Reclaiming

I know I’ve been posting a lot about my book lately. Today’s post touches on it too (sorry!), but I’m thinking about the bigger question of creativity, and why this particular book, and the process it went through in getting published, feels like a real benchmark for me.

I’m a trauma survivor. Only recently, I’ve started taking ownership of this fact and how it affects me. I grew up in an unsafe environment, and for a long time, I told myself that I just needed to be strong enough to leave all that behind. It “shouldn’t” affect me anymore. It especially “shouldn’t” mean that some things are hard for me, when they might not be for other people. Things like taking care of day-to-day deadlines, managing a tight schedule, and juggling a regular job and home life. For me, emotional overhead can lead quickly to overwhelm and shutdown.

It’s taken me a very long time to realize that some things just are hard for me, and the only way I can get better at them is to honor where I’m starting from. Many trauma survivors deal with a blurry sense of identity. We were often told, somewhere along the line, by someone who had a lot of power over us, that we weren’t who or what we were supposed to be. We had to change and silence ourselves to survive. Then, if we get to place where we’re free, we feel lost. “Who am I really? Is that okay?” When you’re focused on survival, you don’t have as much space to grow. When you’re told you shouldn’t be who you are, you learn to distrust yourself.

For me, writing has been a release, an affirmation, and a survival tool. I was always a voracious reader. Stories and storytelling helped me survive. As an adult, it’s still taken me a while to honor my identity as a writer. When I was first learning the craft, I knew how much I wanted to do this work and how right it felt, but at the same time, I never lost the messaging that this was something else I “shouldn’t be.” Calling myself a writer felt uneasy and shameful. It doesn’t anymore: this is who I am, and I’m glad.

Fourteen Stones, as a fantasy in a created world, is such a pure product of my imagination that it was incredibly tough to believe it might be worth other people’s time. Its journey to publication was another kind of test: finding the path that felt right, as different as that path looked from what I’d thought I “should” want. (Yes, there’s that word again.) It has been amazing to see this story coming into its own, finding readers who are glad to spend time making the trip to Namora and Lassar. The printed book looks so different from my computer-screen original that when I look at the pages, I have to stop and remember that yes, this is my story that I wrote. And…wow.  

That’s why this book feels like a turning point in my professional life. It’s exactly the story I wanted to tell. My publisher presented it as beautifully as I could ask for. Trauma survivors often struggle with owning their voices after learning to silence themselves for so long. It’s hard for us to recognize that we have a right to our truths, and a right to share them when we need to. I still struggle with that every day, but Fourteen Stones has been an important step in recovery.

I’m hoping to find ways to use storytelling to help other people like me, who are reclaiming themselves. Meanwhile, moving forward after Fourteen Stones feels like coming into greater ownership of myself and my voice, and that means a lot.

As always, thank you for visiting the blog. If you’d like to receive regular updates, please consider subscribing. See you next time!

Advertisement

A Letter from the Orchard-Keeper

In which Fourteen Stones‘s matriarch introduces herself. “Orchard-keeper” is only one of her titles, by no means the most important – but she will tell more.

**

My name is Pelayut Silvenis. You’ve met my elder son Ribas, who is the zhinin of our little village, Lida. He is the caretaker, so to speak, of all who live here, and many who are linked to us by threads of all kinds. In a village this size, where everyone knows everyone else, each of us has a particular place. I am the apple-grower.

In truth, my younger son Gedrin has charge of the farm now. He and his family care for the trees as well as I could; as well, in fact, as his great-great grandfather, my father’s grandfather, who first planted them, and who set each seedling into the ground as gently as an egg into a nest. That was long before I was born, but I remember my father’s stories. The orchard has been our family’s work and delight for five generations. I suspect Gedrí’s children, Raulin and Asira, will make it six.

Time often seems to leave a small place like Lida behind. In many ways, the village looks the same now as it did some forty years ago, when I was a girl coming to the eighth-day markets with my father. The square is unchanged. The Circle House, our place of worship, looks much the same as in my earliest memories; although the building behind it is much newer, built since my son’s time as zhinin. He is the reason that trainee priests now come to Lida: many want to apprentice with him. The rhythm of the village itself is perhaps a little quicker, a little busier, than it was when I was young, but the quiet current of it moves along as it always did.

That isn’t to say that nothing changes here. My memories are full of change. I don’t often speak it, especially of the darkest time when I was a young mother, but when I look back along the path of my own years, sometimes I find it hard to recognize that much-younger woman. She lived through a great deal. I could not survive those things again. I wish, for her own sake and the sake of her boys – Ribas was six then, Gedrin only a baby – that when she saw the darkness coming for them, she could have stood up to it. Protected her children. They deserved it, and so did she.

But she survived it – I survived it – and I am still here. My sons are grown, both of them good men. They are very different, so much so it’s hard to see they’re brothers. Ribas – Ribé – has always been quiet and studious, even before the dark time that shaped him so much. Gedrí is active, eager, rushing. My husband died when Gedrí was much too young to remember him, so he always looked to his older brother as a kind of second parent. Ribé and I had our hands full with him, to be sure, but he was sunlight when we found our way out of shadow.

Now I am the elder orchard-keeper, still at work, though slower than I once was. I live here on the farm with Gedrí and his family. Every spring, as I watch the trees come into fragrant bloom, I think of their strength. How firmly their deep roots grip the soil. No matter how cold and dark the winter comes down, and no matter how their beauty fades and withers with the old year, they stand strong until the sunlight comes again.

Now I will close this letter, with my thanks for lending a silver-haired woman your ear. Yours in the fellowship of the Goddess,

Pelayut Silvenis

**

[For more about Fourteen Stones, its world, and its people, visit the book’s page. Please consider subscribing to the blog to receive future letters and posts.]

A Long and Winding Road

Last week, I posted about how my book Fourteen Stones arrived “in the ink,” and how I got to see it for the first time. The best feeling.

We did it! 🙂

Book publishing is a strange game. In the writing process, you devote yourself for months or years to something that exists nowhere except inside your own head. Translating it to the page can be exhilarating and exasperating. It can make you cry, in good ways and not-so-good ways. And sometimes – hopefully often! – it can make you smile.

Then, one day, it’s finished. The story exists on paper. Now what?

For so many of us, the answer is publication. What else can you do with something you’ve devoted so much time to? If other people like it, you must have done something good. So you begin to send it out. Rejections come in, in ones and twos and by the basketful. Roadblocks spring up in front of you.

Time to cry over the book again. What do I have to do? Is this really any good? I did that with Fourteen Stones, many times. Friends assured me the book was great. You’ll publish it, don’t worry. And even, When you do, you’ll never have to worry about jobs again. I don’t know about that second part. But I did, after much searching, luck into a publisher who loves the story as I do.

The experience of publishing Fourteen Stones was entirely different than it was with my first book, To Love A Stranger. This time, there was no “institution” signing off on my work: it was just me and one woman, Jax Goss at the Patchwork Raven, on opposite sides of the world. The project moved along gently. We agreed on edits and artwork. We crowdfunded the first print run: a new idea to me, but it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Jax and I didn’t have to stick our necks (or wallets) out on an investment we might not recoup.

The first boxful!

There was very little fanfare. No hustling for advance reviews. No leadup to a stressful/expensive launch. With support from amazing friends on both sides of the world, we hit the crowdfunder target, the book went to print, and it was produced and shipped from New Zealand. It’s been making its way to other parts of the world ever since.

During the process, I did sometimes get caught up in “what didn’t happen:” the agent I stopped trying for, the way I let go of the idea of a big publishing house and all the possible clout of “the system.” I asked myself over and over if by walking away from all that, I really did the right thing. Sometimes I was afraid that this book was the best work I would ever do, and that bringing it out in this quiet way would mean it would disappear.

But I don’t think that’ll happen. For one thing, I learned so much by writing it, all of which will go into other books (I hope!) and make them stronger. For another, the care and attention that went into the copies I unboxed last week are exactly what this book deserved. Every moment of the writing process, from first brainstorming to final revisions, gave me great joy. In publishing it, Jax wanted to make something beautiful, and that’s exactly what she did.

Templeton gives Mom’s book two paws up.

And I don’t think it’ll disappear, because it now has a life of its own. Readers will visit my fictional countries, Namora and Lassar. They’ll get to know the people who started out as my creations, but who quickly took off in their own directions, with lives and histories and challenges. For me, the most important thing about sharing Fourteen Stones isn’t what I did as a writer, or what the book is like as an object, but how the story can take flight through the imaginations of the readers it finds. I hope the adventure transports them as it did me.

If you’d like to find out more about Fourteen Stones, you can visit the book’s own page. Also, on Thursdays here on the blog, the story’s people will introduce themselves: that series began last week, with this post. If you’d like to stay up to date with future info and events, please consider subscribing. As always, thank you for visiting the blog!

A Letter from the Zhinin

In which my favorite character from Fourteen Stones introduces himself and his home…

**

Where to begin? I have no real gift with words, I’m afraid. But I’ve tasked myself with these, and so my stubbornness will have to stand in the place of skill.

My name is Ribas Silvaikas. I am the zhinin of Lida village – zhinin, in your language, I think is best understood to mean “priest,” though it isn’t quite the same. A zhinin can be many things. Sometimes we are teachers and counselors; sometimes we’re healers, to the best of our ability. Always, we are listeners.

My village, Lida, is in east-central Namora, just west of the Senai Mountains. You’ll find it on the right-hand side of the map:

Lida is in the region called Kalnu, which in the Namoran language means “forest.” In my little country, you’ll find, we are quite practical when it comes to names. For instance, the name of Pektkampe, the region just south of Kalnu, means “five corners.” Its capital, Pirkampa, is – you may have guessed it – “First Corner.”

Namora itself derives from our word for home. Our faith tradition tells us that for the woman who became our Goddess, home was the most sacred of sacred things, worthy of any sacrifice. Many of us in Namora, whether we are city-dwellers or farmers’ children like me, feel a deep link to the land itself. The Goddess’s presence lives in it and holds all of its disparate people together.

Without spending too many words at once, from my limited store, I would like to tell you about my village, Lida. As any Namoran will tell you, there are many beautiful places in this country. I’ve seen a few of them myself, particularly when I was younger and better able to travel. Lida is where I’ve lived all my life, and where generations of my family lived before me. Of course, I tend to think it’s the most beautiful place of all.

What is Lida, for me?

Sunrise: the mist lingering in the village square; the light fading from deepest blue to silver-gray to rose and cream. The sound of the birds greeting the morning, at first only a single trill at a distance, a falling note nearer at hand, and then as one voice calls to another, more join in until the air rings. Even in the village’s heart, where my wife and I live, you can hear it. On the farm where I grew up, at the village’s northern edge, my mother’s apple trees are full of song.

The mountains: the peaks of the Senai rising into a blue sky. The Senai are low and rocky, very different from the tall narrow peaks in Namora’s neighboring country, Lassar, but they stand above Lida village like sentries. On a clear morning in early spring, you can make out patches of lingering snow on the peaks, the hunched shapes of boulders, the arms of bare wind-whipped trees.

The air: I’ve been to Namora’s northern coast, and the great capital city, Sostavi. I love the ocean. But there’s nothing like the air in the mountains, the crispness and sweetness it holds even through the warmest days of Vasara, our midsummer. In Lida, banks of mint line the roads that lead from the village center out into the countryside. Mint is tenacious. It clings and spreads. When it’s cut back, the scent hangs sparkling in the air.

The farm: earlier, I mentioned my mother’s farm. My brother and I grew up there, as did our mother, and her father before her. The walls of the old house are steeped with smoke from generations of hearth fires. Its beams are as strong as stone. The apple orchard my great-grandfather planted is fragrant with blooms in spring and rosy with fruit in Derla, our harvest month. Every time I go back, I feel my roots settling as deep into that place as the trees into the soil.

And last, but far from least: Lida’s Circle House. This is our place of worship, the heart of the village. As Lida’s zhinin, this is my home as much as the house where my wife and I live. I grew up coming to this House, and I became its zhinin when I was eighteen, taking on both the rituals of the place and the life of the village that my predecessor, Zhinin Odilas, tended for so many years. When I was a boy, I wasn’t certain I could – or should – take on that work, but it was handed to me and in the end I accepted it. That’s a story for another time.

For now, I will close this long letter. In this picture, you can see the shape of a Circle House. It doesn’t show the life inside, the details of the hearth and windows, the prayer stones, the vessels of water and salt, but this is the shape of my village’s heart.

Until my next. Yours in the peace of the Goddess,

Ribas Silvaikas

**

[For more about Fourteen Stones, its world, and its people, visit the book’s page. Please consider subscribing to the blog to receive future letters and posts.]

The Books Have Landed!

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for a long time. Yesterday, I finally got to hug my brand-new book, Fourteen Stones.

If there’s anything like the experience of seeing your own story – the one you dreamed of, sweated over, adored and fought with, and gave the best of your energy to for years at a time – seeing that story standing on its own, lifted out of your imagination and captured in ink on paper to go out into the world, I don’t know what that experience is.

They’re here…

In other posts, I’ve talked about what Fourteen Stones meant to me. I’ll be posting more about that again, as I try to give the book a gentle nudge along its way. For now, though, I’m celebrating.

It’s a real book!!

This is my second novel. Getting to see it “in the ink” was even better than with my first book. Jax Goss and Will Thompson at The Patchwork Raven did an absolutely amazing job of realizing this dream. Every detail is beautiful: I couldn’t have asked for better.

Just a little happy. 😉

The start-to-finish process with Fourteen Stones, from first draft to published book, took a little over seven years. Along the way, I learned that though I’d started out as a straight-up-literary, “real-world” writer, I loved to work with fantasy and magic. That’s changed the way I write, ever since. Almost everything I work on these days, from 100-word microfiction to my newest novel in progress, brings in a twist of magic somewhere.

First page of the prologue. So pretty!

In this profession, sometimes there isn’t much to celebrate. There’s a whole lot of rejection, and discouragement, and wondering “why did I sign myself up for this??” For me, the process of storytelling, that delightful experimenting and problem-solving, is full of joy. Sometimes, though, you really need a gift. Yesterday was that for me.

All worth it. 🙂

Fourteen Stones is now available for sale, too! If you’d like a copy, there are a couple of different ways to get one.

E-Copies are available on my publisher’s website, here.

Print Copies are also available on my publisher’s website, here, or:

For readers in the U.S., you can buy one directly from me. I have a small supply of them; first come, first served. 🙂 Email me at kfaatz925@yahoo.com if you’re interested!

As always, thank you for visiting the blog. If you’d like to stay updated about Fourteen Stones, upcoming book events and other events, and other news, please consider subscribing!