2020: Reflecting and Looking Ahead

2020 saw the first National Novel Writing Month since 2008 where I did nothing at all, a final word count of zero for any intended novels. That came and went without regret because I knew the time wasn’t right and November is often the busiest month of production at work, as if I found myself in a career completely antithetical to what I had been doing for fun.

Frankly, the only novel I had written during this 2016-2020 span was “Alathea: Goddess and Empress”. I managed that because this was a familiar character in a setting already created (see “Crown Princess’ Voyage”, where I’ve already established her, the most important people in her life by that point, her history, her home port city, motivations, personality etc.) and I had notes prepared. Also, I had not worked in manufacturing for most of that year; my season started somewhere between late August and early September (right after Labour Day? I forget these minor details quite often, please don’t ask me to remember most birthdays without Facebook telling me when they are), so I had the reserves of strength to write part of a novel (the ending wasn’t written back then, 3/4 of the book hit the word count goal and I finished the rest years later) while still editing and transcribing, handling copy editing and writing duties for Auxiliary Magazine, and plunging myself into a new career that was really challenging and made me emotional quite often.

Every other year from 2017 to 2019, I hit that word count by writing a diary, which doubled as a “dumping ground manuscript”, a place for every wayward thought, confession and silly story that I wanted to write into the void, then delete after validating word count. I didn’t see the point nor feel the need for that this year.

It’s 2020 and so many of us are in a place we didn’t foresee, extra challenges piled on to whatever we were already facing. Times that have really laid me bare and forced me to proper introspection; not necessarily revelations, but in most cases, memories, things known in a prior time but not accepted. If you are where I have been, my only advice is that you might not be protecting yourself by forgetting. Whatever it is, it will return to the surface until you face it properly. That’s some of the work I’ve been doing, and along the lines of lessons I must never forget. I will leave it at that for now.

From out of this, I have somehow felt ready to revamp the next manuscript. I first wanted to say I’m writing a new book, then a “new old book”, because the first draft predates my Lush career. I feel like there should be some record of it preceding 2015, but 2015 mostly doesn’t exist in my memory for reasons I don’t want to get into right now. 2015 involves marching around, poking holes in riverbanks with the screw end of a wooden broom handle, and planting milkweed and other seed bombs. If 2015 is when I wrote this “new old book” draft that’s been in front of me for a few days as I take chapter-by-chapter content notes and write suggestions for how to proceed, then it wasn’t such a write-off year after all. I certainly was planting things in a most hopeful way.

I’m going to write the next draft of this “new old book”. I may pursue editors this go-around. From there, it makes the most sense to publish it the way the others have been published, unless some opportunity arises to revamp them all under an imprint; one can dream. This book fits with the others and even refers to a couple that aren’t written yet. A tiny number of people have read the draft that I wrote at the time, and I don’t believe any of them have truly left me, though we aren’t all in close contact anymore. Hey, it’s a time of social distancing anyway. We can keep close from a distance thanks to the internet. That’s been true for a while, actually.

Today, I’m doing what you would expect the indie writer stereotype to do. I drank coffee, I await breakfast, and I’ve been building a writer playlist, even writing this post, anything but actually doing the work. That’s typical for me, but the four books on the market show that eventually I do what I’m supposed to be doing. Even if I don’t start that today, I know what time I’m setting aside every workday to do this, and what necessary sacrifice needs to happen so I can make time.

Thanks for following this quiet Facebook Page, and anywhere else, my personal feed, Twitter timeline, quiet website blog. Everyone who has crossed paths with me on this journey has had something to add, some lesson to teach me, along my journey. I want to end this post with gratitude for your role, taking time out of your eventful life to do something for mine.

Thank you for everything, and stay safe.

Cover and Title Reveal: The Fate of Lenn

A man of stocky build in lamellar armour stands near a wheat field pensively holding an inverted sword; side profile view. The stylized words "The Fate of Lenn" announce the title, followed by the author name in plainer text, "Dylan Madeley". The image is bordered by an interweaving of wheat and roses, suggesting the stylistic inspiration of illuminated manuscript borders.

The Fate of Lenn by Dylan Madeley

Cover art by Jenn St-Onge

“Like a book already written, turn a page forward or back, read a line or a page, yet all the words in that book exist at once, unchanging; is this how you see it? Like fate? Do we fall no matter what I do?”

Future generations will mythologize Duke Lenn Wancyek, but he is a person like any other. He feels hope, worry, loss, pain, and the weight of a kingdom on his shoulders. When his responsibilities place him in a catastrophic situation from which he may not escape, his values will resonate through his actions more thoroughly than any speech he could ever make.

You will meet everyone who looks to him and you will see their struggles which run concurrent with his: a friend and adviser who wishes to steer him right; three musicians who think they have landed the greatest job in the kingdom; a gardener who does so much yet asks so little; a woman who works to free her people. The list goes on, but time grows short.

You will meet the man who becomes the legend. You will know the fate of Lenn.

Purchase The Fate of Lenn for Kindle

Paperback and Barnes and Noble editions in progress

Cover and Title reveal: Prince Ewald the Brave

Cover art by Jenn St-Onge

“No, father. You have gotten your way for too long. This ends here.”

Meet the Kenderleys, the wealthiest and most powerful family in the world.

The youngest, Prince Bonifaz, takes his lessons and trusts no one. The middle child, Princess Isabel, sneaks away to a secret regency of her own making. Their mother, Queen Dulcibella, watches out for her children just as readily as she watches over them. Their father, King Jonnecht, is a capricious tyrant who hopes to control his family as strictly as he does the largest empire, and his violent rage threatens all under his rule.

Then there’s Prince Ewald, eldest and heir to the throne. No one is more aware of the threat his father poses to everyone. No one has better legal standing to do anything about it. How can he save everyone he loves while upholding his mother’s kind values? He must learn the lessons required to be the best regent, choose allies wisely and earn their trust, and enact a thoughtful and detailed plan.

And even if he succeeds in all that, can one who draws the line and conducts a plan with honour defeat one whose rage, selfishness, and deceit know no bounds?

Can Prince Ewald stop his father?

Out for Kindle May 1, 2021

Prince Ewald the Brave can be preordered for Kindle. Paperback options to follow!

Alathea character art by Jenn St-Onge

Alathea character art by Jenn St-Onge

She looked to the mask rather plaintively; now, more than ever, she needed her fierce face. She needed to imagine that her father was still there for her, ready to do things she couldn’t. In order to believe that, she needed to imagine his words as if the mask spoke them.

“How many sons never came home to their mothers because of Selene? And how many fathers never returned to their daughters? You know what Honorius told you. This woman doomed people to feel exactly how you felt, Alathea, yet did she not get to stay with her father to the end of his days?”

Alathea wept. It was good that she hadn’t yet dared to apply gold dust or makeup. She knew it would come to this. It all had to come out now, when the prisoner couldn’t witness the vulnerability for a second time.

“No parent, no child, no one in the world should ever have to feel that way. That world, that shining future, is what I always wished I could give you. Now I’ll never leave you alone, because you need me. Embody me once again. Remain clean of this evil; you’re too good for it. Wash the tears from your cheeks. Put on my face that never weeps.”

Alathea vigorously washed her face and glared at her reflection in the polished brass. She needed to be ready. A sinner needed to be punished.

“She thought you were her entertainment. Let’s show her how you play with dolls.”

Alathea: Goddess and Empress can be purchased on Amazon.

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.

January 2020 Progress Report

It seems like it’s been half a year or longer. What have I been up to?

Working on things other than books, mostly, but you can stay tuned for something new on the horizon. I will release news and material leading up to the debut of something new.

In the meantime, I work to fund my creative ventures. The following is my typical “lunchroom look” at my job. I took it close to the end of 2019, hence its caption.

View this post on Instagram

Last full work week of the year for me.

A post shared by Dylan Madeley (@dylanmadeley) on

Feel free to follow my Twitter or Instagram accounts for more frequent updates.

First Editions For Charity

Newly revised and reformatted editions of The Gift-Knight’s Quest have rolled out for Kindle and Kobo, and print-on-demand via the Amazon platform. The new editions include spelling corrections and subtle improvements to the text that do not alter the story and should not compromise the sequels.

That begged the question of what happens to 70 remaining first editions sitting in boxes behind my bedroom door. I don’t want to sell these at vendor events when there should always be the newest edition available; new editions happen because I like putting my best foot forward. The Kickstarter editions can still do some good, so I set up an ecommerce solution and gave them a quest.

They are for sale to support the same charity that I supported with my banner raffle last Ad Astra and the raffle to come.

Jenn St.-Onge art and a re-release

Commissioned artwork by Jenn St.-Onge

The big news around here is a fun art commission by Jenn St.-Onge (Bingo Love, Nancy Drew, Jem and the Holograms: The Misfits, and much more) which revisits the cover of The Crown Princess’ Voyage (by Rona Dijkhuis). The book is a nice touch since Chandra Kenderley is a character who reads books, values books, and lives books whenever she isn’t suddenly burdened with the ultimate responsibilities of an empire.

And one more announcement

For a few years now, the paperback edition of The Gift-Knight’s Quest has been different than the ebook, and the Kickstarter first edition of the paperback was never print-on-demand. As of April 2019, I had two people inform me that they could only get the paperback from Amazon via resellers and used copies, most likely because most of the unsold first editions left in the world are sitting in boxes behind my bedroom door.

I decided, partly on spur of the moment, partly because I had been considering it for a long time but never making a plan, to clean all this stuff up. My friend Candice helped a lot by formatting, just as she has formatted the currently available sequel ebooks and paperbacks; thank you! Now the ebook edition on Amazon and Kobo is a newly revised and reformatted edition.

Also, the print-on-demand paperback edition is now available. I’m happy that every edition is the best it can be and the two of them match.