It’s true…I can think, off hand, of at least six short stories, six poems, and probably six creative essays that affected my life. But I would argue that these forms of creative communication are not quite the same as a novel.
Novels are changelings. When I wake up in the morning, my characters might not be the same people they were when I went to sleep. Plots shift, narratives break, story arcs twist and fly, problems pop up for the solving. And when a gorgeous, rooted moment happens, it’s all the better for happening after 260 pages of conflict.
And so I end up spending the bulk of my creative writing time on my novels—in particular, my Energist novels.
My energists have been a long time coming. Before I knew what they were, I wrote about regular old wizards. They lived in a mountain, walked around in robes, had a pet dragon, and dealt with a human society that was generally medieval in nature. In high school, I guess I thought these were fantasy novel requirements.
I have since complicated the picture.
First, I realized at some point that I had written what was actually the middle section of a much larger historical fiction/fantasy project. Rather than going back and starting with the back-story, though, I rebooted smack dab in the middle of the project, yet again. I think this draw to the tangled knot in the middle of a much longer rope has a lot to do with my historical sensibilities. It is impossible to start from the “beginning” when you’re a historian—you just pick a knot and try to untangle it, hoping to do some justice to what came before and after its inception.
I discovered that my knot consists of four novels: Gilded Lamps, Running Wicks, Sear and Flicker, Smoke. The rope running to the back-story (which is also a story that stands on its own) leads to a set of novels I’m simply calling Atlantis Project for now. These novels will discuss the colliding ancestry of humans, mages, and elves, and their respective lives in Atlantis. Yes, it’s the Atlantis of legend, but I certainly put my own spin on it. And the rope running out into the future leads to a character, Regina Reuben, and further commentary on what happens in the middle set of novels. Although I have quite a bit planned for Atlantis, I stand by my decision to start in the thick of it all.
Second, at this middle point in the saga, I realized that my wizards were actually energists—physically human, but with some important variations.
For one, Energists are born with internal access to magic.
Magic in Atlantis was a collective, external presence. It was a character in and of itself, in an ephemeral sort of way. It had a personality. Magic-users (mages) had to use conduits to harness magic to their work, learning to make it behave in tandem with energy supplies. This sort of magic went haywire in the midst of the Civil Wars, which are the crowning conflicts of the Atlantis Project. Mages, elves, and humans, sometimes in mixed-up coalition, fight each other to the pain and death. These conflicts leave one gifted mage, Zoran, to tie magic down into a manageable, slightly less dangerous whole. He internalized magic for the first time, relinquishing most of his humanity in order to become the Pilot. All the mages around at the time of his sacrifice were affected by the internalization—they received tiny little pilot lights that nestled into their genetic make-up and connected them to the Pilot. And soon enough they all sort of noticed that they and subsequent generations had a quirk—they didn’t need conduits to use magic, the magic came from within. Hence, each energist has internal access to magic. Magic is still a character with a personality, but that personality varies based on the symbiotic relationship with each individual energist—the kind of energist you are dictates the way your magic behaves.
Also, Energists are dependent upon energy, drawn from the elements–fire, earth, air, and water. They basically “eat” or soak up this energy to power their magic and nourish their bodies (generally in tandem with food, but not always).
Again, this was not always the case. In Atlantis mages drew energy from a gigantic underground machine that powered the whole island. Its energy was not allocated (not elemental). It just ran amok and fueled whatever it felt like fueling—which was often the eruptive, unharnessed magic. So, once magic was internalized, the mages (who were becoming energists) studied the machine and discovered that they could siphon off energy and allocate it into the elements. Mages already had an affinity for one of these elements over the others due to their combined heritage with elves, so it was simply a matter of allocating the right amount of energy to each element, based on the percentage of population using each element.
So, once energists discovered their internal magic and established a system of element, they next built a university that trained new energists to use the system. They also enforced individual energy quotas so that no one could abuse allocation and draw energy away from other elements. And they created a vast and complicated Artiface that keeps the island balanced in a tiny world cosmos—it’s about the size of the U.K. but it has everything from ice caps to tropical seas. The idea is that within all of these systems, everyone starts from an equal playing field with equal quotas, access to element, choice of living situation, and education—what you do with this privilege is up to you.
Here’s the problem…
An established people, strong enough to have a complex society, will inevitably start to push at the infrastructure that aligns those complexities.
For instance, not all energists feel warm and fuzzy about this system of checks and balances. There are those who feel that the mortal realm (the human world) should be enslaved as an easily accessible form of energy not tied to element. Those are the Superiors. Cast out from Atlantis, they now live in New Orleans.
There are also those who choose to not use their magic—not even for the process of regeneration that makes energists seemingly immortal. Those are the Dying. They still live in Atlantis in the hopes of combating the system from within.
And finally, there are those young energists who were scattered into the mortal realm by the Superiors in the hopes of keeping some very powerful magic users from carrying out their education in Atlantis and completing the High Council. Those are the Homecoming. They are starting to find their way back to Atlantis when this middle section begins in Gilded Age Chicago. But they are used to humanity and their lives in the mortal realm, so it’s not an easy transition.
I then play all these groups off each other. I pit magic against non-magic, energist against human, good against evil, etc., all while the Atlantis energists try to decide how secret they can remain now that they have Superiors and Homecoming running around in the mortal realm. If either of those groups step forward, it opens up a lot of “what ifs” or “why nots” and “how dare yous” on the part of humans.
The middle novels also deal with other concepts and issues that complicate the picture.
Like, you know, the characters. The novels are riddled with exasperating, wonderful, and generally magical people who do whatever the hell they want, and rarely stop to tell me before they do it. They fail to tell me when their sympathies change, when they call it quits on relationships, and even when they are about to die. All those things just up and happen, and I breathlessly write it down, hoping that I’ve done it some justice.
Sprites also complicate things. They are the byproduct of magic events, made up of magic and energy but with a general sense of humanity that can be perfected over time. Sprites hold positions of honor due to their make-up, but they are also outsiders to the energist community at times…due to their make-up. It’s hard to be a sprite. (PS: I love my sprites so much.)
Then there are the tensions between sprites and energists, between elves and faeries (although there is only, actively, one of each in the middle novels), and between energists and vanes (those mortals who are receptive to magic for reasons I’ll explain as I go.)
Plus, I also have to keep track of multiple economic systems, categories of social mores and values, energist cults, curriculums, histories, themes, and the list goes on.
But, I write this stuff because I love it, and I hope my enthusiasm for it will help you love it, too.
Or at least, you know, I hope it will help you to humor me once in a while when I wax on about magic events vs. magic manipulations, conservationist energist techniques, and the zodiac/element association.
As one does.
* * *
My novel page would not be complete without a mention of Elliot, my historical fiction piece that is entirely separate from the Energists.
I mentioned in “Anthropomorphic Daydreams” that I write about Elliot, and I have since I was nineteen. This writing comes out in the form of chronologically linked short stories divided, somewhat arbitrarily, into early years, college years, Jon’s years, etc.
I also mentioned that Elliot, both the character and the novel, started as a collection of events.
He begins life, in 1818, as an orphan in a Yorkshire almshouse and makes it to London by age twelve. There he is homeless until he starts a job at a newspaper under the direction of a renegade priest with odd views of charity. He then auditions for a music scholarship at University College School and makes friends who co-opt him into the university system and see to his private and public education. He meets his husband at university, and soon after his wife, and is married to both of them, (unofficially and officially) by age nineteen. The rest of the novel, then, discusses his work at His/Her Majesty’s Opera and at the newspaper, the intricacies of his polyamorous marriage, and the birth and childhood of his son.
As this collection of events grew into a reflective catalogue of thoughts on life and relationships, it became much more personal. It became less about marriage laws and class systems and politics and infinitely more about friendships, expansive definitions of love, desires and fears.
I much prefer it this way, as does he. But as Elliot is generally a blushing wreck when he talks about his Victorian life and relationships, the stories come slowly, carefully, and with much consideration for his feelings. They will likely make few appearances on the website, the way cherished heirlooms stay inside the home. But you are always welcome to ask questions of Elliot, and he’ll do his best to answer.
In the meantime, please enjoy his 21st century walk on the wild side.