s capable of being intimidating and mean without it.

The mask is specifically there because of an inner revulsion at having to perform violent acts against any other human being, even one who poses a threat to her, and a traumatic incident involving her father who believed she would need to have to kill someone some day for the sake of power and wanting a controlled learning experience of this for her. She’s convinced of what she needs to do according to his instruction, but feels utter revulsion that someone else couldn’t just do it for her, so her father’s mask is like something she can have with her that enables her to do what needs to be done.

After his death she likes to imagine it is him, and is a way in which he can be with her whenever she needs him, instead of constantly going away to fight battles that in her view he could always have gotten someone else to do, ultimately depriving her of his valued presence. She even likes to imagine having a conversation with him via the mask as a way of processing ideas which she may not like but she imagines he might have made her consider anyway.

None of which touches on why she is seen as a villain. It’s not wearing a mask that suddenly makes her an ultra-controlling imperialist warmonger, etc.

The original intent of the mask is also to intimidate, which her father used it for, which a key ancestor of theirs used a mask of his own for, so she can use that functionality as well. You wear it to battle so that no matter how you feel inside, no one should have to see you concerned or afraid. Just an intimidating entity to which one must surrender or die.

But she doesn’t have to wear the mask to send armies off to wars of aggression, nor order people tortured and/or killed, nor desire revenge against Chandra Kenderley, nor do any other terrible thing, except if she might have to take a life with her own two hands or do something very in-person and direct that doesn’t sit well with her.

Absolutely nothing about Alathea’s character arrived as a result of any study of clinical psychiatry, psychology, or any understanding of that nature, but everything I do certainly reflects long-standing tropes in fiction that I have read and any leaps of imagination resulting from that and everything is certainly up for discussion.

I felt the need to write this due to a broader discussion of mental health, its depictions in media, and especially cases where antagonists/villains are portrayed as having their villainy/antagonism directly caused by an unfair/inaccurate depiction of a mental health situation. I thought I should spell out my approach just for the record.