A.M. Tuomala

Myths and Morphemes

Category: Blog (page 1 of 2)

Drakon Inspiration: The Villain

At the head of the column rode a man whom Kesha recognized faintly from the papers — a tall man, fresh-faced and gaunt at once. Whether he had grown his beard to hide his youth or his gauntness, Kesha couldn’t have said, but the soft under-hairs hadn’t yet grown in to fill it out, and so it lay sparse and frazzled over his smooth cheeks. He sat very straight on his horse, with a posture particular to Prussian officers in well-boned supportive gear.

This was Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the second-youngest son of the Tsar.

A photograph of a young Sergei Alexandrovich in military uniform. Select the image for a link to the source.

Drakon is a book with many antagonists, but only two true villains, and one of them is very hard to spot.

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Drakon, at Last


Six years ago, I set out on an adventure with three strangers: the Tarasov siblings, Elizaveta, Innokentiy, and Pyotr. When I began this journey, I knew little more than their names and the rough outlines of their lives. I knew the scent of their family home, gunpowder and mutton and blood and dust. I knew that Elizaveta dreamed of taking her father’s place as lord of a border fortress, that Innokentiy lied compulsively even as he sought a deeper truth, and that Pyotr liked to fix machines because he couldn’t fix his family. I knew that something had happened in their past that had severed the bonds between them almost irreparably.

I knew that dragons haunted their skies, but I hadn’t decided yet whether they were beasts or people. (I hadn’t decided whether the Tarasovs were, either.)

Discovering the rest of their story was a pleasure and a privilege, and today, I am pleased and privileged to share Drakon with all of you.

For a full summary of the book, check out the listing on Candlemark & Gleam’s website (you can also buy it there!). The inimitable Athena Andreadis has written a very kind introduction to the book, and Publishers Weekly and ALA Booklist have both given it starred reviews. If you’re interested in my inspiration, playlists, and musings on history and gender, you can check out my Drakon tag — I’ll be posting more over the next few months.

Candlemark & Gleam: Paperback or eBook

Amazon: Kindle edition

Amazon: Paperback edition

Barnes & Noble: Nook and paperback editions

Kobo: eBook

Drakon Inspiration: Ceramic Stoves

In his landlady’s sitting room, a pair of Polish cartographers were having a quiet, earnest argument on the ornate French sofa. They’d kept most of the lamps burning, so he left them to their latitudes and curled up on the ceramic stove to delve into the Yekaterinburg translation.

My friends, this is a post that starts out depressing and becomes snuggly and cheerful.

Close to ten years ago, I read Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths, which depicts the lives and deaths of the impoverished residents of an overcrowded shelter. This play is a brutal indictment of Gorky’s Russia, of the state’s empty promises and the ugly little wars waged between and within social classes; it’s not hard at all to see the seeds of revolution in it. Perhaps because The Lower Depths is a play rather than a novel, the characters struck me more keenly than  Dickens’s or even Dostoevsky’s — Gorky’s characters have a visceral immediacy to them, an urgency that comes through even in translation. I came away from my first reading with the feeling of having transgressed on real people’s lives — as though I’d been a kind of voyeur, watching poverty porn through a peephole.

Long after I’d finished, one image in particular haunted me. The Actor, the stage directions note, is privileged to be allowed to sleep on top of the stove. In my American ignorance, I was horrified — I pictured him perched atop a little potbellied stove, curled up like a cat, so grateful for the warmth that he ignored the way his big limbs spilled over in all directions. How much must they be suffering, I wondered, if that’s supposed to be a privilege?

Years later, buried under an Upstate New York snowstorm, I remembered the Actor and his stove. By that point in the winter, I was spending most of my evenings draped over the bare ribs of my radiator, and the whole stove thing no longer sounded so far-fetched. Thus, I set out to learn more about why Russians slept on stoves.


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Prescriptivism, Enemy of the First Draft

I’m trying to start my next book, and I keep getting hung up on semicolons.

A writer whose work I admire once said — I’m paraphrasing here — that in almost every case, replacing semicolons with full stops will make for better writing. In this particular case, I know that the writer who said it was making an offhand comment, not trying to lay down her fundamental philosophy of writing. As a former English teacher, I also know that semicolons have a handful of legitimate uses and can actually improve a piece of writing when used effectively.  As a former scholar of the eighteenth century, I know that this prescription is of relatively recent vintage. In short, I know that this is not one of the Immutable Laws of Writing Handed Down from On High.

But all the same, that comment has stuck in my mind, and every time I sit down to write, I hear it. When I try to string sentences together, I remind myself that I am No Longer Allowed to use semicolons (or em-dashes, that other breathless punctuation mark of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries). After a taxing hour of stops and starts, I reread my handful of sentences, and they sound hideous to my ears. The pacing is wrong. Too choppy. No ebbs and flows, no crescendos and decrescendos, no gentle gliding from one idea to the next. If there’s a trick to writing lyrical sentences without semicolons, I never learned it.

I surface from my word processor, heartsick and practically vibrating with self-loathing. A quiet part of me asks, Didn’t I used to be good at writing?


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Call for Advance Reviewers

Candlemark & Gleam is seeking advance reviewers for Drakon! The back cover copy is below, but I should also mention that this is the DRAGONS!  GATLING GUNS! LESBIANS! LANGUAGE MYSTERIES! MURDER! book that I keep capslocking about on Twitter. If you’re interested,  drop them a line on Twitter @CandlemarkGleam.


The year is 1880. A hundred years ago,  the Ottoman Empire bought the allegiance of the dragons — and ever since, the Tarasov family has stood guard on the disputed borderlands.

Now, with the autocratic patriarch Vladimir Petrovich at their head,  the Tarasovs have become a tattered remnant of their former glory. Elizaveta, the last Tarasov soldier,  heir to Vladimir’s cruel legacy. Pyotr, the engineer with dreams of flight.  And Innokentiy, the traitor who fled to the academies of Saint Petersburg. As war looms in the south and foreign troops crowd Russia’s fortresses,  Vladimir’s three children must return to their ancestral home to confront the past that drove them apart.

But the bloodthirsty dragons they’ve fought all their lives aren’t what they seem,  and neither are the humans around them, friend and foe alike.

Splintered by internal strife,  hounded by interlopers,  and beset by Turkish forces,  the Tarasov family must overcome their bad blood — or treat each other apart.

Drakon Inspiration: The Ossian Hoax

“What do you say to that, Tarasov? The dragons have a language—they even write poetry, whether or not it’s any good.”

“Are you sure it isn’t a hoax? A kind of … scholarly prank, devised by bored young men who know too much Greek and too little of the world?”

In these inspiration posts, I want to talk about events from history or cultural artifacts that inspired a few lines of Drakon. Hardly any spoilers here; only a little background.

Only a few days before I started writing Drakon, one of my professors introduced me to the greatest literary hoax of the eighteenth century: James Macpherson’s Fragments of Ancient Poetry, Collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and Translated from the Gaelic or Erse Language. These fragments were the precursor to Macpherson’s much better-known anthology The Works of Ossian, which was what got him into real trouble.

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Fancast for Drakon

Remember how I said that Athena Andreadis was fancasting Drakon? She’s shared her cast list on the Candlemark & Gleam blog, and I couldn’t be more thrilled! Every single one of the actors she’s chosen would absolutely nail the part. I’m rereading the book with this cast in my mind, and it adds so much to hear Tilda Swinton’s low, dangerous alto or to envision Helen Mirren’s icy dignity.

If Drakon were ever adapted for film, this would be my fantasy casting call. Click “Continue reading” for more!

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A Soundtrack for Drakon

Athena Andreadis and I like to joke about which actors we’d cast in a Drakon movie, but for me, the best part of a movie’s always been the score. When I fantasize about a Drakon movie, I’m really fantasizing about having Ramin Djawadi or Thomas Bergersen score it. Music shapes how we understand the emotional content of a scene on a fundamental level (see example). It comments on the actors’ performances and gives them greater depth, adding undercurrents of wistfulness or menace or hope.

Accordingly, I thought the best way to give everyone a taste of the book was to put together a fantasy soundtrack. This playlist ranges from sweeping, epic orchestration to Russian folk music, borrowing liberally from soundtracks for both period pieces and video games.


Here’s the playlist on YouTube. Full track listing and individual links below the cut!

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Building a Climate: A Simplified Guide

While I love reading about characters and their exploits, I can find plenty of authors who do character well. I know an author’s one to watch, though, when I can tell that he or she has devoted plenty of attention to climate and geology. However, most writers tend to prefer language and psychology over geology and climatology, so finding a world with a somewhat unrealistic climate and morphology is par for the course — and, to some extent, justified by SF/F’s engagement with the unreal.

This focus on culture doesn’t mean that writers don’t want to learn to build worlds with climates, and while I’m by no means an expert, I can offer a general overview. Below the cut, I’ve provided a really, really basic primer for how to start thinking about building an Earth-like world with a cohesive climate and different biomes. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide, and I’m intentionally leaving out some of the gritty details on (for example) rock morphology, magnetic vs. geographic poles, and desertification because that’s advanced-level stuff. I am also choosing to avoid addressing the advanced-level stuff surrounding a) non-Earth-like worlds and star systems, b) major global climate shifts a la glacial ages, c) unusual weather events like hurricanes and rogue waves, and d) wizards and pilots with weather-changing powers. All of these subjects, however, are fascinating and deserve further research.


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Writing a Brutal Enough War

I touch on rape and PTSD in this post, so if those topics are likely to upset you, I would suggest treading carefully.

I’ve recently been making my first pass through A Song of Ice and Fire, which is exactly my sort of fantasy series and (with the exception of the increased emphasis on prophetic elements) becomes more my sort of series as it goes. While some of my friends have been disappointed that George R.R. Martin spent less time on character arcs they’d spent the past four books caring about, preferring to focus on worldbuilding and playing around with archetypes and metafiction … that’s what I like to read, so A Dance with Dragons has thus far been my favorite book of the lot. As I’ve been reading, though, I keep returning to the theme of brutality and cruelty in war with fresh eyes.

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