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!