Which elemental magic would you wield?

Here’s your chance to find out what sort of mage you could be in the world of Aven!

Which elemental magic would you wield?

Take the quiz, find out what god or goddess has blessed you, then share your newfound powers with the world by posting your results to FB, Twitter, Pinterest, all over.

I am, of course, Spirit. ūüėČ

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I’m super-curious to see what results folk get, so if you haven’t already told me on other social media, comment here with what element you control!

And, for the next week, there’s also a link to a new giveaway sweepstakes for an advance copy of¬†From Unseen Fire at the bottom of the quiz, so don’t miss out!

Pro Feminae

Today is International Women’s Day, and a group of the Authors 18 are writing about what that means to them and how feminist ideals have influenced their work.

I wrote From Unseen Fire long before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements caught fire, but my heroine, Latona, would be all about them.

Ancient Rome was far from the worst time in history to be a woman. You had legal rights. You could own property. You could run a business and make quite a bit of money doing it. Unlike the Greek women, you had freedom of movement outside the house. Raping you was a severe crime (as long as you were a free woman, that is) and punishable by the loss of a man’s hands or genitals. If you were of middling or above social class, you probably got some sort of an education, at least enough to be considered literate. You could hold religious office and earn great respect for it. You could wield phenomenal political power behind the scenes, as women like Cornelia, Fulvia, Livia, both Agrippinae, Plotina, Sabina, Julia Domna, and Helena can attest. And, since Rome had decent sanitation and health care, as well as a plant that was so effective as birth control it was eventually driven to extinction, you were somewhat less likely to die in childbirth than other women before modern times.

So, not the worst.

But not, like, ideal.

You had rights, but you still weren’t, y’know, a full citizen. You couldn’t vote. You couldn’t speak at the public rostrum (except in a few extreme circumstances). You still belonged to a man, usually your father or husband, but if they were both dead, then perhaps a brother or uncle. Only if they¬†all died and the courts couldn’t find anyone to take you on might you be named a woman¬†in suo jure, in charge of herself. You might wield power behind the scenes, but if you came too far out into the open, you were considered a monster of some kind, derided either as mannish or as a succubus. Beating you was frowned upon, but legal. If you were lower-class, your career options were limited; if you were upper-class, they were nonexistant. Wherever you were, unless you were a Vestal Virgin, you were expected to be fruitful and multiply. Rape still, of course, happened, and if you didn’t have more money and influence than the rapist, bringing the violator to court and getting justice could be challenging-to-impossible; if you were a slave, absolutely impossible. Social expectations hemmed in your behavior pretty much everywhere.LatonaAesthetic

This is the world that Latona of the Vitelliae finds herself chafing against. Aven adds the component of magic, and Latona is incredibly gifted. She’s never been allowed to discover just¬†how talented she is, though. Her parents were fearful for her, worrying that if she made her powers known, she would be a target for use and abuse by unscrupulous men. They’re also worried about her emotions; the Vitellians are known for their tempers, and Latona’s elements, Fire and Spirit, can so easily run out of control. They try first to hide her in a temple, but when her mentor dies, the new High Priestess, worried that Latona’s power and influence will outstrip her own, sends her back home. So her parents marry her to a wealthy but unimportant nobody, hoping it will keep her beneath notice. It doesn’t work. As readers will learn in the prologue (so this doesn’t really count as a spoiler), Latona is too fiercely devoted to her family to stand aside when they’re threatened. She uses her magic to protect them from a vicious Dictator — and while she keeps the magical manipulation secret, she draws the Dictator’s attention for her earthly attributes. She considers it a bargain she makes for her family’s lives; we would certainly call it rape. As though that weren’t enough trauma to be getting along with, her relationship with her husband, never more than dutiful, deteriorates after that, from cold and distant to outright emotionally abusive.

So this is where the beginning of¬†From Unseen Fire finds her: wound so tightly she’s about to explode. She’s been gaslit into believing she’s dangerous, that she can’t control herself, that her emotions will cause chaos if expressed; she’s been told that claiming her power will only make her prey; she’s been abused and traumatized and has rationalized it all to herself as sacrifice; she has stood by while others were abused because she couldn’t save them without endangering herself and her sisters, though she hates herself for the inaction; she’s unhappy in her marriage and has been unable to conceive a child, and so she worries she’s a disappointment to her patron goddess Juno; she¬†knows, deep down, that she is capable of so much more than the confines of her life have allowed, but at every turn, she gets nudged, coddled, bullied, or outright shoved back inside those suffocating parameters.

Her whole life, Latona has tried to make herself smaller, so that she’ll fit into the world around her.

She’s about to burst.

I think that’s a feeling a lot of women can relate to, no matter when or in what conditions they live.

From Unseen Fire debuts April 17th, 2018; you can pre-order it now from Amazon, B&N, or your local indie bookstore! 

And be sure to check out these other 2018 debuts featuring women taking action against injustice in society: 

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From Clarissa Harwood: New Novels to Celebrate International Women’s Day

From Samantha Heuwagen: International Women’s Day with Debut Authors

The Mages of Aven: An Ongoing Series

So remember back when I made a list of all 300+ mages in Aven but managed to refrain from naming them all?

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Yeah, well, that’s over.

Not all at once, though! I’m launching a new series on Patreon. 100 words at a time, I’m going to explore those mages. I’ve always loved the drabble format, and I’ve long used it to help me explore new characters and new worlds. In this case, I’m using it to flesh out the world of Aven, and to juice me up for working on Book Two!

I’ve shared the first five of those drabbles on Patreon, available for free to everyone! Subsequent entries in the series will be available to all patrons at the $3/month level and above.

None of these are characters in¬†From Unseen Fire or the rest of the Aven Cycle — though their lives might be touched by those figures.¬†These are the people of Aven, high and low, whom the gods have blessed with some degree of magical talent. Some may have quite a lot of power. Some may have very little. Some may use their talents well, and some may not. Some are allowed to live peaceful, productive lives; some are ensnared by power and politics.

I want to give you a glimpse at all of them, a window into this world — a few hundred windows, really! Short character studies that will, I hope, broaden the idea of what Aven¬†is.

I’m throwing wide the gates. Come on in!

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Read the first five for free on Patreon — and pledge just $3/month to have the rest delivered to you on a weekly basis!

January Patreon Review

PatreonSupporterBadge (2)In the interests of enticement, I’ve decided to start keeping a monthly log about what goes up on my Patreon each month! So here’s what I shared, at the various pledge levels, in January:

  • Behind the Page: Adventures in Copy Editing
  • Sneak Peek:¬†From Unseen Fire Dramatis Personae
  • Hamilblogs #29-30: “That Would Be Enough” and “Guns and Ships”
  • Aven Cycle Aesthetic Post: Corvinus
  • Figures in History: Sharp-Tongued Fulvia, Pt 2
  • Advanced notice of the Goodreads giveaway starting
  • Sneak Peek:¬†From Unseen Fire proof pages (title page and header material)
  • Behind the Page: Airtable charts on Aventan magic
  • Poll: What makes you pick up a book?
  • Vlog #5: A talent I wish I had
  • Poem #4: Lycanthropic Kyrielle

Pledge now and you get¬†immediate access to as many as 130 posts! More and more of it is starting to focus on¬†From Unseen Fire, and once the book is out and I can worry less about spoilers (or, y’know, sharing things that will make no sense until folk have read it), there will be all kinds of Aven Cycle bonus material. In February, I’m also intending to get through “History Has Its Eyes on You”, “The Battle of Yorktown”, and maybe “What Comes Next?” on the Hamilblog. I expect to hit “Non-Stop” in March, which will be… a special event. I’m thinking of videoing the process, or at least part of it, because analyzing that song is going to be utter nonsense, and I can’t wait.

I’m currently $172 from my next goal. If I make it there before¬†From Unseen Fire releases in April, I will do a random drawing and giveaway a signed Advanced Reading Copy to one of my wonderful supporters!

patreon.com/cassrmorris

Visualizing FROM UNSEEN FIRE

Tonight’s #17Scribes Twitter chat (and yes, I’m still part of that group even though my debut got moved two days into 2018 — they refused to part with me!) was focused on visualizing elements of our novels. I put together some image sets, and I thought I’d share them with y’all!

First off, how I picture lovely Latona: blonde and angular, a deceptive blend of delicacy and strength:

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Then… not really how I picture Sempronius. He’s not supposed to be ridiculously handsome! But I keep finding all these gorgeous actors who would be great at playing him…

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And the supporting cast. From left to right, the faces I imagine as resembling Gaius Vitellius, Ama Rubellia, Autronius Felix, Merula, and Vatinius Obir.

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Some pictures of Rome, the city of which Aven is my AU:

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And some of central Iberia, where about a third of the book takes place:

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And finally, how I imagine the interior of the Vitellian domus. Wouldn’t you love to recline on those pillows and share a good gossip… or a flirtation?

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A Title… Again!

With two years on sub, two years between sale and publication, an editor change mid-stream, and now this, the fourth title change, I’m beginning to think I might be the poster child for “don’t get attached, and nothing is certain until it’s in print” ūüėČ

Book One of the Aven Cycle shall henceforth be known not as A Flame Arises, but rather as:

FROM UNSEEN FIRE

This was a possible title earlier in the process, and I quite like it. In fact, it’s even from the same¬†De rerum natura quotation as the other title! But it’s the second half of the phrase rather than the start.

I know that to an outside eye, this might all seem ludicrous. How can the book’s title change? How can it change¬†after information has been sent to distributors? Well, honestly, I don’t know much about the how on that, but my publisher certainly does, so I try not to fret about it. It’s all part of the complexity of the publishing world and the fact that surviving it takes as much patience as determination and talent. My father reminded me, when I got my book deal, that the achievement came with a condition: the book is no longer mine. At least, not mine alone.

It’s a slightly weird feeling, letting someone else not just hold your baby but dress it and feed it and decide what school it’s going to — but it’s also a feeling I’ve known was coming, have prepared for, and in many ways welcome. I knew I wanted to go the traditional publishing route rather than self-publishing because I wanted a team. I know I have a great one now, and I trust them. So when they say we need a change — a change occurs!

“The selfsame name, but one of better nature.” – On evaluation, discovery, and improvement

I opined about this a bit on Twitter earlier today, and it remained on my mind enough that I want to expand on it a bit here.

I go through a process, periodically, of evaluating myself. I call it “having a Come-to-Proserpina moment” — although it might even better be called a come-to-Ma’at moment, because it’s about weighing and evaluating how my actions speak for me. To focus those thoughts, I try to answer these questions:

  1. What adjectives do I want to use to describe myself?
  2. What adjectives would I like other people to use to describe me?
  3. Do my actions currently lead to those qualities?
  4. How do I need to change or redirect my actions to lead to those qualities?

It’s about being the person I want to be. How close am I to that goal, to that image I’d like to have of myself?

maat-sarcophagus.jpgThe evaluation is not an easy thing to do. Or, perhaps, not an easy thing to do well and honestly. An unscrupulous person, with little self-awareness, could easily say, “Yes, of course; what I do fits exactly the kind of person I want to be, and anyone who disagrees just doesn’t see me clearly”. Doing it well and helpfully, though, means taking your own ego to task. It means not assuming that your actions are correct just because you’re the one taking them. You have to be a little brutal and quite relentless. Your brain tries to squirm out of it, tries to shape excuses out of reasons. It’s like editing, a little, in a way — you have to pin down what isn’t working and be ruthless about it. And in doing so, you learn to cut away what isn’t helpful, what detracts from your strengths, and how to reshape the rest to better reflect the story you want to tell.

Every time I do this, I emerge stronger, more whole, more like that ideal version of myself. However discomfiting the process, the result is so empowering. It means that I can then feel more confident about my assessments and actions being correct — not just because I’ve made them, but because I’ve really questioned myself, the world around me, and my place in it. It’s important to ask those questions, even if the answer is yes, because that gives me a grounding and a sort of renewed dedication to myself. If I can say, honestly, that yes, my actions reflect the sort of person I want to be, then I can feel assured in going forth unafraid of what anyone else might say in spite or jealousy.

It’s not about not having flaws. The gods know I have those. Sometimes they’re inextricably linked to my virtues — my temper comes from the same place as my passion, for example. My stubbornness and my loyalty have similar roots. I will never eradicate the one without sacrificing the other, and I determined years ago that I was not willing to grey myself out in that way. But it does mean that I need to act in a way that supports my virtues more than my vices.¬†It also certainly¬†doesn’t mean I never backslide, never fail to live up to my ideals of myself. That’s why it’s important to keep evaluating.

I call it come-to-Proserpina or come-to-Ma’at because it’s a process of thinking of what those ladies would say of me, were I called to stand before them now. How do my actions represent me? What do they say that my tongue might not? If my heart were to be weighed against Ma’at’s feather, how would it balance?

In contemplating this for myself recently, I’ve realized that my main female protagonist is ending up doing this in her life. I didn’t set out with that intention, but that’s sort of what multiple rounds of edits are coming around to. She looks at her life, realizes it isn’t what her heart wants, and realizes that, if she wants things to change, she has to be the agent of that change. She can’t wait for the world to re-arrange itself for her.

“Their very character was tyranny; their figure, deformity.”

Warning: Thoughts about politics, history, democracy, and danger lie ahead on this 4th of July, the 240th anniversary of American independence.

Thesis: We have confused civil liberties with civic governance.

A friend shared an article with me the other day featuring an interview with Chris Hayes on the ideas in his book, Twilight of the Elites, and their relation to the current Brexit crisis.

The first thing I noticed was that the article uses the term “elite” twenty-seven times without ever defining who or what, precisely, that meant. (Also worth considering is this piece from the Washington Post).

The problem with the word “elite” is it that it’s become the replacement slur that “liberal” was before the left reclaimed it. Who are “the elite” that the article lambasts? Government leaders? Banks? Corporate leaders? Heads of universities? Celebrity political dilettantes? It doesn’t much seem to matter — the¬†word manages to conflate the intellectual, the financial, the corporate, the governing all together. Just say the word “elite” and anything that follows must be sensible.

It’s delightfully inspecific, and it allows demagogues to rouse populistic fury without actually having to define goals or have a plan. Just turn your furor on “the elite” and everything will be fine. And that’s how you get people to ignore what experts have to say about the economy, climate change, gun violence, whatever — demonize “the elite” through one lens, and you poison the populace’s view of, well, anyone who knows anything. That concerns me. It’s why I don’t feel¬†I’m under any¬†more obligation to respect the Leave camp’s Brexit decision as “the will of the people” than I was in 2006 when “the people” of Virginia voted against gay marriage. A bad decision is a bad decision, whether or not it has popular approval and whoever you’re blaming for the the conditions that drove that approval.

Willful ignorance is what’s currently driving politics here and in Europe — people who not only don’t know, but don’t want to know, are proud of not knowing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying that I want educated, thoughtful people capable of complex, divergent thinking in charge of the government. And I want an educated populace, where the majority of people have the creative and critical thinking skills to look at multiple prongs of an issue, synthesize information, and make a considered decision — that’s part of my entire philosophy as an educator — but that’s not what we (or the UK, or, it would seem, large swaths of Europe where neo-nationalism is surging) have. It’s what we should strive towards, but we fall far short of creating a society where it’s truly possible for all citizens. The championing of anti-intellectualism has triumphed to the point that people often (as studies have shown) vote against their best interests based on unexamined perceptions, and we’ve demonized changing your mind as “flip-flopping” such that many people are impervious to learning new information if they think it might contradict what they already “know”.

The problem with democracy — as politicians and philosophers alike have known for millennia — is that it only works if people are informed and engaged. That’s why we have a constitutional republic instead of direct democracy. Most people quite simply do not have the capacity to make decisions on a national or global scale. That doesn’t make them worthy of contempt, it shouldn’t infringe their civil liberties, it in no way devalues their humanity — but it probably does mean they shouldn’t be driving national and international policy. It’s odd that this is a potentially controversial view to take, and it reminds me (as so many things do) of a line from¬†The West Wing: “A funny thing happened when the White House got demystified. The impression was left that anybody could do it.”

We don’t question that not everyone has the requisite skills, intellect, interest, and dedication to be a surgeon, a Supreme Court Justice, the inventor of new cybernetic technology, or a world-class poet or artist. But we’ve stopped asking those questions about our lawmakers.¬†Why?

This is what led me to the thought that somehow we’ve confused civil liberties with civic governance — that expanding basic rights to more and more people somehow means that everyone is equally qualified to make world-changing decisions.

I wish our education system better prepared more people to make good decisions, but the UK has just showed us — as have the Republican primaries — why tyranny of the majority is a bad idea — particularly when the evidence shows that a staggering portion of that majority had literally no clue what they were voting on. I share the wariness of leaders throughout history who felt torn between a responsibility to the people’s voice and a responsibility to protect the people from themselves when they’re about to hurl themselves off a cliff. Should we listen to “the will of the people” when that will decimates the economy? When it ignores ecological perils? When it denies civil liberties to minorities? How about when it says we shouldn’t let members of a certain religion into our country? How about when it says we should round up racial minorities and “degenerates” and put them in camps?

Democracy has always been a dangerous sword to hold. There’s a lot of irony in that our own Founding Fathers were, of course, mostly members of the financial and/or cultural colonial elite, and even once-impoverished and oft-indebted immigrant Alexander Hamilton feared direct democracy, saying in 1788:¬†‚ÄúThat a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure, deformity.‚ÄĚ It’s a hard thing to grapple with, when you want to believe in the good of people… but know better than to give them total control. I suspect Alexis de Tocqueville would agree that the Brexit represents precisely the kind of tyranny of the majority that favors the sheer weight of numbers over the sense, rightness, or practicality of a situation. (de Tocqueville also believed that “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.” Make of that what you will).

In the information age, there’s almost no excuse for not educating oneself on major issues. A swipe of your fingers, and you can read both facts and opinions on almost any topic. (I do recognize that not everyone has internet access, but the majority of both Britons and Americans do — and certainly the ones crowing on social media about their allegiance to the Leave camp or the Trump campaign do). But there’s a dual problem here — not everyone has been given the critical thinking skills (a failure in our education system) to separate fact from fiction, or fact from opinion, or informed opinion from utter drivel, and, worse still, many people don’t¬†want to seek out that information. Will, in fact, deny it when it’s put in front of their faces.

This is how we get not only science-blind phenomena like climate change deniers, but also the resurgence of tribalism and¬†xenophobia — studies have shown that the more geographically isolated you are, the fewer different kinds of people you interact with, then the less likely you are to be capable of divergent thinking, to synthesize new ideas, and to empathize with people who are not like you. (And here we could get into arguments about gerrymandering and how reinforcing that urban-rural divide affects politics). A certain segment of society now has this perverse pride in ignorance, and it breeds further poor decisions — which in turn reinforce the ignorance and the destruction it causes. Our current system fosters incuriosity, such that, as news came out that many Britons voting Leave had had no earthly idea what they were voting about, I found myself thinking of the following scene from¬†The West Wing:

JOSH: So, if we’re lucky, foreign aid’s going to be funded for another 90 days at 75 cents on the dollar. No one who’s ever said they wanted bipartisanship has ever meant it. But the people are speaking. Because 68% think we give too much in foreign aid, and 59% think it should be cut.

WILL: You like that stat?

JOSH: I do.

WILL: Why?

JOSH: Because 9% think it’s too high, and shouldn’t be cut! 9% of respondents could not fully get their arms around the question. There should be another box you can check for, “I have utterly no idea what you’re talking about. Please, God, don’t ask for my input.”

WILL: Why is foreign aid important?

JOSH: It fosters democracy.

WILL: There you go.

JOSH: [in British accent] Well, well played, young man. Very good, yes, yes.

WILL: I don’t know if you realized, but for a second there, you changed voices.

JOSH: Someone said, “The best argument against democracy is five minutes with the average voter.”

WILL: Churchill. He also said “Democracy is the worst form of government.”

JOSH: See.

WILL: “Except for all the others.”

JOSH: I know the end of the quote.

I don’t know how we solve this ouroboros of destruction. I believe education is the foundation of it, but it’s going to take something massive to break the chain of self-reinforcing political anti-intellectualism to make the massive changes to our educational system that will have to occur in order to¬†get the educated, critically-thinking populace our republic deserves. Perhaps, as has often been the case in history, the system will have to catastrophically fail before it can be repaired. I hope not — but the historian in me is wary.

When Brexit happened, Editor Sarah pinged me on Facebook saying it made her think of the Optimates party in my book. I told her that the book hadn’t felt as on-the-nose politically when I started writing it several years ago as it does now. Based on the historical Optimates of Rome, these¬†are “the elite” of Aven — the moneyed patricians whose way of life is dying, who oppose expansion and immigration, who disdain innovation, who object to the expansion of citizenship, and who overall want things to stay as they’ve always been — because, hey, it was good enough for our grandfathers, right? But the world isn’t the same as it was for their grandfathers. One of my protagonists is a Popularist, himself a member of that privileged patrician class, but one who — yet he still has to wrestle with the wisdom of letting the Aventan populace make choices for themselves versus setting himself up to make what he believes will be the best choices for them. He doesn’t¬†want to be a demagogue. He wants to be idealistic, to think that people can and will work together for the common good — but he’s got a pragmatic streak that nibbles at the back of his mind. He wants to use his privilege to help people, but he has to make sure that doesn’t come off as condescending — or as bribery. He knows that a person’s birth does not bestow them with the necessary qualities to govern — but he knows that not everyone, of any class, is going to have those qualities, either. He’s lived under a tyrant, and does not want to become one himself — and yet can’t escape this feeling that if everyone just went along with his ideas, everything would function so much more smoothly and prosperously. Much of his arc, throughout all three¬†books, is going to focus on what happens when he tries to balance those conflicting views.

I hope he has better luck than we’re currently having.

Every 4th of July, I watch¬†1776. I love that musical because it shows the Founders as so human — and it speaks to the compromise that always hounds democracy. How fast can we effect change? What do we have to give away in order to get part of what we want? (Questions that Lin-Manuel Miranda raises in¬†Hamilton). But I also love it because it reminds me of what I really do believe — we¬†can be great. This country has almost never lived up to its dream of itself, but I still so fervently believe that we¬†could. The underpinnings are there. The drive is there.¬†American independence is a beautiful, monstrous, strange beast.

What are we going to decide to do with it as it grows?

Word cloud for the June 2016 revisions

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Sisters, sisters…

So this has been on my mind for a while, but the recent #Ham4Austen meme, courtesy of @Drunk_Austen, has revived my desire to chatter about it.

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Kindly ignore my tragic misspelling of Bennett; I stand by this statement anyway.

As the deal announcement for my forthcoming novel stated, the backbone of the story belongs largely to three sisters: the Vitelliae — who are, in the creativity of Roman naming conventions, Aula Vitellia Prima (called Aula), Aula Vitellia Secunda (called Latona), and Aula Vitellia Prima (called Alhena). As I’ve discussed before, my inspiration for them came from a painting, but I think it’s slightly more than coincidence that much of the novel has been written and revised while I’ve had not just thematically-appropriate HBO’s¬†Rome¬†and the BBC classic I, Claudius¬†running in the background (I am nearly incapable of working in silence), but also¬†Downton Abbey, the 1995¬†Pride and Prejudice, and the¬†Hamilton soundtrack. Their relationships, with each other and with those outside the family, drive the story.

I wasn’t consciously adopting a pattern as I wrote, but nearly everyone who’s read the book thus far has commented on how the Vitelliae make them think of the Bennetts, the Crawleys, or the Schuylers. Sarah once asked me if it were intentional, and our notes back and forth are littered with references to¬†Hamilton (not¬†only because of the sisters — but a lot because of them). But it got me thinking just what the similarities and dissimilarities are, because my girls don’t align neatly to any of the characters they are, as a group, compared to.13516359_520496718154978_8947441272109785272_n

Pert, vivacious Aula Prima has the most in common, strangely, with Lydia Bennett — if Lydia Bennett had Angelica Schuyler’s political sense. She loves a good time, has a fondness for military men, and flirts with abandon — but unlike Lydia, she strives to keep her family¬†out of scandal. Knowledgeable and adept, she hides a cunning mind and clever wit behind lively green eyes, pink cheeks, and bouncing auburn curls. In “a world in which [her] only job is to marry rich,” she turns her political ambitions towards her father and brother.

Editor!Sarah and I have a joke of referring to Alhena as “And Peggy”, but there’s really much more to her than that. She probably has the most in common with Mary Bennett, and maybe a little with Edith, though I think she’s a bit softer than either. She’s a more minor character than Aula and Latona, but she has a lot of room to grow and develop, but at the onset, she’s bookish, and almost painfully shy outside of her own family (with, you’ll learn, good reason).

And then my dear Latona, middle sister and primary protagonist. She’d get along sparklingly a dinner party with Mary and Sybille Crawley, Angelica Schuyler,¬†and both Elizas Bennett and Hamilton, but I don’t know how much she has in¬†common with any of them. She’s a slightly different type. None of the Misses I mention start with as much tragedy in their backgrounds as Latona. She feels Angelica’s frustration and ambition, shares Mary Crawley’s sense of responsibility and Sybille’s social justice, would appreciate Eliza Bennett’s¬†wit, Eliza Hamilton’s yearning for a peaceful and prosperous domestic life… but she also suffers a repression that’s personal, not just societal, and it’s colored her deeply.

So what has made early readers feel such resonance with these sisterly sets? Something in the structure itself, I suspect. A sister is different than a friend. Friends, you can choose (and the Vitelliae have those as well, as I consciously did not want to create a world where women had no social connection outside their families). But sisters,¬†you’re given.

I am a woman with a sister, myself. Just the one, so a smaller set than the families I’ve discussed above, and we’re about six years apart. I would take a bullet for her, but our relationship hasn’t always been easy. That age gap is a bit weird — too far apart to be real allies as children, too close not to feel competitive. When I was in my most troubled years, she was still in grade school; when she was in hers, I was off at college. I often had an older sibling’s exasperation with being expected to be responsible and set a good example, not retaliate when provoked, and irritation with what she got away with that I hadn’t or couldn’t (parental leniency with younger siblings being a well-noted tradition — at least among oldest children!). I suspect that she often felt held to a high standard because of me, that I was something she was expected¬†to live up to. We were both probably a little right and a little wrong. We get along much better as adults, but it’s because we’ve both learned to be more thoughtful, less antagonistic, more empathetic. We’ve learned¬†about each other, not just what we like but how we work, rather than just assuming a genetic bond would either function¬†or not. (To our mother’s total lack of surprise, we often find that our strife has been caused by our similarities, not our differences).

I hope that particular aspect of sororal relations comes across in¬†my¬†writing in a genuine way. It’s one of the things I really adore about the Crawley sisters. While the Bennetts certainly don’t see eye-to-eye, there’s never any real¬†strife among them. Even when Lydia disgraces the family, she shrugs it off with almost no consequences, and everyone else sort of rolls their eyes, and life moves on. Everyone¬†seems far more concerned about how Lydia’s actions reflect on them¬†than about Lydia’s well-being. Lizzy never gives Lydia the dressing-down she had coming, nor do the other sisters air their grievances. ClawJQdUoAAz3lQSaintly Jane never shows impatience or irritation with her siblings.¬†Mary never explodes with frustration at the mockery she endures. The closest we get to real sororal trouble are the sniping between Lydia and Mary, and then¬†the jealousy that Kitty feels over Lydia’s popularity and invitation to go to Brighton — but those are only side notes, the background chatter of the novel. The disconnect between Lizzy and her younger siblings is more glanced at than explored. The reader is meant to dismiss them as silly and pointless (one of the things I like better about the 2005 movie is that you see more soulfulness out of Mary Bennett), and thus not to feel much sympathy for them.

On the other hand, Mary and Edith spend a lot of time at each others’ throats, snarking and subverting and outright sabotaging. But when their tempers aren’t up, they know that they do love each other — and that one day, they will be all each other has left. “Sisters have secrets,” Mary says, at the end of the series, and she’s right — and those secrets are rarely tidy and cute. Their relationship is far less sanitized than that of the Bennetts, and far more real. The Vitelliae aren’t quite so contentious, but they don’t always understand each other. Their personalities are different, and there’s quite an age gap between the elder two and the youngest. They’ll make decisions the others don’t agree with. They’ll be unintentionally hurtful. They’ll worry and scare each other. An older sister accustomed to being in charge may seem bossy. A much-sheltered youngest may struggle to have her maturity recognized. And a troubled middle daughter may feel misunderstood and like she has nowhere to turn, even among people who love her.

I don’t know everything that will happen to them. Their relationships have grown more complex in Book 1’s revisions, and I expect those discoveries will continue. I just know I’m looking forward to the journey — and I hope you are, too!