Building Salazarre, pt. V

9 minute read

You thought I forgot about this, didn't you?

Jeeze, about a month has passed since I last did this, hasn't it? And here I am again frantically writing this post on a Thursday, two days before it's supposed to go live. I'm definitely interested in writing more about this, but it's been getting a little harder to commit to writing these blog posts in advance.

Which, I suppose, is one of the more common problems concerning bloggers, really.

I'll probably muse on that a little as I write this, as it's also affecting my regular writing. I haven't made much time to work on The Witch and the Snake lately, which makes sense given the end of the year holidays. Yet, it's part of a larger problem that's been plaguing the novel since I first started making it more than just a short story. A problem I didn't have when I wrote my first novel experiment, Airless.

Not sure what I want to do about that.

But anyway. Salazarre.

Last time, I talked about the original idea that birthed the setting, and the war story I eventually want to tell about it. It's gonna be called The Archangel's War, which is also the name of the in-universe conflict, and so far, I have no freaking idea what it'll be about other than the ex-soldier who went AWOL to marry the man who stood by her in the worst years of her life.

Originally, I'd intended them to be on the run, passing through towns and cities further from the front, which I call the Riven Fields, heading toward the east. Civilization would decline as they went into Salazarre's frontier, the places they hadn't had enough resources to expand into.

An idea I bounced around early on is that they would never be able to truly leave Salazarre, as that soldier would have a curse placed on her. She's remained bound to the land of the Archangel, that no matter how long they traveled toward the dawning sun, they wouldn't get any farther than the last few cities. This curse was placed on every soldier in Salazarre, and only removed once they completed their tour of duty. She went AWOL, hence she's still cursed, and they can't truly run away from the war. They just have to make due.

I think it's a cool idea, but it doesn't quite work with how I eventually developed the magic of the setting. I have a few Evernote documents saved on how the magic works in Salazarre, spent quite a few days at work thinking about it and hashing it out. I'll probably get into the specifics in a later post, but the important part here is that it doesn't work on living things. By which I mean animals and people. There's five aspects of magic (there always is in fantasy, by no means am I trying to make this novel), and people are said to make up all five. You'd have to be supremely powerful to affect something like that, and surprise surprise, the Archangel could.

It's a way for me to keep the magic from getting too powerful, where people can just shape others like clay, or freeze the blood solid in their veins. Usually, the magic is either really well established and makes sense as to how everything works (Sanderson's various magic systems, what I'm aiming for with Salazarre), or the complications of magic are just never stated or outright handwaved (the Fireball spell in D&D specifically states that it cannot set fire to ships. Why).

So, the idea of a character being cursed doesn't seem possible. Even if I broke the rules for her, I can't think up how that curse would actually work, how I could think of some logical explanation that doesn't seem too much like...what's the magical equivalent of technobabble? Magibabble?

Magic in Salazarre is physical, very hands-on, it's used regularly for municipal and construction projects. There aren't any intangible applications that work, at least not with how the system works right now.

Anyway. The Archangel's War is interesting to me not just because of its protagonists, but also the ideas I'd be working through, which I'd also touch upon with The Witch and the Snake.

The in-universe Archangel's War has lasted for thousands of years, as old as the Archangel herself. I'm fascinated with the idea of a long-lasting war. Not the endless series of advances, retreats, holding actions, but the societal toll it takes. How a culture slowly acclimates itself to deal with the war. Where the idea that your nation's young will go off and die in a conflict that you yourself only just survived in. A cycle that keeps going throughout your lifetime, and while you might live in an era when the conflict is minimal, when there might not even be a draft, when life can resume its normal might not. The nation doesn't, can't, fight for a surrender, or to make their government negotiate for a ceasefire. They fight because if they don't, everything's gonna get a whole lot worse.

Fantasy being what it is, I wanted to create a world where the war was an old thing, older than anyone can even imagine. Where it was a fact of life, built into the very structure of the setting. Where all human civilization, from the top levels of government down to the daily lives of the people, is affected by it, and how it has warped the very preconceptions about the value and meaning of life.

How does a people still support a war that's been going on far longer than they've been alive? How does the government justify it, holding together over countless years and still having people to man the walls?

A couple of years ago now, I read the Vonnegut novel Mother Night, which is probably my favorite of his works. It deals a lot with the effect propaganda has on people, following an American expat as he spoke Nazi propaganda on German radio during the war, secretly spying on them for the OSS, then returned to America afterward. In typical Vonnegut fashion, it all goes to hell in a handbasket, but it has a lot of interesting ideas on propaganda, and the ways that people can misunderstand and twist around the words they hear, intentionally or not.

To me, the interwar period of WWI and WWII, and especially the early years of WWII, are pretty interesting. You've got this long, terrible conflict of WWI, the worst conflict in human history, that decimated the idea that war was this glorious, honorable action, the games of nations. Millions of people dead, human thought as a whole shifted, countless veterans scarred and mentally ruined by the war, to the extent that they were called the Lost Generation. Lost. Woeful. Melancholy. It's a powerful image.

And yet, despite this, merely twenty years after the armistice, the world gears up for another one. Despite all the literature, all the thought, all the suffering, the nations arm themselves and prepare for another one.

And what really makes me think is that isn't treated as this great, terrible conflict, this almost apocalyptic war. No, World War II is often seen as, at least for America, our finest hour. We look back to WWII with a kind of twisted fondness, as this cultural capstone that encapsulated our greatness and righteousness as a nation. We didn't emerge from WWII as we did in WWI, we came out in the exact opposite condition.

How did human thought turn so quickly back to war as this glorious thing, which we certainly feel about WWII, after the image was so brutally shattered in WWI?

Well, the answer is certainly bigger than a simple blog post could explain, but it's behind a lot of my ideas about Salazarre. What is it about war that keeps us coming back, even after we're burned so badly that it seems like we as a people are lost and ruined? What does it say about the human mind that we embrace war as a collective, even while we individually recognize how it ruins people?

How, then, in the Archangel's War, can we follow an ex-soldier whose life is ruined by war, yet see how it chugs along without her? How the country cares for her personal damnation, but keeps the zealotry of its citizens at an all-time high?

I've got no freaking clue.

I should really spend more time talking about this. I probably come across as pretty shallow, thinking about these high-minded ideas but not actually digging deeply into them.

I do want to hold off on talking about The Archangel's War because, well, I just don't have time for it right now. I've already got another Salazarre novel in the works, and I've had more than enough trouble writing that one.

I feel like the more I try to work on The Witch and the Snake, the busier my life gets. Shortly after I started writing this latest draft, I decided to start learning web development in an effort to get a better job. Thankfully, I'm able to do much of that at my job, but sometimes I can't. That means I have to spend my night puzzling over a programming problem, and not writing.

Granted, this doesn't come up very often. But then I decided to create this blog, and I've gotta write posts for it every so often to hold to that weekly schedule. This post is currently around 1,600 words, which is already over my daily quota of 1,000. I often write these at work, too, since I'll find any excuse I can not to do my job.

By the time I do get home, I'm pretty mentally drained. I'd generally prefer just relaxing and not really doing anything more productive than reading or playing a story-intensive game. Writing can be pretty easy to fall by the wayside, especially for a longer novel like what I'm trying to do now. A lot of the time, it feels like I'm just grinding, telling the necessary exposition to set up one of the bigger scenes.

Which is probably not what a first draft's supposed to be, but I'm a bit beyond the honeymoon phase of this idea. It's pretty old at this point.

So, it's taking me longer to work through this first draft than I'd care for. I don't really have the time that I used to, like how I powered through Airless in under two months because I was able to pretty much put my life on hold. Not that I had much of a life to put on hold at the time.

It's hard to keep motivation up sometimes, but I still feel like this is a story I need to tell. If it's kept my interest for this long, almost three years, then it deserves its shot. I can't work around the fact that I still have a 9-5, and that I'm trying to learn programming on top of this, but, well, not much I can do about that.

Maybe that was a little mopey, but I feel I should be honest here, of all places. This certainly isn't my place to vent, I do want to have the veneer of professionalism, but I also believe in being honest about myself, my writing. It's an emotional process for me, and I want that to be at the forefront of my talking about it. I love writing, but I don't have the kind of life that facilitates it yet.