Category Archives: The Quest of the Unaligned

Savvy Saturday: Location, location, location!

I love being asked off-the-wall or unusual questions from people who have read my book. It makes me think creatively, or at least cock my head and blink several times. The one I was asked the most recently came from a professor – to be specific, an Apple-loving professor from India who teaches in my department. In the midst of a conversation with him about computer systems last week, he suddenly looked at me in horror and said, “You didn’t write your novel on a Windows machine, did you? No self-respecting novelist would use a Windows machine.”

Got to admit, that one took me off guard.

A question that I’ve been asked more frequently, however, has to do with where I wrote my book rather than what type of computer I used. As it turns out, The Quest of the Unaligned was written in quite a lot of places. Here are all the ones I can remember:

–In Pasadena, California (my hometown).


  • At home on my laptop,
  • Scribbled on the back of church bulletins in between services
  • Outside on the patio
  • Inside on the big-screen desktop computer when I wanted multiple windows open at once
  • In the car (while I was a passenger, don’t worry!)

–In Grove City, Pennsylvania (my undergraduate school)


  • In my dorm-room.
  • In a friend’s dorm-room.
  • In the antique study hall.
  • In the English Suite.
  • In the Sociology Suite.
  • In the library.
  • In the hallway in between classes.
  • In class for the five minutes before class actually started.
  • Outside on the lawn.
  • In fact, pretty much everywhere.

–In Lincoln, Nebraska (my current school)


  • In my apartment.
  • In my office.
  • In a hotel room on my first visit to the city. (I actually remember this one quite clearly: I wrote the scene where Alaric and Naruahn leave Lord Deshamai’s lands while sitting cross-legged on a hotel bed. I really didn’t want to stop writing and go to sleep, even though I had my grad-school interview early the next morning.)

–In airplanes. Lots of airplanes.

–And airports. I get so much writing done in airports – especially when they don’t have free Internet!

So yes. The United States is quite well geographically represented in the creation of The Quest of the Unaligned – on the ground, as well as above it. But yes, it is also true that I didn’t write a word of it on a Mac. If that fact makes you think less of the book, you’re entitled to that opinion. I, however, will continue to consider myself a self-respecting novelist, and keep typing away at my Windows machine wherever I happen to be, from coast to coast.

Savvy Saturday: A Story from Cadaeren

This Saturday, I’m answering the question, “What happens if a Cadaerian mage attempts to get powers beyond his/her alignment?”

Actually, I should rephrase that. I’m going to answer the question, “What do Cadaerians think happens if they attempt to get powers beyond their alignment?” (The answer to the actual question depends on what type of powers the mage attempts to get, and how he or she attempts to do it – usually, though, it results in large-scale destruction or in nothing happening at all. Laeshana, of course, is different.)

Different? What, not every white-sash aesh goes to the College of Magic, lives in Tonzimmel, and tries to overhaul traditional magical theory?


Following is an ancient fable from the land of Cadaeren, as recorded in the book The Heartland Chronicles – a kind of Brothers Grimm collection of magical and moralistic tales taken down early in the Age of Balance by an author supposedly named “Goldenthought.” (Clearly, this is a pseudonym designed to bring an added quality to the book. It remains to be seen whether the author’s attempts succeeded.) Without further ado, then, I am pleased (or appalled, one or the other) to bring to you “The Tale of Kaltin the Fool.”


The Tale of Kaltin the Fool

In the days of the first kings, when no one knew of the Balance, the world was wondrous and wild. Magic of the earth sprouted from every seedling. Magic of the air laughed and swooped in every breeze. Every fire crackled with the pop of untapped power, and every pool and brook bubbled and burbled with the rush of unseen forces. Such was the world, and the magic therein.

In those days, even the people of our kingdom were wild. Many were tuned to magic, but they knew neither official spells nor how to tame the powers, as the great schools had not yet been established. There were no water mages, no fire mages, no air mages, no earth mages. Only strong men and women who tapped into the power of an element and gloried in its strength and beauty. They lived in this way for many years, neither knowing nor wanting to know more than the world itself told them about magic. Then Kaltin the Fool was born.

At first, he was merely known as Kaltin son of Kelshin, a boy aligned with fire. He was fair of face and strong of spirit, but his mind was ever filled with whys and wherefores that ought not to be asked. His parents did not know what to do with him, for they were not themselves magical, and could not restrain their son’s seeming need to question the magic of the world. As years passed, Kaltin grew in curiosity and power, but with no training and no regard for his parents’ warnings.

One day, Kaltin came to his parents with a new question. “Why can a person only use one magic?” he asked as he spun a wreath of flame over his head. “Why not two, or three, or even all four?” They could not answer his question except to tell him that it was unnatural and not done. “But why?” Kaltin asked again. “Could it be done if one tried hard enough?”

“No,” they answered, but Kaltin was not satisfied.

After many days of planning and plotting, Kaltin snuck from his house in the middle of the night, his questions raging and burning in his mind. He journeyed until he reached the top of a great waterfall that thundered and pounded the rocks below, sending spray up into the air a thousand feet. Kaltin reached out beyond his mind and felt the power of the water, but the fire in his nature kept it beyond his grasp. Twice he tried to gather the water into himself, and twice his internal fire hissed and burned it away. Do not try, his power seemed to say. Do not try. But Kaltin would not listen even to the warnings of the fire. “I will be one with the water,” he spoke aloud, “and people will remember me forever. I will be the greatest man who ever lived!”

Saying this, he stepped into the river and gathered his will. Further and further he reached into himself, gathering every spark, every glowing ember of flame, and pushed it all into a small corner of his heart. “Now come to me, water,” he said, and for the third time, he gathered his will and reached out to the falls before him.

Though the water rebelled with a mighty hiss of steam that rose around Kaltin, this time it did not all burn away. He reached out further, spreading his hands wide, and for the first time, a boy aligned with fire became one with the water. For a moment, Kaltin gloried in the strength and beauty of the water, in its thunder and flow and liquidity. But even as he shouted in triumph, the fire in his heart rebelled. At the hated presence of its opposite, the fire broke free from the bonds that Kaltin had placed upon it. It flared out in brilliant white heat, and the water now present in Kaltin responded in kind. For the first time, two elemental powers were forced into contact, and Kaltin the Fool was the conduit between them. Raging fire engaged thundering water, and each began to draw from its storehouse of wild power in the world to gain the upper hand. Around them, the earth began to shake and the wind began to howl as all the power of the fire and the water turned its focus and energy upon this one location.

Kaltin the Fool now knew the answer to his question, but it was too late to stop what he had unleashed inside himself. In utter helplessness, he cried out in anguish as he was burned and drowned from the inside out. “No more!” he screamed, and flung himself over the waterfall. The river boiled and hissed for several minutes, but finally was silent once again.

Several days later, the body of Kaltin the Fool was discovered many miles downstream. It was no longer fair of face, but waterlogged, and burnt black as coal.

The End.



Exciting News of an Academic Nature

Today I discovered, to my extreme delight, that The Quest of the Unaligned has been featured in the American Sociological Association’s official “Teaching/Learning Matters” newsletter! You can find the newsletter here (“Quest” is on page 7, with the other newly released sociology books).

This is really exciting for me because it should give me the legitimacy I need to start approaching schools about using The Quest of the Unaligned in their curricula. As the feature in the newsletter says, “The Quest of the Unaligned is a fantasy novel designed to spark students’ interest in sociology in a new and unique way.” By giving sociology instructors an exciting story to use in class – a story that happens to come with built-in discussion and potential essay topics that will help students learn classic sociological principles – I hope to help make theory relevant to today’s students and fire their sociological

Of course, I’m also hoping that people will just truly enjoy the book. As an author, that’s always what I hope. But if it can help students learn and better understand the world and society around them, well, that’s a dream come true.

Savvy Saturday 8

In past weeks, I’ve used this Savvy Saturday page to answer fan questions. This week, I’m turning the answering over to you, for the simple reason that I don’t have good answers to these fan questions! I’ve given them my best shot, but I’d love to hear what you’d have to say. Leave a comment for me below, or on Facebook, at I look forward to hearing from you!

1.      If The Quest of the Unaligned were to be turned into a movie, who would play Alaric and Laeshana?

First of all, I would love it if my novel were turned into a movie, but I have no offers or shows of interest from anyone in Hollywood. With that said, while I enjoy going to movies, discussing plots, listening to new soundtracks, and watching things explode, I’m afraid I don’t know enough about today’s actors to be able to put forward good suggestions for actors even if someone in Hollywood did want to make Quest into a movie.

I do know that anyone who played Alaric would have to be strong and able to handle action sequences, but also be able to act well enough to make his transformation from Tonzimmelian security chief to Cadaerian prince believable. Also, whoever played Laeshana would need to be strong enough in presence and voice to match Alaric and stand up for herself, but not abrasive and not a woman-warrior type. She would also need to be believably smart, but not know-it-all annoying a la Hermione Granger.

Do you have any suggestions or thoughts about possible actors/actresses for your dream version of the movie of The Quest of the Unaligned?

2.      Who is your favorite character in The Quest of the Unaligned?

I really don’t have a favorite character. Alaric, Laeshana, and Naruahn are all very special to me, and I have things I love about each of them. I love Alaric’s no-nonsense approach to life and his confidence in the Tonzimmelian system. I love Laeshana’s patience, her eagerness to teach, and her passion for following the light. I love Naruahn’s exuberance, his ADHD attitude, and his trust and hero-worship of Alaric. I also really feel for Deshamai, and I loved writing Ruahkini and Gaithim.

Who are your favorite characters and why?

3.      If you could be any of the four types of mages in Cadaeren, which would you be and why?

This is a really tough question for me, because I like aspects of all four sides of the Balance. Obviously, I’d choose to be an orah. If I had to be aligned, however, I really don’t know what I’d choose. Personality-wise, I’d probably be a shamai. I tend to not like change, and I enjoy following traditions simply because they’re traditions. I’d also love to be able to breathe underwater. However, the other three sides of the balance are also very tempting. I’d love to be an aesh, to be consistently innovative and to know for certain that things are true. I’d also love to be able to heal myself or others, and know that I could take care of people that way. And I’ve always wanted to be able to teleport myself (or my things!) from one place to another. So I really don’t know.

What about you? If you could choose which type of aligned Cadaerian mage you’d be, which would you choose and why?

Savvy Saturday 7

Happy Saturday! This week, I’m answering a reader’s question about female rulers of Cadaeren. Namely, have there been any? Following is a selection taken from the book, “A Complete History of Cadaeren” that answers this question. Enjoy!


Twenty-three kings of the line of Cohlit have reigned in Cadaeren since the dawn of the Age of Balance. All know of their exploits, their victories, their misjudgments, and the legacy they have left for their country. Fewer, however, know of the great queens that left their unique mark upon Cadaeren.

While law dictates that the first-born son of the king take up the crown after him, there have been several exceptions in Cadaeren’s history. Three times, the eldest son has abdicated in favor of his younger brother. Four times, a king has died without leaving a male heir. In two of these cases, the king’s brother assumed the throne. The other two times, however, changed Cadaeren forever.

The first time that a woman ever sat on the throne was when the Princess Sarina, eldest born of King Elim, claimed the throne in her own name after the death of her father. She wed Lord Tashiv, the most powerful of the unaligned apart from the king’s house (and, many say, the one who encouraged Sarina to take the throne), and ruled for twenty-four years. Those twenty-four years, however, were marked by strife and dissention, as the shamai contingent refused to respect Sarina as the rightful ruler of Cadaeren. Instead, they cast their lot with Prince Eshav, the eldest brother of Elim, who favored the shamai contingent above the other three sides of the balance.

Many of the shamai contingent even today claim that Eshav, who was killed in battle when he finally attempted to mount an insurrection against Queen Sarina, should have been Cadaeren’s ruler from the beginning. Sarina, after all, never completed the Quest of the Unaligned, was never crowned with the Prince’s Crown, and so never spoke for the land of Cadaeren as a whole. Others, however, looking to Sarina’s skills in diplomacy and negotiation, assert that only the rightful ruler of Cadaeren could have made the kinds of lasting improvements and reforms to the legal code that occurred in her reign. To this day, the Code of Sarina forms the basis for judging and resolving cases between nobles or white-sashes of different contingents.

A hundred and sixty years later, King Sovim III and his only son, twenty-five year old Prince Kalliv, were both killed on the same day in a great battle with a pair of rock giants. The giants had already slain hundreds of peasants, and several nobles’ sons, in Cadaeren’s Heartlands. Sovim and Kalliv were both mighty warriors, and with the help of their knights they did deal mortal wounds to both giants. However, with their last strength, the rock giants pounded their fists against the mountain upon which they were fighting and loosed its rocks from their roots, sending a rockslide cascading down on the king, his son, the knights with them, and the nearest village. Only one person survived: Kalliv’s twin sister, Princess Kalla, who was outside the village at the time gathering herbs.

Since her childhood, Kalla had been commended for her intelligence and shrewd decisions. Knowing that their closest male relative, her father’s only brother, Lord Sothov, was a boorish, arrogant man who would make Cadaeren groan under his reign, Kalla decided that she wouldn’t let him be king. Instead, Kalla returned in secret to the City of Balance, and enlisted the help of her royal mother to carry out her plan. Kalla and Kalliv had always looked very similar; now, Kalla disguised herself as her brother and, after her father’s funeral, was crowned as King Kalliv the first.

Using her keen insight, Kalla surrounded herself with advisors who would support her, even knowing her true identity. For the next thirty years, Cadaeren flourished. Slowly, rumors spread that Cadaeren’s “king” was actually his twin sister, but as long as those rumors weren’t confirmed, the land was content to live in the peace and prosperity that Kalla and her wise rulings granted them.

While Kalla never married, she did ensure that the crown of Cadaeren would pass to a worthy member of the house of Cohlit. She appointed Lord Sothov, her uncle, to a prestigious but distant post, and entrusted his young son Estin to the care of the Queen Mother, who had raised both her and Kalliv. In time, Estin grew into a noble and upright young man, and became known to all as the likely heir to the throne. Years later, after Lord Sothov passed away, Kalla indeed confirmed Estin as her heir and sent him to complete his Prince’s Quest.

At the age of seventy-five, Kalla stepped down from the throne and King Estin began his glorious reign. Only then, did Kalla officially reveal her identity to Cadaeren. The court wasn’t surprised, except for a few of the oldest shamais, who had refused to believe what they didn’t want to accept. By the time of her death, however, no noble or peasant in Cadaeren had anything negative to say about the woman who had been king.

Character Interview: Alaric and Naruahn

Alaric and Naruahn got interviewed by Brandy Jellum! See Alaric’s report below. 🙂


I had a surprisingly enjoyable experience today – my first interview with a blogger from Earth. We conducted it via video Skype, our usual method of communicating with people from your world. Phillips had arranged the interview, for the purpose of getting Laeshana’s and my story out to a wider audience than she could on her own.

What I hadn’t counted on was Naruahn being there. I had known that he was visiting the City of Balance today, but I hadn’t remembered that Laeshana was busy all day with Royal Dress-fittings. (She hates them, but it’s something she puts up with to keep a modicum of peace between her and the nobles who think the princess should have a new dress every month or two.)

Naturally, Naruahn wanted to spend the day with me rather than Laeshana, and that meant that he had to come with me to the interview. And once you get Naruahn in a room with someone asking questions…well, let’s just say that it was his interview just as much as mine.

Actually, that might all be for the good. I’m still not naturally predisposed to answering personal questions, an area in which Naruahn excels.

In the end, I think it all went rather well. You can judge for yourself, though – the interview can be found here.

Savvy Saturday 5

Writing fiction is a strange business. A novelist’s job is not just to imagine a story that can flow well in his or her own head, but to somehow illustrate that story so that readers can see what the novelist sees, smell what the novelist smells, hear and taste and touch and even feel what the novelist feels when he plays out his story inside his head.

Some of this detail can be purely invented and brought to life by a novelist’s imagination.  Even fantasy novels, however, benefit from a healthy dose of real life research—especially when an author isn’t personally familiar with the details of what he’s writing about.

Today’s Savvy Saturday post features some of the research that I did for The Quest of the Unaligned. The pictures below are all images that I used as inspiration for events, places, or things in the novel. None of them are my work—Google Image Search is my friend—and none of them should be taken as a picture of “what X actually looks like.” But with that said, I bet you can guess what scenes I had in mind when I went looking for images to help me describe them more concretely.



Throwing Knife

A Throwing Knife


NYC at night

New York City



A Baldric and Longsword





Narrow Canyon

A Narrow Canyon


Black Widow

A Black Widow


Purple Lightning

Lightning Strikes


Castle Great Hall

The Great Hall of a Castle

Isn’t it amazing what you can find on the Internet? Just be glad I didn’t post the videos I spent too long watching of “how spiders attack their prey.” That was fun…

As always, if you have a question you’d like me to answer in a Savvy Saturday post, let me know via Facebook ( or Twitter (@phillipsauthor)!

Savvy Saturday 4

Today I’m going to be answering another question I’ve been asked fairly frequently:

How did all the names and strange words in “The Quest of the Unaligned” come to be? Did you just make them all up?

Well, yes and no. Among my other interests, I love languages. I studied Spanish in high school, then took a year each of Biblical Greek and Biblical Hebrew in college. These language studies put me in good stead for writing fantasy.

At the time I was writing “The Quest of the Unaligned,” I was taking my second semester of Hebrew and loving it. The language has such a completely different feel from English, every time I went to class it was like I was being transported to a different world. (Being of Jewish ancestry no doubt helped my enthusiasm for the language, but it’s cool in its own right.)
During that class, then, I decided that Hebrew would make a perfect base language for the land of Cadaeren.

I began with the language of magic. Aesh, aretz, ruahk, shamai, orah, and hoshek – the six words that describe various types of mages in Cadaeren – are all taken directly from Hebrew (or just modified slightly).

In case you’re curious, here’s what the “real” words in Hebrew look like:

Aesh (fire): אֵשׁ

Eretz (earth): אֶרֶץ

Ruahk (wind): רוּחַ

Shamaim (waters): שָׁמַיִם

Or (light): אוֹר

Hashekah (dark): חֲשֵׁכָה

For Cadaerian mage names, I made up names that would incorporate the individual’s magical alignment. (e.g. Ruahkini, Laeshana, Naruahn, Deshamai).

“Tonzimmel” is a blend of the sociological theorists’ names of Tonnies and Simmel, as the city is based off of their theories.

“Alaric” was chosen for its meaning of “noble ruler” or “ruler of all.”

Other names in Cadaeren, including Peatter, Akmartin, Feyjus, Ikner, and others were shout-outs to friends or professors from my college (you know who you are! Or if you don’t, but you knew me at school, look carefully and you might find something that would surprise you. Muahaha.).

And the rest, yes, were simply made up. How’s that for a long answer to a short question? If you have a question you’d like me to answer in a Savvy Saturday post, please let me know via Facebook ( or Twitter (@phillipsauthor)! I’d love to hear from you!

Savvy Saturday 3

This week, I’m answering an interesting question about Cadaeren that I’ve been asked by several readers. Namely:

What typically happens to a Cadaerian peasant child who’s discovered to be magically aligned (a white-sash)?

Magical alignment typically reveals itself in peasant children between the ages of ten and thirteen. Noble children, who have been raised to know that they will be mages, often begin showing their powers a little earlier. The most common occurrences that identify a child as a mage are:

·         Aesh: flare-ups in hearth fires when the child is upset or excited, or touching fire and not being hurt

·         Aretz: earth-tremors, uncontrolled plant growth (e.g. seeds suddenly sprouting to full plants), wild animals being tame around the child, or innate knowledge about where to find certain types of rocks or plants that the child couldn’t otherwise know

·         Ruahk: gusts of wind around the child on otherwise-still days, control over dust-devils, or the sudden translocation of objects that the child wants (e.g. a bucket of water suddenly disappearing from the well and appearing next to the child when he/she is thirsty)

·         Shamai: waves or waterspouts forming in local water sources when the child is upset or excited, floods, unseasonable rain, or the child staying underwater for unnaturally long periods to no ill effect

When a peasant child is identified as being a mage, it is Cadaerian law that he or she must immediately be brought to the castle of his or her noble lord. The child is then assigned to a medrik, a nobleman or noblewoman of the same alignment who will train the child in the use of his/her powers. While a child is often trained locally, either at the castle of his/her lord or in adjoining lands, it occasionally happens that an aligned peasant child is sent to the City of Balance for advanced training.

A period of apprenticeship follows for the peasant mage, in which he/she grows in the mastery of his/her powers. This includes learning to do more complicated and powerful magic, while not letting the dark side of his/her alignment take control. When the apprentice’s medrik judges that he/she is ready, the mage is proclaimed a white-sash and is allowed to work for others without supervision.

Many white-sashes are placed into the service of a Cadaerian noble, where they use their powers to serve their lord and his lands. Every noble has at least one servant from each side of the balance: an aesh to light fires, repair carriages, keep the castle warm in the winter, and do other odd jobs; an aretz to heal injuries and sickness; a ruahk to carry messages or transport people or objects; and a shamai to keep an eye on everyone else, as a spymaster, a steward, or a historian.

Some white-sashes, however, choose not to take a position in a noble household. Most of these choose instead to return to their home village, where they spend their lives helping their neighbors and are venerated for their gifts. A few (more ruahks, fewer shamais) choose to wander throughout Cadaeren as journeymen, offering their services to the villages through which they travel. A few others end up in the City of Balance, where they join small shops run by other, more established white-sashes. And some choose to leave their homeland behind and start a new life in Tonzimmel, where any white-sash can earn wealth and prestige if they work hard enough.

Of course, that means that they have to live in Tonzimmel, which comes with its own set of challenges.

Do you have a question you’d like to have answered in a Savvy Saturday post? Contact me via facebook at, or via Twitter at @phillipsauthor!