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Posts Tagged ‘changeling’

indicted on two charges of negligent authorial cruelty

You would think I’d notice when I’m doing something horrible to my characters — but sometimes the penny drops quite late.

The context for this post is the scene I wrote for Chains and Memory last night. There’s a detail I put into Lies and Prophecy that seemed like an interesting twist, an additional layer to an aspect of the world that the characters hadn’t realized was there. When I started planning out this book, I knew I was going to add another component to that detail; the adding happened a few days ago. And then last night, writing a follow-on scene, I finally realized what I’d done to Julian, by tossing in that little detail so many years ago.

I can’t get more specific than that without massively spoiling things, but I can give a different example of what I mean: Nicholas Merriman, an NPC in my game Memento, which is the campaign that ultimately gave rise to the Onyx Court series. Nicholas is nowhere in the novels, so there will be no spoilers for the Onyx Court if I tell you I may have been more cruel to him than any other member of the Merriman family save Francis. (Who did appear in the novels, so if I tell you his role in the game was pretty much the same except it ended a little bit worse, you’ll have some scale for comparison.)

Memento was a Changeling game about a group of faeries reincarnating in mortal hosts over a period of centuries, trying to create the Philosopher’s Stone. They were assisted in this process by a faerie-blooded human family, the Merrimans, who passed down the knowledge of their quest through the generations . . . but lost bits of it along the way, because seven hundred years is a long time to keep that kind of thing alive. Nicholas, living in the modern day, had only the fragments he’d gleaned from his Alzheimer-afflicted grandfather, and almost no connection to the faerie world whatsoever.

Under the mechanics for fae blood in that game, Nicholas was permitted one single “fae gift,” i.e. an ability inherited from his changeling ancestor. It could be a powerful ability, but he could only have one. I chose Parted Mists. In Changeling, the Mists are a metaphysical force that causes human beings to forget about magical things: to come up with “rational” explanations for them or dismiss them as mere fancy or just forget them entirely. Parted Mists allowed Nicholas to actually remember his interactions with the PC changelings, which was pretty necessary to make the plot go; ergo, my decision seemed like simple common sense.

So they meet Nicholas and realize they were doing something important and go through a process that causes them to remember their past lives, which takes up the bulk of the campaign, with them flashing back to previous centuries (and previous Merriman helpers) before finally snapping back to the present day and finishing what they started.

By which point I had realized that I had been horrifically, unthinkingly cruel to Nicholas.

Because he remembered.

Here’s the thing about Changeling: in that setting, there is a magical layer to the world that we can’t generally see. Changelings can see it; children can see it, but lose the ability as they grow up; adults can be temporarily enchanted to see it, but the Mists make them forget after the enchantment fades.

Nicholas did not forget.

After he met the PCs, Nicholas knew that he was living in grey, dreary Kansas. He knew Oz was right there, all around him: a fantastical world filled with color and magic and wonder. He knew the PCs lived in that world, and he’d been permitted to visit it a few times. But every time, the magic ended, and he was back in black-and-white Kansas — remembering precisely what he had lost.

I did not mean to be so cruel to him. But I was, and it took me months to realize I had been.

And that’s more or less what I’ve done to Julian. Not the same flavor of cruelty, but the same failure to notice until an embarrassingly long time later. The good news is, I have noticed, and that means I can make story out of it; that’s what I was doing last night. Not only that, but in writing up the problem, I realized it had a whole second layer to it, so that he’s asking Kim the question she hears, and also a second question she won’t hear until it’s almost too late.

If I’m lucky, readers will hit this part of the story and think “oh, wow, that’s a really awesome thing Marie Brennan set up there.” They won’t realize how much of it was an accident, that I only just caught at the last second. 🙂

Meet the Rewards: Limited Edition Miniscript

Of all the rewards I’m offering on the Chains and Memory Kickstarter, I think this one is the most special to me.

Changeling: The Dreaming has a concept it calls “dross”: objects invested with so much emotional significance that they actually contain energy of the sort changelings use to power their magic. They literally embody somebody’s dreams. Sometimes a piece of dross is famous or valuable — e.g. Babe Ruth’s bat — but they can just as easily be personal, like your beloved teddy bear from childhood.

That miniscript? Is dross. Back in the fall of 1999, when I had finished the first draft of the novel eventually known as Lies and Prophecy, I knew I needed to edit it. Since I was going on a weekend trip to a football game with the Harvard Band, the bus ride seemed like a good time to read through the book and mark it up — but for that, it needed to be portable. And, well, I hadn’t told anybody other than my then-boyfriend (now husband) that I’d finished a novel, and I didn’t want anybody saying “wow, that’s a giant stack of paper you’ve got there; what did you do, write a novel?” So I invented the miniscript: eight-point font, half-inch margins, single-spaced, full justification, print on both sides of the page, and voila, you’ve got a book on forty pieces of paper.

Which is still, to this day, the way I do my first round of edits. (You can tell me that is a bloody stupid way to print out a manuscript for editing. I will agree with you. And then I will go on printing miniscripts, because that is How I Do Things.)

The miniscript of Lies and Prophecy is quite literally the first time the first draft of the first novel I ever completed existed in print. Its creation is pretty much the moment that Marie Brennan, Fantasy Author stopped being a thing I wanted to be when I grew up, and became what I actually was.

It’s also a record of just how much the book changed over the years — and how much it didn’t. The first draft was flabby as all get-out, and I’ve added all kinds of new layers since then (the Yan Path stuff), fiddled around with secondary characters (Grayson used to be white; Liesel’s friends went through about eight different names apiece), cut out bits of worldbuilding that didn’t really contribute anything to the story. But it’s still the tale of Kim and Julian and the attack on Samhain and it ends pretty much the same way. If somebody ever writes an academic work on Marie Brennan, Fantasy Author, this miniscript will be a goldmine for their attempts to trace my growth as a writer.

And if you want a copy of your very own, you can have one. 🙂

speaking of Ree . . . .

Possibly the easiest way for me to encapsulate the character I talked about in a previous post is by linking you to this song.

It’s an amazing remix all on its own. I love the way it builds, wave-like: it keeps climbing and then receding, stepping back to a quieter level when you expect it to bust out in full Linkin Park screamo yelling. 😛 But more than that, it fit beautifully with Ree at the pivotal moment of her story, the brink of her metamorphosis from the broken, lost thing she had been for eons back to her original self. “I’ve felt this way before” . . . she’d been shattered, and had tried to piece herself back together — thought she had succeeded — but then during the course of the game she was shattered again, falling back to square one, so far from her goal it was almost impossible for her to believe that she was actually closer to it than ever. “Against my will I stand beside my own reflection” . . . she sold half her soul to someone else, not realizing that was what she was doing, and she had to reclaim it. “Without a sense of confidence, I’m convinced that there’s just too much pressure to take” . . . the problem with her Seelie side was that it had too much confidence, without the fatalism of her Unseelie half to temper it, which is how she got broken again, and then the symbolism of the diamond and pressure over time pretty much guaranteed I had to use this song. This was Ree at her lowest point, one step away from victory, and the tension that builds throughout this evokes those days perfectly in my mind. There’s more to it than one song, but I can point to the song and say, this. This is why I can’t forget her story.

When I make soundtracks for characters, or for games I run, or for novels, many of the songs are filler. They go in because I want the whole story in music, and so I pick the best matches I can; in the really good soundtracks, even the filler is pretty solid. But this? This is why I go to the effort. For the one or two or five songs that are the story, the ones that become so linked with the narrative that they end up feeding back into it, and it can be eight years later and hearing them still brings the story to life in my head. This is Galen walking into the chamber below the Monument. This is Dead Rick getting his memories back. Here’s the entire second half of Doppelganger, according to my half-dozing brain when I was in the middle of writing the book; I can quite literally map segments of the novel to the various stages in the music, because my subconscious had decided this was the outline it was writing to. (Much like what happened here, though that was on a smaller scale.)

It’s no accident that I also love film scores. Pairing music with story — turning music into story — is one of my favorite things. Since I’m not a composer, I have to settle for the mix-tape approach. Sometimes it works out very, very well.

she’s a changeling; they get reborn all the time

I have no idea when and how I will do it, but I suspect that one of these years, Ree is going to find her way into some piece of fiction I write.

She was my Changeling character in a long-running LARP, and over the course of five years of playing her, I worked up a fascinatingly complex framework for the metaphysics of her personality. She was a changeling: a faerie in a human body, which meant that psychology and metaphysics and narrative were essentially three sides of the same coin (and hey, it’s the Dreaming; why can’t a coin have three sides?). I don’t know why she came to mind tonight, but she did, and I found myself re-reading the transcript of a scene I once ran via e-mail. Jadael hosting people at his manor for some kind of party — I don’t remember why — and Ree in the middle of her cyclical Court change, which meant she was Unseelie and overwhelmed by fatalism and taking it out on everybody around her. So Jadael, being the perfect host, took her to a building out back and let her beat the ever-living shit out of him in a fight . . . because that was clearly what she needed. Which was both true, and not. It probably wasn’t good for her. But it made her feel better, because she had more anger than she knew what to do with, and whaling on Jadael with her fists let her inflict the fatalism on him, too, and make him bleed into the bargain. And there’s the whole layer that got added in by the Mesoamerican faerie stuff I had invented — stuff which got reworked into “A Mask of Flesh” and several other stories from that setting I haven’t finished and sold yet — Ree formally thanking Jadael at the end for giving her blood, which meant more than he realized, because of the concept of a debt of blood and what it signified to her. She was a diamond that had been shattered, and ultimately I got her out of the pit of her Court change and her fatalism by way of a metaphor, Ree understanding that you don’t fix a diamond by gluing it back together, you recognize that what you have — what you are — is coal, and you make a new diamond through unspeakable pressure over a long period of time.

I don’t think you can tell that story with a human being. Whatever I do with it would have to be higher-fantasy than that, because you need somebody whose soul is a story, somebody who exists through and for the telling of stories, who can re-tell her own story to fix what got destroyed so long ago. Somebody whose psychological problems are metaphysical and metaphorical at their root, tied up in diamonds and blood and fire and ice. Parts of it will go away, I’m sure: the two jaguars and her totemic tie to them, which is straight out of the Mesoamerican stuff and will wind up in the Xochitlicacan stories if it winds up anywhere. The specific framework of the Changeling cosmos, with Seelie and Unseelie and Ree as an eshu. Many of the characters she interacted with. But something about the core is still there in my mind, simmering away, and like blood, it will out.

Someday. Somehow. I’ll let you know when it does.

Answers, Round Final

The last set from the question post. Thanks to everybody who participated!


stevie_carroll asked, Do you have an unlikely favourite place in London (out of your top whatever places in London as opposed to your very favourite place)?

I guess the question is, what makes a place unlikely? I love the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral — not for any reason having to do with it being a big famous landmark, but because of the way the cathedral’s position fits into the City in my head, and the way you can sit on its steps and watch the sun set over the West End and eat your yakisoba from Wasabi or pasta salad from Tesco’s for dinner. It’s my mental “home” in London. But that might class it as “very favorite,” I guess.

I also love the fragment of the old London Wall I found on my first trip and revisited every subsequent time. It’s tucked away from the busy roads, and has a lovely bit of garden around it.

I don’t know if any of those count as “unlikely,” though.


dmstraylight asked, If a PnP RPG based on the Onyx Court series was produced, what system would you want it to use and why? How about for Doppelganger? Driftwood?

The obvious answer for the Onyx Court is Changeling: The Dreaming, since that’s where it came from. But you’d have to do a lot of system hacking at this point to make it work, since Banality doesn’t figure into the Onyx Court, and it’s kind of a central idea for Changeling; rip that out and the whole thing falls apart.

If not Changeling, then maybe Deliria, which I haven’t actually played, but is in my head as a reasonably flexible system for doing faerie-related stuff.

The doppelganger books, I don’t have a ready answer for. I have L5R on the brain at the moment, so that’s the first thing that leaps to mind (especially with the Void and all), but from what I’ve seen of shugenja spells, they don’t lend themselves to the mixed-Element approach of the witches in my novels. Come to think of it, I have a hard time thinking of any magic system that treats conjunctional effects of that sort as a common thing, rather than an occasional exception, though I’m sure such things exist. Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?

Driftwood, of course, is easy. 1) Grab every gaming core book off your shelf. 2) Drop them on the floor to make a map of Driftwood. 3) Have fun. ^_^


Aaaaaand that’s it for this round of “ask me anything.” Tune in at some indeterminate future point for more!

today’s dose of gaming geekery

Courtesy of lunch with my husband, I give you The Lion in Winter (preferentially the Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn version), with the characters re-cast as Changeling sidhe of various Houses:

  • Henry — Gwydion. The rage says it all.
  • Eleanor — Fiona, most likely; one of them has to be, to explain their screwed-up marriage.
  • Richard — also Fiona. Philip, plus “When the fall is all there is, it matters.”
  • Geoffrey — Ailil. Naturally. He’s a cold-blooded scheming bastard.
  • John — this one is hard. Tongue-in-cheek, he’s a Dougal; he made that little headsman toy, and clearly his physical defect is his brain. As kniedzw said, though, “I respect the Dougal too much for that.” Problem is, we respect all the Houses and kiths too much for that.
  • Alais — Liam, maybe. On account of being stepped on by everybody around her.
  • Philip — Eiluned. Mostly because I can’t tell when he’s lying and when he’s telling the truth in the bedroom scene, and neither, I think, can Henry.

game ideas I don’t have time to run

Changelings (in the Changeling: The Dreaming sense) strike back against the Banality of the modern world by adapting to a mythology modern Americans are prepared to believe in:

They frame themselves as superheroes.

Wind Runner to fly, Flicker Flash to teleport, Quicksilver for super-speed . . . Skycraft to throw lightning, Pyretics to throw fire . . . the troll birthright for super-strength . . . you can’t duplicate every power ever given to superheroes in the comics, but you don’t have to. You just have to get far enough, and then let the bright spandex costumes do the rest. Clark Kent turning into Superman is just a question of calling upon the Wyrd.

(Nockers as gadgeteer heroes. Holy crap, does that make Batman a nocker?)

I so don’t have time to run this, but. The idea amuses me.

Updated with ideas, from kniedzw and me wandering around the farmer’s market:
Batman’s a Dougal sidhe, not a nocker, provided you can find a good physical flaw. Iron Man is ABSOLUTELY a Dougal. Superman’s a troll; he even wears blue! Spiderman, maybe a spider pooka. Catwoman, cat pooka definitely. Cyclops as a Balor who’s trying to be good? <g> And the Incredible Hulk fighting against his ogre nature’s worst instincts. Aquaman as merfolk. Swamp Thing as a ghille dhu. Gambit as an eshu with Legerdemain. Mr. Fantastic maybe has Metamorphosis (Go Ask Alice, applied selectively); Human Torch has Pyretics. Storm has Skycraft, obviously. Can’t really do Rogue, or Professor X’s telepathy. I could see Wonder Woman as a Gwydion, maybe. I’d probably make Wolverine’s claws a Treasure, implanted in him by a crazy nocker.


An exchange with kitsunealyc has got me thinking about one of the aspects I really love in Changeling: The Dreaming, namely, the fact that the premise incorporates reincarnation as one of its fundamental elements. The faerie souls are born into a series of mortal hosts, and sometimes they remember their past lives, which means you can have all kinds of fun with patterns and echoes and change over time.

Hell, that was the precise notion that set the ball rolling for Memento.

And it makes me wonder — who out there has written fantasies that make use of this idea? Not just reincarnation, but remembering past lives, telling a story where the fixed and mutable characteristics of a soul are a central part of the tale. Katharine Kerr’s Deverry books come to mind, and Jo Graham has started a series of history-hopping fantasies that appear to feature the same souls incarnating as central and peripheral figures in various periods (the Trojan War, Ptolemaic Egypt), but those are the only ones I can think of offhand. The Wheel of Time, I suppose, but that’s one of a billion ideas swirling around in that series, and it doesn’t get the exploration I’d like to see.

I had fun running the idea in Memento, and I had fun playing with it via Ree, my long-term LARP character. What’s it like to remember — in your early twenties — that you generally don’t live to see your twenty-fifth birthday? What does it mean for friendships and enmities when the universe hits the “reset” button on your lives? How can you take something that appears to be a fundamental part of your nature, on a metaphysical level, and work around and with it so you don’t repeat the same mistakes you always have? I have no idea what kind of story I could use to explore those notions again, but I suspect I’ll think of one eventually, because clearly my brain isn’t done with it yet.

So where can I go to feed my brain? Kerr, Graham, Jordan — who else?

for a few of you

Most of you can disregard this. Or rather, follow the link and marvel at the existence of a recipe for apple dumplings that involves Mountain Dew. (Apparently the result is fabulously tasty. We may try it at some point.)

But the real purpose of this post is for the old Changeling folk.

Check out the top of the left-hand column on this page.

If you need me, I’ll be having an aneurysm in the corner.


One of the reasons I like making soundtracks for RPGs is that it gives me a permanent relic of what is otherwise a very ephemeral form of art.

And it’s a good sign that I go back and listen to them. I mean, it’s all music I have anyway, so I may put iTunes on shuffle and have it bring up something I used on a soundtrack, and if the association is strong enough, when I hear it I’ll think of the character or event it described. But I’ll also go listen to the re-ripped versions of the tracks, where I burned them to CD and then ripped them again under the new titles, and when I do that, I’m listening to those versions. Musically identical, but different in meaning. And I like the fact that I find myself wanting to do that, sometimes.

Yesterday, it was my Season 5 soundtrack for Ree. Tonight, it’s her soundtrack (all five CDs of it) on shuffle.

It’s good to have a keepsake.