Hello there, all! Boy it’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I gotta admit, I’m not very disciplined when it comes to this blog stuff. But hey, I’ve got a good excuse! I’ve been writing like crazy! Which means NEW BOOKS! But that’s not the point of this post. I’ll cover that stuff a little later.
This post is about Observations and Opportunity. I want everyone out there who has a social media presence for the sake of a business (or anything that isn’t just strictly personal) to definitely read on.
I had an opportunity present itself just recently. Now, I’ve been away from home for about a month and a half now, visiting and taking care of family. I have not always had an internet connection. In this span of time I’ve gone from living in coastal country, a remote island mansion, not-quite-a-studio apartment, a 27-foot sailboat, and back to coastal country. I will be home to Sacramento soon. But needless to say it has been hard to stay on top of things as AJ Gala.
I persisted. I made sure to get at least a little bit of content out over Instagram and Facebook. Mostly moodboards, but hey, that counts! But what happened to me, y’all… I am so glad I made the decisions that I did regarding my social media presence.
There’s a very quickly growing community on Facebook called The Authors’ Table. It’s led by a team of twelve published authors and they strive to create an engaging environment for other readers. There are live videos, there are cool discussions, there are giveaways, readings, all kinds of stuff. I liked and followed early on when I first saw it forming, but at the time I was just too busy with keeping myself afloat with work, writing, and life. I liked a post here and there, but that was it. Never more than that.
I was living in the not-quite-a-studio apartment when this particular THING happened. It was late in the day and I was waiting for my dad to get back from work. I had my little living/working space in the loft above his bed. Laptop plugged in. Typing up handwritten work for Book 2. Then BAM. I start getting Facebook messages from the head admins at The Authors’ Table.
They had a vacancy at the table. I was an author they had been considering to fill it. They’d been going through my social media for hours. Talking about me. Judging me. Seeing if I’d be a good fit or not. They told me that they’d put it to a vote and wanted to offer me the seat!
Now, TAT is not a huge group. But for perspective, it’s only three months old and has 2500 followers, most of which are engaged. That’s impressive. That’s dedication. That’s a team of authors giving interested readers interaction and news about books that many of them are already fans of. What an awesome opportunity!
And I can 100% owe it to the social media presence I built for myself. That’s the observation here.
You never really know who is paying attention to you. And I don’t mean that in a creepy stalker way (though it pays to be aware of that, too.) You don’t know what opportunities are out there waiting for you. The last thing you want is for your social media presence to turn them away. I’ve been paying attention to lots of authors, especially on Instagram, and for each one that is delightful and personable, there are fifty others who are straight up doing it wrong.
Take a serious look at who you present yourself to be and, if necessary, make some changes. Who you are matters. You are a brand.
Here are some key tips I’d like to share:
And that’s that. That’s Observations and Opportunity. Assess your social media presence and ensure it isn’t holding you back, because you never know what opportunities you could miss!
Hello everyone! I hope you’ve all been doing well in your splendid 2019! I know I have. I published a book, for crying out loud! When I started this blog, I really didn’t think I was ever going to get to that point. Do you know how many times I’ve started and stopped and started and stopped again with various projects?
Probably about as many times as YOU have. Am I right? I think that’s something that a lot of creatives have in common. We get full of inspiration for all kinds of new projects, and being creative, we have to go where the inspiration is. And often times we don’t have the discipline to stay with a project once the inspiration dwindles.
The dreaded BURNOUT.
Maybe you felt super inspired at the beginning of the project and created a ton of content early on and just wore yourself out.
Maybe you have been riding a wave of inspiration pretty consistently, but now you’re bored with it and need something new.
Maybe you were inspired once, but life and taxes and all that stuff got in the way and you just don’t have the time or energy to keep it going.
Lots of things could have happened. That’s how this works. That’s how we work. But it can’t be how we work if we want to be successful. We can’t depend on inspiration. Instead, we have to depend on HABITS!
So here it is, writers: MAKE WRITING A HABIT. Make it feel normal. Etch it into each and every single day, even if you’re only writing a sentence, or maybe something for your journal or diary instead of whatever your current project is. Doesn’t matter. Force yourself to write every single day, no matter how crappy it is.
The day or the words. Just do it. You gotta.
Eventually, it’ll be automatic. You’ll come home from work, sit down at your desk, and get to it for an hour or two. Or maybe you’ll wake up at some ungodly hour, water your plants, toast a bagel, and get to it for an hour or two. Or maybe you’ll put Frozen on for the eight-thousandth time for the kids and get to it for the length of that god forsaken movie.
But you’ll do it. You won’t feel the need to be “inspired.” Your brain will know it’s time to write and it’ll write. And that’s when you’ll know you’ve made the habit. It takes time to make a habit, but virtually no time at all to break one, so nurture it once it’s there!
BUT AJ, I DON’T THINK THAT’S WHY I’VE GOT THE BURNOUT you may be saying. Okay, that’s fair. Let’s take a look at some other potential burnout situations.
I can’t claim to have a perfect fix for this because hey, your anxiety is none of my business. Maybe you need medication, or MAYBE you’re a huge procrastinator and have a billion things you are supposed to do that you’ve been putting off and you KNOW you need to do them but you just can’t get yourself to do them and that fact alone is eating away at your very soul and OH GOD WHY.
Just do the thing(s). I am a huge procrastinator myself and it gives me a ton of anxiety, so I get it. But the solution to this problem is to GET THE THINGS DONE. Force yourself to do them. You have it in you. It’s not easy, our brains literally do not work right in this sense, but you can force yourself to do it. Mail your packages, do your laundry, pay your bills, walk the dog, clean the kitchen, then scream into a pillow and you’ll be marginally better off. Trust me, the relief that comes after you force yourself to stop procrastinating is absolutely worth it.
Again, I don’t have the perfect fix for this. Everyone is different and you should see a professional. But hey I’m willing to bet that if you eat a bunch of crap, you’re going to feel like crap. Make a point of seriously eating better for at least two weeks and take a vitamin D supplement if you aren’t already taking a multivitamin. You will feel a difference.
But if you’re on medication, don’t stop taking it. Just try to eat a little better in the meantime. You have to feed and nourish your brain with what it needs if you want it to function right, y’know?
What the hell is the corner? Well, if you wrote yourself there, you definitely know what it is. How do you write yourself into a corner? You give your characters too much control, that’s how! CUT THAT OUT. Yeah, it’s super cool to treat them like they’re sentient beings and let them do what they want and dictate the flow of your story, but when they do stupid crap that they can’t get themselves out of, you can’t get mad at them.
Because 1) they aren’t real and 2) you let them do that.
Have control over your world and what’s in it. A little bit of plotting isn’t going to kill you, I promise. Give your characters directions, and if they don’t follow them and instead write themselves into a stupid situation that you don’t know what to do with, tell them to TAKE IT FROM THE TOP! This is your story!
If you’re not editing, then you’re on your first draft. And if you’re on your first draft, the point is to just get the story out of your head and onto the paper. Don’t worry about how to word a particular sentence or what hand movements your character should be making while she tells her boyfriend what a loser he is. You can make it better later. Right now, whatever you’ve got needs to get on the paper.
Throw your reservations about quality to the side. They WILL hold you back. And that’s not what this stage is for. The first draft is the sand on the beach. The drafts that follow are how you will take that sand and build a magnificent castle.
Alright guys, that’s what I’ve got to say. Burnout takes us out of the game all the time, and right now it’s Camp NaNoWriMo and we can’t have that! So focus, write every day no matter what, take care of all the mundane little things you’ve been letting pile up, eat right for your brain’s sake, exercise control, and STOP WORRYING!
AJ OUT! ❤
A BOOK HAPPENED.
You guys know that journey that I’ve been on for, like, ever, to make this happen? I’M RIGHT AT THE END! The Nightwalker: Wish & Mercy eBook is currently live for pre-order on Amazon and Kobo!
It launches on March 10th. The paperback is ready to go, too, just not for pre-order because I donked it all up and forgot to set the date to March 10th so it went and published it NOW and I had to yank it off the shelf. I’ll put it up again a few days before the 10th!
But that won’t be the only way to get a paperback! I’ve ordered a whole bunch of copies from 48HourBooks.com for the Book Launch Party. You’ll be able to buy one directly from me and get it SIGNED, and who knows, maybe I’ll even slip a bookmark in there. I’ll figure out how to get that up and running on the blog soon.
Anyway I’M FREAKING OUT GO TAKE A LOOK! ❤
Hey everyone. Sorry about the radio silence! If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going on with me and the book and my journey. But there’s only so much I’ve been able to convey in my little videos, so a blog post is finally appropriate.
This year, up until recently, I had a plan for Nightwalker and that plan was to simply write it. Then I came whizzing past the 200k word mark and still had half the story left to tell! So I decided Nightwalker would be a 4-book series and planned to chop it up and make neat lil’ books out of it when I was done, and continued being hellbent on getting to the finish line before seeking out a traditional publisher.
But I changed my mind. I changed my mind about a bunch of things. It all started one day when I joined a few social media writing groups and spent some time researching my options and talking to people and their experiences. The longer I listened, the more I realized that I would not be satisfied with their results. That meant I had a lot more work to do.
To be clear, I did not like the results (and lack of results) that others got when they went the traditional route. It’s a lengthy process that originally I was prepared for. Hell, I even longed for it! Having a finished product, querying agents, someday getting the interest of one, someday that agent getting a publisher’s interest, signing a contract, receiving an advance, and hoping the book sells enough to earn royalties.
Originally that sounded great. The plus was that aside from writing the book, the query letter, and content to promote myself, the rest of the work would fall on the publisher. But then I learned the cons of that.
I take issue with that. If I’m going to be a failure, it will be by my own hand. I refuse to put the fate of my work in someone else’s hands, or at least this is my new lease on things after all the research. 8%-15% per book in royalties is not enough to become a career author, and now I can’t even trust a publisher to do right by my book if they take it on.
FINE. I’LL JUST DO IT MYSELF.
So I wrote, still hellbent on having Nightwalker completely finished before making any other decisions. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and then realized I would not be able to see my goal, not on the road I was on. It was a silly goal, to publish something by the time I turned thirty, but it has been the fire under my ass, so it isn’t entirely faulty. So I stepped back and assessed and I realized I had a perfectly good 120-150k chunk of words for a first book. Maybe the story wasn’t finished, but I had the material to publish a first book if I went the self-publishing route.
But for the longest time I had bought into the stigma. “Ew, self-published? It’s probably terrible, low-quality crap that won’t make sense!”
Let’s be real, that stigma isn’t without merit. There’s thousands of crappy self-published works out there, but there’s also a lot of crappy traditionally published works out there, so hey.
The self-published way gives me all the control and I like that. Truthfully, that’s something that worried me about the traditional method, not having control. WHAT IF THESE PEOPLE DESTROY MY BABY? Only I’m allowed to do that. It will just cost me a ton of money.
And that’s where I am now! The tons of money part. Well, the needing tons of money part. This is expensive as hell, but that’s the price of getting it right. Editing, cover design, promotional materials, etc. I hate to suggest that you can’t do this for free, but seriously, if you want to set yourself apart from all the stuff out there that gives self-publishing such a bad rap, you have to invest in this stuff. It matters.
Invest in your work if you believe in it. Maybe if you’ve got an eye for it, you can make your own cover art (I’ve made some decent ones on Canva, so it’s not out of the question), and maybe you know the secret to Facebook ads and don’t need to spend an arm and a leg promoting the best stuff from your author page. Fine. But what you should absolutely invest in is an editor.
I’m not talking about your friend who took a creative writing class in college, I’m talking about a real-deal professional editor. I don’t care how perfect your grammar is or how incredible of a wordsmith you are, having the eyes of a professional is invaluable. A second set of eyes is always helpful, and an editor worth their salt is going to improve the quality of your work and the way you tell your story. If you don’t believe me, ask for a sample edit from a few you’re interested in and see what you get back.
There’s a lot that I’m still learning about this process. It’s a completely different world and I want in. But I can say that I filled out my W-9 with Amazon/Createspace/whatever they’re called! It’s a step you’ll have to do if you’re in the US. It’s painless!
I’m also in this weird stage right now where I’ve submitted my work to the editor and in the meantime I can’t stop planning things. I set my personal deadline and now I’m meeting with artists, venues for the book launch party, caterers, I’m buzzing with crazy planning energy and I can’t seem to settle down enough to write! And I practically live on Pinterest now. Boards for everything. Book launch decor? Board. Book signing ideas? Board. Book covers? Board. Design themes for promotional materials? Board. What does that even mean? Board.
Hey everyone! Boy have I got a treat for you (kind of). This may throw some of you way, way back, too, if you had this kind of thing when you were a kid. I made them all the time, sometimes for my friends and sometimes for whatever crazy story I was working on at the time.
What is this dumb childish thing I speak of? Grab a binder and some paper, homeslice, because we’re about to make a SLAMBOOK!
How does this thing work? Why use it in place of other, more traditional character development methods? I can’t give you a good answer to either question because everyone will use this differently and I would never advocate only using one method of character development anyway.
When I made these Slambooks, I had a different question on every page. Name, birthday, favorite color, favorite class, favorite teacher, etc. Then I’d pass them around to my friends and they’d fill them out and pass them onto their friends. Each line is one person’s answer, so you could flip through the book knowing that on each page, on the sixth line would be Emily’s answers (since she was the sixth person to fill out the book). Or you could judge by gel pen color and handwriting.
The problem with these books at school is that they became tomes of instant drama with questions like “Best Friend”, “Least Favorite Person”, “Darkest Secret”, “Crush”, and so on and so forth, so they got confiscated pretty fast. But what could be better for your characters than a tome of instant drama?
I filled out my Slambook pretending to be my characters, occasionally having them notice each other’s answers and making little comments like it was a yearbook. It’s fun, but there are also a lot of really stupid questions that I included that don’t pertain to my setting at all. But you know what? It was an interesting way to get to know my characters in a way that I never would have considered, and I’m that much better off for knowing that Aleth is a basic bitch who loves his Pumpkin Spice Latte.
Take some of your favorite questions from a selection of character development worksheets and give them each their own page and give each character one line to answer. I’ve also outfitted them each with a different pen and unique handwriting, but that is optional. I’ve included the questions I put in my Slambook at the end of the article to give you some ideas.
ALTERNATIVE USAGE of your new SLAMBOOK!
Everyone creates characters differently. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. But maybe character development worksheets never really worked for you and neither will this dumb Slambook. Maybe you’re not great at getting in a character’s head and making stuff up about them. That’s okay! For some, hardcore in-depth research is easier and more comfortable than making crap up from nothing and there’s a whole genre suited just for that! It’s called HISTORICAL FICTION (and also non-fiction). Research is rad, but I suck at it.
Maybe you’re someone who feels more at home researching people and places that already exist and creating your stories from that. But at the same time, you’ve got an itch to do something different, to start a story with well-rounded characters of your own. What do? REVERSE SLAMBOOK! Kind of.
Create all of your questions. Name, birthday, favorites, family, secrets, whatever. Then randomly fill it out. Go on a random generator website (my favorite is Chaotic Shiny, located on the Sightseeing part of my sidebar), plug in those answers without rhyme or reason. Use inspiration from people you know or know of. Maybe a character is as tall as Emma Stone with Charlize Theron’s birthday, your mother’s favorite hobbies, and your boss’s breakfast habits. However you do it, just fill it out. Pay no mind to the person you’ve created until it’s DONE.
Now you have a character you can get to know. The Slambook has dug out their quirks and peeves and likes and dislikes and you can use those to “research” further. Remember, pointless details make a character feel real, they give readers a tiny little moment to connect with their own pointless details. You don’t need to include every single one of those details in your book (please don’t), but your characters should still have them, because it helps you write them like real people. The Reverse Slambook makes a character feel less like a blank slate when it’s done, and depending on how in-depth your questions and answers were, you’ll probably have enough to start writing some other character development material (letters to home from their POV for example).
Hopefully you can take some time to enjoy this dumb method of character development. Even though my book has a medieval fantasy setting, it’s fun imagining the characters in a more modern time, ordering Starbucks or deciding on a breakfast cereal.
Happy words, everyone! AJ OUT~
My Slambook Questions:
Don’t stop there! GO FOR THE GOLD
She felt the pressing darkness of the forest against her and a chill from every angle. There was no better comfort than the damp earth beneath her and the susurration of the wind in the branches. She knew exactly where she was.
Crickets sang to her as branches snapped painlessly under her bare feet. The autumn moon, full as could be, lit up the red colors of the forest. She was still in Suradia, she could tell, surrounded by oaks and rowans and elders. But this was a part of the Bogwood that she’d never been.
She let her gut lead her, pulled in every which way through the maze, losing herself deeper amongst the trees. She had never seen such darkness, the branches so thick and twisted into each other that not even the moon’s light could find her. Her heart raced at the exhilarating thought of being truly lost, consumed by the woods, never to return again.
But then the trees parted and she saw a clearing. The light she expected was obscured by feathery clouds. Had they been there before? She dismissed the thought at once when she saw she was not alone. She stayed behind the tree line, watching the others ahead in silence.
There were two of them in the clearing, intense and quiet, and none the wiser to her presence. They were both tall, but otherwise nothing alike. All she could see of one was a silhouette of a ragged black cloak, drifting eerily in the breeze. The other was a woman not of this Realm. She could see her luminous green eyes glowing from afar and a pair of insect wings growing from her bare back. Thin, wispy clothing hung off her dark-skinned body.
A faerie. The longer she stared, the harder her heart pounded. The woman stared at the other expectantly, then conjured a glowing orb in her hand.
After a long bout of silence, the cloaked figure spoke. “I can’t do it.”
“You must.” The faerie inspected the energy as it grew in her palm.
“No. I won’t!” He bared his teeth when he yelled, showing two elongated incisors. The faerie reached out and gripped his neck with her long nails.
“Yes. You will.”
Tizzy woke with a start. The midnight forest was gone. Sun beamed into her room through two wooly curtains. Groaning, she rolled onto her back and shielded her eyes, brushing a mess of curly black hair out of her face.
So much for the clouds she had seen. How late had she slept in? She sat up and hung her legs over the edge of her bed, cold with sweat and confusion.
“What was that?” There was throbbing above her eyes and she rubbed her forehead. “I can’t remember the last time I dreamt. And never like that.”
The pain in her head sharpened, but it – unlike the dream – was nothing new. At least she could rely on a good headache to bring routine into her life.
She got to her feet, startled by the chill on the ground. Stormy had snuck in and ran off with her rug again, but this time he made sure to leave behind his chewing rope as an even trade. Tizzy fought back a sigh and stretched the sleep from her bones, checking her room for footprints and her boots for mud. Of any evidence of the forest she’d dreamt of. But, everything was clear – it had only been a dream.
She pried open the little doors to her wardrobe, trying to decide if it was the prospect of the dream that was annoying her, or if it was just her headache.
“Does it even matter?” she mused, looking over her clothing options. She wasn’t sure what would be on the agenda today, but she refused to engage in anything formal, and reached for a sensible purple brocade vest to wear with a warm tunic and leggings. Just the thought of meeting her siblings downstairs made her head hurt more.
She dressed and tried to smooth out the sleep in her hair before tying it up in a high ponytail. The finishing touch to her ensemble was her Hallenar pendant, a stamped bronze coin on a leather cord. Each of the eight Hallenar children had one that bore the symbol of a different bird, chosen for them as infants by their father with his oracle talents. Tizzy’s pendant featured a falcon.
She sat down at her desk, ignoring her reflection in the mirror. A leather bound book waited for her, full of loose pages covered in her jagged handwriting. She stared down at her pencil, at the iridescent black feathers tied to the end, and her stomach filled with dread.
‘Rustaumn 27, 1144
No one in Suradia has a cure for my headaches. Not even the priestesses of the Hesperan Hospices, which is a letdown, to put it lightly. Why can’t they fix this? And if that’s a bust, what other options do I have? I guess I’ll have to find a way to search elsewhere on the Mirivin Mainland.
If only I could get away.
When Tizzy finally made it downstairs, she saw the fires and sconces had already been lit. The task was hers, normally, but her late start had probably forced it into her little brother’s hands. She walked the halls of the needlessly large House Hallenar, critiquing the old masonry and wood paneling in her mind as she did every morning. There was a crack in that corner, and a stone fallen from the ancient mortar down that hall, and she didn’t even know the faces in half the paintings. She passed the Hallenar banners that were pristine in comparison, boasting a black eagle against scarlet.
They looked proud, Tizzy thought, to be hanging there in front of no one. After a slow start, she spotted the two people she was looking for and they were already deep in a meeting near the manor’s entrance.
The two youngest out of eight were her youngest sister the Queen and her baby brother – Allanis the Hummingbird and Athen the Cardinal. When Tizzy approached, rubbing the back of her neck, she was relieved to hear their conversation was pleasant.
“So,” she cleared her throat, “what are we doing today?”
“Tizzy! Good morning!” Allanis beamed, hugging her hands together.
It was a day the Queen didn’t plan on meeting with many people. Atop Allanis’s head of fluffy dark blonde curls was what she called her ‘off duty’ crown. She called it that, but it was only a string of pearls that anyone else would have worn around their neck. Tizzy thought of a snappy remark but decided her sister’s effervescence was a good sign and kept it bottled. There was no reason to stir the pot yet.
She glanced at Athen, who didn’t look her in the eyes. Nothing out of the ordinary.
“Hey,” he greeted.
She tried not to roll her eyes. “Hey.”
Allanis shook her hands in the air, rustling all the silver bangles on her wrists. “Alright! Here’s the news. I’m having the family get-together soon!”
“Details, Allanis. When is ‘soon’?” Tizzy raised an eyebrow. Athen wouldn’t look at either of them and Allanis smiled awkwardly.
“What? That short of notice?” She rolled her head back and huffed. “Great, so it’ll be us and Adeska’s creepy family again.”
“Not this time! I sent out invites months ago!”
“So Athen and I are the last to know about this?” Tizzy was glowering.
“Of course not,” Allanis waved the thought away nonchalantly. “He’s the one who sent the invites. He knows!”
No wonder he wouldn’t look her in the eye. As she turned her glower on him, Allanis’s bubbly expression dissipated.
“You know,” she started to chew on her lip, “I haven’t heard from Lazarus, Rhett, or Rori yet. I wonder if their letters got lost.”
Tizzy was further annoyed because their replies were the whole reason for planning in advance. Without the three of them, tomorrow’s party would be no different from the sorry affair it had been last year. But as she was mulling over Allanis’s words, she felt a sudden spark.
“Wait! You mean,” she stopped and swallowed hard, “you mean you heard from–”
“No,” Allanis looked away, “no, Tizzy. I’m sorry, I should have been–I should have said–” she sighed, “Tizzy, you know we never hear from him.”
“I know.” She let the spark die. “I just thought this year might be different.”
Allanis clapped a hand on Tizzy’s shoulder. “I have every intention of making it that way, sister. Trust me.” There was something so sure and confident in her storm blue eyes that when she squeezed her shoulder, Tizzy could almost believe her.
She looked up at Athen and at last he made eye contact.
“Fine.” She grumbled. “Fine, let’s find these damn letters. Meet me at the doors in twenty minutes, Athen.” She didn’t wait for a reply before heading back to her room.
Allanis watched her, rubbing her chin.
“Are you okay here if I go searching with her?” Athen asked.
“Oh sure, I’ll be fine. Lora and I are just going to go over the finances for this month. The party is going to be the biggest we’ve had yet, but I don’t think it’s made a dent in the Byland funds. That’s good,” she said, putting her hands on her hips, “because there’s a lot to plan for this winter since the last advisor from King Byland’s council is dead.”
“Should we appoint more?”
“Like who, Athen?” Allanis watched as Tizzy finally disappeared around a corner. “We don’t know anyone. Every connection we had died when King Byland did. Don’t worry, though!” She patted him on his back. “You’re doing a great job as my Right Hand! At seventeen, you’re a fountain of knowledge!”
He could sense his sister’s sarcasm. With Tizzy out of sight, though, his tone changed.
“Does she seem worse than usual to you?”
“Yeah. Look, I know we’re not real close with her, but try to listen if she opens up, okay?”
“She acts so weird this time of year.”
“I think you’d better get your things and catch up with her. Good luck!”
He waved and left down the empty halls to retrieve his cloak and sword. When he was ready, he found Tizzy on her way to the entrance. It took all of his courage to engage her.
“Where are we going?”
Her dry stare was piercing. “The roost. Where letters go.”
“Oh. I’ve already checked there. All week, in fact.”
“Then where else do you suppose we look?”
He was ready for this question. He had thought about it all morning, trying to prepare for her every possible word. “Maybe they got lost in the Bogwood?”
She threw her head back and groaned. “The Bogwood? Athen, are you sure? This is going to be such a long day.”
They cut through the humble town of Suradia with precision, starting from House Hallenar at the north and ending at the Eastern Gate into the Bogwood. The guards recognized them as the royal family and let them pass through with only the slightest attempt at small talk. Tizzy shut them down with cold formality and continued on with Athen behind her.
“They were only trying to be polite,” he said. She glanced at him over her shoulder, shook her head, then looked back to the road.
“No. They were trying to be nosy. ‘How long has it been since King Byland passed away?’ No one asks that, Athen. They know damn well how long. Everyone knows it’s only been about thirteen years. They want to see us respond so they can gauge how we’re handling things without him.”
“It’s none of their business how we’re handling things without him! ‘How is the Queen faring? I heard Master Elengin died of pneumonia recently!’ Good for you! I’m glad you have ears! See, Athen? It’s a stupid, nosy question, and we don’t need to answer stupid, nosy questions.”
“Allanis said she doesn’t plan on appointing any new advisors.”
Tizzy shook her head again – at this rate, she thought she might shake it right off her shoulders by the end of the day. “I wish she would change her mind. I could help find someone trustworthy. It would take so much pressure off of me to have a new council. And Lora! Poor Lora. I know she stuck herself to Allanis’s side by choice, but still.” She found a proper place to step off the road and began the search. “Allanis was six when King Byland married her and named her his successor. Lazarus should have stuck around to be her advisor, or at least appoint someone he trusted. Besides Lora. He knew Frankel Byland was too old to make it much longer than a year. We all did.”
“You sound more bitter about it than the rest of us!” Athen laughed.
“Of course I’m bitter!” She could feel herself shaking. “All of our brothers and sisters got to leave and do what they wanted with their lives! But I’m stuck here because I’m the only one left to make sure you two are okay!”
An emotion hit Athen but he wasn’t sure which one it was. He was sure he was supposed to be offended, but there was also a feeling of pity and a tiny bit of astonishment that Tizzy was around because she cared. It was a brutal internal fight that left him silent. Tizzy realized too late that she had spoken a bit raw for her baby brother and changed the subject as a breeze swept through the trees.
“Gods, aren’t you cold? This place is freezing.”
“Not cold,” Athen said, “but I’m a little afraid. It’s the Bogwood. You’re not afraid of this place?”
She looked at him over her shoulder again and smirked. “No.”
The next second, a sickening, unearthly screech made them both jump. Tizzy wasted no time and darted between the trees, searching for the source.
“Over there!” She beckoned and Athen followed.
A man had fallen in the distance, a man that Tizzy had never seen before. A fully grown imp hovered over him, beating its leathery wings, sending leaves and feathers flurrying into the air. It was easily the size of a great dane, with glistening black teeth as long as Tizzy’s fingers.
She identified the man as a mage right away in his green and silver Academy robes. He was trying to fend the creature off from the ground, but his staff was just out of reach.
Tizzy gripped the hilt of her sword, still in its scabbard. It was now or never.
“Stay back unless it gets ugly.”
She unsheathed the brilliant black longsword named Wish and raced forward. Neither the imp nor the man had noticed her coming until the she hacked into the imp and sent it bleeding violet ichor into the ground. It twitched and died in front of her as she caught her breath, watching the ichor drip down her blade.
“You okay?” she asked, helping the man to his feet.
He was middle aged and average in just about every regard, with tan skin and graying dusty blonde hair in a ponytail. Dark green eyes perused the siblings from behind thin bangs.
“Yes,” he said, looking back at the slain imp. “Who are you two?”
“You don’t know who we are?” Athen asked, standing beside his sister.
“I’m not from around here.”
Tizzy sheathed Wish, cracking a smile. “Clearly. I’m Tizzy, that’s Athen. We’re from House Hallenar.”
The man’s eyes widened and suddenly he was embarrassed. “House Hallenar? My apologies for troubling you.” He bowed his head and retrieved his staff. “My name is Gavin Castillo, I’ve come to Suradia to teach at the Mages Academy. I’m not familiar with these woods, I’m afraid. I lost my footing, dropped my staff, and that’s when the imp ambushed me.”
“Why are you in the Bogwood to begin with?” Athen asked.
“I’m mentoring a young mage. She ran in here looking for a spell ingredient.” He eyed the trees warily. “Isa can’t handle this place.”
“Can you?” Tizzy smirked, folding her arms.
“Of course!” To prove the point, Gavin gripped the staff and a ring of magenta flames flourished behind him. They danced for a second and then condensed into one fiery orb that hovered above his head.
“Good.” Tizzy put her hands on her hips. “Since we’re both here looking for something, let’s stick together. You can’t do the Bogwood alone.”
Once again, she didn’t wait for an answer and started walking.
“I hope your student is okay,” Athen said, following her.
“Thanks. Me too.”
“This place is full of greenkind!” Tizzy called back to them. “Keep your eyes peeled, Gavin!”
They wandered the Bogwood for at least an hour. Tizzy tried to admire the touches of autumn all around, the colors of flame on the leaves and the bite in the air. Gavin’s orb wove between trees to help them search and periodically returned with no results. Even Athen was beginning to feel hopeless.
Tizzy looked up into a tree that still had a cluster of green in its branches. “I can’t believe we’re looking for letters in a forest.”
He sighed, digging through a bush. “Alright, so maybe it wasn’t my best idea.” He decided there was nothing to find and started to stand up when something caught his eye.
Forty feet away, someone sat in the dirt between the trees. He approached them, not sure if they had noticed him or not. When he was close, he saw she was a girl just a few years younger than he was. He didn’t think she looked much like a mage, at least not like the ones he’d seen at the Academy. In place of robes, she wore a short, billowy brown dress and leather leggings. A matching cap sat on her head and two long ponytails of dark blonde hair draped down her shoulders. Her face was small and round and dark tan, and her large eyes were locked onto a bird at her feet.
She looked up at him, crinkling the dimple in her chin. “Hm?”
“Are you Isa?”
“Isa!” Gavin raced forward, his roomy sleeves trailing behind him.
Before Tizzy had even taken notice of the girl, she saw the bird on the ground with her. A plump white dove with a tan speck on its wing. “That’s Rori’s carrier. Is she crazy, sending that thing all the way from Sila’Karia?” The bird cooed in stress.
“It looks injured,” Isa said, getting to her feet and dusting herself off. “It was carrying this, too.” She smiled and put a leather tube in Tizzy’s hand. There was an embossed rose on the side that she recognized at once.
“This is definitely Rori’s. Allanis will be relieved!”
“One down, one to go!” Athen said, picking up the bird as though he had been picking up birds his entire life. “Assuming Lazarus and Rhett are sending their response together like they usually do.”
Isa came up next to him, petting the dove on its head. “It doesn’t seem hurt too bad. That one wing looks a little roughed up, but with a little bit of care, it should be okay to fly again. Not that I’m an expert, of course!”
“I wonder how long it’s been holed up here.” Tizzy sighed. “Rori’s an idiot.” She surveyed the area where they had stopped, taking in the ground they covered. “We’ve been everywhere in this damn forest except the actual Bog, with no sign of Lazarus and Rhett’s carrier.”
Gavin chimed in. “If you’re looking for letters, why not check the roost at the Academy? It’s seen a fair share of unfamiliar carriers recently.”
“Guess it’s worth a try.” She took a moment to get her bearings before starting to lead them back. Soon, they found a line of broken posts and a beaten path.
“It’s the road!” Isa clapped. “I didn’t realize how deep in the woods we were.”
“Isa Vega!” Gavin’s voice turned cross. “If you ever run off like that again, I’m making you translate the entire Tome of Anatanth!”
The student walked beside her mentor, rubbing her arms and staring at the ground. “Sorry, Gavin. But I found the white cinderflower root!”
With the road going straight back to Suradia there was no need to continue navigating for them, so Tizzy let the others pass her. She lingered behind, taking a minute to unwind and observe what the changing of the seasons had done to the landscape this year. High winds, a powerful summer storm, and a wildfire had changed parts that she once knew like the back of her hand.
There was more on her mind today than there had been in years. She had a dream. It had been so long, she didn’t think she had dreamt in at least–
Anxiety seeped into her chest at the very thought and she buried it. It didn’t matter how long ago it had been. It didn’t matter, but her head started pounding the more she repeated it to herself. With a deep breath she calmed herself, and that’s when she saw it.
Or so she thought. She could’ve sworn there had been movement from behind the trees. Not the wind or an animal, something else. But there was nothing.
She scowled. “I don’t have time for this.” The others had to be twenty paces ahead of her by now. She jogged ahead to reach them.
A tall figure watched her from deep in the trees, the ragged edges of his black cloak dancing along the ground in a gentle breeze.
“Are we all friends now?” Isa asked, looking back at Tizzy and Athen.
Tizzy ducked under a branch. “Acquaintances.”
Athen, with cooing bird in hand, stared at her incredulously, offended for Isa’s sake even though the girl was oblivious. “I’ll be your friend, Isa.”
Tizzy ignored him.
When the party was finally back within Suradia’s walls, the sky had gone from crisp blue to complete overcast. Tizzy knew by the middle of next month she’d be seeing her breath outside. Gavin and Isa led the siblings to the Mages Academy, which was little more than a fat stone tower standing beside the Hall of Anatanth. Even the magical library had little to boast.
Once, Tizzy had seen the Mages Academy and Hall of Anatanth in Suradia’s neighbor city, Saunterton. Both structures there were each at least as big as House Hallenar and garishly decorated on the inside and outside. In comparison, Tizzy thought what Suradia offered was a little pathetic. She stood in front of the tower’s double doors and looked up at the top of the spire, squinting.
“Gavin, can I ask you something?”
He looked at her dubious expression. “Of course.”
“Why on Rosamar’s green earth did you come here?” she asked. “To Suradia?”
He rubbed his chin. “It’s a long story, la dama.” Out of politeness, he didn’t stare at her as she tried to figure out the clue to his origin, gazing up at the spire with her instead. “To be honest, I wanted to go somewhere quiet. It’s roomier than it looks on the inside, I swear, but we mostly use the Hall of Anatanth. Especially for practices and evaluations. It’s just easier. Believe it or not, the Hall in your town has some very rare tomes.”
“If you say so, Gavin.”
“I can take you to the roost now,” Isa announced, “if you’ll follow me!”
Tizzy held up the leather tube from the dove and gestured to Athen. “Wonderful. You go do that, I’m going to get Rori’s letter to Allanis.” She turned away without waiting for an answer, but this time she gave them a parting “bye.”
She was gone. Athen was fuming.
Isa tugged at Gavin’s sleeve. “Hey–”
“I know.” He stood quietly as Athen grumbled out his frustrations, then cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Lord Athen, I wanted to ask you something, and please forgive me if this is too much of an intrusion. Do you know there’s something off about your sister?”
He looked back at him with a scowl still on his face. “Obviously.”
“No, no!” Isa said. “We don’t mean her attitude. That’s not it. There’s something else.”
He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, watching Tizzy grow more and more distant like some kind of terrible metaphor. “I know. My oldest brother and sister are both mages and they’ve hinted at it for years, but they’ve never really come out and told us anything. There’s this big gap in time that everyone just ignores and whenever I get the chance to ask them myself, I lose my nerve.”
“I can’t put my finger on it,” Gavin said, pushing open the doors, “but something is definitely strange about her.”
Athen looked up at the magical symbols carved in the doorframe as Gavin led him in.
“Something wrong, even.”
House Hallenar was a twenty minute walk from the Academy. Tizzy felt exhausted as she climbed the steps to the front terrace. The ivy was out of control, growing up anything it touched, but Allanis balked at the thought of hacking it all away. She had told Tizzy a hundred times that she thought the overgrown look was ‘charming’.
She arrived at the entrance doors and pushed past them. Of course they weren’t barred, Allanis knew nothing of safety. She let them close behind her and leaned on them for a moment. Her headache was getting worse. Fortunately, the day would be over soon and she could fight it from the comfort of her bed.
Allanis was farther down the entrance hall in a small, dusty throne room. The Queen treated it more like her own personal office, especially today. She was sinking into the throne’s plush red cushions with a ledger in her lap, twirling a leather-wrapped pencil, deep in thought. When the front doors creaked shut and were followed only by silence, she looked up.
“Tizzy?” She stood up from the throne. “What’s wrong?”
Tizzy straightened up and walked over to her, placing the leather tube in her hand. “Here. We found Rori’s letter.”
Allanis took it and arched an eyebrow. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“It’s just a headache.”
“Another one? Tizzy, I told you to see the court doctor about those! And I told you that if you didn’t want to talk to him about it, at least go to a Hesperan Hospice! You need to get those taken care of!”
“But it’s every day.”
Tizzy watched her pout before walking past her. “Athen is looking for Lazarus and Rhett’s letter in the roost at the Mages Academy. I’m going to sleep for a bit.”
Allanis sighed and opened the tube, unrolling a letter almost too small for the handwriting it bore.
I am ecstatic to announce that I am en route to House Hallenar and I will be attending your party!
Next to the signature was a well drawn pink rose and the Hallenar ‘H’ in loopy cursive. Allanis wanted to be excited, but wasn’t.
Tizzy fled into her room and shut the door, then threw herself onto the bed. With a childish grumble, she rolled on her back and folded her hands neatly over her stomach. Her rust-brown eyes stared at the wood beams above, and flashes of what she’d seen in her sleep came back to her.
“Was that really just a dream?” She searched her memory for the cloaked figure’s face, but all she could remember were his fangs. Fangs like bloodkin.
‘No. I won’t.’
The words echoed in her mind for just a second before she rolled onto her side.
“Yeah right. Of course it was just a dream.”
She tried desperately to fall asleep, but there were too many thoughts swimming through her head and she couldn’t make peace with any of them. Instead she laid on top of the blankets, running from memory after memory as they tried to swallow her whole.
The first one she forced herself to re-live was pleasant enough. She was young, maybe eight or nine. Her father was recently deceased. With her mother having died shortly after giving birth to Athen, the death of her father meant that she was in the care of her oldest two siblings, Lazarus and Adeska. This was no easy task for two adults, much less for a sixteen-year-old and a thirteen-year-old, respectively. But as Tizzy recalled, life wasn’t so bad despite their grief.
Back then, they were still living on the family farm and there was more than enough work to keep everyone busy and cooperative. Athen wasn’t two yet, so someone was always watching him. Usually it was Adeska, until Lazarus came home from his studies and Adeska went to hers. If both of them were busy with studies or the fields, they gave Athen to Rhett, who would just pawn him off to Tizzy. Twice a week, Lazarus and Adeska took time to pass along their lessons to other siblings who were old enough to understand them.
It was a wonderful system that worked, until it didn’t have to. In this particular memory, Tizzy had a large scrap of paper laid out on the wood floor. She couldn’t remember how she had come across it, but she remembered what it felt like. The clumps of paper pulp weren’t smoothed out, leaving the surface bumpy and toothy. Had Adeska bought something wrapped in it? Details lost to time. All she knew for sure was that she had marked it to hell with a scavenged piece of charcoal. She beamed proudly as she drew what she thought was a fantastic looking tree.
“Wow! That’s so good!”
That’s why this memory hurt so bad. She looked at the boy next to her and chills ran through her body. He looked a lot like she did at that age. Before her hair grew dark, it was auburn just like his, though he hadn’t inherited their mother’s curls. He looked at her from under scruffy bangs with her same rust-brown eyes.
“Thanks!” she had replied. She could remember how dirty her face felt from the charcoal. “I’m going to sign it just like a famous artist!” She scratched a big ‘T’ in the bottom right corner of the paper.
The use of her full name was jarring. Adeska marched in and stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips.
“I thought I told you to stop digging through the hearths! You’re a mess, and you’re setting a terrible example for the rest of your siblings!”
Only thirteen, and Adeska had the heavy hitting words of a matron. Even back then, she was perfect at being perfect. Clear skin, golden hair, sapphire blue eyes, a sharp mind, and a kind heart. She was the standard that others set themselves to, not that it was necessarily Adeska’s fault. She was just naturally that way and always had been.
She stared Tizzy down with an angry look that she rarely wore. Tizzy looked back up at her with shame.
“But look at what she made, Adeska!” the boy piped up with a smile.
Adeska took a few more steps into the room to look at the drawing and her face softened. Tizzy had painstakingly drawn the entire farm, including their little farmhouse and barn, the wheat field and the cabbage field, Tizzy’s favorite horse, a single flower in a random place, and the whole family of eight.
Adeska gazed at it with a thoughtful smile. “If I get you some real pencils, will you stop using lumps of charcoal?”
Tizzy gasped and cupped her hands together. “Yeah!”
Chuckling, Adeska walked out and peered back at them from behind the door frame. “Alright, clean up you two. Lazarus and I are almost done making dinner!”
When she left, the boy rolled onto his stomach to inspect the drawing. “Wow, real pencils! What are you going to draw with them?”
“Maybe I’ll draw us!”
The memory faded after that. She gripped her pillow till her hands were shaking. A quick nap was all she was asking for. That was it. But her mind fed her another memory instead.
“What happened to you?” she remembered herself say.
She was older now. Fourteen? Almost fourteen? So much had changed from the last memory, including their living conditions. Four years prior, when Tizzy was ten, Allanis snuck out to go swimming in the lake at night, and it turned out that the King, seventy-year-old Frankel Byland, had done just the same thing. But the cold night waters treated him much different than they did young Allanis, and she jumped in to save him from drowning. This left the King both impressed and grateful. Frankel Byland’s own family had all died of pneumonia almost a decade before, leaving him completely devoid of a successor. Thus, at six years old, Allanis was married, tested for Royal Magic, and made Queen.
Frankel himself succumbed to pneumonia less than a year later. The whole family lived comfortably at the newly renamed House Hallenar. Things changed.
Tizzy’s hair had grown dark brown with the years. So had the boy’s from the last memory. He was standing in front of her, his face bloody and bruised.
“It was Rhett,” he finally answered. His left eye was newly blackened before the right one had time to completely heal, and his nose looked broken. Again.
She would have done anything to avoid this memory, but her mind fought her like a person in its own right. She would see this and she would feel this no matter what. Instead of the compassionate response she knew she should have given in hindsight – a response she had always given to him when this happened – she remembered her anger and the words that actually came out of her mouth.
“What is the matter with you? Why do you keep pissing everyone off?”
“I don’t even know what I’m doing wrong!” he cried out. “Nobody even cares that this keeps happening to us! Why don’t they care?”
She scoffed. “You’re such a liar, you know exactly what you’re doing. That’s the problem, isn’t it?”
The broken look on his face was the last part of the memory she could bear before opening her eyes. She was in tears as she rolled onto her back and stared back into the beams.
There was commotion in House Hallenar. Tizzy, disoriented from her failed attempt at sleep, came halfway down the grand staircase to observe. Athen was finally back from his expedition into the roost of the Mages Academy and had brought Gavin and Isa back to receive the Queen’s gratitude.
Lora was there, too, glued to the Queen’s side. She was a tall, dark, and handsome woman Lazarus adopted into the family ten years ago on a trip to the arid Besq Mainland. She rubbed Allanis’s shoulder fondly while the she bubbled over with anticipation.
“Well, My Queen,” Gavin began, stealing a glance up at Athen, “it took us awhile, but we managed to find this.” He handed over a foul-smelling black leather tube and Allanis snatched it up. It took her only a second to read its contents, and then she exploded.
“Yes! I can’t believe it!” She threw her hands into the air, then brought them back to look over the letter again. “This is amazing! Everyone is coming!” She looked up at Tizzy on the staircase. “Tizzy! Tizzy, they’re all going to be here!”
“No they’re not!”
Allanis felt her breath leave her. “I–”
“How can you say that?” Tizzy shouted. “You all act like he doesn’t even exist!”
“Wait, Tizzy please, I didn’t–”
She turned and walked back up the stairs. “You and your stupid parties.”
Allanis’s heart fell to the floor in pieces. She was worried about Tizzy as usual, but this time she was wounded for her own sake. For a harrowing moment, it didn’t feel like there was anyone else in the room with her. Then, Isa broke the silence.
“Like who doesn’t exist?”
Allanis looked down and fidgeted with her hands. “Aleth.” She swallowed hard. “We don’t really talk about him anymore.” She felt Lora’s hand on her shoulder again. “But it’s funny, Lazarus used to say that the only people in the whole world who knew Tizzy and Aleth were Tizzy and Aleth.”
He hated to be nosy, but Gavin couldn’t stop himself. “What happened to him?”
She tried to wave away the troublesome thoughts. “Athen and I were too young to remember what really happened. But on a different note, is there anything that you or the Academy needs?” she asked. “You two were a great help. I’d love to make a contribution.”
“I only ask for your continued support, My Queen.” Gavin bowed deeply and Allanis continued to fidget.
“If you say so.”
“Come on Isa, let’s go.”
“Goodnight, Your Grace! And you too, Lord Athen, Lady Lora!” Isa waved and bore her dimply smile. “Oh, and tell Lady Tizzy we said goodnight!” A moment later and she was gone with Gavin.
After a bone-crushing sigh, Allanis took a few steps into the throne room and crumpled up into the chair.
“Athen, bust out the good wine.”
He scratched his head. “You mean for tomorrow?”
“No. For tonight. Definitely for tonight.”