August 29, 2015

Magic Lessons Background Information

Shadowalker, Sadhaka, Greyhawk, and Tinpenny
Cover image by Denise Jones

Characters and Plot

"Magic Lessons" is a fantasy novel set in the land of Shandar. Their world is our world transformed by time, war, and natural disaster. At the time this story takes place, the land is fractured into countless city-states, some quite large, others quite small. Trade and commerce flow between these cities thanks in large part to the efforts of a Sidhe mage named "Dreamwalker Blackwolf" who died half a century before the story opens. The two main characters are Dreamwalker's son, "Greyhawk", and a woman named "Shadowalker Wraithkiller", the crown princess of a city named "Moonreach". The story opens with Shadowalker being driven from her home by a conquering army composed of ghost-like commanders whose troops are a mountain people called, "Orcane", or "trolls". She does not know who sent this army and much of her story is concerned with the search to determine who is behind the attack that drove her into exile.

Map of Shandar
Illustrated by Denise Jones

Shadowalker's magic teacher in Moonreach is "Clearheart", a failed magic student expelled from Riverstone Academy ten years prior to the story for refusing to study any spells that were not useful as weapons. When the story opens, Clearheart is cruel and demanding, often striking Shadowalker with an invisible switch. Because he does not truly understand what magic is and how it works, he cannot communicate the little that he does know and blames her for failing to understand. His impatience with his own shortcomings and her perceived inability to grasp his lessons is magnified by his realization that the ghost-like creatures leading the army of Orcane are manufactured from magic. He recognizes in their structure the magical style of a former teacher of his named "Silvertongue". During the brief time Clearheart was a student, Silvertongue was slowly going insane. He treated his students, including Clearheart, with great cruelty, often punishing them with severe magical beatings. Because he healed each student as soon as he finished punishing them, it was impossible for his students to prove the beatings were taking place. After multiple reports, Riverstone began assigning monitors to the classes Silvertongue taught. Naturally when the monitors were present, Silvertongue did not beat his students. However, he began showing up for work clothed only in magical tattoos, which provided the Council of Magi sufficient cause to terminate him and banish him from both the academy and the city. Clearheart was also expelled at around the same time.

Shadowalker battles Icewind while Greyhawk looks on
Illustrated by Denise Jones

After being driven into exile, Shadowalker meets Greyhawk, a Sidhe mage of enormous power and experience. He agrees to teach her and help her free her kingdom from the strange army that has captured it. Unfortunately, not long after they begin traveling together Shadowalker is kidnapped by Silvertongue, the most powerful human mage in recorded history and Greyhawk's most fearsome rival. Silvertongue tries to convince her to form an alliance with him against Greyhawk. When she refuses, he abandons her in the desert. Tortured and near death, Shadowalker is found by a group of humanoid cats who call themselves, "Catkin". They take her back to their home and nurse her back to health. As if being kidnapped, abandoned, and rescued is not enough, just as Shadowalker recovers she accidentally releases an ancient weapon on the innocent and harmless Catkin. A Catkin child vanishes in the chaos that results and the child's mother is badly wounded. Fearing they can no longer trust her power, the Catkin imprison her and begin debating how they should punish her for the harm she has caused.

Ravenwing and Silvertongue
Illustrated by Denise Jones

Meanwhile in the background, Queen Ravenwing of Crystal Shores has allied herself with Silvertongue and together they are plotting to use Shadowalker as bait to draw out Greyhawk, Silvertongue's hated rival and Ravenwing's former lover. Things do not work quite as well as they plan. As one complication piles upon another it very quickly becomes almost impossible to determine who is winning this epic battle of powerful personalities and who is losing.

One of the complications not foreseen by Ravenwing and Silvertongue was the speed with which the Catkin would send out a messenger to find Greyhawk and bring him to their village. Bhora, the runner dispatched to seek out Greyhawk, meets one of the Greyhawk's cousins while on her way to find him. This cousin, known as Secondson, tells Bhora that there are many Sidhe who want Greyhawk to proclaim himself king and lead them in the defeat of the many human city-states that populate Shandar. Greyhawk, it turns out, is one of the last heirs to the throne of the ancient Elven Empire, an Empire that was destroyed by the human's own now long vanished Immortal Empire. This ancient rivalry between the human and Elven empires is one of the principal factors driving Silvertongue in his ambition to bring all of Shandar back under human control. Greyhawk, on the other hand, although he also seeks to unify the broken land, is seeking for all of the different peoples to live peacefully together with no single sentient species in power over all the others.

Bhora meets Secondson
Illustrated by Denise Jones

After Shadowalker is kidnapped by Silvertongue and abandoned in the desert, Greyhawk changes course from Moonreach and heads south to where she has been abandoned. Along the way, he decides to stop and visit a Sidhe maiden named, "Lotusblossom". She is his former colleague from Riverstone, retired now and living on a melon farm. Since her farm is between the place where Shadowalker is taken and the place where she is abandoned, Lotusblossom's farm turns out to be a convenient stopping point. This visit also provides Greyhawk the perfect opportunity to enlist her help in training Shadowalker. Lotusblossom is a Healer of great skill, which turns out to be very beneficial. Not only does Shadowalker desire to learn Healing, the female Catkin who was wounded by Shadowalker is in dire shape and only a highly skilled Healer can save her.

Portrait of Lotusblossom
Illustrated by Denise Jones

Changes Between Editions

The original CD-ROM publication of "Magic Lessons" was 101,400 words. The Kindle version is 84,800 words. There have been far too many changes to list here, but it seems important to at least mention the major ones.

"Magic Lessons" began life as an email story written back and forth between myself and Jeanette Upchurch. We first made acquaintance on the Usenet Newsgroup alt.cuddle where she often came seeking people to pray for her and I often came seeking readers for my more casual writing. She did not like contributing writing to the group, but she wanted to write a story with me, so I sent her the background materials for a fantasy world I had been building for several years. Almost immediately it became apparent that our approaches to any joint story were dramatically different. She was focused on writing romantic fantasy and I was focused on writing adventure fantasy. This caused quite a bit of friction in the early chapters and that friction was reflected in the CD-ROM text. In revising the story for Kindle, one of my primary goals was to smooth over or remove as much of this friction as I could while still preserving as much of the romantic quality as possible. After all, I am as bad at writing romance as she is at writing adventure. There were several erotic passages she wrote for the CD-ROM that I removed during the revision process. Most commercial fantasy writing does not contain erotica. Even worse, in the Kindle store erotica and pornography are both the same classification and I did not want to be forced to list "Magic Lessons" as "Adult Fiction, contains erotica". This was strictly a market-based decision on my part. For anyone who enjoyed the erotic passages on the CD-ROM, I can only offer my most sincere apologies, but this is the reality of the marketplace. Whether anyone happens to like it or not, reality must be recognized and accepted.

Since her erotic passages carried the plot through several critical crisis points, those points had to be completely rewritten. I also added far more descriptions, more details to existing descriptions, and in some cases, added or removed large amounts of dialogue. Because the original manuscript was written through email over a period of about two years, there was a great deal of information in the latter half of the book that had no foreshadowing and no relationship to the first half. As a result, a major part of this revision process was going back through the first half multiple times adding material necessary to build, maintain, and improve the internal coherency of the story. This building up of internal coherency was by far the most difficult part of the revision process and necessitated multiple passes through the manuscript from beginning to end. All of this cutting and adding also meant that during the revision process the manuscript went from 101,000 words to 150,000 words and finally settled at the current word count of 84,792 words. The new version is tighter, far more internally consistent, and I hope, far more believable than the CD-ROM version. The final judgment, of course, rests with the readers. Ultimately, they are the ones who will decide if I succeeded or failed in creating a better story.

East Shandar where most of the story takes place
Illustrated by Denise Jones