So, hey, when was the last time I told you folks an anecdote from my life? I’ve been talking about Serpents of Sky and other book-centric stuff for quite a while now. Yeah, let’s have a science center story.
To recap: when I was a teenager, I volunteered at the local science center. I was stationed in the live animal section — so I sometimes did cool things like handle snakes and give spontaneous educational speeches, and I mostly did less cool things like scrub animal habitats.
One of those animal habitats contained a deer mouse.
“Deer mouse” is a generic term for many different mouse species, but I’m fairly sure he was a white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus). I don’t remember what the signage said: I was busy studying the animals that visitors handled on a regular basis, like the snakes and flying squirrels. Regardless of his scientific classification, this particular deer mouse was a tiny thing, about 3 inches long and weighing less than an ounce (7 1/2 centimeters and less than 30 grams). Despite his delicate size, he was a willful creature who did not like to be handled.
One day, I was working with a fellow teenage volunteer named Eric. We were tasked with cleaning the deer mouse’s enclosure: just put the animal in a bucket for safe keeping, scrub all the hard surfaces, change the bedding, and put the animal back in. Sounds simple enough. Armed with buckets and supplies, Eric and I went out onto the science center floor and opened up the lid of the big triangular plexiglass box that was the deer mouse enclosure. We were wearing lab coats so that probably made us experts!
Now, we had a net to catch the mouse with. One of those fine-meshed green nets you’d use to scoop up a goldfish from an aquarium. But the deer mouse didn’t appreciate being woken up and he was having none of this grabbed-by-humans nonsense. He evaded the net, and evaded our attempts to seize him by the tail. And then the deer mouse darted up Eric’s arm and out onto the floor — to bounce away across the wide open carpet. In the public area of the science center, where tourists wandered around by the dozens.
Oh geez oh my god grab more buckets and nets and another teenage volunteer, we have to catch this thing before it escapes into a crevice or gets stepped on! So we — this gaggle of three lab-coat-wearing kids — chased that deer mouse behind displays and under equipment. I imagine Yakety Sax would have made an appropriate soundtrack.
Eventually, we cornered the deer mouse in a dark, curtained-off alcove. The deer mouse hunkered in a corner with nowhere to go. I positioned my foot beside him so that he only had one direction left to run: into Eric’s bucket. Well, actually, the deer mouse’s other option at that moment was to run up my pant leg. So that’s what he did. Ran up my pant leg.
Did I mention that our science center deer mouse was known to bite when agitated?
So, yes, I had this biting-prone small animal jamming itself higher and higher in my khakis. While I was surrounded by science center visitors I couldn’t just drop my pants in front of, and also two male coworkers.
“Excuse me a minute,” I said. And I calmly walked back into the staff-only area, with a tiny lump of a time bomb creeping up my thigh.
I’m a little sketchy on what the more experienced staff were doing during this ridiculous slip-up. But thankfully the department supervisor that day was female, making it marginally less uncomfortable to undress so she could grab the deer mouse. I didn’t get bitten in any sensitive areas — and to be really optimistic about it, deer mice are known for their personal cleanliness so really, there are worse animals I could have had inside my clothes.
As my supervisor and I exited the back room with the deer mouse safely contained in a bucket, Eric came around the corner asking why I just left like that.
The entire mousecapade is one of those events that my writer’s brain wants to attach some meaning to. Is there a lesson to be learned here, other than not underestimating rodents? (No, really, mice and rats have pretty incredible capabilities.) Should I learn from my own example? In the 15-ish years since that happened, I don’t think I’ve ever handled any crisis as gracefully as I handled walking to the staff area with a mouse in my pants. (My supervisor did make sure to praise me for that part.)
Maybe this is just an example of life’s great capability for chaos, and the human ability to make stories out of chaos. Even the weirdest nonsense gives us chances to laugh, learn and share a narrative. And I can offhandedly describe things as “less scary than having a mouse in my pants”, which is a fun mental image to throw into a conversation. I’ll call that a win!
◦ The Western view of snakes, and how I changed it in my spare time (heidicvlach.com)
◦ Hanging out with a porcupine (heidicvlach.com)
◦ Psychology at tableside: what waiting tables taught me about people (heidicvlach.com)
Today is the day! You can buy Serpents of Sky from Amazon for $1.99 US.
This 34 000-word collection explores the many roles of dragons. Contains 9 short stories of fantasy and science fiction, including:
- With Less Lament. During a dragon attack on her city, an elderly woman meets unexpected guardians in her own garden.
- Cardiology. Trapped in his laboratory and running out of supplies, a scientist bioengineers reptilian creatures based on the dragons he grew up reading about. These flawed beings are his only hope for survival in the ruined outside world.
- Clearsight. Two dragons perform magical biology experiments with prehistoric Earth animals. They hope to aid the evolution of more dragons — a rare event in all the universe — but an oncoming extinction event threatens all their efforts.
- Iron Workings. A boy stands on a cliff edge, his flightsuit wings spread. His dragon captains use electric magic to force his compliance and enable him to fly — but then one of the dragons whispers in his ear about mutiny.
- In Lifetimes Spared. Once a princess kidnapped by a terrible dragon, she is now a wise queen who calls that dragon her friend. Her dream is for humans and dragons to share peace, but the process is not proving simple.
- Raise (A story of Aligare). A novelette set in the magical, human-free society of Aligare. Tenver, a weasel-like ferrin, accidentally trades away the eggshells his adoptive mother Constezza hatched from. Those eggshells are any korvi’s most precious possession. Determined to fix his mistake, Tenver enlists the help of Judellie, a korvi just finding the courage to leave home on her own wings.
Also of note, I recently did an interview with Self Publisher’s Showcase!
They asked me some great questions about the Stories of Aligare characters, as well as my own path to self-publishing and why I write fantasy fiction. Check out the interview here!
I have lots of final prep to do before Serpents of Sky launches next week! So I don’t have much in the way of bloggish thoughts today, but I did do a few rough sketches. Just some random Aligare folk.
I think it’s about time I update the diagram of the Aligare peoplekinds — the one that appears at the beginning of every Story of Aligare book. In the original image, I was trying for a clean, simplified look. But I’m thinking a more detailed, dynamic art style like these sketches might make it easier for readers to visualize the Aligare races in the story to come. Thoughts?
Well, folks, here’s that cover art I’ve been working on! That paper maché dragon got a few coats of paint, then I enlisted my dad’s help to set up lights and take photos. I’ve been slaving away over a hot image editing program and now I bring you the Serpents of Sky cover:
Because dragons are fictional, yet such a deeply-rooted part of human culture and lore, they’re unreal even when they’re “realistic”. So I was going for a semi-realistic look to this cover. This art project has been a learning experience!
And when will you be able to read the short stories underneath the cover? February 17th! Serpents of Sky is going to be an Amazon exclusive when it first launches. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can use Amazon’s free Kindle app, or convert the .mobi file to another ebook format using Calibre or a similar service. Paperbacks should be available by the end of February. After a few months, I’ll consider bringing Serpents of Sky to Smashwords and other ebook retailers.
Like any of my writing, I’m really excited to show this to the world. Serpents of Sky touches on a wide variety of genres, from sword and sorcery to dystopian sci-fi. The crown jewel of the collection is Raise (A story of Aligare), a novelette of adventure and family drama — which I hope will welcome new readers into my land of Aligare. Judellie of Cherez, one of the dragon-like korvi from Render, makes another appearance in Raise. (Syril of Reyardine returns, too, but it just wouldn’t be a Story of Aligare without some mention of that guy.)
That’s enough blogging for me. Back to editing!
◦ Once again, it’s paper mache season heidicvlach.com)
◦ What do dragons represent to us? (heidicvlach.com)
◦ What’s on tap, Heidi C. Vlach? My plans for 2014 (heidicvlach.com)
How’s Serpents of Sky coming along? Well, it’ll be a February release, I know that! I’ve got a bit of writing and editing left, then I’ll make the most agonizing decision of all: what order the stories appear in. Serious to lighthearted? Lighthearted to serious? Should the mood rise and fall like the swellings of the ocean? Soon, I’ll pick one and go with it.
Next week I’ll reveal the exact release date, plus the finished Serpents of Sky cover. I’ll be busy until then!
Since I have two anthropomorphic conventions on my roster this year, I’m working on another Aligare display piece. Like the big paper maché figure of Peregrine that I brought to several years’ worth of cons — but this new maché piece will depict the latest Aligare novel, Render. Here’s the base, which I’m still adding paper layers to:
It’ll be a one-piece diorama, with Felixi landing in the daisy field to meet Rue. Felixi will be afixed to the tree trunks, and he’ll be finished with a layer of real feathers. Rue (who doesn’t have a head yet, but she will, don’t worry) will be looking up at Felixi, holding a basket of trade goods. Glowing eyes will peek out of the forest shadows — the eyes of wolves? Ferrin? Both? And the treetops will probably have some text on them, maybe a brief summary of Render‘s story. Not sure yet.
I love building stuff like this, because it gives me the opportunity to see my characters in a somewhat more real form. I start with skeletons of cardboard, wire and drinking straws, then I add flour-gooed paper layers until it’s solid and stable. Very relaxing stuff. Also, my paper maché works are more interesting to look at than just a stack of books on a table. Peregrine was a popular conversation starter at my previous convention stops — before all the travelling took its toll and his horns broke off.
While I’ve got my hands in paper maché paste, I’m also making a dragon for the cover of the upcoming Serpents of Sky. He’s closer to his finished dimensions, but he still needs more layers:
How better to make a distinctive book cover than to use original artwork? And who says the artwork has to be 2-dimensional, huh? When this guy is all finished and painted up, I’ll take a photo of him and give him a nice digital expanse of sky to look at.
So if I’m not busy enough with a head full of short stories (hah!), this art will keep me occupied for the next few months. Hopefully no one phones me while I’m up to my elbows in paper goo …
◦ My favourite dialogue from Render (A story of Aligare) (heidicvlach.com)
◦ What do dragons represent to us? (heidicvlach.com)
◦ Dogs in Aligare (heidicvlach.com)
As we approach New Year’s Eve, how about I tell you about new year festivities in the land of Aligare?
An Aligare year has three seasons: sowing, reaping and waiting. Waiting season is most analogous to our concept of winter. It’s a cool, dry season, a natural low ebb to be endured. Plants still grow, but slowly: cultivating crops takes more work and more plantcasting magic than usual. Folk tend to eat stored grain and preserved foods, since fresh greens and plump food animals trade at a steeper price.
But when waiting season ends and Phoenixmonth arrives, a new year has begun. Not a named or numbered year: there’s no written history. It’s simply another year. In these first days of a new year, korvi folk like throw caution to the wind and celebrate the Lifedancing.
Essentially a New Year’s Eve party of epic proportions, the Lifedancing is a two or three-day festival (depending on the community holding it). It’s a korvi holiday, but anyone can attend and help kick off the new year. Korvi-majority communities each hold a street party featuring all the singers, dancers, bards, musicians, acrobats, casting artists and assorted other performers that can possibly be assembled. Everyone shows off and entertains others to the fullest of their ability, as long as their voices, muscles and spirit hold out.
And it’s a merry event, indeed. Merchants make sure they have jewelry and bright fabrics spread out for trade. Special caches of food are brought out, and street-foods are prepared: honey-glazed nuts and meats; sweet biscuits with fruit chunks in them; popcorn and crisp-fried vegetable cakes. Vendors trade cups of warm mull and herbed cool water to the revelers, and they’ll typically bring free drinks to the hard-working performers.
There’s no shortage of alcohol. Ordinary fruit wine is common and plentiful. Aemets treat wine as a tonic for their nervous dispositions, and a festival full of happy friends is good for them, too. Ferrin will partake in a small, watered-down cup of wine — since their small size and sensitive palates mean they’re not well suited to alcohol. Korvi, on the other hand, typically like their drink and handle it well. They sometimes drink astringent wines made of birdcherries, or spiced brandies they distill from aemet-made wine. Corn whiskey is another korvi-made treat: some refuse to drink it any time of year except the Lifedancing.
It’s said that the fire god Fyrian loves a lively party, so he shows up to Lifedancing parties on a regular basis. Electric goddess Ambri has also been alleged to attend Lifedancings, where she curiously watches from the sidelines. It’s not uncommon for someone to claim they glimpsed a High One in the crowd, or talked to them in a quieter corner of the party. Such accounts tend to be hazy after a few late nights and full cups. A Lifedancing ebbs and flows for its 2-3 days, with the mood of the party changing as people leave, return and nod off to sleep — so a god might well be present for a few moments. Who’s to say for sure?
Despite all the levity and drinking, the Lifedancing has a vital purpose. It’s held at the beginning of Phoenixmonth to mirror the Legend Creature Phoenix’s way of renewing herself. For mortal peoplekind — who can’t just fling themselves into lava to freshen up — the cusp of a new year is a fine time to shed their old grievances and fears. Korvi take the Lifedancing as a time to apologize to someone they’ve slighted, or resolve to achieve a goal, or ask someone to be their mate (monogamous or otherwise). Aligare society may be very kind and fair, but everyone needs a prompt sometimes.
And after all this celebration dwindles, everyone packs up the festival blankets and nurses their hangovers. Korvi and their friends return to ordinary life, at the beginning of sowing season and good weather. Maybe they’re looking forward to a new relationship or life goal. Maybe they’re just talking about the entertainers they saw. Either way, life is renewed and life goes on.
◦ What it means when Aligare folk say “anypace” (heidicvlach.com)
◦ Competitions and wagers: friendly gambling in the Aligare world (heidicvlach.com)
◦ A magic spell by any other name (heidicvlach.com)