As I post this, Anthrocon is wrapping up for another year. I wish I could have attended, but I was there in spirit — through my two short stories included in FurPlanet‘s new releases! My work appears in ROAR 7 and Gods With Fur.
So here’s a sample for ya. Repast ( A Story of Aligare) is meant to stand alone, although if you’ve read Remedy you’ll recognise a few faces. And if you’re new to my human-free world of Aligare, you might want to check out the Aligare Lore section of this blog.
(A Story of Aligare)
by Heidi C. Vlach
Mama said there was a legend about the gods giving out names. Long ago, when the land was new and the first trees were stretching toward the dome of the Great Barrier, the mortal peoples were nameless. That was unfitting for gods’ children. The Great Ones discussed and disagreed, and in the end used their vast power to poke dimples into the peoplekind’s inner essence. Not enough to hurt, only enough to make people want to prod that spot inside themselves. Smooth it over. Maybe fill it with something.
That something, Mama said, was a name. It was different for each peoplekind. The aemets — the betweenkind folk, both furkind and insect — got one given name, and held their family name close so they always had company. The korvi — dragons of the skies — got one given name, and kept their clan name, too, for something to be proud of. And then, Mama said, came their own ferrin race. Some ferrin were happy with one given name. One didn’t always fill them up, though. So Mama’s mother gave her two names so she could pick between them once she was grown, and Mama did the same for her own kits.
Choosing one’s name was a summoning of strength and levity, a sure way to feel right in one’s own fur. Mama smiled, her whiskers folding up fond, and said she was eager to see which names her kits would pick. Or maybe they would find a third name. Wasn’t that right, Vivia Ava?
The twinkling in Mama’s eyes was a thunderbolt through Vivia Ava’s chest. A patch of longer fur — adult fur — was spreading wide across her shoulders and she still had no earthly idea whether she was Vivia or Ava. Neither sat right in her mouth. Neither pretty name, selected by her love-strong parents, felt like the one she should ask folk to call her by. But if even great Ambri thought she should pick for herself, then there couldn’t be any shame in it. Gods, supposedly, knew best.
When Vivia Ava started exploring the oak forest by herself — though always within smelling distance of home — she took the solitude as a chance to mumble sounds. She listened to her own tongue smashing her names into new shapes. And soon enough, she began telling folk that she was Vivia Ava, call her Vee.
Vee left home soon after her adult fur filled in. She put on the scarf Papa gave her — the gold- patterned one that brought out the green in her eyes — and she left the oak forest behind, following the trade roads and their trace scents of travellers, until the oak trees gave way to plains grass and eventually, cornfields ushered a town into view.
This place was Greenway, a large village made up of mostly aemet people. Aemets were as green as their plantcasting magic and every two-legged step came smooth. They gathered together just like the corn they grew, slender and angular, and they smiled down at Vee like they could sense promise wafting off of her.
It was a fine enough town to live in. Vee chose a maple tree on the outskirts of town to make her nest in, after promising her aemet neighbours she would do no harm to this child of the plant goddess. No sap drawn, and no wood broken away unless it was diseased or dead. That was a reasonable allowance to make for folk of another kind; Vee would be uneasy, too, she supposed, if her goddess’s storm clouds were able to burn or bleed. And more importantly, great Verdana didn’t mind people or creatures eating her seeds. There would be meals of maple keys in Vee’s future.
As much as Vee’s neighbours guarded the trees, they still needed wood for their hearths, to cook food and ward the night’s chill away. Vee gathered fallen branches, at first, and she traded them for juicy cobs of roasted corn. As months passed, her foraging took her farther and father afield, out past the farmers’ plots and into the forest so she couldn’t smell the town’s latrines or woodsmoke anymore.
The maple forest had a greener tang to its scent than the oak forest back home. Fewer whiffs of basilisk and cavebird’s scents. Fallen leaves becoming pungent earth. More thrushes’ and jays’ cries and a more robust voice to the wind. After an hour’s quick journeying, the ground sloped upward into the rocky foothills of Hotrock Volcano.
And with each trip, Vee found things. Trinkets more interesting than firewood or seeds: she found treefruit, and pebbles glittering with minerals, and wood bent by the wind’s persistent presence. She even found a rock-clinging lichen that looked like musty leather scraps but was actually worth an eightday of hot meals.
“What can you make of that lichen?” Vee asked the town seamstress, around a mouthful of scalding but delicious pigeon stew.
“Oh, wait until you see it,” the seamstress enthused. “It makes a truly striking shade of pink dye. If you find me more of this, there’ll be more stew for you — wager on that.”
And that was when Vee realized that she had a line of work: she found herself a name and she could find other things, too.
She dug more intently under leaf litter, and climbed higher up the Volcano. Each day, her scarf filled with mushrooms and pebbles as she bore wind-carved sticks between her teeth, and there was never a day Vee didn’t look forward to the search. After all, why would gods put so many things into the world if peoplekind weren’t meant to find it?
“My, but you’ve got a talent for this,” one merchant told her. He was Syril, a red-feathered chatterbox of a korvi, part of some far-spread family who had made their mark in the land — and more importantly Syril was always delighted to see what Vee had found. “Wager four apples on it, the gods have given you a gift, friend!”
Vee tilted her head up at him. “You think it?”
“Do you know anyone who’s looking for forest goods right now?”
Syril chattered off a list of names — a long list, seemingly folk who had asked for herbs at any point within the last eightyear. But just as irritation was making Vee’s tail flick, Syril’s eyes bugged wide. “Oh, and I nearly lost this bit of news in my dustbin of a head! There’s a fellow right here in Greenway looking for inkwork supplies.”
“What sort of supplies?” Like any trade, inkworking had more nuances than Vee had strands of fur.
Shrugging, waving his arms so his bangles clattered, Syril said, “Oh, different things, by the sound of it. The fellow is Welsken — old aemet man, married into the Tennel family? Not quite a hermit but certainly a rarer sight than a rainstorm. I came upon his daughter, Clematis—”
Whom Vee already knew: Clematis kept an eclectic vegetable garden and she was happy to buy all the herb and shrub seeds Vee could find.
“—and do you know what my dear friend Clematis told me? That Welsken is looking for some particular bones.” Syril squinted, his voice lowering slight. “Grazing creatures’ bones — and only wild ones, no farmed horses or any such thing! I keep a goodly stock of trinkets and rabble in my pouches, gods see that I speak the truth about that, but I had nothing within a shade of what Welsken wanted. He wouldn’t even take a bargain on pigeon bones!”
People that discerning usually had the barter goods to back up their tastes. With her ears folding thoughtful, Vee nodded. “I cover a lot of forest when I’m foraging, I’m sure I can find what he needs. Where can I find this fellow?”
The next day, with a scarf full of new treasures, Vee began following Syril’s suggestions. She went first to find Clematis, lolloping on four quick feet down the town’s main road. Daybright winked through the tall maples; neighbours walked between houses, made with the aemet technique of boards tied gently around tree trunks. As the leaf canopy thickened, the path led to the Middling circle, that sacred aemet place full of pungent stacks of rotting plant trimmings. Clematis wasn’t there — just three farmhand ferrin dumping a bucket of vegetable peels — and so Vee headed for the next most likely place. Clematis kept Greenway’s Middling circle and oftentimes, she guided folk to the Garden.
Vee had visited the Garden once. It was a gathering of large, etched stones propped up tall, each one kept company by flower-speckled patches of daisies and yellow gelsemiums. The stone etchings were pictures of the gods — flat depictions of the stories Vee knew, cool and motionless rock that was nothing like a storyteller’s voice.
But that was why Clematis spent time here, telling the stones’ tales. Today, she was explaining a stone to two other aemets Vee had never seen nor smelled before.
“And after the rain stopped, great Ambri came down from the thunderclouds to see the result of her work.” Clematis was fiddling with her braids as she usually did, smoothing them around her antennae’s bases in a way that never satisfied her. “Her mighty lightning had filled the quartz stone with electric magic, so she had electricstones to bury for later. But there had been a tree too close to the strike point. One of Verdana’s children, now blackened and smoldering.”
Blunt-barbed aemet fingers gestured to the stone, to its chiselled sketch of a bird-like Ambri with her head bowed before a stick of a tree.
“So,” Clematis went on, “Ambri sought out her mighty sister. She fluttered through every treetop until she was in the calmest heart of the forest, and there she found Verdana, our mother of green.”
Vee stifled a sigh: this part of the legend always dragged on when aemets told it. But after long moments talking about the lush-leafed haven Verdana lived in and the clean air filtering through the leaves, Clematis got to the point.
“Ambri and Verdana talked for four weeks, though more like the wink of an eye to the gods. Verdana said that her flora were fragile; that was the beauty of them. Sometimes the other elements would harm plants, but that only made ash and charcoal and, eventually, new soil to nourish new life. Lightning was no enemy of plant life. Why, not even Fyrian’s ever-hungry fire was truly an enemy.
It was then that Ambri called out to her same-element children, the larks and swallows in the sky and the lizards creeping under rocks. Birds came and alighted in the trees, and lizards lined the clearing — and ferrin people came, too, peering out from leafy branches.
Let the land know that lightning might do harm, Ambri said. Folk needed to mind thunder’s rumbling warning, and seek shelter. But though it could wreak destruction, Ambri’s element tried always to do good, as well.
The birds took off, chattering the message to all who would hear it. The ferrin nodded to their High One, and took the message into their hearts. So it has been, ever since.”
The visitor aemets touched their palms together in quiet applause, like they might break the atmosphere of the Garden. Clematis looked bright-eyed with her own storytelling, but thankfully she turned a glance to Vee; the visitors drifted away toward the next story stone.
“Good day, neighbour,” Clematis told Vee. “You need something?”
“Your father is Welsken Tennel — is that right?”
Her tone carried a heavy but; Vee’s fur prickled with possible unwelcome.
“I don’t want to bother him for no reason,” Vee added, “but I’m told that he’s a calligrapher? I found some plantkind bones he might like to trade for.”
“Oh,” Clematis relented, “that’s a different matter. I’ll take you to him!”
Every town had its hermits. Folk who decided that their best friends were quiet and solitude. Folk who hid themselves like moles. Welsken wasn’t quite one of those — but Vee wouldn’t have known his face or his scent if she had to find him on her own. All she knew was the kind-tongued gossip about him, and the seamstress’s set of ink-painted clay dishes that she said were Welsken’s handiwork.
Clematis led her along a narrow path at the back of the Garden, through rustling boxwood and sumac. They came to a house surrounded tight by hazel bushes, its wooden walls hardly visible through the meshed leaves.
Clematis rapped her blunt-spined knuckles on the door pole. “Father? There’s a forager to see you, with some bones for trade.”
Silence answered. Nervousness sparked electricity under Vee’s skin and she reined it in: her ears fanned forward at the faint scuffling of movement within the home. Welsken’s footfalls approached and stopped before the door curtain. Hesitating, maybe. Or considering. Vee had always wondered what aemet people’s airsense could actually show them, other than a mound of fur and whiskers.
Finally, the door curtain was whisked aside — by the shortest adult aemet Vee had ever seen, his posture so stooped that his tunic hung like an empty sack. Faded brown eyes mirrored his tacked-on smile. He seemed rusty at meeting guests.
“Suppose we can talk for a moment,” Welsken said.
Clematis hummed a satisfied note. “I can’t stay, is that well with you? Travellers are viewing the Garden right now.”
“Go,” Welsken grumbled mild.
Then Clematis was gone and he was lifting the door curtain, waving Vee inside.
The close-walled home smelled like its waxy-skinned resident, and burned cornstalks and dust. Beside the central hearth pit, there was plenty of room and Welsken and Vee to sit — but any other visitors would have had to sit on his bed and he didn’t seem like the sort to offer it.
“Ah, humph. Something to eat?”
For half a heartbeat, Welsken smirked. “Good. I’d rather see to business, if you don’t mind.”
Vee and Welsken’s story continues in the Gods With Fur anthology, available through Furplanet.com
Boy, it sure has been a while since I posted! I’ve been quietly working at a lot of things.
But, yeah. You’ll see some new work from me in the coming months — work such as:
- Reason (A Story of Aligare) will appear in the ROAR 7 anthology. The ROAR series is an ongoing production of FurPlanet, and this year’s theme is “legend” — a perfect fit for the Aligare races and their storytelling traditions. ROAR 7 will release this July.
- Repast (A Story of Aligare) will appear in Gods With Fur. Another Furplanet production, this anthology is helmed by long-time furry historian Fred Patten, and it explores animal/anthropomorphic gods in their many forms. Another solid fit for the Aligare series and its non-human peoples!
- I’ll be attending What The Fur? 2016 in Montreal, Quebec this coming weekend. I’ll be selling paperbacks of all my books, plus some one-of-a-kind paper maché sculptures. I also contributed a furry spy story to the conbook.
- This June, I’ll also be selling my books at Graphic-con,which is Sudbury, Ontario’s new SFF convention. The con was a huge success its first year, with attendance outstripping the venue’s size and causing long wait times to get in. I’m looking forward to being a part of it this year, in its much roomier location.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Photos and release dates will be forthcoming!
In case you hadn’t heard the news, a new species of octopus was discovered this summer — and it’s really cute.
Just look at that squishy little guy! The webbing between its tentacles gives it a bouncy swimming pattern, and the flappy little fins on its head are for steering. One of the scientists studying this new species has proposed calling it Opisthoteuthis adorabilis because of its adorable appearance. (At the time of posting, I couldn’t find word on whether the name is official.)
Mostly, I just thought my blog readers should see this octopus. Octopuses are neat! But adorabilis is also an interesting contrast to otherworldly-looking oceanic creatures, like nudibranchs and anglerfish. The sheer variety of life on our Earth should never be forgotten.
I have a lot to consider, regarding my writing and other life endeavours. So it seems best if I go quiet for a while.
I’ll still be using my social media accounts, if you want to follow me! And if you’d like a notification when I resume updates on this blog, consider the Follow Blog via Email option at the top-right of this screen.
Hmm, I don’t really have anything to say this week. How about I share some links to things that caught my eye?
- Till Human Voices Wake Us by Annie Bellet. I’m currently reading this collection of sci-fi/fantasy short stories. It’s got an interesting variety of speculative elements — and lots of non-white humans, who are always nice to see in sci-fi/fantasy.
- War Dog and Marginalized Populations by Malcom Cross. A pair of novelettes about genetically engineered dog supersoldiers, who have to find a way to fit into human society when there are no more battles to fight. Military fiction isn’t one of my stronger interests but the concept seems like a great way to use anthropomorphic characters.
- The Whacker Chronicles by Stan Grimes. Adult fantasy fiction about a society of pigeons, who deal with very relatable issues.
- To Journey in the Year of the Tiger by H. Leighton Dickson. First book in a saga of genetically altered tigers, lions, wolves and dragons, who picked up the torches of ancient China, India and Japan. Sounds pretty cool to me!
- And, for a non-book entry, the tile-matching game 2048. WARNING: highly addictive.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me mentioning this: I’m working on a new novel. Worldbuilding began at Furnal Equinox while I was sitting at my dealer’s table, and I’m nearly finished a chapter of rough draft.
It’s still very rough, of course, but the tentative title is Tinderstrike. This is the story of Eino, a middle-aged woman who’s been working the fields for decades and has very little to show for it. If she hopes to provide for herself in her declining years, she’ll need some extra income. So Eino secretly goes out trapping in the forest — and in her inexperience, she gets stuck in one of her own traps. Unable to free herself, she uses communication magic to call a phoenix (which are highly intelligent, crow-like birds, known for using flint and pyrite to start fires). And after the phoenix uses Eino’s knife to cut her free, the phoenix makes off with it. Since that knife was Eino’s most valuable possession — and part of her retirement resource — she has to find that phoenix.
But the phoenix didn’t just take that knife because it’s shiny. She’s trying to pay off a looming price of her own — to the leviathans, a race of subterranean water dragons that humanity knows very little about.
Tinderstrike takes place in a fantasy realm loosely based on the Himalayas and surrounding Asian countries. The dry, high-altitude climate means that local plant life is mostly coniferous. Magic-rich flowers are rare and valuable.
Why does Eino have deer-like ears and horns in the concept art? Because in this world, humans develop animal traits as they age. It’s thought unseemly to be anything except a human, so non-human features are kept covered up with clothing as much as possible. Full transformation in old age is thought to be worse than death. Eino has early-onset deer features, so she was abandoned by her upper-class family at a young age, and now her time to provide for herself is growing short.
This is part of the new writing direction I was talking about. It’ll have plenty of non-humans with viewpoints of their own, but it’ll also have broader appeal (I hope) than the Stories of Aligare. I’ll let you folks know when Tinderstrike is near completion!
This past weekend, I attended Furnal Equinox 2014 in Toronto, Ontario. It was my first time at this particular anthopomorphic convention. I had some technical difficulties over the weekend, and my Render reading had less than a handful of attendees (possibly because of its timeslot: 1 PM on Friday, when many of the con-goers had yet to arrive).
But the convention’s atmosphere was great. I chatted up artists and costumers. I participated in a goofy scavenger hunt. I lounged in the hotel’s lobby, reading an ebook and giggling when fursuiters leaned over me to peer at my phone’s screen. Overall, I’d call it an enjoyable weekend!
I also did a lot of thinking while sitting at my dealer’s table, waiting for people to happen by. My biggest life decisions are made while I’m away from home, it seems. So, here goes.
I’ve been giving the Stories of Aligare series the best treatment I’m capable of right now, but its very essence is also its greatest handicap: these are small, odd stories. They’re not thrill-a-minute page-turners. They’re not the kind of book people gobble down in one night and then rave about to all their friends. I firmly believe that quiet stories deserve to exist, and deserve to be read. The tiny little legion of Aligare fans is so meaningful to me — but I think I need to increase my reach as a writer and publisher, or else I’m not doing justice to this goal of mine.
I’ve got other unusual, human-free stories in mind. Some of them I’m holding back because I don’t think I’m ready to execute them well. (I felt kinship in the way Pixar’s WALL-E took years of development and tinkering with the emotional tones. ) But as a writer, I like working with a variety of literary tones and approaches. And Serpents of Sky has gotten a better reception so far than any of the Aligare books. I’m clearly able to write higher-concept stories.
So my next full-length novel won’t be a Story of Aligare. The next story (or stories) I publish will be something with broader appeal. I’ll still twist and subvert fantasy clichés wherever I find them. But I’ll see if I can tell a more crowd-pleasing story, before asking that crowd to give my weirder works a chance.
Stay tuned! I’ll tell you folks what my next book will be as soon as I’m sure myself.
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)
I was going to post on Monday, but then I got distracted cooking all the turkey and vegetables in my fridge. I looked up at the clock at 1:30 AM and my exact sentiment was, “Oh.”
So I’m going to call this week a wash. For those of you celebrating a holiday this week, I hope it’s a happy one. This coming Monday, I’ll tell you about Aligare’s Lifedancing festival, which is their lively version of a new year celebration.
Hey, readers! Whether you just stumbled across me in some Google result today, or you’ve been reading my fiction for years, I’m glad you’re here. Let me tell you what I’m working on for the coming year.
—That short story collection I’ve been talking about. Tentatively titled Serpents of Sky, it’ll have many different spins on dragon mythology. One of these shorts will be a new Story of Aligare about the motherly korvi, Constezza. I predict a February 2014 release, but we’ll see how it goes.
—A tabletop game called Omens of Aligare. My roommate/best friend is a tabletop game enthusiast. He’s been tinkering with the idea of a cards-and-tokens game that’s faithful to the Aligare books — because multi-racial fantasy societies can make for really interesting roleplay games. The Aligare tabletop project picked up steam when some of our other writer friends got involved, and I’ve been offering up ideas and lore that might make the game more fun. All the effort is beginning to pay off!
Playable for 2-6 players (probably), Omens of Aligare is a resource-management game where the players work together against Aligare’s “demons” of natural disaster and illness. The game is in a playable state right now but it still needs adjustments and balancing. We don’t have concrete release plans yet; crowdfunding will likely be involved. I’ll keep you posted if anything happens.
—Two convention stops this year. I’ll be attending Furnal Equinox in Toronto, Ontario for my first time. As well, I’ll be at What The Fur? in Montreal, Quebec for my fourth year running. I’ll have dealer’s tables at both events and I hope to schedule readings, so folks can hear me perform a sample of Render (A story of Aligare). With character voices, of course. You gotta do character voices.
And since we’re very near the end of 2013, I’d also like to mention that Render (A story of Aligare) is eligible for the 2013 Ursa Major Awards.
The Ursa Majors recognise excellence in anthropomorphic art and literature — that’s anything where non-human character(s) plays a significant role. If you’re voting, please keep Render in mind for the Anthropomorphic Novel category! If you’re not voting, then I’d still recommend browsing the Ursa Majors’ recommended list for 2013, as well as previous years’ listings. They’re a helpful compendium of books, artwork and other media featuring non-human characters, with many works coming from independent artists and small presses.
That’s all I have planned for 2014 so far. I’m not sure what I’ll write after Serpents of Sky — maybe another novel in the Stories of Aligare series, or maybe something from a new world. I’ll chew what I’ve got on my plate first.
Hoping to see anything in particular from me in 2014? Doing anything special yourself? Share in the comments!