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.

Quantifying Revisions

Today I would like to have a brief chat with you about quantifying revisions. It’s great to say we went through a manuscript from top to bottom and thoroughly scoured it. Generally, we work hard and that’s all anyone needs to know.

But what if we want some numeric measurement of what we did, even if it’s just out of personal curiosity?

Tools like Scrivener might already give you the difference in greater detail, but I’m not experienced with it. I’m relatively lo-fi in comparison, just using Microsoft Word for most of my needs; however, Word has some helpful tools to quantify differences when you keep your drafts in separate documents.

Let’s use The Masked Queen’s Lament as an example, because I zeroed in on one necessary change when I went back and fixed it, but I did much more than that. How much more? Well, according to Word:

A comparison panel suggests 853 revisions between the first release and the re-release.
A comparison panel suggests 853 revisions between the first release and the re-release.

The image shows many more tools for comparing the differences line by line, but I only wanted one figure to summarize it for you. According to Word, that one number is 853 revisions.

There are also online tools to run a “diff”, or a comparison between two text documents. One such tool is

It gives a marginally different result in a slightly expanded way:

Diffchecker suggests 419 removals and 457 additions.
Diffchecker suggests 419 removals and 457 additions.

In this case, a different algorithm spotted 419 removals (deletions) and 457 additions. The sum of those is slightly larger than what Word gave us, but it’s in the same ballpark.

Numbers, of course, give us quantity. Quality is something else. These measurement tools aren’t going to replace a human who can tell you how one single change fixed a phrase that had been nonsense due to a word omission or a typo. They don’t describe how things are better. Their sole job is to spot the difference.

Have you ever tracked your manuscript revisions in a quantifiable manner? Have you found it practically useful in a particular context, or were you, like me, just curious? Feel free to leave a comment.

Do you own a first edition? Here’s how to tell

I streamed a YouTube video today to talk about the easiest ways you can tell whether any of your paperback copies of my Gift-Knight trilogy are first editions.


Hello. I’m Dylan Madeley, author of The Gift-Knight’s Quest, The Crown Princess’ Voyage, and The Masked Queen’s Lament.

And I’m here to talk about the unofficial “first editions” of my work compared to books that will be available on Amazon and other platforms going forward.

Now, let’s start chronologically. The [Gift-Knight’s Quest], the first editions were done in a print run via Matador which is an imprint of Troubador Books over in the UK.

So first off you’ll know if you have a first edition of my book because it will have the Matador imprint on the back and it will have the price of the book listed in Pounds Sterling, not US dollars or Canadian dollars or anything like that.
And it will be about what, 10.99p?

And I no longer really have a working business relationship with Matador or Troubador, whatever you’d like to call them, we amicably parted ways as my contract ran out, so therefore they no longer handle ebook versions of this either.

I don’t know how well you’ll be able to tell first edition ebooks or whatnot, let’s keep it to paperbacks.

So, Gift Knight’s Quest is, not only does it have the Matador imprint and the Brit pounds price, it has a full bleed artwork cover. You know what I mean if you’ve compared The Gift-Knight’s Quest to The Crown Princess’ Voyage, where the artwork looks like a box on the cover with a black border around it. That’s a CreateSpace/Amazon/KDP, you know, they didn’t, I didn’t have the same luck doing a full bleed cover on either of my sequels. So the formatting’s entirely different.

So then when The Gift-Knight’s Quest becomes, joins the others as books I have entire control over even the paperback version, there will not be full bleed covers anymore.

Let’s move on to The Crown Princess’ Voyage, because this one has always been done on my own with CreateSpace/KDP, so the differences are rather minimal. The first big difference you will see is actually the finish of the cover.

What I mean by that is, most of these books have a gloss coating, gloss is traditional, for the first edition Crown Princess’ Voyage I went with matte. That probably means that if you have a first edition Crown Princess’ Voyage, there is a scuff mark somewhere on it because, as I realized, the matte was trash. It was just very easily damaged, merely upon transportation. Before I even had all the copies they already had little shiny marks where the matte had been worn off by being in the box with other books, jarred.

So, differences in the text, as well, I mean I skipped that for Gift-Knight’s Quest so I don’t even know if I want to go into that, very miniscule. They’re important, but, the changes are important and they matter but I won’t get into that today.

Now, Masked Queen’s Lament. Because it’s so recently released, it has that gloss cover, it’s on CreateSpace/KDP so it’s not a Matador book at all. But, without even knowing the different things I did with words, you will be able to see on the back of the book whether you have a first edition or not. Okay.

The difference is, if it’s a first edition, the opening quote will be something about how, “Alathea was enjoying the feeling of all her weaponeers watching her and hanging on her every word, and it felt a lot like control.”

And I chose that initially because yes, it encapsulates the character’s big issue: want for control. Control of life, control of absolutely everything, because she didn’t have control as a child.

But, over time, I looked at it and I thought it was a bit hammy, I was already doing edits on the interior having found a bunch of typos upon a casual reread, and some of which were just brutal, so I thought okay, I need to fix these.
So, second edition, if we can even call it that, of The Masked Queen’s Lament, will not have the same rogue’s gallery of typos and errors, but also the back of the cover will instead quote her saying, “Has this been one bitter lifelong lesson of what little love can accomplish?”

And I chose that because it’s a Lament being made by the Masked Queen. So then, it’s the masked queen’s lament. It’s the title of the book, it goes back to that. So it’s very on the nose in making sense.

And so that’s how you will be able to tell if you have one of the rare first edition copies of any of these books, because all of them will be different. I mean, if you ask me, the interior copy’s only gonna be better over time. The ebook edition of Gift-Knight already makes certain better adjective choices when describing characters because I was really really irreverent back then in all that I did, and I kind of cringe at it now like, you know, you don’t need to be like that all the time.

Crown Princess interior words, I mean, I edited the original when I was heavily medicated, and I occasionally encounter a passage where I go, yeah, was I even reading it? So the ebook editions now and the available KDP version now, with its gloss cover, will have better words.

And The Masked Queen’s Lament, it was really important to me that I nail it, I did my best with the second editing run, and the back cover is how you will be able to tell, whether it’s one of the upwards of 40 copies that I printed before realizing I needed to fix the whole thing, which if you bought you likely bought at Ad Astra in 2018 or at Toronto Pagan Pride Day 2018 [Harvest Festival] where I made most of my sales.

So that’s that. I thought it’d be neat to get into the different editions that have sprung up this early on in the game, although in terms of my first book it’s been almost five years now.

See ya next time.

The Masked Queen’s Lament available once again

The Masked Queen's Lament book cover

After a necessary editing run, The Masked Queen’s Lament has returned to Kindle/Kobo ebook retailers and to Amazon in print-on-demand format. I had been casually re-reading through my proof copy and found a critical mass of errors that turned up in the print copy as well, including one puzzling misgendering that ultimately pushed me to decide another editing sweep was warranted; not to catch everything, because self-editing a 128,000+ word document will have its limitations for me, but not to let so much through the editorial sieve.

One major benefit of self-publishing through an easy platform, especially using print-on-demand, is the ability to revise a manuscript and put it up again. Ebook platforms will, as far as I know, let the reader update to the latest ebook edition; it costs nothing to fix the digital reading experience that way.

Things get complicated with print runs and print-on-demand. The “first print run” of The Masked Queen’s Lament consisted of 40 author copies created through Amazon’s print-on-demand service. They print it in the USA, and I live in Canada. Some copies didn’t actually make it across the border without being destroyed, but I got refunds for those, and I believe they were actually the 20 new editions of The Crown Princess’ Voyage I had ordered just in case things sold wildly well at Ad Astra 2018.

Really, that means there is no mass print run here, but the same rule applies: if it’s in print, there’s not much editing I can do. I urged first edition buyers on my FB Author Page and Instagram to turn to page 269 and cross out the simplest yet most offensive error that found its way in, the one that made me decide to yet again sweep the whole manuscript from beginning to end. There are still two spelling errors if you know where to find them, but the most confusing word omissions (i.e. omitting “not” from a sentence that is still grammatically correct without it, yet inverting the intended meaning of the sentence), word inclusions (i.e. artifacts from previous editing runs that should have been erased during a rephrasing but somehow were not), even an outcome in the end of the plot from first draft that I believed I had revised.

All of these things will still be in first-run print copies, but I’ve done my best to get them out of what you can buy from Amazon and Kobo going forward. I am happy to have the book available again.

My will to self-edit future books unassisted is completely broken. Editing has never been one of my favourite activities to begin with, but it is certainly something people paid me to do, to gain a valued role in publications that I value just as much, and to fix some clients’ English in very short documents in return for money that could get me beer or a transit pass. I feel that I did things the way I had to do them, resources being constrained as they are, but I will have to think a lot about how I proceed with future publications.

Anyone who has a paperback copy for the collectability, and also reads Kindle ebooks, should know that this title is subscribed to the Kindle MatchBook program and you should be able to get the Kindle edition free if you own the paperback. You would then get an edited version to read, without paying for another copy, and without me puzzling over the logistics of replacing your already autographed copy. I have never personally used this MatchBook program, so you’ll have to let me know if that’s not how it works.

With much thanks to a friend who assisted in the digital/print-ready PDF formatting of this title, and having to put up with my anxious nagging on Discord and Facebook Messenger, you might know of Athena Wright and can check out her best selling work here.

Review: The Masked Queen’s Lament

Diane Donovan is a senior reviewer at Midwest Book Review and this review appeared in the August issue of that publication, but this particular cataloguing of the review allows the link to take you directly to it instead of anybody having to scroll. That’s why I waited for this version to become available before blogging it.


Readers receive a satisfying blend of social and political confrontation that pairs a quest with new discoveries about different factions operating in the kingdom. 

While prior familiarity with the other books in the series will make for a better appreciation of the setting and history of The Masked Queen’s Lament, it’s not a requirement in order for newcomers to gain a sense of what is going on, why, and how Chandra and Derek have their hands full even after an apparent victory. 

Of particular note and strength is how the perceptions of the people juxtapose with those higher-ups who have special interests and influences on the outcome of the battles. 

The result is an action-packed quest story that goes beyond clashing encounters to probe the roots of power, manipulation, social forces, and individual strength. The Masked Queen’s Lament is a solid addition to the series as well as a good stand-alone read especially recommended for fantasy fans who like their plots multifaceted and well-detailed. 



The reviewed work is available in the Kobo Store, on Kindle, and directly from me. Check out its sub-page for the newest Goodreads reviews and other information.

A revision process

Pen and paper notes

This is a glimpse of what my revision process has become by the third go-around. I still work using word processor documents and pen-and-paper, not yet anything special like Scrivener or manuscript-specific software.

Aged as if in oak barrels

The present series of works is hastily dubbed the Gift-Knight Trilogy. On average, the first draft of each work has sat between 6 to 8 years before any substantial tinkering occurred. This even holds true for the first book of the series, where I did not yet have any formal process for writing the book beyond “Write many words and hope it works”, nor any formal revision process beyond “Make the words better”.

In all cases, because self-editing was going to happen, I required time to put emotional distance between myself and the words. Sometimes, it’s not as if I didn’t try sooner than that, but I was honest with myself about how inadequate the process felt at the time, as if I wasn’t ready. Changes might have involved naming conventions and cosmetic tweaks, when I knew there might be more substantial “big picture” revisions required that I didn’t yet know how to address.

What fills the time? I steadily wrote a different manuscript every year, a different project. I also, you know, lived 6 to 8 years of my life and experienced everything that happened to me during that time interval. One way to create emotional distance is having everything else in life to think about instead.

Taking stock (direction: digital to paper)

If you’re wondering how, after all that time, I would remember the entirety of what’s in a manuscript, you’re on truth’s trail. I will not remember most of it, and that’s the point. My next step is to record notes on a media separate from the computer (I like not having to flip between tabs or windows or having to remember which document is which if I space out; if notes are pen-and-paper while the manuscript is on the screen, I will easily get the difference) while reading the text.

Few, if any, changes will be made to the manuscript at this point. These notes are where I take stock of what happens in every chapter of the present draft. I also record any thoughts off the top of my head of what scenes I would like to move to a different place, what names need changing to fit continuity in this case (when you write a complete rough draft trilogy before making final changes to the first one, then propagate those changes to the second one as you make final changes to that and more changes on top of the propagated ones… you can end up with fairly huge differences in names and continuity by the third book. Surprisingly, the general idea of the third book and most of its scenes remain intact even after all that), and regarding all that stuff in brackets that I just mentioned, anything that requires a complete rewrite because it no longer makes sense. When I believe I can write something better from scratch with less trouble than infinite tinkering to a problematic section, I will rewrite it, harvesting the original section for ideas and any small good ideas that wouldn’t be out of place in the new version.

I find that this is a great way to catch double-counted chapter numbers, or their close cousins, skipped chapter numbers. Just having the manual count on paper is somehow easier for me to parse than skipping around in a digital document. However, it’s important for me to be able to read the paper notes and the digital document and know where it lines up, so once the numbering goes out of perfect alignment, I will mark them down as “Chapter Eleven (Twelve)” for example, where the bracketed one is what it would be if I simply changed numbers, but the official one aligns with the unchanged manuscript that I’m reading.

But I don’t just change the numbers, not yet. There may be entire chapters created out of this restructuring process that render both of these counts inaccurate. I will only know how much of that is necessary after I do this.

Non-spoiler examples of notes from the current process

“So we need to fix every name here before we get much farther. No one’s name seems correct.”

“This is a Lucen chapter.”

“Good, we’ll have Jan’s flashback here, but take italics away and just set it up narratively.”

“We flip back to Alathea, but not for long.”

“GJ, double counted Chapter Seven.”

“Well here’s a part we can prolong and make wholly its own chapter or two.”

“Delete the word ‘hedgehog’.”

“Revisit Chapter Five?”

“So there is a main gate and an auxiliary gate after that? Why?”

“Frankly rewrite this entire part then.”

“So throw all this out unless it becomes useful […]”

(You see more of the “throw out” and “rewrite” as you get further along, because the continuity changes propagated from previous finished books in the series create more noticeable changes in the story as you get deeper into it. All those time travel fics where a seemingly small change in one person’s life leave the world altered beyond recognition over the course of years; well, that’s not a perfect analogy. Our timeline is more tightly controlled, but we aren’t just making one seemingly small change. There may be an effect where some sections become vastly altered, but because others don’t have to be, because we like those sections and we see that they still fit, we only tweak them to make sure that they fit seamlessly if possible. The other side of it specific to this book is that I’ve had better ideas about how it should end during these 6 to 8 years of avoiding this manuscript. One climactic scene was a direct rehashing of another one in the book immediately prior, and that couldn’t stay the same.)

“Throw out this scene. Keep any dialogue that worked.”

(By the lattermost chapters of the book, the notes are more about what to write when rewriting entire scenes, less about little tweaks and continuity; details I don’t want to forget by the time I actually go to write it. Don’t believe that “If it’s important you wouldn’t forget”; you can remember all sorts of things, useful and not, and you can have difficulty remembering all sorts of things, useful and not. Memory is funny. Often we write things down to augment our recall using external media, using pen and paper as a memory writing process and reading our notes as a process of remembering. Wow, that sounded way fancier than it had to.)

Outline of proposed chapters (direction: paper to digital)

I find it quaint using pen and paper in a process where hypothetically I might not have to. I have collected a few notebooks for their aesthetic, but taken years to find any reason to use them at all. One became a diet and gym log for several weeks. One became a dream journal. Frankly, for reasons I won’t go into here, I write slowly compared to many other people and I’m not nearly as comfortable holding and using a pen as I am typing with a reasonably ergonomic keyboard (or any keyboard, compared to writing with a pen, and this applies even more to a standard pencil). I never want to have conscious thought about the mechanics of a manual physical process stealing focus away when I might need every ounce of focus to compose fiction. I want to feel like my hands have the muscle memory to know what they’re doing, to know the home row of the qwerty keyboard and hit the right letters so my eyes can remain on the screen as much as possible, and focus on the story.

So I have found use for notebooks in being a “second screen” while taking stock of what’s already in a manuscript. However, the bulk of my process lives on digital, and I will need a new document in a new tab or file (oddly, the sort of thing I was previously avoiding) that tells me what I planned to do next so that I don’t have to remember everything off the top of my head. This next process sees me taking the pen-and-paper notes and typing in a crisp new document a chapter-by-chapter outline.

The outline for the book, in the present case, is about 10 pages and 5500 words long in a Word document. There rather quickly came a point where the chapter count in this outline lost alignment with the notes, so I’m glad I wasted no time “fixing” chapter numbers at a prior point in the process when I was only going to alter them further. The original manuscript ends at Chapter Twenty-three or an Epilogue. The notes list up to Chapter Twenty-six followed by an Epilogue. The outline of proposed chapters counts up to Thirty, followed by the Epilogue.

This has little to do with adding new material, because most of the new material to be added is replacing old material to be thrown out; true, the word count will come out longer. My first draft thoughts are rarely expanded enough, and beta readers want me to dig deeper. As a result, my revision process can actually increase the word count instead of tightening it up. The day I have a professional editor, I’m sure that will change. I’m not sure there will ever be that day, but we can imagine.

The shape of things to come

The paper notes will increasingly become less useful, and reduced to being mementos just like the ones for The Crown Princess’ Voyage. Ideally I would have put every useful suggestion in the outline, instantly rendering the notes obsolete. It’s still good to keep the notes in an easy-to-find place for the remainder of the process just in case. If you’re not so easily distracted or confused, you could probably accomplish this process entirely on digital, or entirely on paper as people used to do it before computers. Your process is up to you, I’m just showing you some of mine.

There will be three digital documents open on my screen.

One of them will be the outline. Every chapter numbered in this is marked as proposed: “Chapter One (PROPOSED)” for example. It’s all a proposal until something is actually done and committed to writing. I then have the option of removing the all-caps word in brackets to signify that I have finished that part in the revision process. I may do something else like render that section of the outline in italics, something that works as an easy visual placeholder; I have done this, I should scroll until I find the first item that’s still proposed and in plain script.

One of them will be a new document. This is going to be the new version of the manuscript, starting from blankness. Anything I need to copy over from the original manuscript, I’ll carry over at its exact time. I like this better than making mass edits to the original manuscript, losing my place at times, getting confused about what I have done or not done; no, if I have worked on Chapter One, the new document will contain just Chapter One, and I will know right away from scrolling where I’ve left off. Anything more complicated than that, like having to duck out for dinner or something else mid-process and I suppose I could leave a comment for myself just as I would during the first draft writing process. Getting stuck due to not remembering where I left off is an easy block to avoid, and we don’t need to struggle with things on this level; let’s just keep with the more challenging and abstract forms of writer’s block that require a nuanced understanding and approach, those are quite enough.

One of them will be the original manuscript. This is, generally, not to be edited. At the most, I would make find-and-replace name changes, because I would rather do that all in one go before proceeding than have to keep changing names every time I copy a passage out of this and into the new file. If you thought back to the notes, and how I needed to find ways to keep the alignment between differently numbered chapters, then you might get one reason why I should keep the paper notes handy. The new document will have the widest discrepancy in chapter numbers compared to the original manuscript. The notes will at least act as a bridge. If I like, I can keep a pen handy and put a check mark next to my current spot in the notes.

The expected result

The next step after this one would be simple and pedestrian in comparison. I can put the outline away. I can put the notes in a safe place. I can put the original manuscript away. Now, everything else having gone reasonably well, I have a new draft of the manuscript. Provided I only let this draft be the best thing I could make it at the time, provided it fits the continuity and naming conventions of the previous books, and provided I never left the previous process with some glaring structural change that should have been made in a prior step, I can re-read this new manuscript a few times for slight cosmetic shifts as I prepare it for release. At least now I have one document in one tab, one window, to work with.

Fascinated or at least amused? My revision process is itself subject to revision. The Masked Queen’s Lament is the first book where I will have gone through this exact process described, one I arrived at through the growing pains of revising two previous novels and not being coached through anything in any way whatsoever. It may look dirty and asymmetrical because it came about in an “organic”, vaguely systematic manner from a place of isolation. If something feels like it doesn’t work, I can always change it up next time.