Category Archives: New stories

Savvy Saturday: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2015 is your best year yet!

This year, I’m planning to write more short stories set both in Cadaeren and in Alepago. I quite enjoyed playing with the new Cadaerian duo of Wittanruahk and Tempest, his magical loon, and hope to write more adventures about them in the future. Want a teaser? Here’s the first couple of paragraphs from my newest short story: Witt and Wind and the Bloody Solstice Stealer!


“You know what I love about the Festival of Balance, Tempest?” Witt asked the loon floating near his shoulder. Or, more accurately, floating in a half-sphere of water suspended near his shoulder in midair. Their ability to carry their own lakes with them was one of the Shamainis Lake loons’ more peculiar attributes.

Tempest, however, was even more peculiar than most. You? he replied directly to Witt’s mind, looking up from preening his wing-feathers. Amusement glinted in his intelligent sapphire eyes. I’d guess the free-flowing ale that inclines the peasantry to actually laugh at your jokes.

“Very funny.”

But entirely accurate.

“Fine. Besides that.” Witt took his bearings as he spoke, spinning in a circle in the knee-deep snow the two of them had just materialized into. The afternoon sun reflected blindingly off snow-covered fields in three directions, and off a large snow-covered hill to the south. A small town was nestled at the base of the hill: Snowhaven, the birthplace of the three most popular winter solstice carols in Cadaeren. Assuming, of course, that Lord Yaretzin’s ruahks hadn’t played a practical joke on him by giving him directions to the wrong tiny peasant town in the middle of nowhere.

Not that it mattered to Witt. Whether the town was Snowhaven or not, there would be something there worth seeing, hearing, exploring, or exploding. There always had been, in the five years since he had earned his white sash and set out on his own. It kept life interesting.



Have a wonderful week, everyone! Happy 2015!

Merry Christmas!

hollyMerry Christmas to all! I hope your day is bright, peaceful, and filled with joy and love.

As my Christmas present to you, my faithful readers, I’m excited to share with you the culmination of the Cadaerian Christmas Challenge: a fairy tale I wrote this summer. You’ll find that it mirrors one of our own Brothers Grimm fairy tales quite closely, but with enough tweaks and twists to make it something new and wholly Cadaerian.

You can find the story, titled “Noble Memories,” on this website. However, as you’ll notice, it’s password protected. What’s the password, you ask? Take the Cadaerian Christmas Challenge quiz below and find out! There are 25 questions that will each give you one word of a final password riddle. This answer to this final riddle is the password to unlock “Noble Memories.”

If you don’t know the answer to one of the questions, open a new tab and look around on this website – all answers can be found somewhere on! Good places to check are the “Worlds” page, old blog posts, and my Cadaerian short stories.

It’s been a lot of fun to write and create this contest; I hope you enjoy the challenge and your Christmas present at the end. Merry Christmas, and happy reading!


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Savvy Saturday – Main Character Reveal!

Christmas is fast approaching, and with it, the revelation of (some of) my new short stories! As a teaser, this week’s Savvy Saturday post gives a brief glimpse into the main characters of the stories I’ve been working on most recently. This includes characters you’ve met already (Eshmait from “Noble Memories” and Nikso from “Wolf Who Overcomes”) as well as some new faces…including a first look at Wittanruahk (Witt), the main character of my current work in progress! Are you ready? Then let’s go!

Noble Memories – A Fairy Tale of Cadaeren

Eshmait: The fabled son of Lord and Lady Eshmait, this young man’s story has enchanted the children of Cadaeren for hundreds of years. Like any fairy-tale hero, Eshmait has more noble traits than flaws. Besides his shamai talents – which include spinning rainbows out of mist and, more impressively, bringing clarity to old, faded memories – Eshmait is portrayed as being good, kind, trusting, and generous. It is an overabundance of these traits, rather than actual character flaws, that gets him in trouble throughout the story. Many listeners, for this reason, tend to sympathize more with the more human character in the story: Maretzai.

Maretzai: The eldest of seven peasant sisters, Maretzai is a resourceful, stubborn, aretz healer who harbors a deep sense of guilt regarding her parents’ death years before. Separated once from her sisters when it was discovered that she was an aretz, she is now willing to do whatever it takes to keep her family together – even if it means breaking the law. Some versions of the story of the White Prince tone down Maretzai’s anger toward Cadaeren’s nobility at the beginning of the tale in a blatant attempt to purge the story of any elements that could be harmful to the stability of Cadaeren’s stratified class system. Many of Cadaeren’s lords, however, continue to approve the story in its original version, believing that Maretzai’s character development and the ultimate outcome of the tale contributes a stronger, more positive message regarding Cadaeren’s nobility than could any more sanitized version of the tale.

Wolf Who Overcomes – A Story of Alepago

Nikso: At twelve years old, Nikso knows that she isn’t cut out to be a hunter of Toranquano. Hunters are brave and strong and respected by everyone; they’re chosen by the Great Wolf spirit to keep his people safe and bring him glory through victory. Nikso is none of those things. She is a skilled runner, to be sure, with a keen sense of direction, good tracking skills, and the ability to travel for long distances without tiring. But ever since her father was killed by a bear, she has been known as Nikso the timid – just the opposite of what the Great Wolf values in his people. As Nikso goes on her Lone Hunt, a rite of passage for every young Toranquanois, she secretly yearns for the opportunity to prove herself. The opportunity that comes, however, is as deadly as it is unexpected…

Work in Progress – A Story of Cadaeren

Wittanruahk: Known as Witt to his friends and family (and as “that crazy ruahk white-sash with the loon” to his enemies), Wittanruahk’s mission in life is to uncover the truth behind all of Cadaeren’s innumerable tales and legends – because the truth is often even stranger than the stories. Easily distracted, constantly on the move, eager for adventure, and always optimistic, Witt collects dangerous experiences like shamais collect books and aretzes collect herbs: compulsively. Thus far, his own intuition, cleverness, ruahk powers, and sheer luck have kept him alive, but given his inability to stick to a plan and his tendency to leap before he looks, Witt may one day find himself in more trouble than even he can get himself out of.


“Noble Memories” (formerly titled “The White Prince”) will be made available on Christmas Day 2014 to anyone who answers all questions of the Cadaeren Christmas Challenge, which will be posted here on the blog as well as permanently on the Quiz page of this website. “Wolf Who Overcomes” will be sent as a special Christmas present to the three fastest people to post the answer to any two (or more) of the questions of the Cadaerian Christmas Challenge on the A.L. Phillips facebook page. Excited? Have questions? Let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Savvy Saturday – Wolf Who Overcomes

I was delighted to receive word this past week that the first story in my new five-part Alepago novella will be given an honorable mention in a national contest later this year. Since it’s the Christmas season (*cough* and to give you all a sneak peek at what you might win if you participate in the Christmas Cadaeren Challenge / Treasure Hunt *cough*), I thought I’d give you a special brief sneak preview from this story, featuring my newest fantasy world and its inhabitants. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!


Wolf Who Overcomes

A shooting star blazed across the night sky, leaving behind a brilliant white trail of good luck. Nikso gasped at the sight. Not only was this the thirty-fourth star spirit that had raced through the sky since Grandfather Sun had set that evening, it was also the largest she had ever seen in her life.

Something unusual had to be happening in the spirit realms tonight. Something important. Nikso had no idea what sort of event might spur so many stars to travel tonight, but she was grateful for the blessings that they left behind to fall on Mother Earth – and on her. As the shooting star’s trail faded, the twelve-year-old girl turned her palms and face skyward and breathed in deeply, eager to receive its good luck.

She would need it for the day ahead.

Nikso held her position for a long moment, savoring the brisk mountain air that smelled of trees and the smoke from the small campfire she had built. Finally, she exhaled, murmuring thanks to the star spirit. As she spoke the ritual words, the girl could almost feel the star’s radiance soaking in through her walnut-brown skin. She smiled, the curled-lip grimace of the Toranquanois that mimicked their totem, the Great Wolf Wayowano.

The blessings of the stars were with her. When the morning came, and with it the long-awaited day of her Lone Hunt, she was sure that she would succeed in bringing down a deer. Or maybe, if she were lucky, even an elk. She could just imagine the look of pride on her mother’s face, the approval in the Wolf Shaman’s eyes, and – wonder of wonders – the acceptance of the silver-furred Great Wolf himself as he appeared to her, whispered her new name in her ear, and received her oath of allegiance as a loyal runner. How the other runners from her village would stare! Nikso the timid would be forgotten; she would be known to all as Nikso the huntress…


Like it? Hate it? Want to know what happens next? Leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you!

Savvy Saturday – Christmas Treasure Hunt!

Happy December! It’s the month of giving, of joy to the world, and of intriguing interactive treasure hunts! What, you say? Intriguing interactive treasure hunts aren’t typically part of Christmas festivities? Well, they are now!

Twenty-five questions, ranging in difficulty from so-easy-a-badger-could-do-it to are-you-sure-a-hoshek-didn’t-make-this-up challenging, will be posted on this site and on Facebook between now and Christmas. Don’t worry – the answers to all the questions CAN be found on this website.

When you’ve completed the treasure hunt, the answers to the questions will be able to be used to unlock a password that you can use at this link to access an exclusive new story – a familiar fairy tale with a Cadaerian twist. (Impatient? View the first page of the story here!)

And, for a final bonus, anyone who is among the first three people to post a correct answer to any two of these questions on the A.L. Phillips Facebook page will get an additional bonus Christmas present! Yes, it will include extra writing. No, you won’t want to miss it. (So you could be first on one question and third on another, and you’d be eligible. If you’re fourth the first twenty-three times, however, you’ll need to post really fast in the last two or it won’t count!)

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started!

Week 1 (belated)

Question 1: What is the name of the main character of The Quest of the Unaligned?

Question 2: What is this character’s job in Tonzimmel, including rank and company worked for?

Question 3: In Cadaeren, a mage aligned with earth is called a(n) ________, and the emblem of their contingent is a ____________.

Question 4: In what year was The Quest of the Unaligned published?

Question 5: What subject in college inspired A.L. Phillips to create the two cultures of Tonzimmel and Cadaeren?

Question 6: What language inspired the names and titles in The Quest of the Unaligned?

Do you know? Submit your guesses on the A.L. Phillips Facebook page – if you’re among the first three to answer any two questions right, you’ll find yourself on the list to receive a bonus Christmas present! Even if you don’t get the ruahk-speedy prize, however, remember to keep your answers handy: you’ll need them to unlock the fairy tale on Christmas Day! Good luck and happy treasure-hunting!

Savvy Saturday – Hijacked by Alaric and Naruahn

Today’s Savvy Saturday post is on the power of dialogue. Often, as authors, we think that we have to add descriptions, dialogue tags (e.g. “he drawled, rolling the words around on his tongue as he thought about each one”), and other prose far more often than we actually need to. While these can be important, dialogue can also stand on its own and speak powerfully to both characterization and plot. For example, when

  • I don’t think that it’s working, Your Highness. Princess Laeshana said that there’s supposed to be a light that goes on when the transmitter’s working.  Blue I think she said – or was it purple? That’s funny, because I like purple much better than I like blue, and you’d think that I’d remember which one it was. It wasn’t silver. I’d have definitely remembered if it was supposed to be a silver light.

Okay, that’s weird. The Cadaerian transmitter isn’t supposed to hijack my blogging software… Naruahn? Is that you? I’m trying to write a blog post.

  • That’s strange. I’m sure I followed the directions Laeshana gave me. She might have skipped a step or two, though, and not realized it.

Alaric! It’s me, Phillips! I can read you just fine, but I’m not getting visual. Is everything all right?

  • What should we do, Your Highness? Should we ask Laeshana for help?
  • No! She’d want to know why we were trying to contact Phillips without her, and I want this to be a surprise.

Hmm. I guess the transmitter is only transmitting in one direction. At least it doesn’t sound like anything’s actually wrong…Sorry, guys, I won’t be able to continue my blog post until this is over. In the silver lining category, at least I suppose I can make snarky comments without Alaric or Naruahn finding out about it.

  • You could just tell her that it’s a secret.
  • No, Naruahn. That would make her suspicious, which is exactly what I’m trying to avoid.

Do tell. What are you plotting?

  • I could tell her that it’s a secret. She’s never suspicious of me!
  • Oh, really?
  • Well, not as suspicious of me as she’d be of you. I’m not her husband.
  • No, you’re just the one who popped all of the furniture from our room into the courtyard last week.

Naruahn – you did what?

  • I told you, I was going to put it back once I finished cleaning the room!
  • And that wasn’t due to circumstances that would make anyone suspicious of your behavior at all.

*cough* I hope the flying pigs didn’t make a reappearance.

  • They were supposed to sit on the beams and coo gently and make it all romantic! Not poop on the floor and shed feathers everywhere!

Oh dear.

  • That’s what birds do. One would think that a ruahk would know that.
  • They were DOVES! Doves brought roses and marigolds and lilies to Rilith the Fair, and sat on her shoulder and sang songs to her of her beloved’s loyalty while he was off in the king’s army! They didn’t poop on her floor!

And this, boys and girls, is what happens when you learn about wildlife from Epic Poetry.

  • We’re getting off subject. Suffice it to say, the transmitter isn’t working, so we’re going to have to figure out what to do for Laeshana’s birthday without anyone else’s help.

Is THAT what this is all about? No problem. Take her out for a picnic dinner in a part of Cadaeren she hasn’t visited yet, preferably where Something Important Historically happened, give her a new book, and let her tell you about her research. It’ll make her day.

  • OH! I know!
  • What, Naruahn?

Indeed. We’re all ears.

  • You could teach her how to fly!

Actually, that’s a pretty awesome idea.

  • How to fly? I didn’t know ruahks could fly. 
  • I’ll teach you! It’s easy! Watch!
  • Naruahn – stop! Watch out for the – are you all right?
  • No problem, Your Highness, I’m fine.
  • Not so sure the ceiling is. Are you sure you didn’t smash a hole through the bricks?
  • Come up and look for yourself! You see? It’s easy! Just take my hand and focus on moving the air around you. It’s fun!
  • As long as you don’t ram yourself into walls.
  • That’s it, Your Highness! See? You’re doing it!

LUCKY. And so not fair.

  • This is so odd. I feel like a paper hovercraft.
  • A what?
  • I’ll show you later.
  • Okay, now that you’re in the air, point yourself at something and direct the wind around you. See? It’s easy! Just like this!
  • Naruahn! Not near the transm…


I guess we can figure out what happened there. Ouch. I hope Naruahn’s all right. With Alaric nearby, though, I’m sure he’ll be fine. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure about the transmitter. Maybe they’ll have to tell Laeshana about their plans in the end after all. Ah well. It’s the thought that counts, right?

Now, back to the blog post. The importance of dialogue. Hmm. I think Alaric and Naruahn have pretty much made my points for me. I’ll have to tell them thank you when Laeshana gets the transmitter working again. Assuming, of course, that it’s after her birthday.

Speaking of which, what should I tell Alaric if he actually does get the transmitter working? How do you think he should surprise Laeshana for her special day? Leave a comment and let me know!

*Note: If you want to know more about Alaric, Laeshana, and Naruahn, you can read about their adventures in my novel, The Quest of the Unaligned.



Savvy Saturday – Who Wants to Hear a Story?

I posted on Facebook this past week that I hit some major milestones: passing 200 likes, receiving an honorable mention in a national writing contest, and finishing edits on my Cadaerian fairy tale! To celebrate, I’m going to share with you a snippet of this new story. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to show you anything that I’ve written, and I’m pleased to be able to give you a taste of what I’ve been working on. (Teaser: if you want to read the rest, just wait until around Christmas!)

As background, this 10,000 word fairy tale is set in the world of Cadaeren, which is also the world of The Quest of the Unaligned. Like fairy tales in our world, this story didn’t “actually happen.” Rather, it’s a tale that Laeshana and Naruahn might have heard as children.

You might also find as you read that this story has certain similarities to fairy tales told in our world. In fact, it may appear very similar to one particular story that you’re familiar with, but with several key differences that you’ll also discover. Which one, with what differences? That you’ll have to determine for yourself…


Noble Memories: A Fairy Tale of Cadaeren


A.L. Phillips

Once upon a time, when the Age of Balance was still newly begun, a certain lord and lady of Cadaeren announced the birth of their firstborn child. The peasants of their holding rejoiced, for Lord and Lady Eshmait were kind and good and generous to all. But the people’s joy soon turned to grief, for in the very hour that Eshmait the younger was born, his beloved mother died. With her last breath, however, Lady Eshmait whispered a blessing upon her son: that kindness and love would dwell in his heart and flow thenceforth to all he met.

As Eshmait grew, the people saw that his mother’s blessing was indeed fulfilled, and in gratitude and love they called him the White Prince. Only one question remained in their minds as Eshmait reached his twenty-first year: what worthy woman would he find to take as his bride?

The answer was not what anyone expected, least of all Eshmait himself…


Dead leaves crunched underfoot as Eshmait and Druahkis materialized in a tiny clearing. All around them, gnarled trees with long, bare, black branches shivered in a chill wind, but the air inside the clearing was stiflingly still. Eshmait took a deep breath, trying to keep himself calm despite the magical tingle in the air. “This doesn’t look like Lord Veshamail’s castle, Druahkis.”

The gray-robed man made no reply except to begin moving his hands in a complex pattern through the air.

“Druahkis, is this a ruahk-trap?”

Now the man spoke, his tone a shade too nonchalant. “Worry not, my lord. This trap is mine. It won’t harm you as long as I’m here.”

“That wasn’t what I asked.” Tucking his thumbs in his sapphire sash, Eshmait turned to face his guide. “Ruahk-traps are barbaric. You must know my father outlawed their use in our lands years ago.”

Druahkis didn’t answer.

Foreboding tingling more strongly than the presence of magic on his skin, Eshmait turned to face the other man. Focusing his will, he caught and held Druahkis’s eyes. “Good ruahk, speak, I beg you! Why did you bring me here?”

Druahkis’s weathered hands stopped in mid-air. He opened and closed his mouth several times, guilt speaking in his face as loud as a shout. A cold sweat broke out on Eshmait’s forehead, but he didn’t move.

“Who told you to bring me here?” Eshmait continued, his voice low, but carrying a tidal force of shamai power that would compel its hearer to tell the truth.

“Lady Kataretza,” the older man whispered. “Forgive me, my lord. She commanded obedience or…”

“My stepmother?” The answer hit Eshmait in the stomach like a rock.

“I’m sorry, my lord,” the ruahk said, his voice trembling. “I had no choice.”

Clenching his fists, Eshmait turned away. Druahkis let out a long breath as the pressure of the young man’s truth-finding gaze lifted. “My wife is dead these past three years,” he pleaded. “My daughter is all I have left. If I let you leave this place, Lady Kataretza swears my little Elli won’t live out the night. I’m so sorry, my lord…You must understand.”

Eshmait understood. He understood all too well. The long nights of weeping by his father’s bier, the year of black robes instead of white, the heavy weight that sat in his chest where his heart should be – the memories were vivid in his mind. He would have done anything to save his father’s life. How could he fault this man for seeking to save his child?

And yet, he didn’t want to die. Eshmait took a deep, shaky breath. The black trees around him seemed to close in, reaching toward him with their branches, greedy for blood. He didn’t want to die, but there was no escape. That was the beauty and the horror of ruahk-traps. Tiny pockets of existence surrounded by ropes of magic, ruahk-traps were impossible to find by anyone who couldn’t transport themselves instantly across space, and once entered, deadly if one didn’t know the counter-spell. The only person who could leave this place was Druahkis, and anyone that he chose to take with him.

And so the only choice left to Eshmait was how to face his inevitable demise. Fear froze his veins as the icy truth sank in, tempting him to beg, threaten, cajole, or anything else that might save his life. Gritting his teeth, Eshmait shoved the treacherous thoughts away. He would die honorably, as a son of the house of Eshmait ought.

Deliberately, he turned back toward Druahkis. “I am sorry for your pain,” he said quietly, “and for the position in which my stepmother has placed you. The Balance will judge her for her crimes.” He swallowed hard, but his gaze was steady. “Do what you must.”

To be continued…


Your turn! What do you think will happen next? What story is this inspired by? Post in the comments below with your guesses!

Savvy Saturday – Marketing Time Travel

It isn’t often that I get to use my fantasy/sci-fi novelist background in my “real job” of being a marketing PhD student, but it occasionally happens. One of the most fun instances of this I’ve seen so far happened this past week. I had assigned group projects, for which the students had to make up a new product and develop a marketing plan. The more creative the product, I told them, the better. This was a marketing class, not an engineering class, so they could feel free to “invent” something that wouldn’t actually work without worrying about it.

And so one group wrote a marketing plan for a time travel machine.

pyramidsThis is where things got fun. “All right,” I told them when they proposed this idea. “Tell me about this time machine of yours. Does it go to the past or the future or both?”

They hadn’t thought that out yet. Did it matter?

Oh yes, I told them. If they want to just use a time machine for their own personal use, either is fine. But if they’re going to start marketing something, they’ll have different issues of national security and their own personal safety to deal with if they go into the past versus the future. If you go into the past, you “just” need to worry about changing history and screwing up the present. (Easily solved, by the way: either create a machine that is “out of phase” with history so you can’t interact with or be seen by historical people – great for archaeologists, not so much fun for wannabe-heroes – or, as this student group decided to do, create a new identical-to-ours parallel universe every time the machine is activated, so any actions you take won’t have any impact in our world.)

If you go into the future, however, you may be able to bring back knowledge that could have military or political significance for today’s world governments. Going into the past is a “vacation” or historical expedition. Going into the future could reshape the world balance of power. As marketers, we really don’t want the things we sell to get major governmental attention. Especially not the sort that ends with the product’s creators dead in an alley somewhere and the time machine in the hands of the highest bidder.

The students decided to stick with going into the past. Smart move.

The next big question was how to market this product. Would you be selling the machine itself, or the opportunity to use it for a length of time? If the latter, what would be the most profitable “market segment” (group of people who would be interested in the same type of product for the same type of reasons)? Some might include archaeologists who want to publish groundbreaking research, people who love a particular era of history and want to see it with their own eyes, and ultra-rich individuals who want to time travel because it’s new and different and exclusive. The easiest group to target, and the one that these students chose, is the last one.

But how would you contact these ultra-rich individuals? If you were marketing to people who love history but were middle class, you could advertise in travel magazines and on the History Channel on TV. If you were marketing to archaeologists, you would contact the universities with the best archaeology programs in the world and invite them to submit proposals for what research they would do, and the top proposals would be granted permission to use the time machine (for a sizable fee, of course). But wealthy individuals don’t respond to TV ads or typical magazines, and they don’t all belong to a single organization with a governing body that disseminates information.

Most likely, then, you’d need to pursue a public relations and personal selling strategy: make the news, then follow up one-on-one with interested parties (or their event planners or personal assistants). For instance, you might reach out to the agent of a celebrity who has portrayed a famous historical figure or an archaeologist (e.g. Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones), offer him/her a free trip through the time machine to see something that pertains to the role they played, and then have them give an interview regarding their experience to a major newspaper. Once you’ve made a splash in the headlines, and included in the news story that this new “exclusive” product/service is available for those “discerning” individuals who have the means and the interest to go on a trip that is beyond the reach of most of mankind, you should start getting sales pretty rapidly.

Of course, this whole process made me want to sit down and actually write a story where this occurred. So often, time machines in fiction are made either by brilliant scientists who have little business sense and just want to see if they can do it (“What will the future be like? Let’s find out!”) or by driven individuals who want to visit a particular time/person in the past (“My true love died; I’m going to invent a time machine so I can be with him/her again!”). Why not write a story about a businessman who is interested in time travel (who isn’t?), but who cares even more about giving the world what they want – and enhancing his (and his employees’) wealth position in the process? This person would be a protagonist, not a “greedy industrialist” stereotype, and the story’s main plot wouldn’t revolve so much around “will the machine work and what happens if it breaks?” but “how will this machine’s existence shape the world of the protagonist?” and “how can the protagonist best use this device to change the world?”

It would change the world of the protagonist, to be sure. Once the machine’s safety was established, the world would most likely embrace the new reality and the company would be the leading authority on any issue of historical importance. (What REALLY happened? Book a tour with our company and see for yourself!) On the other hand, a CEO would also certainly have time machine detractors and individuals who wanted to abuse the system. People who are concerned about public safety (what happens if someone brings back the Black Death?) or about ethics and morality (if you create an alternate universe every time the machine is used, do you then destroy a world full of sentient beings every time the machine is turned off?) would likely protest and attempt to get laws passed to shut the machine down. Individuals without a promising future might want to go to the past and stay there. How would your company handle individuals who refuse to come back? If the company turns off the machine with a person from our world inside, is the individual simply stuck in an alternate reality forever, or do they die as the alternate universe is destroyed? These are sticky issues that a CEO would have to deal with.

The marketing plan that I graded didn’t answer any of these questions. I didn’t expect it to. As a novelist, however, I had a fantastic time raising these questions to my students, and encouraging them to think about how they would implement real marketing issues in an “out there” scenario like this one. And who knows? Maybe someday the scenario will actually be real – at least in a novel or set of short stories.

What do you think, readers? If someone actually invented a time machine like this, how would it change the world? How would you expect it to be marketed?



Savvy Saturday – Inspiration Strikes! (Part 2)

Last week, I posted a rough beginning for a story idea that was inspired by this photograph:


Today’s Savvy Saturday gives you a look into how I go about worldbuilding. All of the following snippets that will be posted were written in a single day of mad creativity, in the order that you see. Anything that is in brackets [like this] was added later for greater ease of reading. Where you see the tag idea: it shows where, as I was thinking, I came up with something specific that I thought could play a potentially important role in a story.


By the end of what is posted here, I was ready to begin thinking about the plot of a story that could happen in this world. This isn’t all the world-building I’ll do, of course – as the snippet from last week shows, there’s a large amount of detailed work that has to be done when you actually start writing scenes. But this was enough to give me an idea of the kind of stories that could be told in this world, some of the basic problems that characters might face, and some of the cultural realities that would define whatever story I happened to want to tell.

The first question I ask whenever I start creating a new culture is,what does the world look like? What is unique about this world that will lead to very specific problems and cultural features? In this case, I ignored the actual architecture of the castle in the picture above, and focused on the idea of multiple peaks where people live, above a sea of clouds…


Setting: The Cloud Sea [Unqapa] is a magical mist cast by a sorcerer upon the land in times long past. It is thick and heavy, halfway between vapor and liquid. If breathed for more than a few minutes, it causes visions, madness, and ultimately death. For a thousand years, the only safe places for humankind have been the high steppes and mountaintops above the cloud layer (Skyland?).

How does this setting impact society?

Travel: Either through flight or through magic. Travel will therefore be very difficult and expensive, leading to small, insular societies. Travelers will be celebrities.

What kind of travel? Two kinds: ride on winged animal [or] sail on ship held up with magic. Ships are slower but larger, used for trade. Idea: levitation spells wear off over time because of the magical corrosive nature of the mist. If a mage travels on your ship he/she can keep it up. If not, you have to have it renewed at each port you arrive at. Means that if you’re becalmed without a mage, you’re dead. (Can’t row through the mist.)


Daily life: Each tiny city-state will have to depend mostly on what it can grow and raise for itself. If disease hits, it will have a devastating impact on the society, since people live relatively close together and can’t get away. Winter is long and summer cool and short, driving a need for heavy clothes and careful tending of plants during the growing season. Also, livestock will need to be carefully watched and kept in enclosures.

If they go into the mist, what would happen? Wildness, lose their fear of man, become dangerous. Humans will therefore need to be on the lookout for animals coming out of the mist – they’ll be an ever-present danger. Idea: animals born in the mist are stronger, faster, smarter than animals born in the Clearlands. Winged animals that are mist-born prey on anything in the sky, including ships and riders of their smaller, tamer cousins.


Politics: Four main city-states, each in distant view of the other three, are allied to (but often dispute with) each other. As a group, they’re called Four Peaks [Chuska-Tunqu]. They are each governed by their own royal family. They have similar goods – timber, goats, vegetables (research: carrots, lettuce, potatoes, onions, garlic, strawberries, blueberries all grow in high altitudes). None has a standing army, since everyone has to farm and tend herds to survive. Each is, at its core, self-sustaining, but given their small size and relative proximity to each other they have also developed unique offerings.

Kingdom 1 [Qayumchi]: Luxury food/plants and Riders. This kingdom’s terrain has more areas of flat land that get good sunlight, so its crops grow better than those in the other three kingdoms. It grows some crops that will not grow elsewhere in Four Peaks. One of these is the special kind of berry that attracts the winged creatures [kiruqi] used by riders. Given its easy supply of these berries, it is also the kingdom that first began taming and training the [kiruqi] that riders use to carry messages among kingdoms. It is the most respected of the four kingdoms.

Kingdom 2 [Jakupacha]: Ship-builders and mages. Hundreds of years ago, this kingdom’s scholars and mages developed a strain of cedar that would be resistant to the mist’s corrosive capabilities and retain levitation spells for longer than other types of wood. While it grows enough food for its people to survive (barely), it thrives on trade. It supplies every good ship in Four Peaks, and most of its captains. It also provides and trains the mages who keep the ships sailing on the mist. It is very secretive about its knowledge to ensure that no one else can build ships or train mages; it likes having a near monopoly on trade. It is the wealthiest of the kingdoms, but hated by the other three.

Kingdom 3 [Tukanchiqu]: Architects, engineers, stone/metal-workers. This kingdom’s peak is craggy and treacherous, forcing its people to learn how to adapt and create clever constructions incorporating the landscape into their buildings. This particular mountain also has deposits of gemstones, gold, and high quality iron, which they forge into good steel. Much of their society (workshops, etc.) is actually inside their mountain. Every available space outside is used for growing what they can, since there is so little usable ground. This kingdom was worst off until trade was established because of its inability to grow enough food for a large population. Even now, the people are used to food rationing and strict monarchial control over resources because necessary goods are so limited. Most people are still poor, but now that there is trade resulting in enough food for some people to not have to farm, the population of skilled craftsmen has grown. (Everyone, however, grows up learning the basics of engineering and metal-crafting, because they have to in order to keep their houses in repair.) Craftsmen are prized by the kingdom – their work brings in goods from outside to let the civilization grow. Some of these tradesmen go to other city-states to live and work there, but they view it as their duty to send much of their income home to support their people, whose hard work and sacrifice has made it possible for them to prosper. Often, a family will sponsor one of their children to receive special training then leave the kingdom, with the promise that it will be an investment to better the entire family.

Kingdom 4 [Kanchadar]: Fighters. Originally, this mountain only grew grass, trees, and some fruits and vegetables; the first dwellers focused on caring for their goats, which were their main source of food and clothing. The presence of this many animals, however, attracted predators. The denizens of this kingdom learned to work together and kill the beasts that attacked them and their herds regularly. They also learned that these mist-dwelling beasts are useful for meat and tools. They learned to fight in the mist, so as to better be able to rescue their herds or not have to give up on their wounded prey if it retreats into the mist. They build up tolerance to it from the time they’re young, and also learn to hold their breath for long periods of time. The best warriors among them can be in the mist for an hour with no permanent effects. When trade began with other kingdoms, this kingdom’s people quickly became known as fearless (and half-mad) warriors perfect for border patrol and other security jobs. These men and women are the shortest-lived of any of the kingdoms, as they would rather die in battle than live on beyond their ability to be useful to their family.


Beyond Chuska-Tunqu are two larger kingdoms, both ancient. One is inhabited by mages, and the other is populated by tribes of warring peoples who have dreams of expansion and tend toward piracy of the mages’ kingdom (easier to steal than to create).

In the lowlands under the mist is all the treasure, resources, and history that have been buried for a thousand years. Including several very powerful artifacts given by ancient mages to kings of old as tokens of favor or payment for resources or bribes to do their bidding.


With this setting above now established, I can now come up with a thousand different story ideas. I could set a story in any of the four kingdoms, or (as shown last week) on a ship sailing between them. I could tell a story about a farmer from Qayumchi who has worked all his life to develop a new more powerful variant of berries to aid in training the kiruqi, only to have his work get stolen by a powerful merchant family. I could then tell of his quest for revenge, recompense, and recognition by the Riders. Alternatively, I could tell about a girl from Kanchadar whose brothers were killed in the mist by a particularly nasty beast, and who has made it her mission to seek it out and kill it, whatever the consequences to her and the village she is supposed to be protecting. I could explore the underground lives of the Tukanchiqu – one who gets cut off from his village by a rockslide and must get back or starve to death, or an engineer who must use his wits to convince a visiting Jakupachan ship that his goods are valuable enough to exchange for food for his village for the winter.

Right now, however, I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to tell the story of Chaska, a girl from Qayumchi whose dreams of adventure turn to nightmarish reality when she becomes the first person to fall through the Unqapa mist to the land below – and survive.


What else would you expect to see in a new world like this? What other directions in worldbuilding might the inspirational picture have taken you? Brainstorm a few ideas, and post one in the comments below!



Savvy Saturday – Inspiration Strikes! (Part 1)

Last week, I found this picture posted online:


It immediately got my brain started creating a new world (as if my brain doesn’t have enough to do to keep it busy). Since it’s no use telling my brain to stop being creative, I decided to channel its energy productively to give you all a look at how my writing process progresses. So for this week’s Savvy Saturday, I’ll give you a brief opening to a story I’ve started working on that’s inspired (loosely) by this picture. Next week, I’ll show you some of the behind the scenes work that went into this story. Fair warning: this is a rough draft written over the past week, so it isn’t polished. But it should give a glimpse into a new world that will hopefully end up being intriguing!


The new mechanic was about to get himself thrown overboard. Her dark eyes sparkling in anticipation, Chaska leaned forward on her perch, gripping the yard of the Qaqcha’s mainsail with her legs and the rigging with her left hand. The two men arguing on deck were too far away to hear, especially given the wind that howled right through Chaska’s thick poncho and knitted hat. Even so, the mechanic’s aggravated gestures were perfectly clear – as was Captain Hakula’s reddening face.

Chaska grinned sourly, hooked one soft-booted foot in the rigging and slid down to the deck in record time. She wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to see Hakula ream someone else out for a change. Especially when the victim in question was one of Tukanchiqu’s arrogant, filthy-rich metal workers. Chaska had seen three come and go in her ten months on Hakula’s ship, and loud-mouthed obnoxious know-it-alls they’d been, too, but none of them had had the audacity to argue with the captain himself.

Pulling her cap’s earflaps down against the wind’s bite, Chaska sauntered toward the bow, where Captain Hakula looked like he was about to erupt at any second. As she walked, she picked up the end of a pile of rope that someone – probably Machqu, Captain Hakula’s lazy second cousin – had left in an ugly heap and began recoiling it. It wouldn’t do for any of the Qaqcha’s officers to think she had nothing to do and assign her somewhere out of earshot.

She stopped as close as she dared to the confrontation, keeping her hands busy and her gaze directed over the railing at the swirling white mists of the Unqapa, even as she strained to hear the substance of the argument behind her. The cursed sea was clearer today than sometimes. She could see several feet down into the mist, far enough to see the protection and levitation spells that glowed along the Qaqcha’s cedar hull. Below that, though, the Unqapa glowed a deadly ominous gray.

“I swear, Captain, by the life of the Eldest, the pulser is flawed! You must let me fix it or it will give way before we reach Qayumchi. Please, for all our sakes!”

“What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand, cave-dweller? I already told you – there’s nothing wrong with our systems.”

Chaska’s hands froze on the coil of rope she was holding. This wasn’t the complaint about the charred food or cramped quarter she had been expecting. She listened even harder. The mechanic’s voice sounded young – and desperate.

“Don’t you hear the way it’s thrumming? Are you deaf? The way the harmonics are going, the sounders will knock each other out of alignment in twelve hours, twenty-four at most. And then we’re easy meat. Please! Just an hour, that’s all it’ll take!”

A chill went up Chaska’s spine, and the mist suddenly looked even more ominous than it had thirty seconds before. If the pulsers were really flawed, they would be lucky to reach a port in one piece. The mist was only the most obvious of the dangers that lurked in the air between the Four Peaks. Chaska swallowed, imagining the creatures that even now lurked just beyond the range of the Qaqcha’s high-frequency pulsers. Sky-serpents – terrible beasts that flapped upward out of the fog, their green and red feathered bodies dripping silver mist as they sought a ship as an easy meal. She had never seen one, but the first mate of the Qaqcha had, and his tales were vivid enough for her to picture the beasts in far more detail than she cared to. Or, worse yet, wild kiruqi, with paws larger than a man’s head, wings strong enough to blow a ship off course with their gale-force wind, and fangs that could snap a mast in two. These were even easier to picture; Chaska had grown up around their smaller, domesticated counterparts as her oldest brother Mantu trained to be a Rider. She still saw him occasionally when the Qaqcha was docked in Qayumchi, gliding through the sky on Pacchu’s broad speckled back, carrying messages from one city to another. But even Mantu would quail at the thought of coming face to face with a feral cousin of his Pacchu; no ship had ever encountered a wild kiruqi and survived…