In the Gap

Posted: August 8th, 2013 under Background, Crown of Renewal, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
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In the gap between sending off the revisions and hearing reactions to them,  I thought I’d discuss a few more things about Paksworld and the series you’ve been reading.  Still no spoilers for Crown of Renewal, though, I hope.

As I mentioned in a comment yesterday,  the series shifted from my original plan for a long story about Kieri Phelan to a consideration of how forced change affects people in midlife.   I began it after we’d had one, and as friends had lost or  were losing their jobs (again!, and several years after they’d just begun a recovery from the previous downturn, at a lower level)  in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.   So I had a lot of direct knowledge of how forced change–even good forced change (because that happens to some)–plays out in real peoples’ lives.   But at the same time, the invented universe I now call “Paksworld”  has its own set of rules and logic–and stories do too. 

So this wasn’t going to be a modern real-world literary story about a computer engineer, a rural health care cooperative, a small-scale beef producer, a financial planner, and a self-employed craftsman with a niche market, each with his/her own set of dependents with various medical problems, etc, etc.    and discussed in terms of actual financial, political, and gender/class goings-on in our society.   I could have gone that way,  shown the same interconnections that the better economists write about now,  a sort of Allen Drury series (for those who remember Allen Drury the political novelist of the 1960s)  but not in Paksworld.    And I’m not Allen Drury, though as a teenager I read some of his books avidly.

That real-world experience and knowledge simply highlighted the fact that however “good” it might seem to discover that you’re born to a throne and not a bastard after all…that instead of a  disputed position as an upstart noble in one realm  you have a whole realm of your own…it’s a wrench.   And inheriting the former duke’s property, when you’d  been quite content to be his right-hand man…was also a wrench.   And inheriting your wicked parents’ role–when you still felt guilty about being related to them, and lots of people hated them and distrusted you because of them…instead of being the carefully-not-seen subordinate to the one who had now moved on to be king somewhere else…also a wrench.

On the Paksworld side itself, those psychological issues added depth, but did not control what was going on–major plot-drivers came from somewhere else.  Some were still interior, characteristics (of individuals and groups, including broad groups such as  “elves” or “gnomes” or “Kostandanyans”)  both innate and acquired.    Some were still external,  such as the re-emergence of magery in humans, the escape of iynisin from the western mountains to reappear in the eastern lands as a serious threat,  and the rediscovery of the regalia that had been sequestered by the Verrakaien.    Sometimes even the writer found it hard to classify plot-drivers–things overlap.   Would Arcolin, for instance, ever have confessed his past if the foolish chancellor had not approached him?  Had he not done so, would that lack of forthrightness eventually caused him (and thus those he served and those he commanded) grief?

Stories and story-worlds have their own geologies, their own areas of subsidence where feelings and ideas and truths are buried, only to rise again in new formations,  outcrop in unexpected places.    They have fault lines, where it takes much less force to produce a break, a sudden change in a person, a place, a class, a society.  If Arvid had finished his work in Brewersbridge before Paks arrived–if he had never met her–would that fissure have opened in his imagination and let in the voice of Gird?   Surely he would have left Vérella to avoid knowing about what was going on in the cellars of the Thieves’ Guild…and thus not rescued Paks, been shocked to his core, and able to hear Gird when the time came.    If, back down the years, the early Marshals of Gird had been less complacent about Gird’s defeat of evil, the stresses that erupted with the re-emergence of magery might not have caused such an earthquake of hatred.

Sharon Lee, co-author of the Liaden universe books,  had a discussion of heroes on her blogsite  because some readers had criticized one of the protagonists on the grounds that he wasn’t a real hero.    (If you haven’t read the Liaden books, her discussion contains some spoilers…so consider whether you want to read a really great space-based adventure series with some very interesting cultural and cross-cultural stuff set into it,  alien races like the Clutch Turtles,  a sense of humor, a sense of pathos, a sense of destiny…etc.  If so, you might want to catch up with the books first, and read the essay after you’ve made your own decisions about Daav yos Phelium,  who is for a time Delm of Korval.   I’m just a wee tiny bit prejudiced in favor of the Liaden books.  And Daav, for that matter.)     But her comments on Daav, and my comment (down near the bottom of comments the last time I looked) , combine to give some insight into how I (and she) see heroism.

Which is that heroes don’t have to be perfect–in fact, are better heroes if they aren’t perfect, if they are Real People (= characters who share characteristics of real people, such as not being perfect.)    Good people/characters screw up sometimes.   They misunderstand a situation.   They make a bad choice for what seemed at the time good reasons, or they make the better choice but later come to think of it as the worse one and then blame themselves and fall or almost fall  into a really bad one, like Aliam Halveric in not telling anyone he was pretty sure Kieri was the missing prince back when he had Kieri as a squire.    They have moments of overwhelming grief, or anger, or fear, just like everyone else, and in those moments, they may go wrong…and then have to deal with the consequences of that wrong.

What defines heroes, to me, is that they do, on the whole, face and deal with those consequences, as well as acting rightly in crises when others don’t, can’t, won’t.

The non-hero won’t admit he/she was wrong, won’t change his/her mind, will stick to the wrong and make excuses, refusing blame.    The glass of milk fell off the table by itself,  the dog ate the (undone) homework,  the other kids lured him/her into taking drugs or getting drunk or shoplifting,   “everybody does it” (whatever it is, including taking bribes, backstabbing associates, embezzling, cheating on a spouse) or it was the fault of the person victimized.

The hero doesn’t like owning up (who does?)  but admits her elbow hit the glass and knocked it off,  and cleans up the mess without whining.  The hero admits he didn’t do his math homework,  and takes the bad grade without whining.   The hero shrugs off invitations–even pressure–to do wrong, and if he/she does wrong, doesn’t try to shift the blame to someone else.    Sometimes the hero screws up, of course, including in being a pain in the patoot by lecturing others on their behavior,  but the hero is willing to deal with the consequences of his/her behavior personally.

And in at least one crisis in his/her life, the hero takes definitive action that does someone else good, overriding whatever fears and character faults stand in the way.    There are “limited heroes” who only manage that once–which doesn’t make that heroism less.     But the more obvious heroes, the ones who become protagonists (for instance),  do it more often.   Just not always.

So in Paksworld, every one of the heroes (people I see as heroes) has faults, weaknesses, and past failures to contend with when faced with new challenges.     And in Paksworld, those challenges keep coming, offering new opportunities to fail as well as to succeed, and new opportunities to learn about themselves and understand why they acted as they did.  Paksworld has its own momentum, as I said yesterday, and on any given journey it drags the writer along past many an interesting byway.   (“Wait! Whoa!  I want to see more of that!”  “LATER!  Another time!”)  I still haven’t had the chance to write more about Kolya…or a Kuakgan’s “rooting”…or what the witwards of Pliuni really were and did before Siniava hung them upside down from the gate…or any of the other gnome princedoms, or the dwarf halls (different from the gnome halls) and their society, or for that matter the people beyond Kolobia, on that other trade route, or  just how many continents there are and who lives there, if anyone, and if not, why not.  And with an eye on the ticking clock of life…and my inability to write any faster than I am now…I suspect there will be open questions in my own mind (and readers’ minds) when I write the last word I have time to write.

Which is fine.    One of the great joys of my life is that although I’m intensely curious about so many things, and a data hog, I can never come to the end of my ignorance….my ignorance is huge and allows me plenty of space to learn in.   So also Paksworld.     I wander in and out, exploring this little bit and that little bit, but there’s always more where that came from.






  • Comment by Robert Conley — August 8, 2013 @ 10:33 am


    One of the things that originally attracted me to the Paksenarrion series was how “human” the characters were even in the midst of a world of fantasy and magic.

    The latest series continues that even though the challenges are different from the original triology. I enjoy them even more because of it.

  • Comment by GinnyW — August 8, 2013 @ 6:37 pm


    Hooray for facing up to one’s weaknesses!

    Aliam Halveric had help (from the daskdraudigs, if no one else) in putting the remarkably difficult decision that he had to make about revealing the (possible, not proven) identity of the young Kieri Phelan in the worst possible light. I found that side story to be a very convincing portrayal of the destructive effect that “if only” can have on a really good person. I thought the revelation of the evil influence was masterfully done, and insightful as well. It balances and highlights Kieri’s acceptance and appreciation of the benefits he obtained through the life he actually lived.

    The other “hero” who has snuck into the story line with a lesson about facing up to his mistakes is the Count Jeddrin of Andressat. He is such a good foil for presenting the back history of the Fall of Aare, not least because it forces him to face up to his own conceptions and misconceptions of “nobility”. Without his tensions and pretensions, the issues concerning the magelords and their behavior throughout history are too black and white. I am hoping that he reappears in Crown, although I fear I will not like the context.

    And now, I am off to find out about heros in the Liaden Universe.

  • Comment by Hawkman — August 8, 2013 @ 9:29 pm


    That might be the longest OP love seen on this blog. Guess I asked the question at the right time after all. Thanks for sharing.
    A different perspective, I was drawn in when first Suiza was unfairly persecuted in the court martial and board of inquiry, and then (in my timeline) Paks having the same when she was assaulted in training. WEBG did the same to start off his Corps series. Heroes can make mistakes, but their tendency to not buckle or cave when true injustice wants to infect them gains my support.

  • Comment by Hawkman — August 8, 2013 @ 9:46 pm


    I should have added, even when their righteousness is unsuccessful, as in real life.

  • Comment by Sharidann — August 9, 2013 @ 2:20 am


    Great Post!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

    Very good stuff, I really like your definition of the difference between a hero and a non/hero. Very human.

    Everybody makes mistakes, just heroes cope differently with them than non heroes.

    I think I shall read and reread this post.

    @ Hawkman : yes, the main protagonist in the Corps gets more or less sh*itcanned at the beginning of the series and you get great stereotypes with Griffin (typical weasel behaviour, hello Lieutnant Macklin.

  • Comment by Hawkman — August 9, 2013 @ 7:58 am


    Unfortunately there really are Macklins in the Corps (that’s “core” for those residents of The White House) as much as I hate to admit it. They really destroy the unit cohesiveness like little else can.

  • Comment by Jonathan Dugan — August 27, 2013 @ 2:07 pm


    Old Aear I’m curious about… What happened there and what evil was released that everyone had to leave. And is there anyone living there presently. And without good, is there really any evil? It looks like on the maps it isn’t that far to sail to so I would think sailors have went there…

  • Comment by elizabeth — August 27, 2013 @ 4:52 pm


    Old Aare suffered desertification: what was once a lush and thriving land with agriculture, orchards, woodlands and savannas became barren rock, gravel, and sand as water dried up and rains quit coming. The people who lived there left in one migration after another as the water dried up bit by bit, and blame Ibbirun, the Sandlord; they have various theories about why Ibbirun was angry with them. Very large sand dunes covered some of the former cities; others were worn down by the dry, sand-laden winds and, over time, crumbled away. The coast offers little to sailors but shoals and sand dunes with rocky hills and then mountains behind if they row or swim to shore. No vegetation, no signs of life or promise of water. With the stories of the flight from Old Aare all around them, no one has ventured into the interior, past the mountains, in a very long time, and if they did they would find it hard to carry enough water to get far. It’s a very harsh desert.

    A very few people–if they are people–do live there, in abject poverty, using the ruins of a city as shelter. They build nothing for themselves, survive on what small life (mostly nocturnal) is there, and hope for the rains to return, as their legends say will happen eventually.

  • Comment by Hawkman — August 28, 2013 @ 3:42 am


    I wonder if the first trilogy stayed on the rails better, or did you just ignore the spurs which did not fit in your plan. It sounds like your original work explaining paladins would have been part of book 3, so then you would have backfilled in books 1 & 2.

  • Comment by elizabeth — August 28, 2013 @ 8:06 am


    The first trilogy did not “stay on the rails better.” It was my first novel–it wandered all over the place. I remember hauling whole chapters back out of it (“That never happened”) or having to rewrite them (“It didn’t happen like that, but like this.”) A third of it–including the original opening chapter–disappeared before an editor ever saw it, mostly in the first full-bore revision, and the editor who bought it, Betsy Mitchell, excised more and taught me more about the structure of a really big project. “This is lovely, and very well-written, but it’s not part of the plot. Has to go.”

    Although I’m more experienced now, my process is still one of first creating the block of marble from which the sculpture will be carved…by throwing everything in and compressing it…and then cutting away everything that isn’t the statue. When I miscalculate (oops–not enough marble there for that out-flung arm) I have to stop and build up that entire side of the block and recut that whole side.

  • Comment by Hawkman — August 31, 2013 @ 7:42 pm


    I kinda conjured that is what happened to Sofi’s colors – you remembered putting them in, but we never got to read that part.
    I was thinking that DoP was so well written and interconnected and wrapped together that you had harnessed it better than subsequent stories.
    Was Serrano/Suiza an exploration of story, or did you have a trilogy lined up from the start? And was Margiu Pardalt intended to be the third protagonist to continue the story?

  • Comment by Hawkman — September 2, 2013 @ 1:19 am


    Re #7: in DoP oilberries lubricant was compared to some snake from south of Aare, so sailing is done that far south, seems likely some sort of sea coast hamlets might exist if not thrive.

  • Comment by Richard — September 15, 2013 @ 1:02 pm


    sorry, all I can think of is in Sheepfarmer’s Daughter when Paks (marching from Andressat to Cha) sees the scrubby trees oilberries grow on and asks a veteran what they are. His answer is that the best lampfuel comes from them, “unless you believe the seafolk who say some kind of a sea monster’s gizzard”. No mention of Aare there, or of where the sea monsters might be found.

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